Category Archives: Breads

Jacob’s Kitchen: Scone Secrets Revealed (Project Food Blog – Challenge 7)

This post is my seventh entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to create a video cooking demonstration. Voting begins Monday, November 15, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first six rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can ever express!

I have always been in love with scones; there is something about them that really speaks to me. I think it’s the perfect balance that they strike between being earthy and rustic while at the same time also feeling fancier than other standard coffee shop fare. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I first attempted making my own batch at home. And let me just say, it did not go well. They were dry and crumbly, and had no real flavor to them, beyond that of any ordinary day old biscuit.

Determined to master the art of the scone, however, I spent quite some time experimenting with countless different recipes. Over the course of the next year, I tried everything; alternately making them with milk, half n’ half, cream, buttermilk, shortening, butter, and sour cream. I experimented by adding more salt, or sugar, or less salt and more baking powder. I tried adding fresh fruit to the dough, and brushing the tops of the scones with milk, or cream, egg wash, oil, or butter before baking to ensure perfect browning. In the end, I finally reached what I personally consider to be absolute scone nirvana.

Since then I have made more of these scones, in every imaginable variation, than I could ever possibly count. Scones have now become one of my signature dishes, and over the last couple of years variations of this basic recipe have walked away with a best of class award, two first place blue ribbons, and one third place white ribbon in the baked foods division at the Oregon State Fair. And, up until now, I have never shared the recipe with anyone.

Unlike many of the scones that one encounters out there in the world, my scones are moist, flaky, tender and full of fresh flavor. They can be made days or weeks in advance and baked off right before serving, which makes them absolutely perfect for entertaining. In this particular variation dried strawberries, white chocolate chips, lemon zest, and a vanilla bean glaze all harmonize together beautifully to create a flavor reminiscent of a classic strawberry shortcake.

Preparing delicious homemade scones like these doesn’t have to be daunting. A few simple techniques are all that you need to be making scones at home like a pro. It’s easy, I’ll show you how.

Variations – It’s sometimes difficult to find dried strawberries in the stores these days. What I can typically always find, however, are dried berry medleys (often including blueberries, cherries, strawberries, etc.) which would make a perfect substitution for these strawberry shortcake scones. But swap out the dried fruit and the flavorings that you add and you can create any number of different scone variations using this same basic recipe. Let your imagination run wild, the possibilities are really endless (cranberry orange, lemon, ginger, apricot or cherry almond, blueberry lemon, currant, pumpkin, rum raisin, etc.). To boost the fruit flavor in the scones even further, substitute one egg for a generous fourth of a cup of good quality jam.

Glazing Glaze the scones right when you pull them out of the oven. This way the glaze stays very thin (so they aren’t too sweet) and it easily coats the scones, locking in their moist texture, while adding a nice shine. Depending on the level of humidity on any given day you might need to make adjustments to the final glaze. You can really be casual about it; if it’s too thick add a tiny splash of milk, and if it’s too thin add a little more powdered sugar. In the end, the glaze should be thick but still pourable.

Storage – The cut scone dough can be made and stored in your refrigerator for up to a week, and baked off right before serving. To prepare the scone dough up to one month in advance, place the cut scones onto a baking sheet and freeze (uncovered) until frozen solid, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag. Bake the scones from frozen, adding an additional three to five minutes to the baking time. Because of the glazing, leftover scones (not that there ever are any!) can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days without a significant change in texture.

Egg Wash – I find that I get the best browning without the addition of milk/water/cream to the beaten egg for the egg wash. But feel free to use whichever you most prefer, or to omit the egg wash step entirely.

I think that it’s only natural for us to feel the most attachment to the recipes that we spend the most time carefully cultivating. For many years I wouldn’t share any of my recipes, period. It was my hard work, and I honestly felt like my ability to make perfect scones, biscuits or pecan bars would somehow be diminished if everyone else then also knew how to do it as well. As I began writing this blog, however, I slowly came to the realization that having this knowledge was so much less meaningful than sharing it all with you; after all, food is so much less enjoyable when there is no one to share it with. I hope that you really will make some version of these scones and that this recipe becomes a part of your family’s traditions, just as they have become a part of mine. Perfect for a portable breakfast, early morning business meeting, tea party, or a leisurely Sunday brunch with friends, these decadent scones are (literally) a winner every time.

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Breads, Breakfast/Brunch, Project Food Blog, Snacks

Jacob’s Kitchen: Classic Reuben on Rye (Project Food Blog – Challenge 5)

This post is my fifth entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to put our own spin on pizza. Voting begins Monday, October 18, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first four rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can say!

Is there any food in the world more ubiquitous or more universally loved than pizza? I doubt it. No matter where you go around the globe you’re likely to find some local pizza specialty ranging from the more traditional to exotic flavors that you might never have thought to combine. And while we each certainly have our own preferences, in my world the perfect pizza has a thick crust that is crisp on the outside, and tender and chewy on the inside. It has just the right amount of toppings, all of which harmonize together, with no one ingredient overpowering the others. I think the reason that we all love pizza so much is because it’s so simple and casual. A few ingredients, thoughtfully prepared, flash baked, and enjoyed together with our hands; delicious, informal, and satisfying, pizza is the bread that we all break together.

This week, challenged to give you my own spin on pizza, I pondered the infinite possibilities. I thought of the incredibly delicious Philly cheese-steak pizza at the California Pizza Kitchen, and wondered how I might also reinvent a classic combination. Suddenly the idea came to me of recreating a Reuben, one of my all time favorite sandwiches, into pizza form. Yes! What a truly inspired concept. I could just imagine the great flavors, and the no doubt prestigious awards that would follow. “This invention will likely change the course of history,” I told myself, “I am the smartest human being ever to live!” Two minutes and a quick internet search later, I discovered that I was, in fact, no where near the first person to stumble upon this combination. But that’s just how it goes most of the time. It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel in the kitchen these days with such amazing foodies out there in the world.

Unwavering in my conviction, however, I scoured the recipes thinking of a way to make this dish my own. Most of what has been done with Reuben pizzas to date has consisted of a standard pizza crust, thousand island salad dressing, mounds of sauerkraut and corned beef, a mix of Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. And while that all sounds perfectly delicious, most of what I found seemed more like an open faced sandwich than a pizza. I wondered how I might elevate these ingredients to create something even more special.

To start, I decided I would ditch the standard pizza dough altogether and make my own pumpernickel rye crust instead. And in lieu of using salad dressing as my sauce, I thought I could create a thick thousand island inspired béchamel. Building from there, why not throw in a little more flavor with the addition of caramelized onions, which I could sauté with the sauerkraut, laying a flavor packed foundation for the entire pizza. And what can I say? It was a tremendous success.

It really does have all of the great flavors of the classic Reuben sandwich, while still being a pizza. The flavors hit you in waves: first the tangy sauerkraut and corned beef, then the earthy crust, caraway, onions, cheese and sauce. It all comes together beautifully to create a really round, familiar flavor that we all know and love. The crust bakes up perfectly, with just the right consistency, and the thick sauce and sautéed sauerkraut prevent it from being too moist.

To make the Reuben pizzas, begin by preparing the ingredients (all of which can be made up to two days in advance and assembled right before baking):

The Dough – In the bowl of your electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, alternatively, you can choose to mix the dough by hand), combine the dry ingredients (four cups of white bread flour, a fourth of a cup of cocoa powder, two tablespoons of granulated sugar, four teaspoons of salt, two teaspoons of onion powder, and two tablespoons of active dry yeast) and the liquid ingredients (two cups plus two tablespoons of prepared coffee, six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and six tablespoons of unsulfured molasses, warmed together for ninety seconds in the microwave) and beat for four minutes on medium speed. Gradually add two and two thirds cups of dark rye flour and enough bread flour (up to one and one third cups) to form a stiff dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead for seven minutes or until smooth and elastic. Add two heaping tablespoons of caraway seeds and mix until evenly incorporated. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and allow it to rise in a warm place for one hour or until it has doubled in volume. (This recipe yields enough to make four large, thick crusted individual pizzas.)

The Sauce – To make the sauce, melt eight ounces of butter in the bottom of a saucepan and whisk in one half of a cup of all purpose flour, cooking this mixture for two minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in three cups of whole milk, and simmer until the mixture is thick. Off of the heat, add one third of a cup of Parmesan cheese, a half a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a half of a cup of ketchup, a half of a cup of sweet pickle relish, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of chipotle flavored Tabasco, three tablespoons of coarse grain Dijon mustard, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

The Onions/Sauerkraut – In the bottom of a large saucepan add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Over medium low heat, slowly cook three sliced, large yellow onions, a half a teaspoon of salt, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper for approximately thirty minutes, or until the onions begin to turn a deep golden brown. Add fifteen ounces of sauerkraut with its liquid, and continue cooking until the mixture is dry, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan along the way.

The Meat – Purchase one pound of thinly sliced corned beef at your favorite local deli counter, and cut it into long strips.

The Cheese – Grate one pound of good quality Swiss cheese, and have two tablespoons of caraway seeds at the ready.

To assemble the pizzas, start by heating a pizza stone in a 500° oven. (Don’t have a pizza stone? Never fear. Turn a thick, stainless steel baking sheet upside down, and place it on the middle rack of your oven, and allow it to heat for fifteen minutes.) Divide the risen dough into fourths, and roll out each into approximately nine inch rounds (the dough should be thinner in the middle and thicker along the outside edge). Place the rounds on a rimless baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Spread the dough with a generous amount of the sauce (three or four tablespoons), and a thin layer of the caramelized onion/sauerkraut mixture. Top that with a layer of corned beef, a fourth of the shredded Swiss cheese, and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Brush the outside crust with extra virgin olive oil, and transfer the dough onto your preheated pizza stone (or baking sheet) and bake for approximately twelve minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, firm to the touch, and the cheese is melted. Serve it with a sprinkle of freshly chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, a frosty pint of your favorite beer, and dinner is served.

The rich flavors, brown bread and beer really say autumn to me.  And in a continuation of those flavors, inspired by all of the perfectly ripe fresh local apples filling up the farm stands, I decided I would drive home the tastes of fall by creating little apple cheddar dessert pizzas. But after making the Reuben from scratch, I wanted to give myself a break and so I took a little help from the store.

To make the apple cheddar pizzas, roll out store bought pizza dough to one fourth of an inch of thickness. Cut out four six inch rounds (I use a sharp knife and a saucer as my template) and line them up on a corn meal sprinkled, parchment lined baking sheet. Dust each round of dough with approximately a teaspoon of granulated sugar. Spread a tablespoon of good quality apple butter on the top of each, leaving a half an inch border around the edge. Top that with thinly sliced apples (which have been par cooked for about one minute in boiling apple cider and tossed with freshly squeezed lemon juice). Brush the apple slices with real maple syrup (preferably grade A dark amber), and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Add a handful of grated sharp white cheddar cheese to each, along with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves. Bake at 500° for ten minutes or until the crusts are golden and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

These apple cheddar pizzas strike  just the right balance between sweet and savory. The sweet maple syrup, spicy apple butter, crunchy pecans, tangy apples, grassy thyme, and salty cheese all compliment one another beautifully; and the crispy thin crust provides the perfect platform, and a terrific contrast of textures. They are simple, rustic, easy to prepare, and make for the perfect, delicious end to any autumn meal.

I am reminded at times like these that food doesn’t have to be groundbreaking in order to be delicious. When I am looking at recipes I often find that I am not searching for a dish to prepare as much as I am looking for inspiration for a dish that I’m making. Recipes are like road maps. You can follow them, and they will certainly get you to where you need to go, but it’s when you finally put them down that the real fun of the adventure begins.  By re-imagining ingredients, mixing and matching flavors, juggling spices, and tasting along the way, you can create your own fantastic new spin on any recipe.  Here in my kitchen, this is how I spell delicious. In your kitchen, it’s entirely up to you!

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Filed under Breads, Desserts, Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Meat, Project Food Blog

Chocolate Bread Pudding

I’m not sure what it is about bread pudding, but let’s face it, it is one of the most comforting foods in the world. Growing up, I’m not sure that we ever had any bread pudding. I certainly have no memory of it if we did. It was, instead, something that I discovered while cooking on my own in college. Earlier this week, for my sister’s birthday, I made apricot jam and cream cheese stuffed, almond crusted french toast (say that five times fast!).  I had a whole loaf of leftover sour dough bread from our local bakery, which I had purchased for said toast, and I was all too happy  this week to let it go stale in my pantry, knowing that a bread pudding was not that far out of reach. I have made all different kinds of fabulous bread puddings over the years (Ina Garten’s croissant bread pudding served with a brandy butter sauce, for example, is unimaginably decadent) but I have never ventured to make a chocolate bread pudding. I have certainly seen them made over the years on various cooking shows and have always been intrigued by the idea, but never enough to bring my chocolate fantasies to fruition. As usual, when looking to make something for the first time, I scoured my cook books and the internet for recipes, searching for the one that seemed to have the most flavor. And who better to teach me the ways of decadent chocolate comfort food than Ms. Paula Deen herself. (I like to think of all of the people from the food network like my imaginary friends who live on TV!) I stumbled across her recipe and was sold instantly by her inclusion of a half a cup of coffee liqueur. Now, never being one to follow the rules, I, of course, did not make her recipe as written. Recipes are like road maps. You can follow them, and they will certainly get you to where you need to go, but it’s when you put them down that the real fun of the road trip adventure begins. In lieu of milk and heavy cream I used all half n half, since that is what I had on hand, and the two cups of sugar seemed a little extreme, so I decreased it to one cup of brown sugar, and one half cup of granulated sugar. I added a teaspoon or so of instant espresso powder to the batter, upped the vanilla a little bit, and excluded the almond extract. I started by adding the one fourth of a cup of cocoa powder, but found that after tasting it, that it still wasn’t at that level of chocolate punch that I was looking for so I added an additional forth of a cup for that rich chocolate flavor. I used grated dark chocolate instead of her semi sweet (’cause that’s how I roll), and right before baking I added a big handful of semi sweet chocolate morsels in among the bread cubes, so there would also be little pockets of chocolate. Right before pouring the batter over the bread cubes, it still seemed a little watery, so I decided to add an additional egg, just for good measure. I soaked the bread cubes in a large bowl for twenty minutes or so, stirring several times to ensure even saturation. I then divided the bread mixture among eight buttered ramekins (because I think individual desserts are always infinitely more charming, since, let’s face it, no one likes to share), and baked for about fifty minutes, or until just set. Never one to accept too much as ever being enough, I decided to further guild the lily by pouring some of my leftover salted vanilla caramel sauce over the top, and served it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, a dollop of freshly whipped cream, and a few dark chocolate shavings.  I love how the tops get nice and crusty in the oven, which adds a nice contrast to the tender, rich, chocolate custard underneath. The little kiss of cinnamon, espresso powder, vanilla, and coffee liqueur all work in unison to round out and amplify the chocolate flavor. And the salted caramel, well, how can that make anything taste worse. We are just getting our first taste of fall here in the northwest, and nothing says cozy quite as much as a nice warm dessert.  This bread pudding fits the bill nicely. Enjoy!

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Buttermilk Thyme Biscuits

I invited a few friends over for lunch yesterday, and was having a little trouble coming up with an appropriate menu. It ended up being sort of a hodgepodge of delicious food, but it seemed to be missing something. And then I thought I would make some biscuits to sort of bring it all together. And, let’s face it, nothing makes a meal feel more special that some sort of homemade bread. I like to make lots of different variations of my buttermilk biscuits, so while I was mixing them up I decided that I would throw in some fresh thyme from the garden. Not a crazy amount. Just enough to perfume the biscuits with a delicious little herbal note. Which makes these biscuits the perfect accompaniment to a variety of savory meals, including chicken, pork, and steaks. I start by combining two cups of flour, two tablespoons of sugar, a teaspoon and a half of salt, two teaspoons of baking powder, and a half a teaspoon of baking soda in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid Mixer (though you can certainly do it all by hand with a pastry cutter, should you feel so inclined). I add one stick of cold diced butter, and mix until the butter is thoroughly cut into the flour, and resembles the consistency of Parmesan cheese. Meanwhile, I mixed one tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves into three fourths cup of cold buttermilk. I slowly add the buttermilk to the flour and butter mixture, and mix until just combined. (depending on the day you might need up to one fourth of a cup of additional buttermilk, so if the mixture appears dry don’t be afraid to add a little splash) I then turn the dough out onto a floured board, and gently knead it, folding the dough back over onto itself four or five times to create flaky layers. I then pat the dough out with my hands into an even thickness (about an inch), and cut them out using a floured biscuit cutter. (Depending on the size of cutter you use, you will end up with six to eight biscuits, but this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.) I then refrigerate the cut biscuits for at least one hour (but up to twelve). When the thyme has come (buh dum bump!), line the biscuits up on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush the top of each with a beaten egg, and bake at 400º for about fifteen minutes, or until golden brown, and fully set. These biscuits are light and tender, flaky and flavorful. Serve them hot with butter and jam, and your guests won’t be able to stop talking about them.  Enjoy!

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Banana Bread French Toast

A couple of weeks ago one of my facebook friends said that he liked to make french toast out of slices of banana bread, and ever since then I have been obsessed with the idea. Last night I found myself with several over ripe bananas, and so at midnight I somehow found the motivation and decided that I would make a loaf of banana bread, just so I could make this french toast in the morning. What a deliciously sinister plot. I made the bread using one of my favorite stand by banana bread recipes from the Kona Inn which I have been making for many years. I always add a splash of pure vanilla extract, and a generous dash of both cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg, and I typically omit the walnuts (because of my allergy).  I also almost always replace the shortening in the recipe with butter, unless I am for some reason out of butter (which is only very rarely). This morning, since the bread was so moist, I sliced it and placed the slices on a sheet pan and baked them for 20 minutes or so in a 300º oven just to dry them out a little bit, so they could absorb the batter without just disintegrating. Next I combined three eggs, a healthy splash of whole milk, a little vanilla extract, about a tablespoon of sugar, and a big pinch of both cinnamon and nutmeg. I soaked each slice in the batter for about one minute, and then browned them in a buttered skillet for approximately two minutes per side. Top them with sliced bananas, toasted walnuts (if you are fortunate enough not to be allergic to them), and a drizzle of pure maple syrup (preferably grade A dark amber). What a simple but decadent breakfast. Moist and flavorful, spicy and sweet, it is perfect for house guests, Sunday brunch, or just a special treat for the family. We always seem to find ourselves with extra bananas around the house so I frequently make banana bread, as not to waste them (and if I don’t have time to make it immediately, I freeze the bananas for bread making on another day). This will definitely become a staple in our house. Thanks for the great idea Matt! Enjoy!

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Homemade Naan

I have been watching Anjum Anand’s cooking show Indian Food Made Easy for a long time. Her recipes always look so delicious and simple, and she really makes Indian food seem very easy to prepare. This morning I decided to give her naan bread recipe a shot, since we had some lentils in the fridge, along with THE BEST homemade Indian lemon pickle ever in the history of the world (courtesy of a dear friend…or, should I say, the Masi of a dear friend). I doubled the recipe, and followed her instructions diligently. I have to say, it really was very easy to make. I cooked them on a heated baking sheet under the broiler for about two minutes. And while they are not the very best naan I have ever eaten, they are certainly very passable, considering the lack of a Tandoor oven. They are tender, crisp, slightly chewy, and make the perfect compliment to your own little Indian feast. I flavored them with sesame and poppy seeds, and finished them off with a brush of melted butter and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt and fresh chopped cilantro. It is at times like these that I remember that I really love trying new recipes, and creating new experiences in the kitchen. Taking something that I would never have thought I could make myself at home, and doing it anyway. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Life is a delicious adventure. Or at least it is today.  Happy eating!

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Old Fashioned Berry Shortcakes

There are still many people from my generation who don’t know what a shortcake really is. So accustomed are they to the store bought Hostess brand shortcakes, that they don’t understand that, in reality, shortcakes are much less like a Twinkie and much more like a sweet biscuit. Very similar to a plain vanilla scone, these old fashioned shortcakes are a heavenly compliment to mounds of freshly whipped, sweetened, vanilla flavored cream, and a heap of fresh macerated berries. Since I still have blackberries coming out of my ears, I decided to continue with this week of very berry madness, and whip together this easy, but incredibly comforting dessert.

I have always had great success with Ina Garten’s shortcake recipe with a few of my own modifications. I up the sugar from one tablespoon to a third of a cup, reduce the salt to one half teaspoon, use salted butter (which I always use in everything no matter what the recipe may say… I prefer Tillamook brand), add about a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract (clear, if you have it) which the recipe doesn’t call for, and I also toss in the grated zest of half a large orange into the wet ingredients for that little background note of fruitiness (though, if I don’t happen to have an orange on hand I simply omit the zest). I have also found that it is important to chill the cut dough for at least an hour, lest you risk the possibility that your shortcakes bake up in amorphous mounds (which, granted, will still be delicious). Before baking I brush the tops with a beaten egg, and then dip the egg coated top of each shortcake into a small bowl of  turbinado or demerara sugar (clear white sanding sugar would also work well here) until no more will stick, which adds a nice sparkle, sweetness, and crunch. These are best served warm out of the oven, but the good news is that these shortcakes can be made, cut, wrapped, and refrigerated up to five days in advance, and you can simply bake them off right before you want to serve them, making them perfect for summertime entertaining. (Better still, if you would like to make the dough up to six weeks in advance, place the cut dough onto a baking sheet and freeze uncovered until frozen solid, then transfer to a freezer bag. Bake from frozen (do not thaw the dough), adding an additional 5 minutes or so to the baking time. Whether with strawberries, peaches, or assorted berries, these shortcakes are always a crowd pleaser. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is the perfect thing, when fussing around with kneading and proofing yeast dough is just beyond your time and energy. It is very easy, much like making scones, and uses baking soda as its leavening (thus, its name). You can make it plain, or add whatever other flavorings you would like (cinnamon and raisins would be especially good!). Here I added currants and orange zest (á la Ina Garten), for a slight twist on the classic recipe. In a large bowl I combine 4½ cups of all purpose flour, 1/3 of a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of baking soda, one teaspoon of salt, and cut in six tablespoons of cold, diced butter, until it is about the texture of corn meal. In a measuring cup I mix together 1¾ cups buttermilk, one egg, and the zest of one orange. I pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix it until just combined. I add about one cup of dried currants, and stir to incorporate. I turn the dough out onto a floured board, and knead it several times, folding the dough over onto itself to develop flaky layers. I cut the dough in half and form each half into a round ball, and chill them in the refrigerator for one hour. (If you are in a hurry you can certainly skip this step, but I have found that without chilling the loaves turn out a little squat after baking). Take the chilled dough, and, with a sharp knife,  score an “x” into the top of each. Bake at 375º for a little under and hour, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean when plunged into the center of each loaf. I like to serve this bread with homemade orange marmalade to really echo the orange flavor. Whether toasted or plain, hot out of the oven, or cooled, this quick, easy bread makes a fabulous addition to anyone’s kitchen repertoire. Enjoy!

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Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Homemade cinnamon rolls were not commonplace in our house growing up. Granted, we always had them on Christmas morning (a tradition carried over from several generations back), but throughout the year I don’t have many memories of having had them. So when they were made, they were an extra special treat. The whole house would fill with the warm, comforting scent of cinnamon, yeast, and butter. My mother (or grandmother) would whip together a simple cream cheese glaze, and smother the rolls with the rich, cheesy, vanilla flavored frosting. I would practically make myself sick eating much more than my fair share.  And these days, when I do make cinnamon rolls, it still feels luxurious and special.

With half of a batch of my grandmother Browning’s roll dough left over, I decided what better way to use it than to make a batch of cinnamon rolls, just like my grandmother used to make (with maybe a few extra touches thrown in for fun). (Store bought pizza dough, or thawed frozen bread dough would make a perfect substitution. I would simply take it out of its package, knead in a half a stick or so of softened butter.. and as much flour as is needed to make a tacky but not sticky dough, and then let it proof once before proceeding. And you can also do this process the night before and refrigerate, as cold dough is much easier to roll out.) I began by rolling the dough out into a rough rectangle, about a fourth of an inch thick, on a lightly floured board. I then melted one stick of salted butter, to which I added about a half of a cup each of light brown, and white granulated sugar, about three tablespoons of cinnamon, a small dash of freshly grated nutmeg, the zest of one orange, and a pinch of salt. I spread the cinnamon mixture evenly onto the dough, leaving a one inch border along the top. I decided to sprinkle on a few raisins (though, to be honest, I do vacillate between loving and detesting raisins in cinnamon rolls… but today, it sounded like a good idea. If I were not allergic to them, I might also add toasted, chopped pecans or walnuts, which would add a delicious flavor and texture, but alas.) I then rolled up the dough tightly, and pinched the seam between my fingers to crimp it closed. After slicing the log into about one and a half inch slices (best done with a sharp serrated knife), I placed them two inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. I covered them with a clean kitchen towel, and let them rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until they were almost doubled in size (I have also been known to do this process the night before and let them proof over night to be slipped in the oven before breakfast… so feel free to be casual with the timing). They bake at 375º for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and set in the middle. While they were baking I softened one stick of butter and one 8 oz package of cream cheese in the microwave, and beat them together with about one and a half to two cups of confectioners sugar (or to taste….keeping in mind that the less sweet the frosting is the more you can pack on the rolls without it becoming cloying), a splash of vanilla (and vanilla bean seeds or paste certainly wouldn’t hurt), the zest of two oranges, and a little squeeze of fresh orange juice (though the frosting could also be made even days in advance and refrigerated). When the rolls are hot out of the oven, I spoon a generous amount of the glaze over each, and let it melt into the buttery layers of dough.

These rolls are light, feathery, sweet, cheesy, and comforting. The orange and cinnamon are a perfect pairing that make these decadent breakfast treats seem all the more special. Enjoy!

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Grandma Browning’s Rolls

I know surprisingly little about my great great grandmother, Sophronia Louise Browning. But what I do know, what I have always known, is that these are Grandma Browning’s rolls. Ever since I was a small child, that is what they have been called. Never dinner or yeast rolls, never simply bread. Her name was always attached to this dough, like the recipe itself was consubstantial with her very being. For all I know she, too, learned this recipe from her grandmother. There is no telling how far it goes back. Maybe the Snow family brought it here with them from Europe on the Mayflower itself. There is no way of knowing. But what there is to know is that there has never been a holiday dinner or important family gathering in the last one hundred fifty years that did not include these light, feathery rolls.

My grandmother Iris (or Grandma I, as we always called her) is the one who taught me the recipe. She would use this dough for everything. It was her all purpose dough: cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, pizza crust, dough nuts, loaves of bread, bagels. Anything was possible, nothing was out of the reach of its magic. About ten or twelve years ago, when her health began to deteriorate and she was no longer able to make the rolls for our gatherings, she passed the torch on to me, as it had been passed to her, and I have been making them for our family ever since. I, of course, have put my own modern spin on the recipe, as she no doubt did hers. In this way, it is a collection of all of us. All of our secrets, our tricks, our special touches, our memories, our happiness, our holidays.

My Kitchen Aid mixer now makes easy work of the kneading process. But as a child, standing on a stool, my hands on her cutting board, squishing the dough between my tiny fingers, I remember Grandma I smiling down at me, telling me that this was very special bread, that this bread had to be kneaded for exactly twenty-five minutes. No more. No less. And to this day, whether in the mixer, or by hand, I ensure that it kneads for exactly that long. If I close my eyes I can still remember the smell of her kitchen, the sound of her gentle, contented humming, the way she seemed to glide from counter to counter, as if in some elaborately choreographed food ballet.

Sadly, there will be no more carefree summer days spent baking bread with either of my grandmothers. But as I knead this dough, and stir my own batch of my grandmother’s jam, I can feel myself stretch my hands back through our history. It is so tangible. I can feel them around me, these generations of women. And for the briefest moments I can feel that I am apart of them, and they of me.

We don’t have inheritances in my family. We don’t have trust funds, war bonds, stock market portfolios, or priceless antique furniture to leave behind. But we do have this dough: our own little yeasty legacy. This dough that has spanned at least five generations. This dough that has been with us all along. Delicious!

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