Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sugar & Spice Has Moved

Please visit my new site at:

Update those Google Readers kids! :)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

September Daring Bakers: The Cinnamon Roll

This was my first challenge as a member of the Daring Bakers group and I was excited to tackle it! To be completely honest, I was overwhelmingly relieved that my first challenge appeared to be something I could handle without a lot of complicated steps that might intimidate me.

We were provided with the recipes for both cinnamon rolls and sticky buns and had the option to make either one or both. I stuck with the classic cinnamon rolls because I didn't have a doubt that they would definitely go.

I didn't run into any problems and in fact the dough was perfectly soft and silky - maybe the best dough I have ever worked with! There was nothing very difficult about this recipe and I will be saving it as my default cinnamon roll recipe.

Thanks to the Daring Bakers for inducting me and making my first challenge a success, and thank you to Marce for hosting this month!

Cinnamon Buns and Sticky Buns
(from Peter Reinhart´s The Bread Baker´s Apprentice)

Days to Make: 1

15 minutes mixing; 3 1/2 hours fermentation, shaping and proofing; 20 to 40 minutes baking.

Yield: Makes 8 to 12 large or 12 to 16 smaller cinnamon or sticky buns

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water

1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)

White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)

Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)

*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

1. Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand); if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast. Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

3. Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Proceed as shown in the photo on the left for shaping the buns.

(Transcription: (A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. (B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)

4. For cinnamon buns, line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.

For sticky buns, coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

5. Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

6. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.

7. Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

8. For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving. For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)

Caramel glaze for sticky buns

Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California.
NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.

2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Nothing goes better with a big bowl of chili than cornbread! This was my first attempt at making cornbread from scratch, and the result was incredible. I wouldn't change a thing from this recipe - it developed a perfect crust and was warm and crumbly inside.

All-Purpose Cornbread
(Source: Cook's Illustrated, Fall 2007)

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 8-inch square baking dish (glass is recommended) with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl until combined; set aside.

2. In food processor or blender, process sugar, thawed corn kernels, and buttermilk until combined, about 5 seconds. Add eggs and process until well combined (corn lumps will remain), about 5 seconds longer.

3. Using rubber spatula, make well in center of dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into well. Begin folding dry ingredients into wet, giving mixture only a few turns to barely combine; add melted butter and continue folding until dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour batter into prepared baking dish; smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert cornbread onto wire rack, then turn right side up and continue to cool until warm, about 10 minutes longer. Cut into pieces and serve.

An Non-Traditional Take on Chili

There are a million different versions of chili and most people have their tried and true favorite. Nick and I typically don't like very spicy dishes, so this chili recipe that my mom passed along to me from another family member fits the bill for us. It's warm, hearty and not too spicy (not spicy at all if you leave out the chili powder!). The addition of rice and omition of beans certainly make this nontraditional! This chili can be thrown together in less than 30 minutes so it's also perfect for a quick meal!

Chili-Rice Dinner
(Source: My Mom)

3/4 lb. ground beef
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 pkg (10-oz) frozen sweet whole kernel corn
1 cup diced green pepper
1 can (15-oz) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 cup instant rice
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Brown beef and onion in a skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Add spices, corn, green pepper, tomato sauce and water. Cover and bring to a full boil, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in rice, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been eating a lot of oatmeal with apples and raisins for breakfast in the mornings and as a result, I've been craving oatmeal raisin cookies. I haven't made these in years, and to be quite honest, the last couple of times that I made them they didn't turn out all that great. I was looking forward to trying a new recipe and these definitely lived up to my expectations! They were crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside - the perfect oatmeal cookie.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(Source: Deborah's Culinary Confections, courtesy of Annie's Eats)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (omitted)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (omitted)
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts (I substituted dark chocolate chips)

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla extract until well blended. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, stirring just until combined.

3. Fold in rolled oats, raisins, and walnuts (in this case, chocolate chips). Drop dough by rounded teaspoons (I used a cookie scoop) about 2 inches apart onto a cookie sheet.

4. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes (mine took 12 minutes) or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: A little over 4 dozen cookies.

The BEST Brownies?

You bet they are! Hershey's struck a home run with their Perfectly Chocolate Cake, and I am again impressed with their famed brownie recipe. This was actually the second time I have made this recipe, but they disappeared so fast the first time that I didn't get a chance to take a picture!

I admittedly don't have a lot of experience with homemade brownies, but these were dense and fudge-like - the perfect brownie by my standards!

Best Brownies
(Source: Hershey's)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey's cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350. Grease 9-inch square baking pan.

2. Stir together butter, sugar and vanilla in bowl. Add eggs; beat well with spoon. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; gradually add to egg mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in nuts, if desired. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.

3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from sides of the pan. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares. Approximately 16 brownies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Beef Mushroom Barley Soup

The weekly soup continues with a recipe for Beef Mushroom Barley soup, adapted from Elly. I couldn't believe how fabulous this soup turned out. The flavor was amazing, the meat perfectly tender and it was amazingly easy to put together. This rivals homemade wedding soup as my current favorite - it was THAT good! It does take about 2.5 hours from start to finish, but trust me when I tell you that the waiting is well worth it!

The substitution you find below for the red wine was found in Cook's Illustrated Fall 2007 issue. To replace wine in a dish, use the following ratio:

1/2 cup wine = 1/2 cup broth + 1 teaspoon wine vinegar (red or white, based on recipe)

Beef Mushroom Barley Soup
(Source: Elly Says Opa!)

1 lb. beef (I used stew meat)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 cup water
1 cup red wine (I substituted 1 cup beef broth + 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar)

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, sliced (about 3 carrots)
1 cup celery, sliced (about 3 ribs)
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper

1/2 cup barley
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

1. Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot. Add meat and brown. Pour in water and red wine (or broth/vinegar mixture) and simmer for approximately 1 hour.

2. Remove beef and cut into bite-size pieces. Skim fat and reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid; discard remaining liquid.

3. Melt butter in the stockpot. Add onion, carrots and celery and saute until tender. Stir in garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in beef broth and add thyme, basil, bay leaf, beef and reserved cooking liquid. Simmer for 20-30 minutes; season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add barley and mushrooms and simmer for approximately 40 minutes.