Buckwheat Sourdough Spice Cake

Buckwheat Sourdough Spice Cake. Still warm from the oven!

This batter is a variation on the Buckwheat Sourdough Muffins last week. It’s sweeter, has more dates, and also a complex mixture of spices which complement both the buckwheat and the dates nicely. It’s baked in an 8″ x 8″ pan.

1 cup sourdough starter (See Buckwheat Sourdough Starter post)
1 cup flour
1 Tbls baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbls sugar
2 Tbls oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped dried dates
1 tsp cinnamon (I use a strong Saigon cinnamon, aka Vietnamese cinnamon.)
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cardamon

Preheat oven 350. Grease and flour an 8 x 8″ pan.

Put the 1 cup sourdough starter into a bowl. (The rest of the starter you will replenish and put back in the refrigerator See Sourdough Starter post.) Add all the rest of the ingredients to the bowl with the 1 cup of starter. There may be a better way of doing this, like mixing this and that, then adding…but I just dump all the ingredients into the bowl on top of the 1 cup of starter and stir it all together vigorously. No need to get out your mixer. It whips up into a batter very quickly. I stir until the flour is completely incorporated.

Pour batter into the 8″x8″ greased and floured pan. Bake 20-25 mins. (My oven it’s 23 mins. Yours may vary.)

Let cool slightly in the pan on a wire rack, then cut into squares and serve warm with strong black tea or coffee.

If you like the flavor of buckwheat, check out the Buckwheat tag for more posts!

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Cornbread Dressing

People love cornbread dressing. It’s traditional at Thanksgiving, but the popularity of “dressing” or “stuffing” (even when there’s nothing being stuffed except friends and family) has spawned various boxes of “instant” dressing so that you can have it with any meal. I haven’t tried the boxed versions, but I can tell you how to make it from scratch. It’s easy! 😀

First make up a batch (or two) of Granny’s Cornbread. This is the basis of the dressing. (My mother and grandmother always added crumbled stale white bread that had been left out to get stale just for this purpose, but I omit this.) Saute green onions, bell pepper and celery in a small amount of oil in a skillet. (If you’re making gravy, reserve some of the green onion and bell pepper to be sauted and added to the gravy.) I cook up a lot of “the green stuff” (as we called it around our house when I was growing up). After crumbling up the cornbread (let it cool or you’ll regret it), stir in the green stuff mixture until the proportion looks right. Add some vegetarian broth and stir in until you have a moist mixture, wetter than you prefer to eat it because some of that moisture will cook away when you bake it. Stir in a bit of sage (or whatever seasoning you prefer for stuffing). Bake 350 until the top is slightly browned and crispy. Stir and serve. If it’s too dry, add a bit more broth. If it’s too moist, return to the oven. There really isn’t a set time for it to be “done” because all the ingredients are already cooked, though the seasoning needs a bit of heat to really meld with the flavor of the stuffing. It’s done when it looks right to you.

The problem most people have with holiday dressing is that some people will think it didn’t come out right because it’s too dry, while for other people it will be just right. Likewise some people will find it disgustingly wet while others think it’s just right. There’s no way to please everyone unless everyone likes their dressing the exact same way. Myself, I prefer a dry-ish stuffing, with just enough moisture that if you grabbed a handful and squeezed it, it would stick together, but tending to crumble a bit as you scoop it out. Dressing that has the consistency of mush and is served with an ice cream scoop is too wet for me. 😉 It seems to me that dressing that tends more toward dry than wet is the best way to go because I always dress the dressing with gravy. 😀 If anyone complains that the dressing is too dry, pass them the gravy boat! 😀

As you can see, there are countless ways to modify this recipe. The herbs you use will put a stamp on the flavor, as will the amount of celery you use. Using regular onions instead of green onions are an option (green onions snip up so fast that aside from being traditional in my family, they’re much faster to prep), and if you want to shock your guests you could slip some hot chiles into the mix instead of bell pepper. Garlic fiends might want to saute some garlic with the green stuff. It would guarantee the holiday wouldn’t be crashed by vampires out looking for a good time since Halloween. 😉

Ginger Bread

Gingerbread hot from the oven, cooling next to my mug of tea.

Gingerbread hot from the oven, cooling next to my mug of tea.

I love this recipe! It tastes better than any other gingerbread recipe I’ve tried and it’s faster and easier to make, too. A child could make this. A college student or person starting out in their first apartment could make this because it requires nothing more in the way of appliances or utensils than an oven, 2 bowls, a spoon and a loaf pan. I melt the butter in the microwave, but even that’s optional: it can be melted on the stove. This recipe is adapted from a public domain recipe in The Women’s Institute Library of Cookery, Volume 1: Essentials of Cookery, Cereals, Bread, Hot Breads which is available as a free ebook in many formats from a number of online sources including Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.net. The only change I’ve made to the original ingredients is that the recipe below uses 1 tsp more ginger than the original. The original recipe did not specify the size of the pan, the temperature of the oven, or the cooking time: those details are what I’ve come up with on my own. I’ve also rewritten the instructions which were lacking in specifics and details (not to mention the lack of microwave!).

IMG-20130929-03151There are two unusual things about this recipe, both of which caught my eye immediately. One is that unlike most gingerbread recipes, this isn’t cake-like and cooked in a flat pan such as brownies are. The other thing that struck me is something I’ve never seen before: the butter is added to the batter last. The technique looks fairly normal up to that point: dry ingredients are mixed together, wet ingredients are mixed together, then they’re combined. But the butter is usually mixed with sugar first in most recipes for bread-type baked goods. That’s best done with a mixer. Here, with the butter melted and added last, all the mixing can be done easily by hand. Why not combine the butter with the wet ingredients? The melted butter is hot or at least warm: it will not play well with the egg—or for that matter the cold milk. I tried this once, thinking that I’d cool the butter with the milk and then combine with the egg. The butter went from liquid to solid in nothing flat when it came in contact with the cooler ingredients. The old cookbook knows best! 🙂

It can be a little awkward stirring the butter into a dough that’s already come together, but it works, making this the easiest gingerbread ever! 😀

2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. molasses
1/4 c. butter or margarine (1/2 stick or 4 Tbls)

Preheat oven 350.

Melt butter gently in the microwave (or stovetop). Combine the flour, baking powder, soda, sugar, salt, and spices in a medium-sized bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg. Add the milk and molasses to the egg, beating in well with a fork or spoon until the mixture is homogenous. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir, then stir the melted butter into the batter. Pour the batter into a well-greased (I spray with PAM) 4″x 8″ loaf pan, and bake 50 minutes at 350.

Turn out onto wire rack and let cool somewhat. When it’s cooled enough that you won’t burn yourself, but is still warm, cut a slice and enjoy! (Try it with a ginger beer, or toast it and spread with peach or ginger preserves!)

To Make Gingerbread Men:

Mix as above, then add approximately 1 cup more flour to make a workable dough. Roll out thinly. Cut out gingerbread men using your favorite mold (mine are ninjas and zombies). Bake 10 mins on greased cookie sheets. Cool, then add icing and decorate as desired.

Granny’s Banana Bread

Banana bread in 9x13 pan, just out of the oven.

Banana bread in 9×13 pan, just out of the oven.

This was my maternal grandmother’s recipe. She used to bake it for me when I was a child. We had 2 huge pecan trees in the backyard which provided a ready source of pecans. Pecans freeze well, so we always had a supply on hand. If you don’t have pecans on hand this is still excellent without them. Something unusual about this recipe is that it has a very fluffy cake-like texture and so is not baked in a loaf pan, but a 9″ x 11″ pan, then cut into kid-sized squares which I ate warm, straight from the pan.

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, smushed
1/4 cup pecans

Melt-in-your-mouth good, hot from the oven!

Melt-in-your-mouth good, hot from the oven!

Use ripe bananas! This means they will have black spots on them. In our household when I was growing up, we called them “sugar spots”. 🙂 No spots: they aren’t ripe and consequently aren’t as sweet. The more spots the sweeter the banana.

Sift the flour together with the salt and baking soda.

Cream together the butter (or margarine) and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each one is added.

Add smushed bananas and pecans, then add the flour mixture.

Bake at 300-325° in greased and floured 9″ x 11″ pan for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. (I usually bake 325 degrees and just a couple minutes longer with my oven.) Bakes well in 9″ x 11″ pan, however more than one pan of a smaller size could be used. Reduce baking time if smaller pans are used.

Unlike my Granny’s cornbread recipe which was passed down through the generations orally, my mother did actually write this down on an index card, probably because there were more ingredients and measurements to remember and this wasn’t made as often as cornbread. I’ve rewritten the recipe slightly for the sake of clarity and ease of use, but made no changes.

My grandmother was born at the end of the 19th century and had a third grade education. She wrote letters occasionally with an uneven handwriting, but as far as I know she never wrote recipes down. Though she lived with us when I was a kid and did some of the cooking, the index box in the kitchen with neatly lettered recipes was my mother’s. This was a family recipe, probably originating with my grandmother, great-grandmother or my grandmother’s sister. If I had to date the recipe I’d guess early 20th century. (I recently stumbled onto a photo online of a vintage official Chiquita Banana recipe and advertisement which was nothing like this, which strengthens the idea that this recipe was something one of the family matriarchs came up with based on their general knowledge of baking.) Granny had one cookbook, Searchlight Recipe Book, which she may have consulted on occasion (it has a lot of cooking techniques, tips, measurement equivalents etc in it), but the only recipe that I know of which she made from it was the “Dark Fruit Cake” which my father liked (and was the only fruitcake he’d eat). My grandmother cooked good, simple, plain food, and for her that was mostly a matter of putting ingredients together either from memory or instinct. My culinary legacy from my grandmother who helped raise me was Banana Bread, Cornbread, Okra and Tomatoes, and an old (1949) Searchlight cookbook, pages now yellowed, with strange inexplicably stains on recipes that no one had ever made.

Granny’s Cornbread

My maternal grandmother lived with my mother and I until a series of strokes rendered her not only unable to take care of herself, but made it impossible for us to care for her either. I got a couple of her recipes from my mother (who by-and-large preferred instant to cooking from scratch after a long day at work).

The recipe was transmitted orally; as far as I know it was never written down before I wrote it out. Hence the unusual format of the ingredients which I attempted to put in a list as it was explained to me many years ago.

Slather with the spread of your choice and enjoy!

Slather with the spread of your choice and enjoy!

2 eggs
1 cup flour to 1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder to each measure of flour and cornmeal (In other words, 1 tsp for each measure of flour and 1 tsp for each measure of cornmeal for 2 total if you use 1 cup of each)
4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbls oil
“Enough milk to make a stiff batter”

Mix ingredients. I stir together the dry ingredients, then add the oil and eggs, beating in a well I’ve made in the center of the bowl, incorporated a bit of the cornmeal mixture at the edges, splashing in milk, beating by hand a bit more, a bit more milk, etc until the consistency looks right to me. I usually try to be more precise with recipes I post but this is an old family recipe which has been handed down from generation to generation and it’s done more by look and feel — and experience — as recipes often were in the 19th century.

Scrape into a greased pan. (Batter should not be liquid enough to “pour”. I have to spread it out in the pan a bit with the spoon.) My grandmother oiled the pan with cooking oil. A cooking spray such as PAM may be used instead.

Cornbread, hot from the oven!

Cornbread, hot from the oven!

Bake 400 F about 20 minutes or until brown and toothpick comes out clean. Cooking time is affected by how wet the batter is as well as the size and shape of the pan. Your results may vary.

Using the 1 cup flour and 1 cup cornmeal will give you one one 8 x 8 inch square pan of cornbread. I don’t know how far you can go using this proportional method of flour, cornmeal and baking powder, but I’ve doubled this recipe for a 9 x 13 inch pan (2 cups each flour and cornmeal, 4 tsp baking powder, all other ingredients doubled) and it turns out fine.

What always makes me shake my head and smile from the first time I wrote this down through all the years I’ve made cornbread is this one ingredient instruction: “enough milk”. 🙂