Gingerbread with Whipped Cream

Unfussy

It’s kind of a tradition in my family to make gingerbread the first weekend of December, usually on Sunday night. Isn’t that cozy? It’s best eaten fresh, but this makes a large pan, so I usually zap a piece in the microwave for breakfast the next couple mornings and it does just fine.

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup butter, softened, cut into tablespoons
  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13″ pan.

Combine butter, brown sugar and molasses in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand for butter to melt and mixture to cool. Add eggs and mix well. Mix in dry ingredients, whisking well to blend, but do not overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the gingerbread springs back in the center when touched.

Serve warm with whipped cream.

Baklava

A little bit fussy

This is a family recipe – some of the fuss is taken out of it because you pour the melted butter over the top of the constructed baklava instead of brushing all those layers. Bonus is that it uses an entire package of phyllo – just be sure to defrost it in the refrigerator the day before.

  • Syrup:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 14 whole cloves
  • Peel from one lemon (not zest, peel)
  • Nuts:
  • 1 lb. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 TBS toasted sesame seeds, ground
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 lb. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. phyllo

Make the syrup: combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer 20 minutes. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine the nut filling ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Skim off foam. Pour almost all the butter into a liquid measuring cup, but leave the milk solids behind.

Place 6 layers of phyllo in the bottom of an ungreased 9×13″ pan. Reserve 6 layers phyllo for the top. Sprinkle 1/4 cup nut mixture over phyllo. Place 2 layers phyllo over nuts, top with another 1/4 cup nuts. Repeat until all the phyllo and nuts are used (except the reserved 6 for the top). Top the last layer of nuts with the reserved 6 layers of phyllo.

Cut the baklava into diamonds with a sharp knife – cut parallel lines horizontally spaced about 2″ apart. Cut diagonal lines from the top of the pan to the bottom.

Pour melted, clarified butter all over the baklava.

Bake 45 minutes at 300 degrees. Increase oven to 350 degrees and bake another 15-20 minutes, until dark golden brown.

Remove from oven and immediately pour cooled syrup all over the baklava. Let cool completely (at least 4 hours) and cut through again to separate pieces.

This is best made ahead and keeps for many days at room temperature.

Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate and Ginger

Cookies, Unfussy

These are my favorite shortbread-style cookies – the dough is easy to work with for rolling and cutting out. Chocolate and ginger is a tasty combination, but you could put anything in there. Or nothing. Perfect for that card club you’re hoping will gain some traction.

  • 1 1/4 cups (142g) powdered sugar
  • 18 TBSP (255g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups (326g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (165g) chopped candied ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) chocolate chips

Combine sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt and vanilla in a stand mixer with paddle attachment and beat until smooth. Add the flour and mix until incorporated. When the dough starts to come together, add the ginger and chocolate chips, stir until well mixed.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Remove from refrigerator and let dough soften for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out to the thickness of the chocolate chips, using extra flour to keep from sticking, if necessary. Cut in desired shapes, place on cookie sheets leaving about an inch between cookies (they don’t expand much at all).

Bake 15 minutes, until the edges just start to show some color.

This recipe is modified from King Arthur Flour

Brownies

Cookies, Unfussy

These are everything I want in a brownie. My sister-in-law, Lindsay, kept trying different brownie recipes until she found her favorite, and her dedication paid off. Now it is the favorite of everyone I know. This recipe is from King Arthur. Himself.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups dutch-process cocoa
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose or a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I used mint chips, pictured)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease, or line with a foil sling, a 9×13″ pan.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add sugar and stir until hot but not bubbling. Remove from heat. Stir in cocoa, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until incorporated. Stir in flour and chocolate chips. (I opted to sprinkle mint chips on top… this time)

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the middle is set. Cool completely before cutting. Or not.

Pan O’ Raisins

Breakfast, Fussy

I firmly believe there is a time and a place for raisins: the oatmeal raisin cookie, rice pudding, and the (underrated) French pastry, Pain Aux Raisins – which I prefer to pronounce “Pan O’ Raisins” because I might as well double down on my horrific french pronunciation.

  • Danish dough:
  • 1/3 cup warm milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Butter square:
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • Filling:
  • 1 cups whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 TBSP cornstarch
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 TBSP butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Take butter out of fridge to let soften a bit while you mix the dough.

For the dough: Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and slat in stand mixer fitted with dough hook. Combine milk and egg in a liquid measuring cup. Add to dry ingredients with mixer on low and mix until dough comes together. Increase speed and knead until the dough comes together. You will need to scrape the bowl a few times. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Cut one stick of butter in half so you have 3 even pieces. On a piece of plastic wrap, sprinkle half of the tablespoon of dough and place the butter on top. Sprinkle remaining half tablespoon flour on top. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Gently pound the butter with a rolling pin until it is pliable, then roll it out to a 5-inch square. Refrigerate.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is a 9-inch square. Place the butter square diagonally on the dough square. Fold the corners of the dough in so they meet in the middle and cover the butter diamond entirely. Gently roll the dough out to a 14″ square. Fold the dough in thirds to form a rectangle, then fold the rectangle in thirds to form a square. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Remove the dough and let soften for 10 minutes. Roll the dough out again for the second “turn” to a 14″ square and fold again, as you did previously. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours again.

For the filling: Pour boiling water over the raisins to cover and let soften for at least 30 minutes. Combine sugar and cornstarch in small saucepan. Combine yolks and milk in a measuring cup. Whisk milk into sugar mixture and heat over medium-low heat until the mixture starts to thicken. Continue whisking until the mixture is very thick and at least one bubble has popped. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract. Strain, if you like (I don’t), into a bowl. Cut butter into pieces and whisk in butter a piece at a time until fully incorporated. Drain raisins and stir into pastry cream. Refrigerate until needed, stir vigorously to soften before using.

Roll out danish dough into a very large rectangle – about 12″ by 16″. Spread raisin cream evenly on top, leaving a 1-inch border on the long edge. Beat an egg in a small bowl and brush the exposed edge with egg wash to help seal (save egg wash). Roll up loosely and seal at the long edge. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to firm it up a bit.

Cut the roll into 1/3-1/2-inch slices – the pastry cream will ooze a bit, just do your best to keep it in shape. Place on a lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. It can also be frozen at this time for a later date. Let come to room temperature (both if you freeze it or if it’s from the fridge) and let rise until it has gotten a little puffy (it won’t get super puffy, and it may take an hour or more, depending on how cold your kitchen is).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush tops and sides with reserved egg wash. Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown. Eat them immediately.

Danish dough recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

Chocolate Lush

Unfussy

This is as close as the Spencer fam gets to the microwave cake-in-a-cup situation. It gets the job done if it’s cold, late, and you need chocolate. Basically a chocolate pudding cake that makes its own pudding using pantry ingredients (no eggs even). I whipped it up this weekend when we had impromptu dinner guests. This recipe is one of many many favorites in the Pillsbury Family Cookbook from 1963 that my dad got as a gift for buying seed corn. If you can find one, you’ll know all my secrets.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP and 1/4 cup cocoa powder, divided
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk flour, sugar, 2 TBSP cocoa, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Add milk, butter and vanilla and mix to blend well. Spread in an ungreased 8″ square pan. Combine brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup cocoa and hot water. Pour over batter.

Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

This recipe can be doubled and made in a 9×13″ pan.

Cherry Poptarts

A little bit fussy, Breakfast, Food Hoarding Confessions

Guys guys guys- after years of trying I finally nailed homemade pop tarts. Happy little accident involving self-rising flour I bought for no reason other than I heard a story about Loretta Lynn using it for biscuits. It makes the perfectly delicious cardboard-y tasting pastry I’ve been hunting for. The filling ended up being a great use of the half jar of morello cherries that was taking up fridge space.

  • Cherry Filling:
  • 1 1/2 cup jarred morello cherries, drained (reserve 3 TBSP liquid for optional glaze)
  • 12 pitted dates
  • 4 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • Crust:
  • 2 cups self-rising flour, if you have it
  • (or 2 cups AP flour, 3 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt)
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 stick cold butter, cut in chunks
  • 1/2 cup milk

In food processor, process cherries and dates until crushed. Combine sugar and cornstarch in small saucepan. Whisk in cherries and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until thickened. Add almond extract and set aside to cool. This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated.

Combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter in and work until it’s the size of peas, or a bit smaller (by hand or food processor). Stir in milk until combined and dough holds together. Divide the dough in half. Roll out each half between long sheets of wax paper until very thin – 1/8″ or so and the shape of a long rectangle. Dust with flour as needed to keep from sticking. Using a ruler or straight edge, trim the edges of the dough. Cut the dough in half, the long way, then cut every 3″ or so to make 3″x5″ rectangles. You should get 16 total from all the dough. Spread about 2 TBSP filling in half the rectangles, but leave about 1/2″ from the sides free of filling. You will have extra filling, which you can freeze for another poptarting. Brush the edges with egg wash. Poke the other dough rectangles with a fork 3 or 4 times, then sandwich the pop tarts. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush tarts with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown on the edges. Dust with powdered sugar, leave unfrosted, or glaze.

  • Cherry Glaze:
  • 3 TBSP reserved cherry liquid
  • enough powdered sugar to thicken

Peanut Butter Cookies

Cookies, Unfussy

These are my favorite peanut butter cookies. I wouldn’t kick you out of bed for putting chocolate chips in them. This recipe is from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, one of my favorite cookbooks of all time.

  • 1 cup salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup peanut butter (I prefer Trader Joe’s salted creamy)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (optional)
  • extra 1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating fork

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or grease lightly.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, and beat well, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add peanut butter and beat to blend. Add baking soda and flour and stir to combine well. Add chocolate chips if using.

Scoop onto cookie sheets, or roll into balls and place on cookie sheets – about 3 TBSP per cookie, spaced about 2-3 inches apart. Put extra sugar in a small bowl, using a fork, dip in sugar, then press down on each cookie into criss-cross pattern, smushing the cookie to flatten quite a bit (they don’t spread much when baking).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to show some color, but do not over-bake.

Snow Day Monkey Bread

A little bit fussy

Remember Monkey Bread? This is a good project if you happen to have a house full of monkeys home for a snow day (just me?). There is more dough here than you need – if you don’t have eager helpers who like to play “bake-off” with extra dough (just me again?), you can half the recipe and it will be A-OK (use 2 tsp yeast). The bread is my favorite Japanese Milk Bread from New York Times – it is so good.

  • Tangzhong starter:
  • 45g bread flour
  • 120 ml whole milk
  • Dough:
  • 650g bread flour
  • 120g sugar
  • 3 1/4 tsp quick-rise yeast
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 8 TBSP softened butter, cut into tablespoons
  • Butter and Cinnamon Sugar mix:
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP cinnamon

Make Tangzhong – In a small saucepan, combine flour and milk. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until very thick. Set aside to cool.

In stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, and yeast. Whisk eggs, milk and salt together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Add to the flour mixture and stir. Add tangzhong starter and knead for 5 minutes, until the dough comes together.

Add the softened butter and knead for another 10 minutes – it will take awhile for the butter to incorporate.

Grease a large bowl, place dough in the bowl and cover to let rise for 1 hour.

Melt the additional stick of butter. In another small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large bundt pan.

Turn dough out onto work surface. With a bench scraper, cut dough into quarters. Give a quarter of the dough to the dirty little hands that are milling around your work surface. Cut the remaining quarters up into small pieces – about 8-10 per quarter. Roll the pieces into a rough ball, pinch it, dip it in butter, roll it in cinnamon sugar, then toss it in the bundt pan. Repeat until the bundt pan is 2/3 full. Cover with plastic wrap or towel and let rise for 30-40 minutes.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Let rest 5 minutes before turning out onto a platter. Invite the monkeys to tear and share.

Apple Crisp

Unfussy

Do you know what the problem is with apple crisp? Nothing. Not a thing. It’s easy, it’s delicious, and it makes as good a breakfast as it does a dessert. I can’t find a fault. You can of course have this with ice cream, or whipped cream, but if you can’t be bothered, do what we do and just pour half & half generously over the top.

  • 6 cups apples, cored, peeled and sliced. A mixture of different varieties is nice.
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • dash salt
  • 1 stick butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill an 8″ square baking dish with apples, sprinkle lemon juice over them.

Make the crisp topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, oats and salt in a medium bowl. Pour melted butter in and stir to coat evenly – it’s okay if there are a few dry spots. Sprinkle topping over apples.

Bake 45 minutes, until topping is golden brown and apples are soft.