baking

St. Lucia Buns

by Lisa

I’ll bet you didn’t know that today is St. Lucy’s Day.  And that it is also my daughter’s half-birthday. And that her still-beloved American Girl doll, Kirsten, hails from Sweden, where St. Lucy is pretty much the only saint honored. If you’ve read my book, you also might know that we nearly named Ella “Lucy”, after my paternal grandmother.

For a few years, Ella has been lobbying to celebrate her half-birthday/Swedish saint day in a traditional way: with St. Lucia buns, brought by the eldest daughter, at the crack of dawn, to the other members of the household. Usually, this daughter wears a crown of candles.  Historically, December 13 would have been the winter solstice, the darkest night of the year, and thus the tradition of the eldest daughter bringing light and sweets.

Last night at dinner, Ella reminded me about St. Lucy’s Day and told me exactly where to find the recipe, and at 6:30 pm, I agreed and set to work making St. Lucia Buns for the morning. I didn’t have saffron or raisins, which means ours were not exactly authentic, but they were good enough.  They’re a sweet, yeast bread and easy to make.

This morning, at about 6:45 am, it was still dark, and Finn came into our room, announcing, “Stay in bed!” Not long after that, Ella arrived (sans scary candle crown) with a breakfast tray bearing two cups of coffee and 4 St. Lucia buns, plated and garnished with candied walnuts, which she’d added in place of the missing raisins.

It was lovely to have a break from the regular routine, to forget about making lunches and emptying the dishwasher and making beds.  We all piled onto our bed, and had a calm, sweet breakfast as the sun came up.

St. Lucia Buns

from Kirsten’s Cookbook

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 package yest
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 1 egg + 1 T water
  • 24 raisins
  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes until  bubbly and smooth.
  2. Warm the milk and butter over low heat until butter is just melted.
  3. Add the milk and butter to the yeast.
  4. Stir in sugar, egg, salt, and saffron.
  5. Add 1 1/2 cups flour and stir until smooth.
  6. Add enough of the remaining flour so that you can shape the dough into a ball.
  7. Put dough on floured cutting board & knead, adding flour as dough becomes sticky.
  8. When dough is smooth and  springy (about 5-10 minutes) cover with a towel and wash & dry mixing bowl.
  9. Measure cooking oil into bowl, add dough, turn to coat, cover with a towel and set in warm place to rise, 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  10. Punch down the dough, then divide into 6 sections.  Take one section and divide in half. Roll each half into and 8-inch rope. Cross the 2 ropes in the middle then coil the ends into tight circles. Repeat w/remaining 5 buns.
  11. Place buns on greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Let rise until doubled, 30-45 minutes.
  12. While buns are rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  13. Beat egg and water and brush lightly over the top of each bun before baking. Decorate with raisins.
  14. Bake buns 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.
  15. Cool on cooling rack.

Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake

by Caroline

I spent all week at home with a feverish kid, and while it was sweet to slow down, to lie on the couch reading picture books and drifting into short naps, after a while the confinement began to wear on me. When he finally got better, I was out-of-proportion grateful, and excited to resume our regular life which included, this weekend, an invitation to a potluck. I knew exactly what to make for my week’s first trip out of the house: a coconut cake from Emily Dickinson.

I’d first read about the recipe this fall, in contributor Jeff Gordinier’s piece for The New York Times. A recent exhibit of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts, letters, and other papers from her daily life, included, perhaps surprisingly, her recipe for coconut cake. As Gordinier writes, “Somehow it’s hard to envision her even eating a meal, let alone taking delectable pleasure from it.” And yet, here is the recipe, in her beautiful, slant handwriting, and I knew I had to make it. The fact that it’s just a list of ingredients didn’t put me off; it read like pound cake to me, and so that’s how I approached it. I took it to Saturday’s potluck, where it was a hit. It’s not too sweet and just subtly coconut-y; it’d be a great vehicle for a fruit compote or a drizzle of chocolate sauce, but I like it best just plain.

Here’s how I did it:
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a standard loaf pan with parchment.

Whisk together in a medium bowl:
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

In a large bowl, beat together
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter

Continue beating until light. Add, one at a time and beating after each addition:
2 eggs

Now add:
1/2 cup milk

Stir the flour mixture into the butter and then add
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and bake until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and let cool on a rack.

English Muffin Loaf

by Caroline


What’s not to love about a community cookbook, a crowd-sourced collection of family recipes from a school, church, or the local Junior League? I have a small collection of them, some from our preschool and churches my Dad has served, and some I’ve picked up at tag sales because the cover or layout appealed. This recipe comes from a cookbook I don’t actually own (yet!), the Cate School Community Cookbook, and I’ve eaten the bread often visiting our cousins who live and teach at Cate School. It’s one of those rare and wonderful finds: a quick, no-knead yeast bread. You can stir it together, pre-coffee, in your morning haze, and enjoy a piece with your second cup of coffee.

English Muffin Loaf
adapted from The Cate School Community Cookbook, 2002

5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups milk
1 cup water

cornmeal for dusting the pan

Butter two 8×4 loaf pans and dust with cornmeal.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Combine 3 cups of flour, yeast, sugar, salt and soda in a large bowl.

Heat the milk and water until warm and then add to the dry mixture. Mix well. Stir in remaining 2-3 cups flour, to make a stiff batter. Spoon the batter into the loaf pans, sprinkle the tops with more cornmeal, and cover with a damp cloth. Let the bread rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove promptly from the pans and let cool on a rack.

These loaves freeze well, and make delicious toast.

The Sweet Life

by Lisa

Caroline is definitely the baker on this blog, but once in while, we bake over here. Mostly for birthdays. Mostly involving my husband and fondant. You might remember the Lego Cake or the Volcano Cake. Not long ago, Finn had a birthday, and he requested a Hexbug cake.  I made the yellow cake from this Smitten Kitchen recipe, which tastes just fine, but is not the best for working with fondant, still Kory managed. The colors were selected by Finn.  The design is all Kory’s.

And then, my lovely daughter (again with her dad’s help) decided to surprise me with a cake from Whole Foods so we could celebrate finishing this book.

Right now, life is sweet.

Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze

by Caroline

Glaze. Glaze is one of those words that makes me try a recipe, and the combination here of “caramel” + “glaze” got me, even though it is really just one small component of that recipe. But this glaze is so good I might just start making it to spread on things other than cake.

This recipe is from Merrill Stubbs, at the fabulous Food52, and I didn’t change a thing.

Applesauce Cake
Serves 10

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened (preferably homemade) applesauce
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the caramel glaze:
4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 to 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and spices and set aside. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Mix in the applesauce, oil and vanilla until smooth.

Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and cooling completely on the rack — make sure the cake is not at all warm before you make the glaze.

TheRunawaySpoon wisely advises that you put a piece of foil or paper under the cooling rack to catch any drips before you start the glaze. Put the butter in a medium saucepan with the brown sugar, cream and salt and set over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute exactly, and then pull it off the heat.

Leave the pan to cool for a couple of minutes, and then gradually whisk in the powdered sugar until you have a thick, but pourable consistency (you may not need all the sugar). If the mixture seems too thick, just add a splash of cream to thin it out a little. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, moving slowly and evenly to cover as much surface area as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.