GINGERBEAD – THE RECIPE

Just a few months ago I posted a blog titled “Gingerbread“.  In case you think I might be losing my mind, I’m not (hopefully), this blog is about making (and eating) Gingerbread.  If you want to know the origins of how this exotic spice became such an important part of the culture in Great Britain, please click on this link … GINGERBREAD.  It will give you all the background you’ve ever wanted to know about ginger and the making of this confection.  Meanwhile, I’m actually making my own moist, dense, rich ‘GINGERBREAD‘.

As always, before making any recipe, I go through all my cookbooks (of which I have more than I can count) as well as check all the internet foodie blogs to find the ‘best of the best’ recipes.  Some recipes were more like a light, fluffy spice cake with cream cheese frosting.  Not what I was looking for at all.  What I wanted was an old-fashioned, dense, rich cake-like bread.  It should be easily held in your hand, not requiring a plate.  It should be packed full of peppery ‘ginger’ flavor … not cinnamon, cloves or allspice.  It should be moist … not dry.  And, most of all, it should be delicious.

I’ve tried more recipes than I want to admit.  And culled from a few different recipes, here is MY favorite by far.  It is quite easy to make, but it’s not for the timid.  It’s for ginger lovers everywhere.  If you want more or less ginger, feel free to adjust the quantities.

GINGERBREAD
Bake at 350°  Makes one large round bundt pan, or two or more loaf pans.

3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup cane syrup, or corn syrup or honey
1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground ginger (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup full-fat milk
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

About an hour before you want to make the Gingerbread, combine the following ingredients in a saucepan:  Cubed butter, vegetable oil, water, molasses, brown sugar, golden syrup or honey.  Simmer over low heat until the butter is melted, the sugar has dissolved and everything is well combined.

Cool completely before adding this mixture to the dry ingredients.  It should be just warm to the touch.  If you want to cool this mixture quickly, set the pan into a bowl of ice water.

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare your baking pans – a large round pan, or as many smaller pans as you’d like.  Grease well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients:  flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, ground ginger and cinnamon.

In a separate, smaller bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, milk and grated ginger.

When the syrup mixture has cooled, add it slowly to the dry ingredients.  Blend well, but don’t beat.  Then add the egg/milk/ginger combination to the batter.  Again, be sure to  blend well, but be sure not to overbeat the batter.  Low speed on an electric mixer is fine.  You don’t want to build up the gluten.

Pour the batter into the greased pan(s) and bake.  Depending upon the pan size and shape, it could take between 45 and 60 minutes.  Check for doneness when a tester comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Then put on the kettle and don’t be afraid to dive in.  It freezes well if you want to wrap it tightly in foil.  Or it will keep nicely in the frig for a week, wrapped in cling film.

Dense, gingery and moist.  I love this Gingerbread warm with a dusting of powered sugar and a big mug of tea!   This is perfect for the holidays.  Keep one on hand ready to serve for anyone who drops by … or just make to enjoy all by yourself!!
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JAFFA CAKES

With this world wide global marketplace in which we now live, it seems we have available anything we want from anywhere at anytime.  Teas from China … cotton sheets from Egypt … woolen scarves from Scotland … wild salmon from Alaska … it’s all there in the stores.  But, when you want some Jaffa Cakes, where can you find them?  I realize, of course, most everything you can think of is available through Amazon (at an exorbitant price, I might add), but we were hoping to find these inexpensive and delectable little nuggets of deliciousness in the International food aisle from at least one of the big supermarket chains, and not have to wait for the delivery man to walk down the driveway in two or three days. 

For those of you who don’t know what a Jaffa Cake is, it’s a small not overly sweet, cake-like cookie with an orange-flavored gelatinous disc in the center, topped with dark chocolate.  They’re inexpensive, sold in packages and are available everywhere in the U.K., from supermarkets to convenience stores, and loved by everyone.  And, yes, they were a baking challenge on one of the earlier Great British Bake Off programs.

Well, if I can’t buy them, then here’s another baking challenge – Jaffa Cakes.  As always I begin by doing a little online research.  It astonishes me that you can see the exact same recipe on a dozen different ‘home baker’s’ sites.  Do they just copy and paste from one to another?

From the web, I printed a couple of recipes and then took out my British cookbooks.  Now which recipe to try?  The first recipe was Mary Berry‘s, which was confusing because it said to ‘break the jelly into pieces’.  Wasn’t sure what that meant.  Next was Paul Hollywood‘s recipe which also called for me to ‘break the jelly into cubes’.  Apparently, this is an ingredient we either don’t have here in the U.S., or we call it something else.  I decided to make my own orange filling with gelatin, orange juice and sugar.  It didn’t really work.  Okay then, why not use orange flavored JELL-O?  Which I did and it worked perfectly.  After many tries and fails, converting grams to cups, and wondering why all British recipes call for “free range” eggs, here’s my recipe.  I hope you like it!!

JAFFA CAKES 
Bake at 350°.  Makes 12 – 2″ cookies.  Equipment needed:  muffin tin and/or whoopie pie tin

2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 3 oz. package orange-flavored JELL-O
1/3 cup boiling water
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
butter for greasing tins

Make the filling first by dissolving a packet of orange-flavored gelatin into 1/3 cup of boiling water.  Spray or grease a 12 count muffin tin.  Into the bottom of each cup put a tablespoon of the gelatin.  Put the tin into the refrigerator for the gelatin to set.  When the gelatin has set completely, remove each disc from the muffin tin and place on a dish.  Place the dish back into the refrigerator until its time to assemble.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for at least 5 minutes until delicate, pale and frothy.   Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.  Be careful not to deflate the eggs.  Put 2 tablespoons of batter into the bottom of each of the greased muffin cups and bake at 350° for 7 to 8  minutes or until pale but baked through.

Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Then remove each cake/cookie and let them cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, over a bowl of very hot water, melt the chocolate chips, stirring as necessary until smooth and shiny.  Let cool a bit.

To assemble:  take a cake/cookie and place an orange disc on top and quickly place a spoonful of the chocolate on top of the disc.  Using the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate, sealing in the orange wafer.  Place the cookie back onto the rack.  When they are all assembled, using the tines of a fork, gently make a criss-cross pattern on each of them*.

They may not be as pretty as Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes, but they taste pretty darn good.  Tasty little cakes with an orange filling and chocolate frosting.  If you wanted to  make these ahead, I’m sure they’d probably last a few days, but definitely not in our house!

*As you can see, I tried … but failed miserably at this.
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CRUMPETS

We’re all doing our best during these stressful times to stay home, stay active and stay informed.  Hubby and I put it off as long as we could, but finally had to make our way into the grocery store.  Well, it was obvious that we were quite a bit late.  Needless to say, all the cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. were gone, but baking ingredients?  Baking is what I like to do to relax, and apparently, a lot of people share in this, because the flours, sugars, and all of the essential baking ingredients were also not to be found.  I was completely unprepared to see even these supermarket shelves barren.  It’s a good thing I had some of the basic items at home.

With that in mind, what challenge do I need to take on with my limited pantry?  Having just received the latest edition of COOKS ILLUSTRATED (a periodical I’ve relied upon for other recipes), there it was … Crumpets!  I’ve never made Crumpets before and felt the need to tackle something new.  The article was a full two-pages on how to make ‘authentic crumpets’, which should have been my first clue.

What are Crumpets?  I think they are most easily described as Britain’s version of an English muffin.  Perfect for breakfast or teatime, they are a home-spun, belly filling, crisp on the outside, kind’a doughy on the inside, griddle cake.  The best way to eat them is toasted and slathered with butter or jam, or butter AND jam.

The COOK’S ILLUSTRATED recipe called for “cake flour”, which struck me as rather odd, because this is hearty comfort food, not a delicate sponge.  Hubby said I needed ring molds.  Really?  COOK’S ILLUSTRATED didn’t say I needed them.  Why can’t I just drop the dough onto the griddle in rounds?  After trying to do exactly that, I can tell you, hubby was right … you’re  not going to get nice, fat, round muffins.  You are going to get something flat and misshapen like a pancake.  The recipe said to ‘scrape off the top of the batter, before flipping, to expose the beautiful air holes’.  Why that alone didn’t  make me toss the recipe aside, I’ll never know.  I plunged ahead anyway.

Epic Fail Crumpet Flapjacks

Three hours later, all 12 misshapen, gluey, tasteless griddle cakes went into the trash.  If you want to make Crumpets, I do not recommend the COOK’s ILLUSTRATED recipe.  I did, however, go through all my cookbooks, as well as online recipes and, after four more attempts, ended up making delicious Crumpets with thanks to Paul Hollywood. 

DIY crumpet ring molds

Not having crumpet rings and looking frantically for something to use, I ended up squashing some cookie cutters into roundish molds.  They aren’t pretty, but they worked. And with my final attempt to make these crumpets, I decided they should be a bit more nutritious.  Why not Whole Wheat?

Super easy to prepare … although the grilling part was a bit tricky.  You can easily use a bowl and wooden spoon, but I choose to use my stand mixer.  And, you can prepare the batter the night before and grill them in the morning.  What could be easier than that?  Eat them as they come off the grill, or make ahead and freeze.  Either way, when you’re ready to eat them, be sure to toast the crumpets til crisp and slather them with rich, creamy butter.  Here’s the recipe.  I hope you give it a go!!

WHOLE WHEAT CRUMPETS
Makes approximately:  10 to 12  4″ crumpets.  Cook time:  8 to 12 minutes.

1 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
*(or you can use two cups all purpose flour)

First, warm the milk in the microwave (not too hot) and stir in the yeast and the sugar.  Let it rest for 10 minutes until its frothy.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt.  Add the warm milk mixture and stir together until a thick dough forms.  If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Let it mix for about 3 or 4 minutes.

No need to take it out, knead it and grease the bowl.  Just cover the bowl with a towel and put it aside to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

When it has doubled and will hold an indentation from your finger, it’s ready.  Mix together the cup of water with the baking soda.  Now comes the tricky part, mix this liquid into the dough.  It’ll be difficult at first.  I used a fork to break the dough up, and then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it was somewhat smooth (but not perfect … still a bit lumpy).

After the water/baking soda liquid has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl again and put it aside for another hour.  When it’s ready, there should be bubbles on the surface.

Preheat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan on medium heat and oil it a bit.  Not too generously.  But, generously grease the inside of the ring molds.  If you don’t, the batter will stick and you’ll never get them out.  Put the rings onto the skillet to get hot as well.

Using a ladle or tablespoon, spoon equal portions of the batter into the molds.  The batter will be sticky and gloppy.  Don’t be concerned.  That’s how it’s suppose to be.  Keep an eye on the heat to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom, turning it down as necessary.  They will rise and as with pancakes, they will be almost fully cooked before they need to be flipped over (about 6 minutes on the first side).  When the top has lost its gloss and the sides look firm, remove the rings.  The rings will be hot, so use tongs.  With a spatula, flip the crumpets over and let them cook on the other side for just another minute.

The crumpets should be lightly browned and ready to eat.  Move them to a rack and let them cool for a bit, as they will continue to cook on the inside for a minute or two.  Re-grease the ring molds and put them back on the griddle to heat up and then ladle in more batter.  Keep going until all the batter is gone.  Depending upon the size of the rings, this recipe will make 8 to 12 crumpets.

Whole Wheat Crumpets

Crumpets are delicious hot off the griddle with a generous slathering of butter.  If you are going to toast them, don’t slice them open.  They aren’t English muffins.  We really liked the whole wheat flour, giving these crumpets a darker color, rich nutty flavor.  Half of them were gone, the moment they came off the griddle.  I wrapped the others, put them into the freezer, and they’ll be perfect for the weekend.


If you make them, please be sure to let me know how they came out.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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OATMEAL SCONES

To keep my sanity during these stressful times, my baking marathon continues.  For me, baking is not only relaxing, it gives me something to focus on, fuels my creativity, as well as provides a really yummy end product (well, most of the time).  Even if it doesn’t look good, most bakes taste good and that’s really all that matters.

I found this recipe (originally from the Quaker Oats company) as I was cleaning out old cookbooks.  It looked quick and easy, perfect for today’s rainy day … and perfect to go along with a hot steamy cuppa and a good book.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

OATMEAL SCONES
Bake at 425° for 20 to 30 minutes.  Makes 8 to 10 scones (or more, depending upon the size)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal (any type will do)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping – optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar

Glaze 
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice

First, line up all your ingredients.  Don’t be one of those bakers who goes looking for things as you go along.  If you have everything in front of you, you’re less apt to make a mistake and forget something.  Then, preheat your oven and prepare your pan.  Most ovens take 20 minutes or more to heat up thoroughly.  A $5.00 oven thermometer is a great investment and saves a lot of baking disasters.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these, but I did use my food processor.  Nothing is quicker than a food processor … as long as you know how and when to use it.  The “pulse” button is all you need for these!

In a large bowl (or food processor) add the dry ingredients.  Mix well or pulse two or three times.  Cut the icy cold butter into cubes and add it to the dry ingredients until it resembles fine crumbs.  Again, if using a food processor, PULSE 10 or 12 times … no more!

In a small bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla.  Then add this wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir it in with a fork or PULSE a few times just to combine everything.

Turn the mixture out onto a floured board.  Knead a few times to bring it together.  Do not overwork the dough or your scones will be tough and won’t rise properly.

Form the dough into a round and with a rolling pin, gently roll until you have about 3/4″ thickness.  Cut the dough into triangles (or you can use a cutter to cut out shapes).  Place the triangles onto a parchment lined baking tray.

In another small bowl, mix the chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the scones, pressing down lightly to fix them onto the scones.  This is completely optional.

Bake the scones in a preheated 425° oven for 25-30 minutes (if smaller scones are made, you may need to reduce the baking time.  When they have baked through and are browned, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Combine the powdered sugar and orange juice and just drizzle over the top of the scones.  Then be prepared to watch them disappear.

Be sure to put the kettle on and enjoy this easy-to-make, delicious treat …
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WHITBY FISH PIE

Whitby is a charming, seaside village in north Yorkshire.  Although we have visited quite a few times, there’s no real reason for most people to have heard of Whitby … unless you’ve followed the career of Captain Cook or have read Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA.  Actually, quite a few literary geniuses have lived or visited Whitby during their careers.  In addition to Bram Stoker, you may have heard of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell or Lewis Carroll among many others.  Today, tourism is what keeps this quiet, little fishing village alive … well, that and “fish pie”.

As with most regional recipes, it comes down to whatever is available, and whatever the cook decides to do with it.  In Whitby, it’s the ‘catch of the day’.  For me, it was a quick trip to the grocery store, after which I decided to use cod.  And pulling from my bookshelf of resources, it was Paul Hollywood’s BRITISH BAKING which inspired this beloved regional dish.

I was a bit hesitant … not all of my attempts at Hollywood’s recipes have been successful … but this one certainly was.  We all loved it.  A hearty, satisfying dish, flavorful and delicious.  Perfect for a Sunday supper on a wintry night.  Serve it up with a tossed green salad and bottle of white wine.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

WHITBY FISH PIE
Serves 6 to 8.  Bake at 425º for 30 to 40 mins.

The crust (or purchase a pre-made pastry crust)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup icy cold water

The filling
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 diced white onion
2 stalked celery, diced
2 cups spinach, washed and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 lbs. solid white fish, skinned, cubed
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 egg, beaten

I know after reading this list of ingredients, it seems like a lot of time and work, but it really isn’t.  We all know a good pie starts with a good crust.  They are super easy, but if you don’t feel comfortable making one, store bought crusts have come a long way.

When ready to cook, make the filling in one large saucepan, beginning with a roux, adding leftover cooked potatoes if you have them.  Dump it all into a large pie plate or casserole.  Then top it with the pie crust and bake for about 40 minutes.  Done!
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The details:
To make the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Add the chilled butter and cut in until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the beaten egg and, with a fork, mix together quickly adding the cold water as needed …

OR … put all the dry ingredients in your food processor and pulse for 10 seconds.  Add the cubed butter and pulse for another 10 seconds.  Add the beaten egg and as much water as needed to hold it together and pulse for a final 10 seconds.

The flour mixture should stay together.

Whichever method you use, when it comes together, turn out on a floured board and form a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

The filling:
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  When melted, stir in the 1/2 cup of flour and cook til all combined.  Slowly add the milk and whisk until smooth and creamy.  This will take two to three minutes.  Season with cloves, salt and pepper.

The bechamel should be nicely thickened.

Next, stir in the diced onions and celery.  The heat should be medium to low.  Then add the chopped spinach and parsley.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.  You may need to add a bit more salt.

Add the cubed fish and fold in gently.  You don’t want to break the fish up.  If you have leftover boiled potatoes, add them now … or any leftover veggies you may have.  Turn off the heat and dump everything into a large casserole or pie plate.

Take the pastry out of the frig and, on a lightly floured board, roll it out to fit the casserole or pie plate.  Be sure to cut an air hole in the center of the pastry for the steam to escape.

Brush the edges of the casserole with water or the beaten egg and put the pastry crust on top.    Press the pastry onto the rim of the dish to adhere.  Decorate as you’d like, or not.  Brush the beaten egg all over the pastry crust.

Be sure to put the casserole onto a baking tray to catch any spillage … and there will be spillage.  Bake at 425º for 40 to 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.


Take it out of the oven and serve right away.  A simple green salad and glass of white wine … maybe some crusty bread, perfect!  This is an old-fashioned supper dish and it doesn’t disappoint.  WHITBY FISH PIE … a steaming pie full of goodness and nutrition.  If you make it, please let me know.
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References:  Wikipedia, Visit Whitby, Paul Hollywood,

CAKE

One of the oldest forms of what originated as a sweetened bread is cake.  In its simplest form, it is flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and butter, but it can be so much more than just that.  Cake can evoke so many different emotions and memories in each of us.  From the modest, but much-loved birthday cake of our childhood, to the multi-tiered symbol of love, the wedding cake, to the rich, decadent torte we enjoyed during our last extravagant dinner.  Or perhaps it was that $5.00 cake at the grocery store which looked so good you couldn’t pass it up.  Today a celebratory Cake is a ‘must have’ for most cultures at every occasion … from the baby shower to the anniversary dinner to the retirement party.

Duff Goldman photographed next to one of his designer cakes, a floral wedding cake at Charm City Cakes West.

I am fascinated by the incredible cakes produced on some of the Food Network shows. Watching episodes of Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes can leave you feeling hopelessly inadequate as a baker.  But you must know that lavishly decorated cakes didn’t begin when the Food Network started showcasing these professional bakers and their cake masterpieces.  It began during the Victorian era.

When hubby and I have a weekend free, we love to spend a Sunday afternoon strolling around rural town centers, browsing through curiosity and antique shops.  Recently I came across a fascinating  book entitled The Victorian Book of Cakes, Recipes, Techniques and Decorations from the Golden Age of Cake Making”.  Not the original, this reproduction, written in 1958, is taken from the turn-of-the-century tome which was the standard for professional bakers during the Victorian era. The recipes range from petit fours to pound cakes, slab cakes and shortbread, to gingerbread and marzipan.

The illustrations in this book are remarkable in that they are not photographs but drawn capturing the precise details from each original baked item.  The images of wedding cakes are astonishingly beautiful, each having won prizes at the London International Exhibition 100 years ago.

The book has hundreds of recipes, which are quite interesting.  Most use the same simple ingredients, but with very minimal direction.  The cakes are generally traditional fruit cakes, with nuts, spices, and rum or brandy, such as the wedding cake Prince William and Kate Middleton served for their wedding.

For leavening agents, although they do not call it “baking powder”, a blend of ‘cream of tartar’ and baking soda (two pounds of cream of tartar to one pound of baking soda) is used – which essentially is ‘baking powder’ (invented by Alfred Bird in 1840).  Yeast or beaten egg whites were also used to lighten batters, all of which leads me to think that most of these cakes were probably more ‘bread like’ and quite dense.

In a Victorian bakery or pastry shop there would be a variety of cakes and biscuits for sale from scones and shortbread to meringues, marzipan and trifles.  This book gives the bakery owner, not only recipes for its ‘best sellers’, but advice on how to display these confections and what to charge … with cakes starting at a shilling.  One description for a “SHILLING GATEAU” is described as “very saleable and enhance the general shop display.  They should be made from a good Genoese base, either a light egg mixture or a closer-eating butter mixing.  The latter seems to be the favorite of the cake-eating public.”  How fun!  I guess we ‘cake-eating public’ like a ‘closer-eating’ mixture … whatever that may mean.

In addition to the advice and recipes are the original advertisements for all the baking essentials required, from flours and sugars to cake stands and ovens.  One advertisement which I found interesting was for a “vegetable butter” made from “cocoanuts, as an excellent substitute for butter, margarine and lard”.  Why has it taken us another 100 years to fully incorporate coconut oil into our baking?

Times may have changed and although some of the ingredients have stayed the same, progress seems to be  mostly in the preparation, and in the myriad of flavors we have today.

I’m sure you’ve probably realized by now that ‘I like to bake’.  Breads, cakes, cookies, it really doesn’t matter.  I find baking to be relaxing.  It also provides a much-needed creative outlet.  Taking an assortment of unrelated ingredients and turning them into, hopefully, a confection that not only tastes good, but is pretty to look at, is quite satisfying.  Not all my ‘bakes’ have been successful, of course.  In fact, some have been complete disasters, requiring a quick trip to the nearest bakery when it was an occasion for which I was to supply the “cake”.  But, for the most part, they’ve been pretty decent.

I’m not sure any of us would enjoy making the seemingly simple, but on closer inspection, overly-complicated recipes in this “The Victorian Book of Cakes” today,  but I do feel challenged to try my hand at making one or two – some shortbread perhaps?  Not that I would ever do what Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  But, then again …

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TOMATO JAM

I love gardening … flowers, vegetables, it doesn’t matter.  So after returning from a two-week trip to England, I was anxious to see how my vegetable garden had faired without my constant attention.  Because it was the middle of September and I  knew the veggies, especially tomatoes, would be ripening on the vine, I told friends and family to just ‘help themselves’.  Of course, no one did, so when we returned the garden was bursting.  Yikes!

It took not one, but three trips with a basket from the kitchen to the garden, to pick all the beautifully ripe, red, sweet tomatoes.  The first thing I did, of course, was to put as many into the freezer as there was room for.  (Yes, I freeze tomatoes.  All summer, I had been stocking the freezer with all sorts of tomato-based soups, stews and salsas.)  The next thing was to look online for inspiration … something completely different using these luscious fruits … something I hadn’t made before.

Tomato Jam! The “world wide web” had done it again!  Tomato Jam it was going to be.  I narrowed it down to three of what appeared to be, from the reviews, reasonably successful recipes on three reasonably successful websites.  Before trying any recipe from any website, I always check out the reviews.  Most of the reviews are merely comments from people saying “how good that looks”, or “I can’t wait to try this” yet never having made it.  Or, “this was delicious after I added ‘this, that or the other’ and ‘cooked it for'”.  So, it can be a bit frustrating and does take a bit of sifting through each review to find those who actually have made the ‘original’ recipe.

The first recipe said 1 cup sugar to 1-1/2 lbs. of tomatoes.  Seems like a lot of sugar to me.  The second recipe said 1-1/2 cups sugar to 2 lbs. of tomatoes.  Same ratio.  The third recipe said 3/4 cup sugar to 4 lbs. of tomatoes.  Okay, now I’m interested.  They all said chop the tomatoes, put them into a heavy saucepan and then add lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, freshly grated ginger and salt.  At least they agreed on something.

Again, the first recipe said to bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for an hour and 15 minutes until thick and jam-like.  The second recipe said the same except after an hour the jam should be ready.  The third recipe stated it takes two to three hours for the fruit to break down and become thickened.  This is beginning to sound like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  All the recipes did agree, however, that the jam would be sweet, spicy and delicious … a wonderful spread on sandwiches, with cream cheese and crackers, as a condiment or dip.

I started with 10 lbs. of tomatoes, washed, hulled, and cut up.  Put the chopped tomatoes into my Le Creuset stock pot (love that pot), added the lemon juice, grated ginger, cinnamon, cloves and one cup of brown sugar and one cup of white sugar (more tomatoes, less sugar per pound was my thinking).  Because we like a bit of spice, I added a heaping teaspoon of red chili flakes.  I then brought the mixture up to a boil, reduced the heat to a sputtering simmer and waited.

Feeling quite confident, I made a cuppa tea and relaxed in front of the telly.  An hour later, I check on the pot.  It’s soup.  Huh?  Okay, it’s obvious that because I used more tomatoes, it’s going to take a bit longer.  An hour later, it’s still soup.  It has reduced down, but it’s still soup.  Patience is not one of my strong points.  An hour later (now three hours into this, I chop up an apple, thinking the pectin from the apple is going to help with the thickening.  Another hour goes by.  No thickening!  I’m getting annoyed … take out my immersion blender and start pulverizing.  The time is now 10 pm and I’m tired, but I’m not about to give up.  Go to the cupboard and get powdered pectin.  Add two heaping tablespoons, mix everything together, cover the pot, turn off the heat and go to bed.

Next morning, I check.  Still soupy, but better.   Back on the heat it goes.  Another hour goes by and it’s beginning to thicken.  By hour no. six, I’m done with this.  Off goes the heat, I let it cool, taste it for seasoning … and it’s surprisingly good.  Spicy and sweet, but not overpoweringly so. Jam?  Not really.  I pour it into individual plastic containers, cover, label and put them into the refrigerator.

That evening I take one container out and, yes, it’s finally thick, rich, sweet, spicy Tomato Jam!  Hooray!  What the problem was, I will probably never know.  Were my tomatoes too juicy?  Should I have removed the seed pods?  Did the other recipes intentionally mislead readers?  As for now, Tomato Jam is on the table and we’re going to enjoy it tonight as a spread on our leftover pot roast with goat cheese, arugula and sauteed onion sandwiches.

If you want to try your hand at making Tomato Jam, here’s MY recipe!!  And take it from me, start in the morning.  Good luck!

TOMATO JAM
Length of time …?  How much will it make …?

10 lbs. of good quality, fully ripened tomatoes – hulled, chopped, with seed pods removed
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
Juice from one large lemon
1 tablespoon minced/grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (or more to taste)
1 large apple, chopped
powdered pectin, if needed

In a large stock pot, add all the ingredients.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer until thick and ‘jam-like’.  The mixture should coat the back of a spoon and there should be no separation.  Taste and season according to your likes.  This could take anywhere from two to six hours depending upon the level of liquid from your tomatoes.  If necessary, mash with your potato masher or get out the immersion blender and blend the pulp.  When ready, pour into individual jars or plastic containers.  Will keep in refrigerator for up to two weeks.  To keep longer, freeze or can.

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ZUCCHINI TOMATO GALETTE

What’s better than being able to go out into the vegetable garden and pick whatever veggies you want for dinner that evening.  Again this summer, my garden has produced an over-abundance of zucchini.  In addition to making all my favorite zucchini recipes – muffins, chocolate zucchini bread, mock apple streudel, ratatouille, fritters and frittata – as well as filling the freezer –  I’ve been on the search for yummy, new zucchini recipes.  Well, I’ve come upon one which is so easy and delicious, I just had to share.  I made this once to test it and now I can’t stop making it.

I know “galette” sounds intimidating, but believe me, it’s not.  Whether you call these rustic, free-form pies a “galette”, “clafoutis”, or “crostada”, they are all easy to make.  And, you can make them savory or sweet – just vary the filling.  Keep in mind the term “rustic”.  It’s not suppose to be a perfectly-formed crust.  If you are fortunate enough to have a food processor to make the crust, its even easier.  And, the crust can be made up to three days ahead.

For a casual dinner or to impress guests, this is an easy-to-make, rustic Zucchini Tomato Galette.

ZUCCHINI TOMATO GALETTE
Bake 425°F for approximately 25 minutes.  Serves from 4 to 14 – depending upon serving size.  Will make one large or four individual galettes.

CRUST
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (one stick) very cold butter, cubed
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

The crust will be flakier if the butter and water are icy cold.  Mix the flour and salt together.  Then cut in the cubed butter until its a nice crumb.  If using the food processor, pulse 8 or 9 times.  Add just enough ice water to form a dough.  Dump the dough batter onto a lightly floured board.  Pat it together to form a smooth disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes (or up to three days).

FILLING
1 large zucchini, sliced approx. 1/4″ thick
12 to 16 cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs – 1 for egg wash
1/2 cup grated Parmesan/Romano cheese
grated zest of one lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil

On a baking sheet, spread the zucchini and tomatoes in a single  layer.  Brush lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast at 425°F for about 15 minutes or until roasted through.  When tender, remove and let cool.

While the veggies are roasting, mix together the ricotta cheese, one egg and lemon zest.  On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to a large circle – approximately 14″ in diameter, 1/4″ thick.  Or, make individual galettes.  It’s entirely up to you.

Put the crust(s) on a large baking sheet.  Spread the crust with the ricotta and egg mixture, leaving a 2″ border around the edge.  Then sprinkle half the grated cheese onto the ricotta mixture.

Arrange the roasted zucchini slices and tomato halves on top of the cheese mixture.  Fold the edges of the crust over towards the center.  Brush the dough with the egg wash.   Sprinkle with the rest of the grated cheese.

Bake the galette in a preheated 425°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving.  Slice in wedges as if its a pizza.


For dinner, serve this delicious entree with a big garden salad.  Or, if you are having a party, this makes a wonderful appetizer, just slice in slivers and arrange on a platter.  This recipe is a  definite keeper.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
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SOUR CREAM PECAN BUNDT CAKE

Call me a baking geek or just a home-body …. but, much like an avid fisherman who can’t wait for that new fishing lure, I LOVE getting a cool,  new baking gadget or pan.  I can be found some days trolling the aisles in Williams Sonoma or Sur le Table, even the restaurant supply warehouse, like someone who’s staking out the place for a heist.  When I see something new or unusual, I must have it.  Without even thinking, I pounce like a leopard and whip out my credit card.  The phrase “do I really need it?” never enters my mind.

My newest addition is Nordic Ware’s Crown Bundt pan.  If nothing else, it’s absolutely gorgeous!  This heavy, 10-cup mold is going to be perfect for so many different recipes … from my traditional (yet hardly ever eaten) Thanksgiving Jell-o mold (a story for another time) to quick breads and cakes to meatloaf … why not?  I think it will make anything look spectacular.

This recipe actually came with the pan (but, of course, I made a couple of changes).  I love a good rich, sour cream coffee cake.  Doesn’t everyone?  This one sounds delicious, and, as they say in England, ‘let’s give it a go!’

SOUR CREAM PECAN COFFEE CAKE
Bake  350° for 50 to 60 minutes (or more). Makes 10-12 servings.

BATTER
3 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
grated zest from lemon
2 cups sour cream

FILLING
1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

GLAZE
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tablespoon milk (or more, if needed)

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease and flour your bundt pan, tube pan or mold.  I use a baking spray that contains flour.  It’s so easy!

Prepare the filling by mixing together the toasted, chopped pecans with the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Set aside while you make the batter.

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter, oil and sugar together until very light and fluffy.  In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

To the light and fluffy butter/sugar mixer, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Then add the vanilla and lemon zest.

At this point, I stopped using the stand mixer and beat in the flour and sour cream by hand.  Starting and ending with the flour.  Using a stand mixer can sometimes result in the batter being overbeaten and becoming heavy.  I don’t like to take that chance.  Mix all together until the batter is thick and well blended.

Spoon 1/3 of the batter in the bottom of your prepared pan.  Sprinkle half the pecan filling evenly over the batter.  Spoon another 1/3 of the batter on top of the filling and then the rest of the filling on top of that.  Finish with the rest of the batter.

To my surprise this recipe made more than the pan could comfortably hold.  There should be at least an inch of room to the top of the pan.  (We’ll see what happens when I bake it.)  Be sure to tap the pan onto the counter to ensure there are no air pockets.  Bake for at least 50 to 60 minutes (depending upon the size and depth of the pan).

Lordy, lordy, lordy … look at that monster!  I guess I was right … too much batter!  As Emeril Lagasse used to say on his tv program, “this is real cooking, folks!”

When done, it should be lightly browned, spring back when touched.  Let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan.  Remove and cool on a rack.

When ready mix together the glaze and pour over the top.  Or, just sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.  (Or both.)

Well, here’s my take on this recipe:  I was quite surprised that the recipe actually made more than could fit into the mold.  Next time, I’ll make a little less.  The shape of the mold certainly gives the cake a very impressive appearance.   But this deliciously-moist, rich cake with its sweet, streusel-like filling could be baked in any type pan and still be absolutely yummy!

Although it is called a coffee cake, it sure goes well with a hot cuppa!  Perfect for any time of the day!  Enjoy!!

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‘GROWNUP’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I recently visited a bakery.  A brand-new, just-opened, homey, woman-owned and operated bakery right in the center of town.  Everything should have worked.  Was there a part of me that was just a wee bit envious?  Absolutely.  I won’t deny that.  So what did I do?  I ordered one of everything.  Yup!  One frosted brownie, one macaron of each flavor, one cupcake of each flavor, one chocolate chip cookie, one sandwich cookie … on and on.  Looking for inspiration, unique flavor combinations, whatever, I justified this outrageous purchase as “research”.

My partner-in-crime and I (no, I wasn’t going to eat all of this myself) took our treasure trove of goodies outside to the nearest bench and dove in head first.  What???  Everything was terrible.  For the first time in my life, I have to say I’ve never had bad bakery goodies …. ever!!  Until today!  (No, I’m not going to tell you the name of the bakery.)  I was sooooooo disappointed.  What should have been a belt-loosening, belly groaning sugar high, was just a grimace and a groan.

What just happened?  And, now what do I do?  Do I go back and tell the bakery staff their stuff is sickly sweet, flavorless and has the mouth feel of cold vegetable shortening?   Or do I just toss everything into the bin and say nothing.  Part of me says the owner/baker should know.  If it were my bakery, I’d want to know.  But I didn’t.  What I did do was to come home and bake a batch of “good” chocolate chip cookies.  I hope you like them.  And, if you don’t, PLEASE let me know!!!

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GROWNUP CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Why do I call them”grownup?  Because they are very rich, but aren’t overly sweet.  I use bittersweet, high cacao content chips, not semi-sweet or milk.  You can certainly use whichever you prefer.

Bake 350° for 10 to 13 minutes.  Don’t overbake!  Makes as many cookies as you want, depending upon the size.

1 cup(2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 10 oz. pkg. 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Using a stand mixer (or hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Then add the vanilla and beaten eggs.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  You can use a big wooden spoon, or, if you are like me, you just switched out the paddle on your stand mixer to the bread one.

Add the chocolate chips and the walnuts to the batter.  Mixing well.  If you don’t like nuts, leave them out, and add more chocolate chips.  They’re your cookies.

On parchment-lined baking sheets, drop spoonfuls of dough (or with an ice cream scoop).  The size is up to you.  Larger ones will take another minute or two to bake, but PUHLEEZE don’t overbake these cookies.  They need to be a bit soft in the middle and gooey!

After spooning the dough onto the baking trays, dip the bottom of a drinking glass into flour and press onto each ball of dough.  You want to flatten them slightly.  If you are making these ahead, you can chill the trays at this point, if you like, up to four hours.

Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes … again, depending upon the size.  If you want small, “adult-sized” so that you can eat three or four and not feel guilty, fine.  And, if you want one big “two hander”, go for it!  Just remember …. underdone is best!


These ultra-rich, dense, gooey chocolaty nutty cookies should make you smile.  If they don’t, please contact me.

Your welcome!
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