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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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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.

I happen to be a large fan of cinnamon buns.  We would always have them on Christmas day.  When I was a freshman in college I would grab a cinnamon bun and one of those sickeningly sweet starbucks bottled coffee drinks every Tuesday morning before sitting through art history.  I don’t know how I didn’t gain a million pounds in college.

I was planning to make cinnamon buns for Christmas  and bring them to my in laws house, but I was using my tried and true, but long recipe.  You have to make the dough overnight, and then assemble and bake, and I just ran out of steam right before Christmas.  I did make the dough, but never did anything with it.

We ended up having a New Years Day brunch, and I had found a different recipe for cinnamon buns at Delicious Meliscious, and joy of joys, they only took a few hours!  They also made 12 delicious, fluffy, cinnamon buns.  Definitely a winner in our book, and I plan to keep making this recipe.

I made them a day ahead of time (up through the second rise) and then popped them in the fridge.  I took them out at least an hour before baking, and then baked them as instructed.  They came out great, and someday I hope to make them all in one sitting.  I also didn’t make cream cheese frosting for them (B refuses to eat cream cheese frosting) so I did a regular confectioner’s sugar and milk icing.

I even had to break out a ruler to make sure my rectangle was large enough, and I still ended up with the small, odd-shaped ends.  It doesn’t matter what they look like, they’re still delicious and perfect for breakfast or with tea.

Cinnamon Buns

Dough

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast (I used active dry)

Filling

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

Icing

2 cups confectioner’s sugar
milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Dissolve yeast in warm milk (this didn’t really dissolve much, but it still worked) and then add eggs, butter, salt, and sugar. Add flour and mix well. Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour (or you can use a stand mixer with the dough hook). Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

After the dough has doubled in size turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. Spread dough evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Mix together confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to make a creamy icing.  After rolls have come out of the oven, pour icing over the rolls and serve warm.

I know I have already given you a pizza dough recipe, but this one happens to be my personal favorite.  I think Peter Reinhart knows what is up when it comes to bread, but I wasn’t a huge fan of his pizza dough.  This recipe takes a little over an hour and a half, while his requires overnight preparation.

This recipe also happens to make the perfect thin crust, in my opinion.  And at my house, we love pizza, especially thin crust pizza.  Pizza happens to be my husband’s FAVORITE food, so we eat it a lot.  Much like bread, I one day wondered to myself why we didn’t try making it ourselves.  I worked in 2 separate pizza places in high school and college, so I have a bit of a background in it.  And both of those places specialized in thin crust (one of which had a dessert pizza, I need to bring that back to my kitchen).

So this past fall we got a pizza stone, which I happen to believe is one of the secrets to fabulous homemade pizza.  The stone keeps the oven hot, and gives the pizza something really hot to cook on, much like a traditional pizza oven, without having to turn it up to temperatures into the 900’s.

I also like to toss my dough, which comes after a lot of practice and knowing how far you can stretch pizza dough (pretty darn far, more than you might normally think).  Rolling it out works just fine as well, you just might not get the thinner in the middle and thicker around the crust consistency if you roll it out.  Try tossing it, and see what happens!  Pizza making is an adventure, make it how you want, and don’t be afraid to try new toppings!  The sky is the limit when it comes to pizza!

This recipe comes from the book on Pizza, that can be found at Williams Sonoma.

Thin Crust Pizza Dough

3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 package (2 1/2 tsp.) quick-rise yeast
1 tb. sugar
1 tb. salt
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tb. olive oil

In a food processor or standing mixer, combine the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.  Pulse or mix the ingredients together.  With the motor running, add the water and olive oil in a steady stream, and continue to mix until the dough comes together in a rough mass.  If it does not form a ball, sprinkle with water until it does.  Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes.  Mix again for 5+ minutes (or 25-30 seconds in a food processor).  The dough should be tacky to the touch but not sticky.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form into a smooth ball.  Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise in a warm place (I use the top of the fridge) until doubled in bulk and spongy, about 1 1/2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, punch it down, and shape into a smooth ball.  Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces (I use a good old chef’s knife for this).  Shape each piece into a smooth ball, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest for 10 minutes (this does make a difference).

At this point you are ready to make pizza, so shape it as best you can, top, and bake!

Last year happened to be the first time in my life that I had a King Cake.  Being from the North we don’t traditionally have them, and having never been to New Orleans it was something I was not familiar with in the least.

In 2008 one of my coworkers went to New Orleans in January with a group of alumni and students for a service learning trip where they worked with Habitat for Humanity to reuild homes.  It’s something that the college I work at has committed itself to doing twice a year for the next 5 or so years (it might be 10, but I really can’t remember).

So upon her return she brought back a legitimate New Orleans King Cake.  It was filled with a lovely sweet cream cheese filling, and adorned with brighly colored sprinkles, in gold, green, and purple.  I managed to get the plastic baby she hid inside, which meant that I was the one to bring the King Cake the following year.

I marked my outlook calendar for 2009 and proceeded to completely forget about the King Cake.  January rolled around, I saw that I was supposed to bring the cake in, and decided to start looking to see where I could purchase one.  Whole Foods supposedly had them around Mardi Gras time (which I also had to look up, as it shifts all the time).  I decided that instead of trying to buy one locally, or ship one in from New Orleans, that I would try and make one myself.

I have become more and more comfortable with yeast breads, and I found a good looking recipe that seemed easy enough.  I set out to make it the night before official Mardi Gras, and guess what?  My dough didn’t rise.  I was so devastated that I decided to make a second one on Mardi Gras, and bring it in the next day anyway.  And the second one worked.  It might have been the fact that I switched out active dry for rapid rise yeast, or that my husband had the space heater pumping in the kitchen when I got home, but whatever it was, it worked.  And my goodness, it was a GIANT cake.  I probably could have cut the recipe in half.

But my coworkers loved it, and we ate it all.  As a side note I am trying out a bit of a new format, as I realized that if anyone ever wanted to god forbid MAKE one of my recipes, they’d have to copy and paste all the text section by section, because of my photos.  So I might go back and change my other posts, we’ll see how this goes.

King Cake

This is an Emeril recipe that I found on gumbo pages.  The recipe makes a giant king cake, and as you can see, I didn’t use nearly enough sprinkles on mine.

  • 2 envelopes active dry yeast I used rapid rise instead
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
  • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
  • 5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles

Combine the yeast and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the melted butter and warm milk. Beat at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. Add the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest and beat until everything is incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough hook. (If the dough is uncooperative in coming together, add a bit of warm water (110 degrees), a tablespoon at a time, until it does.)

Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough (I put the baby in the bottom of the cake after it had been baked, I wasn’t going to take any chances).

Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush the top of the risen cake with 2 tablespoons of the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the icing. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons milk, the lemon juice, and the remaining 3 cups confectioner’s sugar in medium-size mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

The cake is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all the guests in attendance.

YIELD: 20 to 22 servings

As a parting gift I leave you with this photo of my husband, circa 2003.  His birthday happened to fall on Mardi Gras that year, and so my roommates and I bought him a corncob pipe (I don’t remember why, he doesn’t smoke) and made him wear Mardi Gras beads to class.  We also baked him a lovely cake frosted in bright green and black.  Since his birthday is tomorrow, I felt the need to share this photo (and don’t worry, I will be posting my birthday cake recipe sometime in the near future).

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