Easter Cookies

I had in my mind to make a certain kind of Italian Easter cookie. Buttery, flavored with orange zest, dipped in multicolored sprinkles… Only as far as Google can tell me, this cookie has never existed. I made it anyway, but I guess I can’t call them Italian.

And then I made them again, because they were really, really good. You can leave off the nonpareils if you don’t want them – my mom didn’t like them – but I love the color and texture they add to the cookie.

Easter Cookies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • zest of one large orange (~1 Tbsp)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp orange extract*
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 oz. nonpareils in a small pinch bowl

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Watch it carefully, due to the orange zest, it only lightens in color subtly when it is properly creamed.

Mix in the orange extract and eggs. Sift together the dry ingredients and mix into the wet. Roll 1″ balls of cookie dough, and dip the top into the waiting nonpareils. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake trays of cookies at 375 F for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are just turning golden brown. Don’t over bake.

Cool on wire racks.

* a note on orange extract. Mine is from Penzey’s and is 61% alcohol. If you substitute a baking emulsion, I would start out using less and add more if the flavor is insufficient.

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Baptism Cake

Once upon a time, almost six years ago now, I had a baby. And almost exactly five and a half years ago we (finally) got him baptized. And of course this needed, nay demanded, a cake. I’ll be three days dead before I buy a bakery cake. Instead I just made the cake that I currently wanted, which was Italian cream. And there was much rejoicing.

Once is as good as tradition in our house. Ever since that fateful sacrament, Italian cream cake has been Baptism cake. I make it for baptisms, and baptismal anniversaries, and last year I had the brilliant idea to make it in a lamb cake mold for Easter.

I did, and the head promptly fell off. No amount of icing could reattach it. It was a true cake wreck. But delicious.

This year I tried again, with a slightly modified recipe. Behold my success!

Baptism Cake Recipe

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 recipe Basic Cream Cheese Frosting (without pecans for a lamb cake)

Butter and flour your cake pans. The whole recipe makes one 9″x13″ quarter sheet cake, three 9″ round cakes, two 9″ square cakes, or two lamb cakes*. I routinely halve this recipe for baptismal anniversaries and Easter, when I’m not serving a whole baptism’s worth of guests!

Cream together the butter, olive oil, and sugar. When it is fluffy and lightened in color, add the egg yolks and vanilla. Sift together the flour and baking soda, and add alternating with the buttermillk. Mix in the coconut.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, and gently fold them into the rest of the cake batter. Pour your batter into your buttered and floured pans. Bake at 350F until a toothpick in the center comes out clean, about 25 – 35 minutes depending on which pans you’re using.

Frost when the cake is completely cool.

Lamb Cake Mold Instructions:

First, you must thoroughly butter and flour the cake mold. Don’t skimp. Don’t cheat and use a baking spray, even one of the fancy ‘flour’ sprays. Get the butter into every crevice, and then flour every bit of butter.

Fill the bottom of the mold. The top will have a hole for steam to escape. Don’t confuse the two. It will look like far too much batter, but mound it in there anyway. Now, grab some toothpicks, or bamboo skewers if you’ve got ’em. Reinforce the neck and ears by sinking a piece of skewer or several toothpicks into strategic areas. You must sink them, otherwise they’ll just float on the surface of the cake as it rises.

Put on the top of the mold. Tie the mold together tightly with kitchen twine.

Bake at 350F for one hour. You heard me. One hour. Don’t skimp. The exterior of the cake will be a little dry, and the delicate areas will end up crispy. But the point of a lamb cake is the presentation, and the cake will remain tasty enough to eat even if it is a trifle overbaked.

Let the cake cool in the mold on a rack until it’s cool enough to handle, then cut the twine and turn the cake out of the mold. Lay it on it’s back on the cooling rack and let it cool completely before standing it up.

To frost, use a whole recipe of the cream cheese frosting, even though you only made a half recipe of cake. Glue the cake upright to the platter with a foundation of frosting. Frost the whole cake, and sprinkle/press gently with about a half cup of flaked coconut. For the eyes and nose, dip the end of a skewer into some gel icing color and use this to gently tint the icing to give the lamb eyes and nose.

Not pictured, you can place some edible greenery around the base of the lamb to give the impression of grass. I purchased some mint for this purpose, but it withered too quickly. Rosemary worked better, and gives a better impression of grass, but I forgot to take a picture.

My flag is made from a couple of bamboo skewers. I cut one down for the cross bar, and notched both skewers so they fit together in the middle, then tied them with red embroidery floss. The flag is made of plain white sketch paper, drawn with marker, and pasted to the skewer.

*  Amazon Associate Link

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Basic Cream Cheese Frosting

This is one of those basic repertoire recipes that is almost embarrassing to post. But, if you’re curious how I make it, this is how.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8oz. brick cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 16 oz. powdered sugar.
  • Optional:  1 cup toasted chopped pecans

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until mixed and light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the powdered sugar.  Mix in the nuts, if desired.

Frost your cake.

Shamelessly lick the bowl.

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Eggs in Purgatory

I don’t remember where the image of eggs baked in marinara sauce entered my mind, but it did.  And it looked so delicious that I had to try it.  So I did.  And it was wonderful.

Even my five year old liked it.  Any breakfast the five year old goes for that doesn’t involve massive quantities of maple syrup is A-OK in my book.

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 oz. diced pancetta (optional)
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes*
  • 1/2 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

* A note on the crushed tomatoes.  I highly, highly recommend using Contadina’s crushed tomatoes.  They don’t pay me or anything, I just think the quality is a lot better.

Yield:  6 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a skillet over medium flame, heat up your olive oil and toss in the onion and pancetta.  Let it all get nice and brown, then toss in the garlic.  Give that a minute or so, and then add the crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and herbs.  Stir this around and cook over medium low until the sauce is all bubbling and hot.

Pour it into a deep dish pie plate or square pyrex baking dish.  Carefully crack the eggs into the sauce, trying to keep each egg mostly in it’s own little well of sauce.  Pop the dish into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the egg whites are set.

When the egg whites are set, pull the dish out of the oven and sprinkle the Parmesan over the entire surfaced.  Return the dish to the oven and cook until the eggs reach the desired level of doneness.  My menfolk don’t like soft yolks, so I bake this another 20-30 minutes until the egg is completely cooked.

The beauty of baking eggs is that you have to drastically over bake them to produce that icky gray ring around the yolk.

This dish would scale up beautifully for a larger brunch event, I think.  Just make more sauce and bake them in larger casserole dishes.  A 9″x13″ casserole would probably hold a dozen eggs.

Serve in bowls with plenty of the marinara sauce and toasted ciabatta on the side.

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Pumpkin Bread

So I’m afraid a huge conglomeration of stuff made me drop of the face of the Internet for a couple months.  Work, homeschooling, knitting, illnesses, teething babies, unwashed dishes…  Especially the unwashed dishes.

But I’m back now.  And hey, it’s almost Thanksgiving!  Let’s celebrate with some pumpkin bread!

You’ll notice that this bread is very lightly spiced.  Too much spice overwhelms the flavor of the pumpkin.  In fact the commercial flavor most of us think of as pumpkin is really nothing but heavy spices and sugar.  But you can taste the pumpkin in this bread – it’s especially nice when made with good fresh pumpkin, like Fairytale or Cinderella.

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 128g shortening
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (1 can)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup water

Yield:  2 large loaves or 3 smaller loaves

Preheat your oven to 350F, 325F if using dark colored pans.

Butter and flour your loaf pans.  You’ll need either 2 5″x9″ loaf pans, 3 4″x8″ loaf pans, or 1 12″ bundt pan.

Cream the shortening and sugar.  Once they’re combined, add the pumpkin and eggs.  Mix it well.  It will look somewhat curdled, but that’s okay.  It’s not really curdled, you’re just seeing little flecks of shortening in the batter.  Sift the dry ingredients together.  Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, alternating with water and ending with the last of the dry ingredients.

Divide the batter between your loaf pans and bake for 70 minutes.  Every oven is different though, so I’d start testing the bread after 60.  Baking lower and slower is generally better for this bread.  Bake it until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool 20 minutes, and then turn from the pans.  If it doesn’t come out cleanly, give it another five minutes.  If it still doesn’t come out, start whacking it.  You’ll probably lose a few chunks, but if you’ve reached this point, you probably didn’t flour your pans.  Whacking the pans is really your only option at this point.

When the bread is completely cool, store it wrapped in foil in the fridge.  It’ll keep moist and delicious at least a week.

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On Measuring Shortening

Measuring shortening is a messy, horrible experience.  I hated it, and routinely either bought exorbitantly expensive 1 cup sticks of shortening, or avoided recipes containing shortening altogether.

Then I bought a kitchen scale.  And guess what?  You can measure shortening straight into your bowl with a kitchen scale!  And the only thing you get dirty is the spoon you use to scoop it!  One more “I Hate This” moment of cooking was removed from my life and there was much rejoicing.

For your convenience, here is a list of volume to gram conversions of shortening.

  • 1 cup shortening = 192g
  • 3/4 cup shortening = 144g
  • 2/3 cup shortening = 128g
  • 1/2 cup shortening = 96g
  • 1/3 cup shortening = 64g
  • 1/4 cup shortening = 48g
  • 1 Tbsp shortening = 12g

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Blueberry – Greek Yogurt Muffins

Blueberry muffin staring into the abyss.

UPDATED 11/16/2013

Below is the final recipe.  Note the changes in amounts of flour and sugar!  The final recipe was developed in conjunction with my brother, who felt the original muffins were too sweet.  Half a cup of sugar left them bland, but two thirds is juuust right.

Also, I ran out of flour one day and just used 1 1/2 cups, and they turned out even better.  So I have officially reduced that as well.  Between the reduced sugar and reduced flour, it works out better to make a dozen hearty sized muffins than 18 rather wimpy ones  (i.e. less pans to wash).

I’m afraid this is how we roll around here at Experimental Cookery.  I am always fiddling with my recipes, and sometimes I get too excited about a recipe and post it before I’ve made it more than once or twice.  Once I’m perfectly happy, I’ll go back and repost the final version.

Originally published 8/13/2013

Disclosure – I don’t actually like blueberry muffins.  Okay, I didn’t like blueberry muffins.  Since making these this morning, they’ve grown on me.  On my hips, specifically.

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup greek yogurt (no-fat greek yogurt remains untested*)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries
  • light streusel to sprinkle on top, as much as you please

Yield:  12 delicious muffins

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Put all your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) in a bowl and mix them together.  Put all your wet ingredients (sugar, butter, yogurt, eggs) in another bowl and mix them together.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Stir in the frozen blueberries.

I actually pictures for this experiment but got distracted halfway through by the fact that I was hungry and making breakfast.  Don’t worry, muffins are inherently easy.

Parcel batter out into a greased muffin pan.  Sprinkle streusel on the muffins.  Bake for 25 minutes at 350F.

Alternatively, pour the batter into a loaf pan, streusel the top, and bake for 45-60 minutes at 350F to make a blueberry tea bread.

Muffins are faster, though.

Consume in Morbo’s mighty jaws!  Remove from the muffin pans and allow to cool.  Then eat.

These guys are pretty good.  I only made them because I didn’t know what to make for breakfast and had a bunch of blueberries hanging out in my freezer, which is rather a mystery since none of us particularly like blueberries.  But they’re actually really good.  So good that I immediately sat down and emailed the recipe to my brother to prevent my forgetting what I’d done.  So good that I’ll make them again.  Which is good news because I still have blueberries lurking in my freezer.

* No fat dairy is an abomination of science.

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