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I hope you all had a fantastic New Year!  It’s hard to believe that we’re already more than halfway through January, which sadly means my break between semesters is coming to a close.  I go back to school on Thursday, and I am only taking one class this semester, which will most likely seem like a cake walk compared to taking two at a time while also working full-time.

I’m hoping that I might have more time to blog, but I’m not going to make any promises that I can’t keep.  I have been cooking a lot, and one of my friends shares a similar love of technically challenging recipes (we made homemade ravioli last Friday, THAT was an undertaking).  When you have a cooking partner in crime it can definitely help make things seem less daunting.  Brad turns 30 in March, and after much back and forth, and with some inspiration from the lovely Julia Child, I’m hoping to put together a fantastic homemade celebration dinner.  That’s the plan, at least for the time being.

But that’s not what you came here for.  You came here for a recipe!  This cinnamon swirl bread is one of my favorites, and back in 2008 we received a few bread baking books for Christmas from both sides of our family (they knew we had gotten into bread).  This one is pretty easy to make, although no matter how many times I try, it never comes out as big and luxurious as a store-bought loaf of cinnamon bread.  But that’s also probably because while this recipe calls for two loaves, you could easily make one monster loaf.  But I like having two loaves, as nothing beats cinnamon toast in the morning with some good butter and a cup of delicious tea.  It helps get me through these awful winter months.

It’s also perfect for making into french toast for a lovely brunch.  In fact, we had just that this morning, with some home fries cooked up in bacon grease (there’s no other way to do it) and some thick cut peppered bacon.  It was delicious, if I do say so myself.

 

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”

Makes two loaves

For Christmas this year I got a food scale, and I got to play with it for this, which is why measurements are in both cups and ounces.

 

3 1/2 cups (16 oz) bread flour
4 tsp. granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 tb. butter (or shortening)
1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature (I used powdered buttermilk, always works)
3/4 cup water at room temperature

 

Cinnamon Swirl Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tb. ground cinnamon

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and cinnamon into the mixing bowl of your stand mixer (you can also do this by hand, but I’ll be giving mixer instructions).  Add the egg, butter, buttermilk, and water.  Stir together with the paddle attachment until ingredients come together.  Adjust with flour or water if the dough seems too sticky or too dry and stiff.

Switch to the dough hook, and beat on low for about 6-8 minutes.  You want the dough to be tacky but not sticky.  If you have an instant read thermometer (a necessity in every kitchen if you ask me) the dough should be between 77 and 81 Fahrenheit.   Transfer dough to a large bowl that has been lightly oiled.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm draft free place (above the fridge is my go to).

Let the dough rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled.

Divide the dough into two pieces and form them into loaves.  In order to form into a loaf, shape the dough into a rectangle that is about 5 inches long and 6-8 inches wide.  Mix together the remaining sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle on the surface of the dough.  Roll up from the short side of the dough and roll up into a loaf shape.  Pinch the ends and slightly roll to even it out.  Place dough seam side down into a lightly oiled loaf pan.  Form the second loaf and then spray with oil (I use pam).  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise a second time until at least doubled, or until dough comes close to cresting above the lip of the pan.

Let rise for at least an hour, if not more.  If your loaves are a bit small at this point don’t panic, mine never get to be very large but they still come out delicious and that’s what matters most, right?

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place loaf pans on a sheet pan (and remove plastic wrap) and make sure they are not touching.  Bake for 20 minutes and then rotate the pan.  Bake for another 20-30 minutes until they are golden brown on top.  They should make a hollow sound when you thump them on the bottom.

Immediately remove bread from pans and let cool on a rack for at least an hour (2 if possible) until slicing.  I know it’s hard to not want to slice right into the bread, but it’s sadly for the best.

 

 

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I realize that it has been close to 2 months since my last post.  I have been struggling with what to do about my blog these days.  As you might remember, life has changed quite a bit for me this summer, new job, new friends, and grad school started last week.  I have still been cooking, but haven’t been as good about documenting it as I was in the past.

I feel like I am at a crossroads with my blog, and I am trying to figure out where to go.  I started this blog 2 years ago as a project, a hobby, something to pour my energy and creativity into.  I had just gotten married, and as anyone who has anything to do with planning a wedding knows, it can be time consuming and once it’s over you can be left with a feeling of, “well what now?”.  So I decided to start a food blog.  It was a learning process, my photography was pretty bad in the beginning (not that it’s magazine quality now), and I had yet to really find a voice as a blogger.

After that first year we bought a condo, which was a great place to focus my energy and creativity.  It’s grown so much, and for the time being I am truly happy with the decor, so I don’t need to focus as much time into that.  I am a person who craves projects (although I don’t always finish them quickly, take my quilt I have been working on for close to 2 years, the good news is that it is so close to being finished!), because I like having things to do.  Just ask Brad, I’m not one to sit around doing nothing for days on end (unless it’s a vacation from work, then I definitely can sit around and do nothing but read).

Right now school will be the focus of my energy.  Working full time and going to grad school part time at night is definitely going to be a challenge, but a welcome one at that.  I am hoping that when I am done I will be able to have the skills to someday down the road run some sort of community arts organization, a true collaboration of my artist within and my desire to work for the arts in a different way than being a traditional artist.

So for now I am going on a bit of a blog hiatus.  I will still continue to read my favorite blogs and keep up with what is going on in the blogging world (as well as the world of the home cook/foodie), but I think I will not be spending as much of my time hunting for new recipes to try and share with the world.

I wasn’t sure what would come of this project, and it made me break out of my regular cooking shell and try new things.  Some were successful, others were complete failures (and not necessarily shared with my readers).  I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually read my blog besides my mom and friends, but people did.  And they commented, which I also really appreciated.  So here’s to seeing where the road takes me, and who knows, maybe we will meet again sometime in the future!

P.S. I just discovered that I never posted the recipe for s’mores cupcakes, so I am going to share them below.  They are easy, awesome, and a total crowd-pleaser, so make them, immediately.

S’mores Cupcakes

Source: Macaroni and Cheesecake

3/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil or applesauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with foil liners or squares of foil for the rustic look; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.

Spoon batter out evenly among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
16 oz. tub of marshmallow cream (or fluff, if you are from New England)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high until light and fluffy. Add the confectioner’s sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, and beat until fluffy each time

Beat in the vanilla until incorporated. Add the marshmallow fluff and beat until creamy.

Pipe the frosting on the cooled cupcakes using a large ziploc bag with the end snipped off (a la Sandra Lee).  Top the piped frosting with crushed graham crackers and an individual piece of hershey’s chocolate.

I know what you’re thinking.  Chocolate beet cake?  I dismissed the idea as soon as it was presented to me.  As you probably know by now, I am not a big fan of vegetables.  But I decided to take a second look, and I am glad I did.  Because the cake was not as weird as I thought it was going to be.

This cake was made for the always wonderful Cake Day, which you might remember from last year.  Last year the fabulous Kelley and I made this beauty, which was wildly popular, so we knew it would be hard to follow up this year.  So we decided to go off the beaten path, and went with the chocolate beet cake that Kelley discovered online.  It was simple, but had rave reviews, and seemed completely appropriate for a Cake Day celebration.

We also got bonus points for the fact that we made the cake during the hottest weekend of the year so far, and in the middle of a boil water order for the Greater Boston area.  We made do, and still made this lovely cake.  People were a bit hesitant to eat it at the celebration, which I can understand, especially since it did not have any special decorations, or even any frosting.  Besides, Linden had made pop rocks cupcakes, what can possibly beat that?

The consensus was that the cake was quite good.  A little lacking on the chocolate flavor, if you ask me, but then again by now you should know that I love my chocolate.  Brad liked it quite a bit, he tends to like more classic tasting cakes that aren’t so overpowering in flavor.  Although I would maybe like to top this with some sort of frosting, just to give it a bit more something extra.  But you definitely can not taste the beets, they just lend an earthy flavor and make the cake quite dense and moist.  It was fairly easy to make, although we apparently had monster beets, as we had enough to make at least two cakes.

Chocolate Beet Cake

Source: Straight From the Farm

1 C. margarine or butter, softened, divided
1 1/2 C. packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs at room temp
2-3 oz. dark chocolate
5 medium beets (2 C. pureed) *Our beets were giant, so we probably only needed 2-3
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

To make beet puree, trim stems and roots off beets and quarter them.  Place in heavy sauce pan filled with water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 50 mins or until the beets are tender.  Drain off remaining liquid and rinse beets in cold water as they’ll be too hot to handle otherwise.  Slide skins off and place beets in blender.  Process until a smooth puree forms.  Let cool slightly before using in cake.  I like to make the puree ahead and store it in the fridge, sometimes up to several days in advance.

In a mixing bowl, cream 3/4 cup margarine and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Melt chocolate with remaining butter in the microwave on high in 20 second intervals, stirring each time until smooth. Cool slightly. Blend chocolate mixture, beets and vanilla into the creamed mixture.  The batter will appear separated so don’t fret.

Combine flour, baking soda , salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured 10-in. spring form pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 60-70 minutes  or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.

I apologize for the lack of posting this week, things have been busy at casa pickyeatings.  We got new blinds for our 10 foot tall windows, and needless to say, I am excited to have real blinds and actual privacy.  It’s kind of fantastic.  I get excited about the little things.

This week I actually have a sweet recipe for you, after I have shared more soups and  stews and chili than you probably want all at once.  See, here in New England, the weather is fickle, and I can still be eating a slightly hearty soup in April or May.  One week it was almost 90, and then this week it barely got out of the 50’s.  This weekend is no exception, the Boston Marathon is Monday (aka we get the day off), and while the runners will probably love the weather in the 50’s, the residents won’t as much.

I found these blondies over on Erin Cooks, and had bookmarked it on my reader ages ago.  I am not usually a maker of blondies, I have a few bars in my recipe binder, but as you can probably tell, I am a cookie and cupcake fiend.  But when I saw these, they looked delicious, and seemed pretty easy.

And they were.  Anything that starts with a cup and a half of melted butter mixed with brown sugar is bound to be really good, right?  The first time I made them they were slightly undercooked, which made them gooey and delicious.  The second time I made them they were a little more solid, and not quite as good in my opinion, although the people eating them didn’t seem to mind, although now that I think of it, one was pregnant, so she ate about 5 regardless.  Speaking of which, I am going to be an aunt again!  That means I need to get my rear in gear and finish  the quilt I am making and have been working on for about a year and a half  and start another one for niece or nephew #2!

Make these blondies, you will probably have all the ingredients in your pantry already (I did) and you won’t be disappointed!

Blondies

Source: Erin Cooks/Cooks Illustrated

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 ounces white chocolate chips (1 cup) or chopped bar, or 3 ounces each white chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips *

* As far as chocolate was concerned, I used some white chocolate chips I had laying around, and then started throwing in chocolate chips until I was satisfied.

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet (if using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width). Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. I never do this.

Whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate and nuts and turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.

Bake until top is shiny, cracked, and light golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes; do not overbake. Cool on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

It’s hard to believe that I have finally reached 100 posts.  Not necessarily 100 recipes, but 100 posts altogether.  It’s been quite a journey, and I am so glad that so many of you have stuck around to read my blog about my picky eating habits.  When I started this I had no idea what was going to happen, and I am proud to say that since I started this I have been branching out and making tons and tons of new dishes…which I had to do anyway, because I can only talk about my awesome mac and cheese once without boring the pants off my readers.

For my 100th post I wanted to do something a bit fun, and no, I sadly did not make some outlandish cupcakes like I did for my blogiversary.  As you may remember, I was in a bread phase back in winter of 2008/2009.  For Christmas that year Brad (he commented on a post, revealing his mysterious identity, that wasn’t really mysterious at all) and I had received 3 bread baking books.  Which is kind of a lot.  One of them happened to be Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  Since it required a bit of extra equipment (a dough proofing bucket, of all things, not exactly breaking the bank here), I didn’t touch it for over a year.  Fast forward to this winter, when I decide we need to start baking our own bread again.

I happen to own everything else the recipes called for, a pizza stone, a pizza peel.  It was just that silly little bucket.  So after doing some searching at my local stores, I had to turn to handy-dandy King Arthur Flour and order one.  We also took the opportunity to order some sourdough starter, as Brad had let it die when we were closing on our condo.  In his defense we had a lot going on, and keeping that stuff alive was not really a priority.

I also bought a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot to keep my 25 pound bag of all-purpose flour in.  If you happen to shop at Costco, they carry KAF all-purpose, and it’s dirt cheap, and totally worth it if you have space for it.  Thanks to my handy-dandy cabinets, I do in fact have space for it.

This recipe is incredibly easy to make, and while I am still tweaking with bread size in order to make the perfect loaf (some were undercooked, too small, too large, etc.), I’ve got a pretty good system down right now.  I also like to experiment with using some wheat flour and sourdough starter in with the main recipe.  There are a million variations, and I haven’t even tried shaping my bread into anything else but a ball.  Having homemade bread is the most amazing thing, and this recipe makes it so easy and fast, you can have fresh-baked bread with dinner ANY night!

Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day

Source: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (cookbook)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tb. granulated yeast (I use rapid rise, I buy it by the jar)
1 1/2 tb. salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose white flour (I also will use 1-2 cups of whole wheat, making it 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 cups white and 1-2 cups wheat)
Sourdough starter (optional)

In your 6 quart dough bucket, mix water, yeast, and salt.  Don’t worry about dissolving the yeast.  Mix in the flour using a wooden spoon, there is no kneading necessary.  You can mix everything using a stand mixer, but I prefer to just mix it all in the bucket, no cleanup necessary!

The dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container it will be stored in.

Cover the bucket loosely with a lid (do not make airtight).  Let it rise for at least 2 hours, doubling the dough.  Room temperature and water temperature will determine how long it needs to rise, as warmer water makes it harder for yeast to rise as quickly.

At this point I put it in the fridge and wait to bake the next day.

When you want to bake, start by preheating your oven to 450, and place a pizza stone in the cold oven, allowing it to warm up completely.  The book doesn’t have you do this, but my stone would be too cold and cause some loaves to explode, as the bottom wasn’t warm enough.  Also place a broiler pan on a rack below the stone.

Take your dough out of the fridge, sprinkle with some flour, and using a serrated bread knife, cut off a piece that weighs about a pound (about the size of a grapefruit, again, I have been playing with size, as some come out denser than others).

Don’t knead the dough, but shape it into a ball, handling for less than a minute, as you want all the delicious gas bubbles to stay in tact, to make for artisan bread.  Dust your pizza peel with cornmeal, and place loaf on it.  Allow to rise, uncovered, for at least 40 minutes.  You can let rise longer, as apparently that will help the bread be less dense (I haven’t tried this yet, but will with my next loaf).

Once you are ready to bake, place 1 cup of very hot water into the broiler pan, as it will create a steam environment in the oven and make for a crusty and delicious bread.  Sprinkle dough with some flour, and cut slices in the top, about a 1/4 inch into dough, so that it can expand a bit while baking.  Slide dough into oven, and bake for at least 30 minutes, sometimes more, until dough is dark on the outside and the bottom is fully cooked.  Remove from oven and allow to fully cool on a cooling rack.

Store bread cut side down on a cutting board.

Store remaining dough in fridge for up to 14 days, and dough will ripen with age, so the longer it is in there, the more flavor it will develop!

For the sourdough, I haven’t quite gotten the hang of the right proportions, I usually use a cup of starter, but haven’t been changing the amount of flour or water, which I apparently should have.  Bread baking is an art, and in my experience takes a lot of experimentation until you get the right proportions and what works for your oven.

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