Based on Jean Anderson’s Almond-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.
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.
Based on Elizabeth Schneider Colchie’s Spicy Cut-Outs
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!
flavorings (water or alcohol based only), as desired
gel food colors, if desired
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat butter until fluffy.
Gradually add in brown sugar.
Add molasses and granulated sugar and beat.
Add egg and beat well.
Gradually add in half the flour mixture and mix at lowest speed.
Add in remaining flour mixture and mix at low speed until fully incorporated.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 1 to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Divide dough into quarters, returning 3/4 of the dough back to the refrigerator.
Roll dough between two floured sheets of parchment paper to desired thickness.
Cut dough with cookie cutters and place on parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets.
Brush dough with milk before putting in oven.
Bake 8 – 10 minutes until edges just begin to brown.
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.
Let cookies cool completely before icing.
For Royal Icing – In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat together meringue powder and water.
Add sifted confectioners sugar until all sugar is incorporated and stiff peaks form, about 7 – 10 minutes.
Let sit for 15 – 30 minutes until air bubbles rise.
Stir top to break air bubbles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once cookies are flooded, allow to dry for 8 – 10 hours before applying additional decorations with the remaining icing.
Allow icing to dry for 24 hours before boxing or shipping.
Add fresh ginger and candied ginger to recipe to make these triple gingerbread cookies.
If you prefer a cookie with less spice, you can halve the spices.
Add lemon or orange zest to the cookie dough.
Use Cointreau instead of water in the Royal Icing.
Use a fan to speed up the drying of each layer of icing.
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.
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.
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
Based on “Blackwood Hall Muffins” by Carolyn Keene
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.”
“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.
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.
Based on “Rum Raisin Bread Pudding” by The Neelys on Down Home with the Neelys
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Maraschino Cherries or Black Cherries for decoration (optional)
Shaved Dark Chocolate for decoration (optional)
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
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sift then measure flour. Add cocoa and salt to flour, then sift over egg mixture. Fold gently, but thoroughly. Add vanilla and blend.
Line cupcake tins with wrappers. Fill each about halfway. Bake 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
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.
With a serrated knife, cut and scoop out a hole in the center of each for the filling.
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.
For the Frosting: In a cold bowl, add the marscapone cheese and the confectioners sugar. Whip until well combined.
Add vanilla extract, Kirschwasser and heavy cream. Mix on low until combined, then whip on high until stiff peaks form and hold.
Pipe onto cooled and filled cupcakes. Shave or grate dark chocolate over frosted cupcakes. Top with a Maraschino cherry or Dark Cherry and serve.
Replace Kirschwasser with Chambord (raspberry liqueur), or for a non-alcoholic version use baking Kirsch or cherry syrup.
If you are allergic to cherries, try using raspberries instead; however, the seeds may be off-putting to some.
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.
Drain the cherries and mix with a portion of the frosting and use this mixture as the filling instead.
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
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!
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.
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!
Based on recipes from The Czechoslovak Cookbook by Joza Břízová
There are so many versions of this cookie or pastry, because it can actually be both. Growing up, my mother had two versions, one that was like a thumbprint cookie and was crumbly, while the other version was rolled out and tasted more like dough for a danish pastry. Since then, I have come across recipes that include yeast, hard boiled egg yolks, cream cheese, ice cream and chocolate.
This is one Bohemian recipe that caught on in the United States when the Czechs immigrated. It is extremely popular in the Midwest, because that is where most of the newcomers settled. I was surprised when I moved to California and would bring in Czech recipes to work, no one had ever heard of them, yet everyone had heard of the Koláčky, even though they didn’t know from where it originated.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room…prunes. Koláčky are usually filled with a variety of jams or pie fillings, poppy seeds or cream cheese. This is one reason they are usually compared to a Danish. Growing up, my mother used Bohemian Kitchen Pie Filling, whereas my grandmother preferred Solo. We use to use apricot, pineapple, cheese, rasperry, and yes…prune. I wasn’t a big fan of the prune as a kid, but as I got older, I actually began to like it. I couldn’t find either when I moved to California. Unfortunately, Bohemian Kitchen no longer exists, but you can still buy Solo on Amazon. Since I wasn’t a fan of the Solo brand, I actually found Simon Fischer Prune Butter.
The problem I think most people have with prunes is that it is a very heavy flavor. People like plums, but they don’t like prunes. Even though I had finally learned to like prunes, I still only used this prune butter once a year when I made Koláčky and I was wondering if there was some way of improving the flavor. When I was looking through The Czechoslovak Cookbook, I found that they had actually included a recipe for a prune butter filling. Rather than just opening a jar of jam and spooning a teaspoon onto the cookie, I decided to try this recipe also. You can make your own prune butter from scratch, or you can start with a jar of store prune butter as I did. The recipe called for lemon or orange zest, but I used lime zest instead. You also add cinnamon and rum, and it tasted wonderful. It had a brightness to it that it usually doesn’t have. Now for the cookie.
I have always been partial to my mother’s thumbprint recipe, but I decided to break the habit and try a recipe I had not made before. Now the original recipe was actually for a cocoa ball (Kakaové Dulkové Koláčky), but since I had decided to go with such a strong flavor for the fruit filling, I decided not to flavor the dough with the cocoa powder. Also, most Czech baking calls for lard. Lard will give you a very flaky pastry, but you can substitute vegetable shortening instead and it will be just as flaky.
One of the difficulties with this dough is that even with the amount of lard or shortening, the dough is very dry and can be very difficult to work with. When you form the ball of dough, the recipe suggests using the end of a wooden spoon to make the indentation in the middle of the cookie. When I usually make my mother’s recipe, I use the end of my mortar, dipping it in water in between. I tried to do the same with this recipe, but the dough is very fragile, so after scooping it, I found that I had to squeeze it a bit to form the ball. I decided that it would just be easier to just press my finger into the ball at the time I was compressing the dough in my hand. Of course, that does mean that all the cookies aren’t going to come out looking perfect. Embrace the imperfection, because it doesn’t have to look perfect to taste good!
Surprisingly, this cookie is baked for 20 to 30 minutes. At first, I thought I had misread the instructions, but I hadn’t. It is baked low and slow, like barbecue, at 275 degrees. Like other cookies, you just want to make sure that you take them out when they just start to brown on the bottom.
I hope you try this. Don’t be scared off by the prunes!
Koláčky se Povidlová Nádivka (Cookies with Prune Butter Filling)
Originally published in The Collector’s Cookbook Woman’s Day December 1976
During my isolation, I have been baking for myself, but recently I was finally able to bake something for a friend of mine. Whenever I ask her what she would like me to bring into work, “Chocolate, anything chocolate,” are the first words out of her mouth. I searched through my recipes and decided to bake her some cookies, in part because I didn’t have any containers large enough to bake either a cake or cupcakes for her.
Way back in December 1976, my mother pulled this four-page insert TheCollector’s Cookbook, Holiday Cookies and Candies from Woman’s Day Magazine. Of the 29 recipes, my family had only tried 4 of them, and of those 4 we only continued to make one of the recipes! So besides all the cookbooks I have bought, I also want to try all the recipes in this mini-collection.
The refrigerator cookie differs from most cookies in their thickness. They are usually formed into a roll and refrigerated for at least 24 hours. You can also prepare the recipe in advance and freeze it until you need it, but make sure you thaw it enough so you can slice through it. The dough is then sliced very thinly, about 3/16 inch thick. Yes, you will need to bring out your ruler for this! This gives a very crisp cookie. Personally, I am a fan of crisp cookies; however, most people prefer a softer texture. If you choose to cut your cookies thicker as I did, the yield of the recipe will be halved. The original recipe suggests a yield of 72 cookies, but since I chose to slice them thicker my yield was only 46. Refrigerator cookies or “icebox cookies” also hold their shape very well and do not spread very much when baking.
Once you form the two logs of dough, you roll it in chopped walnuts. As I usually suggest, use what nuts you have on hand or the nuts you prefer. In this case, I used a combination of walnuts and pecans. As you can see, my dough cracked a bit after refrigeration. Don’t worry if this happens to you. You can use this as one of your slices and then smooth out the edges afterwards. I did find that after the cookies were baked that the nuts fell off very easily, so I might suggest next time using an egg white wash on the dough prior to rolling it in the nuts, or you could just incorporate the nuts into the cookie itself.
Once the cookies are baked and cooled completely, the recipe calls for you to frost with sweet cooking chocolate. I’m not sure where Woman’s Day got that term, because I have never seen anything called cooking chocolate. Baker’s Chocolate, yes; however, it’s anything but sweet. I decided to do both dark chocolate (for me) and semi-sweet chocolate (for my friend). You can either melt down the chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave or you can make a ganache by heating the chocolate with cream in a double boiler until just melted, which will give you a little smoother consistency to the chocolate. One discrepancy I found in the recipe is that it states that you should wait for the chocolate to harden. Unless you temper your chocolate, it is not going to harden completely. Because tempering chocolate is very time consuming and you need to work really fast, you can also use coating chocolate. Coating chocolate is simply 2 cups of chocolate melted with 2 teaspoons of shortening. I haven’t tried either tempering or coating chocolate, but even though they both need to be kept between certain temperatures, I think the coating chocolate a good alternative to tempering.
I hope both she and you enjoy them as much as I did.
After completing my Hot Chocolate Bourbon Balls and boxing them up until they were ready to eat, I rummaged through my refrigerator to see what I needed to be used before I had to throw it away. I found that I had seven apricots that were showing signs of becoming overripe and five eggs that were past their expiration date.
When I was a child, we adhered to the expiration dates on food. If it was May 25th and the expiry date read May 24th, into the trash the food went. For most of my life, I have strictly followed this policy; however, I ran across a chart in Prevention Magazine that would actually help me save money by listing how far past the expiry dates food is usually good for.
My eggs were slightly past the four week mark, so I decided to also use the water test. Fill a tall glass or bowl with cold water and place the egg on it’s side in the water. If the egg sinks to the bottom, it’s still good. If it flips on one end and floats to the top, you should discard them. Thankfully, my five eggs were still good, but I wanted to make sure I used them within the next day or so.
I had gotten a pop-up from the Food Network Kitchen with an ad for a cherry cobbler, but when I clicked on it, I was redirected to a list of cherry recipes. I quickly scanned through them looking for something I could use most of my eggs on and came across the Cherry Clafoutis.
What is a Clafoutis? Well, as you might expect, it is a French dessert. Some described it as a custard or flan, while others described it as a crepe, which traditionally also has dark red cherries and is dusted with powdered sugar. Unlike a flan or custard, the batter contains flour, so personally I wouldn’t classify it as a custard. I decided to give it a try, simply for the reason that the recipe called for three of my five eggs.
I only had seven apricots, which would not come close to the 2 cups of fruit that the recipe called for, so I decided to combine apricots with the cherries to make up the difference. I chose to leave the skin on the apricots, but you can peel them if you wish. According to Wikipedia, if fruit other than cherries are used in a clafoutis, it is then called a flaugnarde.
I discovered I also did not have the half and half or cottage cheese that was called for, so I decided to use Greek Yogurt, milk and heavy cream instead. I was surprised to see that this recipe did not call for any vanilla extract or any other type of added flavoring for the batter, so I decided to add some Cherry Bitters to give a little extra flavor.
Most Clafoutis are baked in a round or oval pie pan or the traditional cast iron pan, but I opted for a 13 x 9 rectangular glass baking dish. This was simply for convenience sake. It’s easier to store leftovers in the refrigerator when you use a square or rectangular dish.
When comparing similar recipes, I noticed that some instructed you to heat the pie dish or cast iron pan in the oven with butter, and I realized that the recipe was actually somewhat reminiscent of a Dutch Baby Pancake. I decided to go with the instructions of the original recipe and greased the baking dish, arranging the fruit in the bottom.
Pour the mixture over the fruit and bake for about 40 minutes. If you select a smaller baking dish, you will need to adjust the baking time to account for the increased depth of the batter. As it bakes it will rise and become crispy and brown on the edges, while the center does have a somewhat custard or flan-like texture. Once the Clafoutis is removed from the oven and begins to cool, the puffed up center will fall, just like a souffle. It is usually served lukewarm and dusted with powdered sugar.
While this is classified as a dessert by the French, I believe that this could also be served for breakfast or brunch, since it is not overly sweet. Like the Dutch Baby, you could also serve it with a wedge of lemon or a bit of lemon zest in addition to the powdered sugar to bring a little brightness to the recipe.
Credit: Based on an Original Recipe from The Food Network Kitchen
2 tbl plant butter thinly sliced, plus additional to grease the baking dish
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted
7 apricots, halved and pitted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tbl heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tbl 2% milk
1 tbl Cherry bitters
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbl granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with butter.
Spread cherries and apricots, cut side up, evenly into the bottom of the baking dish.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, heavy cream, bitters, Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in a bowl until well combined and slightly frothy. Whisk in flour until combined.
Pour batter over fruit, sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and scatter sliced butter on top.
Bake 40 minutes or until puffed and golden around the edges. Shake the pan slightly to make sure that the center is not still liquid. If there is only a slight jiggle in the center, it’s okay. It will firm up as it cools.
Cool until lukewarm and dust with powdered sugar.
Replace the bitters with Kirsch (cherry brandy), or something that pairs well with the fruit you have chosen.
Replace Greek yogurt with ricotta cheese.
Replace cherries or apricots with fresh seasonal fruit, such as blueberries or plums. If you decide to use canned or frozen berries, thaw, rinse and dry prior to adding the batter; otherwise, the excess water will affect the cooking time and consistency.
If you are serving it for breakfast, try serving it warm and topping it with a small pat of butter and a little bit of maple syrup.