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Southern Baking and Beyond

For many in today’s world, baking is a hobby, something dabbled in once the leaves begin to change into their brilliant colors towards the end of another year. Baking is a reason to show off a recipe seen practiced between the pages of a trendy magazine, or seen demonstrated on any number of television shows clamoring for our attention and ratings.

In the South however, baking is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. It is as much a  fixture in our DNA as in our culture.

Southerners share food at every occasion, in times of celebration as well as sadness. Ask any Southerner to share a favorite memory of childhood and usually the answer will involve a grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas that comforted the most troubled soul. The memory may include holidays and women with busy hands gathered together to make easy work of pies, cakes and cookies. Or perhaps thoughts harken back to a time one was in need and a special dish made from the heart was sure to accompany healing words. Nevertheless, kindness was the most important ingredient of any bake.

My mother remembers the multitude of baked goods served at dinners on the ground of her hometown church. She recalls how her mother made a well in the wooden bowl filled with flour, salt, and buttermilk for biscuit dough and “pinching off” the dough into drops that would mysteriously form a perfect round biscuit.

I still remember my grandmother’s fried chicken she always made special when we came to visit. The delicious, perfectly seasoned poultry was juicy and tender and far superior to anything you could buy in a bucket! My grandmother has passed on, but forty years later have not lessened the memory for me.

Old-fashioned Southern baking is too quickly becoming only memories for many. Today’s South seems to have no place for what is tried and true, replacing everything Southerners know and love with something newer, quicker, and more exotic. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but when I can no longer find pimento cheese at the supermarket because it is considered “too Southern” for newcomers, I feel like a part of my heritage is being stripped away.

And so, I created this blog for classic Southern baking. You will not find obscure ingredients, or words you cannot pronounce. Along the way, I’ll provide stories and history behind our favorite bakes, as well as how-to videos and the recipes that didn’t work. (I’ve had many recipe fails! I am not a pro pastry chef!)

I look forward to sharing, learning and creating the bakes that are truly Southern as well as many that we have adopted as our own and become Southern through the years.

Thank you for visiting,

Suzanne

 

 

 

Bakers…Check Your Ovens!

It started over a month ago, when my father started reminding me about his upcoming birthday and the coconut cake I had baked for him last year. He loved it so much he decided he wanted the same cake when asked what kind of cake he wanted this year.

“I love that coconut cake you make,” he said. “I like that lemon filling you put in the middle.”

And so for the past month, everyday, my father would call and tell me that he had a birthday coming up and he would sure like “that coconut cake,” again. When I asked what he wanted for a present, he simply replied, “Just that coconut cake.”

Well, my dad loved his coconut cake and he told me it was so good he wasn’t sure if the cake would make it past the weekend. (His birthday was on a Thursday this year) I began to wonder why so many of my other cake baking efforts were a big flop. One cake bakes like a dream, another, a huge fail with me throwing the cake in the trash as if it were a frisbee. I began to believe my abilities in cake baking were limited, and I would just have to settle for title of at-home baker with a hit-or-miss record. The Great British Baking Show was not in my future.

But I am not one to give up! I may moan and cry and pout for a couple of hours, but come morning I have a new determination. My, “I cannot rest until I figure this out,” attitude kicks in and once again I am off like lightning, my brain spinning like a hamster wheel.

Since it is impossible for me to sleep in one of these spells, I stayed up streaming YouTube videos on cake decorating. I have decorated cakes with success, maybe I could be inspired to try cake again.

After many nights falling asleep to the musical backgrounds provided during many a wedding cake video, I came across Global Sugar Art and a Chef Alan Tetreault. After watching him make even the most elaborate designs appear easy-breezy, I found his video on baking cakes from scratch. Apparently, I am not the cake baking failure I always thought I was. First things first. The tools of the trade have as much to do with the success of our bakes as do the ingredients.

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My mind began taking notes of the complexities of oven temperature, and exact placement of pans on the oven racks. It seems a 350* oven and a pan of cake mix is more complex than I thought. Here, I would like to share Chef Tetreault’s tips about ovens and cake pans.

First, use an oven thermometer to check that your oven is truly reaching the desired temperature. Many ovens can be off as much as 20 degrees!

An oven set at 350* is fine…as long as you are using a simple aluminum pan.

Baking pans made of Anodized aluminum, glass, dark metal pans, and sheet pans, need a lower temperature because they conduct more heat. 325* is a better bet for these types of baking pans.

And according to Chef Tetreault, never bake a cake on a rack placed any higher than the middle of your oven. Higher than that and the cake will form a crust on the top of the cake and as the rest of the cake bakes, it will spill out over the sides of the pan, causing your cake to erupt! No one wants to clean out that mess!

Another hint: When using a convection oven, always set the oven to the setting for baking cakes. This is something I have no understanding of, as I am using an “apartment style” oven, but if you have a convection oven, I assume you know what this means.

There is so much information in this video, and it is eye-opening for us at-home, hobby bakers that I am placing the link for the video at the end of this blog. I hope you will take the time to watch the video in its entirety. There is so much useful information and Chef Tetreault is a very calm presence. It feels like he is teaching you step-by-step and not talking down to his viewers. That’s all for now.

Happy Baking!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqpoG2nJOw8

 

Blueberry-Lemon Biscuits

 

boy picking on blueberries in cardboard box
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Fresh blueberries and summer are forever a perfect picture of what summer in the South is all about. As soon as the weather becomes warm enough to tolerate, but before it becomes unbearable, blueberries with their deep indigo color reminds us of a cool refuge in warmer months.
Jams, jellies, pies, and my favorite, blueberry muffins, are what make blueberries special. No other fruit can burst into the most majestic shade of purple when baked. It is as if blueberries hide a secret only to be revealed once under heat. This recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Biscuits reminds me of a certain fast-food chain and their blueberry biscuits.
However, this recipe requires real blueberries, not blueberry flavored bits of some substance known only to scientists in a lab. And the addition of lemon peel and juice makes these biscuits far superior in taste and texture. Just biting into those berries, full of flavor makes heating up the kitchen in the warmer months, worth the effort.

Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon BiscuitsDSCI0236

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup cold butter
One egg, lightly beaten
(1) 6 oz. carton of lemon yogurt (can substitute vanilla flavor)
2 tsp. milk
1 tsp. finely zested lemon peel
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries

Recipe for Lemon Glaze:
In a small bowl mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp. finely zested lemon peel, 1 tsp. vanilla, and enough lemon juice (3-4 tsp.) to make a thick glaze liquid enough to drizzle over biscuits.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400*. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Set aside.
Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sugar. Cut in cold butter until the mix looks like crumbs.
In a small bowl, stir yogurt, lightly beaten egg, and lemon zest. Add mixture to the flour mixture.
Using a fork, stir the mixture until moistened. Fold in blueberries gently.
Drop about a heaping tablespoon amount onto baking sheet. (An ice cream scoop works well for this task.)
Bake 10-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown in color.
Once removed from oven, place biscuits onto wire rack for cooling.
Drizzle lemon glaze over biscuits once biscuits have cooled.
Enjoy!

Note* These biscuits can be frozen, just do not drizzle the glaze on them before freezing. Wrap them in foil and place in airtight container safe for freezer. When ready to bake, place foil wrapped biscuits in a 300* oven for 20-30 minutes. Drizzle with glaze as you would if freshly baked.

Mom’s Easter Sunday Ham

white flowers between brown rabbit figure and eggs
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The glorious colors of Spring are beginning to paint the landscape here in the South, along with our nemesis, that sticky, yellow-green pollen dust from the tall pines. My red car is covered in the stuff, but I don’t need to see the pollen to know it’s there, my fits of coughing and itchy, eyes let me know Spring has sprung!

Along with the misery, is the hope Easter brings. New life is abundant in the flowers blooming to their fullest glory, while various birds sing their praises of survival through the bitter cold of winter.

This time of year reminds me of so many Easter celebrations of years past. My mother made Easter as much of an event to be anticipated as Christmas morning. Waking up to a big basket filled with the many colors of flavorful candies and a huge, bunny made of delicious chocolate, is still a memory I cherish. Coloring eggs with the famous Paas food dye kits were as much fun as the holiday itself. This was only a building up to a luncheon with the main attraction, Mom’s Easter ham.

The large ham would be prepared on a large platter surrounded by greens and coated with orange extract, then, much to the delight of my brothers and I, set aflame with the single strike of a match. Watching the spectacle was akin to watching a fireworks show on the Fourth-of-July.

Mom has always gone out of her way to make holidays special. She doesn’t cook much anymore as her battle with Essential Tremor makes it difficult on her best days to handle the complexities of cooking. But as the season turns to warmer temperatures and longer days, I still can’t pass by a ham display at the local grocery store without thinking of that special Easter ham.

There are ways to make the star of the day more tasty and attractive without breaking your bank account. Here, I share my mother’s helpful advice for a fail-proof ham.

  • First, make sure to check prices from your local grocery stores. In the weeks before Easter, most stores will run specials hoping to pull loyal customers from their regular markets to the one with the biggest price cuts.
  • After you have removed all the packaging, place the ham in your sink for a good long rinse under cold water. The rinse will remove all the surface salt the ham has been coated in by the brand company. Don’t worry that this will reduce the salty flavor from the ham, the meat will still have its natural saltiness, just not the overkill of the sodium that ruins the flavor of the ham.
  • Don’t rush through. prepare some of the side items to your meal in advance. Potato salad, for example can be made up to two days ahead. Green beans were always served with the ham instead of asparagus. Mom knew our palates would not take to anything so exotic as vegetables we didn’t normally eat during the rest of the year. This is not the time to surprise everyone with something you are not sure they would partake of any other day of the year. It is nonsense to waste time and money, let alone food, when folks will not eat it.
  • Wether a buffet or table setting; relax, let others set out flatware and beverage glasses. Send out food to the table and dispense with elaborate decorations. People don’t talk about the way your table looked in the years to come. People remember how good the food tasted and how special the day was.
  • Make deep, criss-cross cuts into the ham before cooking.  Place a whole clove deep into each of the “squares,” created by the knife cuts. Allow the ham to cook as long as required to achieve the flavor to come through. Baste the ham with orange juice while the ham is cooking will help dispense of any saltiness and create a richer flavor to the ham once the extract is added.
  • Arrange the ham on the platter and surround with salad greens mixed with peeled orange slices. Add a few cranberries for color if you like.
  • Finally, pour the orange extract over the ham, generously. Use up all the liquid. Don’t hold back some for “use later.” Trust me, unless you have some special recipe that calls for orange extract, you will never buy another bottle until next Easter.

Now, strike a match, and set the ham ablaze! Watch everyone, especially the children, ooh and ahh over the magical moment as the bright orange and red flame jumps and waves into a blue light, then quietly slows down and disappear into the checkerboard pattern of ham and clove.

As I celebrate my one-year anniversary of this blog. I thank all the followers and wish them a Happy Easter and the filled promise of that first Easter celebrated so long ago.

Enjoy!

Irish Tea, Me, and History

I love St. Patrick’s Day! The bright colors of spring abound, and various birds of every description begin to flutter around in the trees, and celebrating the patron saint of The Emerald Isle marks the time of year when everything is about renewal and fresh beginnings.

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Photo by Melissa on Pexels.com

I usually partake in this special holiday by sporting the deep, green color of Ireland’s countryside through my wardrobe. I pull from my jewelry box a unique, gold-plated pin embellished with various charms and tokens representing the Emerald Isle and walk happily about with pride.

Twenty years ago, after I came across the family Bible from my mother’s paternal grandparents, I began researching my family tree. In those days, if you wanted to know more about where you came from and how you got here, you needed money, time, and a lot of patience. (All things I am very short of). Census records were kept on microfilm in a musty cavern beneath the structures of government buildings. You needed permission and someone who knew where to look for what it was you needed to look for. Those were the old days. At least I could ask my parents what they knew or had heard from relatives when they were growing up. But that was all I had, and as I am not a celebrity, no one from “Who Do You Think You Are?” was going to be knocking on my door with the answers in hand.

Today, we have the internet and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to guide us in finding our family and those long, stretched out lineages of people who came before us. Through their website, http://www.familysearch.com, I was able to find relatives dating back to the 10th century from Wales. In fact, my mother’s grandfather’s line hasn’t a drop of Irish blood at all! But the Millikan family roots run deep in North Carolina, and it is from her father’s side of the family that we attribute to the sod of Ireland. It has been recorded that the Millikan clan came down from Pennsylvania after settling for a time with the Quaker’s of German descent. After a time, the English Quaker’s migrated south and settled permanently in the piedmont of North Carolina. When exactly, my family came from Ireland is still a mystery and it may take another twenty years of digging through records on the internet before I find the answers. But, I love a good mystery, and that is all part of geneology…looking for clues to unravel the different parts that make a whole.

green trees under blue and orange sky during sunset
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

What I do know is that my family came here long before we called ourselves Americans. That in itself is an amazing discovery, and while I continue my journey, I will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a good, strong cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and some, “hot from the oven,” delicious raisin scones. And with every sip and every bite, I will remember how fortunate I am to be made of so many wonderful ingredients. Afterall, that is the very heart of baking, bringing together the parts that are different to make something wonderful. Enjoy!

 

Recipe for Irish Raisin Scones

2 cups all- purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2  1/2  tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. shortening

3/4 cups of raisins

1 cup of buttermilk or scalded milk

 

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder with salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. Add raisins and the buttermilk and continue to mix with fork or pastry blender until ingredients are moist. The dough will be sticky.
  2. Place the dough onto a well floured surface and knead dough for approximately one minute. Shape into a ball and place dough onto ungreased baking sheet. Mark out with a knife wedges of eight pieces. Let dough rest for ten minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is a golden brown. Make sure to insert a toothpick or skewer into middle to test for doneness. If not done, place bake in oven until dough is set in the center.

If you want a sweet, crunchy top for your scones, brush the top with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar before placing in oven to bake.

Serve warm with various jams, jellies, or preserves along with sweet cream or clotted cream. Enjoy with a cup of Irish Breakfast Tea or any other tea you prefer.

Chocolate Chocolatey Mint Chip Cookies

20190129_160303Nothing in this world calms my nerves like a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And wile I wait, none to patiently, for my laptop to run another “update,” my mind goes back and forth from my tablet to the countertop, where a recent batch of chocolate cookies beckons.

Over the holidays, I found my local grocery store had put up a display for Andes Mints. I hadn’t seen these striped, chocolate candies for ages, so I picked up two packages and decided to offer then as a refreshment for for guests. They never made it that far. My mother helped me gobble down the first batch, and with our chocolate, mint craving satisfied, I had still one unopened box. What to do with it?

I often find myself struggling over what to prepare for dinner. As there are only two people, and one fussy, little dog around, it is difficult to think of meals for such a small group. It is on these occasions where I scramble through coupons in a quest for something in the fast food genre. The glove compartment of my car is stuffed with antiquated brochures and flyers from restaurants offering special deals for a limited time. I came across one from Subway. Off I went. At least, it is healthier than other options.

photo of person driving
Photo by Peter Fazekas on Pexels.com

As I was paying for my sub sandwich, I noticed the display of cookies on the counter. Deep, rich chocolate with flecks of bright green caught my attention. “Chocolate Mint Chip.” I decided at the last minute to add them to my purchase.

After the meal, I warmed the cookies in the microwave and as my mother and I sank our teeth into the melty, minty, cookie, I thought about how easy it would be to make these for myself. I already had the box of Andes Mints, and I was sure I had a recipe somewhere for chocolate, chocolate chip cookies.

My mother spent the next evening, breaking up the entire box of candies into bits and pieces. Carefully unwrapping each as her hands would allow. My mother decided that her hand trmors would make her ideal for this job as she didn’t need to use delicacy when breaking up the candy.

Below is the recipe for these cookies I made at home. They really are delicious, and a refreshing break from the usual chocolate chip cookie. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolatey Mint Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp, baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup of Chopped Andes Mints

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375*

  1. In a large bowl or mixer, cream together butter, and sugars together until light and fluffy. Gradually add vanilla and egg and blend until smooth.
  2. Add flour, cocoa powder, and other dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Mix well.
  3. Stir in the Andes Mints pieces, gently.
  4. Drop tablespoon sized dough onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for around 10 minutes. Cool for approx. 5 minutes on cookie sheet then remove cookies  and place on cookie rack to finish cooling.

P.S. I found the dough to be a bit soft for this recipe, so I added an extra 1/4 cup of flour to the mixture I had leftover for a more firm cookie. Of course, if you like a more soft cookie, keep the recipe to the original above.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Take care, Suzanne

 

 

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

DSCI0230

This is the day of new beginnings and resolutions! And though we all have good intentions, sometimes we are unable to keep those promises to ourselves we made in the late hours of the previous year.

I am all for new opportunities, as I have had to re-invent myself many times in life. The best laid plans don’t always work out, but I believe the Lord our God has our best in His plans.

This recipe for Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies is a good idea when the long winter sets in our bones and makes us hungry for comfort foods that are not part of our diet in the New Year. However, they are packed with less sugar than regular chocolate chip cookies and with the added oatmeal and pecans, they certainly won’t wreck you diet too much!

I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked regular oats

1 (12 0z.) package semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped pecans (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*

Beat butter and sugars in bowl at medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla.

Add salt and baking soda.

Add flour and oats a little at a time. The mixture will begin to become stiff. This is normal.

Once flour and oats have been mixed in, begin adding chocolate chips and pecans.

Place teaspoonful drops onto ungreased baking sheet or use parchment paper on baking sheet if desired, and bake in oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack for about 2-3 minutes.

Enjoy!

A Very Merry Black Forest Cherry Cake

Many who enjoy baking as a hobby know baking from scratch is the standard. But when the holidays press us to our limits, a box of cake or cookie mix makes life bearable. I love baking from scratch, and I love finding new recipes to try out as well as old ones I haven’t attempted. This year, I will have no “baked from my own two hands” baked goods upon my countertops. This year is right out of a box. After battling a cold virus since Thanksgiving, I feel grateful I am able to accomplish as much.

I came across this particular recipe for Black Forest Cherry Cake, many years ago in a cookbook from QVC Host, Mary Beth Roe. “My Family’s Favorites” is filled with easy recipes for beginners, with many made from scratch and others that are a real help in any kitchen with shortcuts by the way of boxed mixes, canned goods and minimal ingredients.  The cookbook is no longer available through QVC, however, an internet search might provide some outlets where it can be obtained.

This recipe has been celebrated by many in my family and if you are pressed for time, with only four ingredients, it is simple and quick to make. I hope you will enjoy this rich, dense, and flavorful cake that tastes like it was made from scratch. Shhh…you don’t have to tell anyone it came from a box!

Black Forest Cherry Bundt Cake

1 package chocolate cake mix

1 (21 oz.) can of cherry pie filling

1/4 cup oil

3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*

Combine cake mix, pie filling, oil, and eggs. Beat well until smooth. Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. Cool in pan for 25 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack to finish cooling. Decorate and serve with can of extra cherry pie filling and whipped cream.

Note* You can serve this cake without any extra pie filling or cream. It is great with ice cream or just plain. Decorate using your imagination and enjoy! Merry Christmas Everyone!DSCI0219