• Desserts,  Pies

    Meri’s Berries

    Is it a crumble or a crisp? A cobbler or a grunt? Or maybe a slump? Whatever the name, it’s a fruit pie without a traditional pie crust. It frees us from rolling, crimping, and the customary fretting about flakiness. And let’s face it…sometimes we just prefer more fruit and less pastry. With Meri’s Berries, you toss together a crumbly dough that bakes into a crisp cookie-like topping. Sugar and flour in the dough combine with the berry juice to turn it a bit syrupy. This syrup won’t get as thick as pie filling does, but then again there’s no crust to make soggy. Meri Cayem shared this recipe back when our sons, both…

  • Dick's Hermit Cookies
    Cookies,  Desserts,  Gluten-free

    Dick’s Hermits

    How did these classic New England molasses-spice cookies come to be called “hermits”? Some say it’s because they kept well when hidden away on ocean voyages. Others think they resemble hermits’ robes. Let’s just chalk it up to the region’s wacky names. For instance, Rhode Islanders call milkshakes “cabinets,” and they don’t have a good explanation for that, either. Since my mother-in-law Dorothy (known as Dick) grew up in western Massachusetts, the heart of hermit country, these cookies may have been passed down from her mom. My husband usually beat his siblings to them, often stealing a couple right off the cooling rack. When he introduced me to these these tender bars—completely new to…

  • Dad's Favorite Coffee Cake
    Breakfast,  Cakes,  Desserts

    “Dad’s Favorite Coffee Cake”

    If Do-It-Yourself were an Olympic sport, my father-in-law would have won gold. To Louis (everyone knew him as “Louie”), every chance to fix the unfixable was an opportunity to achieve a personal best. As a contractor, he could do everything. He was a wiring wizard and mechanical mastermind. To solve a problem, he would cobble together ingenious gadgets out of scraps from his garage. When he was in his 80s, he even developed a computer program for doing his taxes. So why was I surprised to hear that he baked? I suppose it’s because his wife Dorothy (everyone called her “Dick,” a nickname coined by her little brother) kept the household swimming in brownies,…

  • Appetizers,  Breads,  Breakfast,  Side Dishes,  Snacks,  Vegan

    Raegan’s No-Knead Focaccia

    My daughter-in-law Raegan Sales, creative vegetarian home cook and baker, generously offers yet more proof that some great breads just about make themselves. She started with something called “Ridiculously Easy Focaccia Bread” and—yes—made it even easier. And ridiculously delicious. With Raegan’s Focaccia, a bubbly wet dough bakes into a delightfully chewy golden-crusted flatbread. It owes its tender crumb and lovely flavor to hours of fermentation in the fridge and oodles of olive oil. About all we do is stir and stare, except when we get to poke our fingers into the squishy, oily dough. The payoff: warm, aromatic, hole-studded focaccia eager to get dunked into more olive oil or devoured on the spot. It…

  • Egg dishes,  Ingredient,  Technique

    Egg-centricity: A taste test

    (Photo courtesy of Lynn Osborn) It’s almost Passover and Easter, a perfect time to share results of an egg taste test by guest contributor, Stan Rowin. First, some background. Stan is a photographer who started his career taking photos in Julia Child’s Cambridge kitchen, now a culinary mecca at the Smithsonian. The same Julia who never got rattled by a fallen soufflé or a splattered pancake showed Stan her perfectionist side during a shoot. “Julia was doing a chapter on eggs, and she wanted to show how fresh eggs look when fried,” says Stan. Then the frenzy began. “Out of three dozen eggs, she got one egg that looked good, but couldn’t find a…

  • Ingredient,  Jams and Condiments,  Passover,  Technique,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Quick Homemade Horseradish: If You Can’t Stand the Fumes….

    Making your own horseradish takes just four ingredients: horseradish root, vinegar, salt, and courage. The goal is to get from root to jar as quickly as possible, minimizing the time you spend holding your breath, clenching your eyes, and stumbling out of the kitchen gasping for air. But if you like horseradish, you’ll enjoy the challenge. No store-bought brand can mess with your pleasure/pain center quite like the stuff you make fresh. My dad famously made horseradish from home-grown root, yet it was Mom who consumed it with the most gusto. She heaped it onto her gefilte fish, laughing through her tears about how well it cleared her sinuses. As my neuroscientist daughter points…

  • Cakes,  Cookies,  Desserts

    Chocolate Mini-Donuts

    Do we really need another recipe for chocolate cake besides our definitive Black Magic Cake, the first Recipephany? Yes, because we also need chocolate mini-donuts drenched in chocolate ganache. Black Magic makes ultra-moist full-sized cakes, but is doesn’t work so well for tiny sweets. With this recipephany, you can make these intensely chocolatey cuties in the time it takes to bake a batch of cookies. These mini-donuts have a lot going for them. Besides looking adorable on a dessert plate, they’re great for portion control. Instead of cutting a whopping slab of cake, you can pick up one of these and dispatch it in a couple of genteel bites. Then you can go back and…

  • Breakfast,  Cakes,  Desserts,  Snacks

    Things to Do With Cranberries: Cranberry Streusel Coffeecake

    If you’re like me, you bought two bags of cranberries before Thanksgiving because it said on the Ocean Spray package, “Buy two, freeze one.” Now what do you do with the one in the freezer? Cranberries keep a year or more in the freezer. So you can dip into your cranberry stash any time and make, for instance, this tasty Cranberry Streusel Coffee Cake. This breakfast/snack/dessert has it all: cranberry and its best friend, orange; your favorite sour dairy product (sour cream or yogurt or sour milk); the baker’s drug of choice, vanilla; and cinnamon and nuts. You can bake one large sheet cake or two 9” square cakes. In the Ocean Spray spirit,…

  • Breads,  Breakfast,  Cakes

    Muriel Brody’s Wheat Germ Banana Bread

    My mom died in August, just a month shy of turning 102. She was a success at more than just longevity. She became an art teacher rather than a journalist because her father thought it was a safer profession for women in the 1930s. And even though she’d never picked up a paintbrush until she entered Moore College of Art, her watercolors were as masterful as if she’d been born with the divine gift. She gave up teaching to serve as a Naval officer’s wife at a time when “entertaining” was serious business. Throwing dinner parties and organizing wives’ club luncheons were part of the job, and she had the poise and smarts to…

  • Ingredient,  Other,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Chillin’ With Vanillin: How to Beat the High Cost of Vanilla

    If you can believe headlines these days, vanilla is nearly as expensive as silver. A cyclone in Madagascar last year put vanilla bean on the “endangered spices” list. Maybe we should now include vanilla extract in our homeowners’ policies. But all is not lost. For those of us who swirl spoonfuls into our yogurt and pour it into our baking, there’s no need to cut back. It’s “vanillin,” the active flavor ingredient in vanilla, that we really love. “Vanilla extract” has other chemicals, too, but they have negligible taste and degrade when heated. We’re in it for the vanillin. And we can get it in “imitation vanilla.” But why, Mr. Science, should we settle…

  • Breakfast,  Cakes,  Muffins,  Other,  Snacks

    Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Cake

    There was something about the loftiness, the berriness, and the sugary crustiness of Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins that hooked Boston in the 60s. Jordan Marsh (“Jahduns”) was Boston’s answer to Macy’s for more than 150 years, until Macy’s had the final answer and acquired it in 1996. It speaks to the power of a good snack that a sugar delivery system for tired shoppers has become a favorite memento of this late, great New England retailer. The muffin’s originator, Jordan’s baker John Pupek, kept his recipe a professional secret. This triggered Muffin Mystery Mania, when home bakers and restaurants alike set out to recreate the oversized, overstuffed muffin. For decades, the media and the…

  • Biscuits,  Breads,  Side Dishes

    Emergency Corn Biscuits

    Emergency Corn Biscuits lured me in with the wacky name, but they could just as well have been called Cornbread-Lovers’ Biscuits. This recipe is out of the 1922 Good Housekeeping cookbook, from an era when American housewives apparently faced corn biscuit emergencies. I tried to imagine such predicaments: “Honey, the Johnsons just brought over baked beans.” Or: “The wrestling coach wants you to put on how many pounds, Jimmy?” Or: “How long has this sack of cornmeal been in the pantry?” But the emergency—and a serious one at that—was not in the American kitchen but abroad. This recipe came from World War I, when American households voluntarily conserved foods to help feed troops and save victims…

  • Desserts,  Gluten-free,  Pudding,  Rice,  Snacks,  Vegan

    9-Minute Creamy Rice Pudding in the Pressure Cooker

    Luxurious rice pudding tastes divine and makes you feel good all over. But achieving a rich creaminess can be tricky. Baking can take hours, and the rice can even toughen. Thanks to the miraculous time-defying Pressure Cooker, this recipephany takes raw rice from zero to supreme creaminess in less than 15 minutes. Evaporated milk (milk that’s been concentrated by cooking it down) adds thickness plus a hint of caramelization. This slight nuttiness joins hands with the vanilla and cinnamon (rice pudding is a great delivery system for both) to create ahhh-inspiring yumminess. While you might think of rice pudding as the fluffy slippers of desserts, it has some hipness. When our son lived in…

  • Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Cookies,  Desserts

    Hall-of-Achievement Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

    What do architects know about cookies? A lot, I’m sure, since these chocolate chip oatmeal cookies won Best-Tasting Cookie at an architectural firm where my husband once worked. I had baked them early in the morning so they were still warm when he entered them into the contest, slightly crisp on the outside yet chewy inside. I suspect this structure may have swayed the judges as much as the flavor dimension added by an extra splash of bright vanilla and glug of bittersweet molasses. It was decades ago, but the construction-paper blue ribbon still hangs as a reminder in our Hall of Achievement. The award proudly holds its own in the swarm of diplomas,…

  • Breads,  Breakfast

    No-Knead Portuguese Sweet Bread (Mazza Savada)

    Portuguese Sweet Bread shows up at Easter with dyed eggs poking out the top. Frankly, I think it looks better without them. The mahogany crust and soft, eggy interior make a luxurious slice, turning toast or sandwiches into a special occasion. With this easy no-knead recipephany, you can make this splendid bread on a whim. Just stir ingredients into a shaggy dough and let it sit overnight. Next day, form it into a ball, let it rise in the pan, and bake. That makes the hardest part remembering to start the night before. While my mom didn’t bake bread, she set aside this recipe for me back in the 90s. She found it in…

  • Beans,  Beef,  Latin American,  Main Dish,  Snacks

    Picadillo Tacos

    First, don’t confuse “picadillo” with “peccadillo,” although I often slip into that malapropism. While picadillo-filled tacos are not the least bit sinful, they can give you the same guilty pleasure as nachos for dinner. They fall into that category of slightly messy finger foods that go well with the football playoffs. A quick-cooking alternative to chili, this Cuban-style mélange packs a sweet and tangy punch. It starts with a tomatoey sofrito of aromatics and peppers, then adds a Mediterranean accent with raisins, capers and chopped olives. I first made picadillo from a Boston Globe recipe in 2001. I amped up the flavors and seasonings, figuring the “pica” stands for “picante.” When I finally had…

  • Greek,  Middle Eastern,  Vegetable,  Vegetables

    Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

    At the risk of sounding like a midnight infomercial, here is the best spanakopita you’ll ever eat. It’s oniony-sweet, cheesy, and the herbs melt into the spinach to deepen the flavor. I have yet to find a restaurant version that can beat this. We usually see spanakopita as either an appetizer or a main dish. But with today’s “mezze mania,” you can bake up a batch, freeze it, then reheat a few triangles to go along with hummus, a few diamonds of kibbee, or whatnot to turn a meal into a party. I like to bake from scratch, but draw the line at filo. Other than my friend Wendy, who once made it as…

  • Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf
    Breads,  Breakfast,  Sandwich

    Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

    Oh, those French bakers. They take great pains (no pun intended) to make slender baguettes with thick, shatteringly crisp crusts. And yet, as if to thumb their noses at the whole artisan baking thing, they also crank out rectangular sandwich loaves with virtually no crusts at all. Pain de mie (“bread of crumb”) is the anti-baguette. A baguette takes days to make and goes stale after three hours. Pain de mie takes about three hours to make and stays fresh for days. (Julia Child said it tastes even better after a day or two.) Enriched with milk, pain de mie delights with a fine, light crumb and holds its shape even when sliced thin…

  • Breakfast,  Cakes,  Desserts,  Snacks

    One Bowl Apple Cake

    If you’ve got two apples and some baking basics, you can make this jewel of an apple cake without even having to take out your mixer. Luxuriously moist and studded with soft apple chunks, this lightly spiced one-bowl wonder is as at home after a dinner party as it is at breakfast or snacktime. This cake’s versatility stems from its Jewish heritage. It purposely contains no dairy, so those who keep kosher can enjoy it any time, with meat or dairy meals. This recipephany comes from my earliest baking bible (Old Testament version), From Manna to Mousse. Born in 1969 as a plastic-spined fundraising cookbook produced by the Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El in…

  • Breakfast,  Egg dishes,  Pies,  Snacks,  Vegetables

    Zucchini Quiche

    Zucchini is to quiche as eggplant is to parmigiana. There is no higher calling for this elongated green summer squash than to be sautéed with onions, splashed with wine, tossed with herbs, then married with cheese and eggs into this savory pie. Not really a quiche, this recipephany has more of an Italian than French accent. A layer of toasted breadcrumbs replaces the pastry crust. Herbs you’d shake into a red sauce awaken the sweetness in the zucchini. And a secret ingredient—ginger—blends in so mysteriously that I dare you to pick it out of the crowd. I’d forgotten where this recipe came from until Elinor Lipman (best-selling novelist and source of Cinnamon Tea Cake…

  • Breakfast,  Cakes,  Desserts,  Snacks

    Dick’s Brilliant Blueberry Bundt Coffee Cake

    My mother-in-law Dick was our very own “America’s Test Kitchen” well before Christopher Kimball. She was always experimenting, and couldn’t contain her enthusiasm over a new find. She called one day bubbling over with excitement. She told me about this light, fluffy blueberry coffee cake. She would mail me the recipe, and she just knew I’d like it. I’d heard she’d been looking for a blueberry coffee cake. Perhaps it was because her signature coffee cake (see Dick’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake) was chock full of nuts, which many people avoid. Or maybe it was just blueberry season. I’d had a favorite blueberry cake, but this replaced it in no time. All too often,…

  • Desserts,  Pudding,  Snacks

    Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

    Here’s the ultimate baked goods makeover, or shall we say, “bakeover.” In almost fairy-tale style, this recipephany transforms neglected, over-the-hill bread into a deep, dark, restaurant-worthy chocolate dessert. Expect big flavors—cocoa, dark chocolate, a glug of rum, coffee, cinnamon, scads of vanilla, a drizzle of molasses, and chopped pecans—blended into a sweet base of eggs, milk and a little cream. Oh, and I almost forgot—stale bread. While any kind of bread will do, including a rustic loaf or rich challah, I prefer Claire’s Honey Whole Wheat. I wouldn’t use it with regular bread pudding, where you need a crunchier or richer bread to dominate. But in this case, where chocolate takes center stage, it melts into the…

  • Cookies,  Desserts,  Snacks

    Two Sisters’ Snickerdoodles

    Soft, puffy, and slightly crinkly, these classics deliver sugar ‘n’ spice all year ’round, not just at Christmas. But there’s no escaping that bit of Yuletide in this snickerdoodle. It is one of the irresistible treats my sister-in-law Chris heaps upon her splendid Christmas cookie tray. And Chris got this recipe from “Sister Santa Claus.” It goes back to Chris’s sophomore Home Economics class at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Many of the nuns who taught her had a male name along with a female one—such as Sister Mary Timothy. So I took her literally when she mentioned Sister Santa Claus. “It wasn’t her real name, but we called her that because she…

  • Beef,  Dumplings,  Main Dish,  Soups

    Sally Birke’s Kreplach

    First, there was wonton soup. Then came tortellini in brodo. Now, thanks to Szifra Birke, I’ve found kreplach. Years ago, Szifra produced the poignant documentary “Browsing Through Birke’s” (now out on DVD). It’s the story of her parents, Nathan and Sally, who emigrated from Poland and founded Birke’s clothing store, a Lowell, Massachusetts, institution. This documentary had me laughing, blubbering, and feeling instant affection for these extraordinary people. Always looking to connect through food, I asked Szifra if her mother had a signature recipe. She wasted no time in sharing Sally’s prized kreplach and the deeper story behind it. Born Sura Dymantsztajn in Lodz, Poland, Sally no doubt learned to make kreplach as a…

  • Breads,  Breakfast

    Bake Yourself Happy with Claire’s Honey Whole Wheat Bread

    In his final “Kitchen Detective” newspaper column, Christopher Kimball signed off with some advice. He said that once you find a recipe that makes you happy, just stick with it. Don’t waste your time chasing down perfection. This sounded odd coming from a guy who built an empire on his own obsession with finding “The Best Recipes.” But even he could admit that, as the saying goes, better is the enemy of good. Since whole wheat sandwich bread is a character actor in a supporting role, a good loaf can range from dense to airy, dark to light, sweet to slightly bitter. There are plenty of recipes kicking around, and if you’ve found one…