Baker’s Twine, Wreaths & Preparing for the Holidays

baker's twine from Paper & Linen

One year, in preparation for the holiday baking season, I ordered a case of stationery boxes. A case consists of one hundred stationery boxes. One hundred stationery boxes takes up a lot of space, especially when you’re living in a one-bedroom Philadelphia apartment. One hundred stationery boxes, too, is a lot of boxes. What was I thinking? That case traveled across Philadelphia (moving into an equally tiny apartment) and then moved 3,000 miles across the country with us to CA. Seeing the movers unload that box in sunny CA was a bit troubling for my husband.

But the boxes were fantastic. They’re a perfect size for packaging homemade truffles, toffee, biscotti, chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls, you name it. If storage weren’t an issue, I would always have stationery boxes on hand.

But there’s something else I find even more valuable to have on hand this time of year: baker’s twine. I love this stuff. A little baker’s twine is all a Ball jar or a cellophane bag or a metal-ringed gift tag needs to become holiday-ready. I ordered mine last week on Etsy from Paper and Linen. It arrived on Saturday and made my day. What’s more, it will likely last as long as the stationery boxes and can be stored in my desk drawer — that made my husband’s day.

One last thing. I’ve made a pin board for homemade food gifts. I think I’ll be making the usual this year: rosemary shortbread, granola, and boozy chocolate truffles. Fun fun.

Oh, one very last thing. I just saw that Gilt Taste is offering 5-cent shipping throughout December on a bunch of items. This could be dangerous.

Over the weekend I made a wreath. It’s a little wonky at the moment — definitely needs some tending to — but it was a fun little project and didn’t take too much time. I basically just wired bunches of fresh greens (I forget what they’re called — they were in the wreath section of Home Depot) to a straw wreath I had purchased at Michael’s. And then in various places I wove in some fake holly berries (also purchased at Michael’s).

my wreath

Here’s a wreath I made a few years ago while working at Cafe Mimosa in San Clemente, where I had access to an endless supply of corks. This was also a fun project, just a bit more time consuming. Here’s how to do it.

cork wreath

Kristina’s Molasses Crinkles

molasses crinkles

I couldn’t believe the cookies were made with shortening. I’m an all-butter kind of girl. Until a week ago in fact, the thought of shortening, a product I reserved solely for seasoning cast iron skillets, sort of repulsed me. Until a week ago, I also would have told you I could detect the difference between a cookie made with butter and one with shortening. I mean, it’s a rookie skill, right?

So I thought. My cousin Kristina makes the very best molasses cookies I have ever tasted. And they’re not just the best molasses cookies ever; they’re one of the best cookies ever. Last December when I received Kristina’s recipe in the mail and discovered that her legendary molasses crinkles were made with shortening, my earth sort of shattered. I would have bet money they had been made with butter.

But perhaps this was an opportunity, I thought. I would substitute butter for the shortening and then blog about the nearly perfect cookie I had perfected with butter. But once again, my earth shattered. The cookies I prepared with the butter-for-shortening substitution were terrible. The texture lacked the softness and chewiness of Kristina’s, and the flavor, perhaps tarnished by over baking, was just not as I had remembered. Did Kristina in fact use shortening in her cookies? I was still in disbelief.

It was time for me to try shortening. And since I was venturing into the realm of repulsive ingredients, I thought why not try something truly repulsive? This past spring, a friend in CA introduced me to a little product called buttered-flavored shortening, an ingredient she had used in a batch of phenomenal chocolate chip cookies she was so graciously sharing with me.

Butter-flavored shortening. I mean, it doesn’t get much more repulsive than this. Have any of you ever opened a can of this stuff? Have you seen its color? Have you smelled it? Have you ever tried washing it off your hands? Have you reviewed the ingredient list? It’s filled with all of the worst sorts of things — fully and partially hydrogenated oils, mono and diglycerides, to name a few. It’s a list that might appear in Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare. Butter-flavored shortening. Truly, it doesn’t get more repulsive than this.

I couldn’t help but wish my butter-flavored-shortening molasses crinkles to fail. As they baked, I kept thinking, there’s no way my adorable cousin Kristina could use such a vile product. No way. But when I pulled from the oven a pan with nine perfectly golden domed mounds crinkling up at me, I began to believe. And then, after they cooled and I took a bite, and the soft and chewy texture was just as I had remembered, and the flavor, too, was buttery and not at all artificial tasting and spiced with those wintry flavors of cinnamon and cloves, I was convinced. These were Kristina’s molasses crinkles. I had never been so happy to have such a vile product in my pantry.

I had to call Kristina to discuss. “So Kristina,” I said when she answered the phone, “your molasses cookies and I have been on a long journey together, and I’ve finally accepted that you do in fact use shortening, right?”

“Shortening?” she replied. “No, I always use butter. I don’t know what shortening is.”

I had to laugh. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What had gone wrong the first time I had attempted Kristina’s recipe? Was it just a terribly off day for me in the kitchen? And had I now gone crazy to welcome to my pantry such a product as butter-flavored shortening? What was going on? All of a sudden I heard myself trying to convince Kristina of the virtues of butter-flavored shortening. Kristina, rightly so, would hear nothing of it.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m afraid, the conclusion to this long-winded post is that my quest to create Kristina’s molasses crinkles continues. The above- and below-pictured cookies were in fact made with butter-flavored shortening and truly were delicious. That said, I know my cousin’s cookies are better, and as soon as I can, I am going to make another batch of each — Kristina gave me some tips, which I enclosed below — and do a side by side comparison.

In the meantime, I guess I’m just going to have to embrace the repulsive yet remarkable ingredient that has entered my pantry. Butter-flavored shortening is here to stay.

molasses crinkles

dough balls

sugar coated dough balls

Molasses Crinkles
Source: Cousin Kristina via Betty Crocker’s Best Cookies
Yield = about 27 cookies

3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening (See notes below for Kristina’s variation made with butter)
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (table salt as opposed to kosher)
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
granulated sugar

1. Mix shortening, sugar, egg and molasses thoroughly. (I used a stand mixer, but you probably could mix this batter by hand.) Sift (I whisked) all of the dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined. Chill. (A time wasn’t specified, but I would imagine one to three hours would suffice. I chill the dough and bake off six to nine cookies at a time — the batter will stay good for days.)

2. Heat oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (I portion my dough into 7/8-oz (28g) balls using my Salter digital scale.) Dip balls in sugar and place sugared side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each with two or three drops of water. (This is sort of awkward — I dipped a fork in a cup of water and sort of pulled water from the glass to sprinkle it on top… if that makes any sense. Kristina in fact skips the water-sprinkling step.) Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on sheet pan before eating.

Notes: Kristina uses butter in place of the shortening. She also uses a little bit less flour but didn’t give an exact amount — so maybe do a scant 2.25 cups or a heaping 2 cups. She also bakes the cookies at 350ºF for about 8 minutes.

molasses crinkles

Cooking With My Mama — Teddie’s Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Is it sick that shortly after dinner, often when I’m still full, I start looking forward to breakfast? It is a little, isn’t it? Well, what can I say, it’s the truth. But it isn’t any old breakfast I go to bed dreaming about. It’s a little something called Teddie’s Apple Cake, a treat my mother introduced me to, and I think it’s something you’ll all enjoy.

The recipe for Teddie’s Apple Cake first appeared in The New York Times in 1973, and Amanda Hesser republished the recipe in 2007. Who Teddie is remains a mystery, but that’s beside the point. Teddie made a damn good cake, and for that we should be thankful.

Made with oil not butter, this cake is super moist and seems to get better by the day (not unlike another favorite cake of mine). But what I love most about this cake is the crispy top crust, similar to that of a really good brownie. I prefer this apple cake for breakfast — it’s such a treat with my coffee — but the recipe suggests serving it with vanilla ice cream, so it certainly could be served for dessert. Just know that whenever you serve it, it will be a hit, and don’t hesitate to make it a few days in advance if you’re planning on serving it for company — it stays moist and delectable days after it is baked.

I should note that the title of this post is a little misleading. I took no part in the preparation of this cake, only the eating. My mom came to town to meet Graham, her newest grandson, and to keep me well fed in the process. I could get used to this sort of thing. No cooking, no cleaning, just eating. Hmmmmmm.

Finally, if you’re looking for a yummy apple dessert, this is my favorite.

my mama

Teddie's Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Mom in town to meet Graham, my newest bun out of the oven.
mom and graham

Note: This cake gets better by the day. If you’re preparing it for a weekend brunch, don’t be afraid to make it a day or two in advance. It will be delectable and moist days after baking.

Teddie’s Apple Cake

Source: Amanda Hesser and The New York Times
Yield = 1 bundt pan, serves 8 to 10

Butter for greasing pan
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith*
1 cup chopped walnuts (I omitted — I prefer baked goods without nuts)
1 cup raisins (Also omitted — I prefer baked goods without raisins)
Vanilla ice cream (optional, definitely optional — I prefer this cake for breakfast)

*I used a mix of Fuji, York and Cameo — use whatever you have on hand or whatever variety you prefer to bake with

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts (if using) and raisins (if using) and stir until combined.

3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Teddie's apple cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Apple Hand Pies with Cheddar Crust— So Delicious!

apple-cheddar hand pie

This is the sort of discovery that inspires me to host a dinner party. After just one bite, I began envisioning the scene: my guests’ hands reaching to the center of the table; the plate piled high with steaming, half-mooned pastries slowly disappearing; the silence as first bites are taken. Just anticipating the reactions — “apple and cheddar?!” — makes me giddy. And giddy were we (my mom, my aunt and I) as we stood around the cutting board in my kitchen, tucking into one after another hand pie, analyzing the flaky cheddar crust, adoring the adorable shape, oohing and ahing over the whole package. These hand pies are a home run.

I’ve been wanting to make an apple pie with a cheddar crust for several years now. Hand pies of course are a little fussy — much more work than making a traditional-shaped pie – but oh so good, and oh so much fun for a party. The pies can be assembled ahead of time and baked just before serving — 20 minutes in the oven and these babies are done.

While apple with cheddar is an age-old pairing, their union in a pie, for me at least, still came as a surprise. A most delicious surprise! I have a feeling you’ll all think so, too.

apple-cheddar hand pie

Mom and Auntie, in town for the weekend, reading to Ella
mom, auntie, ella

Cameo and Fuji apples from Catoctin Mountain Orchard The Cameo apples were some of the best apples I have ever tasted.
Local Fuji and Cameo apples

apple filling

I adore this cheddar.
Cabot Extra Sharp

cheddar cheese pie dough

hand pie assembly

apple-cheddar hand pie

Apple Hand Pie with Cheddar Crust
Dough and Filling recipes from Martha Stewart
Yield = 1 10-inch pie or 10 hand pies + 1 mini pie

Note: If you don’t feel like making hand pies, follow this Martha Stewart recipe for a traditional apple-cheddar pie.

Cheddar Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup ice water

1. Process flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until pea-size lumps appear. Pulse in cheese. With processor running, add ice water; process just until dough comes together.

2. Turn dough out; gather into a block. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Filling
Note: This amount of filling is for a traditional sized pie. If you are making hand pies, you will have way too much filling. Halving the amount of filling will yield enough for the hand pies. Or, if you are creative, you could find a way to use up that extra filling…perhaps a crumble or a crisp of some sort?

1 1/2 pounds (about 3) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
2 pounds (about 5) Cortland apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (optional, I didn’t use b/c I didn’t have)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I forgot to dot filling with butter — so I would mark this as optional, too.)

1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
turbinado or demerara sugar or regular granulated sugar for dusting

vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

*These are the apples and amounts recommended in the Martha Stewart recipe. I used a variety of apples — Fuji, Gala, York — it came out beautifully. I think you could basically use any combination of crisp-textured apples.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Divide dough into two pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round cutter (something about the size of a martini glass, which worked quite well in fact) cut five to seven circles out of the rolled dough. (I was able to get five circles initially and had to gather the scraps, re-roll and cut again to get seven out of one half of the dough.) Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough.

2. Make the filling: Stir together apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves.

3. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Using your finger, brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough. Fold the circle in half so the unfilled side comes over the filling, creating a semicircle. (You might need to let the circles stand at room temperature for a couple of minutes so they become pliable.) Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

4. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle a pinch of the sugar lightly over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake pie 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.

apple-cheddar hand pie

A mini apple-cheddar pie…yummmm.
apple-cheddar hand pie

Tartine’s Currant Scones

Tartine's currant scone recipe

Hi Everyone. Just a quick post here. This morning for breakfast I made the Tartine scone recipe with currants, which is what the original recipe calls for. So delicious! I’ve only ever made it with blueberries before, which I love, but on this chilly November morning, the currants were lovely. I have a feeling I’ll be making these all fall. Have a great week!

Tartine’s Buttermilk Scones
Adapted from Tartine
Yield=8

Notes:

• Tartine’s recipe calls for Zante currants, which should be plumped in warm water for 10 minutes, then drained.

• I made a half recipe, but if you feel like making a whole recipe, follow this recipe. I have frozen the raw scone dough, too, and baked the scones after thawing the dough overnight in the fridge. Worked beautifully.

2 3/8 cup all-purpose flour (3/8 cup = 6 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/8 tsp. baking soda (a scant 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (a heaping half teaspoon)
1/2 tsp. lemon zest, grated
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, very cold
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/8 cup zante currants

Topping
1.5 T. butter, melted
sugar for sprinkling such as demerara or turbinado (regular granulated is fine, too — this is optional, I omitted with the currant scones)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add sugar, salt and lemon zest and stir to combine. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and scatter the cubes over the dry ingredients. Use a pastry blender or the back of a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. When you are finished, the butter should be dispersed throughout the flour in pea-sized lumps (or bigger… mine always are).

3. Add the buttermilk all at once along with the currants and mix gently with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together. If the mixture seems dry, add a little bit more buttermilk.

4. Dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. If you’ve made the whole recipe, divide the dough into two even portions. Using your hands, pat each portion into a circular disk about 1 1/2 inches thick. (Or, if you’ve made the whole recipe and want to follow Tartine’s instructions, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 1 1/2 inches thick). Brush the top with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar (I was being lazy and omitted the sugar sprinkling). Cut each disk into 8 wedges (or 12 if you’ve made the rectangle).

5. Transfer the triangles to baking sheet. Bake until the tops of the scones are lightly browned, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. (Mine were done at 25 minutes.)

Festive Treats, Pressed-Leaf Gift Tags & Happy Halloween!

triple treat cupcakes

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Here in the Stafford household we’re feeling particularly festive. Ella has been dressed in her costume since Monday. Yesterday I made candy corn-topped mini cupcakes. And today I found myself making pressed-leaf gift tags. What can I say? The spirit is strong this year.

The truth is that I made these treats against all of my instincts. I mean, it seems a little unnecessary to bake a peanut butter cup into a cupcake to then top it with more candy. Right? I’d so much rather just eat a brownie. Or a good cookie. Or the peanut butter cup on its own.

That said, these mini cupcakes are festive and fun, and if you’re looking for a way to spruce up your Halloween dessert spread, these triple-treat bites would certainly fit in. Feeling crafty? Adorn a clear plastic goodie bag with a pressed-leaf gift tag (see below) to make lovely little party favors.

Ella wishes you all a very Happy Halloween!
My little trick-or-treater

candy corn topped mini cupcake

Martha Stewart Pressed-Leaf Gift Tag:
gift bag with pressed-leaf gift tag

Halloween candy

unbaked treats

Mini Triple Treat Cupcakes
Source: Everyday Food October 2011

Notes: I used dark chocolate peanut butter cups. I prefer these treats frozen or chilled — they definitely taste better once they’ve cooled to room temperature at the very least.

Pressed-Leaf Halloween Gift Tags
Source: Martha Stewart

Reese's topped mini cupcakes

Pumpkin Bread

cut loaf of pumpkin bread

Everyone and their mother has a recipe for pumpkin bread. This happens to be my mother’s recipe — not sure where it originates beyond her — and it is incredibly delicious. Made with oil not butter, the batter comes together in minutes. I mixed mine the night before baking, and used mini loaf pans because, well because, I think they’re cute, and I suppose because I’m getting excited for the impending homemade-gift-giving holiday season.

What else can I say here? Like many of you I suspect, I am consumed by all things pumpkin at the moment…can’t stop dreaming about pumpkin muffins, cheesecake, soup, lattes, fritters, gnocchi, gnudi, yadi yadi yadi. Tis the season! If you don’t have a recipe for pumpkin quick bread up your sleeve, this one is a winner. Happy fall!

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread batter

pumpkin bread

Pumpkin Bread
Yield = 2 standard loaf pans or 5 mini loaf pans

Mini loaf pans can be purchased here.
Disposable loaf pans can be purchased here, too.

2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
16 oz. canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
3/4 cup water
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or less — I used about 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. allspice (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pans with butter or non-stick spray.

2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat sugar and oil together until blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin purée and water and mix until blended.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the mixer and mix only until just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake for about an hour (if using standard loaf pans) but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes — the loaves are done when center springs back when touched. Note: When using the small pans, the loaves should be done in under 45 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, and the loaves were done after about 35 minutes (or maybe a minute or two longer…lost track of time.)

I love these disposable mini loaf pans, too. They are so pretty! Wonderful for gift giving. I actually baked the loaves in my mini pans before transferring them to the disposable pans — I was thinking this would be less messy —but…oopsidasies, the disposable pans are a wee bit smaller than my non-disposable pans. I kind of had to squeeze the baked loaf to get it to fit. It worked out fine, but next time I’d just as soon bake the loaf in the disposable pan. That’s what it’s for after all, right?

pumpkin bread as gift

pumpkin bread

When People Come to Visit…

almond coconut granola

…it’s always nice to have some baked goods on hand. Here are four that never fail to please.

1. Granola. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t welcome a bowl of homemade granola with milk or yogurt topped with fresh berries or sliced banana first thing in the morning. This also is my go-to gift for a host or hostess and my most-often requested recipe. (Note: I’ve made a few changes, which are listed below. It’s now much less fussy, a teensy bit less sweet, and still just as delicious.)

2. Biscotti. I’ve never had anyone pass on a homemade biscotti with their morning beverage. These are perfect with coffee, tea, hot chocolate…anything really.

baked almond biscotti

3. Salted Oatmeal Cookies. While I consider numbers 1 and 2 to be essentials, it doesn’t hurt to have a jar filled with these salted oatmeal cookies on hand either. I’ve been making this Washington Post recipe since 2007, when my teensy grandmother snipped it out of her Wednesday paper and saved it for me. She was so wonderful. A perfect balance of sweet and salty, these cookies are one of my favorites. Your guests will adore them (and you), too.

salted oatmeal cookies

salted oatmeal cookies

4. Honey Whole Wheat Toasting Bread. Finally, if you’re feeling particularly domestic, it’s especially nice to have a couple of loaves of honey whole wheat bread kicking around. Made with leftover coffee, this good-old-fashioned recipe — no no-knead-super-slow-rise tricks here — hails from the Bakery Lane cookbook. I wish I had a photograph of my mother’s copy, now held together by rubber bands and twine. It’s filled with goodies.

honey whole wheat bread

honey whole wheat bread

baked almond biscotti

Recipes

Notes: I’ve posted the granola and biscotti recipes before but I have updated them a tiny bit. I am preferring things less sweet these days, so I’ve cut back the sugar in the biscotti by a quarter cup, and I don’t bother with the egg wash and sugar glaze before baking — the biscotti are just as delicious. And for the granola, I rarely bother making the candied almonds and cashews, (though they do add a nice touch if you plan on giving the granola as a gift.) I also have cut back the amount of coconut a teensy bit and replaced that amount with more sliced almonds. Again, the granola is just as delicious.

Vanilla-Almond Biscotti
Yield = About 30

Note: My original recipe, which is a little more fussy, offers instructions for folding in pistachios and dried cherries as well as for dipping in white or dark chocolate. It can be found here. Also, and I know this is weird, but I kind of like my biscotti to be a little soft and chewy on the inside, not rock hard. So, if you like yours harder, bake them longer the second time around.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup sliced almonds

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and blend again.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sliced almonds. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and blend on low-speed until just combined.

3. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into two equal portions. Plop one portion onto a parchment paper- or Silpat- lined baking sheet. Form into a longish rectangle about an inch high. Repeat with remaining log. If you have the time, chill logs for an hour. (At this point, too, the logs can be wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for as long as 3 days (maybe longer…never tried it).)

4. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut the log crosswise on a slight bias (or not) with a sharp knife or a bench scraper. Lay the cut slices on their sides on the baking sheet. Return pan to the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscotti cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Cool completely.

almond coconut granola

Homemade Granola

Notes: As I mentioned above, I have blogged about this recipe before. The original recipe is much fussier, but take a look if you feel like adding more nuts and dried fruit in the mix. Also, I am now actually partial to this toasted muesli recipe — it’s less sweet and easier to throw together.

4 cups (14 oz.) rolled oats
a scant 2 cups (6 oz.) unsweetened or sweetened, shredded coconut*
a heaping 2 cups (7.25 oz.) sliced almonds*
½ cup (4 oz.) vegetable oil
2/3 cup (7.25 oz) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

*Sorry for the imprecise measurements here. Originally, I used 2 cups of coconut and 2 cups of almonds. I now use my digital scale when I measure out these dry ingredients, so the 6 oz. of coconut (which comes out to be 1.8 cups) is accurate and the 7.25 oz. of almonds is accurate, but I’ve never used my dry measuring cups to figure out precise dry measurements. If this is your first time making this and you want to play is safe, just measure out 2 cups of each the coconut and the almonds. Next time around you will know how to adjust the quantities to get the sweetness right for you. Also, I recently (March 2013) stopped using sweetened shredded coconut in this recipe. Read this post if you are curious as to why.

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and almonds and gently stir or toss with your hands to mix well.

2. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, vanilla and salt and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to emulsify slightly. (Note: Sometimes I don’t even bother heating this — I just whisk it really well and then pour it over. It is a little harder to incorporate into the oats if you don’t heat it up, but I hate having to clean an extra pan. A quick zap in the microwave might be a good option? I don’t own one so I can’t advise on time.) Pour the oil mixture over the oat mixture and with a spatula stir until evenly coated.

3. Spread mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well, bringing the oat mixture closest to the edges into the center and pushing the center mixture towards the edges. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes, checking when 1 to 2 minutes remain. Be very careful at the end: the coconut will burn easily, leaving the granola with a bitter, burnt taste. Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack and leave undisturbed until completely cool, at least one hour.

almond coconut granola

Salted Oatmeal Cookies
Source: The Washington Post, June 13, 2007

Notes from the Washington Post:

This cookie is all about the oats, without much spice to interfere with their earthy taste. It’s also a great dough to make ahead and keep on hand to bake off a few when the urge hits. Refrigerate the dough for several days. The cookies can be stored in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.

Makes 18 cookies

Ingredients:

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt (This is my addition — the original recipe calls for no salt in the actual cookie, but I think it needs it.)
2 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions:

(Notes: I’ve adjusted the order of instructions. If you’d like to see the original recipe, click here.)

1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the stand mixer bowl and add the sugars, beating until the mixture is well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and table salt. Stir in the oats, and set aside.

2. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing until incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and mixing just until they are incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least an hour before baking. (Notes: I like to portion my cookies before chilling because the dough is easier to work with. I also weigh my cookies — I know, it’s totally anal — but doing this does ensure even baking of the cookies. I portion this dough into 1.25 oz balls and then chill all of the balls for at least an hour before baking.)

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Form the dough into golf ball-size balls and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. (I bake 6 at a time and flatten the balls slightly when placing them on the cookie sheet.) Sprinkle sea salt generously on top of each ball of dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 11 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and beginning to turn golden, being careful not to overbake. (Notes: Bake one batch and let cool completely before deciding on the time. I find that these cookies really continue cooking (like most cookies) once they’ve been removed from the oven, and these really are best when the center of the cookies is on the chewy/doughy side. I find 13 minutes to be about right.) Place the cookie sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

salted oatmeal cookies

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Yield= 2 traditional loafpan-sized loaves

2 + 2/3 cups coffee (at the most — I used less than 1 cup of coffee in this batch and substituted water for the remainder)
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1 package active dry yeast
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour

1. Combine coffee, the 2/3 cup water and the honey in a large bowl or in a large bowl of a stand mixer. Stir yeast into 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Let stand until dissolved then add to coffee mixture.

2. Whisk together salt, cornmeal and flours. If using a stand mixer, add all of the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Knead for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and wrapped around the dough hook. If kneading by hand, stir in about half of the dry mixture. Add more and more of the mixture until you need to turn the dough out onto a work surface to get it all incorporated. Knead for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth.

3. Place dough in a large bowl greased with a light layer of olive oil. Turn dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel (run a tea towel under hot water, ring it out, then place on top of bowl) and let rise until doubled in bulk (this may take as long as 2 hours). (Tip: If you are looking for a warm spot to let your dough to rise, turn your oven to its highest setting and let it warm for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, place your tea towel-covered bowl of dough inside and close the oven door.)

4. Once dough has doubled, punch it down. Grease two standard sized loaf pans generously with butter. Divide dough into two equal portions. Quickly shape each portion into a loaf-like mass and plop into prepared pans. Let rise until dough reaches just below the top of the pan. This may take as long as 45 minutes. (I like to place my loaf pans on top of the oven while it preheats. This usually speeds up the second rising.) Preheat oven for 375ºF.

5. Bake loaves for 45 minutes. Turn loaves out onto cooling rack. If you can refrain, let cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

toasted and buttered bread...so yummy

Addictive Kale Caesar Salad with Brioche Croutons

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I have a question for all of you mortar and pestle users out there: Do you find us knife-wielding, blender-pulsing, whisk-twirling folk offensive? You probably do. I suspect Tartine’s Chad Robertson would not approve of my adaptation of his caesar dressing recipe. I used a knife first, and then a whisk. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t even reach for the mortar and pestle.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so skeptical of a technique before trying it, but the idea of using a pestle to work olive oil into a stable emulsion scared me. I’m just not that hard core. And as I read the recipe over and over again, I couldn’t help but think about who I was dealing with — did you know that Robertson doesn’t even own a toaster? It’s true. He and his wife, Liz Prueitt, toast their bread in a black steel omelet pan instead. That’s hard core. I’m just not there. I reached for an old standby: Whisk. He did not fail me. This dressing, made without mayonnaise or cheese, is lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings and is a wonderful complement to kale, an unsuspecting substitute in a classic dish.

I find this salad addictive. I’ve always loved kale wilted in soups or sautéed with garlic and tossed into pastas. And I love it in the form of chips. But I never imagined enjoying it raw until I dined at True Food Kitchen, where they serve a Tuscan kale salad made with bread crumbs, grated Pecorino and crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a delicious combination. Since discovering Robertson’s kale caesar last week, I’ve made it twice more, and I suspect it will be a mainstay on the dinner table this fall and winter. I’m already looking forward to it.

Kale from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
caesar dressing ingredients

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I finally got around to making the brioche recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is delicious. I made several loaves of bread as well as a batch of the Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls with the dough, and will report back on that shortly. I also used leftover brioche to make the croutons, which were delicious, but an unnecessary treat — any good bakery-style bread will suffice for these croutons.

homemade brioche

The Tartine Bread crouton recipe calls for an optional pinch of herbes de provence, which added a surprisingly nice flavor to the croutons.

brioche croutons, unbaked

brioche croutons, baked

Kale Caesar Salad
Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves: 4 to 6

Note: The measurements below are those that are given in the book. Obviously, adjust quantities as needed. I tossed enough kale for two people with dressing to taste. I also added the croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano to taste.

2 lbs. black, Tuscan or dinosaur kale, center stems removed, and torn
croutons (recipe below)
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Caesar dressing (recipe below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons. Pour the dressing to taste over top and toss to coat. Add the Parmesan, toss again, and serve.

Caesar Dressing

Note: I made a half-batch of this recipe. I did not use a mortar and pestle, but if you are an adept m&p user, feel free. Also, if you have a caesar dressing that you love, feel free to substitute that in. In essence, this recipe is no more than a traditional caesar salad with kale swapped in for romaine. That said, I do really like this dressing — made without mayonnaise or cheese, it’s lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings I’ve come across.

2 lemons or 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
3 cloves garlic
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 large egg yolk
kosher salt
2 cups olive oil

*Update: I have been making this dressing a lot — all winter and spring in fact — and I actually prefer making it with white balsamic vinegar than with lemon juice. It is so easy and delicious. This is what I do: Finely mince 3 cloves garlic with 3 anchovy fillets — I add a pinch of salt while I’m mincing and drag my knife across the mash to help make a paste. Whisk in the egg yolk and the 1/4 cup white balsamic. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until a thick dressing forms. I never measure the olive oil, so I can’t say exactly how much, but it’s probably about a cup or less.

1. To make the dressing, grate the zest from 1 lemon. Cut both lemons in half. Place the garlic, anchovies and lemon zest in a mortar and pound with a pestle to make a thick paste. (Alternatively, mince the garlic, anchovies and zest together on a cutting board. Add a pinch of salt, and mince further. Every so often, using the side of your knife, drag the mixture against the cutting board to create a paste. Transfer to a bowl.)

2. Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir thoroughly to combine. Continuing to stir, begin adding the oil drop by drop. (Note: If you’re not using a m&p, whisk in the oil drop by drop.) The mixture should look smooth and creamy, a sign that you are building a stable emulsion. Continuing to stir (or whisk), begin adding the oil in a slow steady stream. The dressing should thicken. Periodically, stop pouring in the oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Taste the dressing and add more salt and lemon juice to taste. Add water, a small spoonful at a time, stirring to thin dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

Croutons

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

Notes:
* I used day-old brioche (recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I have yet to post), which was totally delicious but also unnecessary — any good (non-enriched) bread will do.
** This is normally an ingredient I would just as soon leave out, but I was surprised at what a nice subtle flavor the herbes added. I did not add 1/2 tsp. — a pinch was enough.

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

Cinnamon Rolls — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day Style

cinnamon rolls

I had no expectations for these cinnamon rolls. I’m still in disbelief in fact about how incredibly delicious they tasted. I mean, I knew the brown sugar and butter and pecans slathered in the pan and rolled into the dough would create a cinnamon roll affect, but I didn’t expect the dough itself — just a standard bread dough (water, flour, yeast, salt) — to have that enriched brioche-like flavor. How could a no-butter, no-sugar, no-egg, no-milk dough yield a nearly perfect if not perfect cinnamon roll? That’s a question perhaps better answered by all of you experienced bakers out there. I’m stumped. Replete, content and stumped.

I made this recipe on a whim. I had already baked off 3 smallish loaves of bread from my batch of Artisan Bread in Five dough — the master recipe yields 4 loaves — and I wanted to try something new. In the preface to the book’s Sticky Pecan Caramel Roll recipe, the authors note that the recipe works — and works well — with their standard boule dough, and so I went for it. And I’m so glad I did. Oh man were these good. I don’t know how an enriched-dough could improve the flavor, but I’m curious. As soon as I recover from my sticky bun binge, which might take a few more weeks, I’m going to give the ABin5 brioche dough a go. I’m already looking forward to that happy morning.

If you like this recipe, check out the ABin5 blog. Oh my, this monkey bread looks fabulous. And here are some other ABin5 loaves I have tried:

Traditional Boule
Cinnamon Swirl Bread — an absolute favorite
Partially Whole Wheat Boule
Broa — Portuguese Corn Bread – not sweet corn bread but bread with cornmeal

cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls

The Master Recipe: Boule
Adapted From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves. Recipe can be doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups (29.25 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ºF.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

3. Mix in the flour: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.

If you want to make standard boules, continue with step 5 here.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

1 1/2 lbs. of pre-mixed dough (recipe above)
Note: My portion of dough weighed 1 lb 12 oz., so the recipe is relatively flexible in this sense. I did have to whip up a little bit more butter-cinnamon-and-sugar filling, however, to compensate for the larger surface area.

The Caramel Topping
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
30 pecan halves (I crushed up my pecan halves, but feel free to leave them whole if you wish)

The Filling
4 T. salted butter, softened (I used unsoftened)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (I did not use)
1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans (I did not toast)
Pinch of ground black pepper (I did not use.)

1. On baking day, cream together the butter, salt and brown sugar. Spread evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Scatter the pecans over the butter-sugar mixture and set aside. (Note: I experienced terrible spillage, which resulted in a burnt oven floor. Soooo, if you have a pan with high sides, that might work best. Otherwise, place a pan (disposable or not) on the rack below your pan to catch the spillage.

2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1.5 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. (Note: I didn’t really do this. I simply placed my piece of dough (Which was a little bit larger than 1.5 lbs.) on my work surface and stretched it out into a rectangle.)

3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/8-inch thick rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the work surface but not so much as to make the dough dry. If the dough is being stubborn, let it sit for 20 minutes, then come back to it with the rolling pin.

4. Cream together the butter, sugar and spices. Spread evenly over the rolled-out dough and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. (I had to make a little bit more of this mixture to cover the surface area of my dough.) Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log. If the dough is too soft to cut, let it chill for 20 minutes. (Note: My dough was very soft, but I was too impatient to chill it.)

5. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. With a serrated knife, cut the log into 8 equal pieces and arrange over the pecans in the prepared, with the “swirled” edge facing upward. (Not sure what the “swirled” edge means — they were both swirled as far as I could tell?) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest and rise 1 hour. Note: I basically just let my rolls rise for 20 minutes. As soon as the buns started filling up the pan, I popped the pan in the oven.

6. Bake buns about 40 minutes or until golden brown and well set in center. While still hot, run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the caramel rolls, and invert immediately onto a serving dish. If you let them sit too long, they will stick to the pan and be difficult to turn out.

cinnamon rolls