A Cake for All Seasons

This cake. I love making it. I love decorating it. I love serving it. And I especially love, eating it. It is delicious.

The batter is beautifully flavored with rosemary, the zest of three oranges and one lemon, and cranberries. Once the winter holidays are over and the season for fresh cranberries has passed, reinvent it as a Blueberry, Orange, and Thyme Cake. In May, when the strawberries come in, make it a Strawberry, Orange, and Mint cake. This is a cake for all seasons.

You could also glam up the blueberry cake.

I never thought there would come a day when I would put the zest of four citrus fruits AND savory herbs in a single cake. Nor did I think I would take time to make sugared fruit. That all changed when I saw the food photos on Lauren’s @mustloveherbs’ Instagram feed. Lauren is an Appalachian Food and Living blogger in Kentucky. Her outrageously good Cranberry, Orange, and Rosemary Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting single-handedly inspired me to expand my culinary horizons. The cake is as pretty as it is delicious. She has motivated me to consider more herb and fruit combinations, to play with foods when food styling, and to try new angles when photographing food. I am grateful to her for giving me permission to feature her recipe for this post.

Here’s the recipe, but first a few cake-baking tips.

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before starting. I have been known, in a pinch, to heat butter and milk in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to get the chill out.

The primary method I use to measure flour is to weigh it. Otherwise, I lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup and level it with a knife.

The time to get air into a cake batter is in the beginning. That’s why we start most cake recipes by beating sugar and fat together for a good three minutes. Then we add the eggs, one at a time, beating in more air after each addition. Once the eggs are all in, be sure to turn the mixer off and clean the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix for one more minute.

Look how fluffy this batter looks even before the wet and dry ingredients have been added.

When cake directions say to alternately add dry and wet ingredients, try it this way, dry-wet-dry-wet-dry. Mix minimally with each addition. As soon as the batter is smooth, stop mixing. See how the batter has cloud-like puffs? That’s the goal for this cake.

When adding fruit, turn the mixer off and gently fold the fruit in with a spatula. Try to disperse the fruit evenly so there will be fruit in every slice.

On average, 1 large lemon gives two tablespoons of juice and one tablespoon of zest. 1 medium orange gives 4 tablespoons of juice and 2 tablespoons of zest. I use a Microplane to zest the peel.

I use a handheld orange squeezer to extract juice from citrus. Cut the fruit in half. Put cut side facing down. Bring the handles together and squeeze.  Flip the fruit over a couple of times to extract more juice. I slice the tip off the domed edge.

Use fresh herbs in beautiful condition. I mince the lower leaves of the stem and save the tips for decorating the cake.

Cake Ingredients

3 cups (13.0 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons (½-ounce package) freshly minced rosemary
zest of 3 medium oranges
juice of 1 medium orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup whole fat buttermilk
2 cups (1 pint) fresh whole cranberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour for dusting fruit
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar

Prep for the Mise en Place

Measure flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and add to a medium bowl. Add minced rosemary. Use a whisk to mix ingredients and get rid of lumps. Set bowl aside.

Zest 3 oranges and 1 lemon. Juice 1 orange and 1 lemon. Measure buttermilk in a liquid measuring cup and add zest and juice. Stir. Set aside.

In another small bowl, mix whole cranberries and a tablespoon of flour. Stir until the berries are completely dusted with flour. Set aside.

Crack each egg into a container. Don’t mix. Add vanilla. Set aside.

Add butter and sugar directly into a large mixing bowl.

The easy part — putting it all together.

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Make sure all crevices of pan are greased.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium speed for three minutes. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through mixing.

Pour in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Periodically, turn mixer off and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Beat another minute on medium speed.

With the mixer on “stir” or slow, add ⅓ dry ingredients, ½ wet, ⅓ dry, ½ wet, end with ⅓ dry. Mix briefly after each addition.

Remove bowl from stand and using a rubber spatula, add berries. Be sure to sweep bottom and sides of bowl to disperse berries evenly in batter.

Pour batter into a prepared Bundt pan. I can’t get over how gorgeous this batter looks! Just sayin’.

Bake on center shelf of a preheated oven for 45-55 minutes until a knife inserted in the middle of the ring comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 30 minutes. This is a necessary step to ensure the cake slides out easily from the pan. Flip cake carefully onto a wire rack and allow to cool for at least an hour before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients

2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted through a sieve
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
½-ounce package of rosemary for decorating
fresh fruit for decorating

In a mixing bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and orange juice. Mix on medium speed until icing is smooth and creamy. The consistency should be somewhere between a frosting and a glaze.

Dust off crumbs from cooled cake. Spoon icing over cake to achieve a drapey look.

Decorate with rosemary and sugared fruit.

Sugared Fruit

Sugaring fruit is much easier than I imagined. It starts with making a simple syrup and then adding fruit until it is covered in syrup. For cranberries, which have a hard shell, bring the syrup almost to a boil, add the cranberries, and let soften so they are edible. For thin-skinned fruits like blueberries, coat briefly and remove from hot pan so they don’t soften further.

Sugared Fruit Ingredients

½ cup water
½ cup sugar
2 cups whole, firm, fresh cranberries, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar for dusting

Instructions

Heat water and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and syrup just starts to boil. Remove pan from heat.

Add whole cranberries that are at room temperature. Allow to stay in hot water for 10 minutes. Do not boil cranberries or they will pop. Remove cranberries with a slotted spoon.

Place fruit on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Cranberries will be tacky and want to clump together. Separate them with the tip of a knife and not your fingertips. Doing so will keep the cranberries tacky and better able to hold the sugar crystals.  Allow to dry for one hour.

Spoon tacky berries into a bowl of sugar. Place on a clean sheet of parchment paper and dry for 30 minutes. Note the places on the cranberries that did not take up the sugar. I’m guessing they are the places where I used my fingers touched the tacky berries. Next time, I used a knife to separate the berries.

Christmas Eve or Valentine’s Day Cake

By Christmas Eve, we had already had this cake twice so we opted for Lily’s Red Velvet Cake, a family favorite, made by my DIL. Red Velvet Cake is basically chocolate cake with red food coloring. In my recipe, I boost the cocoa by adding expresso coffee. It is delicious. Inspired by Lauren’s food styling and not wanting to take the time to sugar more cranberries, we used what we had in the fridge to decorate the cake — pomegranate seeds and rosemary.

Readers, I would love your help. I am teaching a cooking class for The Herb Society of Nashville. I’m wondering if you could share some herb and fruit combinations you have found that are complementary. Please leave a comment with your favorites.

Some Other Favorite Cakes
Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake
Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970

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Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Cranberry Muffins with Orange Zest and Pecans

Yesterday, my sister-in-law, Terry, asked me to post my recipe for cranberry nut muffins. I had completely forgotten about these flavor-packed muffins!

The ingredients include a lovely mix of cranberries, pecans, orange zest, and cinnamon.

An interesting tidbit about cranberries — each cranberry has four interior chambers that hold pockets of air.

The air pockets allow the berries to float, a characteristic farmers use to their advantage when it comes time to harvest.

During the spring and summer, the berries grow in fields called bogs. In the fall, farmers flood the bogs and use a harvesting machine to dislodge the berries that then float to the surface. There is more to the story that can be found here.

In most recipes calling for cranberries, you can use fresh or frozen. I would not use dried cranberries which are sweetened and have lost much of their nutritional value in the process. For this batch of muffins, I used last year’s frozen berries because that is what I had on hand. When using frozen berries, do not defrost them before measuring or chopping. If you see a berry that is shriveled up, discard it.

I used self-rising flour. If you do not have any, substitute with 2 cups of regular flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of fine salt.

Yield: 12 small or 8 large muffins.

Ingredients:


1¼ cup whole cranberries
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup pecan halves
zest from ½ half a medium orange

1 large egg
¾ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups (8½ oz.) self-rising flour, (measured using the spoon and level method)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter, softened and sliced

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375º. Line muffin tin with paper liners or grease each muffin cup.

Place cranberries, ⅓ cup of sugar, pecans, and orange zest in a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are rough-chopped. Be careful not to over-process.

Measure milk in a liquid measuring cup. Add egg and vanilla to the cup. Whisk ingredients together.

Place flour, cinnamon, and ⅓ cup sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk these dry ingredients together. Add butter slices. Using a wire pastry blender, combine ingredients until there are no more large clumps of butter. See photo below for guidance on what the texture should look like.

Gently stir in milk mixture until just blended. Fold in cranberry mixture. For a light and airy muffin, stir as little as possible.

Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to fill the muffin cups. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of sugar over each muffin to crisp up the top when baked. If making large muffins, use a whole teaspoon of sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes on the middle oven rack. Muffins are done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If you would like to brown the tops a little more, move tin to the upper oven rack and bake for 3 more minutes.

Thank you, Terry, for reminding me about these muffins! I’m glad to have the recipe at my fingertips, again.

Check out the Thanksgiving Menu for Tday dinner ideas.

Other Cranberry Recipes:
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Hot Pepper Jelly or Cranberry Brie Bites
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Sautéed Collards (or Swiss Chard), Toasted Pine Nuts and Cranberries
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Sorghum, Oats, and Cranberry Granola
Oats, Sorghum, Ginger and Cranberry Cookies

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

If you enjoyed this post, please share and become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

New Year’s Day Fare: Collards, Pine Nuts and Cranberries

New Year’s Day is all about starting over. A clean slate. A fresh start. I’m game for all of it. Since moving South, I’ve learned you can improve your chances of having a healthy and prosperous year by eating three foods on this auspicious day: collard greens, black-eyed peas, and pork. The greens represent the color of money and thus, economic fortune, the peas (lentils, in the Italian tradition) represent coins, and plump pigs represent prosperity. Pigs also root forward with their noses representing progress. Compare that to chickens who walk backwards while scratching the dirt for food. No looking back. No chicken for New Year’s Day. I can get into all of it. I consider these foods to be charms for the easy life. But if I’m the one doing the cooking, I’m going to Italianize them; there will be olive oil and garlic used in the preparation of each of them.

To prepare black-eyed peas, check out this blog-favorite recipe, Marlin’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad.

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To prepare the pork, try Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin.

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To prepare the leafy greens, try this recipe for collard greens sweetened with dried cranberries or golden raisins, and toasted pine nuts, all of it sautéed in olive oil and garlic.

About the Leafy Greens: Growing and Cooking Collards

Cooking with collards has been a new adventure for me. After seeing how beautifully they grow in the production gardens of The Nashville Food Project (where I frequently volunteer) and after cooking and serving them for years as a side dish for TNFP’s Meal Distribution Partners, I figured it was time to jump in and grow them myself. I’m so glad I did! They are like the Giving Tree of vegetables. Even as I write, on this cold winter morning, my crop of collards, unprotected from the winter elements, continues to happily produce greens. I’ve been picking from this same raised bed of collards since early October.

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Collards are a great crop for the first time gardener to grow, too; they are very forgiving. For eight months of the year, you will be rewarded with a continuous production of hearty greens that are great added to soups, or when used in a sautéed medley with other leafy greens.

Technique Tips

Chiffonading Leafy Greens:
Chiffonade is a cooking technique used to describe a way of cutting leafy greens into thin, pretty ribbons. The technique is mostly used to cut herbs like basil. I’ve adopted it for cutting all leafy greens for sautéing. To chiffonade, stack about five leaves, roll them together, and then cut through the stack. I use scissors for small, tender leaves, like basil and Swiss chard, and a knife for bulky leaves like kale and collards.

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Toasted Pine Nuts
Add a single layer of pine nuts to a pan. Set heat to medium. Stir nuts about every 15 seconds. Cook for about two to three minutes, or until the nuts become fragrant and are lightly browned. When done, immediately remove nuts from pan to stop the cooking process. You can toast sesame seeds in the same way.

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Ingredients:

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1½ pounds collard greens or Swiss chard (once trimmed will equal about 1 pound)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup dried sweetened cranberries or golden raisins
6 cloves garlic (equals about 2 tablespoons, chopped)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup hot water
salt to taste

Mise en Place:

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Wash and dry collard greens. I let them air dry on dishtowels, patting the puddles of water that collect on top with another dish towel.

Remove the tough central rib from the leaves. To do this, fold the leaves in half and remove the rib with a scissor. Some people just tear the rib out.

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Chiffonade the greens.

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To cook the greens: Heat oil and garlic in a large six-quart sauté pan. Sauté for about one minute. Be careful not to brown the garlic as that could make it taste bitter. Add pine nuts, cranberries, and red pepper flakes. Stir.

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Add half the collards. Once they start to soften and shrink, add the rest. Add water and sauté for about 5-8 minutes until the collards are tender and the cranberries become plump.

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Add salt to taste: if the collards taste bland add more salt until the flavors pop.

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This is a side dish that is slightly bitter. We had it last night with lamb and parsley potatoes, and it was a delicious combination.

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When you go to set the table, consider looking in your yard for greenery for a centerpiece. My friend, Mary, said she was so inspired by Lou Ann working her design magic using greenery from my yard (check out Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard ) that she went out in her yard and used greenery to create this quickie, yet elegant centerpiece.

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LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

 

Hot Pepper Jelly or Cranberry Brie Bites

Last night I went to a holiday party for my tennis friends. Everyone was asked to bring an appetizer. I knew my day was going to be packed, but I didn’t fret about what to make because as long as I have fillo shells in the freezer and brie in the fridge, I know I can make something that is going to be as pretty as it is tasty.

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The versatile pre-cooked phyllo dough mini shells are the key to these quick appetizers. In the winter I add a slice of brie, cook until the cheese melts, and add a topping, such as Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney or homemade cranberry sauce. In the summer, I assemble a quick treat by putting a spoonful of chicken salad into each shell and topping it with half a grape.

Last night, at the tennis party, my friend and fabulous cook, Mindy showed up with a very similar appetizer to mine only her brie bites were topped with Oakley’s Spreadalicious Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly and a yummy, lightly salted, toasted pecan. The mix of spicy-sweet pepper jelly, toasted pecans, savory brie, and the crunchy fillo shell kept me coming back for more. I intend to adopt her version.

About Oakley’s Spreadalicious Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly
Before I moved to the South, I had not a clue what hot pepper jelly was. By my first Christmas here, I knew it well; hot pepper jelly poured over a brick of cream cheese and served with a bowl of Wheat Thins was the appetizer du jour back then.

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Today, that spicy-sweet jelly, made from an assortment of sweet and hot peppers, is more likely to be spread over a log of goat cheese and sprinkled with toasted chopped nuts and a few leaves of thyme for color.

The recipe that follows is for the foundation of the brie bite: the fillo shell and melted brie. What you top it with is up to you. The beauty of this recipe is you can experiment with toppings based on what you have on hand.

Ingredients for 30 Brie Bites:
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2 boxes pre-cooked Athens Mini Fillo Shells (15 shells per box)
8 ounces brie cheese

Toppings:
Sweet and hot pepper jelly or cranberry chutney
Toasted pecans, whole or chopped (recipe follows)
Thyme leaves (optional)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line a small roasting pan with parchment paper.

Remove the snowy white rind that covers the wheel of brie. Or, not. The rind is completely edible and whether to leave it or remove it is a personal choice. It adds a mushroomy taste that I’m not crazy about in these tarts, but am fine with when I eat brie unadorned on a cracker. Slice the brie into small square slices that will fit into the fillo shells.

Arrange fillo shells on the lined roasting pan. Place a cheese slice in each shell.
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Bake for 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove pan from oven. dsc_0080
Top brie with a small blob of topping. Place pan back in the oven for a minute to warm the topping. Serve warm.

Mindy likes to toast pecans ahead of time with a bit of melted butter and a touch of seasoned salt mixed with sea salt. Her pecans, prepared this way, are addictive.

Lightly Salted Toasted Pecans

Preheat oven to 300º

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Turn heat off. Add one pound of pecans. Toss. Add one shake of seasoned salt and a sprinkle of sea salt. Toss. Taste and adjust seasoning.

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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread nuts in a single layer. Roast for 25-30 minutes or just until you can smell them in the oven. Addictive, I tell you.

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In Nashville, you can buy Oakley’s Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly in the Tennessee Products section of Kroger or in many gift shops around town. Out of towners can order it online.

Other crowd-pleasing appetizers:
Roasted Tamari Almonds
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
A Quick and Easy Baked Hummus and Feta Appetizer

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.