cinnamon-honey butter

I probably never would have made this butter if a friend hadn’t asked me to bring it to a party she was throwing. She had a fancy birthday party at home. It was awesome– everyone got dressed up, we all drank and ate delicious food– and one of the things that was so great is that it was a planned potluck. She asked everyone to bring something from a specific category– a dip, a dessert, a finger-food, a bottle of booze, etc.

I cut the recipe in half, thinking that half a pound of butter was maybe a little much for a small gathering, but feel free to double it back up to its intended amounts. I got a little over a cup of honey butter out of my recipe, and served it in 4-ounce mason jars with some no-knead bread.

Cinnamon-Honey Butter
Adapted from Fly Through Our Window
Makes about 1 cup

You will need:
1 stick of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a hand mixer until well-mixed. Pour into jars for serving. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

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grandma’s chocolate gravy

I just got back from visiting my family in Mississippi. I’ve never been to Mississippi and not had chocolate-and-biscuits for breakfast. It’s a family tradition, but like most traditions, we all do it differently. I split the biscuit, slather it with butter, and spoon the chocolate on top. Mom chops the biscuits into small pieces, dots the plate with butter, and pours on the chocolate with a heavier hand than I do. Grandma puts a pat of butter on the plate, tops it with chocolate, smooshes the butter and chocolate together, and then dips the biscuit in that. Grandpa eschews the chocolate altogether, but uses Grandma’s method to mix butter with sorghum molasses. Grandpa’s way, lacking chocolate entirely, is obviously wrong.

Like so many family recipes, it never occurred to me until this most recent visit to ask Grandma to teach me how to make the chocolate gravy. My great-grandmother died without my having ever inquired after her recipe for chocolate pie. Thankfully, the chocolate pie was passed down to a cousin of mine with more sense than I, but I’ve learned my lesson.

I’ve printed the recipe below as Grandma dictated it to me. Serve this alongside your favorite biscuits at your next brunch or Christmas breakfast and your family will swoon. My hunch is that leftover gravy, should you have any, would be excellent on ice cream, a brownie, crepes, or on more biscuits.

Grandma’s Chocolate Gravy
Serves 6-ish
Note: The amount of liquid is approximate. The gravy should be on the thin side, but not too thin. Practice.

You will need:
1.5 c. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. flour
2-3 tbsp. cocoa powder
About 1 c. water
2 tbsp. butter

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring intermittently, until mixture bubbles, becomes very frothy, and thickens significantly, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately over warm biscuits.

challah french toast

Sometimes all it takes to reinvigorate an old standard is to slightly alter the standard ingredients it’s usually made with. Using pecorino instead of parmesan cheese, for example, will yield a shaper, saltier, nuttier flavor. Adding olives to a tomato sauce adds a depth and sourness to the sauce that, for me, marries well with the sweetness of the tomatoes. Using goat cheese instead of mayonnaise or mustard on a sandwich instantly elevates what is (for me) usually a dull, last-resort meal.

For French toast, a simple bread substitution can make a huge difference. I grew up using the standard, plastic-bag Wonder bread for French toast. As I got older, I started making French toast with a wheat bread made at my local grocery store. Most recently, I served a batch of French toast made with sweet, eggy challah to a group of friends, wanting to replicate the challah French toast served with orange-cranberry butter on a cool November New York morning several years ago.

My French toast, though made with the same bread, was nothing so fancy. It was served on the coffee table as my friends sat on the floor, coaxing the cats to come out and play. (The mean one couldn’t get enough, and the sweet one was too shy.) The bacon burned, because my boyfriend left me in charge of it without telling me, since I was over the stove anyway and despite the fact that I prefer my bacon burned and he, you know, doesn’t. My 4-cup coffee maker only actually makes about 2.5 human-sized cups, so this group of five kept refilling the basket with fresh grounds and running the machine again. The syrup, warmed on the stove, was served out of a plastic measuring cup (being the only thing with a spout and thus the only thing with a reasonable shot at not getting syrup all over the white carpet) (not that spilling on the carpet matters to me, as I spill coffee on it once a week, and am still not old enough for carpet).

The French toast I made with humble Wonder bread on Saturday mornings with my stepfather is not elevated by fancier bread, though it was tender and sweeter. I wonder how much the richer, eggier, sweeter, more sophisticated taste of the soaked fried bread came from the fact that I was making it for others. For someone who loves to cook, I entertain rarely. When I do, I prefer to serve chips and salsa while Handsome mans the grill. Standing in my kitchen, with friends all around me, I felt vulnerable and appreciated all at once. In a room full of people who love me, I was happy I’d served my stepdad’s French toast with challah, but knew I could have served it with Wonder bread and they would have reacted the same way.

Challah French Toast
A riff on my own French toast
Serves 5
Note: I do not measure when I make French toast. My stepdad never did, either. All measurements are approximate and should be customized to suit your own taste, and to better impress your friends (who don’t need impressing).

You will need:

1 loaf of challah bread, or other eggy bread, sliced
7-9 eggs, depending on how absorbent your bread is
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Butter, for the skillet

Heat skillet on medium-high heat, and melt butter. (It’s perfectly acceptable if the butter browns.)

Meanwhile, whisk eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Soak one slice of bread at a time on both sides, and put the egg-soaked bread in the hot buttered skillet. Cook about three minutes on one side, or until golden brown, then flip and repeat on other side.

Serve immediately with warmed syrup, or keep warm in the oven until the bacon is finished burning.

the best cup of coffee

I like to think I’m one of those people who is very organized. In a previous post, I talked about the high cost of real estate within my apartment, and my description of the shoe racks and underbed storage boxes probably made me sound a little Martha. But they say the truth shall set you free. So here goes.

I’ve never laid out my clothes the night before. The dishes are frequently not done before I go to bed. And I can count the number of times I’ve set the timer on the coffee maker, filled the basket with fresh grounds and the reservoir with water, and woken to the sweet smell of a fresh brew on one hand. More frequently, mornings find me hitting snooze too many times, begging my boyfriend to please start the coffee maker (as he leaves for work about an hour after I do), tossing pants in the dryer to de-wrinkle, and guaranteeing that I’ll be at least three minutes late for work.

This isn’t to say that I don’t make a good cup of coffee, because I do. I finally have a system…and a secret.

For every cup of coffee your coffeemaker makes, use one teaspoon of grounds. (We don’t have a scoop, so measurement by scoops is worthless for me.) This makes coffee at my perfect strength in my four-cup pot. My secret weapon is what I add to the coffee while it brews, and it’s an idea I got from one of my favorite coffee shops. The grind their beans with whole cardamom and cinnamon sticks. I could just buy beans from them, but my boyfriends prefers his coffee without all of my add-ins, generally. I can replicate their flavor in small doses, though, by sprinkling cinnamon into the grounds and putting a dash of vanilla into the pot.

It’s the best cup of coffee ever.

irish soda bread

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I’m back now! Settling into a new job and new kittens has been an adventure, but I’m back in the saddle. And I bring you… Irish soda bread!

Half-Price Books had a Labor Day sale last weekend, and (never one to turn down a cheap book) Handsome braved the throngs of deal-seekers while I was at work to emerge victorious with Irish Food & Cooking, a beautiful book that details the history of Irish cuisine. For example, did you know that Irish cheese is quite a recent thing, and has only been popular for the last thirty or so years? (Do you care?) It also describes the standard Irish kitchen and meal, the cuts of meat most frequently used, the methods of preparation. It’s a great introduction to traditional Irish cuisine.

Which isn’t to say that “traditional Irish cuisine” is something I have spent much time yearning to know more about. Handsome has been on a whiskey kick lately, and is therefore enamored with all things Irish and Scottish. Also, we are experiencing quite the deluge thanks to Hurricane Hermine, which begs for some stout, warm Irish food.

I can’t quite bring myself to tackle the various ways in which fish can be made into cakes or pies, or game made into homemade sausages, but I’ve always been fond of a soda bread that’s sold at a small grocery store I used to live near. The ingredients for the bread are pretty basic (although finding cream of tartar required a trip to two grocery stores, one of which has apparently never stocked it and the other which apparently never hasn’t), and the bread comes together quickly. It isn’t nearly as intimidating as yeast breads, which I’ve attempted only once, with limited success. And it’s customizable: you can leave it as written, or add dried fruits or caraway seeds. Up to you! It also makes the house smell wonderful, and comes out of the oven a beautiful brown. It’s a nice, basic country bread, though it is best eaten the day it’s made or soon after.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries
Adapted from Irish Food & Cooking: Traditional Irish Cuisine with Over 150 Delicious Step-By-Step Recipes from the Emerald Isle, by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell
Note: The addition of dried cranberries is definitely not traditional, even for American-style Irish soda bread. Raisins are much more expected, but I like cranberries. So there.

You will need:
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
pinch salt
2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1 c. dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
2 tbsp. sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 and grease a baking sheet. Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt into a large bowl. Add butter and cut into flour with a fork or your fingers until butter is evenly distributed. The book says the mixture should “resemble fine bread crumbs.”

If using, add dried fruit and sugar; mix well.

Whisk the egg and buttermilk together. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the buttermilk/ egg; mix well until you have a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 1-2 minutes, until dough comes together. Shape into a round, flatten slightly, and score the dough with a deep cross.

Bake for 30 minutes (if using no fruit) and 45 minutes (if using fruit) until the crust is deep brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Slice and serve with “lashings of butter and home-made jam.” Or, you know, with some butter and jelly.

cook’s illustrated’s blueberry muffins

I love Cook’s Illustrated. I love this magazine so much that I bought Handsome a subscription for Christmas, even though I am generally the chef and baker in our house. I also pay about $25 a year to have access to their entire online archive, because their recipes are just that good.

If you’re not familiar with this magazine, the accompanying web site, or the television show, the basic premise is that the kitchen staff tackles a recipe and tries to make it in the best possible way. They consult multiple versions of a recipe, test them, and come up with the most foolproof recipe possible that can be made in pretty much any kitchen. The magazine itself is gorgeous; the back cover of each edition contains a series of painting on a theme, like different mushroom varieties or whole baking spices. They also don’t use photos in the magazine, relying instead on black and white sketches to illustrate techniques and processes.

When I searched the archive for a blueberry muffin recipe, I was a little daunted at first. They offered recipes for Classic Blueberry Muffins, Anytime Blueberry Muffins, Lemon Blueberry Muffins, The Best Blueberry Muffins, muffins that were topped with almond crunch, cinnamon streusel, or orange glaze, or muffins rolled in cinnamon sugar. Decisions, decisions.

Then I spotted a recipe for The Best Blueberry Muffins… made with frozen blueberries. The admirable folks in the America’s Test Kitchen, after my own heart, optimized a basic blueberry muffin to maximize blueberryness using frozen blueberries, which, as we all know, are a different beast than the preferable, fresh variety. All I had on hand were frozen berries, so my decision as to which recipe to tackle was easily made.

In hindsight, this may have been too tall an order for this lazy Sunday morning. I often violate the conditions of Lazy Sunday Morning to make some breakfasty baked good. This particular Sunday, I was exhausted to my bones. I had spent the previous Thursday running around, making final arrangements to graduate. On Friday, I graduated and moved out of my apartment. On Saturday, I entertained my mom, sister, and a friend, going to dinner, lunch, watching two movies, and making a coconut cream pie (also from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe). And I hadn’t slept well Saturday night. Muffins from a mix, or even regular homemade muffins, are relatively simple. This recipe was not.

For this recipe, one has to make lemon sugar (I made lemon-orange sugar). Then one makes blueberry jam. Then melts butter. Then whisks dry ingredients, and then wet ones. Then rinses frozen berries and pats them dry, thus permanently staining a hand towel because someone doesn’t use paper towels. Then one mixes the berries with the dry ingredients, and the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Then one divides the berry batter among the muffin tins. But what about the jam? You put a dollop on top of each section of muffin batter, and swirl it. Top with the sugar, bake for 17 minutes, rotate pan halfway through.

It’s exhausting.

But it’s worth it. The result is a moist muffin with bursts of berry flavor; the citrusy sugar topping is a nice surprise, but I could easily skip it. The process is labor-intensive and I used up what felt like every bowl in the house, but for blueberry muffins? It’s worth it.

Blueberry Muffins with Frozen Blueberries
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
(link may not work, as I believe this is a recipe accessible only to subscribers)

Citrus Sugar Topping
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated citrus zest (original recipe calls for lemon zest, but I used a mixture of lemon and orange zest)

Muffins
2 c. frozen blueberries
1 1/8 c. plus 1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
4 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled (original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I used salted and did not omit the salt in the recipe, and I found this to be fine)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk (I used 1 c. whole milk plus 1 tsp. vinegar, mixed a few minutes ahead of time)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Mix 1/3 cup sugar with citrus zest in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat 1 cup blueberries with 1 tbsp. sugar in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Mash blueberries frequently and reduce mixture to approximately 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Wash other 1 cup blueberries well and dry. Set aside.

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 1 1/8 cups sugar until fully mixed. Add butter and oil gradually and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix well.

Mix reserved blueberries (the washed and dried ones) with the flour mixture.

Add egg mixture to flour/blueberry mixture and fold together, being careful not to overmix. (Batter will be lumpy and have flour spots; that is okay!)

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.

Place one tsp. of blueberry jam on top of each cup of muffin batter, trying to press it below the surface. Use a skewer or chopstick to swirl the jam into the batter, making a figure 8 motion.

Top each cup of muffin batter with the citrus sugar topping.

Bake 17-19 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. The edges of the muffins will be golden brown when they are done.

Delish!

david lebovitz’s sugar-crusted popovers

A couple months ago, David Lebovitz posted a recipe for sugar-crusted popovers, which I immediately bookmarked in my, “Ooh, those look good!” file.  With school, traveling, and life, I forgot about them until, well, now.

I haven’t used my muffin tin in a while.  The cupcakes I posted about were made at my mom’s house, and other than those I don’t remember the last time I made a muffin or a cupcake.  It was so nice to pull out the muffin tin, butter the nine bowls, and admire its little rust spots and dings.  This is a happy, well-used muffin tin.

I like things baked in muffin tins, or things prepared into individual portions generally.  It’s an amazing sense of accomplishment for me to survey 30 servings of spanakopita, or 24 iced cupcakes, or the multitude of Christmas cake pops.  Cookies don’t do it for me in the same way, unless they need to be iced or decorated.  The accomplishment comes in the repetition of a process, which I get with these popovers.  Once they’re baked, you brush them with butter and roll them in cinnamon sugar.  Pioneer Woman has a similar recipe for French Breakfast Puffs that are less popover-like and more muffin-like, but still delicious.  I’ve made them several times, but Handsome now prefers these.

I’ll be honest:  I’ve never had a popover.  I don’t know what one is supposed to taste like, look like, or feel like.  I’m unaware of the appropriate texture.  I’m not able to tell you how these compare to other popovers you may have had, but they tasted like nothing so much as a fried, sugary donut.  Except it’s baked!  The donut similarity was a nice surprise for me, and invites lots of variations.  The addition of nutmeg or cinnamon to the batter, rolling in glaze and sprinkles….

The preparation, however, left a bit to be desired in my kitchen.  A blender is recommended for beating the ingredients together.  I don’t have a blender.  I have a tiny food processor, and I hit its limit making these popovers.  I received the food processor as a gift, and I love it.  It’s wonderful.  But it’s very, very tiny, so I should have either halved this recipe or made it in two batches.  I was too busy running around to find washcloths for the pool of batter that appeared out of nowhere below my food processor to take a photo, but suffice it to say that I could have gotten ten popovers out of this recipe had I been able to use a blender and not made the world’s largest medium-sized mess.

If you have a blender, though, this recipe is so, so easy.  No bowls, no mixing by hand, nothing hard.  Just toss in all the ingredients but the flour, mix, toss in the flour, mix, and pour into greased muffin tins.

In David Lebovitz’s photos, his popovers sink quite a bit in the center.  Mine did not.  They puffed up a lot, actually, and only dented a little in the center.  After reading some of the comments on his post, though, I think that may be okay.  I didn’t mind, in any case.  Be prepared for a very eggy flavor, which took me by surprise initially.

Sugar-Crusted Popovers
Adapted from David Lebovitz

You will need:

Popovers
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk (David recommends whole; I used 2% and they came out fine)
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 c. flour

Preheat oven to 400, and grease 9 cups in a muffin tin.

Combine all ingredients except flour in a blender or food processor and blend a few seconds. 

Add flour to blender, all at once, and blend until smooth.

Fill nine muffin cups about 2/3 full.

Bake 30-35 minutes (I baked mine a little less than 30), until popovers are dark, golden brown.

Remove from pan as soon as popovers are cool enough to handle, and cool on wire rack.  They will deflate a little; that’s okay.

Sugar coating
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. melted butter

Combine cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and whisk to blend.  When popovers are cool enough to handle, brush each popover all over (even on the bottom) with melted butter and roll them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture until coated.

Enjoy!

Thanks to David Lebovitz for allowing me to adapt this recipe for this site.