Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.
Families have passed down recipes for limoncello for generations, as every Italian family has their own recipe. In the winter of 2013, Brion and I spent some time travelling Italy. It was in Sorrento where we tasted limoncello for the first time and loved it. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came across one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!
Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.
Today, I’m using limoncello not only in the cake but the glaze as well. This is definitely a refreshing cake, great for a summer picnic or dinner.
Glazed Limoncello Cakes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with cooking spray or baking pans of your choice.
Whisk sour cream, white sugar, canola oil, eggs, 3 tablespoons limoncello, and lemon zest together in a large bowl.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in another bowl. Add flour mixture to sour cream mixture; stir with a wooden spoon until batter is just combined. Pour batter into prepared cake pan or pans.
Bake for about 35 minutes OR until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake(s) in the pan for 5 minutes.
Whisk powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons limoncello liqueur together in a bowl until glaze is thin and smooth. Drizzle glaze over the top of the cake. Cool cake completely before serving. Top with a bit of whipped cream if desired.
- You may need a bit more glaze if you have made individual cakes as I did here.
Over the years, I have used guava paste numerous times. I found it was equally as good in both sweet and savory preparations, adding a nice ‘zing’ due to the natural acidity in guava fruit.
This specialty ingredient is made by cooking together guava fruit and sugar until it is very, very thick and then leaving the mixture to dry to remove excess moisture. This results in a paste that keeps well and is very flavorful. Guava paste is typically sold in short, wide cans or plastic packaging.
Guava paste is an ingredient found in many Cuban, Caribbean and South American recipes. A common pairing with cheese as an appetizer or baked into pastries as part of the filling. Also known as goiabada or pasta de guayaba, has a sweet, floral taste lending a distinct and tropical flavor to anything it is used in.
Today, I’m using it in some scones with cream cheese. Should be good!
Guava Cream Cheese Scones
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a round 8" baking pan with parchment paper.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & baking soda. With fingers, cut in cold butter & cream cheese until mixture resembles small peas. Do NOT over work dough. Carefully stir in guava paste cubes with a fork.
In a small cup, beat egg slightly then combine with buttermilk & vanilla. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture, stirring ONLY until combined.
Pour dough into lined baking pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake about 20 minutes or until golden & tests done. Slice into 8 wedges & serve warm.
Who can turn down cake for breakfast? It says right there in the recipe that ‘Served warm, it makes a delicious breakfast bread’. Although, bread might be stretching the truth a bit too far. Its cake, let’s be honest.
Oats are like the chameleon of the breakfast table, occupying many forms and disguising themselves as a bevy of morning meal options. The baked oats trend has been converting skeptics in huge numbers these days.
This lightly sweetened, apricot oat cake is a breakfast cake that celebrates apricots. A combination of regular all-purpose flour with oat flour results in the perfect crumb and a lovely flavor. Because oat flour is surprisingly light and retains moisture makes it perfect for pairing as well with the coarser, grittier texture of cornmeal. The slightly sweeter taste of oat flour not only complements the corn flavor, it also lets you use a little bit less sugar.
There’s just something comforting about breakfast cake in the morning!
Apricot Oat Breakfast Cake
Spray an 8-inch round baking pan with cooking spray. Combine apricot halves and boiling water and let stand 15 minutes to soften. Drain apricots and arrange in bottom of pan.
In medium bowl, whisk together oat flour, white flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In separate bowl, stir together whole egg, egg whites, buttermilk, and olive oil. Make well in center of dry ingredients. Pour egg mixture into well, stirring just until moistened. Pour batter over apricots and smooth top.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if desired.
- It’s super easy to make your own oat flour. You’ll need a food processor or a good blender, and oats, that’s it! You use raw oats, any type, and process for a few seconds until they turn into a fine powder.... oat flour!
- TO MAKE OAT FLOUR USE:
- 2 1/2 cups oats - use steel cut or rolled
- Put the oats in a food processor or high speed blender. Blend until the oats become a fine powder. This will only take a few seconds in a high speed blender, and a little bit longer in a food processor. Store the oat flour in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- 1 1/4 cup oats will yield approximately 1 cup flour.
Plantains aren’t meant for eating right out of the peel, but they are transformed into a gently sweet dessert when caramelized.
It’s easy to confuse a plantain with a banana because they look so much alike. Both fruits come from the same family of plants. Though they look alike, the biggest differences between bananas and plantains is in their flavor profile, size, skin thickness and how they’re used in the kitchen.
Like bananas, they start green and progress to yellow and then a dark brown-black as they ripen. The darker they are, the sweeter they’ll be. Plantains can be eaten at any stage of ripening, but you’ll need a knife to peel them.
Plantains are starchier and usually larger and tougher than bananas, with a much thicker skin. Very versatile in that they can be boiled, baked or fried.
We grew to like plantains after our extended stay in Ecuador some years ago. Every so often they are a nice treat to have again.
Plantain Ginger Cakes
Slice plantains into slices of equal thickness. In a small saucepan, combine butter & sugar; cook until butter has melted & sugar has dissolved. Cook until syrup has thickened; add sliced plantains. Gently stir to coat plantain well. In the bottom of 8 ramekin baking dishes, arrange overlapping slices. Divide any remaining syrup between them. Set aside.
In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices & salt.
In another bowl, beat the butter with sugar until light & fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time then the vanilla. Slowly add one third of the flour mixture & half a cup of the coconut milk. Mix until incorporated.
Add the second third of the flour mixture & the other half of the coconut milk. Finish with the final third of the flour mixture. Mix until all the ingredients are well combined. The batter is smooth & fluffy. Pour the batter over the caramelized plantains, dividing it evenly between the ramekins.
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown & a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Transfer ramekins to a cooling rack & allow to cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a spatula & carefully turn each ramekin upside down onto serving plates.
- For something different, I decided to make my plantain cake in an oblong tart pan so I could cut it in 'fingers'. Use whatever baking dish you chose, the cake is very adaptable.
Baked goods and chai spices are a no-brainer in my opinion. The same aromatics, like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger are staples in the pantries of baker’s everywhere.
The original scone was triangular and griddle baked but the exact origin of the word ‘scone’ remains a mystery.
From what I understand, in the UK, scones usually are available in only three flavor profiles: plain, with golden raisins or with cheese. An authentic English or Scottish scone is much like a North American baking powder biscuit.
Freed of cultural baggage and expectations of authenticity, the North American scone is flexible in shape and content. They have evolved into an almost limitless flavor option treat and the recipe has been ‘tweaked’ to make scones more moist and tender. This casting off of tradition may upset some people but such flexibility is key to this tasty self-contained snack.
Chai Spiced Scones
Prepare baking pan of your choice or just use a baking sheet to make wedges; set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, chai spices & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in cold butter until mixture becomes crumbly.
Make a well in the middle of the mixture & pour in cold buttermilk & vanilla; mix until combined.
If you are making the scones in wedges, place the dough on a piece of parchment paper & pat it into roughly an 8-inch circle. Cut the circle into 8 equal sized wedges. Transfer paper with scones to a baking sheet to be baked. If you wish, make scones in whatever shape you prefer. Place unbaked scones in the freezer to chill for about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake chilled scones about 20 minutes or until they test done. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
While scones are baking & cooling combine a small amount of powdered sugar with milk to make a glaze. Dip each scone into glaze then allow any excess to drip off. Serve either warm or at room temperature.
Scones are the quintessential, must be baked at home and eaten immediately foodstuff. Good scones are all about lightness and texture …. crumbly but a little moist, slightly dense but not grainy, flaky but not powdery.
The secret to a good moist scone that is also light, is in the proportion of rising agent to flour. Use too much leaving and your scone will definitely rise but be overpowered by baking powder chemicals. It is also important to keep the mixing to an absolute minimum or the gluten in the flour gets overworked, which makes the dough elastic and consequently the baked scones hard.
Many recipes call for self-rising flour as a staple ingredient. Often times, we find ourselves passing these recipes by because we don’t have it on hand, or because we don’t use it enough to actually want to buy it. Luckily, self-rising flour is easy to make at home. It requires only three ingredients and can be used in both recipes that call for it as an ingredient, and as a substitute for regular flour in quick-rise recipes to cut down on separate leavening agents.
The glaze is definitely the ‘icing on the cake’ when it comes to these scones. Chambord Liqueur is created using all natural ingredients. Black and red raspberries are blended before being steeped in Cognac to achieve a highly concentrated base. The mixture is then extracted and a second infusion captures the remaining flavors from the berries. The final step marries the berry infusion with Cognac and extracts of Madagascan vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and hints of fragrant herbs.
The total combination of scone and glaze is absolutely awesome!
Mango Scones w/ Chambord Glaze
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, cardamom & lemon zest. With fingertips, cut in grated butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg & vanilla; add to flour mixture. Fold in JUST until incorporated then carefully fold in mangos.
Place dough on parchment paper lined baking sheet. With lightly floured hands, pat dough into an 8-inch circle. Score into 8 or 12 wedges.
Bake 20 minutes or until golden & test done. Cover lightly with foil if over browning before finished baking. Remove from oven to a cooling rack. cool slightly before glazing.
In a small dish, combine glaze ingredients & drizzle over cooled scones. Decorate with raspberries & mango if desired.
Self-rising flour contains baking powder in a proportion that is perfect for most sponge cakes, cupcakes and scones. Some recipes may ask for a little additional baking powder to be added, particularly if the cake is made with an all-in-one method as omitting the creaming stage in the cake making means less air is incorporated into the batter during the mixing stage. Other times a small amount of baking soda is added if the ingredients include cocoa powder, yogurt or buttermilk.
- For 1 cup of self-rising flour use: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder & 1/4 tsp salt. Multiply the amount as needed to create a larger amount.
Not whole muffins, just the tops. The idea was first conceptualized by Elaine Benes, a fictional character on the American television sitcom Seinfeld, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I was not a Seinfeld fan and rarely even watched the show but the series lasted for nine years so obviously many did. It centered around four single friends dealing with the absurdities of everyday life in New York City, USA. Something as simple as soup or muffins became the focal point of the show but with a unique twist that only the actors on the show could make funny and memorable.
In a 1997 episode, The Muffin Tops, Elaine helps her old boss open his own business where they only sell the tops of muffins. ‘It’s the best part (nobody likes the stumps), it’s crunchy, it’s where the muffin breaks free of the pan and sort of does its own thing’.
Nowadays we have specific baking pans made just for making muffin tops and I think most food stores sell them. Muffins are an item I’ve certainly made my fair share of over the years in the food industry. But I have to say, I love the whole thing, especially if its soft and cakey.
This time of year is usually filled with pumpkin and sweet potato dishes and treats. These muffin tops are quite special with a slight sweet potato flavor packed with plenty of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and an added bonus of some pepita seeds.
Sweet Potato Muffin Tops
In a small bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add pepita seeds, mix & set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a MUFFIN TOP PAN or line with paper cups. (This recipe makes 10 muffin tops the size shown in the blog picture). Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the brown sugar & eggs together; add sweet potatoes, oil, milk & orange zest (or vanilla) & whisk again. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir until JUST combined. Do not overmix the batter.
Scoop batter into muffin top pan; Sprinkle with streusel topping.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
Its hard to imagine we have already reached the end of October. Much like the leaves swirling in the crisp autumn breeze, we are reminded of the fickle nature of time. It really doesn’t wait for anyone.
A few years ago, while Brion & I were on vacation in Mexico, we picked up a bag of popcorn called ‘Chicago Mix’. We had not tasted it before as Brion usually makes his popcorn at home in an air popper.
This Chicago style popcorn, which is a mix of both cheddar & caramel corn, is a ‘dangerous’ sweet-salty combination that is totally addictive! It was made famous by Garret’s popcorn in Chicago and up until recently it was sold as Chicago Mix. Their loyal customers would stand in lines around the shop to buy the caramel crisp and cheese popcorn bags, each sold separately. The customers would then mix the two bags together. Noticing this trend, Garret began mixing the popcorn together and the start of Chicago-style popcorn began.
Originally created in 1988 by Candyland, Inc, ‘Chicago Mix’ was trademarked as being a mix of caramel, cheese & traditionally seasoned popcorn.
Of course, when we returned home that year, I wanted to see if I could replicate that irresistible flavor. If you are having a Halloween party at home this year, here’s a few easy ideas for the occasion.
Chicago-Style Popcorn / Spider Rice Krispie Treats
Spider Rice Krispie Treats
Pop corn, place in a large bowl & set aside.
Place butter, sugar & corn syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar is melted. Boil for 3-4 minutes while stirring & scraping the bottom continuously.
Remove saucepan from heat & immediately stir in vanilla, salt & baking soda. The sugar mixture will bubble up & froth. Continue stirring until it forms a thick, glossy sauce. Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn, stirring until corn is evenly coated. Pour the popcorn onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, breaking up any clumps if necessary. Cool completely.
Pop corn, place in a large bowl & set aside.
In a small dish, combine cheese powder, salt & dry mustard (if using). Melt butter & drizzle over popcorn; toss to coat. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the popcorn & stir until evenly coated.
Combine the caramel & cheddar popcorn to make what is called 'CHICAGO MIX'. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Spider Rice Krispie Treats
Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine marshmallows & butter; heat 1-2 minutes or until puffy. Stir until blended. Add the rice krispies to marshmallow mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until cereal is evenly coated. Transfer to prepared baking pan & press firmly. Allow to chill for 1-2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut rice krispie mixture into circles using a round cookie cutter; place in a single layer on parchment paper.
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat candy melts for about 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Scoop melted chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a tip that has a small opening.
Unwrap peanut butter cups & apply a small amount of the chocolate on the top of the cups. Stick each cup onto the center of a rice krispie circle, carefully pressing to secure.
Use the remaining chocolate to draw spider legs on each treat. Apply a small amount of chocolate onto the back of candy eyes then apply them to the top edge of each peanut butter chocolate cup, carefully pressing to adhere.