Pumpkin Pancakes

Let’s face it:  The Great Pumpkin has arrived and left a trail of spice dust from latte to Little Debbie.

The First Ingredients

And I’m mostly okay with that.  I like the way it tastes, and I love riding the wave of nostalgia that each sip or bite brings.  It’s a warm current of memory that I look forward to feeling.  My only complaint is the same one that I’ve aired in years past to all who would pretend to listen – too often the pumpkin spice comes without the pumpkin.  And that makes me feel sad and incomplete; it’s like eating a handful of sprinkles without cake.

It’s the nostalgia, you see; because without the flesh of the big orange squash, pumpkin spice leaves my sense memories incomplete.  Certainly, aroma can cast an alluring spell, but there’s a voluptuousness about pumpkin flesh that adds a decadently plump and toothsome pleasure to every morsel it imbues, and it’s that combination that takes me back to the warm and happy days of bonfires, caramel apples, ill-fitting masks, and the promise of holidays yet come.

In fact, I can’t even think about pumpkin without recalling my first experience of it in the wonderous form of pie.  Perhaps you, too,

The Real Pumpkin Arrives

remember: imagine the feel of pumpkin pie as you close your lips about it – it’s firm but yielding and expresses a soft, nearly corpulent luxury when it meets the tongue.

Gosh, I’m feeling nostalgic already.

But aside from theses daydreams and romantic recollections, there are also some mighty fine practical reasons to keep the pumpkin with the spice.

While adding pumpkin to a recipe doesn’t automatically impart the indulgent texture of a good pie, adding it to some recipes is a no brainer if you’re looking for rich texture and additional appeal without negative consequence.  Pumpkin, like applesauce, adds considerable moisture without adding additional fat.  It also contributes fiber and good dose of beta carotene, thiamin, and Vitamin A.

Stiff Batter

There’s almost no downside – especially if you’re making pancakes.    A good recipe will help you balance the density and moisture of the squash with sufficient leavening to create a plump, rich, but light bite that will soak up syrup and butter like a champ.  In this recipe it’s the combination of buttermilk with baking soda, as well as a dash of baking powder that makes these beauties happily fluffy and light.

And if you haven’t had pumpkin pancakes yet, well, you’re in for a treat.  Of course, there are all the appropriate spices and a little vanilla to make the flavor really nice, but Pumpkin seems particularly well suited for maple syrup.   It, too, is wonderfully redolent reminder of the season.  Put them together and you have a pumpkin spice moment that will satisfy the appetite of several senses all at once.

 

Flour Head Bakery’s Pumpkin Pancakes

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

On the Stove

2 TB sugar

1 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground clove

¼ tsp ground allspice

2 eggs

1 ½ cups Buttermilk

¾ cup pumpkin puree

3 TBL melted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

Place flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

In another bowl whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, pumpkin, melted butter, and vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix together with a spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture is mostly mixed together into a thick batter. (a few lumps of dry ingredients are fine)

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, and lightly butter the skillet. Scoop the batter by the spoonful into the skillet, allowing room to flip the pancakes. Flip the pancakes when they have a few holes on the edges, and cook on the other side. Flip pancakes over a few times to make sure they cook through and are a deep golden brown on both sides.

Serve the pancakes with butter and maple syrup as you cook them, or keep warm in a 200 -degree oven.

 

Flour Head Bakery’s Orange You a Vol Cake

A bite is not enough

It strikes many people as strange that I can not only sing the UT Alma Mater to its actual tune, but that I can also sing it to the tunes of Gilligan’s Island, Ghost Riders in the Sky, and Amazing Grace.  It is a rare and formidable talent, I admit, but it is one that I worked to master under the unlikely but skillful tutelage of Professor Bill Black of UT Theatres’ costume department.  Strangely, the words themselves were sometimes the answer to a bonus question on the good professor’s final exams.

I do not share this particular skill with just anyone, nor do I share it often; as a rule, I’m not much of an enthusiastic alumnus.  And even as a student I was more likely to be found humming a tune from “Hello Dolly” than singing the solemn, old school song or even the much livelier Rocky Top.  At the time, I was, in my own mind, a great artist to be; school spirit wasn’t my thing.

Knoxville Loves Orange

But now, when the first thoughts of football season approach, my mind, in a paroxysm of nostalgia, returns to the joys of college days and sometimes, just sometimes mind you, the Alma Mater erupts without warning from my mouth.  And whether I’m singing it to the original tune or not, I feel like donning some orange, proclaiming my Volunteer heritage, and learning the Quarterback’s name.

It’s the season, you see!  At times, it’s stronger than the Christmas urge to shop and wear holly prints.  It’s the sheer force of Football Time in Tennessee that, like some chirpy tune, gets under the skin and into the mind, into the vocal chords, and on occasion, into our kitchen as well.

And it’s particularly bad this season.  Perhaps it’s the Eclipse year confluence of Labor Day and the opening game, but this special, perhaps divine madness, has infected our fearless leader, Mahasti, too.  And that’s an extraordinary thing.  Although at first we planned on celebrating the holiday weekend with a special family treat, Red Velvet Cake, the all Vol party vibe took over.  And Mahasti, in an uncharacteristic fit of orange-tinged enthusiasm turned her thoughts away from the crimson, nearly treasonous hue of that cake.  Instead, Mahasti turned it orange.

Ever since Steel Magnolias burst onto the silver screen with its funny Armadillo shaped groom’s cake, Red Velvet Cake has experienced a resurgence and a mighty propagation across all kinds of food formats – from industrially produced cookies, to ice cream and shakes and even some savory applications, the name Red Velvet has been splashed across all sorts of things masquerading as tasty food.  And all the while, the essence of the cake and its flavor profile has gotten lost in pointless permutations and bastardized attempts at creativity often based less on taste than color.

Touchdown!

But it is not the redness of the cake that makes it special; it is instead the fine crumb, a good rise, and the gentle tug of tang against cake’s essential sweetness. Certainly red is fun, but without the velvet texture of the cake, the hue is meaningless and the name despoiled as a marketing flag.

In our recipe, we use buttermilk, sour cream and vinegar which bring a lively flavor to the cake, but also react with the baking powder to give it plenty of lift.  And the acids help break down some of the protein in flour to create a more tender, even, ahem, velvety bite.

In fact, we think this cake is so good, it doesn’t need to be slathered in creamy icing – a straightforward sprinkle of powder sugar will do.  But there’s an added advantage to using this simple garnish – with just a teeny moment of craftiness, you can turn your cake into an orange checkered end zone.  And, as you know, a triumphant visit to that area is the real icing on the cake.  So, here’s to you, Old Tennessee…

Flour Head Bakery’s Orange You a Vol Cake

3 cups All Purpose Flour

1 TBL Baking Powder

1 tsp. Salt

2 Eggs

1 3/4 cup Sugar

1/3 cup Sour Cream

1 1/4 cup Vegetable Oil

1 ¼ cup Buttermilk

1 TBL Yellow Food Coloring

¼ tsp Red Food Coloring

2 TBL Cider Vinegar

2 tsp Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line the bottom of a 9X 13 pan with parchment paper, grease the sides, and set aside.

Into a medium bowl sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Place eggs in another medium bowl, with sugar and sour cream and beat lightly with a whisk. Add oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Whisk to incorporate the ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Whisk well until all the flour is incorporated. Pour the batter into prepared your pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in pan. Flip the cake out of pan onto a cooling rack. Peel parchment paper off the bottom. Re-flip cake back onto a cutting board. Cover the cake with a checkerboard stencil and dust the top generously with powdered sugar. Cut into desired size squares. Serve with a side of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

To make the checkerboard stencil – on a piece of parchment paper, outline your pan. Using a ruler, outline a grid, then color in the squares on a diagonal to make a checker board pattern. With an Xacto knife cut out the colored in squares, being careful to leave the borders of each square intact.

Flour Head Bakery’s Zucchini Bread

Prepped Ingredients

If you polled farmers about garden humor, I suspect that you’d find out that the poor, prolific zucchini is a popular subject for jokes.  That’s because, like rabbits, this summer squash greets life with a singular drive to be fruitful and multiply.  I have one gardener friend who tells tales about drive-by” squashings”; these midnight capers involve sneaking from house to house to leave big bags of the squash on the doorsteps of unsuspecting neighbors, all in an effort to make sure that the squash glut gets eaten – just by somebody else.

That’s why we have recipes galore for zucchini; from bread to cookies, thrifty and clever cooks have found all sorts of ways to use up legions of the rapid reproducer, and do it in a way that combats the inevitable squash fatigue that comes with late summer.

But what’s really great about these recipes is that they’re also excellent options for the devious parent who stays awake at night plotting ways to sneak vegetables into the food of their unsuspecting offspring.

There’s almost an industry about this kind of cunning cooking.  You might remember some flack over the publication of Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, which involved accusations of plagiarism by the author of a similar cookbook that dealt with sneaking good food into kids’ diets.

Well, there’s no controversy with this recipe.  Zucchini Bread remains one of the easiest and most popular ways to use

The Batter

up the surplus, and has the added value of irresistibility!   Admit it, you’re already thinking of just how much butter one slice can handle. The Flour Head version has some added perks – including a unique addition of sunflower seeds and a healthy dollop of yogurt – both of which add a little je ne sais quoi to an old favorite.  Best of all, it’s popular with all ages so it’s a perfect too to aid the dastardly deed of feeding little people squash and making them love every minute of it.

The key to sneaking good vegetable matter from the garden and into your kid is subtlety.  So it might be wise to make this when the kids are not around.  Or at least have the secret ingredient already prepped and ready to add to the recipe in a flash while you distract your kid with something like taking out the trash (even if you don’t succeed in assigning the chore, the inevitable whining will keep the juvenile mind occupied long enough for you to slip the zucchini into the batter unnoticed).  And don’t be tempted to shortcut the shredding of the squash; you don’t want the vegetable to look anything like itself!  After all, if you can’t see it or taste it – it isn’t really there! With this recipe – all they’ll taste is delicious.

One of the byproducts of using zucchini is that it adds lots of moisture to the recipe, so you’ll have a tender bite that tastes great at room temperature and lends itself to some butter-melting toasting, too!   You’ll probably find yourself wanting to make this even when the garden isn’t overwhelmed with squash production.

 

Flour Head Bakery’s Zucchini Bread

Finished Loaf

1.5 cups All-purpose Flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground clove

½ tsp salt

1 cup chopped pecans

½ cup sunflower seeds

4 cups shredded Zucchini, shredded, about 3 small zucchini

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup whole milk plain yogurt

6 TB melted Butter

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter and lightly dust a 9×5 loaf pan with flour.

Place flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add pecans and sunflower seeds and stir with a wooden spoon. Set aside.

Shred Zucchini on the large shred of a box grater and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, sugars, yogurt, and melted butter. Add the egg mixture and the shredded zucchini to the flour mixture, and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated. The miixture will look quite thick. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes. Drop the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 35- 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, or a thermometer registers 203 degrees.

Remove the pan from the oven, and allow the bread to cool in the pan for 15- 20 minutes, before removing from the pan.

For the best flavor, allow the bread to cool completely then place the bread in a plastic bag and let it rest for 12 – 24 hours before enjoying.

 

 

Tomato Head’s Creamed Corn

Ingredients

Prepping the corn

3 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 tsp jalapeño pepper finely chopped (optional)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 ears of corn, kernels removed (3 to 4 cups)

1.5 cup heavy cream

On the burner

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, jalapeño and rosemary and sauté until onion is translucent.  Add corn kernels and stir until corn and onions are mixed together well.  Add cream and bring mixture to a boil.  Stir and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer, stirring occasionally for fifteen minutes.  Remove rosemary sprigs.  Serve immediately.  Can be refrigerated and reheated over low heat.

Serves 6-8

Ready to eat

Cucumber Salad

If you’re anything like me, the presence of a large bowl of cucumbers and onions dressed with vinegar and perhaps a IMG_0205little sugar or salt is a sure sign of a well-balanced summer meal.  As long as there’s a platter of sliced tomatoes, some well-buttered ears of corn, and cold hunks of melon to look forward to, it’s a warm weather feast worthy of any country table and any country appetite.

But that bowl of pale green and white has a special place in my heart because it represents some pretty sensible kitchen magic.

The cucumber itself is the perfect summer food because it is truly cool – its interior is about 20 degrees cooler than its surface.  That relates to the fact that the vegetable is 96% water and wears a well-insulated jacket in a fashionable shade of green.  What makes the summer table work so well is the presence of lots of moisture, and cucumbers, like much good, fresh produce, is bursting with hydration.

cuke salad ingredientsWith all that goodness going on, you wonder why on earth you’d want to cover it up with any dressing at all?  But the cucumber salad takes on an additional level of brilliance for the summer table precisely because of that dressing and its slightly sour disposition.

Vinegar’s acidity commends it to the summer diet because of its refreshing quality.  What, you don’t think of vinegar as refreshing?  Perhaps you’d prefer a glass of lemonade or a crisp gold glass of sauvignon blanc?  What makes both of those beverages work in the summer sun is their acidity – think of it as a brightness that acts in the same way as does a squeeze of lime over a taco or lemon over fish.

When the cucumbers dive into their dressing, they are literally bathed in extra refreshment.  It’s a relish, really, that’s light, summery and enlivening and a perfect match to food from the grill. And if you’re a fan of the cold fried chicken picnic, cucumber salad is almost a miracle worker for making the mouth sing after the richness of the crisp and golden-brown main course.

Tomato Head’s version of this Southern staple combines the traditional recipe with a little mint and jalapeno.  The dab of heat actually works to increase the refreshment quality because it wakes up your mouth’s receptors.  And mint adds additional refreshment with an alluring flavor that sets this dish apart from granny’s delicious but predictable version.

It’s quick, it’s fresh, and it’s cool.  Just like a cucumber ought to be.

Tomato Head’s Cucumber Salad

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

For the Dressing:

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 Tbl sugar

3/4 tsp salt

Mix vinegar together with sugar and salt in a small saucepan, and heat just until sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

For the Salad:

4 cups cucumber

1/2 cup onion

2 TBL minced jalapeno

2 TBL mint, chopped

2 TBL of vinegar mix

Thinly slice the cucumbers and onion and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped Jalapeno and mint. Pour the dressing over the cucumber mixture and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes.

Serve as a side dish with Fried Chicken, or any grilled meats.

Serves 6-8 people.

Cheese Straws

I do not often think of myself as a Southerner.  It’s not prejudicial – I am fond of the South in many ways and often eat and cook like a Southerner ought to do.   I’ve grown okra, I can tie up a tomato, I know how to make a fair tea cake, I prefer my grits with red-eye gravy, and my cast iron skillet is seasoned and ready for cornbread at the drop of a hat.  Why, the only things really that keep me from calling myself a true Southerner are that I have never thought of East Tennessee as being particularly Southern, and, much, much more to the point, I don’t care for cheese straws.

Getting Ready to Mix

Getting Ready to Mix

Don’t misunderstand me, I like the idea of cheese straws, and I even like the taste of them.  What I do not like is the shape – this essential southern snack, when forced through a cookie press like a big hog through a tight sty, takes on a cylindrical, sometimes frilly edged form that I find difficult to abide.

In case you might wonder, it is not a cylinder phobia of which I am afflicted.  I enjoy driving with all 4 of them firing as much as the next person, and should I find myself eating a whole carrot, I am content to nibble away as any cartoon bunny might.  But in the matter of cheese straws with their delicate and tender construction, I am entirely discontent to approach the thing as one might approach a corn dog.

That delicate construction has a propensity to crumb or even break off.  If the straw is made to be delicious, it will be a little unctuous and may very well leave a slight stain on one’s seersucker should it break apart.  Furthermore, I subscribe to the idea that decent cocktail food should be easily eaten in one, perhaps two bites.  I have seen straws that strain that rule to upwards of four ungainly mouthfuls.

Who, I ask you, would be so indelicate as to imagine that I could possibly eat that way in polite society?  Why a cheese straw of such a length would most certainly tickle the epiglottis and provoke an unseemly gag or, if it did not, might open one up to very scurrilous remarks upon the absence of that reflex.

So you see my point, I am quite sure.  Fortunately, the very good and sensible Mahasti also understands this woeful

Ready to Cut the Wafers

Ready to Cut the Wafers

dilemma.  For this reason, she has proved us with a very politic solution.  In fact it’s much more politic and agreeable than almost anything else I’ve heard so far this year.  You see, after Mahasti assembles her base recipe she rolls it up into a long cylinder (of which, I remind you, I am not phobic) and slices it into the most delicate little rounds you can imagine.

These are cheese wafers and have the same kind of ethereal lightness that I imagined manna having when it floated down into my imagination during Sunday School.

I suppose you can take your crunchy cheese snack in whatever shape you want it.  But I hope you’ll understand that while I may not have the genteel quality of a real Southerner, I do have delicate sensibilities which is the next best thing.

So Bon Appetit, y’all.

 

Flour Head Bakery’s Cheddar Cheese Wafers

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

½ lb Sharp Cheddar, shredded

4 oz butter (1 stick), soft

3 TBl water

1.5 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

½ tsp Cayenne

½ tsp Paprika

1 tsp Bl pepper

2 tsp baking powder

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand-held mixer, beat the butter until smooth.  Add the shredded cheddar and mix until the cheese breaks down and forms a smooth paste.  Add water and mix just until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, cayenne, paprika, black pepper and baking powder.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until it forms a smooth ball.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces, and shape each piece into a log.  Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Slice the log into 1/8 inch discs and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, with ½ inch of space between each wafer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the wafers from the oven, turn the oven off and allow the oven to cool for 10 minutes.  Return the wafers to the oven and allow to rest in off oven for 30 minutes or until crisp. (the wafers will crisp up as they cool)

Unbaked wafer logs can be kept in the refrigerator up to 5 days, and can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Guacamole

Juliet famously pined, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”  Of course she was considering handsome young Romeo whose family name represented an ancient feud and was, one might say, the Hatfield to her McCoy.  But names matter, at least in some matters they do, and sometimes for odd reasons.

Consider the Avocado.  Its real, rather, its original name, ahuacate, is an Aztec word for a certain part of the male reproductive equipment that resembles the, ahem, sack-like shape of the avocado.  Get the picture?

20170506_075758

the ingredients are ready

The folks who wanted to market the oily fruit to Americans certainly got a picture – one can only imagine their faces when someone explained the name.  I suspect they had nightmares of rival campaigns trying to denigrate and rebrand their product as Aztec testicles. Fortunately for the avocado farmers, the renaming worked; and that’s also fortunate for us – just imagine a world without avocado.

Guacamole, like popcorn, chocolate, and chewing gum, dates back to the Aztec Empire, too.  In fact, the basic recipe hasn’t changed very much: avocado, tomato, onion, some hot pepper and cilantro.  And many folks will argue that the basic recipe is all you need.  But we know that history and available ingredients change recipes all the time – not to mention the human drive to mix things up.

20170506_080743

chips and dip anyone?

And this is exactly what Mahasti’s recipe does.  While it stays true to the basics, the addition of both mango and blueberry give the dip a surprising depth of flavor and pops of delicate sweetness.  Mango’s texture is a perfect substitute for tomatoes in this variation while the blueberries add an additional kind of fun bite to the eating of it.

The fruit has a tasty interaction with the jalapeno, too – the heat of the pepper actually accentuates the sweetness of the fruit while the blueberries in particular act as an internal balm to the jalapeno’s warmth.  There’s gotta be some food science to explain it, all, but, all I know is that this mix is uniquely delicious.

20170506_075243 (1)

the rumble in progress

This recipe also has the distinction of being the winning Guacamole in the soon to be legendary contest: Guac Rumble 2017 between Mahasti and WBIR’s Daniel Sechtin.  Certainly Daniel’s traditional version was delicious – especially with his deft use of serrano peppers and garlic; but Mahasti’s version swayed the judges by sheer force of flavor, and, of course, because it’s awfully attractive, too.

Tomato Head’s “Better than Daniel’s” Guacamole

½ Mango

2 TBL Jalapeno, chopped

3 TBL Cilantro, chopped

3 TBL Red Onion, chopped

3 Ripe Avocado

½ cup Fresh Blooberries

1 TBL Lime Juice

½ tsp Salt

Cut ½ mango off, remove the flesh with a spoon and chop into small pieces and place in a medium bowl.

Chop Jalapeno, cilantro and red onions, and add them to the bowl.  Cut avocado in half and remove pits.  Score the avocados into sections, and scoop out into the bowl.  Add blueberries, lime juice and salt.  Mix well smashing the avocados with the side of the spoon a little if too chunky.

Serve Guacamole with chips as an appetizer, or alongside tacos, or enchiladas.

Lemon Cake

For many juvenile Southerners, like young and tender me, lemon lives in the libation section of the memory because it of its inextricable association with tall and frosty vessels of our beloved iced tea.  And though a bright yellow wedge of citrus perched happily on the edge of a glass signals sweet refreshment for some, it is a vision that makes my tongue curl in abject terror.

You see, while my child hood was, largely, a sweet time that was filled with culinary delights provided by my Mamaws,

Getting Ready to Mix

Getting Ready to Mix

including one, Mamaw Ethel, who was not only a fine cook but also a master baker, it was also a time of certain frugalities.  Though Mamaw Ethel would splurge on any number of cake ingredients, for her nearly constant companion, a giant jar of iced tea, she was content to spike her beverage with a healthy dollop of commercially concentrated lemon juice from a pale green bottle that lived in the door of her fridge.

Perhaps you can see the appeal?  When compared to the cost of real lemons, this was a bargain of nearly incomparable magnitude.

But to poor, lil’ ole me who was accustomed to liking so many of the things at Mamaw’s table, the accidental and inevitable and always shocking swallow of her overly faux-lemoned tea was ruinous to my normally sweet complexion.

And thus it has ever been.  To this day, good southern folk smile indulgently at the village idiot who orders “Iced tea, no fruit.”

And after all those years of suffering through the vile torture of sweet natured folks who just couldn’t  believe that anybody would want tea without lemon,  it has taken a long time for me to see the lemon as a friend.

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

But I am not alone.  Little did I know that I was experiencing literally some of the most potent figurative aspects of this particular citrus.  For in painting and in other matters artistic, the lemon may represent bitterness or wealth.  The lemon’s pith, as I imagine you know, is a tongue bending taste – all on its own it’s fiercely bitter to my mouth – which, according to various voices on the inter-webs, is what you’re supposed to understand should you see a peeled lemon in a painting.  It’s certainly what I see when I recall Mamaw’s free-flowing lemon in a jar.

Likewise, like black pepper and other spices, lemon once was a hard to get and expensive provision.  If there was a lemon on your table, your neighbors might shake their head and cluck, “You can’t hide money…”

I don’t think Mamaw worried what the neighbors thought – I suspect she was just keeping her pennies for better uses: she did make a luxurious Coconut Cream Cake at a time with when coconut was much dearer in rural East Tennessee than it is now.

At any rate, I avoided lemon bars, slandered lemon ice-box pie, and nearly gagged at the thought of lemon cake for years.  But it was, in fact, a well glazed lemon pound cake that changed my mind and my sweet life forever.

Of course, I didn’t know there was lemon lurking in every bite of that beautiful cake – it was the first pound cake that ever I saw crowned with a layer of nearly sculpted white glaze.  It was perfect, and it was love at first sight; and even after the first bite, infused though it was with lemon, lemon, lemon, I was enthralled like Romeo (but without similar consequences).

The bright and happy sweetness of fresh lemon well blended with sugar and flour was so delightful, I even wanted to kiss the little bit of zest I found lying in wait in each mouthful.  I did not eat this cake delicately, nor did I eat slowly or modestly with good sense.  I ate my second slice with the same ravenous mouth that bolted down the first.  I am not ashamed.  I had years of eating to make up for.

Thus, with all due respect to Mamaw, it pleases me more than I want to admit that Mahasti has opted to share this particular Flour Head recipe.  It is, methinks, the lemon loaf that greets the soul at paradise.  It’s moist enough as it is with a generous cloud of sour cream, but once you add the lemon syrup and seal it with a kiss, er, that is, a smooth layer of lemon glaze, you may feel compelled to sing and, perhaps, quote Shakespeare.

Flour Head Bakery’s Lemon Loaf with Fresh Berries

For the Cake:

Even Better with Berries

Even Better with Berries

4 large eggs

1 1/3 cup Sour Cream

1 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar

2/3 cup oil

3 TBL Lemon Zest

2 TBL Lemon Juice

2 c All Purpose Flour

2 2/3 tsp Baking Powder

2/3 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 9x 5 loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sour cream, sugar and oil. Add lemon Zest and Lemon Juice. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk just until combined. Some lumps will be left; don’t overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Drop the oven temperature to 325 and bake another 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking prepare the lemon syrup and lemon glaze.

Lemon Syrup:

2 TBL Lemon Juice

3 TBL Confectioner’s sugar

After you remove the cake from the oven, and while it is still hot and in the pan, spoon the lemon syrup over the top of the cake. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the cake from the pan, onto a cooling rack or plate.

Lemon Glaze:

1 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

3 TBL Lemon Juice

1 TBL Lemon Zest

Carefully pour the glaze over the entire length of the cake, and smooth it out with the back of a spoon, covering the top.

Slice and serve with fresh berries.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Day

Open faced and ready to eat

Open faced and ready to eat

As a younger person, I never grasped the concept of comfort food. For me, food fell into only two categories – things I liked and things I didn’t.  And the categorization was complicated – one might assume that peanut butter was in one category or another, but it wasn’t.  A piece of bread, spread thick with the smooth and creamy nut butter was something likeable unless it was it was folded in half (or topped with more bread), in which case I didn’t like it. No, not one bit.

I can still remember my poor father’s baffled expression when I wouldn’t eat the snack that only moments before I had noisily craved.  What he didn’t understand was that there was a vast difference between a peanut butter sandwich and what I called a peanut butter top. And so, when he enacted the dreadful fold, the craving died and the luster was off the nut – as I’m certain he thought I was off my nut, too.

I couldn’t explain it.  It just was – might as well ask me why I have a big toe.  I just do.

As a grown person, I don’t have that particular obsession anymore, well, not in the same degree.  Nowadays, peanut butter sandwiches have zero appeal without jelly, but I retain an admittedly strange obsession with canapes and other foods served open-faced.  And there is nothing that catches my heart, appetite, and eye quite like an open faced cookie.  For it was the thumbprint cookie that revealed not only why I turned my countenance from Daddy’s sandwich but also transformed my inexplicable obsession into explicable reason.

At least to my mind.

My mother was fond of sandwich cookies – Vienna fingers or vanilla creams were a constant and welcome presence in the pantry.  But there was one day, a glorious and epiphanous day, when some kind and generous soul gifted mother with a bag of Pepperidge Farm Strawberry thumbprint cookies.

Almost Finished

Almost Finished

Oh joyous day – every obsessive nerve in my little body quivered – here was the peanut butter top of cookies, and it had jam.  JAM!  But most importantly it was then that I knew! I knew why the peanut butter top was essential, and the peanut butter sandwich was vile.  It was at the first moment of biting that cookie when I understood that the open face always smelled better and! And! AND! the impression of the first bite was not dominated by the bread or the cookie but was shared equally with the always magnificent, always delightful filling!

First impressions DO matter.

More important than my own epiphany, now my poor father would feel the sting of my refusal less keenly!  He would understand, as I understood, that my rejection of the sandwich was a textural and olfactive thing and not some oedipal grudge.  And he would no longer think that I was off my nut.

Alas, fathers, like children, I suppose, don’t always act like we want them to do– even 45 years later my dad remains uncertain about my sanity.  But I know – and that’s enough.

And while my affection for peanut butter has changed significantly, there are two things that have become essential truth in my eating life: One is that peanut butter is always better with jelly; the other, good food with good open faced presentation is the road to Nirvana. And thumbprint cookies are the fast lane.

Sunday, April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.  You may celebrate with a sandwich if you must, or you can really put the hammer down by making Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies.  Mahasti has provided a recipe below – and will show you how easy it is to celebrate in open-faced style on WBIR’s Weekend Today.

And while baking these cookies and celebrating food holidays may only affirm your family’s worry that you’re off your nut, they’ll be grateful that you’re tasteful about it.

Flour Head Bakery’s Peanut Butter and Jelly thumbprint cookies

Ground Peanuts:

The batter ready for scooping

The batter ready for scooping

½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts ground fine

1/3 cup granulated sugar

Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine.  Place peanuts in a bowl, add sugar and set aside.

For the cookie:

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

2 Tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Rolling along.

Rolling along.

Place butter in bowl of stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add egg and mix until well combined.  Add vanilla and milk and mix well.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until all the flour is mixed in.  Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator for an hour.  Remove the dough and scoop into balls.  Roll the dough balls in the ground peanut mixture and place 1.5 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven, allow the cookies to cool for 1 minute, then gently press your thumb in the middle.  Spoon a small amount of your favorite jam in the imprint and serve.

Makes 20 – 24 1 inch cookies.

 

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