Tag Archives: baking

Chocolate Swirl Bars–A Slice of my Life

Most kids love to cook. Once when I was a Cub Scout den mother, I asked the boys whether they would rather do a science experiment or cook something–cooking won by a landslide.  This recipe for Chocolate Swirl Bars meets the kid-friendly test.  The measurements allow you to work a bit on math if you want.  Relatively few ingredients means it is easy to mix up.  And best of all, they LOVE the action of swirling the chocolate into the peanut butter dough.

chocolate swirl bar

Bar cookies with peanut butter and chocolate chips.

Note: If you’re making chocolate swirl bars with grandchildren or a group of kids, be sure to check for peanut allergies before you start. Unfortunately, one of my grandsons and one of my great-grandsons would be unable to eat these.

I know they are popular with kids, because my youngest son started making them when he was in eighth grade.  He liked making the chocolate swirl bars, and turned it into a business.  We discussed the cost of the ingredients, which he had to figure out and then return to me from his earnings.

The inspiration for starting a business could have come from Junior Achievement–a school program that helped kids in high school start their own business.  His older son had quite a company going, supervising a group of kids who made macrame’ plant hangers back when macrame’ was all the rage.

At the time, my husband also acted as an advisor for a J.A. group at another high school.  I still have a spatter guard for a skillet and a hamburger press, both made by teens, as reminders of those projects.

But COOKIES! A much better business, in my humble opinion.

My son baked a batch and took small samples of the cookies door to door in our neighborhood, fed them to the neighbors and took orders for a dozen cookies.  I don’t know how long before his interest flagged, but it may very well have been the beginning of a lasting talent in salesmanship.

Whether you cook them yourself, or find some kids to do the baking, you’ll find that the only problem with these chocolate swirl bars is waiting until they are cool enough to come out of the pan. The smell is heavenly. The taste likewise. Can you eat just one?

Other kid-friendly cookie recipes:

Peanut butter cookies

Pumpkin Cookies

Rhema’s Raisin Bars

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Swirl Cookies

Serves 24
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
Total time 1 hour
Allergy Egg, Peanuts, Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Easy to make Peanut Butter- Chocolate Chip Swirl Bars look great and taste as good as they look.


  • 1/2 cup Peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cups brown sugar (tightly packed)
  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10-12 oz chocolate chips


1. Beat well the first four ingredients.
2. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in separate bowl, then beat into the peanut butter mixture.
4. Spread into greased 9" x 13" pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top, as evenly as possible.
5. Bake 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, and draw knife through batter to make marbled effect with chocolate.
6. Return to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven, until brown on edges, and almost solid in center. (Will continue to firm up out of oven.)
7. Cool on wire rack for ten minutes, then cut in squares. Put cookies on a cooling rack until completely cool. Freeze or store in airtight container.


You can use either semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips and either smooth or crunchy peanut butter in these delicious cookies.  Kids love to make them and get creative with the marbleing.

Old Fashioned Buttermillk Biscuits

I must admit that biscuits have been my Waterloo. Or in Genealogists terms–my Brick Wall.

And a warning to any British readers who may have wandered in–I’m talking about American biscuits, not the biscuits you eat that are actually COOKIES. Because early Americans used British argot, it is difficult to look up recipes for early biscuits.  Those very early ancestors were calling cookies biscuits and weren’t really baking biscuits–but instead making scones.

My failure puzzles me, because I can make a perfect pie crust, while pie crusts scare many people. My meringues turn out fine. And I’m not afraid to tackle just about anything in the kitchen. But biscuits never seem to cooperate. My mother referred contemptuously to “Bride’s Biscuits” and I thought I was forever consigned to being a bride.

I realized, though, that since I was writing about the early 1800s, and soon will be discussing a wagon train trip across the country, I cannot escape biscuits.  So I read and read and read and incorporated some slightly new-to-me techniques and finally got biscuits that rose nicely.

Buttermilk biscuits

Take a bite of biscuit

But alas, when I bit into them, I realized they were bitter. Too much soda taste.  So I went back and tried again with a revised recipe, betting that there was a typo in the recipe I had tried. But it turns out it was my own fault, because I deviated slightly from the written recipe.

Lesson Learned: When you find a recipe that works for biscuits, don’t change it. Biscuits are terribly touchy about small deviations in the amount of shortening or leavening.

A Note About Leavening

Beaten Biscuits

I have ranted a bit before about recipes that claim to be traditional but use baking soda in recipes conceived back before baking soda or baking powder were in widespread use. And the 1840’s definitely was a time when baking soda would have been rare in Ohio.  An earlier form of leavening consisted of beating the dough for a long period of time in order to incorporate air. That’s why you may have heard of “Beaten Biscuits.”

At the site called Homesick Texan, I found this description:

“…beaten biscuits are what people made in the days before baking soda and baking powder was around.  In order to get the biscuits to rise, cooks would beat the dough with a mallet, rolling pin, or even an ax for over half an hour util it blistered.”

She goes on to say that the result was a biscuit that would rise a little bit, but was still pretty flat.  If you follow the link to her site, you can learn her method of making beaten biscuits, which does use baking powder and cuts the beating down to two minutes.


A charming site about the adventures of some kids being home schooled, who attempt to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder, is called Little House Living. They discuss the saleratus that Laura needed to bake a cake.

If you are interested in the chemistry of saleratus vs baking soda vs. baking powder, I refer you to a site called Joe Pastry.

If you are more interested in historic cooking than chemistry (I don’t know how to break this to you, but cooking IS chemistry) he gives the formula for converting old time recipes with saleratus–1 1/4 tsp of baking soda substitutes for 1 tsp of saleratus. Joe Pastry is the site where I found the recipe that worked for me.

The Real Deal Recipe

I also found an authentic recipe from wagon train days at Chronicle of the Old West. It does list soda as an ingredient, so I have to assume this was closer to the 1860s.

One pound of flour, enough milk to make a soft dough. Dissolve one teaspoon of soda in the milk and add with teaspoon of salt to dough. Work well together and roll out thin.  Cut and bake in moderate oven.  The yolk of an egg is sometimes added

Typically of old recipes, the amounts (enough milk to make…) and directions are vague. Moderate oven?  We’re talking about wood-fired with a Dutch Oven sitting on the side, probably.

The Modernized Version of Great-Great Grandma’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Having read all that stuff about saleratus and beating biscuits for half an hour, I decided that a modern version using baking powder was just fine, and probably, honestly, more tasty than the biscuits turned out on the pioneer trails.

Yes, indeed, it is possible for me to make edible and pretty biscuits. The only mystery I have not explored is why they are spelled that way? Shouldn’t it be biskits??

Buttermilk Biscuits

Serves 7
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Buttermilk biscuits are a traditional American comfort food and meal staple. Little thing can make a difference between flat and tasteless and high and delicious when you are baking biscuits.


  • 2 cups flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter (or half butter and half lard)
  • 3/4 cups buttermilk


1. Whisk or sift together all dry ingredients.
2. Cut, or squeeze in with fingertips, the butter into the flour mixture, until largest clumps are the size of peas. (See note)
3. Make a well in center and pour in buttermilk. Mix with spoon lightly until you can handle with hands.
4. Right in the bowl, fold over, turn a quarter turn, fold again. Repeat a dozen times. Do not overmix.
5. Pat dough out on lightly floured surface to 1/2" thick. (A wooden ruler comes in handy at times like this.)
6. Before working the dough, turn on the oven to 450 degrees. Place an oven proof small dish in oven with 2-3 Tablespoons of butter to melt, or melt it in a microwave.
7. Remove the melted butter from the oven and let it cool as you mix the dough. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. As you cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter or glass, do not twist the cutter! Dip one side of each biscuit in the melted butter. Put them on the baking sheet buttered side up. Place the biscuits close together so they will raise up--not outwards.
8. Bake 15 minutes. Watch carefully the last five minutes so they do not over brown. Serve with butter and jam, or just settle for the buttery goodness just as they come out of the oven.


Everyone has a favorite method when it comes to making biscuits, but one thing everyone agrees on. Keep the butter and buttermilk COLD until you use it. In fact, I picked up a tip to dip your hands in ice water before you start mixing the dough. I rubbed an ice cube around my hands and I do think it made a difference. You don't want the biscuit dough to get greasy--you want each grain of fat to be surrounded by flour.

I describe mixing the biscuit dough by hand in the bowl rather than kneading, and patting out rather than rolling, in order to minimize handling. See some other methods in the accompanying article.

Be sure to mix those dry ingredients thoroughly, because otherwise, you'll take random bites where you can taste the baking powder, and you'll get brown freckles on the biscuits.

It is very important to work quickly between the time you add the liquid and the biscuits go in the oven, so do your prep work before you start measuring flour, etc.

Cut butter in small bits and put back in the refrigerator until you need it.
Get out the pan and the biscuit cutter, and flour the surface on which you will pat out the dough.
Preheat the oven.
Melt the butter that you are going to dip the biscuits in and give it time to cool--have it sitting near the board where you will pat them out.

All of these steps will help you seamlessly get the biscuits in the oven quickly, so they don't lose their "oomph."





Invalid Cookery: Custard Souffle

I’m a bit late this week with invalid cookery, but health matters–mine and my husbands–keep getting in the way.  Now, more than ever, I need some good recipes for sick people, and this custard souffle looked appetizing.

I made a couple of mistakes when I made it.

  1. I made it early in the day, so I could see how it works. But it needs to be served immediately.
  2. I didn’t have my camera ready when it came out of the oven, so it did what souffles do, it fell before I could snap a picture.
custard souffle

This is what happens to custard souffle after just a minute out of the oven.

When it came out of the oven, the souffle was impressively domed above the dish.

Besides falling promptly, it is a bit fussy to make, as well.  Which in my opinion, makes it an inVALid recipe for INvalid cooking.

The  caretaker is going to be busy, and doesn’t need to add fussy recipes to their chore list.  The patient may not want to eat at the very moment that the custard emerges from the oven.  The custard does not keep well in the refrigerator. Oh, it tastes alright after it falls, but is certainly better when in the bloom of airy youth.

Joy of Cooking says that once you have mixed all the ingredients and filled the dishes, you can keep the custard in the refrigerator for several hours before cooking.  That would help a bit.

The one positive thing I can say for this recipe from <strongThe Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book, is that the recipe makes just two cups. One for the patient and one for the cook?

If you want to try your hand at a souffle, this might be a good starting point. If ever it were important to carefully read a recipe before starting, always a good idea, it is doubly important with this one.

Custard Souffle

  • 2 level teaspoons butter [plus more to grease the dishes]
  • 2 level teaspoons flour
  •  1/3 C milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar

Melt the butter, add the flour and blend smoothly, without browning.  Pour in the milk and cook three minutes after boiling point is reached.  Separate the white from the yolk of the egg and beat each.  Pour hot mixture (let it cook a little) over the yolk, put in the sugar and fold in gently the stiffly beaten white.  Turn into two greased cups and bake in a steady oven [350 degrees] till firm–about fifteen minutes.  Serve at once, with or without sauce.

Here are a few tips:

It would be a good idea to grease the custard cups before doing anything else. Really coat them well, because once baked, egg whites are very sticky.

Use a very small pan so that you can stir the flour-butter-milk mixture well. It works best to use a whisk along with a spoon to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan.

It is not necessary to keep the temperature at boiling as it cooks.  Usually recipes with milk stop at a simmer.

If you have a few stubborn lumps, pour the custard through a sieve when you put it in the eggs.

I’m surprised that the recipe calls for the slightly cooled butter-flour-milk mixture into the egg yolks without a bit of tempering. To avoid cooking the eggs, slowly raise their temperature by stirring in a teaspoon at a time  of the hot mixture until the until the yolks have warmed, then stir all the rest of the egg yolk into the warm mixture.

Don’t forget to add the sugar before folding in the egg white.

If you take the souffle out of the oven before the center is entirely firm, it will avoid overcooking.

Most recipes call for baking custards in a water bath to keep the temperature more even and avoid  overcooking. This book does recommend that practice in a chapter with regular custards, but perhaps by the time the reader gets to the invalid cookery in the back of the book, she is expected to know that.

For the water bath method, pour enough water in a pan with sides (deep cake pan or broiler pan) to come up about 2/3 of the way to the top of the level of the custard in the dishes. Put that pan of water in the oven, then add the filled custard cups. Bake as described above.

I’m going to try an easier custard recipe, one that will keep in the refrigerator, to tempt my sick husband’s appetite, and I’ll give you that recipe next week.