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Season’s eatings?

The Itemizer newsroom is back for some baking goodness ... we hope



By Emily Mentzer

Sometimes time just gets away from me.

I had every intent of baking Lukas Eggen’s “Mom’s Xtra Special (and Difficult) Carrot Cake” over the weekend.

Mom's Xtra Special (and Difficult) Carrot Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

13-by-9-inch pan sprayed with oil

Bowl No. 1:

Combine the following: 2 cups flour; 2 teaspoons cinnamon; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 3/4 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

Bowl No. 2:

Combine the following: 1 1/2 cups of sugar; 1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple with juice (I bought a too-big can. 8 ounces is one cup); 3 tablespoons of canola oil; and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the dry ingredients into Bowl No. 2

Stir in the following: 3 cups shredded carrots (about six full-sized carrots. We used the fine shred on our shredder); 1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Beat 3 large egg whites in small bowl until you have stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into cake mixture with a spatula.

Pour into cake pan and bake for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. (Bake time was reduced to 30 minutes in two round cake pans.)

Cool for 2 hours before frosting. (Cooling time was reduced because the two small cakes cooled more quickly than the larger cake would.)

Cream Cheese Icing:

1 package cream cheese softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon orange peel (added lemon peel and a bit of crushed pineapple also)

1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Beat until smooth.

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Emily Mentzer shows off her carrot cake on Monday morning.

And then life happened. The weekend proved packed with other agenda items, from hosting a dinner party to an annual trip to Clackamas Town Center for some Christmas shopping. On the drive home from Portland at 9:30 p.m., I realized: I hadn’t baked my cake yet.

So up early on Monday to get it done before work.

Thank goodness I had left myself a clean kitchen — not always the case. My husband was on hand to help with the grunt work (grating carrots) and helped me measure everything out.

Two bowls for the wet and dry, beater is going with the egg whites (I was told by my sister once you can never overbeat egg whites when you want them stiff — I was hoping she was right about this recipe, too), and my husband thinks we ought to try a different pan.

“It’s ready to go,” I say. “It’s that 13-by-9 glass pan there.”

He thinks we should do something “Xtra Special.”

Out come the round cake pans. The carrot cake has taken a turn from a basic dessert in one pan to a double-layered ordeal.

My mom baked cakes when I was growing up — and decorated them, too. Sometimes she spent hours putting each little flower to create a picture of a puppy or, once, Mickey Mouse, on each of our birthday cakes. She also baked those cakes from scratch.

I remember she had to grease the pan well with Crisco and line the bottoms with wax paper — that bit is very important, or the cake will often stick to the bottom and fall out in a terrible mess.

I did all of that (my husband helped by cutting out the wax paper) and remembered after I got them in the oven that I neglected to dust flour in the pans. I hoped they would come out cleanly — and they did.

I used just one batch of the cream cheese frosting, though I think I would have liked one-and-a-half batches — double batch if I knew I was making cupcakes soon. I drove slowly (apologies to anyone who followed me in Monday morning) and carefully to work so as not to topple my double-layer masterpiece.

Lukas says he “can’t say” it is as good as his mom’s, but the office agrees it turned out well. Don’t be afraid of the multiple steps or the multiple bowls. It’s easy cleanup and well worth it to do it right, according to instructions. Also, apparently my sister’s advice works for this recipe, too — you can’t overbeat the eggs.

We added lemon zest and a spoonful of crushed pineapple to the cream cheese frosting to good effect.

Truly a great recipe and wonderful carrot cake, even if you find you don’t have much time (total time: about two hours on a Monday morning). Oh, and our puppies really wanted a taste. I may leave the nutmeg out next time to make it dog-friendly.

By Jolene Guzman

Two-toned fudge

Ingredients:

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup sugar

1 cup evaporated milk

½ cup butter

1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow crème

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Combine first four ingredients in saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

  2. Add marshmallow crème and vanilla. Mix until smooth.

  3. To 2 cups of the mixture, add butterscotch chips and ½ cup of nuts. Mix well. Pour evenly into buttered 8-inch (square) pan.

  4. To remaining hot mixture, add chocolate chips and remaining nuts. Mix well. Pour evenly on top of butterscotch mixture.

  5. Chill until firm. Cut into squares.

OK, so it wasn’t a complete failure.

I would put my last attempt at making fudge two years ago for our first newsroom holiday baking challenge in that category: It turned out soupy, as in you needed a spoon to eat it.

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Jolene Guzman’s attempt at making two-toned fudge went pretty well, if a little bit crumbly.

It tasted like fudge, just the kind you pour over ice cream, not arrange on a plate of cookies.

That wasn’t my first fudge fail. I recall attempting fudge just four times. My first try was laughable. I made a mockery of my mom’s delicious recipe by turning it into a brick that had be chiseled out of the pan.

The second time, it was perfect in every way, so I thought I had it all figured out. That is until two years ago when after the challenge’s big reveal, a co-worker generously suggested I put it in a jar and pass it off as hot fudge topping.

Not one to leave well enough alone, I was eager to take a stab at Editor Emily Mentzer’s family recipe for chocolate and butterscotch “Two-toned fudge.” This year to add to the fun factor, we decided to pick a recipe for each other rather that select our own.

When I saw the recipe, I thought, “Oh, easy.” The directions are simple, it required no special cooking tools I haven’t used before and all the ingredients were familiar.

Simple doesn’t mean easy because something’s not quite right. It tastes like sweet chocolatey, buttery heaven — and it’s the taste that counts, right? — but the consistency is off.

The layers tend to want to separate and it’s a bit more crumbly than what more skilled bakers could achieve. Better than fudge soup, though, and I consider that a win.

Maybe I didn’t let it set up properly — or maybe I just have a fudge curse, doomed to forever seek the perfection I achieved just once in my baking life.

Oh well. There’s always next year.

By Lukas Eggen

Do you know that person you can always depend on to make tasty treats around the holidays?

The one who brings in a surprise every holiday?

Me too.

Peanut butter blossom cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter and egg until well blended.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups of flour, 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder until dough forms.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake eight to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown.

Immediately press milk chocolate candy into the center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack.

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Lukas Eggen’s cookies were far from a complete disaster.

Unfortunately, that’s not me. Alas, I was responsible for making peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses in the center. It’s time to call upon a Christmas miracle.

Cookies need love, like everything does.

Aside from being a line from The Matrix: Revolutions, part of my favorite movie trilogy of all time, it's also the line I used to psych myself up for the third annual baking challenge.

This marked a pretty big challenge for me. The first year, I made brownies from a box … and forgot to spray the pan.

Last December were my rice krispy treats that were … uniquely decorated.

This year, I was ready to throw down.

I called my parents to seek advice … and heard laughter on the other end.

Thanks for the pep talk, mom and dad.

But if baking cookies is cool and important enough for the Oracle, it's cool enough for me.

Unfortunately, love is about the last thing I feel when I bake.

There are lots of emotions that I do feel. Dread. Frustration. Annoyance. In the past, my excitement for baking was roughly the equivalent of the excitement I felt when getting my wisdom teeth removed. But this time was different. I would make cookies that Betty Crocker would be proud of.

I was given the option of using premade cookie dough mix.

Ha. I laugh in the face of danger. I was ready to go all-in.

What could go wrong?

I gathered all the ingredients, turned on the TV and readied myself to go to war … before I instead watched the end of the Packers game against the Browns.

Shout out to Green Bay for pulling out a victory. If the Packers had lost, my cookies would not have been made with love, more like anger/sadness.

After calming down, I was really ready to bake some cookies.

It was time to begin mixing ingredients.

I do not have a power mixer. So, I used a spoon to mix the ingredients into the cookie batter.

Let me tell you, that’s not the easiest thing to do in the world, though my arms got a little workout in.

It was during this time, I came to a realization.

Nothing was going wrong.

In fact, it all seemed pretty easy.

By the time I had placed my lovingly created, yet vastly unequal, cookies on the cookie sheets and into the oven, it was all uneventful.

About the biggest issue I faced came when I attempted to remove the cookies from the oven.

I had to improvise since I apparently do not own a pair of oven mitts.

Once the cookies were out, I commenced the placing of the Hershey kisses.

This is about the extent of my decorating skills. Luckily, not even I could mess that up (too badly).

Of course, baking is only half the battle. The taste test would determine whether I was successful or not.

The results were surprisingly encouraging.

Have I been neglecting a secret baking gene all along?

Should I open my own bakery?

Am I ready for Cake Wars?

No.

But, I did realize that perhaps baking doesn’t have to be quite as daunting at it seems.

And that’s something I think the Oracle would be proud of.



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