Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

MEMORY MONDAYS

It was a sunny summer Arizona day. I was a bored 13-year-old who had a serious hankering for something sweet. I had all day with nothing to do, most of my family were off doing whatever fun activities they had set up for themselves. I decided to attempt to make cinnamon rolls. My mom made them occasionally, so I dug out her recipe and was off on my very first yeast baking experience!

As I measured out the flour and kneaded the dough, I thought, “This is easy! I could make these everyday!” I left the dough to rise. The recipe said “double”. Forget the fact that I am horrible at visual estimation, I figured 20 minutes or so would be a good amount of time, so I could get them finished before my sisters got home. After about 25 minutes, it looked like it had risen a lot…maybe it was about double.

I rolled them out (Hmmm…how thick? How thin?). I spread the melted butter and did what the recipe said to do: sprinkled sugar and cinnamon. I rolled them up and cut them and put them all side by side in one 9×13 pan. Wait, I have to let the rise AGAIN? Sheesh…   *Sigh* By this time I am dying to eat these things, and it has already taken FOREVER to make them up to this point (remember, I’m 13…an age not known for it’s patience).

I let them sit for about 10 minutes and am delighted that they look all puffy and risen. I preheat the oven and pop them in. I’m so excited to pull them out of the oven, and top them with a basic buttercream frosting (yeah, I think my sisters and I all learned to make a chocolate buttercream frosting before we could talk) and EAT THEM! Mmmmm, these are amaz…amazi…amazingly hard. Like hockey pucks. And flavorless.

It would be many, many, many, many years before I would attempt to bake with yeast again.

Through my cooking and baking adventures, I commonly hear from people “I can’t make anything with yeast”. I completely understand. I had more failures than just that teenaged cinnamon roll disaster, and I finally just decided, “I’m not a yeast baker”. Somehow the yeast baking gene skipped over me.

In college, one day, I wanted homemade cinnamon rolls. I said to myself, “People make homemade cinnamon rolls all.of.the.time. Why in the heck can’t I?” I set out to follow a recipe to-the-tee and see if I could pull it off. I did. They were fabulous. They weren’t perfect, but finding a recipe with precise directions that I followed exactly helped me get a feel for yeast baking. Over the years, as I overcame my fear of yeast failure, I’ve become pretty darn good at it.

The key to yeast baking is experience. That means lots and lots of failure. Lots of hockey pucks and doorstops and fallen breads. The more you experience the dough, the yeast, and how they react in your environment and your oven, the better you’ll get at it.

This is turning out to be a super long post, so thanks for sticking with me. CINNAMON ROLLS (that was for those who skipped all the above part and wanted to get to the pertinent info). Here’s the thing with cinnamon rolls: patience. Make them on a day you have a lot of time, you’re not in a hurry. You need to make sure they are rising as much as needed. Second: roll them thin. You know those cinnamon rolls you get in the mall? They have a ton of layers, and they are nice and soft and gooey. That’s from rolling it super thin so that you get lots of thin layers. Third: do not over stuff the pan. You’ll notice in my pictures that I only put eight rolls in a 9×13 pan. Yeast rolls actually get three times to rise. First, when you double the dough. Second, after shaping, you let them double in the pan. Third, when they cook, they expand again. If you have extra space around them, it gives them lots of room to expand, which results in a softer end product. You also want to frost them hot, straight out of the oven. The frosting will keep the rolls soft as it seeps into the hot roll. Make sure every exposed surface is covered.

GOOEY CINNAMON ROLLS

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

If you haven’t yet, take your eggs out of the fridge so they can warm up to room temperature. In a bowl, or your stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until it is frothy. Meanwhile, melt your butter and let it cool a bit. Stir the butter into the yeast mixture, then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Stir in 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until  the dough just comes together. Do not add too much flour, or your rolls will be tough. Knead for 5 minutes with your dough hook, or for several minutes by hand, until the dough is soft, elastic and bounces back when you touch it. If you are using a stand mixer, the dough should stay on the hook and not stick to the sides of your mixing bowl. You may need to sprinkle extra flour in every so often to keep it from sticking. Place a towel over the bowl and let sit and rise until double, about an hour.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. This is easier said than done, it takes some practice, but don’t worry too much if it has uneven edges. The key here is not the measurement given above, but that it is rolled thin. It can be bigger that 16×21. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar. Use a rubber scraper to spread the soft butter across the surface of the dough. Leave a 1/2 inch border just on the side farthest from you, where you will seal the roll of dough, free from butter. Evenly spread the cinnamon mixture on top of the butter. Starting at the long edge, start to roll the dough. You want it fairly tightly rolled. I tend to stretch it a bit as I go, pulling the roll towards me as I go. It’s normal to have to do one side, then the other. This is a nice, soft dough and will take some finessing to get it to roll evenly. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided. When you get to the end, pinch the edge shut as well as you can. Place the seam side down. Cut the jagged edge piece off each side. Don’t throw them away, those are rolls, too! Now, cut your nice, neat roll into 12 equal portions. I usually cut the log down the middle, then in quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds. You will see all sorts of tips on cutting cinnamon rolls. The only trick you really need is to use a serrated knife (the kind with a jagged edge), and “saw” the rolls, do NOT press down with the knife, or you will mash them. If you lightly saw them with a nice, sharp, serrated knife, you won’t have any problems.

Spray your pans with cooking spray, or lightly grease with some oil. I typically use one 9×13 pan and one slightly smaller oblong pan that fits six rolls (remember, you have the two edge ‘reject’ rolls). You can use a 9×9 pan and ditch the reject rolls if you want, or depending on their size, combine then into one roll and place it in the middle of the 9×9 pan. You want to only put 8 rolls in the 9×13 pan, and the remaining 4-6 rolls in whatever other pan you choose. Cover each pan with a towel and let rise again, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes, until light brown and moist, but not doughy on the inside (just use your psychic abilities, or use a fork to kind of pull the middle of one roll to one side to see the texture of it).

While the rolls are baking, or while they are rising, or whenever (you could pre-make this frosting and freeze it, if you want), whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Immediately frost after removing them from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes, so you don’t scorch the inside of your mouth (this is the hardest part of the recipe).

If you want fresh baked rolls for breakfast (we have them every Christmas morning), you can make these and freeze them after shaping (just get the disposable foil pans and put 6 in each pan). Pull them out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost and slowly rise in the fridge all night. Pull them out of the fridge when you wake up, preheat the oven and bake. for best results, bring to room temp before baking, but even if you don’t do that, they’ll still be amazing.

See? Not perfect! Still amazingly yummy!

Lots of space for these guys to rise.

Cheesy Soft Pretzel Bites

My kids’ schools do a fundraiser several times a year that involves Schwan’s foods. They bring home the catalog, and a portion of the sales goes to the school. I’m not a fan of this fundraiser. First, because they make $0 until the total sales have reached a certain amount, and then it’s only 10% up to a fairly high level. I’d rather donate money directly to the school. Second, because half of the stuff in the catalog is processed crud (albeit, tasty processed crud, from what I hear).

Knowing that we wouldn’t be buying anything from the catalog, my middle schooler came home, handed me the catalog and said “Here, mom, I’ve circled everything I want you to make.” I love that kid. He knows me so well. Most of the items were things I already make, like Shepherd’s Pie, Stroganoff and Pizza. But, a couple gave me some good ideas. Last week I was making soft pretzels for my kiddos and their friends during a minecraft marathon, and I remembered two items that they had in the catalog: mozzarella bites and cheese stuffed pretzels. I combined the two and made my traditional soft pretzel dough, wrapping them around pieces of string cheese. They were awesome, and a huge hit with the group of boys hanging around at my house that day.

CHEESY SOFT PRETZEL BITES

4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F or 45 degrees C)
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 sticks of string cheese
1/8 cup baking soda
1 cup hot water
coarse sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup melted salted butter

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in 1 1/4 cups warm water. Let sit 10 minutes, until frothy. Add remaining sugar, 3 cups of flour and salt. Mix until a dough starts to form. Add additional flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough easily forms a ball. (If using your mixer, the dough will come together and not stick to the sides of the bowl, but it may still stick to the bottom, that’s fine). Knead about 7 minutes by hand or 4-5 minutes by mixer, until dough is elastic. Cover bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. When dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 8×8 square and cut each square into 9 parts.  Cut each stick of string cheese into 6 pieces. Place one piece onto each small square. Fold over and press edges to seal. Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 cup hot water. Dip each pretzel bite in the baking soda water and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt if desired. Bake for 7-8 minutes, until golden brown. When they come out of the oven, brush the tops with melted butter.

REAL food alert: check the ingredients in the string cheese. Some have additives.

FREEZER alert: you can freeze these. To reheat, place a few on a plate and microwave for 30 seconds.

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Sour Cream Blueberry Zucchini Bread

My daughter is a food hummer. Do you have one of those? My niece was one when she was little, too. These joyous kids enjoy their food so much they hum while eating. My curly-topped blondie can’t hold in her joy when eating yummy food. Yesterday I made this bread. I tried to convince her to eat a slice. She was hesitant, she’s weird about certain colors in her food, she wasn’t sure about the big blue blotches. After a while, she decided to give it a go. A few minutes latter I starting hearing a little hum. A cute little tune coming from the dining room. A few minutes later, she toddled over to me to express “Mommy! Yummmmmmm!”. Yep, she’s her mother’s daughter. She loves to express her joy over tasty food.

This tasty, moist bread is a great way to use your bumper crop of zucchini, it makes great gifts (teachers need some love!!) and freezes well.

SOUR CREAM BLUEBERRY ZUCCHINI BREAD

2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup sour cream
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups zucchini, shredded
1 pint fresh blueberries, washed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8×4 loaf pans. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Add sour cream. Mix well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix until almost flour is almost incorporated. It will be thick. Add zucchini and blueberries. Stir by hand just until mixed. Split the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a knife entered near the center comes out clean. Cool in the loaf pans on a baking rack before removing from pans.

REAL food alert: Check your sour cream for additives. The ingredients should just be cream, or cream, milk and enzymes.

HEALTH alert: Make this healthier by subbing 2 cups of the flour for whole wheat. You can also choose a healthier sugar, like raw honey or agave, or a less-processed sugar, like succanat. Keep at least one cup of sugar a “dry” sugar, so sub up to one cup for honey or agave. Subbing the sugar or flour will result in a denser, heavier bread. You can substitute fat free sour cream, but notice the increase in additives.

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World Wednesday: Irish Soda Farls

World Wednesday

Have ever done genealogy? That’s where you track down your ancestors. A few years ago, I felt like giving a go and it consumed me. It’s like the most addictive puzzle ever created. My mom, who was working on her ancestors, gave me a line to work on. The Robinsons. My maternal grandmother’s grandparents. I traced it back to Charles and Catherine Robinson, my 5th great grandparents who came over around the year 1773 from Ireland. It sounds easy summed up like that, but in reality, it was hours of obsessive searching. I’d send the kids off to school, turn on a movie for the littles and the next thing I know, I’m being roused from my puzzle-solving by a dirty diaper, a demand for lunch, eventually my husband is there (Where’d he come from? Why isn’t he at work? It’s the middle of the….oh..it’s 6 p.m.) asking if we’re having PB and J for dinner again. Yeah. I stopped doing genealogy for a while. I figure, in a few years I’ll be missing my kids all day and needing a distraction, and I can pick up the addiction again. BUT, the point here is what I FOUND. At least a part of me is Irish. I was ecstatic. I have always loved all things Irish, the music, the food, the sexy accent. My husband’s main line is Irish as well, and I have a goal to some day trace both of our lineage back to Ireland and take a nice long trip there when our kids are grown and gone.

A few years back, inspired by good friends who have special family traditions marking their ethnic heritages, I decided that we needed a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. I’m not a huge fan of corned beef and cabbage, so I decided to make Irish Soda Farls and Lemon Curd every year. Disclaimer: Lemon Curd is not specifically Irish. I believe it’s more of a British tradition (can my international readers shed some light?), but my kids love it and it’s tasty.

Soda Farls are like a pan-cooked quick biscuit. The dough is very soft and the result is a very soft, tender bread. Traditionally, the dough is rolled out, cut into fourths and the browned in a skillet. I cut mine into eighths, because it’s easier to work with and the kids feel like they get more when they can have seconds or thirds. (Yeah, you moms know what I’m talking about, parental trickery rocks). This works great in an iron skillet. Unfortunately, mine was accidentally soaked and has some rust we need to scour off, so it wasn’t available for my farl-cooking this year.

IRISH SODA FARLS 

4 cups flour (I used half whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk*

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Slowly mix in buttermilk until dough starts to form. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little until dough is fully combined and smooth. Dough will be very soft and a little sticky. Reflour your surface, and divide the dough into two halves. Roll each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into fourths or eighths. Heat a thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Place your dough in the skillet and cook on each side until brown and the middle is cooked. Turn down your heat to medium after the first batch to avoid the pan over heating. If you find that they are sticking, reflour the dough before putting it in the pan. Serve hot with butter and jam or lemon curd.

*If you don’t have buttermilk, Measure 2 cups of milk into a bowl and add 2 TBS lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit 15 minutes before using.

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French Bread

Yeah, I don’t have a cute story to tell about one of my sons involving french bread…sorry. I’m just gonna get to the goods.

This is the easiest, softest french bread you’ll ever make. You will never buy a loaf from the grocery store again after making this bread. It’s super soft on the inside and crusty on the outside, exactly how it’s supposed to be.

FRENCH BREAD

2 cups warm water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 TBS sugar
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

In your stand mixer, with the dough hook, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. Turn on low and mix while adding more flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stop as soon as the dough comes together and forms a ball. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Every once in a while, check the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough until it comes back into a ball. Try to use as little flour as possible. Remove the bowl and set in a warm place until it doubles, about an hour. On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough out and cut it in half. Take each half and twist it into a long strand, like a baguette. Take one strand and fold it in half, twisting it onto itself. Repeat with the other half. Place them side by side on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Let rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a shallow pan filled partway with water on the bottom rack of the oven. Carefully place the baking sheet with the loaves on the middle rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are brown and the bread sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Let cool before slicing.

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Coconut Zucchini Bread

We restrict video games in our house. Fridays and Saturdays only. That means, Friday afternoons we typically have a pack of boys in our house glued to various computers, systems and devices. Today I planned to try out a new recipe for coconut banana bread, using the bananas I bought a few days ago. Those of you with sons can probably foresee what comes next…

You see, in a house full of boys, if you don’t specifically designate something as being bought for a recipe, it’s fair game. I went to start the recipe and the bananas were gone. So, I invented something else, after digging through my fridge, eyeing the fruit bowl and taking a gander in the pantry.

Boy am I glad I did.

This may be the best quick bread I have ever made. It’s super moist, sweet and packed with zucchini. It’s a keeper. Both loaves are gone and I’ve been commanded to make more tomorrow.

COCONUT ZUCCHINI BREAD

2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup coconut milk
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
2 cups zucchini, shredded

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8×4 loaf pans. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Add coconut milk. Be sure you shake the can well before opening. The solids and liquids separate in the can, and you may have to stir it with a spoon before measuring. Mix well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix until almost flour is almost incorporated. Add zucchini and coconut. Stir by hand just until mixed. Split the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife entered near the center comes out clean. Cool in the loaf pans on a baking rack before removing from pans.

HEALTH alert: Make this healthier by subbing 2 cups of the flour for whole wheat. You can also choose a healthier sugar, like raw honey or agave, or a less-processed sugar, like succanat. Keep at least one cup of sugar a “dry” sugar, so sub up to one cup for honey or agave. You could lower the sugar as well, though it won’t be as, well…sweet. (duh.) But, the coconut’s natural sweetness makes up for some of that.

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Baked Valentine’s Donuts

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that you either love or hate. I have found, since having kids, that even the most commercialized, purposeless holidays can be fun when seen through the eyes of a five-year old. Now if we can just get congress to ban the Kay Jewelry “Open Heart Collection” commercials, life would be great.

This year, I decided that baked heart shaped donuts, filled with strawberry filling would be a fun and tasty way to celebrate with the family. And, no…Jane Seymour is NOT getting any.

BAKED VALENTINE’S DONUTS

Donuts:

3/4 cup warm milk
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, whisked
1/2 tsp salt
2 -3 cup flour

Combine yeast and warm milk in your stand mixer bowl, or in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gently mix in butter, sugar and egg (make sure egg is well blended before adding). Add flour, 1/2 c at a time. Add salt in with the first batch of flour. Mix thoroughly after each flour addition. Stop adding flour as soon as the dough sticks together. You definitely want as little flour in your dough as possible. using your dough hook, or hands, if you’re more traditional, knead for 5 minutes. Watch the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little bit of flour as needed to coax it back into a ball. Again, use as little flour as possible. When I make this, I typically only use 2 cups of flour.

Remove bowl and place in a warm place to rise until double (about an hour, but this can drastically vary depending on all sorts of factors).

Once it has risen, dump it onto a counter that has been lightly dusted with flour. Roll it out to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a heart cookie cutter to cut the dough into hearts. Use as much of the dough in the first cut as possible, then collect the scraps and recut. If you must, you can do it a third time, but the resulting donuts will be tougher than the first.

Place the hearts on parchment-covered baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Let rise again until double, another 45 min- 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Remove when they are light brown on top. Immediately slide to a cooling rack.

Strawberry Filling:

3 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup sugar
1 TBS cornstarch
2 TBS cold water

Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor (be sure to thaw them first if you are starting with frozen). Add the sugar. Pour into a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Combine the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl. Stir the strawberry mixture until sugar is fully dissolved. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir over medium heat until thick and jelly-like. Pour into a container and refrigerate until chilled.

To assemble:

Take a donut and poke a hole in one side with a small knife or skewer. Carefully move the knife/skewer around the inside of the donut to allow room for the filling. (A clean finger does this well, if that doesn’t gross you out)

Scoop some filling into a zipper-topped bag. Cut a small portion off the corner, insert into the donut and squeeze the filling into the donut.

Spoon some powdered sugar into a fine-mesh strainer, lightly dust the donuts by tapping the side of the strainer as you pass over them.

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Homemade Hamburger Buns

When I was a little girl, my mom made almost every thing from scratch. I think this was part necessity, and part attempting to show that she could “do it all” as a mom: homemade goodness while working in the home teaching piano lessons and babysitting. She was wonder woman. I remember one thing that she made from scratch was hamburger buns. To this day, I think a phenomenal bun take hamburgers to the next level. Hand-shaped Angus hamburgers from the grill, dripping with mayo and ketchup is still one of my favorite indulgences. Make these buns for your next grill-out and wow the guests…or your family.

HOMEMADE HAMBURGER BUNS

3 TBS warm milk
1 cup warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
2½ TBS sugar
1½ tsp salt
1  egg, beaten
2-3 cups flour
3 TBS vital wheat gluten
2 TBS butter, softened

For egg wash:

1 egg
1 TBS water

In your stand mixer, combine milk, water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit 5 minutes, until foamy. Mix in the beaten egg.  Add 2 cups of flour, the salt and the gluten, and mix with your dough hook until incorporated.  Add additional flour as needed in 1/2 cup increments until dough sticks together. Be careful to add as little flour as possible, just enough to hold the dough together. Mix in the butter. Let mixer knead the dough on low for 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. The dough should be very soft. Remove bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm place until double, typically about an hour, but it will vary.

Dump the dough on a counter, sprinkled with flour. Divide the dough into eight pieces.  Line your baking sheet with parchment paper (yes, I know I didn’t…and I regretted it). Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, 2 inches apart.  Place in a warm area and allow to rise until double, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place a pan half-full of water on the lowest rack of the oven. Combine the egg and water. Very carefully, brush the tops of the buns lightly with the egg wash.  Bake the rolls on the center oven rack for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.  Cool on a cooling rack.

For the ultimate burger, Brush with melted butter and lightly toast on the grill or under a broiler.

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