Nap Time and Pound Cake

Like many soon-to-be new moms, I had lots of plans for my maternity leave.  Days of snuggling with our little bundle, then while he napped, I would have a chance to organize the linen closet, finish painting our bathroom, put together his fabulous baby book, and most certainly prepare delicious meals and bake oodles of goodies.  Yes, these 10-12 weeks would be just like a Lifetime movie.  Right?  Right…
During the first few weeks, I was thankful and blessed to have meals we’d frozen ahead, and wonderful friends and neighbors who kindly brought over food for us as well.  The linen closet remains a disaster.  Our bathroom will never be finished (to be fair, it’s been in this state of limbo for about 10 months).  Much like showering daily, I didn’t actually begin cooking until the near the end of week two.
Once I had gotten the hang of cooking in stages (starting dinner at 4pm, knowing when Miles would probably be up to eat next, so I could manage to get dinner on the table at a somewhat reasonable time) I decided to attempt baking.
Knowing that my sweet little boy can have a somewhat unpredictable sleeping/feeding schedule when he hits a growth spurt, I thought that cookies would be a fairly safe choice for my first baking attempt post-baby.  Seems easy enough; mix a few ingredients, pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes a batch.  Simple.  Until I realized that baking four or five batches of cookies (or attempting to) actually belongs on the “ways to wake up your newborn” list.  Putting cookies in the oven inevitably calls for a diaper change, feeding, or general fussy time.  And so, you’ll spend the next hour or two running around like a crazed woman: checking the oven, checking diapers, burping a baby, yelling at the dog (why does she follow us everywhere?!)  And you’ll probably burn your cookies, too.  It will not be the relaxing baking experience you had imagined.
The key to baking and parenting a newborn simultaneously (besides waiting until you’re husband is home so you can have a few glasses of wine while baking…) is to choose a baked good that requires a longer baking time; and something you only need to remove from the oven once.  Preferably while baby is sleeping.  I know this for a fact, after my attempts to remove dinner while hauling Miles around the BabyBjorn ended with a pulled back muscle (but the kid didn’t fall in the oven, so we’ll call that a win). 
My two favorite desserts with lengthy bake times and little follow-up needed once popped in the oven are cheesecake and pound cake.  I have yet to bake a cheesecake while on leave; those require more prep, so we’ll save that for week eight.  But a pound cake is a great choice…pretty simple to throw together, and one of those “no fail” recipes that everyone loves.
Sour Cream Pound Cake
3 cups cake flower, plus a little extra for flouring the pan
2 ½ cups white sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, softened
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 oz. sour cream
*You’ll also need a bundt pan.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Butter your bundt pan, then sprinkle with flour and set aside.  Sift together all dry ingredients and set aside.  On medium speed, cream your butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, then add your vanilla extract.  Sift half of your dry mixture over your butter and egg mixture, then gently fold with a spatula.  Add your sour cream, and continue stirring gently.  Add the remaining dry mixture, stirring until the flour is completely incorporated.  Pour batter into your bundt pan, then gently tap on the counter to remove air bubbles.  Bake for one hour, or until the top is golden brown and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes on a rack before removing.
Tip for removing your cake: once flipped onto your plate or dish, gently tap the bottom of the bundt pan with a spoon or knife handle before lifting.
Marbled Sour Cream Pound Cake: I love a good marbled pound cake, and that’s easy to make with this recipe.  Melt four or five semi-sweet chocolate baking squares in a double boiler (or in the microwave; just set your power to medium, and stir every 30 seconds until melted).  Take about half the cake batter, and in a separate bowl, combine it with the chocolate.  Alternate vanilla and chocolate cake batter in your bundt pan, swirl with a butter knife, bake as usual.
We like to serve our pound cake with fresh berries, and a decent amount of Reddi Whip or sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.
While I cannot become the Super Suzy Homemaker I’d envisioned while on leave, I have found that enjoying every minute that I can with Miles far trumps testing out a fancy new recipe or organizing towels by size and color (although I have managed to put together an impressive baby book; that was very important to us, as Miles will need to know all about the first time he peed on me, and I’ll need to show all his embarrassing bathtub photos to his future girlfriend).   

In reality, just getting a hot meal on the table is accomplishment enough in a hectic day.  Maternity leave has given me a newfound respect for stay at home moms…you ladies are forces to be reckoned with, for sure.  Happy baking!

Explaining Cobbler to a Yankee

Of all the desserts I love – and trust me, there are A LOT of them – I must admit, peach cobbler holds a special place in my heart.  Cobbler is one of those “any season” desserts, since you can use just about any fruit that’s in season, but there’s nothing quite like peach cobbler.  For me, it embodies the sweet, spiced, warm memories of Fall…there wasn’t a Thanksgiving that my mom didn’t make her famous peach cobbler.  Warm out of the oven with a heaping scoop of vanilla bean ice cream…it was heavenly!

I remember the first time I made a peach cobbler for my husband (the Yankee).  First, I tried to explain what a cobbler was.  Much to my chagrin, Evan’s response was something along the lines of, “So it’s like an upside down pie?”  Now, that sentence would make any Southern girl clutch her pearls…an upside-down pie?!  No, honey.  A cobbler is nothing like a pie.  But bless your Yankee heart, sometimes we forget you don’t have biscuits “up north”, and our Southern ways can be confusing.  Let me explain…
My husband has been an eager taste-tester for Southern cooking from the day we met.  The first time I had him over for dinner, I fried porkchops.  Don’t you know you’re someone special if you’re getting bone-in, double-dredged fried porkchops?  Evan sat at the table, and I proudly placed the heaping plate of comfort in front of him…and the first words out of his mouth were, “I didn’t know you could FRY a porkchop!”  Heaven help him, I knew then that we had a looong way to go.
About six months after that, we stopped by his parent’s house one afternoon.  Evan hadn’t seen them much over those six months, but I’ll tell you that when we first started dating, he weighed 135 pounds soaking wet. But again, that was before he met me.  The first words out of his mother’s mouth that afternoon were, “What have you done to my son?!”  And my simple reply?  “Why, I fed him of course.”  Again, those Yankees are unfamiliar with our Southern ways!
Nine plus years and 30 pounds later…Evan is quite the fan of the cobbler.  And so, without further ado, I’m going to share my famous peach cobbler recipe.  Enjoy!
Filling Ingredients
8 large peaches, cut into wedges (I don’t peel mine)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Spices as you like.  I use cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a dash of cloves.  Or, if I’m especially lazy, just use pumpkin pie spice (shhh…that’s one of my lazy baker secrets).
Biscuit Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick cold, unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
1/4 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss all filling ingredients together in a large bowl, then pour into a two quart casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes.  While the filling is baking, blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Mix in the butter with your fingers, until mixture is crumbly.  Stir in boiling water until just combined.  When filling is done, remove from oven and top with spoonfuls of your biscuit topping (it will spread as it bakes).  Pop in the over for another 25-30 minutes, or until your crust is golden brown.
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or all by itself.  Right out of the casserole dish, if you’re like me… 🙂
Happy baking!

Bakin’ with Bacon

The title of this post should provide an instant indication of how awesome these recipes will be…because they happen to include a special guest appearance by my all-time favorite breakfast meat: BACON.  Well, unless we’re talking biscuits and gravy, then my favorite breakfast meat becomes sausage.  But, unlike its crumbly (yet delicious) step-sibling of breakfast, bacon has two of the qualities I find important in a dessert: salt and crunch.
People have mixed responses to bacon infused desserts.  Some are skeptical; others are curious, and a good handful know that if there’s one way to improve upon anything, it’s to add bacon.  Think about it…your tomato and mayonnaise sandwich seems a little dull, right?  Add bacon.  Your salad just doesn’t have nearly enough protein or crunch?  Bacon would go nicely.  Maple donut seems a bit bland?  Crumble some bacon on top, and you’ve got a convenient breakfast ring of pancakes, syrup and bacon – to go!  The porky possibilities are endless.
A few weeks ago, we finally took the plunge and had our first bacon baking experience: Maple Bacon Bourbon Cupcakes.  They were just as delicious and sinfully decadent as you’re imagining.  A simple (from scratch) chocolate cupcake topped with a maple bourbon frosting, with bacon crumbles on top.  We also added bacon and bacon drippings to the batter prior to baking.  The result was a Kentucky Derby breakfast brunch in one sweet little cupcake.
Be still, my heart!  And arteries.  And cholesterol.

Most recently, we decided to go the brownie route.  Brownies are, quite possibly, my favorite baked good.  There’s nothing quite like a gooey, warm, chocolatey, fattening hunk of brownie.  And what could possibly be done to improve upon one of the oven’s most perfect desserts than bacon?
Behold…the Caramel Bacon Brownie!
(insert delicious photo here…)
While I wish I’d managed to snap a photo of the entire pan, they just didn’t last long enough.  So, imagine a delicous brownie with swirls of caramel, infused with bacon.  Mmmm.
In fact, moments before I wrote this post, I found myself picking the crumbs of caramel, bacon and chocolate out of the brownie pan.   Anyone ever see the episode of Sex and the City, where Miranda can’t stop eating the chocolate cake?  She goes as far as to throw the entire chocolate cake in the garbage can, in an effort to banish the unwanted calories.  A few minutes later, she sneaks back into the kitchen, and takes a hunk of cake out of the garbage can.  Then, in utter disgust, she grabs a bottle of Dawn dish soap, squirts it all over the cake and slams the lid to the garbage can.  She then calls Carrie to revel in the embarassment of eating “garbage can cake.”  Yes, folks…that’s where I was headed moments ago…garbage can cake territory.
Personally, the brownies were better than the cupcakes, so that’s the recipe I’m sharing with you today.  I hope your physician thanks me later…
Caramel Bacon Brownies

Brownie Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
8 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional, but delicious)
Bacon Caramel Ingredients:
One package maple bacon, fried crisp (yes, fried)
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Directions: First, we need to make the caramel…it needs some time to cool before getting plopped into all that brownie goodness.  Fry two strips of bacon in a medium non-stick saucepan, then remove (you can fry the rest in a larger frying pan, or if you prefer, bake it at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes – DO NOT MICROWAVE).  Once you’ve removed the bacon, add your heavy cream (to the bacon drippings), then set aside to cool.  In a medium sautee pan, melt the sugar over medium-high heat.  When the sugar has melted and turned an amber color, and the butter and heavy cream mixture.  Stir until butter has melted, then set aside to cool.  Crumble the rest of your bacon, and set aside.
Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler (or microwaveable bowl), then transfer to a large bowl and add the cocoa powder, mixing well.  Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla (and almond extract, if using), and then the flour.  Stir until combined.
In a greased and floured 8×8 pan (hint: just use Baker’s Joy), pour half the brownie batter.  Drop spoonfulls of the caramel, then a few sprinkles of the chopped bacon.  Add the remaining batter, drop the remaining caramel, and sprinkle the remaining bacon.  Swirl with a knife.
Bake for 35-45 minutes (mine took the full 45 and were still gooey and soft).  Caramel will not seem set when brownies are removed from oven; it will firm up a bit after cooling for about an hour.
These are a perfect blend of sweet, salty and rich chocolate…and definitely “eat with a fork” brownies.

Leftover Peanut Butter and Overripe Bananas

In our open-concept kitchen pantry (read: no doors or cabinets – totally open, and beautifully constructed by my hubby) we have what’s called a “baking basket.”  Let me see if I can find a photo…
There…top left corner, that’s the baking basket!
 Of course I have to show off a little bit more…
Have I mentioned how awesome it is being married to a handyman?  This also reminds me I should update the rest of our remodeling photos, now that the construction is finished.
Anyway, back to the basket.  So this baking basket holds exactly what you’d think: sprinkles, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, brown sugar, pecans…everything I need for holidays, birthdays and special occasions.  It gets used pretty frequently from October through December, then again from March through May.  After that, there comes a lull in baking.  But, in good Southern spirit (and with my mom’s voice in the background reminding me that I should never waste anything) I’ll haul that sucker down and take a peek at what’s inside.  And that, my friends, is how many of my husband’s all-time favorite cookie recipes are born.
Since “Baking Basket Day” began a few years ago, we’ve had some really tasty treats come out of this oven…all in oatmeal cookie form.  So today, I thought I’d share the coveted basic oatmeal cookie recipe that all my BBD wonders are made of…
Basic Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (aka “quick cooking” oats, in the oatmeal section)
2 cups all-purpose flour (wheat flour works, too)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Directions: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine the salt, baking powder, baking soda and flour.  Using a hand mixer in a medium bowl, or a stand mixer, cream together the butter, white and brown sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract.  Add the sugar mixture to the flour mixture, stir together, then add your quick cooking oats.  Add your favorite baking basket goodies.  Scoop by tablespoon onto a greased baking pan, then bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on whether you like chewy (8ish minutes) or cripsy (12ish minutes) cookies.
So, what can you add to a baking basket oatmeal cookie?  Well, here are the ingredients I’ve added to the basic recipe in the past:
Coco-Choco Oatmeal Cookies: Added the rest of a bag of coconut flakes (I’ll guess a bit more than 3/4 full) along with half a bag of large semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a full bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, along with a dash of pumpkin pie spice.  Yes, pumpkin pie spice…it’s a super lazy way to get all my fave spices in one shake!
Triple Chipperdoodles: Decent amount of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and butterscotch chips, two teaspoons of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and a dash of allspice (note: I am a big fan of allspice).
Graceland Oatmeal Cookie: Two very ripe mashed bananas, half a jar of chunky peanut butter, a bag of jumbo semi-sweet chocolate chips and half a bag of walnuts (crushed) and I’m certain some allspice…just a tad.
You may notice there are no real measurements to the basket ingredients…and that’s because I am literally cleaning out the basket.  So, whatever half-empty bags of chips, flakes, sprinkles, etc., are in there, go into the cookie.  It’s really about feeling the cookie; getting that cookie vibe, knowing whether it needs coconut or peanut butter.  Is it a sweet little butterscotch cookie, or a ticked off ginger cookie?  Dark chocolate, or white chocolate?  Where are my dried cranberries?  And just how many chocolate chips is my husband going to think I didn’t see him eat?!
BBD has taught me which spices I love (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves) and which I hate (okay, none…).  It’s an awesome way to get creative, come up with a recipe of your very own, and really understand how flavors can work together.
If my mom is reading this (as she should be…) she’s probably surprised I shared a recipe.  Normally, I won’t share the true recipe; I always omit something, or change a measurement (I know, I know).  I’m pretty big on keeping family secrets close to the vest; I usually only share the real-deal recipe with the closest friends, and only when asked repeatedly (also, after bargaining for cat-sitting services or bottles of wine).  But this is one recipe I’m happy to share, because it’s really not mine…it’s yours.  Yours to create something utterly decadent, or totally screw up (stay away from dried apricots).  The choice is yours.
Finally, I’ll share one teensy little baking tip that I’ve found makes cookies and breads even more delicious.  If you come across a recipe (such as the basic oatmeal cookie) that calls for both brown and white sugars…take the white sugar amount, and cut it in half.  Now, add that amount to the brown sugar.  That’s it.  It gives the cookies or bread a warm, sweet, molasses taste, without the super sweet, teeth gritting kick you’ll sometimes get from just plain old white sugar.
And now you know my BBD secrets.  The next time you see a cookie post, rest assured that the inspiration truly was, “what am I supposed to do with three bags of Christmas M&M’s in July?!”
Happy baking!