During this Coronavirus pandemic many of us have been busy cooking and baking. The stores, at least temporarily, are out of yeast and flour. Fortunately we had a small stockpile. Last week my friend Jane and I were on voluntary quarantine with my daughter in Chicago. We decided baking bread was a good project to pass the time. Our first loaf of bread was an herb loaf that we apparently allowed to rise too long. It fell during baking and, while it tasted okay hot out of the oven, it was too dense and it later became croutons. A second batch of dough didn’t want to rise at all. We tried deep frying dough balls to simulate donut holes on the theory that anything tastes good deep fried. Wrong. Everything does not taste good deep fried. Our “donut holes” were overcooked on the outside and raw in the center. Even liberal dosing with cinnamon sugar didn’t help. Then we decided to make a Babka. Babka is a traditional Polish Jewish bread. In Polish Babka means old lady or grandmother. If I was a grandmother I wouldn’t mind being called Babka. Soft and sweet and smelling of cinnamon and vanilla. Babka is thought to have originated in the early 1800s when extra challah dough would be spread with cinnamon or jelly and rolled up before baking. The recipe we used is a King Arthur Cinnamon Babka recipe with golden raisins and pecans. Last week we made an initial babka run. I failed at reading the instructions correctly and we cut the dough wrong. It still tasted great! Once I got back home I made another loaf of babka. This time I knew how to properly cut the dough.

Dough Ingredients:

3 cups (361g) AP flour

2 tsp instant yeast

1/4 tsp cinnamo

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg

5 T unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all of your dough ingredients in a large mixing bowl, starting with the lesser amount of water. With a wooden spoon mix all of the ingredients together until everything is moistened. If necessary add more of the water until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Remove the dough to a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and smooth. Place the dough into a lightly buttered bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the dough is quite puffy.

While your dough is rising make your filling.

Filling Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 tsp cinnamon

1 T AP flour

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup diced pecans

1/2 cup golden raisins

Just before you’re ready to shape the dough combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon and stir in the water and melted butter. Set aside.

Once the dough has risen place it on a clean, lightly floured surface and shape into a 9” by 18” rectangle that should be about 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is fighting you let it rest about 10 minutes, then stretch some more. I used my hands to shape the dough.

Smear the dough with the filling coming to within an inch of the edges. Sprinkle with the nuts and raisins.

Starting with the short end roll the dough gently into a log sealing the seam and ends.

Using a pair of scissors or a sharp knife, cut the log in half lengthwise, not crosswise.  You should have two pieces of dough, each about 10” long.  Take care to prevent too much filling from spilling out.  With the filling side up, twist the two pieces into a braid, tucking the ends underneath.  Place the twisted loaf into a lightly greased 9×5 loaf pan.

Whisk an egg with a pinch of salt and brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash.  Cover the loaf and let it rise until very puffy and crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.  Toward the end of the rise time preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Now the bread is ready for the oven.  Bake the bread for 40-50 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil during the final 15 to 20 minutes of baking.  The loaf should be a deep golden brown and the internal temperature should be about 195.

Remove the babka from the oven and immediately loosen the edges with a spatula or kitchen knife.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Slice and enjoy.

NOTE:  King Arthur suggests a topping (also known as supreming) consisting of:

2 T AP flour

1 T brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

1 T cold butter

Mix the topping ingredients until crumbly and sprinkle over the loaf before rising.  

I used the topping on one loaf but not on the other.  We also omitted the raisins in the first loaf.  As with so many recipes, it’s all a matter of personal preference.  

It seems like it would make excellent French toast but I haven’t tried that.  It is excellent briefly warmed in the microwave or oven.


Roasted Nuts

Nuts.  A healthy and filling snack.  Nuts are a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats as well as a number of vitamins and minerals.  Almonds are the highest in calcium of all nuts and and studies have shown that they can reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol which is particularly harmful to heart health.  Pecans and walnuts have also been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels and contain compounds that act as antioxidants.  Walnuts, one of my favorites, may help to reduce inflammation which can contribute to many chronic diseases.  A study of college students found that eating walnuts increased cognition, suggesting they may have beneficial effects on the brain.  Walnuts are supposed to be the top nut for brain health.  That’s probably why I like them so much!  I’ve always been told that fish was brain food.  But maybe it’s really nuts!

Considering all of the health benefits, snacking on a handful of nuts each day, unless, of course, you have an allergy to tree nuts, is a good thing.  Eating nuts that are covered in chocolate might, however, cancel out the health benefits.  And while raw nuts are probably best, nuts that have been roasted with a little sea salt are ever so much better tasting.  My friend Jane gave me this quick and simple recipe for roasting nuts.  They are excellent!


5 cups of raw nuts – I used pecans and almonds

1 1/2 T HOT water

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 T olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375.

Measure out your nuts into a large metal bowl.

Whisk together the 1 1/2 tsp of salt and the HOT water together until the salt is dissolved.

Using a spatula or wooden spoon pour the salt water over the nuts and stir well.

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spread the nuts out in a single layer.

Bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, stir, and bake for an additional 8 minutes.  Depending on your oven temperature you may want to bake them for a couple more minutes.  You can sample a couple after 15-16 minutes remembering that once they cool they will crisp up a little more.  After baking return the hot nuts to the bowl and stir in the 2 T of olive oil and additional sea salt to taste.  Spread the nuts back out on the parchment covered pan and allow them to cool completely.  Once cooled store them in an airtight container.


NOTE:  I used raw almonds and pecans but any kind of raw nut would be good.

These nuts were so good I decided that some other flavor profiles might work as well.  I did a second batch adding 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla to the 2 T of olive oil and sprinkling 1 T of cinnamon and 2 T of superfine sugar on the hot nuts.   I could have added even a little more vanilla and cinnamon.

If you like things kicked up a bit, 1/2 to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper added to the sea salt at the end may be another good choice.

If you don’t have superfine salt or sugar on hand you can use a coffee grinder or mini food processor to accomplish a fine grind.

As with any recipe, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Oatmeal Cake with Coconut Pecan Topping


I am not sure where this recipe came from but I’ve been making it for years. It’s always moist and tasty and the fact that it contains oatmeal gives some of us the delusion that we are eating “health food.”  We had friends spending the weekend with us and I chose this for our Friday night dessert.

Cake Ingredients:

1 cup old fashioned oats

1 1/4 cups boiling water

1/2 cup butter flavor crisco

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar (packed)

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt



Preheat oven to 350.

Combine oatmeal and boiling water and let it stand for 20 minutes.


In a mixing bowl combine shortening, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Cream together until fluffy.


Beat in the oatmeal.


Measure out your dry ingredients and whisk them together. Gradually add them to the creamed mixture and beat on medium speed until everything is incorporated. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. While the cake is in the oven prepare the topping.

Topping Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts if you prefer)

1/3 cup butter

1 cup coconut

1/4 cup half and half


Rough chop the nuts.


Mix all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil stirring frequently. Allow to simmer for 3-4 minutes.


As soon as the cake comes out of the oven spread the topping over the hot cake. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.


Serve as is or with a little dollop of whipped cream. Oatmeal cake with coconut and pecans. It’s what was for dessert.


NOTE:  I really do measure my ingredients out in advance into prep bowls. That way I can put my containers away right after measuring out the ingredients keeping my kitchen neater and I am less likely to forget to add essential ingredients.  Also, it’s important to whisk your dry ingredients together before adding them to ensure even distribution of things like salt and leavening.



Every year, for nearly 30 years, my very good friend and I have a candy making, cookie baking marathon for the holidays. We used to do it over a three day weekend. Now that she recently joined the ranks of the retired we held our marathon over an entire week and we were able to go to lunch a couple times and even got a little shopping in.  The real significance of our candy making, cookie baking bonanza is not just that we make the most beautiful, awesome tasting, melt in your mouth sweet treats. It’s really about two good friends in sync with one another in the kitchen. Over the years we have fallen into a comfortable routine. I make most all of the cookie shapes (balls, sticks, knots, cookie press) and my friend does the messy stuff (dipping in chocolate, rolling in nuts, powdered sugaring). We both make dough. We both do cleanup. Not everyone can work well with another person in the kitchen. And our ability to do that makes our Christmas goodies just a little more special.

We have cookie recipes that we have made forever. And every so often we experiment with a new recipe. A few years ago we started making the Rugelach and it has become one of our favorites.



1 cup butter at room temperature

1 8-oz package cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups of flour

1/2 tsp salt


1 cup sugar

2 T cinnamon

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans


(We make a double batch.  Actually we make two double batches.)

In a stand mixer cream butter and cream cheese together. Combine the flour and salt and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Divide dough into fourths and roll into balls.


Wrap each ball in wax paper and refrigerate for one hour or more for easy handling.

Preheat oven to 350.

After dough has chilled roll out into approximately a 12 inch circle. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Brush each circle with the melted butter. Sprinkle with 3 T cinnamon sugar and then with 2 T chopped pecans.  Cut each circle into 12 wedges.


(The dough circle pictured was small and was only cut into 8 wedges.)

Roll up wedges beginning with the wide end. Place pointed side down on ungreased baking sheet approximately 2 inches apart. Curve ends to form a crescent.

Bake for 24-26 minutes or until golden brown. Seems like a long time for cookies but they need to bake that long. Remove to wire racks to cool.


One of the secrets to really good baked goods is really good ingredients. Always use real butter, fresh, quality spices and chocolates.

Maybe one day our beautiful and amazing daughters will take over for us and we can wait anxiously to receive our cookie trays.  That will be a happy day.