Malinda Russell’s Washington Cake

Gather round guys. Hi(story) lesson time.

The ‘official’ independence day for the United States is July 4th, as the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was signed by the colonists of the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776. However, if we’re going to get down to brass tacks, the facts are these: freedom in the colonies was at that  time only extended to white men and women; the independence/emancipation of the sizable population of Africans who had been stolen from their homes & transported to the colonies through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were not included in the Constitution, nor were they granted their freedom after the Revolutionary War.

A widely held belief is that the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln authorized and put into effect in 1863 during the Civil War is what ultimately freed the slaves. This is somewhat inaccurate.  The official laws of the post-Civil War United States did not grant freedom to all African Americans until the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865, almost 90 years after the Revolutionary War (and even then, there was still a loophole to that amendment if the individual had committed a crime, see Ava Duvernay’s “13th” documentary on Netflix for more on that). Without getting too bogged down into historical details, I’ll just say this: the EP was a military tactic that specifically freed slaves in the Southern rebel Confederate states that had committed treason against the Union and were then considered enemy territory, but had been won and occupied by the Union Army during the war. It left out slaves within the border states as well as territory within 3 Confederate states that were under Union control.

Why am I saying all of this?

Well, next Monday will be June 19th.  Even though the Emancipation had taken effect on January 1st 1863, the slaves in the state of Texas, widely isolated from the North and Southern parts of the country did not even receive word of it until June 19th 1865, after the Civil War had ended and President Lincoln had been assassinated. Many of these freed people of Texas commemorated June 19th as the day of their emancipation and made it one of celebration and religious ceremonies. Like any other celebration, this included good food.

(There’s a point to all of this, and I’m getting to it now, I swear.)

Malinda Russell was an African American woman born in 1820 in the state of Tennessee. Because her grandmother was freed by her owner, her subsequent children and grandchildren were also freed. By her account, Malinda wanted to immigrate to Liberia where there was a colony of former African American slaves, but was robbed by one of her traveling companions & forced to stay in Virginia. She worked there and in Tennessee again as a washerwoman, nurse, cook, and later kept a pastry shop. After this, she moved to Michigan where she published “A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen ” in 1866. The pamphlet that Malinda published became the first cook book published by a Black woman in the United States.

As an African American, I am the descendant of slaves myself on both sides of my family, so the date/celebration of June 19th, holds a particular historical significance to me. Second, like Mrs. Russell,  I’m a Black woman from Michigan who loves to cook/bake, and can do it rather well. (I’d also love to write a cookbook of my own one day, knock on wood)

Her story resonates with me. Her food resonates with me. Therefore, I decided I would pay tribute to the lady, her story and her food in this post.

This is, hands down, one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. The texture inside is SO tender and moist. When I first took it out of the oven, I was concerned that despite being the right temperature, I’d under-baked it because it seemed a little wet in the center of the tube. Nope. It wasn’t underdone in the slightest. It was just perfect.

I can’t claim to have altered this recipe too much; it’s practically perfect enough all on its own. My personal modification was to add orange zest and juice to the batter to give a citrus flavor to what’s already a dynamite butter cake, then add an icing also flavored with orange juice. If you’d like to try another citrus, like lemon, lime, (heck maybe even grapefruit), I think you’d get equally wonderful results.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #176, co-hosted this week by  Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

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Malinda Russell's Washington Cake

Recipe Adapted from “American Cake” by Anne Byrn

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl. Beat until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 1 minute. With mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and salt beat until mixture becomes light and creamy again. Make sure to frequently scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even mixing.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for about 15 seconds each. Turn mixer off.
In a small bowl combine the baking soda with the buttermilk. In a medium size bowl combine the flour with the cream of tartar. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture to the butter-egg mixture; start AND end with the flour and be sure to remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula to ensure even mixing. Fold in the orange juice and zest last, stirring until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing with a spatula. Tap the pan a few times on the counter top to help prevent air bubbles.
Place on middle rack of oven and bake until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out just clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Pound cakes are done at an inner temp of around a 195-200°. Fahrenheit)
Allow to cool in pan for about 25-30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the orange juice and just enough of the milk to make a thick icing. Use the tines of a fork to drizzled on top of the cake, then allow icing to harden completely.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Biscotti

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When I first started baking cookies, I used to get frustrated a lot. I really wasn’t that good at it for a while. I hit a lot of…speed bumps that would get in the way of me getting the results that I wanted.

These speed bumps varied from recipe to recipe but if I had to rank them, I’d say that the number one issue I would have MOST frequently is spreading.

Just about all of my cookies would spread into flat, thin pancakes. I absolutely HATED it.  To this day the memory is triggering.

For some recipes, flat cookies (although not aesthetically pleasing) aren’t so bad and will pass. However, when it comes to others, a flat disk just won’t do for looks or taste.

If you look up practically any cookie recipe on this blog, I’m just about positive that the directions will direct you to chill the dough in the fridge for at least one hour before baking. I’ve intentionally modified recipes I’ve read elsewhere and chilled my dough even when they do not direct to just because from my experience, most traditional drop, cutout or rolled cookie doughs DO need to be chilled at least a little while to minimize spreading and give them the right height and lift.  They just do. Trust me on this, guys. If your cookies frequently spread in the oven, start chilling the dough in the fridge for at least an hour, bake, then get back to me and tell me that it didn’t help your results.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of maybe…two or three instances where I made cookies that I didn’t refrigerate the dough and still got the results I wanted. The subject of today’s recipe is one of those exceptions: biscotti. Why doesn’t biscotti need to be chilled? Well for one, the dough isn’t nearly as wet as other cookie doughs. Wet/moist cookie dough makes cookies that spread in the oven. (Remember that for other recipes; this why chilling them in the fridge helps.)

Biscotti dough is usually first shaped into an oblong mass on a sheet pan, then baked as a whole in the oven until just set. After that, it’s removed and given some time to cool. From there, what would be a giant soft cookie is then sliced into straight or diagonal sticks that are then baked a second time. During this second bake, all of the residual moisture is dried out of the biscotti, giving them that traditional crisp, crunchy texture.

So far as I’m concerned, I think there is but one downside to making chocolate chip cookies from scratch: the resting period in the fridge, which also means that whenever I make them, I’ll have to plan ahead a day in advance to satisfy my craving. This isn’t always ideal. That’s one of the reasons why this recipe is so awesome: it’s a CCC recipe where there’s absolutely no chilling time required and there’s also no need to worry about that pesky spreading problem.

Like traditional biscotti, this dough is first baked in one mass. I spread it in a glass square baking dish, which did help to give the outer edges more definition–if/when you try this, just make sure you line your pan with aluminum foil so that when you have to take it out to slice, it’s one easy lift. After the slicing, the individual biscotti are arrayed onto a sheet pan and baked off for a second time. They won’t spread. Promise. The first bake took care of that problem. This second one is just to take them out of that realm of ‘soft chocolate chip cookies’ to crispy, crunchy chocolate chip flavored biscotti.

Traditional Italian biscotti is intentionally made so crispy that it HAS to be dunked in a cup of coffee or tea just to soften the tight, crunchy crumb enough to bite. These biscotti are certainly not as tough as all that. However, with this recipe I’ve now given you an excuse to essentially, eat a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast alongside your morning cup of Joe or Earl Grey.

You’re welcome.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #175, co-hosted this week by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Suzanne @ A Pug in the Kitchen.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Biscotti

Recipe Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/2cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces (about 1 cup) coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate

 

Directions

Line a 13 x 9 square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and shortening for about 3 minutes. Add the sugars and baking soda and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about another 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla, all while scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure even mixing.

Add the flour in batches, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate as best you can.

Spray your spatula with cooking spray, or sprinkle and rub both sides with flour. Spread and press the cookie dough in an even layer in the pan. Bake in the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, until set and the edges are golden brown.

Cool in the pan for one hour. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Use the edges of the foil or parchment paper to lift out of the pan. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the baked dough into strips/logs. Place them, cut side down, on an ungreased or lined cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned and edges are crispy. (They may still be a little soft in the middles. That’s ok.)

Carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely; they will harden and crispen fully as they cool.

Curried Pumpkin and Ginger Scones

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I remember the first time I tried coffee. I hated it.

I’d been wanting to for a long time. My dad would drink a French Vanilla flavored brew and if I close my eyes I can STILL remember the exact smell that would waft out of his coffee cup and into the air of the car as we drove. It was a delicious aroma. I just knew that the coffee HAD to taste as good. I mean, why else would so many adults want to drink it all the time?

I had my first sip of coffee the same way I had my first sip of Coca Cola: in secret when no adult was looking and I really wasn’t supposed to. I walked away from one with no regrets. It may very well be battery acid but all I knew back then was that Coke tasted amazing and it wasn’t fair that my mom wouldn’t let me drink it.

Coffee? Heh. I thought it bitter. Too bitter. Kinda gross, actually. I was so disappointed. I felt let down. How could something that smelled so good taste bad? And why did grown ups guzzle up so much of the stuff?

It took me a while longer before my mind changed andI began what’s been a long on-again, off-again relationship with coffee. I’ve been drinking it for about thirteen years (Yeah, I know. You do the math and it’s a long time. I started too early. It is what it is.) Those first two or three years it really wasn’t that serious: I mostly just stuck with the cold slushy-like frappucinos from Starbucks with only a few shots of espresso and are mostly just sugar and milk anyway. But as time went on, I upped my game and went with the real stuff, learning that it’s an acquired taste that may be slow to develop, but once had, is almost impossible to get rid of.

And believe me, I’ve tried to get rid of it. Multiple times.

Right now I’m in the midst of another one of my relapses and I’m actually okay with that. Life is short, there worse things in the world to be hooked on and I’m not about to feel guilty over having myself a daily cup of coffee….not to mention a little extra something on the side.

Because honestly, doesn’t the coffee taste that much better when you’re munching on something tasty to go with it? You guys know I’m right.

When I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to bake, I like to eat either the spicy Lotus biscuits alongside my coffee, gingersnaps, or some honey-flavored graham crackers. When I’m not in a hurry and do have the time, I’ll make scones. If you guys have been following me for a while you know I’ve got a special love for scones. They’re my favorite accompaniment to coffee and I made up my mind a long time ago to get good at making them for myself so I wouldn’t have to pay $4-5 for one from a coffee shop.

And I have to say, I think I’ve succeeded.

I had a leftover can of pureed pumpkin in my cupboard from Thanksgiving that I never used. I’d also just finished candying some ginger from a batch of ginger syrup I’d made. I didn’t want the pumpkin or the ginger to go to waste, and as they do go together so well, I thought they’d work very nicely in a scone dough. Besides the combination of those two ingredients, there are a few other things I love about this recipe:

It’s given a extra kick of spice by the addition of curry powder and turmeric. I know that those are spices normally used in savory dishes, but trust me: they REALLY do work with the ginger. The bite tempers the sweetness of the scone while the turmeric and the pumpkin also gives them a lovely golden brown color. Second, the crystallized ginger and turbinado adds a layer of chewy/slightly crunchy texture to the top of the scones. I know we’re just now getting into summer, but the smell of these will almost make you wish it were autumn already. I really loved how these turned out and if you try them (even if it’s just to bookmark for later) I think you will too.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #173, co-hosted this week by Lindy @ Love In The Kitchen and Paula @ Her Life Is Love.

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Curried Pumpkin and Ginger Scones

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter or margarine, cut into eight pieces
  • 1/2 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin or squash (canned is fine)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 beaten egg, for brushing on top, optional
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling, optional

 

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & lightly spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, the 1/2 cup ginger, curry powder, turmeric and sugar. Mix well with a fork and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the buttermilk with the pumpkin and mix together until the pumpkin has mostly dissolved in the buttermilk.

Using the large holes on a box grater, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. (You can also use a pastry blender or a pair of knives for this, just cut the butter into chunks first.) Mix with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour the pumpkin-buttermilk mixture inside. Using a floured rubber spatula mix together until just combined. (It’s going to be sticky)

On a well floured surface (like a cutting board, pastry mat or a secured piece of wax paper) turn out the dough and pat/roll it into a long rectangle, about  1/2 inch thick. Try to handle as lightly as possible with your hands.

Using a bench scraper, pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into squares and transfer them to the baking sheet, placing them close together. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place a shallow dish filled with about 1 inch of water on the lower rack of the oven about 10 minutes before baking and leave it in there (this will aid with the scone rise)

Brush the scones with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the extra crystallized ginger and turbinado sugar.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temp. Scones can be wrapped in plastic wrap to preserve freshness, then reheated by wrapping in damp napkin and reheating in microwave for 15-20 seconds.

Honey Whole Wheat Dinner (Sc)rolls

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I remember when I was first starting to learn how to cook and was struggling with a few dishes that came out less than successful. It made me mad and frustrated. My mom, because she’s very patient and quite a great cook herself, told me that I was getting worked up over nothing and that it would be fine. I just needed to get a grasp on a few fundamentals. By fundamentals, she meant some basic cooking techniques and methods, and most importantly, the flavor of  specific spices. Once I understood and grasped the ‘basics’ of cooking techniques and what specific spices/ingredients ‘do’, I would be comfortable enough to improvise and be able to make just about any dish and make it my own.

She’s a mom and a very good one, so of course she was right.

If I had to give advice to inexperienced cooks to where they should start if they do want to cook, it’d be my mom’s: learn the basics. Very little is worse than bland food; get comfortable with spices. VERY comfortable. Learn which ones ‘do’ what. (Your nose is a great resource for this: how they smell is very similar to how they will taste) Start with a basic, easy to follow recipe for what you want to make. Make it. Make it again. And again. Then, when you’ve started to feel comfortable with both the technique and the ingredients you’re using, start adding on & altering it to fit your own style and tastes.

Making adaptations and adding personalization to one’s cooking is one thing but I will say that doing it when it comes to one’s baking is another. It isn’t impossible, but it is different.

Why?

The simplest answer is that baking is a scientific reaction. Baking scientific reactions happen based upon individual elements that combine together and react to one another. If you alter the combination, it’s very likely that you’ll alter (or in this case ruin) the reaction. However, I have found with some practice that my Mom’s advice for cooking can work for baking as well.

I’ve found that when it comes to baking, you can get away with personalizing it so long as you don’t mess with the basic chemistry and ratio of wet ingredients to dry ones. That ratio is what mainly determines the chemical reaction that results in the dish itself, so unless you’re a food scientist I wouldn’t go messing around with that too much. Most of what I do when personalizing in baking has to do with two things: flavors, and shaping. The flavors are something you can adjust in just about anything: cake, pie, cookie dough, biscuits, scones, whatever. The shaping is something I’ve learned to play around with in my bread making.

Once I understood enough of the basics and got comfortable with making bread, I started branching out to want to make more than just a standard loaf or round balls of dough I baked in cake pans. Most yeast based bread dough is flexible enough to where once you get it past it’s first rise, you can shape it into just about anything you want and it will turn out fine. If you guys have been following my blog for a while then you’ve seen some of the ways I’ve been practicing my bread shaping skills with other flexible dough (Cinnamon Star Bread, Cornflower Yeast Rolls, Golden Santa Bread).

I’ve been using today’s recipe for a while now. It was one of the first bread recipes I tried. I was impressed with not only how easy it is to make, but how delicious the bread is. I’ve already said how much I like the combination of honey and whole wheat and these have a good amount of both honey & whole wheat flour in them, so that flavor isn’t lacking at all. Instead of shaping them into basic rolls though, I decided to do something a bit different: rolling them into scroll shapes. It was for no particular reason; I just wanted to see if it would work.

It did. It’s always nice when that happens.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #172, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Su @ Su’s Healthy Living.

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Honey Whole Wheat Dinner (Sc)rolls

Recipe Adapted from Chowhound.com

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Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil, for coating the bowl
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), plus 1/4 cup reserved)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Tops:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • About 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon yellow cornmeal

 

Directions

Combine the flour, yeast and salt together in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk or a fork.

Melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the milk and honey, stir together until combined and allow to warm to a temp between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, about 2 to 5 minutes.

Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture and add the beaten eggs. Use the dough hook attachment to stir together on low until just combined. Then, increase the speed to medium high and continue kneading until formed a smooth, elastic dough—about 10 minutes.  It’s okay if it’s sticky.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and set aside. Grease the bottom of the bowl with vegetable oil, then place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size.

Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a small bowl. Deflate the dough and roll out to a rectangle, about 11 x 15 inches.  Brush the melted butter evenly over the dough. Using a bench scraper or knife cut the dough into individual rectangular strips. Roll the strips up into scrolls.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the scrolls onto the sheets, then cover with plastic wrap and a damp paper towel again. Allow to rise until double in size, about another hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl combine the beaten egg and water. Brush over the scolls, then sprinkle with the oats and cornmeal. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the bottoms and tops are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for about 1o minutes before serving.

Berry Crisp Ham and Black Pepper Biscuits

I think that this may be the first time ever that I’ve been away from my mom on Mother’s Day. It’s certainly the first time I’ve been over two thousand miles away. Feels weird. I miss her. I wish I was back in the Mitten sometimes, but especially times like now so that I could cook my mom a good meal as a way of showing her that I do love and appreciate her.

For any of my followers that are also far away from their moms on Sunday,  if your mother has passed away, or if you just don’t have the kind of relationship with your mom that you’d like to and the holiday is difficult for you–I’m sorry for that. I hope you can find a silver lining to the day.

Food has never failed to be one for me, so let’s focus on that for the moment.

Today’s recipe was actually the meal that I made for us on Easter. However, I thought it would work this week just as well. It also piggy-backs on last week’s where I shared the second best biscuit recipe I’ve ever had or made. I do hope some of you were able to give it a try like we both know you wanted to. But if you’re STILL dragging your feet and putting it off, maybe this week’s recipe & pictures will finally put the boot in your rear and make you just do it already.

Bargain shoppers know that the closer you get to major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, the better price you can get for the huge ‘roast’ style cuts of meat like whole turkeys and hams in grocery stores. We haven’t had ham since Christmas and since we do enjoy it,  I knew for sure that I was going to wait until the last minute to buy an inexpensive one to make for Easter dinner. I just wasn’t sure of how and with what else to serve it with.

It didn’t take very long before I made up my mind. I’d been craving breakfast for dinner for a while. Since it’s just the three of us all the way out here I thought that that would be a simple, yet delicious celebratory meal: Easter Brinner.

I for one, just couldn’t imagine having a real ham brinner without the biscuits. So, I didn’t try. I cooked a ham and a batch of the newfound biscuit recipe that I was still swooning over and still wanting more of after they were gone–with some modifications that in my opinion, made it even better.

First off, I loveloveLOVE this ham. The rub I put together is sweet, zesty and with just the right amount of aromatic ‘kick’ from the cloves and nutmeg. It pairs just right with the berry glaze that gets brushed over the ham while it warms up and causes it to form that dark, bark-like, sugary crust on the outside. Using a standard/spiral ham is also pretty impossible to mess up as the thing is already cooked in the first place. So long as you don’t dry it out, which if you follow the baking time, is extremely difficult to do, it should turn out great.

The first time I made these biscuits, I left them plain, without any major seasonings added to the dough outside of some sugar and a tiny bit of salt. They were definitely delicious enough on their own. However, for Easter I did want to try and mix things up and see if they could be improved upon. I was right. They could. Best part was, the only changes I made from the original was the addition of 2 ingredients: black pepper and bacon drippings.

Just two simple ingredients and WHOA. They really did elevate the biscuits in not only flavor but the appearance. Although it’s definitely visibly flecked throughout the dough, the pepper isn’t overwhelming. Promise, it really isn’t: so do use the whole tablespoon. The biscuits also browned more evenly across the top and bottom and the layers were more pronounced than they were the first time I made them. The edges became perfectly crisp while the inside stayed light and fluffy. This  is just how biscuits ought to be.

See this?

Black pepper biscuit, sliced in half. Ham. A fried egg cooked just to where the egg white has set and the yolk is still runny. Smear both sides with the ham glaze. Smash it all together into one. This kids, is the best breakfast sandwich that I’ve ever had, bar none. And it was my Easter Brinner. (Actually, I loved it so much that I ended up having two, but mind your business).

I only wish I was back home so I could make this meal for my mom. I kinda think she’d be pleased with it.

Happy Mother’s Day and Fiesta Friday #171, where I’ll be linking this post up to.

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Berry Crisp Ham and Black Pepper Biscuits

Recipe Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens & King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Ham

  • 8 lb. cooked ham, liquid reserved
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • About 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey

For Biscuits

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat/drippings (solid or liquid, doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, plus more if necessary

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the light brown sugar, cinnamon, coriander, ground cloves, and nutmeg.

Place the ham in a large roasting pan. Using a sharp knife, score the outer skin in crisscross pattern, being careful not to pierce the actual meat. Rub the spice mixture evenly over the skin with your hands. (It may get messy, and it may not all stick to the ham. That’s fine. The excess will form a syrupy sauce in the bottom of the pan as it cooks;  yum.) Pour the chicken broth in the bottom of the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake on the bottom rack for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until heated through (inner temp should be near 140 degrees F.)

Meanwhile, pour reserved ham liquid, OJ, jam, berries and honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for about 15-20 more minutes until syrupy, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat, and brush some of the glaze over the ham as it cooks.

Remove the cover from the roasting pan and crank oven up to 425 F. Allow ham to cook for about 20-35 more minutes until the skin gets crispy, brushing/basting with a bit more of the glaze. Remove from the oven, cover with foil again and allow to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the extra glaze.

For Biscuits: Keep oven at 425 Degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and sugar with a fork.

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the dry ingredients and stir a few times to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Add the bacon fat and pour the buttermilk into the well and use a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down and pat & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to divide the rectangle in half, then divide the halves into thirds or fourths squares (depending on what size biscuits you want).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the cut biscuits on it. Freeze them for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, fill a shallow pan with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

Brush the biscuits with melted butter, then bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown on top. Remove from oven to a wire rack.

Baking Powder Biscuits

Baking Powder Biscuits7

What are some things you do to perk yourself up when you’re down?

For some of us, it may be a little thing called retail therapy. To some certain extent, I’m guilty too; buying new kitchen gadgets and appliances makes me happy. So do perfume & candles from Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. And cookbooks. I have an unhealthy obsession with collecting cookbooks. I also like oversize pajama shirts, wacky colored/printed socks, and hoodies.

Y’know. Just in case you guys felt like spoiling a chick.

Music, I think, is a go-to for most of us. I’ve got a playlist specially designated for mood-pick me ups.There are a handful of movies that I’ll watch when I’m feeling blue just because thus far, they’ve never failed to always lift my spirits up when they’ve sunk.

But because this is me, and because the subject of my blog is about cooking & baking I’m sure’ it’s pretty self-explanatory that the primary go-to way that I lift myself up is to get inside the kitchen and put something together.

There’s just something about baking that almost never fails to calm me down. I put on my headphones, preheat the oven, pull out my standing mixer, and just shut myself off to whatever else is going on in tedious real life. I think I’m drawn to it for several reasons: first, I’m focused on following a scientific process (which is what baking is, essentially) so my attention and thoughts are set on following the directions and not necessarily on something stressful that I can’t control.

My hands are usually kept busy measuring out ingredients, kneading dough, cutting, scraping, pouring, stirring or whatever the dish requires. Usually while the product is baking in the oven, I’m washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Then by the time it’s cooled off, I’m basking in how good it smells in the house, how delicious is looks and tastes. I give myself a pat on the back for a job well done and feel at least tad bit better that I created something that gave me and someone else, some (and at times immense) satisfaction.

Today’s recipe was one of those times.

I woke up feeling sad. Well, actually I didn’t really sleep that well. I got maybe 3 hours of sleep tops that night and woke up very early in the morning. I felt restless. Frustrated. Tense. Bored. I tossed and turned several times and tried to fall back asleep. Didn’t happen. Finally, I just got tired of trying. I got out of bed, and went into the kitchen. I put on my headphones, preheat the oven and started getting out ingredients.

I was gonna bake myself out of this bad mood….with biscuits. Big, buttery, soft,  flaky biscuits.

I’m really proud of how far I’ve come on my biscuit-making journey. I used to be really awful at making them. But in the past two years I’ve made myself practice more and more and the practice combined with some handy tips I’ve picked up from reading some cookbooks and articles has really upped my Biscuit-game so to speak.

I make kick-ass biscuits. I just do.

And these? They’re good. REALLY good. What’s more, they take less than thirty minutes to put together.

I got up and out of bed just before the crack of dawn and started throwing together the dough for these. As the beautiful sun was rising outside over the trees, my beautiful biscuits were rising in the oven. It was glorious. And you know what? I started to feel better.

I cannot believe I’m about to say this but this recipe is RIGHT up there with the recipe I shared a while back for my Grandma’s Angel Biscuits. It’s not better. I can’t go that far (it’s my grandma’s recipe, after all) but…they can share a spotlight together. That’s how good these are. SOSOSOSO flaky and soft on the inside. Yet they’re sturdy enough to stand up to just about anything you want to do with them; sausage gravy, stew, breakfast sandwich bun, anything. They’re also just delicious to eat all by themselves; we switched between smearing them with butter and jam or butter drizzled with honey. Pure bliss, I’m telling you.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #170, co-hosted this week by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Sue @ Birgerbird.

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Baking Powder Biscuits

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for brushing
  • 1 cup buttermilk, plus more if necessary

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar with a fork.

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the dry ingredients and stir a few times to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl.

Pour the buttermilk into the well and use a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down and pat & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to divide the rectangle in half, then divide the halves into thirds or fourths squares (depending on what size biscuits you want).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the cut biscuits on it. Freeze them for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, fill a shallow pan with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

Brush the biscuits with melted butter, then bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown on top. Remove from oven to a wire rack. Serve warm, spread with butter, jam (or drizzled/dipped in syrup, how I like them).

Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

cinnamon-sugar-crackers4

There’s a large grocery store chain back in the Mitten that when I was growing up, sold their own generic brand of products that they would sell alongside the name-brand stuff. It wasn’t so very different from the name brand, and you could get just about anything. And believe me, we certainly did (it being the cheaper option and all).

One of the things I remember that my mom would get for us from this grocery store’s line of products were these cookie/crackers that the chain sold in the snack aisle. They came in an orange bag and were marketed as butter-flavored animal shaped cookies. But since, they were on the thin side, I always thought of them as crackers. They were SO delicious.

For whatever reason that still irritates me to this day, the product was discontinued. I haven’t seen it in years and there’s not even a trace of them left on the internet (which is how you KNOW they’re not coming back anytime soon). Nothing I’ve seen sold in stores since has ever replicated them in appearance or taste.

Isn’t that just the worst? Sometimes I wonder where the recipe for those crackers is now; shoved away somewhere at the bottom of a drawer in some corporate office, never to see the light of day again. And who was the genius who made the call to stop selling them in the first place? I want the name of their supervisor so I can write in a strongly worded complaint. Such a waste.

I mentioned before in my last few posts that I’d started in on a kind of cracker-making spree. When my first attempt turned out great, I started experimenting with a bunch of other recipes that I knew I would eventually get around to sharing on the blog. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I’ll make something that I end up liking SO much, that I almost immediately want to make it again–just to have plenty of it. Sometimes, I don’t even want to share it. I just want it all to myself.

That’s what happened here.

I tried this recipe on a whim. I had all the ingredients on hand, plus I made some additions/modifications of my own that I thought would make it taste a bit better, but I wasn’t expecting anything *huge* to come from it.

So, imagine my surprise when I tasted one and was immediately transported back to my childhood, reminded of the delicious butter cookies/crackers in the orange bag from the supermarket’s generic knock-off line.

Are they 100% the same? No. They’re (if I may say so myself), actually an improvement. Te vanilla in the dough gives them a wonderful aroma as they’re baking. The cinnamon and nutmeg is noticeable, but not overpowering. Besides the flavor, the texture of these is what I love best about it; it’s a tender crumb that still has that perfect amount of snap that gives it the ‘cracker’ feel. Then, the coarse sugar topping gives it a pleasant crunch to compliment the cracker itself.

I was SO impressed/thrilled/greedy with how these turned out that as soon as the first batch of these were done cooling, I was already washing out my dishes and getting all the ingredients back together again to make another. This is a very easy and forgiving dough; I just stuck with regular squares, but I think they will hold just about ANY shape, so if you have cookie cutters and want to make these with kids, I’d say anything will go & work.

I’m sure that that recipe for the discontinued butter cookie/crackers is out there somewhere; but I think that this one is a very easy and delicious substitute. So take that, processed food corporate execs.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #169, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Elaine @ Foodbod.

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Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, plus 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1 egg white
  • Extra flour for dusting
  • 1 heaping tablespoon coarse sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar with the dry powdered milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda. It doesn’t have to be light and fluffy, just combined.

With the mixer still running, drizzle in the vanilla. Add the egg white little by little alternately with the flour until dough just comes together. Don’t overmix.

Gather together into a ball, shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dust a clean work surface with flour. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Run a metal spatula underneath the dough as you roll and turn it out to make sure it doesn’t stick, sprinkling with additional flour if necessary.  Use a cookie cutter or bench scraper to cut out the dough into crackers. Place the crackers on the baking sheets and freeze for about 20 minutes.

Using the tines of a fork, evenly prick holes through the dough. In a small bowl, combine the coarse sugar, brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon and the 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Lightly sprinkle this on top of the crackers.

Bake for 12-13 minutes until just beginning to brown at the edges. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.