Mystery Recipe?

In which I ask a procedural question.

This recipe looks delicious, or would if I had any idea how to make it.  Normally, the recipes that are lists of ingredients don’t bother me.  I know how to make a cake, I know how to make cookies.  These?  I don’t know if I am supposed to combine the peanut butter and condensed milk?  Do I make balls and dip them in the chocolate?  Do I combine all of the ingredients and it’s supposed to be like fudge?  Anyone?  Bueller?Scan_0073 (3)

Apple Butter Cake with Caramel Icing

It’s part of your American Heritage

I have this friend that has become quite the cook since I first started talking to him.  He takes trips to Italy and Morocco to learn about cuisine and comes home and replicates it in his kitchen.  He started baking bread a few years back and makes gorgeous loaves.  When the Great British Baking Show started being aired and he mentioned watching it, I knew it was a matter of time before he started to foray into cakes.  I think he made a game pie before he made his first cake.  I got pictures from him every step of the way.

I had a conversation with my neighbor the other day about baking cakes from scratch.  We usually talk with a fence between us.  It reminds me of the show Home Improvement.  We discussed how people just don’t make a lot of cakes from scratch any more, “But it’s not that hard” one of us said.  “And the cake is so much better.”  “You know everything that goes into it and it really doesn’t take that long.”  When I made this cake, I knew that we had to take her a piece.

This is not one of the sort of cakes you see on the Great British Baking Show, it’s not a delicate Angel Food cake full of air.  With every bite of this cake, you can taste your American heritage.  It’s a cake that just feels like it was developed on the prairies.  Something that, could they have afforded it, Ma Ingalls would’ve made for Pa, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and Grace for a special occasion.  Definitely something Laura would’ve made in her later years in Missouri. DSCN2864For this cake, I used my homemade apple butter.  If you don’t have homemade, just use whatever sort of apple butter you like or have access to.  (Apple butter is super easy in the crockpot, though, so you may want to try).

 

The Apple Butter cake is a butter cake.  There are a few types of cakes, and knowing which type of cake yours is can help determine what method to use while making it, even when just given a list of ingredients.  I used a 9×13 pan.

Ok, so after the cake was made and cooling on the counter, I knew it needed frosting.  But deciding which frosting is always a challenge.  I baked a jam cake in July and tempered the sweetness with some cream cheese frosting, but that didn’t seem right for this.  I dug around in the cookbook I made of my great-grandma’s recipes to find something suitable.  Caramel icing seemed perfect.  Making the caramel icing was not quite as easy as making the cake.  First of all, there is a HUGE typo in the recipe.  I verified on the original card to be sure.  Softball stage is 225, not 325.  I didn’t make the error, but felt necessary to call it out just in case.  Don’t skip the cooling down stage. And remember that frosting should take about 7 minutes to get really creamy and wonderful (it’s why there is a thing called 7 minute frosting).

 

I topped mine with pecans because I like a little crunch.  Leave them off if you don’t like them

DSCN2868No one complained about eating this cake for dessert 3 days in a row and they were a little sad there was none left on the 4th day.

Apple Butter Cake

Caramel Frosting

1 cup white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
2 TB butter

Combine sugar (white and brown), salt and milk, cook until syrup forms a soft ball (325° F) in cold water.  Remove from heat, add butter, and let cool.  Beat until cool and good spreading consistency.

Apple Walnut Cookies

It’s the time of the year for the Festive Fall Bucket List.  The time of the year when moms like me start to cringe about all of those moms that have more time, energy, and money who enthusiastically put on their mom uniforms and with their PSL (that’s code for Pumpkin Spice Latte) in one hand and their camera or phone in the other hand, pack their kids into their perfectly clean vans or SUVs and head out to do ALL the fall things.  Every weekend is a corn maze, an apple orchard, or a pumpkin patch.  There are hikes in the woods to collect leaves to make the perfect wreath for the front door.  And then there is me.  I love fall, I really do.  I manage to get the kids out to a corn maze or a pumpkin patch or an orchard once before Halloween.  We usually meet my brother’s family and do something apple and pumpkin-y.  (We need to do something more corn or pumpkin-y this year, though, I don’t need/want more apples.)  But I don’t have time to spend every weekend that way.  Planned fun isn’t always fun anyway. Sometimes it’s those spontaneous moments, the random stops, and even the car trip there that are the most fun moments.  DSCN2813As I was raking apples from under the trees the other day, I realized that I am very much in the ant portion of my life.  You know the fable of the ant and the grasshopper? The ants spend all summer (and probably fall) collecting food and storing it away while the grasshopper spent all summer playing in the grass and doing silly things.  When winter hit, the ants had food, the grasshopper had none, the ants invited the grasshopper in to share what they had. This is where I could start to lecture about enabling grasshoppers, but I’ll refrain.  My point is that I am very aware that this is the part of my life where I need to be putting in the time and effort.  And I’m good with that.

 

When I was growing up, we used to go to the Bayfield Apple Fest.  I remember watching the apple peeling contest one year.  When I peel apples now, I think of that.  I try to see if I can get the peel off in one single ribbon.  When I dawdle, I try to make it as long and thin as possible.  I’m in a contest with no one but myself, but I compete anyway.

I peeled and chopped my way through 3 apples before I had enough to make these cookies.  I had spotted this recipe a while back and wasn’t sure I’d ever get around to making it this year, but I’d had enough of making applesauce for a while and was ready for something different.  It was time to have some cookies in the house again because it had been a while. After they were completed, I nearly cursed myself for waiting so long.  I tucked 2 dozen into the freezer for later consumption.DSCN2827These cookies are autumnal and amazing.  They are soft and spicy and sweet.  I thought that the large amount of clove may be overwhelming and slightly numbing, but it wasn’t. The cinnamon was warm and perfect. I used some orange salt that I made last year instead of regular salt.  This is the sort of cookie you want with you on fall adventures. If you want a healthier cookie, this is one that could stand up to the addition of whole wheat flour without detracting from the overall texture of the cookie.  Substitute another nut if you don’t like walnuts.  However, mom suggested toasting the walnuts for a few minutes before adding them and I think it made a big difference.  If you are like my kids and don’t like raisins, I think you could leave them out without affecting the quality of the cookie. These cookies would be excellent dipped in a brown butter frosting.

Because there are no real instructions on how to make these, as with most cookies, sift the dry ingredients together.  Beat the fat and the sugar, add the eggs.  Alternate additions of the dry ingredients and the milk.  Fold in the apples, raisins, and walnuts at the end.  I found that in my oven 11-14 minutes at 400 wasn’t quite right.  I had better success with 14 minutes at 375.

Apple Walnut Cookies

Mama’s Apple Pecan Pie

In which I bake a pie.

Nicholas requested an Apple Pecan pie for his birthday.  At first it was a pumpkin, apple, pecan pie, or pumpkin pecan.  I started suspecting him of just throwing things out there to see what he could get away with asking.  Finally he settled on Apple Pecan.  He had also requested chicken pot pie as an entree.  That kid loves pie so much we call him 3.14.  (not really).

He also loves his birthday.  He starts getting excited about a month before.  He counts down and after we get through Caroline’s birthday, he is nearly intolerable until his is over.  I use the opportunity to relay his birth story to him.  The day before I start out with “x number of years ago, I woke up at 6 AM and was sure that I was having a baby that day.  I knew it could be a while so I went into work about 45 minutes away from home.”  Around 10 AM, I tell him that my friends at work convinced me to go to the hospital.  Throughout the day I update him on what was happening.  I tell him about making dinner (black bean and corn pasta salad) and going to watch the Elvis impersonator up the street.  I tell him how we went and hung out with some of our friends, during all of which I was contracting.  I tell him how at around 10 PM we finally got to the hospital and then relay all of the events up to the emergency C-section the next morning (so much for my knowing that he was going to be born the morning before) and my first impressions of him. He loves the story almost as much as he loves pie.DSCN2726To make this pie I used a pie crust leftover from when I made Shrimp and Olive Pie.  The recipe said the No-Fail Pie crust was good in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, so planning ahead (or laziness in not making another pie during that time period) meant I had pie crust ready to go.  The apples on the trees were ripe, so that was taken care of.  I assembled the pie without any problems.  It’s easy.  However, I did have a bit of a problem when it came to baking the pie.  The recipe says to bake until a knife inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean.  That never happened.

I had just enough time to bake the pie for the recommended amount of time before our friends came over and we went to an escape room.  But the pie was still unset in the middle.  I turned the oven off and figured that the heat may continue to cook the pie without burning it and that perhaps when we got home, it would be done.  I tested it when we got home, but the knife didn’t come out clean.  I restarted the oven, put foil around the crust so it wouldn’t burn, and baked it longer.  The middle of the pie looked set, but the knife still had stuff on it when I stuck it into the pie.

I didn’t have time or ingredients to make another pie and I didn’t want to ruin Nick’s birthday, so I evaluated the entire situation and came to the conclusion that the pie was actually done, the eggs were cooked, it was fine.  The knife was never going to come out clean, despite the pie being done.  The crust was darker than I would’ve liked, the edges were more caramelized than I would’ve liked, but whipped cream hides a multitude of sins.  DSCN2729This pie was incredible.  It had all of the richness of pecan pie with a slightly oozy texture.  The tartness of the apples cut through it just enough.  The leftovers would have easily been gobbled up, but Nicholas wanted to share a slice with his dad.  I don’t exactly understand how the mix-up happened, but his dad ended up with close to half a pie which he declared to be fantastic.

This recipe is one to hang onto.  Mama's Apple Pecan Pie

Devils Food Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

In which I make a birthday cake.

We are deep in the middle of birthday season at our house.  Entrenched in what feels like constant present buying, cake making, perfect day planning.  We have a great many discussions about who wants what to eat, to play with, to do.  I can meet some of the requests like Shrimp and Olive Pie,even if I have to make it up.  The request for “chocolate cake with pink frosting” was a no-brainer.  I immediately found the cookbook I had made for grandma with her mom’s recipe box and turned to the cake and frosting section.  It was time to get serious.

There were multiple recipes for Devils Food cake.  I chose the one that looked like it made the most cake because I had visions of a layered cake with some sort of fluffy pink frosting.  Because it was a special occasion I got out my cocoa powder from Penzey’s.  It was one that I had gotten free with another purchase.  It was perfect in this cake.

DSCN2467There is a difference between homemade cakes and cakes from a box mix.  Making a cake isn’t a terribly difficult to do.  But you do have to have a basic understanding of the science before you can look at a recipe like the one I had.  First, in order to make a cake, you have to figure out how to create the lift.  There are, of course, the normal leavening ingredients, baking soda and baking powder, especially combined with an acid like buttermilk.  But it needs more fluff.  Creaming the butter and sugar creates volume.  Whipping the egg whites to soft or stiff peaks and folding those into the batter adds more air.  Air=lift.   dscn2462.jpg

This cake is a very nice chocolate cake.  A little dry in texture, but you know that you’ve eaten cake by the time you are done with a piece. It cries out for a thick creamy frosting to balance it out.  This is not a glaze and go sort of cake.  It’s not a cake that you could just sprinkle powdered sugar on and be content.  It would hold up to soaking syrups, jam between layers, or really anything that you wanted to do to it.  In this case, what I wanted to do was marshmallow frosting.

My inheritance from Great-Grandma included 3 recipes for marshmallow frosting.  I chose the one that did not require melting marshmallows because I didn’t feel like figuring out how many small marshmallows equals one big marshmallow.  I’m sure there is a conversion table on the web somewhere…DSCN2488

I am not sure that I’d ever had marshmallow frosting before.  Perhaps I did as a young child, but I don’t remember.  And this isn’t a choice that you get from bakeries.  You probably see it more frequently at cupcakeries, but most bakeries will offer you a choice of whipped cream frosting or buttercream and that’s a shame.  Marshmallow frosting is transformative.  It’s life changing.  It’s sweet and fluffy and a little spongy from the gelatin. It holds its shape.  It can be swirled and streaked.  It can make a cake look magazine perfect (if I’m not the one decorating it because I’m just not that good). Because the recipe said I could “flavor as you wish”, I decided to flavor it using some homemade strawberry jam since it needed to be pink.  I stand by this decision.  Ooey, gooey, subtly strawberry pink fluff.  On top of chocolate cake.  In between layers of chocolate cake.

You know those Sno Balls made by Hostess?  The ones that you may pick up on a road trip when you are craving something overly sweet?  The ones that come in packages of two and are vaguely neon-colored?  Cream filled, coconut covered balls of chocolate cake and marshmallow fluff?  This is the most grown up, best tasting version of that (minus the coconut).  It’s also the version where you can control the quality of the ingredients.

This is important.  Good ingredients well prepared makes good food.

All in all, the princess declared her cake delicious.  Between that and learning to rollerskate, I think she had a perfect birthday.DSCN2491

Devils Food Cake

2 cup sugar                            1/2 cup shortening
2 egg yolks                              1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup water                         1 tsp soda
2/3 cup sour milk                   2 cup flour
2 egg whites stiffly beaten     1 tsp vanilla

 

Icings
Marshmallow Icings

1/2 envelope Knox Gelatin
1 cup granulated sugar, Boil sugar with 5 TB of cold water until it threads well.
Dissolve the gelatin in 5 TB of cold water and let set while syrup is cooking.
Pour boiled mixture while hot into gelatin stir gently and let set until lukewarm.
Flavor to suit taste and beat until stiff.

Kringla

In which I share a secret family recipe.

Kringla. When you say that word to anyone that has known my family for a while, you can practically see them salivate.  “I love kringla.” They will always say.  The boys were just having a conversation about how much they loved kringla.  “You just need to say one word when describing kringla.  Yummy!” Nick told me.

For a long time I refused to learn to make kringla because it was something my grandma always made us.  When I called her to tell her that I was going to visit, she’d say “I guess I need to get some sour milk.”  I didn’t learn to make it until my grandma moved into assisted living. And still, I don’t want other people to make it for me.  I don’t really want to hear about it if someone other than family makes it.  I definitely don’t want to hear if someone changes the recipe.  I am sharing this recipe, but reluctantly.  Maybe someday I’ll be ok hearing about what other people do with kringla, but not yet. DSCN2479

A kringla, the way we grew up with them, is a knot of dough that tastes sort of like a sugar cookie and has a crumb kind of between a biscuit and a pancake.  Dry like a biscuit, but softer and less flaky, like a pancake.  It’s easy, it’s simple.  It’s like a hug.

I had a boyfriend in college who told me his grandma made kringla.  One day, he brought me something in a baggie.  It was a knotted pastry, but it was more like a croissant.  It was good.  It was fine.  It was not kringla.

I don’t remember ever having it fresh from the oven until I started making it myself.  I remember having it handed over to us in a plastic bag that had been rewashed a few times.  The kringla was always pale and dusted with flour.  Biting into it there was always that first dryness of the flour, the softness of that hitting the tongue.  Then there is this sweetness.  It’s vanilla and sugar, but unassuming.  Everything about it is just sort of soft and gentle.  It sort of hits you with subtlety.

I have introduced many, many people to my grandma’s kringla.  They grab the first one from the bag because they are hungry and because they can’t quite believe that I am THAT excited about something that is so modest.  Just a pale gold knot of dough.  It looks bland.  It looks boring.  It looks beige.  It’s not something that will ever challenge the taste buds.  And then they taste it.  They might start the way I do, breaking off the end of the knot and then eating it from one end of the knot to the other.  Savages bite it down the middle.  As they finish, their hand reaches into the bag for another.  They can’t help it.  The next time I mention to them that my grandma is coming to visit they ask if she is bringing kringla.  She didn’t always.  Sometimes it was her chocolate chip cookies, but that’s another story.DSCN2481

Going through the recipes I inherited, I found a copy handwritten by my great-grandma Funk.  I mentioned it to my mom.  “Grandma Funk never made Kringla, that was a recipe your grandma got from Pearl Simpson.”  “I’m pretty sure this is great-grandma’s handwriting.”  “Oh, well then, she must’ve gotten the recipe from your grandma.” She conceded.

I found the cookbook in which Pearl Simpson had published her kringla recipe.  One of those church cookbooks from Iowa where all the women are identified as Mrs. Husband’s Name and then gives the name of the town they lived in.  It’s exactly the sort of cookbook you’d expect from Iowa in the 1950’s, a place where my parents assure me “ketchup was considered spicy.”   DSCN2483

I started texting my siblings and posting on FB whenever I visited with Grandma and got two dozen kringla to eat at a later point, later like in the car on the way home.  I liked to rub it in their faces.  It was mean.  I knew it.  I intend to make it up to them someday.  But for now…I have kringla and I bet you don’t.

Kringla

 

Danish Puff

In which I make a recipe titled Danish Puff.

The thing about these old recipes is that often I have no idea what the thing I am making is supposed to be like.  I have no idea if I’ve had the dish before because I don’t know the names of everything I’ve been served.  I do the same thing with music.  I know lots of songs, but can’t tell you titles of most of them.  Which gets into the whole misheard lyrics thing.  So quick sidebar, about 2 years ago I heard that the song “Little Red Corvette” was coming on the radio.  I was a kind of excited because I was actually going to hear what that song was.  I had known about the song for ages, but never knew what the song was.  Except when it came on, I totally knew the song.  I had just always thought that when Prince sang “Little Red Corvette”, he was singing “Feeling coming back”. I guess that would be a proper response to the song to “I Can’t Feel My Face.”

Reigning myself back in here, Danish Puff.  The big lesson here is that you can’t take yourself too seriously and you have to be able to correct things while cooking.  One of the biggest things that I tell the kids about cooking is “read all the way through the recipe before you get started”.  I followed my own advice, but I read through the recipe the day before or something and then life happened and there was the stinging nettle incident and so when it came time to make this recipe, my head wasn’t exactly where it probably should’ve been.  Plus, I knew that I should’ve been starting supper instead of making DSCN2303pastry.  I made the pie dough, but wasn’t sticking together right.  I added more cold water, but it just didn’t seem right.  I know what pie crust is supposed to be like and that you want to add just enough water to hold it together.  Something in my head said that it needed more fat. I had put in two sticks of butter before because of the way the recipe was written, but noticed in the instructions that it called for only one stick.  I had skipped over the part where it said I only needed to put half the flour in the bowl for the crust.  The other half was used for the filling.  Crap!  And by now the dough was getting to the point where I was sure it was overworked,

DSCN2309

but how do you add butter after the fact?  I got out the food processor and loaded everything back in there with a bit more flour and tried again.  This time the dough was smooth and pliable.  It was easy to roll out into oblong shapes.  It’s amazing what happens when you read instructions.  I needed to double the filling to compensate for the doubled crust.  At this point I was just hoping the recipe would taste good because otherwise that’s a lot of wasted ingredients.  And considering I was flying blind with this recipe…

DSCN2323Reading the recipe, I got the idea that it was pie crust with choux pastry spread on top.  Choux pastry is the stuff that cream puffs and eclairs are made out of.  It’s rich and eggy and if you don’t let the steam out, deflates and gets sort of creamy inside.  That was exactly what it was.  There was nothing sweet about the pie crust or the choux, just richness, a bit of crisp, the almond flavor.  The sweetness came in from the glaze poured all over the top.

The recipe said to bake the Puff between 350 and 400 for about 50 minutes.  I opted for 375.  The pastry on the darker pan on the top rack took about 5 minutes less than the pastry on the pan on the bottom rack.  It also didn’t specify how to make a powdered sugar glaze, but I already knew how to do that, I just didn’t know how much needed to be made. I guessed and used about a cup or so of powdered sugar and just enough water to make it smooth. dscn2352.jpg

Frankly, it’s delicious.  We had that as a snack before dinner, since I had neglected to make dinner until the Danish Puff was done cooking.  We also had it as a snack after dinner, for breakfast this morning, probably some for a snack later on. It may benefit from some slivered almonds sprinkled on top just for that added crunch.  One might consider whether or not it needed something spread between the layers of pastry.  No one would complain if I made it again.

Danish puff

Danish Puff

1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
2 cups flour
1/4 t salt
2 T cold water
1 c. boiling water
1 t. almond extract
3 eggs
powdered sugar icing

  1.  Cut 1/2 cup margarine in 1 cup flour and salt until resembles coarse meal.  Add cold water and stir until blended.  Divide dough in half and press each half into an oblong on an ungreased baking sheet.
  2. Place boiling water and remaining 1/2 c margarine in saucepan.  Bring to boil. When margarine is melted add flavoring and remove from heat.
  3. Immediately stir in remaining 1 cup flour.  Beat mixture smooth and add eggs one at a time beating well.  Spread over pie pastry.  Bake 350-400 about 50 min.  Frost cakes while hot.  Cut into slices and serve warm.

16 servings