In the Kitchen With B

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Cupcakes!

B and I have been developing some common interests for awhile now: Starbucks dates. Stickers. Coloring. Puzzles. But, the thing that I think we both enjoy the most is baking together.

At almost 3 years old (!), B is at the stage where she likes to make a mess, be helpful and eat sweets. Fortunately, baking appeals to all three of these things.

I usually pick something simple like chocolate chip cookies, banana bread or a basic cupcake recipe. Toddler attention spans only hold out for so long, after all, so things that I can do from memory and that don’t involve a lot of steps or ingredients are a must.

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When it’s time to get started, we grab our aprons and her stepstool, line up all of our ingredients and get to work. I measure out the butter, sugar and flour for her to dump into the bowl. She whisks up the dry ingredients and I mix everything together in my Kitchen Aid. She is always in charge of sprinkling in cinnamon, dumping in the bag of chocolate chips or lining the cupcake tins with wrappers, depending on the recipe.

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I love how she will stick her nose in the mixing bowl and say, “Yum! Smells good!” even if the bowl contains only flour and baking soda at the time. I try to set a good example by not licking the bowl (or eating cookie dough), but she seems to have figured out all on her own that taste testing is one of the best parts of baking.

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Of course, there are mishaps. Handfuls of flour end up on the floor. Entire containers of rainbow sprinkles scatter across the counter, while I frantically corral them before B eats them all. Meltdowns ensue when as the 13 minutes that it takes to bake a tray of cookies crawl by.  As with most situations involving a toddler, patience is key.

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Finally, the baked goods make their way out of the oven and onto a plate and a few seconds later, B grins at me with a chocolate-smeared mouth and says “I did a great job, mama…” And, she seems so happy that I don’t even realize that she has danced her way out of the kitchen to go watch a show, leaving me with the clean-up.

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Recipes: Breakfast Cookies, Two Ways

Breakfast cookies

Banana oatmeal breakfast cookies (top) and apple oat breakfast cookies

As I said a few weeks ago, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating cookies for breakfast.

I don’t see anything wrong with eating any dessert item for breakfast, for that matter. A piece of birthday cake is basically a muffin with icing on it, right? And, ice cream is totally fine because it’s just frozen milk, after all.

As fun as this philosophy is, it sadly, does not benefit one’s waistline. Especially if one is trying to find hers again after having a baby.

So, what’s a girl to do when she wants something sweet, but healthy, for breakfast?

Enter the breakfast cookie.

These oat-based baked treats are hearty, satisfying, and have just enough sugar to satisfy a sweet tooth. And, they are ideal for those mornings when all you have time to do is grab something on your way out the door (or between baby catnaps).

Each recipe below takes less than an hour to make from start to finish. So, you can throw them together the night before (if you are super organized) or the early morning (if you are a procrastinator like me). Plus, they are a great way to use up fruit that is probably already sitting on your counter and other ingredients that are pantry staples.

Banana Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies

From: Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures

I picked this recipe based on the fact that everything could be thrown into the same bowl. Ain’t nobody got time for doing a ton of dishes.

The ample amount of oats in these cookies made them pretty hearty. Their chewy texture reminded me of baked oatmeal. I thought these had a great combination of flavors, that got even better after the cookies sat overnight.

I stored these cookies in the refrigerator because I felt like the slightly sticky texture and the chocolate chips would become a melted mess if left on the counter. They would probably freeze well, too.

What you will need

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup ripe bananas, mashed (about three small ones)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Drop onto greased cookie sheet (Note: I again used my medium sized cookie scoop and got just over 20 cookies from this recipe).
  4. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until bottoms of cookies are light brown.
  5. Cool on wire rack.

Apple Oat Breakfast Cookies

From: Yummy Mummy Kitchen

These cookies had a soft, crumbly texture (almost like a scone) and are a great way to take advantage of all of the apple varieties that are in season right now. Next time, I think I will probably throw a handful of dried cranberries in as well.

What you will need

  • 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup fresh apples, diced (I used an Empire)
  • Sugar for sprinkling (optional)

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder and pumpkin pie spice in a large bowl.
  3. Mix together butter, milk and egg in another bowl.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just moistened.
  5. Mix in apples.
  6. Scoop heaping tablespoon balls of dough and place on cookie sheet a few inches apart (Note: I used a medium sized cookie scoop and got about 20 cookies from this recipe).
  7. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake until light brown, about 10 minutes.
  8. Cool slightly on rack.

 

Recipe: Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

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Fall is my favorite time of the year to bake. The cooler weather means that my tiny house doesn’t immediately feel like a sauna as soon as I turn the oven on. Pumpkin and apple are back in season. And, finally, there are lots of occasions to bake for once the holiday season arrives.

One of my favorite things to do when I was little was bake with my mom and I have always looked forward to spending time in the kitchen with my own children. So, I wasted no time getting Little B into the kitchen to bake her first batch of cookies.

As you can see, she couldn’t quite stay awake for the job, so my mom and I ended up doing most of the work. Fortunately, these Brown Sugar Oatmeal cookies were super easy to make and B stayed asleep until the last batch was out of the oven.

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The brown sugar gives these cookies a rich flavor and chewy texture and the generous portion of oats makes them pretty hearty. I baked mine for 12 minutes, so they retained their softness, but you could leave them in the oven for a bit longer if you prefer your cookies to be crispy.

These cookies are pretty much perfect for any time of the day. Even breakfast. I mean, you have the oats, brown sugar and pecans, so these cookies are basically bowls of oatmeal in cookie form, right? And, everyone knows that oatmeal is healthy. So, starting your day off with a couple of these is totally acceptable.

Plus, they are easy to eat while toting a baby around the house in one arm. I haven’t been a parent for that long, but  trying to manage a bowl of hot cereal and a spoon, plus a baby, just seems like a recipe for disaster. I’m glad that I figured out how to save myself the trouble.

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Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

Barely Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman

Yield: The recipe states 24, but I got more than 30 out of this recipe, using a medium sized cookie sccop.

What you will need:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each one.
  3. Mix together the flour, salt, baking soda and nuts (if using) in a medium sized bowl.
  4. Add it into the creamed mixture in 2 to 3 batches, mixing it until just combined. Mix in the oats until just combined.
  5. Use a cookie scoop (or a regular spoon) to drop portions of dough onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, spacing them a couple inches apart. Bake for 12-13 minutes or until dark and chewy.
  6. Let them cool slightly on the pan after removing from the oven and move to wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe: Cherry Streusel Bars

I hope that everyone had a fabulous 4th of July! We didn’t do anything too crazy, mostly because the idea of leaving the comfort of an air-conditioned house was not at all appealing. Watching the fireworks on TV and having an indoor barbecue with my family was good enough for me!

Whether you are spending your summer holidays indoors or outdoors, it just wouldn’t be a party without a good dessert. Flag cakes seem to be the most popular for summer’s patriotic holidays. But, if you are looking for something a little different, I would suggest these dessert bars, loaded with a tart cherry filling and a buttery almond and oatmeal topping. There was that whole legend about George Washington and the cherry tree, right? So, these are still a pretty patriotic option.

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You could easily substitute other dried fruits or preserves that you might have on hand for the cherries in this recipe. Strawberries or blueberries could be another good option for summer and maybe apples or cranberry in the fall, for example.

I highly recommend serving them with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (As usual, I whipped up my favorite version from David Leibovitz’s the Perfect Scoop).

Cherry Streusel Bars

Adapted slightly from: America’s Test Kitchen and Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful 

Yield: About 2 dozen (depending on how large you cut the bars)

What You Will Need

Note: The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) in the filling and 1 cup of sweetened flaked coconut in the streusel. I left these out because I didn’t have them on hand, and don’t think it affected the flavor or texture at all.

Filling

Note: Filling can be made one day ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to bake.

Dough and Streusel

Note: The suggestion of using the dough/topping from the America’s Test Kitchen (ATK)  raspberry bar recipe came from Gastronomy Blog. It’s true–the ATK recipe has just the right texture and sweetness and it always bakes up perfectly. But, adding the extracts and cinnamon called for in the Bon Appetit recipe gave something extra special to the bars, as those ingredients are the perfect complements for cherries!

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon sized pieces (16 tablespoons are needed for the dough, 2 tablespoons for the streusel)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with an aluminum foil sling. Spray with cooking spray or grease with butter.
  2. Combine the dried cherries and the preserves into a chunky puree using a food processor. Set aside.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in bowl of electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment for the mixer, beat in 16 tablespoons of butter, as well as the vanilla and almond extract at slow speed, until the mixture comes together in moist clumps. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture in a separate bowl for the streusel topping.
  4. Gather remaining dough together into a ball and press into the prepared baking pan. Pierce dough all over with a fork and bake until golden, about 22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
  5. Remove crust from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
  6. While crust is cooling, make the streusel topping add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, light brown sugar, oats and almonds to the reserved dough and mix with a fork or pastry blender until small clumps form.
  7. Once crust is cool, spread cherry filling over it with a spatula and sprinkle streusel topping on top. Bake until filling is bubbling and streusel topping is golden brown, about 25 to 27 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and set pan on wire rack to cool for two hours. Remove bars from the pan using foil sling and cut into squares to serve.

 

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

If you are planning a festive meal for today, I highly recommend whipping up a batch Irish soda bread. The traditional version of this dense, hearty bread features just four ingredients–flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk–but you can doctor it up with just about anything you want to enhance its flavor and texture. For example, serve it as a dipper for stew or soup or try adding sugar, honey and dried fruit (I used golden raisins since I had a box in the cabinet) to the dough to sweeten it up. The possibilities are endless, and the loaf comes together quickly and easily.

If you ask me, the best way to enjoy this bread is to keep things simple and top a slice with a generous smear of salted Irish butter as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

From: Baking Bites

What you will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon to bring the dough together. It will look shaggy, (almost like a shortcake dough) and will be moist and a bit sticky (I recommend adding the buttermilk slowly to make sure that doesn’t become too wet and hard to handle). Add the raisins, if using.
  4. Once dough comes together, knead for a minute or two in the bowl and form into a round ball. Place on baking sheet.
  5. Cut an “X” in the top of the bread (about an inch and a half deep). This will help the inside of the bread to bake.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown
  7. Remove from oven. Transfer to wire rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe: Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

During the past week or so, avocados have become of my main ET-related cravings. Twice over the weekend, I decided what to order in a restaurant based on the fact that avocado was advertised as an ingredient in certain dishes.

So, imagine the meltdowns that almost ensued when the avocados were left out. Both times. Chester can tell you that it wasn’t pretty.

I mean, do you think I ordered that stupid roast turkey sandwich because I actually wanted roast turkey? No. I ordered it because what I really wanted was the avocado and that was the only thing on the menu that promised I could have it.

Jerks.

As traumatic as these two incidents were, this post isn’t really about avocados. But, I have a point. And, that is: when you want to eat a particular kind of food, nothing else will do.

Which is why I had to console myself with chocolate chip cookies. They never disappoint.

There are millions of recipes out there for chocolate chip cookies, but this is the first one that I’ve tried that just about replicates the Nestle or Pillsbury varieties that we all scooped out of those plastic tubes of refrigerated dough when we were kids. A generous helping of brown sugar and a healthy dose of chocolate syrup gives these cookies their crispy edges and chewy centers. A cold glass of milk is a must.

The only tweak I would make next time around would be to add an additional half a cup or so of chips, because I like to have that chocolately flavor in each bite. I felt like there were not nearly enough to go around, especially as  I scooped out the last six or so cookies in the batch. (My go-to brand of chips–and any kind of baking chocolate, for that matter, is Ghirardelli–because they have the richest flavor and they can stand up to the heat of the baking process).

This recipe comes from the Milk and Cookies cookbook, which features recipes from the  Greenwich Village bakery of the same name. It’s the first recipe that I’ve tried from the book, which contains about 90 recipes. I like that the author gives the recipe for the base dough in each section (vanilla, peanut butter, double chocolate, etc.) and then several variations. So, once you have the basics down, the possibilities are endless!

Cookes 3_Checkter favorite

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

From: Milk and Cookies by Tina-Marie Casaceli

Makes about 2 dozen

What you will need

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup chocolate syrup
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
  3. Put butter in bowl of electric mixer and beat until light and creamy
  4. With mixer running, gradually add both sugars and syrups.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat to incorporate. Beat in vanilla.
  6. Add dry ingredient mixture and beat until just combined. When dough is still streaky, remove bowl from mixer. Stir in chocolate chips
  7. Using a cookie scoop, place dough two inches apart on baking sheet. Bake about 12 minutes or until brown and crisp on the edges and set in the center.
  8. Remove from oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.

The Friday Five: Valentine’s Day Treats

One of the things that I like about Valentine’s Day is that it gives me an excuse to overdose on chocolate, the color pink and general cuteness. Three of my favorite all time favorite things.

I usually make some kind of sweet treat for the ocassion and these are just a few things that have made it on to my short list for this year:

shortbread

Sweetheart Shortbread (via Diamonds for Dessert) The recipe yields a few dozen colorful cookies, so these would be perfect for stuffing into little cellophane treat bags for all of your Valentines.

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Raspberry Lemon Whoopie Pies (via Martha Stewart) These would look gorgeous on a pretty serving platter for a Valentine’s day dessert buffet.

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Sprinkled Strawberry Coconut Scones (via How Sweet It Is) For a festive breakfast in bed.

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Conversation Heart Cake (via Studio DIY) I know they are a tradition, but conversation heart candies are disgusting. A conversation heart that tastes like cake? Now that I can get behind!

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Nutella Espresso Cheesecake (via Baker Street) I’ll choose chocolate over any other type of dessert, any day of the week, and this seems like a super indulgent Valentine’s Day treat (plus, it was National Nutella Day a few days ago!).

What are your V-Day plans?

Recipe: Flour’s Sticky Sticky Buns

You might already know this about me, but I like instant gratification. Especially when it comes to baked goods. That’s why cookies are one of my favorite things to bake. The batter tends to come together fairly quickly and a dozen are in and out of the oven in 15 minutes or less. That aligns perfectly with my attention span and seemingly endless desire for dessert.

You know what’s a real test of patience?

Waiting NINE HOURS for sticky buns. Most of this is inactive prep time, since the dough needs to proof twice before baking, so you won’t be slaving over the oven the entire time.

Toasting pecans

Toasting pecans

But, still. It’s a two day project.

Fortunately, at the end of this process you won’t have just any old sticky buns. These will be the famous Sticky Sticky Buns from Boston’s Flour Bakery.

Remember that every time you open the refrigerator during those first six hours of proofing time, and that pale ball of brioche dough taunts you with the knowledge that you’ll have to wait until sometime the following day to get your fix.

Brioche dough after proofing for six hours

Brioche dough after proofing for six hours

(However, the protracted prep time does make it a perfect project for a lazy, three day weekend, since it also allows for two hour naps during the process if you so desire. And, I did).

All rolled up

All rolled up

Ready for the oven after two more hours of proofing

Ready for the oven after two more hours of proofing

Friends, they are totally worth the wait. They are tender and chewy in all of the right places (particularly, in the center) and dripping in warm, caramel “goo” (yes, that’s the technical name for it) and toasted pecans.

Finally.

Finally.

Next time, I’ll be a little more liberal with the pecans and I’ll make some extra goo to drizzle over them before serving. Then, they’ll be exactly like what I remember from the shop. God bless Joanne Chang for making this recipe publicly available for the times when I just can’t make the trip to Boston and I really NEED a sticky bun.

This was the first recipe that I tried from the Flour cookbook and I’m looking forward to others. One of the things that I like best about this book is that are recipes are very detailed, with great descriptions of how the mixtures will look, feel and even sound as they make their way around the mixing bowl at various stages in the process. So, even if you are still working on your baking skills, you’ll feel a little bit more confident about taking on the more challenging recipes.

Flour’s Sticky Sticky Buns

From: Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

by Joanne Chang

What you will need:

For the brioche dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 1-ounce fresh cake yeast
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 3/8 cups (2 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces.

For the goo:

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped

What to do:

For the brioche dough:

Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all the ingredients are combined. Stop the mixer, as needed, to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, 1 piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough. Continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is important for all the butter to be thoroughly mixed into the dough. If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.

Once the butter is completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny, another 15 minutes. It will take some time to come together. It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually it will turn smooth and silky. Turn the speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute. You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by pulling at it; it should stretch a bit and have a little give. If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in 1 piece.

Put the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough. Let the dough proof (that is, grow and develop flavor) in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight At this point you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

For the goo:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, to combine (it may look separated, that’s ok). Remove from the heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. Strain to remove any undissolved lumps of brown sugar. Let cool for about 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups. (The mixture can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Putting the buns together:

Divide the dough in half. Use half for this recipe and reserve the other half for another use.

On a floured work surface, roll out the brioche into rectangle about 12 by 16 inches and 1/4-inch thick. It will have the consistency of cold, damp Play-Doh and should be fairly easy to roll. Position the rectangle so a short side is facing you.

In a small bowl, make the filling. Stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and half of the pecans. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Starting from the short side farthest from you and working your way down, roll up the rectangle like a jelly roll. Try to roll tightly, so you have a nice round spiral. Trim off about 1/4- inch from each end of the roll to make them even.

Use a bench scraper or a chef’s knife to cut the roll into 8 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2-inches wide. (At this point, the unbaked buns can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, thaw them, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, then proceed as directed.)

Pour the goo into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, covering the bottom evenly. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the surface. Arrange the buns, evenly spaced, in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm spot to proof until the dough is puffy, pillowy, and soft and the buns are touching-almost tripled in size, about 2 hours.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the dish on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. One at a time, invert the buns onto a serving platter, and spoon any extra goo and pecans from the bottom of the dish over the top.

The buns are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, and then warmed in a 325 degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before serving.

The Friday Five: On Resolutions and Sweet Treats

At some point in grade school, I had a teacher who made us write down our new year’s resolutions and share them with the class. I went to Catholic school, so it was probably just another way to make us feel guilty about our bad habits, but making resolutions is a practice that I have kept up with ever since.

When I was younger, I would always resolve to stop biting my nails. It was a record if I could make it to January 4th (Getting acrylic nails for Senior Prom in high school and maintaining them for nearly a decade after that was the only thing that broke that habit. Those things are impossible to bite off). As I got older, I frequently attempted banish curse words from my vocabulary when January 1 rolled around. That proved pretty much impossible since cursing is the only thing that makes me feel better when people act like idiots.

In light of these dismal failures, I’ve started to frame my new year’s resolutions with the goal of developing new, productive habits. This seems less daunting–and more fun–than trying to get rid of the bad ones. Five years ago, instead of saying that I wanted to lose a certain amount of weight, I just focused on the idea of wanting to be in better shape, which started me on the path to working out on a regular basis. Two years ago, this blog grew out of my commitment to develop and stick with a new hobby.

This year, one of my goals is to continue to work on my baking skills. It might sound lame, but baking has become a major stress reliever for me. I’m the kind of person who sometimes has trouble turning her mind off. But, somehow its easier to do when I’m spooning flour into measuring cups, creaming butter and sugar together or scooping out cookie dough. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become pretty good at making cookies, cupcakes and brownies but I would really like to step out of my comfort zone and try a few new recipes.

To that end, here are a few things that I’m looking forward to trying out in 2013:

Macarons_001

 

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Macarons: So pretty, yet so tricky to make. I received the Bouchon Bakery book for Christmas and a few of the bloggers that I follow have written that the technique used in Thomas Keller’s recipe has solved their macaron phobia.

sticky buns

Flour’s Sticky Buns: One of my favorite treats when I visit Boston. I also asked for the Flour Bakery book for Christmas, specifically so I could make them (Completed, January 21).

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Layer Cake: From scratch, since the only layer cakes I’ve ever made have involved boxed mixes and canned frosting.

cheesecake

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Cheesecake: Just because I’ve never made one of these either and they are one of my favorite desserts.

pasta fresh

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Homemade pasta: So, this falls into the savory category, but I’ll still count it in this list because it involves making a dough. Pasta making is a basic skill for us Italians, so I better start practicing.

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Truffles: I had hoped to have time over to holidays to make some to give as gifts. Oh well, maybe next year!

What’s on your new year’s resolution list this year–food related or otherwise?

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Hurricane Sandy swept through the East Coast on Monday and Tuesday and I’m relieved to say that–at least in my little corner of South Philly–we came through relatively unscathed.

I know that folks in the surrounding areas, including the Philadelphia suburbs, the Jersey Shore and New York were not so lucky. Seeing the photos and news footage of all of the devastation is heart-wrenching. I hope that those who were affected will be able to recover some sense of normalcy in the coming days and weeks and begin the process of rebuilding.

At my house, the lights flickered a few times, but they stayed on. We got a bit of water in our basement, but that’s par for the course with even the most minor of rainstorms. All of the trees on our street are still standing. I feel pretty lucky.

And, I’m not going to lie. I kind of enjoyed my Hurrication.

I flipped back and forth between constant news coverage and the Food Network (I also discovered that Chester never programmed the Hallmark Channel into our cable menu. I was wondering where The Golden Girls had gone!). I finished making a photo book to document our trip to France last year. I spent quality time with my Nook, catching up on magazines and this month’s book club selection (Escape, which I highly recommend. It’s so crazy that I have to keep reminding myself it’s actually a true story). I played with the cat, although I think that she was annoyed that I was disrupting her sleep schedule. I drank way too many cups of coffee.

Best of all, I made these pumpkin cookies. Which are actually less like cookies and more like little mini cakes.* The soft, slightly spicy cookies are complemented by a sweet cinnamon cream cheese frosting. They pair extremely well with a fresh cup of coffee and are just the thing to warm you up on a cold and rainy fall day.

Soft Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

From: The Baker Chick

Makes about 3 dozen

What you will need

For the cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I didn’t have cloves, so I substituted the same amount of   pumpkin pie spice. Perfect).
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
2-3 cups powdered sugar (2 ½ cups was about the right sweetness for my taste).
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine first seven ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and white sugar.
  3. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy.
  4. Add dry ingredients gradually and beat until combined.
  5. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls. The dough will be pretty soft. I used a medium sized cookie scoop to make them a pretty uniform size. Just scrap the scoop against the side of the bowl to round it off before dropping on the sheet.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. While the cookies cooling, make the icing: cream butter and cream cheese together in bowl of electric mixer. Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until thick and creamy; Add vanilla and cinnamon.
  8. When cookies are cooled, spread frosting on top with an offset spatula.

*These cookies actually remind me of these Archway cookies that my grandmother used to buy for me any my brother when we were young. They were a soft, vanilla flavored cookie with a thin layer of white frosting and red and green sprinkles. They were oval shaped and I want to say they were called Frosted Fingers. Sadly, I haven’t seen them in years. Does anyone else remember them or know where I can find them? I’ll be your friend forever if you do!