Thursday, August 30, 2012

Feeling Fall

I am officially ready for fall.  Truth be told, I'm sort of always ready for fall.  Today, however, I'm feeling it keenly.

The students have returned to campus, so there is no more clinging to the quiet of campus in the summer.  I've grilled and grilled and grilled some more.  I'm ready to wear tights.  I'm ready to break out the crockpot.  As I wait for power and phone service to be resumed for my mom (and I watch with sadness the destruction left behind my Isaac), I'm ready for hurricane season to end. 

I suppose I'm feeling reflective, wistful even.  When that happens, I look to the kitchen--to sugar and flour and the scent of things in the oven--to find my center.  Fall baking is best for that.  It's hard to feel morose over an apple crisp or a pumpkin bread.  At least it is for me. 

Everything is warm and comforting.  Even the clothes are better.  I love puttering around the kitchen in sweatpants and slippers, a football game on in the other room.  Kicking leaves.  Picking apples.

I'm ready.  Are you?

Keep it sweet.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Lemon Icebox Pie Mystery

Lemon icebox pie was one of my favorite childhood sweets.  Like key lime pie but with lemons, it's cool and refreshing, tart with just the right amount of sweet.  While perusing one of my new favorite websites, Garden & Gun (think Southern Living, but younger and hipper), I happened upon a feature on the summer treat and knew I just had to make one.

Upon further inspection, however, I realized that the recipe called for baking the pie.  I am certain that my Mamaw did not bake her lemon icebox pie.  Hmm.  Turns out quite a few recipes out there call for baking the whole pie or cooking the filling like custard.  Well, not only did this seem wrong, I wanted the pie that night, so a filling that was at any point in time hot would simply not do.

Then I found Emeril's recipe.  No bake.  Super simple.  The problem?  Cream cheese felt just as inauthentic as baking.  Sigh.

Eventually, I decided Emeril's was the better option, at least for that moment in time.  The result: not exactly how I remember it, but still pretty darn tasty. 

Emeril's Lemon Ice Box Pie

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 prepared graham cracker crust

Combine the cream cheese, milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla in a large bowl. Mix on medium speed until smooth. Pour into the pie crust. Refrigerate overnight.

Literate Baker notes: I creamed the cream cheese first so I would have to worry about lumps. Also, it was set enough to slice and enjoy within about two hours.

A measuring cup is good for shaping the crust.

So, I did have a tasty pie.  I still have a bit of a mystery, though.  What's the recipe I remember from my childhood?  I know sweetened condensed milk is the key, along with fresh lemon juice, but I'm not sure what I'm missing.  Do you know?

Keep it sweet.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Everyone's a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who participated in our Literate Bakes Giveaway.  As promised, everyone is a winner!  To claim your prize, please send an email to theliteratebaker  (at) with the following information:

Title(s) you'd like on your books
How you follow The Literate Baker

I look forward to making these sweet reads for you!

Keep it sweet.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Not My Mama's Biscuits

As you know, I'm Southern.  I grew up on jambalaya and fried chicken, sweet tea and pecan pie.  I also grew up on biscuits.  No surprise, right?
Well, there's something you need to know.  The biscuits of my youth were not made from scratch.  There, I said it.  I feel better.

When I was a kid, we typically had one of two types of biscuits: the "flaky" ones out of the can or "homemade" ones whipped up from Pioneer baking mix (the Southern version if Bisquick) and milk.  It's just what we did.

Perhaps not ironically, it's living in New York that has stirred my passion for real homemade biscuits.  Or, maybe, it's just getting older.  It's like a vicarious nostalgia that makes me think fondly of a time and a place that isn't quite my past.  I could explore the psycho-emotional meaning of that.  Or I could make biscuits.

Let's make biscuits.

Since I don't have my grandmother's recipe, I use Alton's (I do want him to be my wacky uncle at least).  From it's home on the Food Network website:

2 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 T shortening
2 T cold butter, diced
1 c. cold buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.
  3. Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)
  4. Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.
Literate Baker notes:  Although real buttermilk is best, you can fake it with a scant cup of milk and a tablespoon of vinegar.  That said, buttermilk freezes well.  I buy a quart and freeze it in 1-cup containers or baggies.

These are a little big; my favorite biscuit cutter has gone missing.

I firmly believe biscuits are best with a good dose of butter and your choice of honey, jam, or spicy breakfast sausage.  Or fried chicken.  If it's a good cause (or a good friend), I'll consider sausage gravy.  If possible, consume in bed or on the back porch with coffee and the Sunday paper.  Nary a grain of sugar, yet one of my all-time favorite ways to...

Keep it sweet.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hubig's: How a Pie Can Tell the Story of a Place and More

If you grew up in New Orleans, or within a hundred mile radius of it, you know Hubig's Pies.  From gas stations to supermarkets to po-boy shops, these little fried pies have been a staple in Southern Louisiana since 1922.  My favorite was always lemon, though people swear by the sweet potato variety that only came out during the holidays.

After Hurricane Katrina, Hubig's closed for about two months.  When the bakery reopened and deliveries to local retailers resumed, the pies were a sign of the determination and resiliency of New Orleans and its people.

This July, Hubig's was destroyed in a fire.  I remember that the entire week following the fire, my Facebook feed was filled with headlines, memories, and hopes for rebuilding.  The story even made the New York Times

I find myself thinking of Hubig's this week.  I think I might be feeling a little homesick.  It's also the busiest time of year at my day job, so my snack radar is on in a serious way.  Both of those are telling--the way a food can be a simple pleasure and yet so much more.  It can conjure up a place or a time, a person or a whole community.

Despite the total loss, Hubig's has every intention of reopening.  They're using proceeds from their online store to help in the process.  If you love being part of a comeback story, or if you're just a serious "Pielover," you should check it out.  Support your local bakers and always...

Keep it sweet.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Tangy Treats: Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Do you ever try a recipe based on a hodgepodge of leftover ingredients?  Well, the Literate Baker certainly does.  Remember Last Hurrah Bars?  Exactly.  Sometimes the results are surprisingly delightful.  Such was the case with a recent surplus of ricotta cheese.

First, I had a surplus of ricotta cheese.  Second, I was in charge of making desserts for a 3-in-1 (housewarming plus some other exciting things) party.  Enter Google search for "ricotta cookies."  The very first search result was Giada De Laurentiis's Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze.  Wouldn't you know, I had a sack of lemons to use up as well.  With five stars and 700 reviews, I figured I had a winner.  Here's the recipe from the Food Network website:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
  5. Glaze: Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. 
Literate Baker notes: I put the glaze in a zip-top bag/pastry bag and drizzled.  I think the result was both easier and prettier.

Here's the visual:

A most unusual batter.

I'm a fan of a mini ice cream scoop measure.

Moderate spread.

Definitely let the glaze dry!

These cookies were the hit of the party.  Even more than my brownies.  And my brownies are good.  Really good.  The cookies themselves were very soft and cakey.  The glaze was really tart, which was the perfect foil.  It sort of makes me want to buy some ingredients at random and then find/build recipes around them.  It's a great way to try something new and to...

Keep it sweet.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

The Promise of Pastry Cream

I have alluded, on multiple occasions, to the versatility and general awesomeness that is pastry cream.  I've also promised to share the recipe.  For anyone actually waiting for said recipe, your wait is over.  For the rest of you, read this anyway because, as I said, pastry cream is versatile and generally awesome.

First, we tackle what pastry cream is.  According to The Food Timeline, custards have been around since the Ancient Romans began playing around with the coagulating powers of eggs.  The English confectioner's custard and corresponding French creme patissiere came about several centuries later, and serve as the basis of what is now known as pastry cream.  Essentially, pastry cream is a sweet custard made from eggs, sugar, milk, and some form of starch.  Flavorings, most typically vanilla, are usually added.

The recipe I use for pastry cream comes from the Professional Baking textbook I purchased for the pastry class I took at Syracuse University.  Unfortunately, everything is measured by weight.  This is wonderfully accurate, but a bit of a pain for the average home cook.  So here's my adaptation, complete with volumetric goodness:

Classic Pastry Cream

2 c. milk (preferably whole)
1/2 c. sugar, divided
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 egg yolks
5 T corn starch
2 T butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Bring the milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, and salt just to a boil in a small saucepan.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg, egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl until light and frothy.  Slowly add hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Return to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils.  Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.  Refrigerate until ready to use, placing plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a film from forming.

Literate Baker notes:  I really do advise whole milk here.  Although I drink skim exclusively, I pick up a quart to make this (or when I bake cakes).  It makes a huge difference, I promise.

Not only is pastry cream delicious, you can use it in lots of stuff.  It's a great filling for cakes and makes the perfect base in a fruit tart.  Use it as a dip for graham crackers or fruit.  Make a pudding pie.  It's also pretty damn awesome right out of the bowl.  You can also change up the flavor with different extracts.  My favorite is almond (shocker).

Sure, making pastry cream from scratch is a little bit of work.  You'll be rewarded, though, by both the taste and how impressed your friends are.  You should do it.  Do it.  Oh, and...

Keep it sweet.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chocolate is Good for You (the Scientists Said So)

It seems like the evidence keeps stacking up for the health benefits of chocolate.  The latest is featured on NPR's food blog The Salt.  Research shows that modest amounts of chocolate daily correlate with a modest drop in blood pressure. 

"The new review on blood pressure included 20 studies varying in length from two to 18 weeks. Volunteers in the studies consumed dark chocolate or cocoa powder each day ranging from 3 to 100 grams (a regular sized 1.5 oz Hershey bar is about 43 grams). And the results? Overall, there were small reductions in blood pressure, averaging 2-3 mm Hg."

Hooray!  Sadly, consuming a major amount of chocolate does not seem to amplify the effect.  That's okay.  Moderation is good.  No, really.  I know, it's hard.  Say it with me: Moderation is good.



Perfectly moderate.  (Plus, my favorite number is 4.)

Yeah, not so much.

Another good thing is meditation.  As noted in the NPR story and elsewhere, it has an even better reputation for lowering blood pressure.

I've tried to meditate with minimal success.  The Literate Baker is not so good and calming and quieting her mind.  Perhaps I should put the two together.  Savoring chocolate with my eyes closed while taking slow deep breaths sounds entirely doable.  I'm going to go try it right now.

Keep it sweet.  Om. Pin It

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

Julia Child would be 100 years old today.  Although she isn't with us any longer, her verve and her joie de vivre still are, as is her passion for making incredible food accessible to all.

I remember watching Julia as a child.  Way before Food Network, she lit up PBS with kitchen know-how and French dishes that seemed wonderfully exotic to a small-town girl.  She was fun and fearless, not to mention unabashedly tall.  I loved her.

The tributes to Julia are bountiful, but my favorite by far was featured on NPR's The Salt.  It's a mash-up.  With Guns N Roses.  Need I say more?

Watch Julia Child's 100th birthday on PBS. See more from WGBH Specials.

Do you have fond memories of Julia? 

Bon Appetit!

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Not Quite Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie

Sometimes, I forget about lemon meringue pie.  It's so old school, so unassuming.  A pie I've loved since childhood, but haven't made in at least ten years.  That changed a couple of weeks ago when I made good on an old promise to a dear friend.

Elizabeth and I worked together for nearly eight years.  We talked about everything from problem students to, well, very different sorts of problems.  We also talked about cooking and baking, and traded lots of secrets.  I learned that one of her most favorite desserts is lemon meringue pie and I promised to make her one.  That was years ago and, like so many things, I never got around to it.

And then... And then she and her husband decided to move.  To Atlanta.  When I went to her house to help her pack up the kitchen, I knew it was my last chance.

I consulted my main man Alton Brown and didn't change a thing.  I did use a refrigerated pie crust.  Judge me if you must.

Alton Brown's Lemon Meringue Pie

4 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1 (9-inch) pre-baked pie shell
1 recipe Meringue, recipe follows

  1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Whisk egg yolks in medium size mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually, 1 whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture.
  4. Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and gently stir in butter, lemon juice, and zest until well combined. Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still hot. Make sure meringue completely covers filling and that it goes right up to the edge of the crust. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until meringue is golden. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Make sure pie is cooled completely before slicing.
Meringue Topping:

4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, approximately 1 to 2 minutes.

Seriously didn't change a thing.  Alton is the man.  Thanks, Food Network.

Here are the visuals:

Stir the curd.
Fill the crust.
Whip the whites.
Dump the fluff.
Bake 'til brown.

 As you can see from the plastic plate, we got the kitchen packed before we tried a piece.  The pie was great, as was the conversation.  The office isn't the same, but the friendship will be.  And now I have a place to stay in Atlanta.  'Til then, EK...

Keep it sweet.  

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Literate Bakes Giveaway!

*UPDATE! Everybody wins!*

Can you judge a cupcake by its cover? Indeed you can.

Last week, my friend posted this picture on Facebook.  I've been obsessed with it ever since.

These adorable treats hail from Victoria's Kitchen in West London.  So clever.  So literary.  So perfect.  Turns out, a lot of her work is.  Check out her website, complete with a picture-perfect gallery.  You can also like her on Facebook to keep up with her latest creations.

So I can't get these sweet books out of my head.  What does that look like?  Like this...

1. Could they be any more Literate Baker?
2. Why didn't I think of that?
3. These are definitely going on the Much Ado About Cake menu.
4. Literate Baker readers would love these.
5. I should make some for practice and a photo op.
6. Literate Baker readers would love to have some of these.
7. Time for a give away!

So, dear readers, what books would you like to see in sugar form?  Let me know in the comment section below.  I'll pick two winners at random and send you I'll be a nut and send everyone who enters six little sugar books for your next batch of cupcakes!

Fine print: Entries must be submitted in the comments section of this post, including at least one book title, by 11 p.m. EST on Saturday, August 25th.  Winners must have a U.S. mailing address.  Winners must follow The Literate Baker on Google, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

I can't wait to see how you...

Read it sweet.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy National S'more Day!

Did you know it's National S'more Day?  If you didn't, it's okay, because you do now.  Now what?  Now we celebrate.  How does one celebrate National S'more Day?

Follow The Literate Baker's 3 Easy Steps to Celebrate National S'more Day:

1.  Read up on S'mores and S'more Day celebrations, such as:

2.  Read the Literate Baker's takes one s'morey goodness:
Double chocolate goodness.
It's a s'more AND a pie!

3.  Make and eat at least one s'more.  I try to eat at least one s'more per week.  No lie.

4.  Share your favorite s'more version or memory (with me, in the comments section, so I can revel in more s'more love).

5.  Live happily ever after.  Or, at the very least...

Keep it sweet.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's Fro-Yo, Yo

This summer, I promised myself I'd play with my ice cream maker.  So far, so good.  This week, I raided the blueberry stash in the freezer and tried my hand at frozen yogurt.  Greek frozen yogurt.  Vanilla Greek frozen yogurt with blueberry swirl and graham crackers.

Sound familiar?  Perhaps you've seen it.  It is, after all, the hot new flavor from Ben & Jerry's.  Oh, yeah.

Ben & Jerry's awesomeness.

As the Literate Baker is wont to do, I trolled around for recipes, then cobbled together my own.  I wanted it to be healthy, but not tooooo healthy.  Blueberry-y, but not just blueberry-y.  Here's what I came up with:

Vanilla Blueberry Frozen Greek Yogurt with Graham Cracker Swirl

1 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. sugar
2 c. nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4. c. sugar
1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
  1. Heat cream and sugar in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved and cream is almost simmering.  Remove from heat.  Stir in yogurt and vanilla.  Refrigerate at least two hours.  
  2. Meanwhile, combine blueberries and additional 1/4 cup sugar in another small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until berries pop and mixture boils.  Refrigerate.  
  3. Freeze yogurt according to the directions of your ice cream machine.  When it is the consistency of soft serve, transfer to a freezer-safe bowl.  
  4. Add blueberries and graham crackers, stirring very gently to swirl.  Enjoy soft or freeze until firm.
My awesomeness.

If you want to make this healthier, I'm thinking you could use a little more yogurt and a little less cream.  If you want to make this more indulgent, mix the graham cracker crumbs with sugar and butter a la graham cracker pie crust; bake loose.  (I'm going to try both.  I'll let you know how they are.)

As is, this stuff is amazing.  The awesome tang of yogurt, but still rich and creamy.  I'm a big fan of swirling the blueberry at the end.  It allows the vanilla to maintain its own identity or, as a foodie would say, its own flavor profile.  Hold onto your bowl folks, I think you'll be seeing a lot more frozen yogurt around these parts.  Even if it isn't baked, it's a delightful summer way to...

Keep it Sweet.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Peach Cobbler Redux

Summer in a bowl.
One of my very fist blog posts was about peach cobbler.  It remains one of my favoritist summer treats.  When I walk into the produce department and I am treated to the aroma of fresh, ripe peaches, I know it is time.  That happened last week.  I bought them, I baked them, and the entire pan was gone in under 24 hours.  As it should be.

If you read that post, you'll recall that, for me, peach cobbler is unlike any other fruit cobbler or crisp or crumble.  I didn't include the recipe then, and I've had some requests for it.  Here you go:

Peach Cobbler

4 c. peeled and sliced fresh peaches (5-6 medium)
1 1/2 c. sugar, divided
3/4 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 stick (8 T) butter

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine peaches and 1/2 cup sugar.  Set aside.  Combine remaining cup of sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, combine milk and vanilla.  Add the wet to the dry and whisk to combine.

Place butter in a shallow 3-quart or 9x13 glass baking dish.  (Do not use a smaller dish.  The ingredients will fit, the final product will fit, but the bubbling half-baked goo will not.  It will leave you with a kitchen full of smoke and a heart full of regret.) Place in oven until butter is melted.

Carefully remove dish from oven and pour in batter.

Spoon peaches over batter. Do not be alarmed by how unappealing it looks.

Bake 60-70 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.

It's like magic.  Buttery, sweet, crispy-yet-soft-yet-gooey magic.  Magic that goes so well with vanilla bean ice cream.  Magic that you want to eat for breakfast.  Magic that you should eat for breakfast. (The leftovers warm nicely in the microwave.  It's better for you than a donut, right?)  Day or night, it will most definitely...

Keep it sweet.

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