Happiness Project #34: Grandma’s Fresh Apple Cake!

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A little over a week ago, while I was over at my Mom’s house, I came across an old & well used Notebook of Recipes that my Grandmother (on my Mother’s side of the family) had contributed to (possibly) back in the 1980’s. As you could imagine, I was near bubbling over with giddiness because of this particular find. Not only because I grew up on so many of my grandmothers very own cookie and cake recipes, particularly her Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Traditional Angel Food Cake, but also, because in my family, I am virtually the ONLY baker. Truth. I couldn’t tell you why either. That’s simply the way it’s always been. Though I’m certainly not complaining. I’m usually very excited about being the sole bearer of all-things-yummy when confronted with family gatherings. Baking, after all, to me, is more than just tinkering around with “that” new recipe I’ve been drooling over or assembling my large, enthusiastic group of taste-testers. When I bake up recipes, new or old, especially for my family, it’s my way of giving back to the ones I hold most dear. It’s my way of giving love. And I wonder if this is how my Grandmother felt whenever she dug her hands into a ball of flour or sat in front of her oven, waiting patiently for a new cake to rise. I wonder, if she too, felt truly at home and relaxed, with chocolate chips sprinkled all over the kitchen island and a dripping whisk in hand. If, in this one area of homemaking, it felt perfectly okay to create a little messy chaos. Because even though 55 years separate my Grandmother & I, I can’t help but wonder if we share more than just a family tie (& the love we have for one another). Perhaps I also share with her, this love & driven passion for kitchen wizardry. Something passed down through the years. Something I truly hope that I will always honor her legacy with. And what an amazing & inspiring legacy it is! Those of you who know my 91 year old Grandma Betty, I’m sure, will agree. So in the hopes of preserving these precious family recipes, I did no creative tinkering with this 1st (of 4) cake recipes. I’m hell bent on preserving her kitchen legacy, one recipe at a time.

So with no further adieu and much pride, I present to you my Grandma Betty’s Fresh Apple Cake!

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups diced, raw apples, peeled *there was no preferred apple listed in her recipe so I used Granny Smith, a very traditional apple used in baking*

1/2 cup margarine (or butter), melted

3/4 cups chopped nuts *once again, there was no preferred nut listed in her recipe so I used pecan chips, though walnuts work well also*

2 eggs

Confections sugar (for sprinkling)

Told in my Grandmothers Exact Recipe:

In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Add apples, nuts, margarine and slightly beaten eggs. This will be a thick mixture. Mix it well. Pour into a 9×13 inch pan, greased well & bake in a preheated oven 325 for 1 hr. to 1 hr & 15 min. Cool slightly & sprinkle with confections sugar.

My Notes:

I ended up using a 9 inch round cake pan and therefore needed to keep the cake in the oven for a longer period of time, 1 hour & 45 minutes to be exact. After I tested the cakes center (a couple of times) for firmness, I pulled it out of the oven and let it rest overnight. The next day, however, when I went to gently pop it out of the pan, I discovered that it’s center had fallen in (which upset me greatly.) Fortunately though, after texting my Mom about it, she assured me that it was indeed supposed to fall in it’s center, the way it did. You can imagine how relieved I was at knowing this, particularly since I had never made an apple cake before. However, even though I still wasn’t convinced that I had done her recipe due justice, my Mom ended up taking it home with her that night and you know what I did most of the night? I couldn’t help but fret about it. This is what we do, as bakers, when re-creating new or very traditional recipes. We fret. But you know what? Apparently, it tasted even better the next day, after all of the flavors had seeped well enough in!! Enough so that my Mom’s boyfriend ate THREE whole slices! THREE!! Now that, is what I call a happy success!! =)

Enjoyed my Grandmothers Fresh Apple Cake? Stay tuned for the rest of her traditional dessert recipes! Coming soon!

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Happiness Project #34: Messy Happy Hearts Sugar Cookies!

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Valentines Day. A day of cards, flowers, chocolates and valentine cookies. In other words, a day filled to the brink with words, sweets and sometimes very quirky displays of endearment. A day that I don’t actually believe in. Yes, one that I do not believe in celebrating, at least as an adult. And no matter any of the many varied arguments in Valentines Day’s defense, my very grounded opinion of this day will not be swayed. Trust me on this. However, I DO believe that Valentine’s Day has much to offer (as well as many valuable lessons to impart) for school-age children. Sharing, especially when establishing core values in the lives of children, is caring, in the best of ways. So much to the bemused delight of those near & dear to me, I decided to whip up some Valentines Sugar Cookies this year. Something I have NEVER done before. Never. It must be the new mother in me pouring out, right? Which meant it was finally the appropriate time to pull out my quite hefty 40lb marble pastry board and little used but much loved rolling pin. As well as un-dusting one of the best sugar cookie recipes I have ever found. Think mid 1900’s. Needless to say, I was very excited. So for all of you cookie monsters out there or those of you who DO celebrate Valentine’s Day, here’s a little something yummy from m to you…

For the Sugar Cookies:

1 cup salted butter, softened at room temperature

1-1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat Mats.

In a stand mixture, cream the butter, sugar and eggs at medium speed for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in each egg, one at a time, until well mixed. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, adding the heavy cream as needed, until throughly combined. This dough should be a stiff not soft texture. If it’s too soft to handle, cover and let chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

Break out that pastry board (marble is always preferred over wooden) and rolling pin. Quick tip, one of the most valuable things I learned while in Pastry School is that rolling pins are NOT all created equal. The most efficient rolling pin for cookie dough? The classic wooden pin with no handles.

Once the cookie dough is stiff enough to roll into a large ball, lightly flour your pastry board AND rolling pin (so the dough doesn’t stick to either surface while being rolled out). Roll out the dough to around 1/4 inch thick. Grab those heart cookie cutters and shape, shape away =)

Bake for 8-10 minutes and let cool on a wire rack while you’re creating the buttercream frosting.

For the Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract *clear vanilla extract if you want a white colored frosting*

3-4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

In a stand mixture, beat the butter for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Drop the mixture speed down to a lower setting and sift in the powdered sugar until well incorporated with the creamed butter. Increase the mixer speed to a medium setting and add in the salt, vanilla extract and heavy whipping cream. Whip for 3-4 minutes until nicely thickened.

And now, FROST, with or without your favorite colored dye!!! And SPRINKLE!!! Sprinkle away!!!! That’s the whole fun of creating sugar cookies, after all, right? Especially if your little ones are helping you!

Happy Heart Day, my friends!

P.S. My Mom gifted me with a beautiful personalized cutting board (featured above) for my birthday this year! Jealous? Go to redenvelope.com for your own!

Happiness Project #33: Strawberry Cream Cheese Muffins!

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Okay, I have a confession to make. Even though I LOVE (LOVE!) all things chocolate, you know what I love just as much? Strawberries. Plump, juicy, sweet strawberries. I can very easily settle down with a entire bowl of this fruit and eat them all. Every. Single. One. Without feeling a single twinge of shame. It’s a strawberry, for heavens sake! Natures all-natural, guilt free form of dessert indulgence! Right? Right! And please don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re above consuming an entire bowl of these lovely, ripe beauties. Because we all know the honest truth. *wink wink*

Fortunately, even though it’s technically winter here in California (all of my California friends know why I’m laughing at the word “technically”), there are still a few hole-in-the-wall type markets who just so happen to carry (unusually ripe) baskets of this lovely fruit. Hallelujah, I say! A kitchen without strawberries is just as sad as a kitchen without chocolate or coffee. Terrifying thought, I know. So after quite joyfully picking up all of the supplies I needed for muffin making, you know what transpired shortly thereafter? Not only did my Baby Girl fall (very) sick (enough so that it was scary to me), but I, too, very quickly followed suit. To the point where even though I’m on 3 different prescriptions, I’m still mostly-in-bed a-sick after 6 days. No. Fun. My Baby Girl though is feeling much, much better and already frolicking around in her usual contagiously joyful manner. Which, to me, makes EVERYTHING better. Anyhow, to make a long story short, right up until today, those happy-go-lucky strawberries sat very quietly in my fridge, waiting to be freed. Hence, these pretty little muffins. With cream cheese spread. And my (rather) simple version of heart shaped strawberries. Want? Here you go…

For the Muffins:

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 cup salted butter, softened at room temperature

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar, plus 3-4 tablespoons for tossing

3 eggs

1 large egg white

1 cup whole milk

1-1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups finely chopped strawberries

Firstly, finely chop or slice up the strawberries (after removing their green heads) and gently toss them in your reserved 3-4 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Otherwise, they will taste somewhat wet & slimy within the actual baked muffin. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Fill up two cupcake pans with paper baking liners.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder until well mixed. Set aside.

In a bowl on your stand mixer, cream together the butter and 1-1/4 cups sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add all 3 eggs, plus the egg white, and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. After dropping your mixture speed to a lower setting, slowing add in the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the 1 cup of whole milk, always starting with and ending with the flour mixture. Once gently but fully combined, grab a spatula and mix in the chopped & sugar tossed strawberries.

Using a large spoon, scoop strawberry batter into each paper liner, filling to the top edges. Pop the two pans into the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, until the muffin top edges are a very light golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack, while you’re preparing the cream cheese spread.

For the cream cheese spread, you’ll need:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 (8oz) package of cream cheese, softened at room temperature

2-3 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons whole milk (optional)

In a large, clean bowl on a stand mixture (or by hand held) cream together the butter and cream cheese until nicely blended and smooth. To avoid any clumping, scrap down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Drop your mixer to a slower speed and add in the 2-3 cups powdered sugar, mixing until well combined. For a silkier texture, add in up to 2 tablespoons of whole milk.

Spread or frost your strawberries to your hearts contentment! Or if you’re not keen on cream cheese, you can also sift some powdered sugar onto each muffin instead!

Bam! Fruity Muffin Happiness! For everyone!

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