Kesar Peda

October 21, 2014

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I don’t know when my love for milk started.  It was definitely not when I was a child.  Not that I hated it, milk was just not my first choice of beverage.  The “healthy” label that it was given kinda turned me off.  Which, of course, led me to will myself to have lactose intolerance.  Oh, those days.  Those sad milk-less days.

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And then, all of a sudden, I discovered the wonders of dairy.  It is delicious.  So creamy, so satisfying and so, so good.  That is also when I discovered all of these Indian sweets that I had taken for granted and completely dismissed because they were milk based.  I don’t understand my younger self at all.  What was I doing with my life?!

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Kesar peda were sweets that were always in the house growing up.  They were so much a part of the norm that I never really appreciated them…much like milk.  In fact, when I was researching about sweets to make for Diwali this year, I was really surprised at the number of times that this dish came up.  Was this really a dessert that people consider special?  Is this really made for holidays?

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Yes, is the answer for both of those questions.  Because it’s amazing.  It’s whole milk cooked down until it’s thick and glorious, with some sugar, some spices, and basically you have every good thing in one little bite.  It’s basically an Indian spiced milk fudge.  Amazing.  Never again will I shun milk – look at what I almost missed out on!  Happy Diwali!

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Want more Diwali ideas?  Here are some that have been posted before!

Kesar Peda (inspiration from here)

Sigh, no.  I don’t expect you to stand by the stove as your 1/2 gallon of milk boils down to nothing more than a cup.  So here’s a link to a shortcut recipe.  I haven’t tried it (mostly because I was so tired from making it the original way), but I can’t imagine that it’s not delicious.  Especially because when I was researching recipes for this dessert, the shortcut came up far more often than the long way.  Go figure.

1/2 gallon whole milk

1 tsp. ghee or butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1 tsp. saffron + 1 additional tbsp.

2 tbsp. cream

chopped pistachios or whole almonds for garnish

Heat a non-stick pan over low heat and add ghee or butter.  Brush it so it covers all of the pan, bottom and up the sides.  Pour in all of the milk.  The next process is a lengthy one.  Over the period of about 3.5 hours, the milk will reduce over low heat until it becomes a thick paste.  You will need to stir it about once every 20 minutes to ensure that it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  At the 2 hour mark, you will be convinced that the all of the milk will evaporate into thin air, and you will be sad.  But keep at it.

Milk solids will start forming at the 3 hour mark, at which point you will want to stir more often.  When it’s very thick, but still has a little bit of liquid left to it, basically at the 3.5 hour mark, add the sugar and carefully stir it in.  You will curse yourself for doing this, because sugar adds liquid, and you wll think that all of that time you spent to get rid of the liquid was all for naught.  At this point, add the cardamom too.  Stir it all together.

It will take about another half hour for the mixture to be really thick.  Take the saffron, and heat it over a gas burner.  This activates it.  Add it to 2 tbsp. cream.  Mix that into the milk/sugar mixture.

Take the mixture off the heat and let it cool until it’s able to be handled.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Take some of the additional tbsp. of ghee and spread it on your hands to ensure that the mixture won’t stick to you.  Knead the picture until it is smooth.  Taking golf ball size pieces, roll each piece into a smooth ball, flattening it out slightly, and pressing down with your thumb, before placing it on the baking sheet.  Repeat until all the mixture has been used, adding more ghee to your hands, as necessary.

Place the nuts in the indentation and slightly press down to ensure that they have stuck.  I think that peda taste better chilled, but they can also be enjoyed at room temperature!


Warm Apple Crisp

October 13, 2014

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Friends, I haven’t been apple picking this year.  You know, how much I love to go and pick the apples, go overboard, complain about it, and then make delicious things from these apples and look forward to doing it all the next year.  You know this!  And yet, this year, there are no over-ambitious 12 lbs. of apples in sight.  Nope.  There are only grocery store apples that I keep around to remind me that it’s fall.  Because I haven’t been apple picking this year.

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And here’s a little secret I haven’t told you yet: I don’t even like apples!  Raw, that is.  I don’t like raw apples.  They make no sense to me.  You never know when one is ripe!  Will it be sweet, will it be sour, will it be grainy?  These are all questions that run through your mind as you anxiously pick one up and hope for the best.

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I’m helping you avoid all of these things with this apple crisp.  It’s apples at their best – cooked!  And oh, man, the topping.  The crispy, sweet, topping that I love most in any crisps.  Unlike every other crisp that uses a separate thickener to make sure the fruit juices don’t run free, this recipe uses the actual topping mixed in with the fruit.  Which means, that underneath the oaty, brown sugary, nutty crackly topping, are the same flavors mixed with the slight tang of the apples.  They all meld into this almost honey and jam-like bottom that is only complete with a cool ice cream, melting on top.

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Now, seriously – are you still going to eat that apple raw?!

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Warm Apple Crisp (recipe slightly adapted from Joy the Baker)

Filling:
5 to 6 medium-size apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices. (About 7.5 cups)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1.5 tsp cinnamon

For Topping:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, well-softened
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
1/3 cup old fashioned oats

Preheat the oven to 350. Generously grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter.

In the baking pan, toss the apple mixture with lemon juice, and then with the cinnamon until evenly coated. The apples should be just about to the top of the pan.

For the topping, place the flour, brown sugar, nuts, cinnamon and oats in a large bowl and stir well.  Mash in the butter into the flour mixture until evenly distributed.

Take one full handful of the topping and toss it into the apple mixture, and mix well.  Spread the rest of the topping evenly over the apples.

Bake the crisp until the topping is crunchy and the apples are bubbling, 55-60 minutes.

Serve hot – serve with with vanilla ice cream.


Cannoli Cake

October 1, 2014

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I know, I know.  What is a cannoli cake??  I actually wanted to name this post “pistachio cake with whipped ricotta and chocolate chip filling, topped with chocolate ganache.”  But that seemed to be a mouthful.  But now you know what a cannoli cake is!  Man, this is a really great start to this post.

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This was yet another installment of my sister’s birthday cake.  I have to say, the cake is becoming harder and harder every year.  Mostly because she has the exact same criteria every year.  Must have some form of chocolate, but not be completely chocolate, must be really, really tasty, must be unique, must not be a repeat of the year before, must not be a repeat of any years before, must be a cake.

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I mean, this doesn’t give me much to work with.  And after going back through the years, and realizing that I’ve already made cakes with a chocolate coconut combo, a chocolate orange combo, a chocolate chip cake, and a multi layered standard yellow cake with chocolate frosting, I felt a little tapped out this year.  I felt old, people.  This is the fifth installment of sister’s grand birthday cake extravaganza, and I needed to rest.

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Per usual, I rested by looking up recipes, and felt that a pistachio cake would throw her for a loop.  It’s not standard (unique!), it has chocolate chips (some, but not all chocolate!), I had never made it before (no repeats!), and, oh man, with the pistachio paste and the pistachio oil, it looked so, so delicious (tasty!).  We ended up with an amazing cake, with so many cannoli flavors happening.  It was a pistachio party!  And, fine, I’ll say it: I can’t wait until next year to do this all again.

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Cannoli Cake

Pistachio Cake (recipe from Tartine and Apron Strings)

  • 2/3 cup (190 grams) pistachio paste
  • 2 tbsp (35 grams) honey
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1¾ cups (280 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1¼ cups(110 grams) blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 cup (75 grams) pistachio oil
  • 1/4 cup (55 grams) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (160 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • nonstick cooking spray
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Combine the pistachio paste and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-low for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture turns into a sticky green paste. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a spatula.
  3. On low speed, add the egg whites one at a time, being careful not to add the next egg white until the previous one is completely incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl after every 2 to 3 egg whites.
  4. Add the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour and, on low speed, paddle them in for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Stop the mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl.
  5. Stream in the pistachio oil, followed by the heavy cream while paddling on low speed. Mix for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides again.
  6. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and paddle on low for 2 to 3 minutes, until the batter is smooth and thick.
  7. Spray an 8 or 9 inch round or springform pan with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper cut out to fit the bottom of the pan.
  8. Pour and spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan.  Tap cake pan on counter to knock out any air bubbles.  Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, checking for doneness starting at 35 minutes.
  9. To check for doneness, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back (like a sponge cake), and it should be golden brown on the sides and pulling away from the sides of the pan slightly.
  10. Take the cake out of the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes.  Invert cake to a wire rack and remove the parchment paper at the bottom. Turn right side up on the rack and continue cooling.
  11. Let cake cool completely.  With a sharp, serrated knife, split the cake into 3 even layers.  Assemble cake.

Whipped Ricotta Filling

  • 1 cup fresh ricotta (you can make it yourself, or buy fresh)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips (will use to fill cake when ready to assemble)
  1. In the bowl of a mixer, whip together sugar, vanilla and ricotta until very smooth – about 2 minutes.
  2. Remove ricotta from bowl, place into a separate bowl, and add cream to the mixing bowl (no need to clean it out first).  Whip cream until soft peaks form.
  3. Add the ricotta mixture back to the bowl and whip together until stiff peaks form.
  4. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Chocolate Ganache and Topping

  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup raw shelled pistachios, ground (reserve to top cake after filling and frosting)
  1. Make after the cake has been assembled, and ready to top with chocolate ganache.
  2. In a small pot, scald cream until just about ready to boil.
  3. Pour over chocolate chips and let it sit for 1 minute.  Whisk together until smooth.
  4. Pour right over the top of the cake, letting the ganache drip down the sides of the cake.
  5. While the chocolate is still warm, scatter pistachios right around the edges of the cake.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Put the bottom layer of the cooled cake on a serving tray.
  2. Spread half of the ricotta filling evenly on top of the cake, not spreading all the way to edges of the cake.
  3. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips.
  4. Carefully place middle layer on top of the filling.
  5. Spread second half of the ricotta filling on top of the middle layer of the cake.  Sprinkle with with second half of mini chocolate chips.
  6. Top with the last layer of cake.  Pour chocolate ganache over top of the cake and sprinkle with pistachios.
  7. This cake is best when it has had a chance to meld together in the refrigerator.  Let chocolate ganache cool, wrap with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

 

 


Late Summer Peach Galette

September 16, 2014

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I got a CSA box the other day.  My first one!  I mean, there was no way I could pass it up – it was pretty affordable, I only had to get it one time, and there was cheese in the box!  Cheese!  It was basically the best first CSA box one could ever get.

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Of course I had no idea what I was getting.  So when it arrived, I was so happy to find beets!  And mushrooms!  And zucchini!  And cabbage!  And agretti?  Wasn’t so sure about that one.  Well, that and the cabbage.  But the reason why I’m writing this post is because the box also had a container of glorious donut peaches.  2 containers, actually.  It had two whole containers of donut peaches!

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Alas, when you have so many peaches and mushrooms and agretti, it’s really quite difficult to get to everything in time.  And then you must bake with the fruit.  Which you’re totally fine with because you have been eating salads for the past week.  Cabbage salads, nonetheless.  (With a side of cheese!)  This is the perfect time to use the last of the stone fruit that we see at farmers market!  It could use a bit of sugar to amp it up, and everything is more lovely in a flaky pie crust, isn’t it?

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Peach Galette (adapted from New York Times)

For the filling:

  • 3 cups sliced donut peaches
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Juice and grated zest of 1/2 lemon(optional)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Stir together peaches, sugar, salt and lemon zest until well-incorporated.  Mix in the cornstarch until it has coated all of the fruit.

For the crust:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • tablespoons milk
  • 6 tbsp. butter, slightly softened
  • zest of 1/2 lemon

Whisk together both flours, salt, sugar, and lemon zest.  Work in the butter until the dough is crumb-like.  Mix in milk  and stir gently until dough forms.  Pat into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 350.  Take out and roll into a 12 inch diameter circle.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Arrange the peach filling on the crust, directly on to the dough, leaving a 2 inch border.  Fold over the 2 inch border of dough over filling, pleating as you fold to ensure the filling won’t escape. 

Topping

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tbsp. milk
  • 2 tbsp. raw sugar

Beat together egg and milk to make an egg wash.  Brush over crust of the galette.  Sprinkle the crust with raw sugar.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool for about 20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

 


Ginger Ice Cream

September 4, 2014

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How did this happen?  How are we in September already?  Did the summer really just pass us by?  Didn’t I just tell someone that fall is still months away?  Is that Halloween decorations I see in the store?

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Yes.  Yes, to all.  We are no longer gearing up for fall, we are in it.  Boots are showing up in the shops, pumpkin flavored things are already all the rage, and I’m sure that all that amazing summer produce will soon be a memory.  And even though fall may be my most favorite season at all, because, quite frankly, it’s the best ever, I still want to hold on the to summer for just a bit longer.

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So, this is what I call my transition recipe.  It’s ice cream!  Hello, summer!  Cool, satisfying, perfect sitting outside on a rooftop when the warm sun is bearing down.  But it’s ginger!  Hello, fall!  Warm, crisp flavors that really embody the best of the coolness (literally) that is fall.

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Enjoy some in your air-conditioned apartment, while you are online shopping for sweaters.  Eat some after a long walk outside in the last of the warm nights before picking up your dry cleaned winter coats.  Do you see what I’m doing here?  Yes, that is this ice cream.

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Ginger Ice Cream (recipe adapted from Food52)

  • 3 1/2ounces unpeeled ginger root
  • cups whole milk
  • 4 tsp. cornstarch, mixed in a slurry with about 3 tbsp. cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream (plus 3 tbsp. to mix with corn starch)
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • tablespoons honey or golden syrup 
  1. Cut ginger root into long strips and place in small saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the ginger and bring to a boil. Bring to a rapid boil for exactly 2 minutes and remove from heat. Drain the water, and reserve the ginger root.
  2. Mix corn starch with just the 3tbsp. of heavy cream to make a smooth slurry in a small, separate bowl. Add the salt and mix. Set aside.
  3. Place ginger in a pot, and add milk, cream, sugar, and honey (or golden syrup). Bring to a rolling boil at medium high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in corn starch slurry.
  4. Return mixture to a boil and cook, stirring until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour the mixture into a container, and store in fridge for a minimum of 12 hours, or overnight.  The longer it sits, the stronger the ginger flavor will be.
  6. When ready to churn, take out base, and pour through a fine sieve to remove larger ginger pieces, and any other smaller flecks.
  7. Churn ice cream until thick and creamy, according to your ice cream maker’s directions.  Freeze ice cream in the coldest part of your freezer for at least 4 hours before serving.

Blueberry Dumplings

August 25, 2014

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I cannot begin to tell you how long I have been wanting to make these!  I do not even remember the first time I read about them or saw them on TV, and I was convinced about these.  For nearly every summer after that, I would think, nothing sounds more delicious – I must make these immediately.  But apparently, I do not not how to sell these as well, and whenever I asked anyone if they wanted to eat these with me, or tell them that I would be making these, I would get a resounding, “what?”.

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Dumplings?  I don’t get it.  Are they steamed?  Well, yes, I would say.  Technically they are steamed, but not like the kind of you get at a Chinese restaurant.

Are they filled with blueberries?  No, more like surrounded by a sweet, thick blueberry soup!

So they’re not like empanadas, because I really like the thought of a blueberry empanada.  No, no…

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And so it continued.  And along with that, I continued to delay making this.  But this year, I had had enough.  I saw the most glorious looking blueberries at the farmers market.  They were fresh, a deep indigo color, plump and ripe.  They were just dying to to be swirled into a jammy, sweet, tangy sauce that highlighted all of their summer flavor!  Drop in a mix between a biscuit and pancake like dough that are fluffy and soft and cakey and delicious, and you have yourself a brilliant summer dessert.

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So market it as that the next time you want to make something.  Come over for a summer dessert, you say, and they will come.  And then you will have zero leftovers for the next day.  Eh, you win some, you lose some.

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Blueberry Dumplings

For the dumplings:

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 to 1 cup whole milk
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/8 tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
Mix together everything until a smooth dough has been formed.  It should be thicker than a pancake batter, but softer than a scone dough.  If it seems too loose, add more flour, and too dry, add more milk.
For the blueberries:
1.5 quarts, 3 pints, or 6 cup blueberries
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cornstarch for slurry
Boil everything together in a shallow, wide pan.  Make slurry by mixing together cornstarch with 1 tbsp. of water.  Mix in slurry into blueberry mixture, and bring it back up to a boil.  Let everything boil for about 1 minute.  Using a 1 tbsp. measurement, scoop in dumplings into sauce, leaving enough room between each one and immediately turn the heat to the lowest setting and cover pan.  You may not be able to fit all of the dumpling dough the first time around.  Let steam for 30 minutes, flipping all of them over at the 15 minute mark.  Spoon out dumpling with a bit of sauce and serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Peach Pancakes

July 31, 2014

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Just felt like a pancake kind of morning!

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Don’t you think?

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Peach Pancakes (adapted from Serious Eats)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tbsp. butter, melted, plus extra for buttering pan
2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 peaches, diced in 1/4 inch cubes
agave or honey, for serving

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt, baking powder and sugar.  In the same bowl, add beaten eggs, milk, and butter.  Stir carefully to fully incorporate.  Fold in peaches.

Heat pan to medium high heat.  Melt about 1-2 tbsp. butter in pan.  Make pancakes by spooning 1/4 cup measured batter into the pan.  Cook for 2-3 minutes or until bubbles form around the edge of the pancakes.  Flip and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until it’s browned.  Serve with a drizzle of agave or honey.


Orange Raspberry Buns

July 22, 2014

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In the past three weeks, this is what I learned: the heart wants what it wants when it comes to breakfast.  I was planning a summer brunch, and of course cinnamon buns came to mind.  I mean, why wouldn’t they?  So classic.  So traditional.  So delicious every time.  But something about that kept making me think that it was way too fall-like in this warm weather.  I needed to summerize them!

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And so I did.  Raspberries!  Orange zest!  No fall spices to speak of.  No cinnamon or nutmeg or cardamom.  And, of course, after I made these, it was exactly these things that I missed, and I was so bummed.  Sad that I missed out on what I actually wanted.

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I’m so aware of my whining that, it’s unbelievable.  I mean look at these!  They were incredible right out of the oven.  And the fruit made them so bright and fresh tasting.  Schmeared with a little orange scented cream cheese frosting and these were over-the-top!

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So, make these!  Make season appropriate buns for breakfast! Or go with the classic and satisfy your conventional breakfast needs.  I would understand either way.

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Orange Raspberry Buns (recipe slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

My one tip for this dough is to use instant yeast.  Instant.  Not the non-instant.  Use instant.  I guess my one tip for this dough is to follow instructions.  Alas, I did not…and I was not met with an instantaneous rise with my dough.

Dough:
4 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted, plus additional to grease pan
3/4 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 orange, divided
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon oil for bowl

Filling:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup frozen cranberries, crushed into little pieces in the food processor (or with a ziplock bag and a rolling pin)
Orange zest leftover from above

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
Zest and juice of one orange

For the dough: In the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, buttermilk and 3/4 of the orange zest together (saving the rest for the filling).  Mix the yeast with an additional 1 tsp. of sugar and about 1/4 cup warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups of the flour along with the salt and stir.  Add the yeast mixture once it’s bubbly and stir until it is evenly mixed.  Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and let the dough hook knead the mixture on low speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Scrape the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, which will take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours.  If you don’t use instant yeast, like I did, it will take a much, much longer time to rise.  I lost count how many hours it took.  So use the instant.  You will be a much happier person.

To make the buns: Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish, a heavier ceramic or glass dish is ideal here, or two dishes of equal measurement.  Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is 18 inches wide (the side nearest to you) and 12 or so inches long.  This is a rough measurement.  No big deal if it’s a bit thicker or thinner.  Also, don’t worry if it’s not a perfect rectangle.  Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle it with the brown sugar. Scatter the ground frozen raspberries over it, then the remaining orange zest.

Roll the dough into a tight, 18-inch long spiral. Using a sharp serrated knife, very, very gently saw the log into 1 1/2-inch sections; you should get 12. Arrange the buns evenly spread out in your baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 16 hours.

The next morning, bake the buns: Take your buns out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’d like to bake them, to allow them to warm up slightly. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden, approximately 30 minutes.

Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes. Make the icing by whisking together all of the ingredients. Spread a little on each bun.  Serve immediately.


Mini Strawberry Cream Pies

July 3, 2014

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My first memory of a strawberry is not of picking them at a farm when I was younger.  It is not even of a finding the super fresh, super tiny, super tasty ones at a farmers market.  Nope.  My first memory of a strawberry is of one in a pie.  Don’t judge!  I don’t know why I never thought that fruit was real when I was young.  But this time, I don’t think I would have it any other way.  Because that pie is still the best pie I have ever had, which makes my warped view of berries worth it.

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Do you remember way back when department stores had those elaborate food departments?  They had candy everywhere, and hand-crafted chocolates, and gourmet artisanal foods.  It was magical, this place, that was, by far (and not surprisingly), my favorite section of any department store.  We had to walk through there to get to all of the other boring departments.  But I would stall and stop, and my mom would let me, because this food department would entice everyone.

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The only time we really got to linger, though, was when we were picking up a strawberry cream pie.  It was a graham cracker pie crust, filled with fresh, sliced strawberries enrobed in this gooey, thick strawberry flavored jam, all topped with mountains of sweetened whipped cream.  This pie usually meant company, but my parents would get it once a summer, just because, because they were just so smart!

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Those food departments don’t exist anymore, which is so, so sad.  In fact, that department store doesn’t even exist anymore.  Ever since, still, once a year, we would attempt to recreate the pie.  It was quite easy to put together, but that magnificent effect of picking it up in that magical place was obviously gone.  With these mini pies, I finally decided that we no longer need to try to recreate, but just think of it as something new.  But man, these pies sure do taste familiar!

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Mini Strawberry Cream Pies

When we first started making this pie at home, we found a strawberry flavored pie filling that was very, well, gelatinous.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was delicious.  And tasted pretty much exactly like the pie we bought, but we liked to think that the actual pie was a bit more natural.  In these pies, instead of thickening with a jam or filling, I instead used leftover graham cracker crumbs from the crust.

For Filling:

1 quart strawberries, rinsed and quartered

2-3 tbsp. sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries)

juice from 1/2 lemon

Mix together strawberries, sugar and lemon juice until well-incorporated.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

For Crust:

9 full graham crackers

4 tsp. sugar

6 tbsp. butter, melted

pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a food processor, or in a ziplock bag with rolling pin, crush graham crackers until they are fine crumbs.  Mix in sugar, salt, and butter.  Spray two mini-muffin tins with non-stick spray.  Place one tablespoon of crust mixture into each muffin cup.  Set aside the remaining crumbs.  Using the back of the tablespoon measure, press the crumbs to form a crust.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until the crusts are golden brown.  Let cool completely.

Take filling out of refrigerator and drain, reserving the liquid.  Mix in the reserved graham crack crumbs into the filling.  Fill each crust with a spoonful of filling.  Top with whipped cream topping.

For Whipped Cream Topping:

1 cup heavy cream

reserved juices from strawberry filling

2 tbsp. sugar

Whip together cream, sugar and reserved juices.  Spoon whipped topping on top of each pie.  Eat immediately.


Smokey Cheddar Crackers

June 26, 2014

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I made these crackers a little while ago now.  I didn’t like them.  Not exactly because of the recipe, but because I didn’t follow instructions.  The recipe called for Parmesan.  I had a really old block that was so, so hard, it wouldn’t grate.  But waste, I would not do!  So I cubed it instead, and threw them in my cracker dough.  Hard, chewy pieces of Parmesan cheese, nestled inside a flaky cracker, is not the most welcome surprise.  They were not good, people.  And it was my fault.

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It was that memory that was preventing me from posting.  But this was an easy fix!  Use fresh cheese!  In fact, this should be your mantra whenever you’re cooking with cheese, so this advice is fully applicable to all cheese-worthy recipes.  You’re welcome.

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I made these again, with a newly-bought fresh block of parm, and they were great.  Perhaps a great addition to your summer picnic spread, eh?  Perhaps a great addition to your afternoon snack?  Perhaps you should make these!

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Smoky Cheddar Crackers (adapted from Serious Eats)

The truth is that I didn’t like these partly because of the recipe.  I thought that there was way too much smoked paprika, making these crackers almost bitter.  I reduced it, by a lot, and like them better, by a lot.  Also, because of the amount of cheese involved, there is very little, if any, salt needed.  The original recipe suggested sprinkling the crackers with smoked sea salt before baking.  This was over-the-top salty for me.  I tried it without and it much more fit my steeze.  Feel free to do it if you like that salty bite.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 oz. Parmesan, grated

3 oz. sharp Cheddar, grated

1 cup all purpose flour

1.5 tsp. smoked paprika

ground black pepper, to taste

Work in both cheeses into the butter, until fully incorporated.  Add flour, smoked paprika and black butter and stir together with a wooden spoon until the dough is completely uniform.

Chill for one hour.  Preheat oven to 350.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Take dough out of refrigerator.  Scoop out tablespoon size balls and flatten into a disc, about 1/8 inch in thickness.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Continue until all the dough has been used.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the crackers have crisped and are starting to turn brown around the edges.  Let cool completely on the baking sheet.


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