Dessert

Pennsylvanian Recipes: Shoofly Pie

The sun setting on the Susquehanna river: another cornerstone of central PA life

The sun setting on the Susquehanna river: another cornerstone of central PA life

After an uncomfortably long hiatus from baking, researching, and digging into the history of the foods we enjoy every day, I’m overjoyed to be back and able to share another recipe with close cultural ties to the Pennsylvanian people. Since I’ve just moved to a small hamlet that holds many of my earliest, happiest memories, I thought I’d pay tribute to one of the favorite foods of the people who first founded this little river community: the enigmatically named shoofly pie. If you’re not familiar with this particular dessert, you’re not alone. From what I’ve been told, few communities outside of PA and parts of the south carry on the tradition of this rich and accessible dessert. At its core, shoofly pie is a dark, cake-like dish made with molasses that holds strong historic ties to the British treacle tart (a catch-all term for any number of sugar-syrup based pastries first popularized in the 17th century thanks to England’s access to roughly processed sugar). This British tradition followed the settlers to Pennsylvania as the earliest residents only had access to the supplies that could survive the arduous trek across the Atlantic Ocean; one such ingredient was the infinitely shelf-stable molasses, which formed the groundwork for great Pennsylvania Dutch recipes in the New World.

But before most visitors to the region even consider asking what shoofly pie contains or why it’s so popular, they usually want to know what’s going on with that name. Unfortunately, food historians can’t quite agree on the true origin of the name “shoofly,” however there are several popular theories to sate the curious cook. One of the simpler theories proffers that “Shoofly,” the name of an 18th century molasses company highly popular during the time of Pennsylvania’s colonization, simply lent its name to the recipe that relied so strongly on its chief export. But, the most popular theory looks back to the cooking methods of the early Pennsylvanian bakers. Cooking at this time was much more communal that it is today, with much of the baking being done outside in large community ovens. To produce a town-sized batch of shoofly pie required large amounts of molasses to sit outside awaiting use, attracting hungry crowds of humans and insects alike. With their natural affinity towards sugar, flies flocked to the sticky sweet molasses, which required that the townspeople to be on constant guard to shoo away the six-legged pests.

No matter the story you choose to believe, shoofly pie is a Pennsylvanian dessert that simply must be tried. So, without further ado, let’s dig into this sweetly dark and Dutch delicacy!

Shoofly Pie Recipe

 

Coffee and molasses are a perfect match for this historically dark dessert!

Coffee and molasses are a perfect match for this historically dark dessert!

Ingredients

  • 1 9 inch unbaked pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/2 cup warm, strong coffee (the darker the roast the better!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F / 175° C
  2. Combine the flour, sugars, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl, and mix with a pastry cutter or fork until crumbly. Transfer 1/4 of the crumb mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the molasses and coffee until the molasses dissolves. Slowly stir in the baking soda until dissolved.
  4. Pour the molasses into the large bowl of crumb and fold until smooth and well-combined. Pour this mixture into your pie shell and sprinkle with the crumb you set aside.
  5. Bake in your preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the filling has risen and has a cake-like consistency.
  6. Serve warm or cold and enjoy with a cup of strong coffee among friends!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! I hope to see you next week for another excavation into humanity’s communal storehouse of fascinating and delicious dishes!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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Categories: Baking, Dessert, History, Pennsylvanian Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Year Round Recipes: Rice Pudding

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reminded in subtle (and less-than-subtle) ways that sometimes, life can be unpredictable, unrelenting, and holistically draining. And, as much as we like to think that we’re strong enough to handle life’s challenges alone, it’s become incredibly clear to me that it’s not innately incorrect to need to rely on others and outside forces to weather life’s storms. And, while I still feel that I’m in the middle of one of these maelstroms, I thought I’d share a rather simple recipe that I’ve long held as a satisfying balm for the soul. Oddly in line with my youthful associations with the dish, rice pudding originated in several ancient civilizations in the Middle East and Asia as a medicinal, not culinary recipe. Designed to treat digestive ailments in people of all ages, rice pudding has a long and storied history as a catch-all cure for the stomach, the alleged “seat of the soul” for some ancient religions and philosophies. So, whether your stomach or your soul is in need of some old-world healing, I can’t suggest this recipe for rice pudding any higher. Just be careful: once you make one bowl of this enlightening dish, you might soon find yourself readying another sooner than you think!

Let’s dig in!

Rice Pudding Recipe

 

Rice: soothing stomachs and souls for millennia!

Rice: soothing stomachs and souls for millennia!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup medium or short grain rice (make sure your rice isn’t the traditional long grain variety-only the medium and short grain rice will “melt” down to that smooth and creamy consistency)
  • 2 cups milk (I used soy)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2/3 cup raisins [Optional]
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the 3/4 cup of rice and reduce the heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and salt. Turn the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 – 20 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy.
  3. Mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the beaten egg, and the optional raisins. Keep cooking for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla until combined.
  5. Enjoy warm or cool, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg for even more soul-satisfying flavor!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you next time as we excavate another of the world’s greatest culinary creations!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Cooking, Dessert, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Chocolate, Avocado, and Pistachio Sandwich Cookies

While I typically like to keep my my ingredients local and seasonal, I do, for very special cases, go against my culinary conscience and indulge in the omnipresent agriculture of our modern world. This past week has been full of these special cases. With the weather finally breaking away from this year’s unusually frigid tendencies, I splurged and celebrated like only the Aztecs could, with a bitter chocolate drink imbued with the essence of Mexican chiles. And now, at the end of this most special of weeks, I couldn’t help but pull one last ingredient from the west coast of the North American continent: the great Californian avocado.

Avocados and Pistachios: two of the west coast's most delicious exports!

Avocados and Pistachios: two of the west coast’s most delicious exports!

Several months ago, two of the greatest people whom I’ve ever had the honor and pleasure of calling friends moved from this frigid clime to the ever-pleasant land of San Diego, California. And just as the clouds of winter finally broke (and are scheduled to return in the next few days), their absence from our Pennsylvanian lives was temporarily put on hold with a short visit this past week. So, in honor of our friends’ new home on the west coast, and for the light and warmth they’ve brought to us back east, I couldn’t help but try out a recipe that subtly features the avocado, the crop that many consider to be the epitome of Californian farming. Typically, when we think “avocado,” our minds immediately conjure up images of guacamole; and, while I adore guacamole in its season (preferably when local tomatoes and veggies are ripening here in the east), I was struck by a recipe by Kylie Held on immaeatthat.com. Instead of the traditionally savory uses for avocado, she presents a new way of viewing this creamy crop as a butter substitute in frosting. So, thoroughly fascinated, and aching for an innovative and inspiring avocado recipe, I couldn’t help but dig in!

Chocolate, Avocado, and Pistachio Sandwich Cookies

 

Sixteen cookies brimming with Californian flavor!

Sixteen cookies brimming with Californian flavor

Ingredients for the Frosting

  • 2 ripe California avocados
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/3 + 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 1 cup almond flour (lacking almond flour, I used all-purpose, which produced a lighter, but no less tasty cookie)
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup whole and halved pistachios + 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Scoop out the flesh of the avocados into a medium mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
  2. Add cocoa powder, honey, vanilla, and almond extracts, and continue mixing until incorporated and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the two flours, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and 1/4 cup of whole/halved pistachios (set aside the chopped pistachios for now). Stir in the coconut oil, honey, egg, and almond extract to form a dough.
  4. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces, place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten until each cookie is round and thin.
  5. Bake at 350° F (175° C) for 10 – 15 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. When your cookies are cool, spoon the chocolate avocado frosting onto 8 of the cookies, and top with the additional 8 cookies to make your sandwiches. Roll each cookie in the additional 1/4 cup of chopped pistachios so that they stick to the sides of each sandwich.
  7. Chill in the freezer for 4 hours or overnight, or until the frosting fully hardens.
  8. Enjoy with a glass of milk, tea, or coffee, and be sure to take a moment to appreciate the wonderful people on the west coast as you do!

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Categories: Baking, Dessert, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Rugelach

With a new blizzard, nor’easter, or ice storm being forecast seemingly every other day here in the northeast U.S., I’ve been on a mission to preserve the memory and hope of warmer days, even in the face of such wintry opposition. And, after opening up some of last year’s peach preserves for the jam sandwich cookies we made a couple weeks ago, I’ve been itching to find another recipe that could highlight such a sweet summery flavor, especially while we’re still in the dead of winter. With this goal in mind, I decided to return to the cuisine of Russia and Eastern Europe to find a culinary escape from thoughts of ice and snow (what better place to find examples of winter escapism than a land plagued by severe winters?). While digging up the culinary treasures of this expansive corner of the world, I stumbled across a twisting, crescent-shaped pastry that seemed to answer all of the desires I held for this week’s recipe: it originated in Eastern Europe, it’s typically filled with fruit preserves, and, as an added bonus, has an origin shrouded in mystery!

It's not hard to see how these delicious little pastries earned the title of "little twists!"

It’s not hard to see how these delicious little pastries earned the title of “little twists!”

This culinary form takes on a different name in each country that makes it, so for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to call this pastry by its traditional Jewish name, “rugelach” (translating literally to “little twists”). With such a widespread distribution in many Eastern European countries, no one seems to know exactly where the rugelach first came from, only that it is a distinctly Jewish invention. As it has no attachment to any Jewish holiday, the rugelach is a perfect year round recipe that can be altered to fit whatever season you’re in! For today, though, we’re going to capitalize on the rugelach’s affinity for fruit preserves and make a peach and pecan variation of this centuries old pastry!

Rugelach Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

 

Peaches and pecans are a perfect pair of cold-banishing flavors!

Peaches and pecans are a perfect pair of cold-banishing flavors!

Ingredients for Filling

  • 6 Tablespoons fruit preserves (apricot is traditional, but any fruit will really work!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or a mixture of both)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer. Add in sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, and beat until fluffy and combined.
  2. Mix in 1 and 1/4 cup of the flour slowly until the flour incorporates with the batter. Mix in the remaining 1 cup of flour and repeat, being careful not to over mix the dough.
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 – 20 seconds, just to ensure that the flour has completely mixed into the dough. Divide the kneaded dough into three equal parts, wrap the pieces in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, or until the dough is firm.
  4. Meanwhile, to make the filling, combine the chopped nuts, granulated and brown sugars, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
  5. When the dough has chilled, remove one part from the refrigerator, place on a floured surface, and roll out into a circle. Top the circle with 2 Tablespoons of fruit preserves, leaving one inch of room around the edge, and then sprinkle with one third of the nut/sugar mixture. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the circle into 16 equal pieces.
  6. Working from the widest end of each segment, roll each piece of dough to form a small crescent shape (see pictures below for a visual guide). Be careful not to roll the dough too tightly or the filling will spill out of the pastry, which can cause the dough to burn in the oven. Place the rolled rugelach on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  7. Repeat this process for the remaining two pieces of refrigerated dough.
  8. Bake in a 350 F / 175 C oven for 30 minutes, or until the pastries are just lightly brown.
  9. When the rugelach has finished baking, let them cool completely on the baking sheets before enjoying!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again soon for another kitchen excavation!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, Winter Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Crêpes

If you’re from the Eastern US, or have been following the weather for this corner of the world, you’ll know that this week was fraught with an uncharacteristically devastating series of snow and ice storms. During this meteorological event, my typical love for the forest that surrounds our neighborhood was turned to dread, as heavy, ice-laden branches and trees exploded to the ground for much of the past week, taking homes, cars, and power with them. So, if you noticed the lack of activity from the blog on Wednesday, that was due to the dark, chilled state of our home as we weathered yet another display of winter’s power.

The crêpe: not just a thin pancake!

The crêpe: not just a thin pancake!

But! Power has returned, the roads are at last safe to traverse, and I’m still in the mood for a little French cuisine (my previous French excavations can be found here and here)! Even though the roads have been cleared for a day or two by this point, I still haven’t made it to the store since last week; so, I thought we’d dig up the crêpe, a 12th century French staple that can be made with only a few, basic ingredients typically found in every kitchen! The original crêpe would have been (and still is) made from buckwheat flour (you can check out an excellent buckwheat crêpe recipe here from Buckwheat for your health), which produces a savory dish that makes the perfect foundation for any meal of the day. However, with my pantry devoid of buckwheat flour, we’ll be looking at the sweeter version of the crêpe, made from basic all-purpose wheat flour to conjure a canvas fit for the most decadently simple dessert or breakfast! I happened to have a slightly dodgy apple still rolling around in the fridge, so I’ll show you how to make a quick and easy spiced apple topping to fill your crêpes with; but, keep in mind that this French classic can be paired with anything you have on hand! Peanut butter, ice cream, fruit preserves, you name it, the crêpe can enhance it! And, what better way to surprise that special someone this Valentine’s day than with a homemade breakfast straight out of romantic 12th century France? Without further ado, let’s dig in!

Crêpe Recipe

Just a few simple ingredients combine to create a 900 year old masterpiece of French cuisine.

Just a few simple ingredients combine to create a 900 year old masterpiece of French cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, water, sugar, butter, and vanilla extract.
  2. Add the flour and salt, and stir thoroughly to remove any large lumps (you want as smooth a batter as possible).
  3. Place a greased frying pan over medium high heat, then pour or ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan. Rotate the pan to ensure that the batter is evenly distributed and covers the entire bottom of the pan.
  4. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the bottom of the crêpe has turned light brown. Flip over the crêpe and repeat.
  5. Top with your favorite fillings, roll, and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar! To make a quick and easy apple cinnamon filling, keep reading below the pictures!

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A flavor heralding from the warmer days of autumn!

A flavor heralding from the warmer days of autumn!

Ingredients for Apple Cinnamon Filling

  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

Directions for Filling

  1. In a small bowl, toss the apples with the sugar and spices until coated.
  2. Place butter in a small frying pan and melt over medium high heat. Add the coated apples to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes, or until the apples become soft.
  3. Top your hot, fresh crêpes with a spoonful of apples and enjoy!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! If the weather cooperates this week, I’ll see you again this Wednesday!

Stay warm, and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Cooking, Dessert, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Jam Sandwich Cookies (Jammie Dodgers)

Butterflies and picking peaches are both distant memories in the frigid month of January

Butterflies and picking peaches are both distant memories in the frigid month of January

Here in the arctic heart of winter, our dreams of warmer weather can feel impossibly distant. With the vibrant green memories of spring and summer whitewashed by snow, slush, and dormant flora, it’s easy to slip into a mindset oppressed by thoughts of having to weather another month (or more) of polar winds and lifeless landscapes. But, thanks to the wisdom and knowledge passed down by our cooking ancestors, we are able to, in a small but powerful way, capture the sweet aromas, rich colors, and unmatched tastes of the warmer months through the art of preservation and canning. So, in an attempt to celebrate this practice and the joy it can bring, I thought we’d take the time to break open a few of the fruit preserves we set up this past summer and escape from the deep freeze of winter into the warmer embrace of summer harvests!

For today’s warm-weather treat, we’ll be emulating the style of the Jammie Dodger, a British shortbread biscuit that is traditionally filled with raspberry jam. If you, like me, don’t have raspberry jam on hand, any fruit preserve or filling will work for this recipe! With thoughts toward future warmth, and memories of the harvest, let’s dig into some jam sandwich cookies!

Jam Sandwich Cookies / Jammie Dodgers Recipe

A batch of shimmering summer flavors just waiting for a cup of tea!

A batch of shimmering summer flavors just waiting for a cup of tea!

Makes around 2 – 2 1/2 dozen cookies
Adapted from a recipe by Gourmet Photography

Ingredients

  • 250 grams (~ 1 cup) softened butter
  • 150 grams (~ 1 3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 300 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • Jam or fruit preserve of your choice

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixture until combined and fluffy. Mix in the egg yolk and vanilla extract.
  2. Beat in the flour until the mixture begins to clump and forms a crumbly dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and need for 1 – 3 minutes, until the crumbles meld into a smooth ball of dough.
  3. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. After the dough has chilled, preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or baking liners.
  5. Unwrap the dough and place back onto a floured surface. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin until rather thin (1 cm / 1/3 inch thick). Using a cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible from the first ball of dough. Place the cookies on one of your lined baking sheets and set aside. Repeat this process with the second ball of dough, but with this batch, cut out a small “window” in the center of each cookie with a smaller cookie cutter or other kitchen implement you have on hand (I used a strawberry stem remover).
  6. Bake each tray of cookies in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until the cookies are firm and lightly brown (they will fully harden as they cool). After baking, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. When your cookies are finished cooling, spoon about 1 teaspoon of jam onto each of the solid cookie halves. Gently top with the “windowed” halves being careful not to crack the cookies.
  8. Sit back and enjoy a sweet reminder of summer’s warmth!

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As always, thanks for stopping by; I hope to see you again soon!

Stay warm and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Year Round Recipes: Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

With February and Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I was hoping to attempt a dessert this weekend that, for me at least, represents some of the history of the holiday’s founder, Saint Valentine. Unfortunately though, this recipe (which I will hopefully attempt next weekend) required the use of a friend’s typically outdoor deep fryer. And, with several inches of snow allegedly in the forecast (as of this afternoon, the forecast seems woefully incorrect), said deep fryer would have to wait until the skies cleared. So, using what I had on hand, I thought I’d share one of my favorite styles of yeasted dessert in the meantime: pull-apart bread!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Hailing back to at least the 1940’s, the pull-apart bread is a fun, easy-to-make dessert that can be adapted to any season or taste. Adding a little pumpkin puree to the batter can transform this year round recipe into an autumnal classic, or even throwing a few sliced peaches or strawberries into the mix could suit the lighter, sweeter tastes of summer! However, for beating back the dreary January forecast, I prefer to stick with a classic sugar and spice variation. Typically, my spice of choice would be tried and true cinnamon, but with some mixed spice leftover from our hot cross bun excavation (you can find the recipe for the buns and the mixed spice here: Hot Cross Buns), I couldn’t pass up the chance to experiment with a spicier-than-usual loaf of pull-apart bread!

Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

 

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

Ingredients for the Bread:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon (one packet) active dry yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients for the Sugar and Spice Topping

  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice

Directions

  1. Place the butter and milk into a small saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the butter melts. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from heat, stir in the water and vanilla extract, and let cool until between 100 – 110 degrees F / 37 – 43 C. Stir in the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is light and foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 2 1/4 cups of flour, remaining sugar, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 eggs and set aside.
  4. Pour yeast mixture into the flour and stir until combined. Mix in the whisked eggs until a rough dough is formed. Knead in the last 3/4 cup of flour, turn dough onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and only slightly sticky (you may need to add some extra flour to cut down on the potential stickiness of the dough).
  5. Place your kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  7. When your dough has risen, return it to a floured surface and roll it into a roughly 12 x 20 inch (30 x 50 cm) rectangle. Brush the dough with the melted butter and coat completely with the sugar and spice mixture.
  8. Slice the dough into 6 equal vertical strips (see pictures below for a visual guide). Stack the strips on top of each other and slice into 6 equal stacks of square pieces. Layer the dough squares in a 9 x 5 greased, floured loaf pan. Cover the pan with a clean towel and let rest and expand for 30 – 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. Bake your pull-apart loaf in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until deeply golden brown (if you remove the loaf when it’s only light brown, the body of the bread will most likely still be undercooked).
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to continue cooling completely.
  11. Enjoy a warm, spicy piece of pull-apart bread!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this weekend’s recipe!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Dessert, Odds and Ends, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Recipes: Hot Cross Buns

Brr.

Brr.

As yet another severe winter storm whips its way through the eastern United States, bringing nearly a foot of snow and another round of dangerously low wind chills, I couldn’t help but daydream of sunny days, green trees, and warm spring breezes while shoveling the driveway, ankle-deep in crystalline cold. And, as my thoughts meandered towards spring, my appetite seemed to follow. Over the last several days, I’ve had an odd craving for hot cross buns, a classically springtime treat, marked by its symbolic association with the Easter season. But, even though Easter and warm weather are still so far away, I thought I’d still take the time to cross a few buns in hope of warmer days!

Not Crossed Buns

Not Crossed Buns

Composed of spiced dough speckled with fruit (typically raisins, currants, or sultanas), and topped with the eponymous cross, hot cross buns (or just “cross buns,” as they were known in their homeland of 15th century England) have captivated the hearts, minds, and spirits of the western world for at least 600 years. Although little evidence exists to support the claim, some food archaeologists believe the crossed bun actually dates to the religious rituals of the Saxons in 9th century England, where they were used to honor the goddess Eostre, an alleged deity whose impact on western culture is still hotly contested. Whatever their origin, the hot cross bun serves as a delicious staple to warm our way through the rest of this wintry weather, and keep our minds fixed on spring!

Now, as this recipe is of British origin, there are a few features to this process that are (unfortunately) foreign to the average American baker. First, because much of the world uses scales in the kitchen, many of the measurements for this recipe are by weight, not volume (though I’ll convert these measures as accurately as possible). Second, this recipe calls for “mixed spice,” a blend of warm spices not unlike pumpkin pie spice. To make a small batch of mixed spice for yourself, simply combine the following ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove

With our British to American conversions out of the way, lets dig into some hot cross buns!

Hot Cross Buns Recipe

Cool Crossed Buns

Cold Crossed Buns

Makes 12 Buns

Ingredients for Buns

  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk (100 F / 37 C)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 600 grams (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon mixed spice
  • 50 grams (about 1/4 cup) melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup raisins (or dried fruit of choice)
  • [Optional] 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Ingredients for Crosses

  • 6 Tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup water

Ingredients for Glaze

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons water

Directions

  1. Combine the yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and warm milk in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or until the yeast proofs and becomes foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, mixed spice, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Pour in the yeast mixture, melted butter, egg, raisins, and chocolate chips. Stir until the mixture becomes a rough dough.
  3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, springy, and only lightly sticky.
  4. Place the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl and roll the dough to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location to rise for 1 hour.
  5. When the dough has risen, place the dough back onto a floured surface and roll into a log. Divide the log into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place into a greased, floured 8 x 8 cake tin, or a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Cover your pan(s) with a clean towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat your oven to 390 F / 200 C.
  7. To make the crosses, combine the flour and water in a small bowl, then place in a ziploc or piping bag. Cut off the corner of your bag and pipe lines across your buns to make the crosses.
  8. Bake the buns for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the tops are well browned. When the buns are between 5 – 10 minutes from being finished, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan to begin making the glaze. Heat the sugar water over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside.
  9. When your hot cross buns have finished baking, remove from the oven and brush each bun with the glaze. Let the buns cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Enjoy a spiced, crossed morsel of English history with your own batch of hot cross buns. To truly maximize their flavor, heat the buns in the microwave for about 40 seconds and top with butter for a classic crossed bun experience!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! May your weather be more pleasant than ours!

Stay warm and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, History, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Winter Recipes: Cranberry Flaugnarde

Still life from the home of Julia Felix in the Roman town of Pompeii

Still life from the home of Julia Felix in the Roman town of Pompeii depicting the use of bird and egg in the home

With my recently acquired passion for French cuisine still burning brightly, I thought it only fair to share an ancient French recipe that’s currently topping my all-time winter favorites: the flaugnarde (pronounced “flow-nyard”)! Now, to be fair, the true origin of this recipe lies not with the French, but with the ancient Romans. Credited with being one of, if not the, first civilization to domesticate and farm chickens, ancient Roman food scientists finally had the raw materials necessary to unlock the seemingly limitless cooking potential held within the humble egg. Out of their undoubtedly delicious research, Roman bakers were the first to produce what is today known as the flan, an egg-based custard dish that we tend to associate with Central and South American cooking. In Rome, the flan was generally considered a savory dish, being made from and served with meat and fish. However, as Rome’s borders expanded, and its recipes charged across the European countryside, the native, conquered cultures began experimenting with Rome’s cutting-edge cuisine. In the Occitan regions of southern France, resident chefs began turning the Romans’ savory flan into a sweet dessert that highlighted the fruits of the region. And, when the Roman empire eventually collapsed and receded back to the Italian peninsula, the French natives were able to freely transition egg custard from the Roman flan to the French flaugnarde, allowing the modern baker to enjoy the fruits of over two thousand years of culinary experimentation!

With a history steeped in cultural alteration, you should feel free to change the contents of this recipe to fit your locale and season! Because of the scarcity of fruits in the winter, I’ve simply chosen a recipe that features cranberries in order to fit my present situation; but, if you find yourself craving a flaugnarde in the summer, perhaps lemon and blueberry would be a better fit, or apple and orange for the fall, or simply whatever you have on hand. But, whatever you choose, know that you’re contributing to a grand, millennia-long experiment to find the perfect flaugnarde!

Cranberry Flaugnarde Recipe

Over 2,000 years of culinary wisdom in a single baking dish

Over 2,000 years of culinary wisdom in a single baking dish

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/8 cup of all-purpose flour (6 Tablespoons)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 – 2 cups of fresh or thawed cranberries

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C.
  2. Brush the melted butter on the bottom and sides of a shallow baking dish (a pie plate worked fine for me), and sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar over the bottom of the buttered dish.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining sugar, flour, and salt until combined.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, and extract until blended.
  5. Mix half of the egg and cream mixture into the dry ingredients. Repeat with the remaining half, and whisk until smooth.
  6. Pour the combined mixture into your prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cranberries (I ended up using about 2 cups of berries, but whatever you have on hand will do).
  7. Place the dish on a baking tray, and bake in your preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the flaugnarde puffs up and begins to lightly brown at the sides (the center will not be fully set when finished).
  8. When your flaugnarde has finished baking, sprinkle it with a bit more sugar, and allow to cool slightly before serving either warm or cold.
  9. Enjoy a sweet, tart bite of French and Roman culinary history!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! I hope to see you this Tuesday for another look at a recipe that’s filled with as much history as it is flavor!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, History, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Brioche

Since the invention of cooking, an invisible, yet incredibly impactful war has been fought over the nature of the craft. And, whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably already taken a side in this particular culinary skirmish. I speak, of course, of the veritable tug-of-war that exists between the scientific and artistic viewpoints that so many of us take when regarding the preparation of our meals. In the scientific camp (the faction I once fought valiantly to defend), strict classifications, exact measures, and precise cooking times decide the quality of a recipe. For the artistic gourmands, seasoning by taste, not measurement; cooking until “it looks right;” and creative deviation from the cookbook are strong influences in the baking process. Since I’ve recently been relying on older recipes that hail from a time before standardized measurements (e.g. where the directive “add nutmeg, but not too much” is not uncommon), I’ve reluctantly pulled myself away from the scientific mentality and have begun artistically experimenting with my cooking. And, while this has resulted in mixed levels of success, I thought I’d take the time to celebrate the best of both camps with this week’s international bread recipe!

The art of brioche

The art of brioche

Hailing from the Norman civilization in the 15th century, brioche has spent much of its 600 year lifespan torn between science and art. Being a proudly French creation, a land which has long prized the exactness of its world-altering cuisine, brioche was born and raised in the scientific method. As France and brioche evolved, and the appreciation for butter grew, marketplace bakers gradually perfected their flour-to-butter ratios to fit their shoppers’ exact expectations. For the wealthy, flour and butter were measured at a 3:2 ratio, and for the average eater, a 4:1 ratio was implemented (For the curious, that measures out to between 1/2 – 3 pounds of butter per batch of brioche!). However, after the mathematics of brioche were complete, the artistry of the piece began to shine. Because of its leavening and lack of sugar, brioche appears to be a typical variant on bread; however, the high butter content, flakiness, and density pushes brioche towards pastry. Landing in the murky middle ground of the viennoiserie (a scientific classification for leavened baked goods that are nigh-impossible to classify) the creative decision of what to do with a brioche loaf is left up to the consumer. Because of its undefinable propensities, the brioche makes a beautifully rich canvas for the most artistic of eaters. A perfect companion to both to sweet preserves and savory spreads, brioche brings something to the table for everyone to enjoy!

For our recipe today, you’ll find a few modifications for the modern kitchen (mainly, we won’t be using pounds of butter). But, you should note that the process for making brioche still follows the recipes of old, meaning that the process is not complex, but it does take time. Brioche must sit overnight to be workable, so keep this in mind before you bake a loaf or two! Now, with our caveats out of the way, let’s dig in!

Brioche Loaf Recipe

Makes 1 9×5 inch loaf

Flaky, rich, and simply perfect for the scientific artist in all of us!

Flaky, rich, and simply perfect for the scientific artist in all of us!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half of one packet)
  • 1/4 cup warm water (100 F / 37 C)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon cold water

Directions

  1. In a small container, combine the yeast and warm water and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast begins looking foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture and two whole eggs. Stir to form a rough dough.
  3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 – 10 minutes.
  4. Flatten the dough and spread one third of the softened butter over the dough. Fold the dough and knead thoroughly for 2-3 minutes to fully incorporate the butter (this step will be messy, but so very worth it!). Let the dough rest for 5 – 7 minutes, and then repeat this process two more times to knead in all of the butter.
  5. Place the completed dough in a greased bowl, and roll the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with plastic wrap to hold in the dough’s moisture, and place in a warm location for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  6. Punch down the risen dough, cover again with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
  7. After chilling overnight, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes to warm the dough slightly. Form the dough into a loaf and place in a greased 9×5 bread pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap, place in a warm spot, and let rise for 1 more hour.
  8. While your brioche is rising, preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and cold water to make an egg wash. Set aside.
  9. After the dough has risen in the pan, brush liberally with the egg wash and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the dough takes on a deep golden color.
  10. Once the brioche is finished cooking, remove from the oven and leave in the pan for 10 minutes to cool. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.
  11. Enjoy the buttery perfection that is brioche: an exquisite blend of history, science, and art!

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Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Dessert, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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