Playdate Cardigan

I’m making an effort to get caught up on blogging past projects, which means going way back to a project that I finished nearly a year ago and that Jude has already outgrown. I’m certainly glad I didn’t wait to put it on him before it got blogged.

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I started this little cardigan the week before Jude was born and finished it up around the time that he turned a month old. The pattern is the Playdate Cardigan from Tin Can Knits, which is part of their Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe Collection. It’s a basic little v-neck cardigan with drop sleeves and pockets that is available in their full “baby to big” size range—so from 0-3 months all the way up to a 59” chest. I made the 6-12 months size, which I knit using a single skein of Madeline Tosh Twist Light in the Artic colorway.

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I don’t recall making any significant changes to the pattern. I’m pretty sure that I knit it according to the instructions for the size without making any changes to the sleeve or body length. I do recall being very skeptical that I would like putting this cardigan on Jude and feeling pretty certain that he wasn’t going to get much wear out of it. My primary reservation was related to the pattern gauge.

It might just be an effect of being a frequent sock knitter who is used to knitting fingering weight yarn at a gauge of 8-9 stitches per inch, but knitting a fingering weight yarn at 6 stitches per inch (the gauge called for by the pattern) just feels overly loose and airy to me. And because of this, I didn’t feel like the sweater would be warm enough for Jude during fall and winter. And I was also worried that the loose gauge would make the resulting sweater look sloppy.

Of course, once it was blocked it DID NOT look sloppy at all—it turned really well. And Jude actually did get a lot of wear out of it. I started putting him in it with the sleeves cuffed when he was just a few months old and he was wearing it until he was stretching out the buttons this spring. So I’m glad I was wrong. This lightweight cardigan turned out to be very versatile through fall, winter, and spring and, of course, he looked very cute in it.

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I still don’t really like knitting a fingering weight yarn at fewer than ~7 stitches per inch. I think I really just prefer the feeling of creating a denser fabric. If I made this again, I might seriously consider subbing in a sport weight yarn for a more comfortable knitting experience, but I think that might just be an idiosyncratic preference.

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To really highlight how behind I am on getting projects posted to the blog, Jude turned one a couple of weeks ago, which means I got to bake and decorate his first birthday cake! I made the Monkey Cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I filled the cake with the fudgy buttercream from the recipe and used a standard vanilla buttercream for frosting and decorating the rest of the cake. I also ordered a whole pound of banana candies in the name of fulfilling my creative vision for this cake, because I am nothing if not ridiculous. Of course, the only thing that matters is that he liked it. And he did. 🙂

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Assorted Finished Things

Silver Socks

When I was working on my MA, sock knitting was kind of THE thing in knitting at the time. (Then it seems like shawls/shawlettes were the big thing and now it’s . . .  Cowls? I’m not sure. Maybe the online presence of knitters has become big enough that there isn’t really a single thing anymore.) Of course, sock knitting is still a thing, and people knit and design lots of sock patterns. But at the time, the knitting world was kind of in the throes of sock mania. At the height of this, I tried a lot of complex, interesting sock patterns. And then, a few years into my PhD, I realized that I most enjoyed knitting and wearing very plain, very boring socks. I make all of Aidan’s socks in 2×2 rib, and all of my socks in stockinette with a simple ribbed cuff. It makes it very easy to start and finish a pair of socks since I don’t need to refer to any patterns or instructions while I’m knitting.

But lately, I’ve been feeling like the cuffs and insteps of my socks are just a bit too tight. So on this pair, I made the heel flap a bit longer to address the tightness around the instep and used a provisional cast-on for the cuff, which I finished with a more stretchy sewn bind off. The fit is definitely better and keeps me from having to cast on extra stitches at the cuff and decrease through the leg, which I don’t want to have to do. But the tubular bind off I used doesn’t look the greatest after it’s worked on the provisional stitches. I used the exact same bind off on my Grandpa Cardigan and it looks great there. I’m wondering if this is because, having used a provisional cast-on, the stitches for the cuff and the bind off are oriented in the opposite direction? I think next time I might try using an Italian Cast On. Actually, next time I might give this basic toe-up pattern a try. We’ll see. These socks are made with Regia 4-Ply Terra in the Silver colorway.

Dog Sweater

Back in November, my sister was having trouble finding a sweater to fit her dog, Mini, and asked me to try making something that might fit better. She sent me a few basic measurements and I used two different tutorials from Sew It Love It to make this–this tutorial helps you draft the pattern for the sweater and this one guides you through actually sewing the sweater up. It took me awhile to find the time to sit down and do the drafting and sewing (or really, it took me awhile to summon up the courage to try drafting something to fit a dog that lives hundreds of miles from me), but once I started working on it, I was able to finish it all up quickly. Sewing the sweater requires a single seam down the center front of the body, and then you attach bands to the neck, legs, and around the torso. I sewed all the seams with a medium zig-zag stitch, and then top stitched around the bands with a wider zigzag to keep them from flipping up. The fabric is just anti-pill fleece from JoAnn’s. I’m pleased with how it turned out and my sister said it fits well. She also said Mini found it unnerving to be photographed from the side, so that’s why she looks a bit unhappy in the first photo.

Bread!

I’ve been making a lot of bread the past two months, and this week I tried Julia Child’s White Sandwich Loaf recipe (found here, via Dinner With Julie) for the first time. This recipe produced the most beautiful loaves of bread I’ve ever made before. It’s a pretty simple recipe—no crazy ingredients and I was able to start it at around 11 am and have the bread finished before dinner. It’s especially simple in comparison to the white sandwich bread recipe that I’ve used previously from The Bread Bible. It rose up nicely and the texture is great—very soft and perfect for sandwiches. It isn’t as flavorful as the recipe from The Bread Bible, which is as delicious as it is involved, but Julia Child’s recipe contains less dairy and less sugar, which in addition to being very straight-foward, makes it a nice everyday bread recipe. I’m definitely going to make this again, but I might try using honey rather than white sugar to see if that makes any difference.

A couple of weeks ago, I also tried this Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour website. (This is a cell phone picture taken at night in my tiny kitchen, so sorry for the poor quality.) This is a sweet bread, with a hint of cinnamon, and the oatmeal gives it a soft but chewy texture. It’s wonderfully fragrant when you bake and toast it. I ate this bread, toasted and smeared with butter, every morning for breakfast until it was gone. The next time I make it, I want to try using some of it for French Toast. This is sweet enough that it’s not the kind of bread I’d use for a sandwich at lunch, but it is very, very good. Plus, it’s a nice way to use up the bag of White Whole Wheat flour that I have in the cupboard but never know what to do with!

In other news, I’ve started reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and last night I got to the part where Jim kills a massive rattle snake with a spade and then drags the thing home to show off to everyone. Just in case you wondering what was keeping me awake at night lately, there you go. It is a truly beautiful book with 1000% too many snakes.

Assorted Thoughts and Plans

Knitting

My Apres Surf Hoodie is a bust. It’s just too snug and the snugness isn’t easily resolved. I think part of the problem is that it’s hard to measure gauge on an overall stitch pattern. But I suspect a bigger part of the problem is that I switched the way that I was working my SSKs about 2/3 of the way through the back. I also should have blocked my pieces as I finished them to make sure that they were knitting up to the appropriate size, but I didn’t. Oh well. I still really want this sweater, so I’m going to just put it aside for now until I’m emotionally ready to rip and reknit.

Grandpa Cardigan

On a more optimistic knitting note, I’ve finished my Grandpa cardigan. It just needs a bath and some buttons and it will be all ready for the dip in temperature that we’ve got coming up this weekend. More pictures and details to come shortly.

Gloomy Pullover in Progress

I also started a new pullover. I’m using some Cascade 220 Fingering in a heathered black. I had first planned to use the yarn to make Carpino, but that pattern was written for Brooklyn Tweed Loft which is apparently closer to a sport weight than an actual fingering weight. Cascade 220 Fingering is firmly a fingering weight, so the stitch pattern looked terrible at the recommended pattern gauge. So I switched gears and decided to try making Catkin, but the dark color of the yarn combined with the heathering effect meant that the stitch pattern wasn’t really visible. So now I’m improvising a simple light-weight pullover. So far, it’s all stockinette knit in the round, which feels wonderfully meditative at the moment.

Sewing

I managed a small bit of sewing over the last week and have been thinking a lot about what I want to make over the next few months. Here are some of the things I’ve got my eye on:

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I’m planning some very basic t-shirts in very basic colors that will really just become shirts for layering. Boring, but useful. The black and gray fabrics are both cotton-spandex blends and the white is an organic cotton interlock. I’m planning to use the V-neck t-shirt pattern included in McCalls 6658, which is the same pattern I used to make my recent vine-print tank top.

Knit top plans

I’ve also got some more interesting knit tops planned. From left to right, I’ve got the Jalie scarf top that I’m planning to make up in a dark teal rayon-spandex blend, Vogue 8831 (a raglan pullover with a cowl neck) which I’m planning to make with a black rayon sweater knit, and McCalls 7018 (a jersey button-down), which I planning to to make in a heathered black cotton jersey.

Burda zipper raglan

I also have a gray cotton jersey that actually feels somewhere between a traditional jersey and a sweater knit, and I’m planning to use that fabric to make this zippered Burda raglan top.

McCalls button downs

These shirts are probably more aspirational than the other projects I’m planning, but I’ve got a white cotton broadcloth that I want to use to make a basic button down using McCalls 6649 (sans color blocking, thank you very much). I’ve also got this polka dot rayon challis that should work nicely with McCalls 6436.

I’ve been knitting long enough that starting a new project or picking up my knitting whenever I have a bit of time isn’t a challenge. But sewing isn’t as intuitive for me at this stage, and when I’ve stopped doing it for awhile, getting back into it starts to feel really daunting. So I’m going to aim to squeeze in 15 minutes of sewing everyday. I’m hoping this will help me work my way through the fabric and patterns I’ve been accumulating while also keeping me from feeling like I need hours of uninterrupted time to get any sewing done.

Baking

Apple Zucchini Muffins

I’ve been doing some simple baking lately—easy stuff like banana bread (I’ve been using this recipe from Simply Recipes and it’s great). I made these apple zucchini muffins two weeks ago and they were really, really good. Good enough that I’ll definitely be making these again soon. I substituted a pinch of allspice for the cardamom and used 1/2 a cup of vegetable oil instead of 1/4 cup because I didn’t have any applesauce on hand. The best part about these muffins is that, unlike a lot of muffins, they stay good for days.

TV

Aidan and I have been watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and are at the beginning of season 3. Kira Nerys has officially joined the ranks of my all-time favorite female TV characters. She’s pretty much on the level of Dana Scully in terms of the depth of my love for her. My favorite things about her include: her ongoing distrust of the Federation, her salty attitude, and her Bechdel-test approved friendship with Jadzia Dax.

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I also appreciate the fact that 90% of her smiles are sarcastic. She is a woman after my own heart.

Lemon Bundt Cake

We had some friends over for dinner at the end of February and decided to try to will spring into existence by making turkey club sandwiches and this lemon bundt cake. We’re just now getting to the point where we have the occasional 40 degree day, so the whole “willing spring” thing didn’t work. But the cake was excellent.

Lemon Bundt Cake via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Looking for a lemon bundt cake recipe turned out to be a little bit of an ordeal. I came across a lot of recipes that either called for weird ingredients like lemon jello mix or were basically a doctored lemon cake mix. Everyone has their own baking perogatives, and using lemon jello in a cake batter just isn’t one of mine. I also found a lot of recipes that rely on lemon extract for an infusion of lemon flavor, which is better than the above options, but still not great. I’ve made cakes with lemon extract before and haven’t been completely happy with the result.

This recipe originally comes from Cooks Illustrated, which you know means that it has some kind of trick up it’s sleeve to get good lemon flavor from, you know, actual lemons. The recipe has you mince your lemon zest to release a little extra flavor and then soak the zest in fresh lemon juice to amp the flavor up even more. It’s kind of brilliant. With this lemon zest/juice mixture added in, you end up with a cake with a definite lemon taste that’s light and fresh. Then when the cake comes out of the oven, you load it up with a double coat of glaze to give the cake some real tang. I would recommend making this a day in advance if you have the time/the willpower to resist. The flavor and texture of the cake both improve with time.

Lemon Bundt Cake via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com 

I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I soured some whole milk with (obviously) some lemon juice. The cake turned out well, but the glaze tasted a bit flat so once the glaze was at the right consistency, I whisked in 2 tbsp of melted butter. The butter isn’t necessary, but I thought it improved the flavor of the glaze. I don’t know if it would be necessary if you were using buttermilk—I look forward to trying this recipe again with buttermilk to find out.

Also: I ate this cake every morning for breakfast until it was gone. I regret nothing.

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Lemon Bundt Cake (originally from Cooks Illustrated, found via Carnal Dish)

Note: You’ll need 5-6 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice for this recipe. You should be able to get all the juice you need from the 3 lemons you will zest for the cake, but it wouldn’t hurt to buy a 4th lemon just to be safe.

For the cake:

  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 18 tbsp (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c sugar

For the glaze:

  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp buttermilk
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a bundt pan.
  2. Mince the lemon zest until it resembles a fine paste. Combine the zest with the lemon juice in a small bowl and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the lemon juice mixture, the vanilla, and the buttermilk. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add in half of the buttermilk mixture and beat to combine. Repeat, alternating the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture until all the ingredients have been combined. Be careful not to over-mix—use a rubber spatula to incorporate any lingering flour.
  5. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared bundt pan. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 45-50.
  6. While the cake is baking, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze, starting with 2 tbsp of lemon juice and adding more gradually until the glaze is thick but pourable.
  7. When the cake is done baking, allow it to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake directly onto the wire rack. Place a plate or pan beneath the rack and drizzle half of the glaze over the cake. Allow the cake to cool on the rack for an hour. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top of the cake and continue to cool until the cake is room temperature.

Beer Bread

The first and only other time I’ve made beer bread, I used a mix that someone gave me as a gift. I don’t remember what kind of mix it was or what kind of beer I used to make it, but while other people really loved the bread, I thought it tasted pretty flat. So when I decided to make beer bread again, I wanted to make sure it had plenty of flavor.

Beer bread via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

 

For this bread, I found a very simple, no-nonsense recipe on Food.com that had a lot of good reviews. I decided to use a bottle of Sam Adams Boston and swapped 1 c of all-purpose flour with 3/4 c of white whole wheat flour. (I had planned to use regular whole wheat flour, but it turned out that I only had white whole wheat on hand.) Thanks to the myriad wonders of winter-time artificial kitchen light, the bread looks a touch neon in these photos, but I was really surprised by the deep golden color the crust and crumb had when they came out of the oven.

This is a hearty bread with a dense, chewy crust. Because of its texture, you have to be careful about the way you measure and mix your flour or you’ll end up with a loaf of bread that’s more like a brick. The original recipe recommends sifting the flour, but since I don’t have a sifter, I make sure to scoop my flour into a measuring cup with a spoon and then gently level it off with a knife. Either of these methods will help ensure that you don’t throw off the proportion of dry-to-wet ingredients. As you mix the batter, you also want to be careful to only stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Once I had mixed most of the dry ingredients, I actually stopped stirring and started gently turning the batter over in the bowl to find and incorporate any remaining dry areas. Even taking into account those few careful steps, it only takes a couple of minutes to mix the batter up and throw it in the oven.

Beer Bread via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

 

This bread was really excellent–a major improvement from the first beer bread I made. The combination of the whole wheat flour and the lager gave it a rich, deep flavor that had a hint of sweetness balanced with just a touch of bitterness at the end. This particular version of this recipe would go really well with a bowl or chili or beef stew. Next time, I want to try using a lighter beer, cutting back a bit on the sugar, and stirring in some cheddar cheese and scallions.

I’m curious: if you’ve made beer bread, what’s your favorite beer to use?

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Beer Bread (adapted from Food.com)

  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat, but regular whole wheat would also work)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c of sugar
  • 12 oz can or bottle of lager (I used Sam Adams Boston)
  • 1/4 c butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Pour the beer over the dry mixture (it will foam a lot at first, but it will calm down quickly) and stir together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and spread it evenly in the pan. Pour the melted butter over the top of the batter.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, until the crust is golden brown and a tester inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

This has been the kind of week that demands comfort food and one of my favorite comfort foods is an oatmeal cookie. (Or rather, 2-3 oatmeal cookies.) It’s never a popular choice, but I actually love the classic oatmeal raisin cookie with it’s chewy texture and cinnamon flavor and it’s little bursts of fruity sweetness. But my all-time favorite cookie, hands down, is an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I know I’ve said it before, but I think people really undervalue the wonder that is an oatmeal cookie because, I suspect, the assume that oatmeal cookies only come with raisins. But the power of the baker is the fact that you can put anything you damn well please in your cookie batter. And the wonder of oatmeal as a cookie ingredient is that it gives the prized crispy-at-the-edges-chewy-in-the-center texture with very little effort.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

There are all kinds of recipes for the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie that can involve extra steps or unconventional ingredients. I really like Alton Brown’s “Chewy” recipe, which relies on the use of bread flour, a higher ratio of brown-to-white sugar, and the use of an egg yolk rather than a whole egg. It’s a great recipe that yields fantastic cookies, but it takes a bit more work and a bit more brain power than I always want to put in. If you’re looking at all these “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipes and you’re thinking “who has the time?” I say: try oatmeal. Not only do you get that coveted chewy texture with less futzing, but if you use rolled oats, you’re baking with whole grains. Feel free to eat those cookies for breakfast. You’re welcome.

I think I’m going to need to make a batch of these this weekend. Here’s to a better week!

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from BettyCrocker.com)

Note: This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

  • 1 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c quick-cooking or rolled oats (I used rolled)
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 12 oz chocolate chips (I like to use semi-sweet)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add in the vanilla and the egg and beat until fluffy. Add in the oats, flour, baking soda, and salt, mixing until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet, leaving about 2” of space between each cookie. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.  Let the cookies sit on the pan for a minute or two before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

Salted Caramel Brownies

I try to make it a rule not to buy specialty ingredients for a single recipe, especially if it’s a rather expensive ingredient. But sometimes you stumble across a recipe that makes you forget your guiding baking principles. For this recipe, that ingredient was a $9 jar of flaked sea salt. It was worth it given that these brownies fall squarely in the “to die for” category of baked goods, and I think the salt makes a difference—it has just the right flavor and just the right balance of bitterness that having salt on your brownies tastes wonderfully intentional rather than a terrible baking error. I’ve made these brownies twice now: once for a department potluck and once for a small dinner with friends. They were a hit both times—in fact, the second time, our party of four managed to kill half the pan in a single sitting.

Salted Caramel Brownies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These are a grown-up brownie. By that, I don’t mean that kids won’t like them, but I do mean that they hit a very different note than your typical brownie. These are a rich, fudgy brownie with a dark, deep chocolate flavor that is brought out by the coffee called for in the recipe. (Okay, I admit it. I also bought instant coffee just to make these brownies. I regret nothing.) The addition of both the caramel and the salt help to really bring out the bitter flavor in the chocolate, which means that if you are a fan of dark chocolate, you’ll probably also be a fan of these brownies. This a dessert for people who really love chocolate and for people who shy-away from overly sweet things. The basic brownie recipe from the back of the King Arthur flour bag is still my go-to, but these brownies are running a very close second.

Flaked Sea Salt

Now that I have a 9$ jar of specialty salt sitting in the cupboard, every time I think about baking now I wonder: should I make the brownies? I will, of course, keep making these brownies because they are fantastic. But if you’ve got any other recipes or recommended uses for flaked sea salt, I’m eager to hear them!

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Salted Caramel Brownies (Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

Note: This recipe makes a 9×13″ pan of brownies, which can be cut into 12 generous slices or 24 smaller servings, making this a good recipe to make when baking for a crowd. My flaked sea salt had some very big flakes in it, so I crushed it between my fingers a bit while I was sprinkling it on the brownies.

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz plus 6 oz Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 c plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5-6 oz of caramel sauce
  • 2-3 tsp flaked sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and 9×13” baking pan.
  2. Melt the butter, 8 oz of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the mixture is completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. While the chocolate cools, stir together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. In a separate bowl, whisk together the 1/2 c of flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Then stir in the flour mixture. With both steps, stir just long enough to fully combine the ingredients. Coat the remaining chocolate chips with the reserved 2 tbsp of flour and then add them to the batter. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, warm the caramel sauce until it’s a consistency that will allow for drizzling. Drizzle the caramel over the brownies (be generous!) and then sprinkle with sea salt, crushing the salt between your fingers a bit if there are very large flakes. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting.

Cinnamon Rolls

I tried making cinnamon rolls two Christmases ago, and they didn’t rise enough and didn’t bake evenly so that rolls in the middle of the pan were too doughy to eat. It was one of my more demoralizing baking experiences and put me off of cinnamon rolls until this past Christmas when I decided, rather spontaneously, to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast while we were staying with my dad. Since I had seven people to feed, I’m very happy to report that these turned out great. To quote my dad: “These are the best damn cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had.”

Cinnamon Rolls via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These rolls are an adaptation of the Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns from Smitten Kitchen. Since these were a last-minute decision (at least, about as last-minute as you can get with a yeasted breakfast dish) and since I was at my dad’s house in the middle of nowhere, I had to do a bit of improvising with the recipe beyond simply using it to make classic cinnamon rolls. I didn’t have any buttermilk so I made sour milk with vinegar. My dad only had active dry yeast, so I proofed it in some warm milk and a pinch of sugar before mixing it with the other ingredients. We were short on eggs, so based on one of the tips at the end of the original recipe, I swapped two of the egg yolks for a single, whole egg.

The biggest challenge was that my dad didn’t have any powdered sugar on hand. I ended up dissolving granulated sugar into some milk, adding a splash of vanilla and a sprinkling of cinnamon in the process. My improvised glaze was still a bit grainy, but it worked well enough and definitely didn’t detract from what ended up being a fantastic batch of cinnamon rolls.

The view from my dad's back yard--the benefit of living in the middle of nowhere. (Photo taken by Aidan.)

The view from my dad’s back yard–the benefit of living in the middle of nowhere. (Photo taken by Aidan.)

I think of cinnamon rolls as a special occasion food—not the kind of thing you’d eat on a daily basis—and to that end, these were exactly what they should have been: soft, rich, and gooey. They are, of course, sweet, but not the kind of super-sweet that will hurt your teeth or your stomach. This recipe also makes it easy to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast without waking up four hours earlier than everyone else. You mix up and knead the dough the night before, let it rise, roll out and form the cinnamon rolls, and then let the cinnamon rolls rise in the pan overnight in the refrigerator. The original recipe tells you to remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. I wasn’t happy with how much they had risen at the end of the 30 minutes, so I left them sitting on the counter for a full hour before putting them in the oven. The rolls rose beautifully in the oven and baked very evenly.

Cinnamon Rolls via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

This recipe is so good it’s going straight to my best-hits list. I can’t wait to make these again. And again. And again.

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Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe makes a dozen cinnamon rolls. Although I improvised a glaze using granulated sugar, I’ve included the ingredients for a basic powdered sugar glaze that I’ve used before and would use again the next time I make these.

For the dough:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 3 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 packet instant dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

For the Glaze:

  • 1 1/3 c powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

 

  1. In a stand mixer, beat together the egg yolk, whole eggs, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt and mix together until just combined. Add the remaining 1 ¾ c of flour. Using the dough hook, let the mixer knead the dough on low speed for 5-7 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, and moist. The dough should still be a bit tacky to the touch, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature until doubled (2-2.5 hours).
  2. When the dough has finished rising, butter a 9×13 baking dish. (The original recipe recommends a ceramic or glass dish, but I had good luck with a basic aluminum cake pan.) Turn the dough out on a floured counter and roll it into a rectangle approximately 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Roll the dough out so that the widest part of the dough is facing you. Brush the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the brown sugar and then with the cinnamon.
  3. Starting with the side of the dough farthest away from you, roll the dough tightly into an 18”-long spiral. (The best way to get a tight roll is to simply go slowly, making sure to keep the dough taut all the way across as you roll.) Using a serrated knife or dental floss, cut the log into 12 pieces—each piece should be about 1.5” wide. Place the rolls in the prepared baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (The original recipe says that you can chill the rolls for up to 16 hours.)
  4. In the morning, take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter for 30-60 minutes before baking. (I let mine sit for a full hour, but I think my dad’s kitchen was rather cold.) While the rolls sit, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the rolls are ready, bake them for 30 minutes, until they’re raised and golden. If you’re a sucker for precision, they should have an internal temperature of 190 degrees F.
  5. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack. Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze and drizzle over the rolls. Serve while they’re still warm and gooey!

Buttermilk Biscuits

For me, winter is all about comfort foods and biscuits are one of my favorite comfort foods. Biscuits for breakfast? Love it. Topped with honey or apple butter or jam? I’ll have a biscuit with each. With sausage gravy? Yes, please. Served on the side of a great bowl of soup? Yes, again and again.

Buttermilk Biscuits via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I went through several failed batches of biscuits before I came across this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. A lot of biscuit recipes call for things like self-rising flour and shortening, neither of which I keep on hand, and I hate buying special ingredients for just one recipe. (Although I totally admit to buying some rather expensive flaked sea salt to make some salted caramel brownies. Everyone makes exceptions, right?) In addition to using ingredients I tend to have on hand, this recipe comes together easily and makes the best homemade biscuits I’ve ever had.

Like a lot of quick breads, biscuits are best when served warm shortly after they are baked. This recipe doesn’t make a ton of biscuits (I think I usually get just short of a dozen), but it does make more than Aidan and I can eat in a single sitting. If you want to avoid leftover biscuits, you can mix up the dough, cut out the biscuits, bake what you’ll eat, and then freeze the rest of the biscuits. I’ve done this by placing the biscuit rounds on a baking sheet in the freezer for about 45 minutes and then transferring them to a freezer bag. You can bake the the biscuits from the freezer, but you may need to add a couple of extra minutes to the bake time.

Buttermilk Biscuits via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I’ve started compiling a list of my tried-and-true recipes for traditional, crave-worthy baked goods here on the blog. These biscuits are getting added to my archive of Recipes to Live By. I promise that every recipe on the list has been tested (and widely approved) time and again, and I give them all an enthusiastic 5-star rating. Peruse the list and enjoy.

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Buttermilk Biscuits (via Smitten Kitchen)

  • 2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 9 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture and, using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal. Add the buttermilk and stir until large clumps begin to form. Gently knead the mixture in the bowl until it just comes together. In general, you want to be careful about overworking the dough or you’ll end up with tough biscuits.
  3. Dump the dough out onto a floured counter and pat into a circle until the dough is about 1/2” thick. Using an inverted drinking glass or round cookie cutter, cut biscuit rounds out. To prevent sticking, I like to dip the edges of the glass in a little pile of flour before cutting each biscuit. When you cut the biscuits out, press straight down without twisting—this will help you get a better rise. Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave about two inches of space between each biscuit.
  4. Bake the biscuits for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown on top. Allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Apple Cinnamon Scones

My semester is done! I’ve powered through the stack of final exams, tallied the final grades, and pushed all the papers that need pushing to wrap up the last 15 weeks of teaching. Of course, I’m still writing and researching and generally chipping away at my dissertation, but the end of the semester means a bit more time for sewing, holiday baking, and catching up on some blog posts.

Apple Cinnamon Scones via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These scones were a last minute addition to our Thanksgiving menu when I decided the day before that I’d like something special for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. I wanted to use some apples that we had on hand and Aidan wanted scones, and thus began the hunt for an appropriate recipe. I’ve made these apple cinnamon scones from King Arthur Flour before, and they were excellent. Unfortunately, the recipe calls for several ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, and there was no part of me that was willing to brave the grocery store just for scones. Since sour cream was the best liquid I had on hand (it’s weird to think of sour cream as a liquid, but it functions as one in baking), I started looking for a sour cream scone recipe that I could tweak a bit to make apple scones.

Apple Cinnamon Scones via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Ultimately, I ended up adapting a recipe from The Kitchn for Sour Cream Strawberry Scones. I omitted the brown sugar crumble topping called for in the recipe, swapped the strawberries for a chopped apple, and added some cinnamon to the batter. In the end, these scones turned out well and were a great way to kick off our holiday. The sour cream gives them a good flavor and a nice, tender texture. They are only slightly sweet—appropriate for breakfast and not the kind of scone that you would mistake for dessert. If you like a sweeter scone, it would be easy to add a bit more sugar. Perhaps 1/2 a cup instead of 1/4. Using the crumble called for in the original recipe might also make the scones a bit sweeter. The next time I make these, I might also toss the chopped apple in a cinnamon sugar mix before adding them to the batter. Regardless, this is a solid recipe. And the best part is that you can make these scones the night before—just mix up the batter, shape the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and keep them in the refrigerator overnight. I’m looking forward to making it with strawberries when winter is over—perhaps as a way to celebrate the end of the spring semester!

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Apple Cinnamon Scones (adapted from The Kitchn)

  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 c sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 medium apple, chopped

For the topping:

  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, egg, and vanilla. Add the sour cream mix to the flour mix and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold the sour cream mix into the dry mix. When almost all of the flour has been incorporated, turn the dough out onto counter.
  3. Gently pat the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle half of the chopped apple over the surface of the dough. Fold the dough in half and again pat it into a rectangle. Sprinkle the second half of the apples over the surface of the dough and fold the dough in half a second time.
  4. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pat the dough into a large disk about 1” thick. Place the pan in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  5. Half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping. When the oven is fully heated, brush the top of the dough with some milk and generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the dough. Using a bench scraper, knife, or pizza cutter, cut the scone dough into 8 wedges. Pull the scones apart so that there is at least an inch between each scone.
  6. Bake the scones for 18-20 minutes until they are golden brown and the sides of the scones are firm. Allow them to sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring the scones to a wire rack. The scones are best served warm.