Last Monday morning at 7:30 on the dot, I was sitting quietly on a stool in the pastry classroom, my elbows resting on a stainless-steel work station. Despite the early hour, I was ready to get started, fully expecting my teacher to stride in at any moment and begin the day's instruction. Our class session was to be devoted entirely to chocolate. We would learn, among other things, how to properly temper couverture, and we would each make a small chocolate sculpture. I was rather looking forward to it . . . but the minutes ticked by and Chef Roger failed to appear.
Still in waiting mode, I'd barely opened my textbook to review our latest reading assignment when the chair of the culinary school popped his head in the classroom door and, with an apologetic expression, informed us that our teacher had taken ill--his classes for that day were being canceled. I absorbed the news with a flash of mild disbelief. Well, this is a first! I thought to myself. The standard perception among students is that all the chefs have constitutions of iron. Unless they can't walk, talk, or they're deemed too contagious to stay, they always show up for class.
So, now the question was how to take advantage of this mini-windfall of free time? My mental gears slid easily out of attentive-student mode. I could be home within 45 minutes at the latest, and I didn't want to waste the next few hours on something as uninspiring as housework or errands. The natural conclusion, then? I should bake--of course!
Driving home, I tossed around the possibilities. Madeleines? Apple dumplings? Maybe that savory onion tart I've been pondering for months? How about a new cookie recipe? And then I remembered the ripe quinces that were languishing, albeit patiently, in the fruit compartment of our basement fridge. That set the wheels of my morning in motion, turning it into a pleasant and productive one indeed.
About this recipe . . .
This is a sweet-roll dough formula that my mom used for years. Because it's just slightly sweet she made not only sweet rolls from it, but also dinner rolls like clover leafs and crescents--you name it, she probably tried it. She'd typed the recipe carefully onto a lined index card, crediting it simply to a 1971 book by the editors of Farm Journal.
The filling recipe is one I whipped up on my own. It's composed of a couple of apples, a couple of quinces, and one pear, all of which are peeled, cored and diced small. ( I'm sure this would be equally good, though, even if made only with the apples; I was just eager to work with the quinces, as they're new to me. Besides the quinces, I used Granny Smith apples, and an Anjou pear.) The pieces are tossed with sugar, a bit of flour, and a squeeze of lemon juice. In a big saucepan the filling slowly stews and bubbles, reducing until the mixture has thickened. Spices are added in and, once cool, it makes for a flavorful filling.
This cozy combo of autumn's fruit, nestled in the slightly sweet and golden-baked yeast dough, is drizzled with a cream-based vanilla icing. You can shape this dough in a variety of ways. Among the possibilities are individual twirls, like cinnamon rolls, or go with one long roll that gets nipped with scissors to expose the filling. Out of one batch of dough, you could try both options--that's what I did.
These treats are definitely best the first day, when extremely fresh. On day two, you'll probably want to warm the rolls up a bit before serving; the long roll, sliced as needed, doesn't seem to dry out quite as quickly.
Autumn Sweet Rolls with Apple, Quince, and Pear Filling
To make the filling:
2 small firm apples (I used Granny Smith)
2 medium size quinces
1 medium size pear (I used Anjou)
1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Peel, core, and dice the fruit into small pieces; put all of it in a medium size heavy-bottom saucepan. Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir the fruit. Stir together the sugar and flour in a small bowl, then add that to the fruit and toss to combine and coat.
Heat over a medium-low flame, stirring periodically, until mixture looks very juicy and the pieces begin to soften. If there's not much juice at all, add in a few tablespoons of water or apple juice. Raise the heat and cook until the mixture boils, checking it frequently and stirring, then turn it down and let it reduce until it's thickened. All of this may take up to half an hour or so--just use your own judgment (the only way to wreck it, really, is to burn it!). Pour the mixture into a bowl, stir in the cinnamon and nutmeg, and let it cool completely before using it as filling (it's okay to cool it off in the fridge).
To make the dough:
3/4 cup scalded milk (the milk is heated, but is not allowed to boil)
1/2 cup softened butter, unsalted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 tsp. salt (I used regular salt)
1 Tbsp. instant yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees, about what lukewarm feels like)
4 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg, mixed with 1 Tbsp. of water, to use only as an egg wash right before baking
In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the milk, butter, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 and 1/2 cups of the flour and all of the instant yeast; add this into the mixer bowl. On low speed, beat for 1 minute, then add in the two lightly beaten eggs, mixing just to combine. A little at a time, still on the lowest speed, add in the remainder of the flour. Mix just enough to make a soft dough that eventually leaves the sides of the bowl. Now, switch to the dough hook, and knead on low speed for 4 minutes (or, if you prefer, knead entirely by hand for 8 minutes).
Then, take the dough out of the bowl, and finish kneading it by hand on a lightly floured surface; knead until it feels elastic, satiny, and it's no longer sticky.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning the dough over to grease both sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then with a lightweight dish towel, and place it in a warmer-than-room temperature spot to rise until it doubles in volume; this may take up to about 90 minutes.
Remove the risen dough from its bowl and divide it in half; put half the dough back into the bowl and cover it with the plastic while you're working with the other half.
To shape the dough into individual twirls (versus one long roll), use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangular shape about 12" by 9". Spread half the filling onto it, pushing it toward the edges with the back of a large spoon or a spatula.
Beginning at the long side of the dough, carefully roll it up, pinching to seal the long seam as best you can; place seam side down on a cutting surface (it may seem pretty floppy and soft, but don't worry). Using an extremely sharp knife (like a chef's knife, not a bread knife), cut the roll into pieces about 1 and 1/2 inches thick. Lift the pieces gently and place them on their sides, evenly spaced, into a well greased baking pan (I used an 8" square metal pan and I sprayed it first with Pam, then I used a combo of butter and Crisco to grease it--sounds like overkill, but you can't be too careful--that's my motto!).
Cover the pan with greased plastic wrap and a dish towel, and let it rise again for about one hour, until almost doubled.
Brush the tops of the rolls lightly with the egg wash. Place the pan on top of a cookie sheet to help prevent the bottom of the rolls from burning. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, at 375 degrees in a preheated oven. Remove from the oven when golden brown and no longer wet looking. Let the rolls cool for just a few minutes, then cover the pan with a cooling rack and quickly invert it. The bottom becomes the top; you should see a lot of fruit on the rolls as you pull off the pan.
Let them cool on the rack until slightly warm, then drizzle them with the icing.
Alternately, if you'd prefer to shape your dough (meaning, half of your entire batch of dough) into one long roll, follow the above instructions for shaping (roll out a 12" x 9" rectangle, spread the filling on it, roll it up lengthwise, pinch the seam closed, and place seam-side down on a generous sheet of parchment paper), but instead of slicing the roll into individual pieces with a knife, take a sharp pair of scissors and nip little "V" shapes into the top of the roll at intervals of about 1" or so, to make little windows that will allow the fruit to be seen and steam to escape.
Cover the long roll with greased plastic wrap, then with a dishtowel, and let it rise again until almost doubled (about an hour).
Bake on a sheet of parchment that's been placed onto 2 layered cookie sheets (again, 2 sheets will help prevent the bottom from burning), at 375 degrees in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes; at that point, if the top is already quite golden, cover it lightly with foil and keep on baking until the roll feels kind of firm and the bottom is deep golden brown, but not dark brown. Let it cool on a cooling rack, and when it's still slightly warm, drizzle it with the icing.
To make the icing:
In a small bowl, stir about 1 and 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar together with a couple tablespoons of heavy cream or half-and-half, along with 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract. Adjust the thickness by adding more sugar, or more cream. Stir until completely smooth.
Best eaten while really fresh!
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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