Category Archives: Baking

Cinnamon Roll Bliss!!


Every year for probably the past eighteen years, our traditional Christmas breakfast has consisted of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that come in a tube. Because they smelled and tasted good, because they were super easy, and because we’ve had so much chaos and small children to deal with, not much sleep, and knee-deep wrapping paper. It was all we could manage.

But one of those small children has grown into a budding baker, and this Christmas she offered to make cinnamon rolls from scratch. She found a recipe in one of her Christmas presents from last year, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. This cookbook has produced some incredibly delicious and amazing treats this year.

These cinnamon rolls were probably one of the best things yet.

These cinnamon rolls were not to sweet. The density was perfect – soft, yet with a thick and satisfying chewiness, almost biscuitlike. The cinnamon center was incredibly rich and wonderful, and the icing had a little tang of cream cheese. It was so deeply satisfying and decadent, and was definitely a special treat, yet wasn’t overly sweet.

These are hands-down going to be the new Christmas (and maybe New Year’s!) morning tradition. Recipe from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

(recipe after the break)

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Polenta Cornbread: A Happy Mistake

Tonight, I was planning to make chili for dinner. Usually we serve chili over rice (natch) but I had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge and thought… can I use that to make some cornbread?

I went over to Foodgawker (which I am in LOVE with these days!) and did a search for “buttermilk cornbread.” There were so many options, and many of them looked amazing, BUT I did not have the time or the ingredients to add special nifty stuff like fresh corn or bacon or chiles or whatnot. I just wanted yummy cornbread that included buttermilk.

Finally I settled on this recipe at The Hungry Mouse. It looked awesome! I love step-by-step photo recipes.

I looked in my pantry. Could not find cornmeal anywhere. I swore we’d had a big container of it. But my pantry is an overstuffed, disorganized MESS and I could not find it. I did, however, find a bag of polenta. Ahhh!

Isn’t polenta just … Italian cornmeal? I went to Twitter and asked, “Can I use polenta instead of cornmeal to make cornbread?” and I got a flurry of responses. Such as, “They’re really the same!” to “Grind it in a coffee grinder!” (what???) and “NO.” Yow! But at this point I was committed. I had all my ingredients out, including the buttermilk that started it all.

Then I could not find my metal 8 x 8 pan, only a glass one. Again I turned to Twitter. HELP! And got another round of enthusiastic yet conflicting advice. “Metal is better!” “Glass is more even!” “Try a cast iron skillet!” This all made me laugh in a confused way. Then I found the metal pan. Whew! But people were still touting the benefits of glass. Hmm! What to do?

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Jacques Pepin’s Caramelized Apple Granola Timbale

caramelized apple granola timbale

I love Jacques Pepin. LOVE HIM. Loved him with his daughter Claudine (“Claudine, you are–you are chopping eet wrong…why are you chopping eet so slowww…Bon Appetit!”)…loved him with Julia (their rapport was amazing and made me feel like a totally delighted and privileged eavesdropper)…and love him on “Fast Food My Way.” (quick cooking! but oh so delicious!).  I love him for how he shares his knowledge on technique with his viewers (he doesn’t just take apart a kitchen, he guides us through the steps–and he always shares a tip or two on each of his shows).  I love his accent and his charm!

So anyway–he’s on my TiVO and I watch him when I’m feeling like a bit of comfort.

A few months ago, I saw him make caramelized apple granola timbales on television. Which was really caramelized apples on little toast circles!  And I HAD to make them.

At the time I didn’t realize he had a cookbook out, cataloguing all the recipes on the “Fast Food My Way” show–and so I made the timbales by piecing together the steps shown on the show. They look complicated, but they are easy to make, and so delicious.  I could imagine having these for breakfast.  And impressing a house guest or two in the future.

Because I was making these on spur of the moment, I didn’t have granola on hand.  I used cereal and nuts and currants instead.  Decent substitute (even though the cereal texture wasn’t perfect), but I’m going to make it with granola, go forward.

After making these timbales, I went out and bought the cookbook.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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best.banana.bread…EVER.

fresh baked banana bread!  still warm.

Our household, for the last week, has been full of sick people. Feverish, shivering, aching, nauseous sick people on the B.R.A.T.S. diet (bananas-rice-apples-toast-soup). Sick people who could not stomach a food show or read food blogs. Sick people whose dog had sympathetic stomach flu and started barfing alongside them. Sick people who lived almost solely on bananas.

…uh.

Oh. Sorry. Not a great start for a post on a food blog.

But this is all to say that we have a lot of bananas around here. And they’re turning brown, on the road to black. The kitchen is full of their tropical fragrance as they languish and call to us. Eat me! Eat me! Sorry bananas, we’ve had our fill of you.

So what to do with all the bananas? Banana bread, of course. I’ve been collecting banana bread recipes for some time–with a particular eye towards the recipe from Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland. (If you have not been to Bakesale Betty’s and you live in/near Oakland, you are MISSING OUT)! Everything at Bakesale Betty’s is yummy and scrumptuous in a down to earth way.

So I mashed them up and there we went…

fresh baked banana bread!

The recipe is straightforward–combine all the dry ingredients together…mash and mix all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and combine. Pour into a loaf pan…sprinkle with a sugar topping and BAKE.

Ideas on future variation: I’m tempted to make a few changes next time around–add a big handful of nuts (pecans or walnuts) and maybe even decrease the sugar and/or honey (the banana loaf, while delicious is a bit on the sweet side with both honey and sugar in the recipe). I’m also wondering if I could make muffins out of this.

Update: YES! I decreased the sugar by a third, kept amount of honey the same, added half a banana…and added nuts! Of course I did not tinker with that perfect sugar topping. You WANT tons of sugar for the topping, trust me. OMG delish. I’ve noted the changes in the recipe below.

I hope you enjoy–we’re chowing down on warm banana bread right now. My husband says it’s the best banana bread he’s ever had in his entire life.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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new york times chocolate chip cookie recipe >> all others

new york times chocolate chip cookies

OMG. The New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe makes the best.chocolate.chip.cookies.ever. (Though I still have a soft spot for Philippe Patiserrie’s chocolate chip cookies).

The recipe’s been taking the blogosphere by storm, and of course I had to try it out. Oh boy. Yumyum.

I followed the recipe exactly (used the cake flour and the bread flour combo), and used up the appropriate amount of Valrhona dark chocolate. I had a fun time hacking the big chunk of chocolate into little chunks.

Update: in subsequent batches, I’ve just gone with all purpose flour instead of the cake flour + bread flour combo, with no bad effects. I think the most crucial elements are: the chilling overnight (36 hours is better than 24 hours and so and so forth), the fleur de sel sprinkling, and making the cookie larger rather than smaller.

I refrigerated the dough for 36 hours (an exercise in self control), and made a combination of smaller and larger cookies. Alas, the bigger cookies were “tastier.” Farewell to portion control!

Try it. It’s my new go-to recipe. It sure beats the pants off my previous favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. (Though I do wonder if I just chilled my previous favorite recipe overnight before baking what the results might be…)

recipe follows after the jump…

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Girl Scout cookie season

Homemade Girl Scout Cookies in progress

I love girl scout cookies, especially Samoas (aka “Caramel de-Lites”)–this unique and tasty conglomeration of butter shortbread cookie, caramel, coconut, and chocolate. Soooo deliciously evil, especially as they come on the heels of the holiday, threatening to sabotage any new year’s diet.

I put in my order for girl scout cookies (samoas and thin mints) with a coworker and friend selling boxes on behalf of his daughter. But damn the wait!

I found a recipe for Samoas at Baking Bites–not only can I indulge my desire for Girl Scout Samoa cookies more immediately, I can avoid trans-fats by baking them at home!

Mine didn’t come out perfect, but I got my craving satisfied (and there are a couple dozen, packaged, to take to work tomorrow).

Some caveats for making them at home:

1) They take some effort (make the cookies, prep and apply the coconut and caramel coating, and prep and apply the chocolate). More than chocolate chip cookies, less than a fancy cake.

2) I’d add waaaay more caramel next time. I added the prescribed amount of coconut and it overwhelmed the caramel, such that the mixture was waaay “tougher” than it should have been (the caramel even when set, should be fairly “squishy”).

3) I’d skip the hole in the cookies. See the picture below:

Homemade girl scout cookies in progress

They’re a waste of time–I went to the trouble of cutting a hole in each, about the size of a straw…but the caramel-coconut topping covered the hole entirely. See the picture below:

Homemade girl scout cookies in progress

If you insist on having a hole, make the hole a lot bigger.

4)  The dough can get a bit “sticky”–the recipe said it should be a ball, but I don’t stress out if you don’t have a smooth ball of dough.  Add a little extra flour if you think it’ll help…and chill the dough in the fridge before rolling it out.  Even so, you’ll find yourself peeling the cookie rounds off of the parchment paper.  A delicate operation.  Don’t roll it too thin–otherwise, they’ll be too delicate and break when you start applying the gooey caramel topping.  See the broken pieces above?  You’ve been warned!

Overall: yum yum!

David Lebovitz’s James Beard’s persimmon bread

David Lebovitz's Persimmon bread

My friends gifted me a few hachiya persimmons a couple months ago.

I looove persimmon trees, especially when all the leaves have fallen off and all that remain are the bright orange fruit hanging off the bare branches. It is one of my favorite Autumnal sights, a fruit laden persimmon tree under a gray sky.

If you’re reading carefully–you’ve noticed I write “I love persimmon _trees_.” Not so much the fruit–even though I am ethnically Korean and that almost obligates me to love persimmons. My parents love the fruit so much they had several persimmon trees in our backyard and because of their overeager urging to eat persimmons, I may have rebelled. I never grew to love the fruit.

Since my friends’ gift, I have learned that it’s fuyu persimmons I don’t like (my parents ate, almost exclusively, fuyu persimmons, which can be eaten when firm). Of course, I learned this the hard way, first biting into the hachiya persimmons when hard.

Ack!

The tannic, bitter fruit besieged my mouth, my tastebuds–I quickly gargled with water. No dice. There was a sickening coating all over my mouth, a sensation that felt like corduroy jeans, and a taste–bleah.

Hachiya persimmons MUST be eaten when super squishy, when they appear as if they’ll totally fall to pieces, when the fruit is “liquidy.” Then, and only then, are they soooo yummy and sweet and delicious and juicy. I am so buying hachiya persimmons, go forward.

And thankfully, I made this discovery not too far into persimmon season. There are still persimmons left to enjoy! And if you’re still hesitant to eat the fruit while fresh, you can do as I’ve done all these years: use the fruit in baked goods.

Particularly excellent is David Lebovitz’s rendition of James Beard’s persimmon bread recipe. It is entirely fantastic–I made it this morning and now the house is filled with the perfume of baked bread and my tastebuds are so very happy.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Adapting Libby’s Pumpkin Pie

BEST pumpkin pie!

Every year, during pumpkin season, I make a pumpkin pie using the recipe on the back of a Libby’s can, using fresh pumpkin puree. I’m a believer in basic, fresh ingredients.

And yet, this year, after making my pumpkin puree, not from a sugar pie pumpkin but a pumpkin gift from Novella’s urban farm, I took a closer look at Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe, which uses ingredients that can be cooked up in any kitchen….except for the can of evaporated milk.

roasted pumpkin, about to be pureed

Given that I had such a fresh and wonderful bounty in my pumpkin puree, I wondered if there was anything I could do to eliminate the can of evaporated milk from the ingredient list. Hrm. I wondered if I could adapt the recipe, using fresh ingredients.

And so I did an experiment, and wondered how to substitute the evaporated milk (which, when I looked up its function, is supposed to add creamy texture and richness to foods). What I did was replace it with a cup of cream, and about a 1/2 cup of whole milk. I also, out of utter anxiety, added an egg to the recipe as well, because the pumpkin puree was more watery than other pumpkin purees I’ve made in the past…and thought the egg might do well to bind the mixture/custard later. (something to keep in mind if you find your pumpkin puree is “watery”).

BEST pumpkin pie

The result was incredible. My husband, a big fan of pumpkin pie, said it was the best pumpkin pie he’s ever had. Whether this is because of the pumpkin puree this year, or because of the fresh cream and milk, I’m not sure. I don’t run a fulltime test kitchen, though I’m curious myself.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Pumpkin Time: puree

Pumpkin!

It’s pumpkin time!

I love pumpkins. I am not a big Halloween fan, and I don’t like to carve faces into them–I like to EAT them. And when Novella offered me one of her wonderful pumpkins after a visit to her city farm, I nodded yes. I had never seen pumpkins like hers, adorned with what looked like beautiful callouses on them (when a squash has things like that, it looks downright tasty to me). I asked for one of the smaller ones because we’re only a two person household, and how could we eat so much pumpkin?

Oh dear.

This household of two, it seems, is chock full of pumpkin eaters. (And neither one of our names is Peter, either–“Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater!”)

After admiring the pumpkin for a couple of weeks, I put it in the oven to roast, cutting it in half, and putting it (cut sides down) in a 350F oven for about an hour.

Novella's pumpkin, pre-roasting

Out came a pumpkin that was a vibrant orange in the Autumn morning light. It was almost like crab or lobster–going into the boiling water a dark metallic green…and coming out altogether red and orange and edible. That’s what happened with this pumpkin. It went into the oven a pinky orange, and came out almost fluorescent, the kind of orange that road workers wear:

brilliant orange

After cooling the pumpkins, and scooping out the seeds (oh drats! I forgot to save some BEFORE roasting the pumpkin! There goes the hope of planting these pumpkins next year), and peeling off the skin…I pureed the pumpkin.

I took a little taste of the unadorned pumpkin puree, and an involuntary smile crept over my face. This was the BEST pumpkin I have ever tasted. Thoughts of pumpkin cookies and pumpkin pie immediately leapt through my mind. Ooooooh.

roasted pumpkin puree

If you’ve never made your own pumpkin puree, you really ought to try. If you don’t have a friend who gifts you with a wonderful pumpkin from her garden, you can use sugar pie pumpkins from the store. It’s relatively simple to do (split the pumpkin in half, put it cut sides down, roast in a 350F oven for about an hour, scoop out the seeds, peel off the skin, and puree in a food processor). Not only is it simple to do, but the result is so fabulous, you’ll cringe at the prospect of having to use canned pumpkin puree forevermore.

You’ll have to use it a lot quicker than canned pumpkin puree–but the puree does keep in the refrigerator for a few days, a week…and I’m not sure if it lasts longer than that, because I use up all that puree within a few days.

Pull up for some pulla

Pulla, done!

I just wanted some bread–which more than anything these days, thanks to the Atkins et al diets, is the sinful pinnacle of eats. Carbs, carbs, CARBS! This desire came from out of nowhere, almost like a character’s unwarranted, sudden actions in a badly written screenplay. There was no reason for this craving, it was just THERE. I woke up with it. I brushed my teeth. I wished the toothpaste was bread. I watched some television. The desire was still there.

I just wanted some bread–and not just any bread. Because if I had to have a sinful pinnacle of eats, then it had to be very good. I wasn’t going to just eat any old bread.

Should I bake some Cheese Board brioches? Or scones?

On that overcast Sunday morning, my unfulfilled desire drumming through my head, I flipped through the current Gourmet issue to satiate myself; perhaps if I saw PICTURES of bread and READ about bread, I wouldn’t actually NEED (er, WANT) bread.

Nope. There it was, a recipe for pulla, a Finnish sweet cardamom raisin bread. I love cardamom–I collect recipes that contain this spice that has all the delight of cinnamon without its harsh edge. I like it so much, I substitute cinnamon with cardamom in a multitude of recipes, including those for pie fillings.

So you see–couple my bread craving with my overall love for cardamom, and you’ve got a perfect intersection with pulla. All of a sudden, I had to make pulla.

Making pulla

Making the pulla is like making most sweet breads–there are two separate risings and it becomes a whole day affair (or at least, a half day affair). There is the combining of ingredients, the kneading, and then the rising…and again, some brief kneading and raisins, and shaping, and then rising…before finally baking (oh, and cooling–but who waits for THAT before jumping in for a bite?! I certainly didn’t.) But there is something leisurely and decadent to a bread that takes six hours to make.

And of course, I was satisfying an overwhelming desire, which in itself is a wondrous thing.

Pulla, now braided and ready for its 2nd rising

So make it and enjoy–it is just slightly sweet enough to make it perfect with tea. I’d add more raisins next time (I ahem, had already doubled the amount of cardamom), but would otherwise make no adjustments. Still, it was just sweet enough to not scream “dessert” or “pastry” and declare itself bread. I greedily pulled it apart, the steam still escaping from its braids.

Others liked it too.

When I took one of the loaves (the bigger one) to work the next day, the entire loaf disappeared within minutes.

“I baked it yesterday!” was all I had to say, before a multitude of hands ripped into the bread, tearing off chunks (it is the kind of bread that you just pull at and eat). They didn’t even wait to hear me describe what they were eating–nay, devouring.

“It’s pulla!” I yelled at the commotion, “A Finnish sweet bread!”
One person even mumbled, “Is it challah?!”
No–PULLA!
HUH?

And before you knew it, the bread was devoured.

I personally love Cheese Board’s brioche the most (it too, has raisins in it) but this is right up there in my list of loved sweet breads.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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