Honestly, I'm really not sticking around Blogger much longer. I've gotten pretty cozy over atmy new home. So if you want to continue following me, you'll have to update any readers, feeds, links, bookmarks, blogrolls, and all that other fun stuff.
You know what? I've got a cake that's so moist and chocolatey and perfect, you'd be willing to go through middle school all over again for just one piece. You think I'm joking.
So, dear friends, please update your Readers. Please update your RSS feeds, or bookmarks, or whatever else you need to do to. Please continue to visit me and leave your splendid, witty comments. I think you're swell.
This is the third time today I've tried to sit down and write this post. I don't know, friends. The muse just isn't with me. Just consider all subsequent words optional, okay?
Actually, what do you say we skip the chit chat for now, and get straight to the muffins? Thanks.
Here's the deal with these muffins--divine. The lemon flavor pops out in a way that is both big and subtle. The poppy seeds add a slight crunch and a visually delicious speckled effect. The icing adds a bit of a sweet zing that sends the whole thing way over. I could eat them all for breakfast. And maybe I did.
However! However, although terribly delicious, these guys are pretty sneaky little suckers. Sure, they masquerade around under the name of muffins. They lure you in with pretty promises to be dense, wholesome and sustaining, like their muffin friends. But don't you be fooled for a second. Take one bite, and these little stinkers will show their true colors.
Any muffin this sweet, with such a light and tender crumb, smacks of cupcake. I suspect it started out as a pound cake recipe that was eventually made into cupcakes. And then I imagine some poor, unsuspecting baker got tricked into dubbing them muffins.
Well, I can't complain. I got surprise cupcakes out of the deal. And cupcakes for breakfast is just what I needed for a Monday morning.
Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
from Joy of Baking
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
zest of one lemon (or 1-1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice)
1 cup plain yogurt, not nonfat
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, poppy seeds, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in the lemon zest or juice, plain yogurt, and vanilla, until well blended. Stir in the flour mixture until just moistened. Do not over mix.
Spoon the batter into a prepared muffin tin and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan and glazing.
Glaze: While muffins are baking, stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice. The mixture should be runny. Once the muffins have cooled for five minutes, remove from pan and drizzle glaze over them with a spoon.
You trying to shed a few pounds there? Maybe, maybe yes? Good, because I can help you with that. I have invented a weight-loss program that can't not succeed.
Here's my fail-proof, 5-step approach:
Go to your kitchen.
Whip up a batch of these Maple Sugar Ragamuffins.
Why not? Do a few jumping jacks while they bake.
Eat one, or half of one.
Get your mind totally blown by sheer, unadulterated sweetness, and lose interest in anything containing sugar for the next, oh, year or two... Or five. Yes, they are that sweet.
See how simple that is? Self-control just became that much easier. You won't need any more sugar for months, if not years. And all because of one simple, unpretentious, little sweet roll. You just wait and see--this recipe will be hailed as the world's greatest health food. The obesity trend in America will be reversed. Mark my words.
So, aside from being shaped like your classic cinnamon roll, these are actually very similar to your classic biscuit. That is, if biscuits were loaded to the ears with sugar, and topped generously with icing.
If you have maple sugar sitting around for this recipe, that's perfect. I don't, so I made my own by adding 1/4 teaspoon of maple flavoring per 1 cup of granulated sugar, and grinding and mashing it in really thoroughly.
Maple Sugar Ragamuffins
adapted from Gourmet
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon maple sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup whole milk
6 Tablespoons softened butter
1 cup maple sugar
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
Whisk together flour, maple sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Blend in the butter with a pastry blender until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small pea-size butter lumps. Add milk and toss with a fork until a shaggy dough forms. Gently knead dough 10-15 times on a lightly floured surface.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface, into a 13- x 11-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter evenly over dough and sprinkle all over with maple sugar, pressing firmly to help adhere. Beginning with one long side, roll up dough snugly, jelly-roll style. Press to seal the seam. Cut roll crosswise into 1-inch slices. Arrange slices, cut sides down, 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with any leftover maple sugar. Bake until rolls are puffed and golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.
While the rolls are baking, make the maple icing. Mix the powdered sugar, melted butter, milk, and maple flavoring in a bowl, and beat until smooth. Pour the icing all over the rolls, about 10 minutes after they come out of the oven.
Every year I'm fascinated with Valentine's Day. You know why?
So many people hate it.
Huh? Somebody fill me in. I was always under the impression that people liked love. They love love--they're absolutely crazy about it. They listen to songs about love, and they watch movies where people fall in love, and they think and dream about the person they love, and they're even fascinated by the love lives of all their friends.
Our entire society is completely saturated with romance, and always has been. A huge chunk of the art, literature, and music of the Western tradition for centuries past has all revolved around the subject of romance. Romance, romance, romance. Well, and religion makes a pretty big showing too, since we're being historically accurate here.
But dedicate a single day out of the year to romance? Heavens, no! Horrors!
If you happen to be one of these romance-averse people, at least bury your aversion in a good, homemade pizza this Valentine's Day. You can't go wrong there. And you might even find yourself falling in love.
Homemade Pizza Crust
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon instant yeast
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cup lukewarm water
In a large mixing bowl, mix together 1-1/2 cups of the flour with all the other ingredients, on medium speed, until completely smooth. Stir in the remaining flour and knead into a moderately stiff, elastic dough, about 8-10 minutes.
Transfer to a greased bowl and cover with a cloth. Let it rise in a warm (75-80 degrees F) place until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Punch down the dough and turn onto a lightly-floured surface. Roll out into a 14-inch circle, and transfer to a pizza pan or stone. Top with sauce, cheese, and desired toppings.
Bake until crust is lightly browned, about 13-14 minutes.
(**Note: If you're using active dry yeast rather than instant yeast, dissolve the yeast in the water before mixing with the other ingredients.)
It's raining outside today. The sky is grayish-whitish. Sounds are muted, and colors are more vibrant. The mountains look all misty and mysterious, like I'm living next to the set for Lord of the Rings. Everything seems to move in slow motion. The air is clean and you can smell the wet concrete. The earth is beautiful and clean again.
This is one of those mornings when I wish I could stop the clock, drop everything that's calling for my attention, turn off all the lights in the house, and sit by a window, just watching the rain fall. I'd probably crack it open a bit and let the smell of the rain drift over my face. And then I'd most likely fall into a coma of ecstasy.
You know all those nursery rhymes and children's songs about the rain, and how you want it to go away? Well okay, I can only think of two off the top of my head. Those songs never applied to me. I'm not a "hot and sunny weather" type of girl. I love the rain.
*sigh* Now you all know I'm strange. Let's talk about food.
Molasses cookies. They've got a pretty sweet setup going on.
To begin with, they're soft and chewy, and let's be honest--that alone wins them a blue ribbon.
Second, they're filled with cinnamon and ginger and cloves. My love affair with rainy days is strikingly similar to my love affair with cinnamon and ginger and cloves. In fact, if I could bake up a rainy day into a cookie, I believe it would incorporate cinnamon and ginger and cloves. I do.
Third, the turbinado sugar. That sweet, nutty crunch in every single bite. Divine.
And last but not least, the molasses. Someday if I get to heaven, I'm going to find the person who first decided to put molasses into a cookie (because he'll certainly be there), and I'm going to march right up to him and give him a big kiss.
Sparkly Molasses Cookies adapted from Joy of Baking
2 cups all purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 1 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons vegetable, canola, or safflower oil 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses 1 large egg 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 cup turbinado sugar (for covering the cookie balls before baking)
In a medium bowl sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture mixture until well incorporated. Cover and chill the batter until firm (about 2 hours or overnight).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1 cup of turbinado sugar in a medium sized bowl.
When the dough has chilled sufficiently, roll into 1 inch balls. Then roll the balls of dough into the sugar, coating them thoroughly. Place on the baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart and, with the bottom of a glass, flatten the cookies slightly.
Bake for about 9-10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crinkles yet are barely dry. (They will look a little underdone.) Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.
For whatever ridiculous reason that I can't figure out, I've always had a kind of totally unjustified prejudice against pound cake: I always expect it to be dry and hard and bland.
Maybe my mom made a really dry, bland pound cake once? Maybe I saw a cartoon as a child depicting a character being hit over the head with a loaf of rock-hard pound cake?
Maybe it's subconsciously connected with a traumatic experience from my childhood, like that one day when we went swimming, and I tried to follow my older sister as she swam across the deep end, but I couldn't make it and almost drowned, and the life guard had to jump in and pull me out, and she banished me to the kiddie pool for the rest of the afternoon. That day. Maybe we went home and... ate dry, bland pound cake... for some reason.
So, this aversion is entirely unreasonable, as I've loved pretty much every bite of homemade pound cake which I've encountered, for as long as I can remember. But my eyebrow still raised a bit as I pulled up this recipe on Epicurious. I coaxed myself into hitting the print button, repeating over and over that this cake would be soft and moist and flavorful, and that I wouldn't repent the day I created it. And I was right.
This cake is one of those that gives the house a captivating aroma that you wish you could package up and send to the candle factory so that you can have it around your house every day. There was more than once, while it was baking, when I had to resist the urge to call up my husband at work to say, "Hey! Get a load of this smell!" And then I realized, oh yeah. It just doesn't work that way. Heh.
Orange Spice Pound Cake
adapted from Gourmet Magazine
For the cake:
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
For the glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a fluted tube (bundt) pan. Stir cake flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl to blend. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, orange peel, and spices until light and creamy. Mix in vanilla extract. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with milk in 3 additions.
Spoon batter into pan. Smooth top. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack. Turn out onto platter (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature).
Mix powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl. Drizzle or brush glaze over cake. Let stand until glaze sets, about 30 minutes.
I wish I could preface these fabulous brownies with some clever little personal anecdote or insight, but that seems unfair. You know, to the brownies.
Kind of like that amazing concert in the park that I went to on the fourth of July, that was, unfortunately, opened by some local Elvis impersonator in his fifties, who was sadly unlike Elvis in both looks and singing ability, although I'm sure he's a very nice man.
Aside from a few baby boomers who were wildly enthusiastic about having "Elvis" opening the concert, the crowd was not at all happy about having to sit through all of his renditions of all the songs Elvis ever sang or thought about singing. Why? Because we really came to hear this group of wonderfully talented musicians and singers whose CDs we all owned. And we had to wait and listen to this other Elvis guy first.
And you came to find these perfectly dreamy brownies. Sorry I made you wait, inadvertently sharing my little personal Elvis anecdote. I'm done.
These brownies are about as basic and simple as you can get. But in my little humble opinion, there is beauty in simplicity. So, so so much beauty.
You know what else is in simplicity? Divine moistness and density, that slightly cracked layer on top, and a perfectly glorious chocolate flavor that you'd sell your grandmother for. You think I'm joking.
Dreamy Fudge Brownies
adapted from BHG New Cookbook
1/2 cup butter
2 squares (2 oz.) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
In a medium saucepan melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat lightly by hand just till combined. Stir in flour and nuts.
Spread batter into a greased 8x8x2-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars.
Just kidding, don't ever sell your grandmother. Please. Ever.
2. Sometimes I make treats for my family, because they're special to me.
3. Sometimes I make treats to give away--to say thank you, or I care about you, or have a great day, to someone I think is fabulous.
Tonight I made cinnamon rolls for reason number three. It felt good. But I need closure.
These are unbaked, obviously. I never actually got to bake them. I mixed these puppies up and put them together with all the care and love I could muster, and sent them off into the wide world, into the hands of a special friend. I'm sure they're in a good place.
Frosted Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Country Woman
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
4 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Add the sugar, butter, eggs, salt and 2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky). Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down. Turn onto a floured surface; divide in half. Roll each portion into an 11-in. x 8-in. rectangle; brush with butter. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over dough to within 1/2 in. of edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting from a long side; pinch seam to seal.
Cut each into eight slices. Place cut side down in two greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pans. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pans on wire racks. In a small bowl, combine frosting ingredients until smooth. Frost rolls. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 16 rolls
Right now I'm reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Unabridged. I know that smacks of insanity, but it's a good insanity--one that makes me happy. It's a ridiculously long book, weighing in at a hefty 1462 pages. I'm currently on page 1367, which can only mean one thing:
I've got Monte Cristo on the brain.
Today I was making some oh-so-delightful chocolate pudding from Joy the Baker, and my brain was in, not pudding mode, but Monte Cristo mode. I just finished a portion of the book where there's a lot of poison flying around, and people dying, and other people being really paranoid about the poison flying around.
So, I'm very innocently making pudding this morning, and I suddenly find myself feeling a little nervous. Gosh, what if some evil person in a cloak sneaks into my kitchen while I'm out (at the opera?), and empties a little crystal vial of arsenic into my pudding while it's chilling in the fridge? Will my husband track down the assassin and challenge him to a duel? Will he avenge my death?
I realized I have nothing to worry about, as my husband happens to be a black belt in karate. That, and I always lock the door whenever I go out to the opera.
Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding
from Joy the Baker, who got it from Gourmet Cookbook
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 cups whole milk
1 large egg
4 ounces good semi sweet chocolate, finely chopped
Whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and boil, whisking, until pudding is thick, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Immediately beat eggs lightly in a medium heat proof bowl, then very gradually add hot pudding to the egg, whisking constantly. Whisk in chopped chocolate until smooth.
Pour pudding into ramekins or custard cups and cover surface each with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate, covered, until cool, at least 2 hours.
Serve pudding with toasted marshmallows or whipped cream!
I might very well be abnormal, but here's the thing: I'm a little paranoid when making foods whose flavors can be associated with non-foods.
I'll explain. Lemon is one of those tricky suckers, because if I don't do it right, I end up with a big pan of something that smacks of, well, dish detergent. Or Lysol. You think I'm weird? Yes. And then I picture myself taking a big bite out of some sort of Palmolive Meringue Pie, and that's a little disconcerting. It's kind of like when you're eating a mint brownie, and you start to wonder if somebody secretly substituted Colgate for the mint icing. Am I the only one who knows what I'm talking about?
That's not to say I'm not a huge fan of lemon. There's just a little paranoia there.
My husband loves lemon bars. I love my husband. So yesterday I made him lemon bars. He didn't say a word about Palmolive, so I'll count that as a success.
Lemon Graham Squares
adapted from Taste of Home
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
6-8 drops yellow food coloring
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
In a small bowl, combine the milk, lemon juice, and food coloring; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in melted butter until crumbly.
Press half of the crumb mixture into a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Pour lemon mixture over the crust; sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack and cut into squares.
Okay everybody, raise your hand if you LOVE January.
. . .
I agree. You know why? Nothing happens in January. The holidays are over. And it's just cold. Sure, it's cold in December too, but December cold is purposeful because it's Christmas time. December cold is fun because you cozy up by the fireplace and sip peppermint cocoa and listen to Bing Crosby sing about the weather. January cold isn't nearly as picturesque.
No offense to anyone with a January birthday, but January is sort of a boring month. Sort of like August.
Baking in January doesn't hold quite the same excitement for me, either. It's the end of seasonal, traditional holiday foods, with pumpkin and cranberries and apples and walnuts and oranges, and those delicious spices that rise from the oven and make your kitchen smell like the North Pole. What do you eat in January? Maybe tater tots? I'm at a loss here.
Well, I'm not entirely at a loss, because I'm being a little rebellious--I'm not ready to let go of my Christmas recipes yet. So I pulled out some fresh cranberries that have been hiding away in my freezer for a day like today, and I put them to good use.
This bread is scrumptious any time of year, providing you've got some cranberries on hand. The apple flavor is more of a backdrop than you'd expect--you won't be hit over the head with apple, but let's be honest, the cranberries and cinnamon are the real showstoppers here.
Apple Cranberry Bread Ingredients:
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cups white sugar
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups peeled and grated tart apple
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the oil, white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. The batter will be very thick.
Mix in the grated apples and the cranberries. The juice from the apples will thin the batter slightly. Stir in nuts if desired.
Pour batter evenly into two prepared 4x8 loaf pans. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Serve warm, or wrap overnight to soften.