Category Archives: sweet thangs

Apple-Pecan Upside Down Cake

Those who know me well know that while I am a pretty good cook, baking is simply not my forte.  I think it has to do with the fact that baking = precision and chemistry, whereas cooking is more freestyle and loose.  You can experiment a lot more during the cooking of a dish than you can during the baking of something–after all, have you ever been able to make adjustments mid-bake to a cake you put in the oven?

We are headed to my aunt’s tomorrow for a get-together of a few of my mom’s siblings (she has 12 that still survive of the original 15), and I offered to bring a dessert.  I wanted something that wasn’t traditional holiday fare, like pumpkin, apple or cherry pie.  I was inspired on a trip to Central Market last week by the gorgeous apple display they’ve got in the produce department–there are no fewer than a dozen varieties of apples there!–and decided I’d bake a cake using apples.  But what kind of cake to bake?  After a bit of thought, I decided I’d go the upside down route.  Furthermore, I decided I’d get crazy and bake it in the Dutch oven I’ve got.  The result:

A variation of the upside down cake with a bourbon-tinged glaze that uses tart Granny Smith apples to balance the sweetness of the cake.

Earlier in the week, I’d made one that didn’t turn out nearly as beautiful as this one, but that was equally delicious.  I took a few liberties with this recipe and made it my own.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons good bourbon (Knob Creek is what I used)
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (I used this due to SB’s corn allergy; you may use corn syrup as Lyle’s is a specialty item)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate (or if you have the patience to make it, boiled cider)

Place all of the above ingredients into a microwave safe bowl and heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate
  • 1/4 cup good bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 3 very large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the inside of a 5-quart Dutch oven (or use a sufficiently large cake pan, with at least 4″ walls) and line the interior of the pan with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper as well–nonstick cooking spray is excellent for this purpose.

Peel and core one of the apples and slice it horizontally into 1/4″ slices so that the apple slices come off as rings.  Layer the apple rings in the bottom of the greased parchment in two layers that overlap one another (you can see this in the finished cake above).  Pour the glaze over the apple slices and allow this to sit while you make the batter.

Peel, core and grate the remaining apples and reserve in a bowl.  Set aside.  They will turn brown, but no worries since you will be folding them into the batter later.

Place your flour, salt, baking soda, and spices into a mixing bowl and sift them together, setting this aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Beat in the bourbon and vanilla, and then add the eggs one at a time.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture until it is fully incorporated with the sugar and eggs.  Finally, fold in the shredded apples.

Pour the batter into the pan containing the apples and glaze.  Cover the top of the batter with the pecans, taking care to evenly distribute them across the surface of the batter.  Bake for 70 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once done, allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.   Here’s where the removal gets a bit dicey.  I’ll tell you what I did to get it out of the pan, but feel free to remove it however you see fit.

I had two plates at the ready–one for serving, and one to hold the cake while I inverted it.  I pulled the cake out of the Dutch oven using the parchment paper and carefully laid it on one plate (not the serving platter).  I very carefully peeled the parchment from the perimeter of the cake, which took little effort since I sprayed the paper down with nonstick cooking spray.  Then I laid the serving platter upside down onto what is the bottom surface of the cake (pecan side) and carefully turned the cake over onto the serving platter and slowly removed the parchment so that I wouldn’t lose any apples from the top surface of the cake.

Now, I haven’t eaten a piece of this one but based on the one I made earlier in the week, I can tell you it is sweet and really needs either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to temper it.  It is a moist cake, owing to the shredded apples throughout, and is just plain GOOD.


Summer in a Bowl

Summer is my favorite season for fruits, especially here in Texas.   When I was a kid growing up, I spent summers with my grandparents in Anthony, New Mexico, which is practically desert.  What made the hot summers much more tolerable was eating what I am sure were tons of watermelon and peaches.  Grandpa Viro would take us to the fruit stand just out of town and buy fruit by what seemed like the bushelful–melons, peaches, plums, apricots, grapes and bananas.  I still remember biting into the peaches, the juice running down my chin, making my face and fingers sticky with the sweetness of the fruit lingering behind.

Ah, summer…summer brings to Texas some of the sweetest peaches and melons–grown here, but few people outside the state know this.  Tragic, really, as Texas peaches are really a hidden treasure that more people ought to know about!  But I digress…

This evening, we had barbecued chicken drums for dinner–an easy favorite of mine to fix–and I had a hankering for a fruity dessert.

Enter Parker County peaches, and a carton of Texas blueberries. Initially, I was going to make a peach-blueberry cobbler, but then I looked at how many cups of peaches I had and determined that the berries and peaches wouldn’t fit in the baking dish I had. I needed to use the berries though, so I thought about it and decided a blueberry sauce would be the perfect accompaniment.  Peaches and blueberries are bffs, right?  I also wanted something that would be easy enough to put together that could bake while we were enjoying our dinner.  Et voila:

Easy to assemble, this cobbler will be a hit at your summer dinner table.

Here’s how to make this easy dessert.  You will need:

For the cobbler (modified from The Pioneer Woman’s recipe):

  • 4 large peaches, pitted and sliced into eighths
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1 cup, plus 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour*
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 stick unsalted butter

*if you do not have self-rising flour, substitute 1 cup of all-purpose flour that has had 1 teaspoon baking powder plus 1/8 teaspoon salt added to it.

For the blueberry sauce:

  • 1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon arrowroot starch, dissolved in a bit of warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.  Place your sliced peaches in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon.  To make a nice juice as the cobbler cooks, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of sugar over the peaches.

To prepare the batter for the cobbler, into a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Melt the butter in a microwave-safe container.  While the butter is melting, whisk the milk into the dry ingredients, and then drizzle the melted butter into the batter until all ingredients are well-combined.

Pour the batter over the peaches, and then sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar over the top of the cobbler.  This will create a sugar crust on top that is really tasty, especially when the cobbler is eaten right out of the oven.  Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees, or until the top is nice and bubbly.

While your cobbler is baking, you can cook down the berries for the sauce.  In a small saucepan, pour the berries, water, lemon juice and sugar.  Heat this over medium low heat with a lid, until the berries start to soften.  Once the berries have softened, remove the lid and allow the liquid to reduce slightly, about 10-15 minutes or so.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh wire strainer into a container for storage, and discard the mash (although I kept it for SB to eat in his morning yogurt; you may elect to do the same).  I also thickened my sauce slightly with a teaspoon of arrowroot powder that I’d dissolved in about a tablespoon of water.

To serve the cobbler, I poured about a tablespoon of the blueberry sauce into the dish you see above, then served a portion of cobbler atop the sauce.  I added Cool Whip, as it is what we had, but I am positive whipped cream or ice cream would also make excellent accompaniments.

This recipe makes 12 small (1-cup) servings, or 6 generous servings.  It’s going to be all I can do NOT to eat some with a glass of milk for breakfast tomorrow.

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese Topping

Whoever said you couldn’t have dessert for breakfast never ate these:

Who says you can't have dessert for breakfast? Carrot cake pancakes for breakfast make an excellent sweet treat that is sneakily healthy.

Carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts, which I don’t get to enjoy often for a multitude of reasons, the primary reason being that I’m diabetic and try to limit the quantity of sweets I eat.  The second reason is that there are only two of us here, and baking an entire cake doesn’t really make sense, as it would take a long time for us to finish it.  But I digress…

For this recipe, I adapted my other pancake recipe and added a bit more flour and milk and in place of the blueberries, added a cup of shredded cooked carrots that I put through the food processor for a few seconds to render them down into smaller pieces.  If you are a raisin fan, those would probably do well here too, since some carrot cakes have raisins in them.  Pineapple might also be good here if that’s your thing, but neither raisin nor pineapple are good additions to carrot cake in my opinion.  But hey, to each their own.

I served this alongside candied bacon strips, with a cream cheese topping which really sent these over the top.  They were outstanding, and I’ll definitely be making these again.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 2 cups oat flour (just grind 2 cups oatmeal in the blender or food processor)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup shredded carrots, steam-cooked until soft
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Add all the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl and combine so that the baking powder, baking soda and spices are evenly distributed throughout.

Once you have steam-cooked the carrots (I did it in the microwave; 5 minutes on high in a covered bowl with a half-cup of water), pulse them in the food processor for about 5 or 6 seconds.  You don’t want to puree them, you just want them to be cut into smaller shreds so they don’t stick up out of the pancakes.  After this, heat up a nonstick pan or griddle to medium-high heat.

Add the carrots, vanilla and milk to the bowl with the flours and stir to combine.  Your mixture will be a bit thick.

Test your cooking surface to see if it is hot enough to cook on by sprinkling a few drops of water on it.  If the drops dance, the pan/griddle is ready.

Using a ladle (ours doled out 3/4 cup servings), drop a ladleful of the batter onto the hot cooking surface.  Cook on one side until you see the edges start to brown and bubbles rise, about 3 minutes.  Flip the cake over and cook the other side, about 2 minutes more.  This recipe made 8 pancakes that were about 5″ in diameter.

To top the pancakes, I whipped up a simple cream cheese frosting using the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese spread, brought to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine the above ingredients and using an electric mixer, whip until smooth.  Serve on the hot pancakes.

These pancakes are very dense, flavorful and full of fiber.  Because they are full of fiber, they will fill you up quickly!  I was only able to eat two of the three I had served myself.

Carrot Cake Muffins with Toasted Coconut Glaze

Carrot cake has always been one of my favorite desserts, second only to German chocolate cake.  Since being diagnosed as a diabetic, though, I’ve done my best to steer clear of dessert.  I will admit, at times I do indulge in sugary desserts, but it isn’t often simply because I don’t like how I feel afterward–my blood sugar spikes and I get groggy.

Since adopting a healthier way of eating, I decided it would be a good idea to learn to make healthier desserts too.  Real eating doesn’t mean giving up the things you love to eat; real eating means learning to eat those things in smaller quantities less often.  At least that’s what I’ve taught myself over the past 6 months.

A couple of weeks ago, I’d bought some prepackaged cake mix and a can of pumpkin, because I wanted to try making some pumpkin muffins, Weight Watchers style.  The last time I did WW, a friend of mine from work did it with me, and made some chocolate muffins with pumpkin which were pretty good and surprisingly, relatively healthy.  I decided against chocolate this time, as there wasn’t much I could do to chocolate muffins made this way to jazz them up that wouldn’t make them terribly unhealthy.

So I did a bit of research and devised a recipe that makes the muffins using a carrot cake mix, with a few additions to make them taste a bit more like carrot cake.  The really great thing about these is that they are portion controlled, low in fat, full of fiber, as well as Vitamins A and C, and a bit of healthy oil from the walnuts.

Who knew carrot cake could be healthy AND decadent? These little muffins are both!

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

For the cakes:

  • 1 box carrot cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist)
  • 1 15 ounce can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling; these are two different things)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots, raw
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cake spice (a cloves/cinnamon/ginger/allspice mixture from The Spice House, Chicago)

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons 2% milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Be sure the rack you are going to bake on is adjusted to the halfway point in your oven.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl if you are using a hand mixer, place the cake mix, shredded carrots, and pumpkin.  Mix these ingredients together on medium speed, and while the beater is going, add the cake spice, vanilla and walnuts.  The mixture will be very thick, so carefully add the water in to thin it out a bit.

Line standard-sized muffin tins with your cupcake liners of choice.  Should you choose to simply pour the batter into the tins, you will need to spray down the pan with a non-stick baking spray so that the muffins release easily.

Fill each liner about 2/3 full; about 1/4 cup or so.  You will have enough batter to fill 24 liners.  Bake in the heated oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  When done, allow the muffins to cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, do the following:

Spread the 1/2 cup coconut flakes in a thin layer on a cookie sheet or some other flat pan.  Toast the flakes in a 350 degree oven until brown, taking care to stir them around so they brown evenly.  Allow these to cool before stirring them into the sugar glaze.

Pour the powdered sugar into a medium-sized bowl, and whisk in the milk.  Once there are no lumps, stir in the toasted coconut.

When the muffins are cool, spoon a teaspoon of the coconut glaze over the top of each muffin.  You will have enough glaze to cover each muffin.

This recipe makes 24 tasty and super moist muffins, which are especially good with a glass of milk, or your favorite coffee.