Hot Cross Buns for Saints and Sinners

Hot Cross Buns

This post is a little late because I was having problems with my phone camera. And a food post without a photo is like a hurricane without a name: just a lot of hot air.

Every year I make these on Good Friday and have no idea why. When you’re raised by a tribe of humanist infidels, this day doesn’t loom large. However, I am a lover of food history and bread, so any yummy, yeasty recipe is a source of interest to my baker’s heart. Read more

I Baked a Cake for Mom

My Mother's Day Gift

While visiting my mother a couple of year’s ago, I noticed a cute, funky little chest in her foyer – it looked like an antique telephone cabinet. I opened the doors to peek inside – and it was filled with candy! Boxes of candy bars, bags of kisses and caramels, tins of yummy, nutty things. Stacked and organized, it looked like Willie Wonka’s warehouse, circa October 30. “Oh,” she said casually in response to my gasps, “that’s my just my schleck cabinet.” (Schleck is the PA Dutch word for junk food.) No mere drawer or tiny decorative bowl of sticky Werther’s for my mother – a cabinet. Read more

The Gift of Boilo

I like to eschew over-the-counter head-cold remedies. They seem to be all side effect/no main effect. And since we’ve heard that it’s a bad idea to mix drugs and alcohol, the availability of Nyquil has always been puzzling. Stuff’s about 25% alcohol but its cult members genuflect before it. I tried it once at the urging of a friend and had a mind-blowing out-of-body experience that’s still providing interesting flashbacks lo, these many years later. Well, at least I forgot about the sniffles.

Why not skip the drugs and just stick with the alcohol? The hot toddy has a long history as a cold remedy. Which brings me to “boilo”, a traditional Christmas holiday drink from the eastern Pennsylvania coal region. (The “Champagne of the Pennsylvania coal region, to be exact.) It’s a highly spiced, citrusy, honey-sweetened whiskey concoction that’s heated and imbibed as hot as humanly possible. I forgot all about it until Chuck was advised to avoid all cold remedies that contained epinephrine. I thought a hot toddy might provide a little relief and remembered the boilo. Read more

Robbie’s Holiday Cookies

The end-of-year holidays are a magical time for me. Not enchanted magical – spooky magical. You know what I’m talking about. Normally cheerful people go full-on Scrooge, while their chronically grumpy counterparts visibly perk up and start humming carols. Skinflints morph into spendthrifts; high-rollers blatantly re-gift. It’s a tinsel-draped parallel universe, my friends. And most puzzling are the people who never fondled a rolling pin catching the Christmas cookie-baking bug. Read more

Who Loves These Cookies?

During a visit to my folks in Pennsylvania last week, I volunteered to make Christmas cookies. I planned to make the usual suspects: lebkuchen, Michigan rocks, bourbon balls – all standard family favorites. Then someone insisted it wouldn’t be Christmas without “those peanut butter cookies”. Meaning peanut butter blossoms, the little drop cookie with a chocolate kiss jammed in the center.

So, it is with great apathy that I’m offering them up in the following recipe, because I don’t understand them – are they cookies? Candy? Pick a lane! Almost as bad as the inherent uncertainty surrounding their identity formation is the fact that these cookies are made with peanut butter. I love PB, but in baked goods? Meh. I wondered how to improve the basic recipe to give them a more distinct personality. Read more

Ask the Magic Cheese Ball

Are the holidays fast approaching? Without a doubt. Will you need a delicious party appetizer recipe? Most likely. Must this recipe be fast and easy? Yes – definitely. Do you have a delicious, fast, and easy recipe on hand? Sources say “no”.

Ah, the cheese ball! I had almost forgotten about it until last week at the CU Orphan’s Thanksgiving gathering. It was a potluck affair and Chef Heather contributed several different cheese balls as appetizers. She went with the classic single fastpitch softball size. Contemporary recipes favor two-bite single balls, overdusted with spices or herbs, and usually served in  those twee amuse-bouche spoons. We’ll stick with the retro cheese ball size ‘n shape. It has a special appeal;will not be ignored. Resting in its collar of Wheat Thins, enrobed in nuts, the giant cheese orb is mysterious, knowing…magical.

The Magic Cheese Ball. Will your guests love it? Signs point to yes.

Mean Green Cheese Ball
(8-10 appetizer servings)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbed
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove mashed with ½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried mint
¾ Cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the pistachios). Taste and adjust seasonings. Form into a ball and chill 15 minutes. Roll in pistachios to cover; press gently to make the nuts adhere. Cover and chill until firm, about 2 hours.




Honest Peanut Butter

I have the best students. Not only are they engaged, enthused, and game for almost anything, they are generous – especially baking students. People who love to cook also love to share, but bakers are true givers. One of my Artisan Bread Series students made me the gift of a jar of blueberry jam that the put up over the summer. (Thanks, Benny!).

A confirmed jam freak, I had to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich immediately. There was no bread around, so Bay English Muffins went into the toaster. Bay’s are located in the refrigerator section of the grocery and they beat Thomas’s all hollow.

Now, I’m a Jif gal, but homemade jam deserves homemade p.b. Luckily, it’s easy to make! And without added sugar and fats, it’s unabashedly peanutty.

You can make other nut butters, too, given your tastes and the state of your bank account. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, even pistachios, all work well. The more expensive the nut, the more sinful the buttah! Make them all! (Holiday hint: a little jar of nut butter makes a great gift).

Homemade Peanut Butter
(about 1 Cup)

1-1/2 Cups roasted peanuts, unsalted
1 Tablespoon peanut or canola oil

Put the peanuts and oil in the bowl of the food processor. Cover and process until smooth – this will take a good 2-3 minutes. Uncover and scrape down the sides of the processor once during the process. You want to make sure the mixture is very smooth.

Transfer to a container and store in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Eating American History

Oh, say can it be election time already? We talk about food and holidays around here a lot, but never address the festival nature of American political elections. This ain’t a new thing in this country, this marathon of rallies, speeches, flesh-pressing, and baby-kissing. Early American elections used to be multi-day affairs and, to keep up their strength, participants had to eat and drink through all the speechifyin’ and what-not.

Allow me to present the Old Hartford Election Cake, one of the oldest recipes associated with American politics. Its origins are debated but recipes can be traced back to pre-Revolutionary New England, especially in Connecticut (and don’t omit the Nutmeg State’s ingredient!). It really peaked in the mid-nineteenth century and the old recipes present many challenges to modern cooks. We’re using a more user-friendly version here.

This cake is simply a variation of many types of English spiced yeast and fruit cakes, like Hot Cross Buns, Bath Buns, and Sally Lunn. I like this particular cake because it allows the baker to combine the techniques of cake making (creaming the butter and sugar) with the fun of working with yeast. And it is of the class of yeasted batter breads – no kneading here, just beating with a wooden spoon (if you’re a purist) or with an electric mixer (if you like the mod-cons).

Of course, New England housewives of yore would fret over cakes like these because they didn’t have the luxury of commercial yeast, which gives consistent results as long as you don’t kill the yeast by getting your milk too hot. (But then, what else did those ladies have to do during election season anyway? It’s not like they could vote.).

Well, before I climb on my soapbox, let’s just say that this is among my favorite cakes – it’s not too sweet, has great texture, and is terrific toasted. And slathered with butter! Olde tyme Yankees would have washed this cake down with cider, but it’s truly one of the best coffee go-withs around.

Break out the yeast and spices, dust off the Bundt pan, and get out and vote while the batter rises (that goes for you, too, Sisters!). Then relax and watch the returns while enjoying a piece of American history.

Old Hartford Election Cake           
(10” or 12” Bundt)

1 Cup very warm milk
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 package active dry yeast (not quick-rise)
3-1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
1 stick butter, softened
1 Cup white or packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 Cup brandy
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 Cup raisins

1 Cup confectioner’s sugar
2 Tablespoons orange juice

The milk should be warmer than body temperature, but not steaming! Into it, stir the sugar and yeast. Let this mixture stand for about 5 minutes – it should get really foamy and “active”.

Gradually mix in 1-1/2 Cups of the flour. Now cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it rise until it doubles – about 45 minutes.

Toss the raisins and spices with the remaining flour and set aside.

Spray the Bundt pan with cooking spray.

In a big bowl, cream the butter and white or brown sugar – just as you would for a cake. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the brandy. Now beat in the yeast mixture until blended, then gradually add remaining flour to form a sticky, lively batter – it won’t be too smooth!

Spoon the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Cover and let rise for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until almost doubled.

About 20 minutes before it’s completely risen, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spoon the batter evenly into the pan.

Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife tests clean. (If you have an instant read thermometer, even better: it should read 200-220 degrees F.)

Cool in the pan, then invert onto a rack. Whisk the powdered sugar and orange juice together and drizzle it over the cake.

A Honey of a Hummus

Rosh Hashanah is here! 

Okay, it arrived last night, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes to celebrate the day, since there’s tons of it left! This is a variation on that old stand-by, hummus. Everyone seem to like the ubiquitous chickpea mash: it’s great for the GF and vegetarian crowd and it’s easy to make. (It’s even easier to buy, but commercial varieties manage to be creepy, bland, and expensive.) The original recipe here was from an old National Honey Board recipe pamphlet picked up at some long-ago aggie fair. As usual around here, the original recipe has been tweaked!

Tahini is an essential ingredient in hummus, a sesame seed paste – sesame “peanut butter”,  so to speak. Because honey has the same viscosity as tahini, it’s a great substitute. This hummus has a little kick, too, from the harissa, a North African condiment that can be pretty fiery. If you can’t find harissa, use ground cayenne pepper or Sriracha sauce to taste.

Because honey and Rosh Hashanah are traditional (for a sweet new year), this hummus is my favorite variation for this fall holiday. Good Yom Tov!

Hummus for the New Year
(1 Cup)

15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon (or more!) harissa
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

In the food processor, puree garbanzo beans, honey, lemon juice, garlic, harissa, cumin, and salt until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning – it should be sweet and a little spicy. If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin to the consistency you like.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in the cilantro or parsley. Serve with apple slices for dipping.