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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CHOCOLATE CHIP WALNUT BISCOTTI

It’s a cold, snowy Sunday in January.  What do you do?  Curl up on the sofa and read a book?  Maybe!  But, first how about baking a batch of delicious biscotti.   After which, curling up on the sofa with a piping hot mug of tea, yummy biscotti and a good book sounds like a perfect afternoon!

I didn’t post all the photos for the preparation and assembly for this recipe, primarily because they are the same as the photo instructions for my other biscotti recipe – White Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti.  Biscotti are really quite easy to make.  And, in most homes, not mine, properly stored, they can stay fresh for weeks.  Biscotti were actually created in Italy as a convenience food for travelers and the Roman army, rather than a sweet treat to go with coffee, tea and, of course, wine.  The “twice-baked” finger-shaped confections are “dried out” during the second baking in order to make them more durable.

Biscotti were originally flavored with almond, but now you can find biscotti made with dozens of flavors and combinations of flavors.   My previous recipe was White Chocolate and Dried Cranberry, but today I’m feeling like chocolate.  And to make these even more chocolaty, I’m adding mini chocolate chips to the chocolate batter.  Let’s go!

CHOCOLATE CHIP WALNUT BISCOTTI
Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease or line with parchment paper, two baking sheets.  Makes about two dozen.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1 ounce softened butter (not melted)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, room temperature*
1 cup chopped walnuts (or any chopped nuts)
6 oz. pkg. mini chocolate chips

In one bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  I always sift twice, just to ensure the dry ingredients are incorporated completely.  Who wants to get a mouthful of baking powder??

In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla til well combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  If the batter appears curdled at this point, don’t worry.  It will come together.

Stir in the dry ingredients, and then add the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.  Cover the batter and then refrigerate for an hour.  It will be easier to handle when nice and cold.

Take the batter from the frig and dump it onto a lightly floured board.  Knead for a few seconds til it forms a ball.  Cut the ball in half.  Form each half into a narrow log – about 3/4″ high and about 6″ or 7″ long.  When baked, you will slice this log diagonally, so be sure it’s not too wide.

Place each log onto a baking tray and bake in the center of the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes.  Check for doneness with a cake tester inserted into the middle.  When cooked through, remove from the oven and cool on racks.

Only when completely cooled should you slice the logs.  If you are too impatient and slice them when they are still warm, they will crumble.  Using a serrated knife, cut each log on the diagonal, into about 1/2″ slices.  Place the slices on the baking trays, in a single layer.  Return them to the preheated oven and continue baking for about 15 to 20 minutes.  I flip them over halfway through the baking, but not everyone does.  It’s up to you.  When done, cool completely on racks.

These super chocolaty, crunchy biscotti are rich and sweet and delicious!  My suggestion … put a few away as a treat for yourself because these are going to disappear quickly.  Now you’re ready to curl up on the sofa with a good book and steaming, hot cuppa!!

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* People always ask me why should eggs be at room temperature for baking.  I’m sure with cold eggs, your bakes will be fine, but probably more dense than you might have wanted. With room temperature eggs, the whites and yolks combine easier, which means they will disperse into the batter more evenly, making for more even baking and lighter texture.  If you’ve forgotten to take the eggs out of the frig before hand, not to worry.  Place the eggs in hot (not boiling water) for 10 to 15 minutes and they’ll be perfect.

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(MOCK) APPLE STRUDEL

I am continuing in what appears to be my “mock apple” series of desserts.  Yes, this uses zucchini and, yes, no one will ever know.  From all appearances this is a classic strudel, rich, fruity and delicious.  It just doesn’t have apples in it … which actually makes it more fool proof.  One of the problems I have with making apple desserts, such as strudels or turnovers, is that the apples can sometimes cook down too quickly and become mushy, making for ‘soggy bottoms’.  Zucchini stays firm for that right amount of crunch.

If you are still picking zucchini from your garden at the end of September, as I am, please give this recipe a try.  I know its a bit time consuming, but well worth it!   So, gather all your ingredients and prepare to make something your friends and family will be wow’d by!!

MOCK APPLE STRUDEL
6 cups zucchini – peeled and diced
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups fresh bread crumbs (not packaged seasoned)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg, separated (white only)
1 package frozen puff pastry dough, thawed

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 400°.  The strudel bakes for 30 minutes or til golden brown and cooked through.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the peeled, chopped zucchini.  Add the lemon juice, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Cook til softened – about 15 minutes.  It will bubble up and appear very syrupy, add the cornstarch and continue cooking until very thick – about 5 more minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the raisins.  Set aside while you toast the bread crumbs.

Using old stale bread, toss it into your food processor or blender and shred it up.  You’ll need about 2 cups of bread crumbs.  In a saute pan, melt a half stick of butter (1/2 cup) and then add the bread crumbs.  Toast lightly til brown but not burnt.  Then set those aside.


From the frig, get a package of thawed puff pastry dough.  On a floured board, roll out one sheet of puff pastry until its  v-e-r-y  thin.  Yes, thinner than you think it can handle.  It won’t break apart.  Keep flouring and moving the pastry sheet around so that you can work with it.  I was able to get it 25″ long.  How about you?

Now working from about 3″ in from the long edge, spread the cooled, toasted bread crumbs, about 4″ or 5″ wide.   On top of the bread crumbs, sprinkle the chopped walnuts.  On top of the bread crumb/walnut mixture, drop spoonfuls of the thickened zucchini/raisin mixture.  Spread it out as smoothly and evenly as possible.

Now comes the fun part.  Pull the 3″ swath of pastry that you left without filling, up over the filling.  Press down.  Don’t be afraid.  It will work.  Fold each side in and over the filling – about 1″ or less.  Now put your hands under the filling (which has been rolled once) and roll that over onto the pastry.  Press down.  Now do it again.  You should be able to roll the pastry at least three times, resulting in a long, cylinder of filled pastry.

Lightly beat the egg white and brush it onto the open edge to seal everything.  Press it into the pastry roll tightly.  You don’t want anything leaking out.

Carefully pick up the strudel and lay it onto the parchment paper.  Don’t be alarmed if your strudel doesn’t fit onto your pan.  Forming a horseshoe shape is traditional.  Brush the top with the remaining egg white.  Put the strudel into the refrigerator to cool while you preheat the oven to 400°.

When the oven is ready, put the strudel into the center of the oven to bake – approximately 30 minutes.  Check it quickly at 20 minutes to make sure its baking evenly.  Turning the pan may be necessary for even baking.

When baked, cool the strudel on a baking rack.  It may be necessary to use two spatulas to lift it.  I know you’ll want to dive right in, but let it cool a bit.  Trim off the end pieces and then serve it up … warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!   Rich, fruity, flaky … this is delicious!!!

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ECCLES CAKES

What a strange name … Eccles Cakes (especially when you consider they aren’t cakes at all). On one of our early trips to England, hubby said “I know you’re going to love these things.  Don’t ask. Just try one.” Knowing me as well as he does, I fell in love with them.  These hand-held puff pastry confections are flaky and full of dried fruits.  Made well, they are delicious.  Made badly, they are cloyingly sweet and sticky.

These puff pastries were quite a success when they were first sold in a little shop in Eccles, a small town just west of Manchester, England, in 1793 by James Birch.  Mr. Birch is thought to have come across the recipe for “sweet patties” in the best selling cookbook of that time, “THE EXPERIENCED ENGLISH HOUSEKEEPER.  The original recipe for “sweet patties” consisted of a mincemeat filling wrapped with puff pastry and then fried or baked.  The mincemeat, which this recipe called for, was “the meat of a boiled calf’s foot, plus apples, oranges, nutmeg, egg yolk, currants and French brandy”.

Artist Joseph Parry, Manchester Art Gallery

But neither Mr. Birch, nor The Experienced English Housekeeper invented these flat patties.  It seems they date as far back as the 1500’s. Every year the townsfolk would celebrate the construction of the “Eccles” church.  As part of the church fair, these brandy and mincemeat “cakes” were served.  The fairs were so popular they attracted people from all over and became quite rowdy, often resulting in bloody mayhem.  But when the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, came into power in 1650, he banned the Eccles celebrations and he banned the very popular Eccles Cakes.

I just love learning about the sometimes bizarre origins of traditional foods.  The next step, of course, is learning how to make them so we can enjoy them at home and not have to wait for our next trip to England.  I know Eccles Cakes are available in export shops and international food stores, but the packaged ones aren’t that good …. sorry!

Traditional recipes for Eccles Cakes call for a large circle of pastry, which is then filled, sealed, turned upside down and baked … hoping that they’ve been sealed tightly so that the filling does not run out of the pastry.  My recipe uses far less sugar than standard recipes and uses two pastry circles – one for the top and one for the bottom – which is then crimped and sealed (easier and less chance of seepage).  I think Eccles Cakes also need some crunch and a little acid (they can be cloyingly sweet), so I’ve added the zest of one lemon and toasted walnuts.  Now this is a recipe worth making!  Enjoy

ECCLES CAKES
Pre-heat the oven to 400°.  Makes 24 3″ pastries.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1-1/4 cup dried fruits (any blend of currants, raisins, sultanas, etc.)
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cane syrup or honey
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
zest of one lemon
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1 box (17.5 oz. package) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg white, beaten
Demerara sugar (or table sugar)

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in all the other ingredients.  After the sugar has dissolved, take it off the heat to cool and add the zest of one lemon.

Using one sheet at a time (put the other into the frig to stay cold), on a floured board, roll out the pastry to approximately 12” or ¼” thick.

With a pastry cutter, biscuit cutter, or whatever you like to use, cut out approximately 24 circles. One will be for the bottom, one for the top.  Brush all the pastry circles with the beaten egg white.  Place a heaping teaspoonful of filling in the center of 12 circles.   Take the top circle, place it on top of the bottom, covering the filling completely and then seal or crimp the edges together.

Place the filled, sealed circles of pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush the tops with more egg white.  With a sharp knife, make two slits into the top for the steam to escape. Sprinkle each with Demerara sugar.  Then place the baking sheet into the refrigerator to keep cold while you prepare the second sheet of puff pastry.

After you’ve finished the second sheet, you should have two trays with approximately 12 Eccles cakes on each … ready to bake.  Puff pastry bakes up lighter and fluffier when its really cold, so be sure to put the finished trays into the refrigerator while you preheat the oven.

Bake them on at 400° for about 15 to 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Move to a wire rack to cool.  They’ll keep beautifully for about three to four days (but not in my house).

You can certainly make larger cakes, if you’d like, but for me, these sweet little confections are the perfect size for your afternoon tea.  And I must say one of these Eccles Cakes with a cup of one of my most favorite teas, a Golden Yunnan, is so satisfying!

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References:  Lancashire Eccles Cakes, Salford, Eccles Historic Society
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Cranberry Nut Bread

My most favorite holiday of all, Thanksgiving, is almost here.  I’m not really sure why, perhaps because its just about family and tradition.   Christmas comes in at a close second, but Christmas can be stressful.  Not Thanksgiving.  And Thanksgiving occurs at the most beautiful time of year … cool, crisp Autumn weather, perfect for having an enormous feast.  And, hopefully, you get to share this feast with people you truly care about.  Even with all the work and chaos, I love it!

This is one of the recipes I have been making for about (cough, cough) 45 years, which MUST appear on the Thanksgiving table.  45 years ago we didn’t have the Internet or celebrity chefs and cooking shows, we found recipes wherever we could.  I found this recipe on the back of the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries.  I cut it out, taped it to a 3 x 5 card and put it into the recipe box, where it’s been ever since.  Although I’ve tweaked it just a bit over years, it’s basically the same.

Hope you enjoy it!

CRANBERRY NUT BREAD (or muffins)
Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease a 1 lb. loaf pan, bundt pan, or muffin tins.

2-1/4 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups chopped cranberries
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts)

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients together, including grated orange peel.  In a smaller bowl, mix all wet ingredients together.  (See how easy this is.)

I chop the cranberries in the blender.  You can use whatever way to chop the cranberries that is easiest for you.  For the nuts, I just use a knife to chop.  Otherwise they become too fine and I like them chunky.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Don’t overbeat or the bread will become heavy.   Stir in the cranberries and then add the nuts.  Pour the batter into a well greased pan (or pans).  I think a bundt pan makes a nice presentation.  This will make one large loaf, or many smaller ones or muffins.

Bake for one hour (depending upon the size of the pan – muffins bake for about 25 mins.) or until toothpick inserted into center comes out dry and clean.  The bread should just pull back from the outside of the pan.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes and then cool completely before slicing.  This quick bread freezes beautifully, so if you want to make it ahead, do it with confidence.  Otherwise, find a plate, dust with powdered sugar and garnish.

To be enjoyed with your Thanksgiving dinner, or for Thanksgiving breakfast, or even later in the evening with your cuppa, enjoy!

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