You’ve Been Warned, Part II

Dear Hubby,

Look at me, I’m going to open a bakery,  just like you (and every body else) suggested.  I’m going to warn you right now:  I am never going to be home, or if I am, my time will be spent sleeping.  This means there will be even less less vacuuming, toilet scrubbing, sweeping, bed making or  laundry folding getting done on a regular basis.  Hope you don’t mind.  Maybe you will get some baked goods, but don’t count on it. Scones = profits and  I can’t just be giving this stuff away!

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Sal-e No Mobarak! Happy (Persian) New Year!

Today is NoRuz, Persian New Year. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend  a few NoRuz celebrations with Mr. Sugar Mamma’s Iranian family.  They are wonderful events, with lots food and gifts for the kids. Every year I swear we are going to celebrate Persian New Year with a big party.  It has not happened yet.

Around Christmas time, as I slog through the stores looking for gifts and feeling like a failure, I dream of giving up on Christmas altogether and celebrating Persian New Year instead. Gifts for kids and envelopes full of cash, tons of Persian food & family.  What is not to like. No Santa Claus, no hype.  But I grew up with Christmas & could never give it up.  I would love the kids to grow up with this tradition. I want to make it my own, yet I get intimidated trying to pull off something I have no background in.

Every so often we have people over for dinner.  I always dread the work cleaning and cooking leading up to said dinner.  But at the end of the night I find I’ve enjoyed myself, despite my fears of inadequacy.  Every single time I declare, “We need to do this again, we need to have a party for Persian New Year!”  And every year March 19, there is absolutely nothing going on at my house to celebrate.

Until this year.  There is no party, there are no gifts, but there is a cake that I made last night that captures all the flavors of Persian New Year for me.  Toasted Walnut and Pistachio Saffron Cake.

One of my most favorite Persian dishes is Fesenjoon. It is chicken cooked in a sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup. The combo of savory and sweet is heavenly.  The finely ground walnuts are toasted first in a pan on the stove top. Stirring them and watching them slowly brown and release that nutty warm aroma is almost therapeutic. You can’t multi task, you can’t walk away; all you can do is stir and watch and smell and daydream.  So for my cake I toasted the walnuts, even though the recipe did not call for it.  I also added pistachio, because I can not think of a single Persian sweet that does not involve pistachios.

The flavor is strongly saffron, which reminds me of, well, everything Persian.  Rich and buttery, it would be fabulous with the addition of some orange zest, or maybe an orange glaze.  It would also benefit from the addition of some dried apricots or raisins, ingredients in another of my all time favorite Persian dishes.

Toasted Walnut and Pistachio Saffron Bundt Cake
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons brandy
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
1 pinch saffron threads
2.5 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup walnut meal or finely ground walnuts

Confectioner’s sugar for decorating (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and your Bundt pan by buttering and flouring, or use a baking spray to coat. I used mini bundt pans, and I think they would also make great muffins.  The top (which also ends up being the bottom of the bundt cake is the best part, crisp brown and buttery. Also probably good as a tea cake baked in a loaf pan.

Finely chop or process in a food processor enough walnuts to make ½ cup.  Toast ground walnuts in a skillet on the stove top over medium heat, stirring constantly. This will take about 10 minutes. Watch carefully for them to turn golden brown and fragrant.  Transfer to a bowl to cool.  Then process enough pistachio nuts to make half a cup and add to the cooling walnuts.

Beat together the butter and sugars for about 5 minutes or until the butter is light and fluffy, add the eggs in, beating for about a minute after each one, then add brandy and vanilla and mix until combined.

Place the milk into a small saucer and heat over medium heat just until bubbles start to form around the edges and the milk is heated through (you can also do this in the microwave). Stir in the saffron threads and let cool to room temperature. If you have a mortar and pestle, you can grind up the saffron along with a pinch of sugar to make a powder. This will dissolve into the milk better than if just steeping the threads.

While the milk cools, combine the flour, ground nuts, salt, and baking powder together in a separate bowl.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the saffron milk into the egg & sugar combo. Stir just until completely combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan, and smooth out the top. Tap the pan on the counter a couple of times to compact the batter into the pan. Bake on the middle rack for about 60-70 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before inverting onto a rack and letting cool completely. Serve plain or with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

This type of cake will last covered up to a week, and I find gets better with age.  Also freezes very well.

Cinnamon Sugar Toast Cookies

Son number three survives primarily on gold fish crackers, microwave popcorn and fruit roll ups.  It’s gotten to the point where I can now agree that peanut butter on cheese crackers is an acceptable lunch, because unlike any thing else he eats, it might contain just a little protein.  It will come to no surprise then, that his favorite breakfast is cinnamon sugar toast.  White bread, butter and sugar. Delicious, yes. Nutritious, no. Even Captn Crunch would be better for him, its got vitamins and stuff added.

Unlike a nice bowl of cereal, cinnamon toast is not that quick to prepare.  With three boys in the house, a toaster does not have the capacity to accommodate everyone. (fortunate, since my toaster has not worked for at least 3 years) It requires almost a whole loaf of bread, crusts removed, laid out on a baking sheet. It has to be watched carefully, each piece turned at  precisely the right time to avoid even a hint of overdone-ness.  Butter has to be softened so that it is spreadable and melts, invisible, into the bread.  Nothing like a cold chunk of butter on top of a dark, hard piece of toast to cause a breakfast uprising in my house.

When I came across a recipe for cinnamon sugar cookie squares, I knew I needed to make these for the boys.  With a generous application of cinnamon sugar on top, and cut into triangles, these cookies look just like cinnamon sugar toast with the crusts cut off.  And they were a huge hit.  Son number three named them after himself, and made sure I was clear on how to spell it when I mentioned I would be putting it on the blog. Amirys; the name caught on fast.  Two of the three boys can’t get enough.  The oldest one could care less. Probably because they are named after his brother and he is either jealous or embarrassed.

My boys won’t be eating these for breakfast, I have to at least try to maintain something resembling responsible parenting. I do however highly recommend these little cookies with a cup of coffee in the morning if you are an adult.  Let them cool completely, and you will be rewarded with a cookie that is buttery, chewy, tastes like a snickerdoodle, and looks like a slice of cinnamon toast.

Recipe from Christina Tosi, Pastry Chef Momofuku Milk Bar

Amirys (Cinnamon Sugar Toast Cookies)

½ cup butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup canola oil
2 eggs
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Cinnamon sugar*

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 11-by-15-inch pan.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together with an electric mixer, beginning with the butter, sugar, oil, eggs, milk and finally the dry ingredients.
  3. Pour into the pan and spread evenly with a metal spatula or knife. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar all over and bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are light brown.
  4. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cutting board and cut into 2 inch (or larger) squares, then halve into triangles.

*To make cinnamon sugar, mix at least ½ tablespoon of cinnamon for every ¼ cup of sugar. I make my ratio a little heavier on the cinnamon.

 

Bake More, Diet Less

Bake more, diet less: it’s my really good idea of the day.

Feeling pale and pudgy had me less than inspired over the last couple of weeks.  I thought a bit of dieting was in order, and would put things right.  Wrong.  I have not wanted to do anything but crawl in bed and distract my self with shows on my ipad. Being in the kitchen seemed exhausting, and fraught with danger.

So last night I had some pizza instead of salad, and baked some mini bundt cakes.  I screwed up and added twice the amount cherry jello that I should have (decimals are HARD!) so the flavor is more chocolate cherry than chocolate red wine.  But I helped myself to some of the wine, and enjoyed the pieces of chocolate cherry cake I trimmed off the bottom of he cakes.

I went to bed a little tipsy with a little bit of a tummy ache, but I went to bed happy. Phew.

From Martha Stewart

Chocolate Wine Cake

  • Yield Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients:

Cake:

    • Nonstick vegetable cooking spray
    • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
    • 1 cup red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
    • 1/3 cup whole milk
    • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
    • 2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten
    • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 box (.3 ounce) sugar-free black cherry gelatin
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Glaze:

    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for serving
    • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-cup Fleur De Lis Bundt Pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Melt chocolate in a small bowl placed over a small saucepan of simmering water. Let cool 5 minutes. In a small bowl, combine wine and milk; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs; beat for 2 minutes. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk flour, gelatin, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine. Add to mixer bowl, along with the wine mixture, and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Spoon batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Using a plastic knife, carefully loosen cake from the pan; invert onto a wire cooling rack. Let cool completely.
  6. Prepare the glaze: Combine the butter, wine, and confectioners’ sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Set aside until ready to serve.
  7. Dust cake lightly with confectioners’ sugar. Slice cake and drizzle with glaze.

Kitchen Wisdom

Rolling out Croissant dough is really, really hard.

A kitchen scale is the only way to be absolutely sure you have chosen the biggest cookie

You can not cream together butter and sugar when your butter is frozen.  Your KitchenAid mixer will pay the ultimate price.

While tasty in it’s own right if you add enough salt, Kix cereal is never an appropriate substitute for puff corn when making Caramel Puff Corn (AKA Crack Corn).

Never refuse the gift of lemons from a friend’s back yard tree. They will probably be the best lemons you’ve ever had, and you can make lemon bread.

All Apologies: A post in which there is no baking, just lots of oversharing.

I have to apologize, it has been a bit quiet around here.  I avoided baking and avoided blogging for over a week. I needed to “dry out” after a pretty spectacular sugar-carb-tv watching binge two weekends ago.  That’s right, brought to my knees by fudge and PBS.

It began innocently enough. The small amount of fudge I had left over from a President’s weekend project was not getting eaten, and was quickly heading into inedible territory.  Normally I would have tossed it or sent it in someone’s lunch.  But since I’d already tossed an entire batch (my first attempt turned into chocolate concrete) I hated to waste it.  So I had a piece, it was tiny.  This was followed by four more tiny pieces in rapid succession. Delish. An unusual move for me – I’m not really a big chocolate fan/sweet tooth – but I felt good knowing it would not be going to waste.  And there were still four more pieces if any one wanted some.

Then, I did something else I rarely do, I decided to watch some TV. And when I say TV, I mean what ever shows I can find to watch on Netflix streaming on my ipad.  It was Thursday night, the kids were in bed and I had about a half hour before my usual bedtime.  I started with “Jockeys” – a hokey reality show that appealed to the thirteen year old horse racing fan in me.

After a half hour, I was still not ready to go to sleep, but couldn’t bear another cheesy episode of Jockeys…  So I went there. Somewhere I knew I did not want to go, but had to. I went to Downton Abbey.  If you have seen this show, and I am assuming most everyone on the planet has seen this show, you know what I am talking about. It is TV crack; immediately and incredibly addicting.

Sure enough, within minutes I knew there would be no going back.  Normally, I might watch one show a week, something light -The Soup, maybe 30 Rock, but I am a complete noob when it comes to serialized drama.  I was like a 15 year old girl having her first wine cooler (sorry, I am dating my self here). So good. Can’t stop. Don’t care.

Two hours later I turned off the ipad and tried to sleep.  I tossed and turned. Damn that fudge! Sugar and chocolate coursed through my veins.  Oh Joy! I could watch more shows! I practically skipped to the kitchen for a large glass of wine (it will help me sleep!) and resumed the insanity. I finally called it quits sometime approaching 2am.

The next night, instead of baking or blogging I was back for more Downton Abbey, again until well past my bedtime, fueled by fudge and red wine.  I didn’t care, I was hooked.  Saturday and Sunday passed by in a fog of ridiculous plot twists, treachery, unrequited love and gorgeous velvet frocks.

Concurrently the kids were immersed in Harry Potter (movie, video game and book). I think everyone but Mr. Sugar Mamma adopted a British accent that weekend. I might have even curtseyed once or twice.  Smashing! It all seemed quite brilliant at the time.

And then it was Monday morning.  I’d wrapped up season two late in the day Sunday, barely slept, eaten all the fudge, a bunch of other junk, and even gotten into the bottle of port.  There was nothing left to do but dry out.  The thought of baking or even nibbling on anything sweet just about killed me.  So I roasted pork carnitas (another post coming soon) and got lots of sleep.  And now I am back.  Hope you did not miss me, and no, I am not looking for any suggestions for good shows to watch.

And because this is a food blog, here where I learned how to make fudge. It turned out pretty awesome, once figured out I needed a candy thermometer.

BAKE SALE!!!

As you can imagine, I love bake sales.  Think of Kermit the frog, yelling BAKE SALE!, flailing his skinny green arms and tossing his head back and forth.  BAKE SALE!!! That is what I feel like when given the opportunity to bake a bunch of yummy stuff for an audience. BAKE SALE!!!

The theater group the kids belong to, Calaveras Children’s Repertory Theater, is big on bake sales for fund raising. Last week they did their first one of the season on Valentines day. My scones have become tradition at the CCRT bake sale table, so they were part of my contribution. I made a yummy new lemon cake in mini bundt pans, Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark, Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies and chocolate covered krispie treats.

CCRT made in $375 in just 3 hours, I got my bake-on in a big way, and one of my regular readers (who also happens to be my sister) got a valentines care package in the mail.  Yay for BAKE SALE!!!!!

Lemon Ginger Bundt Cake from Martha Stewart: turned out perfect the first time and tastes divine.  What more could you ask for. Make this!

Lemon Ginger Mini Bundt Cakes

Chocolate Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark (AKA) Crack Bark.  The recipe is available all over the the internet, but I especially like the one at Southern Hospitality

krispie love

Chocolate Dipped Krispie Hearts.  The idea came from this Joy the Baker recipe, but be warned, she makes it sound way more fun than it really is.  It is a ton of work to cut krispies with a coookie cutter. My hands hurt just thinking about it.  Next time I will invest in a new, clean pair of leather gardening gloves for protection.  Also, I add red food coloring to make them pink, and spread the chocolate with a small spatula, rather than dipping.

Last cookie

Care package...who will it be addressed to?