Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ahhhh, Almond!

While I am only so-so on the taste of almonds whole, I adore the fragrance and richness imparted by almond extract. The substitution of almond extract for vanilla extract can add a richness and intense sweetness to your baked goods. My sister likes it so much, she uses almond extract in almost everything. But my sister is not inclined to do a lot of baking that does not start with a box.

My cyber buddy Paula (aka Milehighbaker) posted this recipe that seemed to be calling my name. And Saturday night being completely devoid of worthwhile TV programming, I opted to do a little baking.

Almond Scented Tea Cake
Makes 2 loaves

2 cups sugar
1.5 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1.5 teaspoons almond extract
3 cups flour
0.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 cups milk
Glaze (recipe below)


Cream together the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla and almond extracts in a large bowl. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with the milk, ending with the dry ingredients. Stir just until ingredients are combined. Do not over mix. Bake in two greased and floured 9x5 inch loaf pans at 350F for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. While the bread is still warm and in the pan, drizzle the glaze over the top of the loaves. Place on a wire rack until almost cool. Run a knife around the edges of the pans and remove the loaves. Finish cooling on wire rack.

One small note, because my loaf pans are non-stick, I reduced the heat to 325 and they were done in 58 minutes.

1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Combine the ingredients and mix well. Drizzle over the warm loaves of bread.

Unfortunately, I did not have any orange juice, so I went with the basic, good for everything, powdered sugar/milk glaze. I used about 1/4 cup of milk with 1 lb of confectioners sugar and 1/2 tsp of almond extract. Also, I waited until the loaves were almost completely cool before pouring the glaze over them.


And then I sprinkled it with toasted sliced almonds because, well, why not?


Let me just say that this smelled amazing while cooking. I had just finished cleaning up after my dinner but I was drooling by the time I took the loaves from the oven. And for the record, it tasted pretty darn good, too!


My mother used to make old fashioned tea cakes and, as I explained to MHB, they were large, soft, buttery cookies that sometimes had raisins or a sprinkling of sugar. This was not my mother's tea cake, but something marvelously new to me, instead.

There are currently 1 1/2 loaves tucked away in my freezer, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, for a later day. I highly recommend giving this a try.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I had an aunt and uncle who would give us for Christmas each year a gift from Swiss Colony or Hickory Farms filled with assorted meats, cheeses, and condiments. I have always loved cheeses of various flavors, even as a child, and my particular favorite in this selection was the wedge of Havarti or Swiss with caraway seeds. It was mine alone to enjoy.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with an Irish holiday?

When I decided to cook something Irish for the day, I was stumped. Corned beef and cabbage is not really appropriate for one. I thought of stew, but wasn't in the mood. It was far to warm out for Shepherd's Pie.

I decided to try Irish Soda Bread and started combing the internet and my cookbooks. There are so many recipes that I was put off, a bit. There are those that argue that sweet bread with fruit is not truly Irish, but is an Irish-American twist.

I settled for a recipe from Epicurious which did include the fruit. But it also called for caraway seeds. I believe I mentioned how much I like caraway seeds?


Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway

5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
2 1/2 cups raisins
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg


Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated (dough will be very sticky).

Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center. Using small sharp knife dipped into flour, cut 1-inch-deep X in top center of dough. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil; store at room temperature.)


Now, I thought I had plenty of raisins, but it seems I only had 1 cup; so I also added some currants.

You will note that this is not pretty. I apologize. It is, however, quite tasty.

For the original recipe and story behind it, click here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tea Time

I love tea. Hot tea. Iced tea. Sweet tea (house wine of the South). Red tea. Black tea. Green tea. Fruit tea. Spiced tea. Mint tea. I love tea!

I will make a mug of Bigelow Mint Medley before bed time. Midmorning calls for something spicy. A glass of peach iced tea on a hot day is divine. But civilization requires Earl Gray to be served in a proper cup and saucer on a napkin lined tray with a little snack.

It's the can look it up.

This afternoon, I felt like a cup of Earl Gray with milk, so I had to have something with which to serve it. I don't keep that kind of stuff around the house, so I had to bake something.

I love shortbread, but really didn't want to spend as much time on my feet as cookies require. Chocolate was calling to me, but I didn't want anything too sweet. And, thus, the Chocolate Fruit Loaf was born.

Chocolate Fruit Loaf

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp instant coffee granules
1 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup chopped dated
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Grease 9 x 5 loaf pan and preheat oven to 350.*
Cream together butter and sugar; add egg. Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, and salt. Starting and ending with dry mix, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk. Add vanilla and coffee granules. By hand, stir in nuts, fruit, and chocolate chips. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes.

Remove from oven when toothpick inserted into loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

*I used a nonstick pan, so I set the temp for 325.


This is not a sweet loaf and is lovely when served warm with butter.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greek Week!

Basking in the success of my baklava, I decided to go Greek again. I love stuffed grape leaves and found a recipe that appealed to me. Of course, I adapted it somewhat--different rice, more onion, more herbs--to suit me. I also found a recipe for tzatziki that worked. So I made Dolmades and Tzatziki and please don't ask me how to pronounce it.

dolmades and sauce

A Lebanese friend used to come to my parents for leaves from my dad's grape vines, but it's February in Tennessee, so I used a jar I purchased at Publix.

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

1 C Arborio rice
1 small onion dice fine
¼ c fresh chopped mint
¼ c fresh chopped dill
¼ c fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 c chicken stock
30-35 grape leaves
¼ c fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 c chicken stock

Rinse, drain, and separate grape leaves. Place on layered paper towels to dry.
In a medium saucepan, place ¼ c olive oil, onion, rice, mint, and dill and saute until onion becomes transparent. Add 2 c chicken stock and cook approximately 15 minutes, until stock is absorbed by rice. Add ¼ c lemon juice and remove from heat to cool.


Place approximately 1 tsp of rice mixture into center of leaf and roll to resemble small cigar.

grape leavs

Place in bottom of a Dutch oven, seams down. Drizzle with remaining lemon juice and olive oil. Add remaining chicken stock and cover. Cook on low heat for 1 hour. Remove to paper towel to drain.


Serve warm or cold.

In truth, I really don't know how many I made. I just kept rolling until I had filled the bottom of my 6qt Dutch oven.

Finished gls

They are not pretty. My rolling ability is certainly lacking. I keep thinking of my Aunt Alma, one of the most amazing home-makers I have ever known. But in 1963, she and my Uncle Fred decided they needed a new car, so she went to work in a cigar factory. Her checks went directly into savings until, one year later, they paid cash for a brand new 1964 Impala. And Uncle Fred drove that car until the day he died. But, back to food, I don't have Aunt Alma's skill at cigar rolling. So while they may not be beautiful, my dolmades are extremely good.

You can find the tzatziki recipe and lovely photos here.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama which, surprisingly, has a large Mediterranean population. The Greek Festival is amazing.

And I love Mediterranean food. Falafel, gyros, stuffed grape leaves, seafood, and most of all, balkava.

I have not, however, tried to make it. Filo dough scares me. It is fragile and, I assumed, difficult to work with. But a few weeks ago, my niece made some excellent baklava and, in doing so, gave me courage.

I scoured the internet for a perfect recipe, but wound up bastardizing three to find one that suited me. Here is what I came up with:


2 cups finely chopped nuts (I used pistachios, walnuts, and pecans)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
1 package (16 oz) Filo dough
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
1 Tbs lemon juice

Thaw dough per package instructions and trim to fit 13 x 9 pan. Mix together chopped nuts, cinnamon, cloves, and 1/2 cup sugar. Set aside.

Prepare baking dish with butter flavored cooking spray or coat with butter. Place one sheet dough in bottom and brush with melted butter. Repeat 10 times. Cover dough with damp kitchen towel when not using. Sprinkle 10th layer lightly with nut mixture. Repeat dough layering until first pack of dough is done. Generously spread with nut mixture.

Repeat dough layering ten times. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture and complete layering dough and butter until complete. Cut to form triangles or diamonds.

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown (30 to 35 minutes). Remove and set aside. While pastry is baking, bring water, honey, lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar to a boil and continue to boil approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat to cool.

Pour cooled syrup over pastry. Once syrup has been absorbed by pastry, place in cupcake papers to serve.


Immediately start giving this to friends and neighbors! Do not leave this unattended! It is very, very dangerous.