Baked


After the first three weeks of spring were cold, wet and miserable, this week arrived with plenty of sunshine, slightly balmy days and the sensation that beach days are back. We were elated! So elated that we (finally!) bought garden chairs and lots of white wine and soda water to enjoy with dinner out on the balcony again.

But we awoke this morning at 5:30AM (to climb Lion’s Head again) to an overcast city. Despite a slight crispness in the air that was not there yesterday we went ahead with our climbing, enjoying the mist that enveloped us on the way up and down and the new flowers in bloom all over the mountain. The weather would clear as soon as the sun is out, I told myself.

Well, it’s much later in the day, I’ve checked the weather forecast for the weekend and I have shut all windows to keep the chill out. Spring has been taken from us! And this on the day my northern sister is coming to visit us from Gauteng. I’ve been so excited to show her what she’s missing by not moving here; lazing at the beach, picnics in the Gardens, sunshine shopping sprees at Milnerton Market and a lazy cheese and wine tasting at Fairview.

I wish I had one or three of these to enjoy now… 

salted cashew cupcakes

…salted cashew cupcakes.

I made these a while ago, tweaking a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for maple walnut cupcakes. They tasted incredible, especially after Alexander decided to throw pinches of sea salt on each to balance the decadently rich frosting. They were incredibly good, so much so, we had to give some away as we were risking eating the whole giant batch ourselves.

Yes, one of those would make me feel better now. But instead I’ll be baking banana and strawberry muffins for sis’s arrival and prepare cookie dough for Saturday nights dessert with friends. Hopefully all of that will lift my spirits and I’ll be sharing the recipes with you in sunnier weather.

I was trying to get back into reading blogs after the holidays three days ago and saw a recipe (and sublime pictures) for a tomato and quinoa bread on Cooking Books. Right away I knew I had to make it. Bread intimidates me something awful, but this one looked so good that I just had-had-had to try it.

But it is winter and you cannot go around making bread like this without having a bowl of steaming soup of some kind of vegetable to eat it with.  Tomato soup would be overkill, pea soup sounds too mushy, mushroom soup would be too creamy. I’m picky about soup, you see. My maternal grandfather would have soup for lunch 6 days a week, regardless of the season. During childhood summers on the farm, when it was in the high 30C’s outside, we’d be eating soup at his lunch table and had to keep quiet about it. Today the thought of soup as a meal is hugely off-putting idea to me, but every now and then I get a craving and then it has to be good.

I finally settled on a celery soup. Celery and tomato juice works well in a bloody mary so no doubt it will work well as a bread and soup combination.

I’m not going into the details of making the bread, Andrea did a great job of that, so head over there for the tomato and quinoa bead recipe. One thing I added to the dough was a couple of cubes of tomato flesh, without the seeds and juice, for some extra color and texture in the bread.

For the celery soup you need to collect:

– 500g of celery stalk, cut into about 1 inch pieces

– 1 medium sized potato (peeled and cut into cubes) or a cup of uncooked rice (brown would be a healthier choice)

– 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

– 1 medium onion, chopped

– 2 crushed garlic cloves

– 2 and 1/2 cups vegetable stock

– salt and pepper to taste

Making the soup:

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the celery, onion and garlic. Cook until the the onion is light, then add the stock and the potatoes or rice. Bring everything to a boil, lower the heat and let everything simmer until the ingredients are soft, but not mushy. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the soup to cool. You’re going to blend the ingredients and blending hot soup can have very nasty results. I know from experience.

Once the soup has cooled a bit, blend it in batches until it reaches the consistency you like. I prefer keeping some chunks in my soup, so I blend just a little. Pour the soup back in the saucepan and heat until ready to serve.

Enjoy it with slices of fresh bread, tomato and quinoa in my case, at a sunlit table on a winter afternoon.

Like these Eggnog cookies we baked the other night. They were a big hit in this house, as the fast-emptying cookie plates can attest.  They are real easy to make and fast too as the dough does not need any refrigeration.Which means we did not have to wait around for hours but could satisfy our cravings almost immediately.

To make these tasty treats you need to get together:

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup eggnog

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large egg yolks

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature and cubed

1 and 1/4 cup white sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 300F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl beat together the sugar and butter until light and creamy. Mix in the egg yolks, eggnog and vanilla on medium until nice and smooth. Gently fold in the remaining ingredients until everything is just combined.

Drop teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. You can sprinkle some ground nutmeg or cinnamon over the cookies if you like. Bake it for about 20 minutes and remember to rotate halfway through. Remove from the oven and transfer the paper to a wire rack to cool. The cookies are very soft when removed from the oven, but they set a little more once removed

Alexander created an eggnog frosting the next day to drizzle over our second batch of cookies for some added decadence. Just cream a little softened butter with powdered sugar and mix in a little eggnog, then drizzle over cooled cookies.

These cookies has a delightful chewy texture and are great on their own or accompanied by some warm milk or hot chocolate.

Months ago now, when we were still living out of built-in-closets in our own apartment, I baked some mocha brownies. The recipe came form a brownie book I got from my friend Nicole for my birthday this year. It was the kind of gift that had both Alexander and myself pretty excited, full of varieties on the standard brownie and beautifully illustrated.

Alexander took some pictures for me, so that I had something baking-related to blog about while on the road, or on the seas actually. I completely forgot about them though, until I was going through some old pictures yesterday and happened upon the folder containing these pictures. It made me miss the kitchen and long for a home with an oven and a pantry shelve with tins containing sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, chocolate chips, sprinkles, vanilla… you get the idea.

I wish I were able to share the recipe with you, as these brownies were terribly delicious with a slight crust and fudge-like layer inside, but the book is in some box, either in South Africa, or already there. If it is not in the box that may be lost. Blah!


It’s actually really easy to make mocha brownies though. Take any regular brownie recipe and mix in a small amount of strong black coffee, about a tablespoon. I also made a chocolate sauce mixing cream, dark chocolate chips and another tablespoon of black coffee. I like my brownies crunchy on the outside and gooey inside, so I always increase the amount of chocolate and make sure I remove the brownies from the oven once the crust seems hardened. Easy!

Sugar cookies with chocolate chips and frosty vanilla iced tea. Enjoyed at the end of an otherwise bland and muggy Tuesday.

This is my first attempt at baking scones. The recipe said to roll the dough into an 8 inch circle, cut it into wedge and bake. I shaped it into some circle-like form and then tried cutting, but the dough was too sticky. I suppose I should have used a little more flour. So I baked it for ten minutes, and then took it out and cut into not-wedges. I broke out into a fit of giggles and then baked it for another ten minutes.

It came out okay, mainly because I added lots of chocolate chips I think. They look like freaks though, all misshapen.

I think I’m going to open a bake shop and just create crazy looking, yet yummy baked goodies.

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