Sunday, January 27, 2013

Buttermilk Spice Cake

I'm really getting in the wayback machine for this one. It's always been one of my favorite recipes from Maida Heatter when she reigned supreme as the queen of desserts. Truthfully her exacting recipes sometimes gave me a headache, but there's no denying she knew her stuff and shared a wealth of baking knowledge with a new generation of young pastry lovers. 

Buttermilk spice cake with vanilla butter glaze- just saying the name makes me happy. It's simple like a pound cake but the lemon rind, spices and brown sugar warm up the flavor and make it a special comfort on these cold, snowy days we're having. Perfect for munching while you're perusing seed catalogs like Wild Garden or Landreth. It's not a fussy cake to make or eat, the kind of treat you can eat with your hands. Your only dilemma will be do you eat the bottom first where all the raisins came to rest; or the top, with it's velvety vanilla butter coating? I alternate, starting and ending with the top.

I've made this just as many times with buttermilk as with the milk and lemon juice substitution and both versions are wonderful. On the other hand, there's something authentic and  old school about buttermilk and I feel like if we don't use it it's going to be harder and harder to find. That being said, and in the interest of full disclosure, I went with the milk, 2% actually, and lemon juice this time out.

buttermilk spice cake

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperture
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk (or one cup warm milk and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)
3/4 cup raisins, plumped in 1 cup boiling water and drained

vanilla butter glaze

4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bundt pan. Cream the butter and sugars in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices in a medium bowl and whisk to distribute the leavening and spices.  Add the lemon rind to the buttermilk.

Add the flour and buttermilk alternately to the creamed butter and sugar mixture starting and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition and scrap the bowl and beaters as needed to make sure everything is mixed well. Lastly add the raisins and mix just to combine.

Pour into prepared bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Turn the cake out of the pan and cool completely before glazing.

For the glaze, melt butter in a medium pot. (I resisted the temptation to get it too brown so I took it off the heat as soon as it came to a boil.) Whisk in the sugar, vanilla extract and milk and beat until smooth. Pour over cooled cake.  Makes 12 to 16 servings. Wrap up uneaten portion and store at room temperature for a day or in the fridge for 3 days.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cherry Ricotta Scones

Around the holidays I made a lot of cookies, maybe you've heard. No matter. One cookie I made, but didn't post was ricotta cookies. A friend from work hipped me to this cookie when she brought some in one day and they were fantabulous. She gave me the recipe, which I promptly lost. So I checked a bunch of them out on line and came away with a decent version that I hope to post in the future. Anywho, I'm only mentioning this because it got me thinking. If ricotta is good in a cookie, how 'bout a scone?

I've been carrying this scone recipe around for quit a while since It was introduced to me by a former boss. It's the same one I used in this delightful adaptation. The great thing about these scones, they have a long shelf life. Normally the shelf life of a scone is about 20 minutes. After that your scone turns into a stone. Another thing, allowing for minor modifications, you can put anything you can think of in the batter (and believe me I have): raisins, currants, chocolate chips, nuts, pineapple, coconut, poppy seeds, blueberries, dried cranberries, apples, onion & bacon, lemon rind, orange rind, candied ginger, cinnamon chips (my personal favorite!) and well, like I said, basically anything you can think of.

This time around, in addition to switching out ricotta for heavy cream, I'm adding dried cherries and white chocolate. And making them heart shaped. Isn't everything better when it's heart shaped? Besides, it's not too early to start thinking about Valentine's Day, so naturally (or unnaturally considering what's in food coloring) I gave them a cute pink glaze!  

ricotta scones

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut in to small pieces
1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped white chocolate
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the glaze

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 smidgen red or pink food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the cherries and white chocolate. 

In another bowl whisk together the egg, ricotta cheese and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out until it's about 5/8 inch thick. Using a medium (or small) heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many scones as you can and repeat with any dough left over. 

Place scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned (yes, that is my new confection oven in the picture, thanks for asking). Transfer to a rack to cool.

For the glaze, whisk milk into confectioners sugar until smooth. Add food coloring and blend well. Spread on top of cooled scones. Makes 10 to 12 medium or 16 to 20 small scones.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Babka Brioche

My first job as a culinary professional (and I use that term loosely) was as the breakfast baker at a trendy Center City eatery. I was green, raw green, but I was promised that I'd be given training and as long as I could show up there every morning at 6 AM everything was going to be fine (and I did and it was).

I'll never forget my first day. I met Vince outside the restaurant at 6 AM and he didn't stop talking until I left around 2:30. It was a ton of information to absorb but I managed to keep up. The first thing Vince had me do was form the brioche and get them proofing so they'd be ready to go when the restaurant opened at 8. I had never heard of brioche before. But I paid attention to Vince and soon I was twisting off lumps of dough and forming them into balls and making smaller balls to go on top. Once in a while one of the tops would pop out in the oven and we couldn't sell it so we got to eat it. Yes, I was only making minimum wage but sometimes I got to have brioche for breakfast! And as anyone who's had brioche for breakfast can tell you- it is the best thing you can have for breakfast on this planet. 

All this was brought back to me when I found out about Sourdough Surprises January challenge, make sourdough brioche and then make a babka with the dough. Now there's a reason brioche is the best thing you can have for breakfast. It's a yeast dough made with eggs, butter and milk. It's bread with a pedigree, with breeding. Yes, eggs and butter and milk and yet it's light. How does that happen?

Well, it doesn't just happen. Brioche is as much about the method as it is about the ingredients. So I was a little apprehensive going into this challenge. I'm still apprehensive because as much as I wanted to go straight up sour dough I found that I didn't have the confidence in my starter alone to do the job. Brioche is an investment in time and money and even though I think my starter is looking mighty healthy I really wanted to have something at the end of it all that had that light brioche quality.  So, I did a batch with just sourdough starter following this recipe (after converting it as best I could from grams) and adding a cinnamon and raisin filling and a crumb topping...

It was good, but a little dense.  If you like something you can really sink your teeth into, this is it.

And I also made a batch with a little yeast  and a cup of starter that I turned into a dozen broiche. They were, in my husband's own words "insanely good"!

babka broiche 


2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar 
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
3 eggs
1 cup starter (100% hydration)
1/2 cup warm milk 
1/2 cup soft butter
1 more egg for egg wash


1/2 cup soft butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon
7 ounces good dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup raisins

crumb topping

4 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the milk just until it's warm. Pour 2 tablespoons into a small bowl and stir in just a pinch of sugar and 1 teaspoon of yeast. Set aside to proof. Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer on low. Add starter, yeast and milk and mix on low until everything is combined.  Turn the speed up to medium and mix for around 5 minutes until the dough begins to get smooth. 

Add the butter into the dough on low speed a little bit at a time. Take your time and make sure the butter is incorporated before you add the next bit. Once all the butter has been added turn the speed up to medium and mix for another 3 to 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and glossy. The dough will be somewhat sticky so use a spatula to turn it out into a large buttered bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. 

With any luck dough should have doubled in bulk over night. If not, let is sit out for another hour or so. In the mean time butter 12 brioche tins or you could use a muffin tin as well. Once the dough has doubled, turn it out on to a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a large rectangle, roughly 20" by 16".

Cover the dough with the soft butter up to about an inch on the far long side. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the butter, followed with chocolate pieces and raisins. Starting at the long side nearest you, roll the dough away from you. Tuck the uncovered long side on the bottom. Cut the roll in half, and cut each half in half again. Cut each portion into 3 equal rolls. Tuck each roll into the prepared tins, cover lightly with plastic warp and sit in a warm place to rise for about an hour.

While the brioche are rising make the crumb topping. Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add butter and mix with a fork until crumbly. Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crack that one egg into a small bowl, beat it lightly and use it to brush on top of the brioche. Top each with a couple of spoonfuls of crumb topping. Place brioche into the middle rack and bake for 20 minutes. Check the brioche, spin the tray to ensure even baking and bake for another 5 to 15 minutes or until the center of the brioche springs back when touched. 

Cool the broiche on a rack and remove from tins as soon as they can safely be handled. 

Friday, January 18, 2013


Please don't tell anybody about this post. I believe it's the only place this side of the Atlantic were you will find anything like these pastries and it be nice if we could keep it our little secret.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's a little background...

There was a time when I lived in Center City a half a block away from the cutest little French cafe called Le Conversation (say that with a French accent). It was the real deal with fussy little pastries like croissant, palmier and Milanese. I particularly remember the Milanese; all crunchy hazelnuts on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside with a rich, nutty, buttery flavor. These were my salad days but I always made sure to treat myself to a Milanese when I got the chance because it truly is the little things that keep you going.

Times being what they were, one day the cute little cafe was there and the next it was gone gone, and with it my precious Milanese. Let me tell you, short of a trip to Paris, Le Conversation was the only place to get them. Would I never again feast on those sweet, spongy delights? I was just getting into baking then and I doggedly looked high and low for a recipe, checking every cook book and magazine and asking everyone I knew. There was no Internet back than (I know, can you believe it?!) so I was SOL. It was like this recipe was classified information.

Fast forward a year and I found myself working in a trendy eatery with my new best friend and mentor Vince. Vince was (and still is) a talented baker and pastry chef and he was training me as the breakfast baker. I had by no means forgotten about my darling Milanese so naturally I asked him if he'd ever heard of them fully expecting to get the usual blank stare. His responsive was something like, "Yea, I'v heard of them, I used to make them all the time when I worked at Conversation." Whaaaaaaaa??!! Well, don't think I wasn't all over him like icing on a cake to get me that recipe. Of course he did and was even kind enough to convert it from grams! 

Milanese are baked in little fluted tins which is certainly part of their charm. Lacking the tins you could use muffin tins or mini muffin tins, just make sure to adjust for a difference in the baking time.

Oh, and remember, let's keep this on the down low.

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 cup ground, toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup egg whites
6 T melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour 6 large or 8 medium brioche tins and place them on a sheet pan (or you could also use a muffin tin). Combine sugar, ground toasted hazelnuts and flour in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl combine egg whites, melted butter and vanilla extract. 

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and whisk together just until combined. Do not over mix. Pour batter (it will be very thick and viscous) into prepared tins. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cakes are golden brown and spring back when touched in the center. 

When cool enough to handle remove from tins and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Milanese are best eaten fresh. Tightly wrap any uneaten portions and they'll stay tasty for a couple of days.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I'm a big fan of Indian food. I love the spices and the heat that goes into the dishes and I appreciate that a lot of the food is vegetarian. One of my favorite Indian snacks are samosas, the little fried tetrahedrons of potato and peas. I've been wanting to try my hand at making them for a while now and today was that day. 

I looked at a bunch of recipes before formulating my own spin on these delectables. Notably this and this. I switched the peas for edamame and used what spices I had on hand because I was fresh out of  garam masala. I also left out the green chilies because I have to be in the mood for green chilies and today was not that day. 

I was a bit apprehensive about deep frying these puppies and I was going to just pan fry them. I'm so glad I decided on deep frying. They weren't at all greasy and the dough puffed up in the most agreeable way!



1 + 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup ice cold water

In a large bowl combine flour and salt. Add oil and mix by hand until the oil is evenly dispersed in the flour. Slowly add the cold water, just enough until the dough forms. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes to get it smooth and elastic. Form a log roughly 1 1/2 inches by 5 or 6 inches. Wrap dough and let rest for half an hour.


3 or 4 fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion  
1/2 cup edamame
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for deep frying

In a medium pot boil whole potatoes until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, cool and cut into 1/2 cubes. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium high heat. Add onions, edamame, potatoes and all the spices. Cook for 5 minutes, if the mixture seems a little dry add a bit of water. Transfer filling to a bowl.

Cut the dough into six round disks. Working one at a time, roll each into a 6 inch circle. Cut the circle in half. Brush the round edges with a little water and bring them together to form a cone. Pinch the edges together. Fill the cone with the filling. Brush the open edges of the cone with water and fold it so that the seam is in the center. Pinch the edges together, you should now have that distinctive tetrahedron shape. If you pinch the top edge straight across (like I did for the fist 4 samosas I made) don't worry about, they'll fry up just fine anyway. Repeat for all of the dough. Keep the samosas covered as you go along so they don't dry out. 

Once all the samosas are made heat about an inch to an inch and a half of oil in a large skillet. Heat on high for about 3 or 4 minutes. Test that the dough is hot enough to fry by dropping a bit of it in the oil. Fry 4 at a time for 3 or 4 minutes on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel to drain. Makes 12 samosas.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steel Cut Oats

At the risk of seeming like a character on Protlandia I am about to blog about oatmeal. 

Hear me out. 

There's oatmeal and then there's oatmeal. There's "oatmeal" that comes in a packet to which you add boiling water or microwave, and then there's steel cut oats. There's mushy oatmeal that I wouldn't feed to a puppy, and then there's steel cut oats. There's bland oatmeal that makes cardboard seem appetizing, and then there's steel cut oats. 

Let's talk steel cut oats.  

Besides the fact that they come in that nifty tin can (OMG, I love tin cans!!!) steel cut oats, also known as Irish oats, are just flat out, hands down, a cut above any other oatmeal you've had before. Don't get me wrong, I love the Quaker (Old Fashioned, not the quick, unless it's for cookies, but I digress). However, in the dead of winter, when the sky is overcast and the bird feeder is hosting only the one crazy squirrel, and the pond pump is frozen in a half a foot of ice, and you won't be going anywhere without first scraping off your windshield, you need some serious oatmeal. In the face of all that, there's something courageous and defiant about steel cut oats.   

Yes, they take about 45 minutes from start to finish. Yes, you sort of have to keep an eye on them as they cook. But is that really so high a price to pay for a bowl of plump and toothy grains that can only be described as "breakfast risotto"? And yes, there are sexier things you could have for breakfast, like French toast or eggs Benedict, but you almost have to dress up for them. With these oats it's perfectly acceptable, dare I say even preferable, to stay in your jammies.

Finally, there's a saying you might have heard that goes something like this- In England oats are for horses, in Scotland oats are for men. And nowhere are there better horses and nowhere are there better men. Hmmm, maybe oats are sexy after all.

steel cut oats

1 cup steel cut oats 
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
maple syrup for serving
additional milk or cream for serving

Bring water and milk to a boil in a medium heavy bottomed pot. Add oats, and stir until mixture thickens slightly (about 2 or 3 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer the oats, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Add the raisins and simmer for 5 more minutes. Take off the heat, cover the pot and let sit another 5 minutes. Serve with maple syrup and additional milk or cream if desired. Makes 4 servings. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Deliver Me From Evil Apple Tart

I don't know about you, but if I see another butter cookie I'm going to scream. I've feasted with the best of them and didn't turn away any Holiday goodies. Now I'm paying the price. I'm feeling sluggish, my pants are tight and my skin has lost it's glow. Yet I can't expect myself to go cold turkey on the treats, right?! What's a girl to do? Time for a Deliver Me From Evil Apple Tart.

I adapted this recipe from my go-to site for all things nutritious and I urge you to try it or come up with your own spin on it (maybe pears?). As with all things it's about moderation, however, there's nothing too bad in this tart. And most of it's really good for you. It's kind of like a tarted up trail mix! Apples, almonds, figs, dried plums and some Greek yogurt just to give it a creamy filling. Also, it's no bake. Perfect if you just happen to be in need of a new oven, like me!  

deliver me from evil apple tart

1 cup almond meal (or almond flour)
4 pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 containers (6 ounce each) plain, vanilla or honey flavored Greek yogurt
3 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup dried plums, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine almond meal, dates and coconut oil in a food processor and pulse just until mixture holds together.  Press into a small tart pan and chill for 1 hour. Once chilled spread Greek yogurt evenly in tart shell.

Place sliced apples, water, honey, plums and cinnamon in a shallow pan. Simmer on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove apples and set aside in a bowl to cool down before arraigning in tart shell. Reduce liquid to about half by simmering for another 5 to 10 minutes and brush over apples. Makes 6 to 8 servings.