Best Of Archive

Pork Cracklins | Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream

With my spotty record when it comes to big, three-layer cakes from any of the Baked books, I was tempted to make cupcakes instead. But I got brave and forged ahead anyway.

The Baked three-layer cakes are wonderful – none of the problems I’ve had have anything to do with the recipes. It’s just me. I’m not a great maker of spectacular cakes, and I always seem to get something wrong.

This cake is interesting. It’s got a lot of flavors going on, and it’s lightened up with beaten egg whites. This helps it not be too much like gingerbread, with the molasses in there.

The buttercream is the standard Baked recipe – cooked milk, sugar and flour for the base and lots and lots of butter. I’m a fan of this buttercream because it’s light and stable and always tastes great. And this one really does taste like eggnog, with a bit of rum and fresh nutmeg.

Everything went surprisingly well as I was making the cake layers. I had all three 8″ pans on hand. I didn’t forget ingredients. It mixed up beautifully and I put the pans in to bake, rotating them halfway through to ensure even baking.

As I was taking the cake pans out of the oven, I gently poked at the top of each to see if it looked done. I had already put a skewer in and it came out clean, but a second good test is to see if the cake will spring back when poked. It did. And then I got to the third and last pan. It slipped out of my grip as I was pulling it out and flipped upside down onto the open oven door. Butterfingers!

Larry and I tried to salvage it, but it was too late. We scooped it up from my thankfully newly cleaned oven floor, held a little memorial service, and then proclaimed it Finger Cake. Meaning, we ate it bit by bit with our fingers. And man, this is one good cake. It’s got a perfect, light texture but still tastes a lot like gingerbread.

My alternate plan was to make a two-layer cake instead. I cut each layer in two so I actually did a 4-layer cake. Take that, butterfingers!

It’s not a beautiful cake. It’s a little homely, a cake with a secret. Perfect for the holidays, spot-on flavor and texture. I love this cake.

For the recipe and to see how the other Baked Sunday Morning bakers fared, head over to Baked Sunday Mornings.

Pork Cracklins | Soft Candy Caramels

I clearly can’t have these caramels in the house. They’re so good, and I have a major weakness for caramels.

These are just the right texture, nice and soft and buttery, with just a hint of salt. They’ve got some sweetened condensed milk in them along with the traditional cream and sugar. There isn’t anything difficult about making them, as long as you remember to use a nice big pan (caramel bubbles up when you add cream!), and you use a candy thermometer.

The most time consuming part about making these is cutting and wrapping the individual candies. I happened to have candy foils, which are pretty, but wax paper will work just fine. Or… don’t wrap them at all, and just eat the entire batch in one sitting. Which I didn’t do, but I sure was tempted.

To get the recipe and see the other entries from this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings head on over to Baked Sunday Mornings.

Pork Cracklins | Kale Caesar Salad

I know there’s not that much that’s special about a caesar salad – it’s been done, and it’s not hard to make. And kale salad, it’s the trendiest of trendy right now.

I got an inexplicable amount of pleasure out of making the caesar dressing for the salad. It’s pretty standard – garlic, egg yolk, lemon juice, anchovy, olive oil. But I made it by hand, using a mortar and pestle, and it was the most beautiful emulsion I’ve ever made. Absolutely perfect. I even got brave and used real, salt-packed anchovies instead of paste.

Rustic croutons top the salad – I used Tuscan kale, because it’s my favorite to eat raw. We loved it.

Oh, yeah. I also made some really good chicken, too. It’s brined in seasoned buttermilk and coated with a mixture of bread crumbs and corn flakes (yikes!), then baked in the oven. It’s fabulous. Juicy, flavorful, and rivals the best fried chicken, if you ask me.

The recipe for the salad can be found at Tasting Table, and the chicken recipe is at Bake Like a Ninja.

  • Oven-Fried Chicken (Cook’s Country, October/November 2005)
  • Kale Caesar Salad (Tartine Bread, p. 218)
Pork Cracklins | Spicy Brownies

I love these brownies. Not quite as much as the sweet & salty brownies from Explorations, but they’re a close second, and they’re my favorite recipe out of Elements so far.

These are brownies that are typical of those in all of the Baked books – easy to make, fudgy and deeply chocolate. In addition to dark chocolate and cocoa powder, there’s also a bit of milk chocolate in the mix.

The spice isn’t overt. There’s some ancho chile powder, ginger and cinnamon. It’s a low-level heat that’s warm and pleasant and goes so perfectly with the level of chocolate in the brownies.

I gave most of them away. They needed to be out of the house, and quick, or I would have eaten the entire pan.

For the recipe and to see how the other Baked Sunday Morning bakers fared, head over to Baked Sunday Mornings.

Sweet Sweet Potato Biscuits
The Corsican
Butterflied, Dry Brined Roasted Turkey
Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffing Balls
Apple Pie Covered with Leaves
Thanksgiving isn’t one of those big-deal holidays for us. Actually, we’re pretty low-key for all holidays. My brother usually comes down, and we hang out. The game is on, laptops are out, books are read. I really like it.

Even though we don’t have a big-deal Thanksgiving, I still make a fairly traditional meal. Turkey, potatoes, and dressing are a must. Skip the cranberries because none of us like them. And then I usually do some sort of vegetable or salad and a pie. It’s always good, and never any more work than any other dinner.

I’ve been dry-brining my turkey for years, and I’m absolutely convinced it’s the easiest and best way to prepare the bird. I buy a Kosher turkey, and do a straight salt and pepper rub the morning before Thanksgiving. It goes into the refrigerator uncovered until about an hour before it’s ready to go in the oven.

Every year I keep wondering why I don’t butterfly the turkey. It’s the only way I’ll roast a chicken, so it makes sense. This year, I finally did it. And I used some herbs in addition to the salt. It cooked so quickly and evenly, and was absolutely delicious. I’m never roasting a fully intact bird again.

Another advantage to butterflying is that the backbone can be used along with the neck to make turkey stock, something I normally don’t bother with. I did this year – stock in the pressure cooker only takes a half hour, and it makes a big difference in how the gravy turns out.

Larry asked for sweet potato biscuits after seeing them on The National Baking Society blog, and it turns out that they’re really easy to make too. And dang, so good, especially with maple butter. And probably good with leftover turkey in the middle, but we ate them all up.

The one part of dinner I haven’t every settled on is the dressing. I’m a traditionalist. I want a simple bread dressing, nothing fancy, and no meat. The best part is the top. The part under the top is always a little too mushy for my taste, but that’s all fixed now with stuffing balls. They’re the perfect ratio of crispy stuffing bits to softer bits. Plus I got to make a lot of jokes about “the balls”. These are on my menu from now on.

We had wine with dinner, but I made pre-dinner cocktails. Larry chose The Corsican, a potent mixture of rum, bourbon, vermouth and falernum. It’s delicious – he made a great choice.

I gave up on pumpkin pie for this year and just went with apple. It turns out both Larry and Brian like apple pie better than pumpkin, so everyone was happy.

Pork Cracklins | Baked Cheese Grits

These grits are supposedly breakfast food, but I made them right around dinnertime on a night I didn’t have any other dinner planned. Both Larry and I had other places to go, so I ate some straight out of the pan, standing up, then got some manners and put some in a bowl.

I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to make these. They’re the grits of my dreams. I love grits. But these, with just the right amount of cheese, are absolutely perfect.

They’re not hard to make, either. They start stove-top, with milk and water. I believe all grits (and polenta) are better when they’re cooked in milk. After the grits are cooked, cheese is added and then they go into a cast-iron skillet for some time under the broiler. They would make a good breakfast, because they’re quick to make.

This dish depends on the quality of grits used. Stone-ground give the best flavor and texture, and I swear by any product Anson Mills puts out. I used yellow cornmeal for this, but I think my preference is for white cornmeal grits.

To get the recipe and see the other entries from this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings head on over to Baked Sunday Mornings.

Pork Cracklins | Hot Chocolate Layer Cake with Homemade Marshmallows

This cake is the perfect finish for a dinner party. It’s dramatic and amazingly delicious, especially if you like chocolate. And it’s not fussy to make – everything can be made the day before so that it’s ready to be assembled a few hours before the fun starts.

My success with big, multi-layer cakes is spotty. I end up breaking layers, or my cake comes out crooked, or there’s something wrong with the frosting. I was shocked – SHOCKED – when this ended up being completely trouble-free.

The chocolate cake is sturdy enough to stand up to a bit of manhandling when removing it from the pans to cool. It’s so simple – ingredients are whisked together in a bowl, no stand mixer needed. Buttermilk adds moistness. And it’s an odd technique, kind of like making brownies, where eggs are added to a wet chocolate mixture instead of after creaming butter and sugar together.

Then there’s the frosting. I’ve never made a frosting like this. It’s kind of like a loose, fudgy pudding. It needs to be made ahead, because it thickens up in the refrigerator or freezer before being whipped into submission. It’s deeply chocolate, very easy to work with, and one of the best chocolate frostings I’ve ever had.

The marshmallows are pretty straighforward, pretty much just gelatin and sugar syrup. It’s a really delicious tasting marshmallow, though. Once the layers are together and iced and the marshmallows are cut up into various sized cubes, they’re piled high on top of the cake. It’s such a pretty cake.

We didn’t just have cake for dinner. We had Dan, Assana, Barry, Paul and Matthew over for a fun night of food, drinks and lots of inappropriate humor. As always. I kept dinner simple, chicken roulades that I seem to make anytime we have someone over for dinner, a quick saute of fennel and onions, goat cheese polenta and a salad. It only took a short amount of time in the kitchen since everything was prepped ahead, so I had time to relax and have fun. Lots of fun.

Wine: Copain 2007 Wetzel Vineyard (Anderson Valley, California). Great wine – we had three bottles, and drank them all!

Pork Cracklins | Quince Jelly

Canning and preserving never really appealed to me, despite growing up with a mom who was an avid home canner. I’ve dabbled in it in the past, making things like salsa, jams and tomato sauces, but I don’t really have the patience for it – spending an entire day chopping, steaming, sterilizing.

I like the idea of capturing the best of the season in a jar. What I don’t like about canning is the amount of work involved to produce just a few jars. Example: I chopped, boiled and strained five pounds of quince to make this jelly, and ended up with four small jars of jelly.

The thing is, the quince jelly is really good. And it’s so pretty. And when it comes down to it, it’s not that much active work – the worst of it was chopping the quince, which I left peel-on. The advantage of having such a small output is that processing time is quick, and I didn’t have to spend hours over a hot, steamy canner. And I don’t need to find room for dozens of jars.

My reawakened interest in canning was fueled in part by the popularity of home preserving, but also in part by Marisa of Food in Jars. The idea that it’s okay to just can a small batch, and that it can be done in as little as a half hour, has convinced me to try it again.

I may pick up more quince while it’s in season, and make another batch of jelly. Or maybe I’ll go with membrillo this time. And figs – I’ve got fig jam on the brain.

To get the recipe and to find out more about small-batch canning, check out Marisa’s awesome site Food in Jars.

Pork Cracklins | Milk Chocolate Malt Ball Cupcakes

I was there in the kitchen, with the Sad Little Cake, with just a few hours to go and I needed to come up with some sort of non-sad dessert for eight people.

I scrambled through some of my favorite, most reliable cookbooks. Everything I picked out needed too much time. Cookies are always easy – except they usually need some time chilling in the refrigerator. I thought about some sort of bars, but it didn’t seem sophisticated enough to bring to a dinner party.

I was thinking of a quick chocolate cupcake and at the same time wondering if I should break out one of my emergency Baked mixes, when I decided to go ahead and make the milk chocolate malt cake I’d been eyeing for months.

This is quite a cake. Three delicate layers of malt-flavored white cake, and a wonderful milk chocolate frosting. I was nervous about making a large layer cake with so little time, but the decision was made for me when I realized I STILL hadn’t picked up a third eight-inch cake pan.

So… cupcakes. They aren’t as fussy as a big layer cake, they bake quickly, and the malt flavor is special enough to make up for the fact that I brought cupcakes to a dinner party.

This recipe makes a lot of cupcakes – 36 in all. The cake is delicate and just mildly malt-y. Delicious. The milk chocolate buttercream is light and silky and perfect in every way. I’m glad I went the cupcake route – I was just finishing up frosting them 15 minutes before we had to leave.

Baked to the rescue! The recipe is posted on Food & Wine.

Pork Cracklins | Lady Praline Chiffon Cake

I love this cake. Love, love, love. It’s absolutely perfect in every way.

Chiffon cake is kind of like angel food cake, except it’s got fat and leavening, so there’s more flavor and body to the cake (it’s also more stable). It’s ultra-moist and doesn’t need any frosting. This one is flavored with orange zest and liqueur – Amaretto in my case, but I’d love to try it with pecan liqueur.

We ate a large portion of the cake ourselves, but the few pieces I parted with were received with rave reviews.

To get the recipe and see the other entries from this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings head on over to Baked Sunday Mornings.