Brown Sugar Meringue Spiced Picnic Cake

The warm weather is upon us, and with it comes picnics and potlucks. Picnic cakes are the quick and easy solution if you are tasked with bringing a dessert: they are portable, store well at room temperature, and are typically baked in a 9 inch by 13 inch pan. I’m working on posting my top 10 picnic cakes, and this one ranks high with my kids.

The spice cake contains sour cream mixed with a little baking soda to give it extra richness as well as lightness. The brown sugar meringue topping has chopped pecans folded inside, and it bakes up to a lovely, toasty color when the cake is finished.

Enjoy it with your favorite iced coffee or sweet tea.

Brown Sugar Meringue Spiced Picnic Cake

Delicious brown sugar and pecan meringue tops a spice cake.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/3 all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Instructions

  1. Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Place the flour in a small mixing bowl. Stir in the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. Stir the sour cream with the baking soda and milk until smooth. Set aside.
  4. Cream the butter with the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar until blended well. Add in the egg yolks and the vanilla extract, and mix thoroughly.
  5. Mix in the sour cream mixture, and blend well.
  6. Add in the flour mixture, and mix until smooth.
  7. Transfer cake batter into the prepared pan, and spread evenly.
  8. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form and add in the brown sugar gradually. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the chopped pecans. Spread this over the top of the cake batter.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for about an hour, until the topping is golden brown and the cake tests done.
  10. Cool, and cut into serving size squares.

 

Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft

Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft gives spirit to old favorites, and is a reflection of the author’s travels. Traditional challah, laminated breads, flatbreads, and stuffed breads are all greatly described and made, and he mixes contemporary ingredients with traditional methods. And it’s not just about yeast breads – we are presented with wonderful treats for afternoon tea or coffee, too, and all the things to serve them with,  a surprising focus on the savory here.

Secrets of Well-Proofed and Well-Handled Dough

While there are non-bread recipes, the bulk of the book details on creating the best bread at home, from start to finish. Actually, the introduction contains a great section on bread basics, from ingredients and mixing, to baking and creating your own steam oven easily at home. Scheft even goes into bakers percentages (using flour as your 100% benchmark) and the proper way of scaling up a recipe precisely and mathematically, since baking really is a science.

The color photos throughout Breaking Breads show the perfect baked recipe and step by step instructions on how to complete tasks. Examples include showing how to shape and braid a perfect challah and how to stretch the paper thin strudel needed for all its glorious wafer-thin layers. And let me tell you, nothing is as much fun as stretching strudel dough over a large table.

Most of the recipes have long instructions, but don’t be turned off by that. It is like the author is there instructing you step by step. Without his clear guidelines it wouldn’t be as easy to recreate some of the treasures in the book.

All the recipes make you want to spend a few days in the bakeshop baking, but my favorite recipe in the book isn’t even a bread at all, though. It’s a Middle Eastern twist on the traditional Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes (same thing) – with the addition of tahini paste and sesame seeds. A really lovely book all around.

Tahini Cookies

Yield 40 cookies

Middle East version of the sweet baked snowballs we call "Mexican Wedding Cookies" or "Russian Tea Cakes." They are rolled in sesame seeds rather than powdered sugar before baking.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup tahini sesame paste
  • Scant 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white rum (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, plus more if needed

Instructions

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand up mixer. Add in the almond flour and sugar. Mix on low speed to combine, and then add the butter, tahini paste, honey, and vanilla. Mix on medium low speed until the mixture is pebbly with no butter pieces larger than a small pea, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rum now, if using. Continue to mix the dough until it is just combined.
  2. Pour the sesame seeds into a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Adjust one oven rack to the upper-middle position and another to the lower-middle position, and preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  4. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls about the size of a large marble (you should get roughly 40 cookies that size). Dip one side of a ball into the sesame seeds, place it sesame-side up on a parchment lined sheet, and press gently with your finger to flatten it slightly. Repeat with remaining balls.
  5. Bake the cookies, turning the sheets and rotating them between top and bottom racks midway through, until the are firm to the touch and only slightly golden, about 8 minutes. Do not overbake them.
  6. Let them cool completely on the pans before transferring them to a rack.

Book Info:

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher and any opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support the site. 🙂

Leftover Puff Pastry Palmiers: Super Easy Sweet Treat

Puff pastry is any baker’s (and mom’s) best friend. It comes in frozen so it’s easy to always have on hand, and after it is thawed can be used to not only create desserts but can be used to make simple but delicious dinner and lunch treats. Inevitably, if you are cutting out shapes from the sheets, you’ll have leftovers. What to do with the leftover puff dough scraps? Leftover dough palmiers is a great idea.

If you’ve never had a palmier, you are missing something good. Palmiers are one of those wonderful and crispy treats that require only a couple of ingredients: sugar folded into puff pastry sheets. But they can quickly turn savory, too. Palmiers also create delicious appetizers or amuse bouche when things like nuts, green onions, cracked pepper, and cheese are folded into the rolled out puff pastry.

Here is a recipe from Manu Feildel that makes great use of puff pastry scraps, Leftover Pastry Palmiers. I use the same technique but have used regular sugar in the past to roll the puff dough palmiers into. I think the powdered sugar is a great idea. Just remember that when reusing scraps of puff pastry to always layer them one on top of the other rather than just bunching them up into a ball and then trying to roll it out. Puff pastry dough is composed of many individual layers and to keep the dough from getting too tough, and to keep the layers, don’t try to form it into a round disk like a pie dough, just roll it out. Like in the video below.

 

Palmier on plate” by barnimages.com is licensed under CC 2.0.

Slow Dough: Real Bread by Chris Young and the Bakers of the Real Bread Campaign

What is “Real Bread?” According to the The Real Bread Campaign, co-founded in 2008 by Andrew Whitley and the charity, Sustain, it is bread that is made without artificial additives or processing agents. At the very basic definition, bread contains just flour and water, and a little salt for flavor and sometimes sugar. The Real Bread Campaign is a community effort to support local bakers and the art of breadmaking, and the effort has spread to over 20 countries.

Homemade Bread at Home

Baking bread at home for me is both cathartic and energizing – it gives me an outlet during a busy day and both relaxes and energizes me. From the first addition of yeast to the water and watching it foam, to kneading it and dividing it into loaves. I have to admit that having a convection bread maker has made the process so much easier and at times I don’t even think about the process; I just love the feeling when I grace my dinner table and make my kids’ sandwiches with unprocessed bread. I’m a busy mom and run from practice to practice, and having a machine knead it for me is wonderful.

Making bread now is quick and easy even though the process still takes more than 3 hours to complete. And every single loaf made this way from my very basic bread recip tastes just the same as the previous.

What is Slow Bread?

Enter in slow bread. Slow bread is more than just spending time kneading and causes you to actually think about the fermentation process. It uses less yeast and needs a much longer fermentation time. It is in this fermentation process that the flavors of the bread come through. Not only does the crumb of the bread improve along with the digestibility of it, but the actual flavor improves as well.

Chris Young writes in the introduction:

Increasingly, however, Real Bread Bakers are reminding people that long and slow tends to be far more satisfying than a quick finish. Far from farinaceous folly, a long-proved dough has more time to develop flavour, tends to produce a less crumbly loaf, and in the case of genuine sourdough, might even offer health benefits.

Slow Dough: Real Bread and the Recipes

This is The Real Bread Campaign’s first cookbook, and the 90 recipes it contains are wonderful. The recipes were contributed by bakers in the industry, and all have been tested. Their names and a brief bio are alongside each recipe.

You’ll find everything from a very basic white loaf using ‘old dough’ to boost flavor to a gorgeous beetroot sourdough. The cookbook begins with a great overview of the slow bread movement and what the bread really is all about. Terms, techniques, ingredients, and equipment are defined, and really great info is presented on the kneading process with Q&A (How do I knead? For how long? How do I know when the dough is properly developed?).

The bread recipe chapters are divided by how the bread has been leavened: pre-ferment, long ferment, and sourdough. The last chapter incorporates the bread leftovers into new menu items.

This is a perfect companion for home bakers and those who bake for a living. It is refreshing that this is more than simply a collection of slow bread recipes but a full guide on why and how slow bread is good to bake.

According to realbreadcampaign.org, all author royalties of this book go to support their campaign.

Recipe

Pulla

Pulla is a Finnish cardamom-spiced coffee bread. This version is a long ferment dough made into buns.

Ingredients

  • 15 green cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fresh yeast
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten, for glaze

Instructions

  1. Crush the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle, discard the husks and grind the seeds.
  2. Rub the yeast and butter into the flour, then add the milk, egg, sugar, salt, and cardamom and mix thoroughly. Cover the dough and leave to rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Grease a large baking sheet with butter. Divide the dough into 12 equal sized pieced, shape each into a ball, and place on the baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Cover and leave to rise at room temperature for about 1 hour.
  4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the top of each pulla with beaten egg and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.

Notes

This recipe was adapted from Slow Dough Real Bread: Bakers' Secrets for Making Amazing Long-rise Loaves at Home by Chris Young and the Bakers of the Real Bread Campaign, Nourish Books, 2016.

Book info:

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher and any opinions are my own.

Multi Colored Chocolate Lace Wrap (Solid)

chocolate-multi-colored-lace2

Here’s a step by step video on creating a solid multi-colored chocolate lace wrap with a floral design. Julia M. Usher created this video, and in it uses untempered couverture chocolate.

The video is below. But first, here are some handy tips if you are wanting to create lace wraps using untempered chocolate for your next project:

  • Use acetate rather than parchment paper. Acetate will give a shine to untempered chocolate; parchment will give it a dull look.
  • When choosing acetate, use the thinner sheets over the thicker ones. The thinner ones pull away from the chocolate lace much easier.
  • Any guidelines marked with a marker should be on the opposite side of the piping side (mark then flip over). This will avoid any transfer of marker onto the chocolate.
  • The length should be the cake diameter x Pi (3.14), adding an extra couple of inches to make up for the chocolate bulk and to ensure you have enough of the length to fully cover the cake.
  • Use untempered couverture, and quality brands of chocolate at that. Tempered chocolate will set up too fast as you are piping it and may be hard by the time you are done or even during piping.
  • The untempered chocolate should be melted slowly. Melting it too fast may make the chocolate seize.
  • The outline colors with any dark chocolate should be done first.
  • Start with darker colors in the project and work to light. That way, if you have leftover darker colors, you can mix in plain white chocolate to create the lighter colors so no waste and no having to create multiple extra shades.
  • If the chocolate isn’t flowing as smooth, add in a few flakes of Paramount crystals or cocoa butter to help loosen the chocolate to make it flow smoothly.
  • The chocolate lace wrap should be interconnected in some form when you create it so it is a continuous design and nothing falls out as you wrap it.
  • Partially set up the wrap in the fridge so it holds its shape. Too soon and the melted chocolate (untempered) may run. Too much chilling and it will be difficult to wrap.
  • Then anchor the end where you want the back to be, aligning to the bottom of the cake. Press it slightly and gently to the cake to secure. If there is any overhang along the top, piping a border will help stick the lace to the cake and help prevent it from coming off.
  • Place back in the fridge until the chocolate sets up. Final setting time – as long as it takes to set up the chocolate fully and the acetate pulls off easily.
  • Carefully remove the acetate beginning with the overhang section. Score any extra chocolate pieces off with a hot knife – just to the spot where it meets to prevent any gaps.
  • Finish up with any extra accents or beads on the outside with chocolate, optional, and the cake is ready to serve.

 

ABC Cookbooks – Desserts and Cookies

Looking for quick and easy old-fashioned cookbooks for baking (or even giving) this holiday season? The ABC series from Peter Pauper Press may have just you are looking for. Peter Pauper Press recently is releasing several of its older titles from the 50s and 60s and I had a chance to read and review these two books perfect for Old School Pastry readers.

The concept for each of the ‘ABC’ cookbooks is simple: provide an alphabetical list of tried-and-true recipes on various topics. The ABC of Desserts and ABC of Cookies each contain many different recipes that were popular at the time of printing. What I enjoyed about reading each of the books is that none of the recipes in the series have been altered or adapted to modern times. Even though the printing is (only) 50 to 60 years ago, some ingredients and procedures called for either aren’t in production or aren’t used used. I’m a food safety stickler, as any parent would be when recreating old recipes, so ensure all raw products are cooked thoroughly before serving them to the youngsters. 

Read on for a recipe for Gingersnaps, too.

The ABC of Desserts

Originally published in 1958, there are 64 different recipes covering classics such as Vienna Sacher Torte to recipes that seem modern even today like the Strawberries a la Tsarina. The table of contents list each recipe by name rather than by grouping the recipes into like categories. Just about every recipe was familiar to me, and going through the list of ingredients made me realize modern recipes contain far too many at times. The Pears in Wine recipe contains just a handful of ingredients, and makes the simple dessert seem so elegant because of it; no strange ingredients, just the clove-spiced port wine poaching liquid and the pears. Along with the ingredients, the procedures are straight forward. Ideal book for anyone looking for a recipe that an aunt or a grandmother made when you were a kid, and couldn’t find the recipe anywhere else.

The ABC of Cookies

This fun little cookie book starts out with a poem about enjoying your time baking and ends with one about burning them (XYZut! Chut! and Flut! While my poor head was turned, the oven grew hot, and my cookies were burned!). As with The ABC of Desserts, recipes are listed alphabetically and range from piped cookies using a cookie press to drop cookies. Favorites of mine include the Pecan-Orange Cookies and the spicy Easy Chocolate Bars.

Gingersnap cookies are a household favorite, and I enjoyed this version very much. The recipe is below.

Gingersnaps

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup bran

Instructions

  1. Sift together dry ingredients.
  2. Mix butter, sugar, molasses, until creamy. Add flour mixture, then bran; mix well.
  3. Shape into a roll, wrap, chill overnight.
  4. To bake: Slice dough 1/8 inch thick; place on un-greased cookie sheet. Bake in 375 degree F. oven 10 minutes.
  5. Yields 5 dozen.

Notes

Reprinted with permission from ABC of Cookies, published in 1961 by Peter Pauper Press, Inc., White Plains, New York. www.peterpauper.com. Available as a Kindle edition.

 

Book Information:

Disclosure: Both books were provided by the publisher and any opinions are my own.

The Art of Making Good Cookies Plain and Fancy by Annette Laslett Ross and Jean Adams Disney

My latest find at the library’s ‘Friends of the Library’ store – an older cookie recipe book from the sixties. The Art of Making Good Cookies Plain and Fancy (Annette Laslett Ross and Jean Adams Disney, Doubleday, 1963) is a hardback covered recipe book with many different cookies, or cookies for special events like party cookies.

The substitutions chapter lists things still being applied today, nearly fifty years later:

  • If a recipe calls for butter, don’t substitute
  • Use 2 tablespoons less per cup of all purpose flour when in place of cake flour
  • Coffee, fruit juices, and other liquids may be used in part or whole for liquids called for in a cookie recipe, except when the recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk
  • Use 2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa with 1 1/2 teaspoons additional fat for each square of chocolate
  • With other substitutions, use the rule “If in doubt, don’t”

The cookies run the gamut from Plain Butterscotch Cookies to Fattigmand, from Norway, and for 3.00, was a very nice addition to my cookie cookbook collection.

Chapters and Cookbook Overview

There are 11 chapters in The Art of Making Good Cookies: What You Should Know About Cookies Before You Begin; Substitutions; Cookies At Home; Three R’s Mean Cookies Galore; Four Score or More; To Mail With Love; Decoration Ideas and Frostings; Lets’ Plan a Party; Christmas Cookie Baking Time; Cookies With a Foreign Accent; and Cookie Spectaculars. In case you’re wondering, the ‘Three R’s’ chapter is all about cookies for the school lunchbox, or for after school treats for the household cookie jar. The ‘Decoration’ chapter deals with frostings/icings, cutting out cookies, and the general decoration of them.

In all, if you can find this book at a used book store, it will be a fun read. The only pictures, though, are around the center in the form of a two-page spread with different cookies. Numerous illustrations are throughout the book though.

Book Information

  • The Art of Making Good Cookies Plain and Fancy: A Collection of Recipes For Cookies of all Types, Shapes, and Sizes, and for Every Occasion; by Annette Laslett Ross and Jean Adams Disney
  • Doubleday & Company
  • Hardcover with dust jacket, 252 pages

Disclosure: This book was purchased by the author and any opinions are the authors own.