Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There's a First Time for Everything...

When I started this blog, I thought the baking part of it would be balanced with other fun things. Sorry about that, folks. Life has been really busy! I promise, I will try harder to sprinkle in a bit more fun between the baking (especially because the baking stints are fewer and further between now).

I also planned that I would stick close to baking things that I could easily take to others so they wouldn't be in the house. For that reason, I was drawn to a recipe for Cinnamon Chip Scones on one of my favorite baking blogs, My Baking Addiction. If you haven't already checked it out by clicking through the link on the right of my blog, you should definitely click soon. The author, an Ohio gal like myself (except she still lives there), makes all kinds of delicious-sounding things and takes great photos of them. Anyhoo, the scones sounded AMAZING, and I knew they'd be easy to pass around. Too bad that, as you might have guessed, Jay and I have not been so good about sharing the goodies I'm making here. (Too many baked goods = new gym memberships!)

I had never made a scone before in my life. Actually, I'm not sure I'd ever even eaten a homemade scone. I think my previous scone experience has been limited to professional bakeries (and in particular, my love of a white chocolate raspberry scone Cup O'Joe used to have in Columbus.... mmmm). So, this was yet another adventure for the benefit of my faithful readers.

I started off pretty excited to try something new, and quite honestly, to finally use those cinnamon chips I'd bought in anticipation of the project a week earlier (sidenote: Cinnamon chips are addictive. Consider yourself warned!) Instead of my trusty stand mixer, the recipe called for the use of a food processor. Another good sign, as the poor thing hadn't been used in months. And so I dove in.

I should have suspected that something was amiss when cutting the cold butter into the flour mixture didn't result in pea-sized clumps. But, unfazed, I marched forward, dumping the rest of the wet ingredients into the less-than-perfect pastry mix.

That, my friends, is when the trouble began. Being the avid cookie-maker that I am, I know a sticky cookie dough when I see one. And folks, that is exactly what I saw staring back at me from the processor's bowl. Though I was a scone virgin, I had seen enough Food Network shows to know what a kneaded dough looks like, and I knew full well there would be kneading ahead. Sticky was not where it was at. A tad bit fazed, I went ahead and turned the dough out.

This is what happened:

I like getting my hands dirty as much as the next guy, but this was ridiculous.

Thankfully, my trusty sous chef was not far from the disaster zone and stepped in to help.

Jay and I worked as a team to add quite a bit more flour (above and beyond what the recipe had told me to add at the pea-sized crumb-making stage). Honestly, I can't even tell you how much we added, only that it was a lot. But it worked. Eventually, the sticky was tamed and I finally had what looked like the dough I had expected.

That's not to say that the final product looked anything like any scone I'd ever seen. But, hey, you gotta start somewhere. Oh, and they were huge. Clearly spacial relations is not my gig.

And, after such trials, I didn't even bother with the cream cheese glaze until the next morning. I needed to recuperate first before baking again.

And yes, I know what you're wondering -- despite my creative way of getting there, these scones tasted pretty darn good. They may have been a little more dense than they were supposed to be (thank you excessive amounts of extra flour), but the cinnamon yummy-ness, only heightened by that addictive glaze, totally made up for it.

If any of you out there feel brave enough to try these, or actually have scone experience and therefore are more qualified than I, please let me know how it goes. I'm determined to have another go at these... but maybe not for awhile. :)

Cinnamon Chip Scones

1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter; very cold cut into pieces
2 eggs
1 cup *mini cinnamon chips (mine didn't say mini, but they were pretty small, so I just left them as is)
optional egg wash (I didn't bother, clearly)
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1. In a small bowl, blend the sour cream, vanilla and baking soda, and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet or line with parchments paper.
3. In the bowl of your food processor, place the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cream of tartar, and salt. Pulse a few times to incorporate. Add in the butter and pulse until butter is in pea-sized pieces. 4. Add in the sour cream mixture and eggs into the flour mixture and pulse until just moistened.
5. Remove scone dough from the food processor and into a bowl, fold in cinnamon chips.
6. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead briefly. Roll or pat dough into a 3/4 inch thick round. Cut into 12 wedges, and place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. You can easily shape these any size you want.
7. Optional: Brush the tops lightly with egg wash.
8. Bake 13-16 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown on the bottom.
*If you cannot find mini cinnamon chips, simply chop the standard cinnamon chips to make smaller pieces.
* No food processor? Simply cut the butter into the flour mixtures using a pastry blender.
You can also freeze your butter in whole sticks and grate it using the large holes of a box grater; this will allow you to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture without too much effort.
Cream Cheese Glaze
1 (4 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract extract
2 tablespoons milk
Mix the cream cheese with the butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and milk in a bowl. Drizzle over cooled scones in any fashion you choose (I chose the dump with a spoon method).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pancakes make me happy

One of Jay's and my favorite traditions is weekend pancakes. And not just any pancakes. Banana chocolate chip pancakes. The tradition dates back to our earliest dating days, and still reminds me of falling in love with my husband every time we make them together.

Finally feeling settled into the house, we knew this past weekend was the perfect opportunity to break out some yummy Stonewall Kitchen pancake mix we've been meaning to break into for over a year (thank you, Julie!). And, our patience (or busy-ness) was rewarded in spades. Here is evidence of one of our most perfect pancake batches yet:

Possibly the world's most perfect pancake, courtesy of the master -- my husband.

Oh, and I did a bit of baking too.... more to come soon on that!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Move, the New and the Tried & True

It's been a week since we moved in. The move went pretty smoothly, thankfully. And now, a week in, the house is coming together very nicely. A few highlights of our new digs:

  • After some initial confusion, we have come to love our high-efficiency heating system. Let's just hope those utility bills reflect all those savings we've been told we'll have!
  • We have lots of kitchen cabinet space! I think everything has finally found a place (even if it's not its permanent place) AND we still have a few drawers to spare.
  • I love our new washer and dryer (thank you Grandma Jackie!). They aren't the fanciest on the market, but I am so enjoying not having a random ring-shaped stain appear on our clothes from the old washer's agitator -- gotta love the front loading washer!
  • We have a party tub. Seriously, we have a party tub. It comes fully equipped with programmable air jets AND color-changing lights. As Jay says, it's like living in a house on MTV Cribs. And yes, after taking my first soak the other night, I can report that it is as fun as it sounds
  • Verizon FiOS. No words. LOVE IT. Highly recommend it.

As we settle into our new life here, the craziness of the week or two before the move are starting to resurface in my consciousness. Between my job and packing, I completely forgot that I had done some baking. Not that I would have had time to blog about them, of course. But now I have a few moments, so I wanted to share one of my favorites -- my Nana Sara's Butter Balls.

Butter Balls -- The Fall Collection
These nuggets of buttery goodness are the hallmark of my matriarchal line. My maternal great grandmother, Sara, was known as Sara Lee because everything she baked was impeccably yummy. Nana Sara was a big part of my life until she passed just shy of my 18th birthday. We spent many a Sunday visiting her at the nursing home. Sadly, by the time my memories begin, Nana was already under the grip of Alzheimer's Disease. So, it's through recipes like these that I can connect with Nana in her prime.

Of course, I'm far from the first woman in our family line to pick up Nana Sara's talents. My grandmother and my mother are both quite talented in the kitchen. When it comes to Butter Balls, though, well, that's been my mom's territory for years. She can make these things in her sleep. And she makes them for every occasion (except Passover, of course). Every family member and friend has come to expect these little babies at any gathering, from holiday dinners for nearly 30 to Sunday night BBQs for 6.

So, it's been so important to me to master the famous Butter Ball. It's taken me a few tries, but I think I've got it down. I'm almost reticent to post the recipe here, for fear I might be bested at my own genetically-thrown gauntlet. But, I have faith that with a cookie this simple -- and this simply delicious -- the secret is the baker's own flair. :)

Nana Sara's Butter Balls

1/2 lb. butter (I always use salted here)
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour

Combine butter and egg yolks and sugar. Beat well. Add flour.

Form into balls (you may need to keep your hands moist to prevent dough from sticking) and place on nonstick cookie sheet. Make a thumbprint on the top of each ball.

Pre-frosting cookies
Bake at 350º for approximately 15 minutes or slightly golden on bottoms. Cool for 5-10 minutes on sheet before moving to cooling rack. Freeze before frosting for best results.

1 stick butter (again, salted)
Confectioner's sugar (about 3 cups, but just use what you need to get the consistency you want)

Beat butter until smooth; add confectioner's sugar a small bit at a time until you get a thick frosting. Add a little milk to thin out. Add more confectioner's sugar to balance if you add to much milk.

Once you have a semi-thick frosting, separate and color as desired. Use spoon to frost frozen cookies (dump and swirl method).


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Switchin' Kitchens

It's been quite a while since I posted a new recipe, but I promise, there's good reason.

Jay & I finally closed on our new condo!

We are thrilled to be homeowners again, but are currently in the throes of packing up our apartment and taking everything over to our new place.

The whole process -- which for very long and convoluted reasons -- started way back in April and, after fits, starts, and really awful performances by the seller's agent, it finally ended just last week. The place is small (really small), but it's beautiful. It's one unit in a 2-family home that was recently gutted and rehabbed into two condos.

I could list all the benefits of the place, from the party tub (yes, party tub... complete with color-changing lights) to its ideal location less than a mile from our current apartment. But let's focus on what counts: it has a fabulous kitchen!! We sealed the deal just in time to pick out the granite and the appliances ourselves. Keep your eye out for future posts testing the accuracy of my brand new oven...

Today, as we waited for the locks to be changed, the new washer/dryer to be delivered, and the carpet to be installed in the basement, we unpacked our kitchen items into the abundant cupboards. The final piece of the day -- the KitchenAid Mixer. It took its rightful place on the counter. So, it's official folks -- I have arrived!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Baker Hits the Mill City

Recently I had the rare opportunity to join Jay at one of his many conferences. This time his meeting was in Minneapolis, MN, which is also conveniently the new home of one of my best friends, Jenny, and her family. So while Jay sat in sessions all day, I went to play with Jenny and her almost 3-year-old, Noah.

Jenny is always a great hostess, so she planned some really fun things for us to do. We spent one morning at the Mill City Museum, a tribute to the flour factories that used to be the city's main industry. I didn't know this before my trip, but Minneapolis used to the flour capital of the world -- perfect for the baker in me. It was cool to see how the mill operated, and I really loved the exhibits paying homage to Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and the like! Noah, on the other hand, could have spent all day with the trains and trucks. Boys...

Baking with Noah
In truth, Noah himself is a great baker. In fact, Jenny suggested that instead of bringing him a gift (I make it a practice never to go see a small kid without a trinket in hand) I bring with me something for us to bake together. What a great idea! I loaded up my suitcase with all you need for yummy Funfetti cupcakes (shout out to my Drachler buddies! Funfetti is a key to grad school survival), and Noah was a super helper. We had so much fun making them -- and eating them -- together.

In the midst of all the zaniness that has been our lives lately, it was so wonderful to spend time with close friends. Thank you Jenny, Jon & Noah for a fun weekend! Please come to Boston soon so we can host you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Double-Edged Sword (Double Dark Dump Cake)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this blogging thing is not easy. Thinking of things to say, finding recipes to share, and all the while trying to be mildly entertaining, these are not easy tasks.

The baking -- and the enjoying the fruits of my labor -- is equally tough. Sure most things are tasty (must be beginner's luck). In fact, they are pretty hard to resist these days. That, in and of itself, is particularly hard for me, a Weight Watcher's success story. For the 4+ years since I started my first stint, I've kept off more than 20 pounds. But with all these yummy concoctions, my well-trained defenses are weakening.

Double Not-So-Dark Dump Cake
So, when I feel like I'm teetering on the edge, I like to take a tried-and-true recipe and lighten it up a bit. My most successful attempt has been with one of my mom's classics, the Double Dark Dump Cake (so named because you just dump all the ingredients into a bowl). Made by the book, this cake is dark, rich, moist, and all around chocolate goodness. But, it also has plenty of potential as a somewhat lighter version of itself. Even with my substitutions, the cake was a crowd-pleaser at our Yom Kippur break fast.

Double Dark Dump Cake
(feel free to make the original or the lighter version -- they are both great!)

1 box devil's food cake (I used Pillsbury sugar-free mix)
1 package chocolate instant pudding (I used sugar-free fat-free chocolate, though sugar-free fat-free chocolate fudge is also a good choice)
1/2 cup oil (I subbed applesauce for half the oil. When subbing applesauce for fat, which is a great sub, never replace more than half the fat or it just gets sticky from the sugar in the applesauce)
1 cup sour cream (I used fat free, but you can also use fat free greek yogurt)
1/2 cup warm water
4 eggs
1 small package of chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and pour into a greased bundt pan. Bake at 350º for 40-60 mins, depending on your oven. Cool in pan until you can handle it; turn out and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar immediately before serving.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More Holiday Deliciousness: Savory Bites

Welcome to my first blog post of the Jewish New Year! I hope all who celebrated had a happy and healthy start to the year, and had an easy and meaningful fast. For those who have been following, a quick report: the aforementioned homemade chicken soup and brisket were solid hits, the applesauce cake a little less rich than I remembered (apparently using Coffee Rich instead of milk not only makes it parve, it makes it better), and the time with family very lovely.

In addition to my usual sweet treats, I thought I'd share a few of the more savory highlights of the season this year.

Sweet Potato Pie
For Rosh Hashanah, I made my mother-in-law's sweet potato pie for the first time. It was super easy, tasted great, and even got a nod from Mom-in-law! I was surprised that the recipe didn't call for any particular spices (ie. cinnamon, etc.), but honestly, it didn't need it. As the recipe makes 2 pies, I am just waiting for the next opportunity to take pie #2 out of the freezer.

2 small graham cracker crusts
1 large can sweet potatoes (usually packed in syrup), drained and mashed (I also rinsed mine a bit to take off a bit of the extra sweetness)
1 cup sugar
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup milk
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice

Combine last 6 ingredients with mashed potatoes, mix and pour into shells. Bake at 350º for approximately 45 minutes or pie is set.

That's it!

Caramelized Onion Frittata (adapted from
We hosted a couple of good friends, and their adorable, well-behaved little boy, for break-the-fast after Yom Kippur. Not only did we have great conversation and the best bagels in Boston (thank you, Rosenfeld's!), I tried my hand at a frittata. I'd only done one before, but this one sounded so delicious and light and hearty, I thought it would be perfect for post-fast. It turned out to be as good as it sounded. In fact, I still have some in the fridge I can't wait to have tomorrow for lunch! The recipe called for a 10" pan, but I wanted something a little bigger, so I used a 12" and upped the ingredients roughly by half.

2 cups diced baking potato
6 tablespoons water
Mister of oil (or just light drizzle of oil)
1 1/2 lbs.  sliced onion (or a little less)
1/3 cup water
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (we used a combination of rosemary and sage)
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons fat-free milk
8 large egg whites, lightly beaten
5 large eggs, lightly beaten

Place potato and 6 tablespoons water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and vent. Microwave at high 4-6 minutes or until tender, stirring once. Set aside.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with misted oil (tip: never use cooking spray on nonstick surfaces -- it gums up when heated and ruins the nonstick surface!). Add onion. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add garlic and cook 10 minutes,  or until golden brown, stirring frequently. While onion cooks, add 1/3-1/2 cup water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent onion from sticking to pan. Stir in potato, herbs, salt, and pepper. Spoon into a medium bowl; cool slightly.

Combine parmesan, milk, egg whites, and eggs in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add egg mixture to potato mixture; stir well.

Preheat broiler.

Wipe pan with a paper towel; recoat pan with misted oil. Pour potato mixture into pan. Cook over medium heat 7-9 minutes or until bottom of frittata is browned and top is almost set.

Wrap handle of pan with foil. Sprinkle 1 more tablespoon cheese over frittata. Broil 5 minutes or until cheese melts and top is set. Cut into wedges.

You can find the original recipe here.