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Baked Treats

Baked Treats

Lemony Olive Oil Tea Cakes

May 14, 2023

I am just back from TUTTOFOODMilano, Italy’s biggest food exposition. (Akin to our National Restaurant Association show, but on Italian-design steroids (!) The quality of the food that makers were peddling was head spinning, from truffles and balsamico, to fine pastas and panettone. I sampled Zaffiro Blu, a new sheep’s milk cheese from Sardegna, waited in line for slivers of cured Iberian acorn-fed pork shoulder, and marveled over new potted cream desserts made from the milk of buffalo carefully tended in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park. But I kept coming back to olive oil.

In Italy, olive oil production is multi-generational, as families work to keep ancient traditions alive while they also bring new products to market. The Barberas, for example, launched Italy’s oldest brand of olive oil in Sicily 120 years ago, and are still at it, with eight different product lines, and 35+ oils including Lorenzo No. 5 which I like very much in this recipe (It can’t be an accident that the label reminds one of a famous perfume!)

 But while Italians have been cooking with olive oil for hundreds of years, olive oil’s popularity in the U.S. kicked in more recently, and is still growing. According to statistics from Statista, olive oil consumption in the States doubled in the last 20 years—up from 209,000 metric tons at the start of the millennium, to more than 406,000 now.

With its rise in usage here, most cooks now know to match the type of olive oil they choose to what they are making.  High heat applications such as sautéing or frying tend to flatten flavors within olive oil. So, fancier oils are usually reserved for raw applications where the heat-sensitive volatile element won’t dissipate. But baking is the exception!

Which brings me to these lovely olive oil tea cakes.  When you bake any cake, the internal temperature doesn’t go much higher than 200 degrees. As a result, the fruity, floral, grassy or peppery notes in a good extra virgin olive oil remain intact. Experiment and try a few to find which you think shines brightest here.  Barbera’s Lorenzo No. 5,  (pressed from pitted, hand-harvested Nocellara del Belice olives,) has a soft creaminess and lightly spicy floral scent which I really like.

And the cake is so easy to make! Everything is quickly mixed and bakes up in less than half an hour.  I use a parchment lined 13x18x1-inch pan to bake the cake as a sheet (the parchment makes it easy to lift out) and a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut the cooled cake into little petit four circles. (Cut the cake into bars instead, if you wish.) Brushed with lemon-sugar glaze and garnished with fruit, these make for very pretty snacking or fancier soirees. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Hot Cross Buns

March 30, 2023

“One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny, hot cross buns!” was once a British street-vendor cry heralding the sale of spiced and fruit-studded buns traditionally eaten on Good Friday. When I was a little girl, I loved the American version of these buns, soft and warm, with snow-white icing crosses piped over their glossy tops.

The buns are generally linked with Christian symbolism (crosses for Christ’s crucifixion, citrus peel for the bitterness of his last drink, and spices for his shroud) but food historians tell us they have pagan roots. Ancient Romans offered cross-marked buns to their moon goddess Diana. And before that, Saxons baked buns etched with horns in a cross-shape meant to represent the four quarters of the moon’s cycle. Briton’s went on to credit the buns with all sorts of good luck: Curing illness, protecting from shipwrecks, warding off kitchen fires and more. Me? I just like the way they taste!

Although store-bought ones come with just raisins or currants, I like extra dried fruits and candied fruit peel. My recipe plumps a mix of seedless black raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, and sweetened dried cranberries in hot rum. That, plus a few tablespoons of home-made candied citrus peel makes them delicious. The dough is spiced with a freshly grated nutmeg, Jamaiican allspice, ground cinnamon and clove. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Peanut Butter + Banana Muffins

September 3, 2022

When I was in kindergarten, my best friend’s mom—a prima ballerina from Australia, took it upon herself to teach the girls in our class ballet.  I loved leaping across the dark wooden floorboards in my pink leotard, (my tights forever bagging at the knee and ankle,) doing my utmost to transform into a swan. Afterward, Yvonne’s mom would make us toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches at their apartment. Those flavors together still bring me back. Here, they are combined in a delicious muffin recipe adapted from baker Jessica Grossman’s original, with swirls of peanut butter cream cheese frosting on top.

Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Fresh Cranberry Bars

December 20, 2020

From the Oleson-family-owned O&H Danish Bakery, just north of Chicago in Racine, WI, these bars are easy-good. Third-generation baker Eric Oleson was happy to share the recipe which he says has been passed down in his family for close to 100 years. The slices put two good things together: the Danish penchant for butter, with Wisconsin’s bounty of fresh cranberries. The bars only appear at O&H during the Holiday season. “It’s kind of a traditional thing,” says Oleson, who likes to serve these very-moist bars chilled with a dollop of whipped cream. Sometimes, I add some orange zest to the batter and bake these in two nine-inch cake pans lined with parchment.  Baked that way (as you see in the photo) the wedges are so pretty. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Honey Cinnamon Graham Crackers

August 16, 2020

For all of you firepit fans and s’mores lovers out there, here’s my absolute favorite homemade graham cracker recipe. It makes an over-the-top s’more, and tastes great on its own. To make the crackers into s’mores: Just sandwich fire-toasted marshmallows and your favorite chocolate bars in between.

Graham crackers are named for Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, who introduced a coarsely-ground, unsifted wheat flour. He believed the flour could be an antidote to the poor health suffered by people who ate too much white bread.  A vegetarian and big believer in high-fiber diets, Graham was also a rather severe guy who recommended “hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, chastity, cold showers & loose clothing” (!) Not exactly a partier.

I’ve made these crackers a variety of ways: With dark brown sugar and a darker honey, they take on a sweeter, darker flavor. Use a lighter-flavored honey and light brown sugar and a lighter cracker results (which is my preference.) I include two teaspoons of cinnamon in the dough. But you can add extra cinnamon by brushing the crackers with egg wash and sprinkling them with cinnamon sugar for a glazed crunchy finish. Oh, and be sure to bake the cookies in the center of a preheated oven. They’ll crisp up nicely as they cool. 

I like to use Turkey Red flour from The Mill at Janie’s Farm. It’s 100% whole grain, milled from organically grown hard red winter wheat, stone ground and unsifted. You can buy it direct from Janie’s. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Rhubarb Rosette Upside-Down Cake

April 12, 2018

Gorgeously colored from ruby to pinky-red with blushes of celery green that take on a satiny-sheen in the light, rhubarb is soooo pretty. It’s also delightfully odd. Super-tart rhubarb is actually a perennial vegetable, not a fruit, in spite of being called the “pie plant” in 19th century cookbooks. It comes in season in April peaks in June and if you’re lucky, hangs around in the home garden until September. It has a very distinct aroma—sharp, sort of vegetal funky—and if I had to put a color to the scent: red-brown. And although it very-much resembles celery (with its fleshy stalks and “strings,”) unlike celery, rhubarb cooks VERY quickly, and the strings entirely disappear, making it a lovely choice for topping this sweet-tart of an upside-down cake.   Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Apple Almond Cheese Tart

September 2, 2017
Whatever craziness is going on, in my head or otherwise, baking grounds me. Last night, for example, at like 4 a.m., I gave up on sleep. Walked my bare feet over cold floorboards to the dark kitchen. Fumbling, I gathered sifter, bowls and pans, trying not to clatter. And, sigh: I measured. Sigh again: Sifted flour & sugar. Sigh: (the last! breathing better now) cut in the butter, tousled the two with fingertips ‘til wet-sand-like, added the almond meal, stirred the cream, whisked the filling. And last? Peeled the apples that smelled just the color of their green skins.
5:30 a.m. The light comes golden now, pushing west through house and kitchen, nice match for the scent of baked tart, coming from the oven. Waiting, I remember this tart from little, a thing I made for mom. Different kitchen, different goals, same spiral of apples and almond. Eat a little, dream a little, sleepy & warm…just enough. It’s all gonna be okay : ) Note: This recipe makes TWO tarts. Also, if you like it, you may want to try my Gooseberry Tart this summer–a simple way to showcase gooseberries, or whatever other berries you have on hand.

  Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Gooseberry Tart

September 1, 2017

Wow, the things you learn when digging into etymology! Word geeks tell us that the “goose” in “gooseberry”, for example, likely came from France, where they call the little green globes, groseille à maquereau or, “mackerel berries”, because French chefs used to make a sauce of the berries to go with mackerel. A bit more ribald, Molly Oldfield, writing for the London Telegraph says “gooseberry bush” was 19th century slang for pubic hair, which led to the saying “born under a gooseberry bush.” Continue Reading…