Monday, March 31, 2014

Toasted Butter Pecan Cake

When our good friends got married, part of their wedding cake (there were several flavors) was a toasted butter pecan cake.  Mrs. BA has replicated the cake with this recipe and it was the one she chose for the final round of her office Bakeoff!  And she used whole milk instead of 2%.

The cake was a winner!  As noted earlier, the contest this year was bittersweet for Mrs. BA, with the loss of our good friend, and chief taste tester.  Her win this year and the trophy that she will hold for the next year is dedicated to him.

Toasted Butter Pecan Cake
from Taste of Home
If you like butter pecan ice cream, you'll love this cake. Loads of nuts are folded into the batter, and more are sprinkled over the delectable frosting. —Phyllis Edwards, Fort Valley, Georgia 
12-16 Servings
Prep: 25 min.
Bake: 25 min. + cooling

  • 1 cup plus 
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened, divided 
  • 2-2/3 cups chopped pecans 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 4 eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup 2% milk 
  • 2 packages (one 8 ounces, one 3 ounces) cream cheese, softened 
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened 
  • 6-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar 
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons 2% milk 
  1. In a small heavy skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add pecans; cook over medium heat until toasted, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool. 
  2. In a large bowl, cream sugar and remaining butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Beat just until combined. Fold in 2 cups reserved pecans. 
  3. Spread evenly into three greased and waxed paper-lined 9-in. round baking pans. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely. 
  4. For frosting, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla until smooth. Beat in enough milk to achieve spreading consistency. Spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with remaining pecans. Store in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lemon Chess Pie

Mrs. BA made it to the Finals!  This week she will "bring her best" to a one on one competition.  Come back next week to see what she made (and if it was the winner!).  For the pie round - there was much discussion as to what to make.  She looked at a variety of pies and tarts before settling on the Lemon Chess Pie.

Here's a recipe from Epicurious - it calls for a pre-made pie shell - but she made the dough from scratch.

Lemon Chess Pie
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 3 large lemons 
  • Juice of 3 large lemons 
  • 5 large eggs 
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted 
  • One 9-inch unbaked pie shell
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a medium- size bowl. Beat the eggs in, one by one, then add the butter in a slow stream, beating all the while. 
  3. Pour the filling into the pie shell, slide the pie onto a baking sheet, and bake on the middle oven shelf for about 45 minutes or until puffed and delicately browned.
  4. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before cutting; don't fret when the filling begins to fall. This is what gives chess pies their silken texture. Cut into slim wedges and serve.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is my sister's birthday.  She's got some snow today from my mother.  Winter might be done with us now.  Happy Birthday Peg!  Did you have some green cake today?  No?  How about this one - it was the winning cake from Mrs. BA in her office March Madness Bakeoff - this week is Pies!

Salted Caramel Ding Dong Cake
from Epicurious
Bon Appétit | October 2012
by Janet McCracken and Alison Roman
Yield: Makes 12 servings

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray 
  • 1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped 
  • 1 cup hot strong coffee 
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 2 cups cake flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 3 large eggs 
Caramel ganache:
  • 9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped 
  • 1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Filling and assembly:
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin 
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream 
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar 
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) 

Special equipment: Two 9"-diameter cake pans with 2"-high sides; a 9"-diameter springform pan

For cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds; coat paper. Place cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Pour hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.

Whisk cake flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes (cakes will deflate slightly). Run a knife around pans to loosen cakes; invert cakes onto racks. Peel off paper and let cakes cool completely. Turn cakes over.

If needed, use a long serrated knife to cut off bumps or trim dome from top of each cake to create a flat, even surface.

For caramel ganache: Place chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and cook without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over medium heat until caramel bits dissolve. Pour over chocolate in bowl. Add vanilla; stir until mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly.

Place 1 cake layer in springform pan. Pour 1 cup ganache over. Chill until set, about 30 minutes. Cover remaining ganache and let stand at room temperature.

For filling and assembly: Place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small heatproof glass or metal bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over; let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.

Pour water to a depth of 1/2" into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transfer bowl with gelatin to skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet. Set aside.

Place cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add gelatin; beat filling until firm peaks form.

Spoon filling over chilled ganache on cake layer in pan; smooth top. Gently place second cake layer on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until cream layer is set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove sides from springform pan. Using a knife or offset spatula, scrape off any filling that may have leaked out from between cakes to form smooth sides. Transfer cake to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Rewarm remaining ganache until just pourable. (Microwave in a microwave-safe bowl, or set a metal bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water until just warm, not hot.) Pour ganache over cake, tilting cake as needed to allow ganache to drip down sides and using an offset spatula to help spread ganache, if needed, to cover sides of cake. Chill until ganache is set, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with a cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Sprinkle cake with flaky sea salt.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sugared Pretzel Cookies

It's March Madness Bakeoff at Mrs. BA's employer again.  The first round was cookies and this was the selection.  And it was a winner!  From the Smitten Kitchen.

Sugared Pretzel Cookies 
Adapted, barely, from Cook’s Illustrated
I love the rye flour in here; it gives the cookies an earthier flavor and depth, while the hard-boiled egg yolk gives the cookies a perfect sandiness that holds up even days later. You can use an equal amount of all-purpose flour (1/2 cup) if you don’t wish to make these with rye flour. 
Yield: 80, eh, in hindsight, I think this estimate from CI is too high, I’d say 48 tops and 36 safely. Apologies for any trouble.

  • 1 large egg, hard-boiled and cooled 
  • 10 tablespoons (140 grams or 1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 grams) granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (this is halved from the original) 
  • 1 cup (125 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup (45 grams) rye flour (medium or white will work) 
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water 
  • 4 teaspoons turbinado or clear sanding sugar 

Place butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Crack egg and peel shell. Separate yolk from white; add white to your next sandwich or egg salad. Press yolk through fine-mesh strainer and into mixer bowl with other ingredients. Beat mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl and beater with spatula as needed. Add vanilla, mix until combined. Add flours and mix at low speed until just combined. Using rubber spatula or your hands, reach into bowl and knead dough a few times into a cohesive mass.

Divide dough in half; place each half on a square of parchment paper. Form each into a log about 6 inches long (it will be about 1 3/4 inches in diameter) and wrap tightly with parchment, twisting ends to seal. Chill logs for 30 minutes, until semi-firm. (If you chill them longer, you’ll want to warm them up a bit or it’s difficult to work them into pretzel shapes.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Slice 1/4-inch off first chilled log and roll slice into a ball in the palm of your hands; this softens the dough. On a counter, roll ball into a 6-inch rope. Pick up each end of rope and fold turn it into the center, pressing it into a pretzel shape. Transfer to baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, placing cookies one inch apart on prepared sheets.

Brush each pretzel cookie with egg white wash, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake cookies until they have golden brown edges, about 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven but let firm up on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to cooling racks.

Do ahead: Cookies stored in an airtight container between sheets of waxed or parchment paper will keep for at least one week.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Off to the Grocery Store

Sunday is my day to grocery shop.  Mrs. BA and I always say that we are going to menu plan and I can then go to the store with a better list of ingredients to know what meals we are going to have for the week.  With both of us working - it's hard to know what dinner is going to look like when you come home at 5:30 and nothing is defrosted or ready to go.

But I like going to the grocery store.  There, I said it.  Mrs. BA doesn't like going to the grocery store.  In fact, she's not very good at it.  So it all works out.  I like going up and down every aisle and I love my Wegman's app that tells me where things are and what's on my list.  But that, of course doesn't stop me from buying the "emergency breakfast" or something else that I just have to have.

So it appears that grocery stores have been controlling my (our) minds for years.  From BuzzFeed.

21 Ways Supermarkets Control Your Mind
  1. The make you associate the color red with discounts - supermarkets often put red “discount” signs in their parking lots, so you’re familiar with their format before you enter. Once you’re inside, the same sort of red signs don’t always denote a price reduction. But, because of the association you’ve already formed, you’ll be more inclined to buy the product.
  2. They make shopping carts extra large - shopping carts, which were invented in 1938, are purposely much larger than the average family’s weekly food shop. This encourages you to buy more food than you need. (I will say that Wegman's does offer a small and large cart - but I always go for the large one.)
  3. They put fruit and vegetables at the front - fruit and vegetables are usually positioned at the supermarket’s entrance. Although this doesn’t make sense for the shopper, who will crush their fresh shopping with heavier items later, the fresh smells and bright colours of fruit and veg make you feel positive. Plus, if you buy healthy food at the beginning of your shop, you’re more inclined to spend more on junk foods later.
  4. They trick you with math - loose fruit is often priced by the pound, whereas packaged fruit is priced by the item. This makes it difficult for you to work out which is the cheaper option.
  5. They pretend their fruit and vegetables are fresh - fruit and vegetables are often displayed in crates to make them look like they have just arrived from the farm.
  6. They spray their vegetables with water - vegetables are often sprayed with a water mist throughout the day to make them look fresher. (I will note that at one of the Safeway's that I have shopped at, it's a show - you hear thunder and see "lightning" before the sprayers are turned on.)
  7. They use flowers to fool you - flowers are also positioned at the supermarket’s entrance, usually in a more open display than food. This reminds the shopper of being in a local store and makes them feel less overwhelmed by the size of the shop which, in turn, encourages them to spend longer there. (And on those occasions when I have SoBA with me - he will always demand that we buy flowers for Mrs. BA.) 
  8. They make you feel really hungry - most supermarkets position baked goods near their front doors. The smell of fresh bread activates your salivary glands, which makes you more inclined to make impulse purchases.
  9. They force you to walk everywhere - essential items, such as bread, milk, and eggs, are spread out all over the store in order to make you wander around more. (hey, that's often the only exercise I get during the week)
  10. They make you think you're going fast when you're not p they use smaller floor tiles in the more expensive aisles to make your trolley click faster. This makes you think you’re traveling faster, so you subconsciously slow down and spend more time in the expensive aisle.
  11. They hide the cheese at the back - dairy products are usually positioned against the back wall, so you have to walk through the entire shop to get to them, encouraging you to pick up more things on the way.
  12. They've worked out a sneaky right-left formula - since most supermarkets make you move from right to left, you’re naturally inclined to buy things from the right-hand aisles. The most expensive products are placed there. (Hey, I'm left-handed and I usually work the store from the farthest point back to the front (and do the aisles in reverse - so I'm OK with making suckers out of my right-handed friends.
  13. They exploit your kids - expensive items are positioned at eye level, whereas items that are meant to appeal to children are positioned at their eye level. The cheapest items are positioned at the bottom of shelves, as you’re least likely to look there first. (This is one of the main reasons that I really like to grocery shop solo)
  14. They make you think things are cheap when they're not - when you’re in a hurry, you’re likely to pick up bargains on the ends of aisles, rather than considering the best-priced options. Supermarkets will rarely place the cheapest products here. (I do like the impulse, end-cap purchase, I'm sorry to say.) 
  15. They subliminally suggest food pairings to you - complementary items, such as crackers and cheese or apple pies and cream, are positioned next to each other in order to encourage you to buy more than you intended.
  16. They sell meat and fish against white walls - meat and fish is often sold against a white backdrop, as this makes it look fresher.
  17. They make things look better so you spend more - visual cues, such as installing wooden shelves and nice lighting, make you more inclined to spend more money on quality products.
  18. They paint the walls red to make you stay longer - warm colors grab your attention and and encourage contemplation. Research shows that people contemplate which fruit juice to buy for a long time, so those aisles are painted red.
  19. They play music to make you spend more - slow music makes you shop for longer, whereas classical music makes you spend more. Experiments have also shown that playing French music in the wine aisles increases the sales of French wines. (I will say that Wegman's has a really good Muzak system - I often find myself singing along, and I'm not alone.) 
  20. They place essentials to encourage impulse buys - everyday items, such as socks and deodorants, are often placed near the registers as you’re likely to pick them up on an impulse, because you’ll need them at some point, even if you weren’t planning on buying them.
  21. They appeal to your greedy side - check out lines are often lined with things like chocolate, which you’re likely to pick up as a reward for yourself for doing the shopping.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Time for Fish on Fridays

This Wednesday marks Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent as Catholics prepare for Easter.  So while that means crepes on Tuesday (for Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras), it also marks the time when "good" Catholics should abstain from meat on Fridays.

The Brave Astronaut's church will be holding "Soup and Stations on Fridays during Lent and there is even going to be a Lenten Fish Fry later this month, sponsored by the Methodist Church in town, which is sure to be a good time. Mrs. BA is one that will usually order Fish and Chips if it's on the menu when we go out (I will get it some of the time) - but this recipe might be worth a try.

Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise
from Epicurious
Bon Appétit | September 2013
by Adam Evans The Optimist, Atlanta, GA
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Headnote: Key when making this batter: Be sure your beer and club soda are ice cold, and chill the batter if prepping ahead.

Malt vinegar mayonnaise:
  • 1 large egg yolk 
  • 2 tablespoons malt vinegar, divided 
  • 1 cup vegetable oil 
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper 
Fish and assembly:
  • Vegetable oil (for frying; about 4 cups) 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more 
  • 12 ounces (or more) chilled light lager 
  • 1 cup chilled club soda 
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar 
  • 1 cup corn flour or all-purpose flour 
  • 1 1/2 pounds cod, haddock or pollack, cut into long, 1 1/2"-wide strips 
  • French fries (for serving) 
  • Old Bay seasoning, flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), and chopped fresh dill 
  • Lemon wedges (for serving) 
Special equipment: A deep-fry thermometer

Ingredient info: Corn flour, which is more finely ground than cornmeal, is available at Latin markets, natural foods stores, and

For malt vinegar mayonnaise:
Whisk egg yolk and 1 tablespoon vinegar in a small bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in oil, drop by drop at first, until mayonnaise is thickened and smooth. Add remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.

DO AHEAD: Mayonnaise can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

For fish and assembly:
Fit a large pot with thermometer; pour in oil to measure 3". Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 375°F.

Meanwhile, whisk all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly add beer, club soda, and vinegar, adding more beer if batter is too thick (it should be the consistency of thin pancake batter).

Place corn flour in a shallow bowl. Season fish with kosher salt and pepper. Dredge fish in corn flour, shaking off excess, then dip in batter, letting excess drip back into bowl. Working in batches and returning oil to 375°F between batches, fry fish until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Season fish and fries with Old Bay, sea salt, and dill; serve with malt vinegar mayonnaise and lemon wedges.