Honey Wheat Bread

At my house, Monday are bread baking days.  More specifically, I make the bread on Monday, but per my husband I can’t start baking it until Monday evening when he gets home because he hates missing out on the fantastic smell that baking bread fills the house with.  This honey wheat bread is pure heaven from the smell of the baking to cutting the first piece.  It’s not overly sweet, and it isn’t outstanding for sandwiches (it’s a bit dense – it’s great with an open-face sandwich), it’s absolutely the perfect bread for toast.  During the week, I’m not into huge breakfasts and I like something fast and easy on my stomach since I go to Stroller Strides in the morning to workout, so 2 pieces of this bread with a little butter or peanut butter works really well.

The recipe yields 2 loaves and in my family we never have trouble polishing off both loaves by Sunday, but if you don’t eat as much, you could easily freeze one loaf after it’s cool.  The only downside would be that you don’t get bread baking smell as often.  The original recipe comes from a West Texas Girl Scout cookbook (odd since we don’t, to my knowledge, know any West Texas Girl Scouts).

Honey Wheat Bread

2 envelopes dry yeast (or 1.5T if you buy it in a jar).

1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup honey

1 T salt

1/4 cup melted butter

1 3/4 cup warm water

3 cups whole wheat flour

3-4 cups all purpose flour

1 T butter

1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water in a mixing bowl (I use my stand mixer).  Add the honey, salt, butter, and 1 3/4 cup of water.  Stir together until well combined.

2. Add the whole wheat flour and mix until incorporated – I use the bread hook on my mixer.  Add the flour, one cup at a time, making sure it’s completely incorporated before adding more.  Stop when the dough is still a little sticky, but pulls away from the side of the bowl.  Continue either kneading or letting your bread hook do the kneading until the dough forms a ball.

3. Transfer the dough to a large bowl with a little oil in the bottom and swirl the dough to make sure all sides are coated.  Place the bowl in a warm area of your kitchen (I turn my oven on warm and then turn it off when I put the dough in so it’s not HOT, but still warm).  Allow the dough to raise until it has doubled in size – an hour or so.

4. Punch the dough down and split into two loaves.  Place the dough into two greased loaf pans and allow the dough to raise in the loaf pans for another hour or two until doubled again.

5. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes.  Rub the last T of butter over the top of the hot loaves.

 

Peppernuts

When I was 14, my mom, grandma, and I took a 3-day road trip to Iowa to attend Schmeckfest – a festival celebrating the cuisine of Germans-from-Russia, our ancestors.  I’m not sure how many teenagers would be willing to drive 16 hours each way with her mom and grandma to essentially eat a lot of food, but my love of food goes back to infancy, so naturally, I was thrilled.  Among the classic dishes served (strudel, kuchen, lots of sauerkraut), one distinct memory I have from the trip was eating peppernut cookies.

A cookie with pepper in it seems weird, I know (and weirder yet, these contain no nuts!), and the fact that you roll them out into little worms?  Weird, too.  But the thing is, you end up with these tiny, spicy, crunchy little cookies that you could seriously eat by the handful.  There are tons of peppernut recipes out there, but this is my favorite because there’s a lot of great spice happening.

I’ll also note that these are great cookies to make with kids because the worm-rolling is totally fun and uniformity isn’t really important.  My toddler also loves that they are the perfect size of cookie for a doll or stuffed animal.  Excellent at a tea party.

Peppernut Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. anise oil

3 cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mace

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Stir the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and spices).  Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs and anise and beat for another minute.

2. Slowly add the dry ingredients.  If the dough gets too dry, add in a little water (you shouldn’t need more than 1/4 cup).

3. When the dough is workable, roll it into a long rope (a ‘nake, as my daughter calls it).  Cut the snake into small, 1/2-inch pieces, transfer to a baking sheet, and bake for about 8 minutes, until they just begin to get crispy.  Allow them to cool on the pan.  I let the cookies dry out overnight before transferring to a jar or airtight container.

Roasted Strawberry Coffee Cake

If Robin could eat one food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner it would be strawberries.  She requests them every time she is hungry and prefers them cut in half with the “leafs” cut off.  She can easily eat a half pound in one sitting, so we do try to limit her intake, but I pretty much buy a box or two every time we go to the grocery store.  Lately our strawberries have been fantastic at the store, and on sale!  To that end, I can make this coffee cake with things I have on hand.  It comes together really quickly and has the perfect coffee cake texture and isn’t too sweet.  You could really use any amount of strawberries you have – I used a 1lb carton with a few strawberries eaten out, but anywhere from half to a whole pound would work.

I baked mine in a cast iron skillet and I’d recommend you do the same, just for rustic appeal and because you don’t have to worry about greasing it.

Roasted Strawberry Coffee Cake

1/2 to 1 lb fresh strawberries

1T olive oil

2T maple syrup

1/4tsp salt

2.5 cups flour

1T baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

1/2tsp salt

2 eggs

1.5 cups buttermilk

4T melted butter (plus an extra T for the skillet)

1/2 tsp almond extract

1. De-leaf and quarter the strawberries. Whisk the syrup, olive oil, and salt together in a small bowl and toss the strawberries in the mixture until they are coated.  Spread the strawberries out on a baking sheet with parchment paper (unless you want to scrub strawberry goo off of your favorite cookie sheet) and bake for 40 minutes at 350.  Stick your cast iron skillet underneath the pan to heat up while the strawberries roast.

2. Stir the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl.  Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and almond extract together in a small bowl.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until smooth.

3. When the strawberries are done, turn the oven up to 400.  Melt the remaining T of butter in the bottom of the skillet and swirl it up the sides.  Then pour the batter in the skillet.  Spread the strawberries on top and return the skillet to the oven for 25 minutes or so.  Allow the cake to cool in the skillet.

Source: adapted from Joy the Baker 

Cheese Blintzes for Sochi!

The Sochi Olympics have started and I really couldn’t be more excited.  For me, everything pretty much stops for the Olympics fortnight and I focus all of my time and energy on watching the games.  I cry at every medal ceremony, I fill our DVR with coverage, I refrain from the news to avoid spoilers, I wikipedia the official rules for curling – it’s really an obsession.  Ten years ago, for the opening ceremonies of the Athens games, my extended family had the brilliant plan of having a party to celebrate the opening ceremonies wherein we ate the host country’s cuisine (or at least our interpretation of it).  From that, a tradition was born and last night we celebrated our sixth opening ceremonies party.

Admittedly, when Russia was announced as the host country a few years ago, we were a little concerned about the meal because really, Greece, Italy, and China all have seriously good cuisine, but all we could think of for Russia was borscht, potatoes, and vodka.  However, tradition is tradition, so we planned a Russian meal and were pleasantly surprised that the meal was one of the best yet.  I’ll be sharing several Russian dishes over the next two weeks, but I feel like you need a really awesome Russian dessert to start things off.

The blintz has 3 parts – the crepes, the filling, and the topping.  You start by making the blintz, then you fill them, roll them up like burritos, and fry them.  For a topping I just cut up some strawberries and added a little sugar and vanilla and drizzled chocolate syrup, but I you could use any sweet fruit (berries, pears, apples).  Give them a try – you’ll feel so authentic watching ski jumping while eating blintzes.

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Cheese Blintzes

For the shell:

6 eggs

1.5 cups flour

1T sugar

1/4tsp salt

2 cups milk

butter to grease the pan

For the filling:

1 cup ricotta cheese

8oz. cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp vanilla

juice of 1 lemon

for topping:

chocolate sauce

fruit

1. To make the blintz, whisk the eggs, flour, sugar, and salt until smooth with no lumps.  Stir in the milk to make a thin batter.  Heat a small frying pan (8″) over medium heat.  spread a bit of butter into the pan (I just use the stick and run it around the pan once in a circle.  Pour about 1/4 cup of batter in the pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom.  Allow the blintz to cook until the one side is done, then carefully flip to finish the other side.  It should be solid, but not brown.  It may take you a few trials to adjust your pan to the right heat and get the hang of frying and that’s OK – the batter will make a few more blintzes than you’ll need.  Set the finished blintzes on a plate to cool.

2. Stir the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and sugar.  The filling can be a little lumpy.  Stir in the sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon to complete the filling.  To assemble, spoon a few tablespoons of batter onto one side of the blintz in a line.  Fold in the ends and roll like a burrito.

3. Once all blintzes have been assembled, butter a frying pan and brown the blintzes on both sides over medium heat until golden brown.  Serve warm topped with fruit, chocolate sauce, or both.

 

 

Crunchy Apple Pie

This week I had a special request for a recipe.  A neighbor from 20 years ago, one of my very favorite babysitting clients, contacted me for a recipe for apple pie to make for her boyfriend’s birthday this week.  I love a challenge, so of course, I had to make an apple pie this week.  The thing is, for being a mainstay in piedom, I haven’t made all that many apple pies in my day.  See, apple pie is my grandma’s pie.  Her signature – the one she always makes for holidays and always is amazing and so delicious that there would be no use in me making one.  In our family, we have a strong respect for one’s signature pie – my sister-in-law makes an amazing pecan bourbon pie, my grandma does apple pie, and my signature is cherry.  So basically, I have no business replicating my grandma’s apple pie, which is a classic 2-types of apples, cinnamon, sugar, and double-crusted.  Instead, I sought out a recipe that was very different, but still fit the bill of an awesome apple pie.  This pie truly delivers.  It tastes amazing, is pretty easy to put together, and the topping gives it a nice texture.

I made this with an all-butter crust, which is different from my usual crust.  It turned out really well.  I’m planning on doing a step-by-step tutorial on making your own pie crust in the future.  Obviously, a homemade crust is fabulous with this pie, but certainly not required.  Also note that the pie starts out looking ridiculously tall, but as it cooks, and especially cools, it will flatten down significantly.

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Crunchy Apple Pie

1 prepared pie crust (unbaked)

6 granny smith apples

1 lime (for juice)

1/2 cup sugar

4 T and 1/2 cup of flour, divided

salt

12 T cold butter (1.5 sticks)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oatmeal

1 cup pecans

1.  Preheat your oven to 375.  Peel and core the apples.  I use a vegetable peeler first, then one of those apple slicers that cores and cuts the apple into 8 slices.   This is the most time consuming part of the recipe.  Slice the apples into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices (I just cut each of the 8 pieces in half).  Squeeze the lime over the apples and toss with the sugar and 4T of flour.  Set aside.

2. Cut the butter into the 1/2 cup of flour.  I slice the butter into 1cm sized cubes first, then mash it up with a pastry cutter.  Stir in the brown sugar and the oatmeal.  This mixture will be crumbly and dry, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

3. Arrange the apple slices into the pie crust.  Spoon the brown sugar/oatmeal/butter topping over the top.  You may have to use your hands to press the topping into the apples to make sure it stays put.  This may cause your pie to look really tall and precarious, but I promise it will flatten down.

4. Carefully transfer your crust to the oven.  Bake for 25 minutes and then check on the pie.  If the crust is beginning to brown, add some foil around the edge.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees (especially if you have an oven that has a hot spot).  Bake the pie for another 25 minutes.  During the second baking session, chop the pecans.  After the pie has baked for 50 total minutes, scatter the pecans over the top of the pie (I used an oven mitt to sort of pat them in).  Bake for 5 more minutes (55 total minutes of baking).  Allow the pie to cool for several hours and serve, ideally, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Dill Cheddar Scones

I really feel like if you serve soup for dinner, you need some sort of homemade bread or muffin to go along with it.  I have pretty much eaten my weight in goat cheese biscuits this winter, so when I made potato soup tonight, I decided to revisit these savory scones to go along with them.  Having made the recipe before, I knew that it yielded way more scones than I needed so I figured I’d half the recipe.  Unfortunately, I’m quite poor at math, so I split the whole recipe in half up until the end, when I added a whole cup of cream instead of a half cup, so, obviously, I ended up making the whole recipe of them.  The one I posted here makes about 12 medium-sized scones, a good amount to serve with dinner.  Like all scones, what keeps the flakiness intact is streaks of unincorporated butter.  Be mindful about that as you mix, especially if you use a stand mixer.

Scones

Dill Cheddar Scones

2 cups flour, plus a few tablespoons for assembling

1 T baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons)

2 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 oz. cheddar cheese

handful of fresh dill

1. Preheat your oven to 400.  Using either a large bowl or mixer, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cut the butter into small, centimeter-sized pieces and toss them in.  Mix briefly until the pieces of butter have broken up a bit.  Add the eggs and cream and mix until just incorporated.

2. Grate the cheese and chop up the dill, fold both into the dough.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and mold into a big rectangle, roughly an inch tall.  Using a bench scraper or  chef’s knife, cut triangles off and transfer to a baking sheet (I do 3-4″ hypotenuse triangles).

3. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until the tops begin to brown.

Adapted from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa

Eggnog pie

Full disclosure: I’m a serious pie snob.  As in, I don’t count it as “making a pie” if you don’t make your own crust.  As in, I have extended conversations about pie crust with my grandma.  As in, I plan my Thanksgiving pies a month in advance.  As in, I have serious opinions as to which pies can be served in which seasons.  As in, we served pie instead of cake at our wedding.  I take my pies very seriously, so my resolution to try a new pie every month was not flippant and it should be known that I already have a pretty vast repertoire of really good pies that I can make.

In my quest to add new pies to the repertoire, I invested in some resources, the first being the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.  It’s a really stellar collection of authentic pie recipes, organized by season, with creative flavor combinations.  The authors of the cookbook, and owners of an adorable pie shop of the same name, take pie snobbery to a whole new level.  I decided my first pie should obviously come from their “Winter” chapter.  Eggnog immediately caught my eye.

See, I’m not really an eggnog fan, but my husband is a huge eggnog fan.  It seems that there are really two camps as far as eggnog consumption and it boils down to whether or not you find the idea of melted ice cream appealing or not.  Personally, I say, I’d prefer it frozen.  My husband would say “drinkable ice cream? Awesome!”.  This pie is not nearly so divisive – it’s enough like eggnog to please eggnog lovers, but not enough so that it would turn eggnog haters off.  To me, it has a really nice cheesecake quality without the work (and extreme richness) of actual cheesecake.

Although this pie took me 3 days to make, it’s not really very difficult and you can knock it out in 2 hours (including baking time), which is great for a pie.  It took me 3 days because on Monday I decided to make the pie and added the ingredients to my grocery list, including gingersnaps for the gingersnap crust.  On Tuesday, I went to the store and they had no gingersnaps, so I decided to make my own.  Tuesday night, I made gingersnaps (and they were awesome, I’ll blog about them soon!), but realized I was a cup short of flour so I stuck the dough in the freezer until Wednesday, when I went back and got flour.  Wednesday I baked the gingersnaps, and Friday I finally baked the actual pie.  Then I went to Trader Joe’s where they sell gingersnap cookies.  Alas, storebought would work fine (I mean, the homemade cookies were REALLY good, but I’m not sure how much better).

So I say all of this to say – try this pie.  It’s really good.

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Eggnog Pie

For the crust:

1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs

2T sugar

4T butter, melted (I used salted, if you have unsalted, add a little salt)

For the filling:

3/4 cup cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla paste (which is delicious, but if you don’t have it, vanilla extract would be fine)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

3 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3T rum

1/4 of a lemon

1. Take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften.  Preheat the oven to 375.  To make the crust, use a food processor, crush the gingersnap cookies into a fine crumb (to get a cup, I used 13 2.5″ homemade cookies).  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, and melted butter.  Press the mixture into a pie dish, using the bottom of a glass or measuring cup to distribute.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 after you remove it.

2. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar, spices, and vanilla together until smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides between to make sure you don’t get a big glob of cream cheese at the bottom.  Add the heavy cream and rum, continuing to beat until incorporated.  Squeeze the wedge of lemon in and give it a few more seconds of mixing.

3. Pour the filling into the prepared, cooling crust.  I had slightly too much filling, so you may have a little excess.  Bake the pie at 325 for 25 minutes, then rotate it to make sure it bakes evenly.  Bake another 20 minutes, until the edges are set (45 minutes).  The middle will still not be set, but it will after you remove it from the oven.

4. Let the pie cool for a few hours before serving.  I found it really set up well after an hour in the refrigerator.  You could sift a little cinnamon over the top, but warning that it may come out in a big blob, which you’ll try to scrape off and leave a big hole and cinnamon smear in the side of the pie, which is why the picture is cropped way close.

Source: Barely adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Melissa and Emily Elsen