Orange Cupcakes

I’ve developed my own orange cake recipe, which I like a lot, and I’ve made a similar orange cake, based loosely on a recipe in King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking. Last week I finally made King Arthur Flour’s orange cake, as it’s written, except I baked it as cupcakes.

My orange cake uses barley flour, which gives it a delicate crumb. The recipe I made last week uses wholemeal (whole wheat) flour, leading to a more robust cake, with a lovely nutty flavour.

But the best part of the recipe was the orange glaze on top. The glaze did lovely things for the cupcakes, and made them taste a bit like the dense sticky orange cakes you find in cafes. (but a whole lot less involved to make).

Here’s the recipe for the glaze. Brush it on the warm cakes and let it soak in. Be generous with it!

1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
3/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

A Decadent Brioche Breakfast

Sometimes you just have to go a little overboard. My over-the-top fun this weekend was making brioches for Sunday breakfast. Overly decadent and time-consuming to make, brioche is a rare treat for us. My usual Sunday breakfasts (scones, muffins, or whatever) can be made in the morning. Brioche had to be started the evening before.

My son, passing through the kitchen as I kneaded the gooey dough, peeked at the cookbook open on the table. His eyebrows rose.

“Make sure you wake me up for breakfast tomorrow.” This from the teen who usually doesn’t get up until long after breakfast is cleaned up.

The pressure was on. I had to make sure these brioches were worth losing three hours of sleep.

The dough rose overnight in the fridge, and I made up the buns in the morning. When they came out of the oven, I cut the top off each one, scooped out a little hollow inside, and filled each with a dollop of gooseberry jam and then a generous spoonful of whipped cream with lemon curd folded in.

Oh, my. These little butter bombs were delicious!

Red Currant Orange Muffins

I’ve occasionally noted how alike in smell, flavour and texture red currant jam and cranberry sauce are. And since I’ve got a freezer full of last summer’s currants, I decided to use them in a recipe calling for cranberries.

The result was a lovely red currant orange muffin. Even better than the cranberry version, because the fruit came from our own garden.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
zest of one orange
juice of 1 orange, plus enough yogurt to make 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup brown sugar
125 g (8 Tbs) melted butter
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) red currants

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, orange zest, orange juice, yogurt, sugar and butter. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until evenly moist. Fold in the currants.

Fill well-greased muffin cups—for me, this makes 21 muffins.

Bake 15 minutes at 210ºC (400ºF). Allow to cool in pan 5 minutes before removing.

Still Life with Insects

I’ve written and discarded half a dozen blog posts over the past week. Nothing seems to be quite right. Out of ideas, I resorted to the book of 500 writing prompts I created for my daughter. A random stab at the non-fiction section of the book brought me to the question: What objects tell the story of your life?

I tried to encapsulate everything in four objects:

The fiddle: made by a neighbour in Panama, given to me for my birthday by my husband. The fiddle not only tells the story of our years living and working among the incredible, resourceful people of Panama, but also tells the story of my lifelong interest in learning to play the violin…an interest which always ended up being pushed aside for other interests. Because I’m interested in learning so many things, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

The beetle puppet represents my insatiable curiosity about arthropods, and how that curiosity has bled into my other interests. Peanut butter jars full of bugs on my dresser when I was a kid led to the entomology degree, which led to teaching about insects at Penn State University, and then starting the Bugmobile. And the puppet is only one of many insect-themed and inspired artistic projects I’ve done over the years, as art and science mingle in my brain.

The gardening gloves speak of my weeding addiction and my love of growing food. The gloves are never more than a month or two old, because I wear through them in that time. I think that says it all about gardening for me.

The rock represents adventure, the natural world, and the wild places I have visited and lived in. Like me, the rock has traveled far and has been changed by the stresses it has experienced along the way.

Salt-preserved Green Beans

I always struggle with what to do with too many green beans. I can (bottle) some, but none of us really like the taste of canned beans, and their mushy texture leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t freeze any, because freezer space is at a premium, and I prefer to fill it with sweet corn and peas instead.

So this past summer, I preserved some green beans in salt. The recipe I used claimed that the flavour and texture of salt-preserved beans is far superior to canned or frozen.

I pulled out the crock of salted beans the other day to test them out.

At first glance, they didn’t win any beauty contests, especially the yellow wax beans, which came out of the salt a sort of dead-flesh colour.

I rinsed them and soaked them for two hours, as directed, and then tossed them into a green bean and potato charcharis.

Cooked into a flavourful Indian dish, the beans most definitely had better flavour and texture than canned beans. Almost as good as fresh, even.

Unfortunately, they were so excessively salty, they made the dish almost inedible. Even my salty-olive-loving family couldn’t choke them down. Most of the dish ended up on the compost pile, and I expect an epidemic of high blood pressure in the local sparrow and mouse population who dine at chez-compost.

There are still some beans left. I’ll try using them again—small quantities in otherwise unsalted stews or soups might work well (sort of like a salty ham hock in bean soup). Maybe.

But I’m thinking I’ll just give away the extra green beans next year.

A Reason to Celebrate

“Wow! What’s the occasion?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I felt like it.”

Then I thought more about it. What’s the occasion?

The sun shone all day today.
I had a good writing week.
The kids have been helpful all day.
The snowdrops are blooming.
Pīwakawakas outside my office door.
The neighbour gave us grapefruits.
My seed order arrived in the post.
I had just enough sugar to make the icing.

Every day is a day to celebrate. Every day is a day to enjoy whatever gifts life offers, no matter how small.

Go ahead. Have some cake. Be sure to try the frosting. It’s one of my favourites:

Grapefruit frosting

Beat until smooth:
250 g (8 oz) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioners (icing) sugar

Add and beat until smooth:
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp fresh grapefruit juice
1 Tbsp grated grapefruit zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Spread on your favourite cake.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Now that winter has set in, we’ve turned our culinary sights from eggplant and courgettes to pumpkin, pumpkin, and pumpkin. I blogged about our excellent pumpkin harvest earlier this year. That post was written mid-way through the harvest–ultimately we picked nearly 200 pumpkins and other winter squash.

So w’re eating a lot of pumpkin. That’s not a problem.

Yesterday I made lovely pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. They were moist, dense, and spicy—excellent with maple syrup or redcurrant jam.

To make these delicious pancakes, start with a double batch of my World Famous Pancake Recipe. Add 2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp cloves to the dry ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (or other winter squash—I used kabocha squash) to the wet ingredients.

If your pumpkin is dry, you may need to increase the milk to achieve the right batter consistency.

We found these pancakes didn’t store/reheat as well as regular pancakes—they became quite fragile upon reheating (though they were still delicious).