Bran and Raisin Muffins

Bran and Raisin Muffins

His eyes were wandering to the muffin racks. There were bran raisin and oatmeal applesauce allspice waiting to go into the cases up front.
“Have one for the road,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said. He took two.
-Sunshine

If I had taken a look at this list at the start of this mad endeavor, I wouldn’t have thought that the baked good featured on my (second) birthday would be Bran and Raisin Muffins. Easily the least cool, least decadent of all the possible pastries. Bran and Raisin Muffins aren’t even cool next to other muffins. But so goes (my) life. And the force that is Muffin Season cannot be denied. Besides–these are pretty good for bran muffins. Continue reading Bran and Raisin Muffins

Oatmeal Applesauce Allspice Muffins

Oatmeal Applesauce Allspice Muffins

His eyes were wandering to the muffin racks. There were bran raisin and oatmeal applesauce allspice waiting to go into the cases up front. “Have one for the road,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said. He took two.
-Sunshine

Muffin season means morning muffin posts! Next on the muffin rack: Oatmeal Applesauce Allspice. It’s impossible not to get excited for October when you take the best flavors from an orchard and mix it with peppery allspice. And like Pumpkin Muffins, some of the oil is replaced with cooked produce–apples in this case. And since these muffins use whole wheat flour and oatmeal…these might even be classified as–dare I say it?– “healthy”.

But not to worry! They don’t taste like you sucked the goodness out of them. I first recipe I tried didn’t use any oil and while those muffins made a pretty good breakfast, the texture of this version with just 3 tablespoons (over 12 muffins, mind you) is clearly superior. And for an extra boost of decadence there’s the butter-brown sugar topping, which are the two main ingredients in caramel and toffee and happiness. Don’t worry, you’re in good flour-dusted hands. Continue reading Oatmeal Applesauce Allspice Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

“I don’t suppose there are any cinnamon rolls left?”
“No,” I said.
“Walnut sticky bun?” said Paulie. “Blueberry muffin, pumpkin muffin, orange, carrot and oat muffin, pear gingerbread, honeycake?”
“One of each,” said Pat, and disappeared.
-Sunshine

After several late-September heat waves we had the first crisp fall day of the year. And you know what tumbling leaves and warm sweaters mean? Muffin season!

It’s been…a while…since I last posted, but I’m still here. I’m fifteen versions of Killer Zebras in and the end is in sight. But an almost-perfect Killer Zebra is a year round goody; it didn’t seem like a festive enough way to mark the occasion. So I took a break from endless recipe testing and baking chemistry and threw the warm spices of fall into muffin cups. Because muffins are delicious and forgiving. Because nutmeg and cloves and cinnamon are sharp and warm, but pumpkin has a mellowness that wraps around all those flavors like a silky scarf. Because it’s muffin season. Continue reading Pumpkin Muffins

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Deep Dish Apple Pie

“On Friday and Saturday I make pies. Even Charlie doesn’t know the secret of my apple pie. I suppose the secret would be safe with you.”
-Sunshine

How does that saying go? Desperate craving is the mother of invention? There was a glorious slice of time during college when I had both time and an oven. What I didn’t have was a pie pan. And when October rolls around, pie is pretty much the only dessert I have on the brain. So what’s a college girl in the middle of the countryside going to do? Something desperate. One tiny pan substitute that transforms the whole dessert brilliantly. So today, dear eaters, I give you: Deep Dish Apple Pie. Sunshine would totally approve.

(Deep Dish) Apple Pie

Crust adapted from Alton Brown
Filling adapted from Grandma Ople

Ingredients
Crust*

  • 9 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 ounces vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 5-7 tablespoons moonshine
  • 18 ounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla sugar

*See end of post for updated crust recipe

Filling

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 8 small Granny Smith apples
  • 3 small Fuji apples
Crust Directions

I have a confession: I mostly use store bought crusts. *cringe*

I know! It’s terrible, I’m sorry. My half-sane reasoning is pie crust is amazingly bad for you so if I don’t see what goes into it, I won’t feel bad when I end up staring at a half-empty pie pan.

Okay, okay, I hear the crazy. Self-made crust is bad, but it’s still better for you than crappy store crust.

Plus pie crust is one of those easier recipes since everything gets dumped into the food processor in sequence. Not that an easy recipe means I whipped together my crust with no problems. There were problems. But it started off pretty smoothly.

Netflix recently released Good Eats onto the interwebz for mass consumption and I’m re-learning some incredible recipes, techniques and science from my oldest food sensei. And because his version of pie crust has applejack/moonshine the temptation was just too great.

So I took the Good Eats recipe and upped it by 50% since I always err on the side of crust

Crustastic Update

After reading the excellent article about the science of pie crust in Food Lab I realized that the problems in the last crust weren’t due to getting the dough drunk on moonshine (turns out inebriated crust is supposed to be sloppy like a biscuit. Who knew?). There were two big problems with the original crust (and they’re related):

  1. Batch too large for the food processor.
  2. Over pulsed.

When trying out the new dough recipes, I remembered in the proto forms of this pie I used the secretshame store-bought regular sized pie doughs, so I stuck to the original batch size to see if it would support a whopping 6lb pie. It did.

Experimental Dough #1 aka Buttercup

I was feeling pretty defeatist at this point, so I didn’t really take pictures. Of course I should have because it all worked out alright in the end. For the first experiment, I tried to follow the Food Lab Easy Pie Dough recipe. There was a very clear explanation as to why I would get what, but of course life isn’t that easy.

See, I’ve gotten pretty okay with the general unhealthiness of pie crust by now. It smells too good and you get kind of desensitized to it after a while. But–and there’s no way to sugar coat this–one Deep Dish Apple Pie takes roughly one pound of butter. And most of that is in the crust. I have long resigned myself to the fact that at the rate I bake it doesn’t make sense to buy in anything other than Costco quantities. Which is the extremely long way of saying…all my one pound butter bricks live in the freezer.

Which means when I followed the recipe to the letter, pulsing 25 times, that wasn’t enough pulsing. There should have been frozen-butter-chunks-pulsing instead of the cool-as-a-cucumber-in-the-fridge pulsing.

As it turns out, using frozen butter and the Easy Pie Dough recipe yields not the easily replicated paste-to-flake magical pie crust recipe. Instead it yields a perfect regular pie crust consistency rife with eyeballing drops of liquid. I added lemon because the acid helps keep the crust tender and because I missed the tang from store bought crusts which accompanies the granny smiths so well and put in a couple tablespoons of moonshine as an extra bit of insurance, then added water a tablespoon at a time until the dough barely stuck together and chilled it in the fridge. Visually there were little nuggets of butter speckled throughout which didn’t resemble any dough I remember.

Experimental Dough #2 aka Pastehead

Armed with another frozen block of butter I pulsed the new dough into frosty submission. I think I still did it wrong because it took less water, but more than the 6 tablespoons called for in the recipe.

For the actual pie it was tricky to test in halves, so I used Buttercup on top and Pastehead on the bottom, understanding several pounds of apples would likely squelch the flake out of Pastehead, but the sides could make an expressive substitute.

Buttercup blossomed in the oven, rising and crisping so beautifully it was like a crosshatch churro. Despite my high hopes for the scientifically proven Pastehead, it was widely regarded as inferior. I thought it might have been product of pie placement, but I took the leftover dough and made some Chicken Pot Pies. Half of the total crust recipe makes two chicken pot pies, so I topped three with Buttercup and one with Pastehead. The results? (I stuck with the name Pastehead, so it’s not like there’s a lot of hope here)

Buttercup vs. Pastehead

Winner and crisp, flaky champion!

Since deleting whole sections is confusing, I’ll leave my error-riddled crust below, just in case there was something in it that really worked for someone. Feel free to skip ahead.

Continue reading Deep Dish Apple Pie

Triple-Ginger Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Sauce

Triple Ginger Gingerbread Slab

“I’d made my special cream-cheese sauce to go with the triple-ginger gingerbread. I’d long felt that gingerbread, while excellent in itself, was still essentially an excuse to eat the sauce, so I’d always made twice as much per portion as the original recipe called for. Then it turned out that some of our customers were even more crazed than I was, so I’d started making three times as much, and we served it in little sauceboats. You got purists occasionally that didn’t want any sauce, but the slack was taken up somehow.”
-Sunshine

After what feels like an endless string of baking fails, I have whiplash from this sudden reversal of fortune. I’m just going to tell you guys right now: the Triple-Ginger Gingerbread is amazing. It is so good it deserves its own food group. The food pyramid should be: meat, vegetables, ice cream, grains, and triple-ginger gingerbread with cream cheese sauce. When I first read the recipe, I thought it was overzealous with the ginger. Like getting the word “man” in Pictionary and drawing portrait of Tom Selleck in a tank. There is a lot of ginger in this thing. But you know what? It works. Beautifully. I am delighted to say that it tastes exactly like it should.

While I dig into The Bread Baker’s Apprentice thanks to my knowledgeable food-friend Jon, I thought it would be good to give my yeast a break and embrace the changing season. What a tremendously good idea that turned out to be. Instead of tragic sunken loaves of bread, I have spicy, sultry, mysterious Triple-Ginger Gingerbread for your rainy day pleasure.

I should also mention the host kitchen may be the most beautiful kitchen I’ve seen in real life. I’m puppy-sitting for my friend Laura today and I just couldn’t help baking. Look at this place.

Laura's Kitchen

I’m pretty sure the granite is taken directly from a dragon’s den.

Dragon Granite

Also: it takes like a solid hour for my kitchen to be useable. At least two until it’s photogenic. Laura’s kitchen just…looks like this. All the time. It’s like standing inside a magazine.

I just thought I’d explain now because once I start posting pictures you’ll start to stare at the gorgeous background and at least now you’ll know what you’re looking at. But enough ktchen-porn–onto the food!

Triple-Ginger Gingerbread

Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (if pan greasing) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup diced cubed candied ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Note on the Ingredients

Triple Ginger Gingerbread SpicesThis recipe calls for a little spoons of a lot of spices. While you could probably leave out one of them, I wouldn’t. You can really taste the complexity. I highly recommend checking out the bulk bins at places like Whole Foods or coops (or Berkeley Bowl in my case). You can pick up small baggies of the spices instead of spending $15 on jars of spices you won’t use up. I bought enough of everything (except the ground ginger which I already had) to make 3-5 batches of this recipe for about $1.25.

Cream Cheese Sauce
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 16 oz (usually 2 packages) cream cheese at room temperature

Note on Cream Cheese Sauce

I was extremely unscientific with this part. I used half a pack of cream cheese and adjusted the ratio of powdered sugar and milk until it reached a consistency I liked. It is addictively delicious. Since I had Sunshine’s blessing, I just spooned on as much as I wanted and the whole batch lasted about 1/4 of the loaf (or 3 slices). To be on the safe side I quadrupled the quantity, but if you don’t think you’ll be eating 1/3 cup of sauce with each slice, you might get away with half the recipe here.

Triple Ginger Gingerbread Ingredients

Directions

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line long loaf pan with parchment paper and butter the sides. I didn’t have parchment paper, so I just went the old fashioned way and buttered and floured the pan.

Floured Loaf Pan Continue reading Triple-Ginger Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Sauce

Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head

“Our first customers arrive at six thirty and they want our Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head and I am the one who makes them. I put the dough to rise overnight and it is huge and puffy and waiting when I get there at four-thirty.”
“I [give] myself tendonitis trying to persuade stiff, surly thirty-hour-refrigerated dough that it’s time to loosen up….but I don’t mind. I love working with yeast and flour and sugar and I love the smell of bread baking.”
-Sunshine

This is the big one. The biggest baked good in the list from a metaphorical, literal, anticipatory and alliterative perspective. They started my baked good obsession and remain my favorite food to make, sweet or savory. So I really should have built up the suspense and waited a bit to make them, but I couldn’t help it. This whole blog is an homage to these delicious creations.

But make no mistake: these babies take commitment. They require kneading and rising and assembling and patience. But the feel of warm, elastic dough under your knuckles is like the first sip of cider in the fall. The smell that wafts up from a damp washcloth after the yeast underneath has been basking in the sun is a million times better than the bread aisle at the store. And crumbling dark brown sugar and cinnamon on butter-brushed dough with your fingers is just about the best activity in the history of fingers.

Seriously, cinnamon rolls are worth the effort.

I tried a lot of recipes when I was first starting out, and I ruined a lot of batches because I didn’t know much about baking. So if it doesn’t work the first, second or fifth time, don’t despair. They’re tricky. And by batch three you’ll probably produce something that’s better than store-bought, even if it’s not exactly perfect.

So without any more ado we start with the most legendary baked good of them all:

Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
6 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract

Filling
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened

Icing
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese,
softened
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

I so rarely buy milk I did it wrong.
I so rarely buy milk I did it wrong.

Notes on the ingredients

Yeast
Use fresh yeast. The worst part of making any kind of yeast food is waiting an hour for the bread to proof and coming back to lifeless blob of dough. Old yeast is just a bunch of dead yeast-y creatures in beige form. Fresh live yeast sometimes jumps around on its own and is a little terrifying if you think about it too hard. You can pick up a bag you will never get rid of for like $4 at Costco.

Milk
Bit of a snafu on the milk here, didn’t realize it was the wrong one until after I’d taken this picture. With the benefit of hindsight, the milk is noticeably sweeter than regular milk and might have caused the cinnamon rolls to be too sweet. Will have to investigate further.

Flour
Bread flour has more protein/gluten than all-purpose flour. It makes the dough more elastic, so the bread-y insides are fluffier and more fragrant. I usually use bread flour with yeast recipes. Supposedly you can buy vital wheat gluten to add to all-purpose flour, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t recommend it until I have. This recipe works pretty well with all-purpose if it’s all you have on hand.

Directions

Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the butter; stir until melted. Add water and let cool until lukewarm.

Liquids

Proof the yeast in a small bowl. For active dry yeast, the water temperature should be between 105 and 110 degrees. Especially if you’ve never proofed yeast before, it’s worth using a thermometer until you can gut check the temperature. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the milk/butter liquid along with some pinches of the sugar and stir until the yeast has dissolved. In about 5-10 minutes it should be foamy on top and triple the size. 

Delightful and a bit of a relief.

If this doesn’t happen, you either have yeast that’s too old or the temperature is off. (Too cool and the yeast won’t activate. Too hot and it kills it.)

In a large bowl, combine the milk mixture, yeast, white sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups flour; stir well to combine.

IMGP9719

Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.

Dough hook time

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

IMGP9731

I used the dough hook for a few minutes to cheat a bit on the kneading (I know, I know, poor form) since the dough was a bit wet.

Wet dough

Because the dough was so wet it took roughly 3/4 cup of flour to make it manageable.

Kneaded dough

Place dough into an oiled bowl with a damp washcloth over the top. Set in a warm place for 2-3 hours to rise. For simplicity, I just stuck it back in the mixer bowl and put the bowl in the sun.

Resting dough

Rising dough

While you’re waiting, you can clean a bit, watch an episode of Downton Abbey, go to the store to buy ingredients you forgot about and/or prep the filling. The difference between two and three hours is pretty much what fits into your schedule. There will be another chance for the dough to rise, so don’t stress about the timing here too much. And for cinnamon’s sake, don’t just sit around and wait–let the little yeasties to do their thing and get on with your life.

The Filling

This is the tipping point of the recipe for me. Starting from this point onward, everything is amazing. The smell of just brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl is unbelievably intoxicating. Then you melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave and the whole kitchen starts to smell like kitchens were always meant to smell. Utterly marvelous.

Continue reading Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head