diary entries

chocolate goes (very) glam

Glamorous. That’s the operative adjective for this tea bread that’s, may I say, gilded with chunks of salted dark chocolate. Plus cacao nibs. Can you stand it?

To some extent, its mildly rugged appearance misrepresents the actual creaminess of the “crumb,” terrific chocolate essence, and overall delicate simplicity. No matter. I’d bake it again and again just for having on hand to slice (or break) off as a craving for the treat moves me.

Chocolate-fanciers, this is your (baking) moment.

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a tasty clutter

True confession: Among the prepackaged goods, ultimate boredom comes wrapped up in cellophane bags of bland, generic fruit, nut, and seed mixes.

The answer to this dilemma? You chose the ingredients, mix, and store the largess for snacking. The mélange that’s a current favorite of mine brings together unsweetened wide-flake coconut with pieces of unsweetened dried mango, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, and goji berries. It’s just a matter of select-and-combine, and it’s all set for immediate enjoyment.

This recipe is a fun assortment of some of my favorite things, but feel free to go right ahead and customize, customize, customize…

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butter cake crush

It’s official. I’m in a Binge-Baking-Butter-Cakes mood. And it show no sign of relenting.

I have a crush on butter cakes, especially those of the vanilla variety. To date, over a dozen have been pulled from my oven, one silky-battered, aromatic, fine-grained, tender specimen at a time. Eggs, unsalted butter, cream cheese, cake flour, all-purpose flour, heavy cream, buttermilk, sour cream, whole milk, and sugar–in one form or another–have been sifted, whisked, or otherwise beaten together so frequently that the aroma of cake has now–nearly–permeated the walls, and likely my skin as well. At the market check-out line (yes, I’m the one with all the baking supplies looking particularly sugar-dazed), the woman behind me quietly mentioned to her daughter “…I smell vanilla extract.” I think she meant me.

I’ve been stockpiling new recipes, one by one, for several years now–developed in my mind at midnight to appear in mixing bowls the next day. It’s a complex dance of ideas and how-to’s only to culminate as my next “work” (as they say in publishing) at some given point in the future. Prior to assembling that “work,” the real labor is done in splendid isolation–just me, the equipment, and the ingredients–as each recipe is made one at a time. At this moment, I’m cake-obsessed, which is lucky for you, my longtime baking friends, and offer a cozy, plain old-fashioned autumn coffee cake. Consider it the prelude to a big, friendly volume of goodies which will best reveal a bright, new focus. Do stay in touch for more.

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a bread for any season

This is one of several breads I want to pull from the oven on a regular basis. It’s earthy, child’s play to put together, and a friendly accompaniment to an entire range of food–composed salads, tureens of soup, casseroles. The absence of nuts or fruit in the dough makes the bread deliciously amenable to many savory plated or bowled things, though I wouldn’t rule out serving slices with cheese (spread with hot pepper jelly) or as an accompaniment to morning coffee (slathered with apricot preserves). As is obvious by the textural images which appear in this diary entry, what appeals to me is the bread’s “crumb”–it’s nubby, rugged, and, above all, flavorful.

I urge you to bookmark this recipe. It’s a dream, and may just become your default loaf to bake.

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loving chocolate chip cookies

In my cookie-baking pantheon, the distinguished chocolate chip rules supreme. Nearly any twist or turn of the recipe intrigues me–chewy, crispy, thick, thin, jumbo, regulation-size, or petite. Petite? Did I say petite? Teensy two-bite cookies may suffice for some, I guess.

Here’s the latest, a dreamy cookie with a caramelly profile, one that’s loaded with chips and a full three teaspoons of vanilla extract. The texture? Chewy, with crispy edges. The cookies are just a little thick. Using cool eggs and cool butter creates a firm dough that scoops into high mounds. On baking, the hillocks of dough slump (perfectly!) and collapse into shapely cookies with wonderfully crinkled edges: I love The Slump.

I think of these brown sugar chippers as Saturday Afternoon Cookies because baking them on a weekend afternoon has long been a household tradition–a custom worth passing along.

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pumpkin, please

What a charmer this bread is–threaded with pumpkin seeds (and sunflower seeds), a batter lush with pumpkin and spices and baked to a sweetly scented conclusion is made to order for serving at breakfast, brunch, or with afternoon coffee (as well, not to be overlooked as a pick-up snack–enjoy plain or slather slices with jam). The batter for the whisked-and-stirred mixture is smoothed into a plain round pan and pulled from the oven about 40 minutes later, all tender and slightly puffed. A lacy web of seeds forms a random pattern in each slice. Moist, dried currants or dried cranberries (1/2 cup of either) may replace the seeds, if you like.

This everyday kind of bread, tenderly dense and flavorful, is likely to have a permanent place in your seasonal baking file.

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spiced, stuffed, and baked

 

Activity, baked apple-style: There are more complex, flavor-involved ways to stuff an apple destined to be baked, but at the end of a chicken-roasting Sunday afternoon, I was sleuthing for a reasonably simple–but luscious–expression of this homestyle dessert.

So, with a few spoonfuls of goji berries and uncrystallized candied ginger lumps left in the pantry from a previous baking foray plus applejack at the ready, I was set to stuff, moisten, and bake some beautiful Empire apples.

When baked, the flesh of an apple turns yielding and rather custardy. Contrast this textural quality to the lightly sweetened, cinnamon-scented liquid which thickens nicely as the fruit bakes, turning wonderfully syrupy at the end. Tied into this balmy flavor is the dusky taste of dried fruit and spark of ginger–in all, a formula for capturing autumn in a bowl.

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waffle-itis

I have a case of The Waffles. Of the apple variety.

This is evidenced by craving a quick bread that chimes in with the breezy season–the culinary one–of sturdy richness. It’s coming. Apples peek into the scene. As the days progress in September, casseroles, roasting pans, and bread-raising bowls are pulled from the back shelves in kitchen-forward motions. The more strapping fruits–apples and pears, to be exact–take over from the delicate berries of summer.

Substantial. Apple-rich. Spice-scented.

These are the three qualities I want in a waffle at this moment, and so it all happened–right in my mixing bowl, in an un-dramatic, orderly way. Flour (two kinds), leavening, spices, sugar–combined. Buttermilk, oil, vanilla, eggs–whisked. Pour the second over the first, add shredded apples, mix, spoon onto the griddle, and slip right into almost-autumn.

Pass the softened salt butter, please. And I’ll have an extra dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

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fruit and nuts deluxe

How did this happen?

It seems that an earlier diary entry and accompanying recipe for fruit and nut bars has become a beloved favorite. It’s not prepared in an oven and thus can’t be considered a baked treat. The fruity mixture is more like a dense and moldable paste, which, admittedly, sounds quite nasty. (Honestly, it’s the best-tasting “paste” I’ve ever run into.) No matter, the recipe for this sticky, tangy concoction, quickly made in a food processor, has acquired something of a following and, as such, fans hollered for another recipe.

And so I am obliging the requests for a lovely variation, and offering up fruit, nut, and seed bars. The apricots and dates remain a constant, as the two ingredients (one tangy, the other richly warm) contribute to creating an adherent mass easily packed in a loaf pan (pitted prunes can replace the dates). Happy now? I hope so. You’re welcome.

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in a coconut frenzy

A flashback memory of my late mother struggling with a cookie recipe–that of American-style macaroons (made of coconut, all-purpose flour, condensed milk, sugar, and egg whites)–propelled me into turning the confection into an informal cake. A sweet for the coconut-passionate, not the coconut-diffident.

And here we go (all bakers unite!) headlong into creating a mixture, usually destined for dropping by the teaspoon or tablespoon, just right for baking into one rather dramatic layer. No cookie sheets to line, no relaying pans into the oven, no fidgety work. What a relief.

But would this pan out (so to speak)?

While it was game on and possibly an eccentric move, I preheated the oven anyway and tested a batter that (hopefully!) captured the essence of coconut, enhanced the creaminess of the dessert, and made it reasonably time-accessible. The result? Winning on all three counts.

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