Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to Bake Moist and Delicious Date Cake

This cake is moist and rich like a brownie, easy to make and keeps well, too. Whether you serve it plain or ice it with something like a chocolate ganache, it is sure to please everyone! You can play with it, too. Try replacing 1/2 cup flour with cocoa powder or add some cinnamon. You can serve it warm, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or serve slices plain with a cup of tea on the side. There is really nothing plain about this cake. It's rich and delicious and the best part is you don't have to be an accomplished baker to make it.
I don't know who Mrs. Day is but my grandmother credited every recipe so I am simply copying what she wrote. Mrs. Day most likely would have been someone from my grandmother's church or a neighbour in Woodstock or Kitchener, Ontario.
This is one of those recipes I remember from very early childhood and one I associate with chilly weather and warm hugs.

Date Cake: Mrs. Day

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 package of dates
  • 10¢ walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon soda in 1/2 cup of hot water
Bake 1-1/2 hours in slow oven.

Explanation and Method:

Preheat oven to 300 F.
Butter an 8 or 9 inch square cake pan or you could do this in the 8-inch round pans if you like. I don’t recommend a loaf pan. Batter will rise so don’t overfill.
The package of dates is a 1 pound (500g) package of pitted dates. I particularly like the walnut measurement of 10¢ worth. I’ve found these measurements a few times in this notebook and have marveled at how prices have changed and in another respect, how dear certain ingredients were back then. As for the 10¢ of walnuts, just assume it is 1 cup. I also add a bit more vanilla, maybe 2 teaspoons when I make this. The teaspoon of soda is a teaspoon out of your drawer and gently rounded.
Chop the dates.
If you are doing this by hand, dip a sharp knife in water as you chop to make sticking less of a problem. In a separate cup, dissolve the baking soda in 1/2 cup boiling water and stir into chopped dates.
If you are using a food processor, dissolve the baking soda in boiling water and add to dates in the processor. Pulse until dates are chopped fairly small but not mush.
Chop the walnuts.
Cream butter and sugar until light. Add room temperature eggs one at a time and beat well after each one. Mixture will be nice a fluffy. Add vanilla and beat again. Add flour alternately with the dates and water mixture, beginning and ending with flour and mix until blended. Do not over-mix! Doing this part by hand works best. Add the chopped walnuts by folding them in gently. The batter will be much thicker than a regular cake batter. Spread evenly in pan. Bake for 1-1/2 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

A truly great kitchen mixer

Since I have been rediscovering the joy of baking, there is one essential product that makes all the difference in the world and that is my KitchenAid mixer. I've had it for more than 20 years and it works as well now as the day I bought it. If you are a bread baker, then I highly recommend the Professional 600 series. It easily handles dough for three loaves at a time. Both the Artisan series and the Classic also handle dough but they have a slightly lower capacity so with a three-loaf recipe, you'll be kneading the last cup of flour in by hand. If you are thinking of purchasing a mixer, now is a good time to buy. I posted these from Amazon because they are some of the lowest prices I have ever seen. 

How to Whip Up Chocolate Mousse and Other Delights

Chocolate Cream Mousse

Source: Ciro Boro

Fast and Easy

When you are in a hurry and need a dessert that looks as spectacular as it tastes, try chocolate mousse or some of the variations on theme.
Some people make it with just chocolate and whipped cream and while that may taste nice, it just doesn't have that special feel in the mouth. Good chocolate mousse should be a sensuous experience and eggs seem to be the magic ingredient that takes it to the next level.
If you make the full recipe of chocolate filling for Grandma's Chocolate Cream Cake, then you will have enough left over for a quick and delicious chocolate mousse dessert. This is notreal chocolate mousse but it tastes very nice and is a good way to use up leftovers.
Just whip it up well after it has chilled thoroughly and then fold in unsweetened or very lightly sweetened whipped cream, the amount will vary depending on how much you have left over.
I wouldn't sweeten it at all since the chocolate cream is already very sweet. Use at least half the amount of cream as you have filling, whip, and combine until no streaks remain but be gentle! Spoon into pretty sherbet dishes, cover, and chill 30 minutes.
For a very pretty touch, look for old champagne glasses (not the flutes) in second hand shops. Mix and match.

This is all you need

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups of whipping cream
  • 4 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped (shave a bit and reserve for garnish)

Chocolate Mousse: The Real Deal

You can't go wrong. This is a simple but fantastic recipe for chocolate mousse. Beat an egg white and slowly add 1/4 cup of fine sugar, not icing or powdered sugar, until stiff peaks form and set aside. Next, we need to heat half the cream until it just boils and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Whisk until chocolate is all melted, then set it in a bowl of cold water, add the second half of the cream and beat it until it's nice and fluffy. Fold in the egg white mixture and combine until no streaks remain. Chill. Top with some chocolate shavings and serve.
Hint: Make sure your bowl and beaters contain absolutely no residue of fats like butter or oil from any previous baking or your egg whites will not whip properly. If in any doubt at all, clean all your utensils and bowl thoroughly before you begin. Chefs swear by copper bowls for whipping egg whites to maximum volume.

A note about egg whites:

Many people are concerned about salmonella when using uncooked eggs in cooking and baking. If you are concerned, you can use pasteurized egg whites which are available in most supermarkets.
According to, the chances of you eating an egg that contains salmonella are extremely rare and you may come across one every 84 years or so. Don't use cracked eggs. An old test for egg freshness worked very well for me the other day. I was baking a cake and needed the eggs at room temperature so dropped them into a glass of water. One floated to the top and I remembered that this was an old way of checking freshness. Apparently, if an egg floats, don't use it. Fresh eggs will always sink quickly. Perhaps this is where they got the idea to test witches in the old days. If they floated, they were guilty like a bad egg. Unfortunately, it didn't pay to be innocent either if you sank like a stone!
Anyway, on close inspection of the floating egg, I found a tiny hairline crack so tossed it out. I would never have seen it had I not popped it into the water first! If you are going to use fresh egg whites, test the eggs and toss anything that floats. Buy local and free range.

Grandma's Original Prune Whip Recipe

  • 1-1/2 cups of stewed prunes
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • whipping cream for garnish
Stew prunes first, then cut fine 1-1/2 cups (better put through colander). Mix in 1/4 cup white sugar. Whites of 2 eggs. Beat stiff then beat all together. Serve with whipped cream n sherbet glasses. This serves 5 people.

Prune Whip

In Victorian and Edwardian times, prune whip was a very popular dessert and considered highly nutritious. Grandma made a very good one that even I liked and I didn't care for prunes at all.
Stew the prunes first put them in a food processor to purée. Measure 1-1/2 cups and beat until light. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites and gradually add 1/4 cup white sugar. Beat until glossy and stiff peaks form. Carefully fold into prune purée, put in pretty glasses and refrigerate.
Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream on top.
Note: You can add a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice to the prunes as you purée them if you prefer.
Try it! You just might like it.
Shop flea markets and second hand shops for old sherbet glasses or wide champagne glasses. It's completely acceptable to mix and match patterns so buy what you love. Your desserts will look as good as they taste.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Bake Ginger Cookies

Homemade and Delicious
Ginger cookies baking in the oven is the very essence of Grandma's kitchen. Warm, tender, fragrant bites of holiday magic welcome you the moment you step through the door. Roll out the dough and cut them into shapes; make gingerbread men with currant eyes and icing smiles; sprinkle little rounds with sugar that sparkles like snow.
However you make them, they are delicious and keep extremely well. This is good news for those of us who like to make things ahead of time.
Can you substitute fresh for dried?
Well, maybe sometimes. If your recipe calls for fresh ginger, then the answer is no. Fresh ginger has a bite and flavour that is completely missing in dried ginger. On the other hand, if your recipe calls for dry ginger powder, you can use fresh as long as you are prepared for the zing! If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of dry powder, about 2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger can be used instead but should be added to the creamed mixture and whipped.
If you use fresh ginger, be prepared for cookies that bite back!
Grandma's notebook has a couple of recipes for ginger cookies with little notes beside them indicating she was very pleased with the results so here they are just as she wrote them.
Remember: For best results, use beaters only for creaming the sugar and fat. Once you add dry ingredients, mix by hand or your cookies will be tough as nails. Bake cookies in the middle position in your oven, one tray at a time.
I wish I could take credit for the amazing job decorating these gingerbread people but it goes to Kakisky, a very talented writer, photographer and designer from Seattle.
I wish I could take credit for the amazing job decorating these gingerbread people but it goes to Kakisky, a very talented writer, photographer and designer from Seattle.

Source: Kakisky

Ginger Cookies - Mrs. Bastedo's

As always, I am copying directly from her notes with explanations below the recipe.
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup brown sugar (large)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • Flour to roll
That's all she said in her notebook because she assumes the rest is just common sense.

Explanation and Method:

Preheat oven to 350 F.
The large cup of brown sugar means be generous with measuring. Use baking molasses (sometimes called Fancy) rather than cooking or blackstrap unless you like a strong molasses flavour. Cooking molasses will make them taste a bit like those Halloween candies and are delicious but not for those who don't like any molasses flavour. Blackstrap would be overpowering. Also, I like to add a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract to the creamed mixture but that's optional. The teaspoon of ginger means a small spoon from your kitchen drawer and rounded as much as the spoon is rounded so it's a lot more than a level measured teaspoon. I just add until it tastes good! A bit of lemon or orange zest is nice, too.
Melt the butter. Add sugar and cream together. Add molasses and continue to beat. Add eggs and beat the mixture until light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, measure 1 cup of flour and add a teaspoon of ginger powder and a teaspoon of baking soda. If you used unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Add to creamed mixture and blend together by hand with a wooden spoon. Add more flour a little at a time until the dough is soft but not sticky. You might use 6-1/2 to 7 cups of flour. You can divide the dough now if you like. I divide mine into 4 balls and flatten them to chill.
Lightly sprinkle a little flour on the counter and on your rolling pin. I often roll on paper or plastic wrap so I can peel them off easier. Roll out the dough one part at a time about 1/8 inch thick and cut with cookie cutters dipped in flour. Over-rolling will toughen the dough so cut as many cookies as possible from the first rolling. Gather the bits you have left after cutting, press together and roll again using as little flour as possible. Too little flour and the cookies will spread too much and lose their shape, too much and they will be tough. Try one pan and then see how they turn out. Make adjustments as necessary.
For cookies, the oven rack should always be in the middle position. Bake about 5-7 minutes on a greased or non-stick cookie sheet until the cookies are light brown. Watch them closely! Cool and decorate.
Hint: The dough mellows in flavour as it chills so I leave mine overnight. When making round cookies (rather than gingerbread men) I use a quick icing made with 2 tablespoons orange juice, a teaspoon of vanilla, a dash of cream, and icing sugar until it resembles a stirred yogurt. Then add fresh, finely grated ginger (a teaspoon or two) and lemon zest to taste. Spread on warm cookies for a translucent look or on cooled cookies. Let dry. It's icing with zing!

Ginger cookies without eggs

Ginger Cookies without eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup hot shortening
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Dissolve a small teaspoon soda in boiling water. (Very good & keep well)

Explanation and Method:

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cream the sugar in the hot shortening. Yes, hot. You want the sugar to melt. Add molasses and beat. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and add to creamed mixture. Beat until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine a cup of flour with the dried ginger and salt. Add to creamed mixture and combine well with a wooden spoon.
Add more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. You may use around 2-1/2 cups or so of flour in total. You can roll out as above, or you can form into rolls, wrap and chill overnight. Next day, slice them and sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 8-10 minutes or until light brown.
Note: feel free to experiment with spices. You can add a tablespoon of ginger powder, a teaspoon of cinnamon and vanilla if you wish. Add wet to wet and dry to dry (vanilla to creamed mixture and spices to flour).

Delicious Gingerbread Icing

This is my favourite icing for gingerbread cookies of any kind and it is so easy even the littlest cooks can help.
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (use an organic orange)
  • A small splash of vanilla gives it a warm note but is optional
  • 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of cream or enough to thin to consistency that can be easily piped through a bag
Add orange zest to sugar and mix in a tablespoon of cream. Whip. Add vanilla if using. Thin to the consistency you want by adding more cream a drop at a time. If you make it too thin, just add a bit more sugar and whip. Pipe through a pastry bag for stunning results or just use a freezer bag and cut a tiny hole in one corner to make gingerbread buttons, eyes, hair and big smiles!

Warning: Even plain gingerbreads tend to disappeear

Make sure the lid is on tight. You just never know when they will disappear...
Make sure the lid is on tight. You just never know when they will disappear.

More Gingerbread Molds

Wilton Bite Size Gingerbread 9 CavityWilton Bite Size Gingerbread 9 Cavity
Little bites of happiness
Amazon Price: $10.00
List Price: $12.99
Kitchen Supply Gingerbread House MoldKitchen Supply Gingerbread House Mold
Everything you need to build your gingerbread house - even the people!
Amazon Price: $25.99
List Price: $27.99
Wilton Gingerbread Boy Comfort Grip Cookie CutterWilton Gingerbread Boy Comfort Grip Cookie Cutter
Comfort grip makes it easy to create dozens of cookies
Amazon Price: $1.99
List Price: $2.99