Category Archives: Useful Stuff

Recipe—Popovers Like at Jordan Pond House

Make popovers at home and enjoy your own tasty Jordan Pond House moment

Make popovers at home and enjoy your own tasty Jordan Pond House moment

When you can’t get to Seal Harbor, Maine, to eat the famous popovers at Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park, try making them at home instead.

photo by Bakery Boy

Popover Ingredients

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk (skim or 2% won’t do)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

In a medium bowl, whip eggs briskly by hand with a whisk (or in a mixer set on high) for three minutes

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Springerle Cookie Molds

Artfully embossed Springerle cookies evoke a sweet nostalgia. 

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Think of them as sweet little woodcarvings that you can eat. Springerle cookies — thick, cake-like, anise-flavored cutouts topped with intricate three-dimensional figures — date from medieval times in southern Germany. Yet you can make these “picture cookies” fresh right now wherever you are. All you need are a handful of molds and a few helpful tips from Connie Meisinger.

Connie Meisinger makes embossed-topped Springerle cookies and sells molds in more than 500 designs.

Connie Meisinger is the queen of Springerle (pronounced SHPRENG-er-luh) and an enthusiastic expert on the subject. Based in Elmhurst, Illinois, just west of Chicago, she owns House on the Hill, Inc., which sells more than 500 different Springerle mold designs. Pressed firmly into rolled-out cookie dough, the molds create embossed images such as birds, flowers, pine cones, fruit, harps, angels, snowmen, stars, baskets, houses, trees, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and more. Rolling pin versions create a variety of images with a single pass over flattened dough.

Springerle pine cone mold and cookies pressed with it.

I met Connie when she taught a Springerle making class at Susan Green’s Birmingham Bake & Cook Company near my home. Connie travels extensively to tell her story, share her recipes, demonstrate her techniques, and promote her line of Springerle molds (for a schedule of appearances visit houseonthehill.net/news-and-events.) She has been on TV shows including NBC Chicago on WMAQ Channel 5, ABC News Saturday Morning on WLS Channel 7, and The Martha Stewart Show on the Hallmark Channel. During presentations she tells her story while rolling dough, dusting molds with flour, pressing shapes into dough, cutting and transferring cookies to baking sheets, baking them and eventually letting everyone try samples.

The molds press intricate images into cookie dough.

House on the Hill offers many nostalgic designs.

Connie became an avid Springerle baker when her aging grandmother was no longer able to make the old-fashioned treats that were eagerly anticipated by her family during the holidays. She scrounged up harder-to-find key ingredients including anise oil and hartshorn (ammonia carbonate today but formerly a preparation made from ground-up deer horns) to go with the more readily available flour, sugar, eggs and butter in grandma Nini’s recipe. She found a few factory-machined molds that didn’t quite satisfy but that eventually led to her current career as a mold designer and distributor. Her extended family, glad to the see the tradition continue, rejoiced at the tasty results and gobbled every cookie she made.

On a lark in 1993 Connie submitted her recipe to the Chicago Tribune’s annual cookie contest. She was named one of several winners and got mentioned in the newspaper. Caroline Kallas, the owner of a little homegrown Springerle mold business called House on the Hill in nearby Lombard, read the article and contacted Connie to invite her to check out the merchandise. “I did, and I was hooked,” Connie says. “I became a frequent customer, collecting as many molds as I could afford. Caroline died in 1999, and three years later my husband and I bought House on the Hill from her husband. We’ve been running it ever since.”

The Showstopper Rolling Pin (top center) presses 25 different images. Photo courtesy of House on the Hill

The molds look like they’re hand carved from solid wood just as they were centuries ago. Modern versions, though still handcrafted, are made from resin and wood composite. Most are replicas of antique carvings, giving them a historic and traditional appearance. “Bakers in guilds back then had to be excellent woodcarvers too, so they could create their own molds,” Connie says. “When a lot of German families immigrated to America in the late 1800s, they couldn’t always bring big things like furniture, but they brought cherished cookie molds made of clay or wood or metal. Many of those heirlooms are in museums and private collections now. Sometimes we’ll borrow an antique mold from a museum and replicate the historic design to add to our selection. We also have a woodcarver create new designs.”

...then lifts the cutout to a baking sheet.

Connie cuts around a pressed angel image...

During her classes Connie offers interesting tidbits and helpful hints. Traditional Springerle cookies are flavored with anise, she notes, but she also uses orange, lemon and almond and is experimenting with a cherry-almond combination. It’s best to make them after the first freeze, she says, when humidity is low and the dough stays dry so it doesn’t stick in the molds. She says symbols play a big part in Springerle designs, ranging from pomegranates (once given as wedding gifts because their many seeds represented fertility) to depictions of great cathedrals (created as souvenirs for travelers who visited renowned religious sites).

The molds look like carved wood but are made of resin and wood composite.

By the time her class ended and I was nibbling a one of the pretty little white works of edible art, I could hardly wait to get home and try a batch of my own. If you’re interesting in making Springerle cookies and need some molds to get started, order some from the House on the Hill website, which has pictures of each design.

I recently learned that in German the word Springerle means “jumper” as in a jumping horse. I wonder if the unique style of cookie got that name because jumping horses were once depicted on them. Or because pulverized deer horn (deer jump too, right?) was once a key ingredient. Or because the dough “springs” out of the deeply carved molds or “springs” up as it bakes. I also read an account of how medieval Yule festivals among pagan Germanic tribes involved animal sacrifices in hopes of appeasing the gods into sending a mild winter, and that poor people who couldn’t afford to kill their livestock instead created token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads or cookies.

I don’t know the definitive answer, if there is one, but I plan to ask Connie about it the next time she comes to town to teach her Springerle baking class. Meanwhile, I’ll just enjoy some cookies and hope you do too.

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House on the Hill, Inc.

650 West Grand Avenue, Unit 110, Elmhurst, IL 60126

630-279-4455 or toll free (in the U.S.) 877-279-4455

email support@houseonthehill.net

See a catalog of Springerle molds and order online at houseonthehill.net

Find out where Connie Meisinger will be demonstrating Springerle techniques by visiting houseonthehill.net/news-and-events

Pristine white Springerle cookies might look too pretty to eat, but go ahead!

BOOK REVIEW Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Bookjacket photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

When Chef Sonya Jones told me she had a baked-goods book coming out, I knew it would belong in my kitchen library.

by Bakery Boy

Sweet Auburn Bread Company is a tiny bakeshop in downtown Atlanta. There’s barely enough room for more than a few customers at a time in front of the bakery’s showcases and less room behind for owner Sonya Jones to maneuver among her ovens, mixers, refrigerator, workbench and sink. These limitations don’t stop regulars from crowding in, and they sure don’t keep Sonya from turning out an incredible volume and variety of scrumptious baked goods.

The last time I dropped in to eat some of the Sweet Potato Cheesecake she’s best known for and to box up some Sweet Potato & Molasses Muffins to bring home (see earlier post), Sonya told me she had a cookbook in the works. “It’s been in the works for a looong time,” she said with a hopeful expression that suggested she thought it was finally going to happen.

Well it did, and it was worth the wait. Sweet Auburn Desserts (from Pelican Publishing Company, $24.95) appeared in September. As expected it’s filled with recipes I wanted to try right away, starting with the gorgeous — and surprisingly easy-to-make — Strawberry Jam Stack Cake pictured on the cover.

Subtitled “Atlanta’s Little Bakery That Could,” the book includes a generous 108 recipes grouped in chapters for pies; poundcakes; stack cakes & jelly rolls; puddings & cobblers; cheesecakes & layer cakes; cookies, muffins & quick breads; and jams, jellies, butters & sauces.

Among those I’ve already made or will soon make are her Coconut Cream Pie, Brown Sugar Poundcake, Dried Apple Stack Cake, Tart Cherry Cobbler, Naked Hummingbird Muffins (so named because they’re not wearing any cream cheese icing), Cast-iron Skillet Cornbread and a simple Whiskey Butter Sauce she recommends spreading on bread pudding and fruit cobbler.

Sonya and her publisher kindly agreed to let me reprint a few of my favorites from the book here on the Bakery Boy Blog, including the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake, the Sweet Potato Custard Pie, and the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding (click each to see separate posts).

Chef Sonya Jones with some of her sweet potato goodies at Sweet Auburn Bread Company. Photo by Bakery Boy

The 10th of 11 siblings who grew up in Atlanta but spent time on a family farm in Florida where relatives loved to cook and bake with farm-fresh ingredients, Sonya found early inspiration in the kitchen with her grandmother, mother and aunts. There was almost always cobbler on the countertop, she recalls, and the aroma of something good baking. For decades her mother, who passed away shortly before the book went to press, ran a neighborhood Soul Food café on Atlanta’s south side known as Cat’s Kitchen.

Sonya studied at the Culinary School in Atlanta and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, worked as a pastry chef at upscale restaurants in both of those cities, and taught baking classes at Atlanta Technical College. Even with such formal training, she found her best successes working with simple and unglamorous foodstuffs, particularly the lowly sweet potato. In 1997 she opened Sweet Auburn Bread Company at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in an area of Atlanta known for its African American heritage and business community, an area that figured prominently in the Civil Rights Movement and is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

Mashed sweet potatoes form the basis for some of Sonya's best-known desserts.

It was through the Curb Market that I met Sonya, not long after then-President Bill Clinton dropped by during a tour to promote economic development and urban revitalization. He ate some of her signature Sweet Potato Cheesecake and declared it “really good,” an endorsement that made business boom. I was a writer and editor for Georgia Living, a regular section within Southern Living magazine, and I’m proud to say that an excerpt from the article I helped put together about Sonya and her bakery landed on the back cover of her book.

Sweet Auburn Bread Company is now located one street over from the Curb Market, with a narrow storefront facing Auburn Avenue in the slowly reviving Sweet Auburn business and historical district. “This was sort of the unofficial center of the African American community back when I was a little girl,” Sonya says, “and I want my bakery to be part of its comeback. I want to share my good fortune, and with my book I want to share my recipes too.”

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog!) and drop the price to $19.96.

Sweet Auburn Bread Company is located at 234 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30303; 404-221-1157, www.sweetauburnbread.com.

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Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe

.

Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe

.

Click here for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding recipe

.

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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RECIPE Strawberry Jam Stack Cake from Sweet Auburn Desserts

Strawberry Jam Stack Cake from the book Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones. Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

This loosely stacked yet highly photogenic dessert is refreshingly different from any regular layer cake.

by Bakery Boy

“What I love about stack cakes is that they are so commanding and grand,” says Sonya Jones in introducing this recipe, a tempting photo of which graces the cover of her newly published cookbook, Sweet Auburn Desserts from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review, or here for a profile of Sonya and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta). “Traditionally, the bigger the stack cake and the more layers it has, the more important the occasion,” she adds. So I guess technically, the sky is the limit!

For this recipe, prepare the jam filling ahead of time so it’s well cooled and ready to spread between cake layers on cake-baking day.

Bookjacket photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Strawberry Jam Stack Cake

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 ounce shortening

1 ¼ cups sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 7 (8-inch) round cake pans and line with parchment or wax paper.

In a mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time until the eggs are fully incorporated. Stir in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. With the mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Spread ¾ cup of the batter into each pan. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Turn the cakes out of the pans onto a wire rack while still warm. Repeat until all 7 layers are baked. Each cake layer will be ¼- to 3/8-inch thick.

Place the first layer on a cake stand and spread ½ cup Strawberry Jam (see below) over the top. Place the second layer on top of the jam and spread another ½ cup jam over the top. Repeat this process until all 7 layers are stacked and layered with jam. Wrap the cake with plastic wrap or foil and allow it to stand for 24 hours before serving.

Jam Filling

2 pounds fresh strawberries

4 cups sugar

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick

Wash and hull the strawberries. In a saucepan, crush the strawberries and stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Add the cinnamon stick and stir over low head until the sugar is dissolved.

Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Using a large spoon, skim off any foam that forms on the surface. Continue to boil, stirring often, until the mixture is thickened and a candy thermometer reads 220 degrees F., about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Transfer the jam to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

If you wish to store the jam for a longer period of time, spoon the jam into hot, sterile jars and seal. Place the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes and transfer them to the counter to cool before storing them in a cool, dry, dark place.

[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog!) that drops the price to $19.96.

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Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe

Click here for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding recipe

Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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RECIPE Sweet Potato Custard Pie from Sweet Auburn Desserts

If you can think of a better use for sweet potatoes than this little slice of heaven, I’d like to know.

by Bakery Boy

Click here for a profile of Chef Sonya Jones and Sweet Auburn Bread Company

Sweet Potato Custard Pie from Sweet Auburn Desserts. Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

After my visits in Atlanta with chef and baker Sonya Jones, I knew I’d want to try making some of her sweet potato recipes as soon as she made them available. The owner of Sweet Auburn Bread Company has built her reputation around baking the humble but tasty orange tuber into a wide variety of goodies.

The creamy Sweet Potato Cheesecake is her bakeshop’s best-selling item at $45 for an 8-inch-diameter cake or $5 for a 3-inch version, each featuring a buttermilk pound cake crust instead of the usual graham-cracker crust. She also makes Sweet Potato Pies, Sweet Potato and Molasses Muffins, Sweet Potato Poundcake with Molasses Glaze, Sweet Potato Angel Biscuits, and Sweet Potato Cobbler, and is very likely dreaming up other uses for sweet potatoes right now.

Sonya says she peels, boils, and mashes about 40 pounds of the vegetables nearly every day to make a mushy paste that becomes the basis for all kinds of treats. “The possibilities are endless for this simple, wholesome, basic Southern staple,” she says. “I’m always experimenting with different desserts I can make from it, and I’m almost always happy with the results.”

Here is Sonya’s recipe for Sweet Potato Custard Pie from her newly published Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review.)

Sweet Potato Custard Pie

1 pie shell — either your favorite version or one found elsewhere in Sonya’s book

Filling

1 pound sweet potatoes

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

3 eggs

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1 ½ cups half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling, boil the sweet potatoes for 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes, run them under cold water, and remove the skin. Mash the potatoes in a mixing bowl and stir until smooth, then gradually stir in the sugar and nutmeg. Add the eggs one at a time, then the belted butter and half and half. Finally, stir in the vanilla and lemon extracts.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serves 8

[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog!) that drops the price to $19.96.

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Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe

Click here for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding recipe

Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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RECIPE Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding from Sweet Auburn Desserts

That humblest of desserts, meant to make stale bread palatable and nicknamed “poor man’s pudding,” becomes a gourmet treat when done right.

by Bakery Boy

Click here for a profile of Chef Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding from Sweet Auburn Desserts. Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

My earliest experience with bread pudding was homegrown.

My father, being a baker with a steady supply of day-old bread — the main ingredient in bread pudding — introduced me to the basic concept. Break an old loaf into chunks in a bowl; sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon and raisins; pour on warm milk; dig in. It was a classic example of a “poor man’s pudding” as it has been enjoyed for hundreds of years, especially on cold winter days. Thanks again, Pop, for those special times we shared!

My second encounter with bread pudding was literary.

I was reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with its über-poor Cratchit family making the best of Christmas Eve while living on abundant love but scant few resources. As the Ghost of Christmas Present guides rich but stingy Ebenezer Scrooge through his enlightening nightmare, they haunt the Cratchit house and spy a simple bread pudding that smells “like a washing day” and looks “like a speckled cannon ball” and is a noticeably “small pudding for [such] a large family.” Unfazed by his own poverty, humble accountant Bob Cratchit regards the pudding as “the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchet since their marriage.” She, being a good sport, takes the, um, compliment well enough.

My third brush with bread pudding was, in a word, divine.

Commander's Palace Creole Bread Pudding Souffle with Warm Whiskey Sauce. Photo courtesy of Commander's Palace.

I ate the famous version served at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans — one of the nation’s most highly regarded restaurants — and if the delicacy hasn’t already been declared a national treasure, it ought to be. The Commander’s Palace Creole Bread Pudding Souffle with Warm Whiskey Sauce lives up to its grand title. The fluffy blend of sugar, eggs, heavy whipping cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and cubed French bread gets baked into a deep cup, then topped with a meringue and baked again until golden brown. At table side, a server dramatically pokes a hole in the top of the meringue and pours in a velvety sauce of bourbon and whipping cream. Perfection! Commander’s is so exacting about how its signature dessert is prepared and served, always fresh from start to finish, that it asks dinner guests to order the bread pudding in advance at the beginning of the meal, allowing the kitchen staff to time each step just right for the final presentation.

Now a fourth chapter has been added to my personal bread pudding saga.

Chef Sonya Jones, owner of Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta, shares her recipe for Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding in her recently published Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook from Pelican Publishing Company. (Click here for the Bakery Boy Blog’s book review.) It’s a suitably rich casserole of a pudding baked into a deep pan and using regular milk instead of heavy whipping cream and any available white bread instead of specifically French loaves. I rate it high on my personal scale of bread puddings, certainly closer to the perfection served at Commander’s Palace than to the “washing day cannon ball” at Mrs. Cratchit’s fictional home.

For sheer fond memories’ sake, though, I’ll have to say I still hold in the highest regard my late father’s unpretentious and unsophisticated technique for re-purposing going-stale bread by just tossing stuff together in a bowl. His approach wasn’t cookbook-worthy, perhaps, but I treasure those times when we stood across the workbench from each other at our family’s bakery or sat across the dinner table from each other at home while we ate it. I miss those moments with my Pop.

Try serving Sonya’s bread pudding recipe to your family and see if it makes as strong an impression and as long-lasting a memory as my dad’s did for me.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding

1 pound white bread, sliced

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1 ½ cups raisins

4 cups milk

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour half the melted butter in the bottom of a casserole dish. Line the dish with the slices of white bread. Drizzle the remaining butter over the bread and sprinkle the raisins on top.

In a large mixing bowl, stir the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until well blended. Pour 1/3 of the milk mixture over the bread and let it soak for 10 minutes. Pour another 1/3 of the milk mixture over the bread and let it soak another 10 minutes. Repeat with the remainder of the milk mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pudding springs back when lightly touched. Cook and serve with Nutmeg Sauce (see below). Serves 12-15

Nutmeg Sauce

1 cup water

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

2  tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

In a large saucepan bring the water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg. Mix well.

Gradually stir ½ cup boiling water into the sugar mixture. Add the sugar mixture to the remaining boiling water in the saucepan. Continue cooking for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter.

Store the sauce in a covered container until ready to use. Serve with Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding (above) or with fresh peach cobbler or pound cake.

[From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, (c) Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.]

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To order a copy of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones, contact Pelican Publishing Company at www.pelicanpub.com or 1-800-843-1724. The list price is $24.95, but ask about a 20 percent discount (which you learned about here on the Bakery Boy Blog) that drops the price to $19.96.

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Click here for the Sweet Potato Custard Pie recipe

Click here for the Strawberry Jam Stack Cake recipe

Click here for a book review of Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones

Click here for a profile of Sonya Jones and her Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta

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House Divided Cookbooks Turn Auburn-Alabama Rivalry Into Tasty Tailgate Parties

Dueling cookbooks by a married pair of bakers/cooks with opposing college football loyalties stir up pregame flavors for Dixie’s most fabled rivalry.

by Bakery Boy

Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Louisa’s Bakery, co-owned by cookbook authors Missy & Browne Mercer

Browne and Missy Mercer, signing their dueling tailgate-party cookbooks at The Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, AL. Photo by Bakery Boy

In Alabama, the term “house divided” has outlived its reference to the Civil War. For decades it referred to families splitting to side with the Union or the Confederacy. Now it more often refers to households that support opposing football teams—either The University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide or the cross-state rival Auburn University Tigers.

The latest battlefront in this House Divided saga: otherwise happily married bakers/cooks Missy and Browne Mercer. They work together at a trio of businesses they own in Montgomery, two restaurants and a bakery in adjoining buildings. They love their alma maters. And they have written cookbooks, each splashed with their school’s colors on the outside and each packed with 30 school-themed tailgate party recipes inside.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY COOKBOOK by Missy Mercer (Gibbs Smith Publishing, $14.99)

Her book gets Auburn fans charged up for games with Kick ’em in the Butt Big Blue Chili, Sis Boom Bah! Sausage Balls, Rah Rah Rah Corn and Avocado Salsa, Roasted Red Beat-The-Tide Hummus, and Roll Over The Tide Chicken Wings. Aubie’s Heart-of-Dixie Caviar—Aubie is the school’s tiger mascot—involves no fish roe but plenty of peppers, onions, corn, and black-eyed peas. Desserts include The Tiger’s Den Lemon Bars, Tiger Paw Cookies, and Old South White Chocolate Pecan Blondies (see recipe below). Wash it down with swigs of Orange-and-Blue Passion (with vodka, orange juice, ginger ale, and Blue Curaco) or Fourth Quarter Whiskey Slush (with Jack Daniel’s Black Label Whiskey, black tea, lemonade, and orange juice).

THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA COOKBOOK by Browne  Mercer (Gibbs Smith Publishing, $14.99)

His book stokes Alabama fans into game-days frenzies with Bama Bourbon-Glazed Park Tenderloin, Drown ’em Tide Brisket, Rammer Jammer Baked Beans, Rollin’ with the Tide Salsa, Capstone Coleslaw, and Give ’em Hell Alabama Deviled Eggs. He carries the theme forward with Dixie’s Football Pride Potato Salad, Crimson Flame Black-Eyed Peas (cayenne pepper packs a punch), Got Thirteen? Chili (a reference to the football team’s impressive total of 13 national titles), and Roll on to Victory Lemon Pound Cake. The Big Al’s Peanut Butter Bars (see recipe below) are named for Alabama’s raging elephant mascot and symbol.

TRUCE AT HOME?

Missy adds "War Eagle!" to the copies she autographs. Photo by Bakery Boy

So, do these two school-spirited foodies get along, despite all this football-based conflict? Yes, they say. Not only do they live together and work together—jointly running Louisa’s Bakery, Tomatinos Pizza & Bake Shop, and Café Louisa in Montgomery’s historic Old Cloverdale neighborhood—they even do book-signing events together when they promote their dueling cookbooks.

Browne adds "Roll Tide!" to the copies he autographs. Photo by Bakery Boy

People who show up as such signings aren’t always as cordial as the couple. I’ve seen people totally ignore one or the other, even though they’re sitting side by side at a signing table. Some fans will purposely speak only to the one who shares the same team interest while getting books autographed. This rivalry can be that way.

The one thing Missy and Browne don’t do together is to watch the Alabama-Auburn game. “We’ve tried that,” Missy says. “It just gets too stressful. We each love our team too much.”

Here’s one dessert recipe from each book. If you have a dog in this fight, as we sometimes say around here, choose one or the other accordingly. If you’re neutral in this ongoing turf war, feel free to try both.

OLD SOUTH WHITE CHOCOLATE PECAN BLONDIES from Auburn University Cookbook by Missy Mercer

Old South White Chocolate Pecan Blondies. Photo by Zac Williams from Auburn University Cookbook by Missy Mercer. Reprinted with permission from Gibbs Smith.

1 cup butter

1 pound white chocolate, half chunked and half chopped

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pinch salt

2 cups flour

1⁄3 cup pecan pieces

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line an 11 x 14-inch pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl over a hot water bath, combine butter with chunks of white chocolate. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture and stir in flour. When cooled slightly, add chopped white chocolate, pecans, and chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until skewer or toothpick comes out clean when tested.

BIG AL’S PEANUT BUTTER BARS from The University of Alabama Cookbook by Browne Mercer

Big Al's Peanut Butter Bars. Photo by Zac Williams from The University of Alabama Cookbook by Browne Mercer. Reprinted with permission from Gibbs Smith.

2 cups flour

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup peanut butter

1 egg

1 cup milk chocolate pieces

1 teaspoon butter

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add 1⁄4 cup butter, peanut butter, and then egg to make a thick batter. Press 2⁄3 of mixture into bottom of greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Melt chocolate with 1 teaspoon butter and milk in a small saucepan. Pour over peanut butter mixture in the baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining peanut butter mixture over chocolate mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before cutting into bars.

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Find both books in Alabama bookstores or through Gibbs Smith Publishing of Layton, Utah; 800-835-4993

For more about Missy & Browne’s bakery and two restaurants in Montgomery:

Louisa’s Bakery, 334-356-1212

Tomatinos Pizza & Bake Shop, 334-264-4241

Café Louisa, 334-264-4241

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Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Louisa’s Bakery

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Got a bakery-related story idea for the Bakery Boy Blog? Email a note to Bakery.Boy@att.net.

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Bake Cookies In Your Car

Fellow bakery blogger Nicole Weston of Baking Bites shares her technique for baking chocolate chip cookies on the dashboard of a summer-hot car.

by Bakery Boy

Cookies baking on a hot dashboard. Photos: BakingBites.com

It’s August. It’s hot. You park your car in the sun, and when you get in to drive somewhere the heat is unbearable. Maybe you roll down the window and drive fast to flush out your rolling furnace. Maybe you crank up the AC and wait a few minutes in nearby shade. Here’s an idea. When you’re not going anywhere, why not use that hot-as-an-oven car as, well, an oven?

Fellow bakery blogger Nicole Weston of Baking Bites explored this notion and developed what has become one of her most popular posts. First published in 2007, the story frequently earns a button at the top of her home page, even four years later.

These chocolate chip cookies will be ready soon, and the car they're baking in will smell wonderful too.

Nicole includes plenty of tips for car-based baking:

• realizing the advantages of chilled-and-sliced dough over spooned-and-dropped dough for achieving even thickness and even baking

• placing oven mitts or a towel under the cookie sheet to protect the dashboard, which she considers the best spot for baking

• parking in full sun

• placing an oven thermometer where it can be seen from outside

• avoiding opening the car door too often and letting heat out

• testing by touch instead of sight since car-baked cookies won’t caramelize and brown the way regular oven versions do

• doubling up with two batches if you have a large dashboard or two cars or a friend with a car to park next to yours, making it a team project

It’s a fun piece. The reader comments are worth scrolling through both for more car-as-oven tips (an Arizona woman says she cooked a steak to well-done in four hours) and other suggestions (such as using the resulting aroma of fresh-baked cookie to help sell a used car).

Here’s the full URL linking to Nicole’s story, including her cookie recipe: http://bakingbites.com/2007/09/car-baked-chocolate-chip-cookies-step-by-step/. Or just click here.

Thanks, Nicole, for keeping this story prominently displayed at your site. It’s an inspiration to us all!

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Nicole Weston of Baking Bites

When Nicole Weston isn’t baking, photographing, and writing for her Baking Bites blog, which she launched in 2004, she is often riding horses (American Saddlebreds) or dancing (ballet and salsa). Based in Los Angeles, she holds a degree in linguistic from the University of California Berkeley and a certificate in professional pastry from the New School of Cooking in Culver City (across from the historic Helms Bakery complex, which now holds a collection of restaurants and design and furniture shops).

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Got a bakery-related story idea for the Bakery Boy Blog? Email a note to Bakery.Boy@att.net.

RECIPE Star Spangled Chunky Chip Cookies

Just in time! This patriotic red-white-and-blue cookie recipe will put the finishing touch on the July 4th cookout at my house.

Star Spangled Chunky Chip Cookies

Everything else is just about ready for Independence Day at our place. Meats and marinades on hand. Vegetables and shrimp for skewers. Grill scrubbed clean and ready to fire up. A watermelon and various drinks chilling. Guests invited and side dishes assigned. I’m even planning to churn ice cream during the festivities, which I haven’t done in years.

Still, I wanted to have something sweet on the table for snacking purposes before, during, and after the actual grilling takes place. So it was just good luck that this cookie recipe came to my attention earlier this week.

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Cherry Picking Time at Levering Orchard in Ararat, Virginia

It’s cherry-picking time in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, a great time to drop in at Levering Orchard. The baked goods you’ll make with the cherries you don’t eat during the drive home will be fantastic.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

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More than 150 tall wooden ladders let pickers reach cherries at Levering Orchard.

The first time I met Levering Orchard owner Frank Levering, he spoke eloquently about ladders.

“I love ladders,” he mused, a muddy boot perched on a low rung and a weathered hand gripping a little higher on one of the more than 150 tall wooden ladders he uses to reach fruit at his popular you-pick operation in western Virginia. “I guess any worker gets attached to the tools of his trade. I take good care of the ladders and they take good care of me. Ladders are like bridges between the ground and the sky. They’re physical links between me and the fruit.”

Frank has a special affinity for ladders.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that Frank, who grew up in this scenic orchard just off the Blue Ridge Parkway where his parents and grandparents before him also tended the fruit as far back as 1908, is a poet and writer as well. As a younger man he took screenplay-writing ambitions to Hollywood and met moderate success. Even now that he’s been back home for nearly three decades and is well ensconced as an orchardist, he sometimes writes plays during the winter off-season and in late summer produces shows at a little outdoor stage on the steeply sloped property.

I filled these buckets in about a half hour.

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