Saturday, July 2, 2011

My mother's baking smelled like love

I've been having lots of sentimental thoughts about my mother recently.  About her love, her constant care, and especially about how she cooked for us.  My mother is a wonderful cook and I can remember many delicious meals together.  But what stands out most in my mind, I suppose, is her skill at baking.  Before she went back to work full time, I remember coming into the house on a cold, snowy afternoon after school and smelling cinnamon, brown sugar and some other incredible lusciousness.  Following my nose, I always wound up in the kitchen where some treat was waiting for us.  It smelled like love.

We didn't eat a lot of sweets when I was a child.  My mother didn't believe in purchasing store-bought cakes and cookies--they were made from scratch in her own kitchen.  Of course, I didn't pass through childhood without sampling a fair share of Oreo cookies and Entenmann's powdered sugar donuts.  But for the most part, desserts and sweets were homemade.  I can't say enough about her fruit pies, and I have never been able to duplicate her pastry, always made with Crisco.  She was a fabulous and prolific baker.

Two of my mother's sweets stand out in my memory and they are the two recipes that I will make myself to this day.  The first recipe, Raisin Bars, are moist, rich and full of plumped raisins and deep, dark spice.  They are wonderful with a cup of coffee just about anytime and have the perfect amount of confectioner's sugar-based vanilla glaze to enhance the spices.  The second recipe for Cinnamon Bars is a classic shortbread enhanced with cinnamon and toasted almonds.  Rich and crisp with butter, they are sleek and tan, with a classy sheen from their egg white wash.  Both of these recipes are easy because they are bar cookies made in jelly roll pans.  But they are also deceptively impressive and you can proudly serve them to company.

So I am passing my mother's love on to you.  I hope your tastebuds dance, and I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I have.

Raisin Bars

1 cup raisins
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. each cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda

Vanilla Glaze:

Combine the following ingredients until smooth and of drizzling consistency

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2-4 Tbs. milk (more or less to desired consistency)
1 tsp. good quality vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Combine raisins, water and butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Heat to boiling, then remove from heat and let cool until lukewarm.  Alternatively, combine raisins, water and butter in a medium-sized glass bowl and heat for 2 minutes in the microwave.  Let cook until lukewarm.
3.  Stir in beaten egg.
4.  Combine remaining ingredients well and stir into liquid ingredients. 
5.  Pour batter into a greased jelly roll pan (approximately 10 1/2" x 15 1/2").
6.  Bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 25 minutes or until top springs back when touched lightly with a finger.
7.  Let cool to room temperature and then drizzle or spread with vanilla glaze and chopped walnuts, if desired. 
8.  Cut on the diagonal when glaze has hardened.  Makes about 18 bar cookies.

Cinnamon Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
2 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup sliced almonds

1.  Preheat oven to 275 degrees. 
2.  Combine butter, sugar and egg yolk and mix well.
3.  Combine flour and cinnamon and blend well with butter/sugar mixture.
4.  Press dough into a lightly greased jelly roll pan (approximately 10 1/2" x 15 1/2").
5.  Beat egg white until frothy and spread evenly over dough with a pastry brush.
6.  Sprinkle with sliced almonds.
7.  Bake for 1 hour. 
8.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 20 minutes, then cut on the diagonal while still warm.  Makes about 18 bar cookies.

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