I’ve had my eye on this chocolate babka recipe from Smitten Kitchen for a while– it has so many elements I love in a baked good: a chocolate swirl, a fancy layered inside, and a burnished, sugary outside. When I accidentally seized some chocolate while melting it the other day, I knew I had the perfect excuse to break out the yeast and make some babka! (Yes, I could’ve made brownies like the praline cheesecake ones I made the last time I had seized chocolate, but where’s the fun in that?)
I’m not going to go through the entire recipe here– Deb does a great job on her own page, and besides I didn’t take many photos of the process. But here are my own notes on the recipe:
I let my dough rise on the counter for three hours, rather than overnight in the fridge– since it was significantly warmer on the counter, I got a decent rise out of the dough, which was nice to see. I also followed her instructions about chilling the dough before trying to roll it out, and the chilled dough really did roll out like a dream– no sticking, no cracking, just perfect.
While the filling does start off pretty soupy when you first mix it, I let mine rest on the counter at room temperature for about an hour (not on purpose, it was just a timing error), and it firmed up nicely. If it gets too firm you can always give it a few seconds in the microwave and it’ll soften up a bit.
Once filled, rolled, cut, and twisted, I expected my dough to rise in the pan during the 90 minutes it sat on the counter. It did not– possibly because it was still kind of cold from being chilled prior to slicing. And while I did get some oven spring, it wasn’t a huge amount, so keep that in mind when you’re filling your loaf pans.
Is there anything more decadent in the morning than a warm, gooey cinnamon roll? With a soft, plushy crumb, spicy-sweet interior, and layer of cream cheese frosting slowly melting over it all, cinnamon rolls are the ultimate breakfast luxury. And let me just say that these are the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever made. To be fair, I’ve only made cinnamon rolls a few times in general, but these were so good that I’m not only going to stop looking for other recipes, but I’m going to start making these more often. You can’t get a better endorsement than that!
I always start making these the night before, so that the next morning all I have to do is let them sit on the counter for a while before putting them in the oven to bake. They make the kitchen smell amazing, which is an added bonus. I will note that the thing that sets these apart from other cinnamon rolls is the extra heavy cream– you pour it over the risen rolls just before baking, and it mingles with the cinnamon and sugar to make this incredible gooey finish that takes the recipe over the top.
My eight-year-old is proud of the fact that she gets to “make dinner” (with help, of course) every Sunday; one of her favorite things to make is pizza. Sometimes we use storebought crust, sometimes ciabatta bread, and sometimes homemade dough– this new one, from Food52.com, is my new favorite!
The dough is extremely easy to put together– it takes mere minutes to stir up the ingredients, and a little attention for the first hour to gently fold it (rather than knead) a few times, during which it miraculously transforms from a shaggy dough to a smooth, stretchy one. After that it sits in the fridge for 1-3 days before a 2-hour rise in the pizza pan, and it results in the lightest, fluffiest (yet still chewy) pizza crust ever, with great flavor and a nice crispy outside.
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.