Cherry “surprise” coffee cake (the surprise is cream cheese!).

Indy, my baking buddy.

Indy and I are best buds. When Jay leaves for work at night, it’s just us. We watch TV, cook (okay, I cook), read, or cuddle in bed, sometimes blogging. He usually naps during those activities. However when I get up he follows me around relentlessly. Even waiting outside the bathroom for me. I call him my shadow. My 100-lb. shadow… & bodyguard.

Consequently, Indy is also my baking buddy.

He sits (quite adorably) on the rug in front of the sink as I mix & whisk & scoop. He leans his right side against the cabinets, hind legs off to the left side, his head turned & nose just barely reaching right over the counter, sniffing to see what exactly it is I’m doing today. I talk to him as I recite the recipes, or experiment with ingredients. Sometimes he looks up at me intently, as if he’s genuinely listening; or more so, actually absorbing what I’m saying. Other times he lays down on that rug ignoring me, but ever so close to me at the same time. Usually with a paw just touching my foot. And then once it’s in the oven he scoots forward to see. And again, as I move from room to room or from sink to dishwasher he follows me, tail wagging, possibly in hopes that whenever whatever it is I baked comes out of the oven, I have sympathy – or empathy- and ultimately give him a slice.

It hasn’t happened yet. But even as I take my photos, he tries. Respectfully.

Cherry surprise coffee cake; the surprise is a cream cheese filling floating throughout.

Always respectfully. He never pulls anything off the table or eats it without permission. He’s a true gentleman. And of course, aside from being a stellar example of canine restraint, he was well trained by his momma & poppa.

Cherry "surprise" coffee cake (the surprise? Cream cheese!)

I don’t blame him for trying. There’s a lot of good stuff coming out of my kitchen all the time! A man has to try, has to give it his best shot, even if he knows he’ll be shot down.

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Grandma Dotty’s mini honey cakes.

Each year I do a lot of Easter recipes for you guys. Tons of cute little cupcakes & muffins & stuff. But this year, I wasn’t really feeling it. I know for Sunday’s dinner I’ll probably make little bunny cupcakes or flowery cupcakes or something… but in the weeks leading up to it this year, I didn’t have it in me.

Grandma Dotty's honey cake recipe.

It’s probably because of the passing of Grandma Dotty. Its had us pretty down lately. And we’ve been spending a lot of time looking through her photos, going through her things, and reading those hand-written recipes.

So I figured why not make one of her recipes?

The one that immediately jumped out at me with Passover being here was the honey cake. Honey cake is a very popular & beloved item in Jewish cooking. Usually it’s made for Rosh Hashanah, sometimes Purim. Here’s a little more about the honey cake tradition:

Luckily, honey cake is dripping with tradition. Variations of honey-sweetened desserts have existed for thousands of centuries and in far-flung locales, from Ancient Egypt and Rome to China. Recent archaeological discoveries of beehives in Tel Rehov, Israel, also suggest that biblical Israel was indeed a land of milk and honey. According to Stephen Buchmann’s book, “Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind” (Bantam, 2005), German-Christian pilgrims developed a taste for honey cake on their trips to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. They enjoyed the dish enough to take it home, where it developed over time into its contemporary form.

Not surprisingly, the first Jewish honey cakes (or lekach, which comes from the German word lecke, meaning “lick”) originated in Germany around this time. During this period, the dessert was primarily eaten on Purim and Shavuot and sometimes served as a treat for young yeshiva students. As Gil Marks notes in “The World of Jewish Cooking” (Simon & Schuster, 1996):

“Honey was smeared on a slate containing the letters of the alphabet and the child licked them off so that the ‘words of the Torah may be sweet as honey.’ Afterward, the aspiring scholar was presented with honey cakes, apples and hard-boiled eggs.”

From Germany, the dish traveled to Eastern Europe, where Jews celebrated with honey cakes at simkhot (happy occasions) and holidays alike. According to Marks, the overall use of honey as an ingredient declined in Eastern European cooking during the 17th century but remained popular in Jewish cuisine.

-Source

Now, the fact that it’s leavened & includes wheat flour & confectioner’s sugar (among other “chametz“) would generally rule this cake out for Passover enjoyment. But since I’m not Jewish by birth nor am I (or Jay) religious in any capacity, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m doing this as a tribute to Dotty, not a religious symbol.

Grandma Dotty's honey cake recipe turned into mini cakes.

If you’re Jewish & you’re obeying the laws of Judaism, you know whether or not it’s okay to eat. Maybe wait until after Passover to try it? Or flex your culinary muscles by altering the recipe to use almond flour or matzoh meal? Alternately, they also make delicious little Easter cupcakes. Honestly they’re really great for any occasion. Even just an average Friday.

I used Langnese, an imported German honey in them, but Golden Blossom would taste great too ’cause of the orange. Just be sure to use a REAL honey. A lot of the honey you find in stores today is just high fructose corn syrup mixed with a little honey.

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Cherry cardamom hot cross buns with a buttermilk icing.

SPRING!! YOU’RE FINALLY HERE! Oh, how we’ve missed you. You & your bright colors & beautiful flowers. All winter I’ve longed for a big bouquet of fresh buds on my table, and I can finally indulge. And indulge I have!

Besides after having such a rough few weeks I think we all deserve some brightness.

Ranunculus.

I think since early March, I’ve had a trillion vases & jars all over the house, filled with beautiful flowers. As soon as I started seeing blooms for sale, I bought ‘em. Those gorgeous ones pictured are ranunculus; some of my absolute favorites. But daffodils were a big one recently, and of course tulips. It’s so nice to have the snow be gone & the greenery back!

And now, a spring-y, Easter-y recipe to usher in the season of eggs, bunnies & flowers: hot cross buns!

Cherry cardamom hot cross buns.

I had to change ‘em around a bit, though. I made mine with cardamom and dried cherries, and the icing is a buttermilk icing. You, however, can use cinnamon instead of cardamom, and raisins instead of cherries, and milk or heavy cream instead of buttermilk for a  more traditional recipe.

Cherry cardamom hot cross buns!

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Amish baking at it’s best… Shoo-fly pie.

Amish Shoo-fly pie.

Shoo-fly pie is one of those extremely interesting pies that’s really nothing more than sugar. It’s a goo-pie, really. Made with sticky molasses & sugar. And a little flour, and baking soda. But mostly sugar.

Obviously, it’s one of my favorite things.

So back when Jay surprised me with a new cook book, I was pleased to find out that it was this one!

The Amish Cook's Baking Book (and a recipe for shoo-fly pie!)

It’s filled with amazing pies & cakes & cookies & Amish stories. The first thing I wanted to make was the shoo-fly pie.

However, truth be told, I was hesitant to try to make a shoo-fly pie. See, Dutch Haven in Lancaster, PA makes THE BEST shoo-fly pie, ever, and I’ve eaten enough of it to know. Most shoo-fly pies aren’t as sweet as theirs, and that’s what I love about it. It’s a lot to live up to. Trust me, I know this well. Jay & I once went in three times in one day to sample it (they offer everyone who enters a sample!). We bought three to take home. And ate them. In like a week. So yes, I know all too well the high standard of shoo-fly pie.

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Bacon fat brownies up in ya grill.

You know, last week’s recipe was light, tangy, crisp & springy. This one is definitely not. You probably read this title & thought “Seriously?” Well, yes, actually. It’s 100% serious. Quite serious.

When is bacon fat something to be taken lightly? Never.

Brownies made with bacon fat!

If you’re like me, you save your bacon fat. Every time I make bacon, I save the fat in a jar & when it’s cool… I pop that baby in the fridge & save it for later. It has so many possibilities! Add it to a skillet or pan before making cornbread, make pancakes in it, make candles with it, pop some popcorn in it, make grilled cheese in it, etc. It’s a magical substance that imparts a bacon-y flavor & scent into whatever you use it for. Of course, if you bake your bacon in the oven (or microwave it *cringe*) you won’t get as much of this magic, so if you’re looking for a lot of fat then just do it the old school way: in a skillet on your stovetop!

And NO TURKEY BACON. None of that fake stuff. You need real bacon. I know that seems self-explanatory but you never know.

Bacon fat brownies!

I know I said they weren’t light, but they’re not obscenely heavy either.

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Grandma Dotty’s recipes.

Grandma Dotty's recipes.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Jay’s grandma Dotty passed away last week. We’ve been incredibly sad, obviously. She was a wonderful woman. I consider myself lucky to have known her & spent time with her. I’m only sorry that it was a quick 10 almost 11 years & not longer. Yes, I’m sad. I felt the same way about her I did my own grandmother. We are all sad, heartbroken in fact. It still feels like a shock. But if there’s any small bright side to this sadness, it’s that we’ve enjoyed looking through old photos and reminiscing with family.

One of the things I was given of Dotty’s was this baking book. It was stuffed with cut-out recipes & handwritten recipes, as well as torn-out magazine clippings for Norge ranges & a manual/warranty for a Frigidaire appliance (the ’59 series electric range Super model, S-9-59). Knowing my love for all things vintage/retro, there should be no surprise that I have been reading these every night before bed.

Grandma Dotty's mother's book, All About Home Baking third edition 1935

The book was published in 1933, but this edition is the third edition from 1935, which makes me think it was actually originally Dotty’s mother Sadie’s book, not hers. Dotty’s mother Sadie Geller came in here in 1912 from Galicia, Poland (which is now a part of Ukraine but was at one point Austria). She married Joseph Mandel, who was born in Russia, when she came here to New York and they had five children: Ida, Sarah, Dorothy, Milton and Libby. Dorothy is our grandma Dotty.

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Sad news, pickled asparagus & such.

Before I start getting into recipes, I’m sorry to say it’s been a difficult few days for us- Jay’s grandma Dotty passed away on Saturday. We’re all really torn up, we adored her. She was an amazing cook & an amazing grandma. She wasn’t my grandma by blood but I couldn’t have loved her more if she was. What a beautiful soul, inside & out (as you can see). I’m sorry that I won’t be making her her much-requested apricot or strawberry sugar-free jam this year… she’ll be missed terribly.

My heart hurts.

Grandma Dorothy Liff October 2, 1923 - March 29, 2014.Dorothy Liff ¤ October 2, 1923 – March 29, 2014

 

This recipe was written up last week, ready to go, & Grandma Dotty was big into cooking (which I’ll be writing more about very soon). She’d have wanted to hear more about all my recipes, or what I was making, so here it is. There’s no segue into this… and I feel weird doing so… but away we go.

We’re all patiently waiting for spring, right? I mean it technically IS spring. But we’re all waiting for it to get more spring-y. So spring veggies are a good sign, no? Now, let me just say: I don’t like asparagus. Not one bit. That said, it’s everywhere in the springtime, rearing its weird little pointy kinda flowery little  heads all over the place.

Pickled asparagus recipe!

Meh.

I don’t even like the way it smells.

Makin' some pickled asparagus!

My mother & Jay LOVE asparagus. LOVE it. I don’t have the foggiest clue why really. It’s not attractive in the least. And like I said; the smell? No thanks.

Unlike broccoli… which I plan on pickling soon as well. Broccoli has a nice, fresh smell. And it’s delicious.

Did I get sidetracked?

An easy pickled asparagus recipe!

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Food find of the month: Irish apple cake from Kleinworth & Co.

OH WOW. WOW.

This is some good cake.

Irish apple cake!

I found it on Pinterest; I’m not ashamed to say. Irish apple cake is what it’s called. And it’s from a blog called Kleinworth & Co. I had to squeeze it in this month, so let’s extend the “Irish” stuff a while longer. ‘K?

The apple has a lot of history in Ireland:

Did you know that St. Patrick is said to have planted apple trees in Ireland? Apples have been grown in Ireland for at least 3000 years and legend has it that he planted an apple tree in Ulster County at the ancient settlement of Ceanoga near, what is today called, Armagh. While it is a lovely tale, it’s more likely that the Druids, who used apple trees in their rituals, were the ones who first tended apple orchards in Ireland. Prior to English rule, Ireland was governed by a system of law that was codified and administered by the Brehons, who were the successors to the Celtic druids. The Brehons were charged with the preservation and interpretation of laws that had been established by centuries of oral tradition.The Irish took their apple trees seriously. Brehon law stipulated that anyone cutting down an apple tree would be subject to a financial penalty that included the surrender of five cows. I’m not sure what happened to those who had no cows to surrender, but we can be sure they were fined or punished for their transgression. Desserts and beverages made from apples are very popular in Ireland.

-source

Granny Smith apples for Irish apple cake.

So there you have it.

I’ve made Dutch & German apple cakes before, and a hazelnut apple cake that’s much beloved, and the principle is basically the same with this one. But yet altogether different- because the creation is more like a pie crust than a cake.

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Tales from the thrift.

Well… it’s been a long time since I posted about my thrifty finds, hasn’t it? I think it was last June August when I posted that huge post about (almost) every awesome thing I had. But there’s a good reason for it: I haven’t really had time to go thrifting! Between everything that’s been going on with me & then the house reno stuff, it was impossible.

The other reason is that the few times I did happen to go, I didn’t find anything. Disappointment central. Then… I got lucky! Twice in a row.

So here’s a new TALES FROM THE THRIFT!*

Tales from the Thrift!

In case you didn’t know, I collect vintage stuff. Mostly housewares. And two of my favorite things to collect are vintage jars & Pyrex. I like the 1950′s/early 1960′s patterns and colors the most; the pinks, pale greens, turquoises, black & whites, etc. I love (& collect, or at least I’m attempting to in some cases) the Gooseberry, Pink Daisy, Balloons, DuchessMidnight Bloom, Flamingo, Pink Daisy, Golden Scroll, Starburst, Black Tulip, Butterprint, Medallion, Pink Scroll, Stems, Snowflake, New Dots & Barbed Wire patterns, among others. However a few of the green & bright blue patterns I like are from the late 60′s or 70′s, such as Spring Blossom.

And also like these blue snowflake/snowflake blue mixing bowls *:

1960's/1970's blue snowflake Pyrex Cinderella bowls.

The large bowl cost me around 5 bucks, the small one 3 bucks. The price on the large bowl was originally $9.00 at the thrift shop, but I got it on sale. I love my big vintage Pyrex mixing bowls. They’re actually the only vintage Pyrex pieces I use- the rest are display pieces (other than the fairly common clear pie plates, like you’ll see later in this post). I had never seen this pattern around in my travels (just on the internet), and I was amazed at the condition of these bowls! They’re practically perfect. And speaking of perfect…

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A REAL Irish soda bread.

Daffodils... does that mean spring is here??

It’s daffodil time. Daffodils are a sure sign of spring, right? I mean with a jar of beautiful perky yellow blooms on your table you can’t possibly be faced with more snow. Right? RIGHT?

*sigh* Probably not.

Anyway… it’s also time for Irish soda bread.

Authentic Irish soda bread.

And tons of different kinds of Irish soda bread. Everyone seems to have their own version of it, don’t they? I  do stand by the fact that it ought not to have raisins or caraway seeds in it (even though I really like experimenting & having fun with my recipes). Authentically it’s just straight up & basic. Don’t believe me? Here, read this:

Epicurious: What about the version with butter, raisins, and caraway?
Rory O’Connell: No. That would be regarded as being some sort of exotic bread that wasn’t Irish.

Epicurious: What is your personal opinion about soda bread variations?
Rory O’Connell: I think some are fine. I love plain white soda bread or brown soda bread, but [at Ballymaloe] we also do variations on the theme, using that simple, easy-to-prepare recipe as a vehicle for adding other ingredients—cheese, herbs, olives, roast cherry tomatoes, red onion, garlic. But then we don’t say, “This is an Irish soda bread with sun-dried tomatoes.” We say, “It’s a sun-dried tomato bread made on an Irish soda bread base.” But in a way I don’t mind too much what people are doing with it as long as they’re baking.

-Source

An authentic Irish soda bread, with 4 ingredients.

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