March 30, 2010

behold the power of lemon

It's on. Welcome to the Battle of the Buns. The Rumble of the Rolls. The Ultimate Cinnamon Skirmish.

Hypnotic.
I've decided to take it upon myself to experiment with different cinnamon roll recipes, mixing and matching and melding and meshing until I find the one that pleases me most.

The rolls I picked as my starting point come from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and you can find the original recipe on any number of sites around the web. I was (perhaps mistakenly) impressed by the oddly specific amounts of certain ingredients--6 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, for example. Would half of a tablespoon of sugar make that much difference? Clearly Mr. Reinhart and his crew had done some thorough recipe work. Not a bad way to earn a living, eh?

A lack of cinnamon in cinnamon rolls is a crime against humanity.
Even though I hadn't tested it in its untouched form, I decided to make some changes anyway based on things I had read in various posts:

*I added half a box of instant vanilla pudding mix to the dough, as it has proven to provide mucho moistness.
*I used brown sugar, much more cinnamon, and butter in the filling. More butter is better--that's a rule, right?
*Due to a woeful lack of cream cheese, I used ol' Pete's white fondant glaze (sans lemon extract) on top.


So, what did I think about these? On the upside, the dough was a breeze to handle. However...[brace yourself for Negative Nelly]...the bready part was more cake-like than anything else (perhaps that pudding mix didn't have the desired effect), and the lemon flavor dominated. Thank heavens I didn't add lemon extract to the glaze as Mr Reinhart suggested. There was nowhere near enough cinnamon in the filling--it didn't stand a chance to be tasted against that pesky lemon. Also, the brown sugar probably wasn't as conducive to carrying that spice of all spices into the sense receptors. Finally, and most tragically, the glaze was entirely too sweet and I ended up scraping most of it off.

Just say no to fondant glaze.
I know I've made it sound like these were dreadful, but that's not true--they're a tasty treat to be sure. Further, I learned several things about the process and about the components I must include (more cinnamon!), omit (lemon!), and replace (fondant glaze!). All in all, I found them enjoyable, but I can't in good conscience call them cinnamon rolls.

Rolls of Lemon Cake with a Hint of Cinnamon
Makes 8-12 large or 12-16 smaller buns

Dough:
6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 3.4-oz box instant vanilla pudding
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature

Filling:
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Prepare dough:
In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, salt, and softened butter. Whip in the egg and lemon extract until smooth. Then add the flour, vanilla pudding mix, yeast, and milk and mix until the dough forms a ball. Plop out onto a floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, or until the dough is tacky but not sticky. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to cover it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Shape rolls:
Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour. Roll it into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Slather the softened butter all over the dough and sprinkle the cinnamon and brown sugar evenly over that. Roll the dough up into a log, creating a tight spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces, each about 1-3/4 inches thick for larger buns; or 12 to 16 pieces each 1-1/4 inches thick for smaller buns.
Line one or more sheet pans with baking parchment or grease with cooking spray. Place the buns on the pan(s) approximately 1/2 inch apart.
Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size.

Bake rolls:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Bake the buns for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes, and then glaze the tops.

Prepare glaze:
Stir the ingredients together and add milk as needed to obtain desired consistency.

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March 26, 2010

my perfect pairing

If you were to scroll through my posts featuring recipes using apples, you'd find that an ever-present ingredient is cinnamon.

It is your density.
Indeed, I find the combination of apples and cinnamon to be a powerful temptation in all forms--cookies, cakes, pies, breads, donuts, sauces, and on it goes. If apples are involved, then by golly, there had better be cinnamon!

Now that I've professed my love for all things apple-cinnamon, let's talk about this coffee cake. There aren't many recipes out there that specifically call for cinnamon chips, but this is one. (That's not to say that one couldn't replace any type of baking chips with cinnamon chips in any recipe, of course. One could. And should.) It's a triple threat--apple butter (my batch obviously contained cinnamon), straight cinnamon, and cinnamon chips are all involved and, in my opinion, essential.

Treasure trove!
This corner exhibits what I find to be the perfect bite--lots of chippage,
a little glaze, and some nuts to boot.


There's not a thing wrong with this cake. It's moist and dense and properly sweet, thanks in part to a little powdered sugar glaze. There's a subtle hint of maple, and the cinnamon chips and walnuts are nicely scattered throughout, making each forkful a pleasant experience.

Cinnamon-Lover's Coffee Cake
(three cheers for Hershey's Kitchens! my cake is based on their recipe)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1 cup apple butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups (10-oz package) cinnamon chips
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 13x9-inch baking pan or a 12-cup fluted tube pan.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together with a mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, extracts, and apple butter. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in the cinnamon chips and walnuts and spread into the prepared pan.
Bake 30-35 minutes for a 13x9-inch pan or 45-50 minutes for a tube pan or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Drizzle with a glaze (made from combining 1 cup of powdered sugar with 1-2 tablespoons of milk) or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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March 22, 2010

get ova it

How many recipes for banana bread do you think are in existence? I hypothesize that there are no less than 82,926.

Fiercely fruity.
Some recipes are generous with the banana mush, some are skimpy. Some use nuts, some use chocolate, some use caramel, some use dried fruit. Some use special flours and some are eggless. And on it goes.

I recently tried two of those 82,926 recipes, one out of curiosity and one out of necessity.

Batch #1 was made from a recipe that had been reviewed by almost 5000 cooks, nearly all of whom gave it a five-star rating. Clearly, I needed to see what all the fuss was about.

Fault line.
Yes, it's a tasty banana bread, but the beauty lies in its simplicity. Ten ingredients (I added cinnamon, walnuts, and raisins) come together in no time flat--the most tedious part is waiting for it to bake.

Batch #2 was made in exactly the same way, but with one glaring difference. Halfway through the process, I discovered that I had no eggs, so I improvised. According to the worldwide spider's nest, there are many, many substitutions for an egg. I picked a flax seed-water combination mostly because I had sincere doubts that it could replicate the function of the egg.

Fragrant and flavorful.
I was right. This batch was much, much, much more flat and dense. Still tasty, of course, but without the desirable fluffy quality of batch #1.

Two down, 82,924 to go.

Last year at this time, I was feasting on some Aloha Dollies. Talk about your fond memories...

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March 18, 2010

entrees: the final frontier

If you pop by my little space on the interwebnets, you know how passionately I feel about cinnamon. That glorious little spice is probably present in 90% of my recipes, which isn't really that obsessive a big deal when you consider that most of them are for baked goods.

How 'bout them bowls?

Well, folks, I'm branching out.

I've always been intrigued by the flavors of Moroccan cuisine, with the use of sweet, plump raisins and fragrant cinnamon in an entree being particularly appealing. Toss in a few more of my favorite ingredients--chicken, chickpeas, and cilantro--and we're well on our way to a new but exciting taste experience! Why did I wait so long to try this out? Heaven only knows.

This stew was quite simple to put together--as is often the case, the hardest part was waiting. I don't own a tagine, the traditional piece of kitchen equipment in which to prepare a dish like this, but I think the good ol' Dutch oven worked just fine.

In addition to being easy, my Moroccan meal was really packed with complimentary and delicious flavors. A choice spoonful for this gal would contain a chunk of meaty chicken, two swollen and juicy raisins, two nutty chickpeas, some verdant cilantro, a glob of tangy tomato, and enough rich broth to send that cinnamon aroma straight up your nose. Yeah...I broke out the big spoon for this supper.

Now that I've used cinnamon in a main dish, there'll be no looking back. Resistance is futile.

Moroccan Melange
(pieced together from multiple sources)

1 onion, chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
2 cups whole tomatoes, broken up, with their juices
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onions in oil until they become soft, around 8 to10 minutes. Add the chicken, tomatoes, beans, raisins, broth, lemon juice, and spices and cook covered in the oven for at least 2 hours (but longer is better). Be careful not to let the stew dry out!
Before serving, adjust seasonings and top with cilantro.

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March 14, 2010

revenge of the nerds

I like pie. Fruity or creamy, sweet or savory--there are only a few exceptions (such as pumpkin, citrus, or anything bearing meringue). I'm also a math geek, so it makes perfect sense that I get excited about Pi Day.

A beauty shot before the eaters got hold of it.
Although the filling of a pie does indeed matter to me, the crust is of far greater importance. I think Barbara of Moveable Feasts put it quite nicely in her post about a lemon tart: "As far as I'm concerned if the crust is no good, I'm not wasting the calories." Right on.

Hello, lovah.
Last year, I almost missed Pi Day but was able to toss together some pecan pie muffins. This year, I was ready and I made a classic apple pie to celebrate. Yes, I could wax poetic about the benefits of using multiple varieties of apples based on their differing textures and levels of sweetness, but I won't. You know what you like.

In.Nards.
I will, however, stress the importance of a golden, buttery, flaky crust. Again, you know what you like. You probably have a go-to crust that you've tweaked such that it suits you perfectly; I know I do. My fat preference involves a combination--shortening for that melt-in-your-mouth quality and butter for its awesome flavor. I also like a fair amount of sugar, and I always add cinnamon. The result, if prepared correctly, is a dough that's easy to handle and bakes up into a slightly crispy, ready-to-dissolve-on-the-tongue crust.

Have a pleasant Pi Day!

Apple Pi
(adapted from here)

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

For the pie:
3 1/2 to 4 pounds (8 to 12) apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided use
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Make the crust:
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon with a fork until combined. Scatter the shortening over the top and mix with a pastry cutter, two knives, or your magnificent hands until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and mix until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture. Stir and press the dough together, using a stiff rubber spatula until the dough sticks together. If the dough does not come together, stir in the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.
Divide the dough into two even pieces and flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Let the chilled dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling it out and fitting the bottom crust into a pie plate.

Make the pie:
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack, and heat the oven to 500°F. Toss the apples with cup of the sugar, the flour, lemon juice, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside.
Roll out the top crust to a 12-inch circle. Spread the apples in the unbaked pie crust bottom, mounding them slightly in the middle. Loosely roll the top crust around the rolling pin, then gently unroll it over the apples. Trim all but 1/2-inch of the dough overhanging the edge of the pie plate with scissors. Seal the edge by pressing the top and bottom crusts together, then tuck the edges underneath. Crimp the edges, and cut four vent holes in the top. Brush the crust with beaten egg white or milk and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Place the pie on the heated baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425°F. Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet, reduce the oven temperature again to 375°F, and continue to bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before serving.

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March 10, 2010

inconceivable!

Don't you hate when someone asks you to name your favorite cake, pie, cookie, or--gimme a break--dessert in general? I detest it. To me, that's like asking a mother to name her favorite child--completely absurd and impossible to do.

Who cares if the morsels are an extremely unnatural color of orange?
Not only do I strive to be an equal-opportunity eater of treats, but my tastes also change at least once a week. One day I may decide impossible coconut pie is the best dessert ever simply because I'm eating a sliver slab of it at the time, but the next day, as I snack on some apple dapple cake, I might convince myself that nothing can compare to it.

It's futile to even attempt to name my favorite cookie, but one that's always high on the list is the good ol' oatmeal scotchie. These bad boys are chewy and hearty and packed with sweet, rich butterscotch morsels (which, incidentally, taste nothing like butterscotch to me)(clearly, I don't mind).

You don't often see many deviations from Nestle's classic recipe, but when I came across a version including a bit of coconut, I got pretty excited. How excited? Perhaps the equivalent of brushing past Bruce Springsteen in the street. Okay, maybe not that excited. Let's say the equivalent of seeing Bruce Springsteen from afar.

Anyway, my excitement was warranted because the addition of coconut (I added flakes and a bit of extract) made these palatable pucks even better. Other changes? I increased the cinnamon and baked the batter in pie plates. Fun!

This is totally my favorite type cookie. For today.

Blimp-style.
So, in the name of hypocrisy, what's your favorite cookie? In the same vein, mothers, do you have a favorite child? :)

Cocoatmeal Scotchies
(I have Nika to thank for the inspiration!)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.) butterscotch morsels
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350°F and grease two 9-inch pie plates or a 15x10" jelly-roll pan.
Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, eggs, and extracts. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the oats, morsels, and coconut. Spread into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until light brown. Keep your eye on them--'tis better to be a bit gooey than as hard as a rock!

For cookies:
Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets and bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies or 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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March 6, 2010

double dose

There are mornings when a mere cup of coffee just won't do it and you need a little something more to get yourself kick-started. Some mornings require an extra wallop to break through the fog.

Toffee goo.

This is cake for those mornings.

I often partake of baked goods with my morning dose of caffeine, but rarely are those treats a second source of that magical compound whose name disobeys the ol' i before e rule.

A view from the top.

Yes, I'm a coffee-lover. More truthfully, my name is Grace and I'm addicted to coffee. That said, when I saw this recipe making use of joltin' java, I almost immediately migrated to the kitchen to whip up a batch.

So true.

As is my wont, changes were made. I left out the espresso powder simply because it's an ingredient I don't own. I added more cinnamon (shocker!), a bag of milk chocolate toffee bits, and walnuts in an attempt to achieve a flavor akin to the toffee nut latte served seasonally at your local StealyourStarbucks. Also, I opted for mini loaves for one very important reason--they're just so darn cute.

Grr, I say.

This was a stellar breakfast goodie. It's the epitome of moist, with gooey spots from the toffee bits and crunch from the nuts. The coffee flavor was noticeable but subtle and melded wonderfully with the chocolate. Folks, this one's gonna be a repeat offender!

Toffee Nut Latte Loaves
(inspired by and based heavily on this recipe)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup strong coffee, cooled
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bag milk chocolate toffee bits
1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat to 375°F and grease up your pan of choice, be it a 12-cup muffin pan or mini-loaf pan or something else entirely.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well, making sure all the brown sugary lumps are gone.
In a smaller bowl, mix together the coffee, melted butter, egg, and vanilla until well-combined. Pour this liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and gently but quickly stir to blend. Stop when the dry ingredients are just moistened and fold in the toffee bits and nuts.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups or loaf holes and bake for about 15 minutes for muffins, 30 minutes for mini loaves, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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March 2, 2010

complexity defined

My stepdad is a man of many talents, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that among them was a prowess for canning and preserving. Chow-chow, dilly beans, and pepper jelly are some of the many goodies that he has stocked in the basement.


A new and unique discovery for me was a jar of--I won't dance around it--extremely unappetizing brown stuff he called chutney.

I've worked with a few Indian gals and also peruse many a blog focused on Indian cuisine, so I always thought chutney was more of a thin, saucy accompaniment to their spicy dishes. The Americanized version is quite different--its consistency is more like that of jelly or perhaps relish and it boasts both sweet and sour taste profiles.


I was instructed to eat this homemade chutney with some brown beans; it was implied that there was something magical about the combination. I did as I was told, and boy, did I ever love that first mouthful! The creamy and slightly salty brown beans were the perfect vehicle for this juicy chutney, which contained pears that dissolved on the tongue, chewy and plump raisins, and tiny bits of sweet onion. There was a bit of heat in the background and a major zap from the vinegar. I could hardly register everything going on in my mouth all at once!


I've heard dishes described as being complex, but until now, I don't think I truly knew what that meant. The medley and balance of flavors here is absolutely an experience you don't want to miss! Yes, chutney will definitely brighten up a dish of boring ol' beans, but I wouldn't mind eating it with tortilla chips or--heck, we're all friends here--straight from the jar with a spoon.

Charlie's Chomp-worthy Chutney
4 quarts pears, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup raisins
1 cup onion, chopped
2-3 cups brown sugar, based on your tastes
1/4 cup mustard seed
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 hot red pepper
3 cups vinegar

Combine all ingredients and cook slowly until thick, about 40 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid sticking. Pour, boiling hot, into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust caps. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.
Yield = about 7 pints.

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