Archive for February, 2012

Bake 52 Week 9: Babka

February 29, 2012

I was kind of dragging my feet when it came to making this recipe…for some reason, it just didn’t look that good to me (probably that silly nut issue again).  Had I only known how yummy it would be!

I did leave the walnuts out of about 1/3 of the roll, just so that I could at least enjoy a little bit.  And I’m glad I didn’t leave them out of more because I would have eaten the entire two loaves in one sitting if those walnuts hadn’t been there to deter me.  Joseph took the rest to work……….

One downside that could be seen as an upside to this recipe is that the dough has to chill for 10-24 hours.  At first I thought that was a pain, having to stretch the process out so long….and if you need a dessert quick, then it is a pain.  But, it’s also kind of nice to know of a recipe that you can start ahead of time.  The assembly didn’t really take that long or make a very big mess, so day 2 of work wasn’t that bad.

For those of you concerned about heart attacks, be warned that this recipe calls for 2 full sticks of butter.  Really, how can anything with that much butter taste bad?  But it did kind of turn my stomach to see it all mush together in my mixer.  However, all of those thoughts were long gone by the time the babka came out of the oven.

The recipe instructs waiting for 2 hours for the babka to cool before serving, which I think is a crime.  This is the sort of thing meant to be eaten warm out of the oven!  My initial taste was from the heal of the loaf.  It was a little dry and crumbly, and quite frankly, disappointing.  But my next bite was a little bit of heaven.  YUMMY!  The overall effect is similar to cinnamon rolls, but this bread is heavier and sweeter and just downright delicious.  Joseph proclaimed that he liked it better than cinnamon rolls and I might have to agree with him.

Michelle was this week’s host….hop on over to her blog for a recipe worth trying!


Bake 52 Week 8: Peanut Butter Cookies

February 22, 2012

When I saw that my cute neighbor Jen picked peanut butter cookies for her week to host, I was excited.  Who doesn’t love a good cookie recipe?  I don’t bake peanut butter cookies with much frequency, but I was looking forward to making something a little more basic this week and hoping that maybe a great new cookbook would give me some tips to keep my cookies from baking up flat.

I failed on that front.  Mine turned out flat.  I even added extra flour after the first batch came out of the oven.  Still flat.  To be fair though, I did alter the recipe from the original, so maybe that played a part (we’ll blame that even if it really is due to user error 😉 ).

As I’ve stated in the past, I think it’s a sin to put nuts in baked goods. If you want to ruin a baked good in the blink of an eye, put nuts in it. Apparently, the Test Kitchen chefs think it’s a sin to not load peanut butter cookies up with nuts. I’ll give them a pass this one time, given that they are peanut butter cookies. But nobody in my house would eat them with nuts, so not only did I use creamy peanut butter, I omitted the cup full of chopped peanuts. And even if they were flat, they were YUMMY! I need to try my stand-by peanut butter cookie recipe soon so that I can decide which I like best.

If anybody has any tips for me on how to make my cookies come out of the oven with a little more dimension, I would love to hear it!

For this week’s recipe, visit Jen’s blog!

Bake 52 Week 7: Basic Pizza Dough

February 15, 2012

If you know me well, you should probably sit down before reading this next sentence: I wasn’t in the mood for pizza the night I made this.

Me? Not in the mood for pizza? It’s true. I’ve eaten so much pizza in the last couple of weeks that I truly wasn’t really in the mood for it this time. But, I made a sacrifice and ate it anyway 😉

I have two go-to pizza dough recipes that I use rather frequently. One is a thinner crust that bakes up nicely, and the upside to it is that the recipe makes just one crust, so I use it when I don’t want two pizzas, or pizza and breadsticks. The other makes a more bready crust, and makes enough for two pizzas, or one pizza and breadsticks (which is the route we usually go). The best thing about both of these recipes? From start to finish, I can have pizza on the table within about 30 minutes.

Being spoiled like that, I had a bit of a struggle with the prep time that the basic pizza dough recipes takes–it has to rise for 1-1 1/2 hours. It’s a rare day in my house when I plan dinner ahead to the point that I have that much leeway. And given that the day I made this pizza was an incredibly busy one, it’s a miracle that we ate before 10:00 that night. But, I pulled it off. I decided to do one pizza and make breadsticks with the rest of the dough. I skipped the suggestion to use the pizza sauce recipe in the book….I LOVE my old standby sauce, which is just 1 cup of tomato sauce seasoned with a tablespoon of Shirley J Pizza & Pasta Seasoning. So quick and easy and super yummy! With my pizza and breadsticks prepared, they were ready to go into the oven. (and if my cheese looks a bit odd to you, it because it’s frozen….we make pizza frequently enough that I find it easiest to buy mozzerella in bulk and freeze it in bags containing 2 cups of cheese, which is the perfect amount for a pizza or batch of cheesy breadsticks)

I’m a pretty big cheater when it comes to using my pizza stone. I never preheat it. Shame on me, right? Well, even on a cold stone, my pizzas always bake up nicely, so I figure there’s no point. But, trying to stick to the recipe on this one, I put my stone in a 500° oven to let it heat up for 30 minutes. And when the 30 minutes was up and I opened the oven door, smoke billowed out. My poor house was hazy and smelly for the rest of the night. Hmmmm….not a very good incentive to try that again.

I really struggled to get the pizza from the baking sheet to the stone. The recipe suggests making the pizza on a piece of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet (or the back of a rimmed baking sheet, which is what I did), and then when it’s time to bake, sliding the parchment from the baking sheet to the hot stone in the oven. That step really needs two people. I nearly lost the pizza more than once while attempting to slide it from one location to the other, while trying not to give myself a 500° burn. I think a pizza peel would be a worthy investment if I plan to preheat my stone more often in the future.

After 8 minutes in the oven, my pizza still looked a little undercooked. So, I gave it 2 more minutes….and when the time was up, the cheese looked as though any more time in the oven would leave it burnt, while the crust looked like it still needed a minute or two to bake. Plus, one side of the pizza was much less baked than the other….not sure why it didn’t bake up evenly. In spite of that, it was cooked all the way through and seemed to pass the soggy vs. crisp test mentioned in the book.  The breadsticks looked great when they came out!

Did it pass the taste test? Yeah, I think so. Maybe not with flying colors, but everyone liked it. Typically when I make pizza, Ryan will easily eat three pieces and several breadsticks. He was done after just one of these slices. Both of my other pizza recipes include a bit of sugar in the dough and I think this recipe could have used some as well….it was a tad bland for me.  The final consensus from Joseph was that he preferred my other recipes.

I WILL try this recipe again. I think some of my issues with it were due to user error. It likely won’t go on my go-to recipe list, mainly because of the rising time involved, but I think I should be able to tweak it enough to fit my tastes and make it one that we use from time to time.

Betsy was this week’s host and the full recipe and diretions can be found on her blog.

// <![CDATA[
// ]]>

Bake 52 Week 6: Challah

February 8, 2012

Welcome to my week to host!

I chose this recipe for a few reasons.  First, the Bake 52 group decided we needed to choose recipes at least 2 weeks in advance, to help minimize the number of trips we all had to take to the store.  In my current state of pregnancy, it’s hard for me to know what I’m going to want for dinner, let alone what I’m going to feel like baking two or three weeks down the road.  But bread is a staple for me.  Odds were high that I’d still be in the mood for this recipe by the time my turn to host rolled around.

Second, it’s pretty.  I make bread and rolls regularly, but I’ve not ventured into anything beyond the basics.  I thought it would be fun to try out this decorative bread.

And third, the recipe had me at “Leftover challah makes sensational French toast”…..if there’s one thing I love more than pizza, it’s French toast! (well, that’s not totally true…but it does come in a close second to pizza 🙂 ).

A couple of added benefits that I hadn’t anticipated was a nice break for the sweet tooth, as well as a much needed break for the pocketbook!

Overall, this one gets a 10 for presentation.  It really is quite pretty.  As for taste…..maybe a 7.  It didn’t wow me, but it was good.  I’ve had bread that has left my mouth watering for more…. Challah didn’t do that for me.

Will I make it again?  Probably.  It was fairly quick and easy and would make for a nice bread to take to a dinner party.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe!  (my two cents added in red)


1/2 cup warm water
4 TB (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (save the white for the glaze)
3-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg white (left from the egg yolk you used for the dough)
2 TB water
1 tsp poppy or sesame seeds (optional) NOTE:  Don’t add these to the glaze mixture.  They will be sprinkled on.  Also, I think the seeds are mostly for looks, so if you don’t have them, I wouldn’t run out and buy them.  They won’t really add anything to the flavor.

1. For the dough: Whisk the water, melted butter, eggs, and egg yolk together in a large liquid measuring cup. Combine 3 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the water mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

2. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If ater 4 minutes more flour is needed, add the reamining 1/2 cup flour, 2 TB at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom. I did have to add a bit more flour to pull the dough a little more off the sides of the bowl.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Mine took longer to rise, and never really got double in size.  I finally just went ahead with the recipe when I didn’t think it would rise anymore.

4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and, following the photos on page 114, divide the dough into 2 pices, one twice as large as the other. Divide each piece into 3 pieces and roll each piece out into a 16-inch long rope (3 ropes will be much thicker).  I had too much flour on my counter.  The ropes got coated with flour, and when I tried to roll them into ropes, they just slid all over the counter.  Be stingy with the flour here!

Read steps 5 & 6 before proceeding, and then read the section “Braiding Challah” for more details on the braid.

5. For the glaze and to braid: Beat the egg white and the water together in a small bowl. Braid two loaves, one large and one small. Transfer the larger braid to the prepared baking sheet, brush with some of the egg white-water mixture, and secure the smaller braid on top. Tuck both ends under the loaf. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, 45-75 minutes.

I messed  up here.  I failed to read step 6, so I brushed the entire loaf with the eggwhite mixture before leaving it to rise.  I also failed to realize that I shouldn’t have mixed the poppy seeds in with the glaze (a note in the ingredients list would have been nice….I added the one above)….they just sink to the bottom of the mixture and you end up sprinkling them on anyway.

Braiding Challah

1. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one twice as large as the other.
2. Divide the large piece of dough into 3 ropes, each about 16 inches long and 1 inch thick. Line the 3 ropes up side by side and pinch the top ends together to seal.
3. Take the dough rope on the right and lay it over the center rope. Take the dough rope on the left and lay it over the center rope (aka, braid. I suppose if you are a guy, you might need such detailed directions….most of us girls could figure this out!)
4. Repeat until the ropes od ough are entirely braided. Pinch the ends together.
5. Divide the smaller piece of dough into 3 ropes, about 16 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Braid as directed above.
6. Transfer the larger braid to a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with some of the egg white mixture, and secure the smaller braid on top. Tuck both ends under the loaf.

6. Adjust and oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 357°. Brush the loaf with the reamining egg white-water mixture, sprinkle with the seeds (if using), then spray lightly with water. Bake until golden and the center of the loaf registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 30-40 minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through baking. Cool the bread on the bakng sheet for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before serving. I baked for 30 minutes and felt like it was a tad too long….the bottom crust was pretty tough.  Next time, I’ll try 25 minutes and see how it looks.

PRETTY!  I was surprised that it came out of the oven looking pretty much like the picture in the recipe book….that doesn’t usually happen for me!

I disregarded the advice to let the Challah cool for 2 hours before serving.  There’s nothing better than warm bread topped with homemade jam!

We made French toast for dinner to decide if it really was sensational.  Again, it didn’t wow me.  It was good French toast, but it wasn’t anything out of this world.

I did enjoy trying a bread that is a little bit out-of-the-norm and am excited to try some of the other bread recipes in the book!

Bake 52 Week 5: 7-Layer Bars

February 1, 2012

This week’s host, Jesse, chose 7-Layer Bars. Picky ‘ol me likes exactly 3 ingredients in this recipe–graham crackers, Rice Krispies, and butter. So they went to work with Joseph again. His co-workers are really starting to love me!

I haven’t dared add the up the cost of all of this baking-from-scratch stuff, but I couldn’t help myself this week. I was doing my regular grocery shopping when I bought the ingredients and these bars ate up a big chunk of my budget! The only things I didn’t have to buy were graham crackers, butter, and vanilla. I actually had some chocolate chips, but wanted to buy more to replace what I would use from my own stockpile. I went with generic brands as available (which I think was everything but the toffee) and the total for the ingredients was just over $20! OUCH! Add a few more bucks if I’d needed to buy the 3 ingredients I already had on-hand….this is not a cheap dessert! Granted, there was a full-box-minus-one-cup of Rice Krispies left and a little bit of chocolate chips, but still, not cheap.

One of our at-home bakers made these last week and commented that 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk were a little overwhelming for her.  The Test Kitchen chefs felt that one can was not enough.  I was initially going to go with a happy medium of 1 1/2 cans, but I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the remaining 1/2 can, and I didn’t want to just toss it. So I went with one can, and in spite of the Test Kitchen chef’s warnings not to, I don’t think it ruined the recipe.

Toasted coconut….a first for me.

Had the recipe ended here, I probably would have eaten it.  Even though I don’t like toffee.  It smelled sooooo good coming out of the oven!

In the oven…

Once they were completed, these looked 100%, without a doubt, unappetizing to me. I had zero desire to even take a little nibble to test them out. But Joseph was drooling before they even came out of the oven.

He took them to work the next morning and said they were recieved with rave reviews.

My favorite thing about this recipe?  It took far less time than the recipes in the last couple of weeks.  My least favorite?  The cost.

If these puppies look yummy to you, head on over to Jesse’s blog for the recipe!