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I am not a fan of the entire pumpkin spice craze, the lattes and teas and candles and whatnot. I have a limited view of how pumpkin & its usual spices should be incorporated into food.


For instance, this is wrong in so many ways.


This, on the other hand, is funny.

Here is something I do approve of, seasonal, festive, and simple to make. I stole the recipe years ago from a blog on LiveJournal and have no idea who contributed it. It’s rather good and not nearly as difficult as you might think. This makes a lovely dessert for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday occasion.

I realize that while many people have heard the term jelly roll*, they have probably never seen, tasted, or made one, it being a bit passé like bar le duc, prune whip, and croquettes. Too bad, because those old-fashioned dishes are fun and tasty.  Jelly roll might be thought of as the American version of a buche de Noel.

*I am speaking of jelly roll in the culinary sense. There are other meanings which Urban Dictionary covers.

Before serving, dust with powdered sugar. You can go all festive and decorate the plate, as I did here for a Christmas party.


To serve, cut into one-inch slices.



Variations: Use almond, maple, or orange extract in the filling, or add grated orange peel. I really don’t think this cake should be frosted as it is quite moist and sweet already. Chocolate goes well with pumpkin so a dark chocolate filling could be substituted for the vanilla cream cheese filling.



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My great-great grandfather was born in Ireland, but that was only because that was where the boat happened to be docked when his Danish parents were on their way to America and Mama Davison went into labor. From there he made his way to California, where he enlisted in the Union Army at a very small town called Volcano and later became the first mayor of Chico.


I think he may be the gentleman in the second row standing behind the severe-looking woman with the white cap. Or maybe not.


At least, that was the story I grew up with.

It turned out to be only partly true, as I discovered recently when I did a little online research and found he had his own Wikipedia page and was also given space in an 1891 volume called  A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. He certainly set the bar high for his family, and I think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that most of his descendants never bothered to try to equal his accomplishments and good works. Underachievers R Us.

Anyway. Ireland. Guinness.

St. Patrick’s Day came by about a week ago. I made the standard American tribute to Irish food, corned beef and cabbage (which I believe is unknown in Ireland, but never mind). We had guests for dinner and I had planned to make Nigella Lawson’s Guinness Cake until I read the recipe and realized it was basically a chocolate cake: one of our guests is not a chocolate fan. I figured that someone out there on the internet had devised a recipe for a Guinness cake sans chocolate, and sure enough, I found one on A Beautiful Plate.

This was fun and interesting to make, and it was delicious to eat. Despite a cup of molasses and a cup of mixed sugars, it was not very sweet; it was more like a deeply mysterious velvety spice cake with only the suggestion of sweetness. I can’t imagine it appealing much to children or anyone who loves those ghastly Crisco-frosted bakery cakes from supermarkets. It looks fiddly, but the three parts (Guinness-molasses, egg-sugar-oil, flour-spices) are all easy to assemble separately and at your own pace. Just be sure you have them all completed before mixing the final batter. A couple of caveats:

  • Use a REALLY big pan to boil the Guinness and molasses together because when you add the baking soda, you will create your very own Hiroshima in the kitchen and trust me, you do not want to have to clean that up.
  • I used a microplane to grate the fresh ginger, and it takes a rather large piece of ginger to yield 1 tablespoon grated ginger. Don’t omit it: it really oomphs up the cake flavor.
  • Spray the inside of the measuring cup with nonstick spray before measuring the molasses: it will pour out much more easily.
  • I can’t think of anything that replicates the blackness, dark mineral taste, and satiny texture of Guinness. I suppose if you really had to, you could substitute very, very dark espresso coffee, but then you couldn’t really call it Guinness Cake, could you?

Slightly adapted from the original. This is best the day it’s made, but will keep for one or two more days.


  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1 cup  dark molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3  eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup  firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup  vegetable oil
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger root

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Grease  two 9″ cake pans (or spray with cooking/baking spray or a product like Baker’s Joy) . Line them with parchment paper and grease or spray them again.

Here I pieced parchment paper together to fit the pans, which works just fine.


Pop open your Guinness. Measure out one cup and either drink the rest or recap with a cork. For God’s sake, don’t waste it.


Combine the Guinness and the molasses in that really big pan, whisk together, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  It will start to foam up. This is not the time to walk away to answer the phone.


Remove from the stove and whisk in the baking soda. It will foam way, way up. This is why you need a large pan.


Let it sit and cool for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Beat together the eggs with the granulated sugar and brown sugar, being careful to either dissolve or remove any teeny hard lumps of brown sugar. Then whisk in the oil, which will try to resist being incorporated with the eggs.

In a large-ish bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and all the ground spices, plus the grated ginger.016

Here is the only slightly tricky part:

Slowly pour the Guinness-molasses mixture into the egg-sugar-oil mixture. You do not want to pour it all at once: slowly pour in about 1/3 cup and then whisk it into the eggs thoroughly.  Again, slowly add about 1/3 cup more and whisk again. Keep adding and whisking until all liquids are combined. This is so you do not heat the eggs too fast and risk scrambling them – they need to be heated (“tempered”) slowly.


Once that’s all done,  pour half of the liquid into the flour mixture and combine with a spoon.


Then pour in the other half and mix until just combined and there are no pockets of flour in the batter.

Scrape half of the batter into each prepared cake pan. Bake  about 28 to 35 minutes. Do not open the oven door until 28 minutes has passed; this cake has a tendency to fall in the middle. Close the oven door carefully. When the cake is done, it will spring back when touched lightly.

Remove cakes to cooling rack for about 15 minutes.


Remove cakes from pan. Invert each one carefully onto your hand or a plate and peel off the parchment paper. Re-invert and let cool completely on the rack.

The original recipe suggested a Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting, and you can do that if you want, but I personally can’t see whatever it is people seem to like about Bailey’s. It’s just a big bleah nondescript sweet creamy liqueur to me. I made a Jack Daniel’s frosting instead; cognac, rum, or other booze would work too. Or just flavor frosting with vanilla or almond extract.

Whiskey Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons whiskey of your choice

Combine softened butter and cream cheese, then mash in the powdered sugar (this takes patience and it looks like it won’t work, but go slowly and keep mashing the sugar into the cream cheese & butter) . Then add salt, vanilla, and whiskey; stir until combined. Taste and add more sugar or whiskey as you prefer. If this seems a little liquid-y, store in the refrigerator until ready to frost the cake.

This makes enough to frost tops of each layer. You can, of course, make more frosting to cover the entire cake, but I loved the look of the nearly-black cake with the white frosting.


Let sit, covered, a couple of hours before slicing and serving. A few strawberries and perhaps a big pillow of sweetened whipped cream would go well with this.





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That’s maybe a little prosaic for a title, but it’s hot and I’m cranky and don’t feel like thinking up a cutesey-pie title,  mmmkay?

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum is the last best word on baking cakes ever written. This is not up for discussion. Anyone who wants to learn how to bake a cake beyond a box of Betty Crocker would do well to get this because it explains everything about the science behind making cakes. Everything from a very simple pound cake to an extravagant triple-layered dotted Swiss cake, folded chocolate pages, cake with trellised roses – it’s in here, with careful directions and sources for equipment.

One important lesson I took away from this book is about sifting. It does not mix ingredients; it aerates them. I had thought this for a long time but Beranbaum actually wrote her thesis on it. So those instructions in most recipes that read, “sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together”? Pffft.

I have made the Buttermilk Country Cake from this book dozens of times and it’s always perfect. Yesterday I wanted to make it but didn’t have buttermilk and didn’t want to run to the store. I also wanted to cut down on the fat and sugar a bit.  I adapted the recipe and it turned out very well.  The next time I make it, I will use almond extract instead of the vanilla.


  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons softened butter

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10-inch springform pan, line it with wax paper or parchment paper, then grease again and flour.

Combine the eggs, 1/4 cup of the yogurt, and the vanilla and lemon extracts in a small bowl and mix with a fork until there are no lumps of yogurt remaining. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining yogurt and beat until dry ingredients are moistened, then increase speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture in 3 batches, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides as needed.

Scrape batter into pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool 10 minutes on a rack, then run a knife around the inside of the pan. Loosen the sides and remove, then invert cake onto rack. Remove the paper, invert right-side-up, and let cool completely.

To serve, cut into wedges. Slice each wedge in half horizontally and fill with fruit. Top with sour cream, whipped cream, or ice cream. Here I used nonfat sour cream and a hot cherry filling.



Following my post about making your own mincemeat, I was asked for recipes for mincemeat cookies and mincemeat cake.

The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cookbook from 1954 is a cute little basic cookbook with declarations such as “Today we know that deep-fat frying, or French frying, as it is sometimes called, can be a healthful way to cook foods” and “It is not unusual, in California, to see salads mixed over a large bowl of ice, so deeply do Californians believe that a colder the salad is, the better tasting it will be” and “Some people think they do not like liver, yet it is very healthful and should be eaten by every member of the family at least once a week.”  Despite these statements (and an unhealthy obsession with commas), there actually are some good recipes in here.

That’s where I found the cookie recipe titled Florence’s Mincemeat Cookies. The first time I made it, I didn’t read the whole recipe before I started in, and halfway through I read,  “Make a depression in dough… and fill with mincemeat.” Oh hell no. That is not what I had in mind.  So I did what anyone else would have done: I punted. This is the result.


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups mincemeat

Cream butter and sugar together, then beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda and add by increments to the butter. Stir  in mincemeat.  Chill dough for 1 hour.

Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet, about 2″ apart. Bake at 375 about 10-12 minutes, until tops are still wet but just starting to dry. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to cooling rack right away.


This sweet bread-cake is from Christmas Treasury, a production of Sunset Magazine – a magazine marketed to Western United States residents and which was a great magazine for 92 years until 1990 when Time-Warner bought it, at which time it started to suck mightily and is now indistinguishable from any other lifestyle magazine. No, I’m not bitter and deeply resentful. Not at all. Not me.


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups mincemeat
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine dry ingredients and add to butter mixture alternately with mincemeat, mixing until thoroughly blended. Stir in nuts.

Grease and flour an 8-inch bundt pan or 5″ X 9″ loaf pan, and scrape batter into pan. Bake at 350 for 50 to 55 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Run knife around pan edges to loosen. Let cake stand 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

This cake looks pretty with powdered sugar sifted over, or mix powdered sugar with lemon juice, orange juice, rum or brandy to make an icing to drizzle over the cooled cake. Serve with butter or cream cheese to spread on each slice.


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So, you know. Paula Deen. I’m fascinated by the outpourings on her Facebook page and the Food Network page, which fall largely into one of two categories:

  • Everyone has said something at some point in their lives that they regret so you’re all a bunch of hypocrites


  • Black people say it so you’re all a bunch of hypocrites

which is at once both interesting and pathetic. Words have consequences, no matter who says it. It doesn’t matter if someone else said it.  The inherent racism in blaming black people for Paula Deen saying a horrible word takes a leap of logic that I don’t follow. There are very, very few comments saying I am extremely disappointed in Paula Deen and her abysmal attempts to “apologize.” I suppose that is because racism is still very much alive and well in America and the people who adore her and her Godawful cooking don’t really see what the problem is because, you know, she apologized.

(I’m gonna go out on a limb – not a very long limb, actually – and take a wild guess that the people making these comments did not vote for Obama, but hey, they’re not racists.)

The thing is, she doesn’t really get it. She doesn’t get how terribly offensive the things she says are, or how appalling her actions and defenses are. She doesn’t get how offensive the actions of her family re: pornography at work, dirty jokes at work are.  (For the record, I have no problems with porn or dirty jokes, but NOT at work.) She doesn’t  grasp the awful thinking behind the concept of hiring black people to dress as slaves at a wedding. She apparently believes that slaves were family. (In some cases, they actually were family, since some plantation owners took female slaves as their mistresses, and their wives were expected to ignore the babies that resulted.) She blamed her age for her words. News flash: other people born in 1947 include David Bowie,  Melanie Safka, Rob Reiner, Elton John, Barry Melton, Salman Rushdie, Meredith Baxter, Arlo Guthrie, Carlos Santana, Bob Weir, and Hillary Clinton.

In a few years she’ll be a trivia question, as has happened to a number of people who once were among the famous, and they themselves stepped boldly off that cliff into oblivion.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Cake.

My husband got a visit from the Dark Angel of High Cholesterol, so we have dramatically changed our eating habits. Rather than go on Lipitor, we are trying to control it through diet. I bought a ton of dried beans, grains, etc. and put them in nicely labeled jars where we can see what we have. The butter dish has been empty for a week; the mayonnaise sits unopened in the refrigerator. So far, so good.

The other day we invited some neighbors over for brunch. I saw a recipe for Apricot Upside-Down cake in Placer County Real Food and wanted to make that, but mindful of the amount of butter, I asked on another forum for help in cutting down the butter. While I didn’t get a definitive answer, I got enough to be able to wing it. The results were very good. I also accidentally cut down on the amount of sugar topping: I made the recipe without my glasses, and mistook 3/4 cup for 1/4 cup. The syrupy topping you get with a normal upside-down cake was minimalized, but it really didn’t need all that sugar.


  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 8 apricots
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat or non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly butter a deep cast-iron skillet. Place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom and butter it. Sprinkle honey & sugar on the parchment. Place pan on burner and heat until the butter is melted and the honey-sugar is warmed. Smear it around on the parchment paper. Cut apricots in half, remove the pits, and place them, cut-side down, on top of the honey-sugar. Set the pan aside.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat butter, oil, and yogurt together.  Slowly beat in sugar and continue to beat until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is smooth. Beat in egg whites and extracts until all is incorporated.

Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined. Pour batter over apricots and bake at 375 for 40 to 45 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

Remove skillet from oven. Immediately invert the cake by placing a large plate on top of the skillet and holding firmly in place. Flip the skillet and plate, letting the cake drop onto the plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.



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Sure, you can eat shortcake any time of year, but most people think about it in the summer. Strawberry, of course, but peaches, apricots, plums, all kinds of berries – just about any soft fruit makes a great shortcake. Add some whipped cream, sour cream and brown sugar, creme fraiche, or ice cream, and you have a simple, pretty dessert that most people love.

The shortcake itself is problematic. When I was a kid, we bought those little round cakes that came in a package of four, always next to the strawberries in the produce section. I guess they were supposed to be angel food cakes. We liked them back then, but I tasted one a few years ago, and OMG it was disgusting. Gummy, too-sweet, and artificially flavored – is this what you want your kids to have summer memories of? If so, you’re a bad, bad parent.

There are a lot of shortcake recipes on the internet and in cookbooks. Some lean more in the cake direction, which is fine; I sometimes make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Buttermilk Country Cake from her magnum opus, The Cake Bible  (which you should have if you like to bake cakes) and serve it with peaches and sour cream.

For those who like their shortcake on the biscuit-y side, I offer this recipe. It is from Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts (which you should have if you like to make desserts). I very slightly adapted it; instead of rolling out the dough as the original recipe directs, I just patted out little cakes by hand. (It’s six zillion degrees today and my kitchen counter was cluttered with potato salad ingredients and I could not be buggered to clear a space to roll out dough.) And I used canned evaporated milk in place of heavy cream. If you have heavy cream on hand, that would be superb.

I baked these on an insulated cookie sheet and it worked very well, but an ordinary cookie sheet would be fine too. This makes about 10 to 12 biscuit-sized shortcakes. Figure two or three for a serving.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter from the refrigerator
  • 3/4 cup canned evaporated milk or heavy cream

Preheat oven to 450.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the bowl.


With your hands, quickly mash the bits of butter into the flour.


You will see that the flour turns to a cornmeal-like consistency.


Slowly pour in evaporated milk or cream. You may not need all of it. Mix it in with a fork until most of the dry ingredients are moistened.


Knead the dough in the bowl until all dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough comes together.


At this point, you can either roll the dough out on a board and cut out circles or squares, or you can use your hands and tear off pieces about the size of a golf ball, and pat them into little biscuits.


If you want, you can lightly brush the tops with cream or evaporated milk.

Bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned.


Cool on a rack.


I hate it when recipes have cutesey-poo names.  You know what I mean. Prune Whip Prunella. Wacky Cake. Flippin’ Flapjacks. Giddy-Up Gerbils. That sort of thing.  If I serve one of those concoctions, I rename it.

When my mother was young, there was a popular recipe for a cake called Booze Cake, which she said “smelled just like someone threw up on it,” but was really good, or so she said. Many years later the local Ladies’ Auxilary produced The World’s Worst Cookbook (in which the editor had an unhealthy obsession with semi-colons) and included the Booze Cake, only in deference to local tender sensibiilties renamed it Boose Cake. Maybe someday I’ll make it.

Anyway. Tonight I had a bad jones for chocolate layer cake. I found one in The Doubleday Cookbook (which is, by the way, a really good basic all-purpose cookbook) – Crazy Chocolate Cake. It turned out surprisingly well.  Here it is, slightly adapted and renamed.


Preheat over to 325. Grease two 9″ cake pans.

Take a large mixing bowl and put the following ingredients in it, in the order listed. Do not mix.

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour milk (if you don’t have any, substitute commercial buttermilk, or mix 1 tablespoon vinegar with 1 cup milk and let stand 5 minutes)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa (I use Ghirardelli’s)
  • 1 cup butter, softened (this is why God made microwave ovens – this should be quite soft but not melted)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups cake flour (regular all-purpose flour is OK)
  • 1 cup boiling strong coffee (add 1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee such as Medaglia D’Oro to brewed coffee)

When all ingredients are in the bowl, beat 1 minute with electric mixer (or 3 minutes by hand).

Pour batter equally into prepared pans and bake at 325 for 45 to 50 minutes, until cakes pull away from pan edges and are springy. Let cool on rack 5 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool completely on rack.


  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker’s)
  • 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • cream or milk as needed
  • pinch salt

Soften butter in microwave.

Melt the chocolate, either in a double boiler or by microwaving in a cup for 2 minutes, stopping and stirring every 30 seconds, until chocolate melts.

Mix butter and chocolate together. Then slowly add powdered sugar, beating slowly and persistently until sugar is incorporated. You may wish to add a tablespoon or two of cream as needed to make a smooth, thick frosting. When sugar is incorporated, beat in vanilla and salt.

To frost a cake:

Place one layer top-side down on a sturdy dish. Brush away any crumbs. Using a butter knife or dog-leg spatula, evenly spread about 1/3 of the frosting on it nearly to the edges. Don’t fuss too much over it; it’ll all even out. Top with second layer (top side up) and spread 1/3 of the frosting on top of it. Then spread remaining frosting on edges, turning cake slowly so you get all the bald spots. If you want to decorate the cake with something like slivered almonds, put the almonds in one cupped palm and gently, quickly, push them onto the sides of the cake. Some will fall off and that’s to be expected. Just pick them up and repeat.

A nice variation is to spread frosting on the first layer, then top with a layer of jam, such as raspberry, blackberry, or lekvar (prune). Then set the second layer on top and frost as usual.

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