Thursday, January 29, 2009

Orange Spice Pound Cake

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).

For glaze:
Mix powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl. Drizzle or brush glaze over cake. Let stand until glaze sets, about 30 minutes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dreamy Fudge Brownies

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
2 eggs
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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Frosted Cinnamon Rolls

1. Sometimes I make treats for myself to eat.

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
2 eggs
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

Monday, January 19, 2009

Joy's Chocolate Pudding

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!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lemon Graham Squares

Let's talk about Lemon.

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.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Apple Cranberry Bread

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

  • 3 eggs
  • 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.