Archive for the ‘ desserts ’ Category

Blueberry Orange Bran Muffins

More muffins!

Yup, I never get tired of making muffins and cookies! I found this recipe on the other day when I was looking for a blueberry bran muffin recipe. Normally, I’d go look for one our standard recipes from the cookbook, but when your stuff’s in a ship, you’re forced to broaden your horizons.

I was excited to try this recipe because it involved orange juice and orange rind, which I rarely bake with. Nothing disastrous to report, the recipe was very straightforward. I added some frozen (and floured) cranberries to the blueberries just to mix things up a bit.

The muffins turned out quite well, and I was pleased with how moist they were. The moisture from the juice made the muffins seem richer than they were. The only thing I’d like to improve on are the muffins’ appearance… I want to tweak things a bit so that they rise a little and have that nice, rounded muffin shape, instead of being flat.


Peanut butter squares

These squares are pretty dangerous. Although I don’t have the exact recipe on hand (I’ll post it when I do!), I know it involves icing sugar, peanut butter, milk chocolate and more icing sugar. I’ve seen variations of this recipe that involve graham cracker crumbs or Rice Krispies, but I like this one because it’s basically like eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup. I haven’t even tried to figure out the calorie count per serving because I know if I do I’ll probably never eat one again. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost you anything to look at them!

Billy’s Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes

I’ve always wanted to find a nice vanilla cake recipe to make from scratch. Previously, when I needed a basic pound cake, I’d head straight to the supermarket to pick up some Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines mix. Then I got to Korea and saw the astronomical price for boxed cakes, and this prompted me to get on top of my search.

When I’m looking for a basic American-style recipe, of course I go to the queen of insider trading American food, Martha Stewart. This recipe’s great—pretty simple to make, pretty basic ingredients. The only tough part is finding cake flour that’s not self-rising. Here in The Netherlands, I had to trek out to the cash ‘n carry to get the right type of flour.

I suggest watching the video on the website, especially if you’re not used to baking cakes. In the video they note that you should add two tablespoons of baking powder to the batter, whereas the written instructions state only one. I have never made them with one tablespoon, but based on readers’ comments, it’s not a good idea.

As always with recipes involving vanilla extract, the purer the vanilla, the better. Vanilla flavouring or artificial vanilla just won’t have the same taste as pure vanilla extract, but you need to be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for the real deal. A bottle of vanilla flavouring will set you back no more than 2 euros here in the Lowlands, but pure extract will set you back at least 15 euros.

I’ve made this recipe a few times, most notably for my sister’s birthday. They turned out great and the kids all loved them. The best part of this cake is that it’s very light and not too sugary, as many cupcakes tend to be.

The most recent time I made it was again for my sister’s graduation. This time around, I made a full, double-layered cake by doubling the recipe. The last time I made a double-layered vanilla cake was in 2004, for my prom. I was the treasurer for student council and on the prom committee and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money for someone’s mom to make a Duncan Hines cake when I felt that we could make it ourselves. So one evening, we sent my family out of my house, and proceeded to bake the cake. Unfortunately, we didn’t grease our pan enough, so our cake ended up a little broken, and looking a little disastrous. It was very uneven, and we didn’t have any extra cake mix, so we were stuck with our disaster.

We came up with what we thought was an ingenious way to hide the cakes deformities. We ended up (over)icing the cake in white  and then colouring the icing in different colours and then spreading it out on the cake Jackson Pollock style. Here it is, the mess that we nicknamed ‘de kaqe’:

It was a MESS. The one-centimeter layer of icing made the cake incredibly sweet, to the point where it hurt your teeth to eat it. I’d never seen such a deep sigh of relief from my friends as when I put down my piece of cake, defeated and refusing to eat it, because it meant that no one else had to eat it either.

So when it came to making the cake a few weeks ago, the pressure was on. Typical me, I didn’t grease/flour the pan well enough for the first cake. Fortunately I learned from my mistake and fixed the problem on the second layer. Cake done, no one hurt.

The icing was pretty easy to make, no problems there, I mixed it, and put it in the fridge to firm up a bit.

The tricky part came when I had to ice the cake. That was pretty tough, considering that it was over 25°C in the kitchen. I got a little worried and thought 2004 was going to happen all over again. I persevered though, and put the cake in the fridge to firm up. Fortunately, that was all it needed. My icing job is nowhere near the standards of Cake Boss, but this time around I was pretty pleased with the icing/cake ratio. In the future, I’ll certainly need to work on my piping, icing and decorating skills, but for now I’m willing to blame my poor presentation in part on the temperature of the kitchen. Here it is, in cake form and in cupcake form, Billy’s Vanilla Buttercream:

More muffins…

Sorry I haven’t been posting in a while! Life has gotten hectic at my house, thanks to our impending international move. As a byproduct of the move, my kitchen has been reduced down to the bare bones, so I won’t be cooking anything very elaborate anytime soon. Fortunately, we had a goodbye party last weekend which included a lot of food, which should make for some great entries in the coming weeks.

As I have been reduced to being a glorified nomad, I’ll try my best to post every other day, but I will be traveling a lot, so no promises!

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Here’s another healthy muffin recipe that I’ve grown partial to.

It’s healthy, simple, and cheap. Too often, in this age of caloric excess, muffins have become cupcakes in disguise. At 166 calories a pop, and 2g of fat per muffin, these Buttermilk Oatmeal Muffins are keepers.

I made a few modifications to the recipe, using the first commenter’s suggestions as a guide. I cut down the amount of oil by half, and added in a grated apple in order to keep the muffins moist. Alternatively, you could use applesauce or more apple and completely eliminate the oil if you want to be really hardcore.

I also added in some cinnamon and nutmeg to give these muffins a bit more flavour. The commenter also suggested adding ginger and vanilla. I’ll try that some time and report back.

Lastly, I added raisins to the muffins to make them a little heartier. With muffins and cookies, I find it a good idea to soak the raisins for about 15 minutes in some water so that they don’t dry out completely in the oven when you bake them.

If you’re fresh out of buttermilk (karnemelk), make it with a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. You’ll have chunky milk in no time.

Good pie…

… starts with a good, flaky pastry.

Pie is another one of those easy basic desserts that impresses people. Nobody has the time to make a pie these days, but most people have the skills to do it. The most labour-intensive part of most dessert pies is making the pastry, and after that it’s downhill from there.

The pie we make most often in our house is apple pie. Why? Because apples are cheap and readily available and because apple pie is really, really hard to screw up.

Throw a latticed top on the pie with some egg wash, and people will ooh and ahh even more.

Today is another one of those rare days where my recipe comes from a printed source, as opposed to the interweb. Rumour has it that the last time my dad cooked as a bachelor, he used this cookbook as a reference, so it is highly regarded in my family as a relic from another era.

Flaky Pastry for 2-Crust Pie from The New Revised and Updated McCall’s Cookbook.


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shortening or 2/3 cup lard [I use 3/4 cup butter]

5 to 6 tablesppons ice water


1. Sift flour with salt into medium bowl.

2. With pastry blender or 2 knives [in hard times, I use a fork], using short cutting motion, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

3. Quickly sprinkle ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, over all of pastry mixture, tossing lightly with fork after each addition and pushing dampened portion to side of bowl; sprinkle only dry portion remaining. (Pastry should be just moist enough to hold together, not sticky.)

4. Shape pastry into ball; wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Divide in half, flatten each half with palm of hand.

5. To make bottom crust: On lightly floured surface, roll out half of pastry to 11-inch circle, rolling with light strokes from center to edge and lifting rolling pins as you reach edge. As you roll, alternate directions, to shape even circle.

6. If rolled piecrust is too irregular in shape, carefully trim off any bulge and use as patch. Lightly moisten pastry edge to be filled in. Gently press patch in place. Smooth seam with several light strokes of rolling pin.

7. Fold rolled pastry in half; carefully transfer to pie plate, making sure fold is in center.

8. Unfold pastry, and fit carefully into pie plate. Do not stretch pastry. Trim bottom crust even with edge of pie plate.

9. Turn out prepared filling onto bottom crust.

10. To make top crust: Roll out remaining half of pastry to 11-inch circle.

11. Fold in half; make several gashes near center for steam vents. [I usually cut my top crust into even strips in order to make a latticed top. If you do this, skip ahead to step #13]

12. Carefully place pastry on top of filling, making sure fold  is in center; unfold.

13. Trim top crust 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold top crust under bottom crust; press gently together to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

14. For shiny, glazed top, brush top crust with 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water, or with 1 slightly beaten egg white, or with undiluted evaporated milk.

15. To prevent edge of crust from becoming too brown, place 11/2-inch strip of  foil around rust; bake as recipe indicates. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.

Makes enough pastry for 8 or 9-inch 2-crust pie.


The filling

Puff Puff

Enough with the oibo chop, it’s time to mix things up a bit.

This is one of my favourite Cameroonian (ok, West African) meals. Puff puff is quite simple to make, it just requires some time to cook.

Before I continue, let me give credit where it is due, and add that the puff puff was cooked by my cousin. I’m learning to cook African food, but alas, the process has not been photogenic. I’m much better at eating it.

Puff Puff


14g of instant yeast

4 cups flour

2 cups warm water (45°C so you don’t kill the yeast)

-1 tsp salt

-1 cup white sugar

-enough cooking oil (canola, sunflower seed, etc.) to deep fry


In a large bowl or pot (not sure what size it is, but we use our lobster-boiling pot), dissolve the yeast in the hot water. Add in the salt, and then the sugar. Next, add the flour a cup at a time, making sure to mix it in evenly without overworking the dough.

When all the ingredients are combined, cover your pot or your bowl and place it somewhere warm, like next to a stove, by a heater, or next to a window that receives direct sunlight.

The next part is tricky to time, but basically you have to let the dough rise until it doubles in volume. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the size of your batch, and the temperature of the room.

When the dough has doubled, get ready to fry!

In a second pot, add the oil until it is reaches a level of at least 6 cm. Heat the oil on low to medium heat. When you think the oil is hot enough, drop a bit of the batter into the pot. If it sinks, you need to wait a bit more, if it floats, you’re ready to fry.

While you are waiting for the oil to heat up, take a colander and line it with paper towel. Set aside nearby.

Next, use a tablespoon or a small serving spoon to spoon your batter, and another spoon to help you drop the batter into the pot. Alternatively, if you’re hardcore, you can form the balls with your hands and drop them into the pot. A good size for puff puff is about the size of a Timbit.  Be careful, when you drop them in, hot oil burns like hell–but I don’t need to tell you that!

Fry the balls until they turn a golden brown colour on one side, then turn them over and continue frying until the other side reaches the same level of brownness.

Using a pasta scoop (or some other utensil with slits), scoop the balls out of the oil and into the colander… then repeat this process until all your puff puff is cooked!

Puff Puff goes well with kidney beans and tomato sauce, but they are sweet enough that you can eat them on their own. Sometimes served with granulated or powdered sugar, they are often a staple at children’s birthdays or other gatherings. They don’t taste as good when they’re not fresh, so keep that in mind when you are planning your quantities.

Eet ze!

What to do with rotting bananas…

Make banana bread!

Everyone at some point will end up with bananas that got too ripe and mushy to eat, which is why this recipe is such a family favourite. When our bananas start to rot, we either throw them in the freezer, or whip up a batch of banana bread.

I’ve got two recipes for banana bread. One of the recipes comes from the United Church of Canada’s cookbook, and has become associated with my family. It’s a great money-maker at bake sales, and it’s one of those easy desserts that can be made in a hurry. I’ve given out this recipe so many times, on four different continents, and people still continue to marvel over it today. This recipe is great because you can also make muffins without altering the batter at all, making it a great item for a grab-and-go breakfast in the morning.

So here it is, in all of its glory, so I can stop sending it to people on Facebook and via e-mail:

Banana Bread

1 cup white sugar

½ cup salad oil

2 eggs,

3 ripe bananas, mashed

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

¼ cup orange juice

Mash bananas, add eggs and beat, then add sugar and oil, beat well.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and nutmeg and add to banana mixture and blend well.

Mix in orange juice, combining well.

Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan.

Bake at 350 oF for about 1 1/2 hours depending on your oven until cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the centre.

Turn out and cool on rack. Wrap and store.



I decided to try a different banana bread recipe recently, from Martha Stewart, of course. Personally, I think this recipe trumps the old one, because the sour cream (I use yogurt) gives the banana bread a really cakey texture. Our house is split when it comes to deciding which banana bread tastes better. In the end it depends on what you want: something cakey, or something more bread-like. Be sure to use large eggs (about 110g of eggs in total), as the eggs ensure the moistness of the bread. I used medium eggs the second time I made it, and the difference was noticeable.