01 June 2012

Crispy Molasses Cookies


Sometimes, the Midwestern, “Go ahead and talk to strangers,” side of me just comes out in full force.  When Mr. Trek and I recently moved into our new ‘hood, I started baking like a fiend to provide treats for the neighbors.  I received some raised eyebrows from my hubby as he wasn’t sure how people would take to a random stranger knocking on the door with cookies in tow.  No complaints from the other side of said doors, so we’ll keep it up!  We’re lucky also to have some foodies for neighbors, sharing jam and baked goods on occasion just makes us so much more assured about diving into the California real estate market.  One of our dear neighbors offered a bundle of grapefruit and some delightful cookies that I barely shared with Mr. Trek.  Whoops!  In exchange, I (reluctantly) shared these cookies and this recipe is posted in her honor.  I was hesitant because they turned out to be a bit crispier than what I expected.  However, they are perfect with ice cream, gelato or sorbet – so I am no longer embarrassed but have found their home – just as we found ours.  Sweet.

Crispy Molasses Cookies

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com


¾c unsalted butter, melted

1c sugar

1 egg

¼c molasses

2c all-purpose flour

2t baking soda

½t salt

1t ground cinnamon

½t ground cloves

½t ground ginger

½c sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the molasses.

3. In a separate bowl, combine your dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger; blend into the molasses mixture. Cover, and chill dough for 1 hour.

4. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in remaining sugar. Place cookies 2” apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until tops are cracked (watch carefully). Cool on wire racks.

Yield: 3 dozen

28 May 2012

Nostalgic Cherry Pie

Ah, patriotism.  For me, the term conjures images of American folk and poster art as well as memories of Midwestern flea markets and lemon shake-ups.  When gifted with a national holiday/vacation day, I relish the extended time available to bake!  Following a Friday errand, Mr. Trek brought home a lovely bag of sweet cherries as a treat for moi, Ms. Trek.  Ordinarily, I will devour the entire bag in nothing short of 48 hours.  However, noting the approach of said holiday, I inquired as to what cherry creation he might enjoy. “Cherry pie,” was the honest response.  Always fearing the straight and narrow path, I began searching for cherry/various fruit pies, tarts, cobblers, galettes and other miscellany.  Ultimately, the heart of this baker just couldn’t shake the idea of a wholesome, mouth-watering cherry pie.  There’s something nostalgic about it all, just like the aforementioned poster art.  Maybe I’ll feel as tough as Rosie the Riveter after enjoying a piece of this treasured part of our American culinary heritage!

Notes: I used Julia Child’s recipe for Flaky Pie Dough and found that I had enough dough for a double crusted pie as well as one more, open-faced or lattice-topped pie.  Keeping with the traditional theme, I decided to use the lattice-top for this pie and freeze the other dough (in plastic – freeze for up to one month) for later use.  Julia offers three options for crafting the dough: by hand, mixer (with paddle attachment), and a food processor.  Usually, I go with the old-fashioned, hand-crafted method, but decided to fit the ol’ KitchenAid with her paddle attachment and make quick work of said dough.  I wasn’t entirely pleased with the way it came together, so I’ll most likely go back to my favorite method for the next pie/galette.  Some of Julia’s tips for ‘Perfect Pie Dough’ are as follows:

- Always use unsalted butter and make sure it is extremely cold.  Cut it into 1/2 inch cubes before adding it to the flour.

-Use a pastry blender (or your fingertips) to cut the butter into the flour.  Work as quickly as you comfortably can and stop when the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

-Keep the liquid icy-cold.  Add it a spoonful at a time, using a fork to toss the mixture and incorporate the liquid into the dough.  When the dough has curds & clumps that stick together when pressed lightly between your fingers, it’s just right.  If you have any doubts, keep in mind that it’s better to add too much liquid than too little; too little, and the crust will be dry and difficult to roll.

-Gently gather the dough into a round and flatten it into a rough approximation of the shape you’ll be rolling it into.

-Chill it – at least 30 minutes – in the refrigerator.  This rest gives the gluten (the protein that forms webs in flour) a chance to calm down so that when you start to roll the dough, it won’t spring back.

-Chill the crust after you’ve gently worked/centered the dough into the pan.  The gluten needs another chance to relax.

In regard to the filling, I used fresh, sweet cherries.  The pitting process is simple with a bowl for pits and a paring knife, but can even be easier with a cherry pitter.  Mr. Trek and I watched a little HGTV while pitting with paring knives and, twenty minutes later, we were finished!  Some people have an aversion to tapioca in their pie filling, and I would recommend replacing it with cornstarch as a thickener. 

Nostalgic Cherry Pie

Crust – Recipe Courtesy of Baking with Julia12cherry_pie2012

5¼c pastry flour or all-purpose flour

1T kosher salt

1½ sticks (6oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1¾c (11oz) solid vegetable shortening, chilled

1c ice water

FillingAdapted from allrecipes.com

4T quick-cooking tapioca14cherry_pie2012

1/8t salt

1c sugar

¼t almond extract

½t vanilla extract

4c pitted, sweet cherries

1½T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Milk and sugar for coating the top of the pie


1. Prepare crust in advance (at least two hours but, preferably, overnight). Combine flour and salt in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the cold bits of butter and continue on low speed until the mixture is crumbly/coarse. Add the shortening, a wee bit at a time, until the mixture is clumpy and curdy and holds together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers. Add the water and mix only until it is incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over onto itself two or three times, just to finish the mixing and gather it together. Divide the dough in quarters, wrap in plastic and refrigerate (it will keep for five days in the fridge, or one month in the freezer) for at least two hours.4cherry_pie2012

2. Preheat oven to 425°. Roll out the crust to fit a 9” pie plate and assemble in the style you prefer. Here is a link to a video providing instruction for creating a lattice-top pie. Refrigerate the bottom crust in the pie plate to allow the gluten to rest. Meanwhile, begin the filling!

3. Combine the tapioca, salt, sugar and extracts in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the pitted cherries and toss to coat with the sweet-smelling sugar concoction! Turn the cherry mixture into the chilled pie plate o’ dough. If creating a lattice or top to the pie, do so now. Otherwise, try an open-faced pie. Be sure to make a mound of filling toward the center of the pie.1cherry_pie2012

4. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

5. Bake the pie at 425° for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°. Bake for an additional 50 minutes or until the filling in the middle begins to bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Keep an eye on the crust and wrap the edges with foil if they begin to brown too quickly.

6. Take your masterpiece out of the oven, thank it for making your kitchen smell so dreamy, and enjoy!

18 April 2012

Colossal Coconut Cake!

Just over a week ago, my checked suitcase was detained by TSA for a ‘suspicious item’ (according to DFW staff) which turned out to be my 12” offset spatula, or perhaps my tart pan. Of course I was not concerned with whether or not I’d have to sleep in my contacts or wear my airplane pants for another day, but if I would have to rethink my cake and tart plans. 

At any rate, I had looked forward to channeling my grandmother’s infamous coconut cake by baking one of my own.  The recipe was quite a bit different from hers, as I didn’t want it to be a comparison – just an inspiration.  The offset spatula belonged to my grandmother, as well as the cake plate on which it was served.  The cake server belonged to her mother, and it all was prepared in my mother’s farmhouse kitchen.  In some way, four generations were involved in this cake.  Family and friends gathered that weekend and many enjoyed this moist, delicious and decadent cake.  I don’t generally have a sweet tooth, yet somehow I managed to indulge in this little ditty more than once before we departed the land of Texas Bluebonnets.

Tip:  try splitting individual cakes in half using a simple piece of dental floss or heavy thread.  Instantly three cakes become six, delicate layers.  Superb!

Coconut Refrigerator Cake

Adapted from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen


Butter or Crisco (for greasing the pan)

Flour (for dusting the pan)

1 package (18.25 oz) plain white cake mix (my favorite is Duncan Hines)

1 cup milk

½ cup cream of coconut*, plus more cream of coconut for brushing the baked layers 

3 large eggs


2 cups sour cream

1 ¾ cups sugar

1 container (8 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed (Cool Whip – Extra Creamy)

3 ½ to 4 cups sweetened flaked coconut (frozen*, preferred)

*Note: canned Cream of Coconut can be found in the baking section of your market. Frozen coconut will taste much fresher than the dried variety, and will chill nicely with the Cool Whip.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°. Cut parchment paper to line three 9-inch round cake pans. Lightly butter the pans, then dust them with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, milk, ½ cup cream of coconut, and eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 1 ½ minutes longer, scraping down the sides of the bowl again if needed. The batter should look well blended. Divide the cake batter evenly among the 3 prepared pans, about 1 ½ cups batter per pan, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven. If your oven is not large enough to hold 3 pans on the center rack, place to pans on that rack and one in the center of the rack above. Bake the cake until layers are light brown and the tops spring back with lightly pressed with a finger, 18 to 23 minutes. The cake layer on the higher rack may bake faster, so test it for doneness first.

While the cakes bake, make the frosting! Place the sour cream and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 ½ minutes. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes longer. Add the whipped topping and beat on low speed until well blended. Stir in 3 cups of coconut and beat on low speed until mixed. Place the frosting in the refrigerator to chill for at least 10 minutes.

Transfer the cake pans to wire racks, with paper towels or parchment paper beneath, and let the cake layers cool for 5 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each cake layer and give the pans a good shake to loosen the cakes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack, and then invert again so they are right side up. While the cakes cool, use a small brush to gently brush the tops of the cake with the remaining cream of coconut (now you see the need for the parchment paper or paper towels beneath, eh?). Let the cakes cool completely, 15 minutes longer.

When the cakes are cool, split the layers horizontally to make 6 layers. Either pull a piece of dental floss (or heavy thread) horizontally through the middle of the layer – moving the floss in a back-and-forth motion. Conversely, you could mark middle points around the side of each layer using toothpicks. Using picks as a guide, cut through the layers with a long, serrated knife.

To assemble the cake, transfer one layer, cut side up, to a serving platter. Spread the top with a heaping 2/3 cup frosting. Place another layer, cut side up, on top of the first layer and frost with 2/3 cup frosting. Repeat this process with the remaining layers and frost the top and sides of cake. Sprinkle ½ to 1 cup coconut on top of the cake for garnish.

This cake should be chilled at least 24 hours before serving, and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Best coconut cake ever!

18 February 2012

I ‘Mustache’ You to Try a Cupcake…

A cupcake client obtained my donated auction item from my friend’s very special event (a fundraiser for her father – recently diagnosed with ALS) so I was able to get my creative juices flowing!  When asked what her preference for flavor would mustachesbe, the answer was simple: chocolate!  My go-to chocolate cupcake recipe is divine.  It is none other than Giada DiLaurentis’ Chocolate Chip Mascarpone Cupcakes Topped with Ganache.  Is your mouth watering, yet?  Oh my stars…each little bite is moist with a chocolate chip surprise every so often.  It’s just rich enough to satiate every palate.  Divine, I tell you.  Divine. 

In addition to selecting this tasty flavor, the client requested decorations that would be a bit whimsical in celebration of her older brother and sister – a tandem birthday party!  Mr. Trek and I , as seen above, have a fondness for all that is whimsical and that clearly includes mustaches!  I found a variety of molds online, allowing for a multitude of mustache choices.  Note: I’m happy to put them to use again, so just let me know if you’re in need of some chocolate lips or mustaches!

Chocolate Chip and Mascarpone Cupcakes

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiiscupcakes_2338

Yield: 2 dozen



5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 c water

1/3 c mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

2 1/4 c sugar

1 c vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 T vanilla extract

3 c all-purpose flour

1 t baking soda

1 t fine sea salt

1/2 t baking powder

1 c (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (recommended: Nestle morsels)


· 1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (recommended: Nestle morsels)

· 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

· 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

· Special equipment: 2 (12-count) muffin pans with paper liners



Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

Combine the unsweetened chocolate and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes. Whisk in the mascarpone cheese until the mixture is smooth.

Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl for 30 seconds. Stir in the mascarpone mixture. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture. Stir until just blended.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with no crumbs attached. Cool the cupcakes completely before dipping, about 1 hour.


Place the chocolate chips in a small bowl. Combine the heavy cream and vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips. Using a fork, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Dip the tops of each cupcake in the ganache and transfer to a baking sheet. Place the dipped cupcakes in the refrigerator to set, about 15 to 20 minutes. Allow cupcakes to return to room temperature before serving.

Note: For puffier cupcakes allow the batter to rest in the muffin pans for 20 minutes before baking.

26 January 2012

Butternut, Baby. Butternut.

Have you ever made a soup that changed your life?  So mind-blowing that you could imagine feasting upon it each and every day, not unlike the folks featured in The Tale of Despereaux?  I’d wear a spoon on my head for this soup, my dears!  It is sweet and savory, delicately creamy (without involving any dairy in the experience), and ever so slightly addictive.  This recipe is a great way to sneak in all of those ‘good for you’ bits in a thoroughly enjoyable dish.  Did I mention you can whip it up in no time at all?  Sheer perfection.  In the words of Kate DiCamillo,“Reader, it is your destiny to find out!”

Spiced Butternut Squash + Apple SoupJanuary2012 058
Whole Living


2T olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 inch fresh ginger, grated (2T)

½ teaspoons turmericJanuary2012 012

1/8t cinnamon

1/8t cardamom

Dash ground cloves

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 tart apple, peeled, quartered, and chopped

4c peeled and chopped butternut squash

Coarse salt and pepper

DirectionsJanuary2012 045

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots, apple, squash, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil; cover partially and reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly. Working in batches, puree until smooth in a blender. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Yield: 6 servings

Variations: Slow-roast the squash at 425° for approximately 20 minutes, or until tender, before adding to the saucepan.

Pineapple Zucchini Bread: An unexpected + delightful Discovery

There’s something special about zucchini bread. Is it the shifty look that you get from a curious pal, seemingly scolding you with, “No thanks, I don’t like veggies hiding in my sweet treats” or that you are just suspicious of all words that start with the penultimate (i.e. most pretentious) letter in the alphabet?  Well, fear not!  This recipe is for your nay-sayin’ pals as well as all of the veteran, zucchini-bread fans.  The pineapple is the unexpected delight, keeping this bread sweet (but not in excess) and moist (while still maintaining firmness) all the live-long week.  Well, maybe not a week…it will be devoured quicker than you can say, “Zacharia Zebra played the zither as he twirled -
zigging and zagging all ‘round the world!  In fact, it didn’t last long enough for a photograph!  One loaf went to the teacher’s lounge, and Mr. Trek + I snorkled down every last crumb of the second loaf within just a few days!  There’s an excellent shot of the treat over at Simply Recipes, if my step-by-steps aren’t enough to inspire you to immediately put this in your oven and bake it!

Simply Recipes – Zucchini Bread with Pineapple

3 eggsJanuary2012 019

1 cup olive oil

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini

1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, drainedJanuary2012 038

3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamonJanuary2012 048

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup raisins


Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer, beat eggs. Add oil, sugar, and vanilla; continue beating mixture until thick and foamy. With a spoon, stir in the zucchini and pineapple.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A third at a time, add dry ingredients into wet and gently stir (by hand) after each addition. Add the walnuts and raisins, blend gently.

Divide the batter equally between 2 greased and flour-dusted 5 by 9 inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.

Yield:  2 loaves.

Adapted from a 1974 Sunset Magazine recipe, quoted on Simply Recipes

17 January 2012

Viva la Frida!

Jan2012 219Twenty-twelve…the year of the auspicious dragon (and the phoenix)!  I find that it can be helpful to name a year, and allow all New Year’s intentions to be fulfilled by the chosen moniker.  2012 = My Year of Strength.  What are your intentions for this new year, and what would you choose for its name?

To begin with strength of mind, Mr. Trek and I joined the Goodreads 50/50 Challenge: to read fifty books, and view fifty films, (all new to us) during the year.  Pinterest is a great spot to track the progress, if you’re doing this challenge or one which is similar. 

One of the first reads that I chose for 2012 was The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.  Talk about starting off the year true to theme!  Frida Kahlo always has fascinated me, and she truly embodied strength through perseverance and self-awareness.  “The body is the temple of the soul. The face is the temple of the body. And when the body breaks,the soul has no other shrine except the face.”

Such an inspirational and reflective piece of art and poetry requires a cozy meal that will snuggle you right in!  Enter a newly discovered recipe from a *fantastic* cookbook, Clean Food, loaned to me by Patricia.  With the earthiness of the mushrooms and the heartiness of the beans and legumes, it’s basically the love child of a good veggie soup and a bean concoction.  The barley puffs up during the simmering process, and the kombu basically eliminates the unpleasantries (ahem, can we say, “Toot City”) sometimes provided by our friend, the lentil.  Feel free to throw in any veggies from your pantry or fridge, but plan ahead.  This delightful dish, called Goodness Soup, takes approximately three hours to simmer to its fabulous potential! 

Goodness Soup

2 thumb-sized pieces kombu*


1 onion, chopped

1 lb. mushrooms, chopped

5 carrots, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 ½ c cooked navy or great northern beans

1c hulled barley, rinsed

1c lentils, rinsed

1T dried parsley

1T dried basil

1 bay leaf

¼ c mirin or white wine

2T tamari

12c water

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Place kombu* in bowl with enough water to cover, soak 10 minutes until soft. Drain, mince and set aside.

In large pot over medium heat, sauté onion and mushrooms in olive oil for 5 minutes. Lower heat and add carrots, celery, beans, barley, lentils, parsley, basil, bay leaf, mirin and tamari. Stir to combine, add water and bring to boil.

Reduce heat to low, add kombu and continue cooking covered for a minimum of 3 hours – the longer it cooks, the thicker it will get. Add water as desired to thin, particularly when reheating leftovers.

Remove bay leaf (if you can find it), season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Soup will keep in fridge for up to 1 week or can be kept in airtight containers in the freezer.

*Kombu – a type of dried seaweed/sea vegetable found in Asian markets; infuses foods with minerals such as iodine and iron. Also known for its ability to tenderize legumes and reduce their gaseous properties.


Stir one tablespoon miso dissolved in three tablespoons of water into each serving.

Yield – 8+ servings