Holiday

Thanksgiving 2020

How are you? I hope you’re hanging in there and figuring out ways to uncover some sort of joy in life. Honestly, I’ve had a rough time and I know I’m not alone. It doesn’t really help me much to hear words of encouragement so I’m not going to list a bunch of “it’ll get better” lines here. Instead, I’ll take a moment to share what’s helping me cope with the stress and loneliness of this time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all I have and that my family and I have been physically healthy. However, there’s no denying that there’s stress and sadness associated with job stuff, worrying about my daughter being in school, worrying about everyone, not seeing family and friends and being in quarantine mode for the 9th month. I’m fortunate but I’m also human.

Looking forward to the holiday season is helping me cope. Thanksgiving is a week from today! It’s probably my favorite holiday. I have amazing memories of it growing up and I’ve tried hard over the years to give Thanksgiving all the attention I think it deserves. Of course, there’s all the wonderful food and something magical about sharing a meal that’s centered around family and friends and traditions. It’s the kick-off to the holidays and I get plain giddy this time of year. This year certainly feels different. There won’t be as many big family gatherings. I won’t see my mom, dad, oldest daughter or in-laws in person. I know many people who are empty nesters or don’t have family nearby and they won’t see a single family member in person. That’s hard.

Staying busy also helps me cope. There’s work but there’s also giving myself a chance to do things that make me feel good like baking. I don’t do it nearly as much as I like and last weekend I busted out all the stuff to make Pumpkin Rolls. I made a list of new recipes I want to try and share with you. I need to make time for baking because it makes me happy.

As I was planning out my Thanksgiving menu, I thought it would be a good chance to link some of my previous fall/Thanksgiving recipes to get all of us in the spirit! The pictures have links but there’s more info below.

If you like to hit the ground running (and I don’t mean a Turkey Trot), these Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls can be made a day ahead and baked up on Thanksgiving morning. Get after it! There’s also Apple Cider Donuts and Apple Fritters that can be made the morning of and will keep you plenty full until the big meal.

Sweet Potato Casserole is my daughter, Hannah’s favorite! She lives in another state and is making it this year. We made a deal to Facetime while eating it so we can enjoy it together. This is the first time in 25 years I’m not making it for her but it’s a nice feeling that she’s carrying on the tradition at her house!

Desserts are everything to me at Thanksgiving and I always make Pumpkin Rolls! These can be made ahead of time, frozen and sliced when you’re ready to set up your dessert display. If you make one, make a few because they’re great gifts!

If you’re looking for something a little different but super delicious, try Pumpkin Crème Brûlée. It’s silky and decadent and can be made in advance.

Another different and yummy dessert to add to your list is Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Everyone loves these little pillows of goodness.

Pie! I love all the traditional ones like Pumpkin and Pecan but sometimes it’s just gotta be classic Apple Pie. Try tossing in a handful of fresh cranberries to bring it right into the holiday spirit! The link to that post includes my pie crust recipe.

Cake! Don’t forget how easy it is to make a lovely, stunning bundt cake. My Apple Bundt Cake is scrumptious!

If you’re finding there’s a short supply of spices, you can make your own Pumpkin Pie Spice. It’s easy and might save you multiple trips to the store.

How are you coping? What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions that you’ll stick with this year? I hope you’re able to enjoy Thanksgiving in a way that feels okay. I’ll bake, cook, eat and, hopefully, get outside for a hike. I’ll probably see family over Zoom and Facetime. I’ll likely shed a few tears but I’ll also smile, dance and hug Carrie tighter than usual. However I’m feeling, my heart (and stomach) will be full and for that I’m so thankful.

From the heart,

Shannon

Apple · Bread · Recipes

Falling for Apple Fritters

My favorite baking season is here! I’ve been doing less baking but still trying to squeeze some in, here and there. This time last year, I was baking and sharing all kinds of recipes. I haven’t gone as crazy this fall because, well, COVID and everyone in my house is trying to eat super healthy to keep our immune systems in a place to help fight off that horrible virus. Also, depending on the day, we’re not eating gluten or dairy. Sometimes, we’re strict vegans and other days we’re not. Kind of all over the place!

Carrie was off school Friday and we decided to make our annual trip to an orchard where they also sell apple fritters. First of all, everyone in NE Ohio was off school and flocked to that place! I didn’t feel comfortable being there so we grabbed our fritters and went right back to the car to eat them. I was so excited! I took my first bite and it was disappointing. Second bite, bland. Third bite, stale. I PUT THE APPLE FRITTER BACK IN THE BAG and decided it was definitely not worth eating. It was disappointing but not the end of the world. I knew right then and there that I’d just make my own apple fritter experience.

This morning, Carrie and I made our own. I had this recipe saved from Half Baked Harvest (my true love!). I bought local apples at Countryside Farmers’ Market on Saturday and I was ready to have my fritter moment.

I NEVER fry anything. I made an exception today and embraced all the elements of the recipe. It was 100% worth it!

These Apple Fritters are light, full of warm spices and the apples cook just enough and are bursting with flavor! Carrie didn’t want the coffee glaze the recipe calls for so we just left that out and I added a tiny bit of lemon juice to the glaze to cut the sweetness a little. They are beyond delicious! They’re little bites of glorious fall flavors.

Little pillows of apple goodness!

After eating (inhaling) the first one, I took them over the top by adding a little homemade apple butter. I’ll just be here all day eating these!

Get the recipe (Half Baked Harvest), avoid all the crowds and stale, dry fritters and make them while all the juicy apples are in season. You won’t regret it!

From the heart,

Shannon

Cookies · Recipes

Cookies for Dad

It’s been a few minutes since I’ve posted anything. I haven’t done much baking. It’s one of the things I love most but my heart just hasn’t been in it. I don’t have to remind you of all the things 2020 has been full of. Too many moments of sadness and heartbreak and not knowing what I should do or how to explain any of this to my 13 year old. Deep, heavy, terrifying stuff.

My family is still in quarantine mode. We don’t go to public places except the grocery store or to pick up something here and there. We do fit in some biking and hiking whenever we can when the trails aren’t too crowded. We’re not taking trips or visiting family and friends. It has been challenging but I’m still convinced we’re doing our part to help save lives.

The past few months have been full of ups and downs. Now, it’s mid-June, school’s out for the summer, and we have no travel/vacation plans. It just doesn’t feel like a typical summer. Except that Father’s Day is this weekend and that feels timely and normal.

I usually mail gifts to all of the dads in my life because they live in other states. My dad lives in Tennessee and he loves it when I send homemade baked goods. I decided Father’s Day is a good time for me to get out of my no baking rut, dust off my mixer and put my heart into baking something for my dad.

He really loves peanut butter cookies. So simple but they’re one of his favorites, along with a big glass of cold milk. Once, I sent him a box of gifts for his birthday and stuck one of those blue tins inside that are filled with Danish butter cookies. I remembered him loving those when I was a kid. His wife told me he was super excited when he opened the box of gifts and saw the tin. She said his whole body sank when he took off the lid and they weren’t my cookies! Here I thought I was getting him one of his favorites and he prefers mine! Ha! She said he said, “Store bought!? I don’t want those!”

Don’t worry, Dad because homemade Peanut butter cookies are on their way! I’m sharing my recipe below. It’s the same recipe for Peanut Butter Blossoms, you just skip pressing them with a fork and top them with chocolate kisses when they come out of the oven. They’re quick and easy to make and all the special dads, grandpas, bonus dads, husbands, sons, friends and neighbors will devour them!

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Making these cookies for my dad lifted my spirits. Baking centers me. It fills my soul with joy and that’s just what I needed. Make these and bring a little feel good into your day. Wishing all the dads a happy Father’s Day! If you are lucky enough to be with yours, hug him extra tight and enjoy every moment!

From the heart,
Shannon

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sugar for coating; Hershey’s kisses for Peanut Blossoms

Instructions:
1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper, or lightly grease with non-stick vegetable oil spray.

2) Beat together the butter and sugars until smooth.

3) Blend in peanut butter, milk, vanilla and egg.

4) Stir in flour, baking soda and salt.

5) Shape dough into balls and either flatten criss cross with sugar dipped fork or roll ball in sugar and bake and top with Kisses after baking

8) Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes.  Peanut Butter Blossoms: When you remove from oven, place a kiss in the center and let them cool. I love to eat them warm when the kisses are all gooey!! 🙂

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Bread · Pie · Recipes · Savory Dishes

Sourdough Pizza Crust + GF Pizza Crust

Sourdough is really having a moment. A sweet friend gave me some of her sourdough starter. I made bread and it was delicious. I made rosemary crackers and I keep making them because they’re so scrumptious! It was just a matter of time until I tried my hand at sourdough pizza crust.

We’ve been making pizzas on a regular basis during quarantine. It’s fun and everyone gets to let their creativity flow into their pies. By the time we’re finished, flour is everywhere and toppings are scattered from one end of our kitchen to the other! We’ve made them on a pizza stone in the oven and on our Big Green Egg (for some reason, they always burn). I’ve checked out some of my fellow bakers’ Instagram accounts and admired their homemade pizzas made in wood-fired ovens or special pizza ovens. We’ve tried several dough recipes and techniques and last night we found our favorite so far!

The sourdough craze is making me crazy (among other things). It’s truly a love/hate relationship I have with my starter. I don’t want to love it but I do. Every single time I do the whole feeding process, I swear it’s my last. Then, I fall in love with it and I feed it and nurture it the way any good starter mama would. I came across a recipe for sourdough pizza crust on this cute site: Little Spoon Farm. I was intrigued because they use a cast iron skillet. I have nothing but love for my iron skillets so I knew I had to try it!

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IT IS SO GOOD AND REALLY EASY TO MAKE! You get all the char and the dough has that slightly sour flavor while being light and airy with a crispy crust. We made a smaller, starter pizza to share and it cooked up really well too! You just can’t go wrong with pizza.

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Carrie has been trying to eat less gluten so I made her a gluten free crust. I didn’t get a picture but it was also really delicious! Here are links to both recipes:

Cast Iron Pizza Crust and Gluten Free Pizza Crust

Homemade pizza is worth the mess and I know exactly what’s going into our pizzas. We also get to use a lot of local ingredients, so it’s just a win all the way around! These recipes are both fantastic! I hope you try them and feel free to let me know how you make pizza and your preferred toppings!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Bread · Recipes

May celebrations and a strawberry rhubarb muffin recipe

May has been quite strange. Some days have been filled with sunshine, hikes, baking, sourdough starter, sourdough bread, sourdough crackers, games, sidewalk chalk, home work outs, House Parties, FaceTime sessions, and walks. Other days have included rain, snow, news from family members that they’re jobs are going away (along with their pay), ill parents, parents who’ve passed, pets who’ve passed, hours spent inside, and days that make me feel like I just want to run away to a remote island and not think about all the terrible things going on.

I don’t want to get too deep here because this is meant to be a place mostly filled with cheerful topics and recipes. However, there’s no denying we’re all dealing with situations and emotions that are pushing us to places we may be unfamiliar with. There are times I struggle but I’m thankful my family is healthy and safe. In the midst of all the pandemic news, I’ve recently been blessed with tidbits of joyous occasions and moments and I’m choosing to focus on those!

  • I was able to support local businesses for Mother’s Day and graduation shopping!
  • We’ve been fortunate to have local, fresh food to make meals at home!
  • Rhubarb is in season!
  • Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and Carrie and I made a cheesecake to celebrate!
  • BIG NEWS: both of my daughters are graduating this year!

Hannah graduated yesterday with her Master’s Degree and Carrie will graduate from 8th grade in June. Before COVID, the next several weeks were set to be jam packed with all sorts of celebration. It’s looking differently than I planned but my heart is just as full, thanks to technology (Zoom!) and people who care and truly go above and beyond! It’s amazing how the worst times can bring out the absolute best in people and situations!

Congratulations, Hannah! We were able to watch the virtual ceremony, and it was great to share her big day with her! She and her fiancé went to campus a couple weeks ago and took photos. Just look at that smile; she’s beaming! For the past couple years, she’s worked full-time, attended classes, written papers, spent countless weekends and nights studying or working on group projects, got engaged, moved and adopted a puppy. She’s basically Superwoman!

Carrie’s school is unique because it’s preschool through 8th grade. Many of the students have been there since they were very young so 8th grade graduation is a pretty big deal. The school has put a lot of effort into honoring and recognizing the 8th grade class of 2020. She was surprised by teachers the other night and she felt super special! They showed up in separate cars, honking horns, masks on and clapping their hands as they walked up our driveway. Carrie couldn’t believe it! They brought a sign and sang a song. They also delivered a gift but the real gift was seeing their faces and hearing them tell Carrie how much they miss her and how proud they are of her! These are some extraordinary humans! I’m so proud of you, Carrie and am excited to celebrate your graduation!

Shortly before Carrie’s teachers arrived, my neighbor texted me that their rhubarb plant was full and I could take all I want. I ran over, grabbed rhubarb and whipped up a quick batch of my Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins. Unfortunately, they weren’t ready when the teachers were here but I took some to neighbors and a couple other friends nearby. These are so easy to make and you can use any kind of berry or fruit you have on hand. Perfect to make for mom, if you’re lucky enough to be with her for Mother’s Day or for your special grad who may be feeling sad about missing out on all the end of year festivities. Strange times indeed.

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Let’s hurry up and get through this so we can all get back to celebrating special occasions IN PERSON! In the meantime, wishing all the mamas a sweet Mother’s Day and a big congrats to all the 2020 grads who’ve stepped up and demonstrated their resilience in a time none of us were prepared for.

I hope all of us are able to find and cherish the happy moments in all the stress and uncertainty. Sending you lots of hugs!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour (I used Mud Run Farm whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup oil (I used coconut)
1 egg
1/3 cup milk of your choice
1 cup fresh berries/fruit
Topping
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cubed butter
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400; Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Combine oil, egg and milk and add to dry ingredients. Fold in fruit. Scoop into muffin pan. Combine all topping ingredients using hands or pastry cutter and sprinkle on top of muffins. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Makes about 9-10 muffins. Recipe can easily be doubled! Enjoy!

Custard, Brûlée and Pudding · Pie · Recipes

Dark Chocolate Pie

I had a great day yesterday! Carrie and I went through old family recipes and decided we’d make my Aunt Norma’s Dark Chocolate Pie. Aunt Norma is married to my Dad’s brother, Dane. She’s a great Southern cook and I always love eating anything she makes! She shared her Dark Chocolate Pie recipe with my mom years ago and we made this many times when I was growing up. Carrie loves chocolate and asked if we could make it. Heck, yeah!

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I had some homemade pie crust in the freezer. I always made this pie with the traditional meringue topping and I’d stick it in the oven to brown a little. I never liked that type of meringue (sorry to all my family members who’ve always topped their cream pies with it). It’s just not my thing. I switched it to a light whipped cream and that’s what I told Carrie we could use since I had whipping cream on hand. She asked if we could make “our meringue”. She was referring to the one I use on her beloved Carrie’s Campfire S’mores Cupcakes. It’s a cooked meringue and tastes like gooey marshmallows. Sounded like a great idea and simple twist on this family classic! I mean, would you just look at those beautiful swirls? Carrie’s so smart!

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When I was a kid, I remember standing at the stove, stirring for what felt like hours to make sure the milk didn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and eagerly wait to see those first boiling bubbles pop through the surface. My arm hurt. My hand cramped up. I whined and complained. I was eager to share that experience with Carrie and teach her how to make the pudding component of the pie! Sounds fun, huh?!

This pie requires a baked pie crust so Carrie rolled it out and blind baked it then let it cool. The pudding filling is sugar, arrowroot (or flour or cornstarch), salt and milk. Cook those over medium low heat FOREVER or until your hand cramps up–Carrie’s words, “My arm is going to fall off! Can I sit down?” 🙂

Once the mixture has thickened, temper egg yolks and add them back to the pan to bring back to a boil for a couple minutes. Then remove from the heat and add nice quality chocolate and vanilla.

Once the chocolate melts, add a little butter to give it that silky finish and cover in plastic wrap (press the wrap directly onto the pudding to prevent it forming a skin). Let cool slightly. Close your eyes and lick the spoon.

Fill the baked crust with the filling and top with the meringue or whipped cream. We added chocolate pieces to the center for fun but you can let your imagination run wild and get creative! I think Carrie’s arm finally felt better! I really love her smile!

What a fun time teaching Carrie an old family recipe and having her put her own spin on it! We ate the pie after dinner and it was so good! Homemade chocolate pudding is delicious! We decided the marshmallow meringue is really yummy on top but we think whipped cream might be our favorite because it’s not quite as sweet. This could work with a graham cracker crust as more of a s’mores pie. We inhaled it and didn’t mind the meringue but I’m definitely in the whipped cream camp!

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Oh, I didn’t get photos of these events, but I broke the edge of our pie dish and Carrie’s first piece of pie slid off her plate right onto the floor. It’s not all swirls of beautiful meringue and rich chocolate decadence all the time in this house!

If you’re like us and staying home, this is definitely a nice, comforting treat to make. You can use store bought crust or graham cracker crust or just make pudding and plop some whipped cream on top. If you’re not a chocolate fan, simply omit the chocolate, add extra vanilla for vanilla pudding and serve it with sliced bananas or any kind of fruit. Stir in some coconut for a little taste of the tropics or add a fresh fruit puree. It’s very versatile! This is one of those family recipes that never goes out of style. It was nice to pass it on to Carrie and enjoy some fond memories of baking with my family when I was a kid. Stay healthy and I hope you’re finding lots to do with loved ones during this crazy time in our lives. I’m treasuring the time as much as I can and doing my best to keep us well!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Dark Chocolate Pie

Pie Crust
Ingredients:
Butter: Diced into 1/2” cubes: 9 TBSP in the fridge; 5 TBSP in the freezer
Pastry Flour: 2 1/4 cups
Kosher Salt: 2 1/4 tsp
Sugar: 1/2 TBSP
Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 TBSP with 1/2 cup cold water

Instructions:
–Place 9 TBSP cold butter and all dry ingredients in food processor and pulse until it resembles the texture of sand.
–Add in the frozen butter cubes and start with 5 TBSP of the apple cider water and pulse until it holds together.
–Dump it out and work the dough on the counter until it holds together and is smooth.
–Divide in half and form into discs and wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate (preferably overnight). You can also freeze at this point.
–Remove dough from fridge to soften a little. Place disc on floured surface and roll out.
–Butter and flour pie pan. Once bottom crust is in prepared pan, place a piece of parchment paper and some pie weights (or dried beans, coins, rice) to blind bake the pie. –Bake for 15 minutes at 400 then remove pie weights and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and let cool.

Chocolate Pudding
Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup AP flour (or 1/4 cup corn starch or arrowroot powder)
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 TBSP butter

Instructions:
–In a sauce pan, combine sugar, flour (or corn starch or arrowroot) and salt and gradually stir in the milk.
–Cook and stir until thick and bubbly over medium low heat. Reduce heat and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
–Whisk egg yolks and temper by adding a little of the hot milk mixture then pour it all back into the pan and return to a gentle boil. Cook and stir (just keep stirring!) 2 minutes then remove from heat.
–Add chocolate then vanilla and butter and cover with plastic wrap or wax paper or parchment to let it cool a little.
–Pour filling into baked and cooled crust and top with meringue or fresh whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours then slice and enjoy! Don’t drop your slice on the floor! 🙂

Meringue
6 large egg whites
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites, sugar and salt over simmering water until sugar is dissolved. Mix with a whisk attachment in mixer until fluffy, add vanilla.

Bread · Recipes

More Time (and a recipe)

Here we are! It’s nearly the end of March and what a month this has been. This post is kind of all over the place because there are resources I want to share but I also want to share a little personal life for a sense of connection to so many of you! I hope you’re staying healthy and safe and finding the extra time to be a gift. Finding “more” time is something I hear people say they wish they had more of. The bright side of this quarantine is that, more time is exactly what we have.

Time to breathe. Time to reflect on what’s really necessary in our busy lives. Time to give our kids and fur babies extra hugs. Time to get outside and notice that everything is waking up from the winter sleep. Time to connect (virtually) with family and friends. Time to dust off some old board games. Time to do TikToks with our teens (see the video at the end!). Time to clean out a closet or organize a pantry. Time for family room dance parties. Time to admire our kids for adapting to new ways of learning. Time to thank teachers for being creative and dedicated in ways they never imagined they’d have to. Time for driveway basketball and hopscotch games. Time to explore a hike we’ve always wanted to do. Time to figure out how to access and do a home work out. Time to bake and make meals together. Time to wonder what we’ll do when things go back to normal.

Home workouts; cinnamon rolls and coffee; hiking; matcha in my favorite mug (Billy Ritter)

I thought I’d use some of my time to share what we’ve been doing to fill up our days (and a healthy recipe below). This week is Carrie’s spring break and we were planning to go to Florida to visit my mom and get in some sun and beach. This week looks a little different than we planned but we’re trying to make the most of it. We all are and I feel for everyone who’s had to cancel plans or wonder about what the next couple months will bring. My heart goes out to all the health care workers, grocery employees, airline employees and everyone else who must get out there everyday and do their jobs. Thank you! As always, I’m thankful for farmers who continue to do what they do so we have access to healthy food. If you live in NE Ohio, Countryside is launching Countryside Curbside to help with access to local food makers! Creative solutions are everywhere!

Since all of this quarantine came to be, we haven’t really been on a schedule, which is tough for me. I like structure and routine. I actually thrive with structure and routine. I’ve let it all go. No specific wake up time or schedule throughout the day. What I’ve tried to do is have a list of things I’d like to accomplish each day. I’m not getting hung up on specific times. For example, I want to work out, get outside, make meals, connect with a friend or family member, read, play games, tackle a house project and catch up on some shows I’ve wanted to watch. I try to fit all of these in each day but I’m not stressing about it because we all have enough to stress about. If I start to feel antsy, I take Daisy for a walk or pour myself into an online yoga session. How about you? What are you doing to fill your days? Are you finding joy in having time or is it stressful?

Here’s a snapshot of some of our days. Lots of outside time, cuddles, food and games (not pictured–plenty of wine!):

I voted; Daisy Mae keeps me warm; we spotted a beaver at CVNP; beautiful sunset; homemade soft pretzels; photo fun with Carrie (and Jasmine).

Carrie and I did an Instagram Live on St. Patrick’s Day while making cupcakes; hiking in CVNP; playing James Bond (card game); supporting local brands-Masthead and Cleveland Kraut; more hiking in Summit County Metroparks.

Nothing too complicated here. I’m so lucky to have what I need and I hope to be able to share some of that with others throughout this challenging time. I keep supporting local and small businesses and we’re staying home. Carrie, Daisy and I have been home for 14 days (except for voting). Casey had to work and he’s been home for 3 days.

I’ve been baking but not nearly as much as I’d like because there aren’t enough home work outs to burn off the calories I’d consume if I had baked goods within reach 24/7. I don’t have any self control when I’m stuck at home! Also, I’m trying to not blow through all of our ingredients in case we really need them later.

The other day I made a healthier version of banana bread and it has been a nice little treat and thought I’d share it here. It’s not overly sweet and it’s delicious with a smear of nut butter (I love Nosh and they’re offering free shipping across the U.S. with promo code HUNKERDOWN) and a drizzle of honey (Brighton Wool and Honey is one of my favorites). I also love to sprinkle hemp seeds or chia seeds on top. The point is, this bread feels like bread but isn’t full of the carbs and sugar I’m trying to limit. Yay! I’ve also been experimenting more with healthy alternatives to some of my favorite comfort foods and baked goods. This one is a winner!

If you’re on Instagram, the videos are in my highlights. It’s easy, healthy and yummy!

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Friends, I wish you health–physical and mental! We’re all in this and we’ll get through it with kindness, patience and love. Sending you all a BIG virtual hug and hoping you find lots of ways to spend your gift of extra time that bring you joy! Here’s something you might get a laugh out of (gotta love TikTok!):

From the heart,
Shannon

 

 

Cake · Recipes

German Chocolate Cake

Valentine’s Day is almost here and my social media feeds are full of pink, purple and red. I love it all and I promise I’ll post some pink soon! Although there’s no pink or red, the cake I’m sharing today is full of love and great memories. My mom made German Chocolate Cake for my Grandpa (her dad) and my Dad for their February birthdays every year. I liked it but I never loved it until I got older. She always used the recipe printed inside the box. Did you know there’s nothing German about it?

German Chocolate Cake is a dark and decadent triple-decker dessert topped and layered with a buttery frosting loaded with shredded coconut and pecans. I did a little research and the sweet is a creation of Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, Texas, who submitted a recipe for “German Sweet Chocolate Cake” to the Dallas Morning News in 1957. The paper ran the recipe, and it caused such an enthusiastic response that newspapers around the country reprinted it.

German’s Sweet Chocolate, an ingredient originally made by Walter Baker & Co. of Dorchester, Massachusetts. (The product’s name was chosen after Samuel German, who developed the chocolate for the company back in 1852.) It was Mrs. Clay’s recipe that put German’s Sweet Chocolate on the map (THANK YOU!). Within a year of the recipe’s publication, Walter Baker & Co. capitalized on the cake’s popularity by printing a recipe for German Chocolate Cake on every box of its sweet chocolate.

German Chocolate Cake is rich and delicious. You could skip making the cake and just make the frosting and you’ll be all set for the rest of your life. No kidding! I’ve been known to make a batch and eat it by the spoonful. While it’s still warm. Also when it’s cool. It’s perfect for this cake, over ice cream, sandwiched between cookies, you get it.

I actually did eat way too much of it this time around. My first attempt at making the cake failed and I turned to the frosting in my time of need.

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I found a recipe online that had some minor changes that sounded good so I gave it a go. The cakes didn’t rise and I had to start over. I went back to the original recipe I’ve used for years and it worked perfectly.

This cake is light and delicately flavored with chocolate. The frosting is the real star.

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Let’s start with the cake. The only thing you unique in the ingredients list is the Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate. You’ll also need: AP flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, eggs, unsalted butter, vanilla and buttermilk.

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Melt the chocolate in boiling water and set aside. Separate the eggs and set the whites aside. Mix butter and sugar then add egg yolks one at a time, mixing well in between.

Add the vanilla, cooled chocolate mixture and dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, alternating with the buttermilk.

Mix the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold those gently into the cake batter. Once incorporated, fill prepared pans and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.

Frosting ingredients are simple and rich! Butter, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, eggs, pecans and coconut.

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I like to toast my pecans to give them more crunch and flavor but you can certainly skip that step. They do need to be chopped. Heat evaporated milk, egg yolks, butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium size pan over medium heat. Cook for about 12 minutes until thick.

Once thick, remove from heat and add chopped pecans and coconut and stir. Let cool. This is the point you’ll be wishing you’d doubled the recipe so you can eat a bowl of it and still have enough to frost the cake!

When the cakes are finished, remove from the oven and let them cool completely on wire racks. Place one cake on a plate or platter and smother it in frosting, add next layer, frosting and the final layer and frosting. That’s all the “decorating” that’s involved!

Gorgeous, right? You can get all fancy and add pecan halves to the top or whip up some chocolate frosting and pipe swirls. That would be beautiful! I keep mine simple because that’s how I like it. I always think about my dad when I make this cake. When he and my mom divorced, I made it for him for his birthday before he moved a little further away from where I live. Now, I make his favorite cake, send him a picture and eat a piece to celebrate how thankful I am he’s still having birthdays!

It’s a huge cake and I would definitely have no problem eating the whole thing but I’m trying to maintain my “everything in moderation” plan. I sliced this beauty up and delivered some to my neighbors. You’d be surprised how happy folks are when you knock on their door to hand them German Chocolate Cake on a cold winter day! The smiles warmed me right up and reminded me that I really love to bake people happy!

German Chocolate Cake is yummy for any occasion and especially perfect for February birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s party (it’s yummy with wine) or to simply hand out to your friends and neighbors. Sweet!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake

Cake
Ingredients
1 pkg. (4 oz.) BAKER’S GERMAN’S Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup water
4 eggs, separated
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cover bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round pans with parchment; spray sides with cooking spray.
  3. Melt chocolate in boiling water; set aside to cool.
  4. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Blend in melted chocolate and vanilla.
  5. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until well blended after each addition.
  6. Beat egg whites in small bowl with mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
  7. Add egg whites to cake batter; fold in gently until well blended.
  8. Pour into prepared pans.
  9. Bake 30 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Immediately run small spatula around cakes in pans. Cool cakes in pans 5 min. Remove from pans to wire racks; cool completely.

Frosting
Ingredients
4 egg yolks
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans (toasted if you like)
1 pkg. (7 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut (2-2/3 cups)

Instructions

    1. Beat egg yolks, milk and vanilla in large saucepan with whisk until blended.
    2. Add sugar and butter; cook on medium heat 12 min. or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
    3. Add pecans and coconut; stir well. Cool to desired spreading consistency.

Recipe adopted and modified from various sources, including the Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate box version.

Cakes · Holiday

King Cake

Have you tried King Cake? The first time I had it was in Cincinnati at a Fat Tuesday food day in my office (picture the largest conference room, full of food). It was from a bakery called, Servatii and I loved it! The first time I made King Cake was in 2013 with Hannah and Carrie. I’m not even sure why I did or what sparked my interest. I looked up a recipe and we started baking! Here are my babies doing their best King Cake work!

H and C King Cake

The ring shaped confection is similar to coffee cake and topped with icing and sugars in the royal colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power/wealth), to honor the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas. There is a plastic baby hidden inside that finds its way to someone’s plate. In our house, we let that person make a wish! The normal tradition is that whoever gets the baby must host the next party.

Every year just before Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, the day of feasting before the Christian fast known as Lent, people in the Midwest get pretty excited. Bakeries start offering special menu items such as: packzi (“POONCH-key”), filled doughnuts and King Cake. Below is a sampling of NE Ohio bakeries I found that offer packzi and/or King Cakes if you don’t want to make your own. Check them out and support local whenever you can! If you live elsewhere, find a local bakery that celebrates Fat Tuesday in a big way. You won’t regret it!
Becker’s
Breads and Beyond Bakery
Brewnuts
Jack Frost Donuts
Kiedrowski’s Bakery
Michael Angelo’s
Sweet Mary’s Bakery

King Cake is easy to make and this recipe delivers a soft, chewy dough, swirled with a cinnamon sugar filling. The glaze is a little tart from the addition of lemon and the combination of everything make it a nice little treat!

Start with sour cream, butter, sugar, salt, water, yeast, bread flour, eggs, and cinnamon.

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Cook the sour cream, butter and sugar in a medium size pan and let it cool slightly. Combine water, sugar and yeast and let it sit until it bubbles. Place eggs in a mixer bowl, add sour cream mixture and yeast.

Add 2 cups at a time of the bread flour and mix until a soft dough forms. Knead gently and place in a bowl to rise (about an hour).

Divide dough in half and roll one piece into a 22″ x 12″ rectangle, smear with softened butter and sprinkle cinnamon sugar all over. Don’t forget to write your note!

Roll it up, form into an oval/circular shape and pinch the ends together to seal.

Now do the same thing with the other piece of dough. Cover both cakes and let them rise again for about 30 minutes. Then bake at 375°F for 14-20 minutes.

Let the cakes cool slightly while you make the glaze. Powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, milk and lemon juice. Whisk it all together. Line up those pretty sugars and you’re good to go.

Drizzle the glaze over the cake and top with the sugars. I don’t love how the cake looks in the first picture but once it’s glazed, I adore it! So does Daisy Mae!

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I made both cakes, decorated one and let Carrie decorate the other. It was a nice break from homework! Daisy was there to supervise!

The baby! I alway push it in through the bottom once the cake is finished. They look kind of creepy. Perhaps there are cuter ones but I bought a big pack of these several years ago and I just keep using the same ones. Tiny, creepy-ish photo.

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We invited our neighbors over to catch up and eat King Cake. This cake isn’t fancy or heavy but it is delicious. It has a nice texture and flavor. Works well with coffee, tea and wine. I kept going back to get another little slice throughout the evening. It’s fun to make and something just a little different to get us through these gloomy winter days. I hope you’ll try it!


From the heart,
Shannon

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King Cake
Cake
Ingredients
1 (16-ounce) container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp salt
2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
1 TBSP sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour* (I use King Arthur)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Cook first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to 100° to 110°.
    Stir together yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add enough remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) until a soft dough forms.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.
    Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
  4. Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Write a little note in the butter! Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.
  5. Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll. Place on parchment lined cookie sheets.
  6. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  7. Bake at 375° for 14 to 20 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes). Drizzle Creamy Glaze over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored (purple, green, gold) sugars, alternating colors and forming bands. Let cool completely.

Creamy Glaze
Ingredients
3 cups powdered sugar
3 TBSP butter, melted
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 to 4 TBSP milk
Instructions
Whisk together first 4 ingredients. Add 2 tablespoons milk, adding additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until spreading consistency.

*6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour may be substituted.
Note:This recipe uses bread flour, which makes for a light, airy cake. You still get tasty results with all-purpose flour–the cake will just be more dense.

Custard, Brûlée and Pudding · Recipes

Dreamy Cream Puffs

When I was a kid, my mom and I made little dough puffs and filled them with homemade pecan grape chicken salad. I never knew what the puffs were called all I knew was we made them when she had friends over and they were off limits for the kids! I was fascinated by the way they transformed from a glossy dough to airy little puffs. I always managed to sneak one or two while we were making them.

Fast forward many years later and I learned the puffs were pâte à choux (pronounced shoe), a French pastry dough. These delicate beauties can be made sweet or savory. Mix in cheese and herbs to serve alongside a salad or make sandwiches. Fill them with simple whipped cream, ice cream or pastry cream. This is the same dough used to make eclairs.

My family and I love pastry cream and that’s what I’m showcasing in this post. Pastry cream and custard are similar. Pastry cream is more firm than custard because it’s thickened with a starch and custard is thickened with eggs. Subtle but significant.

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Let’s make these! Start with the pastry cream to give it time to cool and set up. Homemade pastry cream is decadent! Milk, heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks, salt, butter, vanilla or vanilla bean paste and arrowroot (not pictured).

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Heat the cream, milk, vanilla and salt and let cool slightly. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and arrowroot until smooth and add about 1/3 cup of the liquid mixture to the egg mixture and whisk like crazy. Keep adding a little liquid at a time. Do this slowly (it’s called tempering) so you don’t scramble the eggs. Finish adding and whisk until nice and smooth. Return the mixture to the stove and heat and whisk until it’s thick.

Pour the heated mixture through a mesh strainer to make it extra smooth. Whisk in the butter, a piece at a time and it’s finished! Gorgeous! You can use this to make all kinds of desserts or just spoon some into a bowl with fresh berries. Yum! Let it cool to room temp then place a piece of parchment paper right against the cream and place in the fridge.

Moving on to the pâte à choux. Not a lot of ingredients are required. Flour, water, salt, butter and eggs. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

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Start by bringing the water, butter and salt to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and add the flour and stir. Turn the heat back on and keep cooking until it’s glossy and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let it cool for 10 minutes.

Put the slightly cooled mixture into a mixing bowl and add eggs one at a time and mix for at least one minute between eggs. The mixture will all come together when you add the last egg.

You can pipe or scoop the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350°F and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door.

They’ll puff up beautifully and when you take them out of the oven, turn the heat off, make a tiny slit in each puff and place them back in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove, place on cooling rack and slice them in half to prevent the centers getting soggy.

I like to make a little fresh whipped cream to fold into my pastry cream to make it a little lighter. For the chocolate ganache, simply melt dark chocolate in heavy cream. Lots of cream in these. I’m not apologizing!

It’s finally time to assemble! This would be really fun to do at a party. Put out all of the components and let everyone make their own! I like to put just a dab of chocolate in the bottom shell. Why should the top have all the fun? Then a dollop of cream, top shell and more chocolate on top. My mouth is watering!

Magical!

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Some people top with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and some go the chocolate ganache route. We’re pretty much a chocolate family! However, we woke up to a beautiful covering of fresh snow and I couldn’t resist…

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Are you team chocolate or powdered sugar? There’s no wrong answer! I hope you’ll try making these. I love the idea of a make your own Cream Puff for a get together so everyone can let their creativity flow. The puffs are versatile, delicious and I promise everyone who gets a chance to eat one will feel as if they’ve been transported to a special place! Dreamy!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Cream Puffs

Pastry Cream
Ingredients
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup + 3 TBSP granulated sugar divided
2 tsp vanilla or vanilla bean paste
¼ tsp salt
5 large egg yolks room temperature
3 TBSP arrowroot powder
4 TBSP unsalted butter softened and cut into pieces

Pâte à choux*
Ingredients
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 large eggs

Chocolate Ganache
Ingredients
1/2 cup dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions
Pastry Cream

  1. Combine cream, milk, 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla bean, and salt in a medium-sized pan. Place on stovetop over medium heat. Stir frequently until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 3 TBSP of sugar. Whisk vigorously for about 15 seconds, until sugar begins to dissolve. Sprinkle arrowroot over egg/sugar mixture and whisk until combined and slightly thickened.
  3. Once your cream mixture has cooled, slowly drizzle about 1/3 cup of the cream mixture into the egg mixture while whisking constantly (this will temper your eggs and gradually adding the heated cream will prevent them from cooking). Slowly, while still whisking, drizzle in the remainder of your cream mixture until the cream and egg mixture are completely combined.
  4. Pour mixture back into saucepan and return to stovetop over medium heat. Whisk until thickened.
  5. Remove from heat and pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into bowl.
  6. Whisk in butter, one piece at a time until completely combined.
  7. Place a piece of parchment directly in contact with the surface of the pastry cream (to prevent a skin from forming). Allow pastry cream to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until pastry cream is near room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 2-4 hours before using.
  8. Optional:  make whipped cream to fold into pastry cream and fold it in when ready to assemble.

Pâte à choux

  1. Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Combine the water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan, over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the flour all at once, using a spatula to stir quickly and vigorously.
  4. Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture smooths to a glossy consistency and pulls away from the sides of the pan. The mixture will also steam and cook off some of the water.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool for 10 minutes. The mixture will still be warm but place in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on low speed for 1 minute.
  6. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing for 1 full minute between each addition. The mixture will look curdled with the first two eggs. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are mixed evenly. The batter will be smooth and glossy after the last egg is added. Beat for 2 minutes after adding the last egg.
  7. Pipe or use a cookie scoop, or a level muffin scoop,  and drop the thick batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 1/4-cup mounds. Space the mounds about 3″ apart, to allow for expansion.
  8. Bake the pastries for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until pastries are a medium golden brown. Don’t open the oven door while the pastries are baking.
  9. Turn off the oven and remove the pastries from the oven. Make a small slit in the top of each, and return them to the oven for 5 minutes, to allow the steam to escape. Place them on a rack to cool.
  10. When the puffs are cool enough to handle, split each in half to make top and bottom pieces; splitting and exposing the centers to air will help keep them from becoming soggy.

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream until it just begins to steam and simmer. Remove from heat and immediately pour over chocolate. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Allow to sit for 1 minute. After 1 minute stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is glossy. While warm, spoon over cream puffs.

Cream puffs are best served slightly cooled so keep them stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. You can also make everything and allow guests to assemble their own! 🙂

*Recipe adopted from: Joy the Baker