Cooks Corner

Pinto beans in cake? Sounds crazy, tastes delicious

Linda Taylor of Johnson City, Texas, asked if anyone knew of a recipe for a spice cake made with pinto beans — conceding that it sounded crazy, but is “absolutely delicious.”

Readers were quick to point out that you don’t see or taste the beans, but they add moistness and density to the cake.

Rose Pearce says her recipe goes back “six generations, to days when you didn’t waste anything.”

Beverly Moltz sent a recipe from “a cookbook I was given 40-plus years ago. I made it once because it sounded so different.”

Karen Quebe found a recipe from a favorite blog. “It sounds delicious!”

Rex Wright of San Antonio sent a recipe that he found in a cookbook compiled by the McMullen County Historical Museum in 1975. He says he plans “to make this for my family when the weather cools down a little and Winesap apples are available.” This recipe adds a cup of raisins when you add the pecans, an addition I thought made the recipe more appealing.

The recipe here came from June Simpkins, who in turn found it in a “fascinating cookbook for anyone who loves state fair food, ‘Food Festivals U.S.A.,’ which has recipes from fairs all around the country.” The pinto bean cake recipe was the 1997 recipe contest winner at the May Days Bean Fest in Mineola, Texas. I found the cake denser than the usual spice cake, more like a fruitcake in consistency, but quite delicious.

Reader question: Empanadas

Q. A co-worker told me you can make empanadas easily with tubes of biscuits, but when I asked for the recipe said “you don’t need a step-by-step.” Unfortunately I am one of those people who needs to know every detail when I’m cooking. I love empanadas but don’t bake or make dough. Do you have a recipe for making them with the biscuits?

Caroline Furst, Miami

A. I used to take this quick shortcut for empanadas with refrigerated cornbread biscuits, but since they are difficult to find now, regular biscuits work just fine. I like using the extra large biscuits, but of course you could make mini empanadas with the regular size. It’s not quite authentic, but great for when you’re in a hurry. You can use any filling you like.

For those who need a recipe I’ve included a picadillo from Pillsbury, though I prefer making my own sofrito rather than taking the salsa shortcut.

Reader request: Blue Cheese Dressing

Q. The Cheesecake Factory has wonderful Blue Cheese salad dresssing, and I was hoping you would be able to get their recipe for it.

Mimi Klein, Miami

A. We were turned down by The Cheesecake Factory, but I think you will find this blue cheese dressing quite addicting.

Back in 1992 a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse manager told us the secret to their blue cheese dressing was to make it mostly blue cheese, with just enough mayonnaise to make the lumps of cheese stick together and just enough cream to thin it to spooning consistency. (If you keep the dressing more than a day, you'll probably have to add a little more half-and-half to thin it again.)

I add some grinds of fresh pepper and sea salt, and sometimes a little lemon juice depending upon the piquancy of the cheese. Some other possible additions: crumbled bacon, finely minced chives or parsley, and flavoring agents such as Worcestershire or hot sauce.

Quick Takes

Pizza aficionado? Here are some bright ideas for breakfast pizzas from BakerStone — a box designed to transform your barbeque grill into a pizza oven. The box ($129) is available at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

I love the idea of al fresco brunch, cooked outdoors, but if the weather sends you indoors, you can bake these in a hot oven as you would any pizza. Start with homemade or store-bought pizza dough, rolled thin or thick as you prefer and fitted into your pizza pan or set onto an oiled grate. Brush prepared pizza dough crust lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.


The Sunday Morning Special:

Top with goat cheese or gorgonzola, crispy bacon, roasted fig and caramelized onion. After baking drizzle with balsamic vinegar glaze.


The New Yorker:

Top with dollops of ricotta or cream cheese and capers. After baking sprinkle with chives and lox.


Brunch Pizza:

Smear on ricotta, shredded mozzarella, chopped garlic and julienned prosciutto. After baking top with a fried egg and fresh arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.


The Chorizza:

Spoon enchilada sauce on top. Add chorizo coins, scrambled eggs and shredded pepper jack cheese or a Mexican cheese blend. Bake, then serve topped with salsa, sour cream and sliced avocados.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.


Easy Picadillo Empanadas

1/2 pound lean ground beef or turkey

1 cup salsa

2 tablespoons raisins

20 pimiento-stuffed green olives, sliced (about 1/3 cup)

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 (16.3-oz.) can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brown ground beef in large skillet over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently. Drain. Add all remaining ingredients except biscuits. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until most of liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Separate dough into 8 biscuits. With serrated knife, cut each biscuit in half horizontally to make 16 rounds. Press or roll each to form 4-inch rounds. Spoon 2 level measuring tablespoons of ground beef mixture in center of each round. Fold dough over filling; press edges with fork to seal. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Per empanada: 140 calories (40 percent from fat), 6.3 g fat (1.8 g saturated, 3.1 g monounsaturated), 19.3 mg cholesterol, 7.3 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 1.3 g fiber, 569 mg sodium.

Source: Pillsbury.


Blue Cheese Dressing

1/2 pound blue cheese, broken by hand

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons half-and-half

Blend all the ingredients together with a plastic spatula until well blended. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Per tablespoon: 51 calories (81 percent from fat), 4.5 g fat (2.1 g saturated, 1.1 g monounsaturated), 8.5 mg cholesterol, 2 g protein, 0.3 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 123 mg sodium.

Source: Updated from Cook’s Corner archives by Linda Cicero, adapted from Ruth’s Chris Steak House.


Nutty Pinto Bean Spice Cake with Seafoam Frosting

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups cooked and mashed pinto beans (see note)

2 eggs

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped, plus garnish

2 egg whites

1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

5 tablespoons water

Dash of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the pinto beans and eggs; beat. Sift flour with the baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and add alternately with buttermilk and vanilla. Fold in the apple and pecans. Spread batter in three greased and floured 8-inch layer cake pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool.

To make frosting: Combine egg whites, brown sugar, water and salt in top of double boiler. Beat slightly to mix. Place over rapidly boiling water. Beat with electric mixer at high speed until frosting stands in peaks, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and beat 1 to 2 minutes longer, until thick enough to spread. Spread frosting between cooled layers, then frost top and sides. Sprinkle with additional chopped pecans if desired. Makes 12 servings.

Notes: Measure the beans after they’ve been mashed, not before. There is a significant difference. It is fine to use either canned or dried beans you’ve cooked with no additional flavoring agents other than salt. If you don’t want the trouble of making the seafoam icing, several recipes call for either a buttercream or a cream cheese frosting. Frankly, just a dusting of confectioners’ sugar sounds perfect.

Per serving: 569 calories (36 percent from fat), 23 g fat (10.7 g saturated, 8 g monounsaturated), 70 mg cholesterol, 8.5 g protein, 84.4 g carbohydrate, 3.9 g fiber, 459 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner from “Food Festivals U.S.A.” by Becky Mercuri (Laurel Glen Publishing).