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.

Mary’s Award Winning Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last winter, I was on a mission to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe to love. Don’t get me wrong, I love the queen of all chocolate chip cookie recipes, the one I have known by heart since I was ten, the venerable Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. But I was looking for something thicker and a little less crunchy.

It turns out, I was looking for Mary’s chocolate chip cookies, all along. But that’s jumping the gun.

Did you know that back in the 1930s when Toll House Inn owner, Ruth Wakefield, first published her famous cookie recipe, she called it Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie? Ruth meant for her cookies to be crunchy.

I tested many recipes during my search for a chewier cookie.

In the end, I couldn’t find a favorite and instead wrote a post about cookie scoops, Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure.  Who knew the tiny numbers on cookie scoops described the number of scoops of dough in a one-quart container?

During my research, I learned a nifty way to scoop and freeze cookie dough before storing it.

My kids went home with bags full of frozen cookie dough every time they stopped by to visit; tasty rejects from the recipes I tested.

Ultimately, I realized my favorite cookie was the one my dear and funny, food-styling, recipe-developing friend, Mary Carter, sold back in the summer of 2011 at Nashville’s 12South Farmers Market. By the way, Mary is an artist, as well.

Her best selling cookie at the market was Pecan and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt. She submitted the recipe to Southern Living Showhouse’s  “Ultimate Southern Cookie” contest and took home first place.

What is not to love here?

Many years ago, I tried making her recipe, but my cookies didn’t come out as well as hers. Last week, she came over to my house so we could bake them together to see what went wrong. I learned I was cooking them too long, mixing them too long, and not using the right amount of flour. To come up with a reliable amount of flour to use, I weighed each cup as she added it. The cookies came out perfectly under her tutelage.

A few words on measuring flour:

When I write recipes, I envision my boys making them and add the specific chopping or measuring instructions I think they might need. IF they were to measure flour, they would stick a measuring cup into the flour bag, use their finger to level it off, and dump it into the batter.

So, that’s what I did. I measured 4 cups of what is ultimately packed flour, poured it into a glass bowl, and measured the weight of the flour (having first zeroed out the weight of the bowl). The flour weighed 21 ounces.

Compare that to the way I learned to measure flour (in Junior High Home Ec) where you lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and use the backside of a knife to level it off. Measured that way, 4 cups of flour weighs only 17 ounces! Scooping flour directly into a measuring cup can result in using more flour than the recipe writer may have intended. This discrepancy in amounts has become more common and is the reason many recipes now include a weight measurement in parentheses. Here’s  a video from King Arthur Flour that shows how to properly measure flour.

Pro Tips

Before we get started on the recipe, here is a list of baking tips I learned from Mary our afternoon together.

  • Do not overbeat the fat, sugar, and eggs. A soupy batter leads to pancake-like cookies. When Mary makes these cookies at home, she dumps all the ingredients at once into her favorite mixing bowl and mixes them by hand. I always use my beloved Kitchen Aid.
  • Mary uses self-rising flour when developing recipes. Cup for cup it has the correct proportion of flour to baking powder and salt, making it easy to increase or decrease flour as she makes up new recipes.
  • One level cup of self-rising flour weighs 4.25 ounces and is comprised of:
    1 cup of all-purpose flour
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    ½ teaspoon salt
  • Bake cookie less than seems right. She bakes them until they just start to tan on the edges and are still quite pale in the center. She leaves them on the pan to cool completely.
  • Placing pecans on top of the cookie allows them to toast while cooking. This makes them so much more flavorful.
  • Place 3 chocolate chips on top of each cookie before baking; that’s a food-styling tip.
  • For whatever reason, this cookie dough doesn’t taste as good raw as Toll House cookie dough. We decided that was a good thing:-)
  • As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, Mary uses the tip of a spatula to smush the edges that have spread out too far, back inward. It makes the cookie rounder and taller. Here is a video of her demonstrating.

 

Mary’s Southern Pecan and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

Yield: 24  3-inch cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large (4 ounces) eggs
3¾ cups (16 ounces) self-rising flour (I use unbleached King Arthur’s)
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I love Trader Joe’s chips)
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

Topping Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes or fine sea salt
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate  chips
1 cup pecans

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º.

Add butter, shortening, sugars, salt, vanilla, and eggs into a mixing bowl.

Blend together for one minute on medium-low speed. Halfway through mixing, turn mixer off and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Don’t let batter get soupy.

Add flour and mix on slow speed until flour is just incorporated into batter, about 45 seconds. Fold in chocolate.

Using a #30 (2-ounce) cookie scoop, place dough on a parchment-lined or ungreased, insulated cookie sheet.

Gently flatten the top of each cookie with the palm of your hand.

Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sea salt flakes or fine salt, three pecans, and a few extra chocolate chips.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, or until cookie edges start to tan and center of cookie is still fairly pale. In Mary’s oven, that’s 14 minutes, in mine, it’s 17 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately use a spatula to adjust the outer edges as described in video. I’ve noticed the cookies appear a little darker a few minutes after they get out of the oven.

Leave on baking sheet until cookie is completely cooled. Enjoy!

Some readers might remember a story I wrote about Mary and a food-styling job she brought me on, Food Styling with Mary Carter.

Thanksgiving is coming up. Take a look at THIS page for a list of tried and true recipes, especially Foolproof Make-Ahead Gravy, my Mom’s Pumpkin Pie, and my Grandmother’s (killer) Cranberry Chutney.

Related Posts
Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure
Stocking Stuffers: Tools for the Cooking Life
Home Ec: How to Measure Ingredients Properly
Pecan Picking in Mississippi (and recipes to go with them)

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend and become a follower. When signing up, be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter that will be sent to your email.

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.

How to Choose What Goes in the Recycle Bin: A Holiday Guide

I had no idea.

I thought I was so with it when I learned soiled food containers (like pizza cartons) were big NoNo’s in the paper recycling process. There is so much more:

  • Food waste of any kind
  • Liquid (make sure acceptable containers are free of food or liquid)
  • Food soiled containers such as pizza boxes, paper plates, napkins or paper towels
  • Plastic takeout containers
  • Plastic trays (Lunchable trays, frozen dinner trays or bowls, etc.)
  • Plastic trays, buckets, and flower pots

If you are looking for last minute ideas for Sides and Desserts for Thanksgiving Dinner, look here.

My must haves include: 
Karen’s Foolproof Make-Ahead Gravy
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie

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