February 2010: First Slice

A Word from Anne

For many years I took Valentine’s pretty seriously and hoped red roses and chocolates would be delivered to my doorstep by Prince Charming. A few of those years they were…but the majority of my most meaningful Valentine Days have been spent swapping cards and baking chocolate cake at home.

At our house Valentine’s is more family-focused than Victoria Secret, more down-home than Tiffany’s. It’s a fun day to express love and gratitude to all. I try to bake a little something special on Feb. 14, and this year with it being on a weekend that makes the task even easier.

What best to bake for your Valentines? The Best Red Velvet Cake from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! This wacky but wonderful cake is redder than a traffic light, and the flavor? Well, it will stop you in your tracks.

Also perfect for baking this weekend are some new cookies I’ve just concocted. They begin with a brownie mix, one of my favorite pantry staples. You add a little flour to give them a boost, then butter, eggs, and chocolate chips. Add a smidgen of ground coffee to the batter and the brownie cookies become a perfect waker-upper for the late afternoon. Or bake a cake that your sweetheart just happens to love.

I just spent a long weekend in Florida teaching classes at three Aprons cooking schools in the Publix supermarkets. Just in time for Valentine’s we baked the red velvet, the Chocolate Raspberry Cake, the Lemon Lover’s Layer Cake and my new lighter version of Stacy’s Chocolate Chip Cake. Valentine’s and lighter recipes? They don’t seem to go together, but they do if the one you love needs to cut back on fat.

My new book has lots of ideas and substitutions for cutting back on fat in baking and not sacrificing the yummy factor. Speaking of yummy, try the pumpkin version of my Gooey Butter Cake, shared by a reader I met in Cincinnati. To you and yours on Valentines and all month long….XOXOXO

Happy baking!

Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/annebyrn

A Word from Workman

Earlier this month, Anne posted on her blog about a foolproof bake sale standby–the Bake Sale Caramel Cupcakes from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns. We shared the recipe with friends, one of whom used it to contribute to her office’s Haiti earthquake relief bake sale. Read her story, and see the delicious results, at the Workman blog.

Congratulations to the PARADE Magazine’s “The Winner Bakes the Cake Sweepstakes” winners Cathy and Bob Seiple from Livingston, NJ! They’ll be visiting Nashville later this month to spend a day baking with Anne. Their favorite recipe is the Banana Buttered Rum Cake from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! The Seiple family are big banana fans, so Cathy subs in banana instant pudding for the vanilla listed in the recipe for extra banana flavor!

For even more posts about Anne’s books, visit http://www.workman.com/blog/tag/anne-byrn/

Recipe Swap

Chocolate Chewy Brownie Cookies

For ease of preparation, use a small scoop to plop just the right amount of dough – about a generous 1-inch ball – onto cookie sheets. Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator between batches because it’s easier to scoop up if it is chilled. You can make these as small or as large as you like, but be sure to keep an eye on the oven and decrease the baking time should you be baking cookies smaller than the 1-inch ball. For kids, omit the coffee, but for adults, add it! My husband could not resist the coffee-chocolate combination! For that pretty Valentine gift, tuck these cookies into a red box or bag lined with parchment paper.

Chocolate-Brownie-Cookies.jpgMakes: 4 dozen cookies
Prep: 5 minutes
Bake: 10 to 13 minutes
Cool: 2 to 3 minutes

1 package (about 20 ounces) brownie mix
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground coffee or instant coffee, if desired
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar, for sifting, if desired

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside 2 ungreased baking sheets.

2. Place the brownie mix, flour, melted butter, eggs, and coffee, if desired, in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Fold in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

3. Using a small scoop or spoon, drop cookie dough by generous tablespoons or 1-inch balls about 2 inches apart on the ungreased baking sheets. Place the baking sheets one at a time into the oven, and bake the cookies until they are firm around the edges but still soft in the center, 10 to 13 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies cool on them for 2 to 3 minutes. Then, using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. Serve warm or let cool 20 minutes before storing.

Pumpkin Pie Ooey Gooey Butter Cake

As promised from the last newsletter I am sharing a pumpkin cake recipe from a Cincinnati reader. While at the book festival there in October, Susan Vanell-Charpentier mentioned to the crowd that she had created a pumpkin version of my Gooey Butter Cake. She made it for Thanksgiving instead of the usual pumpkin pie and passed along the recipe. It’s hearty and smells delicious while baking and is perfect for the snowed-in weekends becoming so prevalent in winter 2010.

Makes: at least 30 bars
Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 45 to 48 minutes
Cool: 30 minutes

For the crust:
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg

For the filling:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside an ungreased 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan.

2. Make the crust: Place the cake mix, butter, and one egg in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1½ to 2 minutes. The batter should come together into a ball. Pat the crust over the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of the baking pan, and set the pan aside.

3. Make the filling: Place the cream cheese in the same bowl used to make the crust and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy. Stop the machine and add the pumpkin, melted butter, and eggs and beat on medium speed 1 minute. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Beat on low until the sugar is well incorporated, 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour the filling into the baking pan and place the pan in the oven.

4. Bake the cake until it has browned around the edges but the center still jiggles when you shake the pan, 45 to 48 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool 30 minutes before slicing.

A Dozen Bits and Bites from the Road: Part 1

As I write this newsletter I am preparing to leave for the very last stop on my book tour. I’ll be visiting Books-A-Million in Columbia, SC on Saturday, February 13 from 1-3 pm. What began in September with trips to QVC, then moved to New York and Good Morning America, and sent me cross country to Utah and Colorado, zigzagging in the middle of the country, down into Texas and Florida, throughout the South and up into Ohio, has been one more fun cake baking odyssey. I haven’t the space and I am sure you don’t have the time for me to rattle off all the details of my tour but I wanted to share some of the highlights and make a few restaurant recommendations should you get to these places any time soon.

One. Good Morning America. No matter how many times you are on national TV, it’s very early in the morning, and there are loads of people in the studio with their eyes on you, not to mention the millions at home who are watching, and the food segment is toward the end of the program. All these things combined can make you a little crazy. What I love best is seeing someone famous walk down the halls. In the last two visits I have seen former President Jimmy Carter, author Anna Quindlen, and on this trip TV icon Bob Barker of The Price is Right fame. He may be in his 80s but his “Come on Down” booming voice was so pitch-perfect that one sweet audience member from Iowa was swooning and asked to give him a hug. Hmm, they hugged for an awkwardly long time and it was on camera. I loved meeting Sam Champion – a great guy – who made the early wake-up call and nervous jitters all worthwhile.

cincinatti.jpgTwo. Alligator and arugula. They have nothing in common except that while in Cincinnati at Books by the Banks festival I shared a book signing table with Thane Maynard, director of the famous Cincinnati Zoo. And I didn’t know Thane had brought some of his friends along in foam boxes behind us. What with all the thumping and bumping coming from the boxes, I asked Thane what was inside. A smile ran across his face, and he opened one box and an armadillo jumped out and scampered to my side of the table. They can’t see, Thane explained, and use their sense of smell to guide them.

This little guy smelled cinnamon because I had just finished my cooking demo of cinnamon swirl coffee cake. Thane then opened the second box holding a baby alligator, pretty cute, until it lunged toward me, I shrieked, and everyone in the convention hall looked our way. Pretty smart on Thane’s part as the lines got longer at the table…. As for the memorable arugula, it was found in a new age version of the Waldorf salad at the Palace restaurant in the elegant Cincinnatian Hotel. Baby arugula and frisee lettuces were tossed with big caramelized walnuts and shavings of sharp white cheddar cheese and to the side tiny apple cubes were coated in a creamy vinaigrette. I’d endure alligator again to enjoy that salad.

Three. Meadowlark Restaurant. I crave simple, fresh food when traveling, and this bright, fun, neighborhood restaurant in Dayton, Ohio, was so good I just wish I could pick it up and plop it in Nashville near my home. There is a strong emphasis on warm salads and fresh vegetables, an amazing carrot and ginger soup, creative grilled cheese sandwiches, fries tossed with garlic and herbs, grilled fish, and throughout lots of multi-cultural flavors but with a very light and feminine touch. www.meadowlarkrestaurant.com

Four. Atlanta. When I travel to Atlanta, which was my home for 15 years, I don’t stay at a hotel, instead with my sister Susan and her family. Susan and I checked out a new restaurant called Haven, in the Lenox Mall area. Southern meets French bistro, Haven was dark and cozy and you wanted to stay far longer than you should. We loved the okra pods sliced lengthwise, tempura battered and fried as a nibbly start. Then came halibut with eggplant-flavored pasta and sautéed peppers, a green salad topped with Spanish olives and oranges, and then old-fashioned banana pudding served in none other than a Ball jar. I’ve seen moonshine in a jar but never, ever banana pudding. www.havenrestaurant.com

For more of Anne’s Bits & Bytes from the Road, visit her blogon Friday.

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