Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cinnamon Pecan Sticky Rolls

Saturday, January 24, 2009
It's below zero again in Minnesota (that is below zero on the Fahrenheit scale for readers who don't live in the U.S.) I figured that the intrepid band of coffee-breakers who were willing to trudge over to our house this morning deserved something special for their trouble, so I made fresh-from-the-oven caramel rolls.

While I was considering how to make these rolls without getting up at 3:00 a.m., I remembered Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I haven't used for a while. I am going to go out on a limb here, and say that these rolls are probably worth the cost of the book. They will give you a (possibly undeserved) reputation as a baker. I heard, "Where did you get these rolls? You made them? That's amazing!" so often that my store of modesty was quite used up. Granted, these people have an interest in encouraging me to keep providing them with food, but this was genuine enthusiasm.
The 5-Minute-a-Day method requires you to make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until you want to use it. The authors, Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, say you can keep most of the doughs in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. The brioche dough, which I wanted to use for the pecan rolls, could be kept for only five days, so I mixed it up Wednesday night, let it rise for a few hours, and stuck it back in the refrigerator. That part was easy.
You really can't make these rolls in five minutes, however. No step is really hard, but it is time consuming. I still had to get up a 6:30 (a.m.!) (on a Saturday!) to make sure these rolls were ready on time.

This is the dough as it's dumped out of its plastic container. It doesn't look that promising, does it?
But it rolls out nicely.

As I roll out the dough, I realize that I'm a sucker for any recipe that asks you to roll out the dough, strew good things on top of it, and roll it back up, jelly roll fashion, although I've never made a jelly roll. I don't think I've ever even seen a jelly roll in the flesh, but without it, how would we know what cookbook authors were talking about when they instruct, "jelly roll fashion." I guess if they didn't exist, someone would have to invent them.

In this case, the aforementioned good things are butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pecans. Usually this kind of roll just has you sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over the dough, but in the 5-Minute method, you cream the sugar and spices with the butter. This makes it harder to spread, and there's already so much butter in this recipe that I'm not sure that more is needed, but I have to say that nobody complained that there was too much butter.

Now you roll it up, you know how.
You cut slices off the roll and put them in a pan that's already been prepared with butter and brown sugar, creamed together, and then covered with pecan halves. More pecans than would be on anything that you might buy.

At this point, I had to punt. The recipe uses 1 1/2 pounds from 4 pounds of brioche dough. But I cut the brioche recipe in half, and I decided I might as well just turn all the dough into rolls. This gave me two pounds of dough for a recipe based on 1 1/2 pounds, so I increased all the ingredients in the pecan roll recipe by about 25%. This process overtaxed my math skills, so I'm going to give you the proportions in the original recipe, not as I fiddled around with them. The recipe says to put the rolls in a round cake pan, so I used an bigger oblong pan, figuring it would be about right. I was left with a lot of leftover dough, so I had to quickly grab a smaller cake pan, cream so more butter and sugar for the caramel part, and cut smaller rolls. I didn't tell anyone that these were makeshift, inferior rolls.

Then they had to sit for about an hour. I was so happy that I'd read the recipe the night before and allowed for this period of resting time. Otherwise, I might have had to lock the front door and hide when people started to arrive. As it was, I pulled the big pan of rolls out of the oven seven minutes before Robert, our first guest, arrived.

They looked nice and brown and fluffy in the pan, but inverting something like this is always an iffy proposition. There was so much butter that they could hardly stick. The worst that happened is that some buttery caramel sauce puddled out on the counter before I could completely get the rolls out of the pan.

Joe, our neighbor from across the street, told me they were the best sticky rolls he'd ever had, and he's had many. (Joe's wife Lela is the one who flattered my scones last week. I love Joe and Lela).
One more week of doughnut open houses, so I have to think of one more breakfast treat to make. I should have saved either this recipe or the chocolate babka as the final piece de resistance, because I'm not sure what I can bake next week that will be up to snuff. Any ideas?

BRIOCHE DOUGH (full recipe, makes about 4 1-poundloaves)

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast, salt, eggs honey and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour, using the dough hook on a mixer, or just use a spoon, until all of the flour is incorporated.

Cover (not airtight), and allow to sit at room temperature for about two hours


Makes 8 rolls.

1 1/2 lb. premixed brioche dough

Caramel topping:

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
30 pecan halves For filling:
Flour for rolling dough
4 tbsp. salted butter, at room temperature
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 c. chopped and toasted pecans
Pinch of ground black pepper

To make caramel topping: In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream together butter, salt and brown sugar. Spread evenly over bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Scatter pecan halves over butter-sugar mixture and set aside.

To make rolls: Dust surface of refrigerated dough with flour and cut off 1 1/2-pound piece. Dust piece with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching surface of dough around to bottom on all four sides, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thick rectangle.

To make filling: In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream together butter, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spread mixture evenly over rolled dough and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Starting with long end, roll dough into a log, jelly-roll fashion. Using a serrated knife, cut log into 8 equal pieces and arrange rolls over pecans in cake pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest and rise 1 hour at room temperature. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake about 40 minutes, or until golden brown and set well in center. Remove to a wire rack. While still hot, run a knife around inside of pan to release rolls and invert rolls immediately to a serving dish.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread with Pecans and Golden Raisins--a Lazy Bakers Project

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It was my turn this month to choose the project for the Lazy Bakers. Even though we have no rules, we do sort of try to take turns. I guess that's okay--it's not the Anarchists' Baking Club, after all. Naturally, I chose bread. I wanted something from one of the new cookbooks I got for Christmas, and something that wasn't so long and complicated that it wouldn't be fun. I was looking for something at least moderately healthy. And finally, of course, I wanted something that tasted good. I had high hopes for this bread from the beginning. It's half whole-wheat flour, which satisfies my "healthy" criterion, with enough white flour to balance out the heavyness and the slightly bitter taste you get with all whole wheat and with raisins for sweetness and nuts for crunch, protein, and antioxidants. It's from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread cookbook. (Hamelman is the Director of the Baking Education Center for King Arthur Flour, and he does seem to know a thing or two about bread).
The dough--half and half whole wheat and bread flour, yeast, salt, and water--was thick enough to to make the KitchenAid groan, but not so thick that I couldn't handle it (like the Norwegian bread, which resisted all efforts to shape it).

Even though it didn't sound completely, the mixer made it just fine through the final step, mixing in the pecans and golden raisins. I think it will live to make bread again.
I don't think we had golden raisins when I was growing up. I think that whoever named them "golden" was a clever marketer. I believe they're just dried green grapes, but "green raisins" doesn't sound nearly as pretty as "golden." Even "yellow raisins" doesn't work. And have you noticed that those same marketers are trying to turn prunes into "dried plums"? Maybe they should just try making "golden prunes" and see how that works out.
But back to the bread.

This recipe makes two loaves of bread, which I was very happy about because I finally got another 8 1/2 x 4-inch loaf pan, so I could make two loaves of bread that were the same size. I was unreasonably excited about this.
The lumps in the bread dough aren't big air holes, by the way; they're the pecans and raisins, of which this bread is chock-full. (After I wrote this sentence, I realized I didn't know where the expression "chock-full" came from, so I had to look it up. Chock is a variant of "choke," so it means full to the point of choking. This information makes the phrase "chock-full" seem not as homey and comfortable as it did before, but I'm glad to report that no one has choked on this bread--so far at least).
Really, fellow Lazy Bakers, there are no pitfalls in this recipe that I'm aware of. It turned out just as I hoped--a lovely, slightly sweet and nutty bread filled with nutrients. You have to find an excuse for eating scones, but you can eat this bread with a clear conscience.

--from Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman

Makes two loaves

1 pound (3 5/8 cups) whole wheat flour
1 pound (3 5/8 cups) bread flour
1 pound, 5.8 ounces (2 3/4 cups) water
.6 ounces (1 T) salt
.16 oz. (1 1/2 tsp) instant dry yeast
4.8 oz. (1 cup) golden rains, soaked and drained
4.8 oz. (1 3/8 cups) pecans

1. About 30 minutes before starting, pour warm water over the golden raisins and let them sit for up to 30 minutes to soften. Drain the rains well.

2. MIXING: Add all the ingredients except the rains and pecans to mixing bowl. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes (using dough hook if you have a KitchenAid) to incorporate the ingredients thoroughly. The dough consistency should be moderately loose. Turn the mixer to the second speed and mix for about 3 minutes more. Add the drained raisins and pecans (the recipe doesn't say whether they should be chopped, so do whatever you want). Mix on low speed, just until the rains and nuts are thoroughly incorporated.

3. BULK FERMENTATION: Put in large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for about two hours. If it's more convenient, you can put the dough in the refrigerator and let it rise overnight.

4. FOLDING: After the dough has been rising for about an hour, take it out of the bowl and put it on a lightly floured work surface, pat it out it into a rectangle, and fold it, as if you're folding a business letter, in thirds, and put back into the bowl.

5. DIVIDING AND SHAPING: The dough can be put into loaf pans or you can make it free-form into a round or oblong shape. Divide the dough into half, and place the dough pieces on a lightly floured work surface. Cover the rounds with plastic and let rest 10 to 20 minutes, until relaxed. Shape into a blunt cylinder just slightly smaller than the loaf pans if you're using the pans. Otherwise, shape into round or oblong shape.

6. SECOND RISING: Cover loaves with oiled plastic wrap or with cotton or linen towel and let rise for another 1 to 1 1/2 hour.

7. BAKING: Preheat oven to 450. If you have a baking stone, put that in the oven and preheat it too. Put the loaf pans on the preheated stone, or on the oven rack if you're not using the stone. Lower the temperature to 425 after 20 minutes. Bread baked in the loaf pans will take 30 to 35 minutes to bake. Loaves baked freeform will take about 40 minutes.

Note on steam: The bread will develop a better crust if you inject some steam into the process. The easiest ways to do this are 1) Preheat a cookie sheet or cast-iron pan on the lowest shelf of the oven. Put about 1/2 cup of ice cubes on the heated sheet or pan when you put the bread in the oven; 2) pour about 1/2 cup of boiling water into a cookie sheet or cast iron pan when you put the bread in the oven; or 3) mist the bread and oven with water from a spray mister when you put it in the oven. Or if you don't want to bother with a steam contraption, you can forget about it and the bread should still be perfectly fine.

Cranberry-Orange Scones

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Week 3 of our annual January morning coffee hours brought scones--my own personal favorite breakfast treat. I was quite anxious the first time I made scones, which was just a few years ago. They seemed so foreign. Not exotic foreign, just not something I grew up with and not in my repertoire. And also because scones can be very good, but they can also be quite bad. I didn't know how to tell whether mine would turn out to be one of the good ones.
This recipe is from America's Test Kitchen Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen
Even before they were baked, I could see they were going to be good because the dough was crumbly and buttery, with the butter worked in well throughout. I guess the only real secrets to scones are not to be stingy with the butter and cream and not to work the dough too much. I'm sure that there are people who can successfully work the butter into the flour with their fingers, but I'm not one of them. It's the food processor for me, baby!
The original recipe calls for currants, but SmittenKitchen changed that to dried cranberries, chopped up a bit, and I used cranberries too. I added the grated rind of one large orange because orange is such a natural partner of cranberries. I also sprinkled some Demerara sugar on top.

The nicest compliment came from Lela, our neighbor across the street. She took a bite and said, "Oh, I didn't know I liked scones, but I guess I do. I've had them at Starbucks, and I just thought they were dry and tasteless. But these are good." Once you've had real scones, you can never go back.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chocolate Babka

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In January, Jim and I always host Saturday morning open houses for our neighbors. We keep it very simple: coffee, tea, juice for the kids, doughnuts, and something that I make. (Last week I made espresso muffins, which I didn't bother to post about because they weren't very exciting). This week I made chocolate babka. That was exciting.
Apparently a lot of people who grew up somewhere other than northern Indiana have fond memories of their neighborhood bakery's babka. There was a bakery in our little town, but it sure never made babka. Neither did anyone else I knew. Like a lot of midwestern people, I first heard of babka in the babka Seinfeld episode. I first tasted Breadsmith's version. In fact, that was the only version I had ever tasted until I made this one. This babka, a recipe from, is softer, richer, and substantially more buttery and chocolatey than Breadsmith's. In fact, it bears about the same relation to "bread" as champagne bears to water. It is obscenely delicious but it wouldn't do on a long-term basis to sate your hunger.
The dough is very soft and sticky, with a lot of butter and eggs. It's so unlike a regular bread dough that you don't even make it with the bread hook attachment.

Although there are three teaspoons of yeast in the dough, it was a reluctant riser. It may have been the chilly January kitchen or the dough may just be so heavy that it doesn't like much activity, but it took longer to rise than the 90 minutes claimed by the recipe. That meant that I had to stay up past my bed time to get it shaped.

This was fun. For such a rich, buttery dough, it handled beautifully and rolled out into a 10 x 18-inch rectangle with no trouble at all. The dough rectangle is brushed with butter and sprinkled with chopped bittersweet chocolate (I think I might try grating it next time) and a few tablespoons of sugar.

After the dough is rolled up, you make it into a circle and then twist it a few times. It's supposed to look like a double 8. I couldn't really envision this, but I just twisted a few times, which is a little risky because the rolled-out dough is fairly thin and the chopped chocolate has sharp edges, so you could easily rip the dough, resulting in leaking butter and melted chocolate. Unless you're a master babka maker, there's no way to avoid a certain amount of leakage, but you'd rather not invite it. I believe this is why the recipe instructs you to prepare each loaf pan by lining it with two sheets of parchment paper. I didn't really like this idea--I thought that the weight of the bread would straighten out the paper, but it didn't work all that well, so you end up with a misshapen loaf.

At this point, I put the shaped loaves in the refrigerator, with instructions to Jim to take them out immediately when he got up. I was sure he'd forget, even though he left a giant note to himself to TAKE BREAD OUT OF REFRIGERATOR!!!. I was so sure he'd forget that I got up earlier than I wanted to so I could do it myself and chastise him for forgetting. He had remembered, however, so I was all at sixes and sevens because I was still sleepy and I couldn't berate him. Not a good way to start a weekend.
On the plus side, though, all I had to do was wait for the loaves to come to room temperature and pop them in the oven. Then came the only part that did not quite work out as planned. The recipe says to bake until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Do you see the problem with this method? You can't be doing any bread-bottom-tapping until you've already taken the bread out of the pan. And if it turns out that you've misjudged, the bread collapses. At this point, you can tap it and find out that it doesn't sound hollow, but a fat lot of good that does.

If I had made only one loaf, I would have been quite despondent at this point, but there was, fortunately, a second loaf, which stayed in the oven for another five or ten minutes. It got quite a bit browner on top, but it emerged in one piece when I took it from the pan.

There was only about ten minutes for the intact loaf to cool before guests started arriving, and, of course, the smell of bread and chocolate drew people into the kitchen. When they spotted the babka, they wanted some. This week, the doughnuts played second fiddle to the babka.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Desserts to Ring in the New Year

December 31, 2008

As some of you may recall from last year, some people in our neighborhood have a tradition of doing a progressive dinner on New Year's Eve, with each couple being assigned one of five courses, except for the lucky sixth couple; they are dubbed "the assistants."
In fact, last year Jim took pictures of all the courses, but this year he balked at the idea of taking his camera out in the cold and snow, so we only have pictures of our course. We drew dessert this year. I couldn't settle on a single dessert, but I had a brainstorm: why not present a dessert tray? I could bake all day, and end up with, say, four desserts. I liked the idea. I spent a lot of time browsing through cookbooks and on the internet--I wanted something chocolate, of course, and something fruity; a pie, a cake, and a something else. After a lot of different combinations and permutations, I finally decided on a white chocolate cheesecake, a lemon tart, a cranberry upside-down cake, and a layered chocolate-vanilla pudding served with World Peace cookies.
I will tell you at the outset that disaster never struck and I finished everything with enough time left to take a shower. So if you're hoping for a little schadenfreude, you'll have to look somewhere else.
I started with the cheesecake, a white chocolate variation on Rose's Cordon Bleu cheesecake. I had heard high praise of Rose's cheesecakes, and, indeed, this was probably the richest, creamiest cheesecake I've ever eaten. Her cheesecake recipe is for a cake that is served au naturel, without a crumb crust. I don't know about other parts of the country, but I know that in Minnesota, a cheesecake without a graham cracker crust would just not pass muster. (Did anyone else think the phrase was "pass mustard"? As a teenager, I remember spending a fair amount of time wondering how one passed mustard and what it signified. Now that I'm a lawyer, I know how to use the phrase, "passed constitutional muster," which would be even odder as mustard).
However, back to the cheesecake. So I made a graham cracker crust.

And then I used a 9-inch springform pan instead of an 8-inch, because the crust took up enough space that I was afraid it would overflow. The 9-inch was perfect. Do you notice anything about the top of this cheesecake? It does not have a giant crack in the center, as other of my efforts have done. In fact, I don't think I will ever be disloyal to this cheesecake recipe because I don't see how it could be done better. Now I just want to try the original, pure version. I did the white chocolate version, which just requires less sugar, less lemon juice, and the addition of white chocolate. I learned that you should steer clear of most things that claim to be white chocolate and peruse the label carefully to make sure the supposed chocolate actually has cocoa butter in it. Naturally, this is the most expensive kind.

I served it with a raspberry coulis and a few fresh raspberries. The coulis is not very artful, but I like the effect of the two raspberries plunked on top.
I was feeling pretty confident when the cheesecake came out of the water bath intact, so I went on to the lemon tart, a Dorie Greenspan recipe which she got from Pierre Herme. This was the thing I feared most because it had two possibilities for going amiss: the crust and the lemon cream. An all-butter pastry crust can go wrong in so many ways and the lemon cream could not thicken or could scramble. As it happened, the crust turned out to be delicate and flavorful and the lemon cream was a perfect, unscrambled consistency. This is not just any lemon tart; it's "the most amazing" lemon tart, according to Dorie. I don't know if it's the "most amazing," but it's pretty darned good.

It looks innocuous, but that pale yellow packs a huge lemony punch, and a melt-in-your-mouth creaminess. I had what I thought was an artistic presentation idea. I would serve a wedge of tart with a dollop of whipped cream into which I would place a smaller dollop of Trader Joe's lemon curd. I was quite pleased with the effect until my so-called friends pointed out that it looked like a fried egg and started calling it the sunny-side-up dessert.

Next up was the pudding course--again, a recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours. This is a recipe that Dorie calls Split Level Pudding, and I called Black and White pudding. It's extremely easy, but relies heavily on the quality of the chocolate and the quality of the vanilla, so you don't want to scrimp on either. The first layer is a chocolate ganache made with just cream and chocolate. I upped the quantity of both because it didn't seem like 1/3 cup of cream would make enough ganache for six ramekins, and I was glad I did because it was still a pretty thin layer. The chocolate layer is topped with a layer of standard vanilla pudding and decorated prettily with chocolate shavings. What really made this pudding special was serving it with Dorie's famous World Peace cookies, which I also baked.
About those chocolate shavings. I have heard that you can make chocolate shavings with a vegetable peeler, but whenever I've tried it, I've ended up with chocolate sawdust. Inspiration struck--I checked "chocolate shavings" in the index of The Cake Bible. Who else but Rose would tell you that you can't shave chocolate unless it's just the right temperature, which happens to be 80 degrees, which also happens not to be the temperature of my kitchen in January. Rose says just warm the chocolate in the microwave in 3-second bursts. After about five bursts, the chocolate actually peeled right into shavings.

It was 3:00, and I had only one recipe left--a cranberry upside-down cake that took about five minutes to put together. I didn't like the way the top looked when I took it out of the oven--to plain and white--but then I remembered that I was supposed to top it off with a red currant glaze. That was just the ticket.

I tried to think of a clever presentation, but couldn't, so I settled for whipped cream.

Jim's considered opinion: the lemon tart was the best. (He has to phrase this very carefully, or I accuse him of not liking the other desserts). I think I may agree, although the cheesecake was so creamy, and the pudding was so chocolatey, and the upside down cake was so homey....

Split Level Pudding

Chocolate Layer:
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream

Vanilla Layer:
2-1/4 cups whole milk
6 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
2-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate shavings for decoration (optional)

Put the chocolate in a 1 or 2 cup glass measuring cup. Bring the heavy cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 seconds, then gently stir to blend. Divide the chocolate ganache among six ramekins or custard cups and set aside.

Bring 2 cups of the milk and 3 Tbsp of the sugar to a boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan.

While the milk is heating, put the cornstarch and salt into a food processor and whir to blend. Turn them out onto a piece of wax paper, put the remaining 3 Tbsp sugar and the egg yolks into the processor and blend for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and pulse just to mix, then add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to blend.

With the machine running, very slowly pour in the hot milk mixture. Process for a few seconds, then pour everything back into the saucepan. Whisk without stopping over medium heat- making sure to get into the edges of the pan - until the pudding thickens and a couple of bubbles burble up to the surface and pop (about 2 minutes). You don't want the pudding to boil, but you do want it to thicken, so lower the heat, if necessary.

Scrape the puddding back into the processor (if there's a scorched spot, avoid it as you scrape) and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until everything is evenly blended.

Pour the pudding into the cups over the chocolate. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of each pudding to create and airtight seal and prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate the puddings for at least 4 hours. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature so the ganache was soft and blended with the pudding.

Cranberry Upside-Downer

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
14 tbsp butter (at room temperature)
1 cup minus 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup red currant jelly (for glaze)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan; sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook until it comes to a boil.
Pour the butter/sugar over the bottom of an 8 inch round pan, then scattter the nuts and berries over the top, making a smooth layer. Set aside.
Beat the remaining butter until smooth. Cream in the remaining sugar, beating for about 3 minutes.
Add the eggs and the vanilla.
On low speed, stir in half the dry ingredients, then all the milk, then the last half of the flour mixture.
Spoon the batter over the berries, smoothing the top with a spatula.
Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350ºF, or until the top of the cake is golden.
Once the pan is cool enough to handle, turn the cake out onto a serving platter, rearranging any cranberries that fall out of place.
While cake is still warm, melt the red currant jelly and brush on top.