The Ottumwa Courier

November 29, 2006

Baking a friendship

Blakesburg women excel at cakes

By SCOTT NILES, Courier staff writer

BLAKESBURG — Susan Harter and Joanne Ruby have been swapping recipes and ingredients for nearly 35 years.

But the two Blakesburg women have been baking long before they became friends.

Harter started baking when she was very young. With a specialty in cakes, she learned her skills from her father who was a baker.

“I started decorating cakes in 1964,” she said.

Spending a lot of time at her dad’s store, Katie’s Bakery, she learned to make the icing roses when she was about 10 years old. A couple years later she started working for her father decorating cakes.

“I just do it for friends and family mainly now,” she said.

Ruby also began baking when she was young. She said her skills came from her mother, who was always good in the kitchen. Her specialty is her rolls, which she said she makes quite a few. She was a senior in high school when she learned how to bake and decorate cakes.

“I actually made the cakes for my graduation party,” she said.

Recently the two traveled to an international cake decorating seminar that was held in Grapevine, Texas.

Over the years they said they have had requests for all types of specialty cakes and baked goods.

“The most unique cake I’ve ever made was a strawberry cake in red with black roses,” Ruby said.

Harter said while baking can be very stressful at times, it is a way to express yourself.

“It is something that people can do and be creative with it,” she said.

Ruby said it is rewarding to see the reaction she gets from people who are impressed with something she made.

“Sometimes after I bake a cake for people they tell me they can’t cut it because it looks too pretty,” Harter said.

“We both sort of grew up learning how to bake,” Ruby said. “It is something we have in common.”

**************JOANNE RUBY’S RECIPES BELOW***************

Sylvia Sweeney’s Rhubarb Pie

2 cups fresh rhubarb

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs (beaten)

1 tablespoon butter

pie crust dough

Mix flour, sugar and salt together and stir into rhubarb. Let stand, while you roll and cut the crust and fix into a nine inch pan. Stir beaten eggs into rhubarb mixture and pour into crust. Dot with butter. Make a top crust with strips of dough. Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees and about 30 minutes longer at 325 degrees. Serve hot or cold with ice cream.

— Joanne Ruby

Yeast Rolls


4 cups water

2 cups milk

Add to:

1/2 cup yellow Crisco

6 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

Stir until crises, salt and sugar are dissolved.


2 1/2 pounds Gold Medal Flour

Dissolve 4 tablespoons yeast in:

3/4 cup warm water

1 tablespoon sugar

Let rise to double.

Add to above mixture. Blend well, then add 3 to 4 pounds of flour, one pound at a time, until batter is stiff. Turn the mixture out on floured board. Let rise 10 minutes and then knead adding small amounts of flour until dough fights back. Place back in bowl, smooth side up and oil top. Let rise one hour. Punch down, turn and oil. Let rise one more hour, punch down and make into six dozen rolls. Place one inch apart on cookie sheet and let rise once more hour. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Time may vary depending on oven. Bake until golden brown, remove from oven and butter tops. Can be baked in five to six loaves. Adjust baking time 30 to 40 minutes.

— Joanne Ruby

Cinnamon Rolls

Use roll recipe but increase sugar to two cups and Crisco to 3/4 cup. Add six eggs after yeast has been added and flour.

After dough has risen two times pinch off 1/4 of the dough at a time and roll into a triangle 12 inches by 30 inches. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll together tightly and cut off one inch sides. Place on Jiffy roll pan, covered with quick release aluminum foil, one inch apart. Let rise for one hour and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on pan, remove and frost.

Cinnamon Roll Icing

2 sticks butter

2 pounds powered sugar

1 teaspoon Walkins vanilla

1 teaspoon Walkins butter flavor

Enough milk to spread

Softened butter and sugar flavoring.

Mix together and add to cinnamon rolls.

— Joanne Ruby

*****************SUSAN HARTER’S RECIPES BELOW********************

Italian Cream Cake

2 c sugar

1 c butter, softened

5 eggs separated

1 c buttermilk

1 t baking soda

2 1/2 c flour

1 c coconut

2 tsp. vanilla

1 c chopped pecans

In first bowl stiffly beat egg whites and set aside.

In second bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time and beat.

Combine flour and baking soda: Add to creamed mixture, alternately with buttermilk. Stir in vanilla, coconut, and pecans. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour batter into 3 well greased 8” or 9” round pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

approximately 6 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

pecan halves

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Ice cake. Add chopped pecans to side of cake and top with chopped pecans.

— Susan Harter

Basic Decorator Buttercream Icing

7 1/2 to 8 cups icing sugar

1/2 cup water

2 cups shortening

1 tablespoon clear vanilla

Using an electric mixer, mix two cups icing sugar, 1/4 cup shortening, water and vanilla until smooth. Add remaining icing sugar and shortening alternately and mix on low speed for about five minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and mix for three to five minutes on medium speed.

Store icing in airtight container in fridge for four to six weeks. You can color this icing deep or bright colors. To thin this icing down add a small amount of water. To stiffen icing add a little icing sugar. For richer less sweet icing you can substitute one cup butter and one cup shortening for the two cups shortening. When adding butter, icing only keeps two weeks in fridge and is softer to work with.

— Susan Harter

Dutch Letter Bars

1 stick oleo

1 stick butter

8 ounces almond paste

2 eggs

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

Mix together. Pat mixture into 9 inch by 13 inch pan. Top with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

— Susan Harter