The colder temperatures are setting in, so what better place to warm up than in front of the oven with flour and baking pans in hand?

Surprise! I have actually spent most of the last week in our kitchen, surrounded by flour, baking pans, cooling racks – and lots and lots of dirty dishes. At the Meredith House (one of the museums in the Dorchester County Historical complex), we served yet another tea for some of those who were exploring this area of the Chesapeake Bay via an American Cruise Line tour.

When I wasn't preoccupied with "tea recipes" I was also thinking about the sample products that I had agreed to bake for the upcoming Judges' Training Classes that our Delaware State Fair "comedy" Culinary team consisting of Mary Pyott, Nancy Roy and myself would be conducting at the annual meeting of the Maryland Association of Agricultural Fairs and Shows.

Because last week's American Cruise Line museum tour and tea was scheduled for morning, I decided that a menu that included muffins and a fruit bread "sandwich" (buttered bread and cream cheese) along with the always popular selection of cookies would be a better selection than offering up cucumber sandwiches or pimento cheese triangles. These also are perfect for lunch box or after-school treats.

This also provided me the opportunity to check out two new baking techniques that I had recently read when perusing recipes. I liked the results and I'll be trying the "high temperature muffin recipe" when I make other muffins. Just remember to lower the oven temperature BEFORE you put the unbaked muffins into the oven.

Another baking tip to keep in mind: When a recipe for a baked goods product calls for "softened" or room temperature butter this means just that – AND NOT MELTED BUTTER. Just let the butter sit at room temperature until you can touch the paper that surrounds it and barely leave fingerprints … do NOT be tempted to use the microwave.

The third recipe is the one that I made for our judges' training Cookie class. Our goal was to help our audience to understand that Sugar Cookies can be shaped by either rolling the dough and using cookie cutters or "dropping" the dough from a scoop or teaspoon. The class declared Fake Betty Crocker Sugar Cookies to be award winning and I think you will too.

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3 large, very ripe bananas, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 cup butter at room temperature

3/4 cup light or brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon orange or vanilla extract

2 eggs at room temperature

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned (not scooped) into measuring cup

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside. Place banana chunks in a large mixing bowl and mash with a fork. Using the whisk beater (if you have one; use regular beaters if you don't) of your electric mixer, whip the bananas until very light and fluffy; transfer whipped bananas to another bowl and set aside. Using the large mixer bowl in which you first mashed the bananas, cream the butter and sugar; beat in eggs, one at a time, and extract. Mix in flour and baking soda just until incorporated. Do not overmix. Fold in whipped bananas and the nuts and blend to mix well. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick tests clean. (Always check your baking one minute before the minimum recipe time that a recipe calls for is up. IF your oven temperature is correct, it will probably be done.) Don't have an oven thermometer? It is always wise to check on the accuracy of your oven's temperature at least once a year. Oven thermometers are not expensive. Allow bread to cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan onto wire rack to cool completely.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned (not scooped) into measuring cup

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup dark molasses

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly grease 36 mini-muffin cups. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt to blend well; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together oil, molasses and applesauce. Form a small "well" in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the oil mixture. Mix well. LOWER oven temperature to 375 degrees. Fill prepared mini-muffin cups 2/3 full. Stir together remaining cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over batter. Bake for 12 minutes – or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove to wire rack to cool. Makes 36.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned (not scooped) into measuring cup

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Colored sugar (for decoration)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl; whisk to blend. Beat in softened butter, egg and vanilla and mix well. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Scoop out chilled dough by teaspoon or small cookie scoop onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Flatten slightly with a fork, using a crisscross pattern. Sprinkle on colored sugar. Bake for 12 minutes or just until edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 36 cookies.