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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Bar Cookies

All of us have had those times when we have volunteered to bring cookies for a potluck or snacks for some meeting, only to realize the night before the event that we really aren't in the mood or don't have the time to bake even the simplest drop cookies. So we shift our thoughts to a bar cookie recipe or reach for that box of brownie mix we keep for "emergencies."

That was where I found myself this week. Big plans for making a batch of a favorite butterscotch and chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. All the ingredients ready and even some promises made for what I'd be bringing. And, unfortunately, not a whole lot of time to make the size batch I'd need.

It didn't take much tweaking to alter that old recipe, turning it into a form that took less than 20 minutes to make, from getting out the bowl to putting the pan in the oven. The result was a bar cookie that was a little chewy yet with a bit of a crisp crust--a little unexpected, since most of these recipes tend toward the chewy or "cake-y" side.

This is yet another of the ways that I have found to use mayonnaise in baked goods. Compared to the cost of butter, this (especially when using a store brand of mayonnaise) reduces the cost of the cookies substantially. With the complexity of flavors of all the ingredients, there will be not a hint of this unusual ingredient in the final product.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bar Cookies

1 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 c real mayonnaise
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
1 t almond flavoring
2 1/4 c flour
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ground ginger
2 t baking powder 
2 ½ c quick (not instant) or rolled oats
1 ½ c chocolate or butterscotch chips—or mixed half and half

1. Combine the mayonnaise and brown sugar and cream until well blended. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract, and continue beating until light and fluffy.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices, and gradually add to the sugar and butter mixture.

3. When well blended, stir in the chips and mix thoroughly.

4.  Add the oatmeal, a cup at a time, making sure the batter is evenly mixed.

5.  Spray or oil well a jelly roll pan. Pat the dough evenly in the pan, making sure that the edges are at least as thick as the center.

6.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the center springs back when you press lightly on it.

This recipe makes about 48 to 60 squares, depending on your preferred size for cutting.

Special notes:

If you have a glass or insulated pan, use it instead of lighter pans, to be sure the edges don't bake before the center is done.

These are easiest to cut while still quite warm.  A hint I learned a long time ago for cutting brownies, bar cookies, and sheet cakes is to use a plastic, disposable knife. These not only are safe for your nonstick pans; they also cut cleanly and often more easily than a sharp knife.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cake in a Saucepan

Some of our old family recipes go back to generations of frugal Midwesterners and further to New England roots, but others have even more interesting back stories. The origins of this cake fit in that latter category.

Back before food stamps, "commodity foods" were distributed to clients of our county's Department of Social Services. With one of their social workers in the household, I had access to the recipe folders  prepared to help recipients use the fairly significant amounts of the basic foods distributed each month.  Peanut butter and oatmeal (along with processed cheese, dried egg powder, etc.) were very commonly included, so it was important to suggest ways to use up these otherwise bland foods.

It was in one of these recipe flyers that I first found a recipe for an oatmeal cake with a broiled peanut butter topping instead of frosting. The cake was moist, flavorful, and easy to prepare, so I made it often for our family. In the years since, I have worked out several variations of what we fondly came to call "welfare cake" but none of these had included chocolate.

One of the things I have always liked about this cake is the ease of making it--in a saucepan no less. Quick to make, quick to clean up, this was a natural for a mid-week dessert for a group of hungry kids.

While not at all a "health food," the somewhat reduced sugar and fat amounts along with the increased protein and fiber from the oatmeal and peanut butter help justify serving it at the end of a simple sandwich and salad meal. Probably the longest part of the prep is waiting for the oatmeal mixture to cool before adding the eggs, but you can use that time to mix together the peanut butter topping ingredients. Overall, a nice moist cake that is good warm or cold.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake with Peanut Butter Topping

1 1/2 c water
1 c rolled or quick (not instant) oats
1/3 c butter
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 1/2 c flour--either unbleached or whole wheat
1 t baking soda

1.  Combine water, oatmeal, and butter in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook about 1 to 2 minutes.

2.  Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, stirring until the chips are completely melted. Set the mixture aside to cool slightly. (Prepare the Topping while this is cooling.)

3.  When the oatmeal is cooled to lukewarm, stir in the sugars and eggs and beat well.

4.  Sift or mix the flour and soda together and add to the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan. Stir just enough to be sure the mixture is completely blended.

5.  Pour the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. (If using a glass pan, heat the oven to only 325 degrees.)

6.  When the cake is just done--a toothpick inserted in the center should come out without any liquid batter adhering to it--remove it from the oven and quickly pour the Topping over it, spreading it as evenly as possible. You will need to spread it back toward the middle, as the tendency will be for the very liquid topping to flow away from the higher center to the edges.

7.  Return the cake to the oven, on the highest rack, for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the topping is beginning to bubble around the edges.

Allow to cool well before cutting.

1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c peanut butter

1.  Combine the sugar and water in a large bowl or 2 cup measuring cup and microwave, covered, for about 3 minutes, until the sugar is totally dissolved and the mixture has come to a rolling boil.

2.  Remove the sugar mixture from the microwave and stir in the peanut butter. Stir carefully, as the syrup is very hot.  As you can see, it's really kind of ugly at this stage; that's okay!


Sprinkle with chopped peanuts while the topping is still warm.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Apple Cake with Raspberry Glaze

Over the years, I have compiled a large number of recipe cards, enough to fill four or five long card files like the kind you used to see in libraries. My primary source of recipe inspiration these days is via internet searches, but there are times when it is fun to review the old tried and true favorites. Mixed in with the recipes I used, there were others that "sounded good," but I have never tried, and then, one more category: those recipes I tried but found only mediocre--not inspiring but still not quite worth tossing.

One of those was actually a $25,000 Pillsbury Bake-off winner in the cookie/dessert category. The judges may have liked it, but our family was not impressed. My note when I first tried it on a hot Arizona day was, "Ok but no better made w/ plums 7/4/79.”

It was not surprising that I had substituted plums for the apples. They would have been much more available--and better--at the time..  That "ok" assessment was faint praise, but I kept the recipe in my files with the hope of finding a way to improve upon it. After all, it had won a large prize in the Bake-off, so surely it must have some merit, right?

Now, pulling out the old card, I considered how to improve upon the basic recipe. I had plenty of yogurt in the refrigerator and some local orchard apples still in the fruit cellar, and there was a half empty jar of homemade jam that might be just what was needed to add a little more flavor. 

The result was a nice fruity dessert that, except for dicing the apples,was quick and easy to make, with slightly reduced sugar and fat from the usual cake of this size. The texture is more like a rich bar cookie than cake, thanks to the ground nuts, so this is a good place to use whole wheat flour for just a little more nod to "healthy" ingredients.

By the way, if you want to see the original recipe,  you can find it here: 

 Apple Cake with Raspberry Glaze

2 c flour (may use part or all whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c butter
1/4 c canola or other neutral oil
1 c finely chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans (see NOTE)

2 t cinnamon
1 t soda
1 c yogurt
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 egg
2 c apples, cored and finely diced (not peeled--about 2 medium)

1/2 c raspberry jam
1 t lemon juice
1 to 2 T water

1.   Blend the flour, sugar, butter, oil, and nuts with a fork (or in a mixer) until evenly mixed. Pat 2 1/2 cups of this mixture into a 9 X 12 pan, pressing firmly. Set aside.

2.  Combine  the remaining crumbs with the cinnamon and soda and stir well. Make a well in the center of the mixture.

3.  Combine the yogurt, egg, and vanilla and add to the crumb mixture. Stir until thoroughly blended. Fold in the apples and then pour the filling over the prepared crust.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until the center is just set.

5.  Meanwhile, combine the jam and lemon juice along with just enough water to make the mixture spreadable.

6.  As soon as the bars come out of the oven, spread the jam evenly over the top. (If desired, you can also poke the jam mixture into the cake with a skewer or sharp knife blade.)

Allow to cool completely before cutting.

NOTE:  If ground nuts are available, I highly recommend them, both for the convenience and the slightly  smoother texture in this recipe. However, you can finely chop nuts yourself if the ground nuts are not available. I also prefer almonds to blend with the other flavors, but other nuts can easily be substituted.


This is the kind of recipe that can be tailored to fruits of the season. Other combinations of fruit and  jams can be substituted--chopped plums would be very good with orange marmalade, chopped peaches or nectarines with peach jam, etc. For the latter, I would add half a teaspoon of almond extract with the vanilla.