Maple Pecan Cake (with rum!)

Talk about “The Agony and the Ecstasy!” My emotions (that’s a nice word for temper) vary from minute to minute when I’m baking and decorating a cake. It’s not that I’m a diva…I just don’t deal well with distractions, and the phrase “GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!” has echoed throughout the house more times than I care to admit. I’ve had more than my share of cake disappointments over the years,  though I wouldn’t call them failures since I usually managed to patch them up and turn them into something presentable-if not prizewinning. Happily, there have also been enough rousing successes to keep me coming back for more!

No celebration is complete without a cake, and that cake should be baked with love, rather than selected by its past-pull date at the grocery store. The exception might be a wedding cake; I’ve done a couple of these, and they are a royal pain in the ass rear. I’d definitely leave that for a professional – one who has teams of kitchen workers to clean up the gargantuan mess.

Every cake doesn’t have to be a creative masterpiece, but once your ideas get flowing it’s comparable to what I imagine an artist sees in a blank canvas: endless possibilities! My goal is to make a cake that’s so lovely no one will be able to cut into it. There have been some beauties, but never one that stopped the knife from descending. Yet.

If you’re used to cake recipes that begin: “empty 1 box of yellow cake mix in a large bowl”, you’re out of luck here. We’re going to make this baby from scratch, and when you take a big bite of maple-rum goodness, you’re going to thank me! (When you step on the scale…not so much.)

I love, love, love maple. My favorite treats are those little maple sugar candies from Vermont that are pressed into the shape of maple leaves or Santa Claus. They’re so rich you have to nibble them very, very slowly. One year I made them myself by boiling down pure maple syrup and pouring it into special little rubber molds. They turned out great, and I sampled them. I sampled them a lot. It was years before I could face anything maple again.

I’m happy to say that I’m fully recovered, and here is the perfect cake to prove it! (You’ll want to make one to celebrate the first day of fall, or to serve at Thanksgiving.)

1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups white sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons maple flavoring (“Mapleine”)
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/8 cup rum (or skip this and reduce the flour to 3 cups)
1 cup chopped pecans (more for decoration if desired)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

  • Prepare two 9 inch cake pans. You may simply grease and flour them, but I prefer to spray them with a flour-oil combination like “Baker’s Joy”, then put a 9 inch round of parchment paper in each and spray them again lightly.
  • Thoroughly cream the butter and sugar together. It should be very light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg is added. Stir in the maple flavoring.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk separately, in 3 additions, beginning with the flour and ending with the buttermilk. (This means you’ll add a heaping cup of flour mixture and mix until combined. Add 1/3 cup buttermilk, mix until combined. Repeat until it’s all gone.) Stir in the rum, then fold in the pecans.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, and then turn out on rack to continue to cool completely.

Put one cake on serving platter, flat side up. Cover with buttercream frosting. Place the other cake over the frosting, flat side down. Don’t worry if the top is domed a bit – this is one cake that doesn’t need to be level. The maple topping will “flow” better if it’s a little rounded.

Note: The top photo is a 3 layer cake, smothered in chopped pecans. You’ll have to make two batches of cake batter to make it look like that. (Freeze the extra layer for midnight snack attacks.) At the bottom of this blog is a photo of a two layer version topped with white chocolate leaves.

1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons cream

  • With an electric mixer on low speed, beat butter and powdered sugar together until thoroughly blended.
  • Add the vanilla and cream and mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. If you need to adjust the consistency for spreading, use a little powdered sugar or cream to thicken or thin the frosting.

Once cake is frosted, top with maple icing. Ladle warm (not hot!) icing…or pour it right out of the pan, if you’re brave…on the center of the cake top and, with a knife or spatula, encourage it to cover the top of the cake completely and ooze over the edge. It hardens rapidly in the pan, so work quickly, but don’t despair if this happens. You can always reheat it very gently on the stove, adding more milk if necessary.

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring (Mapleine)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons cold milk if necessary

  • Boil together brown sugar, milk, and butter for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Cool slightly.
  • Add vanilla, maple extract, and powdered sugar. Beat well to avoid lumps. This should be thin enough to ladle onto the top of the cake and have it drip appealingly over the edge, but not so thin that it pours down the sides all over the plate! Add a little cold milk if necessary, and stir well, cooling as much as possible without letting it harden.


Maple Pecan Cake decorated with white chocolate leaves.

Decorate however you wish. Consider candy corn, chopped or candied nuts, or (if you can find them) those lovely maple sugar leaf candies from Vermont! I drew leaf shapes on waxed paper and outlined the leaves with white chocolate. Once it hardened, I filled in the shapes with melted white chocolate in various autumn colors. Simple and fun!

The best thing is, there should still be plenty of rum left in that bottle to toast a perfect cake!


Buttermilk biscuits

My husband was whining for biscuits and gravy. To be specific, he actually wanted sausage gravy with lots of chunks of meat in it, and biscuits. Before I hear from all the states below the Mason-Dixon line about what should go into this glorious, fattening, sinful dish, remember that this is a baking blog and the subject is:


Biscuits should be fluffy, flavorful, and fresh. (Yes, I love alliteration.) Oh, and large! Burly, not dainty. There are as many opinions about what makes a perfect biscuit as there are people who bake them, from: “I prefer my biscuits to pop out of a can”, to: “I only use leaf lard and whole organic buttermilk.”

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know that I don’t always follow the rules when it comes to baking. I’m going to backpedal just a bit here, and say that if you want light, tender biscuits, your results will be better if you conform just this once. If I can, you can! Use very cold ingredients, don’t over-mix, and try to cut the biscuits out with surgical precision.

Would you like to know what not to do? Don’t accidentally use 4 teaspoons of baking soda instead of baking powder. The first time my son-in-law came for dinner I proudly served biscuits. Very pretty biscuits. One by one I watched each person take a bite and then return the biscuit to their plate with a pained look on their face. When I tried one for myself I quickly realized my mistake. We probably looked like a support group for hydrophobia sufferers. He has never let me forget those poor biscuits.

My experiments with fats in biscuit recipes have included bear fat, lard, butter, and shortening. They all worked well, though I didn’t get as much “loft” with the butter. Since many people have an irrational dislike of lard, and you might not find bear fat on the shelf at the grocery store, (I rendered it myself. Seriously! Gross and stinky, but the end product is a beautiful white “lard”) you will probably decide to use shortening, butter, or a combination of the two. As much as I hate to use “vegetable” shortening, I’ll admit it makes flaky biscuits and pie crusts. And face it, we’re not going to pass these babies off as healthy, any way you look at it!

If you insist on having biscuits that are perfectly smooth and uniform (bless your heart), by all means get out your rolling pin, but I prefer to handle the dough as little as possible, patting the dough into the desired thickness. This makes a more rustic looking biscuit, but  I’ll choose texture over appearance any day. Remember: a light hand makes a light biscuit!

I really, really suggest you buy a biscuit cutter if you don’t already have one. Drinking glasses are a nuisance; they suck your dough up and you have to pry it back out, which is very traumatic for the biscuit dough. If you must use glassware, use something thin, like a wine glass or crystal goblet. Whatever you use, the most important thing to remember is to press the cutter down and lift it up. Don’t twist, or you’ll make it harder for the dough to rise.

Biscuits never taste as good the next day, even if you reheat them. The recipe I’m going to share with you makes twelve jumbo biscuits, so if you don’t need that many, put some uncooked biscuits into a heavy zipper bag and pop them in the freezer. You can bake them without thawing if you’re in a rush – just give them a few extra minutes.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you off. Hello? Hello? Please come back, it’s not that complicated! Try this recipe once and you’ll be hooked, and never buy those nasty rolls in a can again. You will add five years to your life by not waiting in suspense for the “POP!”  I read recently (and don’t remember where…so much for giving proper credit) that opening up a can of dough is the adult equivalent of a kid’s jack-in-the-box toy. Cut back on the adrenalin rush by making your own biscuits!


3 cups all-purpose flour (a good quality flour is best, like “King Arthur” brand)
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening, chilled!
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
1 egg

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the shortening and cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter. (You can also use 2 knives or even your finger tips. Just dip them into ice water before blending so you don’t melt the shortening.) So many recipes say it should look like “coarse meal.” Since I don’t know what they’re talking about, I just cut it in until you don’t see any chunks of shortening bigger than a pea. Good enough.

Cutting the shortening into the flour mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, and egg. Pour it onto the flour mixture and stir until it’s consistently moist, with no big pockets of flour.
Drop the dough into the center of a heavily floured board or counter. Flour your hands and turn the dough over a couple of times to cover with flour. With your hands, gently press the dough to a 3/4 inch thickness.
Flour your biscuit cutter. Press down, then pull straight up. Repeat, cutting the rounds as close together as possible.

Cutting out biscuits.

With a spatula, move them, almost touching, onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Don’t re-roll the leftover dough. Just bake the scraps. Calories don’t count if they’re just scraps!
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are a rich golden brown.

Serve ’em hot with butter, honey, fresh jam, or…


1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
3-4 tablespoons flour
2 cups half and half
Pepper to taste
1 cup milk (if needed)
Brown the sausage on medium heat, crumbling it as you stir. Add 3 tablespoons of the flour and cook for a minute. If you can still see grease, add the other tablespoon of flour. Lower heat to medium low and stir for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour. Slowly add the half and half, stirring constantly. Add the pepper and cook gently on low for at least 30 minutes. If it starts to get too thick, add milk a little at a time.

Sausage gravy – heavy on the sausage!


Strawberry Zucchini Bread with lemon glaze.

I’m sure the comparison has already been made, but when I think of zucchini season I think of Lucy and Ethel working at the chocolate factory, stuffing candy anywhere they could, while the chocolates just kept coming faster and faster and desperation mounted. If you’re too young to remember that episode, or don’t even know who I’m talking about, check out YouTube. All you have to do is type in “Lucy and Ethel” and the first thing to show up is the chocolate clip!

Yes, roll up your car windows and don’t answer the door; it’s zucchini time! Those bad boys double in size overnight and just keep producing. It took me just one gardening season to learn I only needed to plant a few zucchini plants in the garden each year. We love zucchini fritters, stir-fries, baked zucchini, and fried zucchini with cheese. But most of all, we love zucchini bread! Banana-zucchini, oatmeal-zucchini, chocolate-zucchini, and (drum roll, please) strawberry-zucchini!

Quick breads are…well…quick! The loaves of Strawberry Zucchini Bread have to bake for an hour, but the preparation time is twenty minutes, tops. You don’t need a mixer, just a bowl, a spoon, and two loaf pans. I jazzed my loaves up by stirring a little lemon juice into a cup of powdered sugar and glazing the tops once they’d cooled. I like the appearance of a frosted loaf, and I have a ferocious sweet tooth.

If you aren’t “fortunate” enough to have a never-ending source of zucchini, you can substitute a cup of mashed bananas for the zucchini and double the cinnamon. Throw in a few blueberries if you like, or white chocolate chips.  Experiment and have some fun with this; you can never have too many loaves of quick bread in the freezer!

Here’s how you do it:

Makes 2 loaves

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cup zucchini, grated
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350 F.
Prepare two loaf pans by greasing and flouring them (or by spraying with a combination oil/flour spray like Baker’s Joy)
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and sugar.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs well and stir in the oil, lemon juice, vanilla, strawberries, and zucchini.

Stirring liquids into the flour mixture.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until combined.
Fold in the walnuts.
Divide between two loaf pans and gently smooth the top. If one pan has more batter than the other, that loaf will be a little bigger–and no one will care! Don’t fuss.

Divide batter between two prepared loaf pans.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
Remove pans from oven and allow bread to cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before turning out and cooling completely.

Quick breads are much easier to cut when they’re chilled. And for the record, I think this is one of those baked items that tastes better the next day, so hide one of the loaves, quick!


Multi-Grain Bread

Multi-grain bread, warm from the oven.

Why are so many people terrified of working with yeast? If your yeast is fresh and your water is a warm, it’s a slam dunk! I made three lovely loaves of multi-grain bread today, and the house smells like heaven. One loaf is almost gone, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you understand that there are only two of us living here. I just want to make it clear (ahem) that I only ate one piece. ‘Nuff said.

The following recipe is actually very easy. The only time-consuming part is preparing the whole grains. I used four different grains: spelt, wheat, rye, and oat. If you bite into any one of those, you’ll see why you have to soak and cook grains before using them in a bread recipe, unless you like a whole lot of crunch. It’s not difficult – you just have to plan ahead.

If your grocery store has a bulk food section, or carries specialty flours and grains (like Bob’s Red Mill) in small packages, that’s perfect. Otherwise, make a trip to the closest natural foods market and pick up a variety. Keep any unused grains in the refrigerator. (I mix mine all together and put them in a zipper storage bag to take up less space.)

The amazing selection of bulk foods at Meyers Falls Market, in Kettle Falls, WA.

Making bread is like making cookies; there’s a lot of room for improvisation! If you want to use just one grain, that’s fine. If you want to skip the nuts and seeds, no problem. I added a handful of chia seeds to my dough at the last minute, because I’m really trying to use them in everything right now. I ordered three pounds, and that’s a lot of chia seeds! They tasted and looked wonderful in the bread.

If you don’t have quite enough yeast, use what you have. It will just take a little longer to rise, which is actually a good thing. The longer it takes for bread to rise, the more flavorful it is. Sometimes I put mine out in our fruit room (kind of like a root cellar – nice and cool) all night and bake it in the morning.

The only thing I’ve done that has made the bread inedible – to me, at least – is to forget the salt. You can cut back on it if you like, but some salt is necessary. One of the reasons I make our bread is because of the enormous amounts of sodium in store-bought bread. Check out the label on the bread you have right now. Pretty scary, isn’t it? Excessive salt is often used to disguise the fact that their bread has no flavor! I’m not even going to go into all the chemicals you’ll see on most bread labels, or the fact that they may be using GMO products. I’ll save that for a future rant.

Flavor, texture, and using wholesome ingredients are all good reasons to make your own bread, but one of the most important reasons to me is cost. Occasionally I’ll get lazy and pick up a loaf of bread at the store, but am always shell shocked. A good organic bread can run $5.00 or more. I figured that the bread I made today cost a little over a dollar per loaf; you can’t beat that!

So, without further ado, here is my Multi-Grain Bread recipe.

(Recipe makes 2 large loaves or 3 small ones)

1 cup mixed whole grain (I use oat groats, spelt kernels, rye berries, and wheat berries)
4 cups water
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons (or 2 packets) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup chopped seeds and nuts of choice (pumpkin, sunflower, walnuts, pecans, etc.)
1 tablespoon salt
5 cups all-purpose flour

In a medium pot, bring grains and water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 1 hour. Bring the grain back to a boil, turn down to low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until very tender. If your whole grains aren’t very fresh, it could take longer – up to an hour or more.

Saving the liquid from the cooked grains.

Drain the grains, reserving the liquid. You’ll need 2 ½ cups. If you don’t have enough, add water to make up the difference. If you have a stand mixer, this is the time to use it! Attach your dough hook. If you’re doing this by hand, get out a heavy wooden spoon. Pour the liquid into a large bowl.



Add the molasses and sugar. Cool the liquid to 100-115 F. If you don’t have a thermometer, it should feel warm to the touch, but not hot.

Add the yeast and stir to mix. Leave it alone for 5 minutes. It should look a little foamy. (If not, the yeast may not be fresh. Hopefully you have a backup package or two.)

Add the oil, the wheat flour, and the grains, and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes (or if you’re doing it the hard way, beat with your wooden spoon until your arms ache.)

Add the seeds and nuts and the salt. On low speed, gradually add the all-purpose flour. It will be a thick dough, but should still feel a little sticky.

Knead for 5 minutes with a stand mixer and dough hook, or 8 minutes by hand.

Dough is mixed and ready to rise in the mixing bowl.

Here’s where “They” always say to put the dough into a greased bowl. I hate to do dishes and see no reason to dirty another bowl, so I just leave it where it is and cover it. I’ve never noticed a difference. Let it rise until double – approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

If you are using bread pans, grease three of them generously. Separate your dough into thirds. On lightly floured surface, form it into loaves. I simply put each piece of dough down, flatten it down a little, and roll it into a log shape very snugly. Pinch the ends and place it in one of the bread pans. If you’re making round or oval loaves, shake some cornmeal onto cookie sheets, shape the loaves, and set them on the cornmeal. Make sure there is some cornmeal surrounding the dough, because it will spread a little bit.

Dough ready to rise.

Cover the dough with a clean dishtowel and let it rise until almost doubled – about 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 400 F. If you want a crispy crust, put a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven now. By the time the bread is ready to go into the oven, it will be nice and steamy, which gives bread a nice crunch.


Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes. This will vary a little, depending on the size of your loaves. Look for a loaf that is a rich brown on top, with sides that aren’t anemic when you turn them out of the pan. Remove from the oven, take out of the pans, and cool on a rack. Don’t cool bread in the pans or the sides will be soggy.

Brush with butter if desired. Admire. Take pictures. Cut off a heel, slather it with butter, and eat it before anyone else can!


As much as I love s’mores, I have to admit there is that whole “marshmallow oozing down your chin, chocolate gushing out of the sides onto your fingers” mess factor to consider. You also have to build a fire (microwaved s’mores are just not the same) and toast a marshmallow to perfection. If you just brown the outside of the marshmallow quickly, the inside stays cold and the chocolate won’t melt. These are all important factors when creating the perfect s’more.

I found myself putting a “S’mores Cookie” together in my imagination at 2:00 am, proof that my sis-in-law is right: I have OCBD – or “Obsessive Compulsive Baking Disorder.” You know how things you think of in the middle of the night sound like genius? And then the next morning you say “What the hell was I thinking?” This was what I ran into. The cookies were a mess. My original idea was to dip mini marshmallows in chocolate, freeze them, and put them inside a graham cookie with the hope that a frozen marshmallow covered in chocolate wouldn’t dissolve and disappear as the cookie baked. Hah.

When imagination fails, improvisation comes to the rescue! The final result was a graham cookie with a milk chocolate center, topped with toasted marshmallow and more chocolate. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

S’MORES COOKIES – a little bite of heaven.

I’m not getting a kickback from Hershey’s, (though that’s not a bad idea) but I’ve got to tell you – these Hershey’s Drops are a great idea! They’re like big M&Ms without the candy shell. I taste-tested quite a few of them before I deemed them worthy.

The cookies are very simple to make, and since the dough doesn’t spread much you will only need to use two cookie sheets. That’s a plus for me, because I have a short attention span when it comes to baking cookies, and am known for getting bored with the whole process and ignoring the last batch until the smoke alarm sounds. Two sheets is very do-able!

Makes approximately 30

1 cup butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups graham flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup marshmallow cream (I used Kraft Jet-Puffed)
1 package Hershey’s Drops
15 large marshmallows, cut in half

  • Heat oven to 350 F.
  • In large bowl beat butter, brown sugar, and powdered sugar until well mixed.
  • Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat well.
  • Add graham flour, all-purpose flour, and cornstarch and beat on low until combined.
  • Add marshmallow cream and beat on low until combined.
  • With #50 scoop (or a very rounded tablespoon), scoop out dough, roll into a ball, and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Working with one cookie sheet at a time, press one Hershey’s Drop in the middle of each cookie so it’s level with the top of the dough.

Pressing chocolate drops into the balls of dough.

    • Bake for approximately 12 minutes. The cookies should be a golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven.
    • Turn the oven to broil and move the rack to the second position from the top.
    • Place one marshmallow half on each cookie, sticky side down, covering the chocolate drop.

Cookies, hot out of the oven. Press the marshmallow gently onto chocolate drop.

    • Put the pan under the broiler with the door ajar for approximately 30 seconds. Watch very carefully. Seriously! About 30 seconds. The marshmallow should toast to a light brown. Any darker, and the marshmallow will get chewy.

Go for the gold! Toast them gently to perfection.

  • Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack. Press one Hershey Drop onto each marshmallow. Allow to cool on cookie sheet.

The cookies will cool quickly, but it will take a long time for the chocolate drop to get solid. If you stack them on a plate too soon you’ll end up with a big, gooey mess. I know this for a fact!

Don’t ask me how long these will keep; it’s a non-issue in my household. If you have to ask that, you obviously have a lot more self-control than I. Speaking of no self-control, if you would like to take the s’mores theme to a new level, check out my July “Food for Thought” column in Yummy Northwest for a truly decadent s’mores cake! Yummy Northwest

Kum Ba Ya!

The Real Scoop on Pancakes

Scoops are on my mind. Thanks to a reader who wanted more information, the many uses for scoops – or “dishers”, as they call them in the (la-de-da) culinary world, are popping up everywhere I look. Anyone who knows me knows that when I get an idea in my head, I’m not happy until I’ve chewed it up, spit it out, and then dissected it until I’m exhausted. Eeeuw, that sounded disgusting! Seriously, it’s critical that I’ve wrung every little bit of information out of something and explained it to my satisfaction. Hmm. Maybe that’s why I always get voice mail when I call someone.

So, here is another blog about scoops – and pancakes.

I like little tiny silver dollar pancakes. Pancakes that you can pop in your mouth without cutting or biting. Nice and brown, crispy around the edges, topped with butter and swimming in syrup. They are made with my #60 scoop.

My husband, however, likes big flapjacks. Lumberjack-sized hotcakes fit for Paul Bunyan. It makes a bowl of batter disappear quickly – less time slaving over a hot griddle – so I don’t object. For those, I use my #10 scoop.

Here is a picture of the pancakes I made this morning using all four of my scoops. From left to right, the scoop size was: #60, #50, #30, #10.

Pancakes! Bring on the butter and syrup!

It’s time for a disclaimer here. If you use a pancake mix, your pancakes will probably turn out bigger than mine. I make my own batter, and it puts the “cake” in pancake! The batter is thick and fluffy, and retains its round shape when it drops out of the scoop onto a hot griddle. I actually take a knife or spatula and spread them out a bit. Pancake batter from a mix is thinner and makes larger (and in my opinion, rubbery) pancakes. Just sayin’.

Yes, I like a “little” pancake with my syrup.

I’ll add my pancake recipe here for those who’ve been converted to my “homemade is best” propaganda!


2 cups all-purpose flour
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups buttermilk *
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients with a whisk.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, and oil.
  • Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk until blended. (If you want it a little thinner, add a little milk or buttermilk.) Don’t stir too much – you want to keep the air in the batter!
  • Drop batter onto a hot, greased griddle. Flip when the pancakes are getting a little dry on top and the bottom is a deep golden brown.

* If you don’t have buttermilk, just skip the baking soda and use regular milk. Still delicious!

See? So much better than “add water and stir” mixes, without all the added unidentifiable ingredients. Enjoy!




The Real Scoop About Scoops

Scoops are one of the handiest things in the kitchen. They save time, effort, and mess. I’ll give you the rundown on sizes and uses, and then show you how they can simplify making delicious Lemon Raspberry Streusel Muffins.

Here are the four scoops I own and use regularly. My completely unscientific testing leads me to believe they are (from small to large) sizes 60, 50, 30, and 10. As you can see, the smaller the scoop the bigger the number!

From left to right, my favorite uses are: meatballs (I like them small), cookies, muffins/cupcakes, and pancakes (my husband likes them big.) Here is a link to a size chart that might help you.

Basically, when you find one that’s a size you don’t have, buy it! You know you will find some use for it.

A word of warning. Perhaps you are more coordinated than I, but I’ve learned to respect the scoop when I’m washing it. You know…you wash it, then you squeeze the handle so the little scooping bar will move the other direction so you can wash under it, then you let go of the handle while your finger is still in there, and it bites you. Okay – it bites me! Hopefully you will learn from my pain and be cautious

Though I’m pretty casual about the appearance of my baked goods (unless they’re being entered into a fair; then I’m very particular!) there is just something satisfying about a cooling rack of orderly little cookies that are all the same exact size and shape. Maybe that’s because I grew up on Oreos and Vanilla Wafers. I remember feeling sorry for the kids who had to bring homemade cookies in their lunch. Good grief. Anyhow, if you use a scoop and level it off on the side of the bowl between cookies, yours will be uniform too!

Have you ever tried to pour cupcake batter into the liners and had it drip all over the pan, where it baked to a miserable little crisp that you had to soak off? Me, too. Now I use my #30 scoop and then add a little more with a teaspoon. If I can get my hands on a #20, it will be one smooth step towards cupcake perfection!

Here’s that muffin recipe for you, with photos below.

makes 12

Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (plus 1 tablespoon) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel (just the yellow, not the bitter white flesh underneath)
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 pint of fresh raspberries, or a cup of frozen (don’t thaw.)

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 F
Put cupcake liners in cupcake pan.
Mix together all ingredients for streusel topping. Set aside.
Sift (twice!) the dry ingredients for muffins into a medium bowl. Add grated lemon peel and mix together.

In small bowl, beat egg well. Add buttermilk, salad oil, and vanilla, and mix well. Stir in the lemon juice.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquids. Fold gently, just until ingredients are moistened. Don’t over-stir. A little bit of flour showing is okay!

Using a #30 scoop (or two rounded tablespoons)  scoop batter into cupcake liners. The batter will be very light and airy, like chiffon. Be gentle! You should have a little batter left over. Set it aside for the moment.

Lightly press 3 raspberries into the center of each mound of batter. Divide the remaining batter between the muffins, putting a dollop on top of the raspberries. Don’t worry about smoothing the top or making it even. Top with whatever berries you have left. One is fine on each dollop. Two would be better!

Cover each muffin with streusel, using a spoon if you like. I’m kind of a hands-on person, so I just scoop it up with my fingers, sprinkle it generously over the top, and pat it very gently. It will probably get on the muffin pan. Don’t worry about it – it’s fine. If you’re one of THOSE people, you are welcome to take a pastry brush and clean it off before baking, but I sure wouldn’t.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes. They should be a nice golden brown. If in doubt, you can always insert a toothpick in the middle of one muffin and return the pan to the oven if the toothpick comes out gooey.

Place the pan on a cooling rack until they’re cool enough to handle, then take them from the pan and let the muffins continue to cool on the rack.

If you want icing on your muffins, just mix the ingredients together and drizzle. If it’s too thick, add a little water.


Scooping muffin batter with my good-old #30 scoop!


And…a dollop of batter on the berries.


Covered with streusel, decorated with a berry, ready to bake.


Behold – a sweet and tangy morsel of deliciousness!








Blue Ribbon Whore

I love winning blue ribbons the way my dog loves homemade dog biscuits…I’ll do just about anything for one! Which is why my daughter made me this wine glass for Christmas last year:

If you look closely at the shadow in the back, you can see the word “whore” engraved in the glass. Delightful child, isn’t she? She meant it in the nicest sense of the word, of course, and supports my desire to “Go for the Blue” at all costs.

When we moved from the city to the country five years ago, I had never entered anything in a competition or fair before, but took a chance and entered my croissants. I was afraid to go in and see the judge’s results, so I hung around outside until my daughter scouted out the situation for me. When she told me I got “Grand Champion” I almost fainted, and the addiction was born.

My granddaughter and I, admiring the “Grand Champion” ribbon on my croissants!

I’m sure a psychologist would be hammering me about my need for positive reinforcement, public acknowledgement, approval. Maybe I was too harshly potty trained when I was little. I don’t know why, but I love seeing those ribbons stack up, as long as I feel I really earned them. There’s a little fair in a nearby town in the summer, and almost everyone gets blue ribbons for everything. I won’t enter anything there because it’s too easily won. The challenge is everything!

My daughter also made this ribbon display for me. Does that make her an enabler? She is more creative than I, and a very skilled baker in her own right. Someday I’ll be passing the display back to her, along with the torch!


My Favorite Things

Need a cherry pitter? I’m your gal. A corn husker? Yep. Garlic slicer? Of course. I just love me some gadgets.

But when it comes to baking, I pretty much stick to the basics. I’m attached to my Bosch mixer, wooden rolling pin, and  collection of rubber spatulas and wooden spoons. One thing I never have enough of is measuring spoons and cups. That is because when I bake, I bake with abandon. I don’t stop to think “Hmm. If I measure the sugar first and the oil next, I could use the same cup.” That would mess with my style…which is “use and fling”.

There is one measuring cup I like to use for liquid ingredients because it keeps me from having to bend over and eyeball the side of a measuring glass, trying to remember Biology class, and the way liquid measurements are hard to read because the meniscus makes the surface concave. See? I was listening, Mr. Folsom! This cup is read from the top. At last, someone was really thinking! This is an OXO Good Grips brand, but there may be others.

I think I’ve tried every cookie sheet ever made. I detest non-stick surfaces and can’t imagine wanting to eat a cookie that has baked on one. (Don’t get me started!) Dark sheets just don’t reflect well, and my cookies get dark on the bottom. Cheap ones rust quickly and warp like crazy. I wholeheartedly recommend Doughmaster cookie sheets. I’ve had mine for years and even though they are a little dark around the edges (someone needs to invent a self-cleaning cookie sheet,) they work like a dream. Here’s a picture of a nice, new one:

The other thing I couldn’t bake without is a cookie scoop. Okay…I actually own four cookie scoops. They save so much time! I use mine for other things, too. I use the little one to measure out meatballs, the medium-large one to put cake batter into cupcake liners, and the large one for pancakes. Most of them have a handle that you squeeze to release the dough, but if you can find one with a thumb trigger, snap it up! You’ll have more control with that kind, especially if your hands are wet.

There is one other item I use excessively: big, white, crisp, flour-sack dishtowels. Not just for washing dishes as I cook, (hahaha) but for covering rising bread dough, rolling up jelly rolls in powdered sugar, and swatting anyone who comes near the kitchen, trying to filch dough. I’d give you a picture, but I’m sure you all know what they look like. Find great big thick ones, and cherish them.

I’m sure I’ll add more to this list as I’m baking, or as new gadgets appear on the market. Stay tuned!

Learn to love it!

I hear it all the time: “I’m a good cook, but I don’t like to bake.”

That’s such a hard concept for me to understand. If you are going to go to all the trouble to make a mouth-watering meal, go the extra mile and include fresh rolls or a simple homemade dessert. Even if baking isn’t your favorite thing to do, you can do it!

Honestly, it’s just not that hard. For most everyday baking there are really only four rules you absolutely must follow:

  • Make sure your leavenings are fresh. (This means baking soda, baking powder, and yeast.)
  • If you are beating egg whites, don’t get any yolk in the bowl.
  • Don’t substitute flours. If it calls for bread flour, use bread flour. If it calls for cake flour, use cake flour. As your confidence grows, you can experiment with substitutions; for now, use the type the recipe calls for.
  • Use the best-quality ingredients you can afford. Never skimp on sugar – use pure cane white sugar and brown sugar. When the recipe calls for butter, use good butter – never margarine. Ugh…never use margarine for any reason!

I love to fuss over pastries – Danish and croissants that are a two-day project, cakes with gum-paste decorations, pies that have scenes built into their crusts – but most of the baking I do is the everyday kind. Biscuits, cookies, breads. My husband was in construction, and we had two sons and a daughter. Believe me – we didn’t live on petit fours!

If you’re already an accomplished baker, there will be plenty of fun and challenging recipes on this blog for you. But for now, I’m going to offer a recipe for one of the easiest (most forgiving) goodies you can bake: cookies!


Everyone loves them. They usually don’t need special ingredients or fancy equipment, are hard to ruin (unless you *ahem* forget to set the timer and start playing on the computer,) and accept substitutions easily. Dark brown sugar instead of golden brown, pecans instead of walnuts, old-fashioned oats instead of “quick” oats…you get the picture. See? Nothing is sacred – just wing it! As long as you don’t do much messing around with the fat to dry ingredient ratio, or substitute baking soda for baking powder, the cookies will be just fine. Here’s a simple, hearty cookie to try:


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt *
3 cups “quick” oatmeal (you can use old fashioned if you’d like)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup unsalted peanuts

*If you can’t find unsalted peanuts (unsalted dry roasted is fine) you can use lightly salted peanuts and reduce the amount of salt in the recipe to ½ teaspoon. See how this works? Improvise!

Heat the oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until thoroughly mixed.

Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat until creamy – about 15 seconds.
Mix in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined.
Add the oatmeal, chocolate chips, and peanuts and mix well.

Using a cookie scoop or a rounded tablespoon, drop the dough onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake approximately 12 minutes, or until they are a light golden color. Leave on cookie sheets until set (about 3 minutes) and then move to a wire rack to cool.


Pretty easy, huh? I love mixing ingredients together, but get bored with the actual baking part of it, so I usually freeze some for later. I just put the scoops on a cookie sheet, place it in the freezer for an hour or so, and then pop them into a zipper bag. Then when I need cookies quickly (the fragrance disguises the smell of wet dogs when company’s coming) I just put the frozen balls of dough on a cookie sheet, preheat the oven, and “Ta Da!”. You’re an instant domestic goddess. Remember, you may have to let them cook an extra minute or two if they’re still partly frozen.

More cookies coming up soon. I’ll let you bask in the glory of cookie success before we move on to breads!