Sunday, March 22

Bread - {Peanut Butter and Oreo Swirl Brioche}

The bread section at the grocery store always looked like an exotic library. Sealed behind glass doors, the loaves were neatly organized and cataloged. Some crusty, some soft, but all sharing one common characteristic: deliciousness.

I’d often ponder the loaves while my parents shopped for less interesting things. The bakery counter nearby offered free cookies to wayward children – the doughy kind, studded with M&M’s and chocolate chunks – so I’d retrieve one before making my way over to the cases. And, of course, I’d savor it, thoughtfully chewing as I read the neatly penned names. Some of them were easy to pronounce, but others… Not so much. Ciabatta, challah, brioche, and babka - I had no idea what they tasted like or were used for, but I did know that a peanut butter and jelly made on any of them would probably be a pretty tasty treat.

But still – they seemed too special. It was so rare that I’d see someone pull a loaf from the cabinet, and even rarer that I’d see my parents do so. When we did, it was often a farm loaf; something delicious – definitely different – but hardly “exotic” to the inquisitive taste buds of a girl growing up on Flannery’s Funny Farm. From everything that I understood about its creation at that age, fancy breads seemed like puzzles that I’d never solve.

Scared, I was 100% content with the potato bread we bought in zip-tied bags in the bread isle.

But, even so: as my interest in baking intensified: bread recipes seemed increasingly enticing. I was afraid to try making it, but I had to. I had to make bread.

Endless experimentation resulted in more than a dozen massacres of unsuspecting yeast colonies, but my family assured me that it was the fault of the yeast – not me. I’m guessing now that they were probably just optimistic that if they encouraged me, I’d eventually make something edible. Whatever their intentions were: I tried. I made dozens of flat, dense, floury cinnamon rolls before finding my first partial success in a pair of French loaves. Overzealous and eager, I joyfully – accidentally - let them rise well beyond their limit, only to watch them deflate tragically as the gluten gave out.

It took time, but I did eventually get the hang of it. Of course, I’m still no master, but I felt pretty accomplished and secure when the cinnamon rolls I was making a few summers back sold out every weekend at the farmer’s market. It’s probably partially a credit to my stubborn streak, but I’m happy to be able to look at a recipe with yeast in it now and see it as a challenge instead of an impossible feat.

I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of person that makes a loaf of bread every week, but I do enjoy making one or two for special occasions – or when I want to make something particularly rewarding! In all honesty, overcoming my fear of yeast is my proudest baking accomplishment, and I’d be delighted if one of my recipes could help someone else to overcome their fear as well.

I promise: making bread isn’t as scary as it may seem. Even if you mess up - just toast it and add some butter. No one will complain. 

Peanut Butter and Oreo Swirl Brioche

This brioche is based on the one from the Huckleberry Cafe cook book - I've been dying to try it with blueberries, but I can't get decent ones here quite yet, so I've been experimenting with other fillings. Like I said, I'm no pro: based on the way the bread gapped, I added a little too much filling.... but who cares? It tastes great :) 

2 Tbsp warm water
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 c + 2 Tbsp (280 g) AP flour
1 c + 2 Tbsp (280 g) bread flour
2 1/2 Tbsp (80 g) sugar, divided - plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, room temp
1 egg yolk, room temp
1/2 c + 2 Tbsp (140 g) butter, softened
~1/2 c smooth peanut butter
~1/2 c Oreo Brittle

Egg Wash

2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp cream

Slightly warm the water according to the instructions on your package of yeast. 105-110 should be perfect – it should just feel slightly warm to your fingertips. You can easily get water this temperature from the faucet, so don’t feel like you have to microwave or otherwise heat it. Place the water in the bowl of your stand mixer and sprinkle over the yeast and about 1/2 Tbsp of the sugar so it has something to eat. Let stand for about 5 minutes until foamy and fragrant.

When the yeast has woken up, add the flours, remaining sugar, salt, eggs and yolk to the bowl. Mix until it comes together, 1 to 2 minutes.

Increase the speed to medium and knead for approximately 6 minutes, scraping the bowl after every minute. It should, eventually, pull away from the bowl and look quite smooth.
At this point, reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the butter, a little at a time, over the course of 2 minutes. Pause, again, after 1 minute to scrape down both the bowl and hook. Pay careful attention to the bottom of the bowl – make sure that dough mixes in as well! When the butter is well incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium-high to bring the dough back together, 5 to 6 minutes longer

Oil a large bowl and set aside.

Lightly dust your counter with flour and turn the dough onto it. Pull the dough together into itself, forming a tight ball, and place it into the oiled bowl. Spray the dough with cooking spray and press plastic wrap to the surface. Let rise for about an hour, until doubled in size (another way to check is to lift the plastic wrap and poke the dough – if an indentation remains, you’re ready to move on. If not, let it keep rising).

Oil a 9 x 5” loaf pan. Set aside.

Turn the dough out again onto your flour-dusted counter. Gently press it into a rectangle roughly 16-by-10-in. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect! Position the dough vertically, with a short side nearest you. Spread with peanut butter and sprinkle with the Oreo brittle. Roll tightly down toward you, forming a log. Gently place into the oiled loaf pan. Spray again with pan spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise again for about an hour, or until an indentation remains when the dough is pressed. The dough should double in size.

Prepare the egg wash by mixing together the egg and the cream in a small bowl. Preheat the oven to 350F.

When the dough has risen fully, brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool fully before slicing.

Sunday, March 8

Day at the Lake - {Chocolate and Oreo Brittle Cupcakes}

Towering over us, he was a monster. Stout, but still somewhere above the mark of six feet, he cast a shadow longer – and wider - than anything around him. And he was stubborn, that guy. Even with the combined might of four adults, he could not be moved. Alone in the middle of the lake, he stood defiant and strong. Firmly planted on a sheet of ice nearly three feet thick, our snowman was a marvel of nature not often seen.

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes with irresistible #oreo brittle

On a slow day of ice fishing, between sips of light beer and greedy bites of fried bluegill, the snowman was our proudest achievement. Apart from, of course, the delicious cookery of my Uncle P, who skillfully manned the fryer all afternoon. I’ll admit here: few accomplishments can ever be so good that they come before a good meal – particularly one of fresh-caught fish and hand-cut fries.

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes with irresistible #oreo brittle

But even with all of those things considered, the true joy in the day was found in just being with friends and family. The annual celebration of the Pike Party is an easy day spent ON the lake at the end of a long winter. It’s a party for no reason other than to rejoice in the fact that the hopeful glimmers of spring are finally upon us.

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes with irresistible #oreo brittle

It was the first day of the year that I actually wanted to be outside, and I inhaled all of it as deeply as I could. After a winter spent battling freezing pipes and digging ourselves out of our house, I was overjoyed to let the burn of warm sun on my back and the thrill of the cold air in my lungs tire me from the inside out.

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes with irresistible #oreo brittle

Hypnotized by the sun, I’ve been in a daze ever since.

Dense Chocolate Cupcakes with irresistible #oreo brittle

Deep Chocolate Cake

This is a very dense, moist and chocolaty cake. It's my go-to, and it never lets me down. Makes about two dozen. Recipe via Allrecipes.

1 1/3 c (166 g) flour
3/8 c (33 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
1 1/2 c (213 g) brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c (157 ml) sour cream, room temp
2/3 c (157 ml) hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Oil and line either two 6-inch pans. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar, until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until very well incorporated. Add the vanilla. Being sure to scrape the bowl often, pour in a third of the dry ingredients, mix until just combined, then add half of the sour cream and mix until just combined. Repeat, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Gently stir in the hot coffee, and pour into prepared pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Place baked cakes in pans on a cooling rack for ten minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and allow to cool completely before continuing.

Boiled Frosting  

This frosting has replaced Swiss Meringue as my go-to.  It's much fluffier and a lot quicker to make than meringue style buttercreams. I think it's nice on these cupcakes, but might also suggest a simple butter + confectionery sugar frosting to complement the Oreos. Your choice! Recipe via Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.

1 1/2 c (300 g) sugar
1/3 c (47 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c (155 ml) milk
1/3 c (78 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 c (355 g) butter, room temp and cubed
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the sugar and flour in a cool saucepan.  Stir in the milk and cream, then set the pan over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, cook the mixture until quite thick, 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of your mixer.  Fit with the paddle attachment and whip on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about fifteen minutes.

When the bowl is cool, add the butter all at once and whip on high speed until very light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and whip to combine.

Oreo Brittle 

I'd been toying with the idea of Oreo brittle for a number of weeks before actually making it. I was afraid that the cream filling would mess up the texture of the candy and, although I think I was correct, the texture and flavor of the resulting confectionery is nothing to be sad about. I couldn't stop snacking on it after it cooled. This makes a little more than 3/4 lbs, which is more than you will need to decorate the cupcakes, but I think you'll like having it around. I'll be sharing at least one more recipe to help use it up - if it doesn't all get eaten first! The brittle recipe here is based on one found in the wonderful cookbook, The Craft of Baking.

1 c (200 g) sugar
4 Tbls (55 g) butter
1/6 c (40 ml) light corn syrup
1/4 c (60 ml) water
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 Tbls salt
3 oz (85 g) Oreo cookies, crumbled

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and lightly coat with cooking oil.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water. Stir thoroughly so that the sugar is completely wet and cook, without stirring, over high heat until it turns dark amber. This should take about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, add soda and salt, and whisk, being careful of bubbles. Quickly fold in the crumbled Oreos and pour onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading with the back of a spoon. Let cool completely and break into bite sized pieces. Crush about 1 cup for decorating cupcakes. Save the rest for snacking, or another use.

Sunday, February 22

Relief - {Roasted Banana Cake with Cinnamon Honey Pecans and Cream Cheese Frosting}

I’m so thankful for my eight to five, Monday through Friday schedule. I thought working a forty hour week would kill me, but there’s nothing you could give me to trade this life for what I had in college, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Sure, there’s some stuff I miss, and some stuff that’s still kind of the same. There’s was excitement in the unknown and the unplanned... But, at this point, I’m thankful that I’m generally able to leave work at five on Friday, walk into my house shortly afterward, and not have to have a productive thought again until early Monday morning.

I’m thankful that weekend group projects and overwhelming homework is behind me. That I’m working on things that have purpose and meaning; that seem like they contribute to something greater. That I’m working on a team I can learn from, and alongside people who can teach me about myself.

In all of this, I’m not slamming college. Those four years were certainly some of the most important of my life, and I loved them all. But, even so: I’ll be damned if you think there’s even a sparkle of envy in my eyes when I listen to any of my wonderful college-aged friends talking about school, career fairs, and job hunting.

Because that’s just a bunch of crap, and I’m so thankful that it’s all behind me.

Call me lazy, but I’m thankful every day that I get to go home after five, pour myself a glass of cheap wine, and shut off my brain. I wake up at the same time every weekday, and am ever grateful to finally have a regular schedule. I’m thankful every single day for upcoming weekend mornings that start at 10 and linger into the afternoon. Thankful to not have to get dressed to leave my bedroom, and thankful to no longer share a bathroom with the students living next door – even if they were great suitemates.

But mostly, I’m thankful that after an uncomfortable, anxious, and stressful week, I can spend an entire weekend completely silent, relaxed, and happy with S, my best friend, alone – but together - in our living room. Safe, where the only thing able to rattle my brain is me, and the antidote to my poison is beside me whenever I need him.

Roasted Banana Cake

I love this recipe. If you don't want to roast the bananas, don't. It helps to amplify their flavor, but the cake is still lovely without it. Moist and tender - everything you want a banana cake to be! Based on this recipe from Epicurious.

~2 ripe bananas, enough to make 1 cup, mashed
2 1/4 c cake flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c butter, room temp
1 1/3 c sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c buttermilk, room temp

Preheat your oven to 350F. Prepare two nine-inch cake pans by oiling and lining with parchment paper. Set aside. Line a sheet pan with foil and set aside.

Slice each banana in half lengthwise and remove the peel. Place each half, cut side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Spray or brush lightly with oil and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until soft and fragrant. Remove from oven and cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This should take about ten minutes, and you should scrape the bowl down occasionally. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

At this point, mash the cooled bananas and mix with the buttermilk.

Scrape down the sides of your mixer and add 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Mix well to combine, then add 1/2 of the wet ingredients. Continue in this manner until all ingredients are incorporated, mixing only as much as you need to bring it all together. Divide evenly between pans and bake until the cake springs back when pressed, about 25-30 minutes.

Cool cakes on racks for 10 minutes, then turn out onto plastic wrap, wrap well and refrigerate until cool.

Honey Toasted Pecans

1 Tbsp butter
1 c raw pecans
1 Tbsp honey
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on your counter to spread the finished nuts on.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then add the pecans. Toast until fragrant, just a few minutes, then drizzle on the honey, cinnamon, and salt. Toss to coat and spread on the parchment paper to cool. Use to top frosted cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 c butter, room temp
1 lb cream cheese, cubed and at room temp
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Beat the butter until light and fluffy, about ten minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and beat in the cream cheese, a little at a time, whipping until fully incorporated. Add in the powdered sugar, bit by bit, and beat until light. Beat in the vanilla.