The Taste of Autumn, in a Muffin

IMG_2761A girl cannot live by chocolate alone. Sometimes, frankly, she needs to remind herself that there’s a world beyond chocolate, where chocolate does not rule her every waking moment.

Sometimes, in the autumn, when the air is crisp with a hint of snow and the smell of wood smoke, when the geese party out in the bay and raucously plan their winter in warmer waters, and when the last leaf falls from the last tree, right then, a girl needs an apple cider doughnut.

What is it about an apple cider doughnut? The doughnuts are cake-style, not yeast, so they are more dense and crumby, but still tender and light. Their sweetness comes from the apple cider used in the batter.

And the perfect apple cider doughnut, the one this girl craves, is slathered with cinnamon and sugar. It’s that taste and the incomparable mouth feel, really, that sets these doughnuts apart.

The tender, crumby doughnut, encased in crunchy granulated sugar, warmed with lots of cinnamon. Oh, yum . . .

Unfortunately, my favorite apple cider doughnut is found at an orchard stand 25 miles away—it’s hard to justify taking the time to drive out there for just one doughnut. I suppose I could make doughnuts at home, as my grandmother did, but doing my own deep frying just doesn’t appeal to me.

I got my fall copy of Yankee Magazine this week . . . and saw they included a recipe for apple cider doughnut muffins! I hoped that my life had changed for the better.

Yankee Magazine is the source of some of my favorite recipes, including the rhubarb pecan upside-down cake my husband makes. Still I worried whether a muffin would, could, live up to the whole apple-cider-crunchy-tender-sweet-doughnutty-goodness I love so well.

Heck, yeah! These muffins nail the flavors and the mouth feel. They’re pretty easy to make and kind of messy, which adds to the fun. The kitchen smells completely and thoroughly divine while it all happens. The only thing missing is the way your tongue feels kind of oily and coated after eating a deep-fried doughnut. I’m willing to give that up.

IMG_2726

Here’s the recipe, straight from Yankee magazine, with my annotations.

Total Time: 55 minutes

Hands On Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

For the muffins:

Ingredients (sorry—they’re all in American measurement! Pesky American measurements!):

  • 2 cups sweet apple cider (not hard cider, although that might be fun, too)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375° and set a rack to the middle position. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan and set aside. (I guess you could use muffin paper liners but you shouldn’t. First, it would lessen the surface area that cinnamon sugar can stick to and, second, real Yankees wouldn’t approve because the papers are unnecessary and, therefore, wasteful).

Put the apple cider in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Set aside to cool.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend. (I forgot the vanilla, as usual, and it all still tasted great!)

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat just to combine. Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups and transfer to the oven. (I was afraid to fill the cups too full so I ended up with 15 muffins. In retrospect, I’m sure I could’ve done as the recipe said and just divided the batter into 12 muffins—they don’t rise too much).

Bake until tops are firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

For the topping:

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Instructions:

Now, prepare the topping (this is where it gets fun!): In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. As soon as the muffins are cool enough to handle, brush their tops and sides with butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat (I threw the muffins in, top down, and used a spoon to ladle more and more cinnamon sugar over them . . . ahhhhhhhh).

Serve warm or at room temperature.

___________________________________

I really, really like these muffins! I made them two days ago and they still taste good and have a good consistency today—and that would not be true of the leftover doughnuts, as I know from experience.

So, if you want to know what fall in the North Country of upstate New York tastes like, it is now in your power to find out! Let me know what you think!

IMG_2749

Loving Hands at Home: Baked Goods

mixing bowl“What kind of toast do you want with that? White, wheat, rye, sourdough . . . or homemade?”

There’s only one possible answer to this question, right?

I was asked to make just this choice a few days ago in a local diner and, of course, I said, “Homemade!” Then I looked at my companions and asked, “Who would choose anything but homemade?”

But as I thought about it, I remember my younger self, the girl who grew up on the farm. She took for granted home-baked breads and cookies and cakes and loved nothing better than Wonder Bread and Oreos and Hostess Twinkies.

In my memory, there was always something freshly baked sitting on the kitchen counter. My grandmother was the baker and she made everything, but the items I remember best were her loaves of bread, the tender dinner rolls, the sour cream cookies, the deep-fried doughnuts, and the lemon meringue pie.

We had it so good and we didn’t have a clue.

My sister and I ate everything my grandmother baked and enjoyed it. But we thought the biggest treat in the whole, entire world was when we stopped to visit particular friends of my parents.

These friends had a designated drawer for cookies and all the cookies were store bought. They came in crinkly cellophane packages and were crunchy and crispy, while my grandmother’s cookies were soft and chewy.

My grandmother’s cookies were as homey and comforting and real as she was. They were a given in our lives.

The store-bought cookies were exotic and decadent and, what? Cosmopolitan? Sophisticated? I’m not sure but it seemed like an adventure to eat them.

I like a little adventure as much as the next person. I like to take a trip and see the sights and leave my home behind, while I venture out.

But, boy, do I love to come home. Being in that big world always makes me appreciate home more, and recognize that it’s the place for me.

I’ve traveled in the world of store-bought baked goods for a long time now. I’ve gotten over thinking they are exotic and decadent and sophisticated.

Now, of course, I wish I could go home, to that kitchen where you never knew what was coming out of the oven next but you knew it would be warm and chewy and comforting.

I can bake bread. I’ve found recipes for sour cream cookies and made them. I’ve gone so far as to deep fry doughnuts.

You know what I’m going to say—it isn’t the same.

I’ll probably never have baked goods that measure up to my memories but I’ll keep looking. I’ll go to farm stands and order the doughnuts they just fished out of the fryer. I’ll buy old, stained copies of community cookbooks and look for the right sour cream cookie recipe. I’ll always order the homemade bread at the local diners.

Because, even if they don’t take me all the way, they bring me closer to a place I’d love to be.

recipe box

Manly Hands at Home: A Cake for All Seasons

Why, yes, that is rhubarb. And, yes, I know that rhubarb is a spring treat and it is not currently spring anywhere.

But, when there’s a man in the house who loves to cook and is willing, nay, eager to cook, you mustn’t quibble when he wants to bake with rhubarb out of season!

My husband is the main cook at our house. He likes it and is amazingly good at it. And since I’ve already posted the three or four recipes that I know how to make, it’s time to move on to sharing some of his concoctions!

He found this recipe for Rhubarb-Pecan Upside-Down Cake in a back issue of Yankee magazine, a US magazine featuring all things New England. And even though he is usually more of a cook than a baker, this recipe seduced him and he could not rest until he made it!

I hope it’ll seduce you, too, and that, even if you believe that rhubarb can only be cooked with in spring, you will remember it when the time comes. It’s a lovely balance of sweet and tart, crunchy and crumbly. Plus you get to use a springform pan, which, if you’re like me, will make you feel like a real cook!

Rhubarb–Pecan Upside-Down Cake by Jane Walsh

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Overview: You start with pecans, brown sugar, butter, and rhubarb, then cover those ingredients with the cake batter. When the cake is baked and inverted, the rhubarb, sugar, and nuts create a caramelized topping that is delightful!

General instructions

Preheat oven to 350° and set a rack in the middle position. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; then cut a round piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. (The original recipe says you can use a cake pan). Place the pan on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, in case your springform pan leaks. (Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do).

Ingredients for the topping (which will be at the bottom for now!):

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • ¾ pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch-long diagonals
  • ½ cup pecan halves (we used a full cup and we toasted the pecans in the oven first; see notes)
  • ½ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar (we used more!)

IMG_8742Instructions or the cake topping:

To create the topping, start by arranging the pecan halves in the bottom of the pan and pour melted butter over them. Arrange the rhubarb, then sprinkle all over with the ½ cup of brown sugar. Set aside.

Ingredients for cake batter

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup whole or reduced-fat milk

Instructions or the cake batter:

In a food processor, pulse the pecans until very finely chopped.

Mix the nuts with the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. You can do this mixing of dry ingredients in your food processor or by hand in a bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the remaining ½ cup of butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times.

Add the remaining ½ cup of brown sugar

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add vanilla.

Add the milk in two batches, alternating with the dry ingredients, and scraping down the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter over the rhubarb mixture, and smooth with a spatula.

IMG_8748Bake until the sides of the cake are beginning to pull away from the pan and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen, and invert the warm cake onto a serving plate. (If the cake cools too long, it will be hard to remove from the pan.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_8755Notes:

Toasting the pecans before using adds a great deal of flavor. I toast pecans in the oven, set at 350 degrees, for about 12 minutes. I use a heavy cookie sheet and stir the nuts every few minutes. They will start to smell yummy; be sure not to let them burn!

You may be tempted to use more than the called-for amount of rhubarb. If you do, you’ll be adding extra moisture to the cake and it will take longer to cook and may not cook fully in the center. Don’t ask me how we know that. We just do.

We served this with vanilla ice cream and a puree made from the leftover fresh rhubarb. YUM!

IMG_8813

The Sound of a Door Closing

closed for the season

photo by Alison Hurt

Listen—did you hear that? That was the sound of the door closing on my candy shop, for the 2013-2014 season.

One of the best things about working with chocolate is that you can’t do it when it’s warm. Chocolate simply cannot be tempered if the temperature is above about 70 degrees. So, as a home-based chocolatier, with no interest in a bigger operation, the coming of summer means the end of chocolate making. Right when I want to do other things, I can!

I just finished dipping the last of the candy that I will take to a spring boutique later this week. Last week, I deactivated the candy listings on Etsy. I’m out of the chocolate business until October!

I’m both happy and a bit verklempt about the end of the season. It was a good year, and very busy. I plowed through the 230 pounds of Callebaut chocolate I wrote about in August and had to order 55 pounds more of milk chocolate. That adds up to something like 700,000 calories worth of chocolate, spread around the US!

I did my first-ever face-to-face sale in December and it went so well I’m doing another on Wednesday, with a lot let angst this time.

I developed some new candies, most notably lemon meltaways and Irish cream meltaways, both with silky smooth flavored-chocolate innards, dipped in more chocolate. I also added delicate, crispy English toffee to my offerings.

I’ll miss my little morning routine of drinking my coffee, getting caught up with the news, and putting on my apron. I mostly make candy in the very early morning and those hours will be open to me now.

I’ll miss the smells—the chocolate, of course, the caramel bubbling on the stove, the mint oil, the peanut butter. And I’ll miss the heavy responsibility of taste testing!

But, as they say, when one door closes, another opens.

It is finally beginning to be spring in upstate New York so the door opens to lawn and gardens, and they need a lot of work.

The door opens to the linen closet, too—I have been very lax about listing vintage linens on Etsy and those piles of pretty linens are not getting any smaller!

The door will open soon to another glorious summer on beautiful Lake Champlain and summer activities—bike rides to go for soft ice cream, garage sales, campfires, and s’mores, and family time.

Who wants to be in the kitchen, making candy, when there’s so much else to do?!

So, I’ll go downstate and sell candy for one more day. I’ll stash any leftovers for sampling and sharing over the summer. I’ll put away the candy equipment and ingredients and soak my apron in Oxi-Clean to get the chocolate out.

And I’ll go outside, to play in the sun. I’ll weave things and finish a quilt. I’ll talk to you and do a lot of ironing of pretty things. I’ll get back to that list of things I’ve been meaning to do (IBMTD)!

And, along about September, I’ll start yearning for the smell of melted chocolate and the comfort of the candy-making routine. And then the door will open again. . .

 

Baking Hands at Home: Brown Soda Bread

IMG_2986Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.
James Beard

There may be no activity more “hands at home” than baking bread. With a zillion different kinds of bread available in every store, many of us still look for opportunities to bake our own, and it always seems to be appreciated!

I remember fondly the days when my grandmother made bread for the farm. She made all the bread for the household and used a standard yeast recipe for white bread. When the bread came out of the oven and she rubbed the crust with a stick of butter, heaven came to earth for us kids! We’d sneak into the kitchen, when no one was looking, and use our fingernails to peel pieces of buttery crust off the top of the bread. Then we’d sneak away, leaving naked, crustless bread behind, like no one would notice. How did we get away with that?!

I have been known to bake yeast bread and love it but I’m more likely to make a quicker bread. When we first visited Ireland, we learned to love the earthy, dense soda bread that is so associated with the Irish. I’ve read that it didn’t originate in Ireland at all and, honestly, I don’t care about its history—I just love the way it tastes.

And I love how easy it is to make! When I got home from that trip, serendipity kicked in and I found an issue of Bon Appetit magazine that featured Irish cooking. Their recipe for soda bread became my standard. For a while, I made it so frequently the recipe was imprinted on my brain. And then I just stopped making it and I don’t know why.

But I came across the recipe last week and made it and rekindled my love for it! It is not at all sweet, like some recipes for soda bread can be, and it has no extras added in, although I’m told some people like raisins in their soda bread (ick).

This bread is heavy and cake-like; it is perfection straight out of the over with butter and I might even like it better toasted with peanut butter. In fact, just typing that sentence got me so excited, I went directly to the toaster and am currently chewing and typing at the same time!

I think the bread must be pretty healthy, too, because all the packaging for the ingredients seems to be in shades of red, orange, and yellow, the way marketers signal consumers that food is “natural.” And marketers would never mislead us, right? I hope it’s somewhat healthy, since I’m going to be eating a lot of it now—it’s a fall and winter kind of bread! Enjoy!

IMG_2972Brown Soda Bread
Bon Appetit, May 1996

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons toasted wheat bran*
3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ*
2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well.

Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal. This is my favorite part because it makes me feel like a real cook. You rub the cold butter and dry ingredients between your thumb and fingers, making that gesture like you do when you’re talking about money. (Does that make any sense?)

Stir in enough buttermilk to form soft dough. I used about 1 ½ cups and it seemed like enough this time.

Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is dark brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. I cooked mine about 37 minute.

Turn bread out onto cooling rack. Turn right side up and cool.

* My wheat bran was “untoasted” so I actually put these two ingredients
in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and stirred them around until
they smelled like they were toasting. I’m not sure in makes a lot of difference in the final product.

 

To Market, To Market . . . Atwater in Montreal

250px-AtwaterMarketIs there anything better than a farmer’s market on a perfect autumn day?

Maybe the only improvement would be to visit one in a setting a little different than the ones you normally frequent, with some exotic choices mixed in with the usual favorites.

We spent yesterday at Atwater Market in Montreal. The market is set in and around an Art Deco building and opened in 1933. It has interior space with stalls that feature meats and cheeses and baked goods; during the summer, outdoor stalls overflow with beautiful produce and flowers.

Shopping in a country other than your own always brings discoveries and surprises. We bought ground cherries, which we’d never heard of but are obviously related to Chinese lantern plants; these are meant to be eaten instead of displayed. We got chocolate-covered brandied cherries and chocolate gianduja bars. A cheddar made with Guinness beer, heirloom tomatoes, salt and pepper cashews, fresh croissants . . .

I have two regrets. We didn’t have a car so we couldn’t really dive in. And we didn’t buy the maple and bacon-flavored potato chips. Time to start planning the next visit!

Loving Hands in the Kitchen: Yet Another . . .

choco chip cookies. . . recipe for chocolate chip cookies! Does the blogosphere need another recipe for chocolate chip cookies? Almost certainly not. But I’m posting this anyway because you might be in the mood right this minute for decadent cookies and, this way, you’ll need look no further.

Besides, I realized I write a lot about people making things but you have little evidence that I ever make anything myself!

I decided to make these particular cookies because we had a pantry assessment tour at our house and found mountains of oatmeal and chocolate chips. I don’t know how two people accumulated so much of those two ingredients but something needed to be done.

For me, cookies are just vehicles for the extras that get mixed in at the end. Sometimes I like a nice, understated snickerdoodle but, mostly, I want a big hearty cookie, brimming with goodies. These cookies fit the bill—I stir in what I have available. For instance, oatmeal. And chocolate chips. And then I found lots of walnuts, too, and coconut. You could leave out what you don’t like and add your own favorites. I’m told some people like raisins in oatmeal cookies (ick).

My add-ins: chocolate chips, coconut, walnuts. What would you put in? Leave out?

My add-ins: chocolate chips, coconut, walnuts. What would you put in? Leave out?

Be advised that these are not the light-colored cakey kind of chocolate chip cookies. These end up heavy and kind of flat and dense and moist and chewy.

Oatmeal/Chocolate Chip/Coconut/Walnut Cookies

Makes—3 ½ dozen cookies

Bake—about 10 minutes

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract*

2 cups all-purpose four

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon**

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups uncooked regular oatmeal

1 ½ cups coconut

2 cups chocolate chips

1 cup walnuts or pecans

__________________________

Preheat over to 350.

Beat butter and sugars at medium speed, with an electric mixer, until creamy and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat well.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, and stir well. Add oats and coconut, and stir well. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir until well blended.

Gently stir in chocolate chips and nuts by hand. Drop by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes*** or until brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan for a couple of minutes and then put them on a wire rack to cool further.

Notes:

* I make my own vanilla extract and used the one I made with bourbon for this recipe. Does it matter? Who knows! But it makes me feel like a real cook! And I always say that everything tastes better with a little bourbon.

** Have you tried Vietnamese cinnamon? It’s strong and rich and that’s how I like my men cinnamon.

*** If you have the patience, please consider baking one or two cookies at first, to get a sense of how long it will take. The last time I made these, I noted they took 9 minutes; this time it was more like 10 and a half. Baking is full of surprises!

Chocolate-Covered Hands at Home

Image

I have over a half million calories worth of chocolate at my house right now. Really. My house is where you would want to be, if the “coming hard times” ever actually arrive!

One of my main creative activities is making candy—it is challenging but fun, ensures I have many friends, and means I am never without my next chocolate fix. I sell candy at my Etsy shop, KerryCan (www.kerrycan.etsy.com), when the weather gets cool enough to temper and mail chocolate, and I just went shopping to stock up for the upcoming candy-making season.

ImageImage

So, I have 21 of these big bars of Callebaut Belgian chocolate. Each bar weighs 11 pounds.  That adds up to 231 pounds of chocolate! And if you do the math it comes to about 572,880 calories! Knowing it’s there makes me feel all happy and secure . . .

Busy, busy hands . . . and not enough time.

Image

Retired people always talk about how busy they are. I could never figure that out. They don’t have to get up early and take a shower and put on grown-up clothes every day. They don’t have to drive to work and find a place to park. They don’t have to work for 8 hours! And then drive home and get ready for the next day at work. Just how busy can they be?

Then I retired, pretty much the minute I turned 55, from my career as a college professor. And now I am SO busy, I truly cannot find the time to do everything I want to do!

I want to do what you want to do—make things.

10 things I wish I could fit into every day:

1)   Quilting—I have a beautiful quilt that needs about two days work to be finished. I’d love for you to see it!

2)   Making jewelry—You should see my studio! I have everything I need to make pretty things.

3)   Baking—I used to bake bread. I love to bake cookies . . .

4)   Getting the dirt out—I get the weirdest thrill out of soaking a stained and smelly old tablecloth, made by someone else’s loving hands, and seeing it come back to its shining glory!

5)   Ironing—no, really. I love to iron. I can explain it and someday I will.

6)   Making music—my husband plays his guitar and sings almost every day. I should, too. It’s just good for the soul.

7)   Gardening—I actually do get into the garden almost every day. Those pesky weeds insist.

8)   Trying a new candy concoction—Last year, I developed new recipes for mint meltaways and peanut butter meltaways and they are FAB, if I may be so impertinent as to say so. What can I make next . . .?

9)   Getting out of the house—all these projects keep me home but when I go out to look at what other people are doing and making, I get a huge creative jolt!

10)  Trying something new—I’d love to learn to weave. And hook rugs. I’d love to learn to play the banjo or the fiddle. But, the problem is I don’t have time for the things I already know and love, so I tell myself I shouldn’t start something new.

So many creative outlets, never enough time. I imagine you feel the same way, too. Right?