21 December 2014

Baking for Friends and Family

RvH's first selfie.

RvH loves home-baked goodies, so I always try to include a couple of treats at her birthday and at Christmas. Banana bread is a given, and lately giant M+M cookies, ever since she declared then her favorite.

I'm lucky enough to have the world's best banana bread recipe. The original came from one of those spiral-bound women's club cookbooks, where everyone includes their best time-honored recipes. This one came from a local doctor's wife--from when Crystal Lake was a small city and most everyone had some connection to everyone else. 
That all changed with the 1960s suburban migration, expressways, and the resultant housing boom. We moved to CL in 1975 just when that small northern Illinois city began to be referred to as suburban. 
Anyway, I digress...
(Helen Hillstrom, from the Crystal Lake Collection, 1987)

1/2 cup Butter
1-1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1 cup Bananas, mashed****
4 T. Sour milk* or fresh milk soured by adding 1 T. lemon juice to 1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 cups Flour
1 tsp. Lemon rind, grated**
1/2 cup Nuts, chopped***

What has always set-off this recipe from others is the addition of lemon zest. Who knew?! Over the years, I've incorporated a few changes from the original:
  1. Use sour cream rather than buttermilk*
  2. Increased the lemon zest from 1 tsp. to @ 2 tsps.**
  3. Toast the walnuts before adding to the batter***
  4. Dice, rather than mash the bananas **** 
  5. Butter and sugar the baking pan(s), rather than butter and flour


For the M+M cookies, I just use a standard recipe--Tollhouse works. This time I used the recipe from the Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips bag. 

My process is to add @ 1/2 cup of the Chocolate Chips to the raw dough, then scoop (@1/3 cup) the dough into 2" balls, and bake according to recipe.

These are 2" in diameter.

Just as soon as the cookies come out of the oven, I quickly press the M+Ms into cookies  Very quickly. Get someone to help you if you are doing more than just a few cookies at a time.

These cookies are @5" in diameter.

CA and my sister JL each enjoyed a sampling tonight. The rest of the cookie balls are frozen in a Hefty zip bag--some to be baked on Monday for the Fun Kids and the final 4-5 I'll bake on the day RvH and I meet to exchange gifts. 

Sometimes I give the frozen cookies as a gift,
along with baking instructions.

19 December 2014

The Fun Kids are Coming

The Cincinnati Fun Kids are pink dress,
and the two boys in blue shirts.

Monday is fast approaching. Yes!

When I was in Chicago today picking up JL from her appointment at Rush Presbyterian Hospital, we detoured north to Belmont so that I could pick up some beautiful Christmas cookies for the Cincinnati Fun Kids.

The pastries and baked good at Bittersweet are just beautiful, aren't they?

16 December 2014

Tarting-up a Favorite Family Recipe

Molasses Cookies with Creamy-Lemon Frosting

My years at Safety-Kleen brought me together with some wonderful home cooks and bakers. We regularly brought treats and exchanged recipes. This is one such recipe. The best part--other than the spicy molasses flavor--is that these cookies bake-up almost perfectly round, and crackle.

Years ago I bought some Carrs sandwich cookies which reminded me of this recipe. They had a lemon frosting in the middle. That was a light bulb moment. "My Molasses Cookies are much better than theirs and I can adapt my recipe." I use fresh lemon juice and zest with a regular powdered-sugar frosting, and these are to-die-for. And, you know this girl loves her some lemons!

[Mary King, Safety-Kleen]

3/4 Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Molasses
1 Egg
2 Cups Flour
2 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ground cloves
1/2 tsp. Ground ginger
1/2 tsp. Salt

1. Cream butter and sugar with mixer.
2. Add molasses and egg; beat well.
3. Whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt in separate bowl.
4. Gradually add to butter mixture.
5. When well blended, cover with plastic wrap and chill in frig at least one hour.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
7. Shape cookie dough into 1" balls; roll in sugar.
8. Bake on greased cookie sheets for 8 - 10 minutes, or until golden.
9. Cool 5 minutes; remove to wire racks; store in airtight container.

Light colored cookies--still wet on top--will be moist and chewy.
The darker the cookies, the crisper they become after cooling.
The flavor changes with the amount of baking time--always good!

14 December 2014

If Martha Can, So Can I

This has been my hair coloring inspiration for a couple of years now.

Martha embraces her grey! Gracefully. Yet, keeps it current with highlights. And so, this is how I roll now, too.
Martha's been consistent for quite awhile now and although she's quite a bit older (sorry, Martha) than I am, this works well for me. Saves me a colorist appointment or two each year. I get compliments.

More Martha...

13 December 2014

Baking and Candy Making with Jill

1 cup Butter
2-1/4 cup Light brown sugar
Dash Salt
1 cup Light Karo corn syrup
14 oz. Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
  1. Butter sides and bottom of 8" or 9" square pan
  2. Melt 1 cup butter in 3-qt. saucepan over medium to medium high heat
  3. Stir in sugar and salt
  4. Stir in corn syrup; gradually add Eagle Brand
  5. Mixture will be at rolling boil
  6. Continue to cook, stirring intermittently intil candy thermometer reaches 245*
My dear friend Jill of Jill Stone's Wild Ride really wanted to make Christmas cookies, so we set yesterday as the day. I assumed she'd want to make sugar cookie cut-outs, but this time she wanted me to choose. And since I've been gluten-free for over 4 months, I'm much more interested in making candies than cookies. I choose Fantastic Caramels (because they are), Mrs. Bates' Fudge, and Thumbprint cookies (because they are a favorite of CA, and I have not made them in 25 years. Truly. They are labor intensive--so many steps. And, mostly I don't like to make them because my fingers get all gunky.)
I am an administrator, by heart and by experience, so I suggested to Jill that we mix-up a double batch of the cookie dough and let it chill while we make the Caramels. One tip I remember from my Caramel-making days is that you can't over-stir the Caramel mixture as stirring cools the boil slightly, making it almost impossible to reach 245°. Jill is a hard-worker, both persistent and patient, so she takes on the Caramel stirring.
In the meanwhile I chop walnuts and whip up some frosting. While the cookies are technically Jam Thumbprints, CA's mom always filled the little wells with colored frosting. CA is a traditionalist, and since we're making these cookies for his dining pleasure he gets them just the way he likes them. 
(And after 6+ weeks of tending my abscess wound, he deserves anything he desires!)
When the Caramels reach 245°, we pour them into a very square 8"x8" well-buttered pan, and set that on a wire rack to cool.

Better Homes and Gardens c.1969
2/3 cup Butter
1/3 cup Sugar
2 Egg yolks (reserve egg whites)
1tsp. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. Salt
1-1/2 cups Flour
3/4 cups walnuts, finely chopped
  1. Cream together butter and sugar
  2. Mix in egg yolks, vanilla, and salt
  3. Gradually add flour, mixing well
  4. Chill at least one hour
  5. Shape dough into 3/4" balls
  6. Dip cookie dough balls in slightly-whipped egg whites
  7. Roll in finely-chopped walnuts
  8. Place 1" apart on greased cookie sheet
  9. Use finger to make indentation in center of each cookie
  10. Bake at 350° for 15-17 minutes 
  11. You may have to re-press the indentation
  12. Cool completely
  13. Place a dollop of colored frosting in center of each cookie
  14. Enjoy!

Guess what? My fingers do not get gunky! Because, as I form the buttery dough into balls, Jill dips them into the slightly-beaten egg whites and rolls them in the walnuts. Beautiful!
Just as we finish baking the cookies the Caramels are ready to cut and wrap. I cut; Jill wraps. Actually, we wrap Jill's in 4"-square parchment papers and I put mine into tiny fluted candy papers.
In accordance with Jill's time-tested Wild Ride (see link above), she has other places to go; people to see. But, I'm determined that she have a batch of Mrs. Bates' Fudge, and she's interested in learning a simple and creamily-delicious recipe. 
I take the helm for this one, and Jill looks over my shoulder while continuing to clean-up our baking mess. Bless her. The only tricky part of this recipe is knowing when to pour the bubbling mixture into the buttered pan. The recipe intimates that one will intuit the precise moment--"when the sheen is just off" or something close to that. All I can really add is that experience is the best teacher. I know: Yadda, yadda... But, one does learn from failure. And, this stuff still tastes great no matter if it's hard or runny. Runny is best because then you just call it fudge sauce
A couple of additional tips: 1) you cannot double this recipe, 2) you must cut it before it's completely cool, then re-cut when cool, 3) I find my square 5"x5" pan is the perfect mold, but that size is almost impossible to find. Mine came from E. Dehillerin in Paris. 

A happy day for both Jill and I. 
We will need a batch of the Fudge for home consumption, and I want to try a batch of Peanut Butter Fudge. There's lots of frosting left for Molasses Sandwich Cookies (lemon frosting), and I've promised RvH Banana Bread and a few giant M+M cookies...