Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Mousse Pie

My mother, after years of diligent research, came up with what I think is not only the easiest Chocolate Mousse Pie recipe, it's the best. It is, however, incredibly rich, so you'll likely want to serve rather slender pieces. It's especially lovely if you garnish it with whipped cream, slivered almonds, and or fresh berries, and it works well as a mousse sans pie shell.


Baked and cooled pastry (shortbread, chocolate or plain)
1 12 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate morsels (like Ghirardelli)
2 1/2 c. cream, divided into 2 cups and 1/2 cup
1 t. vanilla
1 T. Rum, Bourbon, Grand Marnier, Cointrieau, or Peach Schnapps or Raspberry Liquor (double or triple this according to taste)


  1. Beat 2 cups cream till soft peaks form. Place in refrigerator to keep cool while you do the following: 
  2. Microwave chocolate and 1/2 cup cream about 1 1/2 minutes till melted, stirring twice. 
  3. Add liquor and vanilla, mix well. 
  4. Cool about 5 minutes. The chocolate needs to soft enough to blend. 
  5. Fold whipped cream into chocolate. 
  6. Pour into shell. Chill at least 2 hours. 
  7. Garnish with whipped cream and/or sliced almonds or grated chocolate. 
  8. Dip a warm knife in hot water before slicing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie
This is another of my mother's recipes, one that I suspect she was making before I was born. We usually had Pecan Pie at Christmas and Thanksgiving. It's a very Southern recipe (you don't see much call for Pecans in Yankee cooking). My mother always sorts out the pecans, reserving the best looking pecan halves to place in an elaborate pattern.

I confess to using a dollop of bourbon on occasion. I once forgot the salt until the pie was ready to pop into the oven, and sprinkled salt on top of the nuts just before the pie went into the oven. The salt looked quite pretty on the cooked pie, and it was slightly different in taste, and quite good.

1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon vinegar
3/4 cup Karo syrup (clear syrup)
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup plus of pecans (you'll want 3/4 or so additional pecans halves for the top)
pastry shell

  1. Cream sugar and butter.
  2. Beat in eggs, syrup, vanilla, salt and vinegar.
  3. Mix well, and add nuts.
  4. Pour into 8 inch pie shell.
  5. Bake at 350 F. for 55-60 minutes or until center is "set" when the pie is gently shaken.

Lena R. Spangenberg

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Brandied Sweet Cherries

Right now, "sweet cherries," the Bings, Lapins, Rainiers, and other varieties of edible cherries, are appearing in grocery stores all over the U.S. These are cherries that are usually eaten as is, by the handfull, or pitted and used in fruit salads and jello molds. But sweet cherries also work very well as brandied fruit. Pick or purchase sweet cherries as fresh as possible, and then brandy them, preserving them in sealed jars. Later, say during the holidays in December and January, brandied cherries as make lovely gifts. I've found that Rainiers by themselves don't really work as well as the darker sweet cherry varieties. Chelans and Lapins work especially well as brandied cherries. To make your own brandied cherries, you want the to use the freshest cherries possible, and the good quality brandy. I'd suggest something like Christian Brothers Brandy, at the very least, keepin in mind that if you wouldn't drink the brandy, you shouldn't use it to cook with. You might try the recipe below as is first, but many people add spices to their syrup; cloves, are very popular. I like to split a vanilla bean the long way, scrape the center, chop the bean up, and add all of it to the syrup mixture just before I turn off the heat.

Brandied Cherries


  • 6 pounds fresh sweet cherries
  • 6 glass clean canning jars
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 cups brandy


  1. Wash, stem and pit cherries.
  2. Sterilize 6 pint jars and lids for a boiling water bath.
  3. Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan.
  4. Boil, stirring gently until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the syrup from heat.
  5. pour 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over cherries that are tightly packed to about an inch from the top of the freshly sterilized hot jars.
  6. Add 1/4 cup or so of the brandy, and more syrup if necessary, to each jar so that the cherries are covered.
  7. Gently shake the open jar to release any air bubbles then wipe the jar rim with a clean damp cloth to remove any sticky syrup residue.
  8. Close each jar tightly with the lid.
  9. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. (Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the proper canning procedure.)

Brandied cherries are lovely over vanilla ice cream, or warm fudgey brownies, or pound cake or chocolate cake, or used as flambé, or added to a winter mix of dried stewed fruit. The dark red of the cherries looks lovely in the jars, and the brandy-and-syrup mixture is a wonderful flavoring on its own. You need to let the cherries "set" for a while, at least a few weeks, before trying them. They make a lovely holiday present; just stick a ribbon on the lid and you're good to go.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Easy Corn Bread

My mother is from South Carolina. I grew up in New Hampshire. That means that not only do I occasionally have an intrusive R, I also have been known to remove Rs that are purely ornamental.

But while I am my mother's only Yankee child, and I loathe grits unaccompanied by butter, shrimp, green onions, garlic and cheese, I love Southern style cornbread. You will have noted the key phrase; Southern style cornbread. In New England, cornbread often approaches cake in taste and consistency, because sugar and white flour overwhelm the corn meal.

My mom's standard corn bread recipe is derived from the one on the Quaker Yellow Corn meal box. I say derived because my mom, bless her heart, alters recipes for the better. Here then is the Official Back-Of-The-Box Recipe:


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten


  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Grease an 8 or 9 inch pan.
  3. Combine dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in mil, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Port batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooen pick inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Serve warm.
My mom uses two eggs, thank-you-very-much, and would be scandalized at the idea of cooking corn bread in a pan; all right-thinking people use cast iron to cook corn bread. Buttermilk makes good cornbread, so does sour milk. When I was a kid, my mom would also add a little powdered milk. You want corn meal muffins? Just pour the batter in an oiled cast iron muffin pan. Mom used to give us corn bread from the day before in milk as an after school snack. It's less filling than Mac's mom's Mexican Cornbread, but makes a fast side dish with chili, or chowder.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns! Hot cross Buns!
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters
Give them to your sons
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
If you haven't got a penny
A ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Well God bless you.

One of my very favorite childhood members around with Easter is that my mother would make Hot Cross buns a few days before; we would often have them on Good Friday, and we almost always had them for breakfast on Easter morning.

Strictly speaking, they're actually Cross Buns, meant to be served "hot." Cross buns are a sweet bread, with a sweet yeast dough made with currants and cinnamon; sometimes cloves or other spices, or candied orange peel are used. The round bun is is marked on the top with a knife, creating a cross after it's risen, but before it is baked. Afterwards (or in stead of) the bun is decorated with a white sugar-based glaze drizzled on the top of the warm-from-the-oven bun in the shape of a cross. Traditionally, hot cross buns were sold hot, fresh from the bakery, or sometimes, from street vendors.

Despite a fair number of assertions that Hot Cross Buns are pagan, the limited verifiable data we have about the origins of hot cross buns associates them very firmly with England, Christianity, and the season of Lent, or more accurately, with Good Friday. The earliest specific reference we have is from 1733, when, according to the OED, Poor Robin's Almanack asserts that "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns," offering an alternate version of the nursery rhyme at the top of this post. In Boswell's Life of Johnson (1791), Boswell notes: "9 Apr. An. 1773 Being Good Friday I breakfasted with him and cross-buns," another likely reference to the proverbial Hot Cross bun.

In the Elizabethan era, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law forbidding bakers to make spiced breads and buns and sell thm on days other than those specified in the statute of 1592, which reads:

That no bakers, etc, at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen's subject any spice cakes, buns, biscuits, or other spice bread (being bread out of size and not by law allowed) except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain or forfeiture of all such spiced bread to the poor

People would be free to make cross buns at home, for personal consumption; they just couldn't sell them. I don't know the reason behind the statute, except perhaps, that because of the cross and the tradition of serving them on Good Friday that the buns had a strong association in the popular mind with Catholicism, something that Elizabeth I, as a Protestant monarch, was understandably touchy about. The statute didn't last long; by the time James I took the throne it was already proving difficult to enforce, and the crown soon abandoned the attempt, and the law. In addition to the tradition of only preparing them on Good Friday, for many Catholics there's a parallel tradition that that is all that they may eat.

There's some suggestion of a tradition that called for using the same dough for the Sunday communion wafer to make the buns; though I'm finding many references to this as practice, none of the references, printed or digital, cite a primary source for the pracctice, and frankly it sounds a little suspect to me.

There are a number of recipes for cross buns online. This one calls for cinnamon, allspice, currants and orange rind, and is likely much closer to the "authentic" eighteenth century (and presumably older) versions. This one, using British measuring units also uses orange, and lime. This is a very straight-forward cinnamon and currants version. This is the recipe my mother used, and the one I still favor.


3 3/4 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup dried currants or raisins
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs


  1. In large mixer bowl, thoroughly stir together 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the cinnamon.
  2. In a saucepan, heat together milk, oil, sugar, and salt just till warm (115 to 120 F.). Add to dry mixture in mixer bowl; add eggs. Beat at low speed of electric mixer for 1/2 minute, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed.
  3. By hand, stir in currants and enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough. Cover and let rise till double, 1 to 1/2 hours.
  4. 4. Stir dough down. Shape dough into 14 balls. Place on greased baking sheet, 1 1/2 inches apart. Cover and let rise till dough is nearly double, 30 to 45 minutes.
  5. Bake in 375 oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly; pipe crosses through pastry tube or bag with using white icing or a powedered sugar glaze.


This is my mom approved version of a recipe that is originally from Better Homes and Gardens, March 1973. The original recipe suggests making 24 buns; I like them slightly larger, so I usually make 16 to 18. I tend to use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the milk and oil solution, and I use a generous 1 and a half teaspoons of cinnamon. I also use more currants; the original called for 1/3 cup. If you're making these for the raisin phobic, try dried orange-infused cranberries, or candied citrus peel. The original recipes also calls for brushing the buns with a beaten egg white before baking; I don't bother. These freeze quite well; just remove them from the oven three to five minutes before they're done, and let them cool before wrapping them to freeze.