Thursday, December 25, 2014

Traditional Hungarian Dobos Torte

This dessert only happens once a year in our house, not necessarily because it is difficult. Making it is only a moderately lengthy process, not particularly tricky, and honestly it's hard to ruin it. The real reason is, having it only once per annum keeps it special.  We all look forward to this dessert as the grand finale of our Mikulas Day Hungarian dinner, a family tradition you can read about here on my other blog (The Only Thing Constant). I have, like my mother, made a few exceptions to this rule and made it for special occasions like cultural heritage days at school or church Christmas parties. But on a normal year, it only makes one very anticipated appearance. I actually gave up chocolate for a full 11 months one year, but December was out because of this cake. I had to have it. And my year is still not complete without a slice. In fact, while we were on tour and living in extended-stay hotels with sadly under-equipped kitchens, I was so determined to have this cake for Mikulas dinner that I bought a whimpy little hand-crank beater (because I was too cheap to buy an electric one) and attempted to beat the egg whites and whip the frosting with it. It took forever, nearly gave me blisters, and I'm pretty sure I broke the confounded contraption before it was over. The frosting had lumps of unmelted chocolate, and the cake may not have been so fluffy, but it made that tiny sour-smelling apartment thousands of miles from home feel like heaven.

There are several versions of this recipe floating around out there. This one was handed down from my Hungarian great-grandmother, who lived in Budapest as a little girl when the cake was first popular. She and her family immigrated to America in 1905, a year before the inventor retired and finally released his original recipe to the public. So whether this version was her mother's improvisational attempt at recreating it, or they picked up the recipe when they returned to Hungary for grandma to attend finishing school as a teenager remains a bit of a family mystery. Either way, the cake is delicious, and to me has the rich taste of both family tradition and my Magyar roots.

One of the things that makes a dobos unique is its multiple layers, traditionally 9. Mom usually made 8, baking 4 at a time, but 3 rounds of 3 would work as well. When I was a kid, mom had 4 old metal swivel pans she used to make the delicate sponge layers. I don't think they served any other purpose, so every year we had to find them (sometimes we forgot where they were stored), buff them clean if they were dusty and turn the arms to make sure they weren't stuck. The swivel arms were nice and tight, and buttering and flouring them heavily so the cakes fell easily out without too much fuss was just part of the routine. Sadly, they don't make 'em like they used to, and when I began my own household and was gifted a set of my own, the swivel arms were pathetically loose and would wobble and mutilate my poor cakes as I tried to wrench them from the pan. Even worse, since you have to use the pans twice in a row, cleaning the gap under the arms became a frustrating race between baking rounds to clean up the mess, dry the pans, rebutter, flour and fill them before the remaining batter fell too flat.

Then my mom found an awesome solution. She bought me four regular-old 8 inch cake pans as well as teflon inserts that fit perfectly in the bottom. It's hard to find the teflon inserts anymore (did someone decide they weren't safe?) but I see similar silicone ones on Amazon which would work just as well, or you can use parchment paper rounds, which you can either buy pre-cut or make your own. With my teflon inserts, all I do is lightly spray with cooking spray, no flour needed. When I turn out the cake, they fall right out, and the teflon peels cleanly off. I don't even bother washing them before baking the next round, just apply a second coat of cooking spray and go.

My sister Rebecca's dobos sans edge frosting
The cake layers cool very quickly, so they are ready to frost pretty much right away. The frosting is by far my favorite part! It is silky smooth thanks to more than a cup of butter and two egg yolks, giving it a very similar taste and texture to a French Silk Pie. In fact, the only difference is the use of powdered sugar instead of granulated and the addition of heavy cream (what food is there that heavy cream can't make even better?). The amount of frosting you make varies depending on your choice of how to frost the cake. According to my sister, the traditional way to frost the cake was only between the layers, leaving the impressive stacks of sponge cake visible. Otherwise, the cake can be frosted between layers and up the sides, leaving the top for a hard candy covering of boiled sugar water. This was the way Mom usually made it. Getting the candy to just the right state was the biggest challenge of all. It had to turn this perfect golden color, and then you had to pour it immediately onto the cake top. Too long on the heat and the candy would be hard to pour and lay on too thick, too short and it would stay semi-soft and ruin the effect of the first cut.

Cutting the cake is the big spectacle of the night,
but these guys are admittedly hamming it up a bit!
This photo is from 2011, when Mom spent Mikulas
with my youngest 2 brothers and their families
and was the honorary cake cutter.
You see, the big moment of serving the dobos is cutting the cake. The hard candy top had to be smacked hard with a knife, cracking the top right along the knife's edge. You had to aim just right to get the slices even. For years, we thought this was the way the cake got it's name. Dobos means drum, and we were told it was called a drum cake because you beat it like a drum when you cut into it. Some of us did a little research, though, and learned that the cake was invented by Mr. J√≥zsef C. Dobos, a confectioner from Budapest in the late 1800's. Finding that out was a little disappointing, but we still call it a drum cake, and we still get excited about that first smack as we cut into it. Last year when I cut the cake I actually broke my chef's knife! The blade snapped clean off. It was less the fault of the candy top as it was the hidden rust on the tang, so don't be afraid to use your good knife. Personally, I never much liked the taste of the candy top anyway. It was always more about the spectacle for me. So this year, I frosted the whole cake, including the top, and made some pretty hard candy lace to decorate the top. It wasn't as exciting to cut into, but the effect was quite beautiful and gave everyone the option of still eating the candy, or easily avoiding it. The best part of all: more frosting!

In the past, I have loved this cake best on the second day, when it was well chilled and the frosting was cold and firm. It tasted like a cold truffle center to me. This year, however, there wasn't room in the fridge or time to bake it the day before, so I made it in the morning and left it in a place on my counter that stays rather cool from the air that pours in through the kitchen vent. Without being refrigerated, the sponge cake seemed a lot more moist to me, and I think I preferred the taste in general. The cake is okay in a cool place for a couple days, but any longer (which is unlikely around here) and it ought to be refrigerated because of the raw eggs in the frosting.

But enough talk, let's bake! Here is the recipe:

Sponge Cake:
10 eggs, separated, (2 yolks reserved for frosting, below)
9 tablespoons sugar
9 tablespoons flour

Frosting (use bold amount for frosting the full cake):
1 1/2 or 1 1/4 cup salted butter, softened
2 reserved egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 or 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
3 or 2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
About 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Candy Top (optional):
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 400°. Line four round cake pans with silicon or teflon inserts, or parchment paper rounds and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Beat egg whites, adding sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until stiff. Add 8 of the yolks, one at a time, blending very well. Carefully sift in one tablespoon of flour at a time and gently fold in until well blended. Spread about 1 cup of batter in each cake pan, gently smoothing top with spatula. Bake 6 min, until just golden. While cakes bake, spread wax paper on counter top and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. When cakes are done, flip them out onto the sugared paper and gently peel away the inserts. Return the inserts to the pan, spray again lightly, fill with remaining batter, and bake as before.

For the frosting, beat the butter until fluffy, add yolks, vanilla, and chocolate, beat well, scraping the sides of the bowl often. Add the powdered sugar and start to add the cream until you reach the right consistency. Continue to beat at moderately high speed. The frosting will turn a very light color and look very fluffy and heavenly! Try not to eat it...yet. If you're doing the candy top, choose your prettiest cake layer and save it for the top. Layer the cakes with frosting on a cake plate, frost the sides and if you want, frost the top.

For the hard candy top, boil sugar and water in a small sauce pan without stirring. After boiling for what seems like a long time, it will suddenly turn golden. It should be a good amber gold, and that's your sign that it's done. Pour it immediately on top of the cake, and spread quickly to the edge by gently tipping and rolling the cake, or use the back of a greased spoon. Or, if you want to make candy lace, prepare a sheet of baking parchment with cooking spray. Allow the candy to cool in the pot about 2 minutes, then use a spoon to drizzle it in swirly circular patterns on the greased parchment paper, making 6 or more separate "disks." Cool completely, remove from the paper and stick them upright in the cake top, or arrange them however you like.

To cut into a cake with a hard candy top, use a very sharp sturdy knife, take good aim, and smack the top hard, then slice. Repeat for each slice.

Happy Mikulas!

Sponge cakes laid out to cool on well sugared wax paper.
The sugar prevents the delicate cakes from sticking too the paper.

Teflon inserts fit perfectly into the cake pan and allow a clean release of the baked sponge cake.
Silicon or parchment circles work just as well. Spray lightly with cooking spray. 

The frosting turns a try pale color when whipped properly.
Just wait until AFTER frosting the cake to lick the beaters!
Boil the sugar water until it turns amber gold. Then pour onto the cake immediately, or... 
…cool slightly and drizzle with a spoon onto greased parchment.
Cool and arrange on frosted cake top.

Special thanks to my brother, James Hoffman, and my sister, Rebecca Carlson, for sharing some of their photos for use in this blog post! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Leftover Rescue: Mac and Cheese

It came from the back of the fridge: the unholy offspring of powdered processed cheese and a poorly calculated estimate of the number of servings required. It lurked behind the day-old meatloaf, waiting, silent and yellow. She knew she could not ignore it forever... 

Pityingly she glanced at her toddler, playing without a care in the next room. For one moment, the girl looked back, her deep brown eyes so expectant and trusting. "You hungry, baby?" Mommy asked, with an immediate twinge of guilt. The excited response of her little innocent barely eased her conscience. But even this was a paltry solution. That was a 5 cup leftover container, and it was full to the accursed brim. Could she really subject her precious girl to day after day of such torture? Sure, she  likely wouldn't complain, wouldn't even fathom how awful it was. That would be too cruel. No, Mommy would have to shoulder most of the burden herself. Taking a deep sustaining breath, she opened the door and reached a trembling hand into the cold, forbidding recesses of the refrigerator...

How many times has this horror story played itself out in your kitchen? As hard as I try to avoid it there are many times I either overestimate my kid's appetite or the number of folks I'll be feeding and end up with way too much of what my brother used to call the "yellow death:" leftover mac and cheese. While my budget-conscience heart can't bear to toss it out, my sensitive taste buds can't bear to endure the torment. Knowing I have leftover mac and cheese reminds me of that scene in Ghostbusters when Dana opens the fridge and confronts a demon, and I start thinking I'd much rather employ an exorcist than the microwave.

Recently, however, I discovered a tasty solution. Yes, I said tasty, and yes, I'm still talking about leftover mac and cheese. It's so tasty, in fact, that my toddler refused her microwaved bowl of mac and cheese and downed so much of my plate that I had to cook up a second batch, and the two of us finished off the whole daunting amount in one lunchtime. 

The secret to success lies not so much in how you reheat it as in how you cook it in the first place. Never cook mac and cheese for the full 7 minutes recommended on the box! I don't know who determined that as the cooking time, but in my opinion, it turns the noodles into a mushy disgusting mess. Perhaps it's good for babies just starting to cut their teeth, but no one older with any taste could love it. I always cook mine for a mere 4 minutes and strain immediately. This leaves the pasta with a pleasant "al dente" texture which on it's own will make your boxed mac and cheese 10 times better, and makes it sturdy enough to reheat as the pasta will soften even more in the process.

It's totally simple: just fry the pasta in a nonstick pan, no oil required (that's already there in spades). Avoid stirring too much, but turn the noodles occasionally in hash brown fashion, allowing them to get nicely crispy. After moving to a plate, I like to garnish mine with a drizzle of barbecue sauce, but if you prefer ketchup, that works, too. That was, after all, my old cover-up solution for leftover mac and cheese. Ketchup covers a great multitude of sins, or at least sort of conceals them.

Alternately, if you'd rather just try to revive your mac and cheese to its original, traditional state, don't bother with the microwave. Return it to a pot, add a few drops of milk and stir gently over low heat until it breaks up. If you need to add a little more milk, just do so sparingly so it doesn't get too runny. The cheese should return to a decently creamy state in a short amount of time. Cook just until warmed through and serve. It will taste almost as good as fresh, although the pasta will be softer than it was.

So next time you find your fridge haunted by the yellow death, give this a try. After that, you may find yourself cooking up a whole extra box just to have leftovers again!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Home Canned Pumpkin Pie Filling

This recipe is one my mom used for years. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, making a pumpkin pie was always a cinch because all we had to do was pull out a jar of Mom's home canned filling, add eggs and evaporated milk, bake and done. My sister, Rebecca, shared this recipe with me a couple years ago, along with her personal notes. She has been known to make arrangements with her neighbors to come around with her wagon on the morning after Halloween and pick up their jack o' lanterns to use in her canning in exchange for a jar of pumpkin filling. You can use any old pumpkin (or even butternut squash, which I like to throw in sometimes at about a 4:1 ratio) but the little sugar pumpkins are the sweetest and least watery. Make sure if you use a carved pumpkin that you either do your canning right away or cut it up and refrigerate so the exposed flesh doesn't rot. Cooked pumpkin can also be frozen for up to 3 months if you would rather cook and store it for canning later. If you are new to canning, I recommend reading up on it before canning, as I don't share all the finer points of the process in this post. A great resource is the Ball website.

Sugar pumpkins are fairly easy to
grow. Save some seeds from your
store bought pumpkin and try
planting them next spring. If space
is tight, you can grow them on a
trellis as long as you use mesh bags
(like those you buy onions in)
to support the fruit as it grows.
Start by cooking your pumpkin. I found that about 20 lbs. pumpkin yields about 19 c pumpkin puree, which will make just over 6 quarts of filling. Cut up your pumpkins (and/or squash) and remove the stem and seeds. Then you can either peel and boil it, or roast at 400° with the peel on for a couple hours then scoop the cooled flesh away from the peel. Baking tends to lend a nice roasted, caramelized flavor, so that's the method I prefer. Once your pumpkin is cooked, puree it in batches in a food processor until smooth and measure it into a large pot, taking note of how many cups you have. 

For every three cups puree, add the following:

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil, ladle into hot clean quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Put on the lids and process in a hot water bath for 1 hour 20 min (add 10 min for higher elevation). Allow to cool undisturbed on a towel covered counter top for 24 hours. Extra amounts of filling can be used as a spread like pumpkin butter, or used in place of pumpkin puree in any recipe that calls for it (for instance, my chocolate chip pumpkin cookies). Just remember to reduce the sugar and spices in the recipe, as those are already in the filling.

Pumpkin Pie (from Home Canned Filling)

1 quart home canned pumpkin pie filling
4 eggs
1 13 oz. can evaporated milk
1 pie crust

Extra filling can be made into pumpkin custards,
like these topped with whip cream
and drizzled with nuts and chocolate.
Preheat oven to 425°. Pour jar of filling into a mixer bowl, add eggs and evaporated milk and blend well. Line a pie plate with an unbaked pie crust. Pour in the mixed filling up to within 1/4 inch of the top. Cover the crust edges with foil or a pie crust shield. Depending on the size of your pie plate, there will be enough filling left over to pour into as many as 4 ramekins or custard cups to bake as crustless pumpkin custards. Place the filled cups in a deep pan and fill with water up to the level of the filling. Carefully move the pan to the oven so the water doesn't splash into the cups (or you can pour the water in after you move it to the oven, but I find I splash just as much water when I do it this way!). Bake pie and custards for 15 minutes at 425°, then reduce to 350° and bake about 45 min more, until there is hardly any "wiggle" when you move the pie. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Cookies

I've been dying to share this recipe with you. It's my favorite autumn treat, and probably the one that got me hooked on pumpkin everything in the first place. To me, it isn't really October until I bake a batch of Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies!

This recipe comes originally from my classic "Better Homes and Gardens" cookbook. I've made some minor changes, such as substituting chocolate chips for raisins or topping them with a citrus cream cheese frosting. Sometimes I substitue home canned pumpkin pie filling for the pumpkin puree. I'll share that recipe with you next week, so hang on to your jack o' lanterns! I always double this recipe because they are so fun to share and they tend to disappear pretty quick. I hope these will make your autumn even better!

Rachel's Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies (Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1981)

Makes roughly 3 dozen.  These are great with or without the citrus cream cheese frosting.  Where noted with the asterisk (*), you can optionally substitute a cup of home canned pumpkin pie filling, leaving out the spices and half the brown sugar because those are included in the filling.

2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c or one stick butter
1 c packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 c canned pumpkin*
1 tsp vanilla
1 c semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli best)

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream the butter for 30 seconds, then add the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.  Add egg, pumpkin, and vanilla, mixing well.  Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and spoon into the pumpkin mixture while beating until very well blended.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop very small spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, or greased with cooking spray.  You will be tempted to make them bigger, but they will not set in the middle if you do, so keep them fairly small. Bake 10 minutes.  I always rotate the cookie sheet half-way through to ensure even baking.  Cool on a wire rack.

Optional (but oh-so-awesome) Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting:

4 oz cream cheese
1 tsp lemon extract (or vanilla is okay, instead)
1 Tbs milk (or as needed)
1/4 salted butter
3 c powdered sugar
A few pinches dried lemon or orange zest (this stuff is expensive in the spice section at the store, but the next time you have a lemon or orange in the house, just wash, dry, and grate the peel with a fine grater and dry completely on a paper towel or parchment, then store in an old spice jar.)

Cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth, add lemon extract or vanilla, zest, and powdered sugar and beat to combine, adding milk until of spreading consistency.  Spread on the cookies, or use a cake decorator with a fluted tip.  Fall colored sprinkles make them even prettier.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkin Season at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's used to be a mysterious place to me. I'd never even seen one until a few years ago, but occasionally my grandma would send care packages and holiday packages with treats from Trader Joe's. It seemed to be a place to buy chocolate covered nuts and dried fruits and unique varieties of cookies that you couldn't find in a "normal" grocery store. I didn't quite get it. And then the pumpkins came…

For some reason of which I will not complain, Mr. Trader Joe seems to have taken upon himself the mission of bringing all things pumpkin to the grocery shopping public, at least for a short couple of months out of the year. My first realization of this came when we received their "Fearless Flier" last year in the mail, detailing all the items I ought to be rushing in for. It even comes with it's own "shopping list" so you can check everything off. In the fall, the flier is overflowing with pumpkin goodness, everything from pancake and bread mixes to cookies and ice cream. I just got this year's flier a week ago, as I went through the ads and circled the things I wanted, I felt a little like I was making my list for Santa, or the Halloween equivalent, I suppose. My boys and I made the trip to Trader Joe's on a breezy autumn afternoon last week and kind went pumpkin crazy, as you can see (and I even forgot to put the pumpkin butter in the picture):

Here's a quick review of the pumpkin things we got:

Pumpkin Bread Mix: I tried this last year, and it was awesome. Normally I like to bake sweetbreads from scratch, but I thought I'd give it a try and was so impressed I have no qualms about suppressing my inner Julia Child and buying more. I like to use it to make muffins and toss in a cup of mini chocolate chips to make them even tastier (if that's possible). The bread is very moist and flavorful.

Pumpkin Ice Cream: My favorite way to eat this is on top of a warm Ghirardelli brownie with butterscotch syrup, whip cream, and some candied nuts! To die for!

Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls: Oh. My. Wow. I didn't want to share these ones with the kids at first, but my heart has melted and I just have to share the goodness, even though it means less for me. They took their already awesome pumpkin ice cream and sandwiched it between two soft and spicy gingerbread cookies. Amazingly good.

Pumpkin Butter: A little too sweet for my liking, but still a great spread on homemade bread, or english muffins or an apple cinnamon bagel…Anything really.

Pumpkin O's: Pumpkin flavored puffed O's. Think fruit loops without the dyes, less sugar, and lightly pumpkin flavored. Not bad. I rather liked them.

Pumpkin Granola: My husband has been eating this one a lot, and I've left it to him since it's rare to find a cereal he likes so much. I really liked the bowl I had, too. Only problem is, he's been picking out the raisins like a little kid. So if you are a raisin hater, just be warned, it has 'em.

Iced Pumpkin Scones: When we couldn't find the legendary Pumpkin Joe Joe's, a clerk recommended these instead, and I have to admit, they are incredible. The packaging is not so environmentally friendly (maybe it's just me, but I thought this store leaned towards the tree-hugging conservationist side of retail, but sadly lots of their packages are huge for the small portions they contain. What gives?) There are only a few scones in the box and a lot of plastic between them, but I guess that keeps them really safe from getting squished. They are pretty soft, but oh-so-yummy!

There are a lot more pumpkin items available, but that's the extent of what we got. I haven't tried the Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix we got yet, but I expect it to be pretty good. And then there are the elusive Pumpkin Joe Joe's which I read about in the flier and tried to find at the store. Joe Joe's, if you didn't know, are Trader Joe's version of the Oreo, and to be honest, they are far superior. They don't taste quite so much like Crisco and the cookie part is delightfully crispy. (On a side note, Cookies and Cream is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and my very favorite brand is Trader Joe's because it has great big chunks of Joe Joe's in it). In December they make a peppermint Joe Joe that is really good. I was intrigued by the thought of a pumpkin flavored one, but sadly when I got to the store, they were gone. They said another shipment was coming in the following Friday. I didn't make it in until Monday and they were gone again, this time permanently for the season! Sigh. Pumpkin season is all too short. So if you want to see any of these other items, don't waste time!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake is Back!

Is anyone else excited that it's October?? Or better yet, pumpkin season? Well I will be the very first to admit that I am super excited. In celebration of this wonderful month I'm going to feature a variety of posts about this beloved flavor that conjures up images of flame-colored leaves, cute Halloween decor, warm inviting spices, and cozy holiday feasts. I'll share some of my favorite seasonal items from "pumpkin central" Trader Joe's, share my mom's home canned pumpkin recipe, and finally the recipe for my all-time favorite autumn treat: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies with cream cheese frosting! But to kick things off, I'm going to start with a pair of pumpkin cheesecake reviews, because you need fair warning to get in to a Cheesecake Factory before these seasonal favorites disappear!

Pumpkin Pecan

A year ago when we moved within 5 minutes of a Cheesecake Factory, it became one of our favortie date night getaways. We'd grab a slice of cheesecake to go, drive to the nearby movie theater, and eat our dessert covertly before heading in to catch a show. This was kind of where I got the idea to start reviewing cheesecakes because we had so much fun analyzing all the different varieties. Since it was Fall, one of the cakes we sampled was the Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake. This cheesecake is the solution to the age-old post-holiday feast dilemma: which pie to have? There you are, already full from eating way too much at dinner, and then they have the gall to break out the desserts and start asking, "pecan or pumpkin?" Are you kidding me? You want me to choose between the smooth mellow goodness of custardy pumpkin and the caramel sweet nuttiness of pecan? I admit, I am biased towards the pumpkin, but that is still a tough call. After feigning a lack of desire for any dessert, if you're like me you usually end up taking one small slice of each (...and then end up taking another small slice of each). Well, now you can have both together, slapped one atop the other in a medley that seems so natural you'll wonder why you never stacked your pies that way yourself. The bottom layer has pecans in a rich caramel-custard filling, and on top is a smooth delicious layer of pumpkin cheesecake, a little lighter than your typical pumpkin pie, but every bit as flavorful. The whole thing is topped by a gooey pecan studded glaze. Each bite gives you a sample of each of the two holiday pie favorites. A tad on the rich side, I recommend sharing this one if you have it after a meal.


It wasn't until this year that we tried the straight up, plain ol' Pumpkin Cheesecake. I wasn't disappointed. Pumpkin pie is my absolute favorite part of Thanksgiving, hands down. We could skip the turkey for all I care as long as we have that pie, piled with mounds of sweetened freshly whipped real whip cream (no squeezy-whip allowed). I was afraid the cheesecake version would be really cheesecakey, meaning it would be dense and taste a lot more like cream cheese, but the flavor was delightfully light, like a slightly fluffier version of pumpkin pie. Of course, there is a greater filling to crust ratio, so depending on how much you like the crust that could be a good or bad thing. I thought it was great. It's even garnished with a few pecans which adds a nice texture, but it is still a lot simpler and lighter than the Pecan Pumpkin, and better suited to eating after a big meal.

It was a sad day last year when the holidays ended and these two flavors disappeared. I can't tell you precisely when that happens, so if you want to try either variety, hurry in. They are both available right now and should be at least through November. After Thanksgiving passes though, all is not lost, as we have the Peppermint Bark Cheesecake to look forward to! Watch for that review in a couple months.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The "Royal Treatment" Buttermilk Waffles and Buttermilk Syrup

Last week I sang the praises of my wonderful waffle iron, but of course a waffle iron isn't any good without a great waffle recipe to go with it! When I was a kid, our weekday breakfasts were typically just cold cereal and toast, so having a hot breakfast on anything but a special occasion really was the royal treatment. Mom was a great cook and a loving mother, but she was also good at keeping her sanity, and especially during the years when some of us breakfasted at 5 am and others at 7, hot breakfast for the lot was just out of the question. On our leisurely Saturdays, however, we would often have something nicer, but Sunday dinners were an especially popular night to have a big "breakfast-for-dinner." Waffles were the usual favorite, and are still a big hit with my kids, too. This recipe for Buttermilk Waffles is regularly requested for birthday breakfasts and makes a great holiday morning treat, but that doesn't mean we save them for special occasions only. Every day should be royal! Top them off with Aunt Lynette's luscious Buttermilk Syrup recipe included below and you'll really feel like royalty.

Buttermilk Waffles 
Servings: 6
This recipe has an unusually thick though fluffy batter, making the waffles soft but substantial with a rich buttery flavor. The original recipe came from, but it has been through many tweaks since then getting it just the way we love it!

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder 
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups buttermilk
6 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
Start by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Remove from heat a little before it melts completely and allow to finish melting off the heat and cool slightly. Separate the egg whites into a beater bowl and the yolks into a smaller mixing bowl. Beat the whites until stiff. Meanwhile, sift all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Add the milk and buttermilk to the egg yolks and whisk until combined. Add milk & yolk mixture to dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Stir in melted butter. Batter will be quite thick. Very gently fold in beaten egg whites, until only small pockets of egg white are still visible. Spoon batter onto heated waffle iron and bake acording to iron instructions. (For mine, I use a medium-low setting for 4 minutes). Best when served straight off the iron, but you can also keep warm on a cookie sheet in the oven at 200° or less.  Serve with maple syrup, fruit, yogurt, whip cream, peanut butter... and/or this awesome syrup:

Buttermilk Syrup
Makes: about 2 cups
When we were on tour with Les Miserables, we spent a lovely week with my husband's Aunt Lynette and Uncle Matt during our stop near their hometown in Arizona. Lynette served us this amazing syrup with french toast, but we love to have it on anything that you can put syrup on. The recipe seemed simple enough, but it took me a little experimenting to figure out all the tricks behind getting it just right. Here I include my notes so hopefully your first time will be better than mine ;)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add buttermilk, corn syrup, sugar, and butter to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and allow to boil for no more than one minute (if you over boil, the milk solids will clump). Remove completely from heat and whisk together briskly to break up the milk solids. Whisk in baking soda and vanilla. It will foam up a lot (which is the best part). If you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. 

The best way to revitalize the leftover syrup for serving again is to rewarm it in a pot, but not to a boil. When heated sufficiently, whisk in about 1/8 tsp baking powder per cup. The baking soda you added the first time you made it reacted with the acid in the buttermilk, so adding soda again won't yield the same results as the chemical reaction is spent. Baking powder, on the other hand, is baking soda with acidic cream of tartar mixed in. Baking soda can react on its own because it carries the acid with it, therefore creating that lovely foam.