Thursday, February 27, 2014

February Daring Bakers' Challenge - Beautiful Breads

Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste?

Now, you know that I love making  bread. Love it. Yeasted, sourdough, quick - I love breads of all varieties.

But another thing you probably can tell about me is that... umm... I am not that good with the decorative side of baking. Cake decorating, food styling... and the requirement for this month's challenge... bread designing.

But the recipes and styles that Sawsan presented were so beautiful and inspirational that I didn't let fear hold me back - I jumped right in!

I made one of the given bread-dough recipes, though the recipe wasn't the main challenge of this... well... challenge, and got to work.

The first step was to divide the dough into four pieces and roll each into a circle.

Well, circle-ish.

Then each dough circle (ish) was spread with butter (coconut oil for us - kept it dairy-free) and some sort of filling. I chose ground chocolate and cinnamon sugar.

The four circles are stacked together and cut into eight triangles, each with a slit in the middle.

The next step is to loop the point of the triangle up through the slit and back into place. Sounds tricky, but really isn't too bad.

I mean, it's a bit messy when the filling spills out of the sides, but, really, it's not too bad.

Then the two wide points of the triangle are pinched togehter.

And finally, if you want (which, obviously, I did...), you can add a twist of dough to the center to really finish the "flower" look.

And then you bake!

Mine came out a touch darker than I'd  hoped, but other than that, turned out prettier than I'd expected. And the best part?

YUM. Seriously delicious. And, as a plus, each individual "petal" piece actually looked better than the flower as a whole, so with each section I ate, I reallly did get a sense that I made something beautiful.

Now, I made that bread early in the beginning of the month. And the bakers on the forum were posting such delicious and beautiful breads, I really wanted to try again. So I did!

I used the same dough recipe, used a brown sugar-cinnamon filling and tried a simpler but still pretty design.  Still started with four circles, but the cuts and twists were different.

Using a small cup as a place-holder, I cut the dough into wedge-shaped sections.

I then simply twisted each section to create a swirl design.

And, again, we bake! I lowered the temperature a touch this time to try to keep the bread from getting as dark and it seems to have worked.

Again, not quite as even and dramatically beautiful as the other breads that were posted, but I still think that it looked  nice and, more importantly, it tasted delicious.

Sawsan, you are a true inspiration, a wonderful baker, and, most importantly, someone I am proud to call friend. Thank you for this challenge, your encouragement and your friendship.

To see the other amazing, impressive and beautiful breads baked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.

And to see the full challenge as prepared by Sawsan (which I highlly, highly recommend!!), check it out  here.

Shaped, Filled Bread
(from February Daring Bakers' Challenge)

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup warm milk (I used coconut milk)
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, softened (I used coconut oil)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, approximately
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon cardamom, optional (I omitted)

In a bowl, whisk the egg with milk, water, sugar, butter and yeast. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the salt (and the optional cardamom).
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and knead until you get a smooth dough.
Note: This recipe requires between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 cups of flour depending on the weather, humidity and the flour brand. Start with 3-1/4 cups and if you feel that the dough is too soft, add the extra 1/4 cup
Place the dough in a bowl you have brushed with some oil (or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray) and cover it with a wet cloth or plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place to double in size (approximately an hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen).

To create the flower shape:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
Divide the dough into 4 parts.
Roll each part into a circle at least 8 inches in diameter.
Brush the first layer with butter (coconut oil) then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon (or filling of your choice).
Place the second layer on the first layer repeat the brushing and sprinkling and then do the same with the third layer.
Top with the fourth layer, this time only brush it with butter.
Using a knife, make cuts that divide the dough circles into 8 triangles.
Make cuts that go 2/3 of the way in the middle of each triangle. The cuts should not reach the base of the triangle nor the tip (see photo above).
Take the tip of each triangle and insert it into the cut you made and pull it from the underside
Arrange the triangles a parchment covered baking sheet.
Pinch the two angles at the base of each triangle together.
Note: If you would like to add the little bread coil that you see in the center of the bread like I did above, simply roll a piece of dough into a rope then form it into a little coil and place it in the center where the heads of the triangles meet
Brush the dough with milk or egg-wash if you would like.
Allow the shaped bread to rest for 15 minutes during which you would heat your oven to very hot 500 degrees with the rack in the middle position.
Place bread in the oven and lower temperature to 460 degrees.
Bake for 5 minutes, then lower the temperature to moderately hot 390 degrees and bake for 15-20 more minutes.
Note - some people felt that this baking method produced too dark a crust on the bread. You can bake your bread at around 375 degrees for around 30 minutes instead if you are more comfortable with that.
Take the bread out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rick and drizzle with sweetened condensed milk or glaze of your choice while it is still warm.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Sourdough Surprises - Monkey Bread

As I'm sure you have figured out by now, I am a huge fan of sweet breads. Cinnamon buns, pull-apart breads... absolute yumminess.

And they're so versitile! You can make them any flavor you want!

So making monkey bread for this month's Sourdough Surprises was super fun. Because the only way to make a sweet bread more fun is to drown it in extra sweetness, right?

The first thing to get started on was the dough. I chose to use this recipe from Sour Salty Bitter Sweet as my inspiration because it looked straightforward and like it didn't require many more steps than yeasted monkey bread.

The dough came together pretty easily...

...but did require a little bit of extra liquid than the recipe called for. I added room-temperature water a tablespoon at a time until the dough came together.

It was a little stiff, still, but I figured a nice long rise would help that out. So I let it sit at room temperature for many, many hours. Like... all day.

Around dinner time, I decided it was time to figure out what flavor I was going to make my monkey bread. Sure, I could go "classic" and just coat the dough balls in cinnamon sugar and pour a regular caramel sauce over the whole thing, but I wanted a little something extra.

I looked around the kitchen and saw... four very ripe bananas!


Vegan roasted banana caramel. Yup. Huge scoop of coconut oil, huge scoop of brown sugar, sliced those bananas, then set 'em in the oven for almost an hour.

And this is what you get.

Pure heaven in a pan.

Which has to cool for a while, making the whole family drool.

After the kids went to bed, I got to work putting everything together.  The dough rose beautifully over the course of the day.

Next comes the long part (if you don't count letting the dough sit on the counter all day... or letting the bananas roast for an hour... okay, the longest hands-on part, okay??) - breaking off little balls of that dough, rolling them, and coating them in cinnamon sugar.

I tossed the cinnamon sugar dough into my Bundt pan and, every few balls, scooped out a few of those pieces of roasted banana from the caramel and tossed them in, too.

When I'd used up all the dough, I just poured the caramel sauce over the whole thing and it was all set!

Well, it still needed another rest. This one, overnight in the fridge.

The next morning was (yet another...) snow day, which actually worked out great. I took the pan out of the oven to let it come up to temperature and then baked this up for a delicious mid-morning snack.

Oooey gooey deliciousness, I tell you.

This dough definitely had a very present sourdough tang, but I thought thar went really well with the sweet banana caramel.  My favorite way to eat this was warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it was also super easy to just reach into the pan and grab a little ball of deliciousness as I was walking by the kitchen.

So what kind of monnkey bread did you make? Link up and share!

Roasted Banana Caramel Sourdough Monkey Bread
(dough only sightly modified from Sour Salty Bitter Sweet)

For the dough:
2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)
1 egg
3-4 cups all-purpose flour (start with 3 and use more if you need. I did not need more.)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted (I used melted coconut oil)
1/4 cup sugar

Combine all the dough ingredients (starting with 3 cups of the flour) and mix until combined. I used my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add more flour as necessary to form a dough that will clean the sides of the bowl and sticks to itself more than it sticks to you. I actually found the dough to be too dry and had to add water, a tablespoon at a time, to reach the right consistency. Be patient and adjust as needed. Continue mixing/kneading in the bowl for a few minutes, just until it’s evenly combined. You can turn it onto a floured surface and knead longer if you like, but it’s not necessary.
Allow the dough to rise for 8-12, or until doubled in size. You can let it rest overnight if you'd like (or in the fridge for a bit longer).

For the roasted banana caramel:
3/4 to 1 cup coconut oil
3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar
4 good sized ripe bananas

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a small baking dish with foil.
Place the coconut oil in the pan, then sprinkle the brown sugar over it. Slice the bananas into 1/2 to 1 inch slices over the coconut oil and brown sugar. Try to spread everything out across the pan so that you don't just have a heap of everything in the middle, but don't stress too much about it - as the coconut oil melts, things will spread out.
Place the pan in the oven and roast for 45 - 60 minutes, until the coconut oil and sugar have carmalized nicely and the bananas are nicely roasted.
Allow to cool.

To assemble the monkey bread:
Prepared dough
Prepared roasted banana caramel
approximately 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar

Once the dough has doubled in size and the banana caramel has cooled, gently deflate the dough and spray a Bundt or tube pan with non-stick cooking spray. Take small portions of the dough (about quarter size, definitely no bigger than golf balls), roll them into balls, then roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar. Drop each coated dough ball into the prepared pan. Don't forget to add pieces of the roasted banana as you go, so that they are interspersed throughout the dough balls. Once you have rolled all the dough and added it to the pan, pour the caramel over the whole thing.
Allow this to rise for at least two hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you rested your dough in the refrigerator, be sure to allow the pan to get close to room temperature before baking.
Bake the monkey bread for about 45 minutes until golden brown.
Allow the monkey bread to cook for at least a few minutes before inverting the pan. If you invert it too soon, it won't have a chance to set and it won't stick together or hold its shape. Which isn't really a problem, as it will still taste delicious...


Friday, February 14, 2014

February Daring Cooks' Challenge - Spanakopita

The February Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita - a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.

I have never made spanakopita before, but have been wanting to for a really, really long time. So I was super excited when this challenge came!

But then reality hit and I wondered how I could make this... daddy isn't eating carbs, so won't eat the phyllo dough portion, little man is allergic to eggs and dairy, making the spinach and feta filling, with egg as a binder, a no-go, and little miss... well... she can be hit or miss with spinach. So as excited as I was about this challenge, I had to be realistic and realize that I was really the only one who would eat it.

So, as close to the spirit of the challenge as I could stay, I made my own mini spanakoptia pockets.

I started with the filling, sauteeing onions, garlic and fresh spinach.

Once the sauteed vegetables cooled, I mixed them with an egg to hold everything together.

The mixture wound up being really wet, so I stirred in about a tablespoon of ground flax, which helped.

And then it was time to assemble.  I took a few sheets of phyllo dough and cut them each into thirds. Each third-of-a-sheet section was then brushed with melted butter and folded in half to make a double layer.  I then put a small scoop of filling on the end of each doubled-over strip of phyllo and sprinkled on a touch of shredded cheddar (which I prefer over feta... inauthentic, but hey...).

I then brushed the rest of the phyllo strip with more butter, then folded up the bottom corner and folded the whole strip up, the way you would a flag, to make little triangle pockets.

Which were then brushed with even more melted butter, before being baked.

But it worked! They were golden and puffy and looked super fun and cute!

And even better than that?

They were super tasty! I ate three as a side dish that night, and they re-heated beautifully the next night (then the following day as lunch!).  I kept offering tastes to little miss, but she refused. Her loss!

And daddy didn't have to fully miss out - I made nine of these little pockets, then took the rest of the filling, added one more egg, and poured it into a few wells of a muffin tin (and then topped them with shredded cheese) to make spanakopita-style baked fritatas that were both carb-free (or darn close...) and super tasty! He ate all three with his dinner and let me know he'd be happy to have me make them again.

Audax, thank you so much for hosting this delicious challenge. I hope to one day make the recipe you provided (you should seriously check it out here!), but had a lot of fun adapting it to these little single-serve triangles.

If you want to see some of the other spanakopitas that were cooked up (beautifully, I might add!) this month, check them out here.

Spanakopita Pockets
(my own interpretation, loosely based on this Food Network recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz. fresh spinach leaves (I used a bag of baby spinach)
Salt and pepper to taste
grated cheese (I used cheddar, crumbled feta is what is traditional for spanakopita)
phyllo dough sheets (I used three sheets, cut into thirds, but there was enough filling to make more than this...)
melted butter (didn't measure, but you need plenty - probably a good 3-4 tablespoons, or more for more pockets than I made)

Heat the olive oil in a sautee pan, then add the onions. Sautee onions until translucent, then add the garlic. Sautee for a minute or two (you don't want to burn the garlic),then add the spinach to the pan. Allow the spinach to wilt down. Salt and pepper to taste. Allow filling to cool.
When the filling is cool, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, cover a baking sheet with parchment, melt your butter and prepare your phyllo sheets - I cut each sheet into thrids (by width).
Brush each third-of-a-sheet piece of phyllo with melted butter and fold it in half. Place a scoop of the filling on the edge of the stip of dough and sprinkle on a bit of your shredded cheese. Brush the still-exposed portion of the strip of phyllo dough with more melted butter. Now fold one corner up over the dough to create a point, then fold up and across repeatedly to create a triangle of phyllo-encased filling. Transfer the triangle to the parchment-covered baking sheet and brush the top with more butter.
Continue until you have made as many triangles as you want (or until you have used all of your filling).
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden and crispy.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Baked Mini Chocolate Cinnamon Donuts

Sorry for the radio-silence. Again. This winter has been absolutely crazy, with heavy storms, lots of snow, power outages and lots of other fun.  Then,  just for fun, blogger identified this blog as spam, pulling it off-line for a couple of days. So if you tried to visit my blog over the weekend and have trouble, I apologize for that, and I thank you for bearing with me as I sorted that situation out!

But no multi-day power outage can keep me from cooking! Okay, it did... for two days... but as soon as we were back up and running, I was baking up a storm!

And it's a good thing, too, because I was really looking forward to making this little treat.

My Secret Recipe Club assignment for this month was Jenny's Cookbook, a fun blog full of delicious foods and great inspiration.  I thought I would have trouble choosing what to make because everything looked so delicious, but I was actually able to choose rather quickly. Because, as luck would have it, I had a new pan I was hoping for the opportunity to try out.  Daddy gave me an absolutely adorable mini-donut pan for Christmas this year. So when I saw Jennifer's recipe for Baked Mini Chocolate Cinnamon Donuts, it was like it was meant to be.

And these were so fun both to make and to eat.

For starters, they're bursting with flavor. In addition to the chocolate and cinnamon in the title, there's also vanilla extract, which is used to dissolve instant coffee.

With, of course, that cocoa and cinnamon...

...which mix together to form a pretty thick cake batter.

(I made mine dairy free, using coconut oil instead of butter and coconut milk instead of milk, which I think made the batter a tiny bit thicker than normal, but not enough to matter.)

The best way to get this batter into the teeny, tiny sections of the donut pan is to pipe it in.

It's important not to overfill the sections - the donuts have the best shape if you fill each section between 1/2 and 2/3 the way up the center section.

The best part about the mini-donut-baking process, though, is how quickly it goes! The donuts are so little that they bake in six minutes!

I made a simple glaze for my donuts with confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder and coconut  milk. You can drizzle the glaze on them or...


A few sprinkles...

...and you're ready for a teeny, tiny party!

Seriously, these were so cute, and super easy to just pop right in your mouth.  On top of that, they were also super delicious! Fun? Easy? Yummy? Can't beat that!

Baked Mini Chocolate Cinnamon Donuts
(from Jenny's Cookbook)

1/2 cup 2% milk (I used coconut milk)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (I used white vinegar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I used coconut oil)
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350F and spray mini-donut pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Measure out your milk and add the lemon juice. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. If you have buttermilk, you can use it instead.
Dissolve coffee in vanilla and set it aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
In another bowl (I used my stand mixer), beat together the butter and sugar for about a minute until it's well combined. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla just until combined.
With mixer on low speed, add in flour mixtuer and mix until just combined.
Transfer the batter into a piping bag (or a zip-top bag with the tip cut off). Pipe the batter into each section of the pan about half way full. Be careful not to overfill each section or you will lose the donut shape as the batter rises and bakes.
Bake for about 6 minutes or until the doughnuts spring back at you when touched. Let them sit in the pan for a minute then transfer them to a wire rack to cool. You can use the tip of a knife to help you release them from the pan if you need to.

For the glaze:
The original recipe didn't give measurements, so I eyballed everything, but the basic recipe is to use confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder in approximately a 4:1 ratio (1/4 the amount of cocoa powder as confectioners' sugar), mix them together, and then slowly add milk (I used coconut milk) until you have the consistency you want. It does not take a lot of milk, so make sure to add slowly and mix thoroughly.
Then just dip the top of each donut into the glaze mixture, or you can brush it on top.
You can add sprinkles or any other decoration you want while the glaze is still wet.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Baked Oatmeal Muffins

I am always looking for different, new, quick, sometimes-even-healthy breakfast ideas.  So when a facebook friend recently posted a link to something called breakfast cupcakes, I was intrigued. Looking at the recipes, it's actually more of a baked oatmeal, baked to be single-serving-sized in cupcake tins, but hey - nothing wrong with that!

The recipe makes over two dozen muffins, so I decided to make a half batch. It comes together super easily.

The dry ingredients, for the most part, are oatmeal and spices. I added a couple tablespoons of chia seeds and a quarter cup of wheat germ to the mix to add an extra boost to the muffins.

The wet ingredients are mostly comprised of mashed bananas, but also include water, maple syrup (or agave nectar or honey, if you choose) and vanilla. If you remember to add it. Which I didn't. Oops.

Then simply mix until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and scoop it into a muffin tin!

I packed the muffin cups as full as I could. I didn't think it would all fit into my 12 muffin cups, but it did! Since there's not leavening agent in there, you don't have to worry about overfilling them and having them puff out into a big, giant mess, so just pack it in there as tightly as you can!

Then bake! And I took the recipes suggestion of switching the oven to broil for two minutes after they are done to give the tops a nice, golden touch.

And then it was time for breakfast!

I'll be honest - I'm the only one who liked these. Little miss said no after one bite, little man took his time and then decided against them after about three bits. And daddy's still on his carb-free diet, so he'll have to try them some other time. But I liked them - both the taste and the easy portability of these. And, even better, you can pop these into the freezer and then just microwave them as needed.

These also make a great snack after exercising.  Maybe it's psycho-somatic, but these tasted even better after four miles on the treadmill.

I definitely think I'll be keeping these around in the freezer as breakfasts, recovery-snacks and on-the-go treats in a pinch. And I think I'm going to try adding chocolate chips or fruit next time, too.  Yum!

Baked Oatmeal Muffins
(adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 - 1 1/2 cups over-ripe mashed banana (I used three medium sized bananas)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

optional add-ins: shredded coconut, chopped walnuts, ground flax, raisins or other dried fruit, chocolate chips, diced fruit... or anything else you think will go!

Preheat oven to 380, and line 12 cupcake tins. 
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir together. 
In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and then mix in the remaining wet ingredients. 
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring to incorporate, then pour into the cupcake liners. Don't be afraid to fill the muffin tins completely.
Bake muffins for 20 - 22 minutes. When the muffins are baked, switch the oven broil and cook for a further 1-2 minutes to give the tops a nice, golden hint (if you'd like).
These oatmeal cakes can be eaten right away, or they can be frozen and reheated for an instant breakfast on a busy day.
(Note: If you let them cool completely, they're a lot easier to peel out of the cupcake liners.) 
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