Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mulled Apple Cider

It snowed! Hurrah! Everyone went out and played, and got cold. So, we had some cider to warm us all up. Very tasty! And it looks lovely cooked in my Lodge cast iron Apple.


2 quarts apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole allspice berries
2 whole cloves
1 cardamom pod
1 orange, thinly sliced

Combine ingredients in a pot over high heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Serve hot.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Brezeln (Pretzels)

If you like soft pretzels, you MUST try this recipe! I found this recipe for German Brezeln, which calls for the traditional lye bath that creates a pretzel's distinct flavor. However, like most home cooks, I don't want to mess with lye. Researching the best alternative to a lye bath resulted in this experiment, indicating that a cold bath in sodium monocarbonate gives the best result. The pretzels are then rinsed in water before baking. I tried not rinsing before baking on the lower right pretzel in the photo below. It baked darker and somewhat more crisp, but had an unpleasantly harsh taste. Rinsing is worth the effort. We couldn't believe how delicious they were!

Brezeln (Pretzels)

Brezeln, the original soft pretzels, are eaten in Germany, dipped only in butter. The thin ends are crunchier, with the split back nice and bread-like.


  • 11/2 c.+ 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 T. salted butter, softened
  • 1 lb 4 oz bread flour
  • 1 tsp malt
  • 1 T. instant active yeast
  • 310 g (11 oz) baking soda
  • Pretzel Salt, or coarse Kosher salt


  1. Place water, salt and butter in mixer. Combine 1 lb flour with malt and yeast, and add to the water mixture.  Mix, then knead for about 7 min, incorporating the remaining 4 oz flour as needed to form a firm, soft, not sticky dough. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover, and proof for 1 hour in a warm place.
  2. Spread baking soda on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake the soda for an hour in a 300° oven, convection if you have it.  Remove soda from the oven, and increase heat to 375°F for the pretzels. The 310 g of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is now about 200 g of sodium carbonate. This will make a stronger base (alkaline) bath for the pretzels.
  3. While the soda is baking, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 pieces, about 3 oz each. Form into balls. Using very little flour, form balls into 1-foot long ropes, thicker in the middle and tapering towards the ends.
  4. Roll each rope out again to form 2-ft ropes. Twist into pretzel shape, and place 6 onto each of two parchment-lined baking sheets. The ends should cross the loop, dividing it into thirds.
  5. Refrigerate the pretzels, uncovered, for 1 hr. This dries them, making them easier to handle.
  6. Measure out four cups (one quart) of water into a container large enough for three pretzels to fit in. Take care not to create or breathe sodium carbonate dust, which is very fine and powdery, and may irritate skin. Slowly stir the sodium carbonate into the water until dissolved. The water should be clear. Rinse off any solution that contacts skin, as it may also irritate. Set up a second container with water-only, for rinsing the pretzels.

  7. Immerse raw, shaped pretzels three at a time in the bath for three to four minutes. Rinse one at a time with a quick dip in the water, then place onto the baking sheet. Do not add excessive water to the pan, but a little is ok. Sprinkle with salt before they dry.
  8. Make a deep cut through the thick part of the pretzel horizontally with a razor blade or sharp knife. Let pretzels rest for 15 minutes.
  9. Bake pretzels for 20-25 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter, and serve with additional melted butter if desired.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Twix: When less is more...

Twix candy bars are pretty tasty. I just found a great shortbread cookie, and an amazing caramel, and I have a bag of my favorite Pete's Burgundy chocolate. So the obvious thought is, let's put them all together! They look pretty nice!

They are pretty tasty, really. Very rich. But, well, somehow they are disappointing. We all prefer the cookies alone and the caramel alone. Apparently great with great and great is sometimes, somehow less great. A flavor explosion, maybe? Too much butter flavor, and not enough contrast. Maybe I should have made turtles....

I did learn one thing though: An easy way to spread chocolate. I put solid chocolate pieces on top of the caramel and cookie, then set them in the oven on "proof" (100°F) for about four minutes. The chocolate becomes soft and spreadable, without ruining the temper.

Buttery Vanilla Bean Caramel with Sea Salt

Maybe it should be named "I can't stop eating this" caramel!

I just made caramel from a recipe that worked fine before. The recipe calls for honey, and I used some nice local stuff. Unfortunately, the honey flavors intensified while cooking, detracting from the true caramel flavor. Back to the drawing board!

After discovering how amazing fancy imported butter is in shortbread cookies, I wanted a recipe with a lot of butter. Other criteria were salt, vanilla, no honey, no sweetened condensed milk, but with corn syrup (the non-fructose kind). The closest recipes I found were these two, which I combined: http://www.inspiredtaste.net/8947/salted-caramels-recipe/#ixzz2pOwrwAHX and http://www.alaskafromscratch.com/2012/05/16/vanilla-bean-sea-salt-amish-caramels/#prettyPhoto

This caramel is simply amazing! Use heavy whipping cream, vanilla bean, and the expensive foil-wrapped imported butter, and you won't be sorry.

At the lower temperature (240°F), it was very soft, still on the oozy-side until refrigerated. At 250°F, it should be on the tooth-grabbing side. Theoretically, 245°F would be in the "sweet spot" where it cuts nicely and holds its shape, without gluing your teeth together.

Buttery Vanilla Bean Caramel with Sea Salt


  • 1/2 cup salted, imported butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse or flaked sea salt, + 1/4 tsp


  1. Generously butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan; set aside.
  2. Combine chopped butter and cream. Heat just enough to melt the butter. Scrape vanilla bean into the butter/cream mixture, if using. Set mixture aside.
  3. In a small (~2 quart) lidded saucepan, combine corn syrup and water. Slowly add the sugar, avoiding contact with the sides of the pan. Wait for the sugar to become fully moistened, stirring slightly if necessary.
  4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium. Cover for 1 min, to wash any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan. 
  5. Remove the lid and insert a candy thermometer. Cook until 320°F, then remove from the heat; it will be a light amber color around the edges. Carefully add some of the butter and cream mixture. The candy will bubble and foam up as the water in the cream boils. Stir with the candy thermometer to incorporate. Continue adding the remaining cream and butter; the foaming will decrease as the candy cools.
  6. Return to medium heat until the caramel reaches a temperature of 240°F for a soft caramel, 250°F for chewy. Immediately remove from heat, stir in 1/2 tsp salt and vanilla extract (if using), and pour into the prepared pan.
  7. Cool an additional 3 1/2 hours, then unmold. If the caramel is too soft to work with, refrigerate to firm up. Cut into desired pieces with a large sharp knife. Wrap caramels in plastic wrap or waxed paper.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Shortbread Cutout Cookies

I finally found THE recipe! We pull out the cookie cutters every Christmas Eve, and make specially decorated cookies for Santa. It is great fun, and the cookies are very pretty and/or interesting to look at. However, given the choice, we'd all rather eat a good old chocolate chip. But not this time!
Shortbread Cookies from King Arthur Flour, rolled and cut
This time I made shortbread cookies, then rolled them out and cut them like sugar cookies, and baked for about 28 min to get them golden. They spread a bit more than would be ideal, but they did retain a hint of impressions on the surface. Make sure they turn golden around the edges, as this brings out the buttery flavor. They are great with icing too, but we ran out of time. They are crisp, tender, crumbly, buttery, and delicious!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Triple Cinnamon Scones

We've made these several times, and we like them a lot. They take a little while to make, but your time spent is rewarded with delicious cinnamony-biscuity-yumminess. The recipe calls for two specialty ingredients available from King Arthur, and while that can be burdensome, it's worth it to me to keep them in stock. I haven't tried to substitute for them yet.

I have modified the instructions (my part is in blue) from the original (in black, and also some portions deleted). There are also links back to KAF’s original recipe, and their blog entry. My technique is similar to that of my favorite pie dough recipe. I like it better because the dough is easier to handle, without becoming tough. This is, for me, the magical way that allows a bread baker to make tender pastries.

King Arthur Flour’s
With cinnamon filling and cinnamon chips inside, and cinnamon-scented glaze (or cinnamon-sugar) outside, these moist, aromatic scones are a cinnamon-lover's dream come true.



  • 3/4 cup half and half or evaporated milk 
  • 1 cup cinnamon Flav-R-Bites or cinnamon chips
  • 11 ½ oz (2 3/4 cups) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 
  • 1/3 cup sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pats 
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 3/4 cup Baker's Cinnamon Filling
  • 3 tablespoons water 
  • *Or substitute 5 tablespoons butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon for the Baker's Cinnamon Filling mix and water. 


  • 14 oz (3 1/2 cups) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 7 tablespoons water

tips from our bakers

  • Want to substitute cinnamon chips for the Cinnamon Flav-R-Bites? Don't soak the chips; and reduce the half & half or milk to 1/2 to 2/3 cup, starting with 1/2 cup, and adding more if the dough seems too dry. 
  • For a thicker, spreadable icing, mix together 3 cups confectioners' sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 3 to 4 tablespoons milk. Spread/drizzle over the scones.


1) Combine the Cinnamon Flav-R-Bites with the half and half or milk in a small bowl. Let the mixture rest for about 20 minutes.

2) While the cinnamon mixture is resting, get started putting together the rest of the ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
3) Dump the flour mixture out onto a clean board or countertop, and bury the butter pats in the flour. Using the heel of your left hand, plunge into the flour/butter, smearing the butter out. Use a bench scraper or similar spatula item to scrape any butter off your hand, and then use it to scoop under the flour, and flip it back over the top of the mound. Continue smearing and folding until all of the flour has become less powdery and slightly yellow, and the mixture is crumbly. Some larger butter flakes should remain. Take care not to melt the butter with your hands.
4) Stir the eggs and vanilla into the cinnamon-milk mixture. Mix the filling, and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
5) Add about ⅓ of the liquid ingredients into a well in the dry ingredients and use the bench scraper to fold flour back over the top. Continue folding, adding the rest of the liquid, until fairly evenly mixed.
6) Pat the dough into about a 9”x9” square, and move to a generously floured surface (I lift the dough, scrape the board clean under it, and add flour). Fold dough into a “letter”, by flipping up ⅓ from one side, brush off excess flour with a pastry brush, then fold ⅓ of the dough over from the other side. Use a rolling pin to roll back into a square. Repeat the “letter” fold for a total of three foldings, alternating which direction you fold from.
7) Roll the dough out into a 9” x 15” rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough. Fold in a letter fold over the filling, to make about a 3" x 15" rectangle. Gently pat/roll it to lengthen it into a 4" x 24" rectangle; you may want to cut it and make two 4”x12” rectangles, to make it easier to handle.
8) Cut into six 4" squares. Transfer the squares to a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet. Now you have a choice.
  • For large or med scones, cut each square in half diagonally to make a triangle; you'll have 12 scones. For medium scones, cut each square in half diagonally again (an “X” cut), making four triangular scones from each square.
  • For scone strips, cut each 4" square into three rectangles, for a total of 18 scone strips.
  • For tiny squares, cut each 4" square into nine ~1" squares, to make 54 bite-sized mini scones.
9) Gently separate the scones (if you like scones with crunchy edges), leaving about 1" between them. For softer scones, separate the scones just enough to break contact between them.
10) For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. If you’re hungry, skip this step, they’ll still be good.
11) Bake the scones until they're golden brown, about 16 to 20 minutes, or 13-15 if you skipped the freezer. Remove the pan from the oven, and allow the scones to cool right on the pan.
11) Make the glaze by stirring together the sugar, cinnamon, and water. If the sugar seems particularly lumpy, sift it first, for an extra-smooth glaze.
12) Now you're going to coat each scone with glaze. You can dip each one individually, which is quite time-consuming. Or line a baking sheet (with sides) with parchment, and pour about half the glaze atop the parchment. Set the scones atop the glaze, swirling them around a bit to coat their bottoms. Then drizzle the remaining glaze over the top. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze over each scone, to coat it entirely. The glaze is very thin, so this is easily done.
13) Transfer the scones to a rack set over parchment, to catch any drips. As you pick each scone up, run its sides over the glaze in the bottom of the pan, both to use up some of the extra glaze, and to make sure all sides are coated. Allow the glaze to set before serving the scones.

Yield: one dozen large triangles; 2 dozen med triangles; 18 strips; or 54 mini squares.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

(Kentucky) Cream Candy

This recipe was passed to me by my father, who learned it from his mother, and simply called it “cream candy”. They were from Kentucky, and a similar recipe appears online as “Kentucky Cream Candy”.  My aunt says my grandmother got it from a candy store down the street.

Dad is no longer here to help us make the candy right, and all I had was an ingredient list, about two lines of instructions, and my memories of watching him make it when I was little. Now when my brother and his family come to visit at Thanksgiving, we try making it, and I update the recipe once again. It's almost time to try again!

We made it again, forgot to take photos, and once again thought it was going to fail but pulled it off. I'm editing the recipe to include this year's discoveries.

This candy is soft, and yet crumbles when pinched, and has a smooth, creamy, melty mouth-feel. It has a delicate creamy, buttery, hint of caramel taste, and a texture similar to butter party mints. It might be good with vanilla or peppermint added during the pulling process, but is delicious unflavored.

While the technique is hard to pull off “just right”, it is none the less forgiving, entertaining for onlookers, and if not beautiful, always delicious.


1 c whipping cream
3 c sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c water


  1. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice water, and place nearby in case you get hot candy on your skin. If that happens, dunk into the water immediately.

  1. Place a glass of cold water and a spoon nearby. As the thermometer passes the various candy thresholds like thread, and soft ball, dribble some into the water and see what happens. It's fun to see it change, and you can fish out the blob and eat it. Dad always did this, and I’m sure it is vital to the process.

  1. Prepare a cooling place for the hot candy, either an 18”x24” heat-resistant silicone mat on a granite countertop, NOT sprayed with cooking spray, or any combo of baking pans making a total area of about 9”x18”, sparingly sprayed with cooking spray. Too much spray causes a terrible threaded, stringy mess that will try your patience when pulling the candy.

  1. In a very large pot, whisk cream, sugar, and soda until combined. Add water and salt, and whisk until combined.

  1. Cook over med-low heat, stirring only until it begins boiling. Using a lid at this early stage may help clean the sides of the pot. Once it begins to boil, stop stirring, and remove the lid. Cook until it reaches 250°. The temperature will rise and level off as the candy goes through various phases, and the color will change to a light gold. If you pull it off the heat too early, you will end up with something like caramel-flavored maple sugar candy, and it will never “pull” right or become creamy; perhaps there is something to the “dribble test”, after all. I'm giving up on using electronic thermometers on my induction stove. They all seem to wig out, and give inaccurate readings.

  1. Pour candy onto prepared surface. Do not bother scraping the pot when you pour, as this will cause an undesirable crystallized streak. After pouring out as much as possible, scrape the pot with one spoon for each “helper”, cool it in the cold water, and pass them out. Yum!

  1. Allow to cool until you can handle it without burning your hands. I let it even get to room temperature, and it still worked fine. DO NOT grease your hands, and pick up the candy. Do not hold onto it for long, and it should not stick to you.  If absolutely necessary, add the smallest touch of butter/cooking spray to your hands, but at your own risk. If you grease it too much, it becomes a horrible tangle of individual strands that look impossible to combine back into one mass. If this happens, patience will be rewarded; it will come back together eventually.

  1. Pull and fold and pull the candy, like a taffy puller would. Have a partner available to pass it to, because your arms will get tired. Or, have both people pull it together; this takes coordination, and is funny to watch. Don't hold it for too long or it will stick to your hands. Try to work all of the candy into the pull each time, rather than keeping the same portion in your hands. I read a post that suggested pulling as a ring, twisting it back into a smaller ring as it gets too large. It didn't work very well for us; it needs to be slapped back together, rather than just a twist.

  1. Pull until you think something must have gone wrong, and keep going. Then, pull some more. This aspect lends "exhibition" potential; think of it as a magic trick, to entertain family and friends. Have a cutting board and knife ready for when it is done.

  1. It eventually becomes more fragrant, lighter in color, and more "fogged" as you pull. Practice making a rope as cleanly as you can, getting it to pull into an even, ~1.5" dia rope before folding it over, so you can drop it quickly and cut it into nice little logs when it’s done. (Haha, good luck with that).

  1. When you think all is lost, and someone is genuinely convinced that it is a failure, it becomes extra oozy-feeling, and shiny. It will get a different feel as you pull. Then it will heat up; now is the time to stretch it out, lay it on a cutting board, and cut. We caught it go from a steady ~82° up to ~95°.

  1. The candy will suddenly change from soft and stretchy to brittle and crumbly in one brief, magical moment. Here’s hoping that is after you’re done cutting. If you don't stop pulling at the right time, it heats again, this time to ~105°, just before becoming solid and crumbly. We need to check and see if it heats up again even if you stop pulling, as I expect it does. 

  1. If you failed, and instead have a mass of crumbles glued to your hands, crumble it off and break it into chunks. Now you have small, irregular pieces to enjoy. If it turns out gritty and grainy, store it and give it a few days. It should eventually lose the grittiness, and achieve the creamy mouth-feel.

  1. Cool, then put in an airtight container. I like a tight-lidded cookie tin, lined with wax paper. The texture improves overnight, but there may not be any left by then. I hear it’s good for several days, maybe more.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cheesy Rolls

 I had almost abandoned my search for a bread to go with chili, when a co-worker brought in a loaf of her favorite cheese bread from the deli to share. Ureka! That had not occurred to me! A little searching, and I found one blog article describing an amazing cheese bread recipe, which turns out they got from King Arthur Flour's blog! Obviously, their cheese bread was the one to try.
Success! KAF's cheese bread is great; but I must confess I altered it...
I was in a hurry, so skipped the overnight starter step in favor of adding all the ingredients at once, like a regular bread.  I did not have the pizza dough seasoning, but I did have three of the main ingredients, so I added them: malt, cheese powder, and buttermilk powder. I also used all cheddar cheese. So, not exactly their recipe, but great anyway.

The problem is, a bread that is great fun for the family to rip into pieces and share is difficult to share at the office, which is where the chili party was going to be. So, I made it again, this time cutting the dough in half, patting each half out to about maybe 9" x 15", and spreading on half the cheese, rolling up, and cutting into eight rolls, for a total of sixteen. As individual rolls, it looks like more bread than when it is four small loaves. The rolls have all the same lovely flavors and textures of the larger ones, and they are easy to share, and great with chili.

 Here is my roll version of this bread.

Bread shaped as 16 rolls instead of 4 loaves.
Cheese rolls also make great ham sandwiches.