If there’s any cooking scent more delectable and homey than freshly-baked bread, it has to be warm cinnamon– so it’s no surprise that cinnamon rolls are the ultimate when it comes to comforting (and mouth-watering) odors. When I decided to make these I was only thinking about the gooey and delicious breakfast that awaited me, but let me just say, the smell of the baking rolls was almost as good!
The finished rolls were soft and delicious, though be careful about overbaking– I left them in a bit longer than I should have in hopes of getting more browning on top, but that made the bottoms caramelize in the sticky leaked-out sugar filling, leading to chewy caramel that stuck to my teeth. Other than that, though, they were excellent!
If you have any leftover from the initial devouring, be sure to microwave leftovers briefly to soften them up again– they’re so much better warm!
One good thing about this whole lockdown thing is that with all this time at home, I’ve got plenty of time to babysit rising bread dough, which means more home-baked bread! My latest attempt was a batch of orange-flavored buns, which I saw on an online video and decided to try. The buns have a healthy amount of orange zest and a bit of orange juice in the dough, so there’s a hint of orange flavor in the finished buns despite their not being sweet at all. They were quite tasty when toasted and spread with butter, though.
The dough was extremely loose and took 2 hours to rise properly– a fact that filled me with no little trepidation– but despite making half as many buns as the original recipe claimed, they did turn out soft and fluffy, and they stayed soft overnight.
Lately I (along with everyone else, apparently) have been baking bread– it’s really the perfect cooking project for when you’re stuck at home, since you have ample time to let the yeast do its thing without having to worry about timing it around your workday. After I made my last loaf of buttermilk sandwich bread I realized that my loaf pans were just not up to par, so I ordered a pair of new ones. And of course, that meant I had to inaugurate them with something new!
This one is similar to the last loaf, but the recipe makes two loaves and they turned out even lighter and fluffier than the other one due to the higher liquid content. I actually prefer the plainer flavor without the tang of buttermilk, and I can also see this making some delicious rolls, or even the base for a cream-cheese-and-jam breakfast pastry.
In this case, since I can’t leave well enough alone I decided to make it into a swirl bread for extra flavor. I was a bit concerned when I first mixed up the dough that it would be too sticky to roll– even after a lot of kneading in the stand mixer, it’s really more of a thick batter– but once it rose it formed a soft, airy dough that was just sturdy enough to roll out.
Given how often I bake anyway, I hesitate to say that I’ve succumbed to the comfort-baking trend of bread-baking that appears to be influencing the masses… but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence me a little in my choice of baking project. There’s nothing quite like fresh-baked bread when it comes to comfort food, and the smell as it bakes is an extra bonus as it perfumes the house with the ultimate in homey scents.
That being said, I recently developed some carpal tunnel symptoms, so kneading by hand was right out. I thought about re-making this one for a nice, crusty loaf, but decided to go in a different direction when I saw this recipe for mixer-kneaded sandwich bread. It looked light and fluffy, and like it would make excellent toast, which sounded really good for breakfast in the morning. Plus, the rise time was pretty short, which meant I could whip it up in relatively short order.
The dough came together easily and, despite its high moisture content, looked gratifyingly stretchy after the five minutes of mix time. While it took longer than expected to rise on the counter, it had a HUGE oven spring. The resulting loaf was tall, fluffy, and delicious. I’ll definitely be making this again!
I’ll admit, I usually buy my pizza dough in bags from the grocery store. It’s just so much easier than making it from scratch, and it’s immediately ready to use with no kneading or rising required. But sometimes the stars align and you have a bunch of pizza toppings wasting away in the refrigerator and no dough in sight, so it’s time to make your own.
I’m still lazy enough to want to avoid kneading, though, so I chose a no-knead recipe from Jim Lahey that develops gluten through a long rise instead. I mixed up my dough in the morning and left it on the counter all day– when I got back from work in the evening it hadn’t quite doubled (surprising since it was pretty warm in my house) but it was soft and silky, and easy to work with.
I was casting about for an idea of what to bring to a Halloween potluck when I came across a video showing someone unrolling some canned cinnamon roll dough, arranging the coils of dough in a pan to look like intestines, and then topping the dough with cherry pie filling to look like blood. It looked delightfully creepy, but since I’m not really a fan of canned cinnamon rolls I decided to go a step further and make the dough myself.
A little searching online turned up this fabulous recipe for a similar dough made with red velvet cake mix– brilliant idea! Unfortunately for me it didn’t turn out quite as planned– the dough was very soft and sticky,* and after I rolled it up with the filling it refused to unroll so I could form the intestine-coils. I ended up just pulling the dough apart and plunking it into the pan– I didn’t expect it to turn out well, but by the time it puffed up in the oven it looked pretty great, particularly with the addition of some edible eyeballs (canned lychees). Nevertheless, I’ve adjusted the flour/water ratio below so you’ll hopefully get dough that’s easier to handle!
So after my adventure with the Great American Baking Show where my loaf of bread was deemed not quite up to par, I decided that I wanted to learn more about bread baking. I really haven’t done all that much of it before, though I have some general knowledge and have made several different kinds of bread with varying levels of success (and of course spent that fabulous week in Paris watching a professional at work), and I think it would be worthwhile to acquire some extra knowledge and perhaps make some tasty things along the way.
I’m going to do a series of posts about my bread-baking experience and make specific note of the things I’ve learned. Hopefully by the end I’ll be a better bread-baker!
My first attempt was a basic loaf– no special shaping, no special ingredients, with the only deviation from standard procedure being the use of a poolish (a mixture of yeast, flour, and water that you start the night before to give it time to develop some flavor). I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website and opted to use the full sixteen hours of fermentation for the poolish to see what would happen.
The other day I was reading my daughter a bedtime story that had a particularly tasty-sounding description of brunch, featuring fluffy omelettes and sugar-dusted donuts. For some reason the latter caught her attention, and before I knew it I was promising to make sugar-dusted donuts of our very own!
Of course, I really don’t like the hassle of deep-frying, but I find baked cake-style donuts to be not particularly donut-y, so I searched the internet for a recipe for yeast-raised baked donuts. Preferably with a minimum of kneading, because I didn’t want to have to break out the stand mixer. Eventually I found one that looked pretty good— it had a two-stage rise, one at room temp and one overnight in the fridge, and could be baked up in the morning. Reviews were decent. So I gave it a shot.
I may not have mentioned it before, but my husband brews his own beer as a hobby. One of the byproducts of the brewing process is large quantities of spent grain– wheat, barley, or other grains that have been boiled for a while and which would otherwise be thrown away afterwards. We usually end up with several pounds of the stuff for each batch of beer, and it seems like such a waste to discard it, so I went looking for recipes to make something out of it. Bread seemed the obvious choice.
It turns out there are dozens of recipes out there for spent grain bread. My husband tried one on his own but it turned out dense and crumbly– I don’t think he kneaded it enough, or maybe he added too much flour to combat the stickiness– so I tried my own version based on a recipe online.
It turned out pretty well– the grain provided a sweet, nutty flavor and a nice texture to the finished bread, though I think I could’ve kneaded it a bit more and also baked it somewhat longer– my loaf was a little crumbly when sliced and slightly gummy when eaten. But I think that this recipe is a good starting point– I just need better bread instincts!
I first had stroopwafels in Amsterdam– I wish I could say that I bought them from a street vendor and savored them, still warm, as I strolled the moonlit streets taking in the sights and sounds of the city… but in reality I bought a pre-packaged stroopwafel and ate it on the train as I went back to my hostel for the night. It was still really, really good, though.
Sadly, packaged stroopwafels in the US aren’t quite as good as the ones in Amsterdam, and are much more expensive. I hadn’t quite given up on the dream of having one fresh from the waffle iron, so I decided to enlist the help of my trusty pizzelle iron to try and make my own!
I saw a few different types of recipes– some with melted butter, some with only softened butter; some with yeast and some with baking powder; some with more eggs and some with fewer. And there were a bunch of different recipes for the “stroop” (syrup) filling, involving brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, and “pancake syrup” in various proportions. Eventually I settled on a recipe and went full steam ahead!