Each time I’ve watched the batter attachment on my stand mixer whiz round and round repeatedly over the last couple of weeks, I can’t help but think of it perfectly mimicking what life has been like around here lately – a whirlwind of a good times; birthday celebrations, out-of-town guests, school starting. With all the entertaining we’ve been doing, there’s not only been a lot of cooking, but much baking as well, and my mixer has been quite busy whipping up some fun!
It all started with some lovely cornbread I made to go with this simple salmon dinner the first night of my father-in-law’s visit from Boston.
After many years of trying box mixes and several cornbread recipes, I’ve gone back to the basics – I simply buy Alber’s cornmeal and use the recipe on the box. It tastes just like we used to have when I was a kid – why mess with that? Most times, simple is better 🙂
The next morning my mixer was back in action making these incredible blueberry muffins. My father-in-law loved them so much he even asked for the recipe, so that he could make them for his wife when he returns home. How sweet is that? Imagine my surprise, after all these years, to discover that he was a baker. What wonderful things we learn about each other over food.
These really are the most ridiculously delicious blueberry muffins – the streusel on top adds just a little bit of crunchy sweetness to the spongy, yet moist, muffin that is not overly sweet itself. To enjoy these beauties year-round, I bought a flat of berries when they were a great price at the supermarket and froze them in resealable freezer bags in two cup portions, ready to go for whenever I get a craving for Blueberry Streusel Muffins (I like a LOT of berries so I use TWO generous cups of berries for this recipe!)
While I always (both times I have made them now) get wonderful compliments on these muffins, I really can’t take all the credit. I found this recipe here on one of my favorite recipe sites, Allrecipes.com.
The mixer was still going strong days later when I made a cake for my son’s 13th birthday party (wow a teenager! I cannot believe that I am the mother of a teen, but that’s a WHOLE other post!) I needed a chocolate cake that I could prepare in a 9″x13″ cake pan for easy transport. I came across this cake, again on my beloved Allrecipes.com, titled “The Best chocolate Cake You Ever Ate” . How could I resist that? I don’t remember every chocolate cake I have ever eaten, but it is definitely the best chocolate cake I have ever made. Go ahead, make it, and let me know if YOU think it’s the best chocolate cake YOU’VE ever eaten. (Please forgive me for the paper plate presentation – it was a 13 year old’s birthday party at a Family Fun Center after all… ) One note on the recipe: I left out the cinnamon based on my own preferences.
Of course that was the second chocolate cake we had eaten – it was my husband’s birthday a few days earlier and my father-in-law – remember the baker? HE actually made my husband’s cake! For my husband’s birthday dinner we had my Scrumptious Seafood Boil. I wish I had taken a picture of the stunned look on my father-in-law’s face when he saw me pour the entire contents of our dinner onto the table.
But I wasn’t quite done with the mixer yet…The figs on the tree in our backyard exploded in the last couple of weeks, so I spent some time playing with figs.
I discovered that fresh figs make for a very pretty (and tasty!) addition to an appetizer plate.
I also was inspired by figs and their beauty when I developed this recipe for my latest guest blog post over at Girl Power Hour Blog. Grilled Pork Loin, Figs and Chevre with Balsamic Jelly, is a nice sweet and savory pairing of pork and figs, but the goat cheese is what ties it all together. Of course anything with cheese is always better in my book. Seriously though, cheese obsessions aside, this one is truly a winner of a recipe!
Now I must disclose that I have never been a fig lover (or even “liker”) until just this season. You see, in my mind I have always lumped figs in with dates, prunes, raisins…maybe you see where this is going….dried fruit – because that is the only way I had ever tried a fig (except fig newtons, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) But it is my nature to try foods that I “don’t like” repeatedly. As a food lover, I don’t think that I should not like a food, so I will keep trying things over and over again, thinking that maybe if I just hit on the right preparation, or a better quality product, maybe I will change my perspective on a given food or dish. So for the first 3 years of having this stupendous fig tree in my backyard, each season I did venture out to try a fresh fig or two – after all, I have a whole tree of these things, and I really should like them, right? But what I never realized all that time was that I was eating over ripe figs!
I have always liked fig newtons, so this year I decided that maybe that would be the proper way for me to explore figs, so I began to research figs and fig recipes online. I discovered the peak of perfection for picking a fig from your tree – and that I was picking the fruit too late. Now, many of you may never have tried a fig either but I think it compares very well to a banana. While it doesn’t taste like one, the fruit is similar in that it has a very different taste and texture as it ripens. A less ripe fig is more tart and firm, the more ripe it is it becomes mushy and overly (in my opinion) sweet. I was just eating them at the wrong time! This made me wonder if the over ripe fruit would also be useful in baking – just like bananas and banana bread.
It was time to try my hand at some fig newtons! Many of the recipes I found had oats in the dough (which is not at all like newtons,) and were made with either dried figs or fig preserves or jam. So instead, I used my basic cookie dough recipe and just filled it with home-made fig preserves.
Just be warned, these fig bars are really nothing like store-bought fig newtons at all! All I can say is that I found them to be very nostalgic. These reminded me so much of a cookie that would have been made by my great-grandmother and that I just might have eaten when I was a child, that I decided to name them after her. I even used my Great-Grandma Hudson’s china to serve them up!
Great-Grandma Hudson’s Fig Bars
2-1/4 cups fresh over ripe figs
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 Tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Dice fresh figs into small pieces. Leave the skin on, it gives great texture to the filling when cooked down.
Place figs in a small saucepan with water, sugar, pinch of salt, allspice, and lemon juice. (When I made this I also added 1/2 teaspoon of cloves – personally, I thought it overwhelmed the flavor of the figs and left it out of my final recipe, but some of my tasters really liked it, so you could add it back in if you are a fan of cloves, but I would use JUST a very small pinch – cloves are strong and figs have such a delicate flavor)
Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes over med-low heat, stirring often. It should be fairly thick. Take off heat and let sit for 1 hour – it will thicken up to a nice paste like this:
For dough: Mix flour, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, cream butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla,
then add dry ingredient ingredients to this and mix.
Cover bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour while the filling sits.
Separate dough into two equal balls. Roll out first and place in bottom of 9″‘x13″ greased baking dish. This dough can be difficult to work with and falls apart easily, but don’t be discouraged, just press it back together with moist fingertips and it will be fine – I promise!
Spread filling on top, roll out second ball of dough and place on top of fig mixture. Bake in preheated oven at 350 until top lightly browns, about 30 minutes. Cool and cut into bars.
While it’s been a busy couple of weeks, I cherish this time of year as there is always so much to celebrate and great food to celebrate it with! I think my mixer is just getting warmed up – Fall is almost here with its bounty of pumpkin treats to bake (bread, pie… mmmm!) and then there’s the holidays – it’s just about baking season in my house!
So what’s your mixer been up to lately?