Sunday, November 28, 2010

Perfect Pie Crust

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving! I've been in charge of making the pumpkin pie for my family's Thanksgiving feast for about eighteen years now. After years of practicing Mom's pie crust recipe, I think I've finally got it down.

Perfect Pie Crust

1 cup sifted flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cold milk

Sift together flour and salt in medium-sized bowl. Pour oil and milk into measuring cup, but do not stir. Add oil and milk all at once to the flour mixture. Stir lightly with a fork. Form dough into a ball and flatten slightly.

Roll between two 12-inch squares of waxed paper. (I find it helpful to dampen the surface of the table below the bottom sheet, so the paper won’t slip on me.) Roll spoke-fashion, going from center to edge of dough. When dough is rolled to edges, it will be the right thickness and size.

Peel off top sheet of paper and flip over onto pie plate. Remove last sheet of waxed paper slowly. Fit crust onto bottom and sides of pie plate.
Use handle of wooden spoon held in right hand and press between thumb and index finger of left hand, going around the edge of the pie plate.

For the pumpkin pie, that’s all I had to do! I used the recipe of the Libby pumpkin can for the filling.
If I were making a different kind of pie that required a baked pie crust, I would have needed to prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork dipped in flour before baking it at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

For a double-crust pie, double the ingredients and roll out half at a time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Caramel Brownies

The students at one of my previous schools liked to call these “Speech Contest Brownies,” as I always brought them to the final round of the spring speech contest so that the finalists would have something to look forward to after they performed.

The recipe came from a guy who was in a class I was taking years ago. He brought these several times, and people begged him for the recipe. Here it is with a few of my personal hints for optimal enjoyment.

Caramel Brownies

1 ½ sticks margarine, melted
1 German chocolate cake mix with pudding
1 small can of evaporated milk
1 package of caramels (like the Kraft kind pictured below)
1 12-oz. package of chocolate chips

Unwrap all the caramels and put them in a small microwave-safe bowl. Then preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the margarine in a microwave-safe bowl. Then add the cake mix and 1/3 cup evaporated milk (that’s about half of the small can). Spread ½ mixture in bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 pan. You will have a very thin layer of batter, and you may want to use a buttered spatula to help spread it out.

Bake at 350 degrees for six minutes. Meanwhile, melt caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk (the other half of the small can).

After the six minutes are up, take the pan out of the oven and spread the chocolate chips over the cake. Then drizzle the melted caramel mixture on tops of this. Finally, drop the rest of the cake mixture by teaspoonfuls on top.

Bake another 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely before attempting to cut them. I find it helpful to refrigerate them or even throw them in the freezer for 15 minutes before cutting them. That way the caramel mixture has a chance to solidify and they won’t be quite as messy to cut.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Non-Baking Post

I hope you all don't mind a non-baking post, but I'd like to share some fun news and this blog seems as good a place as any. :)

I just had a short story accepted for publication in a kids' magazine! My story will appear in the April 2011 issue of
Pockets magazine, a Christian publication for kids aged 6-12. You can find out more about them by visiting their website:

While out an a walk earlier today, I had a sudden realization about my story. Every short story in
Pockets is accompanied by pictures--either artists' renderings or photographs of real people. Somebody is in charge of either finding photos or drawings to match my story! I wonder how the characters from my imagination will turn out when they make their publication debut. I don't know if soon-to-be thirteen-year-old twins Erik and Espy will turn out anything like I had in mind, but I'm eager to find out! Guess I'll have to wait until April.

By the way, the magazine is always looking for articles on "real children involved in environmental efforts, peacemaking, and helping others for our Kids with a Mission feature." (Quote taken from their website) If anyone knows any kids who deserve recognition for the good work they do, let me know. I'd love to do an article on them and submit it to

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smiley Face Cookies

This recipe originally came from the book Peach Cobbler Murder. The book was written by Joanne Fluke and is part of a series of cozy murder mysteries about a coffeeshop owner that shares her recipes as she solves the murder. If you’re not familiar with the term “cozy murder mystery,” just think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or the TV show Murder She Wrote (as opposed to something “hard-boiled” like Law and Order or CSI). In fact, Joanne Fluke’s website is Cute, huh?

In the book, the recipe is called Doll Face Cookies. I’ve changed it only slightly so that it makes fewer cookies and the faces actually smile. The original instructions call for three raisins (two eyes and a mouth). Instead of using a third raisin for a mouth, I replaced it with a quarter of a maraschino cherry. Now the faces can smile back at me. ☺ Besides, how can I pass up an excuse to use maraschino cherries?

Oh, and did I mention these cookies are egg-free?

Smiley Face Cookies

¼ cup melted butter (1/2 stick)
¼ cup molasses
½ cup tightly packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup milk
1 ¼ cups flour
about 50 raisins
6-8 maraschino cherries (quartered)

Melt the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Let the butter cool to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray and measure out ¼ cup molasses. Add the molasses and the brown sugar to the melted butter. Next, stir in the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and lemon juice.

Add the flour and milk slowly, mixing as you go. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated thoroughly.

Use a small cookie scooper or rounded teaspoons to drop dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Put two raisins on top for eyes and a quarter of a maraschino cherry for the mouth.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Let the cookies cool for two minutes on the sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields: about two dozen

If I ever meet Joanne Fluke, I’d love to know how she gets these cookies off her cookie sheet. I must confess that I have problems doing it without the “face” getting stretched or pushed into another shape. Sometimes my cookies turn out more like Edvard Munch’s painting Scream.

And other times, they look more like Jack-o-lanterns.
Oh, well. They always taste yummy.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pumpkin Cake Roll

The last of the pumpkin recipes for this year! This recipe comes from Libby’s, too. One of my nephews described the taste as being like “a super awesome carrot cake.” True enough—it wasn’t overly pumpkin-y, and the cream cheese filling does evoke a carrot cake taste.

This was my first attempt at doing any kind of “roll cake,” but I think it turned our fairly well. I had a few problems with the cake sticking at times, but at least the cake didn’t have any major cracks in it. Since I’m used to regular cakes, it was weird to work with a cake that was so thin!

Pumpkin Cake Roll

Cake Ingredients:
¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan. Line the pan with wax paper and then grease and flour the paper.

Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar. I recommend not using a terry cloth towel that might leave fuzzies on your cake later. I also recommend being very liberal with your powdered sugar.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a small bowl. Beat eggs and sugar in a larger mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan. It will be a very thin layer. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired. (I used only ½ cup of walnuts, even though the recipe suggested a full cup.)

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. Immediately loosen and turn cake onto towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. You might want to sprinkle with more powdered sugar as you roll the cake so that it doesn’t stick to either side of the kitchen towel. Cool on wire rack while you make the filling.
Ingredients for filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake; removed towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake, leaving an inch or so on the sides (this will give the filling a place to ooze when you reroll it). Reroll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.
Note: Many people had posted online about how long they let the cake cool before filling it. I guess if you let it cool completely, it may crack when you try to roll it. I let the cake cool about twenty minutes. It was still quite warm when I went to fill it, but at least it rolled pretty nicely.