Category Archives: dessert

From the recipe files: Lebanese Baklawa

Every year we attend the Master’s Swim Team holiday party and every year I wonder what to bring to a gathering of healthy eaters looking to treat themselves after a year of nutritious meals and regular exercise. This year we’re bringing my friend Leesa’s mother’s Lebanese baklawa. I learned this recipe in her kitchen and have never written it out. It had been handed down through oral tradition in her family and she had me repeat the steps back to her as we worked – rapping me gently on the hand with a wooden spoon when I stumbled over the details.

Baklawa baclava

If you’ve made “baclava” from the package directions on the box of phyllo dough this version is going to be so much easier! On the other hand, Leesa’s mom was adamant about a few things:

  • If you’re thinking about using anything but walnuts stop right there. Pistachios are fine, pecans are delicious, but they don’t make baklawa – only walnuts will do.
  • Ditto adding chocolate, dried fruit, coffee, or hazelnut liqueur; just say no.
  • Don’t skimp on the butter. Limit yourself to just one piece of the finished product if you must, but use the amount specified. Angels in heaven will be lining up for the leftovers.

Ingredients: a 10 x 13 pan, 1 package phyllo dough; Filling: 3 C walnuts, 1/2 C sugar, 1 C butter: Syrup: 1 C sugar, 1 C honey, 1/2 C water, 1 Tbs lemon juice, 1 tsp rose water

rosewater, honey, butter, phyllo

The phyllo layers are probably in your grocer’s freezer. They need to be fully defrosted for this recipe so leave them in the refrigerator for a day if you have time. If not, open the box and remove the two plastic-sealed rolls of dough and leave them out on the counter. In a warm kitchen they should be thawed in an hour. Don’t open the plastic until right before you need them; the dough dries out very quickly.

Melt the butter over a low flame and keep warm once melted. Preheat the oven to 350.

Make the syrup by boiling the water, honey, and 1 C of sugar together until the sugar melts and the honey is thoroughly combined, about 10 minutes at a simmer. When cool, add the lemon juice and rosewater. Orange blossom water will do in a pinch, but rosewater does add a characteristic flavor; you could try a little vanilla as a substitute.

While the syrup is cooking, toast the walnuts. I like to do this in an uncovered skillet on top of the stove, but you could spread them on a cookie sheet and put them in the preheating oven. Keep an eye on them – a little burnt is fine but blackened is not. Leesa’s mom liked them quite toasty and said it gave the dish a “grown-up” flavor. Allow them to cool just a bit and then put them in a food processor with the 1/2 cup sugar. Pulse about 10 times to get them finely chopped – big pieces will interfere with cutting the fragile dough layers into serving pieces, but you don’t want to go too far and make walnut butter either.

Now we’re ready to construct the baklawa, and here’s where the Lebanese method diverges from the traditional Greek dish. Brush your 10 x 13 pan with butter. Dampen a dish towel and have it ready. Open one plastic packet of phyllo and unroll it on the plastic it’s wrapped in, then immediately drape the towel over it to prevent drying. Lay two leaves in the bottom of the pan. Are they a little too long? If so, cut a strip off the leaves that are still under the towel with kitchen shears (you can ignore the layers already in the pan).

Pick up about half the remaining layers (still working with only one of the plastic rolls of phyllo) and lay them in the pan. There’s no need to be precise about how many layers are in each step. Brush with butter and spread half the walnut mixture on top. Drape the remaining stack of phyllo from that first package over the nuts, brush with butter, and add the rest of the walnuts. Open the other roll of phyllo, cut to fit if necessary, and drape the whole thing over the nut layer.

Now take your sharpest, most evil kitchen knife, and cut four times lengthwise down the pan. You can (gently) hold down the down with one hand as you go, and try your best to get through all the layers to the bottom without disturbing the top layer too much. This is how the rest of the butter, and eventually the honey and rosewater syrup, are going to travel through every single delicious nook and cranny (مكان إختباء). Now cut through on the diagonal until the entire pan is criss-crossed into rough diamond shaped pieces.

Check the pan of butter to be sure it is still liquid and heat it up again if a firm surface has formed. Pour the butter evenly over the dish, making sure the edges are filled in. Place the pan in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until browned.

Place the pan on a cooling rack or trivet and pour the syrup over it, trying to distribute it over the whole surface. Don’t worry about this too much – it’s going to spread through the layers by itself. Let the pan sit and soak, uncovered or loosely covered with waxed paper, for several hours or overnight. There will be a few small, oddly shaped pieces around the edges – those are for the cook and their assistants.

baklawa backlava

It’s traditional to cut the pieces out of the pan and place them in small, individual paper servers. I use cupcake liners. Arrange them in a starburst pattern on a large platter and you’re ready for the potluck. This recipe makes about 30 pieces.

The dish keeps for a week, loosely covered, at room temperature. I’ve never had it around long enough to see if it kept well refrigerated.

 

Recipe post: Melon pan

Melon pan is both a delicious Japanese treat and a bilingual loan word and you don’t get that sort of quality linguistic experience every day. These are little dessert buns made with cookie dough rolled out and wrapped around a nugget of bread dough. The “pan” is Portuguese for bread and the “melon” is for how the little globes bake into a furrowed skin that looks like melon rind. They are sometimes made with butterscotch or green macha cookie dough to point up the resemblance even further.

melon pan finished

Any type of bread and cookie dough is fair game in any combination. For my first attempt I made plain white bread with maple sugar cookies. The buns had more lumps and ridges than the Wikipedia illustrations (more closely resembling pumpkins than melons) but they were delicious.

I started with a batch of classic white sandwich bread dough from King Arthur Flour. I also chose King Arthur Flour’s recipe for the maple cookie layer, but it was very soft and difficult to roll out without a great deal of flour and mess. Next time I’ll use a butter cookie dough that is firm enough to roll out easily. My tiny kitchen covered in flour:

flour mess

Take the bread dough recipe through to the second rise, and at that point make a roll and cut it into about 25 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls using the heel of your hand on an unfloured surface. Space the balls on two greased cookie sheets (or use parchment or a Silpat), cover, and allow to rise again while you make the cookie layer.

covered bread balls

Follow your cookie recipe and spread the finished dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Form into a roll – or make two rolls if that fits better into your fridge – and chill for 20 minutes. Remove from fridge, unwrap, and slice the roll into about 25 discs. In a nice example of synchronicity, these two recipes made almost exactly the same amount of dough – very easy to divide equally.

On a floured surface, roll out each disc just enough to fold around a lump of bread dough. Don’t try to wrap it tightly, just lay the cookie dough circle down on top and curve your hand around it gently to tuck the edges over. This part is difficult to explain but there are multiple videos out there highlighting various techniques. I found that the cookie dough spread across the bottom of the melon pan into a continuous layer during baking without me trying to fold it underneath.

Cover the buns again and allow to rise for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven. They won’t become appreciably larger but the cookie layer “settles” around the bread dough.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 375 F, until the cookie dough has browned lightly and the inner bread layer has cooked through. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the bun and the cookie dough you’ve selected. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack right away. When completely cool you might consider piping in some filling. I used creme Anglais but found we really didn’t need it;  S. and I enjoyed some this morning with spicy ginger jam and that was even better.

Combinations that come to mind: dark rye bread with a molasses cookie layer and piped with raspberry preserves; raisin challah with butter cookies; ginger pumpkin bread with lemon shortbread cookie dough and lemon curd; or cranberry orange brioche with chocolate sugar cookies.

 

Recipe post: Martha Snyder’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

Many of my favorite recipes come down from my mother’s mother. She had a sense for simplification – take the best and leave the rest – which is a particularly useful philosophy for cookies. These are delicious, sturdy enough for packed lunches, basic enough to take on any sort of variation, and pretty after a plain, Yankee fashion (much like the woman herself).

Grandma Snyder

Martha Snyder’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

48 smallish cookies, 36 big ol’ Martha Stewart size

1 C sour cream or yogurt

1 tsp baking soda

2 C sugar

4 C white all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ C butter, melted

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp lemon extract

Preheat oven to 400 (200 C, gas mark 6, moderately hot) and grease cookies sheets. I use Silpat sheets, you’ll also need a cooling rack and, eventually, a cookie jar. This recipe does not require a mixer.

Mix the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the baking soda into the sour cream or yogurt and set aside. Mix the melted butter and sugar until well-incorporated, add eggs and beat well. Stir in sour cream mixture and extracts, add dry ingredients and mix gently until incorporated.

Drop by heaping teaspoons (for 48 cookies) or serving spoons (36 larger cookies) onto greased cookie sheets and bake 10 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar if you like – coarse sugar on top allows for easier stacking later. They will not brown, except on the bottoms. Move to a rack to cool completely before storing.

VARIATIONS:

Rolled cookies: I make these as drop cookies because I find that the extra flour and handling tends to make them a little tough, however they are very pretty. Chill the dough for at least an hour before rolling out on a floured board and using your favorite cookie cutters. You may need to adjust baking time down by a minute.

Jacob’s Cookies: Add 1 heaping Tbls finely ground Earl Grey tea, 1 C white chocolate chips. Use the dry tea straight from the box or bag, not an infusion. Two bags = 1 heaping tablespoon. Ice with lemon glaze.

Blueberry Cookies: Add 2 C small wild blueberries or dried blueberries, ice with lemon glaze

Lemon Glaze

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice until smooth.  When the cookies are cooled completely pick them up and dip the top of each one in the glaze – much easier than spreading the glaze with a spoon or spatula.

NOTES: The original recipe calls for ¼ C butter and ¼ C lard. I generally use all butter these days, but lard will make a firmer cookie that stands up better to the addition of fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries, or peach chunks.

One of the many reasons I need to publish a cookbook is that my own documentation is in such rough shape! Here is what the card for this well-loved recipe looks like after decades of hard use around my coffee habit:

sugar cookies

And yes, I left the nutmeg out on purpose. I never put it in – no one in my family likes nutmeg other than in their Yuletide eggnog – sorry!

Maine Fruit Cake

Berry season is here and you need an easy and delicious way to use a whole quart of them at once, right? This cake is your new best friend. It requires a lot of fruit but isn’t picky about what variety: huge Honeyoe strawberries or the tiny Alpine ones; red, yellow, and purple raspberries, big high-bush blueberries or their tiny low-bush cousins. The recipe also holds up well to juicy stone fruit like peaches and plums when cut into small pieces. Conversely, I don’t like it when made with raisins, apples, and other “dry” fruit because the flour combination becomes a little too stiff and heavy without that high liquid content.

For this recipe you’ll need ployes mix, available in your local (Maine) grocery store or from www.ployes.com . Ployes is pancake mix of buckwheat flour, wheat flour, and baking powder that is extremely popular in northern Maine (especially the Madawaska region) and Canada. You can substitute plain buckwheat flour for the ployes mix in this recipe but I’ve never done it – you may want to experiment with adding a little more baking powder. The ployes mix adds enough body to support all those berries without becoming soggy. It also imparts a subtle flavor, reminiscent of nutmeg, without adding any spices.

Maine Fruit Cake

8 Tbs unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for pan (or use Crisco)

3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup Ployes

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I’d use 2 tsps if using plain buckwheat flour)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar (the 1/4 cup is for sprinkling on top)

1 large egg

1/2 cup  milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart strawberries, hulled and halved. You may have to quarter the really huge ones.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8 x 11 cake pan, a 10″ pie pan, or a 10″ springform or cake pan. The pie plate works fine, but I like to use the rectangular pan for bake sales and office parties because it’s easier to make serving pieces.

Whisk the flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until light. You can use an electric mixer but it’s not necessary. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Strawberry Cake in progress

Pour the batter into prepared pan. Arrange berries on top of batter as closely as possible in a single layer. Don’t worry about being too precise – most of the berries are going to sink – but you want them distributed as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the 1/4 cup sugar on top.

Strawberries galore

Bake cake for about 45 minutes until golden brown and the surface springs back. A cake tester isn’t much use here because the strawberries will have transformed into goey, delicious jam all through the cake.  Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into pieces and serve with lightly whipped cream or powdered sugar if you wish. It’s also delightful just plain (especially for breakfast) and sturdy enough for bake sales and lunch boxes.

Maine Fruit Cake, yum

Variations: Add cinnamon to the topping when using blueberries; almond extract instead of vanilla and some lemon shavings to the topping for peaches.

Blizzard cookies

The wind is beating on the metal roof and the falling snow is so cold and fine that we had tiny drifts under the steel framed front door this morning. It’s a good time to make cookies: baking at 350 degrees F will help heat the house and I can’t run the oven after the power goes out, which is inevitable with 50 mph gusts in the forecast.

Blizzard Cookies

These cookies are based on the “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie” recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal box top. My family likes to add walnuts and chocolate chips, so I’ve made adjustments to accommodate the extra dry ingredients and left out half the butter. The result is a higher, “cakier” cookie that stores well and is perfect for lunchboxes.

 

 

“Cakey” Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 1/2  cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
  • 3/4  cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2  cup granulated sugar
  • 3  eggs
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 3  cups uncooked oats (Irish, commerical “quick oats”, traditional long-cooking, it doesn’t seem to matter)
  • 1  cup raisins
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Put away the mixer and add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix well by hand. Add oats, nuts, chips, and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets or Silpats. The Quaker Oats recipe specifies ungreased surfaces, but that can be a problem using only half the fat of the original recipe.
Bake 10 -12 minutes (my oven needs 12) or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Elder-Flower Fritters

elder blossomsThe Western Mountains Alliance is working on a project called the Maurer Meals Fruit Cookbook. They have had a great response for the usual suspects like apples and berries, but are looking for recipes for under-represented fruits that are also available in Maine such as chokecherry, elderberry, nanny-berry, kiwi, and many others.

I’m contributing my grandmother’s recipe for elderberry blossom fritters. We have 4 productive elderberry bushes around the yard and make juice, cordial (by adding brandy to the concentrated juice)  and dry the sweet purple berries to use as “raisins”. The flowers are also very tasty but most of the recipes I’ve seen include too much of the stem and woody growth, which is slightly poisonous and can make sensitive people nauseous.

The elderberry bushes in my yard bloom in early May. Pick in the morning when the flowers are fresh, and choose large, platter-like blossom clusters when they are fully in bloom. Use an open bowl or cloth bag because they will immediately start to wilt lose fragrance in plastic. Keep them in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to make the fritters, then strip the blossoms off the stems as thoroughly as possible (a few small stems won’t hurt anything).

Elder-flower cordial, or water, is available in specialty cooking or liquor stores. It has a fragrant, faintly citrusy aroma and flavor that really adds a lot to the fritters. I’ve never tried to make it – maybe next year! I’ve successfully substituted orange-flower water in this recipe, and I think rose-water would work as well. I’ve also tried using the juice concentrate with disappointing results – the fritters taste good but they turn a dark purple color that is less than appetizing!

  • 2 beaten eggs (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sparking wine or seltzer water
  • 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
  • 1 cup elderflowers
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Pour enough oil into a deep fryer (I have a “Fry-Baby” that takes 4.5 C and works well for this recipe) or a large, heavy pot to come up to a depth of 4 inches or so. Turn on the fryer or turn your burner to medium-high and bring the oil to 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating mix all the other ingredients into a large bowl. I use a flat whisk to minimize lumps. The consistency should be thicker than pancake batter, but not so thick that it will completely hold its shape if scooped. If it is too thin, add flour, too thick, more champagne or seltzer.

Drop about a tablespoon of batter into the hot oil for each fritter. It is important not to crowd them, so you’ll have to cook the fritters in batches. I can fit 4 into the Fry-Baby. After about 30 seconds or so, if the fritters have not floated to the surface of the hot oil use a chopstick to dislodge them from the bottom of the fryer or pot. Fry until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels as you cook the rest of the fritters. When slightly cooled, I like to put 4 at a time into a small paper bag with confectioner’s sugar and a few extra blossoms and shake gently to coat.

The same bush loaded with fruit in early September,

Elderberry, Sambucus

Happy pie day

pie pie pie crispMmmmmmm. From bottom to top:

Pumpkin pie, recipe by Fannie Farmer, variations: no additional milk (evaporated milk only), homegrown pumpkins roasted and pureed, not from a can, 4 eggs not 3 (to make up for the lesser amount of milk, and accommodate the fresh pumpkin texture). I’ve been unable to find accurate versions of my 1950’s edition FF recipes online, so I’ll post them later.

Apple pie, recipe by Martha. Variations: Locally grown, fresh picked Cortland apples were very juicy, added 1 Tbs tapioca and let the filling ingredients sit for 15 minutes before added to the pie shell, doubled the amount of spices.

Maple pecan pie, recipe from Martha as well. Variations: twice as many pecans. The original recipe only takes 1 1/4 cups and that’s too high a ratio of pecans to filling for my taste.

Pear and cranberry crisp with gingersnap crumble, recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Variations: added some local dried cranberries for texture and sweetness. This was a new dish for me this year and it got great reviews.

Oh, and there were cream puffs in honor of R’s birthday. Fannie Farmer’s recipe for the pastry, with creme anglais filling and ganach top from The Professional Chef.

cream puffs

Poppyseed Cake

Ziar breadseed poppyseeds

This year I planted Ziar Breadseed poppies. They were easy to grow, made a beautiful display, and now we get to eat them! Collecting enough seeds for this recipe was far easier than I thought it would be – each seed head contained several teaspoonsful and this variety is bred to eliminate the vents that would normally drop the seed all over as you picked it.

Aunt Beatrice’s Lemon Poppyseed Cake

2/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 to 3/4 cup poppy seeds

Glaze

2 C confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 half and half, 1 Tbs lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 325°F Butter and flour an 8-inch fluted Bundt pan* (I use baking spray).  Butter the dull side of a 10-inch piece of foil.

Beat the sugar and eggs together in a large bowl. You can go the whole route with a stand mixer and beat for 8 minutes until bright yellow and fluffy, but I never have the time and the cake (while possibly a little bit more dense) is just fine. And delicious. Beat in the lemon zest. Dump the flour and cornstarch over the egg mixture and fold in along with the  salt, then mix  in the butter and the poppy seeds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cover tightly with the buttered foil. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the foil and let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. When fully cool mix glaze ingredients together and drizzle over cake.

lemon poppyseed cake

*You can also make this into a loaf or layer cake, but it doesn’t make good muffins. I think that’s because it really needs that top layer of foil, and that’s hard to manage with a muffin tin.

How to mail a birthday cake.

The Boy turns 21 next week and we won’t be there to help celebrate – what to do? One of us (I can’t remember who to blame) said, “We should mail him his birthday cake!”. This isn’t just any old cake – in our family you get a checkerboard cake with your choice of any three colors or dealer’s (mother’s) choice if you can’t make up your mind. We did really UPS the cake to Providence this afternoon, so I dug out a 15 year-old photo from birthday #6 to show the finished effect.

Colorful, no?

This year’s version is YELLOW/red/blue and yes, I did mean to put that in all caps. Wow, the yellow.  I’ve adapted the recipe from the back of the Chicago Metallic Cake Pan Set because really, Einstein himself couldn’t divide this batter into thirds precisely enough to make the original work out to three even layers. The original proportions are in parenthesis if you feel up to the challenge.

Checkerboard Cake

Preheat oven to 340 (325) degrees and grease and flour the three 9″ pans. The instructions imply that the pans are nonstick but um, no. I use cooking spray, and I also spray the divider.

Mix 5 (4) C flour, 4 (3) tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a small pan or the microwave melt 1 1/4 C butter which is 2.5 sticks  (1 C or 2 sticks) and cool.

In a VERY large bowl, cream the butter with 2 1/2 (2) C sugar. Add 5 (4) eggs, one at at time, beating after each addition. Add 1 Tbs vanilla.

Add 2 C milk (1 1/2) at room temperature alternately with the flour mixture, beat until batter is smooth. (I use the lazy baker’s method: add half the flour and beat in, add ALL the milk and beat until smooth, add the remaining flour and beat 30 seconds. There! All done while still obeying the ancient law passed down by mothers everywhere to “Start with dry and end with dry”.)

Divide the batter in thirds and add food coloring. If you want to make one ring chocolate you might add 3 oz of melted semi-sweet chocolate to one bowl.  Work fast, because the batter sets up fairly quickly and doesn’t “flow” as nicely after a while in a warm kitchen.

wow, yellow

Put the divider in the pan and press down to snap in place. Fill each ring about half-way up with each color, alternating the color choices in each pan. There are very good directions on the box for this step although they say to wash and dry the divider between pans and yikes, that’s a lot of work. I lift it carefully and vertically out of the batter and go on to the next pan  because I’m a bad person but really, the cake will be fine.

Insanity cake

The box emphatically tells you DO NOT PUT DIVIDER IN THE OVEN, so don’t do that.

The directions say to bake for 25 minutes but with the slightly thicker layers I check at 30 minutes. If you can, rotate the pans halfway through to keep the layers even. Remove when cake springs back to the touch or a tester comes out clean. The colors will probably darken on the surface but they will still be hallucination-bright when you cut a slice. Cool on racks for about 10 minutes, remove from pans. Happy crazy clean-up!

Too pretty to clean

I use a chocolate ganache frosting spread very thinly between the layers to allow the checkerboard to really show off, and then much spread it much thicker on the  top and sides to hide the colors until the cake is cut. We’ll have to wait for The Boy to send pics to see that.

I put the unfrosted layers on cardboard cake discs, sealed each one in a gallon Ziplock bag and stacked them in a 12″ x 12″ x 8″ box with a box of birthday candles and assorted decorations, 2 sealed and bagged plastic containers of frosting, a card, and a lot of air-pillow-packing. The nice ladies at the UPS Store slapped fragile stickers all over it (thanks Victoria!) and sent it off with loving care. Happy Birthday, Boy!

New horizons

Our local college campus has a community garden plot just down the road from my mother’s new digs.

COA garden

I applied for a plot in the depths of January and got the call to come down to work day and claim my space just last week.  Fifteen of us had a wonderful Saturday morning hauling old logs up the hill to the new vineyard site and cutting turf in under cloudy, windless skies.

COA gardeners

The site has some of the problems common to community gardens: a bad case of clubroot and invasive populations of comfrey, sowthistle,  bindweed, and witchgrass. Clubroot spreads easily on tools and shoes, especially in the damp spring weather, and rototilling has contributed to the spread of invasive perrenials, but current management has good protocols in place to keep these problems from spreading. Shoes and tools are rinsed in a bleach solution upon leaving the plot. I prefer to cut comfrey down to the ground because the leaves make an excellent mulch, but if you’re in the mood to pull them out each type of weed has a dedicated disposal area (the sowthistle has its own glass-topped “coffin”). The good news is that the soil is rich, deep and organic, and supplemented with abundant compost from the college cafeteria.

compost bins

Here’s what my 10′ x 10′ plot looks like now – I’ll be posting updates as the season progresses. Today the soil was too wet to start work without damaging its structure.

my plot

And here’s a photo of the raisin sour cream coffee cake I brought with me. You should always show up at work-day with high quality fuel.

Aunt Loris's coffee cake

Aunt Loris’s Raisin Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt

Filling and Topping
2 cups raisins
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with Pam.

In a large bowl, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together into a separate bowl. Mix in sour cream and then dry ingredients alternately into butter mixture until both are used up and the batter is smooth and very thick. Mix in 1 1/2 raisins, reserving 1/2 C of the raisins as a topping.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs whites until stiff, then fold into batter.

In a small dish, whisk together sugar and cinnamon for filling and/or topping.

Spread half the cake batter in the bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of cinnamon-sugar mixture. Dollop remaining cake batter over filling in spoonfuls. Use a rubber or offset spatula to gently spread it over the filling and smooth the top. Sprinkle batter with remaining cinnamon-sugar and remaining raisins.

Feel free to ignore this step and just sprinkle the entire portion of cinnamon and sugar on top of the cake with the remaining raisins. It will still be totally delicious.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, and it’s even better the next day.