German chocolate cake

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Like a lot of things in America, the so-named German chocolate cake isn’t actually German. But Americans, I guess, decided it is. Or actually the history goes that it was concocted by someone named Samuel German and was originally called German’s chocolate cake. Has nothing at all to do with being German or Germany. But the name has shifted, as so many do, to make people wrongly believe that this cake is a German treat.

I’ve always been fairly disgusted by German chocolate cake. It was the go-to birthday cake for my maternal grandfather, and I, liking neither chocolate nor nuts, could never see the appeal. Recently, while thinking a lot about my grandparents (now both deceased), I wondered if I could make German chocolate cupcakes.

Before you get started, I would suggest toasting your pecans for the filling. Toast about 4 ounces or 113 grams of pecan pieces in an oven at 175C/350F for about 10 minutes, making sure they do not burn. Set aside.

Cake
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cold, strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Butter and flour muffin tins (or use paper muffin cups). Sift dry ingredients together in one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, coffee, buttermilk and vanilla.

Beat the coffee mix into the dry ingredients in two batches with an electric mixer on low. Beat in butter last. Pour into prepared muffin tins (about half full).

Bake 10-14 minutes (done when a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake in the center of the pan comes out clean).

Nut-coconut filling
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup coconut
3/4 – 1 cup toasted pecan pieces
3 tablespoons butter

In a heavy mid-sized saucepan, combine cream, sugar and yolks. Cook on medium-low until the sugar dissolves (about ten minutes). Remove from heat and add coconut, pecans and butter. Stir until the butter is fully melted. Let stand until at room temperature.

When cool, use the filling to fill/top each cupcake to the capacity you like. I made holes in my cupcakes and filled them and then topped the rest of the cake with some chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, but you could also use a chocolate ganache as a topper.

Crack pie addict: Are we all on crack?

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How many times now have I made the so-called crack pie and NOT posted a recipe? How can that be?

It’s time I remedied this problem.

Gooey insides of crack pie

Gooey insides of crack pie

How much crack is in that crack pie?

How much crack is in that crack pie?

Crack pie recipe

Preheat oven to 175C

Crust
1 cup graham cracker or digestive biscuit crumbs
4 tablespoons melted butter
4 teaspoons sugar

Mix all together and press into a pie tin and bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly while making the filling.

Filling
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 egg yolks
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup ground oats
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips (I use M&Ms or chocolate chunks if I don’t have chocolate chips)
1/2 cup pecan pieces
(3 tablespoons M&Ms to top)

Mix all ingredients. Spread into the baked crust. Bake 25 minutes. When nearly fully baked, press the M&Ms into the top.

Cool completely and chill in the fridge, preferably overnight, before cutting to ensure clean slices.

…Just so you know, crack pie is addictive. Eat with caution and in moderation.

The most recent time I made crack pie, I made two. This time I did not have any chocolate chips – the normal filling – so I used M&Ms. I used to have so many active “smugglers” bringing me all manner of chocolate chips from the US… but not so much any more. Who wants to assume the role of my new chocolate chip smuggler? Volunteers? Anyone?

The bonus box: Maple pecan cookies and five-inch floppy disks

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Nothing makes a girl feel old like explaining to a youthful colleague what it was like to use floppy disks in “the old days”. It makes one feel even older than explaining the ubiquity of dial-up and AOL to people. It almost does not seem real to me either since my floppy-disk-using time was at the tail end of floppy use. That said, I still remember it well, right down to the last box of these disks that I owned. The brand was “Bonus” or something, so my brother sometimes asked jokingly, “What’s in the Bonus box?” We found it funny, but I can’t begin to understand why now.  (It’s possible he wanted to imitate the scene from the 80s film Real Men, which is so impossibly silly and stupid that I love it – and my god, look at John Ritter, who was SO young then (RIP), “Happy pie!”)

Now just seeing the words “five-inch floppy” together makes Viagra and other erectile dysfunction pharma commercials spring (yes, SPRING!) to mind. HA!

Then again, in most of the world, tv commercials for pharmaceutical, prescription drugs are not permitted. Only in America (probably) can you have drug ads in every commercial break prompting you to “ask your doctor” to prescribe all manner of toxic chemicals (and we have seen how much trouble the industry gets into as a result; for example, Johnson & Johnson recently got into hot water thanks to false marketing/making misleading claims and for paying doctors and nursing homes to recommend a specific drug that they knew had other adverse effects).

And in America – North America in general (including the Great White North, Canada, in this assessment of course), one great thing is maple syrup/flavor. In my recent baking escapades, I made not only the infamous brown sugar-maple cupcakes and frosting with candied maple bacon, but also tried a whole new recipe – maple pecan cookies. I did not hear any opinions on these one way or the other (and with 24 different options to choose from, I suppose everyone tried a lot of different things), but I assume these were okay – at least they looked the part.

maple pecan cookies

maple pecan cookies

MAPLE PECAN COOKIES

1 cup butter, room temperature
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
2 cups flour
1 ½ cups finely chopped pecans (or whatever amount you desire – I used less)

Maple icing
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons cream or milk (to achieve right consistency
pecan halves, to top the cookies

Preheat oven to 350F/175C.

Cream butter and add powdered and maple syrup. Add flour and pecans and mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased/parchment-lined cookie sheets. Flatten cookie slightly and use your thumb to make an indentation in the top (for the frosting and pecan. Bake in preheated oven 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Cool completely on racks.

Mix icing ingredients together until you have achieved desired, spreadable consistency and flavor. Spread on cooled cookies and top each cookie with a pecan half.

maple pecan cookies

maple pecan cookies

Sweet to the sweet by the sweet – Sweet potato casserole

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All right then, amigos. My Thanksgiving this year is a bit… on the measly side compared to the marathon feasts (epic in both the extent of preparation and in the amount and diversity of what was produced) of past years. God knows I love my marathons! The glory will return one day. With only one actual guest for the big dinner, I’m going for only the things that are her favorites – sweet potato casserole (recipe below or sweetly provided with sweet sweet potato stories here) and pumpkin curry soup. And dessert of course.

Preparing all the goods while listening to Jean-Louis Murat and then my spring-summer 2013 mix.

When did I become this woman, so comfortable with cooking and “spoiling” my guests (according to the guests – I don’t concur with this assessment)? All I can say is that I like people to be well taken care of.

Sweets for my sweet

Sweets for my sweet

Sweet potato casserole
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 or 4 large), scrubbed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus a bit more for buttering the pan
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200C). Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and pierce each one 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F (175C). Scoop the sweet potatoes out of their skins and into a medium bowl. Discard the skins. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Add the eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Whisk the mixture until smooth.

Butter an 8-by-8-inch square casserole dish. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pan and sprinkle the top with the pecans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a bit puffy. Serve immediately.

Post-Thanksgiving food coma – Sweet potato casserole with pecans

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Another way my Thanksgiving menu differs markedly from that of my mother’s is that I adopted this sweet potato casserole from somewhere that has proven to be exceptionally popular with all the guests who have been to my Thanksgiving table over the years, across the countries and nationalities who have stuffed their faces graciously. No one in my family really cares for sweet potatoes, so it was never part of the menu. I differ in that I am always making things and doing things for others that do not necessarily satisfy me – it is just part of my nature to please. And it is quite true that just because I don’t like something does not mean other people will not.

Sweet potato casserole
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 large), scrubbed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus more for the preparing the pan
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200C). Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and pierce each one 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F (160/170C). Scoop the sweet potato out of the skins and into a medium bowl. Discard the skins. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Add the eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Whisk the mixture until smooth.

Butter an 8-by-8-inch casserole. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pan and sprinkle the top with the pecans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a bit puffy. Serve immediately.

Baked Goods in B2B: Russian tea cakes

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To accompany the chocolate biscotti with me at work today, I took Russian tea cakes (and peanut butter cookies). I don’t have any backstory on the tea cakes except to say that they are part of the traditional Christmas cookie repertoire my mom has always baked for as long as I can remember (at least back when she used to bake every year…). Even the years now when she does not bake very much, she still bakes these because they are just an integral part of Christmas in our household, I guess. That said, they have absolutely no connection to Christmas but have naturally become a part of the line-up. I sometimes wonder (especially now that it is too late to ask her myself) what was in my grandmother’s traditional set of holiday baked goods. I spent so much time with her growing up but don’t have much recollection of the holiday cookies except for gingerbread men (and a few feeble attempts at building gingerbread houses). These kinds of traditions have a way of being passed along while at the same time new traditions are added. For example, I almost always bake all the same cookies my mom made but have added a wide variety of cookies to my must-do holiday baking list.

(The other side story – or complete tangent,if you prefer – is just the words “tea cake” together, which always remind me of the character Tea Cake in the Zora Neale Hurston novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. A book that was difficult to appreciate at the time (required high school reading) but its layers unfolded to me in subsequent years. A good example of the diversity of American literature. My then-best friend, Terra, and I used to laugh about someone being called “Tea Cake”. At some point Tea Cake says, “You got de keys to de kingdom.” That has always stuck in my head. See—absolutely nothing to do with cookies or baking.)

The Russian tea cake (alternately known by the names Mexican wedding cake, Italian butter nut, Southern pecan butterball, snowdrop, Viennese sugar ball or snowball) is a fixture in my holiday baking, but I quite often make them at other times of year because they are simple, small/delicate and can, if the right quality ingredients are used, illustrate perfectly how sometimes simplicity is best. Good quality butter and vanilla make a big difference in a cookie like this. Unfortunately there are not that many choices in terms of butter quality or vanilla here in Oslo (at least not that I have discovered), so I take what I can find and work with it. Some recipes call for very finely ground nuts in the cookies. I usually just use finely chopped nuts (I generally use walnuts or almonds but other recipes call for pecans). Some recipes also instruct the baker to toast the nuts first, but I generally skip this.

RUSSIAN TEA CAKES (or any of those aforementioned names people call them; I happen to like this name)
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C when ready to bake (dough should chill for an hour or two before baking)

1 cup butter
½ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup finely chopped nuts (almond, walnut, pecan, whatever you like, more or less)

Mix all ingredients together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours.

After chilling, preheat the oven while rolling the dough into 1-inch balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets. The baked cookie should still be white, not browned.

While still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar.