Monday, March 29, 2010

Flower Easter Basket Cake


My creative niece, Tagan, made this fabulous wedding cake for her sister, Tessa. Tessa and Adam cutting into their cake, are an extraordinarily beautiful couple! I loved the idea and have made it for holidays ever since...so if you.......

Want to make a glorious Spring cake that will be the highlight of your Easter brunch buffet? With tulips and daffodils popping up and the Bunny hopping by, celebrate the sunshine with a song in your heart.

Begin by washing and drip-drying several bunches of flowers from your garden or local market. Next, bake a 2, 3, or even 4-layer cake of your choice. I made my favorite chocolate cake,(recipe below) but I also like banana-nut, carrot, hummingbird, luscious lemon, really, whatever your heart desires! Line the cake plate with wax paper. I used 3 strips for easy removal.


I made a simple cream-cheese frosting and tinted it a soft yellow. Slap it between the layers.


Consider the frosting your glue...don't work too hard...I didn't. Mrs. Priest, my 7Th grade cooking teacher would have given me an F, but it works...just wait and see!


You'll need approximately 2 cans of wafer roll cookies. This brand was a little extra flaky. I DID get what I paid for!


Trim cookies if need be. Make sure to place the flat edge against the cake plate.


Work your way around. I did not even try to get them all perfectly cut...but I like it rustic.


Go all the way around. Now gently hold the cookie wafers with one hand while you carefully remove the wax paper strip with the other. Now secure the cookies with a fun ribbon tied around your cake. Again your favorite, you're the designer!


Poke your first flower in the center to set the height of your cake-rangement. Continue to place your flowers and soon your cake will be a fabulous Easter Basket Bouquet that can also be served.


Note the jagged edges on the cookies...what do you think? It's kind of fun and interesting.


I arranged tulips, and lilies, with filler, mums, daisies and baby carnations. What would you use?


The Spring Flower Show is on at Macy's in Manhattan this week. A chunk of my heart is there! Spring is my favorite time of the year and I think this is my very favorite cake to make. Thanks Tagan for a fun idea.


Flower Easter Basket Cake
  • 3/4 cup soft butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three 8 x1 1/2 -inch round cake pans. (I recommend Baker's Secret!). In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute with each addition. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating on low speed until you've added all of it. Beat on medium-high for 2 more minutes. Spread evenly into prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Fill and frost cake layers. If desired, top with chocolate curls and toasted nuts. Store cake in refrigerator. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Chocolate Frosting: In a large saucepan, combine one 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate pieces, and 1/2 cup butter, heat over low heat until melted, stirring often. Cool for 5 minutes. Stir in one 8-ounce carton sour cream. Gradually add 4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar (about 1 pound), beating on medium speed until mixture is smooth.

Cream-Cheese Frosting: 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, 4 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Cream the cheese and butter together. Slowly add the powdered sugar and fully incorporate it, (no lumps) about 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix well. Now add paste-color if you'd like!

"HAPPY EASTER" ALL!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Galaktoboureko {GreeK Pastry}


Our row house on Steinway Street and Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria, Queens, New York, was a happening place. Shortly after we arrived in our neighborhood, we wanted to get acquainted with those around us. 

We wandered across the street and introduced ourselves to a Greek woman who ran the Victory Sweet Shop. Having tried only baklava before, she selected several of her specialties for us to try. She tied the bakery box with blue and white, thin, cord and such pride. As she handed it to us, in broken English, she admonished us to have them with coffee. 

We are not coffee drinkers, but we do enjoy herbal tea. Later that evening, (it was snowy January), we sampled her delicate treats and I instantly fell in love with Galaktoboureko! I planned to only have one bite and ended up polishing it off! It is a Greek pastry with a flaky top and bottom filled with custard and covered with a sweet syrup.


Shopping: Be sure to purchase Fillo (Phyllo Dough), easy to use pastry sheets. It's different from puff pastry sheets. Plan to use 1/2 pound of sheets, or half the 1 pound box.


Preparation: For the custard filling you will need whole milk, farina or Cream of Wheat, butter, vanilla and eggs.


While the custard mixture cools, you will layer fillo sheets, brushing each with butter. Ten for the bottom and ten for the top.


To keep the sheets from drying out you'll need to quickly remove one and then keep them covered with a damp towel.


This is how the pan looks with 10 sheets covering the bottom of a 9x13 non-stick pan.


Baking: Next pour the cooled custard filling into the pan and add 10 more sheets of buttered fillo sheets. Score the top of the pastry into 16 to 24 squares or diamond shapes. Pop into a 350 degree oven to bake for 45 to 50 minutes.


Begin the simple syrup. I like my citrusy! Let it simmer while the pastry bakes.


When the pastry is golden brown and the custard is set, remove from the oven, and let it set for 5 minutes.


Strain your syrup and then pour the hot syrup over the pastry. As it cools the syrup will be absorbed.


A lovely Greek Pastry, Galaktoboureko, on flowery, Spring, china. Serve it along with your favorite warm beverage...maybe a little herbal tea party is in store after a long winter!


Galaktoboureko (Greek Pastry)
Makes 16 to 24 servings

Thaw 1/2 pound of fillo dough in the refrigerator overnight.

For Custard Filling:
In a large saucepan, bring 5 cups of whole milk to a simmer. Whisk into the hot milk, 3/4 cup of Cream of Wheat. Stir constantly until thickened. Remove from the heat. Whisk three eggs in a small bowl. Add 1 cup of the hot milk mixture and whisk together thoroughly. Add egg mixture back into the pan and then quickly whisk in 1 stick of butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 4 more beaten eggs. Set mixture aside to cool.

For Pastry:
Layer 1/2 of the fillo sheets, about 10 sheets, into a 9x13" pan, brushing each layer with butter.
Add the creamy cooled custard mixture. Spread evenly with the back of a wooden spoon. Layer remaining fillo sheets on top of the custard mixture. It is somewhat challenging with the first few layers, but gently layer each with butter. Continue until all the sheets are used, about 10 more.

To Bake:
Chill the prepared pan of custard and fillo in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. When the top has hardened score it (very carefully) with a knife in square or diamond pattern. Place the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown.
While the custard is baking boil together until a medium syrup consistency.

For Syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • juice of one fresh lemon
  • 1 whole orange rind

Set syrup mixture aside to cool. When you remove your pastry from the oven, let it cool for five minutes. Then pour the warm syrup over the warm pastry. 

Refrigerate any leftovers uncovered to keep pastry crisp.

Opa, my friends, enjoy!  

Monday, March 15, 2010

No-Knead Bread {Artisan Bread}

Are you looking for New York's "upper crust?"


One of the great joys of our service in New York City, for 18 months, was feeding lots of missionaries, students and friends from our church. Most of these gatherings were fairly informal. I tried to plan something filling and nutritious on a limited budget for a large group. When we grilled chicken breasts or made pulled-pork we would order delicious rolls at Parisi Brother's Bakery on 31st and Broadway, under the subway, in Astoria, Queens. Picking up our large order at 7 AM, still hot, these steamy rolls fogged up our car and made it smell outrageously fabulous!

Upon finishing our mission, we returned to a small town in the West. No more plentiful bakeries and missing my New York resource, I thought back to
2006 when Mark Bittman of the NY Times started a frenzy in the baking world. He published Jim Lahey's, No-Knead Bread recipe. Lahey, worked as a baker at Manhattan's Sullivan Street Bakery. I found the recipe again and went to work, hoping for big city results. What a snap! It's so easy and I've been so pleased. Jim's inventive method allows time to do all the work while you rest!

Here's what you do: take 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. yeast, 1 1/2 cups of warm water and mix it with a spatula to make a very wet dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight. Next a.m., fold dough in thirds and place seam side down on a well-floured clean towel and let rise again for about 2 hours. Heat a 5 quart or larger heat-safe pot in a 450F oven for 30 minutes. Carefully dump the dough in seam-side up and bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes so bread can brown and get crusty. That's it! This makes one loaf.

Another way of making a great No-Knead Bread, has become my favorite. It's for all of you, like me, who haven't planned for an overnight rising. In two hours your dough is ready to make 2 large loaves or up to 12 beautiful sandwich style rolls. Here's a run through:



In a large bowl, add 3 cups of lukewarm water with 1 1/2 Tbls. instant yeast, 1 1/2 Tbls. kosher salt, and 6 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour. Stir together until there are no more dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot for 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).


At this point you can make your bread or rolls, or you can refrigerate the dough for as long as two weeks.


For a loaf, fold the four edges under, gently stretching the dough to form a smooth ball on top and a lumpy bottom. You can use flour or bran to dust a towel, (a smooth towel, not terrycloth). Let rest for 1 to 2 more hours.


I use this vintage pot, a treasured hand-me-down from my mother-in-law. Its sides are 4"high x 9" across the top, and makes a great round loaf. Use a covered pot, five-quart or larger, cast-iron, Pyrex, ceramic, or enamel, that can go in a 450F oven.


You may need to use a parchment round in the bottom of your pot so it doesn't stick. I know it looks like a 3 year old cut it...you'll never know for sure who did! The last 30 minutes that the bread is rising, turn your oven to 450F and slip your covered pot in the oven to preheat.

Your dough should have doubled in size. Remove the pot from the oven. Holding the towel, dump the wobbly dough into the hot pot. It doesn't matter which way it lands. Gently shake to even the dough out. Cover and bake at 450 for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the crust is beautifully golden.


Remove and let cool on a wire rack. If not eaten right away, you can re-crisp crust in a 350F oven for 10 minutes. Note, I used wheat bran on my towel to keep the bread from sticking. Isn't it pretty?

No Knead Bread {Artisan Bread} | singingwithbirds.com

I have found that this is an easy and effective method to produce the kind of loaf usually on sale in artisan bakeries for a pretty penny. My bread has a dense crumb and a really crusty, crunchy crust.


My fan club likes it with soft butter when it's hot right out of the oven!


Now, for a perfectly crusty roll, this recipe will produce a dozen large hard rolls. I use the same method tucking the dough under to form a smooth top and place them on a greased and cornmeal covered cookie sheet. I like to dust the tops with a little flour!


A half-size sheet with 6 rolls fits perfectly into my toaster size confection oven. I bake them at 425F, with confection or 450 F in a regular oven, for 16 to 18 minutes. Watch carefully your first time as some ovens vary greatly.


They bake perfectly and have a beautiful texture and appearance!


I think these rolls may be better than Parisi Brothers... at much less than 40 cents each!


I can happily say I miss my New York friends, but love having little fans visit and enjoy what their Grammie makes for them. I love the buttery kisses and smiles I get in return. Happy baking all!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Soaring Sentiments: The Beggar


The Beggar

One day as I went along my way,
And while traveling I passed a man.
His clothes were rags, his shoes all worn
And he carried a sign in his hand.

I thought, "Now, what in the world does he want?
Why doesn't he get a job?
How does a man get as low as he has?
What if his intent is to rob?"

I pass him daily, as I travel along,
And hope that our eyes never meet.
I really want nothing to do with the man So I cross to the side of the street.

I have sometimes thought, "Why not help him,
And share with him part of my day?
Why make the poor man beg vainly,
And continue to turn him away?"

Perhaps I might say, "I won't help him,
Why should I give of myself?
The man's fate is just, it's really his fault,
He has brought it upon himself."

Then, I realize, "are we not all beggars,
Using what is not our own?
What we think, through our labor, we have earned
Is really from God on loan."

"And if beggars, who are we to judge?
To God we all play a part.
It isn't the outward appearance He sees,
But inside, He looks at the heart."

My friend, the beggar, seems different somehow
And I remember that someone has said,
"When we serve, whether beggar or friend,
It is God we are serving instead."

by Michael Parson

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cake-Like Cornbread with Huckleberry Butter


For years I searched for a great cornbread recipe that my guy would like along with my children. This Cake-Like Cornbread, is the perfect fit for all of us. Each time I make it, there is not a morsel left! For me...no time to cook, let alone post...here goes. Hope you like it too!

Cake-Like Cornbread
Preheat oven to 350

Ingredients:
1 cake mix, yellow or butter recipe..doesn't matter
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
4 large eggs
1 "Jiffy" corn muffin mix
1/3 cup milk
1 (11 oz.) well-drained can of corn

Combine all ingredients except the corn. Mix at medium speed for 4 minutes. Fold in the drained corn. Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13" pan, (love Baker's Secret spray). Bake for 28 to 33 minutes in a 350 oven. 


Serve with Honey Butter or a fruit butter. Huckleberry Butter Recipe. Any flavor of Jam works well...try peach, plum, raspberry or strawberry!

Enjoy your weekend...thanks for stopping!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Leprechaun Button Goodies


Leapin' Leprechauns!

All it takes is a little luck, Snaps, Hugs or Kisses and M&Ms to make a gift for the Irish!

I used Raspberry Hugs leftover from a Valentine treat, but you can use any of the many varieties of Hugs or Kisses to make these fun and easy treats for St. Patrick's Day. I like the striped Hugs, but chocolate Kisses work well too. From experience, the caramel filled Kisses are gooey, but taste good. They are nice on a plate, but hard to package in a bag.

Just a tip...I buy cheap Christmas M&Ms after the big day and use the red M&Ms for Valentines and the green for St. Paddy's!


On a parchment-lined cookie sheet spread out the Snaps.


Unwrapping the Hugs or Kisses is the most time-consuming part!  At this point, pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.


Place a Hug or Kiss on top of each Snap.

After placing your treats in the oven,you have 4-6 minutes, (depends on your oven) to dance a jig... white chocolate will melt faster. Make sure the chocolate Hug or Kiss is just soft to the touch.



Pull them out of the oven and quickly press the M&M on top of the soft Hug or Kiss.

Chill in the fridge till nice and firm. Package, decorate and add a little tag that says:

These things I warmly wish to you,
Someone to love,
Some work to do,
A bit o' sun
A bit o' cheer
And a guardian angel always near!

Wishing you luck and love!

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