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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

I love lemon poppy seed – muffins, bundt cakes, pound cake…any form works for me. I know it may be old-fashioned or uncool, but it is just so zesty and sweet! And I love hit of crunchy nuttiness from the poppy seeds. I thought it would be the perfect treat on a snowy weekend, and looked so cute in mini cakelet form (thanks to this oh-so-fun Christmas gift).

I combined a couple of recipes based on what I had around the house, but I think the sour cream is the key to keeping these little cakes moist. They do stick, so make sure you grease the pan well, and let the cakes cool for about 5 minutes before tipping them out. No more, no longer – to little and they’ll crumble on impact, too much and they’ll cling for dear life.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 tbs. lemon zest (from two large lemons)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup sour cream

3 tbs poppy seeds

Combine sugar and butter in mixer, cream until pale and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Wisk together dry ingredients, add to sugar mixture in thirds, alternating with the sour cream. Add in poppy seeds and beat until just combined.

Spoon mixture into well-greased pan (I think a muffin pan would work equally well here). Beware – this dough rises to almost double in size – resulting in the little skirt at the bottom of the cake above. Nothing wrong with it (some say it’s the tastiest part) but I thought I’d issue a warning. Bake at 325 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and springy to the touch.


English Muffins

I thought making traditional English muffins would be tricky – but these were so simple and delicious! I was surprised when they rose beautifully, and even more so when they cooked perfectly on top of the stove in a cast iron skillet. Who would have thought a light, fluffy bread could be produced so quickly?

I hate to admit that I was so excited about these that I was literally jumping for joy when they were done. Just make them. Then you’ll understand.

I also made homemade strawberry jam to top these – it was the perfect Sunday morning treat. I recommend the muffins split and toasted, then spread with butter and your favorite jam, or topped with ricotta cheese, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with toasted slivered almonds.

English Muffins

adapted from a combination of sources

1 cup warm water

2 tbs sugar

1 package active dry yeast

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

4 1/8 cups flour

4 tbs melted butter

Cornmeal for dusting

Combine the warm water, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl and stir to dissolve. Let sit 10 minutes until foamy. Meanwhile, scald 1/2 cup milk on the stove. Add the milk and 2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Stir to combine, cover, and allow to proof in a warm place for 90 minutes.

When the sponge has completed proofing, add 2 1/8 cups of flour and 4 tbs melted butter. Stir to combine, then knead for 8 minutes. Roll out dough on a floured surface until 1/2 inch thick, cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter, or the inside rim of a juice glass. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with cornmeal, and transfer the rounds to the sheet, leaving about an inch and a half between them. Sprinkle the tops with cornmeal, cover with a damp paper towel, and let rise in a warm place for an additional 30 minutes or until puffy.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, and coat the bottom with butter. Transfer the muffins to the pan, leaving space between them (I could fit 5 at a time). Let cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, them flip and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes.

Remove and let cool slightly. Fork split the muffins to ensure the sought after nooks and crannies by inserting 2 forks facing away from each other and gently working your way around the muffin. Enjoy!

Homemade Granola

I have tried many times to make granola with clusters. I’ve done the scrunch/squeeze technique during baking, tried letting it cool, undisturbed on a sheet pan for hours, and still the clusters evaded me. I don’t want to eat tiny crumbles of granola that require a spoon. Is it so much to ask for a recipe that results in crunchy clusters?

I can assure you, with this recipe, it isn’t. Look at those big pieces of granola! Perfect for snacking. Studded with almonds, coconut, dried cranberries and cherries, and golden raisins, this granola is sweet, spicy and super crunchy.

Homemade Granola

recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson

4 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup slivered almonds

2/3 cup wheat bran

1 cup shredded coconut

2 tsp good cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup apple sauce (I used unsweetened)

1/3 cup maple syrup

3 tbs honey

2 tbs olive oil

1 egg white

2 cups dried mixed fruit

Mix all ingredients (except for the dried fruit) in a large bowl (it works best to mix the wet separate from the dry, and then combine the two mixtures). Bake on two parchment lined baking sheets (the ones with sides) in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

When stirring, be careful not to break up the clusters. Just sort of lift and flip, rather than push around.

Let cool completely on sheet pans. Mix in dried fruit and store in an airtight container.


Apple Cinnamon French Toast

Over New Year’s, I visited my boyfriend’s family on Long Island and took a trip into the city to see the Abstract Expressionism exhibit at MOMA (which was excellent, if you’re in the area). After a morning at the museum, we happened upon Sarabeth’s near central park, and decided to have brunch. Needless to say, I was oblivious about what a treat we had found until we went inside – the interior is adorable! Coincidentally, I received the Sarabeth’s cookbook as a Christmas gift, so of course was thrilled to be able to make some of the recipes. If you ever go, order the lemon ricotta pancakes – seriously, they were the best pancakes I have ever had.

Anyway, Joe ordered the french toast and the rest is history. I’m not a french toast person, but this was different. It was like bread pudding disguised as french toast – a slightly sweet, dense bread, studded with apples and scented with vanilla, soaked in a cinnamon and vanilla custard base, and then caramelized and served with sliced bananas. It truly changed my mind about french toast.

So the cookbook, of course, does not have a recipe for the apple cinnamon french toast. It does, however, have one for apple cinnamon bread, which I figured was what they made the french toast out of. Thus began the lengthy process of attempting to recreate Sarabeth’s apple cinnamon french toast.

The bread itself is a pretty standard loaf of yeast bread, with apple chunks coated in cinnamon sugar mixed throughout. It is put together like money bread, which initially results in a sad looking mess, but does come together into quite a pretty loaf once risen again and baked.

I actually froze one of the loaves of bread to save to make the french toast, which I think may have helped it firm up and absorb the custard better when I actually used it.

I didn’t follow any specific recipe to make the custard base, just eggs with a little milk, and then added some confectionery sugar, a little vanilla, and some cinnamon. I let the bread soak longer than I might normally, and cooked it a little slower to make sure it caramelized on the outside, and was cooked through. It was good, though clearly not as delicious as the original!

Chocolate Chip Scones

I’m very picky about scones – they shouldn’t be too dry, or crumbly, and should have a perfect balance of crispy crust and pillowy interior. I’ve had bad scones, and even worse, I’ve made terrible scones – sorry Ina, but this is the one recipe of yours I’ve been disappointed in.

But these scones were fantastic. Seriously. They have a thin crispy outside and are unbelievably light. Plus, add some chocolate and really, it just can’t get any better. Yum.

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup cream
1 egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well. Cut in butter and shortening. In a separate bowl, combine cream with beaten egg then add to dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop onto baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake for 15 minutes or until brown.