Whaddya know, kuchen dough?

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Kuchen dough, do you know you make a great doughnut? And a beautiful braid? And mincemeat-filled squares? And tiny jam tarts? And hot cross buns? And coffeecake? And pecan caramel rolls? And almond butterhorns? Kuchen dough–whoa!

I started a part-time job in January, and I’ve been playing catch-up with my life ever since. Finally, this weekend, I got to make something just for the fun of it–not because I was working on recipes for an article, or testing for a book review, or finishing my book proposal. And on a rainy Friday night and a cool Saturday morning, doughnuts were just what I wanted to treat my family.

I’ve experimented quite a lot with cake (no-yeast) doughnuts in an attempt to re-create what my grandmother used to make, but I generally prefer yeast doughnuts–though they do require planning ahead. And late on a Friday night, I don’t want my dough to go slow.

So kuchen it is; a sweet, or rich, or not–depending on your preference–German dough that is so much like what my grandmother used for butterhorns and stollen (though not, as best we know, for doughnuts). Kuchen just means coffee cake, and it can be a yeasted dough or a quick, buttery tart dough, like my mother makes for her perfect plum kuchen.

On Friday, I quickly mixed up a batch of dough with 8 cups of flour and chilled it overnight. That’s a lot of flour–and would have made enough doughnuts to feed the neighborhood–but it’s such a good, easy recipe that I knew I could use some for doughnuts, fill a few squares with mincemeat I canned last year, and braid the rest for a sweet ring ready to slather with butter and jam (plus leftover slices for French toast).

Saturday morning, 7:30: I rolled out a portion of the dough, cut it into 32 hearts, and dropped them, about eight at a time, into my cast-iron pan half-filled with oil. They’re tasty just rolled in sugar or cinnamon-sugar right after frying, but I also filled some with raspberry jam and others with chocolate ganache I’d made quickly on Friday night. (Tasty, though a smart cook would wait til the doughnuts were just a tad cooler before filling with chocolate–that was some messy eating!)

From there, I rolled three ropes of dough about 20 inches long, braided them, and pinched the ends into a ring. What dough was left got made into a few mincemeat squares. All tasty–and the braided ring rose far more than I expected when it hit the oven’s heat, so we’ll be having French toast several days this week!

Next I’m going to work on perfecting a sweet cheese-filled kuchen (like a big cheese Danish). What else would you do with this dough?

Recipe: Sweet Kuchen Dough

 

 

Whaddya know, kuchen dough?

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Kuchen dough, do you know you make a great doughnut? And a beautiful braid? And mincemeat-filled squares? And tiny jam tarts? And hot cross buns? And coffeecake? And pecan caramel rolls? And almond butterhorns? Kuchen dough–whoa!

I started a part-time job in January, and I’ve been playing catch-up with my life ever since. Finally, this weekend, I got to make something just for the fun of it–not because I was working on recipes for an article, or testing for a book review, or finishing my book proposal. And on a rainy Friday night and a cool Saturday morning, doughnuts were just what I wanted to treat my family.

I’ve experimented quite a lot with cake (no-yeast) doughnuts in an attempt to re-create what my grandmother used to make, but I generally prefer yeast doughnuts–though they do require planning ahead. And late on a Friday night, I don’t want my dough to go slow.

So kuchen it is; a sweet, or rich, or not–depending on your preference–German dough that is so much like what my grandmother used for butterhorns and stollen (though not, as best we know, for doughnuts). Kuchen just means coffee cake, and it can be a yeasted dough or a quick, buttery tart dough, like my mother makes for her perfect plum kuchen.

On Friday, I quickly mixed up a batch of dough with 8 cups of flour and chilled it overnight. That’s a lot of flour–and would have made enough doughnuts to feed the neighborhood–but it’s such a good, easy recipe that I knew I could use some for doughnuts, fill a few squares with mincemeat I canned last year, and braid the rest for a sweet ring ready to slather with butter and jam (plus leftover slices for French toast).

Saturday morning, 7:30: I rolled out a portion of the dough, cut it into 32 hearts, and dropped them, about eight at a time, into my cast-iron pan half-filled with oil. They’re tasty just rolled in sugar or cinnamon-sugar right after frying, but I also filled some with raspberry jam and others with chocolate ganache I’d made quickly on Friday night. (Tasty, though a smart cook would wait til the doughnuts were just a tad cooler before filling with chocolate–that was some messy eating!)

From there, I rolled three ropes of dough about 20 inches long, braided them, and pinched the ends into a ring. What dough was left got made into a few mincemeat squares. All tasty–and the braided ring rose far more than I expected when it hit the oven’s heat, so we’ll be having French toast several days this week!

Next I’m going to work on perfecting a sweet cheese-filled kuchen (like a big cheese Danish). What else would you do with this dough?

Recipe: Sweet Kuchen Dough

 

 

Sweet Kuchen Dough

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

I know some readers will want things spelled out more precisely than this recipe, but trust that you have a fair amount of leeway here–and because you can keep the dough chilled for several days, you can use it for various breads in whatever quantities you like. If you find yourself, after making a coffeecake or doughnuts, with just a little dough left over, use it to make a few butterhorn rolls, a few jam-filled tarts or a small pan of cinnamon buns–there’s always something you can bake! Note that I much prefer to work with this dough after it’s been chilled (you’ll use less flour this way, for a moister dough), but you can use it directly after rising.

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (if using straight from the refrigerator, heat butter in microwave on low power for about 20 seconds, or until butter feels softer but not close to melting)

1 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature (put in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes if using straight from the refrigerator)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional; use just a touch of another extract if desired, such as almond, orange or lemon)

1 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt

8 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon instant yeast

2 cups milk, lukewarm (heated to 110 degrees to 120 degrees)

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed until  light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time until fully absorbed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat in vanilla and salt.

Add 3 cups flour and yeast; beat on low speed just until mixed. Beat in 1 cup milk; beat on high speed 2 minutes. Beat in 3 more cups flour, then remaining 1 cup milk. Beat in 1 1/2 cups flour and beat for 1 minute. Dough should be very moist and sticky; add the remaining 1/2 cup flour if it is, but if not, don’t add any more.

Scrape into a large greased container, cover with plastic wrap and a lid, and chill overnight or up to several days. (If you prefer, you can let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled and use it immediately, but the dough is much easier to work with when chilled.)

To use the dough: Pinch off whatever portion you like and use as below, keeping any remaining dough covered with plastic and chilled.

For doughnuts: Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick; cut into rounds, squares or hearts. If you want a traditional doughnut shape and no filling, use a smaller cutter to cut a hole out of the center. Re-roll the scraps one time and cut out more doughnuts. In a deep pot or cast-iron pan or Dutch oven, heat about 2 inches of oil (I use canola) to 360 degrees. Gently add doughnuts to the oil without overcrowding the pan; cook until golden on the bottom, turn them, and cook again until golden–about 2 minutes total–adjusting the heat as needed to keep the oil above 350 degrees but not so hot that doughnuts turn brown almost instantly. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet; as soon as they are cool enough to handle, roll in granulated or cinnamon sugar as desired. When fully cooled, if you want to fill them, use a pastry bag with a round tip to poke a hold in the doughnuts and pipe in some jam, Nutella, ganache, lemon curd, vanilla or chocolate pastry cream–whatever you can think of. For ganache, I heat 1/2 cup cream in the microwave until it almost boils and add 4 to 6 ounces chocolate (if I use chocolate chips, I use 1 cup chips; I often use 4 ounces dark chocolate and 2 ounces chips). Let stand a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. Cool until it has thickened, or chill. If chilled, you’ll need to heat it for a few seconds on low power in the microwave until soft enough to pipe.

For buns: Roll 2-inch balls of dough into smooth rounds by cupping your hand over the ball and rolling it under your palm on your work surface, gently pulling your fingers in and out to guide it.  Place the balls in a lightly greased cake pan, spacing them about 1/2-inch apart, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. You can add raisins, currants, dried cranberries or candied fruit to the dough before making balls; after they bake, glaze them if you like. You can mix milk with a little sugar and brush it over the buns, then bake a minute or two more, or brush them when just warm with a powdered sugar icing made by mixing powdered sugar with a little milk, softened butter and vanilla until barely pourable (I like to add a touch of cognac or rum). For hot cross buns, cut a cross with scissors or a sharp knife into the buns before baking, then use the powdered sugar icing to fill the cross after buns have cooled.

For butterhorn rolls: Roll out dough into circles about 6 to 8 inches across and 1/4-inch thick; brush with softened butter. If you like, top with a dollop of jam, almond paste beaten with a touch of milk and sugar until smooth, lingonberry preserves, or thick cranberry relish–put these at about a half-inch in from the edge of the dough. Cut the dough into 8 wedges and roll each wedge into a butterhorn shape starting with the edge and rolling to the point, tucking it under. Place on a greased or parchment-paper lined baking sheet; cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until puffy. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden.

For filled squares: Roll dough no thicker than 1/4 inch, and cut into 2- to 2 1/2-inch squares. Put a dollop of mincemeat (I use about 2 tablespoons), apple pie filling, jam, or chocolate chips in the center of each square, and bring corners up over the filling. Press the seams to seal; place on a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rise until puffy. Brush each with a little cream, half-and-half, milk or beaten egg. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.

For cinnamon rolls: Roll out dough into a rectangle no more than 1/4-inch thick. Brush with softened butter (optional) and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar or with brown sugar mixed with cinnamon. Roll up, starting with a long edge. Cut into 1-inch slices and place slices , cut side down, in a greased cake pan, leaving a little space between each. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until puffy. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 22 minutes, until golden. Turn out onto a plate to cool. If you like, drizzle with the powdered sugar icing from the buns, above.  For caramel rolls, spread a caramel glaze in the bottom of the cake pan before adding the dough slices: Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and mix in 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus 1 tablespoon water. Add a few handfuls of chopped pecans if you like. As soon as these caramel-glazed buns come out of the oven, put a plate over the cake pan and, gripping firmly with oven mitts, flip over and slowly lift off the cake pan.

For a ring: Divide dough into three portions and roll each into a rope. Working on a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, braid the ropes and bend into a circle, pinching the ends together. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Brush with cream, half-and-half, milk or beaten egg; sprinkle with sugar if desired (I like to use a coarse decorating sugar). Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. You could also add finely chopped nuts or some dried fruit (raisins, currant, cranberries) to the dough before rolling into ropes, or, toward the end of baking, lightly brush the dough again and sprinkle with nuts.

For jam tarts: Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/2-inch thick; cut into rounds, squares or hearts. Place on a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, not too close together. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, then press a finger or two firmly in the middle to make a deep depression. Fill with a teaspoon or two of thick jam and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden.

For streusel coffeecake: Spread enough dough to make a 1/2-inch-thick  layer on the bottom of a greased cake pan (round, square or rectangular). Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Top with streusel made by rubbing together 1/3 cup flour to 3 tablespoons butter to 1/3 cup light brown sugar to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus 1/3 cup chopped nuts if you like (multiply as desired to adequately cover your dough). Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden. Or, for a coffeecake with a Moravian sugar cake topping, after the dough has risen, gently dimple it with your fingertips, brush with a tablespoon of milk or cream, sprinkle with a mixture of 2/3 cup light brown sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and drizzle with 6 to 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled. Bake as above.

Related column: Whaddya know, kuchen dough?

Snow Day Snow Cream

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Hooray! There’s snow everywhere, and by a whisker, we managed to sneak in a white Christmas.

Boo! There’s snow everywhere. The slush that the few cars driving on our road have created today will turn to a solid sheet of ice in the next few minutes, I think — that mercury is falling as fast as the snow did last night.

But back to hooray — what a gorgeous, powdery snow we got, instead of our standard ice storm. We can’t recall seeing this much snow layered on the trees in a decade. I even briefly stepped in it barefoot, on the deck; before the cold started to hurt, I was struck by its glorious softness.

I didn’t go up on the roof deck, though. We left that pure and undefiled by any boots or bare feet, because no snow as grand as this should go to waste: It must become snow cream.

No recipe for this; let your inner pioneer mom come out and make it up as you go. I like mine with heavy cream, but half-and-half, evaporated milk, or even sweetened condensed milk will work (though I find the last far too sweet). Put some sugar in a mixing bowl, whisk in the cream until you don’t feel much grittiness remaining, give it a strong shot of vanilla, and then fold in clean snow with a spatula, tasting as you go until you have the right sweetness and consistency. You can add other flavors or drizzle it with chocolate syrup, but I like mine pure. Eat it fast, preferably in front of a roaring fire!

Snack Attack: Lemon-Vanilla Applesauce

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

For as long as I can recall, this has been one of my slightly guilty snack pleasures (guilty only because I have passed it on to my kids): applesauce, with a dollop of sour cream, and Ritz crackers to dip.

I know where this began: Sunday mornings, in the church nursery, snack time. In my memory, we always, always had Ritz crackers and applesauce. Surely there was some variation, but this is the only snack to stick with me, sparking cozy memories of the mildly musty house on the church grounds, where we giddyupped our rocking horses in the old dining room.

At some long-lost point, I added sour cream to the mix, and then this snack fired on all my cravings cylinders: slightly sweet, creamy and salty. My only modification to it in the past 30 years has been to swap out the sour cream in favor of Greek yogurt, so now I can feel almost virtuous when I eat.

I hoped all summer to make some zapplesauce (applesauce made with those baseball-bat overgrown zucchini), but I had a total zucchini failure, much to my kids’ disappointment. We’re all happy to have my first fall batch of applesauce on the shelves, and I’ve gone right back to this snack (OK, it was lunch today).

Applesauce doesn’t have to be anything more than apples cooked to a mush and crushed a bit. But I can rarely resist adding other flavors. My first taste some years ago of  a Honeycrisp apple that we picked in Hendersonville, N.C., told my tongue this was a perfect match for vanilla, and I still think Honeycrisps work best in this combo. But taste for yourself: We’ve started an annual apple tasting, because the farmers’ market each year adds more varieties, and I can never keep straight which we like best.

When you use vanilla, have a heavy hand: I almost always pour in more than a recipe calls for. For applesauce, I add it to taste, knowing that the flavor becomes less intense as it cools. Often I spark this further by adding lemon, either cooking a little zest in with the apples or just squeezing in some lemon juice at the end.

I do always add a little sugar, but again, do this to taste, and re-check it if serving cold. I like to add just as little as I can get away with, but some apples simply need a bit more.

I always have two questions when I start in on my sauce: To peel or not? And blender or not?

If I don’t peel my apples first, I get the pectin and nutrients from the skin into my sauce . . . but because I can’t often find organic apples, I know I’m likely getting some pesticides, too. Also, this means putting the sauce through a food mill or strainer (I use the attachment on my KitchenAid mixer). I usually end up peeling and coring the apples first, and putting the sauce into the blender for a perfectly smooth result. (If I’m after a chunky applesauce, I just press with my potato masher on the cooked apples, still in the pot.

How else can you flavor your applesauce? Try brown sugar, a strong honey, maple syrup or cranberries cooked with the apples until they burst. And check out your spice drawer: Cinnamon, of course, but also cardamom, a pinch of nutmeg or allspice. If you still have herbs growing, try lemon verbena, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, a touch of orange mint, even rosemary, lemon thyme or winter savory (don’t chop the rosemary, thyme or savory into the final sauce; instead, place one small herb branch in with the apples while they cook, then remove before pureeing). Get fancy with those flavors: No matter what, this will always be pure comfort food to take you back to the nursery.

Recipe: Lemon-Vanilla Applesauce

Lemon-Vanilla Applesauce

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Cook’s notes: It’s a little silly to call this a recipe, as it’s really just a method. If not having proportions spelled out makes you nervous in a recipe, this is the perfect spot to kick your confidence up. Unless you scorch the apples (and of course, you won’t), you really can’t mess this up. Of course, if you want plain applesauce, or just vanilla applesauce, leave out the lemon and/or vanilla. Note that if you want chunky applesauce, you’ll want to start with peeled apples.

The method:

For peeled apples: Peel and core as many apples as you like (I suggest at least 4, but you can do as many as will fit in your pot). Cut apples into quarters or eighths and place in a saucepan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Add grated lemon zest — about 1 lemon per 8 apples. Set the pan on medium heat and cover. As soon as you hear things begin to bubble, check the apples every few minutes, adding more water if it all cooks away (if your apples are very juicy, they will need barely any water — you just want to avoid the water cooking off and causing your apples, and any sugary liquid they have given up, to scorch).

Cook until the apples are completely soft and fall apart if you press on them gently. Mash with a potato masher or fork for chunky applesauce. For smooth sauce, transfer apples with a slotted spoon to a blender and puree until smooth. Be careful! The apples are hot, so be sure the lid is on securely, and cover it with a towel. Run the blender on slow speed to start. If the sauce seems very thick, add a little of the liquid remaining in the saucepan. Add a little sugar or other sweetener (brown sugar, maple syrup, honey) and a teaspoon of vanilla to start for every 8 apples. Taste and add vanilla and sweetener as needed, and freshly squeezed lemon juice as needed. If you don’t serve it warm, taste again after the applesauce has cooled and adjust flavorings as needed.

For unpeeled apples: Cut apples (I suggest at least 4, but you can do as many as will fit in your pot) into quarters or eighths, coring them if you like. Coring isn’t necessary, as you’ll be putting the sauce through a food mill or strainer anyway. Place in a saucepan with just a little water in the bottom. Add grated lemon zest — about 1 lemon per 8 apples. Set the pan on medium heat and cover. As soon as you hear things begin to bubble, check the apples every few minutes, adding a little more water if it all cooks away (if your apples are very juicy, they will need barely any water — you just want to avoid the water cooking away and causing your apples, and any sugary liquid they have given up, to scorch).

Cook until the apples are completely soft and fall apart if you press on them gently; the skins will also be coming off. Transfer the apples with a slotted spoon to a food mill and puree, or press through a coarse strainer. If the sauce seems very thick, add a little of the liquid remaining in the saucepan. Add a little sugar or other sweetener (brown sugar, maple syrup, honey) and a teaspoon of vanilla to start for every 8 apples. Taste and add vanilla and sweetener as needed, and freshly squeezed lemon juice as needed. If you don’t serve it warm, taste again after the applesauce has cooled and adjust flavorings as needed.

Related column: Snack Attack: Lemon-Vanilla Applesauce

Here in North Carolina, we’re suffering through endless dry days. For the past week, though, my kitchen has been one huge steam bath.

It’s been canning central since I hit the farmers’ market last Friday, buying 40 pounds of apples, a case of peaches and about 60 pounds of tomatoes. My plan to can throughout the summer never quite came through; given the heat, my family didn’t complain. But I knew it was nearly now-or-never for tomatoes, and I just couldn’t pass up those $10 “ice cream peaches” that looked ripe enough for ice cream but still plenty firm.

And we’ve hit that time of year that I always find a little disorienting, when I’m buying late-summer melons at the same time as the kids beg for the first fall box of apples. One jar of applesauce got greedily gobbled up the day I made it, because kids were starting to tire of watermelon (how can that be?).

So now my back aches, but what a wonderful feeling to see that pantry shelf packed tight with jars of tomatoes, applesauce, peach jam and Aunt Althea’s Christmas pickles (made from my own cucumbers, the one veggie the critters ignore), plus pear marmalade tested for a book review, and a few jars of blueberry-peach sauce. I’m not much into the trendy canning recipes circulating these days (really, how many jars of jam or pickles can one person use?); I just want my standards that get me through the winter.

Standards set, I still had several bowls of peeled peaches to go, even after making a half-gallon of lavender-peach ice cream.

What luck: The day before, I’d looked at those pantry shelves and realized I really didn’t need to hoard my jars of cranberry mincemeat anymore, so I made a mincemeat version of apple slab bars (basically, a flat mincemeat pie in a 9-by-13-inch pan). And because I never make just two rounds of pie dough at a time, I had two more pie disks waiting in the fridge.

So, attempting to live up to my desired title of Pie Mom, I sliced 5 cups of peaches, sprinkled them with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, tossed them with a mixture of 5 tablespoons of flour, 3/4 cup sugar and a pinch of salt, and spread them in a 9-inch pie plate lined with dough. But the dish didn’t look full enough to me, so I tossed on several large handfuls (maybe 1 1/2 cups?) of blueberries I’d frozen earlier this summer, and gently mixed them in with my hand. On went another dough round, roughly pinched together and crimped. Just for fun, I cut out a few hearts for vents, and brushed the top of the pie with a little cream. I baked it for 25 minutes at 425 degrees on the bottom shelf (that shelf is lined with quarry tiles, for when I bake bread–it also helps to crisp the bottom crust of a pie), then moved it up to the middle shelf, lowered the temperature to 375 degrees, and let it go for about 35 minutes more, til golden and bubbly.

It should be noted that I’m going for the title of Pie Mom, not Pie Wife, because I have a husband who is, inexplicably, a bit indifferent to the charms of pie. When he headed back into the kitchen for another sliver, muttering “this pie is delicious,” while my son looked too happy to speak, I have to say, my back miraculously stopped aching.

Note: Are you interested in taking a pie class? Keep an eye here for details if you’re in Orange or Alamance counties in North Carolina–I’ll be teaching a pie class next spring, and possibly a canning class next summer. And if you have a group of friends, or a church or other organization interested my teaching a class for them, contact me.

Recently Made: Blueberry-Peach Crisp

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

I often make variations on my standard recipes that don’t deserve a full column here, but seem worth noting; thus I’m going to periodically post as “recently made” blurb in the hopes of encouraging others to experiment. I rarely deem a recipe so perfect that I never mess with it again, and I frequently find myself with serious cravings but ingredients on hand that don’t quite match my recipes.

This week, I was coming to the end of the blueberries in the fridge. As usual, I’d overbought (a common problem for me at the farmers’ market). I also had peaches that I’d bought intending to make jam, but I plain ran out of time.

That time problem also meant no pie; pie really is easy, but just not quick enough for the first full week of school and after-school activities. Instead, I used my recipe for Apple Crisp, with these changes:

* I first filled the pan with peeled peach slices. To peel a peach, bring a pot of water to a boil, gently drop in several peaches at a time and boil for 20 to 30 seconds (or up to 1 minute, depending on the ripeness of your peaches). Transfer them to a bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. The skins should slip right off.
* I gently tossed the peaches in about 2 tablespoons of flour, just to keep to the pan from getting too juicy.
* I covered the peaches with a layer of blueberries, and sprinkled it all with about 2 tablespoons of sugar. (You’ll have to judge this amount based on how sweet your fruit is.)
* I used the crisp topping as is, except I cut down slightly on the cinnamon and stirred in a large handful of coconut.

Photos of the crisp don’t do it justice, but it looks pretty (if rustic) with the yellow and blue together. We’ve been eating it, gently heated, for breakfast, with just a tiny bit of cream or half-and-half poured over the top. Serious comfort before another day of middle school!

Southern Vanilla Peach Cobbler

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Serves 6 to 8

Cook’s Notes: I love cobbler in all its forms, whether topped with pie dough or biscuits or batter, as in this traditional Southern version, which definitely wins for speed and ease. To peel peaches, bring a large pot of water to a boil and gently lower peaches in without crowding them. Boil for about 15 to 30 seconds (depending on how ripe they are); remove to a bowl of ice water. The skins should slip right off. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, you could use a tablespoon of vanilla extract instead; if you have vanilla sugar on hand, feel free to use it. After you scrape the bean, be sure to make some vanilla sugar by nestling the bean in a small jar of sugar; let it stand a week or so to perfume the sugar. Children love vanilla sugar in hot tea with lots of milk.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup milk (preferably any kind but skim)

4 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, sliced ripe peaches

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the butter in a 9-inch-square baking pan and let butter melt in the oven.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Use a paring knife to scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and into the flour mixture; whisk well. Whisk in vanilla extract and milk until smooth. Pour over melted butter; don’t stir. Spread the peaches over the batter.

Bake the cobbler for 1 hour, until the top is golden and set. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Related column: Back to School: Cheer-Me-Up Treats

Chocolate Chip-Orange Cookies

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Cook’s Notes: These cookies may also be glazed with chocolate after baking (you could omit the chips if you like); melt about 4 ounces chocolate (semisweet or dark) with 1/3 cup heavy cream; dip the cookies in halfway and put on parchment paper to let the chocolate set (refrigerate them to speed this up).

Grated zest of 1 large orange (or remove the zest with a vegetable peeler, being sure to get just the top layer of the peel)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened just enough that it retains an impression when pressed with a finger

1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons orange extract

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup chocolate chips (I like mini chips here, but regular are fine, and I do sometimes use more chips)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, whiz orange zest and 3/4 cup sugar until finely ground (you may skip this step, but it intensifies the orange flavor). In a large bowl, beat butter and orange-scented sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in salt, orange extract and egg. On low speed, beat in baking powder and flour until just combined. Mix in chocolate chips.

Scoop out 1-inch balls of dough (if dough is too soft to scoop, chill it briefly) and place 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a drinking glass in cold water, then in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Press glass onto dough balls, flattening to 2 1/2-inch rounds. Dip glass in sugar before each cookie, rinsing in cold water as needed.

Bake cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until barely golden and set. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Related column: Back to School: Cheer-Me-Up Treats

Back to School: Cheer-Me-Up Treats

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Yes, that’s cheer me up — not my children.

I’ll never understand how parents can drop their kids off on the first day of school and not weep, or at least sniffle ingloriously. Maybe when mine are full-fledged teenagers, I’ll be happier about the end of summer and decidedly less spigot-like, but today, I am in mourning yet again.

I didn’t mean to go the whole summer without writing here. But I had two children who wanted two things: to spend time with me (no camps), and to take as many family trips as possible. I obliged. And now it’s all over.

The kids, though they really didn’t want summer to end, feel generally fine about this. One of them was about to burst with the pure excitement of going back to school, barely able to fall asleep last night but desperately wanting to, so today would come faster. The other, entering middle school, fears the workload to come but marched off resolutely.

And I drove away, feeling my face go prickly-heat red as I finally faced the reality of the day.

So, although I am sure my children will be delighted to come home to a treat, and although I will be thinking of them through much of the baking, these are all about me. Comfort food, I need you now.

Recipes: Southern Peach Cobbler, Chocolate Chip-Orange Cookies