Category Archives: sweets

Overnight Yeasted Pancakes

I like to think of myself as a modern woman. I work full-time in a career chosen because of a personal passion and interest, travel as much as the bank account and schedule will allow, keep up-to-date on news and various happenings in the world, have cocktail time with girlfriends as well as dates with J (my husband) and am extremely self-reliant and independent. I mean, I may not have the shoe collection of Carrie Bradshaw or be a high powered attorney like Julia Braverman-Graham (Parenthood- just watch it, it is soooo good!), but I’d consider myself to be progressive and liberal woman.

I’m not sure if it is in spite of this or because of it that I also have a desire to be The Perfect Wife. Some of you may recognize or relate to this hypothetical scenario: wake up looking refreshed, have a hot breakfast prepared for you and hubby, have a productive and creatively rewarding day at work, return looking as dazzling as the moment you left the house and then cook a gourmet meal which you and the husband enjoy (with a nice bottle of wine) as the day winds down. Am I particularly proud to say I have this desire? Not really…it’s actually giving me an odd sense of guilt even typing this out, and you don’t even need to remind me that women with children- a group to which I do not belong- may struggle with the same wishes while juggling about a million times more responsibilities and pressures. Continue reading

Homemade Pop-Tarts

I’ve baked a lot of cookies, cupcakes, cakes and pastries over the last few years, and the items that seem to get the biggest reaction are things that take people back to their childhood.  When I made a version of Ding Dongs for my former coworkers, you’d have thought I handed out $100 bills- they were damn near in happy tears over the chocolate cupcakes with the little squiggle of white icing on top.  Freshly baked apple pie wins hands down over something fancy from a French patisserie, and these Pop-Tarts may have beaten them all.  I guess nostalgia minus artificial colors and flavors plus home baking = happy people.

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Peanut Butter Crispy Bars

This dessert is everything you’d want in a bar: creamy, sweet milk chocolate and peanut butter sandwiched between a thin layer of rich dark chocolate and another of Rice Krispies.  We could just simplify and call them Crack Bars, because once you try them, you’ll want them.  All the time.  Every day.  Then pretty soon you’ll find yourself in a room with Candy Finnigan while your family looks on wringing their hands and being all weepy.  Yup, you’re in some serious trouble.

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Whole Wheat Lemon Sweet Rolls

I went through a cinnamon-roll-making phase two years ago, right after I started reading the amazing and uber-popular blog, The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  I spied this recipe and decided to make cinnamon rolls for the first time in my life.  It was so easy and so fun that I made them every week for the next month.  I think my husband, friends and colleagues refer to that time as The Fat and Happy in, they were fat and happy, not me….wait, as in they were fat emotionally with happiness from eating the cinnamon rolls…oh well, never mind.  You get the idea.

Perhaps making cinnamon rolls so often made the process lose its charm, or more the more likely scenario was I just got distracted by a shiny, glossy photo of something else delicious-looking and moved onto making whatever that was.  Fast forward two years to last week, and alas, another head-turning picture caught my attention, and once again, it was one of some mouth-wateringly gorgeous sweet rolls.  This time, however, they were lemon sweet rolls, and I could not WAIT to start making them.

I changed the recipe just a bit by using a combination of white whole-wheat flour and white flour.  White whole-wheat flour isn’t actually stark white, but much lighter in both color and texture than regular whole wheat flour.  It’s really becoming a favorite to bake with since it imparts a nutty flavor that goes really well with chocolate and other sweet ingredients.  I also decided to use softened butter instead of melted, and made lemon sugar by whizzing sugar and lemon zest in my food processor.

First I rolled out the dough, then spread softened butter all over the surface:

Then added a generous layer of lemon sugar:

Start rolling:

Rolled it up nice and tight:

Cut them into rolls with a serrated knife (es muy importante to use a serrated knife so you aren’t pushing down on the dough!)

Set the rolls in a pan to rest and rise for about 20 minutes before baking for 16-18 minutes:

Then pulled out the freshly baked, sweet and sticky lemon rolls from the oven:

And slathered the still-warm rolls with a simple icing made with lemon juice and powdered sugar:


I think I actually prefer these to the traditional cinnamon roll, but I do have a special love for lemons so maybe that’s why.  Also, the combination of lemon, butter and sugar is simply magical.  I’m now thinking of other things to incorporate into sweet rolls- blueberries?  Cream cheese and sugar?  Maple sugar?  Maybe I’ll make savory ones with sauteed greens, cheese and bacon?  The possibilities are endless!

Hope you get a chance to try these- they are really special!  The recipe is here.

Plum Kuchen

There are some recipes that take the internet by storm, and I think this one is well on its way. I mean, just look at this photo:

(c) 2009 Gourmet -CondeNast Publishing

I don’t know about you, but the minute I spotted this in my August issue of Gourmet, I fell in love. It’s just so dang beautiful, I had to make it mine. So I set out to bake in my un-air conditioned house in August. Love makes you do crazy things, doesn’t it?

My heart went pitter-patter once again when I saw these plums at the Pasadena Farmer’s Market:

Be still my bejeweled heart!

I went about making the yeasted “dough” although the consistency is a cross between a bread dough and a cake batter. After letting it rest/rise I cut up the plums and got ready to bake.

So this is where the love story sours just a bit. I swear I don’t know WHY I sometimes choose to ignore that little voice of instinct when it starts talking to me, but each time I pretend not to hear it, I regret it. I mean, it’s downright stupid really. Trust Your Instincts. I should write that in large red letters and post it on my fridge……..or my forehead. You see, for some reason I went against my better judgment and decided to bake the kuchen in glass bakeware instead of aluminum or a cast iron skillet, even though that little voice kept nagging me that I probably wouldn’t get great caramelization or browning with glass bakeware. It kept saying, “Don’t be a fool, you’re gonna get checked if you bake it in glass,” and I said, “Who gonna check me, boo?” Wait, sorry that was a quote from Sheree of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Anyway, you get the point.

Not to say that the cake was a failure by any means: the plums, sugar and butter had created a wonderful syrup that dribbled down the sides of the cake, which was moist, sweet and delicious. I was just disappointed that most of the top didn’t really brown very well, and we all know why. Oh, well. Based on looks, I’d give it a 5 but it had great personality overall. Next time: cast iron!

Have a great weekend!

Cinnamon Crack

SO what are you doing right now, right this minute? If you’re at home and you have flour, milk, sugar, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, salt and vegetable oil on hand then I highly recommend you stop reading this, trot over to your kitchen and make these amazing cinnamon rolls. Well, wait- maybe you should finish reading the rest of this post and then run over and start the very easy process of creating what I like to call Cinnamon Crack. When I saw the photo on Pioneer Woman’s website I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and when I made the first batch (I’ve since made five!) I couldn’t believe that such little effort resulted in what has now become the most requested item among friends.

You noticed that I didn’t list cinnamon on that list of ingredients, didn’t you? That is because you don’t need it to start this recipe. You see, you spend about 5 minutes heating the milk, oil and sugar (Pioneer Woman scalds hers and then lets it cool to room temp before adding the yeast but I simply heated the milk just enough to dissolve the sugar, then stirred it quickly off the heat so it quickly came down to the right temp) and then add the yeast and flour and then just let it sit there for an hour. Add more flour, the baking soda, powder and salt after that, pop it in the fridge overnight and fuggetaboutit. Easy.

In the morning take the dough out and let it sit out for an hour or two to take the chill off, then take half, roll it out, slather it with enough melted butter to kill a cow, sprinkle a bunch of sugar and cinnamon over it, roll it up, secure the seam, slice, put in baking dish, then bake. Sixteen or some odd minutes later, you have perfect, fluffy, moist and tender cinnamon rolls which you then drizzle with whatever icing you like (I leave the coffee out of mine but I’m sure it’s delicious).

So your total labor time is about an hour and you get a HUGE batch of what are easily the best cinnamon rolls several of my friends and I have ever eaten. I can’t decide what I like better- the maple icing dripping into each buttery seam or the crunchy cinnamon butter lava that forms on the bottom of each roll.

You’re still reading? Get baking!

Austrian Raspberry Shortbread

I have a confession to make- I hate making shortbread, shortcrust pastry, pâte sucrée….anything with a high butter content that requires rolling out. The key is to chill the dough very well so that the butter will stay cold when you roll it out but I almost always end up handling it too much and getting most of it plastered to my board or counter. I’ve also tried the method of pressing the dough with my fingers into the baking dish, but that almost always results in uneven pastry. I mean, I can make pastry but it not my forte.

So imagine my utter delight when I came across this recipe for Austrian Raspberry Shortbread. At first glance it seemed that the recipe included some sort of grated cheese (?!?!) but upon closer inspection I realized that it was grated frozen shortbread dough. I read on and on and realized that this was the answer to all of my butter-based pastry problems. WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA! Make the dough, freeze it and then run it through your food processor with the grater attachment and simply pour the grated dough into a pan. Whoever came up with this method should get a freakin’ James Beard Award.

So here’s the step by step:

Cut frozen dough into small enough chunks to fit through the feed tube of your food processor

Grate the frozen dough in food processor

Take half of the grated dough and sprinkle it evenly in a 9 x 13 baking pan lined with parchment or foil

Drizzle 1 cup of raspberry jam over the grated dough (I know I know it looks like ketchup!)

Sprinkle remaining grated dough over the jam and resist every urge to press down – leave it alone!

Golden brown fresh out of the oven…

Sift powdered sugar over the top immediately after taking out of the oven

After letting it cool completely, chill in the fridge for an hour or so which makes it easy to cut the shortbread into clean bars

Box them up and take them to work so you don’t end up eating all of the shortbread

This recipe has opened up a whole new world for me. Next time I need to make any shortbread crust or base I will use this method. Since you don’t pat down the grated dough, there is a lightness that you don’t find in other shortbread, although the pound of butter is definitely obvious. It’s one of the most addictive things I think I’ve ever made. Be warned!

Recipe is here.

Cinnamon Rolls

While I was perusing my usual batch of food blogs, I noticed that quite a few had made cinnamon or sticky buns. After a bit of reading I discovered that there is a food blogging group called The Daring Bakers, and each month they set a challenge for themselves- i.e. mirror cake, caramel tart or, like this month, cinnamon or sticky buns. After seeing photo upon gorgeous photo of the sweet, swirly buns, I decided to try my hand at them as well. And lucky me- most of the bakers had used a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a book I own and love.

I got to work and quickly decided to make a double batch so I just doubled all of the ingredients in my head. Everything came together quickly, but as I was kneading the dough, I just felt it wasn’t right. I’ve kneaded a decent amount of dough in my time and you can literally feel it coming together in your hands, turning from a tacky, sticky mass into a smooth and shiny ball. Somehow, that wasn’t happening, and the dough was so tough. I checked the recipe again and realized my big mistake- I’d doubled everything but the milk- so there was double the dry ingredients and only one part of the wet. Great. I tossed the dough balls out and started all over again.

The second mass was easy to knead and came together just as I described in the previous paragraph. After about ten minutes, I had two, smooth balls of dough which I nestled in some oiled bowls, covered with plastic wrap and a towel and set outside on the patio since the weather was nice and warm. After about 90 minutes, both were puffed and doubled in size, so I got to work on mixing up the cinnamon sugar and rolling out the dough.

Here’s where I made another sort-of mistake. Normally, I’d punch the dough down before rolling it out, but the recipe didn’t say to do so and I simply rolled out the puffy balls into rectangles. After liberally coating each with the cinnamon mixture, I rolled them up……and a lot of the sugar kept pouring out of the ends. It made quite the mess but I soldered on…….and finally cut the rolls into, well, small rolls, let them rest again for about an hour.

After they had puffed up nicely, I baked them in the oven and the entire house smelled like sweet spice. The rolls swelled even more in the oven and they looked really good. I let them cool for a bit and then drizzled the fondant icing over each one.

The verdict? Well, I was wondering how I could have fit all of the cinnamon sugar onto each dough rectangle- it seemed that there was way too much sugar to dough, which is why a lot of the sugar fell out while I was rolling. I emailed Fanny, whose cinnamon rolls looked absolutely perfect in her post and she pointed out that I should let the air out of the dough before rolling it out, making a bit more room and also giving the dough more elasticity for the sugar to cling to. Next time I will definitely have to do that. I was also thinking that I might try and make a cinnamon paste of some sort so I can spread it onto dough.

I also found the rolls to be a tiny bit on the tough side, even though I kept the rolling to a minimum. I think my choice to use all butter instead of shortening (the recipe calls for either or) may be the culprit. Next time I’ll try using butter flavored Crisco since shortening contributes a certain tenderness to dough that butter just doesn’t.

Overall they tasted and looked good- I guess I just want something that is so time consuming to be perfect!! I’m looking forward to making them again and am glad I made the attempt.

Have a great weekend!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Sorry for the lack of posts lately but I’ve been sick as a dog, coughing up a lung or two and generally not feeling very well. I’m finally back at work but I have a feeling this hacking cough is going to hang out with me for awhile. At least my coworker commented that I sound sexy à la Demi Moore, so I guess there’s a silver lining, ha.

Speaking of coworker, I made these cupcakes for one of them for his birthday. The red velvet cupcakes from Doughboys seem to be the popular birthday dessert of choice in my office, so I figured I’d whip some up on my own. I’ve used this red velvet cake recipe for years now- it’s like my Old Faithful and no doubt I’ve posted about it before. It makes a fantastic cake layered with the perfect frosting and berries, and it also makes cute, moist cupcakes that are perfect for giving away.

I hope you’ll get a chance to make these- just make sure you buy red gel food coloring, available at Sur La Table. The liquid food coloring sold at the grocery store will give you a Pink Velvet cake instead!