Sep 29, 2017

Coffee Caramel Monkey Bread

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Oh, hello! I’m hoping you are either visiting because you’ve always visited and listened to me talk about all manner of life and baking, or that you’ve landed here after watching the Today show. Welcome!

As soon as I get back from New York, I’ll be diving into the fall and holiday chapters of the new book, and testing lots of great recipes to share with you. One of the best things about creating this new book is that the timeline of developing the manuscript is allowing me to bake my way through the year–we just finished a season of light cakes, ice creams, summer fruit pies, cobblers, dessert salads, and way more. And now, after a solid week of unwavering, sweaty, snappy-retort-causing 90-degree-plus temps in Chicago–the heat seems to have finally broken, and from beneath it I can feel some great baking inspiration rising.

And hey, speaking of rising, how are you feeling about yeast-raised doughs at this point in your baking life? (Heyyyy-ooooh! Tip the bartender on your way out!) For the longest time, they scared me in a totally irrational way. It all seemed way too touchy and volatile, and generally way too easy to mess up. So I either avoided yeast doughs altogether, or stuck to the plethora of no-knead bread recipes available on the internet. But now it’s different. I’ve learned that the trick to great bread is to just keep making freaking bread. Lots of lots of bread, much of it bad. And then suddenly, it will stop being bad. You’ll learn what the silky texture of a dough really means and when you achieve it, and if it’s not feeling silky and buoyant, how you must continue to work it to get it there.

You also learn that if you’re me, against all your old-fashioned homesteading dreams, even just 10 minutes of hand-kneading is incredibly boring and that you get better, quicker results from using a mixer for the heavy lifting, and finishing the kneading with just a few minutes by hand, to enjoy the feel of the dough when it’s really in its kneaded prime. And I feel great about that discovery. It’s brought a whole lot more joy to my bread-making life, I’ll tell you that right now.

One of the most adorable and delicious ways to use a homemade white bread dough is monkey bread, that midwestern classic. For me, it’s evocative of many a Chicago-suburbian slumber party in my school days, bake sales and church basements and snow days at other people’s houses (my mother is many things, but she is not a baker. Except for this and this, and these two things are perfect).

The good news is that you don’t need to make from-scratch bread dough to bake up a great monkey bread. Now this doesn’t mean that I think the Pinteresting trends of using canned biscuits and what not are a grand idea in this case. To me, the genuine article when it comes to monkey bread means that the dough is yeasted. So when I’m short on time or the will to live, I use frozen bread dough, either in 1-pound loaves, or the frozen individual dinner rolls that are designed to have a rise time before baking–the rolls are especially great because they require only a crosswise snip with kitchen scissors to make them just the right size.

From there, you can go many different ways–simply rolling the dough balls in butter and then cinnamon-sugar and stuffing them into a bundt pan, or you can gild the lily by dousing the whole buttery, spicy, sugary lot in a sweet caramel syrup to make it even more irresistible. I’ll give you zero seconds to guess which method I prefer.

 

Coffee Caramel Monkey Bread

A few tips for success: First, cold dough will cut and shape much more easily. Second, if the bread begins to billow out of the pan during baking, just carefully and gently press it back down into the pan while it’s in the oven–sometimes the caramel syrup can steam underneath the dough and send it upwards. And lastly, be sure to allow the bread to settle in the pan for about 20 minutes before turning it out.

Serves 10-12

For the dough:

2 pounds (907 grams) frozen white bread dough, thawed but still cold
1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces/75 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the caramel:

1/2 cup (4 ounces/113 grams) strong brewed coffee
6 tablespoons (3 ounces/75 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup (8 ounces/225 grams) dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Spray a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan with nonstick cooking spray and set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Cut the dough into small pieces and roll into 1-inch balls.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Lightly coat the dough balls with melted butter, then toss them in the sugar to coat. Fit the dough balls into the pan. Cover the pan with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

In a medium saucepan set over high heat, combine the coffee, butter, brown sugar, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for two minutes, until slightly thickened. Immediately pour the caramel over the risen dough. Bake until puffed and golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before inverting onto a platter and serving warm.

Sep 17, 2017

S’mores Snack Mix

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Like so many wholly unrelated things in life, I tend to liken this utterly habit-forming snack mix to parenting. Hear me out.

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May 12, 2017

Riffable Whipped Cream Scones

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So hey! First, some news: as you might have guessed from the past several months of posts on Instagram, book #4 is officially in the works. I couldn’t be more excited to be sharing the recipes and stories of my journey home to the great Midwest, and doing so with the fine folks from Running Press, purveyor of gorgeous cookbooks. It will be packed with not only great Heartland-inspired recipes, but also bits of food history, snapshots of the immigrant cultures that have influenced our baking for centuries, and conversations with some of the Midwest’s most influential bakers. It will be my most personal book yet, which is at once terrifying and yet oddly comfortable. Going home after a long time away will do that to a person, I suppose.

I’ll share wordier details and the release date here as I am able, but you’re much more likely to get the updates on Instagram, as the glorious micro-blogging qualities of that platform are much more conducive to my headless chicken tendencies. At any rate, I am deep into recipe testing and research, and couldn’t be happier about the whole thing. The insanity of cookbook writing hasn’t scared me off yet. Hooray!

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Apr 18, 2017

Classic Pullman Loaf

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Well, hey! I figure now that it’s April and we’ve all clearly gotten over carb-banning early months of the new year, that we can get real once again and talk about the good stuff in life. Like bread. And let’s just go all in here and talk white bread. YOLOOOOOOO.

Since relocating to my hometown of Chicago from San Francisco a year and a half ago (!!), I’ve gotten deep into the art of Midwestern baking. What it looks like, what it tastes like, what it means, the roots of it all. It’s been good for the brain, the spirit, the soul. When I left the Midwest in 2003, there was so much about this place that I didn’t realize was special, interesting, or different from other parts of the country. I guess that’s to be expected when you grow up somewhere and just take the little things for granted, and I realize this is not a unique story. But what is unique is getting the opportunity to come back, not just after having spent my entire early adulthood on the west coast, but the early part of motherhood, too.

Because now coming “home” isn’t just about me. It’s about making a real home in the place where my earliest memories live, and suddenly recalling those memories, one after the next like I’ve unearthed a dusty box of Polaroids and Beta home videos, with my kids who are currently forming their own earliest memories. TRIPPY. I even might use the word “meta” here if I felt confident enough about using it correctly?

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Dec 17, 2016

Heirloom Sugar Cookies

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Every once in a while, it occurs to me that it’s been a long time since I first started this here blog (July 2007, to be exact, whaaaaat). I’ve not always been the most, er, consistent of bloggers, but it’s kind of amazing to have a record of life both in and out of the kitchen nonetheless. It’s most fascinating for me to look back through the archives and see the recipes I was drawn to at certain points along the way, what I had time for or interest in learning and discovering throughout the years. And much like my life from about 1994-2000, there’s plenty of cringeworthy moments among the entries (although any regrets here don’t involve ill-fitting plaid or intentional visible bra straps).

But! Sometimes a recipe is just so completely perfect, so part of my personal fabric, that it’s worth updating and telling you about it all over again to make sure it doesn’t get lost. In fact, when I first posted about this recipe, I just realized that it was exactly on this day, nine years ago. How about that? So indulge me a little, won’t you? It’s the holidays, after all.

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Dec 14, 2016

Spiced Chocolate Molasses Buttons

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 Photo by Leigh Beisch

Hi! Just a quick pop-in today, and I’ve got an A+ reason. With just a handful of days left to legitimately spend a whole day baking, eating, and sharing cookies, I realized that I’ve never shared one of my very favorite recipes. Last night I had the pleasure of teaching a super fun baking class at Give Me Some Sugar here in Chicago. The focus was edible gifts, and as the world solidified into a frozen tundra outside, the ovens were roaring and laughs were coming easy in the cozy shop. So good.

We had a grand old time, talking homemade marshmallows, Lemon-Vanilla Dream Bars from Pure Vanilla, and these gems: Spiced Chocolate Molasses Buttons from the pages of Real Sweet. The raves that this recipe received reminded me that I’d not shared it beyond the pages of the book, and that’s just not very Christmas-y of me, now is it? So in the spirit of not hiding our lights under bushels and all of that, here we are!

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Nov 30, 2016

Granola Chocolate Pecan Cookies

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We have now officially entered High Baking Season, and can balm ourselves in butter and sugar. We can surround ourselves with our favorite cookbooks, and tune out the crazy. That’s my new personal strategy, anyway. And just in time for its implementation, I received Sarah Kieffer’s new cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. Which is perfect, because it’s packed with enough crave-worthy recipes to keep me avoiding American reality until February, at least. Excellent!

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