The Baker Upstairs: October 2012

10.31.2012

apple cider donuts with browned butter icing

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I'm not usually one to deep fry anything, but I make an exception every fall for these donuts. I'm still totally scared of the pot of boiling oil (my brain is constantly shrieking "Explosion Imminent!"), but the taste of these donuts is definitely worth it! In previous years I've rolled the hot donuts in cinnamon sugar, or made a simple glaze with powdered sugar and milk, but this year I decided to go all out and make some browned butter icing to top them with. Best decision ever!

The apple flavor in the donuts is subtle and sweet, and the browned butter icing adds just a hint of caramel flavor. They're pretty straightforward to make, although reducing the apple cider always takes a little longer than I anticipate. I think the key to getting nice looking donuts is to roll them out between two sheets of plastic wrap, and then let them chill so they're easy to cut. I am seriously guilty of never letting things chill, but it's a must with these donuts. They're a perfect fall treat!
Apple Cider Donuts with Browned Butter Icing

Donuts
Our Best Bites

1 c. apple cider, preferably fresh apple cider or something high-quality like Simply Apple
1 c. sugar
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 c. butter-flavored shortening
2 eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 quart canola or peanut oil (for frying)

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the apple cider to a boil. Continue to cook over high heat for about 7-10 minutes or until it’s reduced to 1/4 c. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

While the cider is reducing, combine shortening and sugar in a large bowl and mix with an electric mixer on high for 2-3 minutes or until it’s light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating completely after each addition. Add reduced cider and buttermilk and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Add flour mixture to the liquid mixture and beat until just blended. The dough will be very soft.

Carefully lay a sheet of plastic wrap on top of a baking sheet. Transfer dough to the plastic wrap. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll dough out to about 1/2″ thick. Top with another layer of plastic wrap and transfer the pan to the freezer for about 20 minutes or the refrigerator for 1 hour.

When the dough has chilled, remove from the freezer/refrigerator. Using a round cookie cutter, cut circles out of the dough. Using a smaller cookie cutter,cut the centers out of the circles and reserve the “holes” for little bite-sized pieces of apple-spiced goodness! Place cut dough pieces on a lightly floured baking sheet. When all the dough has been cut out, place the pan back in the refrigerator while you prepare the oil for frying.

In a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 1 quart of oil over medium heat. to 325 degrees. While oil is heating, line a plate or baking sheet with paper towels. When the oil is hot, carefully place a few pieces of dough into the hot oil. The dough will sink down and then rise to the surface. Check the bottom side; if it’s golden brown, flip the donut. If it’s still a little pale, give it another 30 seconds or so and then check it again. After you’ve flipped the donut, the other side will cook significantly faster, so keep an eye on them. All in all, they should take about 90 seconds-2 minutes to cook completely.

Remove donuts from hot oil with a heat-proof slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels, followed by a baking rack (if you need the paper towel space for more donuts). Repeat frying process with remaining dough and then with the holes–the donut holes will cook EXTREMELY quickly, so be careful not to burn them.

Browned Butter Icing
Shutterbean

1  cup confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons butter
3-4 teaspoons milk

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until browned. Pour browned butter into a bowl with confectioner’s sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk until frosting reaches a smooth, glazey consistency. Dip cooled doughnuts into bowl and allow excess frosting to drip back into bowl. Transfer to rack.

10.30.2012

baked pumpkin french toast

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We were all such fans of the baked french toast I made a few weeks ago that I decided we needed to try another variety. With my homemade pumpkin puree in hand, pumpkin french toast was an obvious choice! It was as good as the first time, although it didn't quite have enough pumpkin spice flavor for me. I think next time I will add half a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to both the toast mixture and the streusel mixture. It was still incredibly yummy, and probably healthier as a result of the added pumpkin (hey, it has Vitamin A, right?...). So I can definitely justify making it super often. Which I will certainly be doing.
Baked Pumpkin French Toast
Two Peas and Their Pod

1 loaf French Bread
6 large eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces

Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Tear French bread into chunks, or cut into cubes, and evenly place in the pan. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour evenly over bread. Cover pan with saran wrap and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry mixture using a fork or your hands. Combine until the mixture resembles sand with a few pea sized chunks. Cover and store mixture in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to bake the French toast, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove French toast from refrigerator and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the French toast is set and golden brown. Serve warm with syrup, if desired.

10.29.2012

homemade pumpkin puree and toasted pumpkin seeds

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Last week we took a trip to a cute pumpkin patch close to our house. The girls had a great time running around and looking at all the pumpkins. My toddler Lizzy insisted on sitting on every pumpkin she found, and it was hilarious. We had a great time!


While we were there, I picked up some cute sugar pumpkins for making puree. 

Pumpkin puree is so easy to make! Here are some step by step pictures for you:

First, lop the stems off the pumpkins (it really helps if you have a sharp knife).


Cut the pumpkins in half, top to bottom.


Scoop out the insides (and save your pumpkin seeds for later!). I used a cookie scoop and found that it worked well, and used kitchen shears for some stubborn stringy bits.


When they're all clean, put them facedown on a baking sheet, and add about 1/4 inch of water around them. Bake at 350 for 60-90 minutes (mine were great after 70 minutes).


When they're done, you should be able to easily slide a fork in.


Let them cool for a little while so you don't burn yourself, then scoop out all the yummy pumpkin meat. I used my cookie scoop again, and it worked great.


Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. I used my Ninja and it did great. If it's too thick and hard to puree, add a small amount of water to loosen things up.


Depending on how watery your pumpkins are, you may have a lot or just a little extra water. Add the puree to a colander lined with paper towels over a bowl or pot, and let drain for 30 minutes to an hour. I ended up draining about 1 1/2 cups water total out of my puree.


When the puree is drained, put it in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze it. I used freezer quart-sized bags, and added 1 cup of puree to each, to make it easy to pull out for recipes. I think one cup plastic canning containers would be awesome for this, but I didn't have any on hand. Use it in any recipes that call for canned pumpkin. I got about 7 cups of puree from my three small sugar pumpkins.

As for your pumpkin seeds, of course you need to toast them! I separated mine out from all the gunk, rinsed them well, and let them dry on a baking sheet for a few hours. Then I tossed them with a little olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. Bake at 250 for about an hour (I did about 70 minutes, because they weren't as crisp as I wanted at an hour).


My five year old went nuts for the seeds and couldn't stop munching on them. We love all the yummy tastes of fall!

10.26.2012

pretzel rolls

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I'm totally nuts about recipes that combine two of my favorite things... buffalo chicken tacos, peanut butter pretzel brownies... it's always fun to combine flavors. I think these pretzel rolls are the greatest combination yet! They're chewy on the outside, soft on the inside, and perfectly salted. I found the recipe a week ago, and I've already made them twice. We can't stop eating them! The rise time is so short (only 90 minutes total) that they're really quick to make. I used a silicone mat to line the baking sheet, which made the cleanup really easy too. At some point I should probably purchase some kosher salt so the tops look even prettier, but coarse table salt worked fine. These are definitely a new favorite!
Pretzel Rolls
Our Best Bites

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 F)
1 tablespoon rapid rise or bread machine yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
4 3/4-5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg, separated
1/4 cup baking soda
8 cups water

In a large measuring cup, combine the water, sugar, and yeast and allow to stand for 10 minutes and the mixture is frothy.

While the yeast is proofing, combine the salt and 4 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (or a large bowl, if mixing by hand). Add the melted butter, egg yolk, and the bubbly yeast mixture. Mix until combined. If necessary, add up to an additional 1/2 cup of flour, about a tablespoon at a time, until the dough pulls off the sides of the bowl and barely sticks to your finger when you touch it. Cover the bowl and place it in a warm, draft-free area and allow the dough to rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk.

When the dough has risen, turn it onto a surface lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Divide into 12 equal pieces or use a scale to measure out 3-ounce pieces of dough. Shape the dough into balls, place on a lined baking sheet (parchment or a silicone liner), cover, and allow to rise for 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising the second time, preheat the oven to 425. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When the water begins to boil, add the baking soda and bring back to a full boil. Working with one roll at a time, carefully place each roll, seam-side down into the baking soda bath. Boil for 30 seconds then flip and boil for another 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove the boiled roll from the water and place, seam-side down, on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough balls.

Whisk together the reserved egg white and 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the egg white over the boiled dough balls and then sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 12-18 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets. Makes 12 rolls.

10.25.2012

slow cooker honey sesame chicken

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I saw this recipe on my friend Alyssa's blog a few weeks ago, and thought it looked super yummy! I happened to find a great deal on chicken thighs ($1.49/pound is pretty awesome!) and decided to try it out. I am loving the slow cooker lately, especially since the weather has cooled so much lately (I even saw little snow flurries this morning!). It smelled delicious while it was cooking, and the sauce was fantastic. I only wish that I had used chicken breasts instead of thighs for it. I don't know what it is, but I'm still kind of learning to like chicken thighs. If you love them, then definitely make this with them! It was still really tasty, but I think I would have liked it with chicken breast even better.
Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken
The Recipe Critic

1 pound boneless chicken thighs
1 cup honey
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
cornstarch
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
sesame seeds

Insert chicken into the crockpot and sprinkle salt and pepper on each side. In medium sized bowl combine ketchup, honey, soy sauce, ketchup, vegetable oil, garlic, diced onion, and red pepper flakes.  Pour over the chicken in crock pot. Cook on low 3-4 hours or high for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

When done, remove chicken and cut it into chucks.  Before returning chicken to crockpot, combine cornstarch in some water and whisk it into the crockpot to thicken it up a bit.  Throw the chicken back into the crockpot to re-coat with sauce. Serve over rice and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

10.24.2012

warm gingerbread cake with caramel sauce

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My friend Emma posted a picture of this cake on Instagram a week or so ago, and I couldn't stop thinking about it! I love gingerbread. And caramel. And cake. So this was pretty much a no brainer. I have to say that, in addition to being one of the most genuine and kind people that I know, Emma also has amazing taste. She's one of my favorite people to follow on Pinterest, because she makes my feed beautiful. If Emma likes a baked good, it's guaranteed to be awesome, and this was no exception! The cake is moist and flavorful, the caramel sauce is to die for, and adding a dollop of homemade whipped cream just took it over the top. The only change I made was to bake it in a 9 inch springform pan, instead of the recommended 8x8 square. It's the perfect indulgent fall dessert!
Warm Gingerbread Cake with Caramel Sauce
Emma the Joy

Cake:

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup boiling water

Grease an 8x8 square pan.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together.  Cream the butter and gradually add the brown sugar and cream thoroughly.  Stir in molasses.  Beat the egg until thick, and beat into the creamed mixture.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the cream mixture a third at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Gradually add boiling water, stirring after each addition.  Turn into prepared pan.  Bake for 40-50 minutes.  Serve warm with caramel sauce and freshly whipped cream.

Caramel sauce:

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cream
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the ingredients together and simmer for about 5-6 minutes.  Serve over warm gingerbread cake, apple pie and ice cream, ice cream sundaes, etc.

10.23.2012

the best waffles

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I mentioned this before with pancakes, but some of the simplest breakfast foods have always been difficult for me. My mom made waffles all the time when I was growing up, and could easily just throw them together without a recipe, but they have remained a mystery for me. I always add either too much or too little batter to the waffle iron, my batter never has the right consistency... in short, my waffles are terrible. When Geoff asked for waffles this last weekend, I wanted to tell him that we should just have pancakes instead, since I have finally mastered those, but I decided it was time to buck up and get back on the waffle horse. And I'm so glad I did! I should have known that I could trust one of my sweet friends, Emma, for an awesome recipe, and they definitely did not disappoint. We all enjoyed them immensely. Here's to many more waffle breakfasts!
Belgian Waffles
Emma the Joy via Just Cook Already

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup cooking oil or butter, melted {I'm all about the butter}
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture; set aside.

In another medium bowl beat eggs slightly; stir in milk, oil, and vanilla. add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir just until moistened {batter should be slightly lumpy}.

Pour 1 to 1 1/4 cups of batter onto grids of a preheated, lightly greased waffle maker. Close lid quickly; do not open until done. Bake according to manufacturer's directions. When done, use a fork to lift waffle off grid. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm.

10.22.2012

toffee chocolate chip brownies

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Brownies! With chocolate chips and toffee chips thrown in for good measure! And the fact that they are one-bowl and easy to make just makes them all that much better. I haven't pinpointed exactly which texture I like best in my brownies... I know that I don't like them caky, but I'm never sure whether I like them dense and a little chewy, or gooey and melt-in-your-mouth. These brownies are more of the gooey variety, and are deliciously rich. I cut my 8 x 8 pan into 16 pieces, and one piece was enough for me (and then some). They ended up being a little on the oily side, so I think next time I will try leaving out the oil (the recipe has half a cup of butter, so it's not like they won't be rich without it). They got good reviews from everyone in my family, and they're cute to boot!
Toffee Chocolate Chip Brownies
Picky Palate

1 stick/8 tablespoons unsalted softened butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup all-purpose Gold Medal Flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chocolate chunks
8 ounce bag milk chocolate toffee chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line an 8×8 inch baking dish with foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Place butter into a large mixing bowl and microwave until melted and hot, about 45 seconds or so. Pour in chocolate chips and stir until mostly melted. It’s ok, if it’s not perfectly smooth. Add flour, salt and sugars. Mix a few times then add egg yolks and oil. Mix until well combined then add chocolate chunks and toffee chips.

Transfer batter to prepared baking dish, spreading evenly. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until cooked through.

10.19.2012

skinny mushroom stroganoff

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I'm always up for a good meatless meal, but sometimes it's hard to be creative with them. I run out of ideas, and make the same things over and over. When I spied this recipe a few weeks ago, I was thrilled. I love stroganoff, Geoff loves mushrooms, and the girls love pasta. What could be better?

I made a few changes to the recipe... I used chicken broth because it was all I had, I left out the wine/sherry, and I used button mushrooms, because they were what was on sale. I also (accidentally) added a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of tomato paste, so my stroganoff was a little more orangey than it should have been. Nonetheless, it was delicious! Abby refused to touch the mushrooms, but ate the noodles, and Lizzy inhaled her whole plate, and then licked it for good measure. It was a hit with the grown ups, too, and easy to throw together. Yum!
Skinny Mushroom Stroganoff
Skinny Taste

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium vegetable broth (or beef if you're a carnivore)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp tomato paste
5 oz sliced Cremini mushrooms
8 oz sliced baby Bella mushrooms
3.5 oz Shiitake mushrooms
1/4 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp white wine or sherry
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
8 oz uncooked noodles (Ronzoni Smart Taste, Healthy Harvest or No-Yolk)
1 tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Cook noodles in a pot of salted water according to package directions, I like to under-cook them a bit so I can mix it with the sauce and let it finish cooking.

Meanwhile, while the water starts to boil for the noodles, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Melt butter over medium heat and add onions to the pan. Cook 2 - 3 minutes over medium-low heat.

Add flour; stir with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds. Gradually add broth, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato paste, stirring constantly. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper; stir and cook 4-5 minutes or until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly.

Add wine; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 4 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 30 seconds. Stir in sour cream; add noodles, mix well and garnish with parsley if desired.

10.17.2012

churro cupcakes

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As much as I love to bake, I find cupcakes to be a challenge. They never turn out exactly how I want... they're flat, they spread too much, they get overcooked on the bottom before they're cooked through... so annoying! A friend recently shared this awesome recipe for churro cupcakes with me, and they were a complete success! I'm definitely no cupcake decorator, but even I was able to make these look presentable. A cupcake win!
Churro Cupcakes
Emma the Joy

Cake:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 (1 stick) cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk

Frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until just combined then stir in the vanilla and oil. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the butter mixture and gently stir in until barely combined. Add half of the milk, mixing until just combined. Repeat these steps with the remaining flour mixture and milk, ending with the flour. Do not over mix. Fill each cupcake tin with 2 tablespoons of batter, or until the cupcake tin is filled half way. Bake the cupcakes for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with one or two crumbs clinging to it. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl. Add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the cinnamon until thoroughly combined. Then stir in the vanilla. Beat the mixture well, until light and fluffy. Pipe onto cupcakes and sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar. Enjoy!

10.15.2012

spooky halloween sugar cookies

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I've always loved a good sugar cookie! They are my favorite of all the cookies I make, and I usually try to save them for special occasions. (You know, like every holiday ever invented.) A cookie decorator I am not, but I've found lately that I can handle the flood icing technique (I don't even bother to pipe around the edges first). Perfect? No. Acceptable? Certainly.

The cookies themselves are delicious and buttery, almost like shortbread, but they become even more tasty with the addition of the icing. They're simple to make, and fun for the kiddos!
Sugar Cookies
Annie's Eats

1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ t. almond extract
1 t. vanilla
1 t. salt
2 ½ c. sifted flour

Cream butter. Add powdered sugar. Blend in egg, almond extract, vanilla, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm. Roll to ¼” thickness on well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375° for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool.

Icing
I am Baker

1 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
1-3 tablespoons milk
1 drop lemon juice (fresh or processed)
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Combine powder sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice in a bowl. If you need a thicker frosting, say for outlining your cookies, add LESS milk, just a drop at a time. If you have already outlined your cookies and need a to fill in or ’spill’ your cookies, you can add more milk (as much as you would need) to make your frosting very runny. If you are using food coloring, be sure to use LESS milk. Most food colorings are liquid and can make your frosting more runny. If you are using a gel food coloring, your milk quantity can remain the same. If you want to add different flavors, you can add drops of vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon, etc. to flavor your frosting. If you want more SHINE, use more corn syrup and less milk. This frosting will stay good for days in the fridge.

10.14.2012

overnight cinnamon french toast

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As lazy as I am about cooking breakfast on the weekdays (we usually have cold cereal, toast, or frozen waffles) I love to have a nice hot breakfast on the weekends. Geoff and I usually trade off making it... he's the king of anything egg-related, and I make all the baked goods. This week I had a baguette that was getting a little stale, and decided that it would be perfect for a baked french toast. I got all excited about making this recipe from my cute friend Sarah, and then discovered I didn't have enough eggs. Boo! Luckily, I found another recipe that looked promising, and was able to throw it together quickly. It chilled in the fridge overnight, and baked up beautifully in the morning, making the house smell like heaven.

And the taste? To die for! I wouldn't say that regular french toast is necessarily at the top of my list for breakfast, but this french toast definitely is! The cinnamon topping was crumbly and luscious, and the eggy bread underneath was moist and tasty. It was a universal hit at our house! I scaled down the recipe by a quarter (I used six eggs, and so on) to fit in a 9 x 9 pan instead of a 9 x 13, and used just whole milk instead of milk and cream. Definitely one to make again!
Cinnamon Baked French Toast
The Pioneer Woman via Two Peas and Their Pod

1 loaf French Bread
8 large eggs
2 cups milk
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¾ cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Streusel Topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces

Maple syrup-for serving

Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Tear French bread into chunks, or cut into cubes,  and evenly place in the pan.

In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Pour evenly over bread. Cover pan with saran wrap and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry mixture using a fork or your hands. Combine until the mixture resembles sand with a few pea sized chunks. Cover and store mixture in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to bake the French toast, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove casserole from refrigerator  and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the French toast is set and golden brown.

Serve warm with butter and maple syrup.

10.12.2012

classic baguettes

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When I was little, we lived a few blocks away from a french bakery called Bakers de Normandie. One of our favorite treats was to stop by the bakery and get a breadstick. Their breadsticks were the size of small baguettes, and so delicious... crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. I still remember how amazing they were, all these years later, and they are the standard by which I judge my breads.

I've wanted to make baguettes for a long time, but all the recipes I found looked very complicated and difficult. As I've said before, the best breads have very few ingredients, so I knew that technique was important in making the bread into a baguette, and not, say, a french loaf. At the same time, I'm super lame at following directions, and the more complicated they are, the less likely I am to follow them with exactness. This week I had a few dinner recipes I wanted to pursue that would make good use of a baguette, so I knew it was time to find a recipe that would provide good results without being too difficult. As usual, I found a great one at King Arthur Flour!

It's definitely not a quick recipe (all told it takes something like 19 hours) but most of that time is hands off. I mixed up the starter the night before, made the dough in the late morning, and had perfect baguettes by late afternoon. The only change I made to the recipe was to use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour (and sadly, I can't afford King Arthur flour). This recipe totally blew me away! It tasted just like those delicious breadsticks I remember from my childhood. The texture was wonderful, the loaves kept their shape brilliantly, and they smelled and tasted fantastic. I'm pretty sure that if I could choose only one food to eat forever and anon, this would be it!
Classic Baguette
King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup cool water
1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water*
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste

Make the starter by mixing the yeast with the water (no need to do this if you're using instant yeast), then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have risen and become bubbly. If it hasn't, your yeast may not be working. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in 1 tablespoon lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar, and wait 15 minutes. If nothing happens, replace your yeast, and begin the starter process again.

If you're using active dry yeast, mix it with the water, then combine with the starter, flour, and salt. If you're using instant yeast, there's no need to combine it with the water first. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer. Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-size bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes. Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again. With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15" log. Place the logs seam-side down into the wells of a baguette pan; or onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans.

Cover them with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they've become very puffy, about 1 1/2 hours.Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F; if you're using a baking stone, place it on the lowest rack. Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8" vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

Bake the baguettes until they're a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2", and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

10.10.2012

slow cooker tomato basil parmesan soup

Yum

Soup is pretty much the greatest thing in the world. I love, love, love it, and look forward to fall all year long so I can eat as much soup as humanly possible. Geoff's favorite is tomato soup, and up until now I hadn't found a great recipe for it. It never tasted quite right (too sweet, too acidic, etc.) and the texture was less than ideal. No longer! This is our new favorite soup!

It's really easy to throw together (it seriously took less than five minutes using my little food processor) and it made the house smell great all day. I used whole milk instead of cream, and about five tablespoons of butter instead of the recommended eight (there I go, being rebellious again) and the texture and taste were just perfect. I served it with freshly baked baguette (recipe coming soon!), farmer cheese, and fresh honeycrisp apples, and it was the ultimate fall meal. I ended up with so much leftover that I put two meals' worth in the freezer and still had enough for Geoff and I each to have a hefty lunch portion tomorrow. It's pretty much perfection in a soup!
Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup
The Girl Who Ate Everything

2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup finely diced onions
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
1/4 cup fresh basil
4 cups chicken broth
½ bay leaf
½ cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup butter
2 cups half and half, warmed (substitute milk for less calories)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Add tomatoes, celery, carrots, chicken broth, onions, oregano, basil, and bay leaf to a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, until flavors are blended and vegetables are soft. At this point I added all of the vegetables to a blender and blended until smooth. If you prefer a chunkier texture you can leave it as is or even blend just some of it. Return blended veggies back to the slow cooker.

About 30 minutes before serving prepare the roux. Melt butter over low heat in a skillet and add the flour. Stir roux constantly with a whisk for 5-7 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1 cup hot soup. Add another 3 cups and stir until smooth. Add all back into the slow cooker. Stir and add the Parmesan cheese, warmed half and half, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low for another 30 minutes or so until ready to serve.

10.08.2012

slow cooker cinnamon applesauce

Yum

Ah, fall. It's finally cooling down around here, after some unseasonably warm weather, and I'm getting all excited about fall food. Soups, pumpkin everything, apple cider... it's all delicious! Abby, in particular, loves anything with apples in it, so I decided to give this crockpot applesauce a try. I even pulled out the immersion blender to make it nice and smooth. I normally make applesauce using the Kitchenaid, and it ends up being a little chunkier than this. When Abby took her first bite, she said, "Well, Mom, it tastes like applesauce, but it doesn't feel like applesauce to my mouth." Still, she ate her portion for dinner and enjoyed it, so I think it was an applesauce win.
Slow Cooker Cinnamon Applesauce
What Megan's Making

3 pounds apples (6-9), peeled, cored, and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
1 cup apple juice or apple cider, plus extra as needed
2 Tbsp sugar, plus extra as needed
pinch salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or 2 cinnamon sticks)

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook until apples are very soft and beginning to disintegrate, about 4 hours on low. Remove cinnamon sticks if using. Mash apples thoroughly with potato masher (or blend with immersion blender). Season with additional sugar/cinnamon to taste and adjust consistency with additional hot apple juice or cider as needed.
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