Tag Archives: baking tips

BOOK REVIEW Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair

These Nordic recipes rooted in Scandinavia remind me of my own winters in Minnesota, where the author developed them.

reviewed by Bakery Boy

I’ve long had a warm place in my heart for Minnesota. It might have been my only warm part during the long cold winters I spent visiting my sister there and getting involved in Great Frozen North activities such as ice fishing, cross country skiing, sled dog racing, pond hockey, and trying to keep my car—a native Southerner like myself—in running condition.

Author Pat Sinclair

Those Nordic experiences are partly why I’m drawn to Pat Sinclair’s book, Scandinavian Classic Baking (from Pelican Publishing Company, $16.95). Based in Edina, Minnesota, this author, food consultant, and recipe developer’s baked goods remind me of coming indoors from arctic winter weather, being pleasantly surprised to find something delicious baking in the oven, and looking forward to that first still-steaming bite.

Given the Upper Midwest’s abundance of Scandinavian descendants—all of them more accustomed to extreme cold that I am—those goodies fresh from the oven usually reflected the cuisines of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. The aromas of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peels dominate baking days, often accented by the yeasty smell of rising breads, by colorful tarts loaded with berries, and by pastries bristling with nuts.

Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars. See the recipe in a separate post. Photo by Joel Butkowski.

At first the names of some of the recipes threw me. But under Pat’s guidance I soon learned that aebleskiver means pancake balls, fattigman is poor man’s cake, and pepparkakor translates to spicy cookies. Also, lefse is a sort of sweetened and fried potato crepe served with butter and sugar, toscakake involves a top layer of sliced almonds covered with buttery caramel, and sandbakkels are butter cookies whose dough gets pressed into fluted tins before being baked and are later filled with whipped cream, jam, lemon curd, or chocolate ganache.

Pat got my attention with 42 recipes ranging from coffee breads (especially the Danish Almond Tea Ring shown on the cover), cakes (the Norwegian Toscakake stands out), cookies (I tried the Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars recipe first and it won’t be the last time I make them), tarts (from blueberry to rhubarb), and pastries (such as Swedish Kringle made from a paste similar to that used in making éclairs).

Photographer Joel Butkowski

Stunning food photography by a fellow Minnesotan Joel Butkowski, whose shots illustrate every recipe, kept me focused and occasionally salivating. (See Joel’s work at www.MinnesotaFoodPhotographer.com.)

An intriguing addition to the format is Pat’s sprinkling of sidebar-style vignettes that elaborate, like a travelogue, on Scandinavian culture, traditions, celebrations, foods, and popular destinations. One brief entry explains the importance of cardamom, a member of the ginger family, in Scandinavian baking and recommends splitting the pods and grinding the seeds with a mortar and pestle right before use in order to release fragrant oils for the most flavorful results. Another encapsulates 700 years of Viking shipbuilding and exploration starting in the 5th Century.

Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies. See the recipe in a separate post. Photo by Joel Butkowski.

Still more of these side notes expound upon reindeer, the candle-filled Feast of St. Lucia, the joy of eating Shrove Tuesday Buns the day before the Lent starts, the Land of the Midnight Sun effect north of the Arctic Circle (lots of daylight in summer but long dark winters too), Norway’s fjords and 11th-century Stave Church construction, Denmark’s ornate Amalienborg Palace and famous Tivoli Gardens, Sweden’s ancient city streets and modern architecture, Finland’s saunas, and more.

So besides offering goodies to bake and eat, Scandinavian Classic Baking provides quick lessons in foreign culture too.

Once I tried baking a few of these recipes, the at-first strange terms quickly became familiar, joining the lexicon and the baking rotation at my house. Tonight, with spring coming on strong here in Alabama and with what most likely will be the last snowstorm of the season blowing across the northern tier states, I think I’ll bake Meringue with Peaches and Raspberries, the book’s most summery recipe. I remember bone-chilling Minnesota winters vividly, but a summer dessert like this seems just the thing to serve as a farewell to the cold and a harbinger of warmer days ahead.

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Find Scandinavian Classic Baking in bookstores or order it from Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, LA; 504-368-1175 or www.pelicanpub.com.

See author, food consultant, and recipe developer Pat Sinclair’s blog at PatCooksandBakes.blogspot.com.

Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars from Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking.

Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies from Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking.

Click here to see a brief video of Pat Sinclair demonstrating her Finnish Brown Butter Teaspoon Cookies recipe during an appearance on Minneapolis-St. Paul television station KARE-11.

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RECIPE Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies from Scandinavian Classic Baking

Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking (from Pelican Publishing Company) includes this excellent recipe for Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies. Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a review of the book.

Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies. Photo by Joel Butkowski.

(Makes 24 sandwich cookies)

1 cup                     butter

2 cups                   all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon         baking soda

¾ cup                   sugar

1 tablespoon        vanilla

1/3 cup                 raspberry or strawberry jam

—                           confectioners’ sugar

Brown the butter by melting in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally. When butter begins to foam up, stir constantly until it turns a deep golden brown. Watch carefully because at this point, the color changes quickly. It takes about 7 minutes to brown the butter. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 325° F.

Mix the flour and baking soda together.

Combine the cooled butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Add the flour and mix to form dough.

Shape the cookies by placing about 1 teaspoon of dough into the bowl of a teaspoon and pressing against the side of the bowl, leveling the top. Press out cookie, flat side down, onto an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake 10 to 13 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes and remove to a wire cooling rock.

Pat Sinclair

When cookies are cool, spread a scant ½ teaspoon of jam on the flat side of one cookie. Make a sandwich by pressing the flat side of a second cookie onto the jam. Sprinkle the sandwiches with confectioners’ sugar.

PAT’S BAKING TIPS: Buttery and tangy, these cookies are always popular on buffets or cookie trays during the holidays. Experiment on the easiest way to press out the cookies using the bowl of a teaspoon and forming the delicate oval shape. The dough is easy to shape because it’s slightly dry.

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Excerpted with permission from Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair, published in 2011 by Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, LA; 504-368-1175, www.pelicanpub.com. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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Click here to see the Bakery Boy Blog review of Pat Sinclair’s book.

Click here for a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars from Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking.

Click here to see a brief video of Pat Sinclair demonstrating her Finnish Brown Butter Teaspoon Cookies recipe during an appearance on Minneapolis-St. Paul television station KARE-11.

For more resources and inspiration, see www.onlinecookingschools.net.

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RECIPE Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars from Scandinavian Classic Baking

Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking (from Pelican Publishing Company) includes this excellent recipe for Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars. Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a review of Pat’s book.

Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars. Photo by Joel Butkowski.

(Makes 24 to 30 bars)

CRUST

2 cups                all-purpose flour

1 cup                  confectioners’ sugar

¾ cup               butter

TOPPING

¾ cup               apricot preserves

2                         egg whites

1 cup                  confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon        almond extract

½ cup               slivered almonds, toasted

Heat the oven to 350° F. Line the bottom of a 13” x 9” baking pan with aluminum foil, extending the foil over the long sides of the pan. Lightly spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the flour, confectioners’ sugar and butter for the crust in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press into the baking pan, pressing about ½” up the sides.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

While the crust is baking, toast the almonds. Place the almonds on a small baking dish and bake about 8 minutes.

Beat the egg whites with a whisk until foamy. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and almond extract.

Spread the apricot preserves over the crust. Spoon the egg whites over the preserves without covering the preserved completely. Sprinkle with the almonds.

Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until the topping is a golden brown. Run a metal spatula along the short sides of the pan to loosen the pastry. Cool completely on a wire cooling rack. Using the foil, lift the pastry from the pan and cut into 24 bars.

Pat Sinclair

To cut diamonds, cut lengthwise into 6 strips. Make parallel diagonal cuts on each strip to form diamonds.

PAT’S BAKING TIPS: A pastry blender makes it easy to combine flour and butter for the crust and results in flaky layers. You can also use two knives and a scissor-like motion to get the same results. Don’t leave large pieces of butter, or holes will form when they melt.

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Excerpted with permission from Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair, published in 2011 by Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, LA; 504-368-1175, www.pelicanpub.com. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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Click here to see a Bakery Boy Blog review of Pat Sinclair’s book.

Click here for a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies from Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking.

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RECIPE Craisin Pumpkin Walnut Muffins by Bakery Boy

How did I not know about Craisins until recently? Now I can’t get enough of them in breads, on salads, with cereal or yogurt, and especially in muffins.

story/recipe/photos by Bakery Boy

Craisin Pumpkin Walnut Muffins. Photos by Bakery Boy

Somehow I was unaware of Craisins until recently. They just weren’t on my radar. Are you familiar with them? Ocean Spray owns the name Craisins (the generic term is dried cranberries). By either name they’re closely akin to raisins—like big, moist, sweet raisins with a pleasantly chewy texture and a gets-noticed deep red hue.

When my local supermarket put them on an end-aisle sale at a reduced price, I picked some up to see what they were all about. After snacking on a few straight from the bag, my first inclination was to bake them into a loaf of bread in lieu of raisins, which turned out just fine. I tossed them in a green salad along with some mandarin orange slices and slivered almonds for a nice effect. I sprinkled them, plus crumbled pecans, on some whole grain breakfast cereal. I stirred them into yogurt.

Craisin Pumpkin Walnut Muffin

By far though, my favorite use for Craisins is in muffins. I experimented with several combinations of ingredients before pairing them with walnuts and pumpkin, and I like the results. Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think. If you have other suggested uses for my new favorite dried fruit, please share—I can’t seem to get enough of them.

CRAISIN PUMPKIN WALNUT MUFFINS

NOTE: This recipe uses a whole 15-ounce can of pumpkin to make 24 muffins. If that’s too many, you could cut all the amounts in half (see the halved recipe at the end of this post) to make a single dozen, and then refrigerate half of the pumpkin to use in a second batch later. I prefer to make the bigger batch and give some to my next-door neighbor, who by the way wholeheartedly endorses the idea!

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups sugar

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 15-ounce can of pumpkin

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 cup Craisins

1 cup walnut pieces

In a large bowl combine first 9 ingredients (flour through salt). In a smaller bowl combine eggs, pumpkin, oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry until thoroughly moistened. Fold in Craisins and walnut pieces. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups, filling them ¾ths full. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Move to cooling rack.

Walnut Pieces

TIP: Save back a few of the most nicely formed Craisins and walnuts to place on top of the muffins just before they go into the oven. Lightly press them partially into the batter. They’ll show up much better than those that are stirred into the batter, making for a nicer presentation.

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CRAISIN PUMPKIN WALNUT MUFFINS (half recipe)

Here’s the same recipe cut in half, in case 24 muffins seems like too many at once.

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ of a 15-ounce can of pumpkin (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup Craisins

½ cup walnut pieces

In a large bowl combine first 9 ingredients (flour through salt). In a smaller bowl combine eggs, pumpkin, oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry until thoroughly moistened. Fold in Craisins and walnut pieces. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups, filling them ¾ths full. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Move to cooling rack.

Dried Cranberries

TIP: Save back a few of the most nicely formed Craisins and walnuts to place on top of the muffins just before they go into the oven. Lightly press them partially into the batter. They’ll show up much better than those that are stirred into the batter, making for a nicer presentation.

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Christmas Ornaments Made of Bread

The bread ornaments I made 25 years ago are holding up pretty well, so this month I made more to give as gifts.

story and photos by Bakery Boy

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These bread ornaments I made 25 years ago remain family favorites. Photos by Bakery Boy

Hanging little loaves of bread on the Christmas tree seems quite natural to us bakers, I suppose. As conversation pieces, they’re hard to beat. As housewarming presents at holiday parties, or simple gifts for neighbors and co-workers, or stocking-stuffers for family members, they’re fun to make and pretty much guaranteed to bring a positive reaction.

I decorate our tree with some miniature bread ornaments I made 25 years ago while working in a French bakery in Seattle. Some are four-inch-long versions of French loaves, scissor-snipped into alternating pointy “grains” to resemble ripe wheat tassels. Others are shaped into 1½-inch-diameter wreaths just the right size to hold small candles in the middle and sit upright on tree branches. I wrap the straight loaves in red ribbon that doubles as a hanging loop at the top end, and I use paper-and-wire twist ties from bread bags (how appropriate) to strap the round wreaths onto Christmas tree branches.

Wreath-shaped bread ornaments hold candles.

Over the years I’ve gradually lost some of my original bread ornaments to breakage while getting them into and out of storage or on and off the tree. So this year I decided to restock my collection and make extras to give as gifts.

Reactions to receiving the little favors usually go something like this: First a look of genuine surprise, followed by some variation of the phrase, “Are they really made of bread?” Next comes an appreciative smile of thanks. And finally the urge to hang them right away in a place where they’ll be seen.

What more could a devoted baker-turned-ornament-maker want?

Start with a basic French bread dough.

HERE’S HOW Start with a basic French dough of just flour, water, salt, and yeast—nothing like butter, oil, sugar, or eggs that will attract critters while in storage. I make a large enough batch to bake a regular loaf or two to eat right away and still have plenty left for making a few dozen ornaments.

Snip the mini-baguette into points alternating left and right to resemble wheat tassels.

When it has risen (that’s more of an Easter reference, I know, but bear with me), divide the dough into pieces about the size of ping-pong balls and roll them into four-inch “fingers” or mini-baguettes. Let them rest a few minutes, either on a cutting board to be moved gently later, or on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and ready for the oven.

Cut at a 45-degree angle about 3/4ths of the way through the dough.

Holding scissors at a 45-degree angle, snip each piece half a dozen or so times at equally spaced points, cutting about ¾ths of the way through to leave a solid line on bottom for a sturdy “backbone” effect. Set each little point off slightly to the side, alternating left-right-left-right. The results will resemble the rows of grain in harvest-ripe wheat tassels.

For wreath-style ornaments, form some of the bread “fingers” into circles about 1½-inches in diameter, leaving a center hole about the size of a small candle. Snip the dough at an angle 45-degrees to the center of the circle with the points aiming out.

Cool and dry thoroughly. For longer-lasting ornaments, coat with varnish.

Let the shaped dough relax and rise another 20 minutes on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, then  bake at 350o for about 10-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. TIP: Under-baked, they’ll tend to sag and bend; over-baked, they’ll be brittle and more likely to break.

Let the ornaments cool and dry for a day or two. Eat any that don’t look so well, but be careful not to eat the entire project or you’ll have to start all over. This is why I bake a regular loaf at the same time, so I can eat it while I’m making ornaments.

If you really want your bread ornaments to last a long time, spray them with a thin coat of clear lacquer or varnish. Allow them to dry thoroughly before applying decorative ribbon. This also provides the kind of shine you would get with an egg-washed surface. Even without this extra treatment though, they’ll be good for a few years before they start to shrivel and crack.

Form a crisscrossing pattern with bright-colored ribbon.

Wrap each straight ornament with a thin, brightly colored ribbon to form a crisscrossing pattern like calf straps on gladiator-style sandals. I use red ribbon, but any color that doesn’t too closely match the bread itself will do. Run the ribbon into the channels made by the scissor cuts, which will keep it from slipping.

Tie the ribbon once snugly at the top of the ornament to hold the crisscrosses in place, and then again a couple of inches away to form a loop for hanging the piece. Square knots will suffice at both junctures. Or you could get fancy by tying bows for the second knot. Trim away any excess ribbon.

A bread bag twist-tie holds each candle wreath onto the tree.

For each wreath ornament, gently push the bottom end of a small candle snugly into the center hole and tie ribbon into a simple bow on the candle itself. Use paper-and-wire twist ties, recycled from store-bought bread bags and laced through the center hole, to strap the ornaments to Christmas tree branches with the candles aimed up. NOTE: These candles are not intended for lighting, just for looking good.

A child's shoebox holds my bread ornaments between Christmases.

When you take down your decorations, wrap each bread ornament in tissue paper and store them in a small shoebox. For many years I’ve had mine in the same box my firstborn’s first pair of sneakers came in!

GOT MORE IDEAS? Feel free to share your bread ornament ideas with fellow bakers by leaving a comment below or by sending an email to the Bakery Boy Blog at bakery.boy@att.net.

Finished bread ornaments, ready to hang or to wrap as gifts.

Book Review: Cakes to Die For! by Bev Shaffer

A food columnist’s tasty and detailed ode to cakes.

by Bakery Boy

Cake bakers have another reason to live, as if they need one more. Let’s face it: Cake bakers already have plenty of friends and admirers. Whether they’re making a single treat for the family table, dozens for a banquet hall, or truckloads for supermarkets, their sweet creations brighten celebrations  and make people happy. Now they also have Bev Shaffer’s inspiring and thorough ode to the genre, Cakes to Die For! (Pelican Publishing Company, $26.95).

Bev Shaffer

The Ohio-based chef, author, and culinary instructor is known for her long-running food column “Ask Bev” in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, her functional-fun column “Gadget Freak” in Northern Ohio Live Magazine, her radio spots broadcast on Akron’s WAKR, and her many appearances on Cleveland affiliates of major TV networks. She has developed more than 9,000 recipes and counting. In Cakes to Die For!, a 288-page hardback, she shares 175 of them, all for cakes.

Crunch of Praline Torte with Eggnog Cream. Photos by John Shaffer (Bev's husband).

It opens with the crowd-pleasing Moist Dark Chocolate Mocha Cake with Raspberry Filling, her “go-to” cake when she needs something “seductive,” she says. It ends with Bev’s Butterscotch Filling, about which she facetiously claims, “you could slather this between two pieces of cardboard and people would rave about it.” Between these appear scores of cheesecakes, cupcakes, “flipped over” cakes (her term for up-side-downs), “fancy-schmancy cakes” (which take more work but promise impressive results), and more. Photography by Bev’s husband, John Shaffer, show many of the cakes in mouthwatering detail.

Luscious Layered Tiramisu Torte

TIPS GALORE Useful tips are sprinkled throughout. Some explain the finer points of techniques like “cutting in the butter” or “folding ingredients” together. Others cause that light-bulb-above-the-head reaction with their but-of-course common sense. I like how she places tips labeled “a slice of advice” in the margins close to where they’re most needed. For example, next to the recipe for Deep Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Roasted Pear Cream she writes: “When you draw your clean finger across the back of a metal spoon dipped in the custard mixture, and it leaves a path, it is ready.” I can visualize that perfectly now.

Here are a few more tricks of the trade:

  • To avoid spilling batter down the hole in a tube or Bundt pan, cover the hole with a paper cup while filling the pan.
  • Cool a cake completely before frosting. Dust off any loose crumbs gently with a soft-bristled brush. Freeze layers for several hours or overnight before frosting…which helps the frosting adhere better.
  • Just before using refrigerated nuts, toast them over low heat in a dry skillet to brighten their flavor.
  • Can’t find cranberry preserves [for the Pumpkin Patch Cranberry “Flipped Over” Cake]? Pomegranate jelly is a perfect substitute.

Although come to think of it, if I can’t find everyday cranberry at my grocery, I probably won’t find more-exotic pomegranate either!

Cookies to Die For!

Brownies to Die For!

ALSO BY BEV Like Cakes to Die For! (May 2010), Bev’s  earlier books, Brownies to Die For! (March 2006), Cookies to Die For! (February 2009), and Mustard Seed Market Cafe Natural Foods Cookbook (September 2007) are also available from Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, Louisiana; www.pelicanpub.com, 504-368-1175. For more about Bev see www.bevshaffer.com.

BEV’S MUST-HAVES FOR A CAKE BAKER’S PANTRY I found this helpful. Maybe you will too.

1 – Flour, unbleached, all purpose

2 – Baking powder

3 – Baking soda

4 – Sugar, granulated

5 – Brown sugar

6 – Confectioners’ sugar

7 – Sale, sea salt preferred

8 – Arrowroot (a starch thickener with certain advantages over cornstarch)

9 – Butter, unsalted please!

10 – Milk, preferably whole milk

11 – Eggs, large please!

12 – Chocolate: bittersweet, semisweet, milk, white, and unsweetened cocoa power—only the very best will do!

13 – Vanilla extract, pure please!