Cranberry Brownies

Cranberry Brownies

I am the first to admit that I prefer boxed brownies to homemade. It is so difficult to achieve a gooey fudgy brownie when making it from scratch. Something about the boxed version provides consistent results.

My joy partially results from the deep nostalgia that occurs when I smell a bit of betty crocker wafting from the oven. A quick and easy box brownie was a go to treat from my childhood.

Today I am offering up a fudgy homemade brownie recipe that works. The partial reason this recipe works is because of the addition of fresh cranberries. The moisture in the fruit keeps everything from drying out.

Who knew that the simple toss in of fresh cranberry could take a brownie over the edge. It is the perfect counterpoint to the dark decadent chocolate. With each bite you get a pop of tart fruit.

I present the adult brownie. Still soft like classic but made from scratch instead of poured from a cardboard box. The cranberry doesnt hurt.

If you want a darker brownie use dutch process cocoa and/or dark chocolate chips.

Share these brownies with a loved one, co-worker, friend…or just enjoy them all yourself. They are the perfect quick and easy treat for the holidays.

Fig Jam Two Ways

Fig Jam Two Ways

Before moving to Savannah, I had never eaten a fig. I had never even had access to a fig. That all changed with my husband’s family.

My husband grew up with a fig tree in his grandmother’s yard. And to say the least, his family adores figs. Despite the family access, I personally have found it difficult to locate fresh figs when they are in season each year. I look and look, hoping to score a container of the soft sweet fruit to bake with.

As you can imagine, anytime I actually spot them in the store…I go a bit crazy. This year when I purchased more fresh figs than I knew what to do with. I ended up with more than I could reasonably cook with.

What does any true southerner do with an excess of fresh summer produce? Jam it or can it. That ways in the depths of a cold grey winter (which does not happen in the low country) you can whip out a jar of preserved summer stock to warm your bones.

There were so many fresh figs in my kitchen, I was able to make two batches of fig jam. One traditional, but with brown sugar instead of white, and one a little jazzed up with a hint of chai tea. The subtle warm flavors of chai is the perfect accompaniment to the fresh sweet fruit.

Making jam is easy. You combine everything into a pot and let it simmer away until ooey gooey and cooked down. If you do not feel like taking on the heavy burden of canning the jam, you can always freeze it for up to six months.

For another fig recipe click: here.

Lemon & Pineapple Sage Chess Pie

Lemon & Pineapple Sage Chess Pie

The history of the chess pie is debatable. Many contribute its origin to England, but those who have lived in the south their entire lives know it is as southern as peach pie.

To describe the many variations of chess pie that I have tasted, I would sum up the experience as a pecan pie without the pecans, and in their place, a little bit of cream. Just like a pecan pie, chess pie is one of the easiest pies you can make. Almost impossible to muck up.

A flaky tender crust sits at the base of the custard-like filling. And because the filling is so neutral, you can flavor the pie with almost anything.

Chess pie is sometimes referred to as buttermilk pie or vinegar pie.

For my summer version, I went with lemons and fresh pineapple sage from the garden. The custard is made using fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. I add in pineapple sage by seeping cream with it and using it throughout the recipe.

This recipe comes from my mom’s favorite community cookbook and gets an update. Here is another recipe that I did the same thing with.

I always make my own pie crust because the taste is so much better than store-bought. A ratio of half butter and half lard is my preference for fat. You are your own baker, so use any recipe for a crust that you like or even use a premade one!

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Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

As you probably guessed, Key Lime Pie (and key limes) come from the Keys. Many southerners consider the Florida line to be the official end of the south, but it is south of the Mason-Dixon so it counts.

When key lime pie is done right (i.e. made with key limes) it can be magical. Refreshing yet sweet, and creamy and cool.

All of the traditional Savannah restaurants offer some version of key lime pie on their dessert menu. When I speak of traditional Savannah restaurants I am referring to the ones that have been around forever, like the Olde Pink House or Garibaldi’s.

Since summer has officially begun in Savannah, it felt natural to make a southern dessert that is inspired by the season. Note: it is not officially summer, but when you live this deep in the south, the heat makes it feel like summer arrives early.

And to be completely honest, I did not feel like making a pie crust so baking a version of the dessert without a pie crust was my approach for this one. What is just as good a pie crust? Cake!

The base flavors/components for key lime pie recipes are always the same, key limes, graham cracker, and meringue. This recipe includes all of the essential components. A graham cracker cake, key lime pudding, toasted meringue, and a graham cracker crumb.

As for a poke cake, the concept is simple. Bake a one-layer cake in a cake pan and once it is cool poke holes into and pour something delicious over the cake. I finish my version off with a slathering of meringue and a blow torch.

 

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

I assume you are asking yourself—how is an Éclair Cake southern?

The cake itself is not southern, but its source is. For many of us southerners, especially older generations, beloved recipes were sourced from community cookbooks. A community cookbook is just that, a collection of local recipes submitted by locals and compiled by a local a organization (the Junior League is a popular source) or a church. Each recipe contains the name of the submitter and a blurb about the recipe. Readers will usually multiple variations for one type of recipe. You may find three different recipes for pimento cheese. And almost always the finished book is spiral bound.

In my childhood home there was one community cookbook that my mom sourced everything from: Dogwood Delights. You will notice that this book was put together by Atlanta’s Telephone Pioneers of America. My mom worked in Atlanta for BellSouth when I was a child. I remember going to the big city of Atlanta and eating at the Varsity on special days I was allowed to go to work with her.

Every time we made red velvet cake for Christmas, the book came out of the cupboard. Luckily, my grandmother was kind enough to give me her copy as a source of inspiration. So when I make red velvet cake there is only one place to go.


Often times when I am looking for a source of inspiration in a bake or covered dish I want to bring to my next family gathering I pull out my old, dusty copy.

For me, and for so many, community cookbooks are a conservation of history. A memento of time, experience, and culture of a community. Generations of experience are contained in-between two covers which makes for a great resource to young and old cooks alike.

Although community cookbooks provided a wealth of information to homemakers and small town cooks (because they were popular long before the internet), so many of the submissions lack direction. If you are experienced baker or cook like me, it is no problem to fill in the gaps but not every person in the kitchen has that experience. For those who do not know to cream together your butter and eggs when making the batter for a cake, the gaps can be tricky.

My intention is to not only preserve the recipes so many southerners rely on, but to update them into a modern form. By update I do not mean changing the dish into something totally different, I mean raising it into its adult self.

Let this first recipe be the example. I found this recipe by thumbing through and liked it. As I mentioned before, there were about 10 different versions of the cake listed.

A picture of the original recipe
As you can see, this recipe calls for a bunch of premade items. Instant pudding, frozen whipped cream, etc. An update is simple, make everything you can from scratch…within reason. I will not be making homemade graham crackers.

I made a homemade bourbon butterscotch pudding out of homemade caramel, a homemade ganache for the top, and a homemade whipped cream. The southern in me felt the need to splash in bourbon instead of rum for the butterscotch.

Ta-dah! This community cookbook submission is brought into the 21st century.

Go out and find your own community cookbook. A good place to start is an old bookstore or my favorite—a yard sale.

A fork full of finished cake

Spicy Kitchen Sink Cookies

Spicy Kitchen Sink Cookies

The concept of a kitchen sink cookie is simple: you put everything in but the kitchen sink. It is one of those recipes that works with almost anything and everything you have in your baking pantry. This means it is a great recipe to keep in your pocket when a baking emergency comes up, i.e an impromptu party or impromptu house guests.

For my version of kitchen sink cookies I use a combination that I find is well balanced, salty, sweet, and spicy. For salt I throw in pretzels and kettle cooked chips, kettle cooked so they retain their crunchiness. The sweet comes from butterscotch and chocolate chips. Finally, the spicy from some chipotle roasted peanuts.

If you do not have spicy peanuts you can throw red pepper into the cookie mix, roast your own peanuts in a spice mixture, or simply use plain peanuts.

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The cookie base for the recipe is heavy in brown sugar and butter, which results a gooier more buttery cookie. In my book, the ultimate cookie is one that is cooked on the outside and still gooey on the center. The trick to a perfect texture is twofold, chilling the butter before baking and under baking the cookie. I take the cookies out of the oven when the edges just start to brown then I let them cool on the cookie sheet.

Chilling your cookie dough before baking it prevents the butter from spreading too much during baking. If the butter spreads too much the finished cookies will be thin and not thick and tender.

This recipe would also be delicious as a chocolate chip cookie using only chocolate chips as the add-in. And of course, I recommend a large glass of ice cold milk to accompany your fresh out of the oven warm cookies.

This cookie may be the strangest, most delicious, and well balanced cookie I have ever eaten.

For more tips on cookie making, see this post.

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Salted Caramel Filled Kouign Amann

Salted Caramel Filled Kouign Amann

My latest Connect Savannah food feature on The Topiary Cake Design (I will post the article this week) reminded me just how much I love to bake. So this week I told myself I would get back into the kitchen and practice what I love.

I am not going to sugar coat it–I have been slacking in the blog/baking/cooking department. The holidays drained me, especially considering how much of an introvert I tend to be. I truly have no excuse considering my Christmas decorations and house have been cleaned since the day after Christmas. Truly, I have just been lazy.

Going back into the kitchen needed to start with a bang. I have been baking since I was young, so an intermediate pastry recipe would be a great challenge.

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For those who do not know the difference in pastries verses regular baked goods let me explain. Unlike cakes, breads, or other common baked goods, making a pastry refers to a very specific type of dough or baked item that is created using a sweet dough. For example, when you make a pie crust for a pie, you are making a pastry. Other common pastries include croissants, eclairs, macarons, profiteroles, tart shells, and Kouign Amann. The dough for making a pastry is commonly made with flour, fat, sugar, and water, which you can see is very different than the dough for making a bread. The tricky part in making a proper pastry comes with the type of pastry for which you opt—for example croissants require a process called lamination. Lamination is the folding in of cold butter to create layers. It takes many hours and proper technique to succeed.

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You may be asking, what the heck is a Kougin Amann? By far it is one of the most delicious pastries put on this earth. Originating in France, the time consuming bite sized croissant and brioche cross is made with a ton of butter, which is to be expected with a French pastry. The end result of folding cold butter into your dough (laminating), then slicing it, coating it in coarse sugar, and smashing it into muffin tins creates a sweet crunchy flaky palm sized treat. The best part, the technique of using a muffin pan leaves a large hole in the center of the pastry, perfect for filling your Kougin Amann with anything you desire.

My selection was salted caramel. The butter used to create the layers of your Kougin Amann bring saltiness to the pastry, so why not complement the overall flavor of the baked good by amplifying its qualities with a salty-sweet filling.

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I will warn you, this recipe is not for a beginner. It takes patience and love to get through the process. I do not want to discourage anyone from trying the recipe, I truly hope you are inspired, even beginners, to try this recipe out. The only way to learn is to try. I could probably fill a dumpster with the amount of baked goods I have thrown out due to trying. You have to start somewhere.