Orange-Scented Molasses Cookies

There is an ice storm passing through and every shape outside from earth to sky–only grey–a heavy, wet, chilling shade of grey. Every once in awhile, a neighbor burdened with the task of catching the downtown bus, walks cautiously past my kitchen window, skidding, catching himself at the last minute. I’m so lucky that I get to be home today and having cancelled a couple of appointments, here is where I shall stay.

One of my favorite issues of Cook’s Illustrated magazine is one that I happened to pick up while in line checking out at the grocery store 5 years ago. It’s the 2012 Holiday Baking issue and I’ve referenced it often (read: pages are flour-dusted with pen-scratched notes in the margins) from buttermilk biscuits, Christmas morning cinnamon buns and to these very addictive chewy gingerbread cookies that while baking, fill my kitchen with the fragrance and aroma of a more pleasant winter’s eve–cinnamon, cloves and orange.

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar PLUS 2/3 cup for dipping
  • 3 teaspoons grated orange zest (2 teaspoons for dipping; 1 teaspoon for cookies)
  • 2 1/4 cup (11 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine, freshly ground pepper
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 12 pieces, softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (measure in a liquid measuring cup) light or dark molasses (not blackstrap–too strong)

Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Then, in the little bowl that came with your food processor, that if you, like me, haven’t used before, process 2/3 cup granulated sugar with 2 teaspoons grated orange zest until a lovely and fragrant pale orange (10 seconds ought to do it). Next pour sugar into an 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda (as molasses has a bit of acidity to it, it needs a bit of baking soda, an alkalai, to react with it and provide lift) salt, and spices together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter for a 20 seconds or so, then add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium-low and add egg yolk and vanilla. Increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds.

Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses beating until fully incorporated (20 seconds), scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with a rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting and add flour mixture slowly, mixing until just combined, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl again, once.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final stir with the rubber spatula, making sure to really get to the bottom of the bowl. Dough will be soft.

Scoop and form 1 1/2-inch balls (using a tablespoon as a guide may help), dropping 6 at a time into the cake pan with the sugar/orange zest mixture. Toss balls in sugar to coat and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet. (I spaced 3 across and 4 down–my pans are 17″x 12″).  Bake only one pan at a time for about 10 minutes (cookies won’t bake evenly otherwise), turning the pan once half-way through baking. 

Do not over bake. Cookies are done even though the centers are still soft and in between the cracks appears to look raw. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

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Just a Bowl and a Whisk Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

IMG_0031I promised you chocolate cake back in February and at the time, it was a bribe to get you to read the second and final post of Sensual, Earthy Roasted Beets.  It’s been awhile, I know, but I’ve been doing some prioritizing in my life and I’ve come to realize that baking desserts, talking about desserts, writing about desserts are top on the list of what I enjoy doing when I’m not mothering, wife-ing and home-making.

Truth is, I’ve been thinking about chocolate cake for a long, long time.  Every girl has a coming of age story usually centered around puberty with all the wonderful, awkward, physical changes that go along with it.  My entrance into womanhood began with a Bundt pan, a box of Duncan Hines Devil’s Food cake mix and a promise from my mother that I could bake this cake alone.

I was bestowed full reign over the kitchen all afternoon along with every pan, spatula and spoon in it.  That sacred day I received my mother’s trust and encouragement as well as her acknowledgment of how important it was for me to bake something on my own.  I am forever grateful for that moment with her, for it set me on my path, not only to becoming a woman who can bake, but a woman who knows chocolate cake.

IMG_0009

I firmly believe we should eat more chocolate cake.  And although Duncan Hines will always keep a tender, sweet crumb inside my heart, there’s nothing like homemade.  I know it’s not always that easy to find the time to make a delicious cake from scratch, however, the following recipe couldn’t be quicker, more moist and wickedly rich.  This recipe does not require a stand-up mixer, nor a hand-held.  Just two 9-inch cake pans, a large bowl, a medium bowl, a whisk and a rubber spatula.  Go gather up your cookery gear and ingredients, Darling.  You are on your way to having your cake in no time.

The Cake:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups strong coffee, cooled
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and dust the interiors of the pans with flour; tap out the excess.

Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a large bowl, and whisk just to blend the ingredients.  In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, vegetable oil, and vanilla.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir with a whisk until you have a well-blended batter with no lumps.  (The batter is meant to be stirred, not beaten.) Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, smoothing the tops if necessary.

Bake for 20- 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Transfer the cake pans to a cooling rack, let cool for about 5 minutes, then turn the cakes out of the pans.  Invert the cakes so they cool right-side up.  If you wish to turn this cake into a four-layer cake, when the cakes are completely cool, slice each layer with a bread knife or other large serrated knife in half horizontally to make four layers.

Frosting recommendations: Seven-Minute Frosting (for an old-fashioned look, use the back of a spoon to pull the frosting into points.) Or you may wish to leave the cake in two layers and enjoy one layer at a time with a simple dusting of powdered sugar just before serving.

As this cake freezes well, simply wrap the other layer air-tight in clear wrap, followed by aluminum foil, date it and  freeze it for up to two months.

Cake recipe adapted from “Zefiro’s Chocolate-Buttermilk Cake”, Diversion magazine April 1998.

Seven-Minute Frosting (from The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book, 1945)

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white corn syrup
  • 7 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine all ingredients, except vanilla, in a heatproof bowl (I use a medium-size glass Pyrex bowl) and mix well.  In the meantime, fill a 4- quart size pot about half-way with water and bring to a boil, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of your bowl when you place it on top.  Cook over boiling water 3 minutes.  Remove from fire but leave over hot water and beat with a rotary beater 7 minutes, or until of a consistency to spread.  Add vanilla and blend well.  Let cool completely before frosting.  You may have to give it a gentle whisk to fluff it back up first.

IMG_0040Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!;)

Not Perfect

My favorite day of the year is tomorrow and I am coming down with a cold.  I’m at the kitchen table trying to clear the fog from my aching head while next to me steam is rising from a hot cup of tea with honey and lemon.  Another dose of Sudafed waits for me until after I’ve eaten a piece of pumpkin bread.  The baking and cooking is done – one apple pie, one pumpkin, cranberry sauce, pumpkin bread (2 loaves; one to eat now and one to share tomorrow) and pumpkin-corn bread.  This is the holiday that kicks off the baking season for me and for so many others, I’m sure.  I’m already thinking about Christmas cookies.  January and February, I have determined, will be devoted to baking bread and making pizza crust.

Just this week I feel like I got over my fear (rather lack of self-confidence) when it comes to making pie crust.  After reading a few books on Julia Child and then watching an old episode on PBS where she showed her viewers the French technique for buttery, flaky crust, I decided the reason why I like her so much is because she was clearly having fun baking and cooking.  Even her recipes didn’t always come out perfect, but her belief was we become better cooks/bakers when we learn how to fix our mistakes.  And she never apologized to her dinner guests when the meal hadn’t quite turned out as she had hoped.

With the official start of the holiday season, I propose we drop the word “perfect” from our vocabulary.  Instead how about the “mindful” pie crust, cookie dough, bread dough etc.  Rather than trying to achieve perfection, we give what we are working on our full attention.  Use our hands to blend, to knead and to feel how the dough changes and to know when it’s ready…to know it in your bones.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The Laundry Can Wait

ImageI am frozen.  I thought I was getting so much time now that my three children are all in school all day.  But I am drowning in goals I’ve set for myself.  Writing goals, cooking and baking goals, volunteering goals.  My kitchen is a mess.  There are dirty dishes in the sink.  Deadlines are swimming like sharks around me.  So much laundry and dust.  New recipes are pinned to the refrigerator.

In the meantime, I’ve made zucchini muffins, eggplant parmigiana, giamobotta (pronounced jum-bought if you are from Jersey) with peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and eggplant – all from the Farmers’ Market – all during my private afternoons and all of which my family won’t even taste.

I learned how to make a proper roux and bechamel sauce thanks to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and from there made a deliciously creamy homemade macaroni and cheese with aged Wisconsin cheddar and smoked gouda (thumbs up from my middle child and from my husband. Although Tang, as I will lovingly refer to my man from here on out, shook his head saying that dirtying three pots for mac n cheese is too much work.  He also added up the cost to make sure it wasn’t cheaper just to buy a couple of boxes of Kraft.  It wasn’t.).

I am writing a food memoir and am working with a teacher/author at the University of Wisconsin through a memoir writing course.  Is this too much personal information for a blog?  I don’t know.  But I will say that I have decided to Go Big or Go Home – to take the Big risks when it comes to criticism or worse, indifference.  I am setting out to either make it as a writer or Fail Big.

And if I don’t succeed?  Then I’m going out in a Blaze of Glory.  Nothing small anymore.

I want fireworks.  I want everyone to know me as the girl who keeps trying, who may be a little crazy and that’s fine with me, because no one ever remembers the girl who always got her laundry done.