Sunday, February 28, 2010

True Testing

Ahhh, a day to do some real testing. Actually baking and re-baking and carefully watching the variations of brown on the bottoms of cookies and working on my food photography, and doing all this without a little one at my knees. I need one of these days every so often to just find some real focus in the kitchen, to stretch my skills, to really think about what I'm making and how I can make it better. So I say again, Ahhhhh.

I started yesterday with some baked goods to take to our monthly wine club affair. We are part of a very small, select group of neighborhood friends and wine lovers who get together once a month (roughly) to learn about wine (sparingly). This month's theme: champagne brunch. Perfect opportunity for a breakfast muffin from Granny's collection and a cake that has been a family favorite for years.

Starting with the cake...I figured Poppyseed Wine Cake would be appropriate for wine club. This recipe comes from one of my "extra sisters," Suzy Lynch. Considering my mother doesn't drink, this may be the only way you will get her to injest alcohol. She often makes it for Christmas, baking it in little tins to give as gifts. It actually smells like Christmas to me for that reason.

Poppyseed Wine Cake
Suzy Lynch

1 box yellow cake mix
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
3/4 cup white wine or cream sherry
1 tsp nutmeg
5 tsp poppy seeds

Mix all ingredients in a mixer and beat at medium for 5 minutes. Pour into a greased bundt cake pan or 2 medium loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool, remove from pan, and dust with powdered sugar.

Next up: Granny's Bran Muffins. I followed the recipe precisely and produced the stereotypical dense, dark, generally flavorless bread item that is almost medicinal—eat one of these and it will cure any intestinal discomfort you may be experiencing. No frills, no sweetness, no stickiness, no yumminess. The recipe is simply milk, molasses, bran, egg, flour, butter, salt, and baking powder. No sugar, honey, fruit. Straight up bran muffins. I took one bite and then immediately drenched it in butter and a fair glob of honey. Passable but still dense, dark, and generally flavorless. I opted not to take these to the brunch, although looking back, they would have been perfect to soak up the alcohol!

So, today, I tried it again, this time adding about 1/4 cup of honey, some golden raisins, and a 1/2 cup of applesauce. The result was a considerable amount more moisture, sweetness, and a hint of the apple flavor. These will be shared!

Bran Muffins
Granny Lula

3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 cup bran (All Bran Cereal)
1 egg
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup raisins

Combine milk, molasses, honey, and bran in a bowl. Let stand until most of liquid is absorbed. Stir in 1 egg, slightly beaten. Add butter and mix. Add dry ingredients and stir just enough to moisten. Fill greased muffin pan cups 2/3 full. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

My next test is actually a do-over. I hate to admit my mistakes but I totally messed up a very simple peanut butter cookie recipe a few weeks ago...forgot the sugar. Yep, no sugar. One bite of the resulting chalky disaster and they all went in the trash. Today was my chance to redeem myself.

This recipe is one of those that my sister told me I had to include. Just your traditional peanut butter cookie...buttery, sweet, and chewy. Yum. I decided to add chocolate chip cookies. Double yum.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar (don't forget this)
2 eggs
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup butter
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Combine butter, sugar, eggs, and peanut butter in mixer. Add dry ingredients. Mix well. Fold in chocolate chip cookies. Shape dough into balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and press with a fork. Bake 9 minutes at 374. Yield: 3-4 dozen.


  1. For food photography, do you have a digital SLR camera, one that will let you switch lenses? All you need is a 50mm 1.4 lens. You'll be amazed - every picture will look like something straight out of Bon Appetit or Real Simple, where only a portion is in focus and everything else is nicely blurred.

  2. I don't have a digital SLR at home but do at the office. We have a lens that says, "EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6" on the lens. Will this provide the same effect? Thanks for the tip!

  3. The wine cake sounds like the best possible use for packet cake mix! Yum!


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