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Nectarine Cupcakes – Flight Behavior


This discussion of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver requires a light, sweet concoction. These nectarine cupcakes—with their fruity cake and light-as-air whipped topping—are a perfect solution. The touch of honey, hint of rum, and ripe nectarines create a delightful treat for your next book club discussion.

Nectarine Cupcakes

Nectarine cupcakes for Flight BehaviorModified from Martha Stewart Living, August 2010

  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 6 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 nectarines, peeled, halved, pitted, and finely chopped ( approx. 1 1/4 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add cupcake liners to a cupcake pan. Makes 18 cupcakes.

Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Add rum extract, honey, baking powder, and salt. Finally add flour and milk, alternating. Mix until incorporated without overmixing.

Fold in the finely chopped nectarines. Divide batter into muffin tins.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. Let cool thoroughly.  Cupcakes taste best chilled.

Fresh Whipped Cream Topping

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 nectarine, halved, pitted, and very thinly sliced, for garnish

HINT: Put your bowl and/or mixer attachments in the freezer before making the topping. It will speed the process.

Beat together cream, sour cream, and sugar to medium peaks on high speed. Right before serving, top cupcakes with a dollop of cream and nectarine slices.

If you add sprinkles (as pictured), they bleed colors if left too long due to the moisture. The topping is best if added to cupcakes right before serving. You can store the whipped topping in the refrigerator for up to a day. Just stir it vigorously before using to reincorporate.

These butterfly-kissed cupcakes could also be decorated with cute butterfly cupcake toppers, edible flowers, or colored sugars. They are a charming summertime treat as well as book club treat.

May words nourish your soul.

Triple Berry Cobbler – The Round House


The Round House focuses on traditional Native American foods such as bannock (fry bread), Res steak sandwiches (bologna sandwich on commodity bread with commodity cheese), and wild meats. I did create an upscale Res steak sandwich with pancetta, French cheese, rye bread, and pesto which helped round out the meal.

This berry cobbler can be made in one large 9 x 13” pan or in individual ramekin dishes. The individual dishes allow for easier distribution in a book club meeting.

Berry cobbler The Round HouseTriple Berry Cobbler

  • 2 cups mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)*
  • 1/4 cup (half stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar

*You can also used canned berries. It takes approximately two full cans.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray 13 x 9 pan or individual ramekins with non-stick spray.

Evenly spread mixed berries into the baking dishes. Place dish on a foil-covered baking sheet.

In a bowl, mix butter, sugar, flour, milk, baking powder, salt and vanilla with a wooden spoon, until thoroughly mixed. Spoon batter over fruit and spread evenly.

Mix remaining 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup warm water. Pour evenly over dish(es). This sweetens the berries as well as browns the crust.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling.

Serve warm as is, or with vanilla ice cream.

Faux Res Steak Sandwiches
Faux Res Steak Sandwiches

Berry cobbler is a sweet but (almost) healthy option for book club. Louise Erdrich’s book, The Round House, requires a  saccharine dessert  to offset its deep, weighty discussion.

Cranberry Bread – The Round House


This fruited bread is actually a Thanksgiving tradition in my house. We make multiple loaves and serve it with cream cheese. The combination is tangy, sweet, and unusual. And it is the perfect offering for your book club, as you discuss The Round House by Louise Erdrich.

Cranberry Bread

Cranberry bread The Round HouseIngredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, room temperature
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 1 cup cranberries, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice your cranberries in half and set aside. It helps to cut them frozen and slightly thawed. Or pop them in the freezer for a ½ hour before you plan to cut.

Grease two bread pans.

Mix dry ingredients and toss lightly.

Add butter, orange juice, and egg and stir vigorously until combined.

Once mixed, fold in cranberries (and walnuts, optional).

Pour batter into pan and spread evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Insert a toothpick to make sure the centers are cooked and firm. Serve with cream cheese.

Walnuts can be added to this sweet bread for extra texture and crunch. There are few things I look forward to at Thanksgiving more than Cranberry Bread. It makes a simple, delicious addition to your book club discussion of The Round House by Louise Erdrich.

Flowered Shortbread Rounds – The Language of Flowers


The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh requires a floral treat. Luckily there are several edible flowers to incorporate into your food including: cornflower, gardenia, impatiens, lavender, nasturium, pansy, snapdragon, violet, etc. A basic, buttery shortbread is the perfect accent for sweet, tender flower petals.

Flowered Shortbread Rounds - The Language of FlowersFlowered Shortbread Rounds

  • ½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup 10x confectioner sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon extract of your choice (suggested: lemon extract, strawberry extract, vanilla extract, etc.)
  • One package of edible flowers (organic and untreated)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter, sugar, and extract together until thoroughly mixed.

Add flour and finish stirring by hand until incorporated. It will have a crumbly texture but will stick  together when pressed.

Roll out to ¾” thickness and using a round cookie cutter cut several shortbread rounds. Reuse dough scraps to create more rounds.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until cookies are firm.

Remove from oven and brush tops with an egg white mixture (one egg white mixed with one Tablespoon of water.) Press 1-2 flower petals onto the top of the cookie and wash once again with egg white mixture.

Sprinkle sugar over the top of each cookie and place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes more, until the edges are lightly browned.

Cool and serve.

These delicate shortbread rounds are just as good without edible flowers, but in order to enhance your floral theme for your Language of Flowers book club meeting, consider adding the flowers. The flowers add a pretty touch as well as a sweet, interesting flavor.

Night Circus – Black and White Cookies on Red Velvet


The Le Cirque des Rêves is all about black and white, night and day. But the reveurs added a dash of scarlet red, to mark themselves to each other and to stand out. These gorgeous and soft cookies are the perfect nod to The Night Circus and its reveurs.

Red Velvet Black and White Cookies

Black and White on Red Velvet cookies - Night CircusAdapted from Rachael Ray’s recipes (March 2008)

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon red food coloring (or 1 teaspoon red food paste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (Do not substitute foil or wax paper. Parchment paper is a must.)

Beat five tablespoons of butter with the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, food coloring and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Mix in cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until smooth.

Alternate 1-1/2 cups of flour and ½ cup buttermilk until it is all incorporated without overmixing.

Spoon about a 1/4-cup of batter 3 inches apart on the parchment papered baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 35o degrees until the center is dry.

Let cookies cool for five minutes before removing from the parchment paper.

Black and White Frosting

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (10x sugar)
  • 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

White Frosting

Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 Tablespoon corn syrup and 2 Tablespoons hot water until smooth.

Black Frosting

In another bowl, combine the chocolate chips, remaining 3 Tablespoons butter, and 1 tablespoon corn syrup.

Microwave until melted, about 1 minute and stir vigorously. Microwave in 10 second increments until it is fully melted.

Frost the cookies with the white frosting, only covering half of the cookie, almost to the edge. Then frost with the chocolate icing, keeping a sharp edge. Cool until set. Store in an airtight container.

These classic cookies are the perfect cookie to accompany your book club discussion of Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus. Serve them on a bright red platter with milk, coffee, or tea. The al dente frosting breaks smoothly over the yielding red velvet cookie creating a great mouth feel.

May words nourish your soul.

Gone Girl – Mini Wedding Cakes


Readers of Gone Girl will see the irony of these sweet miniature wedding cakes when served as a book club treat. They are delicious and easy to assemble, with a subtle almond flavoring in both the cake and the petit fours frosting.

Miniature Wedding Cakes

Miniature wedding cakes for Gone GirlThis is a basic white sheet cake, assembled into wedding cake shapes and dolloped with almond flavored frosting.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 15” by 10” by 1” jelly roll pan with Pam or cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, to boil:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup water

Remove from heat. Stir in following ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Once smooth, pour into the baking pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely.

With a greased sharp knife, cut several 3” by 3” squares and an equal number of 1” by 1” squares. For ease of frosting, place the cut squares into the freezer for about an hour while you are preparing the frosting.

Petit Fours Frosting

Mix together all of the following ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream

Add heavy cream, as needed to make a pourable smooth frosting.

Assemble your slightly frozen larger squares on a baking rack. Add a small amount of frosting to each one and place a smaller square on top. Using a large spoon, dollop a liberal amount of frosting over the top of each stacked square, letting it drizzle down the sides.

Let the frosting stiffen before serving. Add small decorations, if you’d like. This could include nonpareils, fresh flowers, frosting accents, etc.

The almond flavoring and sweet frosting is a definite contrast for the dark book, Gone Girl. Serve up some sweetness and light while you discussion Amy and Nick’s disturbed marriage.

 

Still Alice – Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake


Take a preventative approach and create a book club menu of memory enhancing foods, including:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Salmon
  • Lean beef
  • Rosemary
  • Blueberries
  • Green tea

A delicious dessert choice is a moist but firm Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake. It is perfect with a cup of coffee or green tea. And it’s pretty as well.

Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake

Blueberry buckle bundt cake for Still Alice book clubAdapted from my Aunt Carolyn’s recipe

Directions

Preheat oven at 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan.

Mix:

  • 1-1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup milk

Sift together and stir in:

  • 3 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

Spoon half the stiff mixture into the base of the bundt pan. Pour 3 cups well drained blueberries into the pan and add the rest of the dough mixture.

Mix:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ stick butter

Add crumble mixture to the top of the bundt pan and press gently. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out.

**You can also use a flat 9 x 13” glass pan instead of the bundt pan.

 

Whether you choose Boston Cream Cupcakes or Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake, you are guaranteed to have a rich conversation when discussing Still Alice.

May words nourish your soul.

Still Alice – Boston Cream Cupcakes


There aren’t many foods mentioned in Still Alice so I took our book club recipes in two directions. First up is Boston Cream Cupcakes, giving homage to Alice’s familiar hometown. Tomorrow, I will post the recipe for Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake which is a top power food which enhances memory.

These cupcakes are delectable, delicious, and to die for. They are pretty as well.

Boston cream cupcake for Still Alice Boston Cream Cupcakes

(Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)

Ingredients

1/2 cup milk
6 Tablespoon butter

1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling

1 packet instant vanilla pudding
1 cup milk

Chocolate Ganache

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 24 cupcake tins with paper cups.

In a microwaveable bowl, combine butter and milk and microwave for 2 minutes.
Add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, mixing until smooth.
Add in eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.
Spoon batter into muffin tins, only filling about half full.
Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Allow to cool completely then cut out the center of each cupcake with a knife, creating a cap.

In a small bowl, mix a packet of vanilla pudding and only one cup of cold milk, stirring until thick. (This is less than the recommended amount on the box.)
Dollop pudding filling in each cupcake hole and top with the cupcake cap. Some cream will remain showing.

In a microwaveable bowl, combine chocolate chips, cream, and corn syrup. Microwave for 2 minutes, stirring gently until combined.
Drizzle the ganache over the top of each cupcake, allowing excess to run over the edges.
Let cool fully and store in the refrigerator.

These are best served after a few hours or overnight, so the chocolate hardens and the pudding moistens the cupcake. Whip these Boston Cream Cupcakes up the night before your book club meeting and wow your fellow readers.

May words nourish your soul.

The Blessings of the Animals – Gajar Halva


182425_1834252734331_4021939_nCarrot pudding? Really? It doesn’t sound appetizing but trust me when I say this is a decadent dessert which is perfectly sweet, balanced, and spicy. (And the photo from my phone’s camera isn’t the best. The dessert is a vibrant sunset orange which perfectly sets off the lime green from crushed pistachios.)

 

Gajar Halva

Adapted from a private recipe used in a now-closed Indian restaurant

Ingredients

6 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups half and half
1/2  cup brown sugar
1/2  cup golden raisins
1/4 cup melted butter (or ghee for a more authentic taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pistachios, crushed

Over medium-high heat, bring carrots and half and half to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently. Boil until all the half and half is absorbed within the carrots, about 45 minutes. Read excerpts from The Blessings of the Animals while you stir.

Fold in the brown sugar, raisins, butter, spices, and salt. Stir thoroughly.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is the consistency of pudding (about 15 minutes.)
Pour into serving bowl and garnish with pistachios. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or alone.

 

Challenge your book club to taste test this Indian treat. Gajar halwa is featured in a beautiful chapter within The Blessings of the Animals. By crafting this time-consuming but delicious dish, you will have firsthand knowledge of what it means to persevere.

May words nourish your soul.

Book Club Beginnings


I love book clubs because books are meant to be savored and shared, like a fine meal. The best meals are enjoyed in pleasant community, just as the best books are digested in wise company. The discussion of books is a fine appetizer and dessert.

I have created, adopted, and ran several book clubs in multiple states. I am getting ready to launch one now, in my new home of Indiana. So I thought I might share a few guidelines for starting a new book club:

Plan several months in advance and create a drop-in rule.

Requiring attendance and mandatory readings is a quick way to kill a starter group. Once readers begin attending, they will see the value of conversation and discussion and plan to stay. Some people might need a few months to plan their reading as well, especially if they aren’t a regular, avid reader.

Add liberal libations and hor d’oeuvres.

Books should be paired with food and drink, because they are in essence, a communion between readers.

Wine and bread are acceptable but cupcakes are never a bad idea. Books are meant to be devoured, as are decadent treats. And if you are stumped about what to add to the conversation, you can always hold up a finger, indicating that you are chewing and to move on to the next person.

Embrace name tags.

I am terrible with names and faces. Once you change clothes, I will forget your name once again. Having some simple sticky labels is mostly for me and my failing memory, but newcomers will appreciate the name tags as well. Adopt them for a few months at minimum.

Have discussion questions prepared in advance.

This will ease the conversation past any bumps and awkward silences. I will be adding discussion questions for many of my past, present, and future books on this site over time, including new questions from my newest book club, Reading Between the Wines.

Allow social time before and after your discussion time.

People need to get comfortable when they first arrive and a few people will invariably show up a few minutes late. Once you wrap up discussion, with a reminder about next month’s book and meeting time, you will want to encourage a few more minutes for socialization.

Encourage the wallflowers.

It can be intimidating to talk in a group, especially if you didn’t like the book or didn’t understand part of it. As a facilitator, keep an eye out for quieter participants. Make sure to include them on the conversation without putting them on the spot.

Expand your boundaries.

It’s important to read a variety of books. Some books lend themselves nicely to book club discussions. And some book clubs have favorite genres or styles (romance, spiritual themes, local authors, etc.) But consider adding one dark horse entry every so often for variety and enrichment.

What other suggestions do you have for beginning a book club? What are your best (or worse) experiences with book clubs?


Copyright  2019 Nicole Amsler • Copywriter by day… Fiction writer by night