Thanks to social distancing measures and shelter-in-place orders, millions of people around the world are confined to their homes. Under once-in-a-century levels of anxiety, those of us who know our way around a Kitchen-Aid have turned to stress-baking.
Not only are carb-loaded baked goods a premium comfort food, but mixing and scooping up delicious treats is a way to both distract ourselves and feel like we accomplished something.
From my trove of tried-and-loved bakery recipes, I’ve picked seven treats that are simple to make but impressive in flavor and texture. They’re a mix of both cozy “I’m stuck inside weathering a disaster” and fresh, bright flavor profiles perfect for spring. Whatever mood you’re in, one of these should suit it.
Apple Bourbon coffee cake
March is a transitional month, so now is the time to use up the apples that have been rolling around in your refrigerator drawer for weeks. If you’re too exhausted to bake a pie but want that comforting apples-and-spice flavor, this Apple Bourbon Coffee Cake is the perfect alternative. A little extra booziness during a depression never hurt anyone….right?
This is a spin off New York Style Crumb Cake. Follow the recipe, but add:
- ½ tsp cinnamon and a sprinkle of nutmeg and cloves to whisk in with the dry ingredients
- ¼ cup bourbon to mix in with the wet ingredients
- 3-4 cups of chopped, reasonably tart apples, like Granny Smith or Honeycrisp. Toss with a couple tablespoons of flour before folding gently into the batter to prevent the apples from clumping together.
- 2 tsp of cinnamon and 2 tsp of cloves instead of 1 ½ Tb of cinnamon in the crumb topping. Taste the crumb topping and adjust as necessary to make sure it suits your spice preferences.
Pumpkin coffee cake
If your household is anything like mine, you’ve got an extra can or two of pumpkin puree leftover from the holidays. I suggest you ignore the naysayers who confine pumpkin to a certain season of the year and make a moist, fragrant pumpkin coffee cake. Like the Apple Bourbon recipe, it has a thick, crunchy streusel topping. Crunchy food is satisfying, and satisfying is exactly what we need during a quarantine.
This recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction is the best one I’ve tried, and it’s great to make for people who need cheering up (drop it on their doorstep!).
It has no eggs, so if you are out of that precious resource you can still bake something amazing.
This simple scone recipe is one of the first that will pop up in your search results for a reason. I have used it for years with great results. The sour cream helps them stay moist, the crumb is not too soft or too coarse and the flavor is anything but bland.
For a lovely spring treat, ditch the raisins and instead add:
- Zest of 1 lemon or orange
- ½ tsp vanilla
- Lemon or orange icing (sifted or well-whisked powdered sugar, a splash of milk and lemon/orange juice, more zest if you have it, and a tablespoon of melted butter to make a shiny, smooth icing that doesn’t get too crunchy when it dries.)
Use a spoon to flick the icing over the cooled scones or use a piping bag or ziploc with the corner snipped off if you want to be fussy. Try making mini scones by dividing the dough into 2-3 disks before slicing - they’re great with tea for an afternoon pick-me-up. The dough also freezes extremely well and when fully thawed can incorporate frozen berries (the trick is to roll out the dough, sprinkle the berries on, then gently roll it up and shape back into a disk).
Cafe-style Lemon Berry Muffins
If you have three mostly-empty bags of random berries at the bottom of your freezer and aren’t sure what to do with them, throw them into this cafe-style lemon blueberry muffin recipe. Especially since it's not like we can get out to the cafe anytime soon.
Blackberries, raspberries, even chopped strawberries can be substituted for some or all of the blueberries. While butter-based muffins have a tendency to dry out more quickly than their oil-based cousins, this recipe is too good to pass up, and the buttermilk helps keep it moist. Keep a close eye on the oven and you’ll be fine. It’s aesthetically pleasing, has a lovely crumb and the crunch factor every berry muffin recipe needs.
Almond Poppy Seed Muffins
Before the muffin snobs scoff, hear my pitch for this recipe. It is easy to remember (lots of threes and one-and-a-halfs), it's cheap, requires no butter, mixes easily by hand, will stave off hunger for hours longer than breakfast cereal, and stays moist for literally at least a week. If these were the end-times, this would be your go-to muffin. It’s great for beginners in the kitchen, too. For a bit of crunch, gently press a sprinkle of slivered almonds onto the batter before putting them in the oven. They bake up nicely in jumbo tins as well, and the batter will keep for several weeks in a Ziploc in the freezer.
Browned butter oatmeal cookies
If you could pick one smell to be quarantined with, what would it be? If you didn’t choose browned butter then you probably haven’t made anything with it.
While browning butter is an ever so slightly more advanced baking technique, the toasty, caramel-esque aroma alone is worth standing over a stove for an extra five minutes.
Here’s my recipe for Browned Butter Oatmeal Cookies. Pleasantly chewy and full of the warmest coziest flavor you can dream of, they’ll comfort you on even the most emotionally draining quarantine day:
- 1 ½ cups browned butter, cooled to lukewarm
- 1 ¾ cups brown sugar
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ cups of 1-minute oats
Follow normal cookie procedure: mix the dry ingredients except for oatmeal in one bowl, mix the butter and sugar well (though it will look slightly separated because the butter is melted), then mix in eggs one at a time and the vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture just until incorporated and then the oats. Scoop by double-tablespoons onto cookie sheets and bake at 350? for 9-12 minutes, or until edges are browned and cookies are no longer shiny on the top (watch for the center to puff up slightly).
Soft sugar cookies
Another perfect treat to bake for friends or neighbors or even for birthdays or Easter, these soft, fine-crumbed Copycat Lofthouse Sugar Cookies will satisfy the strongest sweet-tooth and look adorable to boot. Jazz them up by adding citrus zest to the frosting and replacing some of the milk with citrus juice, or add food coloring. You can use the back of a spoon to apply frosting in satisfying swooshing motions, or get fancy and pipe it on like so: