Better than a Bakery Cinnamon Buns

PHOTO_crop

Fresh from the oven and waiting for some glaze.

I like to mark a new year by posting the most un-diet thing possible. Last year’s new year post featured a mind-blowing chocolate cake. This year I would like to share a new baking adventure that created the most lovely cinnamon buns that have passed my lips. These yeast-dough buns are fluffy-yet-dense, lightly sweet so as not to compete with the cinnamon and sugar, and bake up into monster buns that you think you won’t finish but you absolutely will.

I have certainly indulged in Cinnabon buns, bakery buns, been served cheater “Land of Nod” buns that I find too sweet with no spiral fun, but I have never made them myself. I can’t believe it took me so long! These will be a brunch staple for sure, the shear impressiveness of a pan of these right out of the oven begs for an audience.

I used Michael Smith’s Cinnamon Rolls recipe and followed it exactly. I wouldn’t change a thing, either. The glaze to finish (not pictured) is the final touch- it’s not too sweet and gives just the right finish. My KitchenAid mixer was a big help with this one, although you don’t need to mix with the dough hook for too long. The dough comes together fairly fast and is a pleasure to knead into a smooth, elastic ball. It rose quickly (hint: I put it in my warm utility closet to speed the rise time) and rolled out like a dream. Almost like play-doh for adults. And it tastes better. I think you could make the dough the night before, let it rise and then store in the fridge to be ready for the morning, since it does take a couple hours from scratch.

Cutting the roll for baking.

Cutting the roll for baking.

Best kneading ever.

Best kneading ever.

And if you’re intimidated by yeast, kneading, rising time, etc., etc., don’t be! I have no real dough experience beyond pizza dough, and this was a dream. You’ll feel so accomplished after baking these, like Laura Ingalls Wilder would be impressed, I dare you to make them- and then tell me about it- or invite me for brunch.

Advertisements

Happy Thanksgiving!

20131012-151035.jpg

It is a beautiful fall weekend in southern Ontario, perfect for a Thanksgiving holiday. Before I could go outside to enjoy it, I baked up this beauty, a Pecan Pie for tomorrow’s family feast.
Happy feasting everyone! I hope a slice of your favourite pie makes it to your plate this weekend.

Ontario Peach Pie

IMG_0015The year has been passing by at light speed, taken up with work, a few vacations, and all the little things that use up a day. I’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about my blog. Why haven’t I posted much this year? What am I drinking? The truth is probably two-fold- I’ve amassed quite a portfolio of favourite wines and recipes and don’t always have new food and drink to share, and having a computer-heavy day job can be a drain on the creative juices.

But if there’s anything that might get a cook’s energy back up, it is late summer and early fall in Ontario. Having grown up a prairie girl, I am amazed every year here when the bounty begins to roll in. Niagara peaches are one of my very favourite treats, but they tend to come in huge baskets and ripen all at once. Every August at this time I search for a random peach pie recipe, and then think, why haven’t I posted this so I’ll know what to make next year?

IMG_0017This year I found two good recipes: One for the #1 Best Pie Crust Ever and the other for Mama Thornton’s Peach Pie, both from the Food Network. The pie crust uses butter and shortening and has definitely replaced my old standard Crisco recipe. The butter makes the dough less crumbly and easier to work with, and browns up so beautifully I could hardly wait for the pie to cool before slicing through the crisp crust into the peaches below. The peach filling is fantastic- gooey but not runny and just the right amount of sweet. The only change I made was to double the lemon juice and add a splash of vanilla extract.

So, if you have peaches ripening en masse at this very moment- I hope a peach pie is in your future.

Best of Baking

IMG_0803The holiday break has afforded many opportunities to rev up the new Kitchenaid mixer. I look at it daily and think “what can we make today?” And then I tell my mixer that treats cannot be an everyday occurrence. Although they should be.

For a New Year’s get together I jumped on the chance to bring dessert so that I would have an excuse to make a chocolate cake. I made my favourite Nigella version, posted here. It was more-ish as always and was promptly demolished, as chocolate cakes should be. You should make it. And fill your face with it-but don’t blame me for your derailed resolutions. Blame Nigella.IMG_0793

If you want something a little lighter and less guilt-inducing, I made holiday gingerbread in December and didn’t get around to posting it. I shared the cookies around at a few holiday shindigs and people are still talking to me about it. It’s just a McCormick recipe, but I think the magic is in the technique. Roll the dough as thin as you can and bake them until firm, and you’ll end up with light, crispy, refreshing ginger bombs. They are so good and so delightfully spiced that I am thinking about making another batch just to have for after-dinner treats. They keep really well in the freezer, just waiting for when you need a ginger pick-me-up. You can also tell yourself that ginger is good for digestion and therefore this cookie is good for you. Plus they have molasses and that’s better than white sugar, right?Blueberry Muffins

So finally, in a moment of holiday boredom, I whipped up some blueberry muffins to pass the time. I used my favourite recipe from Smitten Kitchen (see my previous post here) and they were perfect to have on hand for post-Christmas snacking and lounging about.

So here are 3 ideas for homemade treats to start 2013 with a bang and give the finger to any thoughts of healthier living and self-denial. Plus, some self-righteous food guy once said (something to the effect of) “it’s ok to eat treats as long as you make them yourself.” And that’s the mantra I live by. Although it’s also ok in my books if Pan Chancho or Bread & Butter Bakery make them too.

Holiday Baking Round 2

IMG_0791This weekend, I spent an afternoon in the kitchen, adding 3 new treats to the baking stockpile. My Kitchenaid mixer got another workout, this time with Whipped Shortbread (dipped in chocolate), and I followed that up with 2 simple but delicious no-bake cookies: Chocolate Haystacks and Butterscotch Confetti squares.

The shortbread and squares are both classics, throwbacks from childhood, just as delightful and addictive as ever. Just today I shared the Butterscotch Confetti with a friend and we discussed what vintage gold they are. As a rule, I’m not a huge square fan as sometimes they are best left in the 1980s, but these are just the right mix of peanut butter and butterscotch, and if you eat them super cold, the texture of the marshmallows is irresistible.

And the beauty of these 3 treats is that they each have so few ingredients, chances are you have them already in your pantry.

Whipped Shortbread
(From Best of Bridge)

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
3 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Whip the first 3 ingredients together in a stand mixer for 10 minutes, until very smooth and fluffy.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes at 325F.
4. Cool the cookies while melting the chocolate. Dip the cookies half in the chocolate and cool in the fridge.

Butterscotch Confetti
(From Company’s Coming)

Ingredients
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 bag mini marshmallows

Directions
1. Melt the first 3 ingredients together in a saucepan or the microwave.
2. Stir in the marshmallows and pat into a 9×9 pan.
3. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares. These freeze well for later use.

Chocolate Haystacks

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
3 cups quick oats

Directions
1. Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a saucepan for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Stir in the final 3 ingredients quickly.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm. These freeze well for later use.

And finally….Kevin is asking for gingerbread…so perhaps we’ll have adventure #3 in Christmas baking someday soon.

The holidays are here…

December is upon us and I find myself in the mood to stockpile delicious baked treats in my freezer. It may have something to do with my new friend. We met last weekend in America, while doing some browsing of the holiday sales, I came upon a Kitchenaid mixer in need of a good home. This amazing piece of kitchen equipment had never really been on my radar because of the steep pricetag, but I found a deal too good to pass up, and now I have a glossy black Kitchenaid Professional 5 Plus standmixer staring me in the face every time I walk into the kitchen.

I used it earlier this week to whip cream in record time, but have been thinking all week about holiday cookies. I decided to make a favourite, Bird’s Nests with Raspberry Jam, these are always such a nice mix of crispy cookie and sweet-tart jam (pictured in the foreground). Those didn’t seem enough, so I let Kevin pick from Chatelaine’s holiday cookie list, and he wanted Birthday Cake Icebox Cookies (pictured on the left). To be honest, I laughed and assumed they would not be great, but I have to say they are quite tasty. It’s basically a sugar cookie with a bit of crunch from the sprinkles and an extra sweet kick from the icing sugar glaze- a vanilla sugar bomb of a cookie.

To round out the weekend I decided to make some buttertarts. These didn’t need the help of the mixer, but I’ve been missing these in my holiday life for years. There are so many buttertart variations out there, pecan, walnut, raisin, no raisin, corn syrup-based, maple syrup-based, egg-based, etc., etc. All I really want is the kind my mom made when I was a kid: egg-based, with raisins and pecans. The recipe comes from a well-worn Best of Bridge cookbook and is simply buttertart perfection (pictured on the right).

The Best Buttertarts

Makes 12 buttertarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 4 tbsp. cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 12 tart shells (recipe for 1 pie crust will be enough)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Beat eggs in a saucepan, then combine the next 5 ingredients in the saucepan. Boil on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.

3. Sprinkle a few pecan pieces in the bottom of each tart shell, then spoon 1/4 cup of tart filling into each shell.

4. Bake for 15 minutes at 375F. The tarts will be done when the filling is set and the crust is flaky and golden.

Pastry tip: Make 1 pie crust using the Crisco recipe (3/8 cup shortening, 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. cold water), shape into a ball and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness, cut into 12 circles with a cookie cutter or water glass, and shape into a 12-muffin tin. Chill the tart shells another 30 minutes, then fill with hot filling and bake immediately. The cold crust will turn out extra puffy and flaky.

So, holiday treats to come…perhaps some Butterscotch Confetti, Chocolate Haystacks, Whipped Shortbreads? Stay tuned.

Holiday Baking!

Bird's Nests with Raspberry Jam

I am back in my childhood home for the holidays, and could not resist making my favourite childhood Christmas cookie on a lazy afternoon. There’s something so lovely about getting out all the supplies that haven’t changed much in 20+ years, including the 1970s Tupperware flour and sugar containers, and using the same old oven to make a comforting and familiar treat. Thanks to some baking skills that have improved over the years, I think these were the best batch ever.

They go by many names: Bird’s Nests, Thumbprint cookies, Polish tea cookies, and have many variations: rolled in coconut, pecan or walnut pieces, or plain, filled with chocolate, cherries or jam.  The combos are numerous, but I think my mom’s way is the best; rolled in crushed pecans, and filled raspberry jam. The toastiness of the pecans, the buttery crumbly cookie, and the sweet-tart raspberry jam are delightful, and cannot be matched. I love this cookie so much I am ignoring my egg allergy for a day or two, because there would be no egg-free way to recreate this cookie perfection.

They are so simple, just a few ingredients that are probably already in the pantry, and they bake up crisp and begging for a jam centre. A wonderful way to kick off the holiday break.

Pecan coating assembly line.

Bird’s Nest Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg, separated

1 cup flour

1 small package crushed pecans

good quality raspberry jam

Directions

      1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
      2. Cream butter and sugar until smooth, then mix in egg yolk. Stir in flour until a crumbly dough forms.
      3. Using your hands, form one inch balls from the dough, you will get about 15 balls total.
      4. Give the left over egg white a quick whisk in a small bowl, and pour a small amount of crushed pecans in a separate bowl.
      5. Dip each ball first in the egg white and second in the crushed almonds, rolling around to coat.
      6. Place the rolled balls on a cookie sheet and press an indentation in each cookie using your index finger or a thimble.
      7. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and re-press the indents. Bake another 15 minutes. Cookies should have toasty bottoms but still be slightly soft. They will firm up as they cool.
      8. Once cool, cookies can be frozen for later, or filled with jam for serving immediately.

 

 

Double Chocolate Pudding Pie

I love a creamy, dairy based dessert. Since I can’t eat dairy anymore (or at least now seriously limit my intake), I often feel left out at dessert time, or end up cheating so as not to disappoint a host- or myself.

When I saw a chocolate pudding pie recipe on the Post Punk Kitchen, a tasty vegan blog, I had to give it a go. I made a few changes, which I think made the recipe even better, but I thank the brilliant IsaChandra of PPK for giving me a starting point.

This pie is so chocolatey and creamy, and the coconut milk so undetectable, that anyone will love it. I fed it to a crowd a few months ago at a bbq, and every piece but one disappeared- I didn’t let the dairy free secret out of the bag. I really think the oreo crumb crust perfects the recipe.

Ingredients

Crust
1 1/2 cups oreo cookie crumbs
1/4 cup vegan margarine (or butter), melted

Filling
750 ml canned coconut milk (or milk of your choice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch of salt

Topping
Cool Whip, whipped cream or other whipped topping

Directions

1. Mix melted butter and oreo crumbs together in a pie pan, press them into the pan to form the crust.

2. Bake the crust at 350F for 10 minutes.

3. Combine a small amount of the coconut milk and all of the cornstarch in a medium saucepan, whisk to mix. Alternately, shaking them together in a small jar works well to get rid of any lumps.

4. Add in the rest of the coconut milk, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk to combine.

5. Bring the mixture to a boil while whisking. Once boiled, lower the heat to simmer, and whisk until it thickens, around 5 minutes.

6. Once thickened, stir in chocolate chips and vanilla, stir until the chocolate chips melt and everything is combined.

7. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. If the mixture has any cocoa or cornstarch lumps, pour it through a fine mesh sieve and your pudding will be silky smooth.

Cool the pie in the fridge, and place plastic wrap or parchment paper on top of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. It will take 2-3 hours to set. Before serving, smooth on some Cool Whip or other topping, and decorate with berries or chocolate shavings if you desire.

Cinnamon and Sugar Doughnuts

Freshly deep fried and sugared doughnuts.

My transition to allergy free eating has been anything but smooth; just full of temptations and slip ups and angst over treats I can’t eat. It is really challenging to eat out and be social when dairy and eggs are off the menu, they seem to show up everywhere I go.

My approach to most problems is to figure out how to solve them quickly, and so recently, I bought a vegan cookbook and an allergy free baking book. I figure that if I can create the treats I crave, it’s win-win: no cheating and no feeling deprived. I’ve also started feeding my experiments to ordinary folk, and the feedback to date is tasty.

I’ve never made doughnuts, or even thought about it, but when I opened the Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book, the cinnamon doughnuts caught my eye. Tim Horton’s recently stopped making my favourite cinnamon doughnut, and I shouldn’t be eating at Tim’s even if they hadn’t, so this was very exciting.

Kevin was game to put ourselves in peril and do some deep frying, and away we went. You definitely need two people for this adventure, there’s so much to do and an assembly line works best.

These doughnuts are soft and cinnamon-y, but not too sweet. I think they give Tim’s a run for the money. I brought them to girls night and the last one got fought over.

Three big tips I discovered:

1. Do not knead the dough very much, or it will make really dense doughnuts. Just bring the dough together, and don’t worry if the doughnuts look a bit cracked once they hit the oil. They’ll be the perfect texture.

2. Make sure the dough is rolled out fairly thin before you cut out the circles. 1/4 inch to a 1/2 inch maximum to keep them from being too dense our doughy.

3. They only need 1-2 minutes per side in the oil, don’t be afraid to take them out when they are still light brown in colour.

The recipe below is egg and dairy free, but could be adapted with butter instead of margarine and milk instead of soy milk if you prefer.

Cutting them out with a tumbler for the large circle and a water bottle cap for the small circle.

Cinnamon and Sugar Doughnuts

Adapted from the Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book

Ingredients

  • 4.5 to 5 cups flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 tbsp. vegan margarine, melted
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • Canola oil for deep frying
  • Extra cinnamon and sugar for coating the doughnuts: 1/2 cup sugar to 2 tsp. cinnamon

Don't crowd the pot to ensure even cooking.

Directions

  1. Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, and combine all the wet ingredients, except the soy milk, in a larger bowl.
  2. Gradually add the dry ingredients and the soy milk to the wet ingredients, stirring gently. Alternate both until a not too sticky dough forms. Add more flour if needed.
  3. Just mix it until combined, do not over stir or knead. Take 1/4 of the dough and transfer to a floured board or counter.
  4. Roll out to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness.
  5. Use a doughnut cutter, or 2 circles to cut out the doughnuts. I used a large glass tumbler for the outside and a small water bottle cap for the inside.
  6. Repeat the process until you have 12 to 16 doughnuts. Do not re-roll the scraps, they will make tough, dense doughnuts.
  7. Once the doughnuts are underway, pour 2-3 inches of canola oil in a large pot. Heat the oil on the stove until it reaches 375 F. If you don’t have a thermometer, wait until the oil shimmers and a wooden spoon causes bubbles when inserted into the oil.
  8. When your oil is ready, transfer 3-4 doughnuts to the pot. They should bubble and float around the pot.
  9. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side, remove just before they become golden brown.
  10. Immediately roll them in the cinnamon and sugar. You can shake them in the coating in a paper bag, which I found easier than rolling.

The doughnuts are ready to go once they cool a bit, and will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Vanilla Frozen Delight

My first foray into the world of allergy-free desserts comes courtesy of the realm of vegan treats. I found this recipe recently, which has only 6 ingredients, and was described as the vegan version of Cool Whip. I have a secret, shameful love for Cool Whip, so I decided this would be an easy start.

I have to say that both Kevin and I disagreed with the whipped topping comparison, as this dessert is not really fluffy or light. I don’t really know how one would achieve the consistency of Cool Whip without chemicals and an industrial kitchen. However, when you consider this dessert on its own and forget the ill-fitting comparison, it’s decent. I would compare it more to a custard ice cream, and I think the variations could be endless…chocolate…berry…citrus…you get the point.

All you have to do is pop all the ingredients in a blender, freeze the mixture a few hours in an air tight container, and then scoop out your finished dessert. Garnish artfully, and ta-da! Experiment number 1 was too easy.

The dessert is creamy, and it’s hard to believe it does not contain dairy. I asked Kevin to guess what was in it, and the only thing he could identify was vanilla. The tofu was so easy to disguise- both in taste and texture.

If you are still set on a cool whip equivalent, the recipe for Rad Whip on Post Punk Kitchen would be worth trying.

Vanilla Frozen Delight

Ingredients

  • 1/2 package Mori-Nu silken tofu (6 oz.)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1.5 cups icing sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1.5 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsbp. lemon juice

Directions

  1. Blend all 6 ingredients together until very smooth, using a food processor or blender. A hand mixer could be used to increase the fluffiness of the mixture.
  2. Freeze in an air tight container for at least 3-4 hours.
  3. Scoop out as an ice cream, or stir and spoon over another dessert as a topping. The mixture will melt easily, so serve quickly.