Brown Sugar Was Made For Me

Last week I ran out of sugar. And by “ran out” I mean the white stuff that is good for baking and putting in coffee.

I put brown sugar in my coffee instead of going to the grocery store. No biggie.

I happened to have just received a very odd cake pan as an impromptu gift from my mother. She’s good at giving gifts that are seemingly practical and yet I never seem to actually use them. What can I say? She’s a mom. (Love you, Mom!)

And I had all those freaking oranges and things.

I decided I wanted to make a pound cake. When I was a kid, someone told me that pound cake was made using a pound of butter and a pound of sugar and something else. I can’t really remember. And I don’t even think that was true. Ever. Pound cake does not use an entire pound of anything, really. But it does weigh a lot, so I guess that’s why I believed that crazy lie.

What pound cake does use though is white sugar, usually.

But, I’m good at switching things up. I started with a recipe from Alton Brown. He let me down a couple of weeks ago, so I was gave him a chance to redeem himself. I took a recipe from his book I’m Just Here For More Food, which I use a lot when I need a basic recipe to use as a jumping off point for something more adventurous.

Like when I decided to bake a cake in this weird old ceramic pan, which made the cake bake FOREVER.

Cake batter spread into the pan, ready to go in the oven.

Anyway, redeem himself he did even though I took his recipe and pretty much made it an all new thing. I added blood orange zest and juice and used only that brown sugar.

To top it off, I lined the top of the pan with some candied blood orange slices.

The brown sugar and the blood orange are pretty much a match made in heaven.

Or at least, for me.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Blood Oranges

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 blood oranges
3 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 cup ea: whole wheat, AP and oat. It was goood.)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a regular sized tube style pan or 2 small loaf pans. Line the bottom of the pan(s) with candied orange slices (recipe following), making sure some of the slices go up the sides of the pan at least a little bit.

Zest all three of the oranges. Juice 2 of them and add the juice to the buttermilk. Make supremes of the last orange. Chop up the supremes pretty small and set aside.

Cream the butter, the sugar and the orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the bowl as necessary. While the butter creams whisk together the flour(s), baking soda, and salt

Alternate the dry ingredients with the buttermilk/juice mixture. After the last addition of buttermilk let it mix just barely, then take off the mixer and fold in the chopped up orange segments, mixing just until everything is an even consistency. Pour into the pan and bake for about an hour, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then tip out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once it’s cool use a pastry brush to paint the outside with the syrup you reserved from candying the oranges.

Definitely serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

For the Candied Orange Slices

Heat equal parts water and granulated sugar in a wide, shallow sauce pan. Bring to a boil. You will need about 2 cups of syrup total to candy an orange.

Slice an orange very very thinly. The absolute best way to do this is on a mandoline. If you don’t own one, I suggest you go buy one. Seriously. It will make your life so much easier. Failing that, use a very sharp knife and be patient. You might need to slice more than one orange to get enough good slices, or, don’t be a perfectionist like me.

Once the syrup is boiling, turn down the heat and add the oranges. Try to spread them out so there aren’t too many layered on top of each other. Simmer the slices until the peels start to turn translucent, then remove them to a cooling rack to dry overnight. When I do this, I judge each slice individually, because some slices might take longer than others, especially if they were not cut on a mandoline and they are not all the same thickness.

Reserve the syrup for the cake.

That’s it! Once they are dry, store them in an airtight container. Don’t let your toddler get ahold of it or she will eat them all. For real.

Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.

Good News

You know how when the sun comes out in the middle of winter it’s like you’ve never seen it before? Even if it was out the day before? (But especially if like here in Seattle it was raining cats and dogs?) 

You know also, how when you actually get to go outside and let your totally bundled up self absorb some of that sunlight it makes you feel really warm and happy and want to skip around in a meadow somewhere.

Yeah me neither. Not at all.

Recently I made muffins that pretty much served to encapsulate that breath of sun in a slightly sweetened fluffy goodness. They had apricots. Lots and lots of them. Frozen at the peak of summer but then folded into a muffin batter hearty enough to sustain you on even the coldest winter day.

The bad news about these muffins is that you probably don’t have several gallon sized freezer bags full of apricots with which to make them over and over, like I have. The good news about them is that you really could use just about any type of fruit in them. They could have frozen berries, or peeled and chopped apples or pears, or even frozen peaches.

Oh, I thought of some more good news about these muffins. They are pretty healthy, since they’re whole wheat and oat and have a whole mess of protein rich ingredients alongside that pile of fruit.  They are a great breakfast or snack for this time of year, when most people are trying to eat a little bit lighter. Even more good news is that they are great slathered in butter, in case eating light isn’t a priority.

Sun is Shining Good News Muffins
makes 12 regular sized little cups of joy

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup bran flakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I like to use greek, it’s tangy!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen berries or chopped fruit, loosely measured

Preheat your oven to 500°F. This will make the muffins rise up a lot and have a nice domed top. Don’t worry, you’re going to turn it down when you actually put the muffins in. 

Beat the liquid ingredients together until well combined, then add the bran flakes and stir till they’re mixed in all the way. Let it sit while you whisk together the dry ingredients and prepare your muffin tin. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the flax, in a large bowl. Then add the fruit and nuts and stir around to coat all the pieces in flour. This helps to keep them all from sinking to the bottom when the muffins bake.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and combine just until you don’t see any large streaks of flour left. It’s ok if the batter doesn’t look completely smooth.

Fill the cups of your tin about three-quarters full, maybe a little more. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop temperature to 400°F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick.

The Results Are In: Marx Foods Capricious Chocolate Challenge

Update:  I didn’t win anything this time around, but thanks to all who cast a vote in my direction!

A couple of weeks can fly by so fast when you aren’t looking. Weeks filled with playdates, family holiday parties, Drs appointments and colds.

They’ve also been filled with testing. I was selected to participate in a contest Marx Foods was holding: to create an original recipe based on chocolate, using samples of ingredients supplied by them. I met the Marx Foods guys back at Will Bake For Food in November, and thought it would be fun to work on my recipe testing skills in a semi-high pressure format. What can I say, I do better under pressure. I did have a little trouble deciding what I wanted to make though, so could only narrow it down as far as 3 different recipes. Dear readers, you’re in for a little bit of a ride, but it’ll be worth it.



So, I’ve been busy testing out cookie batch after cookie batch. A little cookie made of humble ingredients that have been mixed up to be larger than the sum of their parts. A cookie that started out as one thing and quickly turned into something else, something better. I thought it would be pretty perfect to have a cookie recipe, since cookies are such a big thing this time of year. Am I right?



I also tested some créme brulées that ended up being pots de créme instead. And there’s also one savory dish, in case you don’t like dessert. (Who doesn’t like dessert?) More about those later, as first comes first. And if you like any of these recipes (or just like me) you can click the Marx Foods banner at the bottom to vote for me once the voting process has started!


Without further ado, here it is:


Mexican Chocolate Tea Cookies
makes about 32 cookies


These cookies are based on a common Mexican Tea Cookie, but also are based on a regular old Chocolate Crackle. They were inspired by the chilies included in the samples I got as part of the contest. 


8 oz semisweet chocolate, chips are ok but the better the chocolate, the better the cookie
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp chili powder (I used freshly ground dried Puya chilies from Marx Foods)*
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz toasted ground almonds
7 oz all purpose flour
4 oz mini chocolate chips


Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.


In a double boiler, melt the chocolates. When completely melted, add in the spices and sugar and mix to combine. Add the oil and eggs all at once and mix thoroughly. Next add the almonds, stirring with kind of a smashing motion to make sure that any lumps are broken up. Lastly, add the flour mixture and stir just until you see no more streaks. Let the batter rest until it is cool to the touch, then mix in the mini chips, otherwise they’ll melt.


Cover and chill for several hours in the refrigerator, at least 3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF, with racks in the lower and upper thirds.


Using a number 30 scoop, (or scooping about 1 1/2 Tbsp sized balls) portion the dough out, and place on a parchment lined tray. These cookies don’t spread much, so you want them to be nice and flat on the bottom and rounded on top, which is best achieved using the scoop. Leave about 2″ between each cookie.


Bake about 10 minutes, then rotate the pans, both top to bottom and spinning the pans front to back. Bake about 7 minutes more. They should be firm but not firm enough to lift off the pan while still hot. Let cool for about 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

The rejects, which we gladly ate anyway



The best part about these cookies is that unlike a more traditional Mexican Tea Cookie, which are akin to a shortbread and must contain butter to taste good, these are parve (dairy free). If you keep kosher, that means that you can eat them as dessert following the main attraction:


Chocolate and Chili Braised Beef Short Ribs with Sweet Potato
serves about 6


The short ribs I used for this recipe are ones that came from the cow we bought back in summer. They were excellent, tender, flavorful and totally worth buying a freezer for. The sauce also goes great on the saffron roasted potatoes I served with the ribs. 


4 lbs 3″ beef short ribs with plenty of meat on the bones


For the dry rub:
2 Tbsp ground Puya chilies*
1 Tbsp ground Chipotle pepper
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp salt
10-12 grinds black pepper


For the braising liquid:
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 smallish sweet potatoes, cut into 1″ rounds
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 cups of your choice of broth (you might need more if your pan is bigger)
1 cup cold strong coffee
6 oz chocolate


Mix together the dry rub ingredients in a large bowl, and coat each piece of rib completely. Cover and refrigerate the ribs for several hours or overnight.


Heat a large (at least 5 qt) dutch oven with enough oil to just cover the bottom. Working in batches, brown each rib on all sides, taking care not to crowd the pieces so that they don’t steam themselves. Remove the ribs to a clean plate as you go.



Once all the ribs are browned, add in the onions and cook till translucent and starting to get a little brown, then add the tomato paste and garlic. Stir it around the pan, cooking it until it starts to smell like tomatoes, then add the coffee, being sure to scrape up all the browned bits that loosed up when you add the liquid. (Use a wooden spoon or other tool that won’t damage the surface of your dutch oven.) Add the sweet potatoes, and then the ribs, tucking everything in all together as best you can. Cover with stock and place in the bottom third of the oven. Cook about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Remove the lid and cook another 1/2 hour more, letting the liquid reduce down.


Remove the pan from the oven and then remove the ribs, discarding any bones that fall slip out. Place the ribs in a bowl, and strain about 3/4 of the sweet potatoes and onions out of the broth. Let the broth rest for a few minutes and spoon off any excess fat that rises to the top. Add the meat back in, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer on the stove for about another 1/2 hour, tasting for spice. When I tasted mine, I kept getting a hit of spice at the back of my throat that led me to believe that it would be pretty hot, but it wasn’t as strongly flavoured as I feared once we were eating it with all the components together. In the last 15 minutes or so of cooking, add in the chocolate. Be sure and stir it up so the sauce reaches a nice smooth consistency, but then add back in some more of those sweet potatoes for a little bit of texture.


Serve immediately, with a little sour cream on the side to cool the heat, if you want it. (We used Sour Supreme)



Of course, if you’re not worried about having a parve dessert after your dinner, you could always serve the next recipe instead. They started out as créme brulées, with the intention of using the coconut sugar to make the crust on top. Turns out, it was too moist and brown a sugar to work well and mostly just burned instead. Well, since the texture of the pudding itself had been closer to a pot de créme anyway, I just went down that road.  

The original créme brulées



Fennel & Chocolate Pots de Créme
makes 6-8


1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup half & half
7 egg yolks
4 Tbsp coconut sugar*
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed*
6 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp fennel pollen*


Preheat oven to 300ºF


In a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot, toast the fennel seeds until they are fragrant and starting to brown, just a couple of minutes. You’ll want to watch them carefully as they will burn easily. Using a wooden spoon, crush the seeds up a bit. Next, add the fennel pollen, vanilla bean, cream and half & half and heat until it almost reaches a boil. Turn off heat and add chocolate. Let this mixture steep for 15 minutes or so, until you can smell the fennel just the faintest little bit. If it smells stronger sooner, continue with the next steps.


While the chocolate mixture steeps, combine the sugars and the egg yolks in a large metal bowl.


Next, bring the chocolate mixture back to a simmer while stirring continuously (do not boil, or you risk burning the chocolate). Strain this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then whisk until fully combined. Pour into 6 small cups or ramekins, each at least 6 oz. You could also use smaller dishes and make more servings, as it’s a rich dish for some palates.


Cover each dish with foil and place in a high sided roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack and pour enough water into the pan to reach 1/2 way up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. Mine needed just about 7 more minutes after that. The crémes will be set around the edges but just barely so in the middle. Cool completely, and sprinkle just a pinch of coconut sugar over each one before serving, it lends a nice little crunch.




* These ingredients are the ones that were supplied to me by Marx Foods as part of the contest.