Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake

Caramel Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake
Lately, I find myself wandering through the house, doing chores, taking care of the little people and cooking and I think, “I should be doing something more.”  And not more in the sense of extra stuff, but more…grand? Important? I am not sure.  I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on just what it is I’m feeling.  I think I remember this feeling from when Olive was a baby.  There’s a certain amount of monotony to taking care of a baby in that first year.  Every day it’s the same feedings, the same breakfasts, the same play time, the same nap schedules, the same dinners, the same bedtime routines, etc.  It’s all the same thing, every day, for months.  And when they get a bit older, you can start shaking up the routine because they don’t have to eat and sleep every 3 hours.  But for a few months, there’s a bit of a Groundhog Day effect and I have felt it even more in the winter as we’re cooped up from the cold.

Each morning I pray that God will show me what needs to be done in His kingdom.  Who needs served?  Who needs a kind word or an encouragement? Who needs a meal or maybe even just a smile in the store?  I believe, although I don’t follow through with this belief far enough, that seeking God’s kingdom FIRST, really will cause everything else in my life “to be added to me.”  I get it so backwards.  I become so self-seeking.  How can my children or my husband make ME happy today?  When I seek God’s way of serving others first, I immediately feel content.  Enough.  Important. Working for self and for the approval of others is a bottomless well. It will never be filled and neither will I.  But flip the equation around and see to it that others’ bowls are filled before my own and God will see to it that my cup is running over.  It’s not always going to look like material wealth and health, but more importantly, it will start to look like real joy – from the inside out.

This cranberry cake was made for a few sweet ladies at a ministry our church helps out with from time to time called Family Promise. It’s a program that helps families who find themselves on the brink of homelessness to live and save up their income for rent while they live in the Family Promise house.  Our church volunteers to help a couple times a year by bringing dinners, having activities for the children and staying overnight. Last week was our week to serve so Matt and I signed up to take a meal and hang out with the families for a while after we ate.  There were two single mothers with infants and one single mother with a sweet, twelve year old girl living there, whom we’d met before and were so happy to see them, again.  We brought take-out from our favorite Hawaiian BBQ joint (I didn’t get my homemade meal-act together this time) and I brought this cranberry upside down cake.  We ate and watched TV together and played and I felt blessed by them.  We just brought the food – they brought perspective and showed us real joy – from the inside out.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake with Orange Zest Upside Down Cranberry Orange Cake

 

Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake

For the fruit layer:
8 oz frozen cranberries
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
zest from 1 orange

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sour cream (or Greek plain yogurt)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  I like to do this to ensure all the fruit filling comes off the pan.

Pour the cranberries on top of the parchment paper and sprinkle with orange zest.  In a medium-size sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the brown sugar, orange juice and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and boils gently.  Pour the mixture over the cranberries in the pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium until well blended.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla and almond until combined.  With the mixer on low, mix half the dry ingredients into the batter until just combined.  Mix in the sour cream and then the remaining dry ingredients until just combined (in other words, don’t over-mix).

Scoop the batter into the pan (it will be thick) and then spread it around evenly with a spatula.  Place cake pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch drips.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake and invert onto a serving plate.  Serve warm.

*recipe adapted from the Bonne Femme Cookbook’s recipe for Pear Cake Reverse

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Chewy Molasses Cookies

Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies Ginger Molasses Cookies
These cookies are like the feeling you get when you step out into a sunbeam with your bare feet and feel the warmth coming off the floor. You were previously a little cold and uncomfortable and now you’re warm and happy.  All that, my friends, in a cookie.  I made these a couple weeks ago when friends were coming to visit.  Paired with coffee and with the help of a red headed jabber-mouth, we had a very lovely afternoon together.  And because there was company, the redhead got three cookies before lunch.  So interesting how she didn’t want to eat her lunch that day…

There will be two original ideas from these cookies coming to you in time for Valentine’s Day.  The base recipe is from The New Best Recipe cookbook and like everything in that cookbook, it’s flawless.  Enjoy and make sure you have a friend over to help you enjoy them.

Ginger Cookies

Chewy Molasses Cookies

11 1/4 ounces (2 1/4 cups) all purpose flour (use Gold Medal – it has lower protein than most which will make a softer cookie)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened (12 tablespoons)
1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup light or dark molasses

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick spray.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, pepper, and salt in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined; set aside.

Beat the butter with the brown sugar and the 1/3 cup granulated sugar at medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the yolk and vanilla; increase the speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds.  Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the molasses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go.  Reduce the speed to the lowest setting and add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.  The dough will be very soft.

With a tablespoon measure, scoop out the dough and with wet hands, roll the dough into balls, then roll in the granulated sugar.  Place on the baking sheet 2 inches apart.  Bake until the cookies are browned and still puffy, the edges have begun to set, and the centers are still soft (the cookies will look raw between the cracks), about 11 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back halfway through baking time.  Don’t overbake!

Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then let them cool on a wire rack to room temp.  Eat post haste.  

Cherry Almond Scones

Cherry Almond Scones with butter

Dear goodness, I love a good scone.  Some people think they are too dry or would prefer a muffin, instead.  Cake is cake so there’s really no comparing it with a muffin.  Scones are meant to be enjoyed warm, with a sliver of cold butter and a hot cup of coffee or tea.  How very English.  Their merit of being on the verge of dry is that they pair well with butter and a warm drink.  And like their fluffy muffin-cousins, the varieties are endless.  I love a savory scone with cheddar and onion just as much as a sweet variety.  These particular scones have a magical pairing – almond and cherries!  I bought some hippie soap this weekend with that combination and I didn’t intend to buy soap if I hadn’t smelled it, but there it was, cherry almond soap, screaming, “I’M SO COMFORTING!  INHALE ME WHILE YOU DRIVE HOME!”  And so I did.  And it was a really great car ride.

When I received my copy of King Arthur Flour magazine, one of the first scone mixes inside was cherry almond.  I knew I had to make these on my own, instead of waiting on a mix to arrive on my doorstep.  So, I looked up the nearest recipe online and adapted it to be more almondy (there really is never enough almond-flavored things in the world) and got to baking!  They turned out soft on the inside and crispy on the outside – perfect!  I want to make them again, soon, and figure out a way to make them a little more cherry, too.  Perhaps a swirl of homemade cherry preserves in the dough!  They’re really great as is, though – just don’t forget the (real) butter!

Happy Beginning of the Week!

Cherry Almond Scones with Vanilla Bean

Cherry Almond Scones*
makes 8-10 scones, depending on the cut

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into pea size pieces
1 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/2 cup milk with a tsp of vanilla and a tsp of almond extract mixed in!

In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add in the butter and rub with your fingers into the dry ingredients until a coarse meal forms. Add in the cherries and almonds. Add the milk and extracts and combine it into the butter flour mixture.

Form the dough into a 1-inch thick disk and cut it into 8 rounds with a biscuit cutter (You can really cut them however you like.)  Transfer the scones to a greased cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 17 to 18 minutes, turning the pan halfway through.

*Adapted from Anne Burrell

Cooking on the Road

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They made up their minds, and they started packing.
They left before the sun came up that day.
An exit to eternal summer slacking,
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?

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I think we might be crazy.  But we’ve made up our minds to drive from here to Seattle in an RV with some really good friends, good music, and good food.  We’re bringing the coffee maker, some good quality beans and our guitars, so I think we may survive. 🙂  We have  friends who live in Seattle, and so we decided to make the trip part of the vacation.  In preparation for a few days on the road, I decided to get to baking.  No one likes to decide what to have for breakfast, so I took it upon myself to make it a no-brainer.  I consulted Annie’s Eats, of course, because that woman knows how to prepare for anything.  She has a wonderful selection of baked goods on her blog, and when I grow up, I want to be just like her.  (I may be older but that’s not the issue, here.)

I chose from her blog, the peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins,(they looked so great but I refrained from taste-testing) the chocolate cherry muffins and the bacon and cheddar scones.  We were forced to taste-test the chocolate muffins because they looked too chocolately for their own good and so what else were we going to do?  Leave it to chance?!  They can hardly be called muffins, in my opinion.  They are nearly flourless chocolate cakes, but just enough flour to make them decadent brownies.  In fact, next time I want to make brownies, I’m using this recipe.  So they might be more for snack time instead of breakfast.

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Chocolate Cherry Muffins*
(I doubled the recipe and it turned out great)

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped if desired

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 350º F. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups or grease wells.

In a small heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a small saucepan and melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth and blended. Let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar and vanilla until light in color and doubled in volume. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and then the flour mixture just until combined. Stir in the dried cherries. Divide the batter evenly among the wells of the prepared pan and smooth the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes.

Makes 7-8 muffins.

*didn’t adapt this at all from Annie’s Eats, except for doubling it and using half dark chocolate, half milk because that’s what I had on hand!

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The scones I prepared up until baking and just froze them raw.  Then, I will put them in that tiny RV oven and add a few minutes on to baking time and we will have an amazing breakfast heading down the road!  I can’t wait for our adventure and I can’t wait for all the amazing food we will try and the sites we’ll see and the memories we will make.  And with any luck, we’ll all still like each other when we get home.  🙂  I’ll be sure and take lots of REAL, non-iPhone pictures and have a few posts about our gastronomical adventures when I return.

Bacon Cheddar Scones*
makes 8-10

For the scones:
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. ground black pepper (depending on your preference)
8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk (plus up to ½ cup extra, if needed)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
2 tbsp. water

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper; mix briefly to combine.  Add the cubes of butter and mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter pieces are about the size of small peas.  (Alternatively, this can be done in a regular mixing bowl, using a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.)  Add in the grated cheese and mix just until incorporated.

Mix in the green onions, bacon, and 1 cup of the buttermilk into the flour-butter mixture.  Stir by hand just until all the ingredients are incorporated.  If the dough is too dry to come together, mix in the remaining buttermilk a tablespoon or two at a time until the dough can be formed into a ball.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into an 8-inch disk.  Cut with a 3″ biscuit cutter into 12 circles, place on a greased cookie sheet, wrap in plastic and freeze till ready to eat.  Before baking, remove from freezer, brush with egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

*slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

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Apricot Pine Nut Cakelettes

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I used to have a huge apricot tree in my front yard.  It was so wonderful throughout the seasons to see the blossoms appear in spring and the fruit appear around June and the leaves turn shockingly golden in October.  It was one of my favorite things about our house and it introduced me to jamming and gave me a passion for it.  Because of that tree, I learned to make apricot preserves and the first two years we had fruit, I canned nearly 100 jars of apricot jam variants. Vietnamese Cinnamon, Chinese 5 Spice, Bourbon Brown Sugar, Rosemary, Vanilla Bean (the best version) and even Crushed Red Pepper Apricot!  I gave them away as gifts and really just reveled in the sudden surge of domestic satisfaction I was getting from the process of gathering, cleaning, cooking and canning a resource from my own yard.  I felt like such a good steward of those little golden gifts!

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To make a sweet story a bit sad, that tree fell victim to the terrible drought our area has been suffering the past three years.  The second year into the drought, the fruit on our tree was tiny but packed with flavor.  It was the last year it would bear fruit.  We had to chop it down last summer and I will admit, I mourned the loss of that tree for months.  We’ve tried planting replacement apricot trees twice, now, and borers got the second one (and the first – it was a borer/drought combo) and the second replacement got hit by two late frosts and never recovered (although I won’t call it officially gone till next spring).

So maybe it’s not meant to be?  Maybe the lesson learned is to make good use of what you have while you have it.  Revel in the gifts you’re getting now, because soon, they may not be available to you.  If you have a fruit tree and don’t have time to make anything from it, first, call me and I’ll come pick up every piece from your yard (I know there’s no fruit on trees in this area, yet – still, the sentiment always applies) and second, if nothing else, just eat from it!

This recipe is a wonderful, easy recipe that can be used with fresh, canned or even dried apricots (or any fruit, really).  I used dried apricots that I reconstituted in a bit of water, first, because I couldn’t find canned, as the recipe called for.  They turned out wonderful and they lasted for a week!  The cake part is a wonderful cake recipe and one that I plan on using for other purposes in the future.  It calls for buttermilk, and I happily used some raw buttermilk from our local dairy, Pereira Pastures.  They are suffering from the drought too, and could use your support if you are from this area and feel like making a donation and getting some amazing milk in the process!

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Apricot Pine Nut Cakelettes*
makes six cakes

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
8.5 ounces apricot halves, sliced
1 1/3 cups AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter six 6-oz ramekins and place them on a baking sheet with a shallow rim.

Divide the pine nuts evenly among the ramekins.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat.  Add 1/4 cup brown sugar and the water and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the apricots and stir gently until coated.  Divide the apricots and syrup evenly among the cups.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the remaining 4 tbs butter, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and the granulated sugar on medium speed until well blended.  Beat in the egg and the vanilla until combined.  With the mixer on low speed, mix half of the dry ingredients into the batter until just combined.  Mix in the buttermilk until combined.  Mix in the remaining dry ingredients until combined.  Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins and smooth the tops.

Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes (mine took more like 45).  Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and cook for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the ramekins to loosen the cakes.  Invert the cakes onto individual dessert plates and serve warm with fresh whipped cream, or a drizzle of amber agave nectar, like I’m currently obsessed with.  🙂

* recipe from the Bonne Femme Cookbook!

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The Creme Brulee of Lemon Bars

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I’ve stuck to this recipe for a few years now.  I love lemon desserts and my only complaint is that something claiming to be a lemon dessert isn’t ever lemony enough.  I want a ZINGER of a lemon shock.  I know this may cause several of you to stop reading, but given the choice between a GOOD lemon bar and a brownie, I’d choose the lemon bar.  Not every time.  Like I said, it’d have to be good.  Not too eggy, just enough curd, just enough crust, big time lemon flavor and another thing: don’t dust your lemon bars with confectioners’ sugar.  I’ll give you a few reasons:

1. Lemon bars usually have at least two cups of sugar.  So..there’s enough sugar.  Why would you dust something with more sugar that is already shockingly sweet? (I’m not complaining – lemon and sugar need each other)

2. I don’t like inhaling powdered sugar with each bite.  It kind of ruins the whole eating experience to have to hack on powder.

So that’s really only two reasons.  With the right recipe, you don’t need a dusting of sugar to cover up the weird, sometimes sticky top of a lemon bar.  This recipe is so wonderful because the top gets crunchy like a creme brulee.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I mix up the filling while the crust is baking, so by the time the crust is ready for the filling, the filling has sat and separated a bit.  I whip it up really good, too, so maybe it’s the airy texture?  Or maybe the key is to let them cool completely before cutting and don’t cover them up if you’re not serving them right away, lest the top get soft.  That way you get that good crunch on the top, the velvety curd in the middle and the buttery crumble of the crust all together.  This is adapted from Paula Deen’s recipe, and to me, it’s the perfect lemon bar recipe.  The only one you need.

Creme Brulee Lemon Bars

Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
2 tbs lemon zest (just zest the lemons you will use for the filling)
pinch of salt
2 sticks butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing

Filling
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease a 9x13x2″ pan.  Cover the bottom in parchment paper and let it hang off the sides (just along the long edge) so that you can remove it for cutting better.)
Make the crust by combining flour, confectioners’ sugar, zest and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter to make a crumbly mixture.  Press the mixture into the prepared pan.  You may need to dip your fingers into a little flour or confectioners’ sugar to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, mix the eggs, granulated sugar, flour, and lemon juice.  Pour this over the baked crust and bake for 25 minutes longer.  Don’t sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the bars, and then carefully, by the parchment overhang, lift the entire pan of bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board to cut.  I like to cut off the very edge of the bars so that each one will be perfectly smooth, cut, squared edges (obsessive) but that’s really up to you.  No one said you couldn’t eat the trimmings and no one would have to know they ever existed.