Poetry, WriterFriends & Cupcakes – Celebrating WomanWords’ 15th Birthday at Caffè Lena

There’s been no time to add recipes to this blog since March 26th. I’ve been baking cupcakes and freezing them. Creating decorations to adorn them. Drawing up the “WomanWords program” for our Feature appearance at Caffè Lena’s open poetry mic (and printing it). Pulling together what items needed to accompany me to the event (tablecloth, printed lists of ingredients for all four kinds of cupcakes, napkins, etc.). Thawing the three sets of cupcakes that were frozen. Researching how I might transform a regular cupcake recipe into a gluten-free one; then making and baking the gluten-free cupcakes early in the morning of the reading. Making all the frostings/icing and then topping all the tasty cakes during that same morning.

Oh yeah – then I had to figure out what I might read too.

It all came together: Wednesday night, April 4th, was a wonderful evening of sharing words and enjoying cupcakes at the bargain price of $1.00 each – all proceeds going to Caffè Lena. I don’t know how much additional open mic income it brought them, but I made sure we wouldn’t run out of cupcakes during the evening. I planned for, and delivered, extra – keeping some home for us and expecting that any excess would travel home with our daughter Kristen (one of the readers), to take to her officemates next day. There were even two gluten-free options for those who can’t do gluten, since Leslie Neustadt baked g-free, semi-homemade, carrot cupcakes topped with dashes of sugar.

There’s something quite awesome about being on the same stage of a musical institution where people like Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean, Ani DiFranco and many other music icons once performed – especially when I don’t play a musical instrument and, although I can carry a tune most of the time, I certainly can’t aspire to a recording or music-writing career. Lena’s is the oldest, continuously-operating coffeehouse in the United States, and it’s a credit to all who work to keep it running that this historic site remains “a place to experience” in Saratoga Springs, NY. The Caffè Lena Open Mic, hosted monthly by poet Carol Graser, is just one of many cultural offerings that can be enjoyed at Lena’s nowadays. I was honored when, several months ago, Carol invited WomanWords to be the Feature at a future open mic, and so happy that she liked the idea of scheduling it in April to coincide with our 15th birthday (“birth” not anniversary, because women birth… including words and other forms of creativity!).

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For those who don’t know about the WomanWords Collective: here, in part, is what I wrote on our now-outdated website years ago (which AlbanyPoets so generously hosted):

Statement of Purpose:

  • To rekindle our Creative Fire
  • To tell our stories
  • To encourage others to tell their stories
  • To empower ourselves and each other

WomanWords—the History:

The WomanWords Collective began as WomanWords, a small writing group meeting in Colonie, NY (a suburb of Albany) at the Mandala Center for Creative Wellness in April 1997. WomanWords was a direct result of founder/facilitator Marilyn Zembo Day’s desire to duplicate the magical inspiration she’d experienced at two summer conferences of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) on the Skidmore College campus in Saratoga, NY.

Leaving the Skidmore conference in 1995, Marilyn felt empowered, enthusiastic, inspired to write and create. By November or December of the same year, she wondered what had happened to all that spirit. Returning to the conference in 1996, she realized what she required to keep the energy flowing: a continuing network of supportive women such as she’d discovered at the IWWG event. As she departed Skidmore, she vowed to either find a writers’ group that met her needs or, if she wasn’t successful in her search, to create one.

During the winter of 1996-97, Marilyn contacted then-IWWG Director Hannelore Hahn to request a “zip code” list of IWWG members in the area for use as a one-time mailing list, and she also brought flyers around to local libraries and bookstores to solicit membership. A dozen women showed up for the first session, and WomanWords has been going strong ever since. Over the years, meeting schedules changed to accommodate the ebb and flow of both the numbers and schedules of participants, as well as Marilyn’s schedule. When Mandala Center closed in 2002, the meeting place also had to change. But always it was clear that the alchemy of a web of supportive, creative women was critical.

It wasn’t until WomanWords was asked to read as a “collective” at a local open mic in Albany in late Spring 2003 that Marilyn realized this was truly what WomanWords had become (thank you, Don Levy, for helping to better describe the entity into which WomanWords has grown!). No longer simply a small writing group, WomanWords has expanded to include a myriad of other activities, with [hundreds of women] having attended various events and many more receiving the e-newsletter, locally and across the country (and into other countries as well). [There have been workshops, retreats, writing weekends, readings, an open mic series, publications and more. Click here if you’d like to see photos of some activities on the old website.]

Today, we no longer meet monthly. I plan a few “special events” under the auspices of WomanWords each year, sometimes to benefit some place or organization like Still Point Interfaith Retreat Center (where most events are held), always with the goal of offering a safe, creative space for women who want to tell their stories, to write.

As for our most recent “event” – at Carol’s wonderful open mic – here’s that “story” in a few of the pictures:

Carol, our host

Marilyn

Leslie

Kelly

Mary

Kristen

Kittie

Lesley

Judith

The WW Readers at Caffe Lena - wish there was time for all my WomenWriter friends to have been readers!

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So we had something to celebrate. What better way than with words and cupcakes!?!

I wasn’t so much “into” cupcakes until Kristen began to make them for parties at her workplace. Then it turned out that both she and her brother, our son, Adrian, both “got into” cupcakes. So I baked a few… and later a few more… and now I love the idea that there are so many ways to vary them, to enrich – and other people love them too! There are even cupcake “wars” on Food Network. And it’s not so unusual any more for a bridal couple to opt for a huge display of wedding cupcakes rather than a many-tiered cake at their reception. Cupcakes are “in” (although now Kristen has gone on to creating “cakepops” – which tend to be too sweet for me when made with all the frosting that hold thems together in many of the recipes).

I’m not going to attempt to include recipes for all the Caffè Lena cupcakes in one posting. Right now I’ll provide the recipe for my favorite of the batch, Banana-Walnut Cupcakes. Let me herewith confess that, as I recuperated yesterday from the previous evening’s festivities (and the preceding preparations for it), I managed to indulge in three of those delicious delights (breakfast, lunch and dinner desserts – oh, all right, the breakfast one WAS breakfast in total, but then it’s kind of a muffin, only smaller, right?). Maybe I’m confessing but I’m not feeling guilty at all. Worth every calorie.

So here’s the recipe, including frosting/icing. It originated with 500 Cupcakes: The Only Cupcake Compendium You’ll Ever Need by Fergal Connolly (Sellers Publishing Inc., 2005), coming into its/my own with a few changes, including switching-out the margarine for butter, and adding an egg plus some cinnamon. Tomorrow (or very soon): I’ll fill you in on the frosting I whipped up for those Heavenly Cupcakes in my last post. After that, the other two.

 

BANANA-WALNUT CUPCAKES
Yields about 18 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1¾ cups mashed bananas
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup honey (I used orange blossom honey)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon (I use Saigon Cinnamon)
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cups roughly chopped walnuts

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place paper baking cups into regular cupcake tins. If not using paper baking cups, lightly grease and flour each cupcake slot.
  3. In a large bowl, combine bananas, brown sugar, honey and butter. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended.
  4. Add the lightly-beaten egg to banana mixture. Beat well into mix.
  5. Slowly add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.
  6. Fold in chopped walnuts.
  7. Spoon batter into individual cups in the cupcake tin, to about 2/3 or ¾ full.
  8. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a wooden toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean (tops will “bounce back” when touched gently).
  9. Remove pans from over and place on wire racks or trivets. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Remove cupcakes from pans and place on racks.
  11. Allow to cool completely before frosting or freezing.

(If freezing, wrap each cupcake individually in plastic wrap, making sure to get out all air. When thawing later on (preferably no later than a month beyond baking date), remove plastic wrap as soon as taken out of freezer to avoid a gummy outer texture on tops – especially if you’re not going to frost them, or if simply sifting confectioners’ sugar on top.)

WALNUT FROSTING
for Banana-Walnut Cupcakes – more than enough for all of them!

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (start with 2 cups, add as needed to thicken)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder (can use extract, if preferred)
  • 1 cup ground walnuts (or more, if you prefer)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk (I use 2%, and sometimes I need more than 4 tblsps of it!)
  • walnut halves for center-top of each frosting cupcake

Process

  1. Add cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla to a large bowls, beating to a creamy consistency – ADDING a tablespoon or two of milk as needed, to make it creamier (but not liquid-like!). Or perhaps you’ll need more sugar – for a sturdier consistency.
  2. When the frosting has reached the consistency preferred for topping cupcakes, beat in the ground walnuts.
  3. Frost cupcakes.
  4. Center a walnut-half on top of the cookie (it helps identify the kind of cookie too, should you be offering a variety!)

A Date with a Scone, A Scone with Dates… and Walnuts

Since adding the post titled “KitchenCauldron – Unplugged” (February 3, 2012) to this blog, in which I talk about the first time I tasted a scone, I’ve had scones on my mind. Maybe not obsessively, but with a clear intent to bake some soon. Turns out it’s very soon. Four days later. This morning.

I pulled out the little scone cookbook I mentioned in that blogpost (literally small, 5.6” x 5.5” with only 144 pages), Simply Scones: Quick and Easy Recipes for More than 70 Delicious Scones and Spreads by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright (St. Martin’s Press, 1988). Seeing the copyright date, I wondered if it was still in print. Turns out it is, and available on Amazon – for almost twice the price I paid for it way-back-when (now costs $9.95). Still, the plethora of only-scone recipes makes it worth it; it’s tiny but jam-packed (pun not intended on the fact that I like my scones warm, with butter and jam/preserves/fruit spread most of the time). Out of the many baking choices, the hyphenated word “date-nut” caught my eye and imagination. My revised version of the Weiner/Albright recipe follows but not, of course, without a slight digression or two.

Weiner/Albright decided to ask a few people, “since scones might not yet be a household word,” for their idea of what exactly a scone is. Some of the responses were quite funny, or just a vague notion (remember- it was 1988 and this country was clueless about lots of “foreign” cuisine, and people were not celebrity-chef-and-Food-Channel-crazy, as they can be now). I think my favorite answer that they heard was that they’re like “a puffy oatmeal cookie.” The authors did, fairly accurately as it turns out, predict that this confection would become more common in the U.S., although perhaps it hasn’t reached the height of “household word.” Stroll down the baking/spices aisle in most grocery chain stores, however, and you’re likely to find a boxed mix for scones, with a picture on the front (so folks nowadays might know at least what they look like). However, I doubt they’ll overcome muffins in popularity with breakfast or coffee klatch crowds, at least not any time soon.

Online at Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of this luscious cross between a muffin and quick bread (my definition) calls it, “a rich quick bread cut into usually triangular shapes and cooked on a griddle or baked on a sheet.” I guess that about covers it. I like that Simply Scones goes beyond Webster’s to tell readers that the word “scone” might come from one or some of many sources:

  • From the Dutch, schoonbrood: fine, white bread
  • From the Middle Dutch, schoon: bright, and broot: bread
  • From the Gaelic, sgonn: a shapeless mass or large mouthful
  • From the Middle Low German, schonbrot: fine bread
  • Or, the word may be based on the Scottish town of Scone.

I particularly like the “shapeless mass or large mouthful…” because it’s pretty shapeless when you’re handling that big blob of dough, before being molded into a circle.

Webster’s provides a link to the online Encyclopedia Britanica entry re scones, which informs that scones were, “[a] quick bread of British origin… made with leavened barley flour or oatmeal… rolled into a round shape and cut into quarters before baking on a griddle. The first scones were baked in cast iron pans hung in the kitchen fires of rural England and Wales. With the advent of Eastern trade, scones became an integral part of the fashionable ritual of “taking tea,” with which they are still served daily, hot and buttered, throughout Britain and many regions of its former empire.”

At the beginning of Simply Scones‘ recipe, the writers suggest topping the finished product with Citrus Curd or Citrus Butter (both recipes published in the book), but – hey – it was early in the morning and I wasn’t about to go for concocting one of them too! Instead, as the yummies approached their last five minutes in the oven, I asked Bill (who was awake by this time) which he preferred: apricot fruit spread or orange marmalade (we had both in the cabinet, as yet unopened). He opted for the marmalade, which turned out to be perfect (I enjoyed it too).

Here’s how I concocted my version of Date-Nut Scones, inspired by Weiner and Albright:

  • I replaced the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat.
  • Simply Scones lists ⅓ cup milk as an ingredient. I assumed they meant to use whole milk, which I don’t keep in our fridge, so I did a combo of 1% and Light Cream (which I did have), plus added a bit more cream because I was using vanilla powder rather than vanilla extract and didn’t want the scones to be overly dry for lack of that tiny bit of moisture.
  • I added a teaspoon of Roasted Saigon Cinnamon. Why not? I love it. It’s good for ya!
  • I assume the authors meant for bakers to use dried lemon peel,  but I zested a real lemon instead (reserving slices for later use in ice water, which is what I generally drink with meals since giving up Diet Decaf Coke).
  • I only had half of an 8-ounce bag of chopped pitted dates left (not the 8 oz. suggested) and that seemed plenty to me.
  • As for the walnuts, I used what I already had chopped from a previous recipe, which was a “scant” ½ cup rather than exactly that amount. Plenty.
  • I misread the recipe and sifted the flour mixture together, whereas the book said to stir the stuff. Oh well. I liked the result anyway, very much!
  • I would say that the egg/water wash, which was noted as “optional” in their recipe, would be pretty much required for me!

A witchy word (or two, or more) about cinnamon. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) lists its “energies” as “love, psychic awareness, money.” These are not reasons why I use so much of this spice in my cooking, baking and even a few hot beverages; I just happen to love it. But I could always use lots of any or all of those three things (actually, I seem to have plenty of love but wouldn’t mind a bit more of the $$$!). Cunningham also notes that, “Most cinnamon sold in the United States, no matter how it’s labeled, is actually cassia. Cassia is a dark spice, usually reddish brown, while true cinnamon is actually tan-colored.” He assures his readers, however, that “there’s virtually no difference between the taste and magical effects of cinnamon and cassia.”

If none of the above “magical” revelations draws you toward adding more of the stuff into your diet, how about this: yesterday I caught the end of Dr. Oz’s show and heard him say (before hubby continued on with his channel-surfing) something about cinnamon and that it only takes a teaspoon a day to make a difference. I’ve since found a pertinent Oz quote online (note that he is not directing anyone to Cinnabon for their daily dose…):

Here’s a tantalizing observation: Cinnamon (with an ‘m’ not a ‘b’) seems to have an insulin-like effect that helps enhance the satiety center in your brain (and also reduces blood sugar levels as well as cholesterol levels). Just a ½ teaspoon a day can have some effect. Sprinkle it in cereal or toast, or add it to a smoothie.

In The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic (Citadel Press, 2005), Patricia Telesco talks about the symbolic meanings of several spices; for cinnamon, she lists “sacredness.” She also includes a recipe headed with the title Perfect Love “Cakes,” with the following explanation:

This Scottish quick bread called a scone very likely takes its name from the Stone of Destiny (or Scone), the place where the Scottish kings were once crowned. The original triangular scone was made with oats and griddle-baked. Since this recipe includes cheese (a love food) make your scones round like the magic circle and serve them as “cakes” after any ritual gathering.

The Love Cakes recipe itself sounds like something I’d like to try, its buttermilk and cheese an enticement. Plus, I once took a feminist thealogy course (no, it’s not a spelling error, “heal” is meant to be in the middle of that word!) called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. Its name comes from the Book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible, wherein God says to Jeremiah, “Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the Streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes to the Queen of Heaven and to pour out libations to other gods, in order to anger me!” (Jeremiah, 7:17-18)  The Queen of Heaven is the ancient goddess, the Feminine Divine, and the cakes were to honor her. [Come to think of it, I took Cakes twice, the first time in a co-ed class and Bill joined me at those sessions. The curriculum is designed for women but a number of guys at the Schenectady Unitarian Universalist church wanted to learn more about the topic too, so they set up a two-gender rendition. It was wonderful but years later, taking it with all women, an entirely different atmosphere reigned – one which I loved!]

Oh, and this is cool: To the left of the beginning of each set of directions within a recipe in The Kitchen Witch Companion, there’s a black cauldron symbol!

On to my scone recipe. Don’t be put off by what looks like a long process (lots of numbered steps) or lots of ingredients. I prefer, always, to split everything into separate steps, procedure-wise. I think it’s easier to keep track of where you are in the process (no matter how often you read the recipe beforehand!). In fact, the authors of Simply Scones managed to get their version onto one page plus six lines on the facing page – that’s how “simply” it can be presented!

DATE-NUT SCONES
Yield: 8 scones

Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt (unless you have fine-ground sea salt)
  • ½ teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular Saigon Cinnamon, or regular Cinnamon)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled
  • ⅓ cup whole milk, or ¼ cup 1% milk with enough Light Cream added to bring measuring up to ⅓ cup total of “milk” (I did the latter, for reasons explained above), PLUS another tablespoon of Light Cream if you intend to use vanilla powder rather than vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder (can substitute vanilla extract, but see above re milk ingredient)
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) chopped pitted dates
  • scant ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with ½ teaspoon water, for glaze

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lightly butter a 10-inch diameter circle in the center of a baking sheet (a pizza pan works great).
  3. In a large bowl, sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Cut butter into ½-inch cubes and distribute them over flour mixture.
  5. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors-like (actually I use the pastry blender plus a butter knife), cut butter into the mix until the whole flour mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
  6. In a small bowl, stir milk, egg, vanilla and lemon zest, combining well.
  7. Add the milk mix to the flour mixture; stir to combine. Mixture will be a bit sticky so, for next step, you might want to “flour-up” your hands.
  8. Knead the dates and walnuts into the dough until they’re evenly distributed throughout.
  9. With still-floured hands, pat the dough into a 9-inch diameter circle in the center of your buttered baking sheet.
  10. Brush with the egg/water mixture.
  11. Cut into 8 wedges with a serrated knife (if you forget, don’t panic; I forgot to cut the triangles and did so when it first came out of the oven—no problem!).
  12. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (mine took 25) until lightly browned and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  13. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Recut into wedges, if necessary. At this point, you can move scones from sheet to a rack to cool completely, or serve.
  14. Serve with butter and preserves/jam/marmalade or however you please.
  15. Can be stored, after completely cooled, in an airtight container.

Incidentally, I was sated with one of these scrumptious “heavenly cakes” – but Bill managed to ingest two of them. The dates and walnuts made for a slight crunchiness, truly fit for a god(dess).

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #4 – Cry Babies (My Mom’s Favorites)

These cookies were my mother’s favorites. I was required to bake them each Christmas, once the recipe came into my hands from a co-worker at the time, Marie Armer (a woman from whom many recipes were received)! Marie was always bringing goodies into the office. We used to tease her about it, saying this was part of her Italian Mother persona, the feed-’em-and-they feel-better philosophy. In fact, she made the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted – and I have that recipe too (yes, I’ll post it when I next bake it).

It’s not surprising that Mom would love these little “babies” since I recall that she also found it hard to resist picking up a package of Freihofer’s Hermit Cookies when I’d take her grocery shopping (she didn’t drive so this constituted my Saturday mother-daughter bonding ritual – to Price Chopper for the week’s sustenance). To me, Cry Babies are similar to both hermit cookies and molasses cookies, with a bit of the gingerbread thrown in (there is, after all, ginger as one of the ingredients). I enjoy them too, although not nearly as much as Mom did. I must admit that any sort of molasses cookie doesn’t usually make it to the top of my list. So I made a half-batch this time and still had plenty to add to gift-plates of sweets, with more cookies left over than we could eat in this house!

I’ve noted my changes to Marie’s original in the recipe below. As for the cookie’s name, I don’t know where that came from—but could we presume, based on Mom’s opinion, that they’re so sweet and heavenly that they might bring tears to your eyes?

CRY BABIES
Makes lots of cookies – at least 3-4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses (darker the better)
  • 1 cup shortening (I use butter, softened)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (I use Roasted Saigon Cinnamon now, but regular is fine)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger (recently discovered Roasted Ginger dried spice – try it!)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg (this is my addition to the recipe; not in original received from Marie)
  • dash of salt (I tend to use sea salt)
  • 5 cups sifted all-purpose flour (flour should be sifted before measuring
  • 1 cup hot coffee mixed with 1 level teaspoon baking soda
  • chopped walnuts (optional – amount to your own taste; I use up to a cup)
  • raisins (also optional but I always include them – amount to your own taste; I use up to a cup)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another bowl, mix sugar, molasses, shortening (or butter) and eggs in a large bowl, beating until blended.
  3. Sift together cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and previously-sifted flour.
  4. Add flour/spices mixture to the sugar/molasses mix, alternating with addition of the hot coffee/baking soda mixture, blending with mixer as you do so.
  5. Add nuts and raisins (if using them), stirring into batter.
  6. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Remove from cookie sheet after cooling for a minute or two.
  9. When fully cooled, Cry Babies can be frosted with a butter cream frosting, adding a nice contrast to the gingerbready/molasses cookie flavor. If you want to freeze them, don’t frost– wait until they’re defrosted for that! 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #3 – Walnut Squares

Chef Santa, sitting on my cookbook shelf, rules the kitchen during the holidays.

These are so easy to make. For me, they were this year’s favorite, although not at all new in my repertoire of Christmas cookies. For some reason, I reached for these more often this time around, until they ran out. Bill loves them too. My mom loved them. (I think Santa does too.) In fact, I can’t think of anyone who’s tasted them who hasn’t loved them. I do find that I can’t eat more than one or two of these morsels at a sitting because they’re so rich tasting, but then that’s me. Your sweet tooth might support plenty more.

The recipe came from a former neighbor at least two decades ago and who knows where it originated. I haven’t changed a thing from the “original” I received after my first tasting. They’re more “brownie cookie” than “bar cookie” – but who needs to define them as long as they’re sweet and luscious? They also seem to taste even better to me the next day after they’re baked, and the day after that, and…

 

EASY WALNUT SQUARES
Yield depends upon size of each square; small squares can produce as many as 25 to 30.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter (unsalted preferred)
  • 1½ cup brown sugar (dark preferred, but light OK)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Process

For the bottom layer:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Stir together flour (1 cup) and sugar.
  3. Cut butter into flour/sugar mixture.
  4. Pat the resulting mixture/dough into an 8” x 8” square pan.
  5. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, while mixing ingredients for top layer.
  6. After removing from oven, maintain oven temperature for baking the top layer.

For the top layer:

  1. Beat the eggs for about 1-2 minutes, until well-mixed and a light yellow.
  2. Add brown sugar, 2 tbsp. flour, vanilla, baking powder, chopped nuts and salt – and beat well.
  3. Pour mix onto the pre-baked bottom layer.
  4. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes (but check after about 30 minutes). When done, top will be crackly but underneath will remain slightly gooey (mine usually take about 35 minutes to get to this finished stage).
  5. Remove from oven and cut into small squares.
  6. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan.

 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #2, Jan Hagel

My “favorite” cookie amongst the group I traditionally bake for the December holidays has changed over the decades – and sometimes changed back. Jan Hagel, also called Dutch Hail, remained my go-to, lovin’-it cookie for years. Sometimes I think it still is. Maybe it’s that nostalgic, “honoring the ancestors” thing again. I’d never heard of these cookies before coming across them in an old Betty Crocker cookbook in the late 1970s. I don’t even know if they’re genuinely Dutch, but the name indicates at least a Holland-rooted influence.

My typically American, mongrel family background includes Dutch (as well as German) on Mom’s side, although I’ve never pursued genealogical digging to discover just how many years ago those ancestors arrived in the New World. Did they settle right away in New Netherlands (which is what this area was called), or had they first tried out some other likely homespace? I may never know for sure, although I could start some research at the Town Clerk’s Office in Broadalbin, NY someday if I want to (and had time to) learn more about the past. I’ve just always assumed the former was the case, ancient relatives coming directly to this area. Why not? In grade school, we spent plenty of time learning about our Dutch settlers, their architecture and other influences; and I was enthralled by the New Netherlands items in the Albany Institute of History and Art, often walking the few blocks from our Central Avenue apartment to the museum to wander through its many exhibits. Especially enticing: a miniature mock-up of an Old Albany street – for me, it was like viewing a dollhouse that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

Tulips, with statue of Moses in background. Washington Park, Albany, NY.

 Of course, there was – and continues to be – the annual Albany Tulip Festival each May, much of which took place in Washington Park (another location just a few city blocks from us). These days, that event is an even bigger deal in these parts, having gone well beyond the crowning of the Tulip Queen, a festival ball honoring said Queen and the ritual washing of State Street by young girls and women in Dutch attire. (I have a memory of a schoolmate “qualifying” to beone of those street sweepers via a verifiable Dutch lineage. Her last name was Krull, as I recall. I don’t think ancestry matters any more, but it made for a nice local newspaper article at the time!) Nowadays, over every Mother’s Day weekend, the park – already adorned with thousands of tulips (which happen to be my favorite flowers) – fills up with music by live bands, food and crafts vendors, and an awesome number of festival-loving folks anxious to enjoy everything offered.

Dutch-costumed annual washing of State Street at start of Albany Tulip Festival, Albany, NY

Now that you’re all “Dutched” into the right mood, here’s my recipe for Jan Hagel, a truly easy, nutty, delicious – though not fancy – bar cookie. I love its faint cinnamon taste and bit of crunchiness from the nuts. The only thing different that I did with it this year was to substitute half of the walnuts with finely chopped macadamias. That’s only because I temporarily ran out of walnuts. It was a heavenly “edit” – but then I love macadamias! Sometimes I double this recipe, depending upon how many other cookies I’ll be baking and how many holiday cookie plates I expect to gift to others.

Oh yeah – at one time I concocted a “healthier” version of this cookie to enter into a Quaker Oats contest. This was back when the current healthy super-food craze was oats. I got lots of jibes and jokes from family and friends about my experiments (in coatings for pork chops, in cookies, atop casseroles, in meatloaf, etc.), but processing oats into a powder and adding some in place of the flour did work well in Jan Hagel. Unfortunately, I’ve lost the proportions of that recipe substitution – but feel free to experiment if the spirit moves you!

JAN HAGEL (a/k/a Dutch Hail)
Yields about 40-50 bar cookies (approximately 3” x 1” each)

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter (my original recipe said “or margarine” – I never do this any more)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (I usd Roasted Saigon Cinnamon but plain cinnamon works fine; sometimes I add a dash of nutmeg too)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan (15½” x 10½” x 1”).
  3. Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk together.
  4. Blend flour and cinnamon.
  5. Stir flour/cinnamon mixture into the butter mix.
  6. Pat the dough into pan.
  7. Beat the water and egg white until frothy.
  8. Brush frothed egg white over dough.
  9. Sprinkle with nuts.
  10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until very lightly browned.
  11. Cut immediately up removal from oven – into finger-like strips.
  12. Let cool about 5 minutes in pan before removing to a rack or plate to cool completely.


Note: Photographs from the Albany Tulip Festival in this post are from “All Over Albany” website.