Tag Archives: chocolate

(Raw) Milk and Cookies

by Kate

I quit baking throughout my entire 20’s. Oh, now and then I would make my mom’s famous biscuit recipe for a holiday party, but those moments were few and far between. The thing that struck me when I began baking again after getting married was how incredibly effective baking is as a form of bribery. Baking something is such a simple way to make other people happy and create a moment of peace amidst chaos. Mad at me? Have a chocolate chip cookie! Works every time.

Chocolate chip cookies have become a daily staple in our household, at least for my husband who has the metabolism of a roadrunner and insists that he desperately needs the oats I add to the mix. I send half a dozen (small) cookies along with his lunch and he often has milk and cookies at night before going to bed. Which brings us to the second part of this post. Milk and cookies is an incredibly comforting phrase, conjuring up domesticity, children’s books, Santa Claus… until you start talking about RAW MILK. Dun dun dun DUNNNNNNNHHHHHH.

Raw milk brings up a great deal of raw emotion, between horrified opponents and embarrassingly passionate proponents duking it out with language on an apocalyptic level. How far we have come from the comforting biblical concept of the land flowing with (raw) milk and honey. Today, the mention of raw milk conjures up for many a vision of milk flowing with listeria and other dangerous micro-organisms. Here is the milk that is currently on tap here in my household.

Oh that label. It sears my farmer marketing soul. I spent years working with farmers to help them create clear,beautiful, recognizable labels for their products to help them sell as much local produce as possible. I spent years working with the brilliant minds at the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (follow that link! I took the picture on the bottom right of the Local Food Guide!) to create the most effective and aesthetically pleasing local branding and labeling possible, and here I am buying a product designed to strike fear into the soul.

Let me type out the small print.  The legally required label for raw milk here in Pennsylvania reads in uncompromising and unaesthetically appealing language:

RAW MILK -Whole unpastuerized milk-rBST free-Soy free-Grass fed

GOVERNMENT WARNING

Raw (unpasteurized) milk may contain disease causing microorganisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these organisms include newborns and infants, the elderly, pregnant women, those taking cortisteroids, antibiotics and antacids and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity.”

Pretty bleak. However, although I have aesthetic objections to the labeling and to the fact that raw milk producers are forced to display warnings on par with cigarette packaging, I am grateful that I can purchase this milk, in town, in a grocery store, legally. Pennsylvania laws allow raw milk production, and inspect the farms that sell raw milk here in the state. As a girl from the deep dairy country of Wisconsin, I am pretty realistic about milk production, the constant battle against tides of cow manure, and the vast ranges of cleanliness and animal health at different farms. I am happy to know that my raw milk comes from a local and legal small farm. I am also happy to consume locally produced pasteurized bGH free milk.

The reason that we drink raw milk is that last summer at a glorious party on a neighboring farm on the ridge, my husband was captured for a long and intense conversation with Vince from St. Brigid’s Meadows about the glories of raw milk. Vince is a passionate guy, and an intense salesman, and in the course of his pitch he mentioned that among many other things raw milk cures eczema. Now, Casey had been battling a patch of this for a while, exacerbated by his mixed martial arts hobby that has him rolling around on sweaty mats on a regular basis. He’d used steroid creams that had him warding me off and staying far away from the baby so we wouldn’t grow hair on our chests, and the creams had limited success. For months he begged me to try raw milk. I scoffed at this notion, sure that it was a pipe dream. However, I finally picked up half a gallon and lo and behold, it worked. As long as he drinks a glass of raw milk a day, the patch of itching miserable irritated skin subsides, stops itching, and looks normal. As soon as he quits the milk, it is back again. So that is why we drink raw milk. It works for us.

Whew. What an intense topic. Maybe you’d like some raw milk right now, and maybe you believe that it is the devils brew, but I bet that no matter what, you like cookies. I will now share my top secret, totally amazing, never fail, completely healthy (oats!) chocolate chip cookie recipe. Have some milk (raw or pasteurized or goat or almond if you absolutely must)  and cookies, and I promise that all will be well.

Kate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable oil (or more butter if you are a WI fanatic with access to an Organic Valley bucket of butter)

1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs (ideally farm fresh brown eggs, but any eggs will do)

2 cups flour

2 cups oats

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

chocolate chips to taste (I use 1/3- 1/2 of a bag at most with this recipe)

Preheat oven to 375 while you combine softened butter, oil, and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs. Add dry goods slowly, then chocolate chips. Drop with a teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Enjoy with a glass of milk.

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

by Kate

The forsythia is in bloom.

I fell in love with forsythia in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in the early spring, when the mountains are blue and grey and white with fog. Before the green starts to steal over the hills the forsythia flames out through the mist, fiery and golden against the dull hues of chilly winter. Last year I noticed the flowers flaming into life as I trudged up the steep hills of Pittsburgh nine months pregnant and hoping to deliver at any moment, and I thought that if I had a girl I would name her Forsythia for this bright bud that explodes with color and dramatically ushers in the spring. I walked down to the river beneath my house and returned home with my arms full of woody stems three feet long, arranged them in a tall glass on the table, and waited for my baby to blossom.

Last year was warm, much warmer than this long cold spring, and the magnolia tree in the neighbor’s yard had burst forth in a lush cascade of blossoms. It was the perfect time for a baby.

We didn’t name her Forsythia, we named her Olympia Julianna.

Olympia is a saints name, after all- a perfectly respectable Greek widow, wise and appealing to my mother who was willing to tolerate eccentricity if it was appropriately linked to a powerful saint of some sort. Yesterday was Olympia’s birthday. It has been a beautiful year. My tiny blossom of a baby has grown into a curly haired staggering toddler, already dancing as she hurtles unsteadily across the floor.

There have been several birthdays already this past month, and Olympia has had ample opportunity to acquire a taste for chocolate cake. I have had ample opportunity to practice making the cakes. Baking is something I utterly neglected throughout my entire 20’s. When I began again as a newlywed bride I was grateful for the many hours I spent baking for my younger siblings as a homeschooler. I was also grateful for a magical cookbook that I received as a wedding present.

This cookbook is a compilation of recipes and a celebration of the life of Kate Hundt. The Hundt family are the royalty of the ridge where I grew up. When my family arrived, new and ragged and Irish and odd, they graciously reached out calloused and welcoming hands. Kate was an elegant and beautifulwoman, an incredible matriarch who raised 11 children on a windy remote ridge. The kids milked the cows and worked on the farm and then went on to a one room school in Middle Ridge, WI and then out into the world to study in Rome, join the peace corp, see the world . Some of the kids moved on to the big city, some of them stayed at home to continue ruling the ridge, battling it out between conventional and organic farming and all possessing an incredible intelligence, work ethic, and strength of personality. Kate was an artist in the kitchen and an amazing painter as well. The cover of the book features one of her paintings, and the pages are full of her artwork and stories gathered from her children and grandchildren, who are roughly as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

One of my favorite things about the cookbook is that it features journal entries that Kate wrote.

I love that the journal entries are a few lines each. This reminds me that I don’t have to write an epic sweep of pages every time I pick up my journal, an and encourages me to do it more often. I also love reading bits of life that remind me of the ridges and the people of home.

Inside Kate’s cookbook, I found what I consider at the moment to be the perfect chocolate cake.  This recipe was contributed by Kate’s daughter in law Dawn, a formidable matriarch in her own right. I have used it as a sheet cake for several birthday parties and festive occasions, and it has been an amazingly easy and consistent recipe. For Olympia’s birthday, I attempted to create a layer cake.

Looking back on my stint as a homeschooling baker, I seem to recall every single layer cake I made falling apart. I crossed my fingers and hoped that perhaps the years would somehow magically have imparted to me vital missing knowledge. This was not the case. Although the cakes coming out of the oven were as fragrant and moist and perfect as ever, my attempt to ease them out of the round pans onto the cooling rack was a disaster and they fell into several pieces. It looked like my barbarian brothers had attacked them, wresting away greedy fistfuls.  However! All hope was not lost. I was determined to try a new chocolate frosting at the request of my husband. The frosting (also from the Kate Hundt cookbook)  luckily turned out to have the thick rich consistency required to architecturally reconstruct the shape of a layer cake.

Having staved off disaster by spackling the cake back together, I needed to let it set. I knew the frosting would harden a bit at a cool temperature, but there was not even a remote chance I could fit the thing into my refrigerator. Luckily for me, this spring has been bitterly cold, forestalling all but the most determined blooming, and the afternoon was chilly with a good chance of snow. The back porch beckoned, but there is something about the thought of setting baked goods outside which perturbs me. I am not sure if this is because if this is because I am a country girl afraid that a stray chicken will attack it, or because as a child I read too many books involving hobos stealing pies from the open window of the pantry. I ignored my instincts, though, and put the cake out to cool and set. An hour later, I fetched it back in. The cold spring air had worked its magic, and the cake was almost perfect, except for the slight fact that my country girl instincts had been correct and a tiny corner of the thick chocolate frosting had indeed been attacked by one happy city mouse- or something. I sighed, and cut off that section of that cake, smoothed out the frosting, and gathered it up for the birthday party. I think that is what Kate Hundt would have done.

And so, Olympia had her birthday cake.

She was wildly appreciative.  Wild being the operative word.

Here is the recipe for the perfect chocolate birthday cake and thick, rich chocolate frosting.

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

4 squares unsweetened chocolate                1 t vanilla

½ stick butter                                                        1 2/3 cup boiling water

2 1/3 cup flour                                                       2 cups sugar

½ cup sour cream                                                 2 eggs

2 t baking soda                                                        1 t salt

Combine chocolate, butter, and water. Stir till chocolate is melted and smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat till smooth. Pour batter in a greased 9×13 pan or 2 layer pans. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes depending on your oven. You want it to be beyond gooey, but still moist and not overdone. If you are making a layer cake, cool on wire rack at your own risk. If you have any tips on getting cakes out of pans onto wire racks, please please leave a message in the comments with advice on this matter.

A couple notes on ingredients. I often use baking cocoa instead of bars of baking chocolate. I finally researched the substitution ratio for cocoa/bar chocolate and it has been incredibly helpful to me because now I can switch back and forth at will. Sometimes I mix the two forms together to create an added depth of chocolate.  Here is the ratio:

1 square chocolate (1 0z) = 3 T cocoa + 1 T butter/oil/shortening

Haha! Who said homeschoolers can’t do math!

Also, I substituted buttermilk for the sour cream yesterday and it turned out perfectly. Now, onto the frosting.

Thick Chocolate Frosting

3/4  stick butter                                               1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 t vanilla                                                             2 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 egg whites                                                        dash salt

Cream butter and add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and blend. Add vanilla, melted chocolate, and salt. Mix well. Beat egg whites until stiff and gradually add remaining cup of powdered sugar, 2 T at a time. Beat after each addition. If you are incredibly motivated, beat till mixture stands in peaks. Fold in chocolate mixture.

A couple notes on this one. For some reason I rarely buy powdered sugar. I think it has some anti-caking ingredient that may be unhealthy but really I am just cheap and lazy. When a recipe calls for powdered sugar I simply pour some sugar into my coffee grinder and powder it. This works like a charm. As for the eggs- yesterday I discovered that when the eggs are warm, they whip up much quicker. I was using a wire whisk and doing it by hand, so this was an important discovery for me. I suggest setting the eggs you will be using for the frosting out when you begin baking- they will have ample time to warm up a bit.

And with that, I am going to head to the kitchen and cut a tiny slice of leftover birthday cake. Let me know if you have any questions, please tell me how to get the layer cake out of the pans without disaster, watch out for city mice and country mice and hobos. Good luck. Happy Birthday!

 

For more about the story of Olympia’s entrance into our lives, click here.