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Well, after a considerable absence from the blogging world, Baking in Oregon is marking its return.  Very shortly, I will begin posting recipes and photos once again.  While you won’t find those new posts at this site, you will find them at my refurbished old site. Click here to check it out now.

I look forward to seeing the return of some past readers as well as, undoubtedly, some new ones too. The format will remain the same – Baking (and occasionally other types of cooking), along with photography and some miscellaneous stuff mixed in from time to time.

Please join me again. You’ll be seeing the new posts soon.

Click here for the new Baking in Oregon.

Thank you,

Erik
Baking in Oregon

Blogger Out…

It is with great difficulty that I must announce that, for the forseeable future, Baking in Oregon will be going silent. The hectic pace of life, especially during these difficult economic times, requires more time and focus than it has in the past. Unfortunately, that means that extra time for baking and blogging will have to be set aside for awhile.

I want to thank everyone who takes the time to regularly visit my blog and to those who leave your kind comments. I look forward to continuing to visit my favorite food bloggers out there for shots of inspiration and great new ideas.

Thank you all. I hope to be back again in the future, until then, keep baking!

Erik – Baking in Oregon

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I’m sorry to say I had to pass on this month’s challenge.  I had every intention of doing it, even with all of the holiday activities.  Unfortunately, the weather had a different plan in mind.  We took a big hit of snow and ice starting almost 2 weeks before Christmas and lasting through Christmas.  Roads were bad, people couldn’t get where they needed to go, plans were changed, schedules rearranged.  I had plans to make this month’s challenge for a year-end birthday party for our family’s 3 December birthdays.  Unfortunately, rescheduling additional get-togethers, power outages, etc., prevented me from getting to this challenge. 

I’m bummed, because the challenge this month was a French Yule Log.  There are a lot of steps involved in baking this dessert, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the pictures I’ve seen  would imply, it’s got to be absolutley fantastic.  This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.  They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

So, do yourself a favor and check out all the Daring Bakers that did pull off this month’s challenge.  There is some great talent out there and some great interpretations/variations on this recipe.  I’ve started checking them out myself, and I’m really impressed with what I’m seeing. 

I had a chance to join the Daring Bakers in July and I’ve participated in 5 challenges so far.  I’ve had a chance to do some things with my cooking that I would probably never have tried if it weren’t for the challenges.  If you’re looking for an opportunity to get involved in the online baking community and to stretch your baking skills, I would recommend you consider giving the Daring Bakers a try yourself.

Be sure to stop by and thank Lisa at La Mia Cucina and Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for keeping the Daring Bakers rolling!

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Here in the Portland-Metro area of Northern Oregon, we’re experiencing the heaviest snowfall in 40 years. Making this my biggest snow storm ever, since 40 years ago, I wasn’t even born yet (very close though, I was on the way). For the first time in quite a few years, I’m working from home because the drive in was just too treacherous. The snow is quite beautiful, and I do enjoy it, but with Christmas soon approaching, it’s making planning, shopping and holiday gatherings very difficult. We’ve already had to cancel several holiday parties, and if this doesn’t clear up soon, Christmas with the family may be in jeopardy.

This storm started with about 8” of snow, followed by 1/2” to 3/4″ coating of ice on top of the snow, now being followed by more snow. We’re currently running about 10-12” deep at our house. I know, for those of you in areas where this is normal, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but we don’t get much snow here, maybe just an inch or two once or twice a year. We don’t have personal snow blowers, engine block heaters or, in many cases, even a snow shovel. Yes, we are somewhat ill-equipped to deal with snowfall of this magnitude. My biggest fear, at the moment, is that the trees that took a heavy dusting of snow, ice and snow are leaning over and could fall. Several neighbors have lost limbs from their trees, while others have lost entire trees. But, there is nothing we can do, but make the best of it. Thankfully we, unlike many others, still have power.

So, for now, I’m trying to make the best of it. I’m spending evenings doing some holiday baking, though I’m concerned about baking too much and having no place to take it – I rely on my family to eat what I bake so I don’t end up with a huge stash of butter-laden goodies at my disposal. But, I must bake. It’s built-in. If I don’t bake, I just may explode. I’m sure at least a few of you out there can identify with my feelings.

Regardless of whether you bake because you love it, or you bake because everyone expects you to, I do hope you’re getting some joy out of baking for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. I can’t think of many memories I have of the holidays that don’t have pretty strong ties to the food that was served, especially the desserts!

I hope you will all enjoy your holiday season this year, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or even if you don’t celebrate a holiday this time of year, I hope you all get to enjoy the special changes in peoples attitudes (for the better), the lights and displays, or for the budget-minded, the sales. There seems to be something for everyone to enjoy this time of year.

For many, times are tough and the outlook has been a little bleak. And so I don’t fall prey to the negative thinking, I am going to be thankful every day for what I have that day, I am blessed. I hope you can find a few moments today to stop, let the worries of the world be pushed aside, and be thankful for what you have, rather than worrying about what you don’t have. Things will get better. This is an amazing country and an amazing world filled with amazing people. Yes, things will get better.

As for me and my family, we celebrate Christmas, so for those of you who join us, let me take this opportunity to extend a very Merry Christmas!

To all of you who take the time to stop by my little blog. I’m excited to see every new and returning visitor as that is what keeps me motivated to continue posting. Thank you for stopping by, and as always, please leave your comments, I love to hear what you have to say. Happy Holidays to all of you from Erik ~ Baking in (Snowy) Oregon

By the way, if you’ve stopped by today looking for something you can use for the holidays, let me suggest the following recipes from previous posts:

Or just click on the ‘Recipes’ tab at the tope of the page to see some additional recipe ideas.

Feliz Navidad

Joyeux Noel

God Jul

Nollaig Shona Dhuit

Froehliche Weinachten

Mele Kalikimaka

Sung Tan Chuk Ha

Maligayan Pasko

Buone Feste Natalizie

Kala Christouyenna

Hyvaa Joulua

Yukpa,  Nitak Hollo Chito

Merry Chistmas

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Reviving an Old Favorite

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Repeat after me – ‘Cookies are supposed to be soft’.  Again.  ‘Cookies are supposed to be soft’.  Now, continue to repeat that mantra until you have come over to the soft side of the camp.  It’s actually really nice over here; It’s quiet (no noisy crunching) and it’s relatively clean (no nasty crumbs flying around from shattering cookies).  Yes, I’m pretty happy to be a part of the soft cookie crowd.  However, before I completely and totally isolate the crunchy cookie lovers out there (and there are plenty of you) I do have to say that there are two cookies that are traditionally fairly crunchy (sometimes soft) that I do enjoy: Shortbread and Spritz.

I don’t know what it is exactly that can cause a soft cookie fan to temporarily suspend their passion for all things un-crunchy, but Shortbread and Spritz are just so buttery and smooth, they almost melt in your mouth – at least when done right.  Just in case you’re not familiar with Spritz, they are a small butter cookie, typically formed with a cookie press in a variety of shapes and colors and occasionally adorned with a light sprinkle of decorator’s sugar.  A well made cookie should be light, slightly crisp, smooth and buttery.  If you’ve seen those big tins of Danish cookies that pop up on store shelves every Christmas packed full of cookies in a variety of shapes, you’re essentially looking at Spritz cookies.  I must caution you though, homemade Spritz will blow away the dry, overly crunch tin can cookies any day of the week.

While some may debate the origin of these cookies, they are definitely a Scandinavian tradition.  Growing up with a grandmother who was born in Sweden, we had Spritz cookies every year at Christmas.  As a kid, I was more a fan of iced sugar cookies (soft, of course), but always managed to down a few Spritz along the way (she also made peppermint candy cane shaped cookies that were fantastic).  As I got older, I don’t know what changed, be it nostalgia for things past, or a more refined sense of taste and texture, but I got an urgent craving for those cookies.  Since my grandmother passed away when I was 15 and no one had chosen to continue the tradition, and the little cookies kind of faded from memory.  After my grandfather passed away about 10 years ago, though, I inherited my grandmother’s old cookie press.  I didn’t have her recipe for Spritz, but a little investigating on the web turned up a vast variety of Spritz recipes.  It was time to revive the old tradition.

I first tried them last Christmas and was quite pleased with the results.  The dough is easy to make and easy to work with.  The press, on the other hand, requires a bit of skill if you are to pull off perfectly shaped Spritz.  Basically, you want to start with the press perpendicular to the baking sheet, actually touching the sheet.  You squeeze the trigger, wait a second or two, and when just the right amount of dough has come out, you lift the press straight off the sheet.  It sounds easy, but it takes a little practice to make them look really nice.  In our family, my grandmother, rather than using the different shaped cookie discs, typically used just a star disc and piped cookies in the shapes of ‘S’ and ‘O’ – we often called them “SOS” cookies for this reason.  I’m not certain why she used these shapes, she just did. My mother says she used those shapes because her mother made them in those shapes.  I thought maybe the ‘S’ was for ‘Sweden’, but I can’t confirm that.

There are a few simple hints I’ll give you if you decide to bake these cookies:

  • You can buy cookie presses just about anywhere.  If you don’t have one, and don’t wish to buy one, you can use a pastry bag and a tip of your choice, but with the chilled dough, it can be difficult to pipe.
  • Which brings me to chilling the dough.  After you’ve mixed your dough, it’s a good idea to chill it for 15 – 20 minutes before you bake your cookies.  They will hold their shape better.
  • Since your dough is cold, your pans should be too.  Don’t try to form your cookies on a warm cookie sheet, they won’t stick to the sheet when you form them and will just sit on the end of the press.  I prefer to work with several pans, baking one at a time, allowing the pans to cool sufficiently between batches.
  • If you choose to use different shapes and sizes, stick with similar sizes on the same pan so they all bake at the same rate.
  • Don’t over bake these cookies.  If you wait until you see the brown edges forming, they will turn out really crisp.  If you like them that way, fine, otherwise, pulling them out just before they really start to brown will leave you with a cookie that’s just crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.  This takes some time and practice to get it right. They go from just right to over done to burned in a very short period of time.  Keep an eye on them.
  • Be creative.  You can add other flavors – lemon, lime, orange, peppermint, rum, anise? – It’s all up to you.  The traditional version usually only includes vanilla and sometimes almond extract.  I’ve also seen them dipped in melted chocolate!

To see some great colored Spritz cookies, check out this recent post on Cooking at the Pacific Outpost.  By the way, her version is Vegan, for those of you who may be searching for that option.

Click here for my favorite Spritz recipe, which is a compilation of recipes from a number of sources.   There is a cream cheese version out there I’d like to try, but haven’t done it yet.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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A Nice Holiday Treat

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A few weeks ago, I was asked to bake several desserts for a Holiday Bake Sale Fundraiser.  I’m really a sucker for this kind of stuff.  For one, it gives me a reason to bake.  Second, I don’t have to eat all or most of what I bake (which is always a good thing).  I love to bake for other people, and when it goes to a good cause, it’s even better.

I started with a batch of my Candy Cane Peppermint Brownies.  They are always a hit and are always the first to sell out.  They are a dessert I’ve been making at Christmas time for about 25 years and they’ve got a cult following of fans.  For me, I just can’t really eat them anymore.  They’re too sweet and just too over the top for me.  Next I made a batch of Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Bars by Julia at Dozen Flours that I posted about recently.  Those did well at the sale too.  The sale also had a Christmas Café running where shoppers could stop in for a bit to eat during their shopping – for the Café, I was asked to provide a dessert that would be easy to sell by the slice. 

I didn’t really have a Christmas cake recipe in my arsenal since Christmas for us usually revolves around cookies and candy.  Cake just usually disappears until after the holidays pass and I prepare a Almond Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting for my wife’s birthday at the end of December.  So, I did some surfing on the net and tapped into my fellow food blogger’s stash of recipes to find something that would work.  After checking a bunch of my favorite sites, I finally settled on an Apple Cranberry Holiday Cake I found on Joy the Baker’s blog (She also calls it the All-Purpose Holiday Cake).  This was something a little different from the usual fair found at this sale, so I decided to give it a try.

This is a relatively simple cake to throw together.  I think the majority of the work comes from dicing the apples and cutting the cranberries (If you’ve never cut cranberries before, it’s an interesting task to cut up a bunch of little round berries – try it sometime).  Since I don’t bake many cakes in my Bundt or tube pans, I’m always excited to try something new that will hopefully release from the pan in one piece.

The cake smelled great when baking, kind of like spiced cider being steeped on the stove.  The cake itself is wonderfully dense and moist, not too sweet.  I decided to top it with a cream cheese glaze for a little extra sugar kick and I’m glad I did, because it was just a perfect accompaniment to the cake itself. 

So, how did it do?  It sold out.  The most important thing about baking for a fundraiser is that the items you bake actually sell.  I’m happy to say that all of my items sold out by the end of the sale, making for a successful year and for a happy Oregon baker.

Now, before you ask, I’m currently not planning to post about my brownies because I’m so embarrassed about how easy they are to make, you almost can’t call it baking.  Besides, you simply don’t need that kind of temptation in your life, trust me.

Thanks again to Joy for posting this recipe.

If you would like to see a copy of the recipe, visit the original post on Joy’s site, or click here for a copy on my site.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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Cold Days, Warm Scones

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We’re in a bit of a cold snap here.  We don’t get a lot of snow and below freezing temperatures, but we’re in for more than a week of it.  It started yesterday morning, when we got a nice dusting of 5 inches of snow.  Since we don’t see it very often, it’s fun to see the beautiful blanket of white all around us.  So, what types of things go well with snow?  Staying inside, getting a fire going, brewing up some hot coffee or tea, and whipping something warm from the oven.  Yes, this kind of weather gets me in the mood to bake.  In fact, this is perfect scone weather.

Scone. The word has been around since about 1513, when it appears to have been first used by a Scottish poet.  Depending on where you’re from, you may pronounce them ‘Skoons’, ‘Skons’, or ‘Skones’, (or if you’re Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, you may call them ‘Sconeses, my precious!’)  You may also debate whether it was the Scots or the British who developed them.  Rest assured, depending on who you talk to, the subject of these simple little delights can invoke a tremendously powerful emotional response.  ‘Scones should only be served with Devonshire cream at High Tea’. ‘Scones shouldn’t be too sweet’.  ‘Scones shouldn’t be too bland’.  ‘Scones need to be made with Currants’. ‘Those things they sell at Starbuck’s aren’t really scones’.  ‘Those scones they sell at Starbucks are my favorite!’  Regardless of your personal feelings, on the issue, one thing is certain, this seemingly simple recipe is one that you must have in your baked goods arsenal.

I have a friend who is a bit of a scone connoisseur.  When I have a question about scones, she’s my go-to person.  She knows what she likes and makes no apologies for her opinions on the matter.  We’ve discussed the finer points of scones, from the ingredients, to the techniques, pros and cons of the various shapes, and the add-ins or toppings.  I know if I can make a scone that meets her standards, I’ve done a fair job of it. 

It’s interesting to me that for a recipe that is the rough equivalent of a drop biscuit, you can certainly exercise your creative muscle when tackling these babies.

Scones can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Some have the appearance of a drop biscuit, while others take the shape of triangles or squares.  Some folks like their scones sweet, while others prefer them fairly bland, requiring clotted cream or jam to be added later for the real flavor.  In the US, we seem to prefer our scones in a variety of flavors, occasionally with a light, sweet glaze, almost like a pastry.  Some may prefer them a bit on the dry side, while others may tend toward a moister version.  I’ve sampled light and flaky scones and scones that were heavy and dense.  I personally like them all.  So far, I’ve never really had a scone that I would call ‘bad’.  But, truth be told, I do like those slightly sweeter scones, especially with a light glaze on top.  I also like a scone that is light, but moist and a bit flaky. 

I made my first scones last year.  I chose a basic recipe and combined it with ground hazelnuts to make a nice, nutty scone that I served with a homemade blackberry curd (I’m including a link to the recipe for this version at the end of this post).  I did some study on the techniques and was pleasantly pleased with my first ever attempt at scones.  Not long ago, I had a craving to try them again, this time with a different recipe, and two different flavors.  I was not disappointed.

And so, I share with you today my most recent foray into Scottish/British quick bread: Cinnamon Scones and Blueberry Scones.  I chose cinnamon because I simply love the cinnamon scones at Starbuck’s – I also have to say, quite honestly, that mine are better.  As for the second flavor, blueberry, it is simply one of my most favorite fruits for baking.  I did the cinnamon scones in triangle shapes and the blueberry as a more free-form drop scone.

While both scones were awesome, I definitely loved the blueberry over the cinnamon.  I don’t know what it was, they were both tender and flaky, both sweet, but not too sweet, and both had just the lightest crust containing the soft insides.  The blueberry just really got my attention.  I could have kept eating them until they were gone.  Thank goodness I do have some will power, but these suckers really put it to the test

If you’ve never tried making scones before, why not give it a shot and impress your friends and family?  If I’ve convinced you to take a shot and give these a try, let me share a few techniques I find to be very helpful for scone making:

  • Use only chilled, preferably frozen butter when preparing the scone dough.  I will take a stick of butter, cut it into small chunks, place them in a ziplock bag and keep the bag in the freezer.  I don’t take the butter out until I am ready to add it to the flour.
  • While there are several methods for cutting butter into flour for baked goods like scones and pie crusts, my preferred method, hands down, is to use a food processor.  This method is fast and consistent, easily providing the ‘pea sized’ pieces of butter you are typically looking for when incorporating the fat into the flour.   As a bonus, this method is relatively clean, keeping your countertops just a bit more tidy.
  • If you do choose to cut the butter in by hand with a pastry blade, knives or even by pressing it into the flour with your fingers, keep your hands as cold as possible.  My grandmother would keep a bowl of ice-water nearby and use it occasionally cool her hands in order to keep from prematurely melting the butter.
  • When adding liquids, such as water or milk, use only very cold liquids.  Again, the idea is to keep the fats (butter) solid until it gets into the oven.
  • Before baking your scones, cool them in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes after you have shaped them, then put them right into the oven.  Keeping the butter cold as long as possible will help give you the best possible texture.  If I have space in my freezer, I’ll put the scones onto the baking sheets and place the sheets directly into the freezer – then it’s very easy to transfer the sheets to the oven when I’m ready to bake.
  • Since we’re talking about the freezer, formed scones can be wrapped and frozen, unbaked, and saved for a later date.  When you want a couple of scones, just toss them into a preheated oven and bake like normal.  This is a great option if you want to make a larger batch, but only bake a few at a time.
  • Don’t handle the dough any more than necessary. When mixing ingredients, only mix long enough to get the ingredients incorporated.  Over-mixing can lead to tough scones.

There you have it.  Follow those methods, use fresh ingredients, add a little patience, and I guarantee you’ll be able to turn out scones like a pro.  Finally, I’m sharing with you two different scone recipes I particularly like.  There are literally hundreds, if not thousands floating around out there.  Feel free to go out and experiment, or tweak mine to your personal tastes.  Believe me, once you try making your own, you’ll never want to buy another scone again.  And, by the way, you don’t have to wait for the snow to whip up a batch of warm scones for yourself.

For a copy of the Cinnamon Scone and Blueberry Scone recipe, click here.  For a copy of my Hazelnut Scone and Blackberry Curd Recipe, click here.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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