Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple Walnut Cake with Caramel Butter Frosting

apple walnut cake with caramel butter frosting
Apple Walnut Cake with Caramel Butter Frosting 

Everyone should have at least one go-to recipe that's a guaranteed smash hit. The one that makes face light up when you walk into a room carrying it on a plate. The one friends call you for. The one friends of friends call you for. This is mine. You can make it into muffins, loaves, layers, even cookies by making a few simple adjustments. And the frosting? Just between you and me, I like to make this when no one else is home, so there will be no witnesses to my disgrace. It is finger-, spoon-, pot-licking amazing.

There's no occasion this cake won't work for. You can bring it for coffee hour, for brunch, for potlucks (bring copies of the recipe ~ trust me), and of course for dessert. If you warm it a tiny bit first, just to make that frosting a little melty, and plate it with a scoop of vanilla bean or cinnamon ice cream . . . Swoon. 

Back that cake up over here!

I like to make this with walnuts or pecans, though it's just dandy with no nuts too. Throw in some dried cranberries, or don't. For apples, I like to use something tart and firm ~ Cortland, Granny Smith, Rome, even Macoun or Empire. If you're making cookies with the batter, go less on the apples or your cookies will be soft. If you're making muffins or loaves, go to town.

Apple Walnut Cake with Caramel Butter Frosting

Yield: 2 single-layer cakes or 1 large Bundt cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (I replace 1 cup white flour with wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
Caramel Butter Frosting
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 stick (4 oz) butter
  • ¼ cup milk, cream, or half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 to 11/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

    1. Spray two 9" cake pans with nonstick pan spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
    2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and baking powder, spices, and salt; set aside.
    3. In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, sugars, eggs, vanilla, apples, and walnuts; stir to combine. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon or large spatula to incorporate all dry ingredients. 
    4. Transfer batter to prepared pans and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean. Remove pans to rack for 10 minutes; de-pan cakes and let cool completely before frosting or freezing.
    5. For Caramel Butter Frosting: Combine brown sugar, butter, and milk or cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let cook for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool until the caramel is just slightly warm. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat in confectioners’ sugar ½ cup at a time until desired consistency is reached. Frost cooled cake layer(s) with a small offset spatula, swirling frosting in a smooth motion. If frosting hardens too quickly, place over low heat on stove (or in microwave for a few seconds) until it softens. If desired, add sprinkles or decorations immediately after spreading as this frosting will set up quickly. 

    Recipe Notes:
    • To make this cake in a Bundt pan, let bake a few minutes longer, until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean ~ about 45 to 50 minutes. Let sit on rack for 15 minutes before removing cake from pan and cooling completely. Prepare frosting as directed but use less confectioners' sugar to achieve a drizzling consistency. Alternatively, thin frosting with a little bit of milk or cream, or heat and drizzle over cake while the frosting is melted. 
    • This cake freezes beautifully. Make one layer to serve now and wrap the other tightly in two layers of plastic wrap and store in the freezer to serve later. 

    Tuesday, September 16, 2014

    Pumpkin Waffles with Buttery Spiced Cider Reduction

    It's pumpkin season, and I'm terribly excited about it. It may be 100 degrees here in Las Vegas, but back in my home state of New York, it's getting chilly in the morning and at night, the leaves are just starting to turn, and apple picking is in full swing.

    Joshua trees don't change color (they don't even have "leaves," really), but fall just fills me up with an intense nostalgia that can only be soothed by pumpkin...lots and lots of pumpkin. I hope that works for you.

    This recipe combines two autumn classics--pumpkin and apple--with fragrant fall spices. I love to serve these with chunky applesauce and a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. They freeze well, so make sure to plan for leftovers!

    Happy September!

    Pumpkin Spice Waffles with Spiced Cider Reduction

    Yields: 6-8 Belgian waffles

    • 2 eggs
    • 1 3/4 cups milk
    • 1/3 cup coconut oil
    • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

    Spiced Cider Reduction

    • 2 cups unsweetened apple cider
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 tablespoon butter

    1. For Spiced Cider Reduction: Combine apple cider and spices in a small, shallow saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat and simmer until reduced by half and slightly syrupy (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in butter. Keep warm to serve.
    2. While syrup is reducing, preheat waffle iron. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil, sugar, salt, and pumpkin puree. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and spices. Whisk dry ingredients into wet ingredients just until incorporated.
    3. Spray waffle iron with nonstick pan spray. Cook waffles according to manufacturer's directions. Serve warm with Spiced Cider Reduction (recipe follows), if desired.

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Date Walnut Bread

    When I say “date walnut bread,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For lots of people ~ especially in the Chock Full o’ Nuts generation (I refer to the cafe, not the mental state) ~ this conjurs images of dark, dense nut bread studded with tender pieces of sweet dates. For others ~ many, many others ~ it conjurs the following response: blech.

    I stand here today a little embarrassed to confess that just a few hours ago, I was in the latter camp. In all the years I’ve been baking both recreationally and professionally, I can’t recall ever having produced a single loaf of date-nut bread. But that was yesterday. Now, I’m all about it!

    Earlier today, I set out to make a couple of quick breads. Banana? Snore. Zucchini? Sounds good. I called my gardening mom and asked her to hook me up with a few of the giant zukes she undoubtedly was hauling by the wheelbarrowful from her garden this late in the season. "Oh . . . well, I gave them all away. But I do have half a four-inch zucchini left. You can have that." So much for that. I dove to the back of the pantry in desperation, where I happened upon a bag of dates left over from my days of making who-knows-what I used to make with dates. Hmm. Interesting.

    So a little of this and a little of that later, I was sliding two orange-scented, sugar-crusted date-walnuts loaves into the oven. And then I sat down to catch up on some blog reading and Facebook trolling, which is where I learned that there happens to be a Date Nut Bread Day! I kid you not. {Go Google that . . . September 8, Date Nut Bread Day. Seriously.} Weird, right?

    Well, what's even weirder is that there are TWO Date Nut Bread Days ~ September 8 and December 22. Since we overshot the first celebration of this special occasion, I suggest you make two loaves today, eat one, and pop one into the freezer for December 22 ~ Happy holidays!

    Orange-Scented Date-Walnut Bread

    Yield: 2 8x4” loaves
    • 1 1/2 cups water
    • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
    • 1 cup pitted dates, chopped
    • ¾ cup canola or other neutral cooking oil
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • Zest of 1 orange
    • 3 large eggs, beaten
    • 3 cups flour
    • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
    • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
    • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

    Prep: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; spray two 8x4” loaf pans with nonstick pan spray
    1. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add liqueur and chopped dates. Cover and remove      from heat; let stand 20 minutes. Reserve all liquid in pot.
    2. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
    3. To dates and soaking liquid in pot, add oil, vanilla, and orange zest. Stir in eggs until well blended.
    4. Add date mixture to flour mixture and stir to mix thoroughly. Fold in chopped walnuts.
    5. Divide batter evenly between pans. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar over batter in each pan. Place pans on middle rack in oven and bake at 350F for approximately 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
    6. Let pans cool on rack for 15 mins. De-pan loaves and let cool on rack at least 1 hour before cutting.
    • Like most fruit and/or nut breads, this one benefits from some resting time. If you can wait, after cooling, wrap tightly in plastic and let sit overnight before slicing and serving.
    • This bread freezes very well. Wrap cooled loaves (or individual slices) in plastic wrap and then in foil, label, and store for up to 2 months in the freezer.
    • This bread has a lot of flavor and is delicious on its own, but it’s just crazy-good with a shmear of whipped cream cheese. And don’t be skimpy.

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Carrot Cake Granola Bars

    a midnight snack . . .
    I love granola bars for post- (or mid-) run snacks. My kids love them for quick, grabby breakfasts. It's such a simple item to prepare yourself, and they're infinitely customizable. I make big batches, wrap the bars individually, and store them in the freezer. The bars take less than 10 minutes to thaw (but I've gnawed on many a still-frozen bar with no ill-effects).

    I came up with this recipe because I wanted something nice and fall-ish that didn't involve going all the way to the store to buy pumpkin. Maybe it's lazy, or maybe it's serendipity.

    So, do they actually taste like carrot cake? Yep, these are definitely cousins in the carrot cake family. Think of them as the kind of jovial, polite, but health-conscious cousins who come to Thanksgiving dinner and make great conversation but eat only one kind of pie and no second helpings.

    Carrot Cake Granola Bars with Walnuts

    • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
    • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup flaxmeal
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1/3 cup honey
    • 1/2 cup oil
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 cup shredded carrots
    • 1/2 cup raisins
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil inside a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish and mold it to fit the dish. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

    In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, wheat flour, white flour, flaxmeal, salt, spices, and walnuts. In a medium mixing bowl, combine honey, oil, egg, extract, carrots, and raisins. Stir carrot mixture into dry ingredients; mix until thoroughly combined and all dry ingredients are evenly moistened.

    Spoon mixture into foil-lined baking dish and press into an even layer with a spatula or a oiled hand. Place pan in a 350F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. Set pan on rack and let cool completely. When cool, carefully lift foil out and transfer to cutting board. Use a large, sharp knife to cut into bars.

    If desired, wrap individually in plastic wrap and store in a tightly sealed container in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature for 15 minutes.

    Yields: Makes about 20 bars.

    Monday, September 8, 2014

    Cookie Butter Ice Cream

    cookie butter, ice cream
    The first time I heard of cookie butter, I thought it was a joke. Who on earth would eat it, when there were peanut butter and Nutella to be had? Cookie mush from a jar? Not bloody likely. 

    I was clearly laboring under the ignorance of the uninitiated. Fortunately/unfortunately, that would change. Shopping with my daughter in Trader Joe's one day, she announced that she was going to pick up a jar of cookie butter. I would see, she said. I just had to try it.

    We searched high and low, but there was no cookie butter anywhere. She insisted. We asked at the front desk, in case we missed it on the shelves. The clerk at the desk smiled indulgently and rummaged under the counter. He deposited three jars of cookie butter--smooth, crunchy, and chocolate--in front of us. "Choose one," he said. "Haha," I said. 

    Turns out, he wasn't kidding. They had such a hard time keeping this product in stock, they were now rationing it, he explained. Sales were restricted to one jar per person per day, therefore I would have to choose. Oh, really. I was turning away when Paris grabbed the chocolate version off the counter and thanked the man. 

    At home, groceries not yet unpacked, she dug a spoon into the jar and handed it to me. "Just taste it, Mom." I went back the next two days for crunchy and smooth. 

    Happily, the supply issues cleared up a couple of months later. Now we can buy cookie butter with abandon, straight from the shelf. Which is a good thing, because...this:

    cookie butter, ice cream

    Cookie Butter Ice Cream

    Yield: Just over 1 quart

    • 1 (14-ounce; about 11/2 cups) jar Speculoos Cookie Butter, divided 
    • ½ cup granulated sugar
    • Pinch sea salt
    • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 1 cup milk (I used 1%)

    1. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1 cup cookie butter with sugar in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add salt and vanilla extract and beat again.
    2. With the mixer on lowest setting, add cream and milk in a stream. Raise speed to medium and beat until fully combined, about 1 minute.
    3. Process cookie butter ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. 
    4. Layer ice cream with spoonfuls of the remaining cookie butter, swirling with a butter knife as desired. 
    5. Freeze at least 3 hours (ideally overnight) to allow flavors to develop. 
    6. Will keep in an airtight freezer container for about 2 weeks.


    I used smooth cookie butter for the ice cream base and crunchy for the ribbon. If you have only one kind on hand, I'd suggest smooth. 

    Monday, September 1, 2014

    Blue Cheese Cocktail Crackers

    cheese crackers
    If you like cheese crackers, I have something for you. But first, let me apologize in advance for ruining you for commercial cheese crackers forever. I had a longstanding relationship with Cheez-Its too, and I ruined myself for them. Let's just say that these savory, buttery, flaky little crackers are to Cheez-Its what your grandmother's chewymeltydeliciousstraightoutoftheoven chocolate chip cookies are to Chips Ahoy.

    Serve these with a glass of wine or your favorite craft beer. And however many you think you'll need, make more.
    cheese crackers

    Blue Cheese Cocktail Crackers

    The second best thing about these crackers is how quickly they come together. (The first is how they light up all the pleasure sensors in your brain.) The color of the dough will be an odd and somewhat disconcerting shade of cadet blue. Not to worry! They bake up a heavenly golden brown.

    Yield: About 5 dozen

    • 4.5 ounces blue cheese (use a good-quality cheese, not blue cheese crumbles)
    • 3 tablespoons butter, cold
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
    • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    • Additional kosher salt and black pepper for sprinkling
    1. Combine blue cheese, butter, flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough comes together in a ball.
    2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour (or more).
    3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
    4. Roll chilled dough out to about 1/8" thickness between sheets of parchment or waxed paper. Cut into 1" squares with a pastry wheel or pizza cutter. (You can also use cookie cutters.)
    5. Transfer crackers to prepared baking sheets and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
    6. Let crackers cool completely before placing in an air-tight container. Will keep at room temperature for 3 days; freeze for longer storage.

    Friday, August 29, 2014

    Crabbies Spiced Orange Alcoholic Ginger Beer (Review)

    Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer has appeared in the US by way of St. Killian Importing. Popular in the UK (where it is available in flavors such as strawberry and lime and Scottish raspberry), Crabbie's is the official sponsor of the Grand National Festival, an annual handicap steeplechase held in Liverpool, England. St. Killian's has been importing Crabbie's into the US for the past couple of years, and it's currently available available in 18 US states.
    Crabbies alcoholic ginger beer, ginger beer
    Crabbies Spiced Orange Alcoholic Ginger Beer

    Category: Flavored malt and cider

    Style/Type: Malt beverage

    Description: Flavored with imported ginger cold-steeped for a period of up to 6 weeks, then combined with "four secret ingredients."

    How to serve: In a tall glass, over ice, with a slice of lemon or lime.

    Stats: ABV 4.8%

    Tasting notes: Has a lovely spicy ginger flavor that provides the gentle, back-of-the-throat burn that ginger lovers will appreciate. Both the original and the orange versions are dominated by ginger flavor, and as is typical of other malt beverages, the alcohol is almost indiscernible. The sweetness is prominent, as in nonalcoholic ginger ale. Because Crabbie's isn't technically a "beer," I won't use the ASTMO standards in my review.

    Comments: Although I don't typically choose sweet beverages, I enjoyed this one. It's sweet but crisp, spicy, and very refreshing. It has a complexity of flavors that, for me, worked well with the sweetness. I can see why the words "alcoholic" and "for grownups only" are used in all the labeling.I'd like to try this in a shandygaff, the British version of the shandy, which mixes ginger beer with ale. (Click for my Lemon Shandy recipe.) It's not the sort of thing I'd drink with a meal--I prefer straight-up beer--but it's a nice summery change of pace from hard lemonade or cider for patio sipping. I'll be stocking this one over the summer for sure.

    Disclaimer: I received samples of both the Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer and the Spiced Orange for tasting and review. My review is not compensated, and all opinions are mine.



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