Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls!

I love this week between Christmas and New Years. It's a short week because of the holiday, and it's quiet because most people are on vacation. The train is less crowded in the mornings, there are fewer people on the road, and there just seems to be a little bit more time in the day to do things like make your own cinnamon rolls.

Ever since getting the Bread Baker's Apprentice (remember its first appearance?), I've been eying these cinnamon rolls. But unlike the cinnamon rolls you buy in a can, roll out of bed and dump into a pan before the sleep is out of your eyes, these take a little more than 30 minutes to make. And by a little more, I mean a lot more. This is a serious undertaking, people. Not because of the labor involved (these are really no sweat!) but because of the time. Like all good breads, these rolls have to rise for 3 hours.

I know.

How is anyone supposed to make these for breakfast without waking up at an unholy hour?! Bakers lead crazy lives, I tell you! So I think I figured out a way to make them and have them ready for breakfast, but not lose out on sleep. Traditionally, you make the dough, let it rise for 2 hours, then shape the rolls and let them proof for 90 minutes. But instead of waking up 4 hours early, I made the rolls the night before, then instead of letting them proof, I put them on a pan and into the refrigerator overnight. I set my alarm for 5am, rolled out of bed and took the pan out of the fridge, then immediately went back to bed for 3 hours. (The rolls now need 3-4 hours to proof because they were chilling in the fridge all night). So when it came time to actually wake up for the day, the rolls were ready to put in the oven!

Yes, I wanted to kill myself when my alarm went off at 5am, but I was only awake for about 2 minutes, so really, it wasn't bad at all. And these cinnamon rolls are totally worth the slightly interrupted sleep. No matter how you decide to make them, please make them. I'm never buying cinnamon rolls in a can again!

Cinnamon Rolls
from the Bread Baker's Apprentice
makes 8-12 large cinnamon rolls

  • 6 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 3 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 pkg active dry yeast (prepared as directed on package)
  • 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 c. whole milk at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tbsp. sugar, 1 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon)
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. of orange extract (or vanilla, lemon, or rum extract...whatever flavor you want!)
  • 6 tbsp to 1/2 c. warm whole milk
To make the rolls:
  1. Cream together the sugar, salt and butter
  2. Whip in the egg and lemon juice until smooth
  3. Add the flour, yeast and milk
  4. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball
  5. Switch to dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for about 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes) until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may need to add a little flour or water during the process to get this texture.
  6. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.
  7. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
  8. Mist the counter with oil, then transfer the dough to the counter.
  9. Roll dough into a large rectangle about 2/3 inch thick (about 14 inches wide x 12 inches long). Do not roll the dough too thin!!
  10. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the dough
  11. Roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll
  12. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces about 1 3/4 inch thick
  13. Line one sheet pan with parchment paper
  14. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so they aren't touching, but are still close to one another
  15. Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes. OR retard the shaped buns in the fridge for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the fridge 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof
  16. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F with the oven rack on the middle shelf
  17. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown
  18. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes then streak with white glaze across the tops while the buns are warm but not too hot
To make the glaze:
  1. Sift powdered sugar into a large bowl
  2. Add the 1 tsp. extract and slowly add warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved (add only as much milk as needed to make a thick, smooth paste)
  3. Dip a fork into the glaze and then let the glaze drip off the fork onto the cinnamon rolls in streaks.
Happy almost 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three-Layer Brownies

I woke up this morning and realized that Christmas is in three days. I can't believe it. This whole being a grown-up and being away from home during the holidays thing is strange. Now, it's my responsibility to carry on the traditions of my youth for all of the fun things leading up to Christmas. But I was so busy this year that I didn't get a tree, I didn't hang lights, I barely even listened to Christmas music! It's no wonder I feel like Christmas snuck up on me.

Growing up, Christmastime meant a few things in my house: Mannheim Steamroller, driving around our neighborhood to look at lights, chocolate advent calendars, and my mom's three-layer brownies. Every year she made them for my dad's office, and every year at the start of the holiday season, my dad would come home saying that his coworkers were beginning to ask for the brownies. Yep, this was a sure sign of Christmastime.

Well, I may not have a tree, and I may be several days behind in eating my advent calendar chocolate (mmm I have some delicious catching up to do), but it's definitely not Christmas without Mom's Three-Layer Brownies.

I decided to carry on this tradition and bring them to my office during the holidays. The only thing is, the 2nd of the three layers is minty. And I don't do mint. Call me crazy, but it's just a flavor that I don't care for. So making these gets to be a bit tricky for me, because I don't know how much peppermint extract to add! This is why it is handy to have taste-testers around at all times :)

But despite my mint-aversion, these brownies are sure to please. And their green layer makes them a bit festive for the holidays. They just might become your holiday tradition too!

Three-Layer Brownies
recipe from my mom
(recipe is for an 8 inch pan, my mom recommends that you cut them small because they are so rich. for a double recipe, use a 9x13 pan, and you can get a LOT of brownies)

Brownie Layer
  • 2 squares (2 oz) unsweetened Baker's chocolate
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. sliced almonds or chopped walnuts (optional. i omit these.)
Green Mint Layer
  • 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp. whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp. peppermint extract (more or less to taste)
  • green food coloring
Chocolate Glaze Layer
  • 2 oz. sweet cooking chocolate (I used Baker's German chocolate)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Brownie Layer:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and sugar until thick.
  4. Pour cooled chocolate into egg mixture and add flour.
  5. Mix together, then add nuts, if using.
  6. Pour into a greased 8x8 pan.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove from oven and cool.
Green Mint Layer:
  1. Beat all ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth.
  2. Add green food coloring for desired color (I like mine to be pretty green).
  3. Spread over brownie layer and chill for 1 hour.
Chocolate Glaze Layer:
  1. Melt all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Spoon over green layer in any design.
  3. Chill for 1 hour.
  4. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Steak and Mushroom Pie

Hi. It's been awhile. I don't mean to ignore you, really, it's just that things are quite busy around here. It's December, which isn't really a surprise because Thanksgiving just happened. But Christmas is coming up - and I am totally unprepared for that. Oh well, I still have 16 days........

But enough about the future, it's time to reminisce about my trip. I posted about pub food when I was in London. Steak pies are just so good! The crispy pastry crust, the delicious warm steak and gravy filling...mmm I want another one as I write this. I grew up eating chicken pot pies, but never having steak pie. Why don't we do that here in America? Or am I in some weird steak-pie-free bubble in California?

In any case, ever since I got back, I kept thinking about them. All kinds of meat pies. Steak, lamb, chicken - there are so many options! So when I was looking for a quick, easy dinner, I knew immediately that I had to make one. And I'm not kidding: this was not only really easy, but quite good. Now, this isn't an elaborate pie. It could probably use some fresh mushrooms and some peas or carrots, and I think that next time I make it I might take some effort to make my own crust, but when you're looking for a quick and delicious steak pie fix, look no further.

Steak Pie
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cubed beef stew meat
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 (1 oz) package dry mushroom gravy mix
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add beef stew meat, and cook until browned on the outside.
  3. Add the onion; cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the mushroom gravy mix and 1 cup of water.
  5. Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.
  6. Turn heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
  8. Transfer the beef mixture to a pie plate.
  9. Roll out the puff pastry to cover the top of the plate.
  10. Press edges onto the rim of the dish to seal.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until the pastry is puffed and golden brown.
I recommend serving this with some green bean casserole...mmmm!

Thanks for bearing with me while I get back in the groove. I have many more delicious things to share with you, so get ready, and be excited :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Strange Request

It comes with the territory that people frequently ask me what they should make for dinner. I try to come up with good ideas for them, but it's not every day that you get an email like this:

"Please figure out how to cook this.
Xoxo Erica :-)"

attached was this:


This, everyone, is a pheasant. In a plastic bag. With a CLAW. It's about the size of a cornish hen, still has a few feathers...and has a CLAW. Did I mention that it has a CLAW?

It turns out that her boss gave it to her this morning, and now she wants to cook it.

This is waaaay out of my league.
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