Green Tea Pound Cake

IMG_2180This moist cake tastes like pound cake, but there’s not a trace of butter used in the batter. The surprising green hue comes from matcha green tea powder, which has very little flavor component to it—at least the powder I used wasn’t terribly potent. And why was I testing a cake recipe using green tea powder? Here’s the back story. 
Hosting students from other countries has expanded our culinary tastes, encouraging us to try all sorts of unique foods. We’ve grown especially close to one of our students, Kana Miyamoto, from Japan. She loved that she got to stay in the home of a foodie, and we loved that she was game to try everything we offered her! After her last visit, she sent me a box full of food-related items unique to Japan. I’ll need a translator to figure out what some of the packets are… But there was a bag of matcha green tea powder that had some English on it, so I searched online to find something to do with it. A cake similar to this is posted on several sites, so I’m not sure of the recipe’s origin. 
FullSizeRenderAs for “selling” this recipe, don’t know quite what to say. My co-workers said “it tastes like pound cake” as they gobbled it up. I offered it with Reddi-Wip® as a topping, because, well, whipped cream makes everything better. It was good, and I’ll make it again, maybe increasing the amount of matcha. As I said earlier, the green tea powder didn’t have much flavor, and my cake wasn’t as green as others pictured online. Given that it uses olive oil and Greek yogurt, it’s a slightly healthier version of the traditional pound cake.* Slightly. So play the “it’s good for you” card when you serve this to guests. That always works, right?
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
½ cups olive oil (either regular or extra virgin)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½-1 teaspoon almond extract (depending on how much almond flavor you want!)
Powdered sugar for dusting cake
Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Prepare a 10-cup Bundt pan by spraying it with Pam, or greasing and flouring the pan. In medium bowl, combine the flour, matcha powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt and sugar until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the olive oil and vanilla, and combine. Gradually add in the flour mixture until blended. Add the remaining flour and fold just until combined. Don’t overmix.
Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let sit for 15 minutes and then invert onto serving plate and let sit until completely cool. Sift powder sugar on top of the cake and enjoy!
*NOTE: I’ve read that pound cake got it’s name because it originally used a pound each of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.

Oatmeal Apple Pie Cookies

FullSizeRenderLove apple pie or apple cobbler, but would like those flavors in a bite-sized portion? These apple and oatmeal cookies give you a hint of all-American apple pie without the hassle of making pie crust, something I personally have never mastered. (Whoever coined the phrase, “easy as pie” was nuts, in my opinion.) Since the cinnamon, oats, and apples have a fallish feel, put these on your list to try when the air gets crisp, and the leaves start to turn colors.

Oat-laden baked goods are a favorite with my sons, so the S’more Cookies previously posted got rave reviews the first time I made them. But my son Justin was kinda “meh” about the combo, only because he’s not super into s’mores. (I know, I know…what on earth is wrong with him?) He thought that the cookie base would be better with apples and a cream cheese frosting, and when he texted me a reminder of his suggestion one weekend, I said I’d give it a whirl. 

I was a little unsure about the order of the filling and frosting—should I fill them first and then frost after they were cool? Or drop in some frosting and then top with the apple pie filling? So I tried it both ways, then taste-tested on my family (plus my son Mitch’s friend Karl, one of my most ardent food admirers). They had no preference, gobbling both with equal enthusiasm. But they did vote for the ones with pie filling on top as they had a stronger apple flavor. They also said they really, really liked these because they aren’t an achingly sweet cookie—more in the vein of an apple granola bar. How do you like that! Tested by a discerning taste-testing panel before being posted. You’re welcome.

Makes 24-32 cookies

For cookie dough:
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (about 15 squares)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

For frosting and filling:
1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar (aka: powdered sugar, Tom…)
Drizzle of milk, 1-2 tablespoons
1 (21-ounce) can of apple pie filling

Preheat oven to 375°. In medium bowl, combine oats, flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat again. Add granulated sugar and beat until butter and sugars are light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until eggs are incorporated. Add milk and vanilla and beat again. Slowly mix in the oats and flour mixture with the mixer until all ingredients are combined.

Cover bowl of dough with plastic wrap, and chill for 1-4 hours. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.* Drop spoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-9 minutes.

While cookies are baking, make frosting. Put cream cheese in small mixer bowl, and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners sugar, and beat on low until combined. With mixer still on low, drizzle in milk and vanilla, and once the liquids are incorporated, return to high and beat until frosting is creamy. Set aside.

Open can of apple pie filling, and use long thin knife to dice apples while still in the can. Remove cookies from oven and make a slight impression in hot cookies with the back of a spoon. Put a generous tablespoon of frosting in the indent, and then add a dollop (another tablespoon) of apple pie filling on top of each cookie.

Return cookies to oven for 3-4 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely before storing.

*NOTE: I ended up making these without parchment paper ’cause I forgot to use it, and they were fine! Needed a good, stiff spatula to get them off the pan, but the parchment paper wasn’t as necessary as I thought.

Spicy Pumpkin Bundt Cake

IMG_1172You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something pumpkin flavored in the fall, so it’s at the risk of pumpkin overload that I post this. I just tried this moist and delicious pumpkin cake recipe, after seeing it on Martha Stewart’s website. It called for cake flour, which I didn’t have, so I subbed in all-purpose flour using this little trick that’s all over the internet: measure out 1 cup flour, then remove 2 tablespoons, and sift in 2 tablespoons corn starch. Use that concoction cup for cup as a replacement for the cake flour. I have a confession to make—I don’t think pumpkin actually has much flavor! Now, don’t pummel me with candy corn for my sacrilege against the sacred gourd. While it adds moistness to a recipe, it’s really the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in a recipe that we associate with the pumpkin-infused desserts and drinks so popular in autumn. (Personally, I think butternut and acorn squashes have more going on in the flavor department…)

Some people, like my daughter-in-law Jessica, can totally rock a layer cake. But cake making is my Achilles heel, so I love a good, simple Bundt®* cake recipe, especially one like this that requires no frosting. A light dusting of powdered sugar is all that’s needed to finish this tasty cake, and bing, bang, boom, it’s ready to serve. Maybe add a dollop of whipped cream or Cool Whip if you’re going to serve this instead of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving… And then watch this clip from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as a reminder that the term “Bundt® cake” isn’t universally recognized.

Serves 12-16

Rating: easy

4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), or 4 cups all-purpose flour minus ½ cup flour, plus ½ cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk**
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Spray a 14-cup Bundt® pan with cooking spray or coat with butter. Dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low. Beat in flour mixture gradually, alternating with the buttermilk or sour milk. Beat until just combined. Add pumpkin puree, and beat until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55-60 minutes. Let cool on awire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully turn cake onto rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

*FUN FACT: The Bundt® pan was created in the 1950’s by Nordic Ware, a Minneapolis company started by a husband and wife post-WWII to make Scandinavian ethnic cookware products. It comes in a wide variety of fluted or ridged configurations within the general ring shape. No one recipe needs to be used with the Bundt pan—it works for hundreds of different cake batters, as well as making a beautiful Jell-O mold.

**NOTE: I’ve never bought buttermilk when it’s called for in a recipe. I always make my own sour milk by putting 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in a measuring cup, and filling it with 1% or 2% milk (don’t use skim—the milk needs some fat to “sour”) to 1 cup measurement. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes before using in recipe.

Carrot Cake Cookies

FullSizeRenderI love carrot cake, but it seems like a special-occasion dessert, not a make-any-old-day deal. So when I ran across this recipe for carrot cake cookies that promised the same moist deliciousness without the cake fuss, I thought I’d give them a spin in the old KitchenAid. The recipe from the December 2014 issue of Real Simple said it made only 16 cookies, which is a snack for two at our house, so I doubled it. But then I ended up with 32 frosted cookies, which can’t be stacked in a container. So I brought them to my friend (and fellow blogger) Kathy’s house when she invited us for dinner, asking them to consume a few so I didn’t have to get creative with storage. No hardship on their part! We were barely home before she was texting to ask for the recipe, saying her husband was craving more of the tasty muffin-like morsels. Since you may have similar trouble with storage, the recipe here is for a single batch. Oh, and I added cloves to the spices, and used more confectioners sugar in the frosting than there was in the Real Simple version. They had also suggested these be made as sandwich cookies—two cookies with frosting between thembut my taste-testers decided that wasn’t nearly enough frosting-to-cookie ratio. And you gotta give the people what they want! And they want these perfect autumn spice cookies.

Makes 16 cookies

Ease rating: medium

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1-2 large eggs (1 makes them more cookie-like in texture, 2 makes them more cake-like. If doubling recipe, 3 eggs is perfect amount.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups coarsely grated carrots (2-3 medium)
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup raisins

Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk—whatever is needed to get frosting to spreading consistency

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves in a mixing bowl. Set aside. In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high. Add sugar and cream again until light and fluffy. Beat in egg (or eggs—one at a time if using two), then vanilla. Scrape down bowl occasionally. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add in flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in the carrots, pecans, and raisins. Cover and chill for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Drop 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, 12 per sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown around edges. Let cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting: Whip cream cheese in mixing bowl. Slowly add confectioners sugar until it’s all incorporated. Add vanilla, and milk, if necessary, to get frosting to spreading consistency. (You do not want this too runny, as this is not intended to be icing.) Frost cooled cookies. Store frosted cookies in airtight container. As this frosting recipe will frost a double batch of cookies, store any remaining frosting in frig for next time you make these cookies.

Raspberry-Rhubarb Slab Pie

FullSizeRenderWhen my rhubarb plant got beaten up in a fierce summer storm, I needed to get creative in the kitchen and use it or lose it. Browsing online, I came across this raspberry and rhubarb dessert (from tasteofhome.com) that sounded like a fun departure from my usual go-to rhubarb recipes. Plus, I’ve never made a pie crust—unless we did a pastry session in 7th grade foods class. Who can remember? At any rate, I thought I should get outside my baked-goods comfort zone and challenge myself a little.

Whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie” was on drugs. What’s so “easy” about PIE??? I followed the instructions for making the pastry, and got ready to roll out the dough. The directions were to roll it out between layers of waxed paper, but it was too flimsy and the dough was slipping all over the counter and the flour was flying. So I switched to floured parchment paper, and that worked a little better, but it was still no picnic. (That’s another expression I don’t get… Doesn’t making a full meal to bring on a picnic rank up there in culinary challenges? I find it exhausting.)

The next hurdle was trying to get the dough evenly distributed—equal thickness, and sorta in a rectangular shape. After 3 hours (or so it seemed) of huffing and puffing, I did finally get the bottom piece rolled and ready for the fruit filling. But then I had to do it again for the top! Ugh. I just about stabbed myself with the rolling pin. The end result was quite tasty, but I don’t think I’ll be winning any ribbons at the Fair in my lifetime.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it an 8. I loved the sweet-tart combination of the raspberry and rhubarb, and it was a nice change of pace from strawberry-rhubarb. It would be a fabulous treat to bring to a potluck, as it serves two dozen. I also liked that it was slimmer than a piece of pie, and the crust to fruit-filling ratio was perfect. Had my crust not been so tough, it would have been a perfect dessert. Next time, I’ll buy the Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts* and save my sanity.

Makes 18-24 servings

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons 2% milk
1 egg yolk
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
5 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed and drained
3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained

VANILLA ICING

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 to 6 teaspoons 2% milk

 In a large bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Whisk 3/4 cup milk and the egg yolk; gradually add to flour mixture, tossing with a fork until dough forms a ball. Add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Divide dough into two portions so that one is slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Roll out larger portion of dough between two large sheets of lightly floured parchment paper into an 18″x13″ rectangle. Transfer to an ungreased 15″x10″x1″ baking pan. Press onto the bottom and up sides of pan. Trim pastry to edges of pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add raspberries and rhubarb, tossing to coat. Spoon into pastry. Roll out remaining dough and place over filling. Fold bottom pastry over edge of top pastry; seal with a fork. Prick top with a fork.

Bake 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For icing, combine confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve a drizzling consistency; drizzle over pie. Cut pie into squares. Serve warm or room temperature with ice cream.

NOTE: If using frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a colander, but do not press liquid out.

* Pillsbury also makes a gluten-free refrigerated pie crust option.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

IMG_0748Crisp, crumble, cobbler…what’s the difference? Researching this question, I got as many different answers as there are names for baked pastry-topped fruit desserts. Here’s the general consensus: cobblers have biscuits on top, and crisps and crumbles have similar streusel toppings. But crisps usually have oats, whereas crumbles have flour and no oats. (Huffington Post flips this difference in an article they published, but my cookbooks and other online sources are consistent with a crisp including oats not vice versa, so I’m sticking with that.) However, “crisp” and “crumble” have come to be used interchangeably in recipes, oats or not. Whew!

Here’s another recipe for the previously promised rhubarb-o-rama. Nothing beats the pairing of tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries, and since they both pop up in spring, how perfect is that? You’ll have to limit your enjoyment of this dish to when these fruits are fresh, because you can’t sneak in frozen fruit—the water content is too high and you’ll get a pile of mush. Rhubarb needs some prep to get it ready for baking, so this isn’t quite as quick as a crisp made from apples or peaches or berries. Serve with a dollop of real vanilla bean ice cream or heavy cream, and your guests will be oohing and aahing and asking for more.

Another plus? You don’t even have to get your electric mixer out to do this dessert—a couple bowls and spoons are all that’s needed. This topping comes from a recipe clipped out of Family Fun magazine many moons ago. I use this on a multitude of fruit combinations, depending on what’s in season. (Sugar and fruit amounts need to vary depending on the fruits, so I’ll post some of those combos later.) Took me a while to come up with the right ratios of sugar, rhubarb, and strawberries, so I’ve saved you all that hassle. Sweet, huh?

Serves 8-12

Fruit base

6 cups chopped (1/2″ pieces) fresh rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
2 – 16 ounce containers or 5-6 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1/4-1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Topping

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, melted

In a large mixing bowl, add rhubarb and sugar. Stir to combine. Let stand for 1 hour. Add in sliced strawberries. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup flour, and stir. If mixture is still too soupy, add additional 1/4 cup flour and stir again.

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit.* Grease 9″x13″ or other 3 quart baking dish. Pour prepared strawberry-rhubarb mixture into pan. In medium mixing bowl, add oats, sugar, flour, and spices, and stir to combine. Pour melted butter over oats and toss until butter is incorporated. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 1 hour. Let cool 10-15 minutes so rhubarb juices set before serving.

*NOTE: You can also bake this dish at 375° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes if you’re in a rush, and it’ll be just as tasty.