Category: baking (page 1 of 7)

My Baked Doughnut Confessions

I’ve been riding a baked doughnut pan roller coaster of emotions.

I have always loved doughnuts. In fact, I even work at a specialty doughnut shop. The owner typically makes fried cake and yeast donuts, but also bakes these little, gluten-free donuts on Fridays. I’ve never tried one because they’re in such high demand and limited quantities; I want the people who actually need them to have them. What I have noticed is that they are light in texture and fluffy. I began to assume baked donuts were all just so.

Baked donuts enticed me at work while baked doughnut recipes filled my social media feeds. Finally, I bought a doughnut pan for myself. It only cost about $7 on Amazon. When the package arrived, I ripped open the box with zeal and admired my new pan. I hugged the pan and reassured it that we’d have a happy life together.

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Browned Butter, Speculaas, Sea Salt, Nutella & Chocolate Crispy Treats

Yup, I did it.

I put all of my favorite things into a batch of crispy rice bars.

Homemade rice cripsy treats are special no matter your age. When I grew up, my folks only bought the packaged ones in the blue wrappers. I always found them to taste dense and bland. At some point I tasted homemade rice crispy treats and they blew my mind with their buttery, marshmallow goeyness.

As if homemade rice crispy treats can’t get better, Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats can: The browned butter adds a toasty, creme brulee flavor and the sea salt balances the sweet. Plus, Pearlman’s recipe calls for a whole stick of butter in contrast to the traditional Rice Crispy recipe which lists two-three tablespoons.

And then, the owner at a local bakery I work at added Speculaas to sea salt, butterscotch, and brown butter rice crispy treats. Cookie butter! This got my mind churning and I decided to try making them at home. I also added a chocolate-Nutella topping similar to what you’d find on a Scotcharoo and finished the bars with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

If you’ve never tried cookie butter, it reminds me of a peanut butter made from crushed up Biscoff cookies; those buttery, gingery cookies that Delta passes out on flights. It goes by the names cookie butter, Biscoff spread and Speculaas. I found knock-off versions of both cookie butter and Nutella at ALDI and Trader Joe’s.

“Theoretically, this has to work,” I told Jake before we taste tested the batch.

It did.

crispy treats II

In addition to the toasty browned butter flavor and hint of salt, you’ll also taste the Biscoff cookies. The chocolate topping firms up when it’s cool similar to that on a Scotcharoo bar. My measurements for cookie butter and Nutella are terribly inexact. I simply tossed in a couple big scoops of each. Feel free to use more for a stronger flavor. Hazelnut spread is fairly soft, though. If you add a higher ratio of spread to chocolate chips, the topping might firm up less.

Find less expensive versions of Nutella & Biscoff spread at ALDI and Trader Joe’s.

Ingredients:
6 cups of puffed rice cereal (not quite a full box).
10 oz. of marshmallows (most bags seem to be 10 oz).
1 stick of butter (I use salted)
1/4-1/3 teaspoon of flaky sea salt
Speculaas / Cookie Butter, a couple good spoonfulls (I used about 1/2 cup).
Bittersweet chocolate chips, about 3/4 bag
Nutella / chocolate-hazelnut spread
Flaky sea salt to sprinkle on top. Regular table salt will taste too harsh

Instructions:

  1. Melt one stick of butter in big pot. Cook gently until the butter turns golden brown and smells toasty. Watch carefully so that the butter doesn’t burn. If you use a smaller pan to melt the butter, you will have to transfer the marshmallow-butter mixture to a bigger bowl to mix. 
  2. Add the marshmallows and stir until they melt into the butter. The mixture will be sticky. Stir in about two serving spoon-sized scoops of cookie spread and add the salt.
  3. Turn off heat. Pour in six cups of puffed rice cereal. Stir quickly to combine while the butter-marshmallow mixture is still warm.
  4. Pour into a lightly greased pan (I used a 9X9). With lightly buttered fingers, press the treats gently into an even layer. Buttering your fingers prevents the mixture from sticking to your hands. Don’t press the mixture too hard, otherwise it will become dense.
  5. Melt about 3/4 of bittersweet chocolate chips with a couple of big spoonfuls of Nutella (about three oz). I just used the microwave.
  6. Spread evenly over the puffed rice treats. As long as the chocolate isn’t very warm, sprinkle flaky sea salt on top.
  7. Cut and serve when cool. If you can’t wait until they topping firms up, that’s OK too!

How We Make Our Favorite Thin-Crust Pizzas

One of my favorite meals to prepare is homemade pizza. Restaurants often refer to them as “flatbreads,” but we here, we just call them pizzas. Homemade pizza dough does take some time to prepare, but it isn’t very difficult. Therefore, I typically make pizza for Sunday suppers.

Our favorite pizzas don’t even involve tomato sauce. I just smear the dough with olive oil and garlic, and sprinkle over salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes before adding the toppings. Fresh mozzarella is our cheese of choice. It’s pricier, but has an ideal chew and richness. Scoop up a ball at your local Italian deli or find some at ALDI or Trader Joe’s. Instead of covering the whole pizza with mozzarella, I stretch one ball over an entire recipe of dough by pinching off pieces and dotting them between the other toppings.

The best part about making homemade pizza is that you can add whatever toppings you like. Any vegetable you find at the farmers market probably makes a great topping. We’ve enjoyed pizza topped with everything from roasted kholarabi to shaved radish to blanched potato slices. Here’s a list of our favorite pizza toppings and instructions for making my favorite dough.

Broders Pizza

Pizza inspired by our favorite pie in the whole world, The Eggplant Special at Broders Cucina Italiana in Minneapolis, MN. Topped with fresh mozz, roasted eggplant, bell pepper, caramelized onions, and goat cheese mixed with herbs.

Yeast doughs are more forgiving than you might assume. I avoided making yeast doughs for years because they intimidated me so much! If the yeast is not old and you allow the dough to properly rise twice, all should be well. It’s easy to feel tempted to rush the second rising, but, this will really mess up the texture of your bread. My culinary instructor at Minnesota State Community & Tech College always reminded us that yeast dough rises once for flavor and twice for structure.

When I prepare pizza crust dough, I look for a texture that’s smooth, elastic, and not too sticky. If you find that your dough is too dry, slowly drizzle in a little bit of water at a time, and, if it’s too wet, mix in more flour.

Favorite Toppings:
Fresh mozzarella: We stretch one ball over a whole recipe of pizza dough.
Sliced bell pepper
Roasted eggplant
Shaved hot chilis
Caramelized onions
Roasted (or pulled) chicken
Reduced balsamic vinegar: Reduce in a saucepan until thick and sweet. 
Basil
Slow roasted tomatoes: Instead of roasting at a high heat, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake at a low temperature (250-300ºF) until the juices thicken and the skins are tender. This could take hours. Cherry tomatoes work well, but if you only have whole tomatoes, cut into small pieces and remove some of the pulp.  

Pizza Jeni

Pizza inspired by Maxwell’s of West Fargo’s Roasted Chicken & Basil Pesto flatbread: Fresh mozz, pulled chicken leg meat, caramelized red bell peppers and onions, balsamic drizzle.

My Favorite Thin Crust Recipe
Adapted from Saveur’s recipe for Lahmacun. This is an excellent recipe in itself!

Ingredients:
2 cups AP unbleached flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
1 packet of yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the bowl

Instructions For Making The Dough With A Stand Mixer:

  1. Place two cups of flour and a scant teaspoon of salt in a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, add the yeast, warm water, and sugar, and gently stir. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. I don’t measure the temperature, but aim for slightly above luke warm. The yeast will bloom after 5-10 minutes.
  3. Pour the yeast into the dry ingredients. Add the olive oil and mix with a dough hook at a lower speed until it forms a ball. If the mixture is too dry and won’t combine, slowly stream in a little bit of water. If the dough feels too sticky, add more flour.
  4. When you like the texture of the dough, mix on a medium or medium-high speed for about five minutes. It should feel smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky.
  5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, flipping it around so that the entire surface is oiled. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until it doubles in size. If your home is chilly or you can’t find an available window sill, turn your oven on briefly just to warm it. Rise the dough inside the oven.
  6. When it’s time to make the pizza, punch down the dough and remove it from the bowl.
  7. Divide the dough in half to make two larger pizzas, or smaller balls for personal-size pizzas. Gently roll them out on a lightly floured surface. The thinner you roll the dough, the thinner your pizza crusts will be.
  8. Place on sheet pans lined with parchment, cover with tea towels, and allow to rise again. They might not dramatically double in size, but they should appear puffy.

Topping Your Pizzas:

  1. Brush a light coat of olive oil on the surface of the risen pizza crusts. Rub with grated garlic and sprinkle with salt, pepper and/or crushed red pepper flakes.
  2. If you like pizza sauce, spread it on the dough. We prefer it without.
  3. Add your favorite toppings.
  4. Space pinches of mozzarella over the pizzas.
  5. Bake 400ºF (or higher) until the dough is crisp and golden brown around the edges and the cheese caramelizes.

Taste Test: Duff Goldman Jeepers Creepers Premium Cookie Mix

It’s time for another product review and taste test. In the spirit of Halloween and second chances, I chose Duff Goldman’s Jeepers Creepers: Where’d You Get Those Peppers Premium Cookie Mix. Yes, it really does say that on the box.

The mix costs $3.99 plus tax at my local Target and calls for the additions of 1/2 cup of butter, two egg whites, and an optional teaspoon of vanilla extract. I wasn’t terribly impressed with his Purple Rain cake mix and Not Your Bagel Cream Cheese frosting (review here). This cookie mix looked fun and since it called for real butter, I felt optimistic.

Duff Box wm

Back of box wm

The box contains the cake mix, candy eyes, and three colors of gel food coloring.

kit contents wm

Here are the ingredients you are asked to provide:

DSC_0580

To Charm City’s credit, the mix includes a lot of peepers. I tried an eyeball and found it tasted like powdered sugar. The texture wasn’t too hard, which I had been afraid of, but I didn’t enjoy them enough to eat more. Therefore, I only added two eyes per cookie, which left a lot of leftovers.

DSC_0582

The instructions are simple: Combine the cake mix, egg whites, butter, and vanilla in a bowl. Divide the dough into three equal portions, and mix one food coloring packet (orange, purple or green) into each bowl. Portion tablespoon-sized balls onto a cookie sheet two inches a part, and bake at 350ºF for 14-17 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown.

DSC_0586

The final step instructs bakers to press the googly eyes into the cookies while they are still warm. This step is especially important because the eyes absolutely will not stick otherwise. I found that I had to tuck the edges of the eyes into a still-warm and slightly gooey cookie crevice to secure them.

finished wm

Taste Test: The cookies looked adorable. They tasted very sweet and like “birthday cake” flavor. I realize cookies are supposed to taste sweet, but, like the Purple Rain cake mix, they struck me as overkill. However, we all have different sweetness thresholds. The texture of the cookie was pleasantly crisp and chewy.

People who like “birthday cake” or Funfetti flavor will probably enjoy these cookies. “Birthday cake” happen to be one of my least favorite flavors in the world. Jake thought the cookies tasted fine, but wouldn’t go out of the way for them. If you don’t mind spending $3.99 for a boxed mix that makes 20 cookies that taste like “birthday cake,” these cookies might be for you.

*When I edited my video, I realized my phone didn’t record my official taste-test of the cookies. The only clip I could find was a candid shot of me returning for a second bite of the cookie. 

Baking Pies With Food & Swine + Pork Tenderloin At Goldie’s

You can cry or die or just bake pies all day.” – From “Making Pies” by Patty Griffin

After our friend Amy Hild died in a car crash late February, I baked a pie and wrote this post about baking feelings into pies. Grief can seem like a monster or feel like riding a wave and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. One thing I learned is that I am not the only one who finds solace in baking. My friend Shannon connected with the post and coordinated a trip to Cristen Clark’s home near Des Moines for a pie baking workshop last week.

Group pies

Cristen Clark writes Food & Swine. She and her family grow crops and raise hogs on their farm. In her free time, Cristen enters baking and cooking contests, frequently taking home blue ribbons. I’ll always remember how she extended a hand of hospitality of friendship soon after we moved to Iowa. There are those people who just get your sense of humor, and she’s definitely one of them. Cristen graciously hosted us at her home for the day and shared her best pie-making tips.

Cristen Jessica aprons

We put on our aprons and Cristen walked us through making pie crust.

Group in kitchen

During this class, we prepared all-butter pie crusts. Pie fillings varied, depending on what fruit each person brought. I combined apples and pears and Cristen helped me add sugar, flour to thicken, lemon zest, lemon juice, and this delightfully fragrant Vietnamese cinnamon she bought from the King Arthur Flour.

baking supplies

One technique we didn’t learn in culinary school baking lab was how to make a lattice pie crust. Cristen mentioned that thicker lattice patterns are “in” and demonstrated how to weave the strips.

Cristen trimming pie

I topped my double-crust pie with horse cutouts.

pie Collage

Cristen treated us to lunch at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City while we waited for our pie dough to chill. Goldie’s claim to fame is winning the Iowa Pork Producer’s “Best Pork Tenderloin” contest in 2009. The Des Loines blog, my favorite resource for unbiased pork tenderloin reviews, lists Goldie’s tenderloin as a top contender near Des Moines.

Inside, the small restaurant looks like a diner and even has a drive-through window. At lunch time, the place was busy and people filled every stool along the counter.

goldies Collage

Mary and I ordered a pork tenderloin basket while the other bloggers ordered pork tenderloin sandwiches. “Would you like ranch? our server asked in true Iowan style. Of course we said “Yes.”

Our pork tenderloin arrived in thin strips and reminded me of the schnitzel fingers I once ordered at Glockenspiel restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The tenderloin was fried well so that the strips were crispy without being greasy and the pork was moist and tender. When I looked around the table, I noticed my dining companions’ sandwiches were accompanied by tangles of thin onion rings. Those generic, pre-frozen rings appear on so many menus that I’ve come to expect them. Thin rings are my favorite and I really regretted not ordering them here. Val let me try one of hers.

pork strips

Cristen also noted that the owner raises cattle on his family farm. The cows are processed at a local locker and the beef is served on Goldie’s menu in the form of burgers and sausage. The Magg Combo sandwich combines a pork tenderloin and burger patty. As a new Iowan, I’m still getting acquainted with pork tenderloin sandwiches, but can claim that this is my favorite fried tenderloin so far.

After lunch, we returned to Cristen’s house and finished preparing our pies to bake at home. The way that one bakes his or her pies is so personal and there’s always something new to learn. Competition pie baking is especially fascinating. It’s a completely different beast than baking pies for home consumption, only. I’m not ready for this world, but will certainly use some of these tips Cristen taught us.

Pie Wisdom From Cristen

  • Use a foil collar to prevent crust edges from burning. To make a collar, cut a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the perimeter of your pie crust and fold it into a thinner strip. Wrap it around your pie crust edges and remove it about ten minutes before the pie’s done baking. I can not believe I’ve never thought of this before. The collar sure beats trying to crunch strips of foil around hot pie edges and hoping they don’t fall off each time you move the pie.

pie crust guard

  • Competition bakers keep their pie chilled. Cristen mentioned that when she makes competition pies, she pops the pie back into the fridge frequently to keep the dough cold for perfect forming.
  • Add an egg to the crust: The pie crust recipe I’ve used at home at in culinary school did not include an egg. We added it to the flour and butter, along with the water. I didn’t notice a huge difference, but it turned out well.
  • On shortening & crusts: Different shortenings produce different kinds of crusts. Last November, Cristen wrote this helpful post explaining how each shortening effects crust. I’ve never worked with lard, but it sounds like the combination of lard + butter is popular among bakers. We also learned it’s possible to make a no-roll “push” pie crust with just oil that’s actually won awards at the state fair, too. I haven’t tried this method yet.
  • You can roll pie crust edges up or down: In culinary school, we always rolled the edges of the pie crust down, which Cristen recommended for apple and pear pie. However, she rolled them up on the berry pies. Now, I know I have two options!
  •  Use a giant dough scraper. I don’t own a giant dough scraper. When I’ve made pie at home, I work as quickly as possible so that the shortening doesn’t melt and sprinkle the dough with a lot of flour when it sticks to the counter. The dough scraper made it easy to lift the rolled-out pie dough from the counter and, as a result, I used less flour.
  • Tapioca thickens berry pies. Cristen says the award-winning bakers she’s encountered thicken berry pies with tapioca pearls. She uses 1/4-1/3 cup per pie.
  • Dab with butter: Just like my culinary school instructor, Cristen places little dabs of butter on top of the pie filling before covering it with the top crust.
  • Look for slow bubbles. We baked our pies for 20-minutes at 400℉ and another 40-minutes at 350℉. Slow bubbles indicate that the juices have thickened into a sauce with an ideal consistency.
  • “Blonde” pies are a thing. Pies without any browning on the crust are called “blonde pies.” Some judges prefer them while some don’t, but I’m with Cristen. I like the appearance and flavor of crust with spots of golden brown color.

And my favorite way to enjoy a slice of apple pie? For breakfast with a cup of coffee and cheddar melted on top of the crust!

group outside goldies

From left to right: Cristen (Food & Swine), Jessica (Belong, Create), Val (Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids), Me, Mary (Natural Plus Nursery), Shannon (The Field Position).

Special thanks Cristen for hosting us and surprising us with lunch at Goldie’s and to Shannon for coordinating the event and providing transportation.  

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