Archive | December, 2013

Challenge: Bundt cake

27 Dec

bundt panThis Christmas was a boon for baking. I got a cast-iron skillet and a bundt pan, so naturally I’ve been feverishly brainstorming what to make first with each.

With New Year’s swiftly approaching, it seems like the right time to try out a bundt cake (and that skillet will see a peppercorn tri-tip steak soon). I’ve never made one before, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect. But I’m happy to find that there are so many different recipes out there. Here are some of the highlights.

From the Crepes of Wrath
Banana-caramel bundt cake
Root beer bundt cake
Pineapple bundt cake

From Smitten Kitchen
Lemon cake
Gingerbread bundt

From Alton Brown
Apple spiced bundt cake with rum glaze

From Martha Stewart
Devil’s food bundt cake with ganache

From The Oregonian’s Foodday
Several varieties, including blood orange and rosemary; hazelnut cranberry; apple; and whiskey-soaked dark chocolate

And because it’s a novelty, if nothing else: Buzzfeed has a visual list of bundt recipes.


UPDATE: I missed this before I posted originally, but The New York Times offers a video of how to make a Flaming Baba Au Ruhm in a bundt pan, which looks pretty fancy — and fun. And a hat tip to my mom, who left a comment: She suggests a Harvey Wallbanger cake, in vogue in the ’70s.


Solo project: Holiday pies

27 Dec

photo (3)

For Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I made four pies: three pumpkin and one berry (an experiment!). 

First, the experimental cranberry pie. I combined a couple recipes: Bon Appetit’s cherry-bourbon pie and a blueberry pie from AllRecipes. Here’s what I used: 1) old-fashioned butter pie crust; 2) cranberries, orange juice, orange zest, corn starch and cherry brandy for the filling; 3) oatmeal, brown sugar and butter for the topping. The orange juice tempered the tartness of the cranberries quite nicely, but the filling turned out a bit too runny. Probably a combination of not cooking for long enough + not using enough corn starch + too much orange juice/brandy.

For the pumpkin pies, I used my tried-and-true Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie recipe from Yankee Magazine. But each one I made did something different (read: didn’t look as good as I’d hoped).

photo (1)

Here’s one before it went in the oven.


And this is how it turned out. I’d say this one was the most successful. I’ve learned the trick to crimping is to try to stand the crust on the edge and forcefully pinch so the crust will hold its shape in a 400-degree oven.

photo (2)

This one looks hideous, but that’s because I baked it way too long (lesson learned). The knife inserted in the center trick doesn’t always work. The sign it’s done baking is if the middle is wobbly but not too much. I’m also convinced that taking a pie out of a hot oven and into a cold house somehow contributes to cracking. I’ll be sure to tent these with foil next time.

christmas pumpkin pie

And last but not least, my Christmas pie (which sunk in the middle and cracked!). As you can see, the quality and consistency vary immensely from one pie to the next. But they tasted great, and that’s what matters, right? The presentation isn’t perfect, but I’ll keep trying for pie perfection.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013: Portland

11 Dec


Ever since last year’s Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, when I made cherry-almond and chocolate-walnut combo cookies, I’ve been fixated on the idea (and the ease) of sliced cookies.

So for this year’s swap, I decided to try out a simple sliced cookie that I loved eating as a kid: pecan sandies. (And yes, that’s cookie fabric that my sandies are sitting on — just couldn’t resist.) I remember associating pecan sandies with the holidays because my mom’s parents always had the Keebler variety when we visited their house in Omaha, Neb.

I can’t speak for Hannah, but I’m beginning to get used to the cookie swap being part of my annual holiday traditions at the beginning of December. Every year I feel like I get a little better with my cookie technique, and experimenting with different recipes keeps things interesting. Plus, it’s always fun to see what other bloggers are up to and to send out some festive packages across the country.


Because I like to consider myself somewhat of a traditionalist, I always venture to the library in early November to uncover some holiday cookie inspiration. “Christmas Cookies: 50 Recipes to Treasure for the Holiday Season” ended up having just what I was looking for. The author even gave suggestions of what cookies mailed well, so that was helpful when narrowing down what recipe to tackle. Another book that featured non-holiday sliced cookie recipes also caught my eye (“Slice & Bake Cookies: Fast Recipes from your Refrigerator or Freezer”), and it had several ideas for savory cookies, something I’d never much considered.

The recipe is essentially butter, sugar, 1 egg, flour and toasted pecans. If I had to pick an Internet recipe to replicate, I’d try Smitten Kitchen’s bite-size sandies. On to the baking.


First of all, toasting pecans makes one’s house smell wonderful, and I’d make these cookies again just for that benefit. My particular recipe called for 3/4 cup of pecans, which is significantly less than other recipes specified, but the trick here is to grind them with a food processor so the pieces are spread throughout the cookie. I liked this method better, as opposed to having large chunks of pecans. It’s more reminiscent of the cookie I grew up eating, and it has a more uniform pecan flavor.


As usual, first step was to cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg. The pecans waited in the wings until they were cooled from their toasting.


After incorporating the flour, which even at less than 2 cups always seems like too much, I formed them into two rolls, and they went into the refrigerator for several hours. I often make cookie dough the night (or weekend) before I actually intend to bake the cookies so I can plan my time a bit better.


When I cut them up into 1/4- to 1/3-inch cookies, I could tell they had flattened out on the bottom a bit, and I haven’t figured out a way to prevent that from happening.


As you can see, some cookie cuts were straighter than others.


About 15 minutes in the oven, and they were golden brown and crispy. (Side note: I upgraded my cookie sheet this year in anticipation of making more cookies this year and next. And it made quite a bit of difference as far as consistent baking.)


My packaging involved a couple Ziploc bags (holiday-themed, of course), and some newspaper (which I have in abundance). Here’s who got my cookies:

And the cookies I received were all wonderful! Because there’s no reason one person should eat three dozen cookies, I made sure to share with friends at a tree-trimming party.


First were lemon-glazed cookies from Sheryl of Mama’s Gotta Bake. Nothing I like better than a good lemon cookie.


Next were date pinwheels from Jessica of Kettler Cuisine, which win most inventive cookie that I received.


Last were brownie drops from Mercedes of Satisfy My Sweet Tooth.

And of course there were Hannah’s lovely sugar cookies, which I especially enjoyed with a nice cup of peppermint Christmas tea.

I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to participate in this wonderful swap for the past three years, and thanks to all (especially Julie and Lindsay) for making it so much fun.

Hopefully I’ll have more cookie adventures (namely gingerbread) to report soon.

Happy baking, and happy holidays!


Great Food Blogger Cookie Exchange 2013: Denver

11 Dec


I’m so glad to be doing this lovely swap for a third year running! I imagine it is a formidable amount of work for Lindsay and Julie, who organize it each year, so I want to thank each of them so much for doing this. The organization raised almost $14,000 to fight children’s cancer this year. Remarkable! Shout out to you two, and to your corporate partners who matched donations. Oxo sent me some totally amazing silicone spatulas, which I basically haven’t put down since they arrived. They’re mega high quality and I love them.


This year, I went a different route than my typical cookie exchange cookie, and I’m not sure I think it was a great idea, retrospectively. Past years have brought chocolate-cherry biscotti and cranberry noels to my kitchen, both of which I thought were delicious but outwardly plain cookies. This year, I wanted to try a simple taste with some graphic flash! I made plain ‘ol vanilla sugar cookies, dying half of the dough and rolling them into swirled logs. They looked ok when they were done, but I wasn’t thrilled with their overall quality (more on this later).


The recipe itself was about as straightforward as possible. I used Martha Stewart’s Perfect Sugar Cookie recipe pretty much unmodified. I actually made a triple batch, because I needed to get at least 48 cookies out of it (and I remembered last year’s ordeal when I had to go back and make an extra batch in the end to get me to 48).


I always forget how dense sugar cookie dough is!  Adding in all that flour definitely put some strain on my beloved hand-mixer.


Pulled out my trusty gel food coloring…


I separated the dough into fourths, coloring two of the fourths (I decided I wanted red/white pinwheels and blue/white pinwheels).


After chilling, I rolled them out, and chilled them some more!


Assembly was surprisingly easy. Using a water wash, I was able to stack colored dough on uncolored dough, line edges up, and roll. It took some effort to roll them evenly. To prevent any gaps inside the swirls, I rolled the logs around for quite a while.


Finally, a water bath went on the outside, and each log got rolled in goodies.


This part was so messy!


The red/white log was rolled in crushed peppermint, and the blue/white log was rolled in snowflake-shaped sprinkles.


I let the logs chill in the fridge, then, finally, sliced and baked the cookies!


Like I mentioned above, I wasn’t amazed at how these turned out. They were cute enough, but they spread a lot more than I thought they would, so they weren’t very uniform. Also, I’m a nitwit, and I didn’t think about the fact that the peppermint chips on the red/white cookies would melt in the oven! Duh. The best-laid plans, I tell you. Finally, I wasn’t amazed at the texture of these cookies; they turned out pretty hard. However, they were good with a cup of tea or milk to dunk them into, and they were certainly more graphic than previous swap efforts. I thought it was fun to branch out and do something decorative this year!



My batches went out to Justina at Fail Sweetly, Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla, and Laura at Pink Cake Plate. I included a little homemade card in each package, because someone did that for me during my first year, and I really loved the tidbits that author included about herself. All three of these blogs are varied, beautiful, and interesting. I hope the cookies arrived intact!


This year, for the first time ever, I got all three of my official swap cookies on the same day! I’d had a loooong Wednesday at work, followed by commute home from work that took almost 90 minutes due to a snowstorm, but I got home to three packages!

One was from Harvey at Baked Chicago. I was telling my roommates that one of the things I like the most about the GFBCS is that you get folks from all walks of life – form college kids to grandparents to professional cooks! Harvey definitely lies on the latter side of that spectrum, from what I can tell from his website. His cookies were variations on soft-baked gingersnap molasses cookies; some were plain, some were filled with chocolate, and some were filled with chocolate and topped with granola. All of them were delicious, and Harvey’s packaging/presentation was beautiful. He also sent me a copy of his e-cookbook, which I think was amazingly kind. Thank you, Harvey! I can’t wait to make some brownies 🙂


Another batch were from Renee at Tortillas and Honey. Her beautiful blog looks mostly focused on New Mexican cuisine – which is near and dear to my heart. I’m a Coloradan, but I loooove New Mexican food. I may or may not have already bookmarked some of her posts for my future meals. Renee sent chocolate peppermint crinkles, which were truly phenomenal. Like, ho-ly mo-ly. The texture on these puppies was absolutely flawless…they pretty much literally melted in your mouth!  I will be making a batch or two of these to give as gifts to local friends, I think. Thank you, Renee!


My final batch were absolutely wonderful thyme-sea salt chocolate chip cookies. These were a big hit in my apartment. I really appreciated the twist on a classic, and they were expertly executed – delightfully salty, but not over salted (I imagine this was a narrow line to walk), and the thyme was a great foil to the chocolate. Regrettably, this package didn’t come with any contact information, just a note that said “Thyme sea salt chocolate chip cookies, from Jenni”. Jenni, wherever you are, thank you so much for these!


As tradition holds, Nora and I each make a fourth dozen and include them in our Christmas packages to each other. You can read about Nora’s batch here, but I can tell you first-hand that they were a. maze. ing.  I looooove pecan sandies, and Nora’s were excellent, with a crumbly texture that was to die for. Plus, they were mega cute. Thanks, girl.

Blondies: Portland

3 Dec

7-Blondie finale

Chewy, chock-full of cinnamon and baked golden. Yes, it’s a snickerdoodle, but it’s not a cookie. After trying out this recipe for snickerdoodle blondies (which Hannah suggested from the Crepes of Wrath), I’m convinced this is the way to go with the classic sugar-cinnamon baked good. And I decided to try this recipe in particular because I wanted something simple and spicy. Not only were these incredibly easy to assemble, but I enjoyed the different texture of the bar versus the cookie. Also, sometimes snickerdoodle cookies can be overly greasy, and I liked that these at least kept the butter hidden. I’ll absolutely make them again.

Hannah made her batch for our friend Chris’ birthday. I sent a package with some different gifts (which were admittedly pretty silly) and some boozy brownies made by our friend Blaine. I made these a few weeks ago but have been procrastinating about doing my post. After baking these, I brought most of them to work to share, and of course I saved one for Blaine, who’s quite the snickerdoodle devotee. He said he liked the taste but that he didn’t care for blondie’s crunchy top. He’ll stick with the classic cookie.

1-Blondie ingredients

The ingredients were incredibly basic. But the thing that makes a good blondie is the brown sugar. That’s what gives it the caramel taste and golden color.

2-Blondie sugar-butter

I cut the butter before creaming it with the brown sugar. Nothing particularly exciting to see here, but I do love the contrast of the textures between the granular sugar and the smooth butter. I’m sure there is some molecular, food science reason for this, but I’m still working on figuring that out. Once I finish Alton Brown’s baking book, I’ll let you know.

3-Blondie dry goods

Dry ingredients were next. If it’s possible, this photo is more mundane than the last.

4-Blondie mixing

Here’s the mixture after the butter, sugar and eggs came together. Then a quick mix with the flour, which initially seemed like way too much but soon got incorporated, and the dough was ready for the pan.

5-Blondie pre-bake

The source recipe calls for parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, but I decided to do without and simply butter the pan amply. Sprinkled cinnamon sugar went on top just before baking.

6-Blondie post-bake

My house smelled so wonderful while these were baking, and they turned out great, all golden brown and beautiful.