Tag Archives: baking

105. Sausage Balls–Way Tastier Than They Sound

10 Apr

If you’ve never encountered a sausage ball in the wild, you might think of this delicacy as something one would find atop a mound of spaghetti, but you would be mistaken. A sausage ball needs no accompaniment. It’s complete in and of itself, seeing as it contains three major Southern food groups: meat, cheese, and bread.

Sausage balls couldn’t be simpler to make (unless some ingenious person comes along with a heat & serve version). After all, there are only three ingredients: sausage, cheese, and Bisquick. Even so, there’s no real consensus among Southerners as to the ratio of said ingredients. Even amongst my closest friends and family the battle lines are drawn.

Our designated sausage ball maker used to turn up with perfect sausage balls every time. (Which, consequently, is how she came to be our designated sausage ball maker. Word of caution: Refrain from bringing anything especially delicious to a party unless you have the means and motivation to bring the same dish to every subsequent party in perpetuity.)

All was well on the sausage ball front until our S.B. maker took up with someone who was firmly ensconced in the small & greasy camp. Imagine our surprise (and disappointment and complaints) when she turned up again and again with sausage balls that were practically Bisquick-free. Why, Sandy, why?

We suffered through this for years seeing as nobody else could be bothered to step up and take over. Yes, sausage ball making is relatively simple, but it requires copious touching of raw meat. Also, you’ve got to purchase a gigantic box of Bisquick (there’s no small or even medium size), which will take up precious cabinet space for months or even years. Sure, the makers of Bisquick claim that it’s multi-purpose, but I’ve rarely seen it used for anything besides sausage balls or perhaps “homemade” Red Lobster cheddar biscuits.

“But do you NEED Bisquick?” one might ask. “Couldn’t you just use flour?” Oh, no, you absolutely could not. There’s not a brand of flour on the market that contains the all-important ingredient: partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil.

As far as I know, they have yet to start selling containers of that over by the Crisco. And, no, Crisco isn’t the same thing. It’s a unique blend of oil, fully hydrogenated oil, and partially hydrogenated oil. Yum!

My sister finally caved and started making her own version of sausage balls, which through the mystery of evolution became piggies. These still contain the requisite meat, cheese, and bread, but there’s no need to come in contact with raw meat, only meat juice from the cocktail weenies. Though I’m not sure which is worse.

What do y’all think? Do you prefer sausage balls, piggies, or some other meat/cheese/bread concoction that doesn’t involve touching unpleasant food or food-like substances?

Photo credit: Sausage ball photo courtesy of Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake, one of the best-named blogs ever!

95. Cheese Straws–For Eating, Not Drinking

20 Apr

Following the time-honored Southern tradition of misnaming things, these tasty, cheesy morsels somehow got labeled “straws.” You can’t sip a beverage through them. You would not use them as bedding for farm animals. And it would be nigh impossible to weave a basket out of them. Still, we call them “straws.” I reckon it sounds better than “kind of like an elongated cracker, but with a different texture, plus cheese.”

Even in the South, spotting cheese straws in the wild is an unusual (and therefore delightful) occurrence. I think folks are scared off by the high-priced tins of cheese straws offered by purveyors of Southern delicacies. Sure, they’re tasty, but I’d rather spend my hard-earned 20 bucks on something more substantial. Chocolate, for instance.

I’ve heard that cheese straws were the hit of the cocktail party circuit back in the day, but I never ran across any, seeing as Baptists don’t invite folks over for drinks all that often.

I think your best chance of finding a batch of cheese straws is to get yourself invited to a Southern girl’s bridal or baby shower. As an added bonus, you’re likely to happen upon a platter of piggies and the almost as rare but far more delicious Southern delicacy, petit fours.

The only time I’ve seen cheese straws north of the Mason Dixon was at an ad agency I worked for in Southern California. Someone brought a tin of them back from a vacation in the South. Oh wait, that was me, so I guess it doesn’t count. Note: The whole tin was devoured in record time.

I’ve only made cheese straws a few times, always for showers and always in Mississippi. Seeing as they’re not at all difficult to make, I really should whip up a batch soon and introduce them to my Yankee friends. I will probably use Homesick Texan’s recipe. Any of y’all planning a cocktail party?

If you’re at all curious about the history of cheese straws, check out Hoppin’ John’s well-researched post.

Photo Credits: Homemade cheese straws by Chez Loulou, Flickr Creative Commons; store-bought cheese straws available at The Everyday Gourmet.

72. Tea Cakes (Sorry, No Frosting)

18 Feb

Photo by B. Williams
Flickr Creative Commons

My sister has a friend named Shannon, and every time her name comes up in conversation (always in a good way, Shannon!), my dad says, “Ask Shannon when she’s going to bring me those tea cakes.”

I really don’t know when or why Shannon promised to bring my dad tea cakes, but I find it endearing that he’s still holding on to the hope that they will one day be delivered. I would have lost faith decades ago.

What are tea cakes? Well, as I have mentioned, Southerners have a tradition of giving foods names that aren’t even remotely related to their ingredients (salads with no lettuce or nutritional value, casseroles that are actually desserts, etc). Tea cakes are another good example. They are not cakes. They contain no tea.

Caution: Do Not Dip.
Photo by Chad M.
Flickr Creative Commons


“But wait,” you might think. “Perhaps they’re meant to be dunked in tea.” Alas, you would be wrong. No Southerner in his/her right mind is about to dunk any food item into a glass of iced tea.

You might think “What about hot tea?” Oh, no. No, no, no, no. In the South there are only two kinds of tea: sweet or unsweet, both of which are iced.

So what are tea cakes? Most folks would probably call them cookies, seeing as they’re round discs of dough baked on a cookie sheet. But they don’t have the crunchy or chewy texture that’s usually associated with cookies. I guess one could argue that they’re sort of cake-like. More specifically like a sliver of cake that’s been left on the counter to dry out for a few days.

I, myself, think of them as mutated sugar cookies.

I’m doing a terrible job of conveying the deliciousness of tea cakes, but that’s part of my “more for me” tactic.

Apart from Southern bake sales and the occasional lemonade stand, you will probably never happen upon tea cakes for sale. But they’re easy and – dare I say – fun to make at home. If my dad ever gives up on Shannon, I’m sure he could make these himself.

I haven’t made tea cakes in about a hundred years, but I think this recipe from the Bell’s Best Cookbook is the one I usually use, judging by the amount of sugar in the crease. I’ll reproduce it exactly as it appears then add my commentary. It’s on page 328 for those following along at home. The recipe is listed as “Old Fashion Tea Cakes,” not to be confused with “Old Fashioned Tea Cakes,” which precedes it on the page.)

Old Fashion Tea Cakes
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup of Wesson oil
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp. vanilla

Beat eggs with fork; stir in oil and vanilla. Blend in sugar until mixture thickens. Blend in flour and mix well. Put in refrigerator to chill 3 hours. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with greased bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet immediately and place on paper towel. Keep tightly closed in Tupperware to preserve crispness.

Attributed to: Mrs. M.E. (Annie Bell) Sudduth, Jackson – North Council

My notes:
• I don’t think these will self destruct if you choose a different brand of vegetable oil or even replace the oil with butter as I am usually inclined to do.

• If you don’t have self-rising flour, add 1 tsp baking soda and ¼ tsp salt per cup of all-purpose flour.

• I don’t have the patience for chilling dough. A few minutes in the freezer usually works for me. Results may vary.

• I cover the bottom of the glass with butter, but if you like grease, go for it.

• I don’t know why on earth you’d transfer tea cakes to a paper towel. I’d use a cooling rack or, in a pinch, a plate.

• I don’t have any name-brand Tupperware. I use the cheap-ass kind from Ziplock or Glad. They work just fine.

Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD! Wish I were there to bake you some tea cakes!!

Do you have a good tea cake recipe? Please share!

47. Petit Fours Like You’ll Never Find in Paris

4 Oct

petit fours -Brandi Korte

I don’t know how I stumbled upon the topic of petit fours with Geoff (I mean, it’s not like I EVER talk about sweets), but here’s another example of Dixie and Non worlds colliding:

I’m explaining to him that petit fours are little cakes with icing poured over them. About this big (imagine my hands making the universal 2 inch square symbol). And he goes, “Oh! They sell those at Whole Foods.” Me: “WHAT??” See, I have searched the internets more times than I care to mention trying to find petit fours in Seattle, and he’s telling me I overlooked Whole Foods. I would have hopped in the car immediately, but it was well past Whole Foods’ closing time. Ok, maybe not, but I was already in pajamas.

So the next day I set out for Whole Foods in Ravenna, giddy because I was moments away from petit four bliss. As I perused the bakery case, I encountered lots of lovely, lovely baked goods, but nary a petit four in sight. I made no less than three trips around the entire bakery area. No petit fours ANYWHERE. What they did have, though, were a ton of yummy looking bite-sized desserts. The price was a foreboding $18.99 a pound, but then how much could these really weigh? I got a tiny key lime pie and a wee cheesecake and they worked out to about two bucks each. Yes, a little steep for bite sized dessert, but you’d just have to see how cute these things are.

The next day, I was near another Whole Foods. Ok, it was maybe three miles out of the way, but who’s counting? Again, no petit fours. Ack!!

Meanwhile my sister calls to tell me about these awesome petit fours her friends ordered for her baby shower. (My sister’s two requirements for any shower thrown in her honor are petit fours and punch. It may not get more Southern than that. Especially if the punch is the lime sherbet variety. Alas, this is not Jenna’s favorite.)

I tell her about my wild petit four chase and tell her we’ve GOT to get petit fours when I go down to Memphis to help attend to the baby for whom she was recently showered.

Geoff has a client on the eastside, so he swung by Whole Foods to check out the PF situation there. He comes home and says, “Ok, they have a whole bunch of petit fours. They’re all different kinds of bite-sized desserts and they’re $18.99 a pound.” Me: “Yeah, I saw THOSE, but do they have any that are pieces of cake about this big with icing poured over them?” Him: “Uh, no.” Me: “Then they’re not petit fours!” Him: “Well, the sign says ‘Petit Fours.’” Me: “The sign lied.”

Fast forward to me in Memphis. I got the name of the petit four place from Jenna’s friend Tricia. I found their website, which was…somewhat off-putting. Some of their cakes were worthy of Cakewrecks. I would love to link to the site, but now Google warns that the site might harm my (or your) computer.

Nevertheless, Jenna and Tricia vouched for the deliciousness of the Kay Bakery petit fours, so I ordered a dozen. Ok, a dozen and a half because I was determined to bring some home to show Geoff. Not for him to TASTE, mind you, because I knew he would hate them.

kay bakery petit four


If the website put me off, the actual bakery did not do much to assuage my misgivings. But the guy showed me the petit fours, and while they weren’t exactly square, I could tell right away that they were honest-to-God petit fours. Hallelujah!

And they were as good as promised. Yay!

Epilogue: Geoff’s response upon seeing them: “Those aren’t small! They’re not petit fours; they’re grande eights!”

Some folks have no appreciation for the finer things in life.

Where’s your favorite placeto get petit fours? Have you ever attempted to make them yourself?

44. Caramel Cake–Like a Hug, but Tastier

26 Jun

I made this. Yum.

If you happen to be in the South and happen to be offered a slice of caramel cake (or better yet, somebody’s grandmother’s caramel cake), proceed with caution. Much like heroin, one hit’s too many and a thousand is never enough.

I have never met a caramel cake I didn’t like. Mostly, I think, because Betty Crocker has yet to throw her hat in the ring. That I know of, anyway.

Caramel cake is a bit of a misnomer, seeing as the cake isn’t caramel at all. It’s the icing that’s caramel. Well, actually, even the icing isn’t caramel. It’s caramel-esque. And way better than any plastic-wrapped caramel you’ve ever encountered.

The first time I attempted a caramel cake, the icing turned out gritty. Did I still eat it? You bet. See “never met a caramel cake I didn’t like” above.

caramel cake in progress, a still life

The second time, I turned to the Patron Saint of Southern Cooking, Paula Deen. She did not disappoint. And, so, having mastered my technique, I decided to treat my sister to a home-baked caramel cake. What I didn’t plan on was my sister’s sad, sad baking pans. Perhaps I should have switched to sheet cake mode, but I was determined to wow my sister. And wow her I did.

So the cakes stuck to the pans, but I ingeniously inverted them, crumbly side down. Which worked ok for the first layer. Halfway through icing the second layer, an avalanche sent one side of the cake sliding. Not to be defeated, I kept icing that sucker, which was getting crumblier by the second. Even my six-year-old nephew who loves to help in the kitchen decided it was hopeless and abandoned the project in favor of Sponge Bob.

My sister took one look at the cake and said, “What happened??” Me: “It stuck to the pans.” Jenna: “What pans did you USE?” I showed her the culprits. Jenna: “Well, no wonder!”

It wasn’t pretty, but that did not deter us from enjoying a slice. (Well, not so much a slice as a glob). But then, we’ve been known to eat my sister-in-law’s carrot cake rescued from a fall to the floor, which is a story for another time.

If you take a notion to make your own caramel cake, I recommend Paula Deen’s recipe. However, I leave out her layer of filling and have never missed those extra two sticks of butter and two cups of sugar. The icing isn’t a true caramel, but I’ve yet to figure out how that culinary feat is accomplished. I’ve tried many a time, but for me caramel always ends in disappointment or disaster.

Anybody happen to have their grandmother’s caramel cake recipe? Please do share!!

30. Biscuits: Our Daily Bread

3 Mar

Let’s settle one thing right up front: if it comes out of a can, it is not a biscuit. Not that there aren’t uses for Hungry Jacks. They’re a key ingredient in monkey bread and will also make a semi-decent Krispy Kreme substitute if you’re desperate, just don’t serve them with butter and jam expecting them to pass.

Some Southern folks have gotten a little lazy about the biscuit making and rely on the frozen Pillsbury variety. One advantage to these is that you can heat up however many you want and never be stuck with cold, leftover biscuits. Although for some reason my dad hasn’t caught on to this idea. He heats up a whole bunch of them at once, butters them, and then leaves them out on the counter. Just in case somebody happens by and wants a biscuit, I reckon.

I really don’t get why folks would want to eat some kind of bland, biscuit-like substitute. How hard is it to make a biscuit? Ok, I will confess that I, myself, had never made a biscuit till last Saturday, but it’s not at all difficult.

As often as I watched my mom making biscuits while I was growing up, you’d think I’d have the recipe embedded in my brain like a Barry Manilow song. Au contraire, mes amis. (Imagine that pronounced with a Southern accent. On second thought: don’t.) My mom didn’t have a recipe. She dumped some flour in a bowl, cut it with Crisco, poured in some buttermilk, mixed it up, dropped the dough on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. And Voila! Light, fluffy drops of heaven on a plate.

She always swore her biscuits were not as good as her sister Juanita’s, but I wouldn’t know because I never actually tasted one of my aunt’s biscuits while it was hot. My uncle J.P. had a habit of reading a bible passage before breakfast, usually directed toward someone at the table. By the time we got to eat, the o.j. was warm and the biscuits were cold.

All this is to say that I can’t give you my Mom’s biscuit recipe, but I did encounter one that’s almost as good. Since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve attempted a bunch of scone recipes because that’s what you do here. But last weekend, I figured it was about time to learn to make biscuits. Sorry, scones, it was nice knowing you…

Sour Cream Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sour cream

Directions
Heat oven to 450.
Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
Cut in butter until small crumbs form. (easier to do this in food processor)
Add sour cream and stir until mixture is moistened.
Mush together with your hands (wash first!) until the dough holds together with no stray flour bits.
Drop onto ungreased baking sheet in biscuit-sized lumps.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.

Slather with butter and jam (or gravy if you like. i don’t.) and eat. Then nap, if necessary.

What’s your favorite biscuit recipe? Can you make them as good as your own mama?

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