Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Green Tomato Cake with Brown Butter Icing

 Last week, at the farmer's market, I bought delicious honey crisp apples, cremini mushrooms, and green tomatoes.  I'd seen this recipe months ago, but I had to wait for green tomatoes to come in. I have a weakness for "secret ingredient" recipes, what mother doesn't want to sneak some vegetables past her family?

In this case, I liked the idea better than the execution. The cake was just a little heavy, and not spicy enough. I like browned butter anything, but next time, I would reduce the butter or increase the sugar, as the icing was too thin.

Green Tomato Cake with Brown Butter Icing
adapted from Paula Deen at

1 cup (8 ounces) butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ½ cups diced green tomatoes
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts  

Browned Butter Icing:
½ cup (4 ounces) butter
1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan, or spray with nonstick flour spray.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

 In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Gradually add to butter mixture, mixing well.  Stir in tomatoes, raisins, and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely. Top with browned butter icing.

Browned Butter Icing:

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Let cool slightly, stirring occasionally, until it thickens.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Charlie was always an early riser. If anything, she woke up even earlier on Saturday mornings than during the week. After all, on weekends her favorite playmate was available for adventures at the park. 
M. Babette, after a 60 hour workweek slaying dragons, was often awakened at dawn by little Charlie tugging on his arm. Together they would tiptoe down to the kitchen and make biscuits. Then they would head to the park for playtime, bug safaris, whatever. Sometime later, I would find the pan of leftover biscuits, which I'd eat with honey or blackberry jam, while reveling in the silence of an empty house.

Now, Charlie is a teenager. She sleeps in a bit later on the weekends. She likes scrambled eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast. There are still biscuits, they both know the recipe by heart. Even when they're not really speaking, they make biscuits together. They eat the leftovers the next day, split, with smoked turkey.

Baking Powder Biscuits
adapted from Beard On Bread

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter (2 ounces)
¾ cup milk (preferably whole)

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Add baking powder and salt to the sifted flour, and whisk or sift into a mixing bowl.  Work in the butter with your fingers, or use a pastry blender until it is the consistency of cornmeal. Add milk and stir into the dough just enough to make the particles cling together. (It should be a very soft dough.) Turn onto a floured surface and knead for about 1 minute. Then either pat or roll out to a ¾ inch thickness.

Cut out the biscuits into rounds or squares, according to your taste. Arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet or pan. If you want them crisp all around, place them far apart; for fluffier biscuits, place close together. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden.
Makes 12 to 18 biscuits. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big-Batch Butterscotch Cookies

Much of the pleasure of baking comes from sharing. Sure, sharing with friends and family is great, and we get so much pleasure from seeing them savor what we've made. This is different, baking for people I don't know, kids really, who live on the street in Chicago. A more modest kind of satisfaction, but maybe even longer lasting.

I'd heard of the Night Ministry, I knew they offered health services and counseling to homeless and runaway teens, but I didn't know about the cookies. In addition to their other programs, the Night Ministry offers food. Sack suppers are offered from a table set outside their Health Bus, or at drop ins. Area community groups donate the sack suppers (sandwich, chips or pretzels, cookies) and in the case of my local church, the cookies are homemade. Every month, church folk meet and prepare 200 sack suppers, which means they bake 400 cookies.

This month, I was honored to chip in with some butterscotch cookies. You know I can't resist any recipe in the "Big Batch" category, and I love butter/brown sugar flavors. I know they don't look incredible or fancy, never mind, they have great flavor and are chewy and satisfying.

Bakers notes: There's cream of tartar in this recipe, and I don't know why, since there is also baking powder. I added a bit of molasses, as I often do to brown sugar cookies, but it may have made the cookies a bit flat. If I were making them for a bake sale, I would add toasted chopped pecans, or chopped Heath bars. Charlie loved these, so I will make them again.

Big Batch Butterscotch Cookies
adapted from

    5 ¼    cups    all-purpose flour -- 26 ounces
    1    tablespoon    baking powder
    1 ½    teaspoon    baking soda
    ½    teaspoon    cream of tartar
     ¼    teaspoon    salt
    1 ½    cups    butter -- softened
    3    cups    packed brown sugar -- 21 ounces
    3        eggs
    1    tablespoon    vanilla extract
    1    teaspoon    molasses

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla and molasses. Transfer to a larger bowl if necessary. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Drop by level tablespoonfuls (or cookie scoop of choice) 2 in. apart onto ungreased baking sheets (I used silpat liners). Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yields about 65 cookies, using a tablespoon size dough scoop.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big Batch Brownies

M. Babette loves to stack brownies.......
 Sometimes, you need a whole lot of brownies. It was Rally Day at the local church and my friends asked me to contribute something for the dessert table. This is one of my favorite potluck-bake sale-school picnic recipes.  I usually have all the ingredients on hand, it comes together quickly, and bakes in 30 minutes.

Bakers Notes: These are a thicker, cakier brownie with a crisp crust. They have a delicious butter and chocolate flavor, and hold up well to travel. Use the best chocolate you can, it makes a difference, but face it, you're not going to use Valrhona for the Boy Scouts. Sometimes, you can find a good brand on sale, or find a house brand of good quality. Last year, I found some chocolate at Aldi that I loved, so I stocked up. If you don't have a half-sheet pan, the batter will fit into three 13" by 9" pans.

Babette's Big Batch Brownie Recipe
adapted from

    1    pound    butter
    8    ounces    unsweetened chocolate
    8        eggs
    3    cups    white sugar
    1    cup    light brown sugar (tightly packed)
    3    cups    white flour
    2    teaspoons    baking powder
    1    teaspoon    salt
    1 ½    tablespoons    vanilla extract
    2    cups    chopped walnuts or pecans -- toasted, optional

Lightly spray a half-sheet pan (mine's 12" by 18") with cooking spray, line with parchment, then spray the sides. Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan at medium heat, stirring until melted. If you use microwave instead - set it at medium. Set mixture aside to cool for ten minutes. In large bowl (or your standing mixer bowl), beat eggs until frothy; slowly add sugars, beating until thickened with electric mixer on medium speed.

Pour in butter and chocolate mixture, while mixer is still running. Mix until well blended. Combine dry ingredients - slowly add to chocolate mixture. When everything is smoothly blended, add vanilla extract, mixing well; add nuts if desired, stirring mixture by hand.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, and spread it out evenly. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.  Cool completely on wire rack. Use a thin spatula to loosen the brownie from the pan, then cover the brownie in the pan with plastic wrap until ready to serve. I cut these in the pan with a sharp knife (usually the next day), then use a metal spatula to lift them from the pan. Makes 54 brownies, sized 1½" by 2".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Peach Crostata

 Last week, at the market the apples looked great, but the farmer said the the peaches were the last of the season, so that's what I bought. I love crostata. I actually prefer it to traditional pie, there's a higher filling to pastry ratio, and I can  pretend I'm in Tuscany.  I've made apple crostata before, so I wanted to try it with peaches. I went back to Ina Garten's recipe, with some minor changes, and we liked it very much. There aren't any spices, its all about the fruit and the buttery pastry. I happily ate it plain, but sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche would be great, if you are making it for guests.

Baker's notes: I used too many peaches in the recipe, it didn't affect the flavor, but made the crostata harder to work with and less attractive. Next time, I'll put any excess in the freezer for another project. The original recipe called for some berries, I would definitely use a big handful of raspberries or blueberries if I had some. Some finely chopped almonds in the topping would be a nice addition as well. The forgiving nature of the crostata is its adaptability.

Peach Crostata
 adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

For the pastry:

    2 cups all-purpose flour (9 oz)
    ¼ cup sugar
    ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
    6 tablespoons (3 ounces) ice water

For the filling:

    1½ pounds firm ripe peaches, peeled
    1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon sugar
    ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
    2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
For the topping:

   ¼ cup all-purpose flour
   ¼ cup sugar
   ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
   2 ounces (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

For the pastry: 
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with spatula or a chopstick to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, roll it into a ball, then form it into a flat disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the pastry into an 11 to 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to the baking sheet.

For the filling: 
Cut the peaches in wedges and place them in a bowl. Toss them with the flour, the sugar, the orange zest, and the orange juice. Place the fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 2-inch border.

For the topping:
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts to hold together. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Gently fold the border of the pastry over the fruit, pleating it to make an edge.

Bake the crostata for 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Let the crostata cool for 5 minutes, then pull the parchment and crostata off the baking sheet it to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

French Toast

I made my first batch of French Toast at age 7. I remember having this cute children's cookbook, and the two recipes I remember making are this one and Wacky Cake. Both were very popular with my family, and my mother was both supportive of my interests in cooking, and thrilled to have a kitchen comrade.

Later, when I ordered French Toast in restaurants, I was usually quite disappointed. Either the toast was thin and dry, or thick and.........dry.  I don't even bother ordering it anymore, I just make it at home. I usually make a large batch, then eat the leftovers, reheated, topped with apricot jam, later in the week.

Bread is an important ingredient, so use what you like, be it raisin, sourdough, wheat, etc. I usually use brioche or challah, Kaufman's Bakery in suburban Chicago makes a sandwich challah that I love for this recipe, it's sturdy with an open crumb. Occasionally I'll buy a loaf of Boudin sourdough bread at Costco just for French Toast, as I love the too-sour bread with the sweet batter.

Babette's French Toast

    10     thick slices    challah, or other bread -- preferably day-old
    1    tablespoon    hot water
    ½    teaspoon    cinnamon
    ¼    teaspoon    salt
    several    gratings    nutmeg
    8    large    eggs
    2    tablespoons    sugar
    ½    cup    milk
    ¼    cup    half and half -- or more milk
    2    teaspoons    vanilla extract

1)    If your bread is very fresh or squishy, slice and leave it spread out on the counter the night before, covered with a tea towel.

2)    In the morning, preheat the griddle. I use a cast iron one on my gas range, using medium heat. You can also turn your oven to "warm", and place a baking sheet or serving platter inside to hold the cooked toasts until you're ready to serve.

3)    Make the batter. In a small bowl or ramekin, stir together the hot water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. This helps distribute the spices in the batter, otherwise they may float on top. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until combined, then stir in the spice mixture. Add the milk, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla, and whisk until a bit frothy.

4)    Oil the hot griddle, I use grapeseed oil, use what you like. Now for the dipping. This is all a matter of preference, some people dip the bread very lightly, others soak. With the challah, I dip each slice completely, flip it, then let the excess batter drain back into bowl.

5)    Cook the toast slices until well-browned on each side. If your bread slices are thick, make sure they're not browning too quickly, so your slice has the chance to cook through. That said, I like my French Toast a bit custardy in the center, not dry. After you practice a few times, you'll get the right combination of heat and bread, and your French Toast will be the way you like it. Stash the finished slices in the oven, in a single layer, and keep cooking until you run out of bread or batter.

6)    Serve with maple syrup and butter. Leftovers reheat well in the toaster oven for a quick weekday breakfast, spread with jam.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Quick Cornbread Muffins

Sometimes, I'm in a hurry. No, that's really no excuse, cornbread isn't hard to make, and I do have cornmeal in the freezer. It's just that I really, really like this recipe, and it comes together so can something so easy taste so good?

Schools starts tomorrow, and Charlie will be leaving the house at 6:45 am. She asked for muffins, so we threw these together. Good for breakfast, great with a salad at dinner. I grew up on Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, it has a homey, grainy texture, and it costs about 55 cents a box. Penguin Corn Bread Mix is sweeter, almost like cake, with little corn kernels in it, I buy mine at Costco but Trader Joe's has one that is similar, if not identical.

Baker's Notes: I do not usually use muffin/cupcake liners, I prefer crispy edges, and if I spray them properly, even my old tin releases the muffins. But use them, if you like. This recipe makes about 18 muffins, I have two tins, so I bake all the muffins at once. I haven't tried baking them in batches, but if you do, give the batter a stir before you fill the tin a second time. One tip I learned from Mom is to put a bit of water in any empty muffin cup, keeps your pan from overheating.

Quick Cornbread Muffins

3 large eggs
½ cup canola oil
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup half & half, or more milk
1 pouch Penguin Natural Foods Mix Corn Bread
1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray two 12-cup muffin tins with non-stick flour spray (actually, just spray 18 cups), or use muffins liners. Whisk together the eggs, oil, milk and half & half in a large mixing bowl. Switch to a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, and dump the contents of both cornbread mixes into the bowl, stirring just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat your batter,  there's nothing worse than a tough muffin.

Scoop the batter, using a large cookie scoop or spoon, into the muffin tins. Place in the preheated oven, then immediately turn the heat down to 375º. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean, or with just a few grains clinging to it. Cool for 5 minutes, then tip the muffins in the pan so they don't steam as they cool. Best fresh, these are delicious toasted the next day.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Bread

Yesterday, I found some zucchini languishing in the refrigerator from last week. It's morally wrong to waste ingredients, and since I knew my good friends were having guests for Labor Day weekend, more zucchini bread was in order. This was originally meant to be Zucchini Nut Bread, but I know one of the friends is a no-nut person, so I replaced them with mini-chocolate chips. Feel free to use chopped toasted walnuts instead.

I riffed on a recipe from, decreasing the cinnamon and using some whole grain flour. The recipe calls for 8½-by-4½ inch pans, since I wanted to try my longer pan for the gift, I used one 8"-by-4" pan and one 10"-by- 4" pan. This worked well, although the bread did not crown in either pan.

It's possible my family liked this even better than the all-chocolate version I made recently, so its a keeper. I may decrease the sugar next time.

Zucchini Nut Chocolate Chip Bread
adapted from

    2    cups    grated zucchini ( 2-3 zucchini)
    1    cup    granulated sugar
    1    cup    packed dark-brown sugar
    1    cup    vegetable oil
    3    large    eggs
    1 ½    cups    all-purpose flour
    1 ½    cups    white wheat flour (or use all-purpose)
    1    teaspoon    kosher salt
    1 ½    teaspoon    baking powder
    1 ½    teaspoon    baking soda
    2    teaspoons    cinnamon
    1    cup    mini chocolate chips
    ¼    teaspoon    almond extract
    ½    teaspoon    vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 4 ½-by-8 ½ inch loaf pans with nonstick flour spray. If you're unsure of your pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, then spray the paper.

Combine zucchini, sugars, and oil in a  large bowl and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl down as necessary. Whisk together the dry ingredients and chips in a separate bowl, then mix carefully into the zucchini. Fold in the extracts. Divide batter between loaf pans.

Bake until a tester inserted in the middle of each loaf comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes, depending on pan size. Cool 10 minutes on wire rack. Invert, and remove parchment paper (if using). Cool completely on rack.


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