Tag Archives: Baking

Strawberry Preserves & Hand Pies

I think it’s nearly impossible to walk past fresh strawberries at the farmer’s market without buying a pint. (Or four.) So between our Greenling Local Box and two trips to the farmer’s market last week, I had six pints of local strawberries in the fridge on Saturday morning. Two pints were from Gundermann Acres in Wharton, two were from Naegelin Farms in Lytle, and two pints were from Two Happy Children Farm in Taylor, Texas.

So many strawberries won’t keep more than a few days, so I decided to make some jam to use up my haul of berries. I am an inexperienced canner, so Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves seemed like a great place to start: not-to-sweet, and no added pectin. His recipe calls for a lot of berries, some citrus, and a pinch of rosemary and black pepper. I made it my own by substituting oranges for the lemon, omitting the salt, increasing the rosemary and pepper, and cutting the sugar down a bit. The rosemary I used is from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, and the oranges are from G&S Groves down in McAllen, Texas.

Here’s my version of the recipe, scaled down for just one pint of strawberries.

Strawberry Preserves (Each pint of strawberries will yield about 1 cup of jam)
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves
1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
pinch black pepper
juice of 1/2 an orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

In a saucepan with high sides, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep close watch on the pan with a spoon at the ready– strawberries will foam up if you’re not careful! Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until jam is thick and syrupy. Around the half-hour mark, the consistency of the jam will be thick and the mixture will look glossy. You can test the consistency of the finished jam by spooning a blob onto a very cold plate. Wait a minute, then draw your finger through the jam. If the jam stays separated on the plate, it’s ready! If the jam runs back together, keep cooking. Once the jam is set to your standards, transfer it to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and use it up within the week.

My six pints of berries made a huge batch of the jam, and while it’s not as good as Confituras‘ I am really pleased with my first-ever attempt at strawberry preserves.

You can see that the preserves have a lovely texture: soft, chopped pieces of berries are suspended in a thick syrup. Homemade jam usually has a softer set than store-bought, and this is wonderful to spread on muffins, toast, or swirled atop oatmeal. Next time I make it I am going to experiment with increasing the sugar and using lemon juice to try to get a brighter flavor from the berries.

Tonight I used some leftover pie crust and 1/4 cup of the preserves to make these pretty hand pies. They’re kind of like strawberry Pop-Tarts, only they taste like real strawberries and there’s no red food coloring.

The finished hand pies were lovely, except for one that I overfilled. A whole chunk of strawberry spurted out of the side of the pie while it was in the oven.

I giggled when I saw it because it looked like it was blowing me a big raspberry! Er, strawberry!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Cherry Pies

What it is about mini cherry pies that makes them so much tastier than the regular sized ones? Perhaps they are easier to eat. Or the tiny crust-to-cherry filling ratio is better. Maybe it’s the cute factor.

For whatever reason, these mini pies were one of the most popular dishes at my sister’s book-themed baby shower last month.  I made them using my standby pie crust recipe (seen here and here) and a jar of wild cherry preserves homemade by my aunt in Carlisle, Iowa.

The process for making mini pies is pretty simple as long as you have some biscuit cutters and a mini muffin tin. Here’s what I did:

  1. After rolling the pie crust to 1/4 inch thickness, I used a 2-5/8 inch biscuit cutter to cut the top and bottom crusts.
  2. Then I placed a bottom crust into each well of a mini-muffin tin, using my fingers to press the crust flat down into the tin.
  3. I put a 1/2 teaspoon of cherry preserves in each pie and brushed the edges of the bottom crusts with egg wash.
  4. I placed the top crusts on the filled pies, pinching the crust edges together with my fingers.
  5. Finally, I used the tip of a paring knife to cut four vent holes in the top of each finished pie before giving them a final brush with egg wash.
  6. I baked the pies for 35 minutes at 350, until the crust was golden brown.

A full recipe of double crust and 1 cup of cherry jam yielded 32 tiny pies.

This assembly method was effective, but next time I’d like to experiment to get a prettier finished product. Although the pies stayed sealed, I wasn’t happy with the fluting effect I got with my bare fingers and the muffin tin, plus the tops of the pies were lumpier than I wanted.

None of the guests at the baby shower complained about the fluting, so I’m not sweating the cosmetics here too much.  Still, I’m eager for the next time I have occasion to make these so that can figure out a better way to attach the top crust. Any advice, fellow pastry-obsessives?

Cheddar Kale Muffins

image courtesy Howard Walfish

These savory muffins call for a whole head of kale, plus protein-rich cheddar cheese, making them a healthy and filling option for breakfast on the go.  You’re going to have to take my word for it that these muffins look good. I made a batch of them for us to take on vacation to San Diego, and I was in such a hurry to pack them up that I forgot to take a picture!  They were great travel food; not too smelly on the plane, and a big step up from any of the airport snacks.

Cheddar Kale Muffins (yields 12 regular-sized muffins)
1 head kale, washed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cup milk
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 12-muffin pan with paper liners. Chop thick stalks off of kale and slice remaining leaves very finely. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, saute chopped kale in olive oil for about seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until kale is very tender and starts to look a little dry.  Set cooked kale on paper towels to drain and melt the butter in the skillet.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together milk, melted butter, egg, minced garlic, and cooked kale until the egg is completely beaten. Add flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cheese.  Stir until just combined; do not over mix.

Fill twelve prepared muffin cups with batter– about 1/4 cup per muffin– and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. The finished muffins will be slightly browned and a toothpick inserted into a muffin should come out clean. Remove the pan from oven and allow muffins to cool completely before eating. The kale flavor in the muffins is very strong while the muffins are hot; it mellows as they cool, resulting in a great breakfast treat.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery, and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Tangerine Shortbread

In a pinch for a last-minute hostess gift or holiday bake sale offering?  These zesty shortbread cookies come together in less than 40 minutes and have just four ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, and the Oasis Gardens tangerines from this week’s local box.

Don’t let the simple ingredients fool you; these Christmas cookies taste fancier than the recipe lets on.  They have the golden color and tender texture of traditional shortbread cookies, but the tangerine zest in the dough gives the finished cookies a fresh flavor. You can use the zest of any citrus fruits you have on hand, though I prefer the mild sweetness of tangerine.

Tangerine Shortbread (makes about 30, 1×3 inch cookies)
2 tablespoons tangerine zest
1 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour

Making these cookies is a cinch.  The first step is to use the fine side of a box grater or microplane to zest the tangerines.  The chef in this video is demonstrating with a lemon, but the zesting process is the same for all citrus:

After you finish zesting the tangerines, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare a cookie sheet with baking parchment. Next, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the tangerine zest in the food processor. Pulse until the zest and sugar are combined.  If you have a stand mixer, use it to mix the zesty sugar and butter until creamy.  Then add two cups all-purpose flour and mix at low speed until just combined. The dough will be very thick and crumbly.  If you don’t have a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar in the food processor. Then, move the mixture to a separate mixing bowl and work in the flour by hand. (I did this both ways and needed to add about a tablespoon of water along with the flour to hold the dough together when I was working it by hand. The cookies turned out about the same both ways.)

Once dough is combined, pat it or roll it into an even, half-inch thick rectangle. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the dough into whatever shape you like. (N.B. Go for easy shapes like diamonds, rectangles, or squares with this recipe. Since the dough is crumbly, it will not cooperate with foo foo snowflakes or round shapes. You also want to avoid re-rolling it since that will result in tough cookies.)

Gently move the cookies to your cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the bottom edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before eating.  These cookies keep for up to ten days at room temperature in an airtight container, and they freeze well, too.

Click here for the printable version of this recipe.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery, and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

I first read about Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter in one of my favorite Austin food blogs, Local Savour.  I knew right away that I wanted to use it to make Christmas cookies, and last Wednesday I bought a jar of pear butter from Stephanie herself just for that purpose.  Well.  Sort of.  I never actually made it to the cookies because as soon as I sampled a little of the pear butter, I ended up eating half the jar.

I still needed to make something for dessert that night, so I came up with this challah pear pudding with salty caramel sauce.  For the recipe I used cinnamon challah from  UT’s Challah for Hunger, incorporating into the dessert flavors from Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter.

Wowza, what a great idea!  This bread pudding is easy to prepare, indulgent, and fancy enough for serving at a holiday dinner where you want to impress. And while I made my own salty caramel sauce, topping the dessert with Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter is just as tasty. (I know, since that’s what happened to the other half of my cookie-making jar.)  A recipe of this bread pudding along with a few 8 oz. jars of pear butter would make a creative and delectable holiday hostess gift.

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce (Serves 8 )
Bread Pudding:
1, one-pound loaf cinnamon or plain challah bread*
3 ripe pears
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (omit if using cinnamon challah)

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon salt
OR top pudding with 8 oz. Confituras Salted Caramel Pear Butter

Prepare bread pudding: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and butter a 2-quart baking dish.  Cut challah bread into 1-inch slices, the cut those slices into 1 inch cubes.  Set aside.  Core and dice pears (no need to peel them) and set aside.  Heat butter, brown sugar and white sugar in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds with a wooden spoon to keep mixture from scorching.  Carefully pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and whisk in milk.  Add eggs, nutmeg and cinnamon, whisking until mixture is well combined.  Add challah and fold together with a rubber spatula until bread cubes are coated.

Pour 1/3 of the pears into the prepared baking dish and cover with 1/2 the bread mixture.  Repeat, and top the casserole with the remaining 1/3 of the pears.  Use the rubber spatula to smoosh down the pudding so that it sits in an even layer in the dish.  Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for an hour in preheated oven, or until pudding springs back. Remove foil in last 10 minutes of baking so that the top of the bread pudding is golden brown.

To make salted caramel sauce:  cook 1 cup white sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  It will take about 8 minutes of frequent stirring for the granulated sugar to transform into an amber-colored caramel.  At that point, remove the pan from heat.  Slowly add one cup heavy cream to the melted sugar, stirring constantly.  (Mixture will bubble and foam; this is good.) Add butter and salt, stirring until caramel is thickened and a little glossy.

Here’s how the sugar looks during the transformation from granulated white stuff to amber-colored caramel:

Top the finished bread pudding with caramel sauce and serve warm.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

*I’ve mentioned UT Challah for Hunger on my blog before, and they are one of my favorite local food sources. The group of UT students sells regular, cinnamon, and chocolate chip challahs for just $5 every Wednesday on the west mall of campus, with proceeds benefiting Darfur. Unfortunately, this past week was the students’ last time to bake for the year, and they won’t be back in action until late January. (In the meantime, you can get your challah fix on Fridays at Upper Crust Bakery in the Rosedale neighborhood.)

Spiced Beet Whoopie Pies

These whoopie pies sandwich a layer of fluffy cream cheese frosting between two pillowy mounds of spice cake.  They’re like a cross between a gingersnap, a cupcake, and a cloud from Care-a-Lot*. Perfect for holiday gatherings, or for eating by yourself during a claymation movie marathon.

Pumpkin has become a popular ingredient in holiday whoopie pies, but it makes the cake stickier than I like.  I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart’s and Rachel Ray’s recipes for pumpkin whoopie pies, using beet puree in place of the pumpkin.  The beets give the finished cookies a soft, cake=like texture, and an earthy flavor that’s not too sweet.  The beet flavor in this recipe is complemented by a blend of traditional holiday spices: cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, and nutmeg. (I would have added cloves and ginger if I had them on hand.) Don’t skimp on these spices!  The taste of beets needs a big spicy kick to balance it out.

Spiced Beet Whoopie Pies
(makes 8 large desserts; each serving 2 people or one very hungry elf)
Cookies:
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup beet puree, from 1 large beet or several mini beets (instructions below)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon cardamom
1/2 tablespoon allspice
1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2/3 cups flour
Filling
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 tablespoons cream cheese
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, as needed for texture

First, make beet puree. I used 6, ping pong ball-sized beets to make 3/4 cup puree.  One or two large beets would work, too. Place whole, unpeeled beets in a saucepan and cover with water.  Boil for at least half an hour, until flesh is tender and can be pierced with a fork.  Drain beets and allow to cool. Once beets can be handled safely, remove skin with a paring knife or your fingers and puree cooked beets in a food processor.

Next up, make the cookies. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment.  Combine in a food processor 3/4 cup beet puree, 8 tablespoons softened butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract.  Process until mixture is smooth and well combined. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and dried spices. Carefully pour the beet mixture into the mixing bowl, and use a rubber spatula to fold the beet mixture and flour mixture together.

Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring cup, portion cookie dough into 16 mounds, spaced evenly onto each baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, until springy to the touch. Remove from oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream 4 tablespoons softened butter with cream cheese.  Add the confectioners’ sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing on low until blended and then at medium-high speed until fluffy. Depending on the weather, the frosting may reach the appropriate texture before the full two cups of sugar are mixed in.  If necessary, thin frosting with a little milk.

Spread cream cheese frosting on the flat side of half the cookies; top with remaining cookies.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge for at least an hour and up to three days before serving.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

*Remember Care-a-lot?  I like to think that even Professor Coldheart would get into the holiday spirit if he were served beet whoopie pies at a Festivus party.

Rosemary Lemon Cornmeal Cookies

I’m planning a little series of Christmas cookie posts this month, loosely titled “The 12 Cookies of Christmas.” (For the most part, I have just been calling it that in my head since it’s such a cheesy title. Let’s not call it that out loud, okay?) Each of the twelve recipes will feature locally-sourced ingredients in a holiday-cookie-exchange-ready format.  Get ready for beet whoopie pies, apple spice cookies, meyer lemon bars, and other holiday treats, just waiting to fill your Santa shaped cookie jar.

Rosemary’s sweet, pungent flavor and green needles remind me of Christmas trees, so when I was planning the series, I knew I wanted to kick things off with these crispy lemon rosemary cookies.  The timing couldn’t be better since Meyer lemons are finally in season here in Austin.  This recipe also features eggs from Ringger Farm and cornmeal from Homestead Gristmill, near Waco, Texas.  The course texture of the Homestead’s cornmeal enhances these cookies’ crunch, and I find these cookies to be more flavorful than ones I’ve made with nationally distributed brands of cornmeal.

Rosemary Lemon Cornmeal Cookies (yields 32 cookies)
adapted from “Cornmeal Cookies,” by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley
Cooking Light, May 2008

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary needles
1 tablespoon grated Meyer lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a cookie sheet with silpat or baking parchment. (Don’t skip this. The finished cookies are very delicate and will lose their shape if they stick to the pan after cooking.)

In a small bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, beat softened butter, sugar, rosemary, lemon rind, and lemon juice until creamy, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Add egg and beat until well combined.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just blended.  Dough will be very soft.

Spoon dough by heaping teaspoons 2.5 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Cookies will spread while cooking, so take care not to put dough too close to the edges of the baking sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 11 1/2 minutes, until lightly browned and almost firm. Remove from oven and cool on pans for 2 minutes or until firm. Remove firm cookies from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.