Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pink Himalayan Caramels

I'm back a little earlier than expected. I really didn't think I would get anything new done or a post ready before we headed up to Prescott Valley to visit Michael's dad this weekend. But, as luck would have it, insomnia and recovery from the nasty Christmas cold left me feeling like doing a little something in the kitchen this morning.

I'd considered a couple projects I want to try out in the next few weeks including a mint and chocolate cookie. But, what I finally settled on was an adaptation of Ina Garten's Fleur de Sel Caramels.

These delicious buttery caramels are fairly easy to do as candy goes. If you have a little patience, these won't give you much trouble at all. I do have to admit to being a little tickled at some of the comments on the Food Network site where the original of this recipe was hosted. I'm never ceased to be amazed by people who scream bloody murder that the recipe is "COMPLETELY WRONG!!!!" (Seriously, that's the level of their rage.) And go on to explain they reached this insight because their sugar burned to a crisp. Folks, here's a hint - that's not the recipe's fault. That is all you. It is imperative that when baking or candy making that you not only measure exactly but that you also watch when you're cooking. If something says 12 minutes but your dish looks done at 10 minutes - take it out for pity's sake! If a recipe says that a sugar mixture should be heated to 200° and that should take about 10 minutes. Don't set a timer and start catching up on Facebook. Watch the pot and the thermometer and when it hits 200° take it off the heat - whether it's been 10 minutes or 5 minutes!

Anyway, this is not a difficult candy recipe and it was cool enough today that I didn't even have to refrigerate the candy before finishing it up. I left it on the counter on a cooling rack and it was ready to go in a couple hours.

The recipe calls for this to be rolled up into two logs then sliced into 8 pieces each for a total of 16 pieces. I found those pieces were a bit large for the small boxes I was going to use for these so sliced them smaller. I even found the not rolling would work just as well if you'd like small squares. It's really up to you if you want big ol' caramels or something a little daintier.

I was thrilled with the taste the butter shines through in the caramel flavor and the addition of the salt gives them a little extra boost. I used my Himalayan Pink Salt both in the recipe as sprinkled over the tops.

Happy New Year and thanks for sticking with us here at Sugar Pies through 2010!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pretzel Butter Cookies

The holidays are always such a busy time of year. Michael and I decided to upgrade the TV we've had for almost three years that was the size of many people's computer monitor (19"). We opted for a 32" TV which comparatively looks huge in our small living room. Still, I love it! No more squinting to see the scores on the football games and I've discovered that I can actually spot the pineapple on Psych since they've been hiding it better the past couple seasons.

We've also received some lovely gifts from family. My sister sent us a beautiful silver candleholder and candles (she knows what a sucker I am for great scented candles). My nephew and niece, Andy and Cameron sent us a great bottle of Hatteras Red wine from a local winery near their home in coastal North Carolina. Cameron also included some fabulous homemade gingerbread. My nephew Darron and his girlfriend sent us a lovely framed photo they had done recently.

So, as I've been trying to make some special treats for various events lately, I happened upon a great recipe in an old Betty Crocker cookbook. I've been looking for a nice butter cookie recipe that resembles the tinned cookies so often exchanged during the holiday season. This one comes very close. With a dash of almond flavor and lots of butter, this dough is delicate and crisp without being tough. The addition of coarse sugar on the outside really gives this a flavor and texture boost. I'd have to say this is fast becoming one of my favorite cookie doughs. It's not the easiest in the world to work because of the high butter content, but thoroughly chilled it won't give you too many problems. Just remember to take your time with it and don't leave it out as you're working in sections.

The traditional recipe calls for this to be rolled into ropes then formed into pretzel shapes. That works well but is pretty time consuming because you have to keep the dough very chilled or it tends to spread too much and become sticky when rolling with the hands. I found this also works well rolled out in sheets and then cut with round cookie cutters. Just make sure you roll this thicker than you would most doughs, though, or you lose its beautiful texture and it becomes too wafer-like. You could even use a small cookie scoop and use this as a small drop cookie. In short, it's a very versatile dough and you can adapt it to whatever your needs are.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cocoa Fudge Cupcakes

I've been trying to get things ready for the holidays. These great chocolaty cupcakes with an identity crisis seemed the perfect thing! They're a cross between a brownie and chocolate cake. These turn out very moist and with a great fudge brownie flavor.

Recipe: Cocoa Fudge Cupcakes


  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup shortening, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tbs. instant coffee
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
Butter Rum Glaze
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rum flavoring (or 2 tbs. light rum)
  • 2-4 tbs. hot water


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place paper liners in 24 small muffin cups. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together shortening and sugar until just fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla, and instant coffee and beat just until combined. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa. Add buttermilk to sugar mixture and combine. Add flour mixture and beat at medium high speed for about 3-5 minutes, until batter is smooth and uniform with no lumps.
  2. Spoon batter into prepared cups and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely and glaze.
Butter Rum Glaze
  1. Place melted butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and flavoring and stir until combined. Add enough hot water to achieve a smooth and glossy consistency.


For a vanilla glaze substitute vanilla extract for the rum extract. This can also be used with orange or lemon juice as well.

Total time: 30 min
Number of servings (yield): 12
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

German Pretzels

German Pretzels
 When a recipe asks me to don protective gear like goggles, long sleeve shirts, and rubber gloves, I get a little leery. I'm not one to turn my kitchen into a possible chemical hazard zone for the sake of a recipe. So, when I saw those caveats in a recipe for German Pretzels, it gave me pause.

The original of this recipe calls for a lye bath for the dough. That's not the safest cooking procedure in the world. Luckily, there are alternatives. I, for one, will sacrifice the minute taste difference for something that won't send me to the hospital should I mess up!

Of course, lye reminds me of story about a local Lutheran church back in South Carolina. I grew up in what is known as the "Dutch Fork" of South Carolina. Almost everyone I knew was of German descent and Lutheran. Their families had immigrated to the colonies in the 18th Century at the invitation of King George II to help fill up the back country of South Carolina and provide a buffer to the Indian settlements and the Spanish and French to the South and West. Thus, Lutheran was the predominant religious denomination in my part of the South. My brother even became a Lutheran when he married into the Summer family - a very old German family.

Each Easter the Lutheran churches would celebrate Ash Wednesday by burning the palms used in the previous year's Palm Sunday service. These ashes would then be used to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of participants in Communion. As it turned out, that year happened to be quite rainy. The folks in charge of getting together the ashes for the service got the palm fronds burned nicely but then left them sitting out in the open for several days until the service. In the meantime, it rained.

Undoubtedly, the old craft of soap-making had been lost in the community because no one seemed to notice that ashes and water equal a fairly potent chemical when mixed together and allowed to sit. Yep, sure enough, the water as it sat with the ashes and percolated down created lye.

Unbeknown to the minister, as he scooped the ashes into a vessel for the service they were coated with lye. The service went forward and everyone filed to the front for communion and their cross on the forehead. Then, by the end of service people were noticing their their foreheads were itching and burning. Sure enough, when they washed off the ashes the lye in them had left red burns in the sign of the cross! Luckily, no one was seriously injured and the marks faded after a day or two.

Obviously, lye wasn't something I was particularly fond of trying in this recipe! So, I utilized a baking soda bath for the dough instead.

This turned out very nicely and I liked the result much more than an Amish recipe I've used in the past. The dough is soft and chewy and using both a coarse Kosher salt and a coarse Pink Himalayan salt not only gave a nice flavor to the pretzels but a great presentation as well.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Maple Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies

Maple Brown Sugar Pecan Cookie frosted with Maple Glaze.
What a week! Since last weekend I've been dealing with Plantar Fasciitis which makes it difficult for me to get around on a very sore left foot. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot to do about it since I'm limited in what types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication I can take. So, we're trying an orthotic and stretching exercises. It's a bit better, but that first step is still a killer!

On Thursday we went to the Fourth Avenue Street Fair for a bit. It was interesting and there were lots of people looking at the various items for sale. We decided to take advantage of the food vendors there and eat lunch. Needless to say I was floored when two orders of curly fries, a philly cheese steak and two lemonades topped out at almost $30. Maybe it would have been worth it if the food had been incredible, but it wasn't anything extraordinary. Still, we purchased a few things at the fair including a Christmas gift for a family member.

Normally, I don't discuss politics here but the end of the week really left me depressed. Recently, Jan Brewer, our governor, decided that transplant patients who are on AHCCCS (the Arizona version of Medicaid) would not be allowed to get transplants. In one pen stroke she sentenced 98 people to death. It is so bad that Keith Olbermann of MSNBC has begun a fund to try to raise money to get these people back on the transplant lists. Just amazing!

Then, earlier today I found out that Pima County is attempting to shut down all the programs that feed homeless people. Citing various restaurant codes, Sharon Browning their "Food Sanitarian" has decided that giving away food now qualifies as a restaurant and those doing it must be licensed and own a "Food Service Truck" (about a $50,000 investment). In addition they must work in a commercial kitchen with annual fees to her agency of over $300. Honestly, I wonder where common sense is these days. She continues to protest both to the press and in her letters telling people to cease feeding the homeless that she has their best interests at heart. Somehow, I really doubt it. Perhaps, I'm just a cynic when it comes to bureaucrats, after all the Federal Government passed a specific law to allow restaurants to give away expired food in order to feed the hungry. Now, Browning and Arizona say that healthy and fresh food made by people who care can't be given to people. Expired food... OK. Fresh food.... tough luck.

Shortly after finding out about Ms. Browning's efforts I learned that Jan Brewer and her Brewercare death panel had decided to stop funding medications for HIV patients. I have a friend here in town who relies on the program (funded by the Federal Government, by the way) for his medication. He now is out of medication and has no prospects of getting more. In essence, another death sentence by Mrs. Brewer and friends in Phoenix. Folks, this is what Republican healthcare reform looks like.

Needless to say, I'm quite depressed by the lack of compassion, caring, and charity in Arizona. I don't think I've ever been in a place less caring than this one and  it truly saps the spirit.

So, while Michael was teaching and no good football games were on TV (I can't possibly bring myself to cheer for the Cardinals today) - I decided to take my mind off things with some baking.

I had some Fisher's Brown Sugar Pecans that I found in the seasonal section of the grocery store last week. They're made by Fisher's. I wanted to do something with them and finally hit upon a Maple drop cookie with pecan pieces.

This turned out very nicely. Similar to a sugar cookie made with brown sugar, these are soft and chewy with a crackled surface. I used two approaches to decorating them. In one batch I used a maple glaze made with powdered sugar, maple extract and water and topped with pecan pieces and in the other I simply rolled the dough in Turbinado sugar before baking.

I love the taste of these. The maple extract gives them a nice maple flavor and the brown sugar pecans finish off with a great praline taste. I used a bit more salt in the dough than usual because I love the little hit of salt against nuts in a sweet cookie. It also helps cut the sweetness of the double hit of sugar and maple.

These are lovely and a great pick me up on a day when it seems the world has stopped caring.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Greatest Generation Spice Cake

Maybe that name is a bit long. In actuality this is a marble spice cake that comes from a 1941 recipe published in Mrs. S.R. Dull's Southern Cooking book. I found it interesting that this recipe predates World War II but utilizes a basic cake structure familiar to most Southern cooks - the 1,2,3,4 Cake. Of course, the utilization of whipped egg whites lends the texture of this one something akin to a chiffon cake.

Regardless, this is a very tasty and simple cake to make. It has a light texture but remains moist with a very fine crumb. The spices add a lovely note to the lemon and vanilla in the base batter and the marbling makes a nice presentation.

I really enjoyed this cake and it would make a great gift for a friend or neighbor at Christmas. I opted not to glaze or ice it, but if you wanted to a very lightly flavored lemon glaze would work nicely or even the glaze used for my Apple Cider Spice Cake would work.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Red Velvet Cookies

If you've ever wanted the chocolaty goodness and festive appearance of Red Velvet Cake without all the hassle, then Red Velvet Cookies might be an option for you! These little cookies are based on a soft sugar cookie recipe that is then combined with sour cream and leavening to give them a more cake like texture and cocoa to impart that classic Red Velvet Cake taste. Topped with a cream cheese frosting and sprinkles they are perfect for a holiday gift tray or your next holiday party.

I wasn't sure how much baking I would get done this week. On Tuesday I was called for jury duty and, amazingly, got picked for a trial. It was expected to run through Friday but we finished up late on Thursday afternoon and handing in our verdict. It was a very interesting experience, especially considering in Arizona we, as jurors, are also allowed to question witnesses at the end of their testimony. We made good use of that rule and asked many questions, some I thought more on point and pertinent than the actual lawyers.

Thankfully, we finished up on Thursday which gave me late Friday to get in a little baking. I'd hoped to be finished in time to drop the excess off to Karin and Feeding the Homeless, but as I just finished icing a few minutes ago and my back is yelling, I think I'll drop them by on Sunday since she has backup sweets for today.

These are great little cookies and I hope you'll give them a try during the holidays!

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