Sunday, March 20, 2011

Baking at General Motors

My Mom reminded me of a fun and important fact about my Grandmother's recipe collection.  She worked on the assembly line at General Motors, along with many other women, and they were always having parties during the lunch hour.  Back then I imagine most employees brown bagged it each day instead of buying lunch at the cafeteria (which perhaps GM did not have?) or jetting out to a fast food place or Wegmans.  I also imagine that parties were a nice relief from the monotony and drudgery of assembly line work.  Everyone would bring a dish to pass and most, if not all, were homemade.  These lunch hour gatherings were the site of many a recipe exchange when any piece of paper or old envelope would do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Award Winning Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  In honor of the holiday, I thought it would be entirely appropriate to post a recipe for Irish Soda Bread.  It does require baking, after all, and what better than an award winning recipe?  It is a recipe that my Mom uses and she won a gold medal for it at the annual Irish Feis (traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival) in Buffalo, NY.  Pre-Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, I used to dance for Desmond Penrose and later for Edward Murphy, Director of the Drumcliffe School of Irish Dance.  Those were fun times! 

This is a stock photo taken from the Internet of what Irish Soda Bread, with raisins (optional), looks like. When I eventually make a loaf, I will post an actual photo to the blog.  See recipe below.

Marilyn's Irish Soda Bread

4 cups of flour                                                   6 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. sugar                                                      1 1/2 c. raisins
1 Tbs. baking powder                                      1 Tbs. caraway seeds (optional)
1 tsp. salt                                                           2 eggs
3/4 tsp. baking soda                                         1 1/3 cup of butter milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a round casserole baking dish ( I have also used a round pie plate and works just as well) - In a large bowl with a fork, mix the first five ingredients - then cut the butter into the flour mixture ( I usually cube the butter first) - the mixutre will resemble coarse crumbs - then add the raisins and caraway seeds.

In a smaller bowl beat the eggs an retain a tablespoon to brush the top of the bread for a nice glaze - add the eggs and butter milk to the flour mixture - mix thoroughly - the mixutre will be sticky - flour your hands and turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead about 10 times into a nice round ball - place in casserole - cut a deep cross into the bread about 1/4 inch deep - brush with egg - bake about 1 hour and 10 mins. until a tootpick comes out clean when placed in the center of the bread - let cool in pan for about 10 min. it will pop right out - cool completely before slicing.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pistachio Cake: Take Two

In January I posted a recipe for Pistachio Cake, which is an easy, tasty dessert to which I personally become addicted whenever I make it and simply cannot stop eating it.  I decided to make it again to bring to a dinner party and thought I would share what I did differently this time.

For the crust, I had previously used Betty Crocker pie crust mix and used half the bag (for one crust).  I ended up noting that I should have used the full bag so that there was enough dough for a 9x13 pan (I used 8x8 the first time).  I found out from my friend, Cathy, that stores no longer carry pie crust "sticks" as required by the recipe.  So this time I bought pre-made pie crust dough that one would normally roll open and into the pie plate.  This helped from the perspective of yielding more dough to fit a 9x13 pan, but be careful not to undercook the crust (350 degrees for 20 min. was not enough time and the middle of the crust was the not quite fully cooked pie crust dough - still tasty though).

Also, I did not have finely chopped walnuts for the crust or garnish so I used more coarsely chopped walnuts that I had on hand in my pantry.  This actually gave the crust a more interesting texture in my opinion so I would probably do this again.

Someone at the party astutely asked, "Why are there walnuts on top if it is a pistachio cake?"  Excellent question.  And the answer is, "I have no idea".  We all had a good laugh over this, but I wonder if using pistachios in the crust would create a flavor that is overpowering?  I think I will test this theory in my next iteration of Pistachio Cake: 8 Guests or 2 Pigs!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frosted Date Balls

These Frosted Date Balls are easy to make and delicious!  They are soft and chewy and sweet - perfect to wash down with a glass of cold milk or to enjoy with a cup of tea.  A great follow up to the last recipe I posted, Banana and Date Circles, since I was able to use up the leftover dates.  The only downside is that the recipe claims a yield of a few dozen cookies yet I was only able to get just over two dozen when I made them.  And I wouldn't have made the dough balls any smaller.  I'll be bringing this batch to my book club this evening!  Make note of the serving platter which is a Mikasa pattern from the 70's courtesy of "Gracie".

1 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. sifted confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used walnuts since I already had some on hand)

Combine flour and salt; sift twice.  Cream the butter and gradually add sugar.  Add milk and vanilla and stir in the sifted flour.  Blend in dates and nuts.  (Note: I used clean hands to incorporate the dates and nuts.  Even though they are chopped, the date pieces stick together so by using your hands you can ensure the dates are spread evenly throughout the dough.)  Roll in 1 in. balls.  Place about 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake in a 300 degree oven about 20 min. until light brown.  While still warm roll in confectioner's sugar.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.  Good Luck!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"All About Home Baking"

Among the recipes I have been posting, there is also a very worn book entitled, "All About Home Baking".  The first few pages are missing so I cannot speak to the age of the book or the publishing house. It has a yellow and black gingham hard cover and I hope you can see from the photo just how worn it truly is - from age as well as a lot of use, I assume, because there are recipes jotted down on the inside and back covers as well as grease stains, etc. throughout the pages.

I am particularly drawn to the first page I see when I open the cover: It's a Wise Woman Who Knows Her Baking Rules.  This gets my blood going!  I had a similar reaction years ago as I browsed an antique store and found a small soft covered cookbook, "Desserts that Men Love".  So sexist, right?  It suggests that a woman's job is to serve and please her man - with a smile on her face and a spring in her step, and in a dress and heels.  Unfortunately, while the dress and heels have fallen away, the expectation still exists.  Many husbands now help in the kitchen with cooking and cleaning up, but for the most part it is the woman who is expected to grocery shop, plan and prepare meals.  Thank goodness for store bought baked goods and mixes.  Thank goodness for Wegmans!

Even more fascinating is that at the time of its writing this book fashions itself as modern.  "Today's busy women...will not take time to learn their (baking) tricks that way (through practice and repetition) and modern knowledge makes it unnecessary.  The progressive homemaker walks right up  to Science and says, 'You tell me how.'" Ha!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Banana and Date Circles

So I finally got around to the next baking recipe: Banana and Date Circles, compliments of my grandma's friend, Phyllis.  I should probably contact Phyllis to find out how these are supposed to turn out because beats me if I know.  Admittedly, I ignored the "heaping teaspoon" part of the serving onto the cookie sheet and used more like a tablespoon so perhaps this is where I went wrong.  This is my major malfunction when it comes to baking - patience.  I do a decent job of prepping the ingredients, but once it comes to putting it all together it had better go quickly and easily or I lose interest, especially if it is at the end of a long day I tend to hit a wall.  It was last night at 8 p.m. when I was putting these in the oven.

Don't get me wrong, these taste GREAT!, and I can envision putting a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two of them and going to town, but the "cookie" (at least I think it is supposed to be a type of cookie) spread very flat during baking as you can see from the photos. If they had been smaller they might have been more manageable in getting them off the cookie sheet.  My top rack cookies seem fine, but the bottom rack burned on the bottom so that they stuck to the sheet.  I used Heath Bar toffee bits that come in an 8 oz. bag instead of butterscotch pieces.  I do not think this was what affected the outcome of the cookies, but who knows?  Notice that the amount of butterscotch pieces is cut off on the scan and unfortunately I cannot find the original.  Maybe the 8 oz. bag was either too much or not enough?  I welcome any and all comments and suggestions. (NB: I found the original recipe and I should have used only 6oz. of the toffee (or butterscotch) bits!)

3/4 cup soft butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup sifted all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup coarsely snipped dates (approximately 6 large dates)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
X oz. package butterscotch pieces (I used an 8 oz. bag of Heath Bar toffee bits - you should only use 6 oz.)

Make anytime within 2 weeks before serving (this seems to be an important point that is underlined in the original recipe).
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, beat in egg.  Sift together dry ingredients and add to butter mixture.  Stir in rolled oats, bananas, dates, nuts and butterscotch.  Drop by heaping teaspoon onto greased sheet.  Makes about 6 doz.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Every 30 minutes...

"Every 30 minutes, a child is born who will develop a mitochondrial disease by age 10." 
For information on symptoms and how 
mitochondrial diseases affect both adults and children, visit

United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation
8085 Saltsburg Road, Suite 201 | Pittsburgh, PA  15239
888-317-8633 | F: 412-793-6477 |

To promote research and education for the diagnosis, treatment and cure of mitochondrial disorders 
and to provide support to affected individuals and families.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Banana Cake

2 1/2 c. flour
1 2/3 c. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Sift above ingredients together and put in bowl.

2/3 c. shortening
1/3 c. buttermilk (If you do not have buttermilk handy, put 1 tbsp. lemon or white vinegar into a one cup container followed by whole milk to reach one cup. stir and let stand for 5 min.)
3 bananas (I assume these should be overly ripened and mashed.)

Now, the recipe indicates that the above three ingredients be added together, which I did. But then the 1/3 c. buttermilk ingredient is rewritten. I believe this is in error and when I made the banana cake I only added buttermilk once.

Add 2 eggs to the wet banana mixture and beat well. Add 2/3 c. nuts. (I assume this is optional and that you may use almost any type of nut you wish. My walnut supply was rancid so I ended up using sunflower seeds, which gave the banana cake a hearty flavor but perhaps with too much saltiness for some. 

Once again, the recipe does not tell us what size pan to use. Very problematic! I guessed an 8x8 pan because there didn't seem to be enough batter for a 9x13. This seemed to work; however, my oven is so old and unreliable when it comes to temperature control and accuracy that the middle of the cake did not cook properly. The recipe states 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees, but I would suggest playing with the time and temp and pan size to see what works best. If I made this again, I would either try the same time with a lower temp., a larger pan (9x13), or two loaf pans which would likely reduce overall baking time.  Have fun!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mitochondrial Disease Defined

What is mitochondrial disease?   As a reminder, my plan is to complete "Baking Gracefully" and publish it to raise money for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.  My sister has a mitochondrial disease and few people know what this means.  Click on the link provided in this post to learn more.

Some of you may recognize the term "mitochondria" from science class.  At Cardinal Mooney High School, Mr. Tierney taught us that the "mighty mitochondria" perform cellular respiration thereby giving the cell/organism energy.  Practically every cell in your body contains mitochondria with hundreds in the muscle cells where more energy is required.  One could imagine that if there is dysfunction in this cell structure some serious problems would result.  Mitochondria have their own DNA - handy for housing their own special set of genetic defects to be passed silently from generation to generation, eh?

Still a burgeoning area of research as the UMDF was founded only in 1998.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Yellow Sunshine Cake

If you are looking to make a very traditional layer cake with homemade buttercream frosting, this is the recipe for you!  The cake is interesting because it requires no "oleo".  The fluffy batter made from whipped egg yolks and egg whites yields a very light, drier cake that, when drenched in buttercream, has a wedding cake flavor and consistency.  The recipe indicates a bake time of 1 hour at 325 degrees, but the size and type of pan is not listed.  I split the batter into three 8-9" rounds only to find that the bake time was reduced to about 20-30 min.  I am being intentionally vague because my oven is possessed.  If it is set at 350 the temp goes up to 400. If it is set at 325 it goes down to 300.  So I watched the cakes like a hawk and they still ended up a bit overdone but still delicious.  What I am saying is that you may wish to experiment with the actual baking pan(s), temp, and time.  Good luck!

6 egg yolks beaten for 15 minutes (save egg whites)
1/2 c. cold water - add to beaten egg yolks and beat 10 more min.
Add 1 1/2 c. sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla (I beat the mixture for just a few seconds more)
Fold in 1 1/2 c. cake flour (and 1/4 tsp. salt - recipe doesn't say)
Beat egg whites stiff and add 3/4 tsp. cream of tartar - fold in

For the buttercream frosting I followed the directions on the bag of confectionary sugar.  I will say it involved 2 c. of butter and 7 c. of confectionary sugar, some vanilla and milk.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What is "Oleo"?

The recipe in my last post refers to the ingredient "oleo".  Grams used this term frequently.  I came to learn that she meant margarine as opposed to butter, but it made me giggle even then as no one else I knew used it.  I decided to use the trusty Internet to learn more about this baking terminology.  Here is what I found:
  • From Wikipedia - Oleo is a term used for oils. It is commonly used to refer a variety of things including: margarine...
  • From The Free Dictionary by Farlex -  a spread made chiefly from vegetable oils and used as a substitute for butter; margarine

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pecan Tassies

Another holiday baking favorite from my family - Pecan Tassies.  My Mom made these every year (along with about 10 other kinds of cookies!) and I did not realize that the recipe originated with Gram.  (I should add a disclaimer here that just because these recipes are handwritten in no way guarantees they are original ideas.)  The recipe does not yield a large number of cookies so you may choose to double the recipe.  I would suggest only doubling the dough because there should be plenty of filling for 2x the number of cups (don't ask me why that's just how it works out).

1 stick oleo (margarine) or butter
3 oz. package cream cheese
1 c. flour
Cream ingredients together and make it 24 balls. Press into tassie cups (mini-muffin tin). Cut one pecan into the dough of the bottom of each cup.
For the filling:
2 eggs unbeaten
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Whisk it all together until well mixed. Fill each cup of dough wit the mixture and place a pecan on top. Bake for 25-30 min. at 350.

Note: My Mom used to use chopped pecans. She whisked them right into the mixture and eliminated the need to add the pecans to the bottom of the cups or the top of the cups. This also seems to allow for more of the mixture to fit into the cups.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Baking with Grace: Old Photos

OK, so these aren't literally old photos of my grandmother, Grace Dry, baking, but they are old photos of "Grams" so you can see what she looked like.

There's my sister, Amy, enjoying cake with Grandma looking on.  Check out the sweet 70's scene - the fruity wallpaper and dark paneling that offset my Mom's round oak table and chairs - painted red!   (In later years, my Mom had that table refinished and brought back to its original wood grain color.  We used it as a dining room and kitchen table until I was well into college and beyond.)  By the way, the cabinets in my Mom's kitchen were red, too!  Also notice the coffee mugs.  I had forgotten about those until now.  They have the alphabet written on them in some old style font.  I'll have to Google those bad boys to see if they still exist.

Here's Grandma again - this time, opening a Christmas gift (obviously) while my first cousin, Judd, and I look on.  Amy and I are wearing matching long, red dresses.  I am curious about the apparent obsession of mothers to dress their daughters alike even when they are not twins.  I suppose it makes for easier shopping, but what about asserting our individuality.  Clearly we had no say in what we wore particularly when it came to special events.  What about boys - do mothers dress them alike? Hmmm.  In any case, observe the floral couch, TV tray, burning cigarette and standard holiday tray of mixed nuts.  So cool.

Pistachio Cake: 8 Guests or 2 Pigs!

I had forgotten about this easy and delicious dessert recipe until I made it during the holidays. The taste of it brought back memories of eating it as a child.  I'm pretty sure I gorged myself on this one until I felt sick.  You only have to bake the crust.  The rest involves layering the ingredients over a cooled crust.

1 stk Betty Crocker pie crust mix*
1 stk margarine (melted)
1 c. flour
1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts
mix and spread on bottom of 9x13 pan. bake at 350 for 20 min.
1 8oz. cream cheese (softened)
1 c. confectionary sugar
1 c. cool whip
Beat together and spread over cooled crust.
Beat 2 boxes instant pistachio flavored pudding mix with 3 c. milk. spread on top of cheese filling. top with remaining cool whip. garnish with walnuts or pistachios.

*One point of difficulty (perhaps you can help?) is the very first line: "1 stk (stick?) Betty Crocker Pie Crust Mix. It appears to say "stick".  Since I had no idea what this meant I bought the Betty Crocker pie crust mix and used half the bag.  The problem is the volume of crust for the pistachio cake was not enough to accomodate a 9 x13 pan.  I used an 8x8 pan, the crust tasted fine as did the resulting pistachio cake.  Granted, the layers were a bit thicker than they should be, but it still tasted excellent.  I would suggest using a full bag of the pie crust mix and see if it then fits into a 9x13 pan.

My strange post title is in reference to my grandmother's estimate (bottom right corner of recipe) of the number of people this dessert will feed - 8 guests or 2 pigs.  I can hear her laughing now! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pineapple Sour Cream Pie: Very, Very Good!

Notice in the upper right corner my grandmother writes, "very very good".  Having actually tested this one during the holidays, I couldn't agree more so I figured this was the recipe to get us started.   For the baked pie shell I used Betty Crocker's pie crust mix, using half the package per the directions to create a single crust pie.  Because I didn't have an 8" pie plate (had only 9") I should have used the entire package to ensure I had enough dough for a complete and hearty crust.  Regardless, the recipe worked and I am curious to know if you find it as delicious as I did.  I believe that the filling could be used as a stand alone for dipping fruit, pound cake, etc.  The recipe is typed below for easy reference.                                

1 pkg (5 1/2 oz.) Jello pudding & pie filling - vanilla instant
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple with juice
2 c. sour cream
1 T. sugar
1 baked 8" pie shell

Mix all ingredients together in a narrow bottom bowl, beat slowly with electric beater 1 minute.  Pour into baked pie shell.  Chill 4 hours.  Overnight is best.  Garnish with prepared whipped topping, pineapple or cherries.

Credit for this one goes to my Grandmother's good friend, Arline Schultz (1987)


I have in my possession a collection of mostly faded, handwritten in classic Palmer style cursive, baking recipes from my paternal grandmother, Grace Dry - God rest her soul.  For some time I have been well intentioned to create a cookbook.  However, realizing that recipes need to be tested - especially given the difficulty in reading some of Gram's quick handwriting coupled with the fact that some directions are missing such as which size pan to use or baking time - I was deterred.  It occurred to me that perhaps a community of fellow cookie and cake lovers could help in this regard and provide feedback on the recipes and their outcomes.  Is anyone out there game?

I should mention that in creating a cookbook it would not be for profit.  I would distribute to family and friends to be sure, but I would like to see it sold in a fundraising capacity with proceeds going to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF).  My sister, Amy, has a mitochondrial disease thus my desire to raise money for research in this area.

My goal will be to post a recipe a week...stay tuned!