Archive for the ‘Cookies and Bars’ Category

Memory Lane Brownies

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Keith browniesweb

I just realized that I haven’t posted on this blog in February. Luckily, I just made something that was definitely blogworthy so I will squeak in a February post.

Wednesday evening I spoke to a group in Alexandria, Virginia, about my book Pulling Taffy. The fun, interested and interesting crowd included one of my college dorm mates, Jo-Ann McNally (as gorgeous and peppy as ever); a man who had known and loved my darling  honorary godmother Dagny Johnson; the wonderful Joan Sutton, my mother’s geriatric adviser; and a number of people who had lived through dementia care themselves. I had a wonderful time and came home with a gift from my hosts as well as money from book sales. (I love money!)

Family members also came—and I wanted to have something easy yet tasty on hand to serve them after the program. It was snowing the morning, and I really didn’t feel like taking the Tinkymobile to the grocery store to purchase any exotic ingredients. Fortunately, I thought of Keith Brownies.

This brownie recipe may be found in a book called Treasury of Tennessee Treats, published by the Keith Memorial Church in Athens, Tennessee, home of my college roommate Kelly Boyd. I wish I had a photo of Kelly and me at Mount Holyoke to show you, but all of those photos are in another state. Picture two long-haired, short, slightly plump, astronomy-and-film-loving young girls with big smiles, and you won’t be far off.

Kelly and I made these brownies back in the day—and a couple of years ago when I asked her for the recipe she sent me her late Aunt Lucile’s copy of the cookbook. Lucile Mitchell made the first and the best cream candy I ever tasted, and I am honored to have her cookbook in my collection.

In addition to the brownies and many other dishes, the Keith Cookbook features one of those charming, sentimental “recipes” for a good life favored by community-cookbook committees in generations past. (The copy I have, the book’s second edition, was published in 1962.) I’m sure the ladies wouldn’t mind my reprinting it. Its message is sappy but inspiring.

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To tell you the truth, the brownies didn’t QUITE live up to my memory of them. (It’s very hard for anything to live up to a memory.) They were still extremely tasty, however—somewhere between fudgy and cakey in consistency—and no one seemed to have any trouble eating them!

Best of all, they took no time at all to make and used ingredients I ALWAYS have in the house. I will definitely keep them in my repertoire. I hope you enjoy them, too.

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Keith Brownies
Adapted from Treasury of Tennessee Treats (Aunt Lucile’s copy)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch pan. Cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs; then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Bake for 25 minutes. Cut into bars. The original recipe suggested cutting 16 squares, but I cut about 30! I love serving tiny treats and then allowing for seconds.

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A Pressing Engagement

Monday, October 14th, 2013

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Apples and cider seem to sum up autumn in New England. Bursting with color and flavor, they are doubly precious because they represent the end of the harvest. Winter is coming, and we all know it, but in the meantime we savor the season and its fruit as much as we can.

Last year an ill-time frost made apples scarce here in Massachusetts. This year nature is making up for last year’s dearth with more apples than I can remember seeing in any single fall. An odd tree in my front yard that has never before produced ANYTHING suddenly droops with yellow-pink orbs.

Knowing that I love to make applesauce from a variety of apples, several of my neighbors have invited me to gather fruit from their trees as well as my own. I know that one tree down the road has Gravensteins. Another offers an abundance of Golden Delicious apples. The other trees are mysteries to me. Their fruits vary in color from yellow to such a deep red that the flesh as well as the skin of the apple is imbued with pigment. I don’t care what they’re all called. I just know that I love them!

On Saturday, the actual Columbus Day, the Coopers over on Strawberry Hill here in Hawley hosted their annual cider party. Paul Cooper hauled out his antique cider press, we all brought apples and jugs, and everyone who wanted to went home with fresh-pressed cider. (We also had an opportunity to catch up with neighbors and eat delicious food, but the cider was the main event!)

It can take several people (including advisers!) to press cider. Our host Paul Cooper is in the front right.

It can take several people (including advisers!) to press cider. Our host Paul Cooper is on the right in front.

This cider is amazingly aromatic, with a deep, rich color that seems even darker than the pretty terrific cider I frequently purchase at local orchards. I am unable to tell you how my own jug of cider tastes; I popped it into the freezer in anticipation of a visit from my brother and his family next weekend. (I’m SUCH a good sister and aunt!)

dark sweet ciderweb

I can’t really give you a recipe for cider, which just involves pressing apples until they release their lovely juice. (The press looks like a medieval instrument of torture, but it works!) So I’m sharing the recipe for the cookies I brought to Leslie and Paul Cooper’s party, snickerdoodles. Their cinnamony goodness is an ideal accompaniment to fresh-pressed cider.

The recipe came originally from Maureen Schaden-Foster, whose family runs the End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Amish families drive up to the store in buggies to buy nourishing basics, and the store also delivers to several hundred Amish families nearby.

It’s one of the very few cookie recipes I make that call for vegetable shortening instead of butter. You’re welcome to try making it with butter, but I have to warn you that only shortening gives you the dreamy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency a snickerdoodle should have.

Speaking of that consistency, please note that you should really eat these cookies within 24 hours. After that they get a little stale and lose some of their appeal.

So haul out the cider and invite friends over to enjoy this bittersweet season with you.

Snickerdoodlesweb

Amish Snickerdoodles

Ingredients:

2-3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening, softened
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Instructions:

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cream the shortening, and cream in the 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the shortening mixture. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours. (It will have pastry-like consistency; pat it together a bit before chilling.)

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon in a small, shallow dish or bowl. Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts, and roll each ball in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes. The cookies should be lightly browned but still soft.

Yield: About 4 dozen snickerdoodles.

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Chock-Full Oatmeal Cookies

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

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I couldn’t let National Oatmeal Month end without at least one oatmeal recipe. This is your basic oatmeal-raisin cookie with a few extra touches to make it even more satisfying. The coconut in particular adds to the cookies’ chewiness.

These cookies offer my conscience a perfect compromise. At this chilly time of year I long to bake, particularly for my nephew Michael. I am aware that sweet baked goods are not the healthiest thing to feed him … or anyone else. These cookies still contain sugar and fat, but they are also chock full of fruits, nuts, and grains that make them healthier than your average cookie. If you use the white whole-wheat flour, the cookies are even less guilt-inducing.

You’ll note that I suggest using either butter or shortening. They both have advantages. The shortening gives oatmeal cookies a remarkable light consistency. On the other hand, butter gives them added flavor. Use whichever you like—or whichever you have more of!

The Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter (at room temperature) or vegetable shortening
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour (you may use either all-purpose or King Arthur Flour white whole-wheat flour)
1-1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup coconut, firmly packed
1/2 cup toasted pecans (optional if you have a child like ours who thinks he doesn’t like nuts)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the butter and/or shortening with the sugars. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla. Stir in the baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, followed by the flour—and then the oatmeal!

Gently stir in the raisins, coconut, and pecans (if you are using those). The batter will be fairly dense.

Drop the batter in smallish clumps onto 2 ungreased baking sheets. (You may line the sheets with a silicone mat if you like.)

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies should JUST be beginning to brown. They are best not overcooked to ensure maximum chewiness.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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The Queen of Cups

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

My friend Peter has been telling me for months that I would love the Queen of Cups Tea Room in Greenfield, Massachusetts. It takes me a while to get ANYWHERE, however, so I only recently managed to darken the Queen’s doorway.

As usual, Peter was right: I was enchanted by the food; by the shop’s owner, Becca Byram; and by the way the place looks

Decorative plates, cups, and teapots line the walls and the shelves. A leather chair sits in one corner waiting for a solitary tea drinker. Linen-covered tables welcome small groups of sippers. In the back of the shop a counter displays baked goods, particularly Becca’s beloved scones and cookies.

Becca has lived in the United States for almost 20 years. A musician from Worcestershire, England, she married an American and lived for many years in urban areas in this country.

Almost ten years ago she and her husband visited the home of his relatives in Deerfield, Massachusetts. They fell in love with New England, which resembles Becca’s native county. “It has the same kind of farms and the same kind of hillsides,” she told me with a smile on her face.

She and her husband had already started a family—they now have a ten year old and a seven year old—and decided they wanted to raise that family in the area.

As the children grew older and her musician husband continued to travel, Becca longed to find an occupation that would keep her near home and would make her available to her offspring in the evenings.

I love the decor at the Queen of Cups!

The Queen of Cups sprang from that desire—and from an observation Becca had made when friends and family visited from England. “I realized that there wasn’t anywhere within at least 40 miles where I could take them for a nice cup of tea,” she explained.

An avid baker like her mother and grandmother before her, she welcomed the opportunity to tie on her apron and bake goodies to accompany those nice cups of tea.

She told me that people often give her plates and cups to fill out the tea room. “They like to see their things displayed.”

When asked about the name of the tea room, Becca laughed. “I am a queen of cups because I have a massive collection of cups!”

She added that she adapted the Queen of Cups Tarot card for her logo. “The Queen of Cups in the card is holding a chalice. Mine is holding a teacup.”

I asked Becca who her customers are. “People who like tea shops LIKE tea shops,” she informed me, “and they will make pilgrimages to find them.”

She says she gets a lot of references from a site called TeaMap, which lists tea rooms by location. Her customers are looking for “tea in a teapot and brewed at the right temperature.”

I am not a tea drinker, alas, but I do love sweets. I convinced Becca to give me her recipe for Jammie Dodgers, the English equivalent of Linzer Tarts.

Along with the formula for the cookies Becca shared her philosophy about recipes: “Very often, bakers guard their recipes as if their very livelihood depended on it. Personally, I have found that many of the greatest recipes are free. This one came originally from the back of a Tate & Lyon sugar packet in England, found by my mother in 1972.

“My family has enjoyed this recipe for years. I hope you do, too.”

Becca pours tea to accompany a Jammie Dodger.

Queen of Cups Jammie Dodgers

I have to be frank and tell you that when I made these cookies they were much less lovely than Becca’s creations. And the jam (I didn’t have raspberry so I used strawberry) got a bit runny. They tasted absolutely wonderful, however. The cornstarch in the recipe gives them a unique, delicate texture.

Ingredients:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups flour
3 sticks (3/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
jam as needed (Becca likes to use seedless raspberry)
more confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Instructions:

In a large bowl mix all ingredients (except the jam and final sugar!) until they come together in a soft ball.

Wrap the ball in waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the dough from its wrapping and place it on a lightly floured board. Whack it briefly with your rolling pin to start to loosen it up.

Roll the dough out until it is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Be sure to turn the dough 45 degrees with each roll to keep it even. If your rolling pin starts getting sticky, it’s perfectly all right to use your hands to roll the dough instead.

Use your favorite cookie cutter to cut out shapes. (A the tea shop they use a heart-shaped cutter). Cut out a smaller shape in the center of half of the cookies.

Place the unbaked cookies on parchment-covered sheets. (I used my silicone baking mat.) They do not expand in the oven so they may be reasonably close together.

Bake the cookies (including the small cut-outs, which you may use for decorating pastry or just eat!) for five to ten minutes, or until they are lightly browned. “Keep your eye on them—they bake fast!” Becca Byram cautioned. “Don’t make a cup of coffee because it will take too long.”

Let the cookies sit on their pans above a cooling rack for 20 to 25 minutes before removing.

Just before serving cover the cookies that don’t have shapes cut out of them with a dab of jam; then cover the jam with the cut-out cookies so that the jam peeks through.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

Makes about a dozen cookies (more or less, depending on the size of one’s cookie cutters).

Pat’s Prize-Winning Maple Walnut Wafers

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Maple month is almost over—and I have one more maple recipe to share. It comes from Pat Leuchtman of Heath, Massachusetts, a gardener and gourmet cook extraordinaire who blogs at Commonweeder. I’m proud to say that she’s a friend of mine.

Pat won a prize for her maple-walnut wafers at the 2010 Heath Fair. I love this fair, which takes place the third weekend in August each year.

It’s just big enough to offer lots of activities for fairgoers. The fair features music, sales stalls, fair food (once a year I HAVE to eat fried dough with maple cream), exhibitions of produce and art, and animals galore.

And it’s just small enough to offer fairgoers a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors.

Pat’s wafers took second place in the maple-confection category. She kindly sent me the recipe. A cross between a cookie and a candy, her sweets resemble pralines but are less overwhelmingly sweet.

Not having any walnuts on hand, I substituted pecans. The wafers disappeared with remarkable speed.

If some of your wafers have trouble coming off the cookie sheet (this happens, particularly if they are a little underdone!), roll them into little balls before putting them on the rack. They are delectable that way, too, even if they are less elegant looking than the wafers.

The Wafers

Ingredients:

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans!)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1 cup maple sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cream

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Over medium-low heat combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Stir until the butter has melted and your mixture resembles a batter. Remove the pan from the heat.

Line a cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat. Drop one scant teaspoonful of the batter on the sheet at a time, leaving lots of room between dollops. (The cookies will spread!) You will need to make 2 to 3 batches to use up all of your batter.

Bake the cookies until they are bubbly at the center and beginning to brown at the edges. Pat says this can happen in 3 to 4 minutes. My wafers took about 6 minutes, but I would still suggest checking your oven after 3 to 4 minutes.

Let the wafers cool for a few minutes; then gently remove them from the pan and let them cool completely on a rack.

Makes 24 to 30 wafers.