Baking Procrastination

Time to come clean: I’m a recipe hoarder. Not just cookbooks either – though the majority of my Barnes & Noble/local bookstore gift cards DO go towards books in that genre. The glossy pages of soba noodle stir fries and fudge cakes just suck me in, even when I have 10 recipes for each already. So…that’s where that money goes.

But online recipes, that’s where the real gold mine is. There’s an accurately titled “Baking and recipes” folder on my computer (note the separate focus there) where somewhere in the ballpark of 500 or more recipes live. And the number only grows: semi-daily thanks to Deb, Molly, Food52 and others.

So, more often than not I continue to add and not to actually make. But, for a change I thought I’d sort back through in the name of a very large bag of carrots that came home with me from gleaning at Boxx Berry Farms a few weeks ago in Bellingham. What to do with carrots in the summertime, when you’re tired of raw chunks on salads and it’s way too hot for the lovely carrot soup I posted back in March?

Let me tell you. LOTS. Carrot cake obviously (see below) and that happened. But also pancakes. Cupcakes. And alas, summer soups! And something absolutely wonderful I discovered about carrot recipes in general. They’re truly carrot-y. They don’t try to hide the orange or mask it with a bunch of add-ins beyond your warm spices or typical complements like raisins. So carrot crusaders read on, and make one of these tonight for dinner, dessert or better dessert dinner. Promise your nose won’t turn orange.

First, your classic carrot cake. Logically, made in a rush of my empty kitchen the day before I moved out, I got a bit creative with what spices were easy to access. Hence, the ingredients mixed in stove top pots.

Modification of Deb's Classic Carrot Cake 

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1.5 tsps ground ginger
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated peeled carrots
1 cups coarsely chopped walnuts/pecans (optional)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup rum (for later, I'll explain!)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9" cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper (easy to trace if you flip them over and use the bottom as an outline). Then butter and flour the paper as well. I wouldn't skimp on this step, it sounds like extra work but saying it from experience, it's worth it for the cake to come out all in one piece as far as your own baking sanity goes.

Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk sugar and oil until blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time (it'll feel pretty gritty at first). Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, nuts and raisins, if using them. Divide batter evenly among two 9" cake pans, tapping pans a bit to settle the batter.

I found my cake started to develop little air bubbles in the batter after about 30 minutes and was done soon after. Be sure to check it early and watch for browning around the edges and that gentle rise in the middle. Check with a toothpick for done-ness. Now the rum! While the cake is still hot, pour about 1/4 cup on top of each cake so it soaks in all around the edges. This will help the cake come out better too.

Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks to finish cooling. I find it helps to first run a metal knife around the edge of the cake a few times then place the rack upside down on the cake pan as it sits on the counter, inverting it onto the now right-side up rack and peeling off the paper. If it doesn't want to come out tap/bang if necessary the bottom of the ban with the blunt end of your knife and that should help. If it doesn't look perfect it'll still taste great and cream cheese is an excellent BandAid for most things!

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (straight from Deb)
Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (gotta be the real thing!)

In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly. If you have a piping bag with a star tip you can do fun frosting designs around the outside. If not, layer your cakes simply. Place your first cake on a plate, frost the top, then sandwich your next cake over. Frost the sides, the top, and decorate with extra nuts or raisins if you'd like.

This makes a beautiful tall cake, even better the next day after the rum has fully soaked in. Enjoy!
(Look at those egg yolks! If you have friends/neighbors/farmers you can get free range eggs from, they're worth their weight in gold.)


Carrot Soup ala Deb

Something about wintery weather, those breezes that suck your lungs a little dry and a fresh dusting on snow that grows to ankle deep by afternoon...it makes me want to eat more bright, sharp foods. Orange is a color you can't miss in a snowstorm, and case in point I crave that earthy carroty (apparently yes, that is a word) crunch in the winter. Even better when served warm in a bowl or mason jar to warm your hands up.

So, in sweeps Deb from Smitten Kitchen with my dinner recipe for the week. If you haven't had the immense pleasure of reading her food blog yet, you're in a for a treat. If you haven't visited her site in awhile - go back through - you're bound to find the best recipe for anything from banana bread to meal you'd want to make for the pickiest relatives. Her titles are basically poetry...who doesn't drool a little at the thought of Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel??!

Anyways, here it is. Carrot Soup, fitting for our first real snowy weekend of the winter here in Bellingham. 8 inches in a day, we were all in need of a little warm broth. Lots of listening to this. I tweaked the spices and ingredients a bit, here's the original if you want to peek. It looks like a lot of steps, but read through first and you can overlap what you're working on.

(the version here was doubled, generously served 6 with leftovers for lunch)

3 Tbs. olive oil
3.5 pounds carrots, washed and peeled, then sliced in thin rounds
3 ribs of celery, chopped finely
1 very large onion, chopped (shallots would also be excellent)
10 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced
1/2 tsp corriander
1 tsp cumin
1.5 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne
Generous shake red pepper flakes
Dash of salt
Grind of  pepper
3.5 cups veggie broth (more if you want it thinner)
For later: generous 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat olive oil over medium, add onions and carrots. Saute for 10 or so minutes. Add celery and the rest of the ingredients/spices and let brown for a bit longer, another 10 minutes or until pretty tender. Put on the lid and take off the heat. Get out your blender, and ladle it into it in batches, pureeing and pouring into a large bowl. Transfer back to the cooking pot once you've finished.

Crispy Garbanzos
3 cups canned garbanzos, washed, drained, patted dry
1.5 Tbs olive oil
Generous grinds of Himalayan salt (Trader Joe's pink salt is my favorite)
3/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala

Next, heat the oven to 425. In a bowl, drizzle the garbanzos with oil and toss them in the spices. Lay them out on a baking sheet to toast in the oven. Keep an eye on them, mine took only 10 minutes or so to start getting crisped. Move them around with a wooden spoon have way through cooking.

Lemon-Tahini Dallop
5 Tbs tahini paste (not too expensive if you buy in bulk)
4.5 Tbs. lemon juice, or more
Pinch of salt
5 Tbs. water, you might need more

For the dallop, combine everything in a shallow bowl and whisk it until combined. If it's too tart add more water, or if you love the flavor of tahini cut back on the lemon juice.

Sesame Pitas
Large pitas (white or wheat), sliced into wedges
Himalayan sea salt
Hulled sesame seeds

You're almost done! Brush your pita wedges with olive oil and sprinkles with sea salt and sesame seeds. Crisp them in the oven for 10 minutes or less until browned, add the garbanzos half way through to reheat them for serving.

Get out your favorite bowls, gather your friends and family and dish up! Swirl in the tahini individually, garnish with garbanzos and parsley. Dip and go with the pitas, so you don't leave any behind in the bowl. Makes such easy leftovers for lunch the next day too. If you find spices to add/tweak let me know! It's a good canvas for trying out different blends of herbs and spices.

Stay warm friends. Brrr.


Christmas Marzipan Loaf

You know how there are certain traditions, certain ways of celebrating a holiday or baking a cake that you grow up with and those become the only way? NPR wrote a great piece recently about family food traditions and it got me thinking. For me, the holidays mean a lot of family traditions – ones I know I’ll introduce to my children someday until these ways become their only way. Soon they’ll be that one kid who opens stockings Christmas night instead of morning ha!

Christmas morning wouldn’t be right without a marzipan loaf, served warm on a Christmas plate with a drizzle of lemon icing on top. If you aren’t familiar with marzipan, I’m pretty excited for you to try this. I’ll let you chose, but a mug of candy cane tea does go pretty darn well with it. Just saying.

(Blogging faux pas fixed....see picture below, Happy belated Birthday miss Kyla :)

Christmas Marzipan Bread

Yeast Dough
¼ cup sugar
½ cup warm milk (like 110 degrees or so, I usually just stick a finger in to test it – shouldn’t scald you but should be a bit uncomfortable)
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/3 cups white flour
Pinch of salt
4 Tbs. butter
1 egg, beaten

1 log Marzipan (my favorite is the Odense brand in the shiny foil tube)

¼ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
3 Tbs. water

To make yeast dough
Stir 1 tsp sugar into warm milk and sprinkle with yeast. Let stand 5 minutes or until frothy. Stir gently.

Sift flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Melt butter, stir into yeast mixture. Pour into flour mixture with egg, combining to make dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth.

Let rise in a warm place/proof box 30-40 minutes. Grease a baking sheet.

Next, on a floured surface roll out the risen dough to an 18x12 inch or so rectangle.

For filling
Warm marzipan for 10-15 seconds to soften it, then roll it out on the counter. Cut it into 15-20 pieces and evenly distribute it across the rolled out dough. Then roll up tightly, burrito style! Lightly wet ends with water to seal the dough and place that side face down on the pan. Cut the rolled up dough in half.

Cover the breads and let them rise in a warm place for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

For glaze
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon glaze over warm breads!

Also, I refuse to let go of the holiday music spirit quite yet. If you're in the same boat, be sure to listen to some good tunes both as you're baking and eating. Especially if it's June and you need to get in the spirit, this will do the trick: Warm & Fuzzy Christmas.

Happy New Year & happy eating to all!