Honore Baking

Promoting the art of home baking

Zucchini Bread: Summer's Sweet Squash

Years ago, my brother and his grad school roommate had a small patch of ground in a community garden where they grew their own fresh vegetables.  I remember my brother saying that they could always tell a rookie gardener was in the house by the number of zucchini plants he had.  Experienced gardeners know that zucchini plants are quite prolific growers which limits the need for more than one or maybe two plants.  Any more than that and you'll have a zucchini-palooza.  With zucchini abundant at the farmer's markets now, a zucchini bread recipe seems in order.  Like the star ingredient, zucchini bread recipes abound.  I found today's recipe, Award Winning Zucchini Bread, on Pinterest.  You can find it on the web site for Sally's Baking Addiction.  Streusel topping, chocolate chips, I'm sold.  Are you ready to bake?  

This recipe makes one 9 x 5 loaf.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease your pan then line it with a baking parchment sling to make removing the finished loaf from the pan easy-peasy.  Let's make the streusel topping first.  In a medium sized bowl, combine 2/3 cup oatmeal (old fashioned or quick, your choice), 1/2 cup, packed brown sugar (light or dark, your choice), 2 tablespoons of AP flour and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Using a pastry blender or just your fingers, cut in 1/4 cup of unsalted butter which has been chopped into small pieces.  Mix until the streusel topping looks like coarse crumbs.  If desired, stir in 1 tablespoon of chocolate chips.  Set the topping aside for a bit.

In a large bowl, combine your dry ingredients:  1-1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon table salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg and, if desired, 3/4 cup chocolate chips.  Whisk the dry ingredients together and set your bowl aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients:  1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1/2 cup, packed brown sugar (light or dark), 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 cup plain applesauce and two teaspoons vanilla extract.  To the wet ingredients, add 1 cup of grated zucchini.  Baker's note, zucchini has a high water content and will quickly release that water once it has been grated.  So, grate the zucchini last after you have combined the other wet ingredients together but before you have added them to the dry ingredients.  Add the grated zucchini to the wet ingredients and stir to combine.

Now, pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients.  Stir together with a spatula or wooden spoon just until combined.  Don't stir too much.  Over stirring will make your bread tough.  Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Now you're ready for the oven.  BUT WAIT!!  What about that streusel topping, you ask?  We don't want the streusel to sink to the bottom of the loaf during baking so we're going to bake the bread for a bit then add the topping so that it stays on top where it belongs.

Okay.  Slide the pan into the oven and bake the bread for about 20 minutes.  Just this little bit of time is enough for the gluten in the flour to start to set up giving the loaf enough structure to hold up the topping.  Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle on the streusel.  Lightly press it down a bit into the loaf.  Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.



When the bread is done baking, let the loaf cool in the pan on a rack for about one hour.  After an hour, using the parchment sling, lift the bread out of the pan and set it onto the rack to cool completely.  Gently pull the parchment paper from under the loaf.  Now, isn't that a pretty sight?

As with most other quick breads, it is best to wrap the loaf tightly in plastic wrap once it has cooled completely and let it sit overnight at room temperature before cutting.  This overnight rest allows the moisture in the loaf to redistribute evenly and it softens the crust just enough to make for easy slicing without crumbling. 

Feel free to adjust the add-ins for this recipe.  Don't want the chocolate chips?  Leave 'em out.  Would you rather use nuts?  Go for it!  Or just go the plain and simple route.  It's entirely up to you!  The next time I make this bread, I may use bittersweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet chips as I found the semi-sweet chips just a tad too sweet.  Or I may just skip the chocolate chips all together.  This bread is so good, IMO, that it really doesn't need anything added in. 

Until next time, happy baking!

Triple Chocolate Scones - 'Nuff Said!

Scones are a delicious and versatile treat.  Savory or sweet.  Fruit, nut, spice, herb, cheese.  The possibilities really are endless.  Scones also have the added benefit of being super-easy to make.  You don't even need to use a mixer! Today, we're going for chocolate.  Yum!!!

Triple Chocolate Scones.  The first time I saw this recipe on King Arthur Flour's web site a couple of years ago, I saved it and put it into my "gotta bake these" file.  Do you have a file like that?  A place where you collect recipes that you come across in the newspaper, a magazine or online?  Recipes that sound so good that you clip them or save them with the intention of making them someday?

It took me a while but I eventually worked my way to the recipe for triple chocolate scones last fall.  All I have to say about that is, "Wow!  Why did I wait so long??!!"  So what makes them triple chocolate?  A chocolate dough, studded with chocolate chips, and chocolate ganache on top.  Yet for all of this chocolate, these scones are amazingly light.  You can skip the chocolate ganache if you think it is too much.  But when it comes down to it, why skip it?  If you are going the chocolate route, go all the way, I say.

So, here is what you need to make these scones.  AP flour and white whole wheat flour, Dutch process cocoa powder, granulated sugar, espresso powder, baking powder and baking soda, salt, butter, chocolate chips, egg, milk and vanilla.  (For the full recipe, go to King Arthur Flour's web site).  Espresso powder?  Yes, espresso powder.  Trust me, you won't taste it at all.  What you will taste is enhanced chocolate flavor.  Espresso powder is optional here so if you don't have it in your pantry, don't worry.  But if you do have espresso powder, I recommend using it.

Okay.  In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients.  Use a whisk to thoroughly blend the dry ingredients together.  Then, cut in the butter using a pastry blender or a fork or your fingers.  The dry ingredients will still be, well, dry after cutting in the butter.  However, the mixture will be more crumbly in texture.  Add in your chocolate chips.  Here's what your dry ingredients should look like.

In a separate bowl or a large liquid measuring cup, mix together the milk, the vanilla extract and one large egg.  Pour the liquid ingredients into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and stir together until everything holds together. 

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toss together 3 tablespoons of 10x sugar and 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder and sprinkle it on the parchment paper.  This sugar/cocoa mixture will help keep the scones from sticking.  Divide the dough in half and put both pieces of dough on the baking sheet.  Pat each piece of dough into a square or circle about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut each piece of dough into six scones using a floured bench knife.  Flour the bench knife between each cut and press firmly to shear the dough cleanly.  Do not saw and wiggle the knife.  Clean cuts will allow the scones to rise higher.  These scones really rise and expand when they bake so I like to divide each scone in half again for a total of 24 scones.  If you can do it without smushing the scones, separate the scones.  If the scones are too soft to separate at this point, don't worry about it. 

After shaping, put the baking sheet with the scones in the freezer to firm up before baking.  In my opinion, scones are best eaten the day that they are baked.  So, I usually like to mix and shape the scones on the day before I want to serve them.  I then store them in the freezer over night and bake them the next morning.  In fact, unbaked scones freeze so well, I usually have some in a zippered bag in the freezer.  Anytime I feel like a scone, I just take out what I want and bake it.

When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  I like to preheat my oven at least 30 minutes to be sure that it is at the proper temperature for baking.  Slide the baking sheet with the scones into the oven and bake the scones for 18 to 23 minutes, depending on their size, until they lose their moist appearance and a toothpick inserted into the middle of scone comes out clean.  If your scones rested overnight in the freezer, you don't need to thaw them before baking.  Just add a few minutes to the baking time.  When the scones are done, slide them while still on the parchment paper onto a rack to cool.  Can you see how much the scones rose and expanded during baking?

When the scones have cooled, prepare the ganache, if you are planning to use it.  Put 2/3 cup of chocolate chips (either semisweet or bittersweet; your preference) and 1/4 cup half and half in a microsafe bowl.  Heat the mixture until the cream is hot.  The hot cream will melt the chips.  I usually heat 1 minutes at 70 percent and then check.  You don't want to burn the mixture.  You know your microwave oven so adjust the time and power setting as needed.  Stir the cream and chips together until you have a smooth, creamy glaze.  Spread the glaze over the scones.

That's it!  Your triple chocolate scones are ready to serve.  Don't they look luscious?  Don't do what I did and wait to make these scones.  Go make a batch right now!  You'll be SO glad that you did!


Cookie Art: Part 3

Today, we are going to tint and thin our royal icing.  I use Soft Gel Paste Food Coloring made by AmeriColor.  Gel paste food colors are very intense and come in a vast array of colors.  You can also make custom colors by combining two or more base colors.   For the firworks cookies that I made to celebrate the Fourth of July this year I used AmeriColor Super Red, Bright White and Navy Blue gel pastes. 

I know what your are thinking.  White gel paste food color??  Really?  Why would we need to use a white food color when the royal icing is ... well ... white?  Untinted royal icing will look off-white when it is dry.  If that is what you want, then you don't need to white gel paste, but if you want WHITE, then you need to use the gel paste food coloring.

After you have mixed up a batch of royal icing, divide it into separate bowls for each color of piping and flood icing you will need for your cookie design.  For my fireworks cookies, I needed white flood icing, red piping icing and blue piping icing.  So I divided my icing into three separate bowls.  The first step is to tint your icing.  Squeeze in a small amount of gel paste and gently mix it into the icing.  Look at the color.  Is it what your design calls for?  If you need it darker, add in a bit more gel paste.  Keep in mind that the color will darken a bit when it dries.  Here's my red piping icing.  I needed it to be a bit darker so I added in more gel paste.

Piping icings are ready to go after tinting.  Cover the bowls with plastic wrap or damp paper towels while you work on your flood icing.  Flood icing needs to be thinned with a small amount of water so that it will flow smoothly on the cookie.  Thinning royal icing can be tricky.  You don't really need that much water to thin the icing to the consistency that you need.  Remember, you can always add more water if you need it but you can't take water out so go easy when adding water.  I start thinning royal icing by adding a teaspoon of water.  Stir gently to avoid adding in too much air.  Keep adding water a couple of drops at a time until it thinned to the proper consistency.  What is the proper consistency?  When you spoon up the icing and drop it back into the bowl, the ribbon of icing you drop in should disappear into the rest of the icing on a count of "one thousand one; one thousand two."  Here's the white flood icing for the background of the fireworks cookies.  Can you see the difference between the white and the red icing above?

Your icing is ready to be applied to your cookies.  Piping icing is spooned into a piping bag fitted with a no. 2 icing tip.  Flood icing is spooned into a plastic squeeze bottle.  Are you ready to decorate?  Let's go!

I work six cookies at a time in an assembly line pattern.  First, I pipe an outline on each cookie.  My design for these cookies calls for either a red or blue border on the cookie.  After piping on the border on each cookie, I then go back and squeeze on flood icing onto each cookie.  By the time I have applied the flood icing on the sixth cookie, the icing on the first cookie has started to spread an fill in.  To help it along, I use a toothpick and push the flood icing gently to fill in the gaps to totally cover the cookie.

The fireworks design is created with dots and lines of red and blue piping icing.  The flood icing background needs to dry about 30 minutes before I can apply the fireworks so I am going to outline and flood all of my cookies first.  By the time I have completed that task on all of my cookies (about 2-1/2 dozen), the first six are ready for the fireworks design. 


I piped dots, lines and arcs following the fireworks design that I made.  Not bad if I do say so myself! 

Once you have decorated all of your cookies, let them dry undisturbed for 12 to 18 hours.  Yes hours!  I put the cookie sheets with the decorated cookies on my dining room table.  Do not cover the cookies!!  You will smear your icing design!  The cookies will be fine to dry uncovered overnight.  By the next morning, the icing is dry and your cookies are ready to serve!

Creating decorated sugar cookies is not a quick task.  These cookies require planning and time.  It is all worth it when you see the delight on the faces of your family members and guests when they see your art work.

I hope that you consider adding these cookies to your baking list.  Happy baking!

Cookie Art: Part 2

Royal Icing

Royal Icing

Welcome to Cookie Art Part 2!  Last week, we made the vanilla almond sugar cookie recipe created by Bridget Edwards of Bake at 350 that I use when making iced sugar cookies.  This week, we are going to tackle making the royal icing that you need to decorate your cookies.  Royal icing is a mixture of meringue powder, water, 10x sugar, corn syrup and flavoring which dries very hard and opaque.   One full batch of Bridget's royal icing will allow you to decorate about 3 to 6 dozen 4 inch cookies depending on the number of colors you intend to use.  Half of the recipe will easily cover  2 to 3 dozen cookies using 3 different colors.

One thing I recommend when making iced sugar cookies is to have your cookie design planned in advance.  Once you know how many colors you need, and how much piping icing and flood icing you need, you can determine whether half of the royal icing is sufficient.  Here's the design plan for my Fourth of July Fireworks cookies.  The border and fireworks design will be done in red and blue piping icing and the background will be white flood icing.  I have just over two dozen cookies to decorate so half of the royal icing recipe will be sufficient.  Okay, let's get to it.

To make a full batch of Bridget's royal icing you will need 1/2 cup of meringue powder, 1 scant cup of water, 2 pounds of 10x sugar, 2 teaspoons of light corn syrup and 1/2 teaspoon of clear extract for flavoring.  I usually use almond extract.  The photo to the right shows the ingredients that I used.  Remember, I only made half a batch of icing.  What does it mean when I say a scant cup (or 1/2 cup) of water?  Well, you want just under the full amount.  Using my OXO measuring cup, you will see in the photo below that the water level is just below the line.


Okay.  Put your meringue powder and water in the bowl of your stand mixer.  You want to use the paddle attachment to make your royal icing.  Mix the meringue powder and the water together on medium speed to create a foamy mixture.  Mixing at medium speed will also help to eliminate any lumps of meringue powder.  This is what the meringue powder/water mixture will look like after mixing/beating.

At that point, add in the powdered sugar, the corn syrup and the almond extract ( or other flavoring) if you are using it.  Beat this mixture on low until everything is incorporated.  If you started on a higher speed, the powdered sugar would fly everywhere so keep it low at firstYou should stop the mixture and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to be sure that everything is mixed in.  Then increase the speed of the mixer to medium low (I use #3 on my KitchenAid stand mixer) and beat the icing for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, turn the speed up to medium high (I use #5 on my KitchenAid) and beat the icing until it holds a stiff peak.  The icing will be glossy and will expand in volume as you beat it.

So how do you know if the icing will hold a stiff peak?  You need to check the consistency.  Stop the mixer and remove the paddle attachment.  (NOTE:  For safety, you should ALWAYS unplug the mixer before inserting or removing any attachment.)  Hold the beater bottom side up and give it a gentle shake.  If the point of the icing flops over, it needs more beating.  If the icing holds the point, as it does in the first photo above, the icing is ready to be used.

At this point, the royal icing is at the proper consistency for piping.  Piping consistency icing is used for borders to keep flood icing on the cookie.  Piping icing can also be used for decorating.  Flood icing is used for backgrounds and for wet-on-wet techniques.  Flood icing is piping icing which has been thinned with a bit of water. 

Now that our royal icing is ready, it is time to tint it then thin it for flooding.  That is the next chapter in our story which we will address next week.  Happy baking dear friends!

Cookie Art: Part 1

Fourth of July Fireworks Cookies

Fourth of July Fireworks Cookies

Over the past year and half of blog posts, I have shared with you images and thoughts on sugar cookies decorated with royal icing that I have made.  Although I have written about some of the decorating techniques that I have learned, I haven't shared with you the basic recipes I use for these cookies.  I teach a class that I call Cookie Art during which I show home bakers how to make the sugar cookies and the royal icing to decorate them.  So I thought I would share those recipes with you over the next couple of weeks.  Today, we're going to make the cookies.

Call me old fashioned, but when I want to try something new, the first thing I do is look for a book or two which will give me some guidance.  I love looking on Amazon because many times, they give you the opportunity to look inside the book before buying it.  So, when I decided to give decorated sugar cookies a try, I went to Amazon.  There were quite a few books to choose from.  After sifting through a number of the books offered, I narrowed my selection down to two and placed my order.  I read the recipes and instructions in both of the books that I purchased and after weighing the options, I decided to try the Vanilla Almond Sugar cookie recipe published by Bridget Edwards in her book Decorating Cookies.  Why did I settle on this recipe?  Well, I love anything almond flavored.  Plus, the dough did not have to be refrigerated before rolling and baking the cookies.  I also really enjoyed Bridget's writing and her encouraging and supporting commentary on baking and decorating cookies.  Bridget's cookie designs are beautiful, too.  If you want to take a look for yourself, you can visit Bridget's website Bake at 350.

Okay, so to make Bridget's Vanilla Almond Sugar Cookies, you need three cups of AP flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 2 sticks of salted butter, 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1 egg, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.  Whisk together the flour and baking powder and set it aside.

Next, cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer.  The butter should be cold and cut into small chunks.  Also, be sure to use salted butter.  Using unsalted butter will result in sugar cookies that taste flat.  Trust me, made that mistake!

Cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.  Next, beat in your egg and the vanilla and almond extracts.  I usually use a little more of each extract - almost a full teaspoon of each actually!  I love a more assertive vanilla almond flavoring.  After the egg and extracts are combined in the butter sugar mixture, add in the flour/baking powder mixture in three parts, mixing to combine after each addition.  Here's the fully mixed dough, ready to go.

This cookie dough is an absolute delight to work with!  It is easy to roll and cut.  To roll out the cookies, prepare your work surface with some flour.  You may also want to flour your rolling pin.  Taking a portion of the cookie dough, knead it a couple of times to bring it together then roll it out.  I like to lift and move the dough between rolling strokes to ensure that it is not sticking to the rolling surface.  Add a sprinkling of additional flour as needed to your work surface and rolling pin.  One of the things that makes these cookies so special is their thickness.  I roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick.  Yes, I do actually use a ruler!

If you use a silicone rolling mat like I do, may I suggest moving the rolled dough to another surface before cutting the cookies?  I learned the hard way that you really should not cut cookies on the rolling mat.  No matter how careful you think you are, you may be making small cuts in the mat which ruins the mat.

Cut as many cookies as you can from the dough, then re-roll the scraps.  Place your cut cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet about two inches apart.  Continue this process until all of the dough is used.  If you have any dough scraps left, but not enough to cut another cookie, just bake up the scraps.  Those are the baker's taste test cookies!  Yum!

Cookie before baking

Cookie before baking

Place the filled cookie sheet in the freezer for about 7 minutes before sliding it into a preheated 350 degree oven.  The quick chill in the freezer helps the butter to resolidify which will help the cookies maintain their shape.  For cookies which are 3-1/2 to 4 inches in diameter, bake for 9 to 12 minutes or until they appear done in the center.  Smaller cookies will need less time; larger cookies will need more time.  Note:  these cookies will not brown much.  When they are done, remove the sheets and allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes.  Remove the cookies from the sheet and let them cool completely before decorating them.

When I make decorated sugar cookies, I usually do it over two days.  The first day, I bake the cookies.  Baking a single batch of these cookies takes about an hour, from start to finish.  Then, I decorate the cookies the next day.  Making the royal icing and tinting it and thinning it takes more time so I like to do it on the second day to avoid feeling rushed.  Next week, we will tackle making royal icing and decorating the cookies.  Until then, happy baking!

Cookie after baking

Cookie after baking

Baking with Basil: Savory Basil Parmesan Scones

Beautiful fresh basil!

Beautiful fresh basil!

Last week, I got this beautiful basil bouquet from my mushroom man at the farmer's market.  Isn't it gorgeous?  I wish I could post a scratch 'n' sniff pic so that you could enjoy the fabulous aroma emanating from those luscious leaves.  When I saw the basil, I knew immediately what I was going to make with it.

In the Spring issue of Sift, King Arthur Flour published a wonderful article on scones.  I love scones!  They are so simple to make.  You don't even need to pull out your mixer.  Most often, we think of scones as a sweet treat for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea.  But scones are not restricted to the sweet side of the baking spectrum.  In fact, scones are quite capable of supplying a savory accompaniment to lunch or dinner.  I was intrigued by KAF recipes for a couple of savory scones and tagged them for a future baking session.  So today, I am sharing with you one of those savory scone recipes.  My friends, say hello to ...

Basil Parmesan Scones!!!  Admit it, you want to try these scones, don't you?  And you definitely should because these basil parmesan scones are off the hook!!   Okay kids, let's bake!

The recipe calls for using either fresh or dried basil.  But it is summertime so use fresh basil if you can get it.  Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups of AP flour, 1 TABLESPOON (yes, you read correctly!) baking powder, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt and either 2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped.  As you can see from the photo, I used quite a bit of basil and I didn't chop it too finely.  I wanted to really see it in the finished scone.

Next, take 1/4 cup of cold, cold salted butter and cut it into smaller chunks.  Cut the butter chunks into the flour mixture until the mixture is evenly crumbly.

For the wet ingredients you will need 2 large eggs.  You need to separate one of the eggs, reserving the white to use for topping the scones before baking.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of either buttermilk or plain yogurt, 1 whole large egg plus the yolk of the second large egg.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and gently stir until the dough holds together.

Place the dough on a well floured surface and gently press it into a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick.  Using a bench knife or dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 squares then cut the squares on a diagonal so that you end up with 12 triangular scones.  Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet. 

Make a wash with the reserved egg white by whisking in 1 tablespoon of water.  Brush the scones with the egg wash then sprinkle on more grated Parmesan cheese.  These scones are ready for the oven!

Bake the scones for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated 425 degree oven.  Scones are done when they are lightly golden around the edges and on top.  Cool the scones on a rack for 10 minutes before serving them warm or at room temperature.  WARNING!  These scones will make your kitchen smell heavenly!  And you won't be able to resist tasting one.  Ahh, the power of basil and cheese!!

Just look at that gorgeous scone!  Light, flaky and utterly delicious.  The fresh basil stays brilliantly green and fragrant through the baking process.  From start to finish, these basil parmesan scones were ready in 45 minutes.  That's it!!  That's almost instant gratification.  Serve the scones with a nice bowl of garden minestrone soup, like I did, or maybe a simple pasta dish.  Or just eat them by themselves.  Or maybe with a nice glass of wine.  Let your imagination go free.  However you decide to enjoy them, please do yourself the favor of mixing up a batch of these savory basil parmesan scones.


Rhubarb Treats

One of my favorite spring/summer treats is rhubarb.  My mother would be so happy when she saw the rhubarb sign hanging from the mailbox of a local gardener who sold the excess produce from his garden.  When Mom came in with a large paper grocery bag bursting with freshly cut rhubarb, we knew that we would be having stewed rhubarb and rhubarb crumble in the near future.  Today, I have a good friend who graciously shares the bounty of his father's rhubarb patch with me.  A couple of weeks ago, I received a huge bag of freshly cut rhubarb and, like my mom, I made a rhubarb crumble for dessert that same night.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Bars

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Bars

As a thank you for the rhubarb, I wanted to make a portable rhubarb treat that I could share with my friends at the park so I searched on Pinterest and came across a recipe for strawberry rhubarb crumble bars.  Strawberries and rhubarb play so nicely together don't you think?  The crust for these bars has the same ingredients as my mother's rhubarb crumble recipe so I knew they would be tasty.  In fact, these bars are DELICIOUS!! So, with rhubarb and strawberries plentiful at the local farmer's market, today I am going to share the recipe for these bars with you.  (This recipe was created by Audra a/k/a The Baker Chick).  Okay, let's bake!

Here are the stars of today's recipe.  Just look at that luscious rhubarb!  And those ruby red strawberries!  YUM!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly coat a 13 x 9 baking pan with butter.  Combine 2 cups of chopped rhubarb and 2 cups of sliced strawberries ina 2 quart saucepan.  Let me digress here for a moment to talk about measuring the fruit for this recipe.  It is really so much easier to use a food scale to measure the rhubarb and strawberries instead of a dry cup measure.  One cup of chopped rhubarb weighs 4 ounces.  One cup of sliced strawberries weighs 6 ounces.  That is true today, tomorrow, always.  Doesn't matter how big or small the berries are.  Put your bowl on the scale, chop or slice the fruit, put it in the bowl until the correct weight is reached.  Boom. Done.  No guesswork.  Okay.  Back to the recipe.

In addition to the chopped rhubarb and sliced strawberries, you want to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the saucepan.  Cover the saucepan and cook the fruit over medium heat until the fruit is tender.  Stir the fruit occasionally as it cooks.  This should take about 8 to 12 minutes. 

While the fruit is cooking, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a small bowl.  When the fruit is softened, stir in the sugar/cornstarch mixture.  Continue cooking the fruit filling, stirring continuously, until it reaches a boil.  Continue cooking until the filling until it is thickened, about 1 minute, then remove it from the heat and set it aside while you make the crust.  

In the bowl of your mixer, combine 1-1/2 cups AP flour, 1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats, 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 3/4 cup salted butter, softened, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a healthy 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.  The cinnamon is my addition to the crust.  Mix the crust ingredients on low speed until the crust mixture is crumbly.  It will not hold together in the bowl.

Place 1-1/2 cups of the crust mixture in a small bowl.  Scrape the remainder of the crust mixture into your prepared 13 x 9 pan and press it firmly into the pan.  Then, spread the strawberry rhubarb filling mixture over the bottom crust.  Spread the filling all the way to the sides of the pan.  Finally evenly sprinkle the reserved crust mixture over the top of the filling.


Bake the bars for 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is evenly golden brown.  Remove the bars from the oven and allow them to cool completely before attempting to cut them.  These bars are soft all the way through but should hold together when you pick one up to eat.  I will tell you these bars were VERY well received.  I brought home an empty tray from the park, always a sign that my baking efforts were successful.

If you are looking for a different spin on the classic strawberry rhubarb combination, you may want to give these bars a try.  I can tell you that I will definitely be making these tasty morsels again ... and again and again.  Happy baking!

It's Burger Time!

Homemade Buttertop Buns

Homemade Buttertop Buns

Memorial Day is in the rear view mirror.  School is done for the year.  Family travel is on the rise.  What do all of these things signal to us?  Summer is here!!  And summer means cook-outs.  Sliced watermelon, potato or macaroni salad, iced tea.  And the star of the show?  Hamburgers and hot dog cooked to perfection on the grill.  If you are like the vast majority of people, these popular summertime proteins are usually served on buns.  But unlike most people, you have baked those buns yourself rather than picking up a couple of packages at the supermarket.  Wait ... what??  Yes!!  Homemade burger buns!  Trust me, once you have tried these homemade buns, you won't want to buy them from the market again. 

The recipe for these tasty wonders comes from King Arthur Flour.  It is easy and delicious.  Ready?  Here we go.  In a bowl mix together about 7 ounces of lukewarm water, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 large egg, 3-1/2 cups of AP flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1-1/4 teaspoons of table salt and 1 TABLESPOON of instant yeast.  Yes, I said tablespoon.  You can mix these ingredients together by hand, in a bread machine or in a stand mixer.  I use my trusty stand mixer.  You want to mix and knead the ingredients until the dough is soft and smooth.  This should take about 7 minutes of mixing/kneading on speed no. 2 on a KitchenAid stand mixer.

After mixing/kneading the dough, put it in a bowl, cover it and let it rise until it is nearly doubled in bulk.  This should take anywhere from one to two hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  My dough needed about 90 minutes to rise.


When the dough has risen, turn it out onto your shaping surface and divide it into 8 equally sized pieces.  The easiest and most accurate way to do this is to use a kitchen scale.   I know the weight of my dough bucket so once the dough is ready for shaping, I weigh the bucket with the dough.  After subtracting out the weight of the bucket, I know the weight of the dough.  I divide that number by eight to get the weight for each bun.  Using my scale again, I divide the dough into eight equal pieces.

Shape each piece of dough into either a ball, if you're making burger buns, or small log, if you're making hot dog/sausage buns, and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.  I served hot sausage for Memorial Day so the buns in the photos are shaped in an elongated fashion to accommodate a sausage.  This dough is very easy to work with so shaping the buns is a breeze.  Flatten each piece of dough, cover them and let them rise for approximately one hour.  The buns will be noticeably puffy but they won't double in bulk.

About 30 minutes into the second rise, turn on your oven to preheat to 375 degrees.  Melt three tablespoons of butter.  I used salted butter for added flavor.  You can use unsalted butter if you prefer.  Just prior to baking, brush the risen buns with half of the melted butter.  This will promote browning.

Bake the buns for 15 to 18 minutes until they are golden brown.  Your kitchen will smell fantastic!  Remove the buns from the oven and transfer them to a rack to cool.  Immediately after you slide the buns onto the rack, brush them with the remaining melted butter.  This will make the crust of the bun soft, not mushy, and buttery.  Delish!

There you are!  Eight beautiful, delicious buns for your cook-out or picnic.   Once your guests taste these gems, they'll be asking you to supply the buns for the next family get-together.  And that is no problem for you because you are the family baker; right?  Need more than eight buns?  No worries.  These buns freeze very well so make what you need ahead of time and stash them in the freezer until you are ready for them.  Happy baking dear friends!

Recipes - What does it mean when it says ...

Recipes are the baker's map to a successful product.  Preheat, combine, cream, sift.  What do these terms mean?  I get questions all the time about recipe instructions so from time to time I'm going to address some of these terms and instructions.

The very first instruction in a recipe often times is "Preheat your oven to ____."  Preheating your oven to the temperature called for in the recipe is very important.  An oven that is too cool or too hot will greatly affect the finished bread, cake or cookie.  So how do you know that your oven has reached the proper temperature?  My oven beeps when the desired temperature is reached.  Or does it?  In fact, most home oven temperature indicators are inaccurate.  To be certain that your oven is preheated, you should turn it on at least 30 minutes before you slide in the first pan of cookies.

You have preheated you oven for 30 minutes so you oven must be at the correct temperature; right?  Not necessarily.  Several years ago, I discovered that my oven was not properly calibrated.  I was baking a loaf of quick bread.  The recipe called for baking the bread in a 350 degree oven for 60 minutes or until a tester came out clean.  The timer went off after 60 minutes and I could tell that the bread was not even remotely close to being done.  It took an additional 45 minutes before the loaf was done.  I knew that I had mixed the batter correctly so I became suspicious that the oven calibration was off.

I bought an oven thermometer and discovered that my oven was off by 25 degrees.  Yikes!!  The next time I set out to bake, I set the oven for 25 degrees higher than the temperature called for in the recipe.  After 30 minutes, I checked the oven thermometer and my oven was heated to the proper baking temperature.  Problem solved.  I just left the thermometer hanging off the rack in the oven and every time I baked, I set the oven temperature 25 degrees higher than the temp called for in the recipe.

Baking at the proper temperature is essential to a successful end product.  So, if you are having problems with your final baked goods being over- or under-baked after the suggested baking time in the recipe, perhaps your oven calibration is off.  Check it with an oven thermometer.  You can obtain an oven thermometer relatively inexpensively from Amazon.  I replaced my old range a couple of years ago and I still use my hanging oven thermometer to be sure that my oven is at the proper temperature.

Yummy Pudding Cookies

Triple Chip Butterscotch Cookies

Triple Chip Butterscotch Cookies

A couple of weeks ago, I made a wonderful cookie that I'm sharing with you today.  I got the recipe from one of my favorite sources, Maria Lichty of Two Peas and their Pod.  This simple cookie packs a punch with not one but THREE types of chips.  Are you ready to give Triple Chip Butterscotch Cookies a try?  Say yes; you'll be glad that you did.

These cookies get their delightfully soft texture from instant pudding mix.  Pudding mix also helps these cookies to stay soft for several days.  Or so they say.  I have no proof of that because these cookies were quickly gobbled up by my friends.  You will also need butterscotch chips, vanilla chips and chocolate chips.  Maria's recipe calls for semi-sweet chocolate chips but I used bittersweet chocolate chips instead.  I really prefer bittersweet chocolate in my baking to the point that semisweet chocolate chips are too sweet for my taste.

First in a medium size bowl whisk together 2-1/2 cups of AP flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Set this mixture aside.  Next, beat together 1 cup of softened butter (I used one stick of salted butter and one stick of unsalted butter), 3/4 cup of light brown sugar and 1/4 cup of granulated white sugar until light and fluffy.  Add in one 3.4 ounce package of butterscotch instant pudding mix, 2 large eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Then, add in your flour mixture and mix until combined.  Stir in one cup of each chip (butterscotch, vanilla and chocolate, either semi-sweet or bittersweet, your choice) for a total of three cups of chips.  That's a lot of chips!!

Scoop dough by rounded tablespoonful and drop on your parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are slightly golden on the edges and are set.  I needed to bake my cookies a couple of minutes longer.  Let the cookies cool on the pan for three minutes before removing them to cool completely.

The finished cookie here is nice and chunky; the dough does not spread that much.  Just look at all those chips!  There you have it!  A wonderful cookie to share any time of year.  I hope that you give these tasty treats a try.  Happy baking, dear friends!

Makin' Bacon ... in the Oven?

Like many people, I love bacon.  What's not to love about it; right?  The smell, the taste, the texture; mmmmm.  But cooking bacon?  Not so much.  Grease spatters all over the stove and you.  And there is only so much bacon that can fit into a skillet.  We can put a man on the moon.  Can we come up with a better way to cook bacon?  Until a couple of years ago I didn't think so.  Then I read about making bacon in the oven.  It sounded to good to be true.  Cook a whole pound at once and the oven doesn't become a greasy mess?  Yeah, right.

I was skeptical at first.  But then I read numerous comments to the blog post by PJ Hamel of King Arthur Flour and many, many, MANY cooks said that they have been making bacon in the oven for YEARS.  Okay, okay.  I decided to give it a try and I haven't looked back.

Bakin' your bacon is easy, peasy.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil then a sheet of parchment paper.  Then place your bacon on the sheet.  You do a whole pound of bacon at one time.  Separate the pieces and overlap them slightly.

Slide the sheet in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes.  After 20minutes of baking, the bacon has started to shrink a bit but has remained flat on the sheet.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and separate the bacon strips a bit more a room will allow. 

Put the sheet bake in the oven and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes until the bacon has reached the desired degree of doneness. 

Have you noticed that the bacon has remained flat this whole time?  No curly, twisty pieces.  After the bacon is done, set it out to drain on paper towels and serve.  Or you can store it for later use.  I do this all the time.  Cook a whole pound of bacon then after it has drained, I just roll it up in paper toweling, seal it in a bag and put it in the freezer.  When I need a few pieces of cooked bacon for a recipe, I pull out what I need and put the rest back in the deep freeze.

The best part of making bacon in the oven is the clean up.  Simply remove the foil from the baking sheet and throw it away.  Quick wash the sheet with soapy water and your done.  What's that??   What about the oven?  No need to clean that because really, truly, the grease does not spatter like it does when you cook bacon on the stove.  How can that be you ask?  Well, the surface temperature of baking sheet in the oven is 350 degrees because the baking sheet is being heated indirectly in the oven.  But the surface temperature of a skillet on the stove is much, much higher because the skillet is sitting directly on the flame or heating element.

So what did I make bacon for?  Stay tuned, bakers, and you'll see!  Have a great week!

Buy Local

I support local businesses by purchasing food and other items which are produced in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Now that Spring has sprung, my favorite local farmers' market has started up and I once again have locally grown fruits and vegetables available.  I like knowing the folks who grow the food I prepare and the quality of that food is unparalleled.  Much of the food is harvested only hours before being placed out on the tables for sale.  Now that's fresh!!

Buying local also extends to bakeware that I use in my kitchen.  Meet USA Pans.  As their name would suggest, USA Pans manufactures bakeware and cookware right here in the good ol' U S of A.  And even better for me is the fact that USA Pans is based in Southwestern Pennsylvania and manufactures its high quality bakeware for home use here in Pittsburgh.  It doesn't get any closer than that folks!

So what makes USA Pans so good?  A few things.  First, these pans are good and heavy, nothing wimpy here.  USA Pans uses aluminized steel for strength.  Mind you, they are not prohibitively heavy.  Pick up a USA Pan and you'll see what I mean.  

Next, there is a clear non-stick coating on every pan.  This coating promotes easy release of baked goods and other items from the pan.  Helps with clean up too.

Finally, there is that distinctive ribbed appearance.  USA Pans describes this feature as corrugation which maximizes the strength of the pan.  This corrugation also prevents the pans from warping in the oven AND promotes even browning on the bottom of your cookies, breads, cakes and other baked goods.  This is true even if you use parchment paper like I do.

Are you looking for some new bakeware?  If so, I hope that you consider giving USA Pans a try.  I have had my USA Pans for years and they are still going great.  They are not cheap but I feel that the investment is worth it.  (Please note, that the statements expressed in this post are my own opinions after using products manufactured by USA Pans.  I have no relationship with USA Pans whatsoever.)

Run for the Roses

Last week, horse racing's Triple Crown kicked off with the 142nd Kentucky Derby.  I really enjoy watching the races and always wonder - will there be a Triple Crown winner this year??  In my lifetime, I have seen four horses win the Triple Crown: the great Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and, of course, last year's winner American Pharoah.  Remarkable when you consider that since 1919 when Sir Barton became the first horse to win all three races, only 11 other horses have earned the title.

Cinnamon Roses

Cinnamon Roses

The horse that wins the Kentucky Derby is draped with a blanket of red roses in the winner's circle, thus the name "The Run for the Roses."  So this week, I tried a bread shaping technique which is in keeping with the Kentucky Derby theme - cinnamon roses.  I found the recipe for these rolls on Pinterest and just had to try them.  The rolls were very good but I want to make a few adjustments to the recipe before I share it with you.  Today, we're just going to focus our attention on shaping the rolls.

While your dough is rising, grease the wells of a muffin tin with butter.  This recipe makes one dozen roses so you will need one large or two small muffin tins. 

After your dough has risen the first time, turn it out and divide it into 24 evenly sized pieces.  A kitchen scale is very handy for this task.

Shape each piece of dough into a small ball.



You will be working with four of these dough balls at a time.   Press or roll each of the four dough balls into a circle about 3 inches in diameter.  I found it easiest just to use my hand.  Overlap the circles of dough in a vertical line, placing each piece of dough about half way over the preceding piece.  Spread about two tablespoons of cinnamon sugar filling over the dough and press gently to compact the filling.

Starting at the bottom, roll the dough pieces as tightly as you can.  When you have completed the roll, gently press the seam together and move the roll to a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife (I used a bread knife), cut the roll down the middle into two pieces.  Place each piece, cut side down, into a buttered well of the muffin tin.  Repeat this process with the remaining dough until you have one dozen rose shaped rolls.





The cinnamon roses will rise a second time in the muffin tin.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees while the roses rise.  Just before baking, brush the roses with egg wash and sprinkle on the remaining cinnamon sugar filling.  Bake the roses for 25-30 minutes.  The egg wash will make them a beautiful golden brown.  Cool them in the pan for about 5 minutes before lifting them out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Aren't these rolls lovely?  They would make a beautiful display on a Mother's Day brunch table, don't you think?  I'll be sharing a recipe for these lovely roses soon so check back to The Peel.

When God Gives you Limes ...

Coconut Lime Quick Bread

Coconut Lime Quick Bread

My husband and I really enjoy Tex-Mex food so it is often on our weekly menu in one form or another.  Last week, I made one of our favorite Tex-Mex meals, Crispy Black Bean Burritos with Cilantro-Lime Quinoa (recipe courtesy of Maria Lichty of Two Peas and their Pod), so I had some limes that I needed to use.  I really enjoy using lime in baked goods so I flipped through my "recipes to try" file and came across this week's yummy treat, Coconut Lime Quick Bread.  The recipe calls for the zest and juice of three limes and, lo and behold, I had three limes to use.  Perfect!

This bread is delicious - moist, coconutty, not-to-sweet.  Lime and coconut compliment each other perfectly and yield a tropical treat that is refreshingly satisfying.  Here are the stars of the show - sweetened flaked coconut and limes.  My favorite brand of coconut is Bakers.  I have tried other less costly brands of coconut and they just don't measure up in my opinion.  Other brands are too sweet or too dry.  Bakers is just right.  It gives me the coconut flavor and texture that I want without being too sweet.  When I need a bunch of limes, I buy them at Aldi's, six to a bag for only $1.29.

Check out all that lime zest!

Check out all that lime zest!

This recipe is a quick bread so it comes together in a flash.  While your oven preheats to 350 degrees, zest and juice three limes and prepare a 9 x 5 loaf pan.  Melt 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter and set it aside to cool while you gather the remaining ingredients.  In a bowl whisk together two large eggs, 1-1/4 cups of milk, one teaspoon of vanilla and the zest from 2-1/2 limes.  That's a lot of lime zest!  Set this mixture aside.

In another bowl, combine 2-1/2 cups AP flour, 1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  You can do this either with your stand mixer or by hand.  I used my stand mixer.  With the mixer in low speed, add the egg mixture and mix slowly.  Mix only until the egg mixture and the dry ingredients are just combined.  Then add in the melted butter, again mixing until just combined.  The aroma of lime rising from the mixing bowl is heavenly!

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 65 minutes.  The bread is done when its internal temperature reaches 195 degrees.  If you don't have an instant read thermometer, your bread is done when a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes before lifting it out and setting it on a rack to cool completely.

When the bread has cooled completely, make a glaze by mixing 1 cup of 10x sugar with 2 tablespoons of lime juice.  If you prefer a thinner glaze, add more lime juice until you reach your desired consistency.  Sprinkle the remaining lime zest on top of the bread and allow it to set up before cutting a slice to enjoy.  This recipe was created by Liz from The Floating Kitchen and is keeper in my book.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  Happy baking!

Baking with Brown Butter

I love butter.  Always have.  Always will.  To me, there is nothing better than a warm dinner roll slathered with creamy butter.  Butter is a staple in baking, the go-to fat component in many cookies, cakes, crusts, you name it.  Is there anything better than butter?  IMHO, no.

Unless you consider brown butter.  Brown butter is simply butter which has been heated just past the melting point to separate out the milk solids.  During the browning process, the milk solids are toasted resulting in a rich, nutty aroma and flavor.  Browning butter is easy to do but be careful - butter can go from rich, nutty brown to burned in a flash.

The process is simple and only takes about 5 minutes or so.  Put some unsalted butter in a small sauce pan and set it over medium heat.  Be sure to use a light colored pan so that you can easily see the amount of browning going on with the milk solids.  As the butter melts, it will foam up in the pan.  This is normal.  Keep going; the foam will subside. 

Gently swirl the pan while the butter bubbles away.  This keeps the milk solids moving.  Keep an eye on those milk solids.  They will start to brown nicely.  You will also get a nice, nutty aroma.  When the milk solids reach a golden brown color, remove the pan from the heat and pour the melted butter into a heat proof bowl to cool.  Be sure to have the bowl ready because the butter will continue to cook in the pan even after you remove it from the heat.  See all those brown specks?  There's lots of flavor there so don't leave them behind in the pan.

That's it!  You've made brown butter.  Now, use the brown butter according to the instruction in your recipe.  For example, I made this brown butter for an M&M cookie recipe.  That's the completed dough on the right.  The recipe said to let the brown butter cool and resolidify before making the dough, which I did.  

Brown Butter M&M Cookies

Brown Butter M&M Cookies

Here's the finished cookie:


These Brown Butter M&M cookies were gobbled up in no time flat!  I love bringing home and empty cookie box!  Have a great week and happy baking!

"S" Curves Ahead: Shaping a Savory Bread

Here's a question for you.  Do you think that you have what it takes to make this bread:

Tomato Basil Garlic Pane Bianco Bread

Tomato Basil Garlic Pane Bianco Bread

from this mound of dough:

I know that the answer to this question is a resounding YES!  If you can use a pair of scissors and can print an "S," you have the necessary skills to shape this beautiful loaf.

This recipe was developed by a home baker just like you and me.  Dianna Wara of Washington, Illinois developed this recipe and entered it in the very first National Festival of Breads in 2010.  Dianna won the grand prize at the festival that year for her Tomato Basil Garlic Pane Bianco and King Arthur Flour published the recipe on its web site where you can still find it today.  This recipe makes two generous loaves, perfect for sharing with a friend. 

This lovely loaf has a soft crust, a tender crumb and wonderful flavor which serve as the perfect canvas for a very flavorful filling.  Sun-dried tomatoes, granulated or powdered garlic, shredded Italian cheeses and fresh basil come together in perfect harmony and taste as good as they look in this bread.  Would you like to see how to shape this bread?  Great!  Let me show you how ...

After mixing and kneading the ingredients for the dough, let it rise until doubled in volume.    Turn the dough out of the bowl and divide it in half.  Did I mention that this dough is an absolute dream to work with?  It rolls out easily and cleanly yet it is sturdy enough for you to move it from the rolling surface to the baking sheet without tearing or falling apart.  Using your rolling pin, roll out half of the dough in a large 22 inch by 8-1/2 inch rectangle.  As you can see from the photo, I used my silicone rolling mat from King Arthur Flour.  This mat is one of my essential baking tools.  Why?  Well, the measuring tape along the bottom and side of the mat make it easy to roll dough to the proper size.  AND cleaning up my work space is easy - just wipe with soapy water, rinse, dry and roll it up until next time.

After rolling out the dough, it's time to add the ingredients for the filling, one layer at a time.  I put the filling ingredients right to the edges of the dough.  First, sprinkle on the granulated or powdered garlic.  The garlic is followed by the shredded cheese, then the fresh basil followed by the sundried tomatoes.  Baker's tip - use your kitchen shears to quickly and easily chop the basil and sundried tomatoes.  You also need to drain the tomatoes and blot off the olive oil they came in before cutting them for the filling.  Don't cut the basil and tomatoes too small.  You want them to be discernable in the finished loaf.

Now that we added the filling ingredients, it's time to shape.  Starting with the bottom long edge, roll the bread dough as you would a jelly roll towards the top long edge.  Try to keep the roll a tight as you can.  Pinch the top edge together with the roll to seal the dough.  Then, lift the roll and transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Be sure to place the roll seam side down.  Your rolled dough is quite long, too long for the baking sheet, so you want to place the roll diagonally as shown in the photo.   The dough roll will still be too long for the baking sheet but that's okay.  You'll see why in a second.

Using your kitchen shears, cut the dough roll starting about a half inch in from the end.  Cut down the length of the roll to the other end, leaving a half inch uncut.  As you cut the roll, do not cut all the way through the bottom.  You want to keep the bottom intact.  The layers will fall open and look messy.

Starting with the top end, pull the sides up and lift the end, bending it down to the center of the loaf to shape the top curve of the "S."  Tuck the end under the loaf.  Do the same thing with the bottom end of the dough roll, bending it up to the center of the loaf to form the bottom curve of the "S."  Tuck this end under the center of the loaf.  Congratulations!!  You just shaped your loaf!  That wasn't so hard, was it?

After rising a second time, your breads are ready for the oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.  Rotate your loaves from top to bottom, bottom to top after 20 minutes of baking.  If the loaves look too brown, tent them lightly with foil.  Your loaves are done when they register 200-205 degrees in the largest part of the loaf with an instant read thermometer.  Your house will smell divine as these loaves bake.  Yum!

I know that it is difficult, but please let your breads cool a bit before slicing them.  Just look at your handiwork and give yourself a well served pat on the back.  You did it!






Lemon Pudding Cookies - (Almost) Instant Gratification

If you read my blog regularly, then you know that I love anything lemon.  I have a mountain of lemon recipes from cake to cookies to yeast bread.  One of the things I love most about lemon is its versatility.  Lemon is wonderful on its own as the star of the show.  But lemon is also a very generous player, sharing the stage happily with other flavors and providing a cheery background to let those flavors shine through in all their glory.  Such is the case for this yummy treat - lemon pudding cookies with blueberries, raspberries and vanilla chips.  Soft and sweet-tart, chunky and chewy, these cookies are always popular.  You can find the recipe for these gems on one of my favorite blogs - Two Peas and Their Pod.  I tweaked the recipe only slightly - I added the dried raspberries to the dried blueberries and I substituted vanilla chips for white chocolate chips.

So what makes these cookies so darn good?  A few things.  Lemon pudding mix, the instant kind, gives them not only that lovely color and flavor but also a soft texture that is just irresistible.  Fresh lemon zest boosts the lemony goodness.  The dried blueberries and raspberries soften during the baking process and are delightfully chewy.  Don't be tempted to use fresh fruit in these cookies.  Fresh blueberries and raspberries have too much water in them and will make the cookies soggy.  Finally, the vanilla chips round out the flavor profile, pushing the finished cookie over the top.  I have made these cookies without the chips and there is a noticeable difference in the final product.  

If you have trouble finding the dried blueberries and raspberries in your local grocery store, try looking for them online.  I buy them from Nuts.com.  In fact, a search for dried raspberries years ago is what lead me to Nuts.com in the first place.  Nuts.com was the only place that I could find the dried raspberries.  Their product line is extensive and the prices are really good.  But the best part about shopping with Nuts.com is the customer service.  It is phenomenal.  Orders are shipped out usually the same day they are placed and they arrive at your door very quickly.  On occasion, I have received an order from Nuts.com in just over 24 hours without paying extra for overnight shipping!  No joke!  I don't know how that happens but it keeps me going back to them time and time again.

If you enjoy lemon treats, I hope that you give these tasty cookies a try.  They come together easily and are done in about an hour.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Happy baking!

"Cin"- ful Indulgences

Snickerdoodle bars

Snickerdoodle bars

If you love cinnamon then I am betting that the snickerdoodle is one of your favorite cookies.  Am I right?  I mean, the snickerdoodle is a celebration of cinnamon with its cinnamon sugar, "come hither" coating whispering enticingly to you.  Today's recipe is a bar version of this classic spicy cookie.  While snickerdoodles in their drop cookie form are a simple cookie to make, this bar cookie version is even easier because you don't have to scoop and coat each individual cookie.  C'mon into the kitchen and let me show you how to whip these up.

First things first.  These cookies have a secret ingredient that boosts the cinnamon factor sky high.  Any guesses?  I've used this ingredient before in an awesome pumpkin scone.  It's ... cinnamon chips!  These tiny chips really pack a punch in anything where cinnamon is the star of the show.  I get them from King Arthur Flour.  I've never looked for them elsewhere.  It was love at first bite for me.

I found this recipe a few years ago on the Two Peas and their Pod blog.   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease and 13 x 9 pan.  In a large bowl, whisk together 2-2/3 cups (11-1/4 oz for you bakers who use a scale to measure) AP flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and a generous half teaspoon of your favorite cinnamon.  What do I mean by generous?  Don't level off the cinnamon in the measuring spoon.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat together 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 2 cups packed light brown sugar, 2 large eggs and 1 tablespoon of your favorite vanilla extract.  My personal favorite is Vanilla Bean Crush by Sonoma Syrup Co.  The aroma when you open the bottle is intoxicating!

Here's another note (and PSA for measuring your ingredients by weight.)  We were taught that when using brown sugar, either light or dark, the proper way to measure it is to pack it firmly in the measuring cup.  So, you need a measuring cup and a spoon to scoop the brown sugar and then pack it down.  Scoop and pack.  Scoop and pack.  It takes a bit of time AND you have to wash the measuring cup and the spoon.  OR you could put your mixing bowl on a scale and add in the brown sugar straight from the bag until you get the proper amount.  No spoon or measuring cup to wash.  A cup of packed brown sugar weighs 8 ounces so do the math or better yet have the kiddos do it for you.  Need only half a cup of brown sugar?  Weigh out 4 ounces.  Need 1-1/2 cups?  That would be 12 ounces.  This snickerdoodle bar cookie recipe calls for 2 cups of brown sugar so you need 16 ounces.  If your market sells brown sugar in one pound bags or boxes, you don't even have to pull out the scale.  Just open the bag and dump it in.  Easy peasy!!  Back to the recipe.

After you have creamed the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together, stir in the flour mixture until well combined.  Then, stir in 1-1/2 cups (or 9 oz) of cinnamon chips.  Here's what the dough/batter will look like when its ready for the pan.

Scoop the dough/batter into the prepared 13 x 9 pan and press it evenly into the pan using your spatula or your fingers.  In a small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of granulated white sugar and two teaspoons of cinnamon.  Sprinkle your cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the top of the dough and you're ready to slide the cookies into the oven.

Bake the bars for 25 to 27 minutes then pull them out and let them cool completely before cutting.  Baker's Note!  The center of these bars will appear to be unbaked when you pull them from the oven.  This is what you want!  When the bars are cooled, the center firms up.  This is what makes the finished bars so irresistibly chewy.  If you bake the bars until they appear baked all the way through, they will be hard and dry.   When the bars come out of the oven, they will be puffed (see top photo at right).  As they cool, the center will collapse down (see bottom photo at right).  Don't they look yummy?  Believe me when I tell you that they smell heavenly too!

Snickerdoodle Bars

Snickerdoodle Bars

There you have it - snickerdoodle bars.  Oh my! Just look at that cookie - all buttery, brown sugary, cinnamony chewy goodness.   You can mix and bake these gems in about an hour but you really have to wait to let them cool completely before diving in.

I hope you enjoy these "cin" - fully indulgent treats! 

Homemade Coconut Candies: This is No April Fool's Joke!

Every year at Easter, my mom made chocolate covered coconut Easter eggs.  We loved these eggs and looked forward to eating them every year.  Fresh coconut was grated and mixed with powdered sugar and shaped into eggs that were then dipped in melted chocolate.  BUT, I did not look forward to the process of making these eggs because getting the fresh coconut out of the shell and cleaned was (and still is) a pain in the neck.  I have made these coconut eggs a couple of times but each time I swore would be my last because of the effort involved in working the fresh coconut.  If only there was an easier way to make a chocolate coated coconut candy.

Coconut Candies with Bittersweet Chocolate

Coconut Candies with Bittersweet Chocolate

Two years ago, I came across a recipe for a coconut almond candy on King Arthur Flour's website.  These coconut candies are SO easy to make.  And the coconut center is gooey chewy just like one of my all time favorite candy bars - the Mounds bar.  Would like to give candy making a try?  If you love coconut, these sweet treats are the perfect first recipe to try.

Unsweetened shredded coconut

Unsweetened shredded coconut

You will need a couple of special ingredients for this recipe.  First, you need unsweetened shredded coconut.  This coconut is dried and has nice small pieces.  Don't worry about this because the coconut will rehydrate from the melted butter and boiling water used to make the candy centers.  Last week, I told you about finding this dried coconut on Nuts.com.  The price is great and shipping is super fast.

You also need coconut milk powder.  You can find this on King Arthur Flour's web site as well as on Amazon.  I haven't tried any of the brands offered by Amazon so I can't speak to their flavor.  I buy my coconut milk powder from King Arthur Flour and like it very much.  The only other ingredients you will need are unsalted butter, table salt, granulated sugar and water.   KAF's recipe also calls for placing almonds on top of each candy but I leave those out.

In a medium bowl, beat together 1/3 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 cup coconut milk powder.  You want this mixture to be smooth and thick.  Add in 2-1/2 cups of the unsweetened shredded coconut and stir to combine thoroughly.  This mixture will be thick and gooey. 

Off to the freezer!

Off to the freezer!

Scoop a tablespoonful of the filling and place it on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Repeat with the remaining coconut filling.  You should get about 28 candies.  Put the candies in the freezer to set up for easy dipping in melted chocolate.  This should take about 60 minutes.

While the candy is setting up, get your chocolate ready.  You will need about a pound of bittersweet chocolate. 

A word about melting chocolate.  When you bite into a piece of fine chocolate, have you ever noticed how the chocolate shell is shiny?  And how it snaps when you bite into it?  This effect is achieved because the chocolate is tempered.  What does this mean?

When you temper chocolate, you are melting then cooling the chocolate within specified temperature parameters so as to allow cocoa butter in the chocolate to properly crystallize.  There are many, many articles and demonstrations online which instruct you on how to properly temper chocolate to get the pleasing snap and shiny appearance that you want on a chocolate coated candy.  I have tempered chocolate using those methods with some success but I disliked the process because of the constant temperature checking and stirring.  Heat, stir, then cool then heat again.  Is there an easier way, I wondered?  The answer is yes!

In December, I found a video produced by Callebaut, a fine Belgian chocolate company which has been in business since 1911, which describes how to melt chocolate using a microwave which will result in beautiful, smooth properly tempered chocolate.  I have used this process several times now and the chocolate shells on my candies are PERFECT!  Really!  The trick is using a non-glass bowl, heating with short bursts in the microwave (like 10-15 seconds at a time) and stirring the chocolate in between bursts.  If it is good enough for the pastry chefs at Callebaut, it is good enough for me!   

So, after your coconut candies have set up so that you can easily handle them, remove them from the freezer and dip them in your melted tempered chocolate.  These candies are simple and oh so delicious.  Make a batch for your coconut loving family or BFF or ... for yourself!  You deserve it!

Easter Dessert

Carrot cake bread with cream cheese glaze

Carrot cake bread with cream cheese glaze

It's Easter weekend!  Easter is one of the three signs of Spring for me.  Are you preparing the holiday dinner on Sunday?  I am and I would like to share with you the yummy dessert that I am baking up for my family - carrot cake bread with a cream cheese glaze.  This is a quick bread recipe that I found on Pinterest and it is delicious!

This recipe makes two generous 9 x 5 loaves so it is perfect for sharing - one loaf for your neighbor and one loaf for you.  Or you can freeze one of the loaves (without the glaze) for another time.  Would you like to give this recipe a try?  Okay, here we go.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your 9 x 5 loaf pans by lightly greasing them with butter.  Make your life easy by then fitting each pan with parchment paper cut to fit then grease the paper.  Then, dust the pans lightly with flour.

In addition to the normal ingredients (flour, sugar, eggs, etc.)  you will need fresh carrots, a small can (8 oz) of crushed pineapple, applesauce and shredded, unsweetened coconut.  The applesauce replaces some of the oil called for in the original recipe.  You can get the shredded unsweetened coconut online.  Nuts.com has the coconut at a great price and will ship it to you in record time.  Or you can use sweetened shredded coconut that is readily available at your local supermarket.  It is up to you.

Start your mise en place by draining the crushed pineapple (an 8 oz. can) and coarsely shredding the carrots (about 2 cups).  In a bowl, whisk together 2 cups AP flour, 1 cup white whole wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg.  Set the flour mixture aside.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat 3 large eggs.  Next, add in 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 1/2 cup of applesauce, 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar and two teaspoons of vanilla and beat these ingredients with the eggs until the mixture is slightly foamy.  Note:  I reduced the amount of sugar from the two cups called for in the original recipe.  Also, although I did not try it, you could substitute coconut oil for the vegetable oil.  Just be sure to melt the coconut oil before adding it in.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients one third at a time, stirring gently after each addition. Then fold in the shredded carrots, the drained pineapple and 1/4 cup of shredded coconut.  Divide the batter equally between your two prepared pans and bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool the breads in the pan for 10 minutes then remove them from the pan and let them cool on a rack.  This process is MUCH easier if you lined your bread pans with parchment.  Allow the breads to cool completely before glazing them.  If you are using only one loaf, wrap the second cooled and unglazed loaf tightly in plastic wrap then in aluminum foil and freeze it until you are ready to use it.

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For the glaze, place 1/4 cup of softened unsalted butter, 4 ounces of softened cream cheese, 3/4 cup of confectioner's sugar, 1/4 cup milk ( I use skim) and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a medium sized bowl.  Beat the glaze ingredients until smooth then pour the glaze over the loaf.  I like carrot cake bread the way I like my carrot cake, cold.  So after glazing the loaf and allowing the glaze to set up a bit, I cover the bread with plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator until I am ready to serve it.

This quick bread is irresistibly moist and utterly delicious.  Trust me, you and your guests won't be able to stop eating it!  Happy Easter, dear friends!

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