Irish Soda Bread

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day and while I am not an ounce Irish I still enjoy Irish Soda Bread as much as the next girl. I have never been one for the green beer and bagels or for the ridiculousness that occurs on this holiday but I do look forward to this yummy baked good every year.

I went to college in Boston – with the lovely ladies I talked about in this post I shared many delicious baked goods. On Newbury Street (a picturesque shopping destination) there is a restaurant called Stephanie’s on Newbury. This is the type of place that you would go when your parents were in town – because it is not exactly college student budget friendly. It’s a cozy restaurant and one of my favorite parts about dining there is the soda bread that you get in the bread basket. They also serve the recipe with the bread on a small card. I love when people openly share recipes – I am obviously a fan of sharing recipes as evidenced by this blog and always feel that my special recipes shouldn’t be kept secret but shared for anyone who wants to enjoy. I also strongly believe that when different people follow the same recipe the food is never the same.

I stashed this little recipe card a long time ago and have been happily enjoying this soda bread in March ever since. At Stephanie’s they serve the bread in little rolls which could easily be made instead of the loaf that I chose to make.

Before baking

Stephanie’s on Newbury Irish Soda Bread: (makes one loaf)

4 cups flour

1 stick butter (1/4 cup) – cold

3/4 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

3/4 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is crumbly and the consistency of cornmeal.

In a separate bowl whisk together buttermilk and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry until all of the liquid is incorporated but not smooth. Add the raisins into the dough and shape together into a loaf. Cut an x into the top of the loaf (or mini loaves) and bake on a baking sheet for 45-50 minutes.

Enjoy your soda bread and have a happy St. Patties Day!


Book Club Baking: Red Velvet Cake Balls

We weren't always all on the same page but we definitely agreed on cream cheese frosting

In college I had five awesome roommates – I can thank the freshman year housing lottery for some amazing bonds that remain incredibly strong today. We shared many things over our college years including clothes, books, and stories but most importantly we all shared a love of cream cheese frosting. If we were allowed we would have put it on anything! While digging through my inbox for today’s recipe I remembered the last time I shared my red velvet recipe and I stumbled across an e-mail chain with these girls from the weeks following our graduation that left me half crying and half laughing and mostly missing the dining room table in our apartment senior year (a place where lots of cream cheese frosting was consumed).

Fast forward to today and the reason that I was making red velvet cake balls in the first place – book club! It’s probably important to add that 4 out of 6 of the girls pictured above are book club members, the other two don’t reside in NYC otherwise they would be! Tonight book club is getting together to discuss our February book (we run a standard 1-2 weeks behind the rest of the world). In honor of Valentine’s Day our theme for the month was love and we read The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. I felt it only fitting to provide some red velvet treats to fuel our love themed discussion, plus promising red velvet cake balls is a sure fire way to get the book club to show up regardless of whether they got around to reading the book this month.

The batter is supposed to be this red (and this is after adding the buttermilk and dry ingredients).

When I first shared this recipe with one of today’s featured girls I got a panicked phone call mid cake balomg that the batter was shockingly red – after much assuring that this was normal she continued baking but not before staining her hands (be careful the dye can take a while to come off!)

Red Velvet Cake Balls – cake recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Cake Recipe:

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 tbsp Dutch process cocoa powder (I don’t usually say this but for this recipe I use the good stuff)

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp red gel dye (more if you are using liquid food coloring)

1 cup buttermilk

2 tsp white distilled vinegar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees – prepare two 9 inch cake pans by spraying with cooking  oil.

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat together sugar and vegetable oil until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time mixing and scraping down the bowl in between additions. Add the food coloring and vanilla and mix together.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Add the flour and buttermilk in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture while the mixture is on low.

In a separate bowl mix together vinegar and baking soda and let foam. Add to the mixing bowl and mix into batter for 10 seconds. Pour batter into cake pans and bake in the oven 20-30 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting: 

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)

8 oz of room temperature cream cheese (important that it is soft)

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Cream together the cream cheese and butter than add the sugar and vanilla. If too soft add more sugar if too dry add cream cheese or butter dependent on flavor.

To create the cake balls combine two cups of frosting with crumbled cake in a big bowl. Make sure that the cake and frosting are completely combine then roll into balls. This recipe made a lot more cake balls than anticipated (about four dozen) I think next time I would consider halving the recipe but I tested freezing some of the cake/frosting mix- I will let you know if it works.

Let cake balls set for at least an hour on a cookie sheet in the freezer then dip into melted dipping chocolate or candy coating. Follow candy coating instructions dependent on the product that you use!

Enjoy and be careful these can be addicting!

Sunday Baking: Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

A while back I talked about what happens when I fail to cook in advance of a busy week. Today I got ahead of the game and spent my Sunday in the kitchen cooking up a storm – more on this later in the week! While I was making room in my freezer for the newly cooked goods I came across some frozen bananas. Baking bananas in every form is one of my absolute favorite activities. The first recipe I ever created was my BaNina Bread and anyone who has known me for longer than a week has probably been treated to this delight. I could make it with my eyes closed and with one hand tied behind my back – and it still would come out great. I promise I will post this recipe in the near future but today I was in the mood for something different.

Given the joy that over ripe bananas bring to me and my electric mixer I have trained my friends and family well. They all know when bananas start to go bad you don’t toss them you put them in the freezer. I then find them on days like today and spend time baking them up into goodies. While banana bread is awesome (and apparently I missed Banana Bread Day this week) I wanted something a little more on the go, and a little less sweet for this week. I often go to the gym early in the morning before work and then bring my breakfast and coffee to enjoy at my desk post workout. These little treats make those moments all the more fun – and I of course share with co-workers.

Delicious! Do you taste your batter before baking? I always do.

Mini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes 3-4 dozen mini muffins

1/2 cup of butter

1 cup of sugar

1 egg

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3 ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a mini muffin pan by greasing the pan or placing in tin liners.

With an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy beat in the egg until fully combined.

In a separate bowl place the bananas and the vanilla they should be ripe enough that you can mash them with a fork. Add this mixture to the mixer and stir together until combined.

In a third bowl mix together the dry ingredients and stir into the batter. Add the chocolate chips and stir until combined. Drop about a tablespoon full into each muffin cup (each cup should be about two thirds full).

Bake 10-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Turn the rack halfway through cooking since they are mini muffins they will cook at different speeds in the front and back of the oven. These could easily be made into full sized muffins just adjust the cooking time (and you may need to adjust the temperature to 350 degrees).

Fat Cat Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Meet Twizz - it is no surprise that her favorite activity is sleeping

I have a very fat cat. Twizz has been on a diet now for about a year and has lost 1 pound! This may not sound like an accomplishment but I guess its like the human version of losing 10 pounds. Recently she started howling in the middle of the night. Worried that she was hurt or something was wrong I hauled her to the vet (not an easy task). Turns out there was nothing wrong, she just doesn’t like her diet and is using the time between midnight and 2am to express her disgust with diet foods. While I don’t entirely blame her, I would get pretty bored if I had to eat the same bland low carb mush every day, I am beginning to understand what it must be like to have a child who won’t sleep through the night. The vet armed me with different techniques to try and determined to sleep through the night without having an 18 pound cat stand on my chest and cry, I am ready to try them all!

I bet by now you are wondering what all of this has to do with pumpkin cookies. One of the vet’s suggestions was to feed Twizz one teaspoon of pumpkin before bed at night. Apparently pumpkin is very high in fiber and a teaspoon is supposed to keep her feeling nice and full. Well after a few days of doling out a teaspoon of pumpkin at a time, I began to crave some pumpkin myself. I also began to wonder how long pumpkin lasts in the fridge (when you are only using a teaspoon a day it take a really long time to go through a can). So began my pumpkin baking adventure. Hope you enjoy my pumpkin cookies! I also don’t know if cookies is the right term for these they are very cakey and are a cross between cookies and mini muffins!

At least now I have a treat to eat when I am up feeding the cat in the middle of the night (and don’t be surprised if you see more pumpkin themed posts in the coming weeks.)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

(makes about 3 dozen cookies)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter – room temperature

2 eggs

2 tsps vanilla

1 cup pumpkin

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinammon

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (or chunks)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Using an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time blending in between. Then add the pumpkin and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients. Add to to wet ingredients and mix together by hand until blended. Add the chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Cook for 8-10 minutes until set, cool on a wire rack.

"More pumpkin please"

Homemade Granola Bars

Lots of chopping but it was definitely worth it!

I had never been a too into granola bars as a snack, they are often sweet enough for dessert and I prefer to eat the real thing when I want dessert – which is almost always. Granola bars just never seemed to do their job and I ended up eating lots of extra sugar without the same satisfaction. Then I discovered Larabars and realized how great snacks granola bars can make. One of the greatest things about Larabars is they do not have any artificial sweeteners added unfortunately I live on a pretty tight budget and Larabars which can be quite pricy don’t always make the cut.

I have been trying to make my own granola bars for quite some time. They have been too crunchy, too crumbly, and dry. I did my research read up on different things to bind the ingredients together but hadn’t had success – until now. I found a recipe on Eat Simply that looked intriguing. I hadn’t used egg before. I switched up some of the fruits based on what was available at my grocery store and the fact that I LOVE dried blueberries and I used a mixture of nuts to vary the flavors and because using all pecans would be more than my budget can handle. I have been imagining new combos of flavors for granola bars all day, can’t wait to make more!

Homemade Granola Bars – adapted from Eat Simply

1/3 cup flour (can be whole wheat)

1/8 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup dried blueberries

1 cup dried apricots chopped

1 1/2 cups dried figs (I wanted to use dates but all the store had were figs) chopped

1/2 cup almonds chopped

1/2 cup walnuts chopped

1/2 cup pecans chopped

2 eggs

1/2 tspn vanilla

1 tbsp honey

*make sure that your dried fruit does not have added sugar and that the nuts you purchase are not salted.

preheat the over to 325 degrees

Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the chopped fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and vanilla for 2 minutes until light and frothy. Add egg mixture and honey to the fruit, nuts and dry ingredients.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes depending on your oven then let fully cool before cutting.

Cut as small as you would like – one of the best parts about making your own granola bars is you get to determine how big they are.

Have you made your own granola bars – what worked and what didn’t?

Granola bars before they were cut into bars!

The Snowy Day

I work in an elementary school and teachers speak a special language “picture book.” Anyone who has spent some time in a school or with little kids knows that The Snowy Day is an excellent picture book about what else but a snowy day. We read this book to the kids before the first big snow storm each year (thanks to Mother Nature we have not yet had the opportunity to share this literary gem). We teachers firmly believe just as Apple suggests for everything “there is an app for that” for any given situation, mood or lesson “there is a picture book for that.” We express our feelings with I Love you This Much, celebrate seasons with The Snowy Day, and refer to all of our bad days as Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days!

I woke up giddy this morning planning on spending my Snowy Day doing laundry, cleaning and my favorite snow day activity baking. Despite my excitement, the white stuff failed to fall from the sky. I decided to bake anyway.

Enjoy my snow day Chocolate Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Cookies:

1 cup butter – room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
Preheat the oven to 350  degrees
Using a mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add eggs one at a time mixing until combined then add vanilla.
In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients – flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Mix into the butter mixture until well blended. Mix in the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips.
Use a tablespoon to drop unto a greased cookie sheet bake for 8 to 10 minutes until set. Cool on a wire rack completely.
I hope that you all enjoy your not so Snowy Day tell me about all The Places You’ll Go today!

Go Big Blue Cookies!

Growing up, black & white cookies were a personal favorite and wonderful treat. I always ate them the same way: a little bit off the vanilla side then the chocolate saving the middle bite with a little bit of each color for last.  It wasn’t until I went to college in Boston that I realized they were a regional favorite. At least the version I was used to.

A friend in my freshman dorm’s family owned a bakery in the North End (Boston’s version of little Italy). I couldn’t get over my fortune upon finding out this information and couldn’t wait to pay a visit and eat some goodies. Now don’t get me wrong, everything I ever ate from Bova’s Bakery was delicious but, you can imagine my disappointment when I ordered what I believed was my old favorite disguised under the name half moon and learned that it was a totally different dessert! Black & white cookies in New England are called Half Moons and they don’t have same hard glazed icing that we  in NYC are accustomed to. Half moons have chocolate and vanilla frosting like you would find on a cake and while still delicious (I am never one to turn down dessert) it is not what I grew up with and came to love. During my four years in Boston while fellow New Yorkers complained about not being able to find quality pizza or bagels I longed for a good black and white cookie. I dealt with this loss by eating cannolies (always from Bova’s and never from Mike’s Pastries).

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I even thought about trying to make this treat. It’s important to note that I hadn’t attempted this recipe again until today. This is due to the amount of work that goes into making them but today is a very special occasion, the Giants are in the super bowl and I needed to make a treat to show my support for Big Blue! By the way, the name is still up for discussion – anything but Black and Blue Cookies, that does not have a good ring to it.

Go Big Blue Cookies:

Cookie Ingredients: 

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups cake flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter (slightly firm)

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp lemon oil

3/4 cup milk

Vanilla Glaze:

3 cups confectioners sugar

4 1/2 tbsp hot milk

1 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

a few drops of lemon oil

blue gel food coloring

Dark Chocolate Glaze”

1 oz unsweetened chocolate

1 oz dark chocolate

2 tspn unsalted butter

2/3 cup confectioners sugar

2 tbsp boiling water

2 tspn light corn syrup

1/2 tspn vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and spray standard muffin tins with non-stick spray

For the cookie: sift together the flours, baking powder and salt set aside

In the bowl of a mixer using a paddle attachment cream together the butter and eggs until light and fluffy, and the eggs one at a time mixing after each addition, then mix in the vanilla and lemon oil.

Add in the flour mixture in 4 additions alternating with the milk in 3 additions. Start and end with the dry mixture.

Put 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup and cook for 10 minutes until the edges are brown a little and center is set.

Cool in pans for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Glaze: in a large bowl stir together confectioners sugar, milk, corn syrup, vanilla, and lemon oil. Stir until smooth and pours well – if it is too thick add a little more milk if too thin add more sugar, then add a food coloring a small amount at a time until you get the shade you desire.

To glaze the cookies line the cookies up on the rack side to side. This process is messy and it’s best to put a cookie sheet or plate underneath to catch the icing as it drips off. Use a long offset spatula to mark the halfway point on the cookies. Put the blue icing in a measuring cup with a spout and pour onto the cookies toward the center line letting it drip towards the outer edge.

Chocolate Glaze: heat the chocolate and butter in a double boiler until melted. Add the confectioners sugar and boiling water in alternating additions, stirring between each. Stir in the corn syrup and vanilla until smooth, can use a whisk if sugar is not smooth. Spread onto cookies using the back of a spoon.

***Caution both glazes harden/clump quickly so make the vanilla and glaze immediately then make the chocolate and frost onto the cookies.***

Enjoy and root for the Giants, these are New York style cookies not the half moons the Pats fans will be eating!