Cool Mornings, Warm Muffins

The weather has turned. There is no denying it—fall will be here soon. Most cool mornings you’ll find me in one of two places: sitting at my computer on the back porch with coffee in hand or in the kitchen baking something that perfumes the house with deliciousness. On those oppressively hot late summer days, I avoid turning on the oven. Baking is simply not an option, but as soon as the first 59° F morning hits, all I can think about is muffins, cakes, tarts, and cookies. I start to dream of all of the goodies I will make for the holidays.   Consequently, I also vow every fall to continue my workout routine through the dark days of winter to justify enjoying the fruits of my labor.   It’s so difficult to put down the muffin and go to the gym though.

_MG_2140WM

Muffins are one of my favorite cool morning baked goods because they can be enjoyed, still warm, for breakfast or as a late afternoon snack.   Do you know the best use for those bags of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or cherries hiding in your freezer? Muffins. Most recipes follow a similar ingredient template and ratio of fruit to batter; so do not be afraid to change it up a bit. I rarely make a muffin without a crumble topping. That little bit of crunch on top adds texture, a bit of sweetness, and is the key to bakery-style muffins.

_MG_2144WM

Months ago, I lovingly pitted a whole bag of cherries and popped them in the freezer. I am waiting for the perfect fall morning to use them in this recipe. Perhaps I’ll even share with the neighbors, so I don’t feel tempted to eat them all.

Cherry Almond Muffins

  • ½ c. butter, softened
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ c. milk
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • ¾ c. flour
  • ½ c. almond flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups pitted, halved cherries

Crumble Topping:

  • ½ c. flour
  • ½ c. almond flour
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • ¼ c. rolled oats
  • 8 tbs. cold butter, cubed
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Cream butter and sugar together using paddle attachment on a mixer. Add eggs one at a time and stir to incorporate. Add milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Stir to combine.
  3. In separate bowl combine flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Fold in the cherries.
  5. Use paper muffin cups or grease each muffin cup with butter.   Fill each cup 2/3 full.
  6. Crumble Topping: Mix together flour, almond flour, brown sugar, and oats. Using a pastry blender or a fork, mix in cold butter until the mixture resembles wet sand.
  7. Top each muffin with the crumble topping. *To make larger crumbles, squeeze mixture in your hand and lightly crumble over the top of the muffin batter.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes or until muffins are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

_MG_2148M

Sugar Cookies and Kids: A Winning Combination

When you are invited to bake holiday cookies with a precious curly-haired four year old, you know you must be someone special.  So, I packed up my favorite baking pans and rolling pin and headed to the home of friend and fellow blogger, Leigh Hines (Hines Sight Blog). Have rolling pin, will travel?  Absolutely.

Leigh’s daughter had requested this event not long after meeting me last summer.  She and I share a special bond–we’re both curly headed girls!  It was an instant connection only made stronger by the fact that I could converse with her about ALL of the Disney princesses.

Baking with children is not only fun, but it can be a great way to teach math, kitchen safety, and share a life skill that will stay with them forever.  Having baked with my own children, who are now grown, I knew engaging my curly-haired friend in hands-on work would be important.  I chose easy to decorate shapes: candy cane and snowflake.  I opted for colored sugar and three colors of icing to keep in simple.  She was a pro at helping me roll out the dough and cut the cookies.  Decorating is the best part, but it can be difficult for a little one to wait for that task.  So, while the cookies cooled, she assisted me with measuring the ingredients for the icing.  When waiting became cumbersome, she was easily reengaged rolling out some of the excess dough and cutting out a few more cookies (to be baked while we decorated).

The whole event was captured by her mom, Leigh, and placed on Leigh’s Hines Sight Blog.  Check out the fun, the smiles, and the recipes here.  I can’t wait to return next year for Holiday Baking 2.0!

These Christmas trees were last year's design.  Maybe my curly-haired friend and I can conquer these next year!

These Christmas trees were last year’s design. Maybe my curly-haired friend and I can conquer these next year!

Thanksgiving Dessert: Gluten Free Spiced Acorn Squash Bars

It is tough to eat locally in the winter.  Squash, greens, root vegetables, and sweet potatoes–that about sums up the winter harvest that starts in November and takes us into early March. It’s a long time to eat the same thing over and over again.  Being creative is the key to embracing the limited choices at the winter farmers markets. So, let’s talk squash.

Acorn squash has a similar taste, texture, and sweetness to pumpkin, so why not use it for desserts? It will be around long after the pumpkins are gone from the market tables.  If the urge hits you to bake more pumpkin bread in January, you don’t have to turn to the canned stuff.  You can use acorn squash or butternut, too.  As for for the gluten, I am not a gluten-free eater.  I love bread.  I love pastries.  I love pasta.  I am thankful that I can eat these things without issue. I know many people who cannot.  Eating gluten is harmful to them.  Gluten-free is more than a fad or a choice.  For many people, it is a health issue.  I have had some amazing gluten-free pastries and cookies.  I am still learning how to adapt recipes to make them without wheat flour.  I have found that almond meal or almond flour works well for more dense cakes like these bars.

My family had no idea these were gluten-free when they devoured the first batch.  I’d call that a success!

Gluten Free Spiced Acorn Squash Bars with Mascarpone Cream

  • ½ c. acorn squash puree
  • ½ c, brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almond flour or meal
  • ¼ c. arrowroot powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Place dry ingredients: almond flour, arrowroot, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl. Using a whisk, combine thoroughly.
  3. In another bowl, combine squash puree, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to incorporate.
  5. Line an 8×8-baking pan with parchment paper. Pour batter into the pan and spread evenly.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until springs back when lightly touched.
  7. Cool on a rack.  When completely cooled, cut into squares.

For the Mascarpone Cream:

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 3-4 tbs. powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Place ingredients in a chilled mixing bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Spoon into a piping bag with a star tip.  Pipe on to each bar.  Grate a little nutmeg or sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon over the top and serve!

IMG_7258 IMG_7264

bgd14_square_800x800

Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and delicious food. Luckily, the food blogging community is all about these things as well. To celebrate the holiday, Meghan from Cake ‘n’ Knife and Susannah from Feast + West are hosting Blogsgiving Dinner. There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes

The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some ideas for your own Thanksgiving meal.  Today’s bloggers have recipes for dessert and after-dinner drinks, as well as ideas for eating leftovers.

We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner. Hope you can join us!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner Menu

Friday, Nov. 14

Dessert

Grandma’s Pecan Pie from The Wetherills Say I Do

Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting from My Cooking Spot

Gluten-Free Apple Berry Crumble from Twin Stripe

Paleo Pumpkin Pudding from Wit Wisdom Food

Cranberry Almond Coconut Bars from Love & Flour

Torched Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie with Olive & Sinclair Chocolate from The Local Forkful

Poached Pears with Salted Maple Caramel Syrup from Home at Six

Sweet Potato Pie from Think Fruitful

Nutella Pumpkin S’mores Tart from bethcakes

Gluten-Free Acorn Squash Spice Bars from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.

Drunken Pecan Pie Bars from The Speckled Palate

After-Dinner Drinks

Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider from A Savory Feast

Cranberry Bourbon Granita from Feast + West

Leftovers

Cheesy Potato Croquettes from Hello Little Home

Leftover Stuffed Egg Rolls with Cranberry Dipping Sauce from Cake ‘n’ Knife

Freezer-Friendly Turkey and Rice Casserole from Betty Becca

Turkey and Cranberry Quesadilla from Glamour Girl Gourmet

Stuffed Crescents with Thanksgiving Leftovers from My Cooking Spot

Chocolate Chip Cookies: My Kryptonite

Nothing evokes the warm feeling of a childhood memory like the smell of chocolate chip cookies.  Nothing.  I recall the electric thrill that would resonate through me when I spied a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the grocery cart.  I knew that meant mom was going to make cookies.  She likely used the Tollhouse recipe, which was the most popular and convenient recipe of that time.  Now, there are so many variations of the chocolate chip cookie that it is difficult to find the perfect recipe.  

Because it is my favorite cookie, I have tried many of those variations over the years.  I have yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie–homemade or store bought–that I didn’t like.  Still, I felt it was necessary to find a recipe that I would love so much that it would become my “go-to” recipe.  Many emptied bags of chocolate chips and pounds of creamed butter later, I settled on a recipe that I love.  It combines the flavor profiles that I crave in a chocolate chip cookie: a caramel-like sweetness, deep chocolate flavor, and a little saltiness.

There is no wrong time to eat cookies, especially chocolate chip.  Don’t tell anyone, but my favorite breakfast is a strong cup of coffee and a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  I can’t resist the temptation any time of day.  Try this recipe and you, too, will understand why these delectable cookies are my Kryptonite.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie EVER – Recipe by Alice Currah

I have played with this recipe a little.  I found that using all bittersweet chocolate chips and increasing the amount to 2 1/2 cups gives the perfect chocolate profile without being too sweet.  I also found that using all brown sugar provides even more caramel sweetness, which I adore in a baked good!

ImageImageImage

 

Not Your Average Lemon

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. However, when life hands you Meyer lemons, you bake….like your life depends on it.  At least, that is what I do each year when the Meyer lemons show up in the stores.

The Meyer lemon has an interesting past as a decorative houseplant.  It is the hybridization of a mandarin and a lemon—the perfect mix of sour with a hint of sweet. Meyer lemons make great potted plants for those of us who don’t live in Florida, Texas, or California. Place one in a sunny location, and it will produce lovely fruit to be enjoyed throughout the late spring and early summer.  Be sure to place it indoors in a sunny spot for the winter!

The fruit is a deep school bus yellow, and the taste is distinct with a sharp citrus tang and sweet orange-like notes. These qualities make them perfect for baking and juicing.  Meyer lemons are a seasonal citrus, which can be found in stores late winter to early summer.  Pick up a bag and try our my favorite Meyer lemon recipes. You’ll be dreaming of spring and warm weather with every bite!

Just add a cup of tea for the perfect afternoon snack.

Just add a cup of tea for the perfect afternoon snack.

 

Lemon Tea Cakes

  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

Lemon Glaze

  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 2-3 tbs. buttermilk
  • lemon zest
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and generously grease and flour the wells of the pan. You can use a petit four pan or a mini muffin pan.
  2. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat till light and fluffy–about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, lemon juice, and zest.
  5. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk. Ensure it is incorporated before adding the next ingredient and scrape as needed.
  6. Spoon 2 teaspoons of the batter (or use a small cookie scoop) into each well of the prepared pan. Tap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes until the cakes are no longer sticky on top. Cool in pan for 1-2 minutes then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

* I wash and dry my Nordicware Petit Four pan before preparing it for another batch.

  1. For the glaze, whisk ingredients together and drizzle over the cooled cakes.

 

More recipes and info on Meyer lemons:

Lemon Bars 

Lemon Basil Sorbet

The History of the Meyer Lemon