Spiced Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_1455

I have been meaning to write about these cookies for such a long time, because, well, if you have this recipe, you will not need any other. They are so simple, yet so very very good. I was reminded of them this past weekend at the women’s retreat that I go on twice a year.

IMG_3638

The view from where we stay.

Carol and I drove up together (Carol is the one that gave me her wonderful Limpa Bread recipe, and her rustic White Bread recipe). As we were unloading our things from the car, we discovered that we had brought the same project to work on – cleaning up and organizing our recipe books! What are the chances? I wish I had a picture of Carol’s recipe book; it was so stuffed with recipes that were falling out from all angles, yellowed, some hand written, some stained, some written by her children – what a treasure. Mine was similarly stuffed, but just not nearly as full!

IMG_3675

I decided some recipes just needed to stay exactly how they are.

Organizing these books is a difficult task. The whole purpose of these books is to keep recipes organized, but I find that certain recipes need to be right at the front, just jammed in there, easy to grab. I don’t want to re-write them. I know exactly what they look like: the texture of the paper, the little notes written in with every change or addition, the hand writing of loved ones. My eyes know exactly where to find them. So what Carol and I decided was that we would go through and at least get rid of the recipes that we knew we would never make. That seemed reasonable.

IMG_3660

Retreat sunset.

In looking through my recipes, I came across the spiced chocolate chip cookie recipe that I got from my old and dear friend Monica. We used to work together in the 90’s, back before either of us was married or had kids.

IMG_1443

Monica is the cutie lying on our laps, and I am leaning on her shoulder.

Now Monica has five kids (how did that happen?), and some of her family members fondly refer to her as “Mama-ca”. She is amazing. And she is a fantastic cook. I remember the day so many years ago she invited me over for lunch, and made a lovely soup, and then for dessert, these ridiculously fabulous spiced chocolate chip cookies. And she told me all about her new boyfriend, who is now her husband, and the father of all of those kids. I still have the recipe that I wrote down that day, on Monica’s stationary with her name and address on it. I have since re-written the recipe, but I will always keep the original.

IMG_3676

Never mind the pumpkin seeds…

Spiced Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Monica’s recipe)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling
  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
  3. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
  4. Stir in 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips, and walnuts if using them.
  5. Cover and chill for at least two hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°
  7. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper
  8. Scoop dough into 1 1/2 Tbsp balls, roll in powdered sugar, and place two inches apart on cookie sheet.
  9. Bake one tray at a time on center rack in oven for 9 to 10 minutes.
  10. Let cookies cool for five minutes on cookie tray before transferring to cooling rack.

IMG_1456

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Mulligatawny Soup

IMG_3382

This is Matthew’s favorite soup that I make, and I think that perhaps it is my favorite soup as well. I made it last night for dinner, and we were all so hungry and ready to eat that I didn’t dare postpone eating so that I could take a proper picture, so this is the one that I got, sloppy bowl edges and all.

You can’t really tell from the picture, but the soup is ladled over a mound of cooked white rice – this really is the ultimate comfort food. It’s a mild curry; it’s a chicken soup; it’s a stew. I got this recipe from Marion Cunningham’s “Lost Recipes” cookbook. If you don’t have any of her cookbooks, you really should have at least one. And this one is full of sweet stories and anecdotes.

IMG_3391

A gift from my sister-in-law, Jeni,

I tweaked a few things. In fact, I make it differently every time, depending on what I have on hand. This time was sublime, so I had to write about it.

Mulligatawny Soup

(Recipe from Marion Cunningham’s Lost Recipes)

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 6 cups chicken broth (I make my own)
  • 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • large pinch ground cloves
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, torn into bite size pieces
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 to 4 cups cooked white rice

 

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and apple. I like to use honeycrisp apple.

IMG_3379

Ignore the chips on the edge of the bowl – it is very old but well loved!

I love my box grater and have no idea how I lived without it for so long.

IMG_3381

Simmer veggies and apple, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Add the other 2 Tablespoons of butter and stir in. Mix in the flour, curry powder, and nutmeg, and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, cloves, salt and pepper. Simmer for about a half hour, (partially covered if you like). Add the chicken and simmer a few minutes more. Ladle the soup over mounds of white rice. I must tell you this: this soup is divine. The apple that is cooked down imparts such an incredible flavor; there’s nothing quite like it. It is the perfect fall soup.

This is a picture of leftovers… still just as good!

Mulligatawny Soup

(Recipe from Marion Cunningham’s Lost Recipes)

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 6 cups chicken broth (I make my own)
  • 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • large pinch ground cloves
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, torn into bite size pieces
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 to 4 cups cooked white rice

 

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and apple. I like to use honeycrisp apple.

Simmer veggies and apple, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Add the other 2 Tablespoons of butter and stir in. Mix in the flour, curry powder, and nutmeg, and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, cloves, salt and pepper. Simmer for about a half hour, (partially covered if you like). Add the chicken and simmer a few minutes more.

Ladle the soup over mounds of white rice.

IMG_3382

 

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Rustic White Bread

IMG_3162

Last year, when I got together with Carol to learn how to make her wonderful Limpa Bread, she also gave me the recipe for the white bread she makes for special events. She wrote out the recipe for me with limited details…. almost cryptic.

IMG_3148

I made it a couple of times, kind of winging it, with much success, according to my friends and family, but now it’s been a while, and my memory is fuzzy, so I have to make it again and write down the details! What I think about this bread is that there’s a lot of wiggle room in the recipe. It’s just yeast and flour and water and salt and oil. That’s it. Kind of hard to mess up if you know what to look for, and know how the dough is supposed to feel. I used to be afraid of yeast, but now I just think of working with it as a big, fun science experiment. Carol says yeast is weird and unpredictable, and I agree. Just make sure your yeast is fresh (check that expiration date!), and store it in your fridge. I get a jar of it, and keep the jar in my freezer, just to be sure.

White Bread

  • 3 cups warm water (about 110°)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 scant Tbsp salt
  • 6 cups flour, divided, plus a lot extra

In the bowl of your stand mixer using your paddle attachment, mix 4 cups of the flour with the warm water, oil, yeast, and salt. This should take just a few minutes. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. It should end up with a few bubbles.

IMG_3136

Just a few bubbles here.

Add and mix in the remaining 2 cups of flour, using the paddle attachment. When everything is mixed, switch to the dough hook and mix on low (#2 on my Kitchenaid) for about 8 minutes. Dough should pull away from sides of bowl, and be stretchy/tacky/easy to handle. If dough is still too wet and sticky, add a little more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it becomes tacky and pulls away from the bowl. But remember, too much flour = dense bread. For the record, I probably added almost an extra cup of flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough was the right consistency. But every time will be a bit different, so pay close attention to the consistency of your dough.

IMG_3144

Stretchy, tacky, not too wet, but not too dry.

Dump dough onto floured surface and knead by hand for a bit more, until dough is springy. Shape into a ball.

IMG_3147

Yeast jar is for scale…

Cover with a tea towel (you can do this on your counter) and let rise for one hour.

IMG_3149

Wow.

Punch down to release air.

IMG_3150

You want all of the extra air to come out.

Cut dough in half (I use my bench scraper for this).

IMG_3151

Shape into loaves by stretching the dough and folding into thirds like an envelope. I elongate the dough because I like long loaves.

IMG_3152

It’s a little sloppy, but that’s okay.

Or you can get fancy and braid one of the loaves…

IMG_3185

The one on the left is the envelope fold.

Place dough seam side down on a greased or parchment lined pan.

IMG_3153

Cover with tea towel and let rise for another 30 minutes. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 350°. When the 30 minutes is up, make decorative cuts in the dough with a sharp knife.

IMG_3154

I cut about a half inch deep.

Bake in 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool (if you can wait) almost completely before slicing. This bread is delicious served with pasta, or any meal, and it is also wonderful sliced and toasted, with butter. You can even use it as sandwich bread, because it has a lot of body to it.

IMG_3155

White Bread

  • 3 cups warm water (about 110°)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 scant Tbsp salt
  • 6 cups flour, divided, plus a lot extra

In the bowl of your stand mixer using your paddle attachment, mix 4 cups of the flour with the warm water, oil, yeast, and salt. This should take just a few minutes. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. It should end up with a few bubbles.

Add and mix in the remaining 2 cups of flour, using the paddle attachment. When everything is mixed, switch to the dough hook and mix on low (#2 on my Kitchenaid) for about 8 minutes. Dough should pull away from sides of bowl, and be stretchy/tacky/easy to handle. If dough is still too wet and sticky, add a little more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it becomes tacky and pulls away from the bowl. But remember, too much flour = dense bread.

Dump dough onto floured surface and knead by hand for a bit more, until dough is springy. Shape into a ball. Cover with a tea towel (you can do this on your counter) and let rise for one hour.

Punch down to release air. Cut dough in half (I use my bench scraper for this). Shape into loaves by stretching the dough and folding into thirds like an envelope. I elongate the dough because I like long loaves. Place dough seam side down on a greased or parchment lined pan. Cover with tea towel and let rise for another 30 minutes. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 350°.

When 30 minutes is up, make decorative cuts in the dough with a very sharp knife, and bake in 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool (if you can wait) almost completely before slicing. This bread is delicious served with pasta, or any meal, and it is also wonderful sliced and toasted, with butter. You can even use it as a sandwich bread, because it has a lot of body to it.

Note: If you want the shinier, more golden bread with sesame seeds, lightly brush the loaves with an egg wash (one egg mixed with two teaspoons water) and sprinkle with sesame seeds just before putting in the oven.

Second Note: If you make this bread with bread flour, it is fluffier and softer, kind of like what you might get at an Italian restaurant. I can’t decide if I like the more sturdy, all-purpose flour bread better, but I’m definitely leaning in that direction.

IMG_3191

This one is made with bread flour – light and fluffy.

Nothing like freshly baked bread!

IMG_3162

 

 

 

 

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

Zucchini Bread

IMG_3106

I have not yet posted my zucchini bread recipe, even though it is a family favorite, because it seems very ordinary. It is very easy to make. Doesn’t everyone make zucchini bread? If not, they should.

IMG_3042

This box grater is fabulous for big grating jobs.

I remember the first time I had zucchini bread. It was (…wait for it) in St. Louis, in the mid 80’s, in a little deli on the corner of Pershing and Jackson. I saw this thick, dark, lush looking bread with little green flecks in it. Zucchini bread!!! I was stunned. I imagined, somehow, that it was healthy. I felt virtuous eating it, and yet it was so delicious. I remember thinking that it was rather mysterious, but now, of course, I realize that it’s really just cake with zucchini in it. But still, oh so delicious.

IMG_3097

I really heap on the zucchini; the more the better!

I can’t remember when I started making this bread, but I looked around for a recipe, and found one that looked simple and easy, and that got good reviews. I have never felt the need to find a better recipe.

IMG_3105

Such a homey and cozy bread.

I found the recipe on allrecipes.com. All of my tweaks, which are pretty basic, are in parentheses, but it is delicious as originally written. And a note about zucchini bread – it is much better the second day, or third day. This last time I made it, I put a bunch of dried fruit and walnuts in it, as I was making it for a friend, and that’s how she likes it. But it’s not how we like it at our house. We like straight up zucchini bread, maybe with walnuts. One half of our household likes walnuts.

IMG_3104

Fruit and Nut version.

So this time, I was so curious about the fruit and nut version that I couldn’t wait until it had cooled completely. I sliced into one of the loaves and had a piece – I did not like it. But oddly, the next day, it tasted delicious. All of the flavors had mingled, and it was perfect. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still a plain-Jane-zucchini-bread kind of gal, and I do occasionally like walnuts in it.

IMG_3131

No fruit, no nuts, just the way my family likes it.

But I was surprised at how yummy the fruit and nut version was the next day. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: this recipe is very versatile. Add whatever you like. It is the perfect baseline for your favorite zucchini bread. And be patient and wait until the next day to enjoy it, or at least wait until it has cooled completely. Several hours please!

Zucchini Bread

(Ever so slightly adapted from Mom’s Zucchini Bread)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (or 2 cups all-purpose plus 1 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (or 1/2 cup apple sauce and 1/2 cup vegetable oil)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (or 1 1/2 cups granulated and 1/2 cup brown sugar)
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (or three cups, or even a bit more)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Butter and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans (mine are glass, 8.5 x 4.5)
  2. Preheat oven to 325°
  3. Whisk together flour, salt baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, beat eggs, oil, apple sauce, vanilla, and sugars together. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  5. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack. Make sure bread is completely cool before serving. It’s even better the next day.

IMG_3106

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

German Style Crumb Cake

IMG_3024

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.

IMG_2539

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.

IMG_2741

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.

IMG_2754

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.

IMG_2791

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.

IMG_2931

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.

IMG_2655

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.

IMG_2782-1

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″.

IMG_2784-1

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.

IMG_2786-1

I love these pans.

Sprinkle dough with crumb topping.

IMG_2787-1

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.

IMG_2797

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.

IMG_3024

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…

IMG_5452

Life is too short not to dance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Gooey Butter Cake

IMG_2675

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.

IMG_8577

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.

IMG_8562

My sister Linda leads the way.

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

IMG_8553

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.

IMG_8563

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.

IMG_2675

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.

IMG_2679

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:

IMG_2680-1

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.

IMG_2684

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).

IMG_2655

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.

IMG_2708

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.

IMG_2709

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.

IMG_2710

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

IMG_2711

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…).

IMG_2717

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!!

RenderedImage

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…

IMG_2675

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.

IMG_2490

Sharing the magic.

 

 

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

Dishcloths and Other Things

IMG_2261

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.

IMG_0092

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.

IMG_2263

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.

IMG_2264

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.

IMG_2265

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.

IMG_9274

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.

IMG_2262

These are well loved and in the rotation.

Thank you, Aunt Jean.

 

 

 

Posted in Crafting | 4 Comments