Monday, February 28, 2011

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Who doesn’t love cinnamon swirl bread?  

I remember eating it as a child, toasted with butter.  I loved pulling it apart by the swirls and eating the uncoiled bread slowly, feeding it into my mouth inch by inch.  

I hadn't had the bread for several years, and I was happy to discover it's still just as fun pulling the swirls apart.  Actually, it's even more fun now, since I get to bake the bread first.

A lot was left to be desired the first time I baked cinnamon swirl bread back in December.  The bread itself was delicious, but I wasn’t happy with the copious amounts of cinnamon-sugar filling and the huge gaps between the swirls.

The baking was also problematic.  The excess filling not only leaked from the dough into the pan, making the bread stick, but also bubbled over onto the bottom of the oven. 

I was left with a smoke filled house, despite all the open doors and windows, as well as two burns on my arms from wiping the filling off the bottom of the oven.  At least I still had the bread.

I was comforted after reading the introduction in Baking Illustrated for cinnamon swirl bread.  Apparently these are common problems.  I’ve since learned how to make delicious cinnamon swirl bread properly.  No smoke and no burns.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Italian Hazelnut Cake

Last week I ran in the hills behind my house.  It was a 14 mile run, which isn't too long when it's a distance you've worked up to.  But when it's a 14 mile run with constant elevation changes, it gets a whole lot harder.  Add 20 degree weather with snow blowing in your face, and it's downright miserable.

It's moments like that when I really want to give up, grab my cell and call the local taxi service to take me home. But just as I looked up from my plodding feet, I saw something standing alone in the woods, watching me from between the trees.

I saw my first moose in Vermont.

For all the moose crossing signs on the highway, you'd think they're everywhere, but they're not.  I've seen plenty of deer, wild turkeys, great blue herons, beavers, woodchucks, and even a bear.  But never any moose.  And here in the magical silence of the falling snow in the dirt roads of Vermont, was a moose.

I stopped and watched the moose for quite a while, and she just stood in the woods looking back.  Snow was collecting on her head, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for her.  Alone in the woods on a snowy afternoon with no one else around.  I could have stood there for hours staring back, but I soon felt my sweaty back catch a chill, so I had to move on.

Luckily, the short break motivated me to run a little faster and push a little harder, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the woods for more winter friends.

After I made it home, I tried my hand at this Italian Hazelnut cake.  Along with a hot cup of espresso, it quickly boosted my energy levels back to normal. However, I couldn't help but wonder whether the moose was still standing alone among the trees, snow collecting all around her.


Continue reading for more pics and the recipe!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hollah for Challah!

After a short trip to Massachusetts, I’m back up in Vermont.  I was welcomed home with sunny, mild weather this past weekend, and on Monday the thermometer reached unfamiliar heights in the 40 degree range.  Is Spring arriving early this year?

Nope.  It’s back to normal.  It’s 4 degrees.

We all know what that means.  No going outside.  Lots of baking inside.

Fine with me! 

In my constant quest of baking bread to steer away from the overly processed supermarket bread, I recently tried my hand at challah.  I've never gone out of my way to buy challah, but I've always admired the bread from afar for its beautiful braided exterior and glossy sheen.

For those of you not familiar, challah is a bread traditionally baked for the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays.  It is enriched with butter and eggs to form a light, airy loaf.  It is similar in texture to brioche, yet slightly sweeter in taste.  It commonly assumes a braided shape with a dark, glossy surface sometimes studded with sesame or poppy seeds.

I spiced up my challah by sprinkling it with a combination of coarse salt, sesame seeds, dried rosemary and dried thyme.  The result was delicious!  The crunchy, savory crust contrasted beautifully with the soft, sweet bread.

Click below for the recipe and more pics!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Healthy Fruit Shakes

After eating Neapolitan cake at 7 am this morning and stowing handfuls of raspberry meringues in the pouch of my sweatshirt for later, I decided an intervention was in order.

Cutting all sugar out of my diet is out of the question.  I need my sugar.  But after experiencing the diabetic coma that followed my morning escapade with the cake, I realized I need some treats with a little less sugar and a lot more nutrition.

I bring you fruit shakes.  Containing just fruit, yogurt, orange juice, maple syrup and cinnamon, they’re a healthy snack or dessert.  They pack just the right amount of sugar to satisfy your cravings, but also provide the nutritional benefits of fruit and yogurt.  Plus, they take less than five minutes to prepare.

Top with whipped cream and heart shaped sprinkles, and you’ve got an easy and delicious Valentine’s day dessert!

Strawberry Shake
2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
1 cup vanilla yogurt
3 tablespoons orange juice
4-5 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Banana Shake
1 very ripe banana
1 cup vanilla yogurt
½ cup orange juice
4-5 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1. Simply puree all the ingredients together in a blender and serve chilled.  Top with whipped cream if desired.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Valentine's Day

LOVE is in the air. I can feel it.

Okay, maybe not.

But there's no denying that Valentine's Day is quickly approaching.  Store fronts are filled with all things pink and frilly, and florists and chocolate shops are armed and ready.  If you've tried everything from bouquets of red roses to three foot chocolate bears filled with cream to heart shaped jewelry, you might be wondering what to do this year.

Perhaps I can help.

There's nothing sweeter on Valentine's Day than home-made treats. It says, even though I'm a 200 pound male who loves football and beer, I love you enough to spend hours in the kitchen cutting dough into tiny hearts and smearing them in sugary pink frosting.  Or, just because we eat out every night doesn't mean I don't love you enough to tie on an apron and jeopardize my manicured nails to the dangers of the kitchen to bake a giant pink cake.

Now that's love.

And if you don't have someone special to bake for on Valentine's Day, bake for yourself!  Everyone deserves a little sugar on the 14th, so don't be ashamed. 

How about Heart Shaped Butter Cookies?

Or goblets of French Macaroons...

... and  Tiny Raspberry Meringues?

Or a Neapolitan Ruffle Cake?

Click below for recipes and more pics!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you know me, chances are you've had one of my mom's chocolate chip cookies.

They're a pretty big deal.

She's baked them for as long as I can remember. For seven years, she baked a double batch for every field hockey game and fencing meet I ever had, and she did the same for my brothers cross country running races, ski races and crew meets. They were always in tins lined with doilies, wrapped in layer upon layer of saran wrap then tied up with a ribbon in our school color.

Everyone who comes to work at our home, be it carpenter, painter, or electrician, is baked a batch of these cookies. If she's going out and knows the lawn man is coming to cut the lawn, she leaves a plate of cookies (doily and all) on the front steps for him and his crew to enjoy.

Visitors are sent off with a package to sustain them on their journey home. They appear in care packages, potluck dinners and any other occasion calling for cookie consumption. If they don't appear for some worthy reason, people want to know where the cookies went. Everyone wants them.

They're famous.

What's the secret?

Follow the recipe straight from the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag. Use egg beaters instead of a real egg, and don't try to round out the dough when you place it on the cookie sheet. Leave it lumpy. It's as simple as that.

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe from the Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate morsel bag.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg - or 1/2 egg beater
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. In the bowl an an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on high until well mixed. Add the egg and vanilla and beat just until incorporated.

3. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together, then add to the butter mixture gradually. Mix on low speed just until the flour is combined with the butter. Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet, but don't smooth out the dough. Bake for roughly 11 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Place the cookies onto a wire rack to cool.

I had the pleasure of enjoying a few this afternoon (left over from baking for our electrician). It's been a good year since I've had any, and they were just as delicious as ever. I'm glad some things never change.


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