Category Archives: Baking

I Love to Bake

It’s true, I do.  My maternal grandmother’s kitchen always smelled like freshly baked bread, cinnamon toast, and banana bread.  When I write “cinnamon toast,” I don’t mean sprinkling a cinnamon sugar blend on buttered toast from the toaster.  I mean that you spread butter (no substitutes) on bread, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar blend to taste (my mixture tends to be dark – more cinnamon), and place in the oven broiler (or toaster oven) until the sugar starts to bubble and carmelize – super fantastic! 

My maternal great aunt’s kitchen smelled like freshly baked bread and what is commonly known as “monkey bread.”  We never called it that.  I first heard that term less than 10 years ago.  The recipe card in my box is labelled “Aunt Mary’s Coffee Cake.”  Mind you, Aunt Mary did NOT use frozen bread dough, only the real thing from real ingredients.  The eggs were from chickens that lived on the property.

A favorite family story centers around the time that my uncle and I were babysitting my younger siblings at Grandma’s house and really craving banana bread.  Neither one of us had made it solo before, but we really wanted it, so we went for it.  Heck, we’d seen it done countless times, how hard could it be?  One thing that both my grandmother and mother always obsessed about was making sure the bananas were thoroughly mashed.  Well…neither one of us had the patience at the time to heed that instruction.  As a result, our first banana bread attempt was a bit gooey, with wet chunks of banana.  It just wasn’t the same as when Grandma and Mom made it.  Frankly, it was gross.  I’m proud to report that I am now an expert.  I expect he is, as well.

For the past 5 or so months, my baking adventures have been quite limited, by choice.  My quest to give away a number of extra pounds of weight have deterred me from tempting myself with baked goods.  However, when hosting a small and casual dinner party a couple of weeks ago, I made a recipe from one of my favorite books – Chocolate Pound Cake by Alice Medrich.  I made a vanilla yogurt, cream cheese, and honey topping, which one of my young guests liked so much that I sent all of it home with her. 

The name, pound cake, originated from an original recipe of the 18th century, which included 1 pound each of eggs, butter, flour, sugar.  The recipe has evolved over the centuries and there are numerous variations, but the original essence remains.

For anyone that loves chocolate, desserts, and would prefer to dial down the calories, fat, etc., of a traditional luxury dessert, but are not willing to sacrifice quality and flavor, I highly recommend this book – Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, by Alice Medrich.  It is my go-to source for chocolate recipes.  The recipe for Michael’s Brownies is the only one I make.  Here is the recipe for that wonderful chocolate pound cake.  It is forgiving in substitutions, as I have used skim (fat free) milk in my recent bakings.  Today, I substituted almost half of the regular, white flour, with wheat pastry flour.  I very much enjoyed the three small slices.  The recipe can easily be halved.  As with most pound cakes, it is better a day or two after baking.  The crumbs compact and the cake becomes more dense.  It is just simply wonderful.

Chocolate Pound Cake – Alice Medrich

2 – 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons instant espresso or coffee powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 – 2/3 cups sugar

1. Have all ingredients at room temperature. Position the rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 F.  Spray 12-cup tube or bundt pan, or two 5-cup loaf pans, with vegetable oil spray.
2. Combine and sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Whisk the whole eggs with the egg whites in a small bowl. Set aside. Dissolve the espresso powder in 3 tablespoons warm water and combine with the vanilla and buttermilk in a small bowl.
3. Cut the butter into chunks and place in an electric mixer bowl. Using a stand mixer, beat to soften, about 1 minute. Add sugar gradually, beating constantly for about 3 minutes at medium speed. Gradually dribble eggs into sugar mixture, beating at medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. On medium-low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary. On medium speed, gradually dribble in half of the buttermilk mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary. On low speed, beat in half of the remaining flour followed by the rest of the buttermilk, always scraping the bowl as necessary. Beat in remaining flour mixture until well combined. Batter may look slightly curdled.
4. Scrape batter into the pan or pans and smooth the top as necessary. Bake loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until cake starts to shrink from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out barely clean. Cake in a tube or bundt pan will bake in 55 to 55 minutes. Do not overbake.
5. Cool cake, in the pan, on a rack for 10 minutes. Invert and remove pan. Turn right side up if baked in loaves. Cool completely on the rack before storing.
Cake remains moist and delicious for 4 to 5 days, well wrapped. Cake may be frozen for up to 2 months.  Best if baked 1 day before serving.

Serves 20 (slice=0.85 in) to 24 (slice=0.71 in)
Calories per serving: 196
Fat: 7gm
% calories from fat: 31%
Protein: 3.1gm
Carbohydrates: 32.4gm
Cholesterol: 33.4mg

Alice Medrich’s blog


Empanadas – Wrap Your Favorite

An empanada is a small half-moon or triangular shaped pie, filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, or fruit.  It can be baked or fried.  The name is derived from the Spanish verb, empanar, which means to surround with bread.  Empanadas are hearty and portable, which make them the perfect snack or lunch.  Empanadillas are smaller versions of empanadas and are often served as tapas (appetizers).

Empanadas are commonplace in Southern Europe and Latin and South America.  The little pie traces its roots to Spanish Galicia and Portugal.  Empanadas are believed to be descended from the samosa, an Arabic meat pie.

I was introduced to Argentinian empanadillas more than two decades ago, in Spain.  My friends and I were enjoying post-siesta vino and cerveza when the establishment owner offered them as tapas.  They were marvellous!  The owner went on to explain a bit of their history and their popularity in South America.

I reacquainted myself with empanadas this week.  I was browsing the Weight Watchers internet site for new recipes and landed on one for chicken empanadas.  Memories flooded in from my first encounter.  I searched beyond the Weight Watchers site for more empanada recipes and found a myriad of variations in fillings and dough.  The Wikipedia entry describes a few of them.

The dough is about as simple as it gets – flour, salt, some type of fat (oil, shortening, lard, butter), and some type of liquid (water, milk, chicken broth, vinegar, wine).  Many recipes also include eggs.  Other ingredients include baking powder, sugar, and corn flour.  Dough preparation is like pie crust, biscuits, or any other pastry dough.  I decided to use my grandmother’s baking powder biscuit recipe (see below) with two ingredient modifications.  I eliminated the sugar and replaced half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour.  I also rolled the dough quite thin (1/8-1/4 inch), so I could cut 4 inch circles.  Delicious!

Canned diced tomatoes and legumes are staples in my kitchen and I happened to have a mixture of diced tomatoes, green chilis, garbanzo and black beans (with cumin, chili, and chipotle) in the refrigerator.  I decided that would make a fine base filling.  I sautéed some minced garlic, green pepper, and green onion and combined with the tomato mixture.  I cut up a few precooked shrimp from the freezer and added that to the mixture.  I cooked it long enough for the ingredients to warm.  Be sure to cook down the mixture to evaporate any excess liquid.

Cut the dough into 4 inch circles.  Please an ample tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle.  Use water, if necessary, to seal edges.  Fold dough in half and crimp with fork tines.  Brush with egg white, if desired.
Bake on baking sheet at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I found the following cheese empanada recipe during my search and thought it looked and sounded fantastic.

Next experiment will be a dessert empanada – apple, pear, or both!

Grandma’s Baking Powder Biscuits
12-16 biscuits
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup fat free milk

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Cut in shortening until flour looks like pellets.  Form a small well in the middle of the flour and add milk.  Stir quickly with a fork, just until dough forms a wet ball.  Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together.  Knead gently with heel of your hand five to ten strokes, just enough to bring dough together.
Pat dough to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut biscuits straight down – no twisting.  Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 450°F for 10-12 minutes.

Almond Triangles – Warning – These Are Not PointsPlus-Friendly

If you finished your holiday baking and just haven’t had enough, try these almond triangles.  I made these for the holidays in 2009.  They are fantastic.  Be sure to have the ingredient amounts with you at the market.  The amount of almonds will surprise you.  For a moment, I was tempted to rewrite the recipe to be more PointsPlus-friendly, but there are some things you just shouldn’t change. This recipe is one of them. Thanks to Ron Read for sharing with me last year.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. “I found this recipe many years ago in First for Women magazine,” wrote contest winner Charlotte Midthun of Granite Falls, Minn. “Everyone who tastes them wants the recipe. They are my family’s favorite.”
• 2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
• 3/4 c. granulated sugar, divided
• 1 egg
• 3/4 tsp. almond extract
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 23/4 c. flour
• 1 c. packed brown sugar
• 1/3 c. honey
• 1/4 c. heavy cream, at room temperature
• 1 lb. (about 51/4 c.) sliced almonds
Carefully line a 10- by 15-inch jellyroll pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
To prepare dough: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1 cup (2 sticks) butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, almond extract and salt, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour and mix until just incorporated.
Press dough evenly into pan and push dough up sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a fork, prick dough in 20 to 24 places all across dough and bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To prepare topping: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, honey, remaining 1 cup (2 sticks) butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat to medium-high, bring mixture to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Stir in almonds.
Spread almond mixture evenly over crust. Return pan to oven and bake until bubbling, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. While bars are still slightly warm, cut into triangles.

Blizzard, Pumpkin bread, mulled cider and wine

It’s all over the news today – Minnesota’s autumn (technically) blizzard.  About one foot U.S. has fallen since late last night.  I have blown snow from the driveway once and a helpful young man in the neighborhood is working on his second round with all of us.  It’s fortunate I have been spending time with the NordicTrack and eating healthy.  I was pushing snow and an 8 h.p. dual stage Toro around this morning for 80 minutes.

Local reports indicate this storm dropped more snow than the 1991 Halloween blizzard.  [I was amazed to find that Wikipedia has an entry for the “Halloween Blizzard.”  Check it out.]
I remember, well, the 1991 blizzard.  I planned a big Halloween party for Saturday night.  I love Halloween.  I got the call at 7 AM Friday morning that the office was closed for the day.  I spent much of Friday and Saturday cleaning and preparing for the party.  I was worried that the party would be a bust because of the snow.  I had myself a little pity party at 8 PM on Saturday when no one was there.  Sure enough, people start arriving within the hour – fun party and funny memories.

NOAA reported that my piece of the state had 11.1 inches of snow at 2 PM CT today, 12/11/10 (note the cool reverse sequence on the date).  I’m thinking there must have been 2-3 inches since that time.

When I finally admitted to myself that I was stranded in the house for the day, I thought I would try a pumpkin bread (more like cake) recipe that had been waiting a week for me.  It is really fabulous, but I may be biased because I love anything with pumpkin and spices.  Give it a try.  I recommend you double the spices.
It’s a perfect choice for a day like today.  Even better that I have Greg Norman Pinot Noir, Penzey’s Mulling Spices, and apple cider.  This collection makes Minnesota winter almost magical.