Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mini Gingerbread Houses

You know that saying, "If you build it, they will come..."?  Well, if you do a gingerbread decorating party, it will get bigger every year!  The first year it was two friends, last year it was four and this year there are around eight and two different days!

The little houses are personal sized with the original template but it will work for whatever design you choose.  If gingerbread making is a tradition for you, here is a good recipe to add to the repertoire.  It makes nice firm gingerbread, good for construction, but it will mellow over time and stay edible for weeks.  And it's a very tasty gingerbread!  Everyone seems to like to nibble on it, especially the trees.  I don't use spelt for this recipe because it stays too soft.  The recipe is from an old Christmas cookie book given to my mom, Better Homes and Gardens Cookies for Christmas, 1985.  I finally had to give it back and get my own copy!  Lots of yummy goodies in there.

It is now possible to find corn free candy much more readily.  Of all the candies shown, only the gumdrop stars have organic corn syrup in them.  Surf sweets make lots of candies with tapioca or rice syrup.  And many things now have tapioca dextrin instead of corn malto dextrin.  Whole Foods had corn free malted milk balls!  Good source for corn free candy.  Trader Joes and other stores carry the candy coated sunflower seeds in various colors.  The soft peppermint sticks are a British import and simply sugar and peppermint oil with a little food color.  And even Fred Meyer was carrying the corn syrup free candy canes!  Major treat for R, she looks forward to them every year.  For bases, the first year I did the foil covered cardboard route.  Now I just head to the local cake supply store and grab some rectangular foil decorated cake boards.

And yes, this dough absolutely works for larger projects:

Tiny Gingerbread Village
Better Homes and Gardens
makes three houses plus eight trees

5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add molasses and beat well.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture.  You may have to work the last bit in by hand.  The dough will be firm and maybe even a bit crumbly.  Don't worry.  Turn it out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log.  Wrap it up and let the dough hydrate itself for a bit.
Once you have your patterns chosen, divide the dough into thirds and work with one bit at a time.  Roll onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about ¼" thick.  Place your patterns and cut around them with a  knife.  Lift off the scraps and place in a plastic bag or covered bowl so they don't dry out.  If you want to try this pattern, the scale is such that the roof piece is 3¾" in length.

 For the trees, cut half of the pieces in half lengthwise.  For the church steeple, cut the short piece in half lengthwise.  If you want to add score lines or texture to the walls or roof, do it before baking.

Reroll scraps to cut remaining pieces as needed.  There should be enough for some mini gingerbread people as well.  Bake the pieces at 375º F for 10-11 minutes until done.  I find they turn out best for construction when there is the barest hint of browning on any edge.  Trim if necessary while still hot.  Cool on sheet until firm enough to move, then finish cooling on wire rack.  Here is the cookbook photo, showing the assembled houses and trees:

The snow frosting recipe that is included for the houses, is not a royal icing and just barely adequate for assembly.  It does not get rock hard and the houses could be damaged if really knocked about.  I like it for decorating though.
Here is the royal icing recipe I used:
Royal Icing

16 oz powdered sugar (4½ cups)
1/3 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F) 
3 tbsp meringue powder (I use 6 tbsp dried egg whites instead)
1 tsp vanilla 
½ tsp cream of tartar
Food colors, if desired

In large bowl, beat all icing ingredients except food colors with electric mixer on low speed until mixed.  Beat on high speed 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff.  Divide and tint as desired with food colors.
Snow frosting:
1½ cups shortening (unhydrogenated organic palm shortening is the best option)
1½ tsp vanilla
3½ cups powdered sugar (we use a brand with no corn starch)
3 tbsp milk
3½ cups additional powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp additional milk

Beat the shortening and vanilla for 30 seconds.  Slowly beat in the first 3½ cups powdered sugar.  Add 3 tbsp milk.  Slowly beat in the rest of the powdered sugar and enough additional milk to make frosting piping consistency.

Use soup or veggie cans to prop the walls while assembling.  Let dry before adding roof.  Pre-assemble houses if planning a decorating party.

It's so fun to see the different takes the kids have on their creations.

Some of them are super meticulous and careful...

And some decide that the more frosting there is, the better.  And who cares how it falls.  Regardless, they have fun and enjoy their creations!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pom-Cherry Cocktail

All those beautiful pomegranates sitting in displays every time I go through the store.  They've been calling to me.  We got them less than once a year when I was little.  Probably due to the fact they they were scarce in our little town, but also because they were a pain to de-seed.  Lately, posts have been going around about a super easy way to seed them.  I mean like in a matter of minutes.  Well it works!  I just sliced around the middle instead of straight through and then pried it in half to preserve the seeds.  Then you push on the bottom to loosen a little before tapping with a wooden spoon.  Now, if you happen to push too hard and break off a piece, you can still successfully use the spoon technique on that piece to get the seeds out.  Believe me, it happened twice.  
I have been doing a lot of baking for other people the past few weeks and it gets a bit stressful.  Especially since I am also starting holiday baking as well.  Croutons and cranberry sauce and such.  Enter the antioxidant loaded cocktail!  Take a moment to relax in between batches of whatever...  If you can't find fresh pomegranates, you can always use a cherry for a garnish.

Pomegranate Cherry Cocktail
serves 2

¼ cup vodka
½ cup pomegranate cherry juice (or ¼ cup each pom and cherry juice)
1/3 cup simple syrup or to taste
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
¼ cup pomegranate arils
½ cup crushed ice

Rim two 4-6 oz. cocktail glasses with sugar and set aside.

In a cocktail mixer, combine vodka, juices and simple syrup.  Add ice and shake to mix.

Add a couple tablespoons pomegranate arils to each glass and pour the drink over top.


(Please drink responsibly.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chicken and Black Bean Salad

This was the recipe that got away.  I made this sometime in the first year or so of our marriage.  It was one of those recipes in an ad for a product.  Green Tabasco I suspect.  It went over swimmingly and hubby declared it a definite keeper.  Then I lost it for the next twelve years.  A few years back I asked my mom to look for it since I had emailed it to her once.  Well lo and behold, she actually found a printed out copy of the email.  It was barely legible, but she scanned it and emailed it back to me and I was eventually able to decipher it.  Happy day!  We had it tonight and it was just as good as we remember.  A great summer or fall dish, since it is just lightly warm, nicely filling, but not too heavy.  Another reason I hadn't made it recently was that green Tabasco has corn starch in it, which makes it not okay for R.  But today I found a local green pepper sauce with only three ingredients.  This recipe is back on the menu!  (Though you could always use regular tabasco, it doesn't have starch.)  Do give this recipe a try, it is full of wonderful flavor and color.

Chicken and Black Bean Salad
Serves 4

2 tbsp oil, divided
1 medium red onion, diced
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into ¾" pieces
1 15oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium tomato, diced
½ c pepperoncini peppers, seeded and diced (I found a garlic dill version for tonight)
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
¾ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp green pepper sauce (like Green Tabasco)
butter bib or romaine or green leaf lettuce leaves
salt and lemon pepper

Heat 1 tbsp oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add red onion, cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove to large bowl.  Add remaining oil to skillet.  Season chicken lightly with salt and lemon pepper.  Cook and stir chicken over medium high heat about 5 minutes or until well browned.  Add beans and heat through.

Combine red onion, chicken, beans, tomatoes, peppers, parsley, vinegar, salt and tabasco in the large bowl.  To serve, line platter or single serve plates with lettuce and top with chicken salad.

Garnish with extra whole pepperoncinis if desired.

Ha, NOW they have it on their website.  Didn't for years.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Catching up - Beirut Tahini Swirls

Once again doing two BBB recipes this month, the current one and a catching up recipe. This one, Beirut Tahini Swirls, was originally baked in July of 2009.  Now I like sesame seeds but I have mixed feelings about tahini.  I did not like the store bought kind I bought last time so I decided to make my own.  It's pretty simple, just take sesame seeds and blend to a paste.  Toast first if desired, add oil if desired.  Tahini is bitter on its own and works best as an accent flavor.  I wonder if soaking or sprouting them would take away some of the bitterness...  Maybe another time.  Still not 100% healthy yet and that's too much work.  Reading in the catch-up host kitchen and the original post, I saw that these were meant to be like a flat bread and not a swirly bun.  Oh well.  I like swirly buns, but I was a good kid and flattened my buns.  ☺

I did decide to add a teaspoon of cinnamon to my tahini for flavor.  You couldn't taste it at all but as you can see from the finished buns, it left a pretty swirl that showed through even after baking.  I didn't add sesame seeds to the outside, didn't want to over do it, but I resisted the temptation to drizzle them with a sugar glaze because I figured that would be completely in-authentic.  And like the posts suggested, they did puff up like little pita pockets.

Hubby ate an entire bun and said they were interesting and good.  I think the tahini was a bit strong for my taste but yes, they were interesting and good.  I would cut the tahini with half almond paste next time to let it be more of the great accent flavor I like.  I used light spelt and sprouted whole spelt for the spelt and whole spelt in the host's post.  I also used rapadura for my sugar, which is a very unprocessed form of sugar that is crumbly brown and opaque.  Mixing that with the homemade tahini made for a crumbly filling so I crumbled it over the dough squares as the host kitchens did.  Check out the original and catch-up posts for good how to pictures.  Here is the recipe as published in this month's host kitchen post:

Beirut Tahini Swirls
makes 6 coiled rounds

The Dough:
½ teaspoon instant active dry yeast (about 2 g)
1 cup (240 ml) lukewarm water
a bit more than 2 cups (240 + 35 g) spelt flour
½ cup (80 g) whole spelt flour (original recipe: about 2½ cups (350 g) all purpose flour)
30 g ground flaxseeds
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt 
The Filling:
¾ cup (200 g) tahini
¾ cup (170 g) raw cane sugar, ground

The Topping: Unhulled sesame seeds (original recipe: none)

Directions for the stand mixer:
In a small bowl, sift the flours together.
In the bowl of the stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water.
Stir in one cup of the flour mixture, then add the sugar and the oil and knead with the paddle attachment.
Remove the paddle attachment and install the dough hook.
Incorporate the rest of the flour mixture and the ground flaxseeds and knead for about 2 minutes.
Then add the salt and go on kneading for another 8 minutes (if after 8 minutes the dough is still too sticky, add some more flour, a little at a time and knead until smooth).
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 to 3 hours, until doubled in volume.
Meanwhile, place a baking stone (or unglazed quarry tiles, or a baking sheet) on the middle oven rack and preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
While you are waiting for the dough to proof, prepare the FILLING:
Mix together the tahini and the sugar, stir until smooth

Pour the dough onto a well-floured surface, fold it a couple of times and form a ball. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces, divide the tahini mixture into 6 equal portions and work with 3 pieces of dough at a time, keeping the other 3 covered.
Firstly flatten each out on a lightly floured surface and then roll each out to a rectangle of about 5x10 inches (12 x 26 cm).
Spread the top surface with 1/6 of the filling mixture, spreading it almost to the edges (I could not spread it out as it would tear my dough apart; so I dropped some “small chunks” all over).
Roll up the rectangle from a long side into a cylinder, which will stretch as you roll to about 20 inches (50 cm) long.
(At this point I’ve brushed the rolled dough with water as I was afraid the flour around it would prevent the dough from adhering properly).
Anchor one end and coil the bread around itself (like a snail), then tuck the end in.
Sprinkle with some unhulled sesame seeds and flatten with the palm of your hand, then set aside, covered, while you fill and shape the other 2 rectangles.
Return to the first coil and roll out gently with a rolling pin, then roll the other 2 out a little and then return to the first one and roll it out a little more thinly, and so on, until you have rolled each to a round about 6 to 7 inches in diameter.
A little filling may leak out—don’t worry, just leave it.

Place the first 3 swirls on the hot baking stone or tiles (or baking sheet) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and flaky (I’ve lined my baking stone with parchment paper as I was afraid the sugar filling that was visible on the swirls base would glue them to the stone. The parchment paper did a great job!)
Transfer to a rack to cool and shape and bake the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
They really had good swirling going on inside despite the flattening!

Natashya's kind advice: The swirls should end up like puffy pita. If they are very thin they will be crispy, if they are not rolled enough, they will puff up like cinnamon rolls. We are striving for a flatbread pastry that puffs a little. Try them a couple of times, experiment. They are fun to bake.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BBB - Carrot Bread

Hellooooooo COLOR!

Shook off that rotten flu to make this bread at the last second so I could be a BBBuddy this month!  I think the color of the dough is just amazing.  Now it may have had something to do with the fact that I juiced a couple of carrots for the juice called for in the recipe and decided the pulp was just the perfect amount to use for the grated carrots as well.  That leaves a super fine pulp compared to a hand grater even on the fine blade.  So it kind of blended all in.  I am tempted to make french toast out of this bread, I think it would be interesting.  The host kitchen was girlichef this month and go check out her gorgeous loaves with that crackle glaze!  I chickened out on the Dutch crunch topping.  I've had something like it once and just didn't like the texture or mouthfeel.  One of these days I will have to try it just so I can be sure though.  ☺  After seeing one of the babes use an eggwash which totally enhanced that gorgeous color, I decided to go that route.  This is a plan ahead recipe as the poolish requires day in advance prep.  Unless of course you spike it with sourdough, which loves rye flour, and it totally goes bonkers and overflows within hours... twice.


(Oops, bumped its poor little head when I took its temperature...)  Here is the recipe as published on the host kitchen's website, including a cool little note on knock-back at the end. 

Carrot Bread 
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 28 hours (mostly unattended)
Cook Time: 45 minutes
makes (3 loaves)

    ¾ sp active dry yeast
    1 cup lukewarm water + more as needed
    2½ cups (13 oz / 364 g) stone ground rye flour

    1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
    ¾ cup toasted sunflower seeds
    2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
    1 cup carrot juice, lukewarm
    1¼ cups grated carrot
    ½ cup chopped parsley
    6-6½ cups (29.4-31.8 oz / 823.2-890.4 g) bread flour
    2 tbsp + 1 tsp golden syrup (or honey or maple syrup)
    ¼ cup sunflower oil
    4 tsp sea salt

Crackle Glaze:

    1 tsp active dry yeast
    ¾ cup + 2 tbsp lukewarm water
    ¾ cup + 1¼ tablespoons (4.7 oz / 131.6 g) rice flour
    2 tsp sugar
    1¾ teaspoons sunflower oil
    ¾ teaspoons sea salt

Day 1: Make the Poolish
Dissolve the yeast in the water, and let sit a few minutes to bloom. Whisk in the flour until smooth - if it is very thick, continue whisking in more water until it is the consistency of a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours; at this point it should be a bit bubbly.

Day 2: Baking Day
In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment), dissolve the yeast in the carrot juice, let sit a few minutes until it looks creamy (bloomed). Add the grated carrot, parsley, the lesser amount of bread flour, golden syrup, and the poolish to the bowl. Knead on low speed for 3 minutes. If the dough doesn't seem too sticky, then don't add any more of the flour; it will firm up as it is kneaded (plus you have more to add to it).

Add the oil to the bowl and knead for another 8 minutes. Add the salt, increase the speed, and knead until elastic, about 7 more minutes. At this point, the dough will not be sticky any longer. Use the extra flour, a tiny bit at a time, to remedy the dough if it is. Add the toasted seeds, and gently mix in.

Place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl or container and cover. Let sit for 60-90 minutes, *knocking the dough back halfway through. To knock the dough back, remove it from the bowl and set it on a work surface. Use your hands to knock the air out of it. Fold the edges towards the center to form a cushion. Replace in the container, seam side down.

Crackling Glaze:
While the dough is rising, dissolve the yeast in the water in a medium bowl. Whisk in the remaining ingredients. It should be spreadable, but not runny. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before using.

shaping and baking:
Turn the dough out onto a lighty floured work surface and divide into 3 equal parts (approximately 78 ounces of dough to equal three 26 ounce portions).

Form the portions into three round balls, and cover them with a clean tea towel. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Shape each circle of dough into an oblong loaf, by gently pressing ball down into a circle and then tucking/rolling into shape. Set loaves, seam side down, onto a lightly floured bread peel or thin cutting board. Glaze the loaves generously with the crackling glaze (you'll have a lot of leftover glaze), and leave to rise at room temperature for 60-75 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size and the the surface is crackled.

Place a baking stone into the oven, and preheat to 475° F during last 20 minutes or so of rise time.
Slide the loaves onto the stone (let them rise directly on a baking sheet or two if you don't have a stone - slide that into preheated oven) and spray generously with water. Close oven door. Lower the temperature to 400° F after 5 minutes. After another 10 minutes, open the oven door to let in a little air. Repeat two more times (every 10 minutes). Total baking time will be 45 minutes.

Remove bread from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Host kitchen notes:
These loaves are fantastic sliced up and shared in a bread basket, or served alongside a soup and salad. They also make great toast (slathered with salted butter) and sandwiches. My breakfast for a week was thickly sliced piece of toasted Carrot Bread, with salted butter, a thin slice of smoked ham, and a few shards of strong cheese.

*On "Knocking Back":
Knocking back is normally done only with wheat doughs. Acetic acid is formed between 36° F and 75° F, which slows down the fermenting process. Knocking the air out evaporates most of the acetic acid, but what remains together with the softer lactic acid forms that great aromatic smell. The traditional cushion shape makes the dough more pliable, and the temperature ensures stability and provides the yeast cells with new nourishment. The removal of carbon dioxide from the dough flavors fermenting, the yeast propagates, the gas bubbles increase in number and the dough rises more quickly. By knocking back the bread you get a larger bread, which is easier to handle and which has a better and more elastic interior. (source: Artisan Breads by Jan Hedh)

adapted from Artisan Breads: Practical Recipes and Detailed Instructions for Baking the World's Finest Loaves by Jan Hedh

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pumpkin butter and Easy Pumpkin Puree

The first time I made homemade puree with a pie pumpkin, I did the whole cutting and cleaning out of the pumpkin thing before roasting.  Well I'm here to tell you that that's not necessary.  Just cut the sucker in half and stick it on a pan to roast.  Rub it with oil if you like.  When it's done it is so easy to gently scoop the stringy guts and seeds out, and the flesh practically falls out of the skin.

To Roast a Pie Pumpkin

1. Get a pie pumpkin...  ☺

2. Cut it in half.

3. Place cut side down on a baking sheet.

4. Oil skin lightly, if desired.

5. Bake for about an hour at 350ºF, until flesh is soft and skin depresses when touched.  Skin will also sink a bit on cooling.

6. Allow to cool.

7. Scoop out guts and seeds.

8. Scoop flesh into a bowl, blender or food processor.  Add the skin if desired for color and nutritional value.  (There are skins in canned pumpkin from the store.)

9. Puree with a high powered blender if adding skins, or stick blender or food processor.

10. You may cook down your puree a bit in a saucepan to remove moisture if wanted.

Pumpkin Butter
makes up to a pint depending on your pumpkin size

puree from one pie pumpkin
¾ cup light brown muscovado sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp fresh grated ginger
pinch of fresh nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low to medium low heat.  Simmer for about 30 minutes up to an hour until the mixture is thickened to your liking.

Note that while pumpkin butter should last a couple weeks or more in the fridge, pumpkin puree will only last a few days.  Use it or freeze it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Expanding lunchbox options - The Apple Sandwich

I have been lax of late regarding sandwich bread.  I just haven't been making it and really don't care to buy it.  So I have been poring through websites, cookbooks and Pinterest trying to find ideas for lunch that do not require bread.  I don't always have soup on hand, and I've decided that S is not really ready for soup in her lunchbox yet.  She just eats too slowly.  She would prefer the soup for breakfast actually, and that's what she had this morning.  Lucky kid that can withstand the call of sugar and carbs; I set down a piece of cinnamon toast in front of her from the Sûkerbôlle from this weekend and she actually started crying.  She wanted "squishy eggs" instead.  (That's poached eggs.)  Good thing they only take about seven minutes to both heat up the water and cook.

At any rate, Pinterest and blogs are a good way to get new ideas.  I've seen many versions of this pretty looking "sandwich" on Pinterest.  I don't know who came up with it first but I thought I'd try it out.  You can add granola if you want some crunch or starches.  I still have a bit of banana bread left and it is great for sending in lunches.  Lately I have introduced the girls to "ants on a log" which they wholeheartedly embraced once I decided to use mini chocolate chips as the ants.  Big surprise there.  I hope this goes over well because it is really pretty and it should taste just smashing.  I decided to add dried cranberries to the mix.  Those would probably be great on the original ants on a log as well.  They are super easy and I will tell you how I assembled mine.  Use your imagination and favorite toppings!

S LOVED her apple sandwich and ate the whole thing at lunch, to the exclusion of everything else.  But she finished the rest after school.  ☺ 

The Apple Sammy
makes 1 serving

1 apple
your choice of nut or seed butters
mini chocolate chips
dried cranberries or raisins
granola (optional)

lemon juice

Slice your apple into rings approximately ¼" in diameter.

Using a small cookie cutter or paring knife, remove the core area.  (You can get cute here and use a mini heart or star or whatever shape cookie cutter - I just used the little 1" removable center circle from my biscuit cutter.)

Fill a bowl or glass measuring cup with a little water and a couple splashes of lemon juice and dunk the apples slices to prevent browning.

Lay the slices on a paper towel to dry and assemble.

Spread half the slices with your preferred nut/seed butter.

Place the dried cranberries or raisins around the ring and then sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.  Add granola too if desired.

Sandwich the plain slices on top of the spread slices.  One large apples should yield two to three sandwiches plus apple snackies, depending on how thick you slice.

You could drizzle these with honey at home for a special treat!

This post is linked up to:
Healthy2Day Wednesday {123}
at Whole Intentions

Monday, September 30, 2013

Catching up - Sûkerbôlle

I've had fun doing the BBB challenges for the past three years.  But there are a couple previous years that I missed out on.  One of the buddies had the idea of going back and catching up on those recipes.  She will be hosting these catch-up sessions and chose Frisian Sugar Bread for this month's recipe.  The original recipe was baked by the Babes in 2008.  I love cinnamon swirl bread and this is very similar.  Just a wee bit more sugar!  I made just a few tweaks.  Like Sweet and That's it, I made a swirl loaf instead of folding in the sugar grains.  I think I have seen the grains at cake shops, but it's not something I would use on a regular basis.  I also sprinkled crystallized ginger chips on the filling before rolling up.  I do love ginger but I didn't have or make the special ginger syrup, I used powdered ginger and honey.  It baked up gorgeous, but next time I would either cut back on the sugar a bit more and not dampen it, or stick a cookie sheet under my loaf because it boiled over something fierce!  Ah, the smell of burnt sugar.  ☺  I did catch the next two spills out the corner with a sheet.  I'll clean up the first spill when the oven cools down.

Oh, I LOVE what the ginger does for it.  Great version of cinnamon swirl bread; nice and soft and flavorful.


makes 1 loaf

25 g fresh yeast (I used 2 tsp instant yeast)
3 tbsp (45 ml) ginger-syrup (click here to see how easy it is to make it at home) (I used honey + ginger spice)
155 ml lukewarm milk (milk + gingersyrup = 200 ml) (Scald the milk)
500 g all purpose flour (300 g light spelt + 200 g all purpose)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten at room temperature
75 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled down (I just used 70g)
10 g salt (~ 2 tsp)

For the Filling:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
150 grams sugar grains (slightly less sucanat + crystallized ginger chips)

For the top:
Milk for brushing the loaf (or eggwash)
Granulated sugar (or sugar in grain)

Butter a loaf pan.  (I used a 9x5" pan.)  Combine the dough ingredients and knead my hand or machine for 8-10 minutes to get a smooth dough.  Cover and let rise for about an hour until doubled.  (Mine took almost two since I used a little less yeast.)  Turn out the dough onto a board or cloth and fold twice.  Roll it out into a rectangle.  It may need to rest a few minutes between rolls so that it doesn't spring back.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar (and ginger chips) to within an inch of the edges.  Press into the dough.

Roll up from short end and pinch seam closed.  Place seam side down in the prepared pan.  If desired, brush top with milk or egg wash and sprinkle with sugar or pearl sugar grains.  Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Cover loaf and let rise for another 30-40 minutes until the dough springs back but leaves a light indentation when pressed lightly.  Put a small ramekin of water to create steam and help the loaf rise longer.  Bake for about 30 minutes until done.  Turn down to 350º for the last 10 minutes if the loaf is browning too much and/or cover with foil or parchment.  (I turned down.)  Take the loaf out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.  Do this while the sugar is still hot or your beautiful loaf will stick in the pan forever well, you get the idea.  Slice when completely cool.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

BBB - Crunchy Crackers

My Kitchen in Half Cups chose a crunchy, seeded whole grain cracker for this month's BBB challenge. I am a bad buddy and a bit late, but the kids are snack hounds so I am making them anyway. I agree with Tanna, I usually have great luck with King Arthur recipes and I do love their flour. This time though, I went with light spelt and sprouted spelt for my flours and I observed something new. Usually with spelt, if you mix your dough and keep on kneading, the gluten will break down and you will get dough soup. So I just mixed the dough in my kitchen-aid with the paddle until the dough cleaned the sides and then stopped. It was kind of like a firm cookie dough at that point. Then I walked away for just a couple minutes to measure out the seeds to add to the dough. When I went to mix them in, the dough had firmed up significantly and was behaving like a bread dough. I had no trouble kneading in the seeds and I wasn't really afraid of over kneading the spelt gluten either. I will have to experiment with rest periods when using my spelt to see if that enhances the results and protects the gluten. Giving it the chance to hydrate and strengthen without breaking down will be cool if the theory holds true! I rolled these crackers as thin as the seeds would permit. They do puff a bit with the yeast so they won't be super thin, but still super crunchy! I didn't weigh out my topping seeds, just sprinkled them how I liked. I also took a cue from another baker and tried eating them with Boursin... AWESOME!!

Crunchy Crackers
makes 2 cookie sheets worth

198 to 227g lukewarm water (I used about 200g)
170 g whole wheat flour (I used sprouted spelt)
120 g whole spelt flour (I used light spelt)
2 tablespoons sugar (coconut sugar)
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
30 g whole ground flax
14 g sesame seeds (half sesame, half golden flax)
71 g sunflower seeds, midget preferred
28 g sesame seeds
28 g whole flax seeds, golden preferred
sea salt or your favorite flavored salt, if desired
(plus some poppy seeds for color) 

1) To make the dough: Mix and knead together all of the cracker ingredients (except the topping seeds) to a smooth, fairly stiff dough. Add 1-2 more tablespoons of water if the dough is dry.

2) Knead in the seeds.

3) Let the dough rise, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, until it's expanded a bit.
(Mine doubled in around 90 minutes.)

4) Divide the dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, roll it into a rectangle approximately 30 x 23 cm, a generous 3 mm thick. This will probably require you to roll the dough until it fights back; give it a 10-minute rest, then come back and roll some more. It may need two rest periods to allow you to roll it thin enough. (Mine rolled out quite easily.)

5) For easiest handling, turn the dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Spritz the dough with water. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the topping seeds, lay a piece of parchment on top, and press the seeds in with a rolling pin. Turn the dough over, peel off the parchment, and repeat. Set the seeded crackers on a baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining piece of dough.

6) If you don't have parchment, roll on a rolling mat or on a very lightly floured or lightly greased work surface; and transfer the seeded crackers to a lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle each sheet of crackers with some sea salt or flavored salt, if desired. Crush the sea salt between your fingers or grind it in a salt mill if it's very coarse.

7) Prick the dough over with a fork, and cut it into rectangles, whatever size you like. Pull the crackers apart just a bit; you don't need to separate them completely. Let the crackers rise for 30 to 45 minutes. while you preheat your oven to 350°F/180ºC; they'll get just a bit puffy.

8) Bake for 20 minutes, until the crackers are a medium brown. Turn off the heat, wait 15 minutes, then open the oven door a couple of inches and let the crackers cool completely in the turned-off oven. When they're completely cool, break apart, if necessary, and store airtight.

(Recipe by: KAF)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lucille Schuyler’s Sticky Buns

Loved by generations of school kids, Lucille Schuyler's sticky buns were the stuff of legends.  Even the principal used to sneak one or two (possibly more) in the mornings when they were on the menu.  They were veritable cafeteria currency.  You could get a lot with a sticky bun, food as well as other cool contraband and fad items of the day.  Nobody was sick on sticky bun day.  If they were, they were pitied.  Mrs. Schuyler was one of those lunch ladies that feed everyone like they were family.  I can't really think of a single school lunch I didn't like.  Well, that pile of canned spinach wasn't the greatest.  But the entrees were good and comforting.  She made the best hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes.  And I fondly remember the school PB sandwiches.  I can't remember what they were served with, but I've looked up what could have been in them.  Peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar.  No wonder they were good.  I had have a serious sweet tooth.  And truth be told, you need one for these buns.  These are not sticky cinnamon rolls, or pecan rolls.  They are simply buttery, sugary sticky buns.  Honey and butter and brown sugar caramel stickiness.  R loved them and had two.  Probably spoiled her dinner...   They may be too sweet for S.  Lucky girl.  But for me, they serve as a reminder and memorial of a special lady.  I wish my kids could have enjoyed hot school lunches of that quality.  I'll do my best to fill in though.  ☺

Lucille Schuyler’s Sticky Buns
As published in Heavenly Recipes Cookbook by Immanuel Lutheran Church Women
Makes 3 pans of 9 buns

5 to 6 c. unsifted flour (I used part all purpose and part light spelt)
½ c. sugar
1¼ tsp. salt
¾ c. warm milk
2 pkg. yeast
½ c. warm water
½ c. margarine (I used butter.  She'd understand.)
3 eggs

¾ c. margarine (butter)
¾ c. honey
1 ½ c. brown sugar (light brown muscovado)

Melt ¾ c margarine butter.  Add honey and beat thoroughly.  Stir in brown sugar.  Divide mixture among three 9 inch square pans, or the equivalent.

Mix 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, warm milk, yeast dissolved in ½ c. warm water, margarine, and eggs.  Beat 4 minutes at medium speed with mixer.  Remove and stir in enough of the rest of flour to make a soft dough.  Place in a greased bowl, turn to grease top.  Cover; let rise until double, about 45 minutes.  Punch down and turn out onto a lightly floured board.  Divide into 3 pieces.  Roll out to about 9x5 inches.  (I did about a 20x10 rectangle for a half batch.)  Spread each piece with about 2 tbsp margarine butter.  Sprinkle with a nice coating of granulated sugar.  Roll up into a long roll; cut into 9 pieces.  Arrange on prepared pans, let rise about 30 minutes or till double.  Bake at 375º for 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool in pan 5 minutes then pour out on a plate.

Be sure to invert them while the syrup is still warm.  Otherwise you will have to gently heat the bottom of the pan over a burner to soften the syrup and get them to release.

Thanks Mrs. Schuyler.  These are in memory of you.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think I've found my forever favorite chocolate chip cookie.  And I've probably tried dozens of recipes over the years.  I love the soft and chewy "Toll-house" style cookies you can get fresh at certain fast food places, but not all the additives.  So I don't get them very often.  Well, thanks to a bake sale this weekend where I signed up to bring lots of goodies, I tried a new cookie adaptation.  And I LOVE it!  Soft, chewy and tender and awesomely delicious with brown butter.  Hubby just came home and tried one.  He nodded and ate, and nodded, and mmmhmmm'd and made happy sounds.  ☺  These would probably make an excellent bar cookie as well.  Speaking of bake sales, have you ever seen this way to protect cupcakes while on display?

Worked pretty well!  They are just the little punch cups available at party, dollar, and grocery stores.  I used a pair of salad tongs to place the cupcakes flat in the cups without messing up the icing.  I also made a batch of Iced Oatmeal Cookies as well as the following chocolate chippers.  Plan ahead, this dough needs to chill overnight.

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 2 dozen

¾ cup butter
¾ cup light brown muscovado sugar, lightly packed
½ cup evaporated cane sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
½ tsp baking soda
1/16 tsp cinnamon
2¼ cups light spelt flour
¾ cup mini chocolate chips (Use a full cup for regular sized chips)

In a pot over medium-low heat, cook and stir the butter until it turns golden brown.  (It will foam twice and brown during the second foam which will be clear bubbles vs white foam.)  Watch it carefully to prevent burning.  Transfer it to a medium mixing bowl to cool slightly.  Add sugars and mix until there are no lumps of brown sugar.  Add vanilla and mix.  Beat in egg and yolk with a wooden spoon until the batter has lightened somewhat.  Mix together the flour, soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl to combine.  Add to the batter in a few additions and gently stir in with the wooden spoon.  Stir/fold in the chocolate chips.  

Cover and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, preheat the oven to just under 350ºF and form the dough into 2 tbsp balls of dough.  You can roll them with your hands, the dough will be pretty firm.  Place about three inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are just golden brown and the center is no longer shiny.  Don't overbake.  Cool for a minute on the sheet before removing to a rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Brown Butter Maple Blondies

This recipe is the result of wanting to recreate a totally amazing blondie that I make often, but without the need for a trek to Trader Joe's for the secret ingredient.  (That would be their cream filled maple leaf sandwich cookies, to be exact.)  Those bars have been described as crack blondies.  I have people look at me in disbelief and horror (sometimes a glare), if I have not brought them to a function.  They were even requested at the wedding reception of a friend.  Even my mom, who normally is not big into sweets, couldn't stay out of these last weekend.  I can't take credit for the original recipe, but here are the tweaks I made to it so that I don't have to make a special trip every time I whip up a batch.  I know pure maple sugar may not be readily available in all grocery stores, but once you have a bag a little goes a long way.  (Which is nice considering the price of it.)  Normally I like pecans, but in this case the bitterness of the walnuts is a nice contrast to the rich sweetness of the blondie.  I think they turn out just as good this way, but the next time we have a get together with the friends that crave them I will have to do an official taste test to confirm if they go over as well.  ☺

Brown Butter Maple Blondies
makes a 9x13" pan
slightly modified from Heavenly Blondies

1 cup unsalted butter
2¼ cups flour (2½ cups light spelt)
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp sea salt
2 cups light brown muscovado sugar, lightly packed
3 large eggs
2½ tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional, "crispy"/sprouted are best

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

In a pot over medium-low heat, cook and stir the butter until it turns golden brown.  (It will foam twice and brown during the second foam which will be clear bubbles vs white foam.)  Watch it carefully to prevent burning.  Transfer it to a mixing bowl to cool slightly.

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the sugars with the butter until there are no lumps of sugar.  Add the eggs to combine, then mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  About 3-4 minutes.  Mix in vanilla.

Add the flour mixture and stir in just until combined.  Fold in the walnuts.

Turn the batter into the lined pan and smooth into corners with a spatula.  Bake until just golden and lightly browned, about 25-30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Loosen the ends with a knife and use the parchment to lift out the bars.  Cut into desired size squares.

They will store at room temperature for a few days and freeze well.  But they probably won't make it to the freezer.  Or the third day.  ☺

Sunday, August 25, 2013

BBB - Cinnamon Nut Roll Coffee Cake

I put off making this month's buddy bread until we had company coming, so they could help eat all the scrumptiousness that is this recipe.  This awesome looking brioche coffee cake is supposed to be stirred together the night before and retarded in the fridge until morning to come together.  That's right, this beauty is no-knead.  But me being me, I couldn't follow it as written the first time.  I had to make some adjustments.

First for ingredients: I cut back on the butter by half a stick (¼ cup) since I was using whole milk.  I also used milk instead of the water since I use instant yeast and I definitely scalded the milk first.  And instead of four egg yolks, I used two yolks and one whole duck egg.  Since I had company I reversed the timing for the refrigeration.  Instead of mixing up the dough and leaving it to autolyse overnight, I let it sit at room temperature for about four hours and did a few folds every hour.  Wow, that dough was happy and fluffy by the last fold.  It rolled out like a dream, I filled it, formed it, covered it, and into the fridge it went.

The only hitch the next morning was that it was taking too long to come to room temperature.  (Good thing they get up early and took it out at 6:50am.)  But by 8am my folks didn't want to wait any longer to bake it so it went into the oven cold.  I sprayed and steamed it a bit so it wouldn't set so early and it still came out beautiful, but it would have risen at least half again as much if it had gone in warmer.

Still, it was fabulous and they laughed at my grumpiness for not having the total perfection I wanted.  The only change I would make again would be to bump up the salt to a full teaspoon.  I made my ¾ tsp generous because I felt like it wanted more, but we also like to slather good salted butter on our pastries.  I use celtic sea salt and I think it has more flavor but less saltiness than the refined sodium chloride of table salt.  So I tend to be generous with it in all my recipes.
I loved reading all the BBB's posts on this recipe, but loved in particular the host kitchen write up at Life's A Feast.  I don't care if you're Martha, we can all relate to things in the kitchen not going the way we expect or plan!  Here is the recipe to try out, as written in the host kitchen's post with  my changes in red.  It's pretty easy considering the no knead factor!  I sent some leftovers home with my folks and they will put them in the toaster oven and enjoy warm with butter.  Yum! 

Adapted from Taste of Home Bakeshop Favorites.

* Note that the dough rests in the refrigerator over night, so start the process the day before! If you are using European regular flour, start the basic dough with 3 cups (390 g) flour; if using American all-purpose flour, begin with 2 ½ cups (325 g) then add more as needed the second day when kneading the dough before rolling. I have given the original filling recipe as well as my own adjustments and changes below it.

You will need a stand mixer or beaters to whip egg whites for the meringue filling and a 10-inch (standard) tube pan, preferably with a removable center.

For the dough:

2 packages (1/4 ounce/7 g each) active dry yeast I used 3 tsp instant yeast
¼ cup (@ 65 ml) warm water (110°F to 115°F) changed this to milk and added to rest of milk
16 Tbs (225 g) unsalted butter, melted 12 tbsp
½ cup (125 ml) warm 2% fat/lowfat milk (110°F to 115°F) whole milk, scalded
4 egg yolks 2 yolks plus one extra large egg
2 Tbs sugar
¾ tsp salt would use 1 tsp next time
2 ½ cups (325 g*) all-purpose flour (if using European regular flour, increase total flour to 3 cups/390 g), more if the dough is too sticky or runny.  I used half spelt and half all purpose and definitely needed the full 3 cups.

* when I measure flour I spoon lightly into the measuring cup and then level off so 1 cup usually weigh approximately 130 g: * see note above.

For the filling: (*see note above)

3 (90 g) large egg whites 3 medium
1 cup + 3 Tbs sugar, divided 2/3 plus 2 tbsp as suggested by host kitchen
2 cups ground walnuts I used pecans, might use a bit less next time
2 Tbs 2% fat/lowfat milk whole milk
2 tsps ground cinnamon


2 – 3 large egg whites for a total of 2.65 oz (75 g)
2/3 cup (135 g) sugar + 2 Tbs (30 g) sugar
4.4 oz (125 g) ground hazelnuts or almonds
1 – 2 tsps ground cinnamon
2 Tbs 2% fat/lowfat milk
A bit of milk for brushing the top and the seams of the cake and slivered blanched almonds for dusting, optional but pretty I used a bit of icing drizzle too

The day before, prepare the dough:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water; allow to activate for 10 – 15 minutes until foamy. Whisk in the tepid melted butter, warm milk, eggs yolks, sugar and salt and then stir in the flour. Beat or stir until smooth – the mixture will be sticky. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The day of baking, prepare the filling:

In a small bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1 cup (or 2/3 cup following my changes) sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, on high speed until the sugar is incorporated and dissolved, leaving a thick, glossy meringue.

In a large bowl, combine the ground nuts, cinnamon and remaining sugar then stir in the milk until the dry ingredients are all moistened; fold in the meringue.

Prepare the Coffee Cake:

Grease/butter the bottom, sides and center tube of a 10-inch tube pan.

Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured work surface, roll each portion into an 18 x 12 –inch (45 x 30 cm) rectangle with the longer side perpendicular to your body (the longer edge lying on the cutting board left to right). Spread half of the filling evenly over each rectangle within 1/2 –inch (1 cm) of the edges. Lightly brush the farthest, top edge with milk. Roll each up jellyroll style, as tightly as possible, starting with the long side closest to you and rolling up; pinch seam to seal.

Place one filled roll, seam side up, in the greased tube pan. Pinch the two open ends together. Place the second roll, seam side down on top of the first roll, again pinching and sealing the two open ends. Gently brush the top all over with a bit of milk and dust with some slivered almonds.

Cover the pan with plastic and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Once the coffee cake has risen, discard the plastic wrap and once again gently brush or dab the top surface all over with a bit of milk and add more slivered almonds where there are spaces.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, loosen the coffee cake from the sides of the pan and lift out the center tube, placing the tube with the cake onto the rack to cool completely. Once cool enough to handle, loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan and around the tube using a long, thin blade and carefully invert, lift off the tube and flip back, top side up, onto a serving platter. Or lift off of the tube onto the serving platter.