Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas...Cupcakes

Thanksgiving has come and gone; Black Friday has come and gone; now it's time for some serious baking!  This weekend I noticed the drastic changes that has beseech us--Christmas lights are shining brightly on homes, trees wrapped and tied on automobiles, and catalogues stuffed in my postal box.  All of this signifies that the holiday season is definitely upon us.

Our little Madison celebrates her 2nd birthday today, although her "party" isn't until Sunday, I decided to bake up some cupcakes in her honor and the start of the baking season for me.
 The "cake" in the cupcake is my Red Velvet recipe.  I was born in Tennessee and that southern specialty is one of my favorites and let's face it, makes the perfect color for the season.  However, instead of making the usual cream cheese frosting, I decided to make a "cheesecake" filling and the icing is a rich buttercream.

The holly and berries reminded me of our home in Massachusetts where we had two beautiful holly bushes by our front door.  I loved to watch the cardinals and wax wings come and pluck the berries from the branches.  Additionally, during heavy snow storms in New England, small birds would take refuge in the interior of the holly.  I piped the leaves, but found the berries at Williams-Sonoma.  They are called Deco Drops and come in a number of colors, but this red is perfect to resemble actual berries.

Cupcakes are always perfect and if you're doing a holiday dessert table, these could be your centerpiece.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with a Cheesecake filling

1 recipe of Red Velvet Cake

Fill cupcake papers with batter, three-quarters full.  Bake in a Preheated 350F-degree oven for 15-18 minutes.  Don't over bake and test after 15 minutes.  Let cool completely.  I like to leave the cupcakes in the pans to cool.
Meanwhile make up the Buttercream frosting and the Cheesecake filling.

Cheesecake Filling:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
4 T. heavy cream
In a medium bowl, using a hand-held mixer, beat the cream cheese.  Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and blend completely.  Add the heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, and beat well.  The mixture should resemble a "set" cheesecake state. Set aside.

5 stick (2 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
7 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 T Vanilla Extract

6-7 drops of Green paste color
Deco drops

In the bowl of the KitchenAid, using the whisk attachment, beat the butter until fluffy.  Add half of the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat well to combine.  Add the remainder of the confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time until thoroughly combined and fluffy.
(If your bowl does not hold all the ingredients, you can make it in half batches)

When the cupcakes are cooled completely, use an apple corer to remove a center "plug" of cake for the filling.
Using a piping bag and a #7 round tip, pipe the cheesecake filling into the center hold.

Fill a large bag with the buttercream (before tinting it green) and a #808 tip and using a light pressure, swirl the top of the cupcake to coat.
Once all the cupcakes are iced, tint the remaining buttercream with the green paste color (to the color you like), I used about 7 drops.  With another piping bag and a #366 tip, create the holly leaves.

I created three leaves and then, added the Deco Drops in the center.

The cake was moist and the filling was delicious with a nice surprise in the middle, which is what I like to add with my cupcakes.
Happy Birthday, sweet little girl.  You've brought so much joy into all our lives and definitely will keep us on our toes. Love you, Mimi and PopPop

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leftovers--Sweet Potato~Cranberry bread

Leftovers are inevitable at our house; I've always cooked like I'm still in a big family.  I remember the first time I made my mother's recipe for spaghetti for dinner.  We ate spaghetti for  almost a week!  But, like my mother, I can't seem to throw anything out and always find a new recipe to make from the abundance.  By the way, with the spaghetti, spaghetti pie was created.

Now, for Thanksgiving, I made a large casserole of sweet potatoes with dried cranberries and mini ginger chips.  It was delicious, but I had leftovers.
This morning I "remade" the sweet potatoes into Sweet Potato~Cranberry Bread.  The good thing is that it made two large loaves and I was able to share one with a dear friend.   I baked a similar recipe with my sister last Thanksgiving, but we made muffins with the batter.  Either way, using leftovers in a new way makes me think of my Mom and how economical she was.  I think she would be proud I listened and learned.

Sweet Potato~Cranberry Bread

1/2 cup butter (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed, light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
3 cups King Arthur All-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup apple cider (or apple juice)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup Ginger mini chips (optional, but really good)

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray two 5" x 9" loaf pans with a baking spray (or use can use muffin pans)
In the bowl of the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well between the additions.  Add the mashed sweet potatoes and beat to incorporate.  Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the batter, alternating with the apple cider (or juice).  Beat only to combine.  Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.  Stir in the cranberries and Ginger mini chips, if using.
  Spoon into the prepared pans. and smooth the tops.
Bake in the preheated oven 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.  If the tops are browning too fast, you can lower the temperature to 325F-degrees.  Let cool about 10 minutes before turning out.  I decided to add a simple glaze, but you could also just dust with confectioner's sugar.
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. light Karo syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. hot water
Mix all the ingredients together.  Drizzle the smooth glaze over the loaves.
This bread had a wonderful spicy flavor and the richness of the sweet potatoes made it moist.  This would be great as a breakfast treat or with a tea break in the afternoon (after shoveling snow!)
 Creating new recipes with leftovers makes me smile and I hope this bread brings a smile to you and your family.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was a special time I spent with my mother.  I would get up when I heard her stirring and my love of food, family, and tradition began.  When I think back to those early mornings, I can't believe we put together all this wonderful food with a single oven, no food processor or KitchenAid, and in a 12' x 12' Kitchen!

For me, Thanksgiving is not just about the food, it's remembering why we made a certain dish.  Each year, Kelly, Erin and I watch the movie, "Pieces of April" with Katie Holmes.  The movie centers around Katie's character wanting to do Thanksgiving for her estranged family and her mother who is dying with breast cancer.  I don't want to give away the plot, but anything and everything goes wrong, but April holds on to trying to recreate the tradition she grew up with and bring her back to her family.

 Well, some things do change.  I'm a vegetarian and my turkey has been replaced with a Quorn "turkey breast," but the way I put the meal together is just like doing it with my Mom.  I still feel that excitement making yeast rolls as I did when I was 7 when Mom let me do them all by myself.  And, I still make the dressing from the very first recipe I created.  Fritoes were very popular in the 50s and I convinced my mother that I could create a stuffing using them that everyone will love.  They did and the rest is history.  I've made my dressing the same way except I use "Gimme Lean," vegetarian sausage; both my girls make the same dressing too.  Passing down traditions gives us roots.

I hope your holiday was memorable and I'd love to hear what special dishes you prepared or how you celebrated it.  Warm wishes to all, love, Susan

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maple Glazed Pumpkin/Streusel Scones

Scones are one of my most favorite things to have (and bake) for breakfast; next to doughnuts and Pop Tarts!  So, this morning I thought I'd create one that would be good to have for Thanksgiving morning. The nice thing about these scones is that you can make them up the night before, unbaked.  In fact, the longer the dough sits, the more tender it becomes. In the morning, just pop the baking sheet in the preheated oven and you can feed your family and guests warm scones to set the mood for the holiday.  Of course, you will still have to glaze them, but that's a quick chore.

We ended up with only 3-4 inches of snow, but the plummeting temperatures during the night has left everything with a icy layer on it.  Even our lake has suddenly got a thin layer of ice on it.
A warm scone just seemed like the exact comfort food to serve to my husband after he was out shoveling the driveway...along with a nice bowl of oatmeal.  I know when I was younger, coming in to my Mother's homemade cookies and hot chocolate certainly warmed me up and it's not just the warm feeling you get in your belly.  When you take the time to bake for your family, you both will also get a warm feeling in your heart and lots of smiles.

Maple Glazed Pumpkin/Streusel Scones
3 1/2 cups King Arthur All-purpose flour
3/4 granulated sugar
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon (my favorite, but optional)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup (12 T) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 cup Half & Half
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 tsp. Maple Flavor (if using maple extract, increase to 3/4 tsp.) or Pralines & Cream Flavor

Streusel Filling:
4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 T flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Maple Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3-4 T Pure Maple Syrup
1-2 T heavy cream 

Preheat oven 400F-degrees and line a 12 x 17-inch baking sheet with parchment
In a large bowl, measure all the dry ingredients (the first 9 ingredients).  Use a dough whisk to blend them.
Add the cubed butter and using a pastry blender to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients.
Make a well in the middle and add the pumpkin and the flavoring.  Measure the half & half into the measuring cup with the large egg in it and whisk to combine.  Add this liquid, holding back about 3 tablespoons to brush on the tops of the scones.  Use a spatula or the dough whisk to combine the ingredients.  The dough maybe a little sticky, but don't over mix.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board.  Knead a few times to smooth the dough.
Divide the dough in half and form into two disks. Cover with a towel to rest the dough while you mix up the streusel filling.
In a small bowl, add the brown sugar, salt and flour, mix slightly.  Cube the butter and add to the sugar/flour mixture.  Use the pastry blender to incorporate the butter into this mixture.  Stir in the pecans and set aside.
Lightly flour your surface again and roll out one of the halves of dough to 1/2-inch.  I transferred the dough to the parchment lined baking sheet, but I think it would be easier if you rolled the dough out on the parchment, lightly flouring the surface first and placed a second sheet of parchment on the baking sheet.
Don't worry if you still see pieces of butter...that's a good thing!  Spread the streusel filling over the surface.  I left a "border of dough around the outer edges.
Roll the second half of dough out about 1/2-inch on a lightly floured surface, then, using the rolling pin, transfer it to cover the streusel filling.  Tuck under the edges slightly.
Your dough should measure about 1-inch thick!
Cut into squares (it made 9) or you can use a round cutter and make them prettier : )

Transfer scones to the parchment-lined baking sheet (at this point, you could lightly cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight) and brush tops with the remaining cream/egg mixture.  
Hint: If you didn't want to glaze them (which I don't know why you wouldn't : ) ) you could sprinkle them with Turbinado sugar or glazing sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.  If the tops are browning too quickly, loosely place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top.
Remove from the oven and let cool.

Mix up the glaze and spread or drizzle over the scones.  Serve warm.
The Pumpkin flavor is moist and the streusel filling reminds me of eating a "sticky bun".  It's all I needed on this cold morning.

Thanksgiving brings back such wonderful memories of baking with my mother.  From baking my first rolls to making up stuffing and desserts.  I'm wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving and hoping you're with family and friends to share it and make memories.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Today, we woke up to snow!  The prediction has been that this will be one of our worse winters--ugh, and if today is any indication, it's also going to be a long one.  These photos were taken earlier today and since then, we're now up to 3 inches and it's still falling.

When I was young I looked forward to snow days; staying home and baking with my Mom.  These cookies have always been a favorite around our house.  My Mom called them Russian Tea Cakes and baked them every holiday.  They will keep a long time (if you don't have brothers who get into them!) and she would make them in a crescent-shape loaded with finely chopped walnuts.  When Kelly and Matt got married, Kelly asked me to make these in the traditional round shape called Mexican Wedding Cookies.  Kandyce's daughter, Kathryn and I made over twelve dozen for the wedding, round-shaped with ground pecans.  Kelly chose these instead of a wedding cake and every time I bake them, I think of that day baking in her kitchen and the memories that were made.

However, today I changed the recipe, slightly, to reflect the holiday.  I decided to add finely chopped dried cranberries and ground hazelnuts to the dough.
Both are found here in the Pacific Northwest and I thought they'd be a nice accompaniment to the Pecan Tassies for the dessert table for Thanksgiving.  The other good thing is...they can be baked ahead of time!

Cranberry~Hazelnut Snowballs
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts (or your favorite)
2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
additional confectioners' sugar to roll cookies in

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a Silpat.
In the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar until fluffy.  Add the flour and salt, beat until combined. Add the cranberries and hazelnuts and beat well.  Use a 1 teaspoon scoop and form the dough into a ball shape.
Bake in the preheated oven 10 minutes or until lightly brown.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Roll each cookie into the additional confectioners' sugar.  Let set 5-10 minutes and roll again.

I was definitely inspired by the weather today and baking brought back those memories of being in the kitchen with my Mom.  These cookies are easy to do and children, especially, love to help; my girls did. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie

Sometimes, I like to do things the "old fashioned" way; imagining how my mother, grandmother, and most importantly, my great grandmother did it without the use of food processors or a KitchenAid stand mixer.  Equipment that makes my life easier, although I'd like to think if I wanted to bake and didn't own any of them, I'd have the know-how to accomplish any recipe.

Yesterday, I looked at the sugar pumpkins I bought and decided to challenge myself to make a fresh pumpkin pie instead of using canned pumpkin.  I've made one before with my Mom so I know the tricks of working with pumpkin and I knew it would be delicious!

Pumpkins were plentiful this year and priced very well.  They're grown all over the world, but it's only in the United States that we carve the larger ones into Jack-O-Lanterns--which is too bad because pumpkins provide a lot of beta carotene and the sugar pumpkins make great soup and pies.  The "Cheese variety" of sugar pumpkin, which is a little flatter than the regular ones and grown in New England, makes the best pies, but the ones I used here in the Pacific Northwest would have to do.
It took four sugar pumpkins to provide the two cups of pumpkin puree needed for the pie, but they baked up quickly and before I knew it I was scraping the bright orange flesh from the roasted skins to cool for the filling.  Since I had also made up disks of pie dough, I made the pie in less than 15 minutes and had in the oven to bake for tonight's dessert.

Let me take you through the steps and encourage you to try using fresh pumpkin the next time a recipe calls for it.

Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie
2 cups pureed pumpkin (about 3-4 sugar pumpkins)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 T. King Arthur unbleached All-purpose Flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon
1 1/2 cups (12 fl.oz) Evaporated milk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 T Lyle's Syrup
3 large eggs, beaten
Preheat oven 400F-degrees.
Slice the pumpkins in half and remove the seeds and scrape out the fibrous portion inside.  Place the pumpkins, upside down on a baking sheet.

Place the pan in the preheated oven, then pour boiling water into the pan up to 1-inch.  I lightly cover the pumpkins with aluminum foil to create a steam tent.  Bake 30-40 minutes or until the tip of a paring knife easily goes into the pumpkin.  Remove pan and cool completely.
When cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scrape the pumpkin meat from the shell.  Place the pumpkin into a cheesecloth-lined collander.
Bring the sides of the cheesecloth together and squeeze the pumpkin to release all the water.  Because pumpkin is in the squash family, it's not different than zucchini with the amount of water it releases.
Place in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
I want to show you the difference between the fresh and can pumpkin.  The fresh is on the right!

Preheat oven to 400F-degrees.  Remove a pie dough disk from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured board.  Roll out, turning 90-degrees each time to form a circle.
Use the rolling pin and roll the dough over to place it in the pie pan or dish.
Flute the edges, then place it in the refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.
 Place the pumpkin, sugars, flour, salt, and spices in a large bowl and stir to mix.  In a 4 cup measure, add the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and Lyle's syrup.  Whisk to combine.  Add a little at a time to the pumpkin mixture and stir to incorporate.  Once it starts to thin out, add the remaining.
Pour into the prepared pie shell and place on a baking sheet.  
Bake 45-50 minutes until the center is set 2-inches from the sides and the middle is still a little jiggly.
Cool completely before serving.

I even whipped the cream using just a whisk.  I placed about 1 cup heavy cream in a bowl, whisking it until soft peaks occurs.  Place 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. honey in the cream and whisk again.  Serve on top of the pie.

I realize with busy schedules, it takes a little longer to make a pie, the old-fashioned way, but isn't it nice to know you could the way our ancestors did--and isn't that what Thanksgiving is?  Remembering those who came before us and forged this great nation--food and all.  Enjoy!