Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Every year since I have been a little girl, my mother, sister, and I have baked Christmas cookies together.  Some years my aunt and grandmother would come, sometimes not.  For many years when I was young, my sister and I hosted cookie baking parties with our friends at Christmas time. ( That ended the year we got into a flour fight and caught the cookies on fire).  To me, it isn't Christmas time until we have baked the Christmas cookies.

Now that we are all grown ups, we do a crazy version of a cookie swap.  Instead of each of us making cookies and swaping with each other, we all get together and make all the cookies that each of us will need for the Christmas season.  That means a whole lot of cookies.  The whole kitchen is covered in flour.  My floor is sticky for weeks.  Half way through I had to con my husband into a trip to the store because we were running out of chocolate.  Complete insanity but so satisfying.

This year we made:
Sugar Cookies
Butter Cookies
Mint Chocolate Cookies
Peanut Butter Blossoms
Coconut Bon Bons
Peanut Butter Balls
Almond Bark Pretzels
Peppermint Bark
Peanut Butter Fudge
Chocolate Fudge

So many tasty.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Toll House Pie

In my family, each person get to choose the kind of cake they want for their birthday.  This year, my mother asked for pie instead of her usual German Chocolate cake.  Specifically Toll House pie.  For those of you who have never had Toll House pie, it is essentially a chocolate chip cookie in a pie shell.  This is not a pie for the weak.  It is extremely rich and gooey, made more delicious by warming it for a few seconds and adding a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. 

Toll House Pie:
   adapted from

  • 1 unbaked pie crust (9 inch)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup (6 oz.) chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate chips, however the original recipe calls for semi-sweet)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts ( I used pecans, however, my mom always used walnuts)
  • Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream (I used Cool Whip)
1. Beat the eggs until they are foamy.
2. Beat in flour, sugar, and brown sugar.
3. Beat in the butter.
4. Fold in chocolate chips and chopped nuts of your choice and pour into pie crust.
5. Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour (or as a pastry chef friend of mine once said "until its done")

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cranberry Pecan Bread

This bread is a great bread for this time of the year.  Its a sweet dough that incorporates dried cranberries and pecans.  The original recipe calls for walnut instead of pecans, but I just love cranberries and pecans together.  This is another recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  The dough goes together easily, however, it is a bit tricky to incorporate all of the nuts and cranberries.  The smell of the dough is to die for though, the recipe calls for both lemon and orange extracts that are intoxicating for your olfactory senses.  I have made this bread before without the extracts, but it  adds a punch to add them in.  This bread is a dream to shape.  Above I shaped the dough into a round loaf, however, I typically make it in a double braid and have also baked it in just a plain loaf pan.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Peanut Butter Cookie Time

These peanut butter cookies were made for my friend Mandy. My friend Mandy is absolutely amazing. She is so sweet and caring. She always remembers the details and is there whenever I need her. So I made these peanut butter cookies for her because she is awesome and also because she started a new job. Sometimes starting a new job is stressful and the best solution for that stress is to eat some peanut butter cookies.

This is my go-to peanut butter cookie recipe. I have been using it for years and it rarely fails me. It's really great when you have some peanut butter chips to throw in, but still good just plain. An adaption my family likes is to take the dough and put it in a pizza pan. Bake for 15 minutes and then pull it out of the oven and immediately pour a bag of chocolate chips on top. We call it peanut butter pizza. Some people even like to throw some mini marshmallows on top and throw the pizza back in the oven for a few minutes to brown the marshmallows.

Peanut Butter Cookies:
adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour

1. Melt together the shortening, margarine, and peanut butter.
2. Mix in sugars, egg, baking soda and vanilla.
3. Add the flour, but pay attention, the dough will tell you how much flour you need. Often the full three cups are unnecessary and if used, will result in a dry cookie
4. Scoop in even spoonfuls onto cookie sheet and smash in a criss cross pattern with a fork.
5. Bake 8-11 minutes at 350 degrees.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I am Thankful For...

I am so thankful for my family, my friends, and my fur kids. I am a lucky girl.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Basket Cake

This is the cake from my Wilton Cakes II class. This class was interesting because we learned how to make royal icing flowers. I had never really worked with royal icing before, but it was totally crazy because royal icing dries hard and then you can keep it for a long time. All of the flowers on this cake were prepared during the previous four weeks of class. We made apple blossoms and daisies, pansies and daffodils. The culmination of the class was to make a cake that looked like a flower basket. The basket weave was also an interesting task. It kind of looks complicated but in reality, it's quite easy. However, it is terribly time consuming. That tiny cake above took almost 45 minutes to basket weave. When I got home from class, I told my husband that I would have to really love someone to make them a basket weave cake.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sea Salt Carmels

For some reason, fall seems like the time of the year for making caramel. Part of it is residual from Halloween and part of it is preparing for the Christmas season. I have only ever attempted making caramel one other time, and it did not go so well. Recently I purchased The Field Guide to Candy, and now visions of sugarplums dance in my head (well truffles and caramels anyway). Candy making has always fascinated me and scared me at the same time. Oh, sure, I will make fudge at Christmas but tempering chocolate and pulling sugar have been quite intimidating. The chocolate tempering still needs work, but the sea salt caramels worked like a dream and tasted even better.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


My baby sister is getting married in March. She is a total carboholic. She and her fiance decided to have a bread bar as appetizers for their reception. And she wants me to make the bread. Holy cow. I said yes like an idiot, thinking that it would be a fun challenge. What? Bread for 240 people that looks and tastes awesome enough for a wedding. What was I thinking? Her finace is in the military and is home for the weekend this weekend coming up so my mother and I decided to make some bread for them to kind of choose what they like and what they don't. I made potato bread, Challah, breadsticks, garlic bread, Norwegian rye bread and prezels. My mom and I together whipped up zucchini muffins, oatmeal rolls, savory cheese bread, parmasan bread, and corn muffins. That is a lot of bread! We are still trying to figure out the best way to present it. We are not sure if we should make loaves or rolls, if we should go with bread baskets or a dramatic presentation of everything on the table. We still are unsure of what we want to put on the breads. I am going to make a variety of flavored butters and cream cheeses, but beyond that we are drawing a blank.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yay Cake!

My cake decorating skills totally leave something to be desired. My ability to make a layer cake is shameful. Also, because I bake, I am now the dedicated baker in my family, regardless of the fact that cake that I make looks like garbage. So I decided to take a cake decorating class. Because every time I would bake a cake I would scream and cry and my husband refused to come into the kitchen. Now I had two choices for decorating classes: one at Michaels (craft store) or one through the community college. Turns out they were both Wilton classes so I guess it did not really matter which I chose.

I just finished Intro to Cake Decorating. It was so much fun. I really loved it. I was really bad at it, but I really loved it. There is just something exciting about finally learning how they make that buttercream rose. The class was four weeks long for three hours one night a week. We did not learn anything that will probably have me leaving my day job anytime soon, but the girls in the class were fun and creative and the teacher was great. We made a cake for our last day and honestly its the prettiest cake I have ever made. I felt like I hadn't learned that much until my husband commented on how far I had come. It made me happy, like that cake might not be totally out of my relm. I immediatly signed up for Cake Decorating II. I think that it will be good for me to continue on this cake experiment.

The cake I made is lemon cake from a box (gasp) but I have not been ready to branch out that much yet. I figured if I can get a handle on some decorating skills then maybe I can branch out to homemade cakes. I made the lighter lemon curd filling that I found on Baking Bites. Its a fantastic lemon curd that is super easy with a whole lot less fat than any other lemon curd I have tried. Its basically become my go to lemon curd for everything from a quick lemon mousse to a pie filling. The frosting is the class buttercream, which really means that its shortening buttercream. I like the shortening buttercream to work with, it's very consistant. However, I like the taste of real buttercream better.

Wilton Class Buttercream
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons milk or water ( I use lemon juice to cut the sweetness a bit)
1 tablespoon meringue powder (totally optional, just makes things a bit stiffer)
1 teaspoon clear vanilla (I use regular because it is what I have)
1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 cups)

On the website they have a slightly different buttercream recipe that is made with 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening. I have made this icing before and it is pretty good, but it does get crunchy. It is fairly easy to work with though. Soon I hope to start baking my cakes from scratch and trying different icings.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bread Machine Bread

The bread machine is a strange beast to me. I have never made anything in a bread machine. I always thought that it was a fine machine, but nothing I was interested in. To me, its about the process. It's seeing the dough come together, feeling the smooth elasticity in the kneading and the shaping of the dough.

However, there was a contest I was a bit interested in and one of the categories was bread machine white bread. So, I dug through my mother's cabinets and found her bread machine. I read the directions and decided to whip up some traditional white bread. It seemed easy enough. Pour the ingredients into the pan, push the buttons, wait three hours and I will have fantastic bread. Lo and behold, beautiful fluffy white bread emerged from that machine. I was stunned. Why didn't people make bread in bread machines all the time? I mean, making bread from scratch takes time and effort, but bread machine bread makes itself. If you are having people over and don't have time to whip up a batch of scratch bread, just toss some ingredients in your bread machine and go. My husband and I cut into it and a soft fat piece of perfect bread came off. Then another. Then the third cut and clang. The knife isn't going through this perfect soft bread. What is going on? We flipped the bread over and the little beater bakes itself in to the bread. What? How are you supposed to have perfectly shaped loaves of bread if you have to cut a huge chunk out of the bottom?

Well, we did cut a chunk out of the bottom and it was still white and fluffy. It tasted good, but it lacked the depth of some of the bread that takes me all day to make (or two or three days). I think that I will continue to use this bread machine, for whipping up a loaf of bread in a hurry. But I still enjoy the process of making the bread, possibly more than eating the bread itself. So I will continue making my bread from scratch.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


My girls have finally blessed me with some beautiful fresh, homegrown eggs. Right now they are a little small yet to use much for baking, but I guess that is what a kitchen scale is for.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disasters and frustrations

I tried my hand at some French macarons this weekend. They were a total disaster. So much of a disaster, I do not have a photo. There was no foot. They turned brown. Terrible.

This is Tornado. He is the other sort of beast that I enjoy wrangling. I have had him for ten years through much good and bad. He has been frustrating me here lately because I have recently purchased a new trailer and he refuses to get on it. Now, I just need to train him to get on it, but like those macarons I have never made before, there is a lot of trial and error along the way. Quite honestly, I have become almost fed up with both things (ok, I haven't given the macarons much of a fair try but still) that is until I went to lunch today.

I work in a small town and for lunch there are mainly fast food options. Consequently, I end up eating a lot of Subway if I forgot to pack my lunch. Today as I was standing in line, a new employee waited on me. There was no one in front or behind me so he took me through the whole sandwich himself, no assembly line today. Now I have eaten at Subway countless times. I have been waited on by dozens of staff members, who are usually extremely efficient, getting my sandwich to me in the smallest amount of time possible. But not today. Today, this new employee painstakingly arranged my spinach and tomatoes. He carefully counted out my pickles and onions and squeezed on just the appropriate amount of mayo. Not to little or to much. It struck me that a sandwich I had eaten so many times could be so lovingly prepared. Something that was typically slapped together, today was carefully arranged just so.

It made me contemplate how vary common it is for me to rush through a task, especially in baking, and then am frustrated with the result. How if maybe I were more conscientious with my work, perhaps more success would come my way. I need to learn to be less bogged down by the clock and to just enjoy the time I have with each task be it learning a new recipe or trying to load my horse on trailer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

English Muffins

My husband is a breakfast food fanatic. Especially if this breakfast food entails eggs of any variety. Consequently, we frequently eat breakfast for supper, especially if there has not been a trip to the grocery store in quite some time. Since I got home from work before him, this particular day, I decided to make English muffins to accompany our eggs.

English muffins are surprisingly easy to make. The English muffin recipe that I use is from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice (big surprise). It is made using the direct dough method, so you can decide on a (sort of) whim to whip these up. They only take a few minutes of mixing and raise in a couple of hours. One thing that I learned about making English muffins, are that they are initially pan fried and then finish baking in the oven. I have made these before, but had a little trouble because they stayed fat, the muffin did not flatten like traditional English muffins. I then read Nicole's post about English muffins that stated if your dough was too stiff, the muffins do not flatten out appropriately. I then increased the water a bit and had more success this time.

My husband and I made bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches with them later that evening and the next morning I enjoyed another one with butter and jam. The key to getting the signature nooks and crannies is to fork split the muffin, not to slice it with a fork. They quite delicious. Next time I may change it up a bit and add some whole wheat flour or maybe some raisins.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows

It seems everywhere I look, food bloggers have made homemade marshmallows. And in reading their posts, these homemade marshmallows sound absolutely delightful. The photographs of these marshmallows look spectacular, like fluffy clouds of awesomeness. I just had to make homemade marshmallows. They actually were surprisingly easy to make, boil the sugar and the corn syrup, whip with the gelatin until fluffy. Yes, they were sticky, but candy making always is

My sister is getting married and in the spirit of looking for a pretty dessert for the dessert tray, I decided to cut them into heart shapes and dip half into chocolate. They turned out so cute. I took them to her, quite excited about my newest creation. She told me they were beautiful and took a great big bite. "Oh Heather, these would be perfect if they didn't taste so much like Peeps." She was right. My homemade marshmallows taste like Peeps. Or at best, store bought marshmallows. But nothing like the greatness I was hoping for. The recipe I made called for a vanilla bean, however, I did not have any vanilla beans and consequently used vanilla extract. That may have been my downfall. I would like to try and make them again, maybe with a different flavor, maybe with a real vanilla bean.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sour Cream and Onion Potato Bread

I love using mashed potatoes in my white bread. I don't know exactly what it does for my bread, but it just tastes amazing. I find it a fantastic way to use up that last little bit of mashed potatoes from Sunday dinner. Typically, I make a sweet potato bread, that is perfect with a little butter in the morning for breakfast, but when I found this recipe on The Knead for Bread, I knew I had to give it a shot. If bread with potatoes in it is good, then an addition of sour cream and chives must be better.

You can find the original recipe here. I tweaked the recipe a bit based on what I had in the kitchen that afternoon. What you get is a soft, fluffy bread that is great on its own but makes a fantastic sandwich bread. Its got just enough onion to give it flavor, yet not enough to be overpowering.

Sour Cream and Onion Potato Bread
1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes (I used instant because I was out of regular potatoes. If using regular potatoes, you may want to add butter and milk when mashing them for flavor.)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp salt (I used garlic salt because a little garlic flavor is always a good thing)
1 egg
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
4-5 cups bread flour

Make up instant mashed potatoes according to directions. Add sour cream, egg, yeast, and green onions. Mix in 2 cups of the flour and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Add the salt. Gradually mix in the rest of the flour. Allow the dough to dictate how much flour is needed. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. Knead until the dough passes the windowpane test. Cover and allow to raise until double (about one hour).

Turn out onto floured breadboard and shape dough as desired. I made one regular sized loaf and two mini loaves. I would imagine these would make fantastic rolls as well. Allow to rise again for approximately one hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until done. My tiny loaves actually only took about 20 minutes to bake.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BBA Challenge: Challah

The next bread for the BBA challenge was casatiello, which I made, but was devoured before I could take any pictures or post about it. Hopefully I will make it again and remember to photograph it so that I can post about it.

At any rate, the next bread that I made from the BBA challenge was Challah. Challah is an egg rich Jewish celebration bread. I have made Challah in the past, but nothing prepared me for the deliciousness of this recipie. The dough was easy to put together and hand kneading it was a dream. It wasn't sticky, but soft and tender to work with. Braiding this dough was a dream and the finished loaf pulled apart in fluffy chunks.

My husband finished the loaf by making challah French toast. I did not get any, but I hear it was amazing too. The eggs in the bread really added to the taste of the French toast. I would make this recipe again in a heartbeat.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When friends give you zucchini, make zucchini bread

I am one of those special people that has a total black thumb. Growing up and living in rural Illinois, I have a good many friends and relatives who are farmers. People who grow things for a living. They cannot figure out my total lack of ability to grow things. (It likely stems from lack of watering my plants regularly, but hey). At any rate, I cannot grow zucchini. So I am one of those people who quietly buys her zucchini from the grocery store or farmer's market. That is, until one of those previously mentioned farmer friends get wind of my purchasing zucchini and bring me a huge grocery bag full.

For my zucchini bread recipe, I turned to my trusty family cookbook. My mother and grandmother were both prolific zucchini growers and had a ton of recipes for zucchini bread. I decided to adapt one of the recipes to try an make a lower fat version and was met with success. I changed the sugar to honey (and in some cases Splenda) and I replaced the cup of oil with applesauce or yogurt. I also experimented with taking out the some of the eggs and replacing them with egg whites.

Zucchini Pineapple Bread
2 cups sugar (or Splenda or honey)
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup vegetable oil (or plain yogurt or applesauce)
1 8oz can crushed pineapple
3 eggs (or 1 egg and two egg whites)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour ( you can use 3 cups all purpose flour if you do not have whole wheat flour)

Mix ingredients together and pour into two loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees until done (about 50-60 minutes)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Of all of the comfort foods in this world, my absolute favorite is a chocolate chip cookie. It is the first recipe I learned to make. It is my go-to recipe when I need to bring a dessert to a friend's house. When I am craving something sweet, a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough cures it every time. These cookies taste fantastic warm and gooey straight out of the oven and are still good three days later when you dunk them in milk so soften them up.

The recipe I use is from my mother's Betty Crocker cookbook. It is the version she got when she was my age. Her cookbook is old and the pages are dog eared and falling out from years of use. You can't even read the oatmeal cookie recipe because there is a hole worn in the page from being wiped clean of batter so many times. It is just a guess how much brown sugar is needed. But my sister and I tried to get her a newer version of the Betty Crocker Cookbook and the chocolate chip cookie recipe is just not the same, so the book sits unused in her cupboard. The recipe is good, don't get me wrong, but those same feelings of nostalgia do not come bubbling to the surface with each bite.

When my sister and I used to bake these chocolate chip cookies, we used to fight over who got to pour the vanilla in and who got to stir in the chocolate chips. We have made this recipe so many different ways depending on what we had in the cupboard. If we were just going to eat the dough, we left out the eggs. We have made it with no vanilla, no baking soda, butter instead of margarine. We've put butterscotch chips, vanilla chips, cinnamon chips, M&Ms, and mint chips in them, but honestly, never have we put in the optional nuts. Each time the cookies turn out a bit different but still good. We have probably made these cookies for almost every person we know.

I made this batch of cookies for my husband's interns. It is their last week of work because summer is coming to a close. However, he forgot he had meetings in the city early this week and would not be seeing his interns, so no cookies for them. But chocolate chip cookies never go to waste...

Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from Betty Crocker
2/3 c. shortening
2/3 c. margarine
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
3 c. flour
1 12oz package chocolate chips
1 c. nuts (optional)

Mix ingredients together. When I was little, I melted the shortening and margarine in the microwave and stirred in the ingredients by hand. Now I am big and I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and so I just throw everything in there with the paddle attachment and whip the batter right up. Its really personal preference. The mixer gives you a more whipped dough than stirring by hand, but the cookies come out pretty much the same. So I guess it depends on whether you like to eat whipped dough or not ( because really, who can make chocolate chip cookies and not snitch some of the batter?)

Scoop tablespoons onto a cookie sheet. If you used butter instead of margarine, leave a lot of room between cookies. They will spread like crazy.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes or until the bottoms are just starting to turn brown. My family prefers cookies on the gooier side, so I tend to try and err on the side of caution by pulling them out a bit early. However, if you like crunchy cookies, leave them in.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Let Them Eat Brioche

I know, I know, the next recipe in the BBA challenge is bagels. But I already made and posted about the bagels in this book. I need to go back and make them again, because mine had a flaw in them somewhere, that I need to figure out. However, I decided to go ahead and skip them in order to keep on track and to keep trying new recipes.

Next on the list was Brioche. There were three options to choose from: Poor Man's Brioche, Medium Brioche, and Rich Man's Brioche. The difference in the recipes was related to the quantity of butter in the dough. Brioche is an incredibly rich buttery dough that to me had similar characteristics to a croissant. I chose the Rich Man's Brioche because I had never made a bread with that high of a butter content and I wanted to see what the dough would be like and how difficult it would be to work with.

The dough came together fairly easily, rose like it should have, and was not to difficult to handle.

Honestly, the finished product was pretty but too rich for my taste when eaten alone (which is really saying a lot). Eating it with some raspberry jam was actually a good pairing, the butter flavor went well with the sweetness of the jam.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Greek Celebration Bread

The next bread for the BBA Challenge was Greek Celebration Bread or Artos. There were a couple of options when making this bread in regards to the shape of the bread. You could make Christopsomos which is served at Christmas time and has raisins, cranberries, and walnuts mixed in. The other option would be to make Lambropsomo, which is served at Easter and has raisins, apricots, and almonds mixed in. The bigger difference in the two breads though, is in how they are shaped. Chistopsomos is what I made and is shaped like the above photo. Lambropsomo is braided and has colored eggs nestled in the grooves. This bread was fairly easy to make, however you did need a wild yeast starter already prepared. As it so happens, I have a wild yeast culture just lounging in my fridge waiting for me so that was not a big deal for me. It does take some time to grow though, if you have never done it.

This is not one of the best breads I have ever made. The glaze made the bread sticky and undesirable to just snack on. I was concerned about all of the add ins, so I didn't put in any raisins or cranberries and that was a poor decision. There are a lot of spices and the dried fruit would have really helped offset the strong flavor. Overall, it was fun to make, but not overly fun to eat.

Friday, June 5, 2009

BBA Challenge Breads

I know I am posting about it a bit late, but I am participating in the BBA challenge put forth by Nicole from Pinch My Salt. Its quite an interesting challenge. The idea is to work through Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice at the rate of one recipe per week. Because life has gotten busy on me, I have not had the opportunity to post about any of them until now. I am really enjoying going through a cookbook and forcing myself to bake the recipes as they come. I never have made all of the recipes in one book before, I usually pick out several that intrigue me and leave the ones that seem too boring or too hard for later and then later never really comes.

The first of the challenge recipes was Anadama Bread. Peter Reinhart had a cute story to go along with this bread. Its a story about a man, whose wife is named Anna, leaves him with nothing but a bowl of cornmeal mush. He is so upset that he shouts "Anna, damn her!" and proceeds to throw a few more things into the bowl and voila (insert appropriate accent mark) there was Anadama bread. This was an interesting bread because it utilzed a cornmeal soaker. The idea is to extract as much flavor from the cornmeal as possible. The bread was fairly easy to put together and resulted in a hearty flavorful loaf. It was a good choice to start off our bread baking challenge.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lemon Sugar Snaps

These are Lemon Sugar Snaps from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. These cookies are straight up amazing. My husband's extended family lives in Kentucky, and each time we trek down there I make these cookies because they travel so well and yet taste awesome. They take a little bit of work, they need to be refrigerated, which takes time. They also need to be rolled into balls by hand and additionally rolled in sugar. You know Martha recipes, nothing is ever just easy but the results are well worth it. These cookies taste like buttery sugar cookies with a definite lemon flavor. The citrus reduces the overwhelming sweetness of the sugar cookie, making it so that you can eat about twenty of them in one sitting. It's crazy. Here you can find almost the exact same recipe, it makes a few more cookies and you use some shortening instead of all butter, but I suspect you will get a similar result.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reckless with Anticipation

There is something amazing about Spring. It is full of what could be. Northern Illinois usually has fairly substantial winters; complete with lots of snow, ice, and below zero days. Somewhere around March, Mother Nature starts toying with us and she tosses us a few 60-70 degree days. Enough to make our hearts beat faster, hoping that winter is behind us and leaves us salivating for spring. But sure enough, it gets nasty and cold and rainy again for a few more weeks. Maybe she even throws in a snowstorm or two.

But by now, here in the middle of May, we are well into Spring. My tiny container garden plants are sprouting, leaving me to anticipate the delicious homegrown produce that is to come. Baby animals are born, like my little chick above. She leaves me reckless with anticipation because I know in a few short months she will have shed her fuzzies and will be laying beautiful brown eggs for me. And I know its been said a thousand times, but there is nothing like a fresh egg for baking.

So enjoy this season of anticipation, enjoy considering the endless possibilities from your farm fresh eggs or your bell peppers, or whatever it is that you are anticipating great things from this spring.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I made this cinnamon raisin bread today. The recipe was fairly simple and straightforward, again from The Bread Baker's Apprentice The final bread was very soft, packed with raisins and walnuts giving it great texture and wonderful flavor. However, I think that I like my cinnamon raisin bread recipe that I previously posted about a bit better. Its sweeter and the wheat flour and raisin combination is just the right texture for my tongue.
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Big Rock Sourdough

I know, I know, no one has ever heard of Big Rock Sourdough. It certainly won't be sweeping the nation like San Francisco Sourdough, but it was a tasty creation in my kitchen this weekend. The crust was crusty, the inside was nice and chewy. The crumb was tight. The sour flavor was a bit light if you are one who really enjoys sour sourdough but perfect for me. I have to admit, I am so excited about this bread. About 6 months ago I tried making a barm of wild yeast and I thought I was successful. However, once I made my bread, it did not raise and was extremely dense. I developed a bit of a fear of sourdough then. I mean, it takes days to build a barm and then more days to develop your dough. The thought of so much time and so many ingredients wasted for a terrible bread I had to throw away anyway. At least when I bake a cake and it fails, I know within a few hours. But, I talked myself into trying it again. All these months of making other successful breads, all the while knowing that sourdough had gotten the better of me. I received Peter Reinhart's A Bread Baker's Apprentice and Crust and Crumb for Christmas, and it has really kicked my bread baking up a notch. I followed his instructions for a wild yeast starter and consequently used his recipe for a basic sourdough and it turned out fabulous. However, I have to confess, I did end up spiking the final dough with a bit of yeast only because on the day everything came together, I did not have four hours to wait for it to raise. I needed it to raise within a couple of hours and the additional yeast did just that. Next time though, I will make it on a weekend and really try and let my wild yeast do their thing for even more flavor. I think this baby was enough of a success that I am going to submit it to Susan at Wild Yeast for this week's YeastSpotting

Sourdough Bread
adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

4 oz (2/3 cup) barm (room temperature)
4-5 oz (1 cup) bread flour
1-2 oz (1/8 -1/4 cup) water

20.25 oz (4 1/2 cups) bread flour
.5 oz (2 tsp) salt
14 oz (1 3/4 cup) lukewarm water (you may use a little less or more)
1 tsp instant yeast (sorry, I didn't weigh this one, it was a last minute thought)
Directions:Mix together the barm and the flour. Then add only enough water to make it form a firm ball. Allow to ferment at room temperature until doubled. For my dough this took about 6 hours. If your home is a bit warmer or colder than mine it will take more or less time. Stick the starter in the fridge overnight.

When you are ready to make your final dough, be sure to take your starter out of the fridge at least an hour ahead of time. Mix together the salt, flour, water, and chunks of the starter until everything comes together.

Knead the dough either by hand or with a mixer until it is fully developed. Allow bread to raise until double. If you used instant yeast, this will take about 2 hours. If you are counting on your wild yeast, this step will take longer.

Shape dough as desired. At this point you can bench proof your bread or you can put in the refrigerator overnight. I put mine in the refrigerator overnight and it worked wonderfully.

If refrigerating, be sure to take it out at least an hour before baking (if using instant yeast, longer if you are only using wild yeast). Score as desired.

Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn down the heat to 450 degrees and bake until done.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hawaiian Bread

My uncle emailed me this recipe after a church dinner where my husband went to town on some King's Hawaiian Bread. This recipe is from and is supposed to taste just like King's Hawaiian Bread. I have to admit, it tastes pretty dang good. It was light and fluffy. It reminded me of white bread but with a hint of sweetness from the pineapple juice. I was eating it all day yesterday, not even taking the time to butter it, but just pulling it apart in chunks and enjoying it plain. I don't know if I would go so far as to say that it tastes just like the stuff you would get at the store, but it is worth making. However, after reading the reviews of this recipe it seemed like it was going to be a difficult bread to bake. Now, generally speaking, I was never one to read reviews. I just didn't; it took to much time. However, my husband is a big review reader. Until meeting him, I would just show up at the movie theater and watch whatever movie was playing at the time I was there. This is not the case with D. Reviews have to be read to help make an informed opinion on things whether its movies, books, or the latest piece of woodworking equipment. To be perfectly honest, since meeting him, I watch better movies. Now he's got me doing it and the reviews on the website for this bread are a little scary. Perhaps the directions were confusing to people, so I will try and explain some of the things that it seems people ran into trouble with.

Hawaiian Bread
makes three round loaves
7 cups flour (I used bread flour)
3 eggs
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp vanilla
2 packages yeast (I used 4 1/2 tsp instant yeast)
1 stick melted margarine

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl. Because of the large amount of flour, it will be tricky to just use a spoon. I have a stand mixer, so once it became too difficult to stir with the spoon, I used my dough hook to help finish. Let raise until double. Turn out on a floured surface and knead 10 times (see note number 4). Divide dough and shape as desired. I made two round loves and five rolls. Allow to raise until double. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

1. The original recipe called for 6 cups of flour. I found that that made a very wet dough so I went ahead and added another cup. It's still more of a wet dough then I am used to for a white bread, but very workable. I don't believe that the extra flour weighed it down too much and it didn't dry it out, so I think that it was a worthwhile addition.

2. The recipe does not indicate what kind of yeast you are supposed to have two packages of. In reading the directions, it does not tell you to proof the yeast so my immediate opinion was that you should use instant yeast because it does not need to be proofed. I used instant yeast and it rose wonderfully. I used 4 1/2 tsp of instant yeast and D. commented that it tasted a little yeasty so you may be able to cut the yeast back a bit. Instant yeast has more live yeast cells than active dry yeast, so you tend to need less of it. The lack of detail seemed to confuse people, so if you use instant yeast, you do not need to proof it. If you use active dry yeast, you should proof it in about 1/4 cup of warm (110 degrees Fahrenheit) water. Remember that if you proof your yeast in water, then take that amount of water from the amount that you put in (your total water should equal 1 cup).

3.) There were several comments from people about changes that they made that I do not think probably make a huge difference in the success or failure of the bread, so you probably do not need to stress about making these minor changes. The recipe calls for plain flour (I assume they mean all-purpose). I used bread flour and it worked fine. Use whichever you have. Some people said they used butter instead of margarine. In this case, I do not think that it matters that much. Possibly the taste will be a bit different and your salt content will change, depending on whether or not you use salted or unsalted butter. Some people also said they used more pineapple juice and less water. Again, that doesn't really matter much. As long as your liquid is around 2 cups, you should be fine. If you add more pineapple juice, it will taste more pineapplely, but the finished product should look about the same.

4.) Telling you to knead 10 times is weird to me. It never made any sense. Actually, I was never sure how long you were supposed to knead bread dough until I read Peter Reinhart's book Crust and Crumb. He recommends using the windowpane test to see if your bread is fully developed. What you do is take a small piece of dough and stretch is between your two hands trying to create a thin piece of dough. If you are able to stretch it and get it so thin that you can see through it, you have fully developed dough. If you stretch it and it breaks before it becomes translucent, then you need to knead a bit longer. This trick has really worked great for me, my bread had been prettier and tastier ever since.

Hopefully these tips help relieve some of the confusion. It is so tough sometimes to look at a recipe and a short list of directions and be able to create something wonderful.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Brown Sugar Bear

A few years ago, as a part of a wedding shower gift, I received a Brown Sugar Bear. It was a small gift given to me by my sister. We both knew the meaning: no more lumpy brown sugar! Even my mom was excited for me over this small token gift. Growing up in northern Illinois, we had the most humid summers. My mom's brown sugar was always hard and lumpy. My sister and I always struggled to measure the appropriate amounts of the sugar because of the stiff chunks that would not pack. While one of us was stirring vigorously to remove the lumps, the other would steal them from the bag and pop them in her mouth for a sweet treat while baking.

Sure enough, the Brown Sugar Bear did its job. My brown sugar has no more lumps. Soft and fluffy, it always packs into the measuring cup. There was no more guesses as to how much brown sugar was still needed. Consequently, no more snitching brown sugar lumps. I never knew that I would miss those little sweet pebbles until today, for some reason my Brown Sugar Bear was left out of the bag and my brown sugar was a solid lump. I worked and worked to get out the 1/2 cup I needed to bake some peanut butter cookies. When I threw it into the mix, my batter was then full of lumps. I beat and crushed until there was no remaining lumps.

As I was putting the brown sugar away, I fished out a lump and put it in my mouth. Nostalgia waved over me. Memories of baking cookies with my mom and sister. Of learning fractions with measuring spoons and arguing over who got to stir. Memories of Christmas cookie baking parties and snitches of dough. I bake because it relaxes me, but it just really sunk in today, the reason it relaxes me is because I had so many amazing experiences in the past that involved baking. It always makes me sad when people say they never baked with anyone growing up because I was lucky enough to bake with everyone growing up. French toast with one grandma, cookies and cakes with the other. My aunt taught me to make the most amazing fudge. But it was my mom who taught me the most, with whom I have the most baking memories. I am lucky in this sense, because even though I bake alone in my own kitchen, I still have all of their happy feelings and it soothes me.

So, dear Brown Sugar Bear, thank you for making my brown sugar soft, but once in awhile its nice to remember the sweetness of lumpy brown sugar.
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Go Bananas, Go Go bananas!

Everybody and their mother has a recipe for banana bread. Banana bread is probably the first homemade bread I can remember eating and the first bread I ever made. Banana bread is not a yeasted bread, at least not the banana bread I have made in my lifetime. Rather, it is raised via chemical leaveners and in this case, baking soda. I have always made the same banana bread recipe which is the same banana bread recipe that my mom has always made. Its a good recipe, nice and familiar. However, this time something different was in order. This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown's cookbook, "I'm just here for more food-Mixing+Heat=Baking" This banana bread was a bit heartier than many banana breads but it still had a very sweet crust and just a hint of banana flavor. I changed the original recipe quite a bit because of what my cupboards contained but it still turned out delicious.

Banana Bread
1 cup (7 1/2 oz) sugar
1-2 very ripe bananas
1 2/3 cup (7 3/4 oz) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 1/4 oz ) whole wheat flour
1 tsp (< 1/4 oz) baking soda
1 tsp (< 1/4 oz) salt
1 stick (4 oz) melted butter
2 large (3 1/2 oz) eggs
1 tsp (1/4 oz) vanilla extract
1 cup nuts

First take the bananas and mash them into the sugar until the mixture is smooth. This technique is interesting because, unlike some banana breads, there are no chunks of banana in this bread. Mashing the bananas takes some time but is well worth it.

Next mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl minus the nuts and mix your wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add the ingredients first to the sugar/banana mixture and then add the dry. Stir together until just mixed. Fold in the nuts if desired.

Pour batter into a loaf pan and bake for about an hour give or take. This batter supposedly is very conducive to making muffins, but I only tried the traditional loaf.

For more banana flavor, use more bananas. The original recipe called for 3-4, but I didn't have them, nor do I like a lot of banana flavor.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cinnamon Raisin Bread


Growing up one of my favorite baked goods was my mothers homemade cinnamon rolls. They were soft and gooey with a hint of yeasty smell to them. She didn't make them very often, and because of that they were even more special. Since growing up, I have made her cinnamon rolls many times. However, for some reason, I actually hate cutting the dough into rolls. I feel like no matter what I do they are shaped funny and cinnamon leaks all over. I can never get them even and neat. Consequently, I have decided that I prefer making cinnamon raisin bread. I first started making cinnamon bread one lovely day when I was feeling lazy and I made my mother's cinnamon rolls and just did not cut them up. I rolled up the dough full of cinnamon and sugar goodness and stuck it in a bread pan. Sadly, the dough that my mom uses for cinnamon rolls is too heavy for cinnamon bread and the whole thing collapsed on itself once it was taken from the bread pan. Then I had to set out to find a recipe that would be appropriate in bread form. I have tried several different ones and have come to the conclusion that the one listed below is my favorite. I love the addition of oatmeal. It makes the bread so soft. There is also a touch of wheat flour in the recipe which gives added sturdiness, beautiful color, and contributes to the enticing aroma of this bread when it bakes. This recipe also is amazingly simple to make. It is a direct method dough and all of the ingredients are stirred together from beginning. There isn't the challenge of trying to incorporate a cup of raisins into your completed dough.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread adapted from
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 cup raisins
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp instant yeast
4 1/2-5 cups bread flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 stick melted butter

Put the wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, butter, oatmeal, and raisins in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the mixture. Stir until all the butter is melted. At this point I allow the mixture to cool a bit, sometimes adding a cup or so of my bread flour before I add my yeast. Add yeast and then finish adding the flour. Knead for about 6-8 minutes with your dough hook and longer by hand. Allow the bread to raise until double.

Once the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and divide it into two equal parts. Take the first section of dough and roll it out. I like to use melted butter as the "glue" for my cinnamon/sugar mixture, but I have also used water and it works just as well. Brush melted butter or water over the rolled out dough. Then generously sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mixture over the dough. Take the two sides of the dough and fold them in. Then take one end and start rolling. You can use a little melted butter or water to seal the dough to itself when you are finished rolling. Place rolled dough into a greased loaf pan. Repeat the above process with the second portion of dough. Allow dough to raise until double. Bake the loaves at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Notes: I use instant yeast in my recipe. If you choose to use active dry yeast, you will need to proof it in warm water and consequently you will have more liquid in your recipe that I typically do and you will probably need to increase your flour. Also, I find it helpful to place a layer of parchment paper on the bottom of my loaf pans before putting the dough in. I find that even if I have a good seal, frequently some cinnamon and sugar leaks out of the bread and I have a sticky mess on my hands without the parchment paper. I sometimes use an egg wash on top of this bread too. It makes the top nice and brown and shiny. It also will make it burn like crazy if you do not pay attention.

In the photos my wonderful husband took of making cinnamon raisin bread I chose to get rowdy and braid my bread into one big loaf. Quite honestly, it did not look as pretty as I had imagined it in my head, but if you want to try it maybe it will work better for you. What I did was to take three 10 ounce portions and fill them with the cinnamon/sugar mixture and roll them up. I then braided these rolls together. After that I took three 4 ounce portions of dough and did the same thing, making a smaller braid and placing it on top of the large one. I allowed them to proof together and then baked as usual. I had a bit of leftover dough that I just made into a normal cinnamon raisin mini loaf. I was hoping for some really beautiful swirls, but I did not get them.

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