Monday, December 16, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree...

Admittedly, I wasn't going to put up a Christmas Tree this year while living in a rental; ornaments packed, no room for our traditional tree and with all I have going on for work and building a home, the idea was overwhelming.  However, one evening while I was flipping through channels to find something on, I came across one of my favorite movies...Eloise at Christmastime.
You can't help but get in the spirit after watching this precocious six year old spread good cheer throughout the Plaza Hotel.  I thought of my grands and how they would indeed expect a Christmas tree and wouldn't you know, during one of the commercials was an ad for Balsam Hill artificial trees.  I ordered a 4 1/2-foot because our daughter told me that our youngest granddaughter likes to "throw" the Christmas balls off the lower limbs!  Her tree is now bare below the level this almost 2 year old can reach!

The Christmas Tree is certainly a symbol of the season--traced backed to the 16th or possibly the 15th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.  It is speculated that the tree originated in Germany and it was the reformer Martin Luther, according to the History channel, who "first added lighted candles" to it.

Interestingly, the custom of the tree didn't flourish in Great Britain until the marriage of Victoria to her German cousin, Prince Albert in 1841.  In 1847, Prince Albert wrote that he must seek an "echo" of what he and his brother, Ernest had felt with their delight of the Christmas tree in their home.

In North America, the town of Windsor Locks, Connecticut claims they had the first Christmas tree when a Hessian soldier put one up in 1777 while imprisoned.  Additionally, there are several more accounts throughout the colonies of trees being used at Christmas time and laying claim to the first tree in America--from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Boston, Massachusetts.

If you can't settle the argument when the first tree was put up, how about when is the correct time to decorate your tree.  Would it surprise you to know that most trees were decorated on Christmas Eve?  I know after I was married that's exactly what my hubby's family did.  Our own family went with the Advent Calendar to determine the time...which meant sometime after Thanksgiving.

Only since the 20th century in the United States has it become common to decorate evergreen trees outside.  The National Christmas Tree has been lit each year since 1923 on the South Lawn of the White House.  Furthermore, some cities organize a Festival of Trees for charity events, which may have its roots from Manchester, England who sent a tree and money to buy chocolate and cakes for the children of the much-bombarded town of Lillie in northern France after the Armistice in 1918.

Our home maybe lacking some decorations, but at least the tree is up and now, the baking begins.  I would love to hear what special decorations you have on your Christmas tree and the story behind them while you listen to...
('s sitting on top of my antique silver chest that was in my mother's family.  I helped my grandfather reconstruct one of the lion's head, carved in wood, that had been broken.) Happy Holidays to All!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lemon~Pecan Tea Loaf & December's Apron Give-Away

A rainy day...and thanking Mother Nature that we're not in the path of snow...left me thinking something baked would be delightful. I teetered between chocolate and lemon, but after talking with my sister this morning, I decided on lemon, which is her favorite.

Besides cranberries, pumpkin and gingerbread, I like to bake with citrus fruits during the holiday season. Today they brought back memories of getting oranges (and apples) in my stocking and my mother baking her infamous Lemon Cheesecake. After watching the weather channel this morning--yes, I'm one of those people!, the meteorologist was saying what beautiful weather Florida was having, in fact, the hottest in the country at 85 degrees and the citrus growers were thankful--which I took as a sign!  Lemons remind me of sunshine, which I was so hoping for, and after baking this tea loaf, that's exactly what it tasted like.

Lemon~Pecan Tea Loaf
Preheat oven to 325F-degrees.  Butter and line a "Pullman" loaf pan with parchment paper, then, butter again.  You could also use a mini Bundt pan or muffin pan.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1-3 oz. box Instant Jell-O Lemon Pudding
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon (use the other half in the glaze)
2 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup Lemon Bits
3/4 cup Pecans, chopped
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, butter and oil until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time and mix thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the pudding, lemon zest and lemon juice (about 1 1/2-2 T) and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients with the yogurt/milk and mix on medium speed until combined.  Stir in the lemon bits and chopped pecans.  Spoon into the prepared pan.
 Bake for 70-75 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out cleanly from the center.  Allow to cool about 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter.
 A lovely slice of this tea load is all I needed to excite me to get busy and sew this month's apron.  Even though I haven't done much decorating in the rental, the colors in this apron spoke volumes of the holiday.  Post a comment during this month and you will could be baking with this apron in January!
Stay warm and take a break with a cup of tea, cocoa, or as my sister prefers, coffee with a slice of this merry little tea loaf. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pistachio~Cranberry Bundt Cake & November's Apron Winner

Baking cakes in a mold actually began in Europe; Gugelhupf, a brioche-like cake, formed in a particular shape pre-dates this North American version introduced in the late 50s and 60s.  The credit goes to the Dalquist brothers, H. David and Mark, who co-founded the Nordic Ware Company in 1940.  In 1950, along with engineer Don Nygren, they came up with this mold done in cast aluminum.  However, it wasn't until Ella Helfrich, in 1966, would make it popular with her Tunnel of Fudge Cake for a Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Suddenly, there were over 200,000 requests for the cake mold and to date, more than 60 million have been sold!  Just so you know for next year, November 15th, is National Bundt Day:-D

I created this Bundt Cake to  celebrate the holidays, not only with cranberries, but added pistachios to give it the familiar red and green colors we've come to associate with the season.  I have to say, the flavors combine wonderfully and my hubby couldn't help but remark how amazing it looked.

Pistachio~Cranberry Bundt Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room tempreature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugare
3 large eggs
1-3oz.pkg. Instant Pistachio Jell-O Pudding
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Pistachio Flavoring  or 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher salte
1 cup buttermilk (you can add 1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar to milk if you don't have buttermilk)
1 1/2 cups cranberries, halved
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T light Karo Syrup
2-3 T hot water
1-2 drops of green food coloring, if desired
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a 12-cup Bundt Pan with a baking spray.
Cut washed, dried and picked over cranberries in half

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter, oil and sugar together until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them into the batter.  Add the flavorings and the pudding mix and beat at medium speed for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Mix the dry ingredients and mix, alternately with the buttermilk (or soured milk), starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Stir in the cranberries and chopped pistachios.  Spoon into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out cleanly when poked into the center.
 I love seeing that pale green color, dotted with the red cranberries!  Allow the cake to cool about 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter.
Mix up the glaze and slowly pour over the top of the cake.  Sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios to complete the dessert.

Now, for the important part of this post--November's winner of the apron is Mrs. Sparrow! Please email me your address so I can send this gift from my heart to you!

I will have December's apron up this weekend, for sure; life is a little hectic finishing up projects for the big trade show I attend in January, picking out finishes for our home...I did kitchen cabinets, countertops and tile this week, and of course, holiday shopping.  Stay warm and bake. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cranberry Coffee Cake

Besides turkey and pumpkin, cranberries are what defines Thanksgiving to me; maybe because it's indigenous to North America, but moreover I love those red, tart, bounce berries and can't wait until they appear in the grocery store.  My mother and I would make whole cranberry sauce, which we loved, but she'd also buy a can of the jellied kind for the skeptics who didn't think you should have texture!  This recipe calls for whole-berry and since fresh cranberries have been around for a few weeks, I had some already made up (I love it on grilled cheese sandwiches!)

My mother's kitchen was only 10' x 10', had hardly any counter space and no double ovens--just a stove, so coordinating a huge dinner was a feat that I watched her orchestrate year after year!  We baked cranberry nut bread, along with pumpkin loaves the day before, to have on hand for the feeding the hungry tribe and keep them out of the kitchen while we worked on dinner--which started in the wee hours of the morning.  I thought of those times and long for the camaraderie we shared to make everything just perfect while I made this delicious coffee cake from the King Arthur recipe files.

Cranberry Coffee Cake
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a coffee-cake ring pan or a 9" x 13" baking pan with a baking spray and set aside.

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup + 2T King Arthur all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
5 T unsalted butter
In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients, vanilla extract and cinnamon, then use a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter (I cut the butter into 1/2" pieces).
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 T firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup yogurt (I used Greek honey-flavored)
2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (they also recommend whole wheat or white/wheat flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter together.  Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.  Mix in the vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt and mix on medium speed to combine.  Spoon batter into the prepared pan.  Use a spoon to add dollops of the cranberry sauce around, then use a fork to mix it slightly into the batter.

Add the streusel topping over the batter.

Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, testing for doneness with a wooden skewer.  

I allowed the cake to cool for 10-15 minutes before turning it out onto a cookie sheet, lined with wax paper.
 Then, place your serving platter over the cake and flip it to the right side (streusel side up).
I decided to add a glaze drizzled over it, but that is optional.
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T light Karo syrup
2-3 T very hot water
1/8 tsp. Cran-Raspberry flavoring

Mix the glaze and drizzle over the top of the cake.
If you bake the cake in the rectangle cake pan, you can serve the squares right from the pan!

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all the wonderful people in our lives and I count all of you in those blessings.  Wishing you a holiday, full of memories; I know I have many. Enjoy!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Blondies

Native Americans grew squash and pumpkins so it's very likely there was a sort of pie at the first Thanksgiving.  However, it wasn't until 1796 that the first pie (as we know it) was created by Amelia Simmons and shared in her book, American Cookery, by an American Orphan.  Her pumpkin "pudding" baked into a crust was the making of a long standing tradition; I know it was always on the dessert table when I was growing up.

Pumpkins, like squash, are native to North America.  It's rich in Beta-Carotene that generates Vitamin A in the body, but I'm pretty sure it was the taste that had everyone in our home asking for it for Thanksgiving.  I've done it completely from scratch, steaming and pureeing Sugar Pumpkins, but with so much to do over the next few weeks for work...this year it will be canned and canned is what I used to create these delectable Blondies!

Pumpkin Pie Blondies
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
2 tsp. Vanilla extract
2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups toasted pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup Cinnamon Chips
1 cup White Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Butter and line a 12" x 17" baking sheet with parchment.
Toast the pecans in the oven for 7-8 minutes, then, rough chop or as I did, break them with your hands.
 In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, measure the brown sugar and break it up slightly on low speed.  Pour the melted butter over brown sugar and cream on low speed (so the warm butter doesn't splash up), then, increase to medium.  Add the pumpkin and mix again.  Next, add the eggs, one at a time, incorporated completely and scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.

Mix the dry ingredients together and add to the batter with the Cinnamon Chips and about 1/4 of the chopped pecans.  Stir to combine completely.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread to cover.
Sprinkle the top with the remaining pecans and White Chocolate Chips.
Bake for 10 minutes, then, lower the oven temperature to 325F-degrees and continue baking for 20-22 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares.
The best thing about blondies...they ship well and that's just what happened to these!
I wrapped each Blondie in wax paper and sealed in a cute Turkey box I found; off they go for special treats to the people I love, but won't get to see for the holiday.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Banana Egg Nog Scones

I swear, one day I'm going to write a cookbook--"A Hundred Ways to Bake with Bananas!" Yes, I had some aged bananas again staring at me in my kitchen this morning, thanks to hubby:-D  Since I am feeling in the holiday spirit; Christmas music playing on the radio, malls decked out, and the advertisements on television have begun, I used some Egg Nog I found in the supermarket to add a twist to these scones.  The weather has turned cool and a warm scone is the perfect breakfast treat.
We're settling in nicely in our surroundings, loving the warmth and friendliness of the people, and paying tribute to my Irish roots with these scones, but adding a new Southern take, makes me happy. I found last year, when I baked Cranberry~Egg Nog Scones, that the cream (rather than half & half) really does give a tender crumb to this biscuit-like treat, so I changed that recipe a bit to incorporate a banana and found a new creation to add to my pile of banana recipes:-D

Banana Egg Nog Scones
4 1/4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1/3 + 1 T granulated sugar
2 T baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, grated
1 large egg~in a 2-cup glass measure, add Egg Nog to give 1 3/4 cups of liquid
1 banana, mashed
(optional~add 1/2 cup dried cranberries or chopped nuts)

Egg Wash:
1 egg
2 T Egg Nog

Sparkling Suga

Egg Nog Glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 T Light Karo Syrup
2-3 T Egg Nog

Preheat oven to 375F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the first four dry ingredients together.  Add the grated butter and use a pastry cutter to incorporate into the dry ingredients.  

Add the banana and the egg/egg nog mixture and mix just until the dough comes together.  

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead, gently, until smooth.  
Roll dough to a 1-inch thickness and use your favorite cutter, dipped in flour, to cut out scones.  (You can also roll it into a rectangle and cut into squares with a knife.)  Place on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
 Mix the egg wash and use a pastry brush to apply to the tops of the scones.  Sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if desired.
Bake in the preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and firm to touch.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, before spreading on the glaze. I have to tell you a warm scone with butter and jam is the most perfect way to start your day. Enjoy!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Let Us All Remember...


Remembering the men and women who hear the call
to serve this Country one and all;
never allowing our flag to fall.
Sacrificing your lives to preserve our freedom,
and leaving your own loved ones until home you come.

Remembering, not just on this day
but in everything we do and say;
To honor this duty in the most respectful way.
America is so thankful for the time you give
so, in freedom we all shall live.

Today, I remember the service of my Great Grandfather, both of my Grandfather's, Father, Father-in-law, Uncles, Brothers, Brother-in-laws, Nephews and Friends who have unselfishly given their time to protect our freedom.  I also give thanks and honor all those brave men and women I don't know by name~You are all heroes, Thank you.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sticky Bun Coffee Cake

One of the things my daughters and I would get, at the mall while shopping, was a Sticky Bun to share.  These wonderful rolls of cinnamon-yeast dough with a caramel/pecan topping that sticks to your hands and teeth, but oh so good.  I was thinking of those treats when I was at the mall yesterday; Christmas shopping and checking out the new gadgets for holiday baking.  I wandered into Williams-Sonoma and saw an unique baking pan...the Cinnamon Bun Pan.
Even though WS offers a "mix" to make a Cinnamon Roll Cake, I couldn't help but challenge myself to come up with my version--easy enough to entice you too to bake from scratch for your family. (*Note, you don't have to buy the pan; this recipe will work in a 9" Springform pan or for individual buns, a muffin pan.)

The reason I made mine a Sticky Bun Cake (and not just a Cinnamon Roll) was that I came across two local products at our Farmer's Market, pecans and honey, and I love to support these growers/bee keepers.

Pecans are a species of the hickory tree and the name comes from the Algonquin word meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack.  North Carolina isn't as well known for growing pecans as Georgia, Alabama, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Louisiana, but these from Turkey, North Carolina sure impressed me with their size and flavor.  We love pecan pie for the holidays and Kelly's favorite recipe was Pecan Tassies that she would bake to give as gifts.  They are an excellent source of Magnesium and a good source of protein and unsaturated fat.

I'll be testing some recipes ideas and thinking how quickly the holidays seem to be coming up.  I hope to share some new and interesting ones from my memories.

Sticky Bun Coffee Cake
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray desired baking pan with a Baking Spray and set aside.
Sticky Topping:
1/2 cup honey (you could also use maple syrup or dark Karo syrup)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 T melted butter
1 cup pecans, broken in half or rough chopped

In a small bowl, mix the honey and brown sugar together.  Add the melted butter and stir again.  Finally add the pecans.
I use a cookie scoop to measure out the sticky mixture for the pan.

Cinnamon Swirl:
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 T King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 T melted butter

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
 Coffee Cake batter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. Vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream (don't use Light or Low Fat!)

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter, oil and sugar together thoroughly.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the Vanilla extract and mix once more.

Whisk together the dry ingredients and add to the bowl with the sour cream.  Mix on low until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble:
On top of the Sticky Topping, spoon a little more than half of the batter on top.
Next, sprinkle with the Cinnamon Swirl Topping over top of the batter.
Finally, spoon the remaining batter over this layer and smooth to cover.
Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325F-degrees and continue baking another 12-15 minutes until a wooden skewer in the center of the cake comes out cleanly.
Have your serving plate near by so you can turn the cake onto it.  Allow to be upside-down on the platter for about 7-10 minutes so all the sticky topping releases.
Lift off and allow to cool completely--even though that sticky topping is calling your name, it will burn!
The wonderful cake with a cinnamon swirl and that luscious sticky topping is worth the wait and so easy to make.  Fix a cup of tea and have a piece, then, start that Christmas list you've been putting off. Enjoy!

**Note ~ If you don't eat the entire cake in one sitting (:-D) then, simply put a piece in the microwave and nuke for 20 seconds to warm up the caramel topping.