Monday is National Coffee Cake Day. Go figure.
When I hear coffee cake, my automatic word-association reflexes fly to one of my late grandmother’s recipes, one that is forever linked to my grandparents’ lake cabin.
Sugar Lake was a magical place in my childhood. It’s practically a far-ring suburb today – it’s about 10 miles south of Annandale, Minn. -- but in the pre-I-94 era the journey felt like a never-ending drive from my family's suburban Minneapolis home.
Grandma Gay had a Sugar Lake ritual, at least during blueberry season. She would alleviate her guests’ car weariness by greeting them with a slice or two of what I later discovered was an easy-to-prepare buckle, still warm from the oven.
Although it came off as an extra-special treat, her blueberry buckle was cloaked in practicality, using ingredients that were always on hand at the lake; no running into town for the sour cream or other coffee-cake staples that, inevitably, end up as a shopping list afterthought.
My guess is that, after countless summers, Grandma pulled her blueberry buckle together from memory. Fortunately, in the late 1970s, my sister Cheri thought to ask Grandma for the recipe. Treasure, right? I still have the card, written using a thick Flair pen, in Cheri’s tidy high-school cursive.
In honor of this momentous national holiday, I baked Grandma’s buckle this morning (using frozen berries discovered in the back of my freezer, picked last summer at Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis., pictured above), and our kitchen is perfumed with the loveliest scent.
If only I could open the windows and catch the breeze off the lake.
SUGAR LAKE BLUEBERRY BUCKLE
Note: I suggest adding a teaspoon vanilla extract to the batter when incorporating the milk, and maybe include a 3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans to the topping, two ingredients that probably weren't regulars in the Olsens' 1960s cabin pantry.
2 c. flour, plus extra for pan
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. whole milk, at room temperature
2 c. blueberries
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x9-inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low and alternately add flour mixture and milk in thirds, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined. Carefully fold blueberries into batter and pour batter into prepared baking pan.
To prepare topping: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter and, using your fingers, press together until combined (dough will be lumpy). Spoon mixture evenly on top of batter. Bake 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Yes, the recipes are the major component of our annual Holiday Cookie Contest.
But we also appreciate the stories behind each recipe. Here are some tales, culled from the 300-plus entries in our 2013 competition, that captured our attention.
“For me, these recipes are home. I sat in my mom’s kitchen last night typing up this recipe, asking her to interpret parts where old spills and stains had made it too hard to read. She told me how these were the first cookies her mom made each Christmas season. How the flavor reminded her of her own mom’s kitchen.” -- Elisabeth Johnson of St. Paul
“I knew they were a hit when my mother-in-law brought back the empty Ziploc bag and asked for a refill." -- Kim Carroll of Hastings
“Everything is in sync when I’m in a kitchen.” -- Chuck Minni of Farmington
“It is not Christmas unless we make these cookies.” -- Mary Ann Kjos
“The attached is a family favorite. It is scrawled on a recipe card. Is it from a friend? The paper or a magazine? Its origin is unknown.” -- Roberta Swanson of Minneapolis
“When my mom would make these cookies, it kicked off the Christmas season. The smell and taste of these sugar cookies will always and forever remind me of the excitement of Christmas as a child! As a mother, I hope I am making the same memories for my children as I kick off the holiday season every year.” -- Julie Millikan
“Although I am only 13 years old, I feel like I am very experienced. Ever since I was little I would help my mother bake cookies and desserts. Now that I am older I bake things of my own. Someday I might even want to set up my own bakery and sell my baked goods. It will take a lot of work but with strong will and perseverance I know I can do it.” -- Holly Anderson of Farmington
“I’m not sure where I found this recipe. The card that the recipe is written on is quite worn. However, our family of four children, their spouses and 15 grandchildren prefer this cookie over many of the other cookie recipes that I make. Just this past week a teenager from the church I attend asked me to make a batch for the young people’s get together they were having, after the Friday night football game.” -- Ruth Nystrom of Worthington, Minn.
“One year I ran out of time to make them for Christmas Eve and they were crushed. I’ll never forget the looks of disappointment on their faces. I now make sure that I take the time to make these cookies so I can give them this little Christmas treat that they so look forward to.” -- Rita Strafelda of Cottage Grove
“I didn’t have a grandmother who taught me baking and spent time with me to build memories in the kitchen. My baking skills are self-taught and through perseverance I have reaped the fruits of my labors.” -- Libby Bourgeois of Elk River
“My paternal grandmother was a “champion of cookies” in my family growing up. Each year our family gift was a turkey roaster filled with various holiday cookies that she would bake. The roaster was tied with scraps of cloth to keep it shut. I aspired as a young wife and mother to bake as well as she did. I don’t use my turkey roaster, but all year long, I save up Kemp’s ice cream pails to use to put my cookies in to give to family and friends.” -- Kristine Runck of New Ulm, Minn.
“My mom made these every Christmas . . . a nice variation from all those sugar cookies.” -- Kathy Papousek of Robbinsdale
“I challenge you to take time out of your busy schedules and enjoy the simple things in life. Get off the couch and put away the electronic devices. I can guarantee that you won’t have any regrets.” -- Patsy Athman of Pierz, Minn.
“As a young bride, I loved visiting my mother-in-law at Christmas and peeking into those vintage tins to discover beautiful cookies filled with rich flavors. Our family recently packed up her home in preparation for her next stage in life. Mom has Alzheimer’s now, so her home is no longer filled with the fragrances of her baking. Looking through her kitchen items, I found her index card notebook filled with her favorite recipes. How I remember consulting these handwritten notes, so precious now, because Mom no longer remembers these special recipes.” -- Linda Hansen of Albertville, Minn.
“My mom taught me many things which I am so thankful for and baking is one of them.” -- Liz McPherson of Apple Valley
“I love baking Christmas cookies, boxing them in tins and delivering them. It gives me an opportunity in an otherwise hectic life to connect with people who are important to me.” -- Jeanine Clapsaddle
“Every year I come up with a new holiday cookie to try. I love the adventure of trying something new.” -- Candace Freeman of Melrose, Minn.
“The role these cookies play in my holiday baking is they are a stalwart of my annual cookie baking open house. It’s an open house so guests can drop in or out and do as much baking as they want or just sit around and watch the rest of us; those who are there at the end get to take home a plate or two with all the varieties. I like this better than a cookie exchange because a big part of the fun is just hanging out together baking.” -- Margaret Lund
“Thirty years ago, the love of my life wasn’t the man I married . . . it was his mother. She was the warmest and kindest human being I have ever met. Carol was a down-to-earth cook with ancestors from Germany and Holland and she had recipes galore. One of my all-time-favorite recipes from Carol is ‘German Butter Cookies,’ a simple, elegant and delicious cookie that everyone loves. Enjoy.” -- Jeryl Mitchell of Rochester, Minn.
“Being Jewish we didn’t celebrate Christmas but my mother I loved bonding over Christmas cookie baking. My mother is in her tenth decade and this year we will continue ‘our’ Christmas tradition . . .I can’t wait.” -- Stephanie Wolkin of White Bear Lake
We're announcing the winner -- and four delicious finalists -- in our 11th-annual Taste Holiday Cookie Contest in Thursday's Taste (you can get a sneak-peek here on Wednesday afternoon).
In the meantime, another holiday cookie contest – this time in Cook’s Country magazine – has yielded a Minnesota winner.
She’s Karen Cope of Minneapolis, and her recipe, Dulce de Leche and Cinnamon Sandwich Cookies (pictured, above in a Cook's Country photo), presides over five other highly bake-able finalists, including Black Cherry-Chocolate Linzertorte Cookies, Pretzel-Potato Chip Cookies with Caramel Frosting and Hazelnut Espresso Truffle Cookies. Cope won $1,000 for her efforts, along with a brush with fame, although it sounds as if she's no stranger to the baking spotlight.
“Recently, Cope has gone from strength to strength in the kitchen,” wrote the magazine’s editors. “She told us that four other items that she baked won blue ribbons of the Minnesota State Fair this past summer.”
DULCE DE LECHE AND CINNAMON SANDWICH COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.
Note: Dulce de lece (or cajeta, pictured, above) is a South American caramel made with sugar slowly cooked with cow’s milk or goat’s milk and can be found in the international or baking aisles of the supermarket.
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground anise
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar, plus ½ c. for rolling cookies
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground anise
1 ½ c. dulce de leche
To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and anise.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions until just combined, scraping down bowl as needed.
In a shallow dish, combine cinnamon and remaining ½ cup sugar and set aside. Working with 2 teaspoons dough at a time, roll into balls and space them 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are firm, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes, place cookies in cinnamon sugar and turn to coat evenly. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
To prepare filling: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in cinnamon and anise and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in dulce de lece. Spread 1 ½ teaspoons filling on bottoms (flat sides) of half of cookies. Top with flat sides of remaining cookies to form sandwiches. Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.
An unplanned event required showing up with a few dozen cookies. When I spied a jar of blood orange marmalade in the back of the cupboard, I immediately knew what I'd be baking.
I ran across this recipe six years ago when Neiman Marcus published "Neiman Marcus Taste," a follow-up to it popular "Neiman Marcus Cookbook." You may remember the latter title. It's the one that published the store's famous chocolate chip cookie recipe.
I've probably prepared Orange Marmalade Cookies a dozen times, and they never fail to impress. The fruity marmalade adds an unexpectedly tangy bite and probably accounts for the cookies' chewy, super-moist texture. Fresh juices and zest keep the icing - laid on thick, of course -- from becoming too sugary sweet. They're pretty, too, especially when the weather turns cold and citrus becomes an automatic mood-brightener. Who doesn't cheer up when they frosting flecked with colorful and fragrant orange and lemon zest?
Another attraction, at least for this history buff, is that the recipe originates with the pioneering Helen Corbitt. She was recruited to run the store's Zodiac Room restaurant in 1955, shortly after it opened inside the store's downtown Dallas flagship, and she wielded enormous influence on the way in-store restaurants evolved and matured.
Department store restaurants forged happy memories for generations of American shoppers (the Oak Grill at Dayton's and the Fountain Room at Young-Quinlan in downtown Minneapolis are two local examples), and Corbitt's creative work made Neiman Marcus a leader in this field. She expanded her influence beyond Dallas by writing more than a half-dozen cookbooks (I have three Corbitt titles in my kitchen library), retiring from the store in 1969 but remaining an active consulting presence well into the mid-1970s. She died in 1978.
"She changed the face of retail dining in America by setting new and higher standards," wrote Kevin Garvin in "Neiman Marcus Cookbook." "Her impact in Texas and the wider food world was so great that many people in Dallas and beyond still mentioned her with admiration and affection."
James Beard referred to her in one of his cookbooks as "the queen of the ladies' lunch," and Stanley Marcus, the store's chairman, introduced her as the "Balenciaga of food."
While these cookies aren't exactly the equivalent of a Parisian couturier's work, they do exude a bit of glamour. Well, more than your basic Snickerdoodle, anyway. Would you expect anything less from Neiman Marcus?
At the event, the cookies were a hit, as always. I snuck one from the table and as I enjoyed its bright citrus bite, two thoughts came to mine: I'm going to have to remember to use the icing to jazz up a simple sugar cookie (we have a doozy of a recipe that's coming out on Dec. 5th in our 11th-annual Taste Holiday Cookie Contest). And I've always thought this cookie would be delicious with lime marmalade and a lime zest/lemon zest icing. Next time.
ORANGE MARMALADE COOKIES
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Note: From "Neiman Marcus Taste: Timeless American Recipes" by Kevin Garvin with John Harrisson (Clarkson Potter).
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. orange marmalade
2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. powdered sugar, divided
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soad and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and mix until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until combined. Add marmalade and mix until combined. Using a teaspoon, drop dough, spacing cookies 2 inches apart, on prepared baking sheets (if dough is too sticky, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour). Bake until cookies are light brown in color, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare icing: In a small bowl, combine orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice and lemon juice. In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, add 1 cup powdered sugar and mix until creamy. Add remaining 2 cups powdered sugar, salt and zest-juice mixture and mix until smooth. Spead icing over cooled cookies.
Minnesota did not send the largest number of competitors to the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off, held earlier this week in Las Vegas. That distinction is held by two states -- Texas and Pennsylvania, with 10 cooks each.
Among the Bake-Off's 100 finalists were four Minnesotans (the million-dollar winner was Glori Spriggs of Henderson, Nev., for her Loaded Potato Pinwheels). Here are their recipes:
ON THE GO BREAKFAST COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
Note: From Beverly Batty of Forest Lake.
1 package Pillsbury Big Deluxe refrigerated oatmeal raisin cookies
1/2 c. Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Coconut Pecan Frosting
1/2 c. quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/4 c. flaxseed
1 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped '
2 tbsp. sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Let cookie dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, combine cookie dough, frosting, oats, flaxseed, walnuts, cranberries and coconut and mix until thoroughly combined.Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake until edges are light golden brown, about 12 to 16 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
MINI ITALIAN SHEPHERD'S PIES
Makes 36 appetizers.
Note: From Sonya Goergen of Moorhead.
1 box (9 oz) Green Giant® frozen chopped spinach, divided
1 lb, extra lean (at least 90%) ground beef
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 c. marinara sauce
1 box Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
1 package (24 oz) refrigerated mashed potatoes (about 2 1/2 c.)
2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 36 mini-muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray. In a microwave oven, cook frozen spinach to thaw, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and squeeze spinach dry with paper towels. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground beef, breaking up large pieces, until meat is no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Drain pan of oil. Stir in marinara sauce and half of the spinach.
Meanwhile, unroll pie crusts. Using 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut 18 rounds from each crust, rerolling dough if necessary. Press each round in bottom and up side of muffin cups. Spoon rounded tablespoon meat mixture in each cup.
In a microwave oven, cook mashed potatoes as directed on package, about 2 to 3 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix potatoes, remaining spinach, cheese, salt and pepper until well blended. Top each cup with a rounded tablespoon of potato mixture. Bake until potatoes are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cups to loosen pies. Serve warm.
SEEDS AND CHOCOLATE PASTRY WEDGES
Note: From Vicki Mager of Bloomington.
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 c. dried currants
1/4 c. roasted unsalted sunflower nuts
1/4 c. roasted salted hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 c. Jif Chocolate Flavored Hazelnut Spread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unroll pie crust on an ungreased baking sheet. Pinch outside edge of crust to form a 1/4-inch rim. Prick dough several times with fork. In small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over crust. In medium bowl, mix currants, sunflowers nuts and pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle mixture over crust. Press mixture firmly into crust. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake until edges are light golden brown, about 3 to 6 minutes longer. Remove from oven and immediately cut into 12 wedges. Do not separate wedges. Spoon chocolate hazelnut spread into decorating bag or 1-quart resealable food storage plastic bag; seal bag. Cut off tiny corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle spread over seeds. Cool completely.
ORANGE CARDAMOM BLUEBERRY CROSTATA
Note: From Cathy Wiechert of Mound.
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
1/2 c. Smucker's Orchard's Finest Pacific Grove Orange Marmalade Medley
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 c. fresh blueberries
1 egg yolk
1 to 2 tbsp. coarse white sparkling sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a 15x-10-inch baking pan with sides with parchment paper. Unroll pie crust in prepared pan. In medium bowl, mix preserves, flour and cardamom. Carefully fold in blueberries. Spoon mixture over crust to within 2 inches of edge. Fold edge of crust over filling, pleating crust as necessary. In small bowl, beat egg yolk with two teaspoons water. Lightly brush crust edge with egg mixture; sprinkle with sugar. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 17 to 23 minutes. Remove from oven and cool at least 30 minutes before serving.
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