Category Archives: Cooking

Did you say Oatmeal?

Happy Monday everyone!

This is a not so quick post that I wanted to share that I finally have time to get out.  It’s been totally busy around here and although I have been meaning to post, it’s just has come to pass.  But I’m back.  Today I want to share a recipe that I made the other day that simply had me bursting with joy.  Oatmeal Cherry Muffins…..

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I don’t know if I’ve stated it, but my main job is working in a R&D setting (that’s research and development if you didn’t know).  Occasionally I get the opportunity to interact with people outside of the company; we call them donors.  I love doing this; the “donors” are friendly, you can learn all types of things from them, and they sometimes have the best stories.  Last week while conducting a study a donor stated that they had an oatmeal cherry muffin for breakfast that his wife made.  My ears instantly perked up at the mention of this muffin and I was intrigued.  I make oatmeal cherry and oatmeal cranberry cookies, they are a favorite; but I had not had a muffin.  I have been making muffins on the weekends that Babydoll and myself can grab and have for breakfast throughout the week and this sounded like something I should look into.  FYI, the day I baked these, it RAINED ALL DAY…so my pics are a reflection, in-house lighting, no natural lighting here. Sad smile

Because I’m on weight watchers, I always try to find the healthier, point-friendly version of any recipe that I make.  If I can’t find it, I try to modify the recipe so that it will be healthier and point-friendly.  Something else that I have begun to do is not use sugar and use agave or honey instead (mainly agave because you do not need as much to sweeten) as well as I try to use plain greek yogurt or almond milk instead of dairy, as much whole wheat flour vs. all-purpose white, and applesauce instead of oil.  This has not always been successful (I’m not going to discuss the failed attempts, yes I said attempts, at the citrus poppy seed muffins), but it is something I still strife to do.

I did some looking on the internet and came across a recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction for an Oatmeal Blueberry Muffin that seemed right up my alley.  She used honey instead of sugar and she softened the oatmeal in milk and that seemed like the way to go to have a moist muffin.  I of course wanted oatmeal cherry muffins, so I new right off that I was going to change it up with dried cherries instead of blueberries, but this recipe seemed like a good jump off point. 

The only modifications I made to Sally’s recipe was: 1) I used almond milk instead of regular milk to soak my oats; 2) I added my dried cherries to the oats and almond milk, because I wanted to hydrate the cherries some;

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and 3) I used a combination of honey and agave to sweeten because I wanted to minimize the amount of “sugar” that was in the recipe. 

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Oh, I almost forgot; I used some vanilla powder as well as vanilla extract.  Vanilla powder is my newest baking obsession. 

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The muffins came out a hit!  Babydoll has had one everyday since I made them (even came home and ate one after having breakfast and coming home from a sleepover).

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Something Sally emphasized and I will reiterate it, do not skimp on the butter.  In an attempt to make it “healthier” the temptation to use applesauce instead of butter is there; don’t give in.  The butter/fat makes a difference to texture and flavor.  I think the next time, I will add a little lemon zest to make it a little “brighter” and try adding some whole wheat flour, maybe 1/2 cup.  But these will be made again.  And again, and again. Now just because I made some healthy modification to the recipe, the butter makes a difference and the sugar from the dried cherries is no joke either.  Having said that, when entered into the WW recipe creator, it comes out to be 11 points.  If you made it with the blueberries (fresh or frozen) like in Sally’s recipe it would be 8 points.  For me, I wanted the cherries and most times my breakfast consist of 1/2 grapefruit and either eggs or plain yogurt with a little granola so I’m at zero or 4 points.  If I want the muffin I can eat it and watch my points the rest of the day (or go to the gym or walk if off. Smile)  I hope that you take the time out to enjoy this deliciousness. 

Enjoy,

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Unused Fruit

My family eats a lot of fruit. I think we spend just about as much if not more on fruits and vegetables than we do on meat and other things. Having said that, there are some times when something is not eaten before it becomes too ripe (or it was on its way to being too ripe when I bought it and it became too much too soon.) It usually happens with bananas and I have the perfect excuse to make banana bread.

Recently, I had some plums and apples in the fruit bowl that were too ripe or no longer pretty in the apples case, that I didn’t want to throw away.

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This is the time of year when people are taking all the wonderful fruits and vegetables and canning or preserving them for future consumption. I didn’t have enough plums to make a batch of plum preserves by themselves. I could take the apples and add them to a cake or fry them up, but I had decided to make a Champagne cake this weekend and I like my apples a little firmer for fried apples so no go.

What came to mind was Apple Butter….more specifically, Plum Apple Butter. I didn’t want to make something full of sugar because I’m trying to drop 22lbs. At the same time, I need this to taste good. I don’t want the after taste of a sweetener; I don’t want to sacrifice favor just to cut back on calories and I can taste the difference. When I’m cooking, I want it to taste just as good as the original, but modifications that are healthier. I don’t do it to everything I cook, but if I can find a substitution that will work, I go for it. Looking on the internet, I found a few recipes that used agave nectar instead of sugar. Ding-Ding-Ding! I have agave nectar. Most recipes call for water as the liquid, but I was looking for ways to add a little something extra – some POP. There was another recipe that used apple juice. I didn’t have apple juice. A quick search of the frig revealed I had 100% pomegranate juice. Let’s go with that.

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The first step to making the “butter” is to prep the fruit. I knew I didn’t have 4lbs of fruit, 2lbs of plums and 2lbs of apples; so, I brought out my scale to weigh everything to determine how to modify the recipe that I came up with. I knew I had more apples than plums; but it turned out I had about 1lb 10oz of plums. I quartered my plums and removed the seed. For the apples I decided to remove the skin and seeds and quarter them as well. Once I added the apples, I came up with a little under 3lbs of fruit.

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I didn’t want to think in terms of ¾ of the recipe, more like 2/3. I went with that for the recipe.

I had to simmer the plums and apples in the juice covered for 15 minutes.

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After that, I used my emersion blender to puree everything. I tasted it to see what I was working with and MAN; it was good. I let Babydoll taste and she was like, “I will eat that as is.” It was a really good tasting apple sauce at that point, but I wanted “butter” so I continued.

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I decided to add ½ cup of the agave nectar because it really didn’t need too much more sweetening.

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The spices I used were 1 ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp of allspice. I saw some recipes that had cloves and ginger, but I didn’t want to go there.

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I needed to let the “butter” simmer for 20-30 minutes on low with the lid off to allow it to reduce and thicken. I made sure to stir occasionally to prevent sticking. (The first time I went in to stir, it began bubbling like crazy; I had to remove it from the burner to get it to calm down).

What I made was enough to make 2 pint jars and about half of another pint. I decided to process the full pint jars so that I could store them in my pantry.

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The half pint I placed in the jar and allowed it to cool before closing it up and storing it in the frig. I didn’t have biscuits or bread around for dinner, but Babydoll wanted some “butter” so she toasted a half of an English muffin to go with dinner. She said it was so good, no real butter was needed….just the homemade fruit butter. She let me have a nibble, I agree….it was delicious. I had some with breakfast the first chance I got.  I’m glad I decided to write stuff down, I have to be able to duplicate this one again.

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I bought peaches this week. I think I’m going to take some of them and make a small batch of peach preserves. A coworker brought in a peach vanilla preserve that she made. It was like peach cobbler in a jar. I’m either going to get her recipe or play around to see what I come up with. I really want to do it without needing to use pectin. I’ll see what I come up with. If you have any suggestions, please leave me comment below; I welcome them.

When I plugged the recipe to the nutrition calculator, it came out to be:

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This is if you cooked it according to the recipe that I would make with 2 lbs of apples and plums. I figured you would get 80 tbsp out the recipe size that I made. The nutrition calculator only went up to 72 servings; this means that the calorie count may be lower, but 14 calories is what I will use in my daily calculation. If you decide to make this, please share how it turns out.

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Working on snacks

Hey Everybody,

This weekend I took some time to out to bake quit a few things, but two things that I really wanted to share with you guys were these granola bars and chocolate fruit and nut clusters.  Both of these recipes I found online, I will not be claiming them as my own although I did make adjustments to them to satisfy my own personal preferences.  I will have the links to the recipes below and tell you how I changed them up. 

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I LOVE granola bars.  But I ended up giving them up when I began my weight loss journey.  I started making a healthier version of granola that uses more puffed rice cereal than oatmeal that taste amazing especially with plain yogurt.  When I saw this recipe that uses equal parts rolled oats and puffed rice cereal, I thought it might be a good option and a good way to give me a hit of something sweet and also something that is quick to grab when I’m running out the house and don’t have time to fix a decent breakfast. 

The key to this recipe is the “sauce” that you pour over the dry ingredients.  You have to cook it for a few minutes, and when you pour it over; you should work quickly to make sure that everything gets incorporated properly so that you can press it into the pan and everything stick together.  I switched things up by using pistachios, sunflower seeds, and pecans as my nuts.  I found I didn’t have any apricots (I just knew I did – I put them on the list to purchase), so I used so dried chili mango.  I had a 50/50  mixture or cranberries and cherries instead of just cranberries. 

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Once they had a chance to set, I cut them by cutting the length in half, halving those sections, and finally halving those sections.  I then went down the middle.  I should have ended up with 16 bars, but remember I told you that you need to make sure that everything gets incorporated?  Well there was a section of the pan that did not get thoroughly mixed.  As a result, when I went to cut; it crumbled apart and no amount of pressing would get them to stick – so I had 14 bars. 

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The recipe author mentioned that the bars were easy to wrap up; so I decided to whip out my Food Saver and vacuum seal them.

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Excuse the collar next to things, I was changing the battery for the Invisible Fence collar and didn’t realize where I had put it (I looked around for that thing for near an hour before I found out.  I guess I should have reviewed my pictures and found it sooner Smile). 

This was the first time I attempted to do this and was a little unsure if I should do a super tight seal or leave a little air in them.  Time will tell.P7210322P7210323

At the same time that I was making the granola bars, I put some chocolate clusters together using the crock pot.  I saw a picture of this a couple of months ago but wasn’t able to find a recipe – I think I was on Instagram.  I came across this recipe and near swooned with excitement.  I wanted to make it for two reasons: 1) on the days that I am trying to be low-carb/no-carb and I want something sweet – chocolate nuts is a great option; and 2) I wanted to try them out as a possible Christmas candy that I make for my Girlfriends Dinner.  What’s so great about his recipe is that you dump everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 2 hours.  You come back, stir everything together, set on parchment/wax paper, allow to set, and you have clusters.  YUM!

I modified this recipe by using a trail mix that had an assortment of nuts and cherries along with roasted peanuts and I used mostly 62% cocoa chocolate chips and a little semi-sweet chocolate.  I didn’t use my large crock pot, because I had made some carnitas the day before in it.  It was clean, I just didn’t want to use it again so soon; plus I cut the recipe in half so didn’t feel like the amount was worth messing up the large one.  

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I took half of the clusters to work to share with my coworkers.  The results were favorable from them and I really liked them, so I’ll make the full recipe as one of my give-a-way treats.

I highly recommend you give both of these a try.  If you make modifications, feel free to drop me a line and tell me how they turn out and what modifications you made. 

Until next time,

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Hey Chér

As I mentioned last week, I had a whole gang of people over for the 4th of July.  With the help from my parents, we had a shrimp boil, fried fish, grilled chicken, hot dogs, and sausages.  There were great sides (mac and cheese, baked beans, pasta salad, and green salad) and several types of desserts (The Next Best Thing to Robert Redford – or Robert Redford as we call it – that needs to be changed to The Next Best Thing to Duane Johnson; we also had Dirt Cake and finally Apple, Cherry, and Peach mini pies – made with my Bella mini pie maker).  We all had a great time.  I think I had around 25 people in the house. 

Now, if you have ever hosted; you know that it can get costly to do something of that magnitude and ensure that everyone is well fed.  This also caused me to decide that I’m not going to be grocery shopping this week.  Whatever we eat this week will come from my freezers. 

A few months ago, Babydoll was looking on Pinterest and saw Étouffée.  She thought it looked really good and asked me about it.  I told her that it’s easy to make basically a Cajun gravy that you have with rice.  I told her that I would make it for her one day.  Looking in my freezer this week, I found some shrimp.  We keep rice because Babydoll loves it, so I decided we were having Étouffée for dinner.  I also found a lone chicken breast that I pulled out of the freezer to have along with my shrimp.  To complete the meal, I sautéed some frozen chopped kale (I sautéed in chili olive oil) and some French bread that I smeared with Brummel Brown. 

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As I told Babydoll, Étouffée is basically a Cajun gravy; however it takes a little longer to prepare than regular gravy.  It’s all about the roux, and for this version, I decided to make a dark roux. 

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A dark roux took me about 20 minutes to make.  Typically you are required to constantly stir your roux so that it doesn’t burn; but I will be honest, I peeled shrimp while my roux cooked.  I was running back and forth from the sink to the stove stirring with my wooden spoon and whisk. 
After my roux reached the color I wanted, I added my trinity and chicken breast that I had seasoned with Slap Yo Momma seasoning.  I cooked this for another 5-7 minutes. 

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This addition resulted in my roux getting a little darker, but that was cool.  After this had cooked about 5 minutes or so, I added some minced garlic.

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I then I added chicken stock, a can of petite diced tomatoes, and a gang of seasonings. 

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Once this came to a boil, I lowered the temperature and allowed it to simmer for another 15-20 minutes. 
I added my shrimp and cooked until they turned pink, about 2-3 minutes; then added butter – which made it so much better. 

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I could have sliced some green onion – I had it in the frig – but I decided against it, because I was ready to S-N-A-P.
I cooked rice in my rice cooker – if you don’t have one – put it on your Christmas list (or put it in lay-a-way at Walmart this Christmas). 

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One thing that I will beg you to do when you cook rice is to cook your rice with a bay leaf.  It will take your rice to a level that you will not be able to understand.  It makes it amazing. 

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Babydoll said that she really enjoyed it.  Remember I said that I only had one chicken breast?  She asked me where the chicken was.  The next time I make it, I will be sure to add more chicken. 

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Have you made Étouffée before?  Comment below to let me know what you like to make yours with and how dark do you typically like to make it.
The recipe that I used is below.  I hope that you enjoy it. 

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Sweet Treats for Easter

I want to apologize for how late this post is coming out.  I had it written, but kept forgetting to get the pictures off the camera.  So this post is coming out a week later than I wanted; but I really wanted you guys to see it.  Enjoy

Hello Everyone,

I hope that you had a great week and restful weekend.  Last week was Easter and I had something awesome to share with you about sweets that I made for the holidays, but I decided to share my Notre Dame pictures instead.  So this week I will share the desserts I made for my family.  As you can guess, I hosted Easter dinner (with some help from my wonderful mother).  I was still on a Parisian dessert high, specifically the lemon tarts with meringue so I knew without a doubt that I was making those. I had also seen this really cool tie dye cake on The Kitchen one Saturday and I wanted to try that out as well.  I bought egg-shaped pans several years back that I  used for Easter, meaning whatever cake I make was going to be shaped and decorated to look like an Easter egg.

The most important  thing off all the desserts was making sure that the meringue was correct on the tart. I had always not been a fan of meringue because it always seem to put me in the mind of not done egg whites.  Meringue seemed to always be sliding all over the pie and seem to “wet” for my taste.  This caused me to not make any type of meringue pie.  I would get me some whipped cream or make my own whipped cream before I would eat meringue.  The turning point was of course when we were in Paris and I had my first lemon meringue tart.  I didn’t know what type of meringue was on that tart, but it was not “wet”, it did not taste like uncooked egg whites, it was not sliding anywhere; this was solid, it had the consistency of marshmallow, and it was AMAZING.  I got home and searched the internet for this mysterious meringue that I had been denied for 47 years.  Through research I deduced that what I needed to make was a Swiss Meringue – one that cooked the egg whites and sugar to 170 degrees then beat at high speed to make a shiny cloud of goodness that is not grainy, it’s sticky (ending the sliding problem).

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I’ve made several multi-colored cakes in my baking past.  I’ve done the layers of different colors, made zebra print cakes, swirls in all colors; but I had never tried tie dye.  The premise looked the similar to something I had made before, it was what you did once you had your colors in the pan that gave the tie dye effect. 

So, taking the request of Babydoll, I chose primary colors for my cake.  I used my basic yellow cake recipe that I got from Iambaker.net several years ago that is now my go to.   

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The one color that had me a little scared was the purple.  Once I added it to my cake batter, I was still concerned that it would be a form of dark blue and not the purple that I was wanting.  Never fear, the purple was apparent once the cakes were done.

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To get the tie dye effect, you have to drag a toothpick through the colors giving you this look.  I found the best way to do it was to bring the toothpick through one end and then back the other way.  It keeps the colors from getting mixed up because the last color that you ran through is the first color that you run through the next time.P4200210P4200211P4200214

We drew out the “egg decoration” design beforehand.  I have to say I’m not a huge fan of that yellow color and will probably never use it again when decorating my “egg”, but the icing was colored and at that point I couldn’t take it back without making something too garish.

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I apologize for the pictures, it’s Spring in the Midwest, which means many raining, gray days that are a killer to the ability to take pictures in good lighting.

I loved when the first slice of the cake was made.  I didn’t tell anyone what was inside, just that it was lemon flavored.  The reaction was impressive.

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All the desserts went fast, thankfully I put a few mini tarts aside for Babydoll and she cut folks off saving herself of cake to have for lunch during the week. 

How was your holiday?  Did you make something fabulous for your family or did you go out to dinner and have something fabulous that you want to make?

Have a great week,

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Just a little caramel

This past Christmas and every Christmas, my parents hosted the family brunch – usually the Saturday before Christmas.  This allows their offspring and their offspring to be able to fulfill any in-law obligations without stress.  Between me and my siblings, our spouses and children and in some cases their children there are over 20 of us.  We have aunts and uncles and cousins that come as well.  It’s times like that when my parents 4000 sq. ft. house makes sense.  I’m straying off topic – and it’s early in the blog.  Ok…focus.  My parents had us over for brunch and one of the desserts that was made was a Caramel cake.  My mother had been asking me to make her a caramel cake for a while, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it and there have been so many request from her that come in, that I didn’t prioritize the caramel cake.  I guess she got tired of waiting on me, so they (my father made the cake and she made the caramel) made the cake.  My Babydoll loved the cake and has been on me for a minute to make her a cake.  Recently, I decided to make the cake, but with a twist – I was making cupcakes. 

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Cupcakes are so much easier to deal with and a lot easier to distribute.  The key with these cupcakes is finding a way to include the delicious caramel filling into a cupcake.  I decided to poke holes using a kebob skewer and allow the caramel to seep into the cupcakes that way. 

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I was thinking that I should leave the cupcakes un-iced and let the caramel goodness speak for itself, but esthetically they weren’t very pretty.  I had some caramel sauce left over,

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so I added about 1 cup of powdered sugar to it and whipped like my live depended on it, then quickly spread it on the cupcakes. 

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Why was I quickly spreading the icing on the cupcakes you ask?  Because if you have ever worked with a caramel icing, you know that it sets quickly. 

When it was all said and done, I had these amazingly delicious caramel cupcakes. 

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I gave two to my parents to compare with the awesome cake they had made for Christmas.  My mother told me that she ate hers and was giving my father 24 hours to eat his, or she was going to assume he didn’t want it and she was going to eat it.  Smile  My Babydoll was very happy with the outcome, although she was very hesitant at first.  

The recipe for the cake is a basic yellow cake recipe that I use for most yellow cakes that I got from blog I used to frequent regularly, but haven’t had a chance to look at recently – iambaker.com.  The caramel recipe is one that I use with an Apple Caramel cake that I usually bake in the fall.  The caramel portion of the recipe is so easy  and good that I use it whenever I need caramel.  I prefer it to cooking sugar, then adding cream or standing over a pot until the caramel comes to the perfect temperature using a candy thermometer.   I hope you guys enjoy it.  If you have an easy caramel recipe, please share it; I’m always up for trying something new and my family and friends will thank you for it. 

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Madeira Cake Anyone…

Am I the only one that is late coming to The Great British Baking Show? I had been hearing people talk about it for about 6 months, but just didn’t take the time to check it out. Which is crazy in itself, because I love to bake, and this show is completely about baking. A few weeks ago, I went to Netflix, watched 1 episode and have been hooked. I’m not able to binge like most people because I live with people who liked to watch tv with me and unfortunately, they are not a fan of the show.

Anyway, watching this show has inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and make somethings that I have not tried before. For example, I’m going to try my hand at making some homemade crackers, making ice cream out of coconut milk, Opera cake – had never heard of it, but saw it and now I gotta make it, and I’m going to go back to making Trifles in the spring and summer. All these types of cakes, pies, tortes, trifles, and such had me attempting something new last weekend. Madeira Cake. A Madeira cake is defined as a cake with a firm yet light texture. It is eaten with tea or (occasionally) for breakfast and is traditionally flavored with lemon. I love lemon, so this seemed like this would “pop my panties”.

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I remembered a few things from the episode of British Baking Show where the Madeira cake was made.

1) the cake should have a dome shape with a crack,

2) there should be candied fruit on the top that is crisp, and

3) the cake should be light, but dense

I made this cake based on a recipe that I found online, but decided to make mine a lemon poppy seed version, because I had sad earlier in the week that I was going to make a lemon poppy seed cake for the weekend.

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I took a page from the show and measured my dry ingredients.  One of the ingredients that the recipe called for was castor sugar.  Castor sugar is a superfine version of regular sugar  that does not go as far as confectioner’s (or powdered) sugar.  I decided to pulse my sugar in my mini chopper to get a finer grain for this cake.  Caster sugar is supposed to be easier to emulsify with the butter.

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I didn’t candy as many lemon slices as the recipe called for because I knew my family wouldn’t eat it.

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But I wanted to attempt candying my fruit, so I know how for a future food project to make sure that I can do it the way that Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood said it needs to be done.

Did the final product have the three aforementioned requirements?

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It did have a slight dome and a crack on the top. My candied lemons were not super crisp, they had potential, but when I dropped them on a plate, they did not “clink”. The texture of the cake was dense, but light. I can’t explain that better than to say it was dense but light.

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The lemon flavor is very pronounced, but not in a tart way, it taste almost like P2110037the lemon smells. I wonder if that is because the syrup that was used to candy the lemon slices was brushed over the cake. I enjoyed the cake and will make it again. I want to branch out and make different flavors and also make the cake without the poppy seeds to see if the poppy seeds had anything to do with the denseness of the cake.

Have you made a Madeira cake? Have you tasted a Madeira cake? Comment below to tell me what about it.

Until next time,

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1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup castor sugar (225 g)

3 large eggs, at room temperature

2 ½ cups flour (300 g)

2 ½ tsp baking powder

Zest and juice of 1 ½ lemons

3 tbsp poppy seeds

Candied lemon ingredients

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

2 lemons sliced ~1/8-inch thick

Preheat oven to 350o. Prepare loaf pan. Combine and whisk flour, poppy seeds, and baking powder and put to the side. Cream butter, lemon zest, and sugar on medium high until it is light and fluffy, ~3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, adding 1 tbsp of flour mixture after each egg addition. Fold in remaining flour and then lemon juice.

Transfer batter to pan and bake for 1 hour or until toothpick (cake tester) comes out clean. Allow to cook for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and complete cooling process on wire rack.

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Combine sugar and water. Bring it to a boil, then add lemons in single layer. Cook for 15 minutes, flipping half-way through. Remove from simple syrup and place on parchment lined baking sheet to allow them to dry.

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