Friday, October 30, 2009

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

My son loves muffins. His nickname for most of his life has been Muffin. So, I try to make muffins for him as often as I can. When I saw these on Tracey's blog, I got to work right away. I had wanted a hearty breakfast treat with apples in it, and these were perfect.

The original recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour website. I made a few changes, the most significant being an egg substitute, as I was all out.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup palm sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 large apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 450. Grease and flour 12 muffin tin. Mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, arrowroot, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 3/4 cup of palm sugar, beating for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk in a stream. Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled, it will be fine once the dry ingredients are in. Stir in dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Stir in apple pieces. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes at 450, then turn oven down to 400 and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to wire rack.

I made 6 muffins and 2 mini loaves. They baked in the same amount of time

We loved these. They are a wonderful Fall breakfast treat. Fluffy, just barely sweet, full of apples, and they have a light crunch on top from the sugar that is sprinkled on before baking. I wasn't sure how the palm sugar would do as a topping, but it worked great.

This is definitely one I'll be making again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TWD: Sweet Potato Biscuits (one week late)

We're biscuit people, my family. I grew up eating them every Sunday along with fried green tomatoes and cheese grits. We never celebrate a birthday or holiday without biscuits, and will use pretty much any excuse to whip up a batch. I was so intrigued and excited about making these Sweet Potato Biscuits, but things kept getting in the way.

This week we were supposed to make a brownie torte, but I failed to read the recipe until 9:00 last night, at which point I realized that I was missing several key ingredients. So, I thought I'd make the biscuits that I was unable to make last week.

I knew from reading people's blogs that there were problems with the dough coming together, and with the biscuits rising. I used fresh sweet potato that I baked then mashed, and just under a cup was nowhere near enough moisture in my dough. I added about 2/3 cup of heavy cream a little at a time until my dough came together. It worked perfectly!

These biscuits were fluffy and delicious, though I must say, I kept thinking there was cheese in them because of their orange color and the little flecks of sweet potato, and I was confused every time I took a bite. The sweet potato flavor is not terribly strong, though it is there. They are barely sweet, and delicious just as they are, though my son enjoyed a couple fresh out of the oven with a little honey drizzled on them. Next time I make them I'll add more nutmeg, because I couldn't really taste it and I wanted to.

Thanks to Erin of Prudence Pennywise for this delicious - not to mention quick and easy - choice. You can find the biscuit recipe on her blog.

I'll try to make this week's torte before next Tuesday...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

SMS: Devil's Food Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

I haven't had the best luck with Devil's Food Cakes (or other chocolate cakes). Though I LOVE chocolate, I don't often think chocolate cake is very tasty. I was curious to see how this chocolate cake would measure up.

I was planning on making cupcakes, though once I started pulling out ingredients, I realized - I thought - that I was out of cupcake liners. I later remembered I had bought some last week, but by that time it was too late. I decided to bake my cake in a bundt pan instead of 2 9" pans, and thought I could do a variation on the frosting to pour over the top of the cake.

I didn't have any sour cream, so I used 1/2 cup buttermilk in its place, which seemed to work just fine. Also, instead of brewing coffee, I used 1 tablespoon instant espresso in 1 1/3 cup boiling water.

The batter just about filled my bundt pan up, and I had high hopes as I closed the oven door. After baking for 43 minutes, I pulled out my cake and let it cool on a rack. When it was basically cool, I tried to unmold it, and half of the cake got stuck in the pan! Ack! I've only used my bundt pan one other time, and the cake came out perfectly, so I don't know what the problem was. It is a silicone pan, so you're not supposed to have to grease it, but perhaps I should have done so anyway... I ended up carving the misshapen cake with my bread knife into a uniform rounded bundt-like cake that was much smaller than the original.

For the frosting, I put 3/4 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons cream cheese in my mixer and blended on med until it was smooth. I poured it over my cake, and though it wasn't attractive, it was quite tasty.

The cake was nice and moist, rich and chocolatey. The peanut butter frosting was heavenly. Overall, I was very pleased with this cake, and I'll definitely keep it in mind for the next time I need a chocolate cake recipe.

Thanks to Holly of PheMomEnon for this week's pick. You can find the recipe on her blog. Be sure to check out all of the other SMSers cakes here.

Also, there are a few days left to sign up for Secret Baker, click here for details.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mexican Wedding Cookies

I've been in a bit of a funk lately. Maybe it's the change of the weather, I don't know. I do know that I haven't posted in a while, though I have been baking a lot. Cookies are a real comfort food for me - case in point, I have 4 different types of cookie dough in my fridge. I love to eat them, of course, but they are also incredibly satisfying to make. Often, when I can't decide what to bake I go with some type of cookie. So, when I wanted to bake something last night, my mind went to cookies and for some reason Mexican Wedding Cookies popped in.

I've never made Mexican Wedding Cookies, though I have always loved eating them. I love how the powdered sugar coating is cool at first, then melts on your tongue, giving way to a crumbly center that is nutty and barely sweet. There is something very pleasurable about the whole thing. The first recipe I came across was from Saveur, and after looking at several other recipes, I decided to go with it due to its simplicity in ingredients and method.

The results did not disappoint! There is nothing fancy about a Mexican Wedding Cookie. These were everything I expected and hoped that they would be. The perfect crumbly texture, the nutty flavorThey are simple and humble, though delicious and extremely satisfying. And addictive. Perfect with a cup of coffee.

Mexican Wedding Cookies
adapted from Saveur

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar + more for coating cookies
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely ground pecans

Preheat oven to 375. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add flour, mixing until just incorporated with each addition, adding the salt with the first addition. When all of the flour has been added, stir in the ground nuts. Make balls that are 1 tablespoon each and place them 1" apart on a baking sheet that has been lined in parchment. Bake for 15 minutes. Place baking sheet on rack and allow the cookies to cool completely. When cool, coat cookies in confectioners sugar. Makes about 20.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWD: Apple Allspice Crumb Muffins

For once, I got a really early start on a TWD treat. I made these muffins for the first time about a week ago. They were fast and easy, especially because the ingredients in the crumb topping and the muffin itself are very similar. I got them mixed up, poured into the muffin cups and popped them in the oven in record time. Then I started to clean up. I put away the allspice, I returned the butter to the fridge, I grabbed the baking powder to - wait a minute: baking powder, baking powder... I didn't remember opening the jar of baking powder, let alone measuring it and adding it to the dry ingredients. What to do? I pulled my muffins out of the oven, scraped as much of the topping off as I could, and sprinkled 1/4 teaspoon baking powder in each muffin cup of batter. I stirred them up, re-sprinkled my topping, put them back in the oven and hoped for the best. About 25 minutes later, I pulled them out, and though they weren't terribly attractive, they had risen nicely. Phew!

Cutting into one, I saw that they were nice and moist and perfectly done. My son and I shared one and we both loved it! The muffin itself is barely sweet, and has a very delicate flavor that pairs beautifully with the stronger, sweeter crumble topping. I added an apple to mine, and I loved the combination of the sweet, tart apple with the allspice. A perfect Fall breakfast. My son devoured his half then asked for another. And another. They were gone within hours.

I was not at all unhappy, then, that I had to remake them today in order to photograph them. They look a whole lot better than the last batch, but taste just as divine.

The only change I made to the recipe (aside from adding an apple) was to up the flour in the crumb topping - I almost doubled it. This resulted in a wonderful texture that maintained its shape in the oven. Oh, I also melted my butter instead of cutting it in - it is just so easy that way!

So when all was said and done, I was still running behind this week, but how lucky that we got to enjoy these delicious muffins twice!

Thanks so much to the wonderful Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table for picking this fabulous recipe. It is sure to become a regular in my house!

Oh, and if you like a good crumble topping - and I can't imagine that there is anyone who doesn't - take a look at these. They are basically a huge cookie made out of nothing but crumble dough!

Monday, October 12, 2009


When I leafed through Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery for the first time, this was one of the recipes that really caught my eye. It was something I had never heard of, but it sounded delicious.

Sbrisolona is an Italian dessert, and it is basically a large cookie made from a crumble-toping-like dough. Part of the dough is pressed into the pan and part is sprinkled on top. What could be better than an entire pan of nothing but crumble?!

When I was trying to decide what to bake the other night, this is what came to mind. Though when I went to gather my ingredients for Nancy's version, I found I was missing a few. So I took to the internet. I found a recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and made a few alterations to it.

I loved this so much. Delicate and crumbly, yet satisfying and very rustic. Fun to break into asymmetrical pieces, and highly addictive. So many possibilities for different flavor combinations, this recipe is definitely a winner. The fact that it takes about 10 minutes to put together makes it even better. I will definitely be making this again.

Here is my version:

Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook via Epicurious

14 tablespoons of butter, browned and cooled slightly
1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 3/4 cups (about 5 ounces) pecans, finely ground
3/4 cup palm sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10 inch spring-form pan. Combine all ingredients except chopped pecans in medium sized bowl. With your hands, toss everything together until dry ingredients are all moistened. Press 3/4 of mixture into spring-form pan. Crumble remaining mixture evenly on top. If your dough is too warm to crumble, place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes until it firms up. Bake at 35o for 25 minutes, then reduce temperature to 300 and bake for an additional 10 minutes until fairly dry and slightly darkened. Place on wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the sides of pan and break Sbrisolona into pieces - whatever size you want. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

SMS: Apple Sticky Buns with Toasted Pecans

This is one of the recipes that I was considering when it was my turn to choose something for everyone to bake for Sweet Melissa Sundays. Given the disappointing result of my choice, I should have gone with the sticky buns... So, needless to say, I was excited when they popped up on our October calendar!

I really love sticky buns, though this was the first time I ever made them. Every time there is a choice in a recipe between cinnamon rolls and sticky buns, I choose the former. Frankly, my only reason is laziness, which is not a very good reason at all, so this time I decided to put in the extra effort in hopes that the result would be extra good! And it was.

I made a few changes to the recipe: I cut it in half and baked (most of) my rolls in an 8x8 baking dish. I got 13 altogether, and only 9 fit in the 8x8, so I put the others in a separate dish. I was glad that it turned out this way, because the 4 in the smaller dish were not baked as sticky buns, so I had a chance to compare the two. More on this later. I added an apple to my batter, because it is apple season, and what isn't made better by the addition of the sweet, tart fruit! Wherever there was sugar in the recipe, I used palm sugar. I used toasted pecans instead of almonds, because that's what I had.

The dough required A LOT of extra flour, but other than that, I had no issues with it. My house is not terribly warm - I haven't turned my heat on yet this Fall - so for each rise, I pre-heated the oven to about 150, then turned it off and popped my dough in.

My baking time was drastically different from the time in the recipe - my rolls were done in 25 minutes as opposed to 45-50 minutes.

The sauce for the sticky buns was so delicious, I actually ate a few spoonfuls of it by itself... The sticky buns were so wonderfully moist, not terribly sweet and just plain fantastic! However, after tasting the ones without the sticky sauce, I realized that it was only due to the sauce that they were so amazing. The plain ones were very dry and bland, even with the addition of the apples.

So, while the sauce and the sticky buns themselves were incredible, and I will certainly be baking them again, this is not a recipe that I would use if I wanted a cinnamon roll. If you want to see a delicious cinnamon roll here is one from Peter Reinhart, and here is a super quick version that you can make in an hour.
Thanks so much to Jen of Not Microwave Safe for hosting this week! If you'd like the recipe for these sticky buns, visit Jen's blog or pick up a copy of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Let me start off by saying that I have never liked doughnuts. When I was a kid, and someone in my class had a birthday they would always bring doughnuts to share with everyone. I never took one. Even the thought of them made me ill. Strange then, that I would want to make doughnuts, is it not?

It was kind of a passing whim until I saw apple cider doughnuts. As soon as I saw them, I remembered that there was one doughnut I really loved. It was my junior year of college, and my roommate had gone to a local orchard - I went to school in New York state, where apple orchards abound. When she came back to our room, she had a doughnut made fresh at the orchard. An apple cider doughnut. I had never heard of such a thing, and even though I was not a fan of the doughnut, I was convinced to take a bite. It was delicious. Unlike any other doughnut I had ever had. So, when I saw a recipe for apple cider doughnuts, I knew I had found the one I was going to make.

So, the doughnuts. I had no idea when I set out to make them that I would be destroying my kitchen in the process - there is a film of oil and sugar on the floor, every surface is coated in flour, it is a disaster. I say is, because as I'm writing this, I'm hoping it will magically clean itself. In case you're thinking about trying these out, don't say I didn't warn you.

The recipe is straightforward, though my dough was unbelievably sticky. I added an additional 1/2 cup of flour and it was still sticky. I used a huge amount of flour on my hands, the wooden board I turned my dough on to, and I dipped my cutters in flour before each cut. It pretty much did the trick, though I'm not sure why it was so sticky in the first place.

I don't deep fry. I'm not sure I could even tell you the last time I deep fried anything or if there is a last time. After making these doughnuts, it is clear that my frying skills leave something to be desired. Firstly, they browned much more quickly than the recipe stated and it took several tries before I figured out the balance between over and under-cooked.

These were definitely the best doughnuts I've ever eaten, though the apple flavor is not terribly prominent. I was planning on adding finely diced apples to the dough until I had the sticky problem. I didn't want to add any more moisture, so I nixed them.

I like the idea of homemade doughnuts, but I think next time I'll make the baked variety and spare my floor.

Vermont Apple Cider Doughnuts
adapted from Chowhound via A Bowl of Mush

1 cup apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup of butter (softened)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 1/2-4 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
oil for frying
1 cup cinnamon-sugar for coating fried doughnuts

Boil cider until it reduces to 1/4 cup, then add it to buttermilk and allow it to cool completely. Mix 3 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, and mix until blended. Add buttermilk mixture, blend until incorporated. Add flour mixture gradually, until just incorporated. If dough seems overly sticky, add additional 1/2 cup of flour. Turn dough out on a well floured board, knead it a few times to make sure ingredients are well-mixed. Pat into a 1/2 inch thick circle. Using a 3" round cutter, cut as many circles as you can. Cut smaller hole in center. Set aside centers to make doughnut holes, or collect them along with dough around the larger circles, form a ball, flatten to 1/2 inch and repeat the cutting of doughnuts. Heat oil to 375 in a high-sided pan or dutch oven. When oil is hot, place as many doughnuts/holes as will fit into pan without crowding them. Allow the doughnuts to brown, then turn them over and brown the other side. Remove them from the oil and set them on a paper towel. When all of the doughnuts are fried, coat them in the cinnamon sugar mixture and serve. Doughnuts are best eaten the day they are made.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

BBA Challenge: Date Pecan Rolls with Orange Caramel Sauce (formerly known as Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread)

This was the first recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice that I have not been terribly excited to make. Until I saw these, that is. Di had a brilliant idea to make rolls out of her dough instead of braided loaves, and I decided to steal it. After looking at Di's creation, I couldn't wait to make this bread.

The recipe is actually for cranberry walnut bread, but dried cranberries aren't my favorite dried fruit and anyway, I couldn't find any that were both organic and sugar-free. I love dates in baked goods, so that is what I went with. There are few nuts that I'm not crazy about, and while walnuts are not one of them, I didn't have any. What I did have was a few pounds of chopped pecans. Dates and pecans sounded like a delicious combination, especially when I read through the recipe and discovered that the recipe contained orange extract.

Ah yes, orange extract. The recipe calls for a full tablespoon of orange extract. That seemed like overkill to me, so I used 1 teaspoon and the zest of one orange. It was plenty orangey. In fact, I could have gone with less extract and it still would have been plenty orangey.

My plan for these was to add the chopped dates and pecans to the dough during the last 2 minutes of kneading. However, as soon as I put them in the mixer, the dates became one sticky mass, even though I had carefully tossed them in flour in hopes of preventing this. My solution was to take the date-pecan blob out of the mixer, finish kneading the dough, then roll it out, and spread the date mixture in a thin layer over the dough (as you would the cinnamon-sugar in a cinnamon roll. I then rolled it up, cut it and baked it as planned.

I made a caramel sauce out of the juice of the orange I zested, palm sugar, heavy cream and butter. Which turned out to be a perfect complement to the rolls.

I think my idea of the date/nut layer needs some refining - perhaps a bit of liquid to make it slightly more fluid - but overall it was very successful. I did not love the flavor of the bread itself, I could taste the orange extract too distinctly and I thought it would have been much better with zest only. So, I won't be making this recipe again as written - not that I did this time - but it has certainly given me inspiration to tinker with my date & nut orange rolls until they are just right.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Soft Bavarian Pretzels

I have long loved pretzels of pretty much any variety. Since I got really into baking earlier this year, one thing that I was determined to make was pretzels. When these popped up on Tastespotting, promising fresh soft pretzels in 1 hour, I knew I had to give them a try.

Sure enough, in about an hour I had warm, soft pretzels fresh from the oven. They contain yeast, but don't require any rising time. They were easy to make, and my son helped me roll out all of the pieces into long "snakes" before I twisted them. He had a blast, did a fantastic job and was quite proud of his efforts. We'll be making these again for sure!

These are boiled then baked, giving them a wonderful chewy exterior. The inside is soft and slightly dense. Just wonderful. The only criticism I have of them is that the dough could use a little salt. The original recipe calls for sugar, but I left it out because I wanted my son (who I don't give sugar to) to be able to eat them, and I think the sugar is unnecessary. The next time I make them, I'll add a bit of salt to the dough in addition to sprinkling it on the top.

I think there are a lot of possibilities for this recipe: herbs, parmesan or other cheeses, sun-dried or slow-roasted tomatoes, olives etc... would all be wonderful additions to the dough for a savory pretzel; I also think that sweet versions would be delicious, with raisins or other dried fruits, or a dip in cinnamon sugar. They're so quick and easy, the combinations are endless!

Soft Baked Bavarian Pretzels

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
4 cups flour

4 tablespoons baking soda
10 cups water
1 egg white
1/4 cup coarse salt

Preheat oven to 475. Combine flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add flour, mix on low speed until flour is moistened. Switch to dough hook. With mixer on medium speed, work the dough until it is soft but not sticky, adding more flour or water to achieve this consistency. Put baking soda and 10 cups water on to boil. Divide dough into equal pieces of approximately 3 oz. On a lightly floured surface, roll out into a long rope about 1/2 inch thick. Twist into pretzel shape. Continue until all dough is twisted. When water is boiling, begin dropping dough in baking soda bath for 10 seconds on each side. After removing from bath, place the pretzels on a lightly greased baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are boiled. Brush with egg white, and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Bake for 10 minutes, or until pretzels are deep golden brown.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

SMS: Orchard Apple Pecan Crumble

Every year, we take our kids (at least a few times) to Hickory Nut Gap Farm, a local farm that has been in the same family for many generations, and a great place to spend the day. There are animals to see, a barn that is piled to the ceiling with hay for kids to play in and ropes to swing on, you can ride a pony, get your face painted, go through a corn maze, and go home with all the apples you could ever eat. We went last weekend for the first time this fall, and came home with a whole bushel. I set to work immediately making apple treats, including this apple crumble. Which was so delicious, it was gobbled up before I could get photos of it! Let me tell you how upset I was that I had to make it again.

I used a combination of apples from the farm, including Mutsu, Fuji, Rome and Granny Smiths. The recipe calls for a cup of sugar - a cup!!! - in the filling. Excessive, no? I will never understand why there is always so much sugar in fruit desserts. Anyway, I cut that sugar out entirely. I never put any in my apple pies and they're always delicious, and they don't even have any sweetener in the crust. This crumble has a full 3/4 cup sugar - palm sugar for me - in the topping, so I knew it would be plenty sweet.

The flavor of the palm sugar was so incredible in the topping - it tastes almost molasses-y, and was such a wonderful complement to the apples and spices. It is a wonder any of the topping actually got baked, because I kept nibbling on it before it went into the oven.

Unfortunately, it is not the most attractive dessert, but it sure is delicious, and easy to make. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of it in our house.

Please visit Cristine Cooks for the recipe. Thank you, Cristine for hosting this week and for picking such a fantastic recipe!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Secret Baker

Last night on Twitter, Tracey, Margaret and I were chatting about how fun it would be to bake for other bakers/bloggers, and receive baked goods in return. We're calling it Secret Baker, because you won't know who is baking for you until you receive the package! So fun! If you would like to take part, here are the details:

I will be hosting the first round, if you would like to get a surprise package in the mail (and send one in exchange, though not necessarily to the same person) email the following information to

- Your name
- Your shipping address
- Your email address
- Any food allergies, dietary restrictions, food aversions, etc...

The last day to join for round 1 is Monday, October 26th.

We will all ship out on Monday, November 2nd. It is important to ship out on this date so we can be sure the goodies will arrive before the weekend. The theme we have chosen for the first round is fall - easy, and so many possibilities!

All of the bakees will be chosen at random, and you will be contacted via email on October 27th with the name, address and dietary details of the person you'll be baking for.

We all read about each other's kitchen adventures, won't it be fun to get a taste?! Join us!
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