I’ve heard it said that the sense of smell is the earliest and strongest to develop in humans. I remember once at a restaurant there was a special on oysters that came from the town where I grew up. I splurged and ordered them just for fun. When they arrived and the fresh, salty smell wafted up to me, tears came to my eyes along with so many wonderful memories of my childhood there on the water.
I think it’s the same for many of us at Christmas. There are certain scents that transport you directly into this season of celebration and joy. Take ginger for instance! I love baking days here at the Community — as you cross the common, in addition to the beautiful lights and wreaths and garland, the smells drifting from the kitchen put smiles on everyone’s faces. It actually seems like another way to spread the good news: Christmas is coming! Jesus is on his way, and we’re getting ready — with Ginger Cake!
Upside Down Pear Ginger Cake
- Start with your ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" springform pan or a cake pan that's at least 2½ inches deep.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar; mix well and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Tilt the pan a little from side to side to help the mixture spread all the way to the edge.
- Arrange the sliced pears side-by-side over this brown sugar mixture, making sure that they cover the entire bottom of the pan. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk until airy and fully combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, beat the the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs and beat again until pale and airy.
- Incorporate the apple sauce and molasses, mix until well combined, and then add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated, no more.
- Pour over the pears and spread all the way to the edge.
- Place a piece of aluminium foil under or around your pan to catch any eventual leakage and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until it's cool enough to be handled safely then flip it onto a rimmed cake plate.
- Serve warm, garnished with vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts and a drizzle of honey or caramel sauce, if desired.
Every year after school is out, our young community teenage girls have a 3-week “summer camp” with several of our Sisters. This year they went to New Hampshire for the event.
They were very excited and eagerly looking forward to the many activities ahead of them: lots of time out of doors, hiking, swimming, boating and gardening. I knew that nature crafts would be a part of their learning experiences, and also that there would be indoor activities such as housekeeping and of course, some cooking. I made them promise me that they would surprise me by making something new and different from any of their old standbys. They did not let me down, but kept their promise and came up with this scrumptious, raspberry peach upside down cake, inspired by a raspberry picking event that none of us knew would be happening before they went to camp. I could not have been more pleased!
Raspberry Peach Upside-down Cake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Slice peaches. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.
- Place 6 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat until melted then add brown sugar and cook until both are combined and melted, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Approximately 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Arrange peach slices in a circular pattern (overlapping if needed) in skillet on top of sugar. Add raspberries in areas not covered with peaches. Set aside.
- Cream together vanilla, 6 tablespoons butter and 1 cup sugar until creamy. Add eggs and beat until the yellow disappears. Add sour cream and blend.
- On low speed, add flour mixture and beat just until combined stopping to scrape the sides a few times. Pour batter onto peaches and smooth out to the edges.
- Bake 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
- Run a knife around the edges to release and invert onto a cake plate allowing the cake to cool another 10 minutes.
Serve with fresh whipped cream.
I have always found bread baking to be an intensely spiritual and creative act. You mix, you knead, you wait. It is prayer.
In our Convent during Lent, we always make an effort to serve a traditional Lenten meal, most often with candlelight and readings. A simple sampling of hard boiled eggs, cheese, some dried fruits, and nuts, is always accompanied by a smorgasbord of beautiful homemade breads. Tonight is no exception. With 65 Sisters in our Convent, we start early with our bread baking and continue through the day.
I am partial to this recipe, one that my grandmother passed on to me, and I am blessed to pass it on to you. It is wonderful sliced and toasted with a big smear of butter and jam. Don’t be daunted by making bread—there is really no fear to be had here! Bake and break bread with your family this Lent and see what God can do.
Convent English Muffin Bread
- Lightly grease two 8” loaf pans with Crisco and sprinkle the cornmeal over the bottom of the pans. Set aside
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Sprinkle your yeast over the very warm water, mix with a fork and leave for about 5 min. until bubbles form and your yeast is “active”. (If your yeast doesn’t do anything at this stage, throw it out and begin again!)
- Microwave your milk until it is very warm to the touch, but not so much that you can’t stick your finger in it, about 125 degrees
- Add your warm milk to your active yeast mixture in a large bowl and sprinkle the sugar over. Mix with a wooden spoon.
- Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring the dough as you go. After adding about 2 cups of flour, add your salt and baking soda, then add the remainder of your flour.
- The dough will look quite dry and stiff at this point, so remove the dough onto a counter and knead the rest of the flour into the dough until it is a smooth dough.
- Divide the dough in half, form two oblong loaves and press these into the prepared pans.
- Put the dough in a warm place to rise, covered with a tea towel, for about 45 min. The dough should be doubled in size.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven until golden brown and cooked through, about 25 min.
- Remove from the pans immediately onto a cooling rack and let cool.
We are always grateful and encouraged by the donors who support our community and its work. They are a vital part in what we do, making it possible for us to carry on from day to day. Many of them have become loyal friends who call us for prayer for their own needs. A bond of trust has developed between us that goes beyond just their material gift giving to us.
As a token expression of our thanks to them we frequently send out tins of homemade cookies baked by the Sisters. I am always amazed at how much they appreciate this little gesture on our part and am often amused to hear reports of cookies arriving at just the right time to lift recipients’ spirits sometimes totally changing the mood or atmosphere of the entire office by their arrival.
When we include our wheatless peanut butter goodies, the people who have a gluten-free diet tell us that they are moved beyond words.These are amazingly tasty and loved by one and all (whether the eaters are gluten-free or not.) If they are not already in your cookie repertoire they should be!
Wheatless Peanut Butter Cookies
- Mix peanut butter and sugar together by hand until thoroughly combined. Add egg and baking soda. Form dough into balls with your hands.
- Dip in sugar and place on baking tray. Use fork to flatten and make crisscross pattern (or simply roll the balls with your hands, roll them in sugar and cook - makes a different look)
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or until light brown and puffy. Let stand for few minutes before removing from the baking sheet