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

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.

Simple Summer Fun: Lemon-Limeade Concentrate

For the first time in my life, I have a Costco membership. I’ve always resisted, having no storage space and only 2 people to buy groceries for. But due to some tire problems on a roadtrip, and Costco saving the day, I found myself back at home for another long hot month of summer with a membership card burning a hole in my pocket.

Last night, on our inaugural grocery shop, I came across a mammoth bag of lemons and limes. They were just so pretty and happy, all jumbled up in their bag. Sunny yellow and tropical green, singing a siren song about homemade lemon-limeade. And I couldn’t resist, even though there were about 20 fruit in the bag (which is kind of an insane number when you have no firm citrus plans). But it was a good impulse buy, as I recently acquired an amazing citrus press from Crate & Barrel (an impulse buy on my roadtrip). So all this following-of-citrus-gut-instincts came to fruition (literally) in my kitchen this evening.

About 20 minutes of squeezing and squashing 5 lemons and 5 limes yielded 1.5 cups of lemon-lime juice. Mix this with 3.5 cups simple syrup (2 parts water, 1.5 parts white sugar, heated to boiling and then cooled), and you’ll have a mason jar full of concentrate, just ready for mixing with still or sparkling water any time you fancy a refreshing summer drink.

I mixed around 1 part of the concentrate with 2 parts water, threw in a handful of ice, and the drink had the perfect sweet-tart ratio you expect, with a hint of lime with the lemoniness. I declare this citrus indulgence a firm success.

Mussels with White Wine and Lemon

Mussels with white wine and lemon.

The past few times I have been at the Loblaw’s fish counter, I’ve eyed their bags of mussels on ice. But every time, I’m not going straight home, or I can’t cook them that night, and the thought of live shellfish in my car or fridge scares me off. But last weekend, we decided to have a mussel adventure and shopped just for that. I have to say that I’m amazed that a bag of mussels that more than serves two people is only $4.99! This will fuel my future motivation to skip the restaurant mark up and make these babies at home.

Letting the mussels filter.

Mussels are pretty easy to prepare, they just need a little TLC to start. Put them in a big bowl of cold water so they filter out some of their sand and debris (you’ll be amazed at how dirty the water gets, so don’t skip that step!). Then, give them a scrub under running water and discard any with broken shells and any ones that are open and don’t close when you give them a firm squeeze. If any of them have a “beard,” pull it off by grasping firmly and pulling toward the joint. I was very dutiful in my scrubbing and quality control, and once they were cooked, they all opened and were edible. A little work up front pays off!

The main flavours.

Once you have filtered, scrubbed and clean mussels, it’s time to pick your flavours. For our first adventure, we stuck to the basics. Some onion, garlic, celery, parsley and lemon peel sauteed together in butter, then deglazed with about a cup and a half of Sauvignon Blanc and the juice of a lemon. Throw the mussels in, put on the lid and let them steam for 6-8 minutes. They are done when the shells have opened. If there are any that haven’t opened after cooking, discard those. But if you pay attention when cleaning them and get rid of any duds up front, there shouldn’t be many that don’t open.

To serve, I squeezed on a bit more lemon juice and sprinkled some fresh parsley for colour. We served our mussels with crusty french bread, great for dipping in the lemony wine sauce. The flavour combos are endless…next time I’d like to try red curry and coconut milk, and maybe something tomato based. Moules Madagascar are a restaurant favourite, so I’d love to figure those out as well. Cheers to affordable homemade fanciness!

Baked Brie with Carmelized Pears

Fresh out of the oven and ready for some crackers.

I was grocery shopping this week, just before a snow storm was scheduled to start, and disaster happened. I needed some raspberries for my go-to baked brie recipe, and they were nowhere to be found. And my pre-snow shopping window was rapidly shrinking! Rather than stress out trying another store, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and googled baked brie. One of the first hits I came upon that didn’t require a crazy amount of ingredients was from Canadian Living. It called for pears, which are nice this time of year, and much easier to find than raspberries. The fate of my girl’s night menu was sealed.

Simple ingredient perfection.

The recipe is so easy- just saute a shallot and a pear in butter, then simmer the mixture in apple juice with a drop of maple syrup and a sprinkle of thyme and S & P. Let that cool at least 10 min, then pile it on top of a round of brie, bake it at 350F for 10-15 min and top with toasted almond slivers.

The sweet/savoury combo of the topping is really nice with the creamy richness of the brie. I love that the ingredients are easy to come by. I think this will be my new fancy cheese recipe for the winter, and I’ll switch back to the raspberry version in the summer.

Accidentally Organic Beer Braised Beef

My recent blogging hiatus has finally come to an end. Thankfully my soul crushing and creativity squashing workload has eased up slightly, just enough to allow me a smidgen of extra energy to plan and execute a delicious meal. Earlier this fall, we bought a mixed pack of beef from a local organic farm, and a giant prime rib roast has been haunting my dreams (and my freezer) ever since. This high quality piece of meat had to be treated right, and braising came to mind.

Melt in your mouth tenderness.

We love roast beef. This is actually my third post on the subject, and I think I have reached the pinnacle of beefy perfection this time.

I found a simple recipe on Epicurious for Beer Braised Beef and Onions, and the reviews did not lie. This 6 ingredient recipe is amazingly easy, low maintenance and DELICIOUS. Basically: brown the meat, saute some onions, add in some beer, put this in the oven for 2-3 hours, and voila. Please try it the next time you have a hunk of beef in your fridge, a cheap cut would certainly suffice. The prime rib roast was falling off the bone, tender, juicy and full of flavour, but I wonder what I could achieve with a less fancy cut. A future challenge!

The only beer I had around was Mill St. Organic, and although the recipe called for pilsner, the lager was fine. It is coincidentally organic, along with my beef, and while everyone who knows me will laugh at the idea of me trying to be healthy, it was a happy accident. I don’t know that the taste was any better or worse, but I felt slightly virtuous while chowing down on a plate of red meat.

I paired the beautiful roast with yorkshire puddings, something no roast beef dinner should be without. Roasted veggies, done on a Silpat mat came out golden and toasty, calling out to be soaked with the onion gravy I made out of the remaining braising liquid.

Just before it goes in the oven.

A few tips for dinner perfection:

  • Don’t be afraid to brown the heck out of your roast before braising. This will ensure flavour perfection.
  • Use the parchment circle under the lid as they recommend in the Epicurious recipe- it will keep all the juices in the pot as they will condense on the parchment and drip back onto the roast.
  • Cook the yorkshire puddings at 450F for about 30 minutes, they will be huge and perfectly crispy on the outside.
  • To make the gravy, bring the remaining braising liquid to a boil, whisk plenty so that the onions disintegrate and thicken the sauce. Add a bit of beef stock or bouillon for flavour and some flour or cornstarch that you have pre-mixed with water, and you’ll have excellent gravy in 5 minutes.

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.

100th Post: Adventures in Prince Edward County

Fabulous view at By Chadsey's Cairns.

To celebrate 3 years of togetherness, Kevin and I took ourselves to Prince Edward County to indulge in fabulous local scenery, food and drink. I’m always amazed that this jewel of a county is only an hour’s drive away, complete with lake views and a quaint ferry ride. It seems fitting that this weekend of gourmand-ness would coincide with the 100th post on La Gourmandesse!

We began the adventure with a wise choice: we stayed 2 nights at the Merrill Inn in Picton, a lovely B&B that knows how to feed and pamper its guests. Our room, in a third floor gable, was cozy and calm, and just what you would expect from a historic inn. They have a restaurant in-house that serves an amazing breakfast spread and gourmet dinners with local wine. We indulged there on our first night, pairing local wines with gazpacho, sauteed calamari, perch and prime rib. We followed that up with house-made peach pie, and declared the evening a locavore’s delight.

Another hilight of the weekend was our wine tour with PEC Wine Tours. We went on an afternoon tour, which was informative and fun, not to mention deluxe due to our limousine ride! The driver and guide, Gilles, was full of great info about the wines of the region, as well as quite a few back stories on the vineyards and personalities of PEC. The tour company’s owner, Bev, also happened to be on the tour that day with some family members for their own enjoyment, and made a lively addition to the day.

My top 3 vineyards of the day were Karlo Estates, By Chadsey’s Cairns and Sandbanks Winery, each for a different reason.

Karlo Estates' multi-purpose barn.

At Karlo Estates, we got to meet the winemaker and owner, Richard Karlo. Tasting wines with him was the best part of my tour, as he is warm, funny and articulate, explaining each wine as we moved through at least 5 tastes. He clearly loves what he does, and it comes through in the character of his wines. We came away with a bottle of the Frontenac Gris Rose, and are on the waiting list for the upcoming Petit Verdot. Can’t wait! I plan to go back soon to soak up the atmosphere and check out the dry stone bridge on the estate.

By Chadsey's Cairns tasting room.

By Chadsey’s Cairns is incredibly picturesque. The land comes complete with a loyalist graveyard, a few historic barns and an apple storage house converted into a wine tasting room. With views of the lake to the south and vineyards to the north, this is a beautifully peaceful place. I enjoyed tasting their wines and discussing them with one of their cheerful tasting staff, but walked away empty handed. It could be that we visited late in the day when my palate was fairly overwhelmed, but nothing grabbed me as something I had to drink again. But I would definitely return to grab a few quiet moments on their deck overlooking the vineyard.

Sandbanks Winery's new indoor/outdoor tasting building.

My other favourite of the day was Sandbanks Winery, one I have visited before. We are already big fans of their Dunes blend and Baco Noir, and had an enjoyable time on the gorgeous patio with one of their fun, young staff. We tried their new Shoreline blends and several others, and came away with a few bottles of Rose, the Shoreline Red, and the Winter Harvest dessert wine. I enjoy Sandbanks’ approachable wines and reasonable prices. It is a bit more commercial than Karlo Estates or By Chadsey’s Cairns, but brings something different to the table. What it may lack in boutique style, it fully makes up for in drinkability and affordability.

We managed to fit in a few other indulgences: lunch at the Tall Poppy Cafe in Wellington and some sweet treats at Miss Lily’s. A trip to Sandbanks provincial park capped off the weekend, and we headed home with 6 local bottles of wine, plenty of good memories, and plans to head back again soon.