Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Of Muffins and Hurricanes . . . Morning-Glory Muffins (with Carrots, Raisins, & Sunflower Seeds)

I made these muffins yesterday morning while listening to NPR's coverage of Hurricane Sandy's damage. Every time I hear about that kind of storm, or of an earthquake or a massive flood, I thank my lucky stars that we live in Michigan. Here, natural disasters of that magnitude are virtually unheard of. We have the odd tornado now and then, and occasionally a big wild fire in the woodsy Upper Peninsula makes the news. Somehow, though, the Great Lakes have a way of shielding us, and that's comforting to know.

But, that reality doesn't stop us from worrying about family or friends who live elsewhere when these catastrophes occur. My only sister, for example, lives just a couple of miles from Long Island Sound in southern Connecticut. Despite her calm reassurance when we spoke by phone on Monday morning, as she was preparing to shelter-in-place, I was feeling pretty fretful. She's a tough cookie, and has always been the brave one. I don't think I could have been as calm in her shoes.

When I talked to her after the storm had passed and heard that she's just fine, I was relieved and grateful. Most of her small town, except for some houses on the beach, escaped the worst effects of the storm. She said everything there is eerily quiet now, and that people are still being asked to just stay inside. And, amazingly, the power is not out in the part of town where she lives.

Yes, I eventually ceased fretting. But as we know, when the going gets fretful the fretful get baking and it was my fretfulness that prompted the impromptu creation of these satisfying and tasty muffins. Maybe, now, I should call them Grateful Muffins.

About this recipe . . .

This is one heck of a muffin. Featuring dark-brown sugar and sour cream, it also contains a modest portion of shredded carrots, raisins, and roasted sunflower seeds, along with a little vanilla and cinnamon. It's sort of a morning-glory muffin, but without the entire kitchen-sink profusion of ingredients. Hearty without being hefty. This is an original Jane's Sweets recipe, unadapted from any other source.

Oh, before I forget . . . what do you think of those white "tulip" muffin papers? I used them for the first time and I really like them. Made of a relatively heavy grease-proof paper, they form a perfect square when unfolded. I like the way the tulip-shaped cup contains the muffin, as if it's in it's own little bag. These muffins all browned remarkably evenly, even on their bottoms--no burning. I've heard that you can bake in these papers without using a muffin pan, that they are that sturdy. I was hesitant to try that, but maybe next time I'll give it a whirl. I ordered some in brown and red as well, all from a company called Bakers Stock. Decent prices via this source, and the shipped items were securely packaged. I'd order from them again. (I keep wondering, though, if I could make wrappers like these myself at home, but I really think the paper they're made out of is not typical. It doesn't exactly feel to me like plain parchment or even silicone-coated parchment. I will have to do more investigating on that front.)

Brown Sugar & Sour Cream Morning-Glory Muffins, Simplified

Yield: About 16 standard size muffins, or about 10-12 larger muffins

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I whisked the flour a bit in its container before measuring.)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt.)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed (I think dark brown makes a noticeable flavor difference, but use light brown if that's all you have around.)
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (I used paste.)
1/2 cup well-shredded carrots (lightly packed into the measuring cup)
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds (salted or unsalted, as you prefer)
2 tablespoons of coarse sugar (turbinado or sanding) to sprinkle atop unbaked muffins

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line your muffin pan(s) with paper liners or spray liberally with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, stir together the dark brown sugar, canola oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla until very well combined. Stir in the carrots, raisins, and sunflower seeds.

Make a well in the bowl of dry ingredients. Pour all of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no large streaks of flour remain; a few small streaks are okay.  (Avoid over-mixing in order to avoid producing tough muffins.) Portion the batter evenly into the muffin papers/cups. Sprinkle a pinch of coarse sugar atop each unbaked muffin to add sparkle and crunch. (I used turbinado sugar--coarse, natural brown sugar--but you could use white sanding sugar or regular granulated sugar if you like.)

If you're making larger muffins, bake them for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 and keep baking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, perhaps 10 minutes longer. If you're baking smaller muffins, turn the oven temperature down after no more than ten minutes. If your muffins appear to be browning too quickly on top, lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Let the baked muffins cool for just a minute in their pan on a rack, then remove them from the pan to cool longer on the rack. (Or eat them warm, with butter!)

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Announcing the Winner of the Shabby Apple $50 Gift Certificate Giveaway! (Not too Shabby!)

As promised, this morning we are revealing the winner of the Shabby Apple $50 gift certificate. I selected the winner very scientifically. I wrote every name on it's own little piece of paper, stirred them around in a big glass mixing bowl with an old wooden spoon, then I used a pair of tongs to randomly select one name. Seriously, I really did this. Had to make it authentic, right?

Drum roll please . . . . . and the winner is . . . . TJ-and-Amy! Warmest congratulations to you, TJ-and-Amy! I will email you today at the address included in your comment and provide the details so you can retrieve your prize. (And, hey, don't forget to check out those cute aprons, when you're trying to decide what to get. I just think they're so retro-adorable.)

And thanks so much to all who entered this giveaway.  Thank you also to Shabby Apple for suggesting it in the first place!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Marriage of Spicy and Tart: Chewy Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream-Cheese Filling (Plus a Giveaway: Shabby Apple $50 Gift Certicate!)

I think it's appropriate that these cookies are an enticing blend of tart and spice. Why? Because they seem to fit so well with this giveaway. I'm going to tell you all about the Shabby Apple giveaway first, and after that we'll get into the details of this delectable cookie recipe.

So, are you familiar at all with Shabby Apple? It's a retail clothing company, owned and operated by women, that produces clothing--primarily dresses--for women and girls (even extremely little girls). And the clothes are not just pretty, they're also unique. In fact, spicy and tart are perfect words to describe them. Everything from adorable dresses that are reminiscent of the 1940s, to retro swimwear, to really cute aprons (the apron line is aptly called Boysenberry Pie). Their stuff is blatantly feminine without going overboard. And, speaking of the "F" word, here's an excerpt from the "About us" section of their site:

"At Shabby Apple, we believe in both femininity and feminism. As feminine women, we create clothing that is artful in design and crafted with a vintage-style flare. Each piece is carefully constructed to both flatter a woman's figure and maintain her mystery. As feminists, we created a company that is women-owned and operated and that donates to help other women start their own businesses. With our old-fashioned style and modern ideals, we believe the best is yet to come!"

I find that business philosophy extremely appealing. You too?

How to enter this giveaway? Here's what you need to do:

1) Leave a non-anonymous comment on this post telling me which Shabby Apple item you like best (this will first necessitate a quick visit to their site, which I promise you will enjoy), and  . . .

2) Entrants also are asked to "like" the Shabby Apple site on Facebook via this link.

Yes, I know, a couple of hoops to jump through, but so worth it for the lucky winner. Check back on the morning of Friday, October 26th. That's when I will announce the winner. (Please note that the winner has to have a delivery address in the U.S.A., per Shabby Apple.) 

*Oh, and in the interest of complete disclosure, the answer is no, I'm not getting anything from this giveaway other than the pleasure of doing it. And, believe me, I don't agree to do giveaways unless I think the company's products offer quality and value, and that they're somehow germane to my blog's readership. We home-bakers all need a new dress or a new apron now and then, don't we? Rhetorical question! 

About this recipe . . .

Adapted from At Home With the Culinary Institute of America: Cookies by Todd Knaster, these cookies are called gingersnaps in the book, but they're soft and chewy--not typical gingersnap traits--because they include more molasses than one would expect. I altered the formula a bit by substituting whole wheat flour for 25 percent of the white flour, and by adding in some chopped crystallized ginger along with the ground ginger. Also, and most importantly, I decided to sandwich them with an ethereal mixture comprised of cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar, lemon zest, and lemon extract. Oh, man.

Who would ever have thought that ginger and lemon could be so happy together? It's a cookie marriage made in heaven.

Chewy Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream-Cheese Filling

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1 cup (2 sticks or 1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon crystallized (aka candied) ginger, very well chopped
1 cup molasses (not "robust" molasses)
1/4 cup water

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

In the large bowl of your mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and granulated sugar until it's fluffy and light in color (about 4 minutes).

In another bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, and crystallized ginger.

In a small saucepan on very low heat and stirring periodically, warm the molasses and water just until the mixture thins out a bit (only up to about 75 degrees; this is just slightly warm).

On your mixer's lowest speed, slowly add the dry ingredients and the molasses into the creamed mixture, alternating between the two (dry/wet/dry/wet/dry). Stop and scrape every now and then.

Portion the dough onto your prepared baking sheets (I used a scoop that holds about a tablespoon of dough), spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Wet the palm of your hand with cold water and flatten each cookie slightly. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of white sanding sugar or coarse turbinado sugar (I tried both; the white sugar shows up more after the cookies are baked, but they taste good with either sugar).

Bake them for about 12 minutes. Let them cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheets before moving them to a cooling rack.  (If you'd like your cookies to be more crisp around the edges, do the following: Preheat your oven to 350; when you put the cookies in the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 325. Turn off the oven after 12 minutes, but leave the cookies in the oven for 5 more minutes. Then let them cool as usual.)

Ingredients for the filling:

One 8 ounce package of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened (1/4 cup or 4 ounces)
1 and 1/4 cups up to 2 cups of confectioners' sugar (whisked or sifted after measuring to break up lumps)
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Beat all ingredients, starting with the smaller portion of confectioners' sugar, in a medium size bowl until soft and fluffy. If you'd like your filling thicker and sweeter, add in more sugar. Sandwich about 2 teaspoons of filling between the bottoms of two cooled cookies. Store the cookies covered. Refrigerate any remaining filling.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS just below.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sweet Potato Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls . . . Let's Hear it for the Surprise Factor!

There is a small organic-farm stand in the equally small city where I live. It sits on a wide grassy lot between an old-fashioned ice cream shop and an antique store, on what serves as our town's main street. It's only been here for a few months but I really, really hope it's going to become a permanent seasonal fixture. The beautiful produce it sells comes entirely from Michigan farms, most of it not terribly far from the Detroit area, and everything is so exquisitely fresh. They strive to ensure that the produce they sell has been picked within 24 hours of reaching their stand. The items available on any given day are an eclectic mix, so the selection is kind of unpredictable, and that's one of the things I like most about the place--its surprise factor. You never know exactly what's going to be there or, more importantly, what's not.

One day this week, I thought I'd check there for basil and, hopefully, sweet potatoes. I'd seen some remarkable purple-and-reddish sweet potatoes there a couple of weeks before, and they were like no potato I had ever laid eyes on in the past. But they didn't have any at all the day I was planning to make these dinner rolls, so I just ended up buying some fragrant Jonagold apples and ripe tomatoes as my consolation prize.

It's an unequivocal treat to visit this stand, in part because the fruits and vegetables are so artfully arranged without their placement seeming contrived; all emphasis is on the incredibly vivid colors. From dusty crimson beets, to glossy eggplants, to slender carrots with long bushy greens, Peter Rabbit would risk life and limb for this stuff, drop off his loot, and then head back for more. Every time I stop here I wish I had my camera with me. I wonder what they'd do if I just showed up one day and started clicking away like a madwoman.

After purchasing the apples and tomatoes, I spent a few minutes marveling over the remarkable variety of heirloom pumpkins for sale. I had an intense impulse to take home one of everything. Knowing that it's all so fresh and, even more so, knowing that it's all from Michigan, makes this kind of produce irresistible to me. I think I could give Peter Rabbit a run for his money. We would be partners in crime.

About this recipe . . .

I ended up using two standard sweet-potatoes from the grocery store. And, as for the surprise factor, I suggest you serve these and see if people can guess their secret ingredient. My hubby, Andy, only needed to give them a few discerning sniffs before coming up with sweet potatoes as the right answer (he's good that way). He loves these rolls.

I adapted this recipe from one at the Red Star yeast site ("Pumpkin Pull-Apart Pan Rolls") that called for canned pumpkin and pumpkin spice (I omitted both). I figured a recipe from Red Star had to be good and I was about to give it a whirl, unaltered, when inspiration grabbed me. I thought sweet potatoes would likely make the rolls even better, in part because the addition of potatoes in certain bread-dough recipes seems to reliably have that effect. The rolls I ended up with were extremely good, and they seem to have an impressively long shelf life, staying soft and moist for at least two days. The potato flavor is pretty subtle, giving the rolls just a slight sweetness. This would be an excellent bread item to serve on Thanksgiving. The recipe makes 15 rolls in one 9"x13" pan. I froze about two thirds of the baked rolls after they'd cooled, and I defrosted and warmed a few of those last night in the oven on 250 degrees, wrapped loosely in foil. Served them alongside steaming bowls of white-chicken chili. They felt and tasted like they'd just been baked. This one's a definite keeper.

Sweet Potato Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: 15 rolls (One 9"x13" pan)

1/2 cup lukewarm water, or more
2 tablespoons milk, no colder than room temperature
1/4 canola oil
1 cup of baked sweet potato (no skin), mashed, and cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
unbleached bread flour, approximately four cups (have more on hand, just in case)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
1/3 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or use 1 tablespoon active dry yeast)

melted butter, 1/4 cup

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed, stir together 2 cups of the flour, the salt, brown sugar, and yeast.

In another bowl, stir together the water, milk, oil, and sweet potato. Pour all of it into the dry ingredients. Beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs, and continue beating for about 3 minutes. On lowest speed, slowly add in 1 and 1/2 cups more of the flour. If the dough seems too dry, sprinkle drops of water in a few at a time.

Use part of the remainder of your measured flour to liberally flour your work surface. Flour your hands. Dump the soft dough out onto the floury surface and knead it for at least 5 minutes; you want it to feel smooth, spongy, and elastic (it should feel tacky but not sticky). Add in additional pinches of flour as needed.

Grease, or spray with vegetable spray, a large bowl. Place the dough into the bowl, turning it over once to coat it. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap that's also been greased/sprayed; cover that with a thin dish towel. Let the dough rise at room temperature for up to two hours, or until almost doubled (whichever comes first). One way of telling when the dough is ready is to gently press a finger into it; if your finger leaves an obvious indentation that does not seem to spring back, the dough is ready to move to the next step.

Liberally grease a 9" by 13" pan with vegetable shortening.

Turn the risen dough out onto a very lightly floured surface (it's not a good idea to add much flour into the dough at this point). Have your melted butter close at hand (warm, but not hot). Very lightly flour your hands. Deflate the dough gently but firmly by pressing it with your palms.

Use a bench knife, or very sharp chef's knife, to divide the dough into three equal parts. Then divide each third into five even pieces (15 pieces total). Cover the pieces with the greased plastic wrap and let them rest, not touching each other, for about 12 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap and shape each piece of dough into a ball, being careful to seal any seams on the bottom (if you're not quite sure of the best way to do this, here's a helpful tutorial that explains how to successfully shape dough into rounds). Dip the top of each dough ball into the butter. Place each buttered ball into the greased pan, in 3 long rows with 5 dough balls in each short row. Space them evenly, but don't worry if a few of them are almost touching. They will bake together in the oven in any case.

Cover the pan of dough with a piece of sprayed plastic wrap. Lightly cover that with the dish towel and let the dough proof (ie., let it have its final rise) for up to about 90 minutes, or until the dough leaves an impression when pressed with a finger; it won't necessarily looked doubled and that's okay.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

When the dough has risen, bake it on the middle rack of the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. Check the rolls after about 18 minutes; if it appears to be browning too quickly, cover the pan loosely with foil. (The inside of the rolls should be about 190 to 200 degrees when they're all done; if you're not sure, poke an instant-read thermometer into one of the biggest rolls in the pan. I routinely do this when I'm not sure if bread is done baking.)  They will be quite golden, and dark golden on the bottom.

Remove them from the pan and let them cool on a rack.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Apple-Cinnamon Sweet Bread with Dried Cherries . . .

The inclination to make some sort of baked good that's braided, twisted, or otherwise twirled this way and that, hits me at least once a year and it struck again this week.

Isn't it funny how the shape of a food can influence one's perception of how good it might taste, how exotic its origin, or how challenging it might be to prepare? There's something special about curvy food. We become literally entangled in its aura.

The way it meanders hither and yon, curling and whirling wherever the recipe takes it. The presence of figure-8 curves lends a certain spontaneity, a sense of adventure, a bit of mystery that normal food doesn't possess.

Heck, what say we just go completely off the rails here and declare it's all a metaphor for life?

About this recipe . . .

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour formula (I seem to be in a King Arthur phase lately, don't I?), this apple-cinnamon bread likes to masquerade as something complicated. But don't be fooled, because this dough is much less labor intensive and far less rich than a laminated dough, the kind that has tons of butter rolled into it--think Danish-pastry or puff-pastry.

I decided to add some chopped dried cherries (yes, from Michigan, in case you were wondering) to the apple filling. I think the cherries were a nice addition in terms of flavor and color; I also increased the cinnamon, and used a little fresh-ground nutmeg. You might consider using dried cranberries or raisins if you don't have cherries. I used about four small Gala apples that happened to be very sweet and crispy, but use whatever apple variety you prefer.

This bread isn't scary to make (I did it by hand; no mixer needed unless you want to use one), though it does take some time from start to finish, what with about four hours of rising time in total (I started it at about 9 a.m. yesterday morning, proceeded in a halfway-leisurely fashion, and took it out of the oven around 2:15 p.m.). Once baked, it is best when very fresh. Since it makes two large loaves, I immediately froze the second one shortly after it was cooled and the drizzled glaze had had a chance to dry. Sliced up, you'll get many servings out of this recipe.

Apple-Cinnamon Sweet Bread with Dried Cherries
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Two large loaves (approximately 16 slices per loaf)

Ingredients for the dough:
3 and 1/4 cups pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (I used pastry flour.) 
1/4 cup dried potato flakes (mashed-potato flakes) or potato flour (I used Hungry Jack brand dehydrated potato flakes.)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent, and warmed it to room temperature.)

Ingredients for the filling:
1/2 granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Or, KAF suggests you use Instant ClearJel; I used flour.)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup apple that's been peeled and grated (I needed four small Gala apples.)
3 tablespoons dried cherries, chopped small
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Ingredients for the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons cream, half and half, or milk (I used half and half.)

To make the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together thoroughly all of the dry ingredients, making sure there are no clumps.
Add in the butter, vanilla, lightly beaten egg, and milk. Stir with a spoon or fork until the dough looks quite shaggy. Let the dough sit in the bowl, uncovered, for half an hour (per KAF, this will give the flour time to absorb liquid, thus making the dough easier to knead).

Onto a well-floured surface, dump out your dough. Flour your hands liberally, and knead the dough for about ten minutes. If your dough feels too dry, sprinkle it with drops of water; too wet, use more flour on your kneading surface.

The dough, once ready, should be springy, smooth, and elastic. Place it into a large, clean bowl, that's been oiled or sprayed with vegetable spray (I used the latter). Cover the top of the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap that's also been sprayed, and then cover that lightly with a thin dish towel.

Let the dough rise in a draft-free spot until just about doubled; this may take 90 minutes to 2 hours. (The longer the rise, the better the final flavor of the baked bread, so longer is often better.)

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.

To make the filling:
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Put the grated apple and chopped dried cherries into a medium bowl and toss them with the lemon juice; sprinkle the dry ingredients over the fruit and stir thoroughly. Set aside.

To roll out, fill, and shape the dough:

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Deflate the dough gently by folding it over a couple of times. Cut it in half. Dust your surface again, lightly, with flour. Working on one piece at a time, roll the first half of dough into a rectangle that's 10" by 12".

Spoon half of the filling onto the rectangle and spread it all around, leaving an uncovered border of about 1/2" around the edge.

Beginning with the longest side of the dough, roll the dough up into a log.

Seal the long seam tightly by pinching it closed with your fingertips, and seal the ends as well. Now do the exact same thing with the second piece of dough.

Use a sharp pastry wheel (aka pizza cutter/wheel) or chef's knife to slit each log from top to bottom, length-wise.

Now, do this for each split log (so you end up with two loaves): Place two lengths of dough filled-side up, side by side on a piece of parchment set over a baking sheet (I forgot to put my first log, the guy on the left, onto parchment and had to transfer it after it was twisted--yikes!).  Keeping the filling-side up, twist the two lengths together, working from the center out to each end. Pinch the dough at the ends together so they won't come apart while baking.

Cover the two loaves loosely with sprayed plastic wrap, and cover that lightly with a dish towel.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the loaves rise again until almost doubled, up to 2 hours.

Bake the loaves in the middle of your oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. They should be lightly golden on top and darker golden on the bottom. Peek at them after about 20 minutes, and cover the loaves lightly with foil if they appear to be browning too fast.

Let the baked loaves cool on a rack and glaze them when they're no longer warm.

To make the glaze:
In a medium bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and milk/cream until the glaze is the consistency you prefer. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled loaves. (If you like, sprinkle a few pinches of sanding sugar over that to add a little sparkle, while the glaze is still kind of wet.) Once the glaze has dried, you may wrap the loaves now if you are going to freeze them.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)