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:

M6658

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.

DS9-Stills-major-kira-nerys-12090311-500-641

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

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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.

Blueberry Oatmeal Quick Bread

Apparently I decided to take a summer blogging hiatus. So it goes. As with all things, it’s hard to get back into something you’ve gotten out of the habit of doing, so I’m going to be very unceremonious and jump back in.

I whipped this bread up Tuesday night when I was done teaching–it was at once a form of stress relief and a celebration of the fact that my kitchen is no longer a million degrees. It’s a simple quick bread dough made a bit heartier through the addition of some whole wheat flour and oats. The recipe calls for a fair amount of almond extract, which I was a little worried about since almond extract has such a strong flavor. I thought about substituting vanilla, but forged ahead with the recipe as written and was pleasantly surprised by how nice the almond flavor works with the nuttiness of batter and the flavor of the blueberries.

Blueberry Oatmeal Bread

This bread is basically a good, hearty muffin in bread form–it’s got great flavor, it’s filling, and it’s not too sweet, making it perfect for breakfast or a mid-day snack. I followed Faith’s suggestion and ate a thick slice of this bread lightly toasted and slathered with butter. Seriously delicious and an excellent start to the day with my morning tea.

Blueberry Oatmeal Quick Bread (Adapted from An Edible Mosaic)

Note: The original recipe makes two loaves and includes chopped almonds and a delicious-looking white chocolate glaze. I cut the recipe in half and left off the almonds and glaze because I didn’t have the ingredients on hand. What I’m posting here will make a single, unglazed loaf.

  • 1 c blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c milk
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp chopped, unsalted almonds, optional (I didn’t have almonds on hand but would definitely add them if I did)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease one 8×4 loaf pan.
  2. If using fresh blueberries, add a rounded teaspoon of the flour to the berries and mix to coat the berries well.
  3. Whisk together both of the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Add in the milk, oil, and almond extract and whisk until well incorporated. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring until just combined. Fold in the oats and blueberries and then spread the batter into the prepared pan. If using, sprinkle the chopped almonds over the top of the loaf.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

 

Raspberry-Topped Muffins

I like to listen to music while I’m in the kitchen and while I’m working on my laptop. Sometimes, I listen to my iTunes, but a lot of the time I listen to Pandora. I have a handful of very different stations I’ve set up, and for the past week each station has started playing Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and/or “Rhiannon” several times a day. It’s getting a little eerie.

I can hear you calling to me, Stevie Nicks. And yes, I will be your best friend. Next time, feel free to just call.

(Seriously, though. Make sure you watch that video all the way through, both for Stevie Nicks’ intense performance and for the retro videography.)

Anyway, the creative non-fiction class I started earlier this month is over now. On our second-to-last day, I made some raspberry topped lemon muffins to share at our break. I found the recipe through Smitten Kitchen, and it’s one that I’ve made before to share with friends on a road trip to Louisville for a conference. It’s a basic buttermilk vanilla muffin flavored with lemon sugar (that is, lemon zest mashed into a little bit of sugar) and then topped with a couple of raspberries. It’s enough flavor to keep the muffins interesting without it being the kind of taste explosion that a lot of people don’t care for at breakfast. The muffins are really delicious, and I like this recipe precisely because it’s not your typical struesel-topped blueberry muffin. Believe me when I say that I don’t have anything against blueberry muffins–far from it. But it’s nice to have something a little different. Plus, these muffins are particularly nice for these 80° May days since they taste a whole lot like summer.

raspberry topped muffin

You’ll have to excuse this muffin for being a little . . . well . . . homely. I’m not sure why it’s raspberries are so sunken in or why it’s having trouble keeping it’s little muffin clothes on. But this is the only muffin that made it back with me from class and so it was the only muffin I was able to photograph since I forgot to take pictures before I went to class. You should just trust that even in its ugliness, it was a very delicious little muffin.

The striped muffin liner is from a whole gaggle of muffin liners my friend Abby collected for me after I blogged awhile back about running out of them. Now I have a ton, and a whole host of colors and patterns to choose from. It really does feel like dressing my baked goods up. I see many (hopefully prettier) muffins in my future . . .

Just for fun, here’s what I listened to while I was whipping these babies up:

  1. Heart, Alone
  2. Blondie, Call Me
  3. The Bangles, Walk Like an Egyptian
  4. Joan Jett, Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)
  5. The Go-Go’s, We Got the Beat
  6. Madonna, Material Girl
  7. The Runaways, Rock and Roll
  8. Joan Jett, I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll
  9. Billy Idol, Rebel Yell
  10. Patty Smyth, Goodbye to You

As I write this, Edge of Seventeen just started playing. Perhaps its time for me to take a Gypsy 83-style Stevie Nicks pilgrimage?

What are you listening to this weekend as we kick-off the unofficial start of summer?

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins (from Smitten Kitchen)

Note: This recipe is supposed to make 14 muffins, but I decided to just divide the batter evenly among one muffin tin to make an even dozen. I was able to top my muffins with a 1/2 pint of raspberries and still had a few leftover. But if you want to put more raspberries on the top or make more than a dozen muffins, you might need another 1/2 pint.

  • 1 c sugar, plus 2 tbsp for the lemon sugar
  • Grated lemon peel from 2 large lemons
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 – 1 pint raspberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F and line 12 or 14 (see note above) muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. Mash the 2 tbsp of sugar and lemon zest together in a small bowl until well-combined. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and remaining 1 c sugar. Beat in egg. Add buttermilk, then vanilla, and then the lemon sugar, mixing after each addition until combined. Beat in the flour mixture.
  5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and top each with 3-4 raspberries. (I used three berries on the top of each muffin.) Bake 30-35 minutes until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Weekend Bagels

I’m in the middle of a creative non-fiction class with Minnie Bruce Pratt right now. It’s a Maymester class, which is a cutesy way of saying that the work you would do over the course of a typical 15 week semester gets condensed over the course of ten (10!) days–4 hours of class a day, five days a week, for two weeks. Plus homework. It’s intense, but it’s also been a great experience so far. Since it’s a writing class, it feels a lot like a day camp version of a writing retreat. Given the pace of the class, which is compounded by the fact that most of us are writing about deeply personal and emotionally heavy topics, I was totally exhausted by Friday. So Saturday was, by necessity, a day of relaxing and unwinding. I stayed in my pjs for most of the day, finished seasons 3 and 4 of The Guild, did some knitting, danced around to Adele, and made some bagels.

I’ve been wanting to make bagels for awhile, but have been a little hesitant about the process. It turns out that it’s not any harder than throwing together a loaf of white bread–there’s just a couple of additional steps involved. I was also surprised at how little time was involved making these, especially since I used the bagel recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible which is a book that contains a lot of recipes that take 8-10 hours or that are even best made over the course of two days. I started these around 5 and pulled them out of the oven at 11:30. The recipe begins with a sponge, which you let activate for a bit before you finish and knead the dough. After the dough rises, you shape the bagels, which only sit for a few minutes before you boil them and then they’re ready for the oven.

bagel

When these were done baking, I was more than skeptical. I was convinced I had a flop on my hands. First of all, the bagels just didn’t look good. They got really brown while baking, even though I reduced the baking time by five minutes. They are also, as Aidan quickly observed, significantly flatter than the bagels I’m accustomed to buying. To shape the bagels, I rolled the dough out into snake-like shape and then pinched the ends together in a circle. When they were boiling, a couple of the bagels came undone and then I stupidly tried to pinch them back together post-boil. The result was definitely not pretty. What you see above is the prettiest bagel of the bunch. Second, the bagels felt really hard. They didn’t have the soft, pliable crust I’m used to but felt more akin to a crusty bread. I was sure they would be a disaster. I questioned whether I even wanted a bagel that would be more authentic that what I was raised on. Aidan was surprised that I bagged them up to try in the morning rather than dumping them straight into the garbage.

bagel split open

I’m was really, really wrong because these are damn good. The outside is much chewier than I’m used to, but I realize now that this is a very good thing. And while the inside of the bagel is also chewier, it’s deliciously soft in a way that creates a really pleasing contrast between crust and crumb. These bagels are flatter simply because they aren’t as bready as the bagels you’d buy at the grocery store. I also recognize that these bagels aren’t as ugly as I first thought–they just don’t have the pale crust that I’m used to seeing on a bagel. (I would still reduce my oven temperature the next time around. I think my oven runs a bit hot.) The flavor is also fantastic. In addition to the malt powder that contributes to the distinctive taste of bagels, this dough is seasoned with a bit of black pepper, which doesn’t overwhelm but provides a nice hint of spice. For breakfast this morning, I lightly toasted one of the bagels and topped it with a bit of butter. Best bagel experience ever. These aren’t perfect–I need to work on my shaping technique and play around a bit with bake times and temperature and I’d like to try out these with some different toppings–but this is definitely a recipe that I’m coming back to again and again.

Weekend baking = win. Now back to work.

Levy’s Bagels (from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible)

Note: the original recipe includes separate ingredient lists for a full batch (which makes 10 bagels) and a half batch (which makes 5 bagels). I’ve only included the instructions for the half batch here, but it would be very easy to double the recipe–just don’t double the ingredients for the water bath. Beranbaum warns, however, that if you’re using a KitchenAid mixer to mix and knead the dough, a 5 qt. mixer will only accommodate a half batch. Also, I’ve included the original bake temperatures and times, although I reduced the time by five minutes when I made these. Next time, I think I would reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees since I think my oven runs hot. Also, I realized while typing up this recipe that I accidentally skipped a second rise in the refrigerator. My bagels were fine without it (although perhaps this accounts for the flatness?), but I’ll probably try it next time to see what happens.

Starter:

  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 c high gluten or bread flour

Flour Mixture:

  • 1 c plus 3 tbsp high-gluten or bread flour (reserve the 3 tbsp to add in while kneading)
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp malt powder or barley malt syrup (I used malt powder)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (to be added when you begin kneading the dough)

Water Bath and Glaze:

  • 2 tbsp molasses or 1/4 c sugar (I used molasses)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 tsp cold water
  • Optional: 3 to 4 tbsp toppings, which could include seeds, kosher salt, sea salt, minced sauteed onions, and/or dehydrated garlic chips or dried chopped onions that have been soaked in hot water for a bit.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the starter and whisk for two minutes to incorporate air. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the flour mixture (reserving 3 tbsp of the flour to add in while kneading) and gently sprinkle the mixture over the starter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 hours. For even better flavor, let the bowl sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. If you refrigerate the mixture, let it sit at room temperature for half an hour before you begin kneading the dough. Allow the butter to soften at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before kneading it into the dough.

Add the butter to the starter and flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon or your hand, combine the starter and flour mixture. When a dough starts to form in the bowl, dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for five minutes. Turn your bowl over the dough and let it sit for twenty minutes. After resting, knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. While kneading, only add in as much of the reserved flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or to the counter. The dough should still be slightly tacky to the touch.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled, which should take 1-2 hours. Deflate the dough, flattening it into a rectangle, and then fold the dough in thirds (like you would fold a letter) twice. Oil the top of the dough, cover it, and refrigerate it for four hours or even overnight. [Note: this is the step I missed. If I make these again, I might do up to this step the night before, refrigerate them overnight and then finish the bagels in the morning.]

Cut the dough into 5 equal portions and shape the portions using one of two methods. Method 1: Pull the sides of the dough into the center and pinch them together. Make a hole in the center of the dough using your index finger and then gently stretch the hole until it is about 2 1/2″ wide. Method 2 (the method I used): Roll the dough back and forth on the counter until you have a 12″ rope. Twist the dough around your hand until the two rope ends overlap. Roll the dough back and forth on the counter at the point where the two ends overlap to join them. Set the shaped bagels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover them with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and let them sit for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, add in the molasses or sugar and the baking soda. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, gently add the bagels to the water, boiling two bagels at a time so as not to crowd the pot. Boil the bagels for 1-2 minutes on each side, keeping in mind that the longer you boil the bagels, the chewier the outer crust will be. After boiling, return the bagels to the parchment paper to drain.

Lay the bagels on a fresh piece of parchment on the baking sheet. Whisk together the egg white and cold water. Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the bagels with the glaze. Brush with a second coat, and if using, sprinkle your toppings over the bagels. Bake the bagels for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. (I only did 15 minutes because I was concerned about the rate at which they were browning.) Turn the heat off and leave the bagels in the oven with the door closed for 5 more minutes. Open the oven door and leave the bagels in the oven for 5 minutes. Allow the bagels to cool completely on a wire rack.

Cranberry Orange Scones

I’ve knocked the first item off of the Winter Break Ten list: cranberry orange scones.

Cranberry Orange Scones

I didn’t have scones for the first time until I was already in grad school and decided to spring for a cinnamon scone from ye old Starbucks. At the time, I thought it was okay. Now, I know that Starbucks scones are dry and tough and, weirdly, display no signs of actually being a baked good. I mean, how are they so uniformly shaped? How can a scone have no rise to it? Also, Starbucks, you should know that a thin layer of glaze will not salvage something that is basically a bland choking hazard. I say all of this only because I keep running across scone recipes that claim to be approximations of Starbucks scones. Why would you want to replicate that?

These scones are not dry or tasteless or tough. They were, in fact, delightfully soft, not overly sweet, and easy to make. I did everything short of the actual baking ahead of time, so that I could just throw them in the oven in the morning and enjoy warm, fresh scones with basically no effort. It’s a truly beautiful thing. To make these ahead of time, I mixed the dough up, formed the scones on a baking sheet, and then put the baking sheet in the freezer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. After that, I transferred the scones to a freezer bag. When you’re ready to bake, the scones can go right from the freezer to the oven–no need to defrost. The benefit of freezing the scones is that you can make as many or as few at a time as you want, which is especially nice since they are best when they’ve been freshly baked.

Cranberry Orange Scones 2

I used the Meyer Lemon and Cranberry Scone recipe from Gourmet (also featured on Smitten Kitchen), substituting the zest from one medium sized orange for the lemon zest called for. Between the fresh cranberries and the orange zest, you end up with a scone that has a strong cranberry flavor against a distinct, albeit more subtle backdrop of orange. I imagine it’s something like what Mariah Carey was talking about with top notes and base notes when I watched her hawking her perfume on HSN. If these scones were a perfume, then cranberry would be the top note and orange would be the base note. Maybe. I don’t really know. (Also, why the hell was I watching Mariah Carey on HSN? Oh right–I got sucked in by the sheer absurdity of peep-toe knee-high boots. Of course.) You could probably zest two oranges for more intense orange flavor, but as is, Aidan described these as a “taste explosion.” I’m going to take that as high praise.

Cranberry Orange Scones 3

Cranberry Orange Scones

  • Zest from 1 medium orange (about 1 1/2 tbsp), finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp to sweeten the cranberries
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/4 c fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 c heavy cream
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/2 c sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the chopped cranberries with the 3 tbsp of sugar and then stir the sugar-coated cranberries into the flour mixture.
  3. Beat the egg and egg yolk together, and then beat in the heavy cream. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined and dough begins to clump.
  4. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly flour the parchment. Turn the dough out onto the pan and form it into a single mound. At this point, you can roll the dough out until it’s around 3/4″ thick and use a biscuit cutter to cut out the scones. Or you can do what I did, which was to divide the dough in half, shape it into two 3/4″ thick rounds, and then cut each round into 6 triangles. Pull the triangles apart so that there is about an inch between each scone.
  5. If you want to freeze the scones, place the pan in the freezer for 45 minutes and then move the scones to a freezer bag. These will keep in the freezer for about a week.
  6. Bake the scones in a 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes until scones are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of each scone comes out clean. Frozen scones will take 3 or 4 extra minutes to bake. Serve warm.

Pumpkin x3

Like a lot of people, we’re getting ready for Halloween over here. We’ve got all the pieces for our costumes together, and I plan to spend part of the day throwing together some Halloween treats for a party our friends are throwing tomorrow. On Tuesday night after we did some shopping for the last few pieces of our costumes, Aidan and I came home and carved some pumpkins.

jack-o-lanterns

Mine is on the left; Aidan’s is on the right.

I really love pumpkin carving. When I was a kid, my parents would spread news paper all over the floor, cut open the tops of our pumpkins, and set us to scooping out the guts. My dad would be elbow deep in pumpkins, even though he’s allergic to them, scraping the sides clean. He’d give us each a Sharpie so we could draw a face on our pumpkin, which was a bit dangerous since I distinctly remember drawing some weirdly complicated designs. I believe my sister also had a penchant for drawing mouths with lots of tiny teeth and would get very upset if any of them broke off. I think we all struggled with not being able to carve our pumpkins ourselves, but now every time I take a knife to a pumpkin as an adult, I totally understand my dad’s caution. Because I really appreciate the fact that I still have all ten of my fingers.

Our family would also always roast the seeds from our pumpkins.

pumpkin seeds

I don’t know how my parents did it, but I rinsed these and left them out on a baking tray overnight to dry. Then I tossed these together with 2 tbsp of melted butter and about a teaspoon of seasoned salt and baked them for about 30 minutes at 300 degrees. Tasty. We got about 3 cups of seeds from two pumpkins.

Continuing the pumpkin frenzy, I decided to whip up some pumpkin scones this morning when I got home from teaching my early morning classes. I followed the recipe as written, adding a bag of Hershey’s cinnamon chips to the dough and topping the scones with a cinnamon-sugar mix. I’ve never made scones before, but these came together quickly and easily–it’s a great recipe and the King Arthur Flour blog posted step-by-step photo instructions for this recipe that are also helpful.

scones ready for the oven

After the dough is formed into rounds and sliced, the recipe recommends putting them, uncovered, in the freezer for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven. Chilling the scones before you bake them is supposed to help with the rise, and while I don’t have any prior scone experience to compare it to, multiple people reviewing this recipe said that putting them in the freezer really did make a difference. As someone who can’t ever seem to get my biscuits to rise the way I’d like, it makes me wonder if some pre-oven chilling would help in that situation too. Hmmm . . . I’ll have to experiment and see.

Pumpkin scone

Anyway, these scones were seriously good. I was worried I had over-handled the dough, but they had a great tender, light texture with a crunchy top from the cinnamon-sugar mix. These scones are about a million times better than the dry, dense, iced pumpkin scone I got a few weeks ago from the Starbucks across the street from the building I teach in. Today, one of my students asked me if I preferred Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. I said Dunkin’ Donuts, but I now realize that I really should have said my house. Where else can you get warm pumpkin scones and fresh french press coffee while you watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Ike the Giraffe

In closing, Ike hopes you have a fantastic Halloween weekend. He can’t wait to party.

Apple Muffins

I learned at a very early age that cold breakfast cereal is a shitty way to start the day. I owe this early life lesson to my father who, throughout most of my childhood, would rise at an ungodly hour to make sure we were properly carbo-loaded before school. (This, of course, wasn’t his only morning activity. He would also pack our lunches, get us up and dressed, do my hair, take us to school–the whole deal.) My dad passed down his love of all things breakfast with the usual things like eggs, pancakes, waffles, and french toast, but he was always branching out. So we also had coffee cakes, stuffed french toast, crepes, etc. In tribute, I think, to Bill Cosby and his sketch on letting his kids have  brownies (or was it cookies?) for breakfast, leftover pie and cake were also always fair game in the morning.

Around the time I was 11 or 12, my dad went through a substantial muffin kick. I don’t remember my dad ever making muffins before this, which may very well have been related to an aversion to anything involving a muffin tin. As a kid, I knew that my dad would bake just about anything from cookies to bread, except cupcakes. Because cupcakes, what with all the cupcake liners and batter pouring and increased number of surfaces to frost, were just a pain in the ass. My father is not the kind who has much (or any) patience with the finicky things in life. But at some point, he tried his hands at muffins and almost instantly, the muffin production kicked into high gear. Dad’s muffins came in two varieties: apple and chocolate chocolate chip. (When it was on hand, I’m pretty sure the chocolate muffins were also modified to include marbled layers of cream cheese. I salivate at the memory.) While the chocolate muffins were naturally my favorite, both kinds were terrific and only improved each time he made them. But these muffins didn’t really become a signature “Dad” food until he acquired a set of muffin tins that made gigantic heart-shaped muffins that screamed, “I love you so much I think you deserve a muffin the size of your face.”

It was definitely my dad’s apple muffins that I had on my mind when I decided to make this apple muffin recipe from the King Arthur flour website. All this sentimental nostalgia (combined with the fact that I actually made these on Father’s Day) seems like it’s probably leading up to exclamations about how these muffins were just like dad used to make, or a story about how I’ve spent the past few mornings eating them dreamily, thinking about the days of yesteryear when someone made my breakfast for me. But I really just found them disappointing.

Ignore the ugliness of the over-browned brown sugar topping.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s a fine muffin recipe and all. The King Arthur site sells these muffins as being extremely moist and as keeping well for days, and it’s all true. It’s even quite possible that I’ve eaten, like, three of these today. But they were just not what I wanted. I followed the recipe as written, expect for substuting yogurt for the buttermilk because I didn’t have buttermilk on hand. Buttermilk would have been a better bet and probably would have given these muffins a more substantial flavor. Since these are made with 50% whole wheat flour, I also expected them to have a more distinct whole wheat flavor but the taste of the whole wheat is essentially drowned by the tablespoon of cinnamon that goes into the batter. I also wish that I would have used a more tart apple. I cut up what we had on hand, which was some kind of mild, sweet apple. The result was apple chunks that have a subtle honey flavor that, while pleasant in its own right, doesn’t stand up well with the strong cinnamon flavor. Oh well.

Apple Muffins

Hello, apple chunks.

Basically, I think this recipe is like a pair of jeans that looks like crap on me but might look great on you. The texture is great and they’re quick and easy to make. Ultimately, these would be great if you dig a good apple-cinnamon combo or are wary of an overly-sweet muffin. Or if you are the kind of person who feels compelled to bake with whole wheat flour but doesn’t like the taste of it. (Although, really, if you are this kind of person you should just give up the jig and make what you like. Life is too damn short.) I’ll keep eating these muffins, but I’m also not giving them anything other than a shrug of the shoulders.