Based on Shannon Auton’s Blueberry Brioche from Saveur Magazine

Chocolate Chip and Brown Sugar Brioche

The past few weeks, I have been watching Chopped Alton Brown’s Maniacal Baskets and Good Eats with Alton Brown and was inspired to try making some bread. On one episode of Good EatsFry Bread, Fry, Alton made two types of flat bread – Scallion Pancakes and Langos. I made the scallion pancakes, and they turned out pretty good, so I thought I would try the Hungarian Potato Langos. I was scared, because I haven’t had very good luck working with yeast. Half the time it never rises, but Alton made it look so easy. In the end I did get a great rise, but my dough was so sticky I had to add so much more flour, that the final product was very tough.

I had decided to give up my attempts at bread and find a cookie recipe that I hadn’t made before. As I was paging through my binder, I came across the recipe for Blueberry Brioche I had cut out of Saveur Magazine. I almost moved on, because I didn’t have any blueberries, but then I thought it would be good as a sweet bread with chocolate chips. I checked my cupboard and found I did have enough flour to make the recipe and decided to take the plunge.

Another ingredient I didn’t have was golden syrup. I have to admit, I didn’t know what golden syrup was, except for the fact that I always heard about it on The Great British Baking Show. Golden syrup is made from sugar beets or sugar cane. One of the many substitutions you can use if you don’t have golden syrup is honey. Unfortunately, my honey had crystalized, so my only option was maple syrup, which I thought would go well with the brown sugar and chocolate.

I started to bloom my yeast, but then realized I hadn’t softened my butter yet or brought my eggs to room temperature, so I had to start again an hour later. Working with yeast is tricky. If the water is too hot, you will kill off the yeast, but if the water isn’t hot enough it will just sit there. So if you are going to work with yeast, you need to have a good digital thermometer. The liquid needs to be between 105 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit to bloom the yeast properly. The original recipe indicated that the yeast should be bloomed in water, so I made sure the temperature was within range and when I added the milk that it wasn’t above 90 degrees, since the water would have cooled as the yeast was “activating.”

The original recipe called for the dough to be created by hand, but since I am a bread novice I decided to use my stand mixer so I could be sure that it was kneaded enough. I started on low speed until the flour was incorporated then moved up the speed to slow mixing (number 2 on my mixer), and kneaded the dough for 3 minutes, until the dough looked smooth. I checked the dough and it felt smooth, so I then turned it out onto a lightly floured surface and kneaded it by hand for another minute.

One problem I have always had is that most of my mixing bowls are metal, so plastic wrap doesn’t stick to it, so I never get a good seal to cover my dough. I do have a large measuring bowl with a plastic lid, but years ago my dog got a hold of the lid and chewed a few holes in it. My suggestion is to invest in a proofing tub from Amazon, because it also has a ruler on the side, so you can tell when the dough has doubled in size. Now according to the recipe, the dough should double in about an hour. I waited the hour, and nothing. I waited another hour and the dough still hadn’t risen. I did have my air conditioning on, so I thought maybe my apartment was too cold, so I took the quilted cover for my stand mixer and put it over the proofing container. Another hour passed and still no rise. By this time, it was 11 pm and I was about to give up again. I was so frustrated, because I had wasted 6 cups of flour! But then I thought, what do I have to loose, I will go to bed and see what has happened in the morning. To my utter surprise, the dough had doubled.

The dough has risen!

I rolled out the dough to approximately a 10 x 16 inch rectangle and spread the toppings. Now if any of you have ever seen Holiday Baking Championship, you will have seen them make a Yule Log, or you may have seen the competitors make a Jelly Roll or even Cinnamon Rolls. It’s the same concept for Brioche. You roll the long side of the dough tightly tucking in the contents as you do.

You will find that when you cut the dough, that the end pieces may be a bit smaller and the dough will stretch resulting in some of the individual pieces being a little wider than the others. When you grease the muffin tins, you want to spray the entire tin, including the spaces between the cups, since the dough will spread over the top as it rises and bakes. You also want to use every other cup, to allow the spreading of the dough. Gently push the dough down into each cup. If you want the brioche to have a glossy look after baking, you can brush with an egg wash made of the egg whites and water

Bake the dough at 350 degrees. Unlike cake, the toothpick test won’t work on bread. I know they say that the bread should sound hollow if tapped, but I’m not sure if what I think sounds hollow is what anyone else would think is hollow. I did find one website indicated that the internal temperature should be 190 degrees, so I started testing it around 30 minutes. The brioche should be golden brown when done. As you can see on the picture above, as the dough rises and bakes, the brown sugar will melt and caramelize. Because of this, you want to make sure that you take the brioche out of the pan while they are still warm; otherwise, as they cool, they will stick to the pan. I used my offset spatula to gently nudge each brioche our of the tin. They came out fairly easily and none of the dough stuck to the pan. I also used the spatula to scoop out all that luscious crunchy caramel to snack on as the brioche cooled.

This sweet bread can be eaten for breakfast or if you sprinkle a little Confectioner’s sugar on them, as a dessert. I hope you enjoy these as much as I have. It is definitely a recipe I will make again.

Chocolate Chip and Brown Sugar Brioche

  • Servings: approx. 1 dozen
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

Credit: Saveur Magazine – Shannon Auton

  • 7 grams active yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 cup warm milk (90 degrees)
  • 10 tablespoons softened butter
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 egg whites (for egg wash – optional)
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • vegetable oil spray
  • 1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, refrigerated or frozen
  • Confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, dissolve yeast and granulated sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes to bloom the yeast.
  2. Measure the flour and salt into another bowl.
  3. To the yeast, add 3/4 cup of the light brown sugar, warm milk, softened butter, maple syrup, eggs and egg yolks and stir until mixed.
  4. Attach your bread hook and add flour mixture to the yeast.
  5. Once the dough comes together, knead the dough about 3-4 minutes until smooth.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about another minute by hand.
  7. Spray your proofing bowl or container lightly with the vegetable spray, so the dough won’t stick as it rises.
  8. Let dough rise until it doubles, approximately an hour.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  10. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about 30 seconds.
  11. Roll dough into a 10 x 16 inch rectangle and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar and chilled chocolate chips.
  12. Tightly roll the longer side of the dough, like a jelly roll, tucking in the filling as you go.
  13. Cut dough into 12 equal portions, approximately 1-1/3 inches each.
  14. Spray two – 12 muffin tins with vegetable spray. Place slices flat side up in alternating spaces, gently pushing them down into the tin.
  15. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
  16. Uncover and bake for 30-35 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees and golden brown.
  17. Transfer brioche to cooling rack. Before serving, sprinkle lightly with Confectioner’s sugar if desired.

Variations

  1. Replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with toffee chips, butterscotch chips or frozen berries.
  2. Replace water with warmed Cointreau.
  3. Replace half of the chocolate chips with walnut or pecan chips.

Rustic Berry Tart with Irish Butter Crust

Summer is almost here, so last week I thought I would bake something seasonal and light. I cut out this recipe for a Rustic Raspberry Tart with Irish Butter Crust from either Saveur or Epicurious Magazine.

I admit, I sometimes struggle with pie crusts, but this one is very easy, with the exception of trying to roll out the dough in a circle! This crust is made with Kerrygold Irish Butter. Now I’m sure some of you are wondering if you have to use Irish Butter or if you can use regular butter. The simple answer is yes, you can, but the crust will have a slightly less buttery flavor. Irish Butter actually has 2% more butterfat than American Butter, so it has a smoother, creamier texture. Also, you will notice a that Irish Butter is bright yellow in comparison to American Butter, due to the higher level of beta-carotene the Irish cows absorb from the fertile soil and extra green grass.

American Butter (left) vs. Kerrygold Irish Butter (right)

The recipe calls for the dough to be made in a food processor. If you don’t have one, that’s okay, you can still make the crust. You can cut the butter into the flour with a dough blender and cutter or with a fork. You just want to make sure that once the it resembles a coarse meal or small peas. You can then switch to a hand mixer to add in the eggs and water. In a lot of baking shows, I have seen the professionals use vodka instead of water in a crust, and the result is a flakier crust. I used water, since this was the first time I was trying this recipe. While this is a very quick and easy crust to make, if you are in a rush you can use a pre-made crust from the refrigerated section of your local market.

Since it doesn’t take that long to make the crust, I combined all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl and let the berries macerate for a short time. I added lemon juice and zest to add a little more brightness and tartness to the tart. It will appear that there are too many berries for the crust, but they will cook down. You need to be very careful when you are folding up the crust and try to avoid it tearing. I didn’t manage to roll out a perfect circle, so my folds were a bit uneven. If your crust should tear when you fold it, simply try to press it back together when you are making your pleats, and brush these areas with a little more egg whites to help seal the seams. The Pioneer Woman also suggests that you use an egg white wash inside your crust to help prevent your crust from leaking, a hint I will definitely be using on the next pie or tart I make.

Most likely, you will have some juices leak out onto the parchment paper. You want to make sure you loosen it while the juices are still warm, so the cooling juices don’t make the tart stick to the parchment paper. If you are baking this on a cookie sheet, you will easily be able to slide the tart onto your serving plate. If, like me, you used a baking sheet, you will need to carefully lift the tart from the sheet onto your serving plate trying to avoid breaking the fragile crust.

This recipe serves 4 to 6 people. I served it at room temperature with whipped cream. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Rustic Berry Tart with Irish Butter Crust

  • Servings: approx. 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

Credit: Saveur or Epicurious Magazine

For the Crust:
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tbl cold Kerrygold Irish Unsalted Butter
  • 1 large egg yolk, reserving the white
  • 3 to 5 tsp ice water
  • 1 tbl granulated or turbinado sugar, for decoration
For the Filling:
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 3 tbl granulated sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbl lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Directions

  1. For filling, rinse berries and drain.
  2. Combine berries, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and cornstarch in a bowl. Toss together and let sit until crust is ready.
  3. For the crust, add the flour and salt to a food processor and pulse to mix together.
  4. Cut butter into 1/2 inch chunks and add to the food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  5. Add egg yolk and pulse, adding cold water 1 teaspoon at a time until dough begins to form a ball.
  6. Cut two pieces of plastic wrap, about 12 x 15 inches. Lay side by side on counter and lightly dust with flour.
  7. Remove dough from food processor and form a disk about 6 inches wide.
  8. Place in center of plastic wrap and cover with the floured side of the other piece of wrap.
  9. Roll out dough to approximately a 12 inch circle. If the plastic wrinkles, you can peal it off the dough carefully to smooth out.
  10. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  11. Peal off the top layer of plastic wrap and gently flip onto the center of the parchment paper, then carefully peal off the remaining plastic wrap.
  12. Preheat oven to 425 o F.
  13. Place berries mixture in center of crust, leaving approximately a 2 inch border.
  14. Gently fold up crust over the berries, pleating as you go, leaving a 4 to 6 inch opening in the middle.
  15. Brush crust with reserved egg white, then sprinkle with granulated or turbinado sugar.
  16. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until crust is golden brown and berries are bubbling.
  17. Cool 15 minutes before serving. While still warm, loosen from parchment paper, especially where juices may have leaked out of the crust. Transfer to serving plate with wide spatula.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream or marscarpone cheese, or ice cream.

Variations

  1. Use any fresh seasonal berries or stoned fruit.
  2. Replace lemon juice and zest with orange zest and juice or Cointreau.
  3. Substitute vodka for water in crust.

Based on Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies from Carla Hall on “The Chew”

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cookies

Happy Mother’s Day! I’m sure some of you are surfing the web for a recipe to make for your mothers or grandmothers.

I was an avid viewer of The Chew on ABC and enjoyed all their banter and helpful hints for both the home and kitchen. I especially enjoyed all the dessert recipes from Carla Hall. While I enjoy watching all the other baking shows and challenging myself with more difficult recipes, this recipe from Carla that is perfect for the baker who is looking for something quick and easy to make at the last minute or while they are preparing a holiday dinner.

Cheesecakes almost always call for a graham cracker crust and the original recipe called for crushed graham crackers to be folded into this recipe. I didn’t have any on hand, so I decided to use one of the substitutions that was suggested, which was chocolate chips.

Chilled Dough

The actual preparation and baking time for this recipe only takes about an hour. What takes the longest time is warming the butter and cream cheese to room temperature and chilling the dough, about an hour each. The longer you chill the dough, the less spread you will get when baking your cookie. I chose to chill the dough overnight, so the final cookie retained it’s ball-like shape.

Carla Hall’s recipe calls for you to use approximately 2 tablespoons of dough, but as usual I like to use a small cookie scoop. Now, my definition of small and yours might vary. I found this website of Cookie Scoop Size Chart that will give you an indication of what size scoop you want to use. Unfortunately, my scoop doesn’t have a number stamped on it, but the one I use measures about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. This size scoop yields a nice one or two bite cookie.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cookies

  • Servings: approx. 5-6 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

Credit: Carla Hall and The Chew

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 – 12 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Beat cream cheese, butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add flour and mix to combine.
  3. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Chill 1 hour to firm up dough or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
  7. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of dough and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are golden brow.
  8. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Variations

  1. Replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with toffee chips or butterscotch chips.
  2. Replace chocolate chips with orange zest and 1/4 cup orange juice or Cointreau.
  3. Add 1/4 cup Cointreau for a orange-chocolate flavor.

Based on Jean Anderson’s Almond-Orange Icebox Cookies

Pecan-Orange Icebox Cookies

Happy New Year everyone! After baking six different types of cookies along with a couple of cakes for Christmas, I decided to take a little break from baking, to work off those added holiday pounds. Although now another holiday is upon us…St. Patrick’s Day. Growing up, we never really celebrated St. Patrick’s Day as a holiday, but as my grandmother’s birthday. What are the odds that both my maternal grandparents would be born on holidays? (Grandpa was born on Christmas Day.) While this isn’t specifically a St. Patrick’s Day Cookie, it is part of the Ladies Home Journal – The Cookie Book ’81, which was part of my mother’s Christmas Cookie repertoire.

What is an icebox cookie? It is basically any cookie dough that is formed into a log and frozen or chilled for several hours, then sliced before baking. Think Nestle’s or Pillsbury pre-made cookie dough. So actually, you can make almost any cookie into an icebox cookie. Also, any cookie dough you want to hold it’s form and not spread as much, should actually be chilled before baking.

Fully incorporated dough

The basic icebox cookie is flour, salt, baking soda, shortening or butter, granulated and brown sugar, and egg. Most tend to then add some sort of fruit and nut to it. One of the most popular combinations with my family was candied cherry and pecan. Unfortunately, this not being the holiday season, it’s very difficult to find candied cherries in Los Angeles, so I chose to make this citrus version.

One of the first things you want to do when prepping your ingredients is to toast your nuts. You can do this either on the stove top or in the oven, and it only takes about 5 to 10 minutes, until you smell the nuts making sure they are lightly toasted. You can use either butter or shortening for this recipe or a combination of the two. I used shortening, simply because I had more of that on hand. Once you cream together the sugars and shortening, add the juice, zest and egg, along with a tablespoon of Cointreau.

Once you add your dry ingredients, you may find that the dough may be a little dry and won’t come completely together. If this is the case, you will want to add either additional Cointreau, juice or water a tablespoon at a time until you no longer have dry bits hugging the bottom of the bowl. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper and scoop the dough onto it. You may want to split the dough into two separate pieces to make it easier to chill the dough in your refrigerator or freezer. The dough should be chilled for a minimum of three hours. If you are able to work with the dough in that short time, place the dough in the freezer. If like me, you made your dough late at night and wouldn’t be baking it until the next morning, you can chill the dough in the refrigerator.

Once the dough is chilled, you can slice the dough. You will want to use a very sharp knife or a serrated knife, because you will need to cut through the nuts. When you cut the dough, the end slices will be slightly smaller than the rest. I usually take the end slices and the bits that fall off as I slice the remainder of the log, and at the end form it into another cookie, so none of it goes to waste.

Pecan-Orange Icebox Cookies

  • Servings: approx. 3-4 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

Credit: Jean Anderson’s Almond-Orange Icebox Cookies

  • 2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbls orange juice
  • zest from orange
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1-4 tbls Cointreau

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
  2. Toast pecans on stove top or in oven until just become fragrant.
  3. Cream together shortening, sugar and light brown sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add orange juice, zest from entire orange, 1 tbl Cointreau and egg and beat well.
  5. Gradually add in flour mixture.
  6. Add toasted pecans.
  7. If dough is too dry, add additional Cointreau a tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together.
  8. Place dough on plastic wrap or parchment and form 1-2 logs of dough, 1-2 inches in diameter.
  9. Chill dough for several hours in freezer or overnight in refrigerator until firm.
  10. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  11. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
  12. Slice dough coins with a very sharp knife 1/4 inches thick and place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.
  13. Bake 8-10 minutes until lightly brown around the edges.

Variations

  1. Replace pecans with walnuts, almonds or macadamia nuts.
  2. Replace orange zest and juice with lemon or lime zest and juice.
  3. Replace Cointreau with Creme de Cacao, for a orange-chocolate flavor.
  4. Replace Cointreau with additional juice or water.

Based on Elizabeth Schneider Colchie’s Spicy Cut-Outs

Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing

This Christmas, instead of only making one or two cookie types as I have for the past ten or so years, I decided to bake six different types. This of course is nowhere near the twelve or more different types that my family used to make when I was a child. One of the cookies I decided to try was traditional Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing. I have made triple ginger snaps before, but never decorated gingerbread cookies.

I’ve seen in most the baking shows I’ve watched the contestants making gingerbread. Most times it’s been structural gingerbread, which doesn’t contain any leavening agent so the structure or shape of the cookie doesn’t become distorted. I also learned that quite a few people dislike gingerbread, almost as much as fruit cake, which surprised me. Ginger is one of my favorite flavors. In fact, I can’t stand when there isn’t enough ginger flavor in something like ginger ale. So I searched my mother’s recipe binder and found Elizabeth Schneider Colchie’s Spicy Cut-Outs in the “Ladies’ Home Journal The Cookie Book ’81.”

As with most recipes, I did make some alterations. One of the most notable changes is that I doubled the spices, in addition to adding nutmeg and clove. I used my stand mixer for this, because the dough can end up being a little stiff at the end. After you mix your dough, you will want to chill it for at least 24 hours before rolling it out. I like a crisper cookie, so I rolled them out to about a 1/4 inch thick. A helpful tool in rolling out dough is the set of rolling pin guide rings I got from Amazon. You just slide them over your rolling pin and you don’t have to use a ruler to try and see if your dough is the right thickness. I used three cookie cutters; Gingerbread Men (not pictured), Christmas Trees and Stockings. Depending on the size of your cookie cutter and the thickness you roll the dough out, will effect the number of cookies you get, so the yield listed below is approximate. You want to work in small batches and keep your unused dough in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Because the dough is refrigerated, the cookie will not spread as much as other cookies.

As you can see, some of the cookies did get a little browner than others. The suggestion is 8 to 10 minutes bake time, but as I continued to bake, I actually found that my oven seemed to bake faster at times, so I would suggest you start checking your cookies at about 5 minutes especially if you roll them as thin as I did. Make sure you let your cookies cool completely before icing, because no matter how stiff your icing is, if the cookie is too warm it will not stick. My suggestion, bake your cookies one day and ice them the next. Now for the decoration.

The recipe did come with instructions for royal icing made from egg whites. This is fine if you are just baking cookies for yourself; however, I was also going to be sending cookies to friends out of state. Because egg white royal icing requires it to be refrigerated and is only good for about 3 days, I opted to make it from meringue powder instead. Royal icing made from meringue powder is good for up to 3 weeks if stored in an air tight container. I used the instructions from the Wilton website for even though I purchased a different brand of meringue powder from Amazon. The site also has videos on how to make the various consistencies needed for outlining and flooding as well as decorating ideas. If you have just the standard decorating tips for cupcakes, you will not have a tip that is fine enough to decorate cookies with. You will either need a good cookie decorating tip and tool set, or you can get a set of tipless piping bags. The meringue powder, tipless bags and decorating tools are all available through Amazon too. Unfortunately, I didn’t have either and none of the options were going to arrive before Christmas, so my friends got either undecorated gingerbread or gingerbread men decorated using a toothpick. I would not recommend this option! I did order the tipless bag set and was surprised when it arrived on Christmas Eve.

When you make your initial batch of royal icing, the recipe is for the stiff icing which you use to pipe flowers or use as glue for gingerbread houses. You will need to thin down to a medium consistency for outlining a dam around the cookie and then thin it down even more to flood the marked out areas. Wilton suggests using an eye dropper to add you water, another site suggests using a spray bottle. This site, Haniela’s, also has some troubleshooting advise for royal icing. I made the royal icing with water and then used Cointreau to thin the icing down for the medium and flooding consistencies. Whatever flavoring you add, you should make sure that you use water or alcohol based flavors, because oil can effect the consistency of the icing. Also, if you want to add vanilla flavoring to white icing, you should use clear vanilla flavoring; otherwise, the white icing will no longer be a stark white.

When it comes to coloring icing, gel colors will give you more vibrant colors than the usual liquid food colorings that most non-professional bakers are used to using. You can use the liquid coloring, but this can effect the consistency of the icing. Some also feel that these liquid food colorings have a chemical taste to them. Whichever you use, make sure you add a little at a time, because you can add more color, but you can’t take it out. If you use the liquid food colors and the consistency does become too thin, add a little of the original batch of non-thinned icing and mix, then retest to make sure the right texture is achieved.

Cut the very tip of the bag off and outline the major areas with the medium consistency icing. After piping the outlines, make sure you fold over and secure the bags with a clip to ensure the icing doesn’t dry out. Flood each area with the thinned icing. You can use an icing pick or toothpick to help distribute the thinned icing. The goal is to not see the separation between the outline and the flooding. Fold over and clip the tips on the unused icing. To add additional decorations, you can use a wet-on-wet application, so the additional decorations are not raised above the flooding. I chose to let the base layer dry for 8 hours and then applied the holly and decorations to the trees, so that they were slightly raised. You can store any unused icing in a sealed container at room temperature for two weeks. While the decorations aren’t perfect, I believe for a first attempt I did pretty good. As they say, practice makes perfect!

Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing

  • Servings: approx. 5-6 dozen
  • Difficulty: medium to difficult
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Ingredients

Credit: Elizabeth Schneider Colchie’s Spicy Cut-Outs

For the Cookies:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 3/4 cup, plus 2 tbls unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk
For the Royal Icing:

Credit: Wilton

  • 3 tbl meringue powder
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 5 tbl warm water
  • flavorings (water or alcohol based only), as desired
  • gel food colors, if desired

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
  2. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat butter until fluffy.
  3. Gradually add in brown sugar.
  4. Add molasses and granulated sugar and beat.
  5. Add egg and beat well.
  6. Gradually add in half the flour mixture and mix at lowest speed.
  7. Add in remaining flour mixture and mix at low speed until fully incorporated.
  8. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 1 to 2 days.
  9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  10. Divide dough into quarters, returning 3/4 of the dough back to the refrigerator.
  11. Roll dough between two floured sheets of parchment paper to desired thickness.
  12. Cut dough with cookie cutters and place on parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets.
  13. Brush dough with milk before putting in oven.
  14. Bake 8 – 10 minutes until edges just begin to brown.
  15. As one or two sheets of cookies are baking, gather the scraps and continue to roll and cut cookies until you use all the dough, including the quarters left in the refrigerator.
  16. Let cookies cool completely before icing.
  17. For Royal Icing – In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat together meringue powder and water.
  18. Add sifted confectioners sugar until all sugar is incorporated and stiff peaks form, about 7 – 10 minutes.
  19. Let sit for 15 – 30 minutes until air bubbles rise.
  20. Stir top to break air bubbles.
  21. If coloring, divide the icing into separate bowls. You will need two bowls for each color, as you will need both medium and thin consistency for each.
  22. Add about 1/8 tsp of water or flavoring per cup of icing to make medium consistency. If you are adding color, you can do this at the same time. Keep track of how much color you add for the medium consistency, so you use the same amount to make the thin consistency and colors match. Mix in a figure 8 motion until mixed completely. Cover with a wet towel and let sit for 15 minutes to allow bubbles to rise. Repeat this for all colors you require.
  23. To the second cup of icing, add about a teaspoon of water or flavoring for thin or flooding consistency. Add the same amount of food coloring gel to this as you did the medium consistency. Mix in a figure 8 motion until mixed completely. To check to see if the consistency is correct for flooding, pick up some icing with a spatula and drop it back into the bowl. If it sinks into a flat surface and disappears within 10-20 seconds, you have the correct consistency. Cover with a wet towel and let sit for 15 minutes to allow bubbles to rise. Repeat this for all colors you require.
  24. After 15 minutes, pop the bubbles in both the medium and thinned consistencies. Place each bowl of icing into a separate tipless piping bag and tie a knot at the top to seal. Make sure you group or label the bags so you remember which bags contain the thinned and which contain the medium consistencies.
  25. Lay our the cookies for decoration. Cut off the very end of the bag and outline areas using the medium consistency bags of icing, then flood those areas using the thinned icing. If you need to, you can use either a pick or toothpick to spread the thinned icing a bit. Your goal is to have the flooding disguise the fact that the areas are outlined.
  26. Once cookies are flooded, allow to dry for 8 – 10 hours before applying additional decorations with the remaining icing.
  27. Allow icing to dry for 24 hours before boxing or shipping.

Variations

  1. Add fresh ginger and candied ginger to recipe to make these triple gingerbread cookies.
  2. If you prefer a cookie with less spice, you can halve the spices.
  3. Add lemon or orange zest to the cookie dough.
  4. Use Cointreau instead of water in the Royal Icing.
  5. Use a fan to speed up the drying of each layer of icing.

Based on a recipe from Like Mother, Like Daughter

Cranberry Ginger Pumpkin Cake with Brandy Cream Cheese Frosting

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I was trying to think of what I wanted to bake. I wasn’t sure I wanted the usual pumpkin pie, but I still wanted that fall spice flavor. I recently watched an episode of Holiday Baking Championship and they had to celebrate fall flavor combinations and my first thought was what better combination is there than cranberries and ginger? I have often added candied ginger to my homemade cranberry sauce, so my first instinct was to make a cheesecake with a cranberry ginger compote, but I would miss the pumpkin. On another baking competition, one of the contestants added cranberries to ginger bread. While this is a good idea, it just felt a little too Christmas-y, until I realized that all the spices that are in ginger bread are also in a pumpkin pie!

Surprisingly in all the cookbooks I own, not one had a recipe for pumpkin bread, cake or muffins, only pumpkin pie or soup. I did a quick Google search for pumpkin cake and found “Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting” on the website Like Mother, Like Daughter. I liked the idea of Cream Cheese frosting for this cake, because the spices of a carrot cake are very similar to those in a pumpkin pie. I have also made Pumpkin Cheesecake pies, so the frosting is a perfect pairing.

Batter as it bakes

As with all pumpkin pies, I always feel that the amount of spice is never enough. I always use at least one and a half times the amount, but because a cake is less concentrated than a pie, I doubled the spices. For the cranberries, you can use fresh, frozen or dried. If you use frozen, you don’t need to thaw them before you fold them into the batter. They will thaw as they cook. If you choose to use dried cranberries, you can soak them overnight in a couple of tablespoons of brandy, or your choice of liquor, to rehydrate them. Once they are rehydrated, you should drain them before adding the chopped candied ginger and tossing them in the reserved flour mixture. You can add the brandy to either the cake or use this as the brandy in the frosting too.

I tend to make cupcakes rather than a layer cake or a sheet cake, because the serving size is easily controlled. Cupcakes are also preferable when you are attending a party or bringing it to work, but storing cupcakes can be difficult when you have limited storage in your refrigerator. Since this recipe yields 24 – 36 cupcakes, this time I opted for the 9 x 13 inch Pyrex baking dish. Once the cake is baked and cooled, you can turn it out to frost if you prefer or just serve and store it in the dish.

Frosted Cake

Cream Cheese Frosting can sometimes be quite sweet. On average 1-1/2 cups or more of confectioners sugar is used per 8 ounces of cream cheese. I usually start with a third of the sugar and add it slowly until I achieve the sweetness level I like. In addition to the vanilla extract, I also added a hint of nutmeg and brandy which also tones down the sweetness. If you have mascarpone cheese on hand instead of cream cheese, you can use the frosting recipe for the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte Cupcakes instead.

If you are feeling artistic, you can use one of your decorative tips and pipe on the frosting. You can also reserve any of the additional frosting to serve on the side if anyone wants more frosting with their cake. I hope you enjoy this holiday treat!

Cranberry Ginger Pumpkin Cake with Brandy Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: 12 - 24
  • Difficulty: easy
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Credit: Like Mother, Like Daughter

Ingredients

For the Cake:

  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1- 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped

For the Frosting:

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons brandy (to taste)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease 9 x 13 Pyrex dish.
  3. Sift together flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside 1/4 cup of this mixture.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, oil, and sugar. Add eggs and whisk again until completely mixed.
  5. Rinse cranberries and pat dry.
  6. Chop candied ginger into small pieces, about the size of a chocolate chip. Add to cranberries.
  7. Add reserved dry ingredients to cranberry mixture and set aside.
  8. Whisk flour and spice mixture into pumpkin puree until just combined.
  9. Fold the cranberries and ginger into the batter. Do not over mix.
  10. Add batter baking dish and smooth out until level.
  11. Bake 30 – 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  12. Let cake cool completely before frosting.
  13. For the frosting, whip together the softened cream cheese and butter.
  14. Add the vanilla extract.
  15. Add sifted confectioners sugar a little at a time, mixing until smooth.
  16. Add 1 -3 tablespoons of brandy, to taste, and mix until incorporated. At this point, if the frosting is too thin or you prefer it to be sweeter, add up to 1 more cup of sifted sugar.

Variations

  1. Replace fresh cranberries with dried cranberries that have been rehydrated in brandy.
  2. Add walnuts or pecans to the recipe.
  3. Replace the brandy with bourbon or ginger liqueur.

Based on “Blackwood Hall Muffins” by Carolyn Keene

Lemon Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Walnut Caramel

When I was a child, one of my favorite book series to read was “The Nancy Drew Mysteries” by Carolyn Keene. I used to dream that my sister and I would one day solve mysteries just like Nancy, Bess and George. I recently learned that Carolyn Keene was actually a pseudonym under which the stories were ghostwritten by multiple authors. One of the books that was published wasn’t a mystery, but a cookbook.

“The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking” by Carolyn Keene was published in 1973. The recipes are supposed to be from Nancy, Bess, George and of course the faithful housekeeper, Hannah Gruen and are all named after various mysteries. Even though my family has had this cookbook for over 40 years, we have actually never made any of the recipes, so when I was trying to figure out what to bake, I decided I would start going through the recipes in this cookbook.

Unlike most cookbooks, “The Nancy Drew Cookbook” isn’t broken into sections for appetizers, entrees and desserts. The chapters are divided into mealtimes; such as, “Brunch for Sleepyheads” and “Nancy Shares Her Holiday Secrets.” Of course, this cookbook is geared towards children. It includes a couple of pages of helpful hints, like following the recipe if you are a novice cook or measuring all your ingredients out before you start cooking, but I had fun flipping through the pages and picking a recipe. I landed on “Blackwood Hall Muffins.”

The Nancy Drew Cookbook

“Blackwood Hall Muffins” are your basic blueberry muffins. Flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, butter, milk and salt. While there is nothing wrong with a basic blueberry muffin and could have just followed the recipe, I felt it just needed some more flavor. One combination I have always liked is lemon and blueberry. The tartness of the lemon and the sweetness of the blueberries compliment each other.

I always prefer to use fresh ingredients if I can, but if you happen to only have frozen blueberries available, do not thaw them before adding them to the batter. They will thaw as the muffin bakes. Regardless of whether you are using fresh or frozen berries, you want to reserve about a quarter cup of the dry ingredients and toss the berries in it. This will keep the berries from sinking to the bottom of the muffin. The flour coating will absorb the moisture from the fruit and keeps the fruit suspended throughout the batter. This trick will also work for nuts, chocolate chips, or any other whole ingredient you put into your baking.

Another trick is to introduce protein to your muffins, breads or even cookies, by replacing a portion of your all purpose flour with a nut flour or flax seed meal. This isn’t going to give you that much protein per serving, but every little bit helps if you are trying to watch your weight. The original recipe called for 1-1/2 cups flour, so I replaced a 1/2 cup of the flour with 1/4 cup almond flour and 1/4 cup flax seed meal. Sifting it all together is especially important when you do these substitutions, because of the different consistencies of the various ingredients. The flax seed meal especially will leave behind some of the seed husks. If you find a lot of husks left behind after you sift, you may want to measure them and then sift an additional amount of flax seed meal to replace it.

Lemon Blueberry Muffin Batter with Lemon Walnut Caramel

Most store bought blueberry muffins also have a Turbinado or Sanding Sugar topping, but here too I decided to add chopped walnuts to the sugar to increase the protein content. Rather than making a dry streusel topping, I opted to add additional lemon juice to the sugar and walnuts, to amp up the lemon flavor. Adding the juice to the brown sugar and walnuts will end up making kind of a caramel sauce on top of the muffin, which will also help keep your muffin moist. Unfortunately, it also can make the muffins stick to your tin, so I would suggest using a silicon muffin tin if you have it. If you do, grease and flour the silicon tin or you can use a cupcake liner. If you prefer a milder lemon flavor, you can leave out the lemon juice from the topping, which will give you a more traditional topping.

This recipe will make twelve regular size muffins or six giant sized muffins. You can serve these right out of the oven, or you can serve them at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Lemon Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Walnut Caramel

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
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Credit: The Nancy Drew Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest and juice from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Grease muffin and flour muffin tins.
  3. Sift together flour, almond flour, flax seed meal, salt and baking powder. Set aside 1/4 cup of this mixture.
  4. Cream together softened butter and sugar.
  5. Add egg and vanilla extract to butter and mix completely.
  6. Add zest of one lemon to the dry ingredients and mix.
  7. Add the dry ingredients to the egg and butter mixture and mix completely.
  8. Add the juice of the lemon to the batter and mix completely.
  9. Toss blueberries in the 1/4 cup of the dry ingredients, then fold into the batter.
  10. Add batter to muffin tins.
  11. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and chopped walnuts. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, depending on how tart you like your topping.
  12. Add 1-2 teaspoons of topping to each muffin.
  13. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  14. Let cool slightly before serving warm or at room temperature.

Variations

  1. Replace blueberries with chopped cherries.
  2. Replace almond flour and flax seed meal with all purpose flour
  3. Replace walnuts with pecans.
  4. Replace lemon juice in topping with cinnamon to make a traditional streusel topping instead.

Based on “Rum Raisin Bread Pudding” by The Neelys on Down Home with the Neelys

Cranberry Rum Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Initially, I was averse to ever trying Bread Pudding of any kind. All my friends will attest to the fact that I am one of the pickiest eaters! I don’t like anything soggy, so I eat my cereal dry and ask for gravy or sauces on the side. I don’t dip my French Dip. I especially don’t want au jus poured over my Italian Beef (Sorry my fellow Chicagoans!)

Years ago a friend invited me to brunch at a little bistro, which I believe was on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. I would tell you where, but neither my friend nor I can remember the name, just that it was on a corner across the street from an antique store. I’m not really a breakfast or brunch eater. I dislike any sort of egg, which is the mainstay of brunches around the world. Fried, poached, coddled, quiche, frittata, even scrambled with an entire bottle of A1 Steak Sauce in them, I don’t like them. I was overjoyed when I learned recently on an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games, that Guy Fieri doesn’t like them either. I’m not big on regular pancakes, they are to mushy because they absorb all the butter and syrup. So as usual I struggled to find something to eat, hoping there would be a sandwich or salad I would like. I settled for my usual BLT, while she and her husband had Eggs Benedict and an American breakfast plate. We drank Mimosa’s and had a nice time and was surprised when she wanted to order dessert – not a usual occurrence at brunch. She ordered Bread Pudding.

I have to admit, I had never actually seen bread pudding outside of a picture prior to this occasion. It wasn’t something that my mother ever made. I had seen and tasted rice pudding before and hadn’t liked it. I assumed that bread pudding would be like a lot of French Toasts I had tried, soggy and way to wet. After some convincing, I agreed to try it and I was pleasantly surprised. The top was crunchy and the nuts and drunken raisins added texture to the creaminess of the custard. I was a convert (but I still don’t like soggy bread!)

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Brioche Bread

As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, all the stores are stocking everything pumpkin-spiced or pumpkin flavored, and Trader Joe’s is no exception. We didn’t have this chain in Chicago when I lived there and is one of the few things I love about coming to Los Angeles, that and In-And-Out Burgers! While it’s not a huge grocery store, Trader Joe’s does carry most of the necessities, but not every item is carried year round. I love discovering new items every time I go in or get The Fearless Flyer in the mail. One such item was their Pumpkin Brioche. It was like eating a slice of pumpkin pie. I was eating a couple of slices and was thinking about what I wanted to bake, when it dawned on me that I was literally eating my answer…Bread Pudding.

You can find a basic Bread Pudding in almost any cookbook, but I went to my Food Network Kitchen app and looked through all the different kinds until I spotted Rum Raisin Bread Pudding by The Neelys. Part of the reason I chose their recipe, was because it called for the exact amount of slices of brioche that I had remaining. Now, most of the recipes call for the milk and cream to be warmed to dissolve the sugar. I found that if I whisked the wet ingredients with the sugar and spices while I was toasting the bread, that the sugar actually dissolved on it’s own. If you do decide to warm the milk, make sure that it is cooled before you add your eggs; otherwise, you will end up with scrambled eggs. You can also accomplish this by tempering your eggs.

Cubed and Toasted Brioche and Custard

Tempering for a sweet recipe is slightly different than for savory recipes. You should whisk your eggs with the sugar then add your warm milk a little at a time to bring up the temperature of the eggs to the temperature of the liquid. Always start this with room temperature eggs; otherwise, you are guaranteed to scramble them. After all the milk is added, strain the mixture to catch any small solids that may have formed during the process. Once they are tempered, you can add the spices and rum.

A few of the recipes also suggested toasting the bread. The reason for this is to remove some of the moisture from the bread, which will then make it absorb more of the custard as you are soaking it. If you prefer your bread pudding a little moister, you can skip this step and just cube the bread. Cut the bread into cubes, each slice yields 9 cubes, and then add it to your custard mixture. Let it soak up the custard for about 30 minutes. You may need to stir occasionally to make sure none of the bread is just floating on the top.

Bread Pudding ready for the oven

When it’s time to bake your pudding, make sure you generously grease your dish, either with butter or vegetable spray. While you will usually be serving this dessert in the dish you baked it in, this will make it easier for you to dish out each portion. I like having anything crunchy on top of most of my desserts, so the final step for preparing this dish is to drizzle melted butter on top and sprinkle it with turbinado sugar. Turbinado sugar is a less refined sugar. It is most similar to brown sugar, but has less moisture and less molasses. Most people are familiar with it from the crunchy tops of muffins or the packets of Sugar in the Raw, that you see at some coffee shops and stores. If you don’t have this on hand, you can sprinkle the top with brown sugar instead.

Depending on your stove, the bake time can take anywhere from 50 minutes to a little over an hour. It is ready when the custard is set and the top is a nice golden brown. If you find that the top is browning too fast, cover with aluminum foil until the custard is baked. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving. You can serve as is, or you may want to top it with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream or a little bit of marscapone cheese.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Rum Pumpkin Brioche Pudding

  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Credit: The Neelys on Down Home with the Neelys

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 3 – 6 tablespoons light rum
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 7 slices Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Brioche Bread
  • 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Directions

  1. Rehydrate dried cranberries in 3 tablespoons rum for 24 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.
  3. Toast brioche bread until lightly brown.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, milk, vanilla bean paste, brown sugar, and spices.
  5. Remove rehydrated cranberries from rum. Measure remaining liquid, if any, and add enough rum to make 3 tablespoons. Add to custard.
  6. Cut toasted brioche into squares and add to custard. Let sit 30 minutes to absorb custard.
  7. Butter 9 x 13 baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter and pour in pudding.
  8. Melt remaining butter and drizzle over pudding. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  9. Bake 50 minutes, or until browned and custard is set.
  10. Let cool slightly before serving warm or at room temperature.

Variations

  1. Replace dried cranberries with raisins.
  2. Add chopped walnuts or pecans.
  3. If you prefer a more custardy bread pudding, add 2 more cups cream, increase spices and rum by half and add 2 more egg yolks. Baking time may increase.
  4. Bake in individual ramekins. Cook time may decrease with this method, so start checking at around 40 minutes to see if the custard has set.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte Cupcakes (Black Forest Cupcakes)

Based on recipe originally published in Mader’s German Cooking and Baking

I’m back. I took a small break from baking during this quarantine. One of the only things I miss about having to go to work, is being able to take in most of my baking, so I don’t pack on the pounds having to eat it all on my own!

Half of my heritage is Czech and German, hence all the Eastern European recipes. As a child, we ate mostly foods and desserts from these two countries. For Thanksgiving, it was Roast Goose or Roast Duck with dumplings and sauerkraut, although we did have cranberry sauce on the side. Grandma baked miniature pumpkin pies for my father and me, because we were the only two who ate it. For Christmas, we ate Svíčková or Sauerbraten (Roast Beef, pickled and served with a cream sauce) with spätzle and sauerkraut, but we did have fruit cake alongside all of our other cookies. We did bake brownies and chocolate chip cookies, but most of our desserts were of Czech heritage, with the exception of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake).

Black Forest Cake should not be confused with German Chocolate Cake. First and foremost, German Chocolate Cake isn’t even German! German Chocolate Cake is a chocolate cake with coconut and pecans named after it’s creator Samuel German. Schwarzwälder (pronounced shvartzvelder) Kirschtorte is a dark chocolate cake with cherries and a whipped cream frosting. Actually, the correct translation is Black Forest Cherry Cake, but most people leave off the word cherry when they talk about it.

I was first introduced to it when my mother bought it as our birthday cake when I was in grammar school. My birthday was the day before my mother’s, so we just had one celebration. She bought it from Kirschbaum’s Bakery, although they used baking Kirsch, which is non-alcoholic. We would would also drive up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to our favorite German Restaurant, Mader’s. My mother and sister would both order the Rheinischer Sauerbraten, while I would always order the Wiener Schnitzel. We looked forward to going here at least twice a year and would always order their Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte for dessert. We even made friends with one of the waitresses and they gave us the recipe for their original Reuben Rolls. (They have since updated their recipe and use wonton wrappers, instead of batter.) Just thinking about their food, is making my mouth water.

Kirschwasser (Cherry Brandy)

In the Mader’s recipe, maraschino cherries are used as a decoration on top of the cake and the only cherry flavor throughout the cake is the Kirschwasser (cherry brandy). When I vacationed in Germany, we went to the Black Fores which is in the Baden-Württemberg region of southwestern Germany bordering France. We stopped at a Bäckerei (bakery) and gift shop which sat nestled inside the Forest. It looked exactly like a cuckoo clock, which the region is also known for. My friend and I watched as other patrons walked away with huge slices of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte large enough to serve at least three people, and decided to split one between us. They sliced a thick wedge of cake, which had big chunks of cherries between each layer, and then sprayed the slice with more brandy. You could tell that the black cherries and whipped cream frosting had also been liberally dosed with the Kirschwasser, which is 42% alcohol! Not for the faint of heart.

Now if you are a professional baker, you will probably shudder at my next statement. It’s okay if you use a boxed cake mix. Yes, cakes are very easy to make from scratch. Boxed cake mixes really only contain the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and some sort of dry flavoring), which most bakers have in their pantry anyway. Some people can taste the difference and some can’t. I was raised on boxed cake mixes and as long as you don’t over mix or over bake the recipe, they are usually very light and airy. My mother would only buy Duncan Hines Cake Mixes and on that point I agree. In comparison, I have used both Pillsbury and Betty Crocker and find them to be much drier. So why am I talking about cake mixes? I used Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake Mix for this recipe and the result was a light and airy cake. Black Forest Cake is a dark chocolate cake and that is exactly what Devil’s Food cake is. Don’t worry, I will provide you with the recipe for the cake, but there is no shame in “the box.”

Even though the original recipe only had the cherry as a decoration, I decided to add cherries inside the cupcakes as they did in the Black Forest. Since you can’t layer the cupcakes, you will want to scoop out a hole to fill the cupcake. You can just use a knife, but you can also use an apple corer or a grapefruit knife to create this channel. I used a grapefruit knife, because the serration and curve of the blade will aid you in lifting out the excess cake. As you are baking your cake, you will want to prepare your cherries and glaze or syrup. The glaze or syrup is going to be brushed over the warm cakes. The basic recipe is water, sugar and Kirsch, but you can substitute the water with the liquid from the canned cherries to get a more pronounced cherry flavor in the cake. You can use a cherry syrup or baking Kirsch instead, but if you want to make a true Black Forest Cake I would use the real thing. I couldn’t find Kirschwasser at BevMo in Los Angeles and didn’t feel like wandering from liquor store to liquor store, so I ended up ordering it from Wine.com.

Cherry Filling

For the glaze and cherry filling, you will need two – 14 ounce cans of cherries. Make sure you get the ones that are packed in their own juice or water. You don’t want the ones packaged in syrup, because don’t want the added sugar. Divide the cherries, saving 20 to 24 for decoration and the remaining will be used for the filling. In an effort to save money, I made the mistake of purchasing a generic brand of cherries for the filling and ended up with pale, almost tasteless, cherries! Thankfully, months ago I had bought a couple of bags of fresh cherries and made Homemade Maraschino Cherries. Unfortunately, the cherries were long since gone, but I saved the “juice” which was full of flavor. I discarded the liquid from the canned cherries and used the maraschino liquor instead of water for the glaze and filling, decreasing the total amount of sugar. If you ever have to make a substitution like this, add the sugar slowly and taste as you go. You can always add more sugar, but you can’t take it out. For the glaze, heat the cherry juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and add the Kirsch and allow it to cool.

You can simply stuff the cupcakes with the drained cherries, or you can use the remaining cherry juice and cherries make a syrup filling instead. Once again, no judgments here, If you want to skip this step or don’t have the time, you can use canned cherry pie filling. I would suggest sour or tart cherry pie filling for this recipe, as the tartness of the cherry will even out the sweetness of the rest of the cake. You would just add the Kirschwasser to the pie filling, and omit the other ingredients from this step. If the filling becomes too runny after adding the brandy, you may need to heat the filling to thicken.

Once the syrup is cool, you can brush the tops of the cupcakes while they are still warm. You may need to do this more than once, so the flavor permeates the cake, but not so much that the cake becomes soggy. If you are unsure, use one cupcake as a tester. Remove it from the tray and wrapper, brush or spritz the cake with the glaze periodically to see how much you want to use on the remaining cakes.

One thing I love most about this cake is the whipped cream frosting. Now if any of you have ever whipped your own cream for any type of dessert, you know that you need to stabilize it somehow; otherwise, as it sits, the cream will start to weep and you will have a soggy mess! One way of stabilizing the whipped cream is to add one teaspoon of unflavored gelatin in one tablespoon of water or liquor and heating until the gelatin dissolves, then adding this to the heavy cream and sugar and whipping until stiff peaks form.

Another way is to use cream cheese or marscapone cheese to stabilize the heavy cream. Regular cream cheese does have a slight tang to it, so it will alter the flavor of the frosting a little, but marscapone is a sweet Italian cream cheese that is used in many Italian desserts and blends very well with whipped cream. The resulting frosting has a slightly thicker consistency, somewhere in between whipped cream and buttercream, and has a richer flavor. The original recipe for Marscapone Whipped Cream Frosting is by Leslie Kiszka at Stress Baking.com.

Filled and frosted Black Forest Cupcake

I admit, there are a lot of steps to this recipe (cake, syrup, filling, frosting and decorating), but if you manage your time well, it’s not that hard. You can make the cherry filling the day before and the cherry glaze before you start baking your cupcakes, so it is cool enough to apply when the cupcakes are done. Once the cupcakes have been soaked and cooled, the only thing left to do is to assemble and enjoy!

Tschüß!

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest) Cupcakes

  • Servings: approx. 20 - 24
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

For the Cake:

Credit: Mader’s German Cooking and Baking

  • 6 eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1/4 sifted cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Maraschino Cherries or Black Cherries for decoration (optional)
  • Shaved Dark Chocolate for decoration (optional)

or

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake Mix
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water, room temperature
For the Cherry Filling and Glaze:
  • 2 – 14 oz cans of tart or sour cherries, pitted and drained (see below)
  • 1 cup reserved juice from cherries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbl lemon juice
For the Frosting:

Credit: Based on Stress Baking by Leslie Kiszka

  • 8 oz marscapone cheese
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbl Kirschwasser, or to taste
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. For Glaze: In a small saucepan, mix 2 tbl of reserved cherry juice with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Heat, mixing until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add 1/4 cup Kirsch. Set aside to cool.
  3. For the Cherry Filling: In a tall sauce pan, add canned cherries, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of cherry juice . Heat over medium high heat until boiling. Reduce heat to medium low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is about the consistency of maple syrup, the filling is ready. Remove from heat to cool.
  4. For the Cake: If you are using the cake mix, follow the instructions on the box and skip to step 9; otherwise, follow the instructions that follow.
  5. Beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Add 3/4 cup sugar gradually and continue to beat until completely incorporated and the mixture is light and thick.
  6. Beat egg whites until frothy throughout and then gradually add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, beating constantly until stiff peaks form. Fold gently into egg yolks.
  7. Sift then measure flour. Add cocoa and salt to flour, then sift over egg mixture. Fold gently, but thoroughly. Add vanilla and blend.
  8. Line cupcake tins with wrappers. Fill each about halfway. Bake 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Once cupcakes are baked and cooled for about 5 minutes, brush tops with glaze. You may need to do this more than once. Let the cupcakes cool completely.
  10. With a serrated knife, cut and scoop out a hole in the center of each for the filling.
  11. Fill each cupcake with about a teaspoon or more of the cherry filling. You want the center completely filled, but not overflowing. If you have left over glaze, you can brush each cupcake again.
  12. For the Frosting: In a cold bowl, add the marscapone cheese and the confectioners sugar. Whip until well combined.
  13. Add vanilla extract, Kirschwasser and heavy cream. Mix on low until combined, then whip on high until stiff peaks form and hold.
  14. Pipe onto cooled and filled cupcakes. Shave or grate dark chocolate over frosted cupcakes. Top with a Maraschino cherry or Dark Cherry and serve.

Variations

  1. Replace Kirschwasser with Chambord (raspberry liqueur), or for a non-alcoholic version use baking Kirsch or cherry syrup.
  2. If you are allergic to cherries, try using raspberries instead; however, the seeds may be off-putting to some.
  3. Use pre-made cherry pie filling. Add Kirschwasser and taste. If it is too sweet, add in some lemon juice. Be careful not to thin the mixture out too much. If needed, you can heat it up to reduce and thicken.
  4. Drain the cherries and mix with a portion of the frosting and use this mixture as the filling instead.
  5. Add a teaspoon of espresso powder to chocolate cake batter to enhance chocolate flavor.

Originally published in Julie Dannenbaum’s Fast & Fresh by Harper & Row

Spicy Nut Meringues

I realized earlier this week that I needed to check the date on my eggs. They were a month past the expiry date and I still had half a dozen left. I quickly tested them and found that only four were still fresh enough to eat. I had been watching one of my many cooking shows and one of the bakers was making a meringue for a pie. I knew that I could at least use the egg whites of my remaining supply and remembered seeing a meringue cookie somewhere in my mother’s binder.

This Cookie Book is a collection of Christmas cookie recipes published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1981. My mother would always write the month and year that she made a recipe in all her cookbooks as well as any notes as to what she did to “fix” them. I have taken to doing this myself, even on those that my mother had perfected and typed up in her binder. Whenever I see her notes, it brings back memories from my childhood and reminds me of all the fun and work we put into our baking. It surprises me sometimes how many people I come across that don’t cook let alone bake!

Most of the cookies I bake are so quick and easy, so I rarely pull out the stand mixer. With meringues or any recipe where you need to add ingredients gradually, or they may take some time to whip or mix before they are ready, the stand mixer is very helpful. I was envious when I was watching an episode of Hidden Potential with Jasmine Roth on HGTV, when she designed a kitchen island that had hidden pop-up storage for the owner’s stand mixer. She even created a slim kick-plate drawer at the base of the island, usually never used for any storage of any kind, which could accommodate all her cookie sheets, muffin tins and sheet pans! But I digress, back to the recipe!

Stiff meringues

For meringues, you need to make sure that you whip the egg whites into a very stiff peak, regardless if you use a stand or hand mixer. Basically, if you would feel safe holding the bowl over your head and nothing would fall out, they are still enough to make a meringue cookie, but if you over whip they can deflate. The correct amount of Cream of Tartar can make the difference between a stiff or soft meringue. The recipe calls for a pinch, but one person’s pinch may be different from another. If you are like me and prefer an actual amount to a vague instruction, a pinch can be anywhere from a sixteenth to an eighth of a teaspoon. I doubled the recipe and used four egg whites, so I used an eighth of a teaspoon and it worked out fine. If you don’t have Cream of Tartar, there are substitutes you can try, but it can alter the flavor.

The original recipe called for almonds, but the last nuts I had on hand were pecans. Since they do have a little more fat content in them than the almonds, so I decreased the total amount by a quarter of a cup. The ground nuts need to be gently folded into the meringue, so you don’t deflate the meringue at this point either.

Piped meringues

Scoop or pipe? You could do either as you prepare your cookie sheets for the oven, but personally I like the “kiss” shape of piping. On this occasion I went without a decorative tip, because when piping a mixture containing nuts, they can sometimes clog the tip. If you want the perfect kiss shape, hold the piping bag over and gently squeeze until you achieve the diameter needed and pull up so you get the swish on top. You can also the meringue as if you are frosting a cupcake. If you do decide to use a decorative tip, make sure the opening is wide enough to accommodate the nuts.

When baking a meringue, you need to be very careful of over and under baking. Martha Stewart has some great advise on working with meringues. These cookies will bake a little bit differently than a plain meringue cookie. They will spread slightly, so you need to allow for this as you pipe. On a 15 x 10 cookie sheet, I was able to fit fifteen cookies. Start with a baking time of 10 minutes, then check for to see if the cookie will easily lift from the parchment paper. Mine took an extra 5 minutes, for a total baking time of 15 minutes. Because of the cinnamon and nuts, the meringue will not be a stark white, so be careful that you don’t over bake them.

The one thing I love about this meringue, is that it isn’t overly sweet, as they can sometime be. Store them in an airtight container, so the moisture in the air will not soften this crispy and chewy treat. Enjoy!

Julie Dannenbaum's Spicy Nut Meringues

  • Servings: approx. 6 dozen
  • Difficulty: medium
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Credit: Ladies’ Home Journal – The Cookie Book ’81, and Julie Dannenbaum’s Fast & Fresh published by Harper & Row

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 3/4 cups finely ground pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
  3. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon until well mixed.
  5. Gradually add sugar mixture to egg whites and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
  6. Gently fold in ground pecans.
  7. Pipe meringue mixture onto parchment paper, leaving about an inch between cookies. If you are scooping, you can use a melon baller or a round tablespoon measure.
  8. Bake 10 minutes and then begin to check the cookie to see if it will lift easily from the parchment. They should only be slightly brown.
  9. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Variations

  1. Replace cinnamon with nutmeg or pumpkin spice.
  2. Replace pecans with almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts.
  3. Replace spices with vanilla or citrus flavor. The addition of a liquid may require you to add a little bit more cream of tartar in the meringue to form a firm peak.