Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

Thank you to our customers and vendors for all your support in 2012. Thank you to our friends on social media for making the online baking community so special. Thank you to everyone working on our new bake shop. We are grateful for each and every one of you and we couldn't do it without you, that's for sure.

We look forward to opening the retail store in early 2013. The last two months have been a blur trying to work on the bakery at 75 Hillside (Fairfield, CT) and keeping the wholesale and online orders filled in Milford. Every person we spoke to said it would take longer than we expected to finish the build out - they were right. Lesson learned? It's worth waiting to get the job done right.

To the families still struggling with the aftermath of Sandy and the families in Newtown, we are especially thinking of you and sending love.

Wishing you peace and happy baking in the New Year. 

Love, 
Michelle


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sweet & Simple Bake Shop


Big news. BIG.


We’re opening a bake shop!

It will be called Sweet & Simple Bake Shop, and located at 75 Hillside Road, Fairfield, Connecticut.

We’ve signed the lease. We’ve submitted the plans to the Town of Fairfield. It’s happening.

We. Are. So. Excited.

Some of you know, we’ve been looking for a just-right-space for months. We wanted something not too small, not too big and definitely closer to home. Sweet & Simple launched in December, 2009 and it’s been three wonderful – fantastic! - years of baking, learning the food business and building a wholesale customer base.  It’s high time to hang our own little shingle. We love the new location, the other businesses in the shopping center and the opportunity to be part of our neighborhood.

What’s the time table for opening? We’ll open as soon as humanly possible. Stay tuned right here on the blog. I’m going to be posting lots of pictures and progress reports. For any of you thinking about opening your own bakery, I hope some of the information ends up being useful.

What will we serve? Our signature American-style baked goods and great coffee, tea and hot chocolate. We’re going to launch with a modest menu of breakfast-y baked goods, cookies, cupcakes and layer cakes. Look for new products and specials every month. We’ll also have a “gift” store with pretty cake stands, note cards, cookie jars and other treasures. We’ll be taking catering orders and continue to serve our online customers. The party favor business has been great fun – we love parties! - and we look forward to customers now coming to the shop to sample in person before ordering.

Thank you for your continued support. We love you. We hope you know that!

XO,
Michelle




Friday, August 31, 2012

Cookie Baking Tips


Today I visited Morning Living on Martha Stewart Radio. So fun to see Brian Kelsey and meet Betsy Karetnick! They asked me to bring a recipe and some cookie baking tips. I went overboard and brought nearly 2 pages of my personal tips. Yup. I get excited about baking. 

Turns out I was a wee bit nervous and all I remember from the "interview" is saying that I love the way my flour looks and smells. Oh geez. In other words, I was babbling. But, it is true. And I also love the smell of butter and sugar, vanilla and spices. 

Here's to new experiences, on the radio and off,  and here's to happy baking! Love, M

Cookie Baking Tips from Sweet & Simple

Weighing ingredients improved the consistency of my baked goods. Invest in a good quality home scale and weigh all your ingredients. I cannot emphasize this enough! Be sure to use a liquid measure for liquids.

If you insist on using measuring cups for dry ingredients, or until you buy a scale, spoon flour into a measuring cup then level off with a table knife or small offset spatula. Do not pack your flour or shake to settle it.

When using measuring spoons, measure the ingredient(s) over a separate bowl or plate so any extra does not fall in your work bowl.

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Plan to take butter out 45 minutes before you begin baking. If it is a very warm day, sometimes half an hour is enough. If the butter is too soft (glossy looking) put it back in the fridge to chill.

If you use a stand mixer for cookies like I do, you can begin with a cool room temperature butter. The paddle attachment takes care of softening the butter. This goes against conventional wisdom, but works well for me. And better too cool than too soft!
This does not apply to other ingredients.

If you forget to bring your eggs to room temperature, you can bring eggs to room temperature quickly by placing them (uncracked) in a dish of hot tap water. Usually no more than 5 minutes.

Use best quality ingredients whenever possible. When my favorite brand of butter goes on sale, I buy in bulk for the freezer. Use real extracts in your baking.

Use the same ingredients, such as same brand of butter and flour, for consistent results.

Always read a recipe thoroughly before prepping ingredients.

Prep your ingredients before you begin mixing. For example, if a recipe calls for toasted nuts, do that ahead of time and make sure they are cooled to room temp before beginning.

Neatly organize and measure all your ingredients, prep your baking sheets, preheat your oven (if baking immediately) and then begin mixing.

Always follow a recipe exactly the first time you prepare it. It’s not fair to say a recipe is a dud if, for example, you only used 1 egg and the recipe called for 3. After you have made the recipe once, feel free and experiment with it!

Same size cookies bake evenly and are appealing to the eye. For uniform cookies, use ice cream dishers which are available in a variety of sizes, from teensy to whopper, at your local baking or restaurant supply store. 

I always use parchment paper, but it can be expensive. Consider going halfsies with a baking buddy and buying an entire 1,000 count box at your local restaurant supply

Use good quality, thick sheets pans. Why? Your cookies will bake evenly and the pans will hold up. Flimsy pans tend to warp. I purchase sheet pans from my local restaurant supply and they are virtually indestructible. Bonus? They are excellent for holding kids’ craft projects and Lego creations (sheet pans can be carried from room-to-room and make clean-up a snap).

For me, baking at home sometimes comes down to being organized and making time. Often I pre-measure all my dry goods the day/night before. When I’m ready to bake, I put out the butter, eggs and any liquid ingredients to bring to room temp and off I go!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

King Arthur Flour Muffin Mixes {Giveaway}

I love trying new recipes and products. A couple weeks ago I tried 3 delicioso King Arthur Flour muffin mixes: Country Blueberry, Apple Cinnamon and Double Chocolate.

Mixes come in handy when you're pinched for time. They also make great gifts! They do? Yes, they do! When my kids were in pre-school, we used to give a set of mixing bowls and a mix (usually pancakes) as a birthday gift to kids we knew enjoyed cooking. Pancakes are simple, but so are cakes and muffins. What is it about that age that almost all kids have a love of food prep and baking?


Sometimes I make my own “mix” the night before, and by that I mean I prep the dry ingredients for whatever I am baking the next morning. It was kinda fun to have King Arthur do all the prep for me. These muffins mix up in minutes. My summer intern, Madeline, followed the directions exactly, used oil instead of butter, and all 3 mixes baked up perfectly. Our favorite flavor was the Double Chocolate, which, truthfully, tasted like a delicious, moist cupcake.


My husband took one look at the Double Chocolates and said that we should scoop the top and fill them with ice cream for dessert. We used to love chocolate muffins this way when we were newly married. Ahem! My metabolism was more cooperative then. I “filled” one of the muffins with some strange ice cream my kids left in the freezer (I’m sure they bought it with Dad because I prefer basic flavors). All I can tell you is that it contained Oreos and sprinkles… If I remember correctly, it’s a Breyer’s flavor called Birthday Blast! 


If you choose to use a mix, for whatever reason, use a GOOD one! You certainly cannot go wrong with these. 

Muffins galore!
Thank you to King Arthur for sending me the mixes to try and for agreeing to send one lucky person the 3 mixes mentioned in this post plus a coupon for a 5lb bag of KA flour from your local grocer. Really cool! Leave a comment below telling me when you think it's a good idea to use a mix and why and you will be entered to win. U.S. residents only, please, and one comment per person. Winner will be selected using random.org on Friday, August 3rd at 5PM. Prize will be shipped directly from King Arthur Flour.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chocolate Prune Cake


This cake has lots of dried plums – better known as prunes – and it’s moist, tender and delicious.  Prunes are so tasty and, well, underrated. When you mention prunes, invariably someone laughs and/or makes a face and/or says, “Ewwwww.”  This was true last Friday when I gave my son and his good friend, Jamie, a loaf of the cake for their sleep over and Jamie made a face and couldn’t stop laughing about the prunes. *sigh …Gotta love boys!

I’m a fan of incorporating dried fruit wherever I can – cookies, cakes, granola. There are 5 Sweet & Simple oatmeal cookie flavors with dried fruit: Raisin, Cherry, Date, Cranberry White Chocolate and Apricot. Oatmeal Date is my favorite and the toughest to sell. Prunes are a tough sell as well, but I promise you will not regret making this cake.

And what to call this cake? Prune Spice Cake? Chocolate Prune Spice Cake? I decided on Chocolate Prune Cake figuring I would get a few more takers if I mentioned chocolate from the get go. Also, it’s not a super duper spice cake – just a teaspoon of cinnamon and a touch of ginger.

As far as the chocolate in this recipe, treat yourself to a great bar of semi-sweet chocolate and chop up the 4 ounces. If you choose to use chocolate morsels, make sure you chop ‘em, too! Basically, you don’t want big chocolate chunks/morsels, you want well chopped chocolate distributed evenly in the cakes.  The only chunks should be the chopped prunes.

This recipe is another from my grandma’s recipe box (with some minor adjustments) and really my kind of “thing”: simple ingredients and simple methods that result in a great cake. My kids like it, too! Jamie? Not so much. But he loves my cookies and that’s good enough for me!


Chocolate Prune Cake
Makes 2 cakes/loaves (about 1.9 lbs each)

Preheat oven to 350°
Butter and line with parchment, two 9” x 4” loaf pans.
(If you want to use a veg oil cooking spray, I won’t tell)

Have all ingredients at room temperature.

2 1/2 cups/313 grams/11 ounces cake flour (preferably King Arthur unbleached cake flour)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup/225 grams/8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
1 1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup/219 grams/8 ounces prunes coarsely chopped
1/2 cup/113 grams/4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate finely chopped

1 cup/227 grams/8 ounces low fat plain yogurt
2 tsp vanilla

Sugar for sprinkling on top of loaves (optional)

Combine with a whisk then sift together all dry ingredients and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and beat until light and fluffy again.
Scrape down sides of bowl.
Add prunes and chopped chocolate and beat well.
Scrape down sides of bowl.

Combine yogurt and vanilla and whisk to combine.

Add flour alternately with yogurt mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, sprinkle the top of each loaf lightly with sugar (optional), and bake at 350° for one hour or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs attached. 

Let cakes rest in pans for 10 minutes then remove them to finish cooling on a rack.

Remember to remove the parchment before slicing and serving!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sweet & Simple Gives CTbites A Taste



I let the crew at Fairfield County’s CTbites sample my homemade cookies. The results? Delicious.  Read more

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Date Icebox Cookies

This is one of my favorite cookie recipes from my Grandma's recipe box: Date Icebox Cookies. Sometimes, I call them pinwheels because I love pinwheels (in cookie and decorative form), but she called them icebox cookies so I will, too. I've wanted to add these to the formal Sweet & Simple menu from day one... It's gonna happen one of these days! I'm thinking about 3-5 icebox cookie flavors at the moment. Decisions. Decisions. And all of them delicious!

What exactly is an icebox cookie? Pretty simple. A soft cookie dough that has been rolled and shaped into a log, jelly-roll-style, to firm it up and make it easier to work with... Then, instead of rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters, you just slice-and-bake your dough. Intrigued? Here's a mega collection of 27 icebox cookie recipes from Martha Stewart to keep you busy in the kitchen. 

Several people have asked me for the Date Icebox Cookie recipe because they are featured in my blog banner.  And I'm happy to share! You can see I love them so much they've been in both of my "big" photo shoots for the site. This one (below) by Melani Lust and styled by Sandra Downie


Date Icebox Cookies

Makes: approx 4 1/2 dozen cookies (depending on thickness of cookies)

2 cups/270 grams/9.5 ounces unbleached, all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup/112 grams/4 ounces butter
1/2 cup/110 grams/3.9 ounces light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar/100 grams/3.5 ounces

1 large egg, beaten

228 grams/8 ounces chopped dates (about 2 cups whole dates)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Sift twice together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, combine dates and sugars and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes (the mixture will look like a thick jam when done). If your dates are very dry and the mixture looks more like a paste, add water 1 teaspoon at a time to loosen the mixture slightly.

Remove the date mixture from heat and cool completely.

When date mixture is completely cool, use a spatula and fold in 1/2 cup toasted and finely chopped walnuts and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until lightened in texture and color. Add the beaten egg and beat the mixture again until the egg is thoroughly incorporated.

Add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Turn out the dough on a floured silpat or suitable work surface (sometimes I use wax paper), gently shape it into a rectangle with your hands and then with a rolling pin roll it about 1/4” thick in the shape of a rectangle.

Spread the cooled, cooked date/walnut mixture on it evenly (I use a small offset spatula but a butter knife will work just as well) and then using both your hands, gently roll it lengthwise into a log.
(If you want some pro tips on working with this kind of cookie dough, check out this King Arthur Flour post.)

Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill overnight or at least 8 hours.

To bake off the cookies, line 3 sheet pans with parchment, preheat oven to 375°, unwrap log and using a serrated knife cut the log in 1/4” (you can go a bit thicker if you like, but if you go thinner they are likely to fall apart as you transfer them to the sheet pans) cookies and place them on a parchment lined sheet pan.

Bake at 375° for 12 minutes or until light brown in color and slightly puffed.


Date Icebox Cookies.
(Photo by Hadley Spagna Photography)
The cookies in the picture above came from the recipe box in the picture below. The first recipe I ever made from Grandma's recipe box was for Tamale Pie (the same recipe that was part of the family dinner rotation growing up), this was the second and I've made no significant modifications to it. I even passed on adding a splash of vanilla. Shocking. I know.

Grandma's recipe box with Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies.
(Photo by Hadley Spagna Photography)


Monday, May 28, 2012

Connecticut, Memorial Day 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

So far, this has been a weekend of BBQs, American muscle cars and my mother-in-law’s beautiful garden. Let me summarize the Memorial Day weekend menu so far: hamburgers, baked beans, bbq chicken, cole slaw, hot dogs, hamburgers, hot dogs. Got all that?

Yesterday, we went to the 18th Annual Memorial Day Weekend Car Show at Quinnipiac University. We've been going since we were dating and it's still a treat! Then we spent the afternoon with family, including my husband's 90 year old cousin who served our country in the Pacific during WWII. 

American muscle cars. What's not to love?
By the way, that's not someone's sweet granny under that car, though I did do a double take!





Oh and on the way home we saw a wedding carriage with two sweet horses, Shadow and Flash, waiting outside at our neighborhood church to carry off newlyweds after their vows. 

*sniff sniff 

And what a beautiful day to get hitched (note the sign from the back of the carriage, so sweet). 






My mother-in-law's garden inspired me to do a little (emphasis on little) weeding in the yard and I had another flash of guilt over how little time I’ve spent in my garden the last couple of years. The nice thing about gardens is that they are forgiving. Overgrown, yes, but forgiving. So, I called it a day and had a nice glass of wine. I love holiday weekends!


Strawberries and some snaps from my mother-in-law's garden...
peony, strawberry plants and a honeysuckle about to pop!

I'm looking forward to seeing friends today, more BBQ and another day off... but today is truly about appreciation for those who sacrificed everything for our freedoms. God bless those who gave their lives, those who serve and God Bless America. 

Enjoy your Memorial Day, friends! 
XOXO

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cheddar 'n' Bacon Corn Muffins



A simple breakfast.
It's the May #baketogether from Abby Dodge! To show my appreciation for this monthly #baketogether that I enjoy so much, I'm giving away two of Abby's books. To make this giveaway a little sweeter - or savory,  depending on your taste! - Abby has graciously agreed to sign a copy of each book for the lucky winner!


The books are The Weekend Baker and Desserts 4 Today. Yes, BOTH books for one lucky winner signed by the lovely and talented Abby Dodge! To enter, you can leave a comment below telling me why you joined #baketogether or, ahem, what's stopping you from joining the party.  OR, just tell me your fav muffin in a comment below. The winner will be announced on the blog on Sunday, May 27th and he/she will have until Wednesday, May 30th to contact me at info@sweetandsimple.com. Easy peasy! Fine print: One entry per person, U.S. residents only.


It's been a long couple of weeks at my house. I've been looking for a small retail space for Sweet & Simple. I'm ready to take the next step and hang out my daisy shaped shingle. There was an adorable, small space just down the street from my house. 600 square feet of space. It would have been a super squeeze, but I was ready.  And then someone else put their offer in hours before me. I like to think it wasn't meant to be and the other gal (a florist) surely deserves her lucky break, but still... it wasn't my happiest day. The other spaces I've looked at have been too expensive, too big or too far away. I feel like Goldilocks, a forty-something Goldilocks, but you get the idea.


So, while I wait for a just-right-space at a just-right-price to turn up,  I keep workin',  I take care of my family and, of course,  once a month I do #baketogether.  What did I do this month? I doubled Abby's recipe,  6 muffins don't go far at my house, and went the savory route. Bacon always makes me feel better. These muffins, scrambled eggs and fruit salad? Perfect breakfast! 


Happy baking, friends! XOXO


Hi, Miss Lovely Muffin! 
Cheddar ‘n’ Bacon Corn Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
Have all ingredients at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line 12 regular-sized muffin cups with paper or foil liners
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups/202 grams/7 ounces unbleached, all-purpose flour

2/3 cup/110 grams/4 ounces yellow cornmeal

2/3 cup/133 grams/4.75 ounces sugar

1 TBSP baking powder

Pinch sea salt


1 cup buttermilk 

2 large eggs

6 tablespoons canola oil


3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (approx a cup)
3 ounces of your fav bacon, cooked crisp, cooled and chopped (approx  a cup)
Make the muffins:
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.
In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the cheese and bacon and toss lightly with your hands or 2 forks.

Using a 2 cup glass measure or a small bowl, measure the buttermilk and add the egg, oil and whisk to blend. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold until just blended.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups (2 ounces or 1/4 cup of batter per cup will be about three-quarters of the way full). I use a 2 ounce ice cream scoop/disher for muffins, but you can eyeball the measurement as well.

Bake until the tops are pale golden brown and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

Move to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the pan and set them on a wire rack.

Serve immediately or cool completely and store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Best warm! If you are storing them, for best taste, plan to reheat before serving.



I tried one with a little cream cheese. Over the top. Delicious. Muffin gone wild!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Maple Walnut Crumble Bread


I'm on a quick bread kick (say that 10 times fast).  Thank you to King Arthur Flour ("KAF") for sending me their Boyajian Natural Maple Flavor to try – I'm in love! - and for kindly sponsoring a giveaway on my blog.*  (Refer to my Banana Rum Bread post for an explanation of my informal baking relationship with KA.)


As I've said before, like many home bakers, I'm a big fan of KAF and believe they've done so much to keep American home baking traditions alive, relevant and fun. If you are a novice or the most advanced baker, they have something for you - including a wealth of free recipes on their site. 

Crumble topping. It's pretty darn good!


Can hardly tell you how much I love working with this maple flavor. Number one, it's super strong and I started with less than I thought I might need. I teaspoon was plenty and I then added 1/2 teaspoon to the crumble.  Number two, I rarely skip vanilla in any sweet recipe, but I wanted to taste pure maple goodness. Number three, as much as I'm head-over-heels for this new recipe (a take-off on my Banana Rum Bread), I'm already thinking about a maple walnut shortbread and a maple walnut icebox cookie. A baker can dream, right?


I bake so much with vanilla and lemon extract, and occasionally almond extract, that homey, sweet maple felt like it was giving my baking a real pop this week. And it's always cool to try a new product.
For picture taking today, I got carried away and used a great big 1.5 lb loaf pan - which resulted in an obnoxious sized loaf.  At the very least, it's HUGE and I'm freezing half of it. I have a variety of loaf pans, you're not surprised, and I prefer 2 medium pans for this recipe. Making a note for next time!  And definitely go with the bake-and-serve for gift giving. 


*King Arthur Giveaway:
King Arthur is generously sending one lucky baker a set of bake-and-serve quick bread loaf pans, a bottle of Boyajian Natural Maple Flavor and a coupon for a bag of King Arthur flour (redeemable at your local grocer).
To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below telling me if you use maple syrup or flavor in your baking, or if your don't!  And if you have a maple walnut cookie recipe, I would be very curious to know more. 
A winner will be chosen by random using random.org on Sunday, May 13th and announced here on the blog. I will name the winner in the comments section below and he/she will have until Wednesday, May 16th at 5pm EST to contact me at info@sweetandsimple.com with a *U.S.* mailing address. As in the past, if you don’t contact me, I will pick a second winner using random.org.

A piece of Maple Walnut Crumble Bread. Yes, please!


Maple Walnut Crumble Bread
Four  3/4lb/12 oz Loaves, 2 medium loaves or 1 great big loaf
(if not using bake-and-serve-pans, be sure to grease/flour your pans)
Have all ingredients at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350° 

Recipe note: A crumble filling/topping is an extra indulgence but makes this loaf special. If you wish, omit the crumble but add the 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts to the bread batter.

Set aside on a sheet pan, 4 bake-and-serve quick bread loaf pans or greased/floured loaf pans

For the bread:
2-3/4 cups/370 grams/13 ounces unbleached all-purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

11 tablespoons/5-1/2 ounces/155 grams unsalted butter

1-1/3 cups/266 grams/9 oz sugar

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2-1/2 cups/500 grams/1 lb 2 ounces unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon Boyajian Natural Maple Flavor 
1 TBSP Grade B Maple Syrup


Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, then sift mixture and set aside.

Combine applesauce, maple flavor and maple syrup with a whisk and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, starting on low speed, beat the butter and sugar until combined. Switch the mixer to medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

Scrape down sides of work bowl. With mixture set to low, add eggs in a slow, steady stream and beat until just combined. Scrape down sides of bowl, then turn mixer to medium-high and beat until well combined, light and fluffy again.

Add the flour mixture all at once and beat until just combined. Mixture will look dry for a batter.

Add applesauce mixture all at once and beat for a few seconds. Remove work bowl from and finish folding in the bananas with a spatula. If skipping crumble and adding just walnuts to batter, do so now.

For the crumble:
8 tablespoons/112 grams/4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp Boyajian Natural Maple Flavor
1/2 cup/100 grams/3.5 ounces sugar
pinch sea salt
1 1/4 cups/170 grams/6 ounces unbleached, all purpose flour
1/2 cup/65 grams/2 1/4 ounces walnuts, toasted

Whisk together flour, sugar and salt and set aside.
Whiz up toasted walnuts in a food processor until finely ground

Combine dry ingredients with butter and walnuts using the back of a wooden spoon or your impeccably clean hands.

Evenly divide 1/2 the batter between the bake-and-serve loaf pans* (keep them on the sheet pan for baking). Evenly divide 1/2 the crumble among the loaves (middle layer).
Evenly divide the remaining batter between the loaves, smoothing it with a table knife or small offset spatula, then evenly divide the remaining crumble between the loaves (topping).

Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes using bake-and-serve loaf pans, approximately 45-55 minutes for a large loaf.  Remove breads to a wire rack and let breads cool completely before wrapping, freezing or refrigerating.

*Whatever pans you are using, 1 or 4, spoon half the batter in the pan, smooth, add crumble, add rest of batter, smooth and top with remaining crumble.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cocoa Angel Food Cake


Just in the knick of time, here I am slipping in my April #baketogether entry. I resisted, but just barely, the temptation to lemon up Abby’s gorgeous Tangerine Angel Food Cake. You may have figured by now out that lemon is my not-so-secret-weapon in the kitchen - lemon and Worcestershire sauce, but that’s a story for another day.

Love the touch of cocoa in my version and the bit of extra vanilla. It’s a pretty, pale color and looks lovely with the strawberries, doesn't it? 

But what’s not to love about angel food cake in any flavor? Or color? I'm thinking of a pale pink  angel food cake <swoon>. Just yesterday I learned that India Tree has a line of natural food dyes (they use only vegetable colorants) and I would like to try them out on angel food cakes, for sure.
Do you like angel food cake? Do you have a fav recipe? Please tell me in the comments section. 
And, if you are even thinking about joining #baketogether in May, please do! 




Traditional, simple and delicious. I'm a fan!

Cocoa Angel Food Cake 
Makes 1 10-inch cake or about 12 servings.
Preheat oven to 350º
One 10 x 4 angel food cake pan
(if your pan doesn’t have cute little feet to support it while cooling the cake, have ready a bottle or funnel to hold the pan in a level, upside-down position. Make sure to test this before your cake comes out of the oven.)
For the cake:
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour

1 1/4 cup (5 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch baking soda
Pinch table salt

11 large (1 1/3 cups) egg whites, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup (7 ounces) superfine sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To make the cake:
Sift (I use a sieve) together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt three times onto a sheet of parchment, waxed paper or foil and set aside.
In the work bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increasing speed to medium, and beat until whites are opaque and climbing about half way up the bowl (the tracks from the whisk will be beginning to hold their shape) forming very soft peaks. Continue beating while slowly and continuously adding the superfine sugar in a slow steady stream. Beat on medium high until the whites are thick, shiny and form medium-firm, fluffy peaks. (The peaks should droop over gently.) Do not over beat. You want to leave some room for those whites to expand in the oven. Add the vanilla. Beat just until blended, about 10 seconds.
Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the beaten whites. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the whites. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, one quarter at a time.
Using the spatula to gently coax the batter, pour evenly into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top. Bake until the cake is light golden brown and the cake is springy when touched, about 40 minutes. Immediately invert the pan onto the counter if the pan has feet or if it doesn’t, invert the pan sliding the center tube onto the neck of the bottle. Let cool completely.
To remove the cake, rotate the pan, gently tapping the bottom edge of the cake pan on the counter as you turn it until the cake loosens from the pan. If necessary, run a long, thin knife between the cake and the pan and around the inside of the tube to loosen the cake. Slip the cake from the pan and gently lift it up from the center of the pan and arrange on a flat serving plate.
Cut the cooled cake using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. (Or, if your mother-in-law gave you an angel food cake knife when you got engaged – Ahem! That would be me – by all means break it out.)

Serve slices of cake with fresh fruit, fruit sauce (or compote) and whipped cream.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Banana Rum Bread



Thank you to King Arthur Flour ("KAF") for sending me their Boyajian Natural Rum Flavor to try – it’s delicious! - and for kindly sponsoring a giveaway on my blog.*  Like many home bakers, I'm a big fan of KAF and believe they've done so much to keep American home baking traditions alive, relevant and fun. If you are a novice or the most advanced baker, they have something for you - including a wealth of free recipes on their site. And, personally, I find it hard to resist all the cool specialty ingredients and tools for my home kitchen.

This Banana Rum Bread started with a recipe from Joy of Cooking that I’ve been making for my family forever. I had to go back to the original recipe to see how much I changed it over the years – significantly! I’ve made many versions of it, some of which I will post at a later date, and this one is the most sophisticated. Funny to use banana bread and sophisticated in the same sentence, because it is such a simple, baking repertoire staple. But, the natural rum flavor takes it to a new level.

I encourage you to follow the directions. I try and not be too bossy, but this is a dry batter (pre-bananas). You need ALL the bananas called for and you need to sift the flour mixture. You just do. You can go with the lesser or greater amount of rum flavor. I used 3 teaspoons - that's a lot, but I like how the rum stands up to the banana.


I use these bake-and-serve loaf pans quite a bit for home and work. Makes it so easy to slip a loaf in a cello bag or wrap one in waxed paper and tie with a pretty ribbon or twine for gift giving. Also, you can freeze and rewarm in these (a nice thing to note on a gift card as well). I like to double or triple a recipe, keep a bread or two for home, freeze some and/or give away to friends and neighbors. Why? Because part of the fun of baking is sharing!


King Arthur Giveaway:

King Arthur is generously sending one lucky baker a set of bake-and-serve quick bread loaf pans, a bottle of Boyajian Natural Rum Flavor and a coupon for a bag of King Arthur flour (redeemable at your local grocer).


To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below telling me all about YOUR banana bread recipe or one you especially enjoy. You know how much I love hearing about your recipes and what you like! 


A winner will be chosen by random using random.org on Sunday, April 22nd and announced here on the blog. I will name the winner in the comments section below and he/she will have until Wednesday, April 25th at 5pm EST to contact me at info@sweetandsimple.com with a *U.S.* mailing address. As in the past, if you don’t contact me, I will pick a second winner using random.org.



Warm Banana Rum Bread. Yum.




*Note about this post:
Recently, KAF contacted me about using their products in my home baking recipes which I talk about on my blog. As many of you know, I use KAF commercial flours exclusively for Sweet & Simple. KAF and I agreed on a few recipes for me to try with their products. For this recipe, KAF sent me a bottle of Boyajian Natural Rum Flavor as well as a set of bake-and-give quick bread loaf pans. I was not compensated monetarily, told what to write or asked to give a specific product review. Of course, as an overzealous home baker, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to use new products at home for fun! So, I've definitely been compensated in the happy department.




Banana Rum Bread 
4 - 3/4lb/12 oz Loaves
Preheat oven to 350° 

Set aside on a sheet pan, 4 bake-and-give quick bread loaf pans
Have all ingredients at room temperature

2-3/4 cups/370 grams/13 ounces King Arthur unbleached all-purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

11 tablespoons/5-1/2 ounces/155 grams unsalted butter
1-1/3 cups/266 grams/9 oz sugar
1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2-3 teaspoons Boyajian Natural Rum Flavor

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2-1/2 cups/500 grams/1 lb 2 ounces very ripe bananas (mashed)
4-5 small bananas

4 teaspoons sugar for sprinkling on breads (optional but very pretty)

Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, then sift mixture and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, starting on low speed, beat the butter and sugar until combined. Switch the mixer to medium-high speed and beat until light and fluffy.

Scrape down sides of work bowl. With mixer set to low, add eggs in a slow, steady stream and beat until just combined. Scrape down sides of bowl, then turn mixer to medium-high and beat until well combined and light and fluffy again.

Add extracts and beat to combine.

Add the flour mixture all at once and beat on low speed until just combined. Mixture will look dry for a batter. Do not over mix.

Add mashed bananas all at once and beat for a few seconds only. Remove work bowl from mixer and finish folding in the bananas with a spatula.

Evenly divide the batter between the bake-and-serve loaf pans (keep them on the sheet pan for baking). If desired, sprinkle one teaspoon of granulated sugar over the top of each loaf pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes using bake-and-serve loaf pans.  Remove breads to a wire rack and let breads cool completely before wrapping or freezing. If you like, serve Banana Rum Bread warm - you won't be sorry!

A sprinkle of sugar... a simple finish for a simple bread.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Mac and Cheese

This was the first recipe I posted when I launched the original Sweet & Simple website. It was just a few recipes then and no pictures whatsoever. Two years later, I still don’t know anyone who will turn down mac & cheese. This one is a little “fancy” because you make a white sauce, add grated cheese, combine everything together then bake it in the oven until golden brown and bubbling. And one my fav family dinners is this Mac and Cheese served with a roast chicken and a simply prepared vegetable or salad. Easy peasy dinner for 5 with plenty of leftovers!

A couple notes:
Nutmeg is optional because some people do find the taste overwhelming. I happen to love the sweet nutmeg combined with the sea salt and slightly nutty taste of the Jarlsberg.
Traditionally, a white sauce is “white” and you would not use freshly ground black pepper. But it’s your mac & cheese, so you get to choose!
I used to to think a white sauce took much longer and then realized I was including the resting time between the sauce being finished and the combining of the ingredients before the casseroles go in the oven. This sauce should easily pull together in 10-20 minutes max.



Mac and Cheese

Makes two 8” round casseroles
Each casserole serves 6-8 as a side dish.
Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly butter two 8” round casseroles and set aside.

Cheese Sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
4 cups 2% milk
2 1/2 cups Jarslberg cheese (grated)
Sea salt & freshly ground white and/or black pepper
Nutmeg (optional)

2 lbs mini rigatoni/mini penne (or whatever shape you like best) cooked al dente

In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter (do not brown it). When the butter has melted, sprinkle the flour over the top and stir with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until well blended and starting to color (do not brown it). Season lightly with sea salt and pepper and nutmeg, if desired.

Switch to a whisk and add the milk slowly in a stream, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until the mixture boils, then reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10-20 minutes. Check seasonings and adjust if necessary. Add cheese all at once, gently stirring the mixture to melt the cheese.

Cook the pasta al dente according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain but do not rinse the pasta then gently combine it with the cheese sauce, reserving 2 cups of the sauce. Dividing the mixture evenly between the two casseroles. Pour one cup of sauce over the top of each casserole and use a small offset or other spatula to spread it around evenly.

Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.



Sunday, April 1, 2012

Almond Crackle Cookies - Two Ways


I clipped the original recipe for this post from a King Arthur catalog (2008). King Arthur calls them Almond Cloud Cookies, but they look like crackles to me. The original recipe is simple, calls for just a few ingredients and one mixing bowl. The cookies are slightly chewy and macaroon-ish and magically delicious. Some almond macaroon recipes combine the sugars, but here the confectioners’ sugar is sprinkled liberally over the unbaked cookies. I suppose you could also pipe this dough, but an ice cream scoop/disher works well and gives perfect results. For serving, I like these best with an assortment of other small cookies or little desserts. And they would be awesome with a fresh fruit salad for dessert.

The original recipe calls for an optional 1/8 tsp of bitter almond oil, or lemon or orange oil. Having tried the recipe several ways, I prefer it with straight almond extract so there is no distraction from the intense almond flavor. And I add a pinch of salt — that tiny bit makes a difference.




Almond Crackles I
20-24 cookies (depending on size)

Preheat oven to 325º.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment
 
10 ounces almond paste
1cup/7 ounces sugar
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp almond extract
pinch of salt
Confectioners’ sugar for topping

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, blend the almond paste and sugar until the mixture forms fine crumbs.

Add the lightly beaten egg whites in a slow steady stream while continuing to mix. Mix until you have a smooth paste. Add the almond extract.

Using a 1/2 or 3/4 ounce cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto the prepared pans.

Using a flour sifter or a fine strainer, dust the cookies heavily with confectioners’ sugar.  I like to use the tips of 3 fingers (thumb, forefinger and middle finger) pressed together make a pattern on the top of each cookie. You could also use the end of a wooden spoon, or skip this all together.

Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes until light brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the sheet pans.


Vanilla, chocolate or a 50/50 sandwich.



This brings us to Almond Crackles II. And you're thinking, "Wait. What?".
I know. Why mess with a good thing, and if it ain't broke don't fix it... words to live by unless,  like me, you like to fiddle with recipes.

I had in mind a cookie for grown-up ice cream sandwiches. My variation has a more cake-like texture with the crunch of sliced almonds in the cookie and on top. I added whole eggs (vs. just whites), flour, leaveners and sliced almonds to the dough as well as on top of each cookie. The powdered sugar still gives a nice crackle.

Don't be turned off, the "dough" doesn't look pretty when it goes on the sheet pans, but that little problem is solved with baking them off - they will look lovely when they come out of the oven!


Almond Crackles II
approx. 28-30 cookies

Preheat oven to 325º.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment

1 cup/4.8 oz all purpose flour (unbleached)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

10 ounces almond paste 
1 cup/7ounces sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp almond extract
pinch of salt
4 oz blanched, sliced almonds (for dough)
3 oz blanched, sliced almonds (for topping cookies)
Confectioners’ sugar for topping

In a small bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, blend the almond paste and sugar until the mixture forms fine crumbs.

Add the eggs  in a slow steady stream while continuing to mix. Mix until you have a smooth paste. Add the almond extract. 

Add the flour mixture until just combined then add 4 oz almonds and mix until just combined

Using a 1 ounce cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto the prepared pans. The dough will be very wet and loose, even runny looking. Divide the 3 oz sliced almonds for topping evenly over the cookies.

Using a sifter or a fine strainer, dust the cookies heavily with confectioners’ sugar. 


Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes until light brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pans.