Yeasty Aromas with Warmth from the Oven = Heaven

Love baking when there’s a chill in the air. Living on my blustery hillside, I must admit I’m a creature affected by the weather. With the preponderance of frigid sleeting storms, my heart and soul yearns to bake in those moments that I’m not working.

 I do need to keep an eye on the power, as my oven ceases its task the moment electricity falters. Our rural telephone poles that traverse the mountain are highly susceptible to the ravages of munching animals, drenching or freezing rain and gusting wind.

Browsing cookbooks and favorite magazines by a blazing fire yielded a wonderful lengthy list of things I’d love to bake and blog about with the highlight for those that could be yanked from the oven and dropped into a hot Dutch oven on gas burners should the need arise.

Neighbors in an oh so scenic rural environment is a tad different concept than in the city. My neighbor Terry traverses the winding single lane dirt road past my house up the hillside another 2 1/2 miles to her own. She goes to and fro to work or errands every day and, as only a handful of homes this high on the hill, we’ve chatted and become good friends. With cabin fever lurking, she and I decided to have a girls’ night of gossip, wine and snacks as a welcome break in our stormy week. This provided the extra incentive to get out that flour, cross my fingers on the electricity and get to baking.

With wine and cheese on the menu, I wanted to try out a new bread. I chose Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls, a most fortuitous selection as this is now one of my favorite bread recipes. For sandwiches or slicing small rounds for cheese, bake the recipe exactly as presented. For serving plain with butter or toasted with jams, I’d add a bit more sugar or even maple syrup or honey to the recipe. You get the predominant flavors of yeast and cornmeal in this perfectly textured bread. I like to put a pan on the lower shelf of my oven with boiling water to create a nice warm space for my dough to rise. If you do this, use a plastic mixing or storage bowl; ceramic or glass will transfer the heat to the bottom of your bowl creating a spot a tad too warm for simple rising. Although Martha gets 20 rolls from this recipe, I shaped them large for guest size sandwich rolls and a couple as, what they call in New England, hoagie shaped to slice like baguette rounds with the cheese. Homemade crackers are visible in these photos and I’ll blog about them shortly. I’d planned on a nice brie round, but it hadn’t been wrapped well and isn’t supposed to be a blue cheese – I’ll leave it at that. Pepper Jack certainly wasn’t as fancy, but it did make a yummy munchable, especially as we teamed it with small squares of cod baked in parchment to also adorn the bread rounds.

Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls

1 1/4 cups milk
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, plus more for sprinkling
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 100 degrees to 110 degrees
2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Olive oil, for bowl and plastic wrap or a damp clean dish towel

Place milk and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk in cornmeal. Cook the mixture, stirring, until cornmeal is thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool. (I did this in the microwave – high for one minute, stir, then high for another, stir and let cool). In the detached bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together yeast, water, and brown sugar. Set aside until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes. Attach the bowl to a mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add cooled cornmeal mixture and 2 beaten eggs. Slowly add enough flour to form a soft dough. Knead on medium-low speed until dough springs back when pressed with a finger, about 5 minutes. (You can mix and knead by hand – knead at least 10 minutes – until smooth and elastic). Brush a large mixing bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl; cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in size, about 3 hours.

Sprinkle two 13-by-18-inch baking sheets with cornmeal (I didn’t do this as I didn’t wasn’t a gritty texture on the rolls). Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide dough into 3-ounce portions. Roll each portion of dough into a ball. Place balls of dough 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or the damp clean dish towel. Set in a warm place to rise until dough does not spring back when pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. (The puddles you see are from brushing them with the egg wash). Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of each roll with the remaining beaten egg (I added a tablespoon of water to my beaten egg – habit) and, if you like, sprinkle with cornmeal. (Optional: using a sharp knife, cut two parallel slits in the top of each roll). Bake rolls until they are golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

 The rolls freeze and reheat beautifully. Take the frozen roll and very lightly mist with water from a spray bottle, put on the rack of a toaster oven at 350° for nine or 10 minutes. They emerge warm and as wonderful as fresh out of the oven. Here’s my pepper jack lunch cheese sandwich that is so much more than if it were simply on plain old bread. The agate plates are from our local, Angel’s Camp, Stories in Stone.

 I have been babbling bit about the weather, but has gone from 80s to freezing with deep snow and back again a few times. Our local vintners have also been posting their pictures of the last few weeks (Irish Vineyards FB post, Love this – as someone said the road closed sign is a tad redundant, Jeff of Twisted Oak).

 This post is participating in the parties linked below.

Of Festivals and Cakes

Did you know that snakes emerging from their dens was the original weather omen of spring? Punxsutawney Phil and groundhogs are new to the game, perhaps a tad cuter, but the timing is traditional. For those of us north of the equator, it’s the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  In the Irish tradition, it’s called Imbolc.  Others may observe the Feast of St Brigid (the Irish goddess Brigid, later Christianized), plain old Groundhog Day or Candlemas/Purification of the Virgin. The obligatory tomb in Ireland aligned with the rising sun flashing in on the dates of Imbolc and Samhain (Halloween to most) can be found in County Meath.

As it generally marks the beginning of spring, this festival is a time of new beginnings – first ploughing, first planting, new romance, pregnancy of the herds. Time to clean out winter by burning the greens brought home at solstice. Hearth fires, candles, or a bonfire if the weather permits, represent the return of warmth and the increasing power of the sun.

And, as with all the festivals, special cakes are baked. 

I enjoy giving a nod to the seasons and I’m not quite up for the gardening chores yet – so, baking it is. I’ve been pondering what kind of special cake to bake to acknowledge the season – a horridly rich chocolate cake as a contemporary consideration of special or throwback to tradition with a bannock or soda bread?  I also have an oat scone recipe I love (no light fluffy sweet muffin imitations in a triangle shape here, a scone that has substance) and oat cakes fit the traditional concept while large round scored bannocks today can be considered a scone. Like everyone else, I’ll do my soda bread next month. And, if I’m going to make it, I want to enjoy it. So, although original griddle cooked bannocks were unleavened and made with only barley or oats – I’ll go for a more contemporary take on a Bannock recipe that’s more pleasing to today’s (and my) palate. This version could be called a scone – it is very light and flaky, like a good biscuit, but not sweet like some of the marketed scones you might find.

Bannock, adapted from Gourmet’s all white flour recipe at

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
½ cup old fashioned oats (the kind you cook for 5 minutes to get oatmeal, no instant)
½ cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small squares (less than an inch) NOT room temp, think pie dough or biscuit
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 cup diced dried cranberries, raisins or currants
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Given that I like the ease kitchen appliances bring, I prefer to do use my Cuisinart when crumbling butter with flours. I use the 4 cup Cuisinart Pro Plus compact Food Processor; I don’t cook for huge groups often so this totally meets my needs. When I do this recipe, I do it in parts. I place the whole wheat flour, oats, butter and 1 cup of the flour in my smaller processor and pulse in bursts until the mixture resembles coarse meal with small lumps.

I then place 1 cup AP flour, the baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in my mixing bowl and whisk those. Add the crumbly butter mixture from the processor in and blend.  If you have a larger processor – just toss all the dry ingredients in the bowl with the butter chunks and pulse. If not using a processor, whisk together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a bowl and blend in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender. Like a biscuit or pie dough, the lighter your touch, the flakier this will be.  Pour in buttermilk, stirring until the dough just comes together. Add your dried fruit.

You might need some of that additional ¼ cup of flour now.  I like my dough just a tad sticky so I don’t knead it so much as give it a few good rolls while in the bowl then just let it sit 5 minutes. Note that it also can’t be so sticky that you can’t shape it or get it to your baking surface.  I shape mine on a floured surface and pat it into a 1 ½ to 2 inch-thick round that I score.  

Bake it on a pizza stone (an ungreased baking sheet works as well). Bake in the middle of the oven until golden, about 35 minutes.

Transfer bannock to a rack and cool to warm. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

I’m resurrecting this post for two “favorites” parties. It’s now August and we’ve just passed the harvest festival of Lughnasadh (Aug 1st) – the time of first harvest and celebrations of gratitude to ensure the impending harvest is plentiful and safely reaped before winter sets in. Those of us blogging no longer consider late rains, issues of mildew or early frosts. But here in wine country we’re still connected to the seasons for the continued health of the local economy, I know the vintners breathe a deep sigh of relief after their successful “no rain” no mildew” harvests and each winery hosts their own parties to celebrate. In Europe and Ireland people continue to celebrate the holiday with bonfires and dancing. The Christian church established this day as ritual of blessing the fields. As bannock is traditional for this harvest as well, thought I’d pull up this post and bake one myself. To see other bloggers favorite posts, check out Half Past Kissin Time’s Saturday Sampling or the Gallery of favorites at 21st Century Housewife.

Standing stone photo from Wikipedia.

This post is being reborn at the Gallery of Favorites that Alea at Pre-meditated Leftovers hosts with April of The 21st Century Housewife


Labels for the Holiday Mix in a Jar Recipes

Well, like many of you I am swamped with the hours spent at work, holiday gift creating and shopping plus trying to get the home decorated, cards mailed and the blog kept up (whew, tired just thinking about it).  I’ve been promising more on wrap for food gifts and am taking a moment to toss up a PDF file you can download of holiday labels for the recipes in a jar I’ve posted. I’ve added a blank label page as well. They fit easily on any regular mason jar. Ever pragmatic, I prefer the label right on the jar as I’ve received jar gifts (bean soups from the kiddies in kindergarten) where the jar and the tag became separated.  I want the instructions stuck on as the vast majority of my gift recipients truly prefer pragmatism as well.

 A square or circle of cloth or paper over the lid could be the finishing touch instead of a bow. If you want to use the blank labels as lid toppers, just print at 125% – any bigger and you won’t see the label on the jar. For labels on the jars just print at 100%. Stuck on the ribbon for the photo – but in the basket I’m planning full of things, I’d trim the ties up a bit maybe use a deep purple for contrast. I won’t truly decide finishing touches until I have all the items together with the “vessel”.

The pumpkin muffins will be packaged the mix, the small can of pumpkin (I used a purchased cello bag for in the photos above and below) plus a cello bag with the molasses in a 4 ounce jam jar and a packet of cream cheese.  I’ll also include some sourdough in a jam jar with a mix for multigrain or gingerbread waffles and maple syrup (chosen recipe to come), plus the oatmeal tea loaves with the oatmeal mix jars of those as well. So many folks I know work oodles and oodles of hours per week and take off over the holidays. One of the joys of that time is being able to enjoy leisurely breakfasts. So the brunch baskets are always a treat. If I were giving the muffins with extras alone or a two mix jars – a simple hand sewn stocking (or purchased) would be a perfect holder.

I simply used the paper I normally run through my HP printer (Costco or Office Depot stock). Cardstock might be too hard to wrap easily; this label mirrors the Classico sauce label in that it wraps the jar ever so slightly. Brush the back with Modge Podge or something similar and place it on your jar. Really press the edges but be careful not to rub with your fingertip over the indented lettering if your choice of jar has that. I simply used the flat part of an extended finger to smooth and press over that area. I deliberately chose to use regular print, not photo quality and no spraying clear gloss or Modge Podge over the top as I like the handmade non-glossy look and feel of the jars.

The photos are mine on the labels with photos, clip art courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart download for the labels with clip art. I’ve put links to the recipe on the labels, as with the muffins you’ll find the dry ingredients aren’t included should the recipient want to replicate them. There simply wasn’t enough room. I only ask that if you post your gift with my labels to your blog, you note labels courtesy of  and link to the download on my site – do not copy and upload the PDF files to your site. Of course, don’t sell the labels or add the labels to a collection to sell.  I don’t sell items; I’m simply sharing what I’ve created for my own gifts.  All 3 pages of labels are in the one PDF file.

Jar Mix Label  

This post is participating in linky parties noted below.

The Best Invention Ever

In the Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking issue this year, they share that they “put powdered buttermilk, long a staple of commercial kitchens, to the test in the test kitchen and found it produced baked goods every bit as flavorful as those made with fresh buttermilk.” Wow. They go on to note that Saco’s Buttermilk Blend is the most widely available. You may recall in my posting for Oatmeal Tea Bread in a Jar that I note to put substitutions for buttermilk in your recipe in case your recipient doesn’t have it. Well, Saco wants you to mix the buttermilk powder in with your flour and dry, and then simply substitute water for buttermilk with your liquid. So perfect if you’re making mixes as gift. No separate reconstituting.  Holidays are a great time for home-made brunch and warm pumpkin muffins, fresh from the oven, are a fantastic addition to that brunch. The nod from Cooks had me trying the Sago blend. I’ve ignored it in the stores previously, but this “new to me” ingredient has been making me very happy with my recent baking.


I enjoy the coffee shop pumpkin muffins with cream cheese.  Had checked the web for copycat style recipes and found some folks add sugar or sugar plus egg to the cream cheese. Some leave it as is. Always a fan of simplicity and pure flavors, I decided to try a recipe just adding cream cheese. For my base recipe I started with and Bon Appetit’s Giant Pumpkin Muffins. My changes were to add some spice, skip the candied ginger and use the Saco buttermilk blend. The dry ingredients will exactly fit on one regular mason jar. As always, I bake and thoroughly enjoy test any recipe before gifting it or publishing on my blog.

Bon Appetit’s Giant Pumpkin Muffins adapted to add spice and cream cheese

For a Jar Mix Gift: Stir the spices, salt and baking powder into ¾ cup of the flour. Stir the buttermilk powder into some of the remaining flour and layer your dry ingredients in a quart mason jar. You might have to tap it on the counter a bit to get everything to settle and all the ingredients to fit (they really do with that tapping and settling).

2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 TBL powdered buttermilk blend
1/2 teaspoons  nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons  cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons  cloves
1/4 teaspoons  allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

Wet Ingredients

1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
½ cup molasses (spray your measuring cup with non-stick
1/2 cup water
Cream cheese (you’ll use less than a package)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spray 6 giant (1 1/4-cup) muffin cups or 18 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with nonstick spray.

Cut cream cheese into little squares about ¾ inch each for each muffin cup.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs 1 at a time into oil in large bowl. Beat in pumpkin, 1/2 cup molasses, and water. Stir in flour mixture until just blended.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Push a cream cheese square down into the batter in each cup. Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 40 minutes for giant muffins and 30 minutes for standard muffins. Transfer muffins to rack; cool completely.

Consider including the small can of pumpkin and package of cream cheese in your gift. So many folks take time off work over the holidays that ready to bake breakfast/brunch treats are a thoughtful addition to your gift. You can also add the 1/2 cup molasses by using four ounce jam jars filled to the brim.. My relatives and friends have always let me know how quickly they baked up and how much they enjoyed the brunch baskets I’ve included with their gifts in the past.

I have guests often in ski season and when I make this recipe up I always have my own mixing  bowl plus 3 gallon ziplock baggies out so I can do the dry for four batches at once. This makes a deliciously moist flavorful muffin that’s irresistible warm from the oven. If there’s any left, stick em in a ziplock and they’ll be luscious the next day as well.

Stay tuned and I’ll get up a post with some decorating ideas for food gifts I’m posting (you might want to subscribe J ). Labels for this recipe are available to download in this post

For a variation on muffins with glaze and crystallized ginger see

This post is participating in the linky parties noted below.

Brunch Pizza

One of my “go to” recipes is Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Pizza Dough – don’t let the name fool you, it’s mostly flour with just a touch of cornmeal so it had the flavor of regular pizza dough.  I like to double batch the recipe and freeze individual size servings of the dough. Have been meaning to do some up and was craving a bit of starch today, so decided to make myself a brunch pizza. Below are the regular dough instructions that yield four 7 inch pizzas. My cuts are to 8 with a doubled recipe.

Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Pizza Dough

•2 teaspoons active dry yeast
•Pinch of sugar
•2/3 cups warm water
•1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
•1/4 cup cornmeal, plus more for pizza peel or baking sheet
•1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
•2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl


1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the warm water. Let stand until yeast is dissolved and mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Combine flour, cornmeal, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and add the yeast mixture and oil. Slowly stir ingredients with a wooden spoon just until dough starts to come together. Turn out dough on a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, 7 to 10 minutes. (I did it in the KitchenAide with a dough hook).

3. Divide dough into four 4-ounce balls. Place balls in a shallow oiled bowl, turning to coat with oil; cover with plastic wrap. (If you’re freezing the dough, now is the time to place your oiled rounds into your freezer bags. When you want pizza, defrost frozen dough at room temp and pick up instructions here). Let rise 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Maggie’s Toppings: I decided to hold off on opening the mozzarella (it’s snowing and I have company coming – not sure I’ll get to the store and may need it). A light coating of olive oil would prevent the crust from getting soggy. I spread a little tomato sauce over that, then made a dam of pepper jack cheese bits around the edge so I could pour an egg I scrambled with a touch of milk and fresh pepper in the middle. Sprinkle parmesan and a tad of oregano over everything. I slightly overdid it on the touch of milk, which I corrected by adding less to the pizza center. I slid the dough onto the pizza stone (on the oven rack), then poured the egg in. It would be much easier if you like fried eggs in the center (you made have seen egg on pizza on food network – I did). I was in the mood for scrambled which moves more. The sliding onto the stone can be tricky – be sure to have A LOT of cornmeal on your peel if you’re moving your topped pizza. I’d once made one that stuck and rolled becoming a big blob of dough and sauce on the stone (I’d tried to do that move you see of a quick push forward then back with the peel. It was like the comedies you see of folks trying to snap a tablecloth off a fully dressed table). Now I’m pretty careful at this step. Today, I pushed the rack back into the oven and that created a wave, so the egg ebbed out onto the stone. No biggie.

4. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone on lowest rack. Stretch dough into 6- or 7-inch rounds. Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel or inverted baking sheet. Place dough rounds on top, and cover with toppings, as desired.

5. Slide rounds onto pizza stone, and bake until crust is crisp and golden and toppings are bubbling, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven; serve immediately.

It was so yummy and perfect for a Sunday Brunch treat! If I hadn’t popped the other servings of dough right into the freezer, I’d be making more for dinner right now. 🙂

More info at Cornmeal Pizza Crust – Martha Stewart Recipes

Victory in a Jar

I enjoy writing. My days are spent in business where good business writing is concise, clear, three points, short words, never confuse anyone with multi-syllable words, descriptors are clutter to the message and sentences should be short. This is important with global audiences where English is a second language to many. For my blog, I love the freedom of “stream of consciousness” (sounds more intelligent than run on sentences, doesn’t it?) and like to push myself to remember simple things like adjectives and descriptors. When pondering terms to use for this post, antediluvian is what I settled on. It means “from the time before the biblical flood”. Marvelous word – don’t you think? Why is this post antediluvian? Because this post is about Mix in a Jar recipes.

Why victorious for my title? Because this mix in a jar recipe is sheer bliss once it’s made into a loaf. Victory, found what I needed, settled on my “theme” to work up (baskets, various wrapping ideas and the theme with another recipe in a future post; you may want to subscribe so you don’t miss it J  I will tell you that for folks I know, I like to include a baked version, plus the mix for them to make and enjoy again later ). If there were blog police, I think they should go after anyone who posts mix in a jar recipes and hasn’t actually made and eaten them or has not posted pics of the finished cooked/baked product. I want to know there’s firsthand experience and what I’m gifting isn’t some gummy oily monstrosity once baked. So, I’m Maggie and I approve this recipe.

My slight variation, substitute some of the white flour with whole wheat and use dried fruit instead of chocolate chips: Sunset Quick Bread in a Bottle.

Dried Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Quick Bread (or Raisin Walnut)


 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries, lightly chopped (or raisins) 

Follow Sunset recipe for wet. For gifts I recommend you add the notation that 1 ½  TBL vinegar added to 1 ½ Cup milk can be substituted for the buttermilk (not everyone you gift may have it handy and although buttermilk would be a smidge better, this will still make a fine loaf). * Since originally posting this, I’ve become a fan of dry buttermilk (once the America’s test kitchen folks gave it their approval, I gave it a go. I now add the buttermilk powder to the dry and the corresponding amount of water to the wet. Follow instructions wiith the brand you get for amounts.

 At first I was very concerned. The batter seemed MUCH looser than most tea breads I make. I was reaching for the flour thinking just another ¼ cup but made myself resist as Sunset is usually pretty reliable. I truly had my doubts when putting these into the oven that they wouldn’t be a bit soggy. No worries – do not give in to the temptation to add flour, it bakes up beautifully.



As I’m testing out gifts, I thought about making the loaves just a tad easier to wrap by lining the pans with parchment (long side only see photo. I didn’t bother with the pan that was for me). As the cooking sprays come out pretty wet – I usually tip the pans over and let them drain a tad, figure the manufacturer doesn’t want any sticking, thus the heavy hand – I placed the parchment in the wet pan then turned it over so batter side had some of non-stick goo. I also sprinkled the tops with a light dusting of white sugar as I like the little extra crunch it gives the final product.


My smaller pans took about 40 minutes (I am in the mountains and seem to have to cook all baked goods a tad longer). 


I realized I wanted to do another wash of my jars (they’d gotten dusty), so you won’t see mine here. But they are something you can ready ahead of time. A nice add is to check the expiration on the flours you use and note that expiration date on the bottom of your recipe cards.  For jars, I use thoroughly cleaned Classico sauce jars (get the sauce in a 3 pack from Costco).  Yes, linking this post to food sites and I have jars of premade sauce confessed to in it. Just mush a few olives, capers and caper juice into it and it transforms. So, the jars – I like that the Kerr regular lids fit precisely and there are no vendor marks on the jars. You might have to use an adhesive remover to get the labels off. A final run through your hot dishwasher and your jars are probably more sterile than what you buy.  I know some paint and reuse the sauce lids, but new Kerr lids cost virtually nothing and take the package up a notch.

I did make and share labels for the jars here.



 Experimenting with wrapping alternatives and found another keeper. These loaves can be boxed in one 8 ½ X 11 sheet of cardstock (U.S. Letter). My example is showing you only the cardstock “plain” (having guests for U.S. Thanksgiving and am not dragging out the Christmas stuff yet). Crafters reading this post will realize the decorating ideas are endless – they include paint (simply sponge or wash your holiday colors over the paper and let dry), rubber stamping, pen and ink, decoupaged tissue, composing whatever combo you like and running your sheet through your printer, purchased cardstock or downloadable sheet images. I used a heavier cardstock and scored all lines using a clean pan as my guide. No tape – the ribbon at the end holds it together. Plan to make and print round labels for the tops (something original like “From Maggie’s Kitchen” in holiday hues). I’ve scanned the folded one so that I can work the pattern in my design programs.


 Special thank you to ‘SnoWhite’ for featuring this post on her blog.

This post is participating in the linky parties noted below.

Giving Back

Women Giving Back. There are a few groups that use this name.  Over in Sonora, it is a group of generous women who hold a monthly fundraiser for a local charity. It started when one woman had lunches in her home and each of those invited would donate a certain amount of money.  They’d have a speaker from a local charity come and gift that money to the speaker’s charity. It is now significantly larger.  The local blood bank allows the use of their banquet room and kitchen as long as a certain number of folks donate blood in Women Giving Back’s name during a quarter. About 10 women purchase all supplies for lunch and host it (one is a professional caterer). Those attending make a donation of $25.00 to that month’s charity. The amount includes a raffle ticket, with additional raffle tickets available for only $5 for 3.  Prices are very reasonably set so that, even in this economy, many can attend. I donate a raffle basket once/year and chose this month as it is Sonora Library’s Literacy Services program. I read constantly and thought it would be a good fit.

A Good Book, some Hot Cocoa and Snacks in Murphys is my theme (I’ve mentioned I love my little town and like to lure folks here). I’m not the best with baskets, the two previous years I’ve picked up a beautiful plant or two from local garden centers in a nice basket container. Every time I went to buy something locally to put in the basket I thought “if it were me I’d rather have a gift certificate so I could pick what I really want”.  After all, I’m an avid reader – but it’s of fun fiction not the kind of books so many book clubs settle on. I was an English Literature major in college and have done my duty trudging through the work of so many depressing suicidal geniuses. If someone put books in a basket for a literacy raffle, I can bet it wouldn’t be something I’d be dying to read. So, gift certificate to the local bookstore, Murphys Books aka Paul’s Books, it is. The recipient can choose what they like.  

Then on to Creative Cookware, our marvelous cooking store.  The owner, Barbara, made a few suggestions in my price range for the basket – and again I was thinking “would the recipient rather have a new cookbook, a snack of gourmet jams or chutneys or a snack of an Ina Garten mix?  Why decide for her? Second gift certificate done.  To round out the Murphys theme a stop at the very deadly if you have any sweet tooth at all, Nelson’s Candies. Their locally handmade candies (you can watch in their Columbia shop – a popular stop for school field trips) are not only delicious but they are beautiful. Their large handmade candy ribbons are a staple of my Christmas repertoire – they add such beauty to dessert tables. This was easy, a small box of chocolates and a small box of fruit chews.  Stunning new black and white mugs and a four pack of gourmet flavored cocoas rounded out the purchase. Topping it off would be some treats baked by me.  I settled on Baker’s Chocolate Nut Loaves.

It’s an easy recipe to put together and something on my list to try. This gets another Maggie Gold Star gotta try it recommendation. I did alter it just a tad by adding one heaping tablespoon of cocoa to the mix for a deeper chocolate flavor. The smaller cakes took 25 to 30 minutes to bake (I’m at an altitude in the mountains, start checking something as small as the leaves at 20 minutes).


Cooks Illustrated has some special editions out for the holidays. One (with an updated Tunnel of Fudge cake) talks about cooking in Bundt pans. They recommend melting 2 tablespoons of butter, mixing in the same amount of flour and then pasting that into your pans with a pastry brush so the cakes come out easily with the added bonus that they won’t have that white coating you get with a flour dusting or Pam Baking Spray.  Also recommended was to use cocoa instead of flour for chocolate cakes.  Decided to give it a go as I wanted to drag out the fancy pans for this effort. It can be confusing with cocoa as it so looks like chocolate, that your brain keeps telling you it’s going to burn.  Although I’ve found America’s Test Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated to be correct and informative, I made one pan with Pam Cooking Spray in case there was anything off about this method. I also used a silicone brush which worked well. It turned out fine and you get fingers covered in chocolate powder anytime you touch those treats – be careful using it with any finger food. The batter is actually a bit thick for the detailed pans.  I’d pushed the batter into all the corners but did end up with lots of bubble marks (and I’d tapped the pans to release them). Luckily – lots of icing covered the little pock marks but if I wanted a clearer shape (like the Nordicware leaf pans with leaf vein lines) I’ll use a different recipe.


 The small book had a recipe for bittersweet glaze, and although I had the unsweetened Baker’s chocolate, I was concerned it might be too strong for some. So, I substituted the unsweetened with semi-sweet squares and then followed their recipe.

Semi-Sweet Glaze

 2 squares Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate

2 TBL butter

Dash salt

 1 ¾ Cup Confectioner’s sugar

3 TBL hot water

Melt chocolate with butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add salt. Alternately add sugar with water, making sure to stir until smooth (may look lumpy after a sugar addition). Enough for a 9 or 10 inch cake (tube or square). Completely yummy.



 The cupcake boxes can now be found in the Wilton area of your craft stores.  The leaf pan fits cupcake bottoms and in the cupcake boxes quite well.  For others, you can pull out the cupcake insert piece of cardboard and use it as a small bakery box. 

These cakes with glaze are superb.  After the luncheon, shared some with my neighbor over a glass of light white wine and we agree this is a winner (yes reds with chocolate when you want to balance, but believe me, white works J ). Oh, and it is a bit different than a traditional chocolate cake – truly something about it is more of a “loaf” texture. 


For folks who know me, one of my favorite containers is saved and washed ice cream containers (don’t soak them or put in the dishwasher or they fall apart, but quick hand washing is fine). Works great for single layered cookies, excellent for shipping them as you can pad outside the small container, works for single cupcakes, here you see the raspberry bars en route to neighbors.  Also works for a few small rubber stamps with one inch type stamp pad or special Christmas ornaments. They are just so dang cute (and I am an ice cream fan). However, not fancy enough for the basket so went with the cupcake boxes. The Cupcake Queen over at 52 Cupcakes I believe I saw recommend Plastic Container City. I’ve also seen folks recommend Candyland Crafts. I’ve not used them but have them bookmarked to try if I don’t find what I want at the craft stores. For those of you who like to craft your own, Wilton’s single cupcake box is 10 1/2 inches by 16 inches. You could use glossy 11 X 17 cardstock to replicate them.

 I ran out and didn’t nab photos of the raffle basket with mugs and treats – it did turn out lovely and the Sonora library got almost $800 for their new book fund from the lunch plus raffle activities (and I have extra chocolate nut loaves to share with my neighbors).

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