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chocolate croissants

May 9, 2012

So, this happened.

I’d been meaning to try making croissants for a while, but was always a little intimidated by the process and figured it could only be done properly with a full-on chef’s hat and French accent.

But recently, I realized that I’d basically already made croissants in the form of that ill-advised finals-period Danish. And then I realized I could stuff said croissants with chocolate instead of vaguely-healthy apples. And it was so on.

So, yes, the process does take a while, and I was lucky enough to have the croissant-obsession hit full force in the middle of spring break, when I had a full day to set aside for the glorious butter square. However, it is possible to pre-make the croissants the day before, let them rise a bit when you roll out of bed the next morning, and have a delicious, unhealthy breakfast ready by the time your stomach tells you it must feed.

And oh, was it delicious. As soon as I opened the oven to see my lovely golden croissants swimming in pools of excess butter, I knew they would be pretty legitimate. (You’d think such a swim would leave them soggy, but I moved them to a wire rack right away and they didn’t seem to suffer too badly.) They melted gloriously in your mouth, and though they didn’t quite have the million layers of authentic croissants, I didn’t exactly mourn the loss as I shoved melty chocolate and buttery dough into my mouth. Can’t lose with these ones. Nope.

Chocolate Croissants
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk, cold
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
24 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 24 pieces
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used plain old Tollhouse chips), chopped fine
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. For the dough, whisk 2 3/4 cups of flour together with yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Place milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook; add the flour mixture and knead on low speed until a ball of dough forms, about 5 minutes. Add butter pieces to dough and continue to knead until butter is fully incorporated and dough becomes smooth, begins to form a ball, and clears the sides of the bowl, 5 to 6 more minutes. The dough should be sticky, but if more dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl than to itself, add the remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. For the butter square, using a bench scraper, toss together butter pieces and flour on a clean work surface. Smear butter and flour back and forth against the work surface until they have combined into a smooth, homogenous mixture. Wrap the butter mixture in plastic wrap and use the edges of the wrap to form an even 7-inch square. Refrigerate until ready to use, or at least 30 minutes.
3. Lightly dust the work surface with flour. Roll the dough into an 11-inch square. Place the chilled butter square diagonally onto the dough and fold the corners of the dough up over the butter square so that they meet in the middle. Pinch edges of dough together to seal them.
4. Using a rolling pin, gently tap dough, starting from the center of the dough and moving outwards, until the square becomes larger and the butter begins to soften. At this point, start gently rolling the dough into a 14-inch square, checking often to make sure the dough is not sticking and  dusting with additional flour as necessary. Fold the square into thirds to form a long rectangle. Starting from the narrow ends, fold the rectangle into thirds again to form a square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
5. Repeat step 4 and chill again for at least 2 hours.
6. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the chilled dough on a floured work surface and gently roll the dough into a 20-inch square. Using a pizza cutter, cut dough into four equal 10-inch squares. Cut each square into thirds to make a total of 12 rectangles. Place 1/2 oz. (about 1 tablespoon) of chocolate in the middle of each rectangle. Fold each rectangle into thirds and place it seam-side down on the baking sheet; cover loosely with plastic wrap. At this point, you can refrigerate the assembled croissants overnight; let them rise at room temperature for an additional 45 minutes or so (i.e. for a total of 90 to 105 minutes) in the next step to make sure they’re back at room temp.
7. Let the croissants rise at room  temperature until puffy (they will not double in size), 45 to 60 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 400 degrees. Using a pastry brush, brush croissants with the beaten egg. Bake until croissants are golden brown, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Cool croissants on a wire rack until warm (you may have to go on a rescue mission right away to retrieve them from the errant butter and prevent sogginess), about 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated

cinnamon swirl bread

May 6, 2012

Oh, hey there! It seems we stumbled into yet another episode of Erica-sucks-at-posting-in-the-second-half-of-the-semester. My bad. But guess what, guys! Only two more of those episodes to go! (Well, three if you count studying for the bar, but I like to pretend that doesn’t exist.) And as a reward for your patience, I have a fantasmic cinnamon bread recipe that’s so good that, despite the fact that I made it about two months ago, I still remember its deliciousness vividly.

Of course, trust Cook’s Illustrated to turn something traditional and comfort food-y into something even more wonderful with a few strange tactics. Because of the way this bread is assembled, you get tons of tasty, sweet-spicy cinnamon swirl in every bite (now I’m starting to sound like a Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercial…hm). My favorite parts of each slice were the edges, where the cinnamon swirl had melted and caramelized into the most wonderful crust on earth. And the bread itself was soft and chewy and lightly sweet. And now I want to make some again on this gray Sunday afternoon.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt

1. For the dough, cut butter into 32 pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon flour; set aside to soften while mixing the dough. Whisk the remaining flour, milk powder, sugar, and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fitting the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, add water and egg and mix on medium-low speed until a cohesive mass forms, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl if necessary. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place loaf or cake pan in bottom of oven. Remove plastic from mixer bowl, add salt, and mix on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 7 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, set a pan with 4 or so cups of water on the stove to boil. With mixer running, add butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to knead until butter is fully incorporated and dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer dough to large greased bowl and, using bowl scraper or rubber spatula, fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold 6 more times, for a total of 8 folds. Cover tightly with plastic and transfer to middle rack of oven. Pour 3 cups of your (hopefully) now-boiling water into loaf pan in oven, close oven door, and allow dough to rise for 45 minutes.
3. Remove dough from oven and gently press down on center of dough to deflate. Repeat folding step, making total of 8 folds, re-cover, and return to oven until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
4. Whisk filling ingredients (minus the egg) together until well-combined; set aside.
5. Grease two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and divide into 2 pieces. Working with one piece of dough, pat into rough 6-by-11-inch rectangle. With short side facing you, fold long sides in like business letter in thirds to form 3-by-11-inch rectangle. Roll dough away from you into a ball. Dust ball with flour and flatten with rolling pin into 7-by-18-inch rectangle with even 1/4-inch thickness. Using spray bottle, spray dough lightly with water. Sprinkle half of filling mixture evenly over dough, leaving 1/4-inch border on sides and 3/4-inch border on top and bottom; spray filling lightly with water. Filling should be speckled with water over entire surface. With short side facing you, roll dough away from you into firm cylinder. Turn dough loaf seam side up and pinch closed; pinch ends closed. Dust loaf lightly on all sides with flour and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat with second ball of dough and remaining filling.
6. Working with one loaf at a time, use bench scraper to cut loaf in half lengthwise; turn halves so cut sides are facing up. Gently stretch each half into 14-inch length. Line up pieces of dough and pinch 2 ends of strips together. Take piece on left and lay over piece on right. Repeat, keeping cut side up, until pieces of dough are tightly twisted. Pinch ends together. Transfer loaf, cut side up, to prepared loaf pan. Repeat with second loaf. Cover loaves loosely with plastic, return to oven, and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Remove loaves and water pan from oven; heat oven to 350 degrees. Allow loaves to rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes longer (top of loaves should rise about 1 inch over lip of pan).
7. Brush loaves with egg mixture. Bake until crust is well-browned, about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, tent loaves with aluminum foil, and continue to bake until internal temperature registers 200 degrees, 15 to 25 minutes longer.
8. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan, return to rack, and let cool to room temperature before slicing, about 2 hours.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated

soft pretzel bites with cheese sauce

March 7, 2012

So, obviously, once I discovered the true magic of homemade pretzels, I knew I couldn’t stay away. And indeed, I did not. I’ve actually made pretzels twice since then, but one thing at a time.

Equally-obviously, as soon as these entered my radar, I needed them immediately. I mean, it’s basically mac and cheese, but with pretzels instead of pasta. Could that be any more perfect? I knew I had to have them for the Superbowl. (Yes, I’m that far behind in my recipe backlog. And no, the menfolk in my family are not yet done mourning the Pats. Let’s not talk about it.)

Anyway, these were just as perfect as they could possibly be. And actually, to add to their glory, it’s pretty hard for these not to be delicious, unless you use bad yeast or something. Even if you boil them a little too long, they’ll still have that awesome, tangy-delicate-metallic outer shell unique to pretzels, and they’ll still be fluffy and wonderful on the inside. And the mac and cheese sauce will still be cheesy. And now that I know you can pop the baked pretzels in the freezer and reheat in the oven at 425 degrees for 5 or 10 minutes, they will be a constant in my life. They will!

Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
22 oz. (about 4 cups) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
pretzel or kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1. For the pretzels, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the water, yeast, sugar, and salt on low speed for 10 seconds. Switch to the dough hook and add the flour and 4 tablespoons butter; mix on low speed until well-combined. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to a well-oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 50 to 55 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
3. Bring 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in a wide, 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope and slice each rope into 1-inch pieces. Cover loosely with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out, and roll and cut the other pieces.
5. Using a slotted spoon, lower a few pretzel pieces into the boiling water and boil them for 30 seconds, flipping them around in the water with a spoon a few times. Remove the pretzels from the water with the slotted spoon, shake the spoon to drain, and place them on the baking sheets. Brush the top of each pretzel with the 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with the pretzel or kosher salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, about 10-12 minutes. Brush with remaining melted butter before serving.
6. While the pretzels bake, for the cheese sauce, in a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.
7. Slowly whisk in the milk  until smooth. Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 3-5 minutes. The mixture should be ready when you can dip a spoon in it, drag your finger across the back of the spoon (after you’ve taken it out of the molten milk, obviously), and leave a trail where your finger was. Once you’ve gotten to that point, remove the pan from the stove and stir in the shredded cheese until all of the cheese has melted. Add a pinch of salt, if needed. If, after you and your cohabitants have vultured down over the pretzels the second they came out of the oven, you’re brining whatever’s left to a party, once you’re there, you can reheat the room temperature pretzels for about 5 minutes in a 425 degree oven and pop the cheese sauce in the microwave to warm up. Trust me, congealed cheese sauce–while delicious–is not exactly appealing.

Source: Smells Like Home

danish puff pastry

February 28, 2012

I knew I had to make this recipe as soon as I saw it in Cook’s Country. I mean, helloooo, giant color photo of what looks like a big croissant, doesn’t require any laminating, and uses an intriguing cooking method. How could I possibly resist you?

Answer: I couldn’t. So during my next lazy afternoon (and by “lazy,” I mean “running back and forth between the oven and my reading notes”), I conquered the pastry. And it was fun. You basically just make a big batch of pie dough (or two little ones, if you’re like me and only have a mini food processor), split it in half, roll one half into rectangles, and melt the other half with eggs n’ stuff. That other half then turns into a custardy, cake batter-like batter–at this point, I was thinking, “Well, there’s no way this could turn into anything but a big fail,” as I glopped the goop onto the pie crust rectangles.

But. But! I was wrong. Because during all that oven time (and there was a lot of oven time), the air in that goop raised it up into a big, pillowy bar of wonder. And as a result, I had a crunchy-bottomed cross between a croissant and a donut, riddled with air pockets and tasting slightly of almond, on my hands.

But not for long. We may or may not have demolished it.

Danish Puff Pastry
2 cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled (I took the sticks straight out of the freezer)
1 1/2 cups cold water
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons milk or water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. For the pastry, adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat and set aside. Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about 3 pulses; then add butter and pulse until mixture is a coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Add 1/2 cup water and pulse until mixture forms dough, about 10 pulses. Alternatively, if your food processor is too small to fit all the dough at once, use 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 scant teaspoon salt, 1 stick butter, and 1/4 cup water the first time around, proceed through step 2 with the whole batch, then go back and repeat this step with the remaining ingredients before moving on to step 3.
2. Transfer half of dough (if you’re making it all at once) to lightly floured counter, knead a few times until dough comes together, and roll into two 12-inch ropes. Transfer ropes to prepared baking sheet and press ropes with your fingertips into 12-by-3-inch rectangles. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
3. Meanwhile, lightly beat eggs and almond extract in 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Bring remaining 1 cup water to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Add remaining dough to boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until ball forms, about 2 minutes. Then, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is shiny all the way through and pulls away from the sides of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. If your stove has a heat demon in it like ours does, this might only take a minute or two.
4.  Transfer hot dough to large bowl and slowly drizzle in egg mixture, beating with a large spoon until incorporated. Divide warm dough mixture between chilled dough rectangles and spread evenly. Don’t worry if the batter runs over the sides of the dough a little bit; it’ll all look lovely in the end.
5. Set baking sheet with pastry inside second rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 65 minutes. (Yes, really. Keep an eye on it for the last ten minutes or so, though; the original recipe calls for 75 minutes at 350, but I really thought it was going to burn if I left it in for much longer.) Turn oven off and, using a sharp paring knife, make four 1/2-inch horizontal slits in each long side of both pastries, kind of like a perforated line. Prop open oven door with wooden spoon or, if your oven door stays open by itself, leave it open a few inches. Leave pastries in turned-off oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on baking sheet, about 1 hour.
6. For the glaze, in a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa and sugar. Then, slowly stir in the vanilla and milk until you reach a pourable consistency. Drizzle glaze over each pastry and top with toasted almonds. And watch out for that glaze as you wolf down the pastry; somehow, after a day or so, it got super-liquidy (maybe it’s the extra dark cocoa I used?), which was not really a problem except that I kept forgetting about it and casually carrying dripping pieces over clean carpet. Oops.

Source: pastry from Cook’s Country; glaze from Joy the Baker

chocolate raspberry almond rugelach

February 23, 2012

By all accounts, I should not be writing a blog post right now. I should be preparing for the fancypants environmental law conference I’ll be presenting at in t-minus 9 days. Either that or watching Modern Family. But luckily for you, a) Modern Family isn’t on for another 20 minutes, b) I have Powerpoint slides coming out of my ears, and c) I’m suffering from serious blogger guilt for the big, fat, fail that has been the last two weeks on this blog.

To redeem myself, I’m sharing these with you: a cookie that somehow manages to combine the three greatest filling flavors ever. This, coming from someone who generally won’t touch fruit-filled cookies with a ten-foot pole. This rugelach was pretty legit. Admittedly, I haven’t had a batch of rugelach in the context of a Jewish holiday for quite some time, so I’m not exactly qualified to attest to its actual legitimacy, but bear with me here, okay? That was way too many big words in one paragraph. I’m sorry. This tends to happen when I’m on a brain fart.

Anyway, the cookies. They were amazingly tender, and the filling flavors melded just perfectly with the slightly-tart dough to make two-bite-sized parcels of yum. The end.

Chocolate Raspberry Almond Rugelach
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam, divided
3/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted almonds, divided
heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Combine the cream cheese, butter, and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer and pulse or mix to blend. Try to incorporate the cream cheese evenly, but don’t worry too much if there are lumps; this is the kind of thing that will bake up into flaky, tender loveliness, so it’ll all melt together in the end somewhat. Add the almond and vanilla extracts and lemon zest and pulse or mix until incorporated. Add the flour and pulse or mix until the dough comes together in a soft ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, until well-chilled and firm.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Working with half of the dough at a time, transfer to a lightly floured work surface and flatten into a disc. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into a thin round, about 12 to 13 inches in diameter. Spread half of the raspberry jam in an even layer over the disc of dough.
3. Using a pastry cutter or pizza cutter (come on, admit it, you’re dying for an excuse to use your pizza cutter on cookie dough), slice the dough in half and in half again and again until you have 16 equal triangles. Sprinkle half of the chopped chocolate over the jam and sprinkle the chopped nuts on top of that.
4. Working with one triangle at a time, roll up each piece of dough into a spiral form, starting from the wide end so that the tip is on the outside. If you want to be extra-fancy, you can cut a little slit in the middle of the wide end so that you can flare the edges of the crescent out to exaggerate the shape of the cookie. But that’s really not necessary; at this point in the baking process, I was too coated with melted chocolate and flour to bother with the extra step, so I went without.
5. Place the shaped cookies on the prepared sheets, seam side down. Repeat this process with the remaining disc of dough and the remaining fillings.
6. Once all the cookies are assembled on the baking sheets, lightly brush the cookies with a bit of heavy cream. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and whisk together to blend. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture lightly over the cookies and bake until golden, about 22-24 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Source: Annie’s Eats


February 5, 2012

Oh helloooo, tiny little candied miracles. These are seriously the coolest things ever. They come together super-quickly; all you have to do is stir together sweetened condensed milk, cocoa, and butter over the stove until you have something roughly resembling that gloppy monster from Candy Land (am I the only one who remembers him? I think he may have given me nightmares), pour it into a pan to cool, and roll it into balls, sticking some (seasonally-appropriate) sprinkles on them if you so choose. Helpful hint: this goes even faster if you don’t screw it up the first time around and accidentally cook the mixture over medium-high heat instead of medium-low heat, ending up with little blocks of hardened sugar instead of gloppy, the creature from the candy-deep. Speaking from experience.

Anyway, in the end, you’ll have these miraculous candies that are the exact texture of soft caramels, only a billion times better because they taste like chocolate. Also, they allow me to take nerdy photo montages of my cat, like this:

Can I help you?

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder [I used Hershey’s Special Dark]
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Combine sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low–NOT medium-high–heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick and rubber spatula holds its line across bottom of pan, about 25 minutes. Pour into greased 8-by-8-inch baking dish and refrigerate until cooled, at least 30 minutes.
2. Working with approximately 1 tablespoon pieces at a time, roll into 1-inch balls. Place small sprinkles in small bowls and roll chocolate in coatings until covered. Store in refrigerator up to 3 days.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen Feed

pumpkin cream pie

January 29, 2012

When I was a young’un, one of my first forays into making my own food was this no-bake pumpkin pie recipe from Taste of Home. I made it every Thanksgiving, dumping a can of pumpkin and a bunch of spices into some instant vanilla pudding, pouring it into a storebought graham cracker crust, and popping it in the fridge for a few hours. My brother always begged to eat the leftover filling straight out of the bowl–and I have to say, it was pretty delicious. I mean, it was pumpkin pudding in a basically-cookie crust. Where could you go wrong?

Of course, I could count on Martha to complicate up that classic a bit–and you could count on me to try the overcomplicated version immediately. And it was pretty darned good, if I do say so myself, even without the homemade whipped cream mounded classily on top. (I wouldn’t dare enter the kitchen on Thanksgiving day to do up any finishing touches–it’s my mom’s realm at that point.) It’s a grown-up version of that glorious childhood fave, a little less sweet and a little bit spicier. And that crunchy, simple crust is absolutely ah-maaaaazing.

Pumpkin Cream Pie
1 1/4 cups ground gingersnaps (from about 25 cookies)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

1. For the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine gingersnaps, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Stir in melted butter and press mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes, then bake until crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
2. For the filling, bring milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk egg yolks with cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl.
3. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup milk mixture into yolk mixture. Gradually whisk in remaining milk mixture and return entire mixture to saucepan. [I usually just dump the yolk mixture straight into the pan with the rest of the yolk mixture once I’ve added the 1/2 cup milk.] Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until bubbling in center and thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in pumpkin and butter.
4. If you really want to overachieve, at this point, you can strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the crust. However, at this point, I was already running late for my car inspection and was not about to spend half an hour watching the thick custard drip through the strainer. I think it turned out perfectly fine, so feel free to go without straining; just pour the custard straight into the crust and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

Source: Martha Stewart

herbed fan rolls

January 20, 2012

I’m a sucker for anything that looks pretty while requiring minimal hand-eye coordination. So when the time came for me to put together my pie-and-rolls recipes for Thanksgiving (…almost two months ago. yipes.) from my excessive Recipes folder, these naturally caught my eye.

Considering how fancy they look, these are actually pretty easy to put together. The dough is nice and workable–the butter and egg worked into it keeps it from sticking to itself and/or your hands too much. Honestly, the hardest part is probably finding a way to spread the softened butter onto the also-soft dough without ripping and tearing your nice rectangle into oblivion. Not sure there are any tricks to that, except maybe setting the butter out to soften as early as you can in the whole process.

At any rate, the end results are well worth all the effort involved in remembering to take your butter out of the fridge. (And oh, that takes effort. Please tell me I’m not the only one for which that’s true.) After a couple of hours, you’re rewarded with these soft, flaky, buttery, herby rolls to eat with your Thanksgiving–errr, make that Valentine’s Day–feast. Success!

Herbed Fan Rolls
1 package active dry yeast or instant yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
3/4 cup warm 2% milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, softened [really, really softened]
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
next time, I might think about adding a pinch of red pepper flakes to kick things up a bit…totally your call on whether you want these gentle and herby or punchy and flavorful

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. If you’re using instant yeast, you can skip this step and just dump the water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and yeast in with the other ingredients. At any rate, eventually, you should add the milk, melted butter, egg, salt, 3 cups of flour, and remaining sugar. Beat until smooth (stand mixer optional). Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
2. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and turn once to grease the top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
3. Punch down dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions and roll each portion into a 14-by-6-inch rectangle. Combine softened butter, basil, and oregano and spread evenly over each rectangle of dough.
4. Score each rectangle width-wise at 2-inch intervals. Using the marks as a guide, fold dough accordion-style back and forth along score lines. Cut folded dough into six 1-inch pieces and place pieces cut side down in greased muffin cups. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean towel and allow the rolls to rise for 30 minutes.
5. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-22 minutes, or until golden brown. Immediately remove the rolls from the pan and place on a wire rack. Serve warm.

Source: Erin Cooks

apple crumb pie

January 15, 2012

So, how are we feeling about pie?

I know, it’s not really the season anymore, right? And I guess some people somewhere like to eat healthy in January. Or, you know, at any given point in the year. But in case you couldn’t tell, I’m not one of those people. So I’m sharing this delicious recipe with you two weeks after New Years resolutions are supposed to be made. My bad.

But I mean, it is delicious, and that’s what really counts, right? Despite the fact that my crust came out of the fridge like this:

and only became serviceable after a lot of impolite language and crust-crushing/smooshing on my part. It’s a pretty basic apple pie formula, with some fun bonus crumbs on top. Plus, it’s supposed to look rustic, so you don’t have to worry about any fussy crimping or shrinking or cut-outs. And I added a little bit of nutmeg because I’m borderline obsessed with it, which I think added just the right amount of unexpected kick to the otherwise-normal apple filling. And! I managed to survive mandolin-ing without losing any fingertips for maybe the second time in my life! Only to  sacrifice a thumb to the new-veggie-peeler gods shortly thereafter.

Apple Crumb Pie
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 lb. Granny Smith apples
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg [depending on how much you like it]
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons ice water, plus 2 more, if needed [don’t be afraid to use even more than that–if I’d listened to my gut and plopped in another tablespoon or two on top of the 4, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with a pile of crumbs]

1. For the crust,  pulse flour, salt, and sugar several times in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture is a coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces remaining.
2. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water and pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed with fingers (if needed, add up to 2 tablespoons more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time). [Make sure it really does hold together when squeezed–i.e., that it doesn’t require a fist of fury to adhere to itself. Otherwise, you’ll open your plastic wrap packet post-refrigeration to a sandcastle.] Do not overprocess.
3. Turn dough out onto a work surface and form into a 3/4-inch-thick disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, until firm.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup flour, butter, brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; work with fingers until large clumps form. Freeze mixture.
5. On a lightly floured piece of wax or parchment paper, roll dough into a 14-inch circle. Carefully fit into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate [you can use a regular pie plate, like I did; just be prepared for a little bit of Kilimanjaro action]. Refrigerate.
6. Place lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel, core, and slice apples 1/8-inch thick, preferably with a mandoline or with someone who enjoys meticulous slicing, transferring the apples to the bowl as you work. Add granulated sugar, cinnamon, remaining 1/4 cup flour, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; toss to combine. Transfer apple mixture to pie crust, pressing in firmly. Fold dough overhang over filling, pleating it as you work your way around pie; press dough firmly against filling.
7. Bake 45 minutes, then sprinkle apple filling with crumb topping. Continue to bake until golden and bubbling, 30 to 45 minutes more. Check at 20 minutes or so; if it’s browning too quickly, tent loosely with foil for remaining baking time. Cool at least 6 hours before serving. [Okay…I’m just gonna say it. 6 hours seems a bit excessive, Martha.]

Source: Martha Stewart

crispy pecan chicken and sweet potato biscuit sandwiches

January 12, 2012

This. Was. DELICIOUS. Seriously, guys, it’s like two months later and I can still taste how awesome this dinner was. I made it on a whim, picking up a sweet potato at the grocery store on my way home from school, and I’m so glad I did.

Two halves of a sweet, spicy, pillowy, flaky biscuit smooshing hot, crunchy, peppery chicken. I mean, is there really any way to lose here? (Ignore the butter-per-biscuit calculation, please. Resist the urge. With biscuits, there is no winning that game.) Fantastic dinner in one fun little package!

Crispy Pecan Chicken and Sweet Potato Biscuit Sandwiches
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup mashed roasted sweet potatoes (about 2 sweet potatoes) [to roast, prick skin several times with a fork and bake at 400 degrees on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil for 45 minutes]
1/3 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup pecans, pulsed in a food processor until finely ground
3/4 cup panko
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise and again in half the other way
2 large eggs, beaten

1. To make the biscuits, heat oven to 450 degrees. Pulse flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter pieces and pulse several times to form coarse crumbs. Mix mashed sweet potatoes and buttermilk together in a large bowl, then stir in flour  mixture. Knead the dough together a few times until it forms a ball, being careful not to overknead the dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll 1/2-inch thick with a floured rolling pin; using a 3-inch round cup or cookie cutter, cut out 12 biscuits. Place biscuits on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown.
2. For the chicken, heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ground pecans, panko, paprika, cayenne, and salt in a shallow pan. Put the flour in a plate and lightly dredge both sides of the chicken in it. Place the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl and dredge both sides of the floured chicken in the eggs. Finally, place chicken pieces in the pecan mixture to coat on all sides. Place coated chicken on a large greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle.

Source: Cake, Batter, and Bowl