Friday, April 29, 2011

A Royal Tribute and an Anniversary Memory

I admit it...I love a fairy tale and yes, I stayed up to watch the Royal wedding between William and Catherine as millions of others did.   It was on at 1:00 a.m. here in the Pacific Northwest, but the fascination of what Catherine's dress would look like, her bouquet, and seeing the kiss (or two) on the balcony kept me wide awake.
April 29th also marked the memory of my own parent's wedding.  William Joseph Tierney and Helen Margaret Huekels were married in 1938 and today would have marked 73 years for them.  Also a fairy tale, my father said he knew from a kiss in the cloakroom in 5th grade that he would one day marry my mother.
So, I baked these "happy" little cakes from a Nordic Ware mold I purchased last year.  (At the time, I just thought, one day I'll need this pan!)  The recipe for the cake comes with the pan, but I added a strawberry filling and glazed the little cakes with a pourable fondant--a King Arthur Flour recipe.  I couldn't help but add a few decorations and the edible stardust to make them sparkle.

Tiered Cakelets
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups Queen Guinevere Cake Flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup milk

1/3 cup Strawberry Jam (or your favorite)

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray the Tiered Cakelet Pan with a non-stick spray (one with flour in it)
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat 3 minutes more.  Scrape down the sides, then, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla extract.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.  On low speed, add half the flour and all the milk, then, end with the other half of flour.  Scrape down the sides once more.  Divide the batter evenly among the prepared wells.  Tap the pan on the countertop to release any air bubbles.  Using a small spatula, spread some of the batter up the sides of the wells.
Bake until the cakelets are golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean--20 to 25 minutes.  (Mine took exactly 22 minutes).  Don't overbake!
Cool in the pan about 10 minutes.  Invert the pan onto a rack and life off the pan.  Let the cakelets cool completely before glazing.

Poured Fondant Icing
5 oz. (1 cup) white melting chocolate pieces or white chocolate chips
1/4 cup Light Karo Syrup
1/4 cup hot water
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt the white melting chocolate pieces in the microwave.  In a bowl, sift the confectioners' sugar, then, add the Karo Syrup and hot water.  Mix on low speed, being careful not to incorporate too much air into the fondant.  Add the melted chocolate pieces and mix once more.  Add the vanilla and if mixture is too thick, additional hot water.  You should be able to pour the fondant over the cakelets.

Use an apple corer to remove some of the cake to allow for the filling.  Save the plugs!
 Fill a piping bag with jam and fill the center cavity that has been created with the corer.
 Place the "cake" plug back over the hole to cover.
 I placed the fondant icing in a squeeze bottle and began pouring it over the cake.
If you keep pouring over the top, it should cascade down.  For the decorations, I mixed up a small batch of buttercream:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup of leftover fondant icing.

Using a #7 tip, I piped little dots around the tiers.  The shell border is done with tip #18 and finally, the top rosette was tip #6B.

I used a little rose colored stardust to brush over the cakes for some sparkle.
I was thinking about Kelly today when I was making these little cakelets.  She had a job once where she worked as a server for a caterer.  She would tell me the best events were weddings because she'd get to have a piece of wedding cake.  As I take a bite into one of these little cakelets, I'll imagine I was a guest at the royal wedding, toasting the bride and groom with a lifetime of happiness.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hula Bars

I started out naming these cookies, Brown Butter~Macadamia~Chocolate Chip Bars.  What a mouth-full! And, even though it tells you what's in them, it just didn't relay the memory to me, and that's what was important.

When I was seven, my mother enrolled me in an after school ballet class offered by Parks & Rec.  I loved it and my mother thought it made me more graceful.  (I was told, I had the habit of running instead of walking and we all know what that leads to--a lot of skinned knees.)  When the program ended, but I wanted to continue, she found a dance school for me.  For the next eight years of my life, on Saturday morning and then, an added Thursday evening, I took ballet, jazz, and Hula.  My mother sewed costumes for all my recitals and she and my dad took turns taking me to classes.  I never missed a class, even though, when I was 12 and had injured my legs at school one day.  I was diagnosed with traumatic arthritis and couldn't walk for three weeks. However, that didn't stop Dad from carrying me into class to watch the steps for our upcoming recital in a few months.  I finished with 8 years of perfect attendance because of the dedication and support of my parents...and I'd like to think I'm a bit more graceful!

However, these aren't called Ballet Bars, but Hula Bars.  It was my mother's memory of living in Hawaii, when my grandfather was stationed at Pearl Harbor, that led me to take hula.  I have to admit, I loved it just as much because of the story the dance would convey.  I was good enough to be part of a troupe the school singled out to do mini-recitals for clubs and organizations (i.e., Knights of Columbus, USO, etc).  A funny coincidence, but my future father-in-law told me he once remembered our troupe coming to the Knights of Columbus for Hawaiian Night and lucky his son was!

Hula Bars
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and browned 
2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 T Vanilla extract
4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 cups Macadamia nuts
1 3/4 cup Bittersweet (or Semi-sweet) chocolate chips

Preheat oven 350F-degrees.  Brush with melted butter, a 12" x 17" or 13" x 18" rimmed baking, then, line with parchment paper and brush with the melted butter again.  Set aside
Coarsely chop, then, lightly roast the Macadamia nuts in the oven for 5 minutes.  Let cool.
Brown the 4 sticks of unsalted butter, using at least a 3-quart sauce pan.  Set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer, combine the sugars.  While the mixer is running, pour the browned butter over the sugar and mix until completely combined, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Mix in the Vanilla.

Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk.  Fold the dry ingredients into the sugar/butter/egg mixture.  Fold in 3/4 cup each of the Macadamia nuts and chocolate chips.  Blend until all the flour is incorporated.  Use an off-set spatula to spread batter onto the prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/4 cup of Macadamia nuts and 1 cup of chocolate chips on top.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Lower temperature to 325F-degrees, rotate baking pan, and bake another 16 to 18 minutes.  (Mine went the full 18 minutes).

Cool in the pan for 30 to 45 minutes before cutting into bars.

My hips are a bit wider and I'm not sure I could dance on point in toe shoes anymore, but the experience will last a life time.  I'm forever grateful for wonderful parents that allowed me to follow my dreams...isn't that what we do as parents for our children.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Almond Delights

Sometimes the recipes I share are ones that my mother made, but like today, sometimes they're inspired by her.  Jordan almonds are a confectionery that my mother dearly loved.  I remember them at every special event we had and moreover, I remember when we were just out shopping and she spied a candy store, it was one of her purchases.  My daughters knew this to be true and even when we moved away to California, if we saw Jordan almonds, they'd suggest we buy some to remember Grandma.

Interestingly, the almond is not a true nut, but a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and hard shell with a seed inside.  It is related to the peach tree and is native to the Middle East and South Asia.  Jordan almonds, which originated in Italy, are a sugar coated confectionery in pastel colors.
It is traditional at weddings and given as favors in groups of five--the combination of bitter almonds and the sweet sugar prompted this poem:

Five sugared almonds for each guest to eat,
To remind us that life is both bitter and sweet.
Five wishes for the new husband and wife--
Health, wealth, happiness, children, and a long life! 

Almond Delights
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup almond paste
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 tsp. Pure Almond extract
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 cup almond flour (I grind my own, but you can purchase almond flour) 
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup bittersweet (semi-sweet) chocolate bits

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond paste thoroughly.  Add the sugars and beat to combine.  Add the extracts and mix again.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Stir in the chopped almonds and bittersweet chocolate bits.
Use a 2-inch scoop to measure out the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Use your finger tips to press down the dough, slightly.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes until golden brown around the edges.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a rack to cool completely.

I remember five almonds tied in tulle at my wedding for favors.

Today, as I made up this recipe using almonds, I thought about my mother and Kelly

--life can be bitter, but the memories are sweet and I hold tightly to the memories.  Enjoy! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Eggstrordinary Cake Pops

Every year, I like to make chocolate Easter eggs to give as gifts and this year is no different.  However, instead of a cream filled egg, I chose to make mine cake. According to Wikipedia, the egg "is a pagan symbol of the rebirth of Earth," which I find interesting because yesterday we celebrated Earth Day!  It was later adopted by Christians to symbolize the rebirth of Jesus.

As Christmas and the 4th of July were my mother's holidays to have family over and Memorial Day was Grandma Huekels' day, Easter always meant we would pile into the car and go to Grandma Tierney's house for dinner.  I loved seeing my cousins and sitting around their large dining table, listening to conversations and feeling secure in this tradition our family shared.  That changed when I was eleven and my grandmother passed away, but my mother stepped and started a new tradition.

I've enjoyed making cake pops for awhile and find that they ship better than my cupcakes to family and friends for special occasions.
Who can pass up that little bunny!

I decided to make these chocolate/chocolate--the cake is chocolate and the frosting is chocolate, but I wanted them colorful, so I chose melting chocolate in colors to resembled dyed eggs instead of my usual choice of bittersweet chocolate. (You can find melting chocolate and the 6" Lollipop Sticks at Michael's).  I wouldn't recommend hiding these eggs, but rather make them the centerpiece of your Spring table to celebrate nature's rebirth!

Chocolate Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a 12" x 17" (or 13" x 18") sheet pan with a nonstick baking spray and set aside.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

Place all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and use a wire whisk to blend.  Alternate adding dry ingredients with the buttermilk--starting and ending with dry ingredients.

Spread the batter onto the preparing baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven 20 to 22 minutes or until the top feels firm to the touch--DON'T OVER BAKE!
Let the cake cool completely before crumbling it into the frosting.

Chocolate Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 T Vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 to 3 T milk, if needed

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until combined.  Add the vanilla and cocoa powder and mix until combined, adding milk to create a creamier frosting.

Crumble the cake and while the mixer is running drop into the bowl.  Continue until all the cake as been mixed into the frosting.
  Use a 2 Tablespoon scoop to measure out cake dough.  Roll in your hands, forming into an egg-shape.
Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Continue until all the dough is used.  Place baking sheet into the refrigerator and let eggs chill for 1 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler over medium-low heat, place the colored melting chocolate.  When chocolate has melted, turn the burner off.  Remove your eggs from the refrigerator and dip a lollipop stick into the chocolate and push into the bottom end of the egg-shape.
Once you have about a dozen done, start dipping the eggs into the chocolate.
Let the excess drip off and then, use a piece of Oasis to stand your colored eggs into while they dry.
I used four different colors to do my eggs--you'll get about 6 dozen eggs from this batch!

To save the chocolate, scrape onto a wax-paper lined plate to cool until hardened.  Place in a 1-quart freezer bag and seal.  You can re-heat this melting chocolate over and over again.

Not everyone may like hard boiled eggs, but I guarantee these chocolate covered eggs won't get passed up.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pacific Northwest Hot Cross Buns

On Good Friday, my mother always made Hot Cross Buns--it was her ritual.  Since I had the day off, I loved to help her make up these sweet buns that we enjoyed for breakfast and delivered a pan to my grandparents, who anxiously awaited their treat.  I have continued her ritual, making up the recipe she knew by heart, for my family and friends.  However, this morning, I don't know what came over me, but I decided to change the recipe to reflect where I call home--the Pacific Northwest.

Yes, we get a bum rap about our rain, rain, and more rain, but there are some beautiful reasons to live here.  One, that I've especially enjoyed, is the abundant crop of cherries that appear in the Farmer's Market in early June through August.  Over the years, I've enjoyed baking with several varieties, as well as, making jam and of course, adding fresh cherries to summer fruit salads.  And, Washington and Oregon cherry crops are enjoyed not only throughout the United States, but we export our harvest to other parts of the world to enjoy as well.

Just in case you weren't aware of the incredible health benefits, I'll fill you in.  First, they're a great source of dietary potassium, found to reduce hypertension and strokes, which has become a growing concern here in this country.  The two properties I find interesting is the benefit of reducing your cancer risk--high in fiber, Vitamin C, carotenoids and anthocyanins have been found to protect cells that may be prone to cancer and phytochemicals that inhibit enzymes responsible for inflammatory responses.  Of course, it doesn't stop there; sweet cherries are being researched for reducing the risk or morbidity related to Alzheimer's because of the phenolic compounds that protect neuronal cells involved in neurological function.  And finally, for all you insomniacs, cherries are an excellent source of melatonin that plays a role in promoting healthy circadian rhythm and healthy sleep patterns.

So, scientifically cherries were a good choice to add to my Hot Cross Buns, but moreover, I took a traditional recipe, created year after year, and made it my own to pass on to my daughter and grandchildren.  Isn't that what tradition is all about!

Pacific Northwest Hot Cross Buns
1 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup currants 
Place fruit in a small sauce pan.  Add about 3/4 cup water to cover and heat on medium to a boil.  Turn off the heat and cover pan.  Set aside while you prepare the dough. 

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the icing)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
6 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup milk
2 pkgs. (or a scant 2T) dry active yeast 
1 Vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
6 to 6 1/2 cups King Arthur All-purpose flour

Additional butter
Sparkling sugar

In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add the milk, then, the butter.  Microwave on High for 40 seconds, adding an addition 20 seconds for butter to have melted.  Add water to measure 2 cups of liquid.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, place the sugar, salt, egg and egg yolk.  Mix on low just until combined.  Slowly add the liquid and mix to combine.  Sprinkle the yeast over this mixture and blend.  Let rest 5-10 minutes until it becomes foamy.  Add the vanilla bean, 2 cups of the flour and the spices, blend on medium speed.  Before adding to the dough, drain cherry/currant mixture, reserving the liquid to add to the icing.  Rough chop the fruit and add along with the an additional 2 cups of flour, blend once more.  

Change to the dough hook attachment and add flour, in 1/2-cup increments.  Once the dough has left the sides of the bowl, turn out onto a board and knead until smooth.  

In a large bowl, add 1 T butter and microwave on High for 40 seconds.  Brush the melted butter up the sides.  Add the dough, turning it over with the buttered-side up.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour or more until doubled in size.

Turn risen dough out onto a board and divide into 24 pieces.  Roll dough into balls and place in a buttered pan, leaving about 1/2-inch space between for rising.  

Brush tops with melted butter and cover once again with plastic wrap.  Allow to rise 40-55 minutes, or until doubled in size. 

Half way through the last rising, preheat oven to 400F-degrees.   Use kitchen shears to snip a "cross" in the tops of the buns.  Sprinkle tops with Sparkling Sugar.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and the internal temperature is 190F-degrees.  Let cool.

1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Reserved egg white*
Reserved cherry liquid

*If you're concerned with using the raw egg white, replace with 2 T meringue powder and 1 tsp. light Karo syrup.

In a small bowl whisk the sugar and egg white (or substitution).  Add enough of the cherry liquid to make a spreadable icing.  I placed the icing in a pastry bag, fitted with a #7 tip and piped the traditional "cross" on top of the buns.  Alternatively, if you don't have a pastry bag, place icing in a plastic sandwich bag and at one of the corners, cut a small opening with scissors and pipe the cross.

It's so comforting to bake a recipe you've grown up with.  The memories come flooding back, helping my mother and in later years, my daughters helping me, create these traditional Good Friday treats.  I hope one day to have Ari and Maddie in the kitchen to make my version and start some new traditions of their own.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

M & C's

One of my fondest childhood memories was stopping in to visit with my grandparents, before starting down the path to our home after school, and having gingersnaps and milk.  It was a time to see what they had been up to during the day--tending the garden, a woodworking project my grandfather was beginning, or just hearing some stories of my mother growing up.  It didn't matter so much that the once home baked cookies Grandma made had been replaced with store bought, it was the precious time I spent with them...a ritual, so to speak, that I looked forward to when I stepped off the bus.

I also remember hearing from my daughters, when they went off to Mount Holyoke College, how they looked forward to M & C's at night, after a day of classes and homework.  To them this time was sure to bring engaging conversations, not just of school, but getting to know their friends and classmates and sharing experiences.  Kelly wrote an essay, that was published in the Mount Holyoke Alumnae magazine, telling of the sharing of stories that occur around the table and the importance that this memory carried with her in raising her son. 

Today, for M & C's, I made up a bittersweet chocolate~pistachio~mint chip cookie.  There was something about seeing the bright green chips in the dark chocolate dough that made me think of Spring--new shoots of plants popping up in the rich soil!  Also, I made them BIG with my one-third measured scoop because Kelly and I always said, "if you can only have one cookie--make it a BIG one."

Bittersweet Chocolate~Pistachio~Mint Chip Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, melted
1 large egg
1 T Vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups King Arthur All-purpose Flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T milk
1 cup pistachio nuts, chopped (measure after chopping)
2 cup (1 12 oz bag) Mint Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter, then add the sugars and beat until fluffy.  Add the egg and mix thoroughly, scrapping down the sides of the bowl afterward.  Add the melted bittersweet chocolate and the vanilla and beat on medium speed to combine.
Add the dry ingredients and milk and beat to combine.  Add the nuts and beat well.  Stir in the mint chips.
Use a one-third measure scoop for large cookies. (If you make the cookies smaller, adjust baking time to 10-12 minutes)
Place six scoops onto a large baking tray, lined with parchment.
Bake BIG cookies 12-14 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Once they're cooled, pour a glass of milk for you and your children, or friends and enjoy sharing your experiences of the day.  I'm thinking about the pot of basil I will plant, thanks to a wonderful friend.

It's these memories, around the table, that last a life time...I know this to be true. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I won't pretend to be Greek, but the great thing about having lived all over the country, I met a wonderful friend when we lived in Thousand Oaks, California, who was of Greek heritage and she taught me a thing or two about their cooking.  I first had spanakopita at their son's baptism reception and fell in love with the flavors.  The feta and spinach "marry" beautifully together enveloped in phyllo dough--what's not to like!

This savory dish is mostly eaten as a snack in Greece. I've done an appetizer version with the phyllo cut in strips and folded (like a flag) into a triangle, which is my husband's favorite, but tonight I wanted to make it as a main dish, accompanied by a salad for a light Spring dinner.  I will admit, I've never attempted to make homemade phyllo dough and not likely to do so in the near future since good quality phyllo can be purchased at any grocery store.
One pound of phyllo comes with two wrapped rolls and this recipe only requires one, so freeze the other one for a later use or make up a batch of Baklava...which is for another day.

1 lb. pkg. Phyllo dough (defrost in the refrigerator)
16 oz. frozen chopped spinach
1 T olive oil
3 shallots, minced

In a medium saute pan, saute the shallots in the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the entire bag of chopped spinach and stir together.  Lower heat to medium/low and continue to cook until all the moisture (that is released from the spinach) is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.

12 oz. (about 2 cups) Feta cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 chopped parsley
2 tsp. dried dill or 2 T fresh dill
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 T Italian bread crumbs

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, then, fold in the cooled spinach.  
Melt 12 T (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
Grated Parmesan or a combination of Parmesan/Romano cheese (which is what I used)
Preheat oven to 400F-degrees

Butter a 9" x 13" Pyrex dish with butter.  Place the first sheet of phyllo dough down and brush it with butter.  (Keep a damp towel over the remaining phyllo to keep it fresh).
Continue to place a single layer of phyllo and brush with butter until you have 12 layers.  Spoon the filling on top of the phyllo and spread smoothly.  Layer a sheet of phyllo on top of the filling, then, sprinkle with the grated cheese.  This step, as I discovered in Cook's Illustrated, keeps your top layers from lifting as the cheese melts and "cements" the layers.
Continue layering and buttering until the remaining phyllo sheets are used (approximately 6 or 7).  Brush the final top layer and sprinkle with cheese.  

Place the glass baking dish on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
Cool about 10 minutes and cut into squares.

One of my favorite movies in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and I watched it last week when I was in Kentucky with Ari.  The movie reminded me of my friend and my introduction to their cuisine, almost 30 years ago.  Enjoy!