Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This Week's Theme: Brown Sugar

I've never gone through so much brown sugar in my life, and it's only Tuesday. Before my recent transformation into a homecook extraordinaire, my experience with brown sugar was this: I would by a box for a recipe, use about 1/2 cup, and then it would sit in my cupboard until a solid block of decomposing sugar had formed. But not this week, my friends. Two recipes tested and not a crystal of brown sugar left in the house.

Let's learn a bit about brown sugar, shall we? Rather than Googling brown sugar (for obvious reasons), I went straight to the source: the C&H Sugar website. Their definition of brown sugar is: cane sugar, a natural combination of sugar and molasses, refined without any added colorings, flavorings, or coatings. Golden Brown sugar has a nutty, caramel flavor, while Dark Brown sugar has a rich, full-bodied molasses flavor, best used with savory recipes. Both of my recipes listed below use the golden variety, and lots of it.

The first is a cookie recipe, although it's called Dutch Cake. I did Google this one (figured I was safe) and up came a long list of recipe sites. There's the Pennsylvania Dutch Cake, Dutch Butter Cake, Dutch Apple Cake, and then one on Recipezaar.com that was the closest to my mother's recipe except for the addition of cinnamon, which might be a nice added touch. However, this cookie/cake does not need to be messed with. It is way too easy to make, and is dangerous sitting on your counter.

Dutch Cake
from Granny Elizabeth (my father's mother)

1 stick butter
1 box golden brown sugar (1 lb.)
3 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
½ tsp salt

Melt butter in a small saucepan. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients with melted butter. Spread into a greased 13 x 9 x 2 pyrex baking dish and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes. Cut in squares and dust with powdered sugar (or XXX Sugar if you prefer).

The next recipe is a dinner entree from my childhood. It was on regular weeknight dinner rotation and is now a special request of my nephew for birthdays and other occasions. I have to say that the memories I have of this dish are different than today's reality. The 1/4 cup of brown sugar, plus the oranges, plus the orange juice, make this dish just syrupy sweet. Too sweet, if that's possible. Maybe that's why I always loved it as a child...

I think to cut the sweetness a bit, you could add some minced garlic to the sauce. Or, as we found at the table, a few hits of Sriracha or red chile paste really give this the spicy complement it was missing. The chicken is always served on plain white rice to soak up the syrupy sauce; maybe a hint of cumin or some scallions thrown into the rice would also add a little more depth of flavor. And with a side of broccolini sauteed in ginger and garlic, you'll have a nice well-rounded plate. Try it, but don't plan on eating any Dutch Cake afterward...too much brown sugar in one sitting!

Mandarin Orange Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 Tbsp butter, divided
½ tsp salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 can/jar Mandarin oranges, drained
¾ orange juice

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in skillet and cook chicken breasts until well browned on both sides. Remove and place in baking dish. Add about 1 Tbsp water to pan and scrape browned bits; pour water over chicken breasts. Cover and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is almost entirely cooked through. Meanwhile, melt remaining 3 Tbsp butter in skillet and add brown sugar, stirring to blend. Add Mandarin oranges and orange juice. Stir and simmer over low heat until chicken breasts are done. Remove chicken from oven and pour orange sauce over chicken. Place back in oven uncovered for about 10 minutes more or until sauce is bubbly and slightly thickened.

Variations/Additions: add chopped garlic to orange sauce; garnish on plate with a bit of Sriracha sauce


  1. We use dark brown sugar in our coffee - it doesn't survive for very long! The cake looks good, but the chicken looks like a bit of an acquired taste.

  2. Definitely an acquired taste, not for the faint of heart! I'm excited to try it again and really tweak it with some bold flavors to balance the sugar. I think it could be a really savory dish if you add the garlic (lots of garlic!) and some spice, with a bit less brown sugar. My mom has given me permission to do so...although she probably won't eat it!


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