Tag Archive | scratch baking

Apple Cake

Apple time is in full swing here at Phoenix Farm.  This is a very good apple year.  Many of the trees are loaded.  We picked some Cortland and King Luscious for baking.  These also are excellent fresh eating varieties.

In the photo above the Cortland are the smaller apples, there is one right in the center.  The larger ones are King Luscious.  The big Luscious on the right still has much of its natural waxy coating.  Our apples are organic, so they may not look as perfect as sprayed fruit.

Cortland is a popular apple, firm and sweet and good both for cooking or fresh.  King Luscious is less well known.  It is a giant of the apple world.  The fruit can grow to 10-12 ounces with one apple filling the hand.  A tree loaded with these huge apples is an amazing site.Luscious has a firm flesh with a crisp bite and a tart-sweet flavor.  It is a good keeping apple and performs well in pies and for apple sauce.  I often make fresh, warm apple sauce with these apples and a couple sweeter Cortland or Yellow Delicious to serve with roast pork.  This particular King Luscious apple below is big, weighing in at 8 oz and measuring 11″ in circumference. But it is somewhat flattened. The more rounded fruit can reach record size.

Nearly forty years ago I found this recipe for a moist, sweet apple treat in a horse magazine.  When apple season rolls around I like to bake it for eating warm from the oven or served cold as a quick breakfast.  It is somewhat like an apple version of a brownie, perhaps an apple blondie?  The cake is nice plain, frosted with drizzle icing, spread with butter when it is right out of the oven, served with honey or a complimentary jam or jelly.  It only required three of the five apples above to make this recipe!

Apple Cake

Pre-heat oven to 350F

About 1.5 lbs baking apples, to make 4 cups prepared apples

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup oil

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Peel and core apples, chop to approx. 1/2″ cubes to make 4 cups.  Place in bowl and cover with the sugar, set aside.  In large mixing bowl, combine all but the nuts.  Stir to combine but do not overwork.  The batter will be firm.  Fold in the apples and sugar, and nuts if desired.  Spread in a greased 10″ x 13″ pan and bake for 45-50 mins until toothpick tests done.  Serve warm or chilled.




My husband truly loves butter cookies and shortbread.  Sometimes I find old shortbread and cookie molds at secondhand shops and have always wondered how to use them.  Finally, I decided to explore making shortbread and to treat my husband to a homemade crispy, buttery treat.a2  I found two shortbread pans for decent prices on eBay.  These are vintage ceramic pans made by Brown Bag Cookie Art.  The design on one is Fruits and Flowers and the other is Farm Animals.

Shortbread is a very old type of cookie or biscuit as it is called in the UK.  It originated in Scotland in the mid 1700s.  The basic recipe is very simple and rich in butter.  It is not possible to substitute or scrimp on the butter.  Shortbread requires butter.

My first attempt did not turn out the perfectly molded cookies I had hoped for.  I will have to work on my method to perfect it.  There are many variations on the shortbread recipe, but here are the basics.

Basic Shortbread

1 cup salted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

Cream the butter with the sugar until smooth.  Mix in the vanilla then slowly stir in the flour.  When the flour is all added, knead the dough gently until is is smooth and uniform in texture.  Split into two balls.a3

Lightly spray two 8″ square shortbread pans.  Place a ball of dough in the center of each pan and press the dough flat until it evenly fills the pans.  Lightly pierce the entire surface of the dough with a fork to prevent bubbles from forming during baking.

Bake in the bottom third of a pre-heated 325F oven for 30-35 mins, until the bread is lightly browned over the entire surface.  The center must be browned so the cookies will unmold properly.  Remove from the oven and cool for 10 mins.a4

Place a towel or large cutting board on the counter, turn the pans over and drop from a height of about 2″ onto the counter.  The shock will jar the shortbread loose from the pan.  Flip the bread over and cut with a sharp knife while still warm so it does not crumble.a5

These can be stored tightly sealed at room temperature for a week or so.  Delicious served with tea or coffee.

A variation I want to try:

Lemon Shortbread

1 cup salted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 1/4 cups flour

To make other flavors add 1/4 teaspoon of extracts such as mint, almond or coconut to the basic recipe.

My husband found he loves shortbread warm from the oven and ate several more than is good for his boyish figure!

Prize Chocolate Chip Cookies


This is my secret recipe for the cookies that take the blue ribbon in the chocolate chip cookie category of the baking contest at the state fair.  I like them because they remain soft and chewy, are loaded with chocolate and they freeze well.  Let’s not discuss the calorie content, better to not even think about it!

The basic recipe is a Tollhouse cookie from the back of a chocolate chip bag.  I have adapted it to stay moist.  Most chocolate chips (and commercial chocolate candy in general) contain soy lecithin, an emulsifier.  I am very allergic to this soy derivative.  It causes intense itching.  I was lucky to find chunk chocolate in the organic and natural foods aisles of the grocery store that is made without soy.  I had a few left over regular chocolate chips that I threw in as well, hence the mix in the photos.  The chunk chocolate is wonderful in this recipe, making very tasty cookies, indeed!

Prize Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup oil (I use light olive)                                1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 cup sugar (can replace up to 1/2 Splenda)           1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed                               1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs                                                             1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla                                             12 oz chocolate chips or chunks

Soften butter, cream with sugars and oil, blend well.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Sift dry ingredients together, mix into moist ingredients, stir well.  Fold in chocolate.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.  Place golf ball sized lumps of cold dough on ungreased baking sheets, spaced so they have room to spread as they bake.  Place in pre-heated 375F oven for 10 minutes.  The cookies should be just browning at the highest points.  If left too long, the cookies will be crunchy instead of chewy.  Cool for a couple minutes before moving to cooling rack or sheet.  Makes about 2.5-3 dozen cookies, depending on the size.  Store tightly sealed.

There are many secrets to getting these cookies just right including using part oil in the recipe, keeping the dough cold so it doesn’t spread too far during baking, and removing from the oven at the right time. Using butter instead of margarine imparts a fullness of flavor and extra stiffness to the dough.  I make up balls of dough and put them on a plate in the fridge so they will be ready to go on the baking sheets as soon as a batch of cookies are removed to cool.

Beware, people cannot resist these cookies, so make plenty!

Apple Kuchen


Kuchen means cake in German, as I explained to my husband right before his first taste (he liked it.) This dessert made its way to America with the German immigrants.  It is a nostalgic food from my German Russian side of the family rooted in North Dakota.

Traditional kuchen consists of a sweet yeast bread dough topped with fruit and custard.  For the modern times, this recipe has been updated to use baking powder, making kuchen a quick and easy treat for dessert, snack or breakfast.  Kuchen freezes and microwaves well and is great warm or cold.  Top with sweet cream, sour cream, whipped cream or ice cream, especially when served warm.  Any fruit can be used as filling.  Some even add chocolate chips.

For this autumn kuchen I gathered some baking apples, Haralson and Rome, from the orchard.



1/4 cup sugar                                                    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 egg                                                               1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup oil (I use light olive oil)                            1/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1/4 cup milk                                                      1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.  Beat egg with a whisk in a medium mixing bowl, add sugar and oil, whisk till creamy.  Add other ingredients, whisk until smooth.  Pour into a 9″ greased pie pan.

Fruit Filling:

2 cups thinly sliced apples

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Spread apples evenly over dough, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.


2 eggs

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk eggs until light and foamy, whisk in other ingredients.  Carefully pour over fruit.  Bake for about 25 mins until crust is golden brown.  The custard will set as the kuchen cools.

This tastes vaguely like bread pudding to me, jazzed up with fruit and spices.  Not too sweet and perfect for breakfast with a cup of coffee.


Handmade Pizza


My 3-year-old granddaughter Lia loves to help bake.  She has a felt toy pretend pizza she enjoys serving so I thought she would like to make a real pizza.  It was a hit!  Pizza for lunch, what could be better?  She found placing the toppings to be a challenge.  She kept putting all the olives and bacon into little piles instead of spreading them around the dough.  After awhile she got the hang of it.

For many years I’ve made fresh crust pizza every Saturday night.  My husband’s favorite meal, and now Lia’s favorite–it might be genetic!  No store-bought or take-away pie can compare to fresh, homemade pizza.  The grease and salt content can be controlled.  The toppings and ingredients can be as healthy as possible.  It’s hard to find those choices with commercial pizza.

For meat toppings I use uncured bacon and ham, no nitrates or nitrites.  Pre-cooked bacon lowers the fat content.  The pizza sauce is organic and the dough is whole wheat using white wheat flour.  Low moisture mozzarella cheese is the secret for good body. Inexpensive cheese can ruin a pizza.  My current baking pans are aerated with tiny holes to help crisp the under side of the crust.

Pizza must be baked in a very hot oven.  I’ve had success with setting the oven at 535-540 F.  The crust is crisped and the toppings are done to perfection in 10 minutes.  Bake in the center of the oven.  Use the higher temperature setting if the pizza is loaded with toppings.

Handmade Pizza

1 cup whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat)

1 to 2 cups regular all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt (I use the low sodium version)

1 tablespoon fast rising yeast (bread machine)

1 cup warm water (120 F)

2 tablespoons light olive oil

Heat water to 120 F, or in most microwaves for 1 minute until steam is barely rising and water is quite warm but not scalding hot.  Sift whole wheat and one cup of regular flour into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in salt and yeast.  Add water and oil.  Mix until dough thickens and pulls away from the edges of the bowl.  Sprinkle on 1/2 cup regular flour. Knead the flour in adding up to 1/2 cup as required to work the dough, until elastic and smooth.  I knead right in the bowl, using the trough method.

Cover and let rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.  Spread the dough on a well-oiled pizza pan.  Do this by gently pressing the dough with the hands.  No throwing and twirling of the dough overhead is required.  This recipe will make one 16″ regular crust pizza or two 14″ thin-crust pizzas.  Let rise in a warm place for 1/2 hour.

Heat oven to 535-540 F.  While oven heats, top pizza with sauce, cheese and favorite meats and veggies. Bake for 10 minutes, or until crust has browned at the edges and cheese is bubbling and beginning to lightly brown.  Let the pizza cool for a couple minutes before cutting.

The Best Brownies


A friend gave me this recipe years ago and said it made the best brownies.  She was right.  I’ve baked these dozens of times and if done correctly, the brownies are irresistible.   I like brownies to be chewy and moist with a thin, cripsy crust.

There are a couple secrets to getting the batch just right.  First, use vegetable oil for half of the fat.  The oil keeps the brownies moist, especially since this recipe uses powdered cocoa and not melted baker’s squares. The second important element is not over-baking the brownies.  They must be removed from the oven while they are still soft.  A toothpick test will seem to show the baking isn’t finished.  If allowed to stay in the oven even a couple minutes too long, the brownies become cake.  The cake is still chocolaty and delicious, great frosted, but not ooey-gooey brownies.

Best Brownies

1/4 cup melted butter

1/4 c light (baking) olive oil or other vegetable oil

1 cup sugar (can substitute up to 1/4 Splenda)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix butter, oil and sugar until creamed, beat in eggs and vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients, and beat into the batter until well mixed.  Fold in nuts, if desired.  Pour into greased 6″x 9″ pan, spread evenly, bake 30 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack before cutting.  Usually I double this recipe and bake in a 13″ x 9″ pan for 34 minutes.

These are so good when they are still a bit warm from the oven.  I like them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.




Autumn Muffins


I just invented a recipe for delicious, good-for-you muffins, feel free to use it, but if you share with others, please give me credit. I call these Autumn Muffins because I invented them in autumn and they are just right for a cool, sunny morning breakfast. This recipe will make 12 large muffins-3.5″ diameter, or 24 regular muffins. I don’t care for the taste of full bran muffins, which is what inspired me to create this recipe that incorporates bran in to a more traditional muffin base.

Autumn Muffins

1 cup Kelloggs All Bran cereal                                                                          a2
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup oil
1  cups sugar
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup craisins (cranberry raisins)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried dark cherries
1/2 cup diced dried apricots

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place cereal in large mixing bowl.  Add milk, let sit for 5 minutes to soften.  Add beaten eggs and oil,  mix.  Add sugar and water, mix.  Add flours, baking powder and salt.  Mix to blend, do not over work.  Fold in dried fruit.  Fill cups of oiled muffin tins 2/3 full of batter.  Bake 20-25 mins until done.

a1When I cook, I use light olive oil, the kind designed for baking. We use 1.5% fat milk.  The eggs are fresh from our farm free-range, of course. I like white whole wheat flour for most baking because you get the bran without the heaviness. I use Salt-Sense low sodium salt, never notice any difference in taste. Our grocery store has an all-natural and organic section where I buy non-GMO products.

Any fruit can be added to the batter, fresh, dried or frozen.  I also like to add sunflower seeds sometimes.