Archive for the ‘breakfast/brunch’ Category

This is the kind of recipe that gives you faith in yourself as a baker, that makes you feel confident and sure in the kitchen and officially puts you in the camp of people who “just whip up a little something” when friends come over for Brunch. And thank goodness it is, because after last month’s bagel experiment, I was questioning whether I would continue with TWD. But then I remembered that this is a journey, that I’m becoming a better baker and that if I can throw together something as delicious and easy as these Buttermilk Crumb Muffins I must be doing something right (go here for the full recipe).

You have to love a recipe that requires nothing more than a bowl, a spoon and a baking pan. Usually I wouldn’t be able to restrain my impulse to tinker with a new recipe, adding a bit of this and a little of that. But this time I was in the midst of a busy week and was so happy to see this simple recipe that I made it to the letter and couldn’t have been happier.

Despite it’s ease, this recipe has some really smart take-away lessons:

(1.) Pull back some of the dry mixture to use as a crumble topping — it’s the best part and I love the idea that I don’t have to make a separate crumble topping.

(2.) When you are making muffins and don’t have enough batter to fill all the tins, fill any empty muffin tin 1/2 way up with water so that you whole pan cooks evenly. Brilliant!!

(3.) Although this recipe calls only for shortening and the muffins turned out light and crumbly as a result, I think they could have used the flavor boost of butter or olive oil. I find most all-shortening baked good recipes to be a bit bland and prefer to swap out at least some of the shortening with butter or olive oil whenever possible — both of these full-flavor fats lend to more complex flavors in the finished product.

Speaking of next time, although these muffins were light and tasty and the perfect simple treat in a busy work week, I will certainly make some additions in the future. Perhaps dried cherries and toasted almonds, or diced pear and ground cardamom, or chopped banana chips and bittersweet chocolate….the possibilities are endless….I think these are going to be a new staple on our brunch catering menu.


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Some things are a labor of love. And some things are just a labor. After doing this week’s TWD baking assignment, I’ve decided bagels are the latter. Don’t get me wrong — I love bagels and the ones I made were delicious. But were they more delicious than the fresh bagels I get on Sundays at my local shop? Not really. In the end, this should be chalked up as one of those projects done by people who really love making bread. I’m afraid I’m not one of those people.

All that being said, I am proud of myself for giving this “project” a go. After a first read-through of the recipe (find it here) I was pretty scared and considering skipping this round all together. There were just so many steps and in my experience lots of steps does not always make for a better recipes. So I put it off. And procrastinated some more. And then some more. And finally got down to business (you can see now why I’m 3 days late with this post!).

To get over my fear, I read and then re-read the recipe to see what I was getting myself into. As you know, I’m not really a baker. But I reminded myself that I decided to participate in TWD to get better at baking and here was another chance to face my fears. So here it goes. The recipe, however, was not comforting. It read something like this:

Work with half the dough at a time, each batch makes 5 bagels.

Shape the bagels: Stretch the dough into a purse-shaped ball, punch a hole, shape with your fingers and set aside to rest.

Boil the bagels: Boil in small batches because they can’t touch. Flip them over in the water. Take them out. Glaze them with egg white – the egg whites need to be strained (?!?) — glaze them quickly so they don’t stick and don’t let the glaze hit the pan because it can make the bagels stick.

Bake the bagels: Pour 2 cups of water in the bottom of your oven (yes, really) to create steam. Bake the bagels one rack at a time. Bake 25 minutes. Turn oven off. Bake 5 minutes. Open oven door. Bake 5 more minutes.

Now you’re done. Deep breath.

For a somewhat-non-baker like me, making this recipe feels like I’m cracking a code. True confessions: I made some adjustments. Not that I’m a rebel — I’m just an impatient person. Probably why baking and I are not always friends. So for any of you scared bakers out there, here are some short-cuts I took that worked.

1. I used regular unbleached flour, not high gluten or bread flour. Didn’t want to go around town finding the right flour.

2. I worked in 2 batches but shaped all the dough pieces at the same time.

3. I did one pan of bagels on parchment and one on an oiled pan per the recipe. Bagels stuck to the oiled pan so parchment won that technique contest.

4. I didn’t strain the egg whites. I was exhausted. I was impatient. I was starting to get angry at egg whites…and bagels. It was time to skip a step and this seemed like a good one. It all worked out in the end.

5. I tried to rush it and put both sheet pans in the oven at once on different racks — BIG mistake. The recipe was right. The bottom rack rose nicely but the top rack didn’t benefit from the steam.

6. I did do the 2 cups of water in the oven to create steam. LOVED this trick — very cool method to have up my sleeve. I kind of feel like a “real” baker having done something so cool.

In the end I had lovely, tasty bagels and, I’ll admit, was pretty darn proud of myself for making it through this recipe. Would I make them again? Probably not.

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I love it when my kitchen is granted a moment of culinary serendipity. Like when you realize you have a bundle of tomatoes nearly too ripe AND the cilantro & lime needed to turn them into a quick salsa. Or when you have some leftover mashed potatoes AND you discover that last bit of ground beef in the freezer perfect for assembling a shepard’s pie. Or what happened this past week: I’d reached a stone fruit breaking point with over 6 lbs of assorted plums from the last few weeks of Farm Box deliveries threatening to take over my crisper drawer AND realized that this week’s TWD baking assignment was a basic whole wheat bread. Fresh baked bread was the only excuse I needed to turn all those plums into a huge batch of jam. A match made in heaven.

First, the jam. I used this recipe as my base — I like the method of cooking half of the fruit in a sugar syrup until soft and then adding the rest of the fruit. This leaves you with a lovely textured jam with bits of chunky fruit and bits of mashed fruit. I ended up combining three different varieties of plums with a basket of blueberries. And then, for a little twist, one lonely star anise pod — it may seem like a small, insignificant addition, but this tiny flavor bomb adds a complex “black liquorice” taste that blends so nicely with the plum’s acidity.

Once I had a huge pot of jam, it was time for the bread. The recipe (found here and here) is so, so easy. A few simple ingredients (whole wheat flour, bread flour, yeast, honey, salt and water) are combined, kneaded and left to rise. After a second rise in loaf pans, they’re ready for the oven. With about 2 hours of unattended rise time, this recipe does require some forethought — but ultimately  it’s very little actual work and such a simple endeavor. Within 5 minutes of the bread hitting the oven, my house smelled like a bakery — the smell alone is reason to bake bread more often. Is there anyone who doesn’t associate the smell of fresh-baked bread with happiness? It’s truly one of my favorite smells.

I let the bread rest as long as I could stand (about 22 minutes I think) and then carved off a slice and sat down to warm bread and homemade jam. The bread was truly the perfect bread for toast and sandwiches — a light crumb, a faint sweetness from the honey and not too heavy. The jam was sweet but not too sweet thanks to the tartness of the plums and a savory backbone provided by the star anise. Has anyone come up with a carb-only diet yet? I think I need to start one because I could eat this every day!

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When I first read Nancy Silverton’s Sticky Bun recipe, this week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie, it was the middle of a busy work week and I was skeptical. Were these sticky, calorie-laden guys going to be worth the two days and one-plus pound of butter it would take to make them? I decided to set down the recipe and come back to it on my day off, and boy am I glad I did. These buns are hot-out-of-the-oven proof that good things take time, patience….oh, and butter.

The recipe is actually two recipes in one (for complete details, go to one of this week’s hosts: Cookies on Friday and Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat). First, there’s the dough. This was my first time making a brioche dough and I was delighted how tasty and tender it turned out. I found making the dough quite easy — as long as you have a standing mixer and a little patience.

The second part of the recipe is the filling and forming of the buns…and here is where the butter gets a little crazy. I should say up front that I love butter. While I use olive oil for most of my cooking (and even some of my baking) I think there is an important time and place for butter. These sticky buns are absolutely that time and place. That being said, even I was a little alarmed when I was dotting the dough with 1 1/2 sticks of butter (this, after 1 1/2 sticks had already been incorporated into the dough). BUT who am I to argue with baking legend Nancy Silverton. So I took a deep, buttery, breath and continued dotting.

After the dough was enriched with additional butter and rested in the fridge for 30 minutes, I filled it will cinnamon sugar and pecans. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to work with this dough — it was supple and tender and rolled out beautifully. After freezing the logs, slicing the individual buns and nestling them in MORE butter and sugar, I covered with a towel and let them rise a final time. And here is where the magic happened. What was supposed to be a 2 hour rise turned into a 4 hour rise on my counter thanks to some errands that took longer to run that I thought. And boy am I glad they did! When I finally went to put the buns in the oven, they had plumped up and risen all the way to the edge of the pan……and when they came out of the oven and I popped them out of the pan they were amazingly light and fluffy thanks to that long rise. And when I finally bit into one, I immediately forgot the two long days of laboring involved. They were the most flaky and tender rolls I’ve ever tasted….and with that extra punch of cinnamon I added there were full of spicy goodness.

I may need to hang this picture in my office. These are truly the most beautiful baked-good I’ve ever made….and possibly the tastiest. While I may not make these buttery little devils very often, at least I know now that they are worth every dot of butter and every minute spent waiting for them to rise. I think they next time these will make an appearance is on Christmas….perhaps with a little orange zest and nutmeg in the mix….

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Every now and then a recipe surprises me and this week’s Tuesdays with Dorrie assignment was one of those times. On first glance, this Hungarian Shortbread seemed pretty run-of-the-mill. Sugar, flour, jam, butter…..wait a minute, is that A WHOLE POUND of butter? OK, maybe this is going to be more exciting than I thought!

This recipe is essentially a shortbread dough stuffed with your choice of jam — the homemade rhubarb in the recipe looked delicious but that just wasn’t going to happen this week, so I turned to my pantry and used a mix of raspberry and apricot jams. What makes this recipe so interesting (and ultimately so delicious), is the technique of grating the cold dough to make the top layer of dough. I was concerned that this was going to be difficult (I had visions of sticky dough melting in my hands while I was trying to grate it on a box grater), but it was a breeze! So easy, in fact, that I think this recipe would be a great option for our cooking parties for young kids. I did decided to leave the dough overnight in the fridge and the next morning it was solid as…..a pound of cold butter…and that sure made it easy to grate. It ended up looking like lovely strands of fontina cheese on a pool of jam.

I used an 8×8 pan so that I would have a thicker end product and I used 2 cups of jam instead of the required 1 cup. Did I mention how much I love jam? I kind of saw this recipe as a vehicle for my favorite condiment until I tasted it at the end. It was moist and flavorful and the crumble topping was an amazing, light texture. And that final (heavy) dusting of powdered sugar really put it over the top.

Full recipe can be found at this week’s host: One Small Kitchen and The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler. We’ve been having so much fun cooking along with the Tuesdays with Dorrie gang…it’s been like a at-home course in baking and every couple weeks we learn something new. Next up: Pecan Sticky Buns…..can’t wait to get my hands on that yeast dough!

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Easter is around the corner and eggs are on my mind. While I don’t understand how the Easter bunny came to lay eggs for the holiday, I am willing to suspend my disbelief for an afternoon of turning a couple dozen eggs into a pile of delicate and lovely pastel-colored pretties. Best of all, the day after Easter I get to start the project I really love: coming up with fun things to make with all those eggs. A chive and lemon flecked egg salad spread on a slice of whole grain bread is always a favorite. It seems a good excuse to make a savory soufflé like this, although it will only get me through three more eggs. Luckily, this week’s TWD assignment was a classic Pizza Rustica – a lovely, savory, egg and cheese pie that is traditionally made around Easter. After making it last night, I know why. It’s a delicious way to use up five more of your Easter crop.

First, there’s a crust that’s enriched with eggs and sweeter than your typical pie crust due to a healthy addition of sugar. Easy enough to make, though a little crumbly when rolling out. For the actual recipe, visit this week’s hosts, Capital Region Dining Blog and The Place They Call Home.

Then, there’s the filling. Whereas a quiche is typically cheese and other goodies suspended in an egg and cream custard, a Pizza Rustica is mostly cheese with only a few eggs to bind. The recipe called for ricotta, mozzarella, pecorino, procuitto and parsley. Since I can never leave well enough alone, I switched it up using all the recommended cheese but substituting the meat and herbs with chopped kalamata olives and minced watercress. The olives are a salty addition and the watercress brings pepper to the dish – turned out to be a nice balance against the creamy cheesiness of the filling.


In the end, I had a lovely pie that made for a delicious breakfast this morning. This is one of those recipes that is easy to modify (my favorite) and good for bringing to potlucks and parties (always a plus). I think I’ll add a version of this to our brunch catering menu with pancetta, wild mushrooms and fontina. Check out what all the other TWD bakers are saying about it and let us know how yours turns out!



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