German Style Crumb Cake

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This is another St. Louis thing. Another craving that comes from some deep memories that I can’t even put my finger on. When I first started thinking about making gooey butter cake, I think somehow I was really thinking about this crumb cake, or perhaps something in between. My memories may have gotten jumbled and mashed together, but what I do know is that this is another heavenly German yeast cake, like the ones I grew up with in St. Louis. Our last trip to St. Louis, we stayed with Cheryl and Brian (Brian is the one who introduced me to the “no-knead bread“.) I grew up two doors down from them in St. Louis, and spent just about all of my free time with their daughter Stephanie. Stephanie and all of her clan were there in St. Louis for this visit as well.

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Back together, with our kids.

It makes my heart so happy to know that our kids are having this same experience that we had; of all of us being together, laughing, sharing good food, and just spending time with each other. These folks are my second family, and I adore them.

Cheryl and Brian came to visit us here in Seattle last month, and we got to be tourists together.

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At Pike Place Market

And Cheryl and I even got to dance together on the Pier to a vintage “Artizan Military Band Organ”. You put a dollar in, and it plays really loud for a long time. Some things you just can’t imagine will happen until they do.

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Cheryl is wearing her “314” hat. It’s a St. Louis thing….

What does all of this have to do with crumb cake, you ask? Well, I did make this crumb cake for Cheryl and Brian while they were here. Brian is into yeasty things just as much as I am, if not more so, so I just had to do it.

I must say that if you are not familiar with this type of cake, you ought to know up front that the cake is not sweet! The topping is sweet, but not the cake. It is a buttery yeast dough, kind of like brioche. It is a wonderful compliment to any sweet topping, and the sweet toppings are usually doused with powdered sugar, so you really don’t need the cake itself to be sweet. Just the topping please.

The best recipe I found was Ruth Cousineau’s recipe on Epicurious. I tweaked a few things here and there, and got more ideas from George Greenstein’s book, “A JEWISH BAKER’S Pastry Secrets“. Warning! This recipe is time consuming, but worth it.

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Look at that tender, yeasty dough, and plentiful crumb topping!

German Style Crumb Cake

(Adapted from Ruth Cousineau’s “Old-Fashioned Crumb Cake” recipe.)

For cake:

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk (105°-115°F), divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups (10 oz) bread flour (or all-purpose if you don’t have bread flour)
  • 1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pinch cardamom
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened slightly

For crumb topping:

  • 2 1/4 cups pastry flour (or just 2 cups all-purpose if you don’t have pastry flour)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Special Equipment

  • a stand mixer, paddle attachment and dough hook
  • two 8″x 8″ metal baking pans

To make the dough:

Stir together yeast, 1/4 cup warm milk, and 1 teaspoon sugar in bowl of mixer until yeast is dissolved, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

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Stir together lemon juice and remaining 1/4 cup warm milk and let stand until curdled, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add remaining sugar, flour, salt, egg, curdled milk, softened butter, vanilla, and pinch cardamom to yeast mixture. That’s right, just dump it all into the bowl. Mix at low speed until all ingredients are incorporated and a dough forms. Switch to a dough hook, and beat on medium speed until dough is silky (a bit shiny) and elastic, about 5 to 8 minutes.

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Scrape down sides of bowl to form a small ball of dough, sprinkle it with a tablespoon of flour, cover bowl with tea towel, and let rise in a warm spot in your kitchen for an hour to an hour and a half…. until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough to release the air, scoop out of bowl and divide into two balls. Working on a floured surface, stretch the dough of each ball, fold in thirds like an envelope, rotate and fold again into thirds like an envelope, creating two tight loaves. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

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While dough is resting, butter your two 8″x 8″ pans, and then make your crumb topping.

To make topping:

Put sugar, pastry flour, cold cubed butter, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla into the bowl of your stand mixer (yes, you’ll have to wash it). Using the paddle attachment, beat on low speed until topping resembles sand or crumbs, with some larger clumps. Clumps should come together when pinched with your fingers. Do not cream!!! If you prefer to do this by hand, use a pastry blender to blend the ingredients. If you see some chunks of butter that have not blended in, use your fingers to blend it in.

Back to the dough:

Roll out each ball of dough into a square that is a bit larger than 8″x 8″.

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A little lopsided, but that’s okay.

Place dough into buttered pan, making sure the dough goes all the way to the edges and corners. Take a fork and poke the dough in nice little rows.

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I love these pans.

Sprinkle dough with crumb topping.

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Yes, it’s a lot of crumb topping!

Cover pans with a tea towel and let cakes rise for about one hour… I know, I know, I’m sorry. You have to be patient.

About fifteen minutes before rise time is up, preheat oven to 350°. Bake cakes on center rack for 25 to 30 minutes. The topping will be slightly browned, and the cakes will have risen a bit. The tops should feel firm to the touch and spring back when lightly pressed with the fingers (careful not to burn yourself!) or small spatula. I don’t use the toothpick test for these cakes, as it is not dependable with yeast cakes. Best bet is to use an oven thermometer to be sure your oven is at the correct temperature while baking.

Cool on wire racks in pans. Serve warm or at room temperature. Sift a light coating of powdered sugar over the tops before serving.

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This cake is best the first day, but also keeps well at room temperature for several days if covered well with plastic wrap. Dust (or heavily douse) each piece with powdered sugar before serving. If serving the next day or so, cover with foil and heat in a 350° oven. You can also heat each piece by placing in the microwave on a plate for 7 or 8 seconds (no more!!!). I don’t really believe in microwave ovens, but this works well to ever-so-slightly warm and soften day-old crumb cake… or two-day-old, etc. But it tastes fabulous at room temperature as well.

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German Style Crumb Cake

(Adapted from Ruth Cousineau’s “Old-Fashioned Crumb Cake” recipe.)

For cake:

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk (105°-115°F), divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups (10 oz) bread flour (or all-purpose if you don’t have bread flour)
  • 1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pinch cardamom
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened slightly

For For crumb topping:

  • 2 1/4 cups pastry flour (or just 2 cups all-purpose if you don’t have pastry flour)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Special Equipment

  • a stand mixer, paddle attachment and dough hook
  • two 8″x 8″ metal baking pans

To make the dough:

Stir together yeast, 1/4 cup warm milk, and 1 teaspoon sugar in bowl of mixer until yeast is dissolved, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Stir together lemon juice and remaining 1/4 cup warm milk and let stand until curdled, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add remaining sugar, flour, salt, egg, curdled milk, softened butter, vanilla, and pinch cardamom to yeast mixture. That’s right, just dump it all into the bowl. Mix at low speed until all ingredients are incorporated and a dough forms. Switch to a dough hook, and beat on medium speed until dough is silky (a bit shiny) and elastic, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Scrape down sides of bowl to form a small ball of dough, sprinkle it with a tablespoon of flour, cover bowl with tea towel, and let rise in a warm spot in your kitchen for an hour to an hour and a half…. until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough to release the air, scoop out of bowl and divide into two balls. Working on a floured surface, stretch the dough of each ball, fold in thirds like and envelope, rotate and fold again into thirds like an envelope, creating two tight loaves. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

While dough is resting, butter your two 8″x 8″ pans, and then make your crumb topping.

To make topping:

Put sugar, pastry flour, cold cubed butter, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla into the bowl of your stand mixer (yes, you’ll have to wash it). Using the paddle attachment, beat on low speed until topping resembles sand or crumbs, with some larger clumps. Clumps should come together when pinched with your fingers. Do not cream or over mix!!! If you prefer to do this by hand, use a pastry blender to blend the ingredients. If you see some chunks of butter that have not blended in, use your fingers to blend it in.

Back to the dough:

Roll out each ball of dough into a square that is a bit larger than 8″x 8″.

Place dough into buttered pan, making sure the dough goes all the way to the edges and corners. Take a fork and poke the dough in nice little rows.

Sprinkle dough with crumb topping.

Cover pans with a tea towel and let cakes rise for about one hour… I know, I know, I’m sorry. You have to be patient.

About fifteen minutes before rise time is up, preheat oven to 350°. Bake cakes on center rack for 25 to 30 minutes. The topping will be slightly browned, and the cakes will have risen a bit. The tops should feel firm to the touch and spring back when lightly pressed with the fingers (careful not to burn yourself!) or small spatula. I don’t use the toothpick test for these cakes, as it is not dependable with yeast cakes. Best bet is to use an oven thermometer to be sure your oven is at the correct temperature.

Cool on wire racks in pans. Serve warm or at room temperature. Sift a light coating of powdered sugar over the tops before serving.

This cake is best the first day, but also keeps well at room temperature for several days if covered well with plastic wrap. Dust (or heavily douse) each piece with powdered sugar before serving. If serving the next day or so, cover with foil and heat in a 350° oven. You can also heat each piece by placing in the microwave on a plate for 7 or 8 seconds (no more!!!). I don’t really believe in microwave ovens, but this works well to ever-so-slightly warm and soften day old crumb cake… or two day old, etc. But it tastes fabulous at room temperature as well.

And just for the fun of it…

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Life is too short not to dance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Comfort Food, Fun in the kitchen!, Yeasty Things | 2 Comments

Gooey Butter Cake

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This post is a long time coming. I am from St. Louis, and it seems to me that people from St. Louis feel very strongly about St. Louis; they have a fierce pride in their city, and all the cool things about it. I am no exception.

I don’t think that I always felt that way, but certainly as I have gotten older, I have come to cherish all the things that I used to take for granted. Like the St. Louis Arch, for example. It really is pretty stunning.

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The St. Louis Arch, glistening in the summer heat.

Last year when we visited St. Louis, we went up in the arch with my sister Linda. You go up in these teeny tiny elevators, and you have to wait in a cramped hallway for the elevators to arrive and unload.

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My sister Linda leads the way.

And here’s one of the views from the top…

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My city.

As a kid growing up, the arch was always there, and I didn’t think much of it. But now, I find it awe inspiring. It is imprinted in my being, and somehow part of me. And it is beautiful.

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Me and my family at the bottom of the Arch.

Another St. Louis memory that is hardwired into me is the famous Gooey Butter Cake. I won’t go into too much detail about its origins, but rumor has it that it was created by mistake by a St. Louis baker, who somehow screwed up the ingredients in his cake, and was so frugal that he decided to serve it in his bakery anyway, cut into squares like brownies, and it was an instant success.

I remember getting this cake at many different bakeries in St. Louis… the Famous-Barr bakery stands out in my mind. Famous-Barr was a department store where we did most of our shopping. And Famous-Barr was truly “famous” for many things, including French Onion Soup. My sisters and I would walk to Famous-Barr just to sit in their café and eat their delicious French Onion Soup. But other days, we would make the trek on foot and go to the bakery, sometimes to buy a pound of floury chocolate chip cookies, and eat practically the entire bag on the walk home. And of course, there was the Gooey Butter Cake. This cake oozes St. Louis, no pun intended.

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This cake is not meant as a dessert. It’s more of a Sunday brunch item. I remember many discussions with my sisters about this cake… about the gooey-ness of it, the sweetness of it, the weirdness of it. How the corners of it were so good because they had more edges, which were crispy and chewy. How the middle had extra “goo”. As I got older, in my twenties, I may have decided that it was too sweet for me. Too gooey. Too something. But now that I have kids, I somehow long for it. I want them to have this experience too.

We actually just got back from another trip to St. Louis. While there, I stopped at Trader Joe’s, and picked up the “St. Louis, Missouri” bag. They have bags featuring every state, and I couldn’t wait to pick up my St. Louis bag while there.

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One unusual thing about St. Louisans is that when we meet someone, and find out they are also from St. Louis, the first question is “Where did you go to high school?”! It’s true; it’s a thing, and has been for as long as I can remember, so I think it’s hysterical that they put that question on the Trader Joe’s St. Louis bag. I proudly used my St. Louis bag at my local Trader Joe’s here in Seattle, and got lots of “oohs and ahhhs” over how cute it was. I tried not to gloat. It’s cool to be from St. Louis.

So here’s the thing – when I got home from the store and was unloading groceries, something caught my eye on the bottom of the bag that I hadn’t noticed… I mean, who puts decorations on the bottom of a bag? But here it is:

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Yes, that’s right, a recipe for Gooey Butter Cake!!!!

Honestly, it took my breath away. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy and miss St. Louis horribly, even though I had just come back from a visit there. I made this version of Gooey Butter Cake last year and brought it to a potluck, expecting everyone to gasp in horror at how weird and gooey and sweet it was. I expected to take it back home with me. Well, it was a huge hit, and people tried to be subtle as they sidled up for a second piece. Or a third. This particular version is made with cake mix (I kind of don’t believe in doing that), and although it’s pretty awesome in its own way, it’s not the Gooey Butter Cake that I grew up with. It’s not the one that came from older, traditional St. Louis bakeries, with a barely sweet yeast dough offsetting the sweet, gooey topping, that came in a white box tied with string. So after seeing this recipe on the bottom of the Trader Joe’s bag, I decided it was time to make the real thing.

I went to Deb Perlman’s blog, Smitten Kitchen, and looked at her recipe for St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. I had been wanting to make this recipe for years. And it was now time. I did indeed make it (tweaked only a few things), and it was delicious! Although not exactly how I remembered it. But as I said to my sister Jane, it’s hard to compete with a memory.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

(Slightly modified from Smitten Kitchen)

For the cake
1/4 cup warm whole milk (at about 100°)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar, plus a dash more
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg at room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the topping
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ Sugar for sprinkling

For the cake: In a small bowl, mix warm milk with a dash of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk gently until it dissolves. Set aside.

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Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. It won’t look completely mixed in, but that’s ok. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture (start and end with flour), scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. After the final addition of flour, mix until dough is well combined – a minute or so. At this point, switch to a dough hook and continue to mix on medium speed for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and easy to handle (soft and a tiny bit elastic).

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I love the way this feels. Yeast doughs are the best.

At this point, lightly butter two 8″x8″ metal cake pans. (You can use just one 9″x13″ pan if you choose, but the cake tends to over bake that way, so it’s worth it to use the two 8″x8″ pans. I ran out and bought two Magic Line pans just for this purpose, and I have no regrets.)

Next, divide the dough in half and make into two balls. Press and carefully stretch the dough into the pans with your fingers, pressing the edges a bit up the sides of the dish to create a kind of crust.

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I’m so excited about these pans – they perform beautifully!

Cover pans with plastic wrap or clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Here is what they look like after rising.

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Nice and puffy!

For the topping:  When dough is just about done rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare topping, in a small bowl, whisk corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture (start and end with flour), scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Do not over mix!

Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cakes.

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Use a spatula to gently spread topping in an even layer, leaving about a 1/4 inch of the edge dough showing.

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Bake for about 30 minutes on the center rack in your oven; topping will begin to melt immediately. It will then bubble and turn a golden brown, but will still be slightly liquid in center when done. A toothpick test does not work with this cake, so you have to gauge it by color. When you take the cakes out, the center will still jiggle. Don’t worry; the cake will set as it cools. Do not over bake!

Place on cooling rack and let cool completely (this can take up to an hour and a half… longer if you used one larger pan…).

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You should know, the corners are the very best part. They are extra chewy and crispy. The edges have the same appeal. This is one more reason to bake these cakes in two 8″x8″ pans – more edges and corners!!

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Strange and beautiful.

Sprinkle liberally with confectioners’ sugar before serving. This cake is best served the day it is baked, but it still tastes good the day after, if there’s any left…

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And just for the fun of it, another picture from our most recent visit to St. Louis. The train at the fabulous St. Louis Zoo has been a tradition for our family since I was little.

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Sharing the magic.

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Fun in the kitchen!, Yeasty Things | 7 Comments

Dishcloths and Other Things

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They make great gifts.

A few years ago, I started knitting dish cloths. Being a busy mom, business owner, wife, etc, I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I do enjoy knitting, and I like projects that don’t take too long.

One of the first times that I met my now mother-in-law, Barb, it was at her house. We were in the kitchen and I was helping with the dishes after dinner. She had a loosely knit dish cloth she was using, basically for everything. Washing dishes, wiping the counter clean, etc. I had never seen one before, and I thought it a bit strange. Sponges were my go-to for all of that.

Turns out that Matthew’s Aunt Jean made them and gave them to everyone as gifts. Aunt Jean was so lovely, funny, vibrant, and warm. She was at all the family gatherings, and I was always happy to see her.

I love this picture of Aunt Jean, taken by my husband Matthew.

Almost two decades later, I decided to pick up the torch and start knitting these dish cloths. My mom-in-law Barb swore by them, and I needed a fun and easy knitting project.

The first one I made was actually quite complicated, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a quick and easy knitting project. I won’t make that one again. I think I gave it to my niece Joelle.

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Too complicated!

I did a little poking around on the internet, and found a pattern that I really liked. It has a basket weave, much tighter than the ones that Barb used to use, and I liked the texture of it. It wasn’t too complicated. This is the pattern that Sue likes best. She says they are good and tough.

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Basket weave dish cloth. Look at that texture!

I started giving these as gifts. I’m not sure how this happened, more than two decades later. But yes, I am now the aunt that gives hand knit dishcloths as gifts. And the recipients either love them and get hooked on using them, or they use them in different ways. My sister Jane uses hers to put under a candle. She says, “It’s too pretty to use as a dishcloth!”. So I sent her an ugly one that had some mistakes in it. Not sure what she’s doing with that one.

Later, I looked into finding the pattern for the dishcloths that Aunt Jean used to make. They were a slightly looser weave, and had kind of a lacy border. My friend Kate’s mom had a pattern for it, so I got it from Kate. I wish I had gotten to meet Kate’s mom (she’s the one that made the great snickerdoodles). I think I would have really liked her.

An old workhorse. But still pretty.

The dishcloth with the lacy border is the one that Barb likes best. She really likes red ones, but said that they fade into a not-very-pretty color after several washes. So I looked into that as well, and figured out that the quality of the yarn really matters. Yarn made with high quality dyes. I found the best yarn of all for these dish cloths.

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Barb’s favorite dishcloth with lacy border.

Now Barb tells me, very emphatically, that I make the best dishcloths. She usually repeats this a couple of times. I like the way she says it. And it is her birthday today, so happy birthday Barb! I’ve got more dishcloths coming your way.

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The yarn I use, both the solid and variegated types.

As you can see, you will have to turn your skein of yarn into a ball for easy knitting. You can have them do this on a machine at the yarn store, or you can enlist the help of your family members, which is what I do. All of my sweet family members have helped me. There’s something kind of wonderful about the process.

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Matthew, helping me with my yarn. About eight years ago….

Now, for those of you that can’t imagine wiping your counter clean with a hand knitted dishcloth, that it might be too pretty, or somehow too special, please wipe that idea out of your head. These are made to be used. You might just feel a little extra special while doing your chores. You might just remember the person that knit that dishcloth for you, and have some warm and fuzzy feelings. Your eyes will rest on something beautiful, you will feel the natural fibers in your hand, and you will feel loved.

And here’s the beauty of it: when they get dirty, you toss them in the laundry and they come out as good as new. And they even get a little sturdier and tougher with every wash.

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These are well loved and in the rotation.

Thank you, Aunt Jean.

 

 

 

Posted in Crafting | 4 Comments

Snickerdoodles

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I went on a huge snickerdoodle frenzy a while back, trying to find the perfect recipe. After many attempts, I gave up. Maybe I was trying too hard.

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But recently, my cousin Carol asked me if I had a good snickerdoodle recipe, so I decided to give it a go one more time. This time, I remembered that my friend Kate had given me her mom’s snickerdoodle recipe a couple of years ago. I had asked for it, because I tried the ones that Kate made, and they were delicious! I noticed that the recipe didn’t have cream of tartar in it, so I dismissed the recipe as not being an authentic snickerdoodle, somehow ignoring the fact that they were really very good!

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So I read up on snickerdoodles, and it turns out that you can replace cream of tartar and baking soda (they usually come as a pair) with baking powder, and vice versa. So I made Kate’s mom’s recipe, replacing the baking powder with cream of tartar and baking soda, and they were lovely! Homey and delicate. Crisp on the edges, crinkly on top, soft in the middle, with the signature tang that comes from cream of tartar. A cozy cookie.

And after a bit of research, I come to find out that this recipe is fairly standard. I’m mystified at how I didn’t just come to this recipe the first time.

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So here’s where I get in trouble. I want to make them extra special, so I make another batch, and roll them twice or three times in the cinnamon sugar, so they are extra cinnamon-y, and I bake them at a slightly higher heat to make them extra crispy on the bottom. My entire family whole heartedly (is that a word?) agreed that the first batch was better. [Sigh] Sometimes the original is just very good and simple and no changes are necessary. I get upset when I go to a restaurant and I order scrambled eggs and potatoes, and everything is overly spiced and trying to be exotic. I just want plain old scrambled eggs, and I don’t want them to taste like something else. And my family just wants homey and comforting snickerdoodles, not some fancied up version. I get it.

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So here is my recipe for Snickerdoodles, slightly adapted from Kate’s mom’s recipe.

Snickerdoodles

  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1 Tbsp (or more) cinnamon (for rolling)

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes or so.

Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda.

Add flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix just until combined. Don’t over mix!

Cover and chill dough in fridge for at least two hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400°.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop out cookie dough into 1 1/2 Tbsp balls and roll in cinnamon sugar.

Place on cookie sheet 2 inches apart.

Flatten balls with your hand just a little bit – cookies should still be thick.

Bake one tray at a time on center rack in 400° oven for about ten minutes. Edges should start to brown a bit.

Let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

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Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | 1 Comment

Slow Cooker Chili

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This chili is very simple. I got the recipe from my friend Shelli. When our oldest kids were just teeny tiny, they were good buddies.

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Me, Shelli’s son Asher, and Mara.

We spent a lot of time together back then. Long luxurious days where we talked about sleep issues, eating habits, our families, our history, and all the while watching our sweet babies discover the world.

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Asher and Mara.

Another thing we shared with each other was recipes. I remember having this chili at Shelli’s. I remember sitting in her kitchen, and being impressed that Asher was going to eat that chili. At the time, I wasn’t a big chili fan, but that was the best chili I had ever had. Maybe because I was with Shelli, and she made it, and we were sharing pieces of our lives with each other.

Shelli and her family moved to Colorado shortly after our kids turned two. I still miss her. Whenever I make this chili, I think of her, and I remember those days that seemed to last forever.

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Brunch in our old back yard. Shelli is in pink.

For the record, I have changed the recipe many times, because I am often in a hurry, and will make it with just the ingredients I have available. But what I like is how simple it is. This recipe really is a blank slate; you can add or take away whatever you like, and it will still turn out great. But it is best exactly how Shelli made it.

You can ignore the writing in red, that was my addition, back when I wrote down everything I did. As you can see from the recipe, the original is not a slow cooker recipe, and it is perfectly simple and delicious exactly as written. Make it that way.

But, if you have a day like mine… today I have to work in the afternoon, and then work again this evening… then you can make this in your slow cooker in the morning and have it ready exactly when you need it. It just simmers all day long and the flavors blend nicely after all that time. And there is no need to sauté things first. That’s what I like.

But there is an order to it that is important. Here’s how I made it today, with just the things I had on hand.

Slow Cooker Chili

  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 pound leanest ground beef (must be leanest!)
  • 1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsps chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Cayenne pepper to taste

Place chopped onion in a layer on the bottom of the slow cooker. Break up the ground beef with your hands and layer it over the onions. Then layer the tomatoes, then the beans, and finally the herbs. You can gently stir the herbs into the top layer of beans, but do not disturb the layers of onion and beef and tomatoes. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or high for 6 to 8 hours. Shortly before serving, stir in the balsamic vinegar and cayenne and let cook for a few more minutes.

Add ins: A few minutes before serving, if I have time, I like to sauté up some veggies, like perhaps some chopped zucchini or bell pepper, so they get a nice grill to them and intensified flavor, and add them to the chili when I add the balsamic vinegar. It takes about ten minutes. You can also just use those sautéed veggies as toppings. You can add whatever you like, or nothing at all.

Toppings: Grated cheese, raw onions, avocado slices, fresh cilantro, sautéed veggies… whatever you have on hand!

Tip! I don’t enjoy chopping onions (sorry!), but when I do, I chop more than one, and put any extra in bags in the freezer. That way, when I have a recipe that calls for chopped onion, chances are I can just grab some already chopped out of the freezer. It comes in really handy when I am in a hurry in the morning, and frozen onion works just fine for slow cooker recipes. Bon apétit!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Busy-day meals, Comfort Food, Crock Pot Recipes, Gluten-Free | 1 Comment

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warning!

This recipe requires making the dough a day in advance and freezing it for best results. Or at least two hours in advance. And these cookies may be addicting. Now keep reading.

I have to write about these cookies right away, before I forget everything. My neighbor Shannon told me about a recipe she had tried that had a ton of stuff in it, like walnuts, coconut, chocolate chips, rolled oats, and even flax meal (her addition to the recipe). I told her that it sounded kind of like my favorite cookie at Specialty’s – the Oatmeal Wheatgerm Chocolate Chip Cookie – and she said that was kind of what she was going for. But hers became hard and dry the next day, so I asked her to send me the recipe so I could try it out and tweak a few things.

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And I did make some changes. And here are a few tips if you are trying to achieve a specific type of texture, amount of baked-ness, etc. Or really, just follow these tips every time you try a new recipe:

  • Only make a half batch. Really. What if you don’t like it? And for goodness’ sake, write out the entire halved recipe before moving forward; don’t try to do it in your head, or you might forget partway through and end up with a disaster!
  • At first, bake only a few (maybe 6) cookies at a time. (6 because everyone in your family, and even a neighbor or two, might want to be involved in the taste testing.) That way you can adjust bake time or oven temperature with each mini batch without ruining an entire batch (or half batch) of cookies.
  • Trust your instincts. For example, if the recipe doesn’t call for salt, but you like a bit of salt in your cookies, by all means, add a little salt. Experiment!

By the way, I wasn’t trying to achieve the exact Specialty’s cookie experience, but just a few things about the Specialty’s cookie that I like, like a tall cookie, crisp on the bottom, and still a bit gooey in the middle. And lots of flavors and textures.

The recipe called for walnuts and coconut and rolled oats. I like all these things, but I didn’t really want chunks of any of the above in my cookies, so I decided to give them all a spin in my Vitamix blender, so that I would have all the flavor, but a finer, more grainy texture. I didn’t turn the oats into flour… that would be too fine. There were still a few whole rolled oats here and there.

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Rolled Oats after a spin in the blender.

And I didn’t turn the walnuts into walnut butter either. I put the walnuts and the coconut together in the Vitamix and pulsed it a couple of times.

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Walnuts and Coconut after a few pulses in the blender.

I also didn’t add flax meal, which can act as a binder and make the cookies harder. I added some flax seeds instead.

And too many oats can dry out a cookie, so I reduced the amount.

I also took out the baking powder, because I wanted these gooey and moist.

Oh, and I added cinnamon, because everything is better with cinnamon.

Another thing I wanted was the tall cookie, consistent in size, so I used a cookie scoop (1.5 Tablespoon size). You really need one of these if you don’t have one already. I have been known to give them as gifts.

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This will change your life. And ignore the dough in the bowl. It’s snickerdoodle dough.

I then scooped out the dough onto wax paper, and flattened each ball only just a teeny tiny bit. Remember, I want them tall. I also want the cookies to look kind of like a hockey puck a thick galette, not rounded mounds. At this point, I froze these little discs of cookie dough (this helps with the tall part and the gooey part). I believe that this part is essential. I’ve tried just refrigerating the dough, and it does not have the same effect. FREEZE PLEASE. Once the discs of dough are frozen, put them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer until you are ready to bake. At least twenty-four hours is good. I suppose if you are in a hurry you can skip the freezing part (cookies will not be as tall, and may spread out), or just freeze the dough for a couple of hours. Just freeze the dough.

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These ones might even be flattened a bit too much, but you get the idea.

Now, I also wanted the crisp on the bottom, so these cookies get baked at 360°, give or take a few. But there’s something else I am doing lately, and it’s probably not necessary, but if you can do it, you should try it. I put my pizza stone in the oven before preheating. Then when everything is ready to go, I slide the parchment paper and cookies directly onto the hot pizza stone, kind of like when you use a pizza peel. I have a couple of cookie sheets that have always annoyed me because one of the sides does not have a rim, but now I am so happy that I didn’t get rid of them, because they are great both as a pizza peel and for sliding my cookies onto the baking stone.

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Baking sheet: notice no rim on the right side.

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Cookies on parchment paper on a baking stone. Sorry, they are snickerdoodles. Don’t be confused.

So, after several batches of 6 cookies each, I figured out that the cookies were perfect baked at 360° on the center rack of my oven for about 10 minutes if I used the 1.5 Tablespoon scoop, plus an extra teaspoon of dough. Ugh. I know, I know. But it’s true. I only found that out because the last batch I only had enough dough for 4 cookies, plus a bit extra, so I just smooshed the extra onto each cookie ball before slightly flattening them, and those ones were by far the best. Exactly how I wanted them to turn out. Crisp bottom, tall, and a bit gooey in the middle, but not raw. So if you are using a 1.5 Tablespoon scoop, make it a hearty scoop!

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Hello, gorgeous.

If you hear of where I can find a 2 Tablespoon cookie scoop, please let me know.

Sorry for all the chit chat. Here is the recipe, (adapted from Heather Carter’s Loaded Oatmeal Cookies), which makes about 3 dozen, plus a few extra.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt (or a tad more)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking), chopped up a bit in blender
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, chopped up a bit in blender (optional)
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped up in blender (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon flax seeds (optional)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or more if you like)

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes or so.

Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy, again, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl.

Whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed just until barely blended. Do not over mix!

Add oats and mix until just barely blended.

Add walnuts, coconut, and flax seeds, mixing until barely blended.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Line baking sheet or cutting board (needs to fit in your freezer) with wax or parchment paper and scoop balls of dough (a hearty 1.5 Tablespoons). They can be close together.

Flatten ever so slightly with your fingers. Place tray of dough in freezer and freeze for two hours. At this point you can bake the cookies, or place the frozen discs in a freezer bag and bake them a day later, or up to a month later. (I find it very handy to always have frozen cookie dough ready to be baked. You never know when a friend is going to drop by and you want to make something lovely, or you forgot about that potluck or bake sale.)

Preheat oven to 360°

Place frozen dough discs on parchment paper lined cookie sheet about two inches apart.

Bake on center rack of oven for about 10 minutes, or until edges start to brown but the top is still light in color and still glistens a teeny bit. That part is important. All ovens are different, so keep an eye on your cookies!

Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

Store in an airtight container.

Great thing about these cookies: If you do it right, these cookies will still be delicious and gooey/chewy the next day, and even the day after, if they last that long…

Oh, and if you really really want a cookie that looks and acts like a Specialty’s cookie, try this: take you cookie dough and spread it out about 1 inch thick onto a sheet of wax paper on a small tray or cookie sheet.

Then cover it with wax paper and smooth out all edges; top and sides, and put in freezer for a couple of hours. You can use a rolling pin to get the top nice and smooth, but just one or two swipes will do. Don’t agitate the dough!

After an hour or two, cut into squares. This is a half batch, and it makes twelve square cookies…

Separate squares, cover, and put in freezer until you are ready to bake, at least 2 hours, but longer is fine, if not better. If longer, store squares in a freezer bag.

Bake the same way as you would the round cookies, using parchment paper. Because of the square shape, you will get more gooey center, and more crisp edges.

Whichever way you make them, I hope you like them! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Café au lait

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I’m not really wanting to give a recipe for café au lait. I just feel a great urge to talk about it. Yesterday while I was heating up milk to make yogurt, I noticed that that skin was developing on the top of the hot milk. I skim it off so the texture of the yogurt stays smooth. As I skim, I hear a voice saying “J’aime la peau”. This happens every time. And no, I’m not hearing voices. It’s a memory. The first time I went to France, I was 18, and had just graduated from high school. I stayed with a family in the suburbs of Lyon. When I say suburbs, I mean really old suburbs, like hundreds of years old. Hard, working class suburbs. The girl that was closest to my age was 16, and her name was Cathy (pronounced Kah-tee), short for Catherine.

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Me on the left, Cathy on the right, and one very cool car, in the courtyard.

I fell in love with France, and with that family. I was enchanted with every detail. One thing I found funny (at the time), was how they drank coffee. This is not news to most of you, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. After dinner, they would serve very very strong coffee (not espresso, just strong coffee made in a drip coffee maker) in teeny tiny cups, with sugar cubes. The kids liked to dunk the sugar cubes into the coffee and eat them like candy. I still remember exactly what it tasted like. Bitter, strong, and sweet.

In the morning, the coffee pot still had leftover cold coffee in it from the night before. This is the part that surprised me most. They didn’t make fresh coffee in the morning. That first morning, Cathy got out a pot and poured some milk into it. She heated it up to almost a boil. While the milk was heating up, she got out some bowls, and poured what was left in the coffee pot into the bottom of the bowls. Maybe about a quarter cup or so. All I could think was, “I want a LOT more coffee than that!”. She then got out a strainer thingie… looked like this one:

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For straining the milk. But I don’t strain it.

She asked me, “T’aimes la peau?” In English, do you like the skin? Meaning the skin that develops when you heat up milk. She was offering to strain the milk for me. And then she said, “Moi, j’aime la peau”. Me, I like the skin. I guess a lot of people don’t like the skin to go into their coffee. As you pour the milk, suddenly a big chunk of skin will plop down into it. It has texture to it. Kind of creamy and filmy, kind of chewy. Barely chewy. And the flavor, extra sweet. I had to try it. When you are drinking your coffee, the skin will surprise you. You won’t know when you’re going to get it. It’s unpredictable. (If this sounds yucky, keep in mind that I am a texture girl. I love oysters, mussels, eggplant…. all that gooey stuff. )

I loved that they served their café au lait in bowls. They would take the leftover baguette from the day before (there was always leftover baguette), cut it in half lengthwise, slather unsalted butter and jam on it, and dunk it in their coffee before eating. Nothing was wasted. And everything was delicious.

And for the record, J’aime la peau.

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Posted in Comfort Food, Musings | 3 Comments