Honore Baking

Promoting the art of home baking

Poke Cake Reimagined

Do you remember poke cake?  It is an old fashioned dessert where a freshly baked cake, usually in a 13 x 9 pan, is covered in a glaze as soon as the cake is removed from the oven.  The hot cake is pierced or "poked" all over the top with a carving fork while the glaze is poured on and into the holes.  The cake is then left to cool completely.  The glaze seeps down into the cake as it cools resulting in a deliciously moist dessert.

My mom made a poke cake that we called orange cake.  She baked a lemon cake and poured on a glaze made with orange juice and confectioner's sugar.  Once the cake cooled it was covered with foil and refrigerated over night.  The cold orange cake was a terrific, refreshing dessert in the summer time.

Lemon Quick Bread

Lemon Quick Bread

Today, we're going to make a lemon buttermilk quick bread that is a riff on the old fashioned poke cake.  The recipe for this bread was developed by King Arthur Flour and is available on KAF's website.  After the bread is baked, it is poked all over with a cake tester or other long thin instrument (I used my Thermopen) and covered in a lemon glaze.  The cooled bread is moist and yummy, yummy, yummy!  Ready to give it a go? 

As you would imagine from the name of the recipe, both the quick bread and the glaze require fresh lemon juice.  I love using fresh lemon juice in baking recipes but juicing a lemon with a wooden reamer left me with the additional task of fishing the lemon seeds out of the cup.  A couple of years ago I found a handy gadget which makes this task easy peasy.  It's called a JuiceLab.  You can get for less than $10 on Amazon.  The juicer top fits onto a flask which is etched with graduated liquid measurements on the side.  The perforations on the top catch pulp and those pesky seeds while allowing the juice to flow through into the flask.  After you have juiced your lemons, insert the stopper into the flask to protect the juice and prevent spills.  I love a good kitchen gadget!  Okay; on to the recipe.

For this recipe you need 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, one cup of sugar, 2 large eggs, a quarter cup of fresh lemon juice, 3/4 cup of buttermilk or yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon oil or 1 teaspoon of fresh grated lemon zest, 2 cups of AP flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Then, prepare an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch loaf pan by lightly coating it with butter.  To make your life easier, insert a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit the loaf pan and grease the parchment with butter.  You'll be glad you did this when it is time to remove the bread from the pan! 

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set the mixture aside.  Then, in a separate measuring cup or bowl, mix together the buttermilk or yogurt and the lemon oil or fresh zest.  Set this mixture aside.

Cream together the butter and the sugar using your mixer.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each egg to ensure it is fully incorporated into the butter and sugar. 

Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture alternately with the buttermilk/lemon mixture, mixing well after each addition.  Your batter is ready for the oven!  Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake the bread for about 50 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

About 5 minutes before the bread is done, you need to make your glaze.  Remember, the glaze needs to be drizzled onto the bread while it is still hot from the oven.  In a measuring cup, whisk together the juice of one lemon with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  Keep stirring the glaze until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Making the glaze in a measuring cup will make it much easier to drizzle onto the hot bread.

When the bread is done, remove the pan from oven and, just as you would with a poke cake, immediately poke holes all over the top of the bread.  You need to use something long and thin like a cake tester or an ice pick.  Drizzle the glaze over the bread while it is still in the loaf pan, concentrating on the holes you've made and stopping occasionally to let the glaze sink into the loaf.

Lemon bread glazed and cooling before slicing.

Lemon bread glazed and cooling before slicing.

After you have used all of the glaze, set the bread aside to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pan and let it cool completely before slicing it.  This is easy if you took the time to line the loaf pan with parchment.  Just lift the loaf out using the overhanging edges of the parchment and set it on a rack to cool.  To avoid making a mess on the counter, set your rack over a baking sheet which will catch any glaze that drips off the bread.

Would you like a slice of bread?

Would you like a slice of bread?

Are you ready to taste your bread?  Treat yourself and your loved one to a moist, tangy slice of lemon bread.  This bread keeps well, not that you'll have any left.  Although I did not try this, you could refrigerate the bread before serving it, like my mom used to do with her orange cake.  That would make quite a refreshing treat in the warmer months, don't you think?

Beautiful Braided Bread

Wheat Braid

Wheat Braid

As you know, we have been exploring bread shaping techniques.  This month we are going to make a three strand braid.  Why have I specified the number of strands in our braid?  Because braids can include as many as six strands.  We'll work up to the six strand braid.  For now, we'll focus our attention on the more common three stranded braid.

If you have ever braided hair or ribbon or anything else really you can braid a loaf of bread.  There are two things to keep in mind when attempting this technique. 

First, you need a sturdy bread dough, something where the hydration level is not too high.  What do I mean by that?  Well, you would not want to try this technique with say a ciabatta bread dough.  The high water content makes for an airy loaf but precludes you from being able to form and overlap strands of the dough to shape a braid.  For the loaves pictured above, I used a tasty basic wheat bread recipe.  White whole wheat and all purpose flours are combined with water, salt, sugar, oil and yeast to form a nice, malleable dough that you can mix together by hand.

After stirring the ingredients together in a bowl, you end up with a dough that is pretty shaggy.

 

Turn the dough out on a floured surface and begin to knead.  After about 8 to 10 minutes of kneading, your dough with go from this ...

... to this!

 

 

 

After your dough has completed its first rise, you are ready to shape your braid.  Here's the second thing you must keep in mind as you proceed with shaping the braid.  As you cross the strands over each other, you want to avoid pulling them tight.  Our goal is a straight loaf of bread.  If you pull the strands too tight as you shape the loaf, the loaf will bend as it bakes.  Okay, here we go. 

Divide the dough into three equal parts and shape each part into a strand by rolling it back and forth on your shaping surface.  I am using my silicone rolling mat.  Press the strands together at one end and lay them out flat with the right strand at 4:00, the center strand at 5:00 and the left strand at 8:00.  (See top photo.)  Starting with the right strand, lift it over the center strand and place it next to the left strand.

Lift the left strand and place it next to the center strand, like this.  What started out as the center strand is now the outside strand on the right.

Repeat the process of lifting and overlapping the outside strand, right to left then left to right.

 

When you reach the end, trim the remainder of the strands so that they are equal, press them together and tuck them under the loaf.  That's all there is to it.  There is your beautifully shaped braid.  Cover your loaf and let it rise a second time before sliding it into a preheated oven to bake.

Here is your final loaf, golden brown and straight.  Making beautiful braided bread is not that difficult, is it?  It'll take a little bit of practice but it's worth it in the end when you can put such a lovely loaf on your dinner table.  I hope you feel inspired to give this shaping technique a try.  Until next week, happy baking!!

 
 



Overcoming Pie Crust-phobia

I have a confession to make.  Until a couple of years ago, I suffered from pie crust-phobia.  I could not make a decent pie crust to save my life.  I tried many different recipes.  Watched online how-to videos.  Each time I tried, I failed miserably.  So much for if at first you don't succeed.

Perhaps I was trying too hard.  I don't know.  I had pretty much written off pie crust until I picked up a copy of Cooking with Love by Carla Hall.  Carla Hall is one of the hosts on The Chew but I first saw her on Top Chef.  One of the things that distinguished Carla from the other chefs on the show was that she could bake.  I saw her book at the supermarket and as I was leafing through it I came across a recipe for a rustic mushroom and goat cheese tart.  It sounded so delicious!  Then ... darn!  She called for making a pie crust.  I'll admit that I considered buying a ready made pie crust from the store.  But Carla's recipe really seemed easy so I decided to get back on the horse and try again and guess what?  SUCCESS!  I made a lovely, tasty, flaky pie crust.  Was it a fluke?  Only one way to find out, so I tried it again.  SUCCESS! 

Now I make my own pie crust whenever I want.  Carla's recipe comes together quickly and yields a lovely dough that is super easy to work with.  See those big chunks of butter in the dough?  That is exactly what you want to see.  It those big chunks of butter that make the crust flaky.

The moral of the story is this ... don't give up.  Keep trying until you find a recipe that works for you.  It might be different from the method that your mom or grandma used.  So what?  There's more than one way to make a flaky and delicious pie crust! 

If you would like to try Carla Hall's pie crust recipe, you can find it on the web site for The Chew.   Just Google "Carla Hall" and "Perfect Pie Crust" and it should come right up.

Happy baking dear friends!

From the Family Recipe Box - Yum-Yums

Have you ever seen the Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille?  There is a scene where the food critic is presented with Remy's high end version of the classic French country dish ratatouille.  As the critic tastes the first forkful he is immediately transported back to his childhood and his mother's kitchen where she served him a bowl of ratatouille for dinner.  That connection with his childhood enhances the food critic's enjoyment of the dish as an adult.

Yum-Yums

Yum-Yums

Baking has a similar power.  Making a favorite family recipe connects our present with our past and kindles memories of childhood.  Today, I am going to share one of my family recipes with you.  Yum-yums are a simple, basic cookie made with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.  Crispy and chewy at the same time, Yum-yums are great dunking cookies that as a child I always enjoyed with a glass of cold milk.   There is nothing assertive about these homey cookies.  But they just keep you reaching for another.  Okay, let's get to it.

While your oven is preheating to 350 degrees, whisk together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup each of chopped walnuts, rolled old fashioned oats, flaked coconut and Rice Crispies cereal. 

Cookie dough ready to go

Cookie dough ready to go

In the bowl of your mixer, cream together one stick of softened salted butter and 1/2 cup each granulated white sugar and light brown sugar.  Add to the butter/sugar mixture one large egg and one teaspoon of vanilla and beat until well combined.  With your mixer on low speed, dump in the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated with the butter/sugar mixture.  Finally, stir in the nut/oat mixture.

Yum-Yum cookie fresh from the oven.

Yum-Yum cookie fresh from the oven.

Scoop a rounded tablespoonful of dough ( I use my tablespoon cookie scoop!) and place it on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  If you don't use baking parchment, leave the cookie sheet ungreased.  Bake the cookies for 15 minutes until they are lightly browned and appear set on top.  Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 3 minutes before removing them to cool completely.

There you have it!  Not-too-sweet, crunchy on the edges and chewy in the center, yums-yums take me back to my mom's kitchen.  I hope that you give these cookies a try.  Happy baking my dear friends!

Turtle Biscotti - Classic Candy Combo in a Cookie

Turtle Biscotti

Turtle Biscotti

I love turtles.  I don't mean the pond dweller or the super hero.  No, I'm talking about that delectable chocolate, pecans and caramel candy.  I have seen this classic flavor combination translated into a number of desserts - turtle cheesecake, turtle cupcakes, turtle cookies.  Recently, I was looking for a recipe for turtle biscotti - chocolate biscotti with pecans and caramel mixed in.  But, the only recipes I found didn't mix the caramel into the cookie but rather used it as a drizzle on top or a coating on the bottom.  That was not what I was looking for so I decided to tinker around with a chocolate biscotti recipe that I have to see if I could capture what I was seeing in my mind's eye.  After a couple of batches, I hit pay dirt!  These turtle biscotti are exactly what I was looking for: sturdy, as biscotti should be, but also chewy from the incorporation of both chocolate chips AND caramel bits.  Would you like to try them?  Okay.  Let me share my recipe with you.

First, you will need to get some caramel bits.  I get mine online from Nuts.com.  These caramel bits are small round nuggets which stand up very well to the baking process.  They hold their shape and stay soft and chewy after the cookie has cooled completely.  They are $4.99 for a one pound bag and they seemingly arrive at your door almost as soon as you place the order.  The customer service team at nuts.com is that good.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  While the oven preheats, toast 3 ounces (healthy half cup) of chopped pecans in a nonstick pan over medium heat.  Watch the nuts carefully because they can go from toasted to burned very quickly.  Toss them in the pan frequently to prevent burning.  The pecans are toasted when you begin to smell that heavenly pecan aroma.  Remove the nuts from the pan and let them cool while you get your ingredients together and mix up the dough.

In the bowl of your mixer, cream together 1/2 cup of softened salted butter and 2/3 cup of granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  To the butter/sugar mixture, add 1/4 cup dutch process cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon expresso powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat for two minutes.  Don't worry if you don't have the espresso powder.  I usually add it to my chocolate baked goods because espresso powder really enhances the flavor of the chocolate in the recipe.

Egg fully incorporated - no slime!

Egg fully incorporated - no slime!

Next beat in 2 large eggs, one at a time, until each egg is fully incorporated into the dough.  How do you know when an egg is fully incorporated?  I tell kids that an egg is fully incorporated when you can no longer see any slime from the egg.  It's kind of gross but it gets the point across.

Stir in 1-3/4 cups of all purpose flour, then stir in 4 ounces of caramel bits, your toasted pecans and 1/2 cup (3 ounces) of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips.  Cover the dough and chill it for about 10 minutes.

After chilling the dough, divide it in half and shape each half into a log about 9 inches in length.  Place each log on a parchment lined baking sheet four inches apart.   You want to leave this much room because the logs will spread as they bake.  Press the logs down to flatten them slightly.

Bake the biscotti for 20 to 25 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Cool the biscotti on the pan for five minutes and then slide the biscotti while still on the parchment sheet onto a rack and let them cool for one hour.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. 

After the biscotti have cooled, remove the logs from the parchment and return the parchment to the baking sheet.  Cut each loaf on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices and place the slices back on the baking sheet.  Return the slices to the oven and bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.  Check the biscotti for the desired degree of doneness.  For crispier cookies, bake for up to an additional 7 minutes. 

Cool the biscotti completely and store them in an air tight container.  There you have it!  Turtle biscotti.   Don't they look yummy?  Just look at those caramel bits.  Mmmmm!  Enjoy!

 

Cloudy Days Don't Get Me Down

Almond Clouds with bittersweet chips

Almond Clouds with bittersweet chips

It's still winter here in Southwestern Pennsylvania despite the moderate temperatures we have been having and Punxatawney Phil seeing his shadow.  Winter means, among other things, a lot of cloudy days and cloudy days can be a bit depressing after a while.  Or can they?  I, for one, don't mind cloudy days when the clouds are baked in my oven.  Baked clouds??  Yep.  Almond Clouds.

Almond Clouds are hands down the most popular cookie that I make.  When I bake a batch of almond clouds, there are NEVER any leftovers at the end of the day.  I found the recipe about 5 years ago on King Arthur Flour's web site and knew instantly that I had to make them because I am an almond lover.  Anything almond flavored and I am there.  But these cookies are not just almond flavored.  With almond paste, almond extract and almond oil, they are ALMOND.  And with only 6 (yes, 6!) ingredients, they mix together in a hurry.  Ready to give them a try?  Let's go.

First things first.  The base ingredient for these cookies is almond paste.  But, in my opinion, there is only one brand of almond paste that will do ... Love n' Bake Almond Paste.  Sold by King Arthur Flour, and also available on Amazon, Love n' Bake Almond Paste comes in 10 ounce cans, unlike other brands which come in 7 ounce tubes.  Since you need 10 ounces of almond paste for a single batch of cookies, that alone is a good reason to use the Love n' Bake brand.  But the best reason is that the Love n' Bake brand is the only almond paste which yields the chewy, smooth texture you are looking for in this cookie.  I have tried other brands of almond paste and the finished product just isn't the same and isn't as good as it is when you use the Love n' Bake brand.

The full recipe for this cookie is available on KAF's web site.  You will need 10 ounces of almond paste, 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, two large egg whites, 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract, 1/8 teaspoon of almond oil (which is different from extract) and confectioner's sugar to dust on top before baking.  That's 6 ingredients.  Now, if you want to take these clouds over the top, you can add 1 cup of chocolate chips to the dough.  I use bittersweet chips but you can use whatever you prefer or have on hand.   I think every cloud should have a chocolate lining, don't you?

Beat the almond paste, sugar and salt together until they are evenly crumbly.  The almond paste is pretty stiff so you should use a stand mixer for this cookie.  While the mixer is running, add in the egg whites which you have lightly beaten.  This will create a more cohesive and sticky dough.

After the egg whites are thoroughly mixed in, scrape down the sides of the bowl then add in the almond extract and almond oil.  Finally stir in the chocolate chips, if you are using them. 

Almond clouds ready for the oven!

Almond clouds ready for the oven!

Scoop a tablespoon of dough and set it on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Once the sheet is full, dust the cookies with 10x sugar.  Using your index and middle fingers and your thumb together, make three indentations in each cookie.

Bake the cookies in a preheated 325 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges of the cookies just begin to brown.  Cool the cookies right on the cookie sheet.

That's it.  The whole recipe.  Start to finish, it takes about an hour and you'll get about two dozen cookies, if you add in the chocolate chips.  These are the perfect almond cookie, chewy, very almond-y.  You will also notice that there is no flour in these cookies so if you are looking for a gluten free cookie, here you go!

I hope you give these cookies a try.  If you do, let me know what you think of them!

 

Sweet Rolls for Your Sweetie - Lemon Love Knots

Lemon Love Knots

Lemon Love Knots

My resolution for 2016 is to try different bread shaping techniques.  Since February is the month the world celebrates love, I am going to share with you Lemon Love Knots which feature the technique for making knot shaped rolls.

Lemon Love Knots are a light, airy sweet-but-not-too-sweet roll.  Sprinkling the roll with a light coating of sparkling white sugar just before baking results in a pleasantly crunchy topping.  Lemon Love Knots are great for a continental breakfast or afternoon tea.  The recipe can be found on King Arthur Flour's web site.  Okay, let's tackle this shaping technique.

Shaping these rolls is fairly simple.  After your dough has completed its first rise, turn it out onto a lightly oiled surface.  I like to use my silicone rolling mat for this because it makes clean up so easy.  You need to divide your dough into 16 evenly sized balls.  Using both hands, roll each dough ball out into a long strand.  How do you do this?  Starting at the center of the dough ball, push the dough back and forth with your hands while simultaneously applying gentle pressure.  You also want to move your hands away from each other towards the ends of the strand.  Your strand should be about 15 inches in length. 

Here's the fun part.  Working quickly, cross the left end of the strand over the right end to form a loop.  Take the left end and pull it up through the loop.  Tuck the tip of the left end back under the top of the loop ... like so.

 

 

Pull the right end up over the loop and down through the center hole.  Lightly pinch the two ends together in the center of your roll.  Voila!  You've made a knot!   Repeat with the remaining dough balls.

Arrange your knots on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover them and allow them to rise a second time while your oven preheats.  Just before baking, brush each roll with an egg wash and sprinkle them lightly with sparkling sugar.  The egg wash helps the sugar to adhere to the roll.

Lemon Love Knots fresh from the oven!

Lemon Love Knots fresh from the oven!

The egg wash will also help your rolls to brown up nicely ... like this.  That wasn't so hard, was it?  Really, you can do this!!  Go on; give it a try!

 

Hot Chocolate Cookies - Winter's Iconic Drink in Cookie Form

Hot Chocolate Cookies

Hot Chocolate Cookies

I was on Pinterest this week hunting designs for sugar cookies for Valentine's Day when I happened across an interesting sounding cookie - hot chocolate cookies.  Are you as intrigued as I was?  This cookie even has marshmallow bits in it just like a mug of hot chocolate!  How cool is that?! With a winter storm moving into the area, these cookies sounded like just the ticket for a fun afternoon of baking. 

I used Swiss Miss cocoa and Kraft Mallow Bits

I used Swiss Miss cocoa and Kraft Mallow Bits

This recipe was posted by Christi of Love from the Oven in November of 2014.  There are two "specialty" ingredients in these cookies - hot cocoa mix and Kraft Mallow Bits.  According to the post on Love from the Oven, you can use any flavor cocoa mix you like.  I used Swiss Miss Rich Chocolate flavor although I was sorely tempted to use Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate flavor.  These cookies were so good so next time I'll try the dark chocolate flavor.

The recipe also called for using Mallow Bits.  Christi noted that you can also use mini marshmallows if you can't find the Mallow Bits in your grocery store.  However, a baker who tried the recipe with marshmallows commented that the marshmallows melted all over the cookie sheet.  Christi responded that she had better luck with the cookies when she used the Mallow Bits because they are dehydrated.  Okay.  Armed with that information, I was determined to use the Mallow Bits instead of mini marshmallows.  But I had to find them first.  My local grocery store didn't have them but Target did.   On with the show; let's bake a batch of hot chocolate cookies.

In a bowl, whisk together 3-1/4 cups of AP flour, 4 packets of cocoa mix, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1-1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.  Set this mixture aside.  In your mixer, cream together 1-1/4 cups softened salted butter, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 2/3 cup of light brown sugar.  Once this mixture is light and fluffy, mix in two large eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture.  Then stir in one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and one cup of the Mallow Bits.  My dough was quite firm but I would recommend stirring in the chips and Mallow Bits by hand rather than using your mixer to do it.  I used my mixer and even though it was on low speed, a bunch of the Mallow Bits got broken.  Cover the bowl and chill the dough for one hour.

Cookies ready for the oven

Cookies ready for the oven

While your dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  The recipe says to scoop two tablespoons of cookie dough for each cookie with a total yield of 48 cookies.  I used my tablespoon sized cookie scoop and I got 54 cookies total.  Just look at those cuties!  The Mallow Bits really do like they are floating in a cup of cocoa; don't they?

Bake your cookies for 9 to 11 minutes or until they are lightly browned on the edges.  Don't overbake them.  I left a tray of cookies in a little too long and the cooled cookie was crisp, not soft like Christi says it should be.  After you pull the tray from the oven, let the cookies cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Here's your final product - hot chocolate cookies.  The Mallow Bits held their shape beautifully through the baking process and are chewy after cooling.  And how do these cookies taste?  They taste amazing!  Just like a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.  So if you want a different take on a chocolate cookie give Christi's Hot Chocolate Cookies a try.  BTW, Christi's recipe for these cookies appears on the Mallow Bits container.  Happy Baking and stay warm!

Beautiful Bakeware

Today, I would like to sing the praises of one of my favorite bakeware companies, NordicWare.  NordicWare, a family owned business based in Minnesota, manufactures absolutely gorgeous cake and loaf pans.  Please note that these are just my opinions.  I am not affiliated with NordicWare in any way nor am I being compensated by NordicWare for my opinions.  I just love their products.

So why am I so upbeat on NordicWare?  Let me count the ways ...

Frozen Snowflake Cakelet pans by NordicWare

Frozen Snowflake Cakelet pans by NordicWare

First, NordicWare pans are great to look at.  These snowflake cakelet pans are the newest addition to my collection.  Aren't they beautiful?  Just look at that detail.  That level of detail is common in NordicWare pans and makes selecting a pan to buy very difficult.

Seashells by NordicWare

Seashells by NordicWare

For example, check out the seashell pans.  I made delightful almond shell cookies with these pans.  Every detail was visible in the final cookie.

Autumn is my favorite season so it stands to reason that most of my NordicWare is themed for fall.  I couldn't pass up these acorn and maple leaf cakelet pans.

Pumpkin Muffin Pan by NordicWare

Pumpkin Muffin Pan by NordicWare

What's fall without pumpkins?  Pumpkin cranberry muffins just taste better when they are made in this pumpkin muffin pan.  Notice the leaves on the ends of this muffin pan?  NordicWare adds such beautiful details to its bakeware that you could use it for seasonal décor in the kitchen.

Autumn Cakelet Pan by NordicWare

Autumn Cakelet Pan by NordicWare

Can't decide which autumnal shape you want?  Choose this cakelet pan with wells shaped like pumpkins, acorns, pinecones and walnuts.

 

I know what your thinking.  With that level of detail, it must be difficult to get the final baked goods out of the pan.  Thanks to a special coating, the cakelets and muffins coming out of these pans release easily with the full detail that you see on the pans.  I have never had a problem with my cakes sticking to the pan and leaving the fine detail behind.  So what you see on the pan is what you get on your cake, breads and other baked goods.

NordicWare pans are made of heavy duty materials.  The pans have heft to them; nothing flimsy here so when they are full of batter there will be no twisting or torqueing.  And the sturdiness of the pans promotes even baking and carmelization.

Finally, these pans are made in the USA!  Yay!  There is nothing I love more than supporting US companies that make their products right here.

My collection of NordicWare is just the tip of the iceberg with the variety of their designs.  Go to NordicWare's web site and check them out.  The extent of the product line is astonishing IMO.

So if you want to give a great gift to yourself which will help you turn out beautiful baked goods, consider adding some NordicWare to your kitchen.

 
 

Snowflakes

My Snowflakes - Molly B, Duffy, Rosebud and Spencer (left to right)

My Snowflakes - Molly B, Duffy, Rosebud and Spencer (left to right)

My husband and I are loving owners of West Highland White Terrier dogs.  My sister-in-law calls them our "Snowflakes."  This photo is the screen saver on my PC and my iPad.

Duffy

Duffy

Sadly, yesterday my husband and I said good bye to our oldest snowflake, Duffy.  Duffy was called home by God at the age of 15 years, one month.  I held him in my arms and whispered in his ear that I loved him, that he made my life a joy and that it was okay for him to go to the Rainbow Bridge.  Everything was always easier for Duffy if I was at his side.

We adopted Duffy 5-1/2 years ago.  He was already a senior dog at the time, aged 9-1/2 years, and had only been in the shelter for two days when we adopted him.  He had only just arrived in Pittsburgh after being rescued from a "shelter" in Georgia where, incredibly, he had been on a list to be euthanized.

I don't know why I felt the need to adopt another Westie at the time that we found Duffy.  I already had three Westies.  But I went to Petfinder.  I searched and there he was (his name was Wesley at the time) only 2 miles away in the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.  I called my husband who was home and told him about Duffy.  He said without hesitation, "Go get him."  I was at work at the time so on my lunch hour I went to the Humane Society and asked to see the scruffy little Westie that I had found on Petfinder that morning.  As we walked to his kennel, the girl told me Duffy's story, that he had only just arrived two days before.  I visited with Duffy in a small room for about 20 minutes.  I sat in the chair and let him come to me.  He walked around sniffing and sniffing the walls and floor of the room where many other dogs and cats had been before him.  After about 10 minutes of sniffing, he came over to me, sniffed me up and down and then sat next to me, pressed to my leg.  After a minute or two, he looked up at me and that was all she wrote.  I knew he was mine.

Since I already had three other Westies, I had to bring them down to the Humane Society so that they could interact with Duffy and he with them to determine if they were a good fit together.  So I told Duffy I would see him soon and left after making arrangements to return that evening with my other dogs for the meet and greet.

It was Friday of Memorial Day weekend of 2010 and as my husband and I together with Rosebud, Spencer and Molly B made our way back downtown to the Humane Society it was raining buckets and buckets.  We piled into the meet and greet room to wait for Duffy.  When the staffer brought him in, my other pups checked him out.  He checked them out and that was that.  All good and we were homeward bound.

My husband held Duffy as we drove home that evening as we had no time to get him a crate for the car.  Duffy laid quietly in my husband's arms, not sure where he was going.  When we were almost home, Duffy sat up and looked out the window and the scenery and then to me and I told him that it was all okay, he was home.

I don't know why Duffy was surrendered by his previous owners.  I don't know what his life was like with them.  It doesn't matter.  Duffy came to us and enjoyed the very best days of his life.  I KNOW this to be true.  He lived each and every day with us to the fullest, I made certain of that.  Running and barking and playing with his fur brother and fur sisters, hiding my husband's socks under the bed, barking with that big, deep booming bark that he had, so un-Westie-like, going to the dog park for training classes and socializing with his two-legged and four-legged friends, my friends there in that magical place called Misty Pines.  Duffy sat by my side always as we watched TV or just relaxed at home.  Duffy always slept at my feet while I wrote posts for this blog.  When I was in the kitchen cooking or baking, he was always there with me or lying on the foot rest in the family room where he could watch me always.

Anyone who has ever rescued a dog will tell you that there is something special about the bond between you and the dog which is not present in the relationship between you and a dog that you raised from a puppy.  It seems that the rescued dog knows that he has been given a second chance by you and he is forever grateful to you for it.  He never forgets it.  I have rescued three Westies so I know that this is true.  This was at the heart of my relationship with Duffy.  I felt it in his warm presence next to me.  I saw it in his eyes.  Farewell, my beloved Duffy.  I will always love you.

Salty Sweet Can't Be Beat!

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I am a fan of treats that are salty sweet.  A few weeks ago, I told you about the chocolate covered sea salt caramels that I made for Christmas (see my November 27, 2015 post).  I don't mind telling you that those caramels got rave reviews!!  They are definitely going to be a regular addition to my holiday list.  Before that, in June, I discovered a potato chip cookie with chocolate chips which is fabulous.  (see my June 12, 2015 post).

Saltyy Sweet Butter Pecan Cookies - recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Saltyy Sweet Butter Pecan Cookies - recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Today, I am going to show you my all-time favorite salty sweet cookie- Salty Sweet Butter Pecan Cookies.  This crispy cookie is chock full of butterscotch chips and toasted pecans before being rolled in a coating of sugar and table salt.  While you can bake these gems as soon as you mix the dough, I highly recommend refrigerating the dough first.  Refrigeration will both build flavor and inhibit the spread of the cookie in the oven, yielding a chunkier cookie.  For a full explanation of the varying results that you can get with this cookie depending on whether the dough is chilled and the amount of time it is chilled, be sure to read the post on this cookie written by P.J. Hamel of King Arthur Flour.  I choose to refrigerate my dough for about 24 hours before baking so these cookies are a two day event for me - day one: mix and chill; day two - scoop and bake.  Let's get started, shall we?

Before mix your dough, you want to lightly toast about 1-1/3 cups of pecan halves.  I prefer to use chopped pecans instead of the pecan halves.  Use what your prefer or have on hand.  Set the toasted nuts aside while you mix the dough.

Cream together 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter, 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla-butternut flavoring and 1 teaspoon of vinegar (cider or white, whatever you have).  Beat these ingredients together until smooth.

As you can see from the above list, this recipe uses two "specialty" ingredients - espresso powder and vanilla butternut flavoring.  The espresso powder does not make your cookie taste like coffee.  It just adds nice caramel brown color.  The vanilla butternut flavoring is not essential to the recipe.  You can make the cookies without it BUT your cookie will NOT taste as good.  Period.  You can find this flavoring on KAF's web site and also on Amazon.

Add in a large egg and beat it into the dough until fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl then add in 2 cups of all-purpose flour.  Mix until fully combined then add in the toasted pecans and 1-1/3 cups of butterscotch chips.  Please forgive me while I pause for another moment to comment on an ingredient which will make a difference in the final cookie.

In my opinion, the best butterscotch chip out there is made by Guittard.  The flavor and texture of Guittard chips are better than any other butterscotch chip I've tasted.  They are hard to find in the store.  I used to order them from King Arthur Flour until they stopped carrying them.  Now I order them on Amazon.  I have made this recipe using different butterscotch chips and I could taste the difference.  The cookies were just ... okay.  Not great like I know they can be.  So, if you can get them, I recommend using Guittard chips.  (Note: this is simply my opinion.  I am not being paid or compensated by Guittard.)  Okay, back to the dough.

After mixing the dough, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4-5 hours and up to 24 hours.  When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and mix your coating.  In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1-3/4 to 2 teaspoons table salt.  If you really love the salty sweet combo, use the 2 teaspoons of salt; use the lower amount if you want the salt to be less assertive.

Scooped, coated and ready for the oven!

Scooped, coated and ready for the oven!

Scoop the dough into tablespoon sized balls (I use my tablespoon cookie scoop!) and roll them in the sugar/salt mixture.  Place the coated balls on the cookie sheet and bake about 12-1/2 minutes.  The cookies are done when the edges are a lovely chestnut brown and the tops are golden.  Cool the cookies on the pan for about 3 minutes before removing them to cool completely.

Here's the baked cookie.  I wish you could smell it - all buttery, vanilla-y, nutty.  And the flavor - yum!!  No kidding, these salty sweet butter pecan cookies can't be beat!

 

 

2016 Resolution: Shape It Up

Happy New Year!!  I hope your holidays were full of joy, laughter, peace and love.

It's the new year and like many people, I have made resolutions.  My biggest resolution is to shape up in 2016 but I don't mean by going to a gym.  No.  I'm going to experiment with new shaping techniques for yeast breads and rolls. And I am going to share those experiments with you.  Are you ready to start?  Then let's go!

Cinnamon Star Bread

Cinnamon Star Bread

Last week, I showed you a beautiful loaf that I made in honor of the Christmas holiday - Cinnamon Star Loaf.  This gorgeous bread features an intricate design of stripes and chevrons of cinnamon against a sweet dough which are made by cutting and twisting strips of dough layered with a simple cinnamon sugar and egg filling.  Must be hard to do; right?  Wrong!  Don't let the appearance of this bread scare you off.  Really, if you can use a rolling pin and a knife, you can achieve this lovely effect.

The dough for this bread comes together easily and is a joy to work with.  After the first rise, the dough is divided into four equal pieces.  Roll out the first piece of dough into a 10 inch circle.  (My dough is not a circle, as you can see, because I wanted to shape the loaf like the Christmas star.)  Move the rolled piece to a piece of parchment paper and spread it with 1/3 of the cinnamon sugar filling.  Repeat this process with the second and third pieces of dough, layering them on the first piece.  The fourth piece of dough is rolled out and tops the stack.

Now for the magic.  Set a 3 to 4 inch round cookie or biscuit cutter lightly on the center of the stack.  The cutter is simply there as guide for you to keep the center of the loaf intact.  Using a bench knife or other sharp knife, make 16 (yes, 16!) cuts in the dough stack from the cookie cutter out to the edge.  You want to make your cuts as equal as possible.  I made mine by starting with four cuts along the north, east, south and west lines creating four quadrants.  Then, make four more cuts dividing each of the four quadrants in half.  You should now have 8 sections.  Cut each of those sections in half again and you will end up with 16 cuts and 16 sections.

Starting at the bottom, take the two strips on either side of the south line and twist them away from each other, making a motion like you are opening a book.  Twist those same two strips away from each other a second time then pinch the ends of the strips together.  Repeat this process with the next two strips and continue, two by two, until you have the eight arms of your star.

That's it.  That wasn't so hard, was it?  It is actually harder to describe the process than it is to do it.  Bake your bread according to KAF's recipe and pull a very impressive (and tasty!) loaf from the oven. 

So, stay tuned.  My plan is to feature a bread shaping technique every 4 to 6 weeks or so throughout 2016.  Have a great and delicious day!!

 

 

 

" ... The Stars Are Brightly Shining ..."

"O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior's birth.  ..."  So begins my favorite Christmas Carol.  Music is an integral part of this holiday season for me and this carol in particular always fills me with peace and hope.  There is something about the imagery evoked by the words that touches me deep inside every time I sing this carol.

"...  Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! ..."

I close my eyes and I can see it all before me.  On that starry, starry night so long ago, all people regardless of their station in life, from the shepherds in the fields to the Magi, knelt in the presence of the Holy Child while the voices of the angels rang out over them.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace to all people."

Cinnamon Star Bread

Cinnamon Star Bread

Baking is also an important part of the holiday for me.  I am a baker, after all, a gift given to me by God, and so to celebrate this season of hope and light, I have made a sweet bread which brings to my mind that holy night when the Christmas Star arose and the angels sang so sweetly - cinnamon star bread.  Isn't this just a gorgeous loaf?  I saw this recipe in King Arthur Flour's Baker's Catalog this fall and immediately tagged it for the holiday season.  There is a post on this bread on KAF's blog Flourish which is complete with the recipe and photos demonstrating how to mix and shape the dough to achieve the star effect.

I chose to shape my loaf a little differently than KAF's version because I wanted more of the Christmas Star shape than a star with arms of equal length.  I rolled the dough sections in more of an egg shape than a circle, using an Easter egg cookie cutter as my guide.  I cut and shaped the arms of my star as instructed in the recipe.  I am happy with the result as were my husband and my friends who not only loved the way the bread looked but the way it tasted as well.

To close this post, I am sharing a slideshow of some of the many angels displayed in my home and on my Christmas tree.  Old and new, large and small, glass, wood, lace, embroidered, copper and tin, they all proclaim the birth of Christ the Lord on this night so many years ago.

Can you hear the angels singing?  Merry Christmas, my very dear friends!  May the peace and hope of this season fill your heart.

“Have you heard the sound of the angel voices
Ringing out so sweetly, ringing out so clear?
Have you seen the star shining out so brightly
As a sign from God that Christ the Lord is here?
Have you heard the news that they bring from heaven
To the humble shepherds who have waited long?
Gloria in Excelsis Deo! Hear the angels sing their joyful song.”
— "Angels' Carol" by John Rutter


Remembering Mom

I lost my mom in 2000.  Lots of things that I see and do cause me to think of her but it is when I am baking that she is most often in the front of my mind.  That's because I credit my mom for helping me to be fearless and willing to try all things baking.  I was looking at a picture of a beautiful cake in a magazine many years ago. The cake was gorgeous as cakes in magazines often are.  I commented that I would never to be able to make the cake and have it turn out like it was in the photo.  My mom said why wouldn't my cake turn out like it was in the picture?  The magazine gave instructions on how to do it; it's called a recipe.  Mom said, "You can read.  If you can read, you can bake.  If you can read, you can cook.  If you can read, you can do anything."  Mom's point was this - don't give up before you even try.  Of course, Mom was right.  I've never forgotten that conversation.  That is why when I read a recipe for, say, a really beautiful bread, I just CAN'T WAIT to get in the kitchen and give it a go.  (Hint:  just wait until you see the bread that is going to be the subject of my Christmas post!).

Cranberry Orange Tea Loaf

Cranberry Orange Tea Loaf

Anyway, one of my mom's most favorite things about fall was the appearance of cranberries in the market.  To this day, when I first see cranberries, I hear Mom saying, "Oh look, Gloria!  Cranberries!  Quick, go get some oranges!"  And that is what I do.  When I get home, the first thing I do after putting away the groceries is make a batch of cranberry relish with those cranberries and oranges.  This is the simplest of recipes with only three ingredients - cranberries, oranges, and sugar.  Because of this relish which I have eaten every fall for as long as I can remember, I love the cranberry/orange flavor combination.   If you like the cranberry/orange combo too then you will really enjoy Cranberry Orange Tea Loaf.  (This recipe appears in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion cookbook.)

Ingredients for Cranberry Orange Tea Loaf

Ingredients for Cranberry Orange Tea Loaf

Cranberry Orange Tea Loaf is a quick bread so it comes together in a flash.  For this recipe, you will need AP flour, granulated sugar, vegetable oil, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sour cream, a large egg, the zest and juice of one orange and dried cranberries.

Before we put the batter together, I wanted to mention a neat little gadget that I received as a gift from a friend a couple of years ago - the zest nest.  The zest nest is an oval microplane with an enclosed rounded cup attached to the back.  As you zest your citrus, the zest collects in the cup.  When you are ready to add the zest to your recipe, just flip the cup off and easily scoop out your zest.  Okay, back to the batter.

Batter ready for the pan

Batter ready for the pan

As with most quick breads, the dry ingredients are whisked together in one bowl and the wet ingredients, including the orange zest and juice, are mixed together in a separate bowl.  Pour the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients and stir together to combine.  Add in your cranberries, stir, and pour the batter into a prepared 9 x 5 loaf pan.   (Remember, your pan should be prepared before you mix your batter.  Grease, line with parchment, and grease the parchment.) 

Bake your loaf in a preheated 350 degree oven for about an hour.  A tester (read toothpick) should come out clean and the bread should start to pull away from the sides of the loaf pan.  Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes before lifting it out with the parchment.  Cool your loaf on a rack.  When the loaf is completely cool, wrap it up in plastic wrap and allow it to sit overnight.  This is for best results.  If you absolutely can't wait to taste your bread, you should at least wait until it is cool before cutting it.

That is a lovely loaf of Cranberry Orange Tea Bread.  Here's to you, Mom.  I wish you were here to share a slice of bread and a cup of tea with me.  I love you and I miss you.  And I thank you.

 

Powered by Squarespace. Background image by  Gloria Aiello.