caramel pecan cinnamon rolls

As promised in my first post of the new year, the recipe for my Aunt Sarah’s cinnamon rolls, aka the best cinnamon rolls ever.

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She told me the original recipe came from the back of a bag of flour and she has tweaked it over the years to get it right.  In fact when I asked for the recipe she had to translate it for me because she was still using the original cut-out from the back of the flour bag which was in rough shape and didn’t have any of her modifications noted on it.  Point is, this recipe is time-tested and a proven winner.  Trust me on this one.

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You begin by making the sweet dough which then gets divided in two and is kneaded and then sits for a little while to rise.

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Next you roll the dough out into two rectangles and spread with softened butter (I microwaved the butter for about 30 seconds so it was partially melted and that seemed to work well) and then sprinkle with a brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.

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Then you roll the dough up.

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Once the dough is rolled up you use a sharp knife or kitchen twine and cut the dough into 1 1/2″ sections.  I got a little too generous with a few rolls and they wound up being closer to 2″ which messes up the caramel-to-roll ratio in the end so I advise you get don’t cut them any wider than 1 1/2″.

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Next you put 4 to 6 tablespoons of melted butter in the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan, then drizzle 1/2 of light corn syrup over the top, followed by 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and finally pecans if you are using.  I decided to make half the pan with pecans and half without.  Another tip here that I wish I had thought of before I baked the rolls: butter the sides of the pan so the rolls don’t stick and therefore drop out of the pan easier when you get that point.

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Then you place the rolls into the pan on top of the buttery-sugary goodness and let rise in the fridge for 2 to 48 hours.  Once they have risen in the fridge you then take them out and let them rest on the counter for another 1 to 2 hours.  Do not do as I did and stuff the pan quite as full as the below picture shows.  I forgot to take into account that the dough nearly doubles in size so it threw off the baking time of the rolls since they were too close together and a few rolls in the middle of the pan did not cook all the way through.  I think I would have been okay if I had taken 3 rolls out of the 9″ x 13″ pan and placed them in a separate pan to bake.  Live and learn.

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After the rolls bake for approximately 30 to 40 minutes (I recommend checking after 20 minutes and if they are browning already, cover with aluminum foil for duration of baking time) you flip the pan over (away from you) into prepared foil with upturned edges so you do not get caramel all over your counter top.  The caramel from the bottom of the pan coats the rolls in a beautiful golden brown and the scent is heavenly.

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Alas, because I did not butter the sides of the pan and then stuffed a few too many in, my rolls did not come out the pan in an attractive manner.  They still tasted wonderful but were not so much photo-worthy so I am instead substituting with a photo of the rolls my aunt made at Christmas.  As they say, practice makes perfect…

Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls (CoolRise Rapidmix Sweet Dough Recipe)

Dough:

  • 4 – 5 cups bread flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • ½ cup (1 stick) soft butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups very hot tap water
  • 2 eggs at room temperature

Filling & Caramel:

  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
  • 1 ½ brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ½ cup pecans, optional

Make dough:

Combine 2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, sugar & salt in large bowl (use pedestal mixer if you have one).  Stir well to blend and add softened butter.

Add hot tap water to ingredients in bowl.  Beat with electric mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes.  Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

Add eggs and 1 cup more flour.  Beat with electric mixer at high speed for 1 minute or until thick and elastic.  Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

Stir in remaining flour gradually with wooden spoon.  Use just enough flour to make a soft dough which leaves sides of bowl.  (I only used about 4 and ½ cups bread flour.)  Turn out onto floured board.  Round up into a ball.

Divide dough into two equal portions.  Knead 5-10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic

Cover with plastic wrap & then a dry towel.  Let rest 15-20 minutes and punch down.

Make pecan rolls:

Roll each ball into a 12” x 18” rectangle (approximate size).  Spread with 1 stick of softened butter and sprinkle with a mixture of ¾ cup of the brown sugar and all of the cinnamon.  Starting at the longest side, roll up the dough leaving the seam side down.  Using a sharp knife or twine, cut each roll about 1 ½ inches deep.

Butter sides of a 9” x  13” pan and then put 4 tablespoons of melted butter in the bottom of the pan, swirl light corn syrup over butter, and sprinkle remaining ¾ cup brown sugar on top.  Add whole or chopped pecans to the pan and then lay cinnamon rolls on top.  Lightly brush rolls with melted butter, cover loosely with plastic wrap, then a dry towel and refrigerate 2 to 48 hours.

Remove rolls from the fridge and uncover, letting them rise at room temperature for approximately 1 to 2 hours, or until nearly doubled in size.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until done (making sure the rolls aren’t doughy in the center).  Cover lightly with foil if they brown too quickly while baking.

Remove from the pan onto a large sheet of heavy aluminum foil with edges that have been turned up (to prevent hot caramel from spilling onto the counter).  Make sure to tip the pan away from you to prevent caramel from splashing on you.

pumpkin parmesan biscuits

Not to get all zen on you here but there’s something very meditative about making biscuits.  The whole process is done with your hands and kind of takes you out of whatever’s going on in your life at the moment and makes you focus on forming dough out of some butter and flour and really be in the present as my yoga instructor says.

You start out by using your fingers to rub together cold chunks of butter with some flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and (in this case) parmesan cheese and nutmeg until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

These biscuits are a little extra-special because they involve pumpkin puree.  The pumpkin puree gets whisked together with a little heavy cream.

Then you pour the pumpkin/cream mixture over the flour/butter mixture and you work the dough with your hands until it all holds together.

Next you roll the dough out on a piece of lightly floured wax paper and use biscuit cutters (a round upside-down drinking glass also works in a pinch) to cut the dough.

Place the dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about two inches apart and bake until golden for about 15 to 20 minutes.

The results are light and crumbly and comforting: all the things biscuits should be.

Pumpkin-Parmesan Biscuits (from www.foodnetwork.com)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced, plus melted butter for brushing
  • 1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk in 1 tablespoon parmesan. Add the diced butter and work it in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Mix the pumpkin and cream in a small bowl and pour over the flour mixture. Mix with your hands or a fork to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle using a floured rolling pin. Cut out biscuits using a 2-inch-round cutter and arrange about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon parmesan. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let the biscuits cool slightly before serving or cool completely and freeze (see below).

Note:  Let the biscuits cool completely, then freeze in a resealable plastic bag for up to 5 days. To reheat, arrange on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F until warmed through, about 10 minutes.

ten suggestions for your Thanksgiving menu

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and while I’m sure you all have had your menus planned for a month like I have, I thought I would offer up some suggestions in case you need a little last-minute inspiration.

For starters, how about Butternut Squash Soup with Sage and Parmesan Croutons?  It brings a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving flavors together (sage + butternut squash) in a velvety soup that would make a great prelude to the big meal.

Rather than rolls, why not serve slices of Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Quick Bread?  As its’ name suggests, it doesn’t take long to make which will be very handy if you’ve got lots of other cooking/baking to do.  Better yet, these could be made this weekend and frozen until Thanksgiving day.

Brussels sprouts have become a staple with my family on Thanksgiving.  I’ve made them a variety of ways and one of my favorites is Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts Gratin.  I first had a version of this at a restaurant in NYC and couldn’t stop thinking about them so sought out a recipe so that I could recreate them at home.

Macaroni-and-cheese was a staple of my childhood (mostly of the Kraft boxed variety) but it never made an appearance on T-day.  A friend I used to work with in Detroit whose family was from the south told me they always had it as part of their meal so I  have since incorporated it on occasion, when I felt we could stand a few more carbs.  DuMac and Cheese is the best mac and cheese ever.  And if you wanted to add some bacon/pancetta/salt pork to it I would whole-heartedly support that decision.  And if you also wanted to stick it under the broiler for a few seconds to get a nice browned top on it I would say you and I should be friends.

In case we haven’t used enough cheese yet I would also like to recommend Gratineed Acorn Squash.  It’s simple to make which will free up your time to work on more high-maintenance side dishes.  Also, its delicious.

Another great side dish is Sauteed Parsnips and Carrots with Honey and Rosemary.  Parsnips and carrots go together like peas and, well, carrots.  Actually they go together better than that, especially when partnered with honey and rosemary.  Mmm.  Starting to regret not including this one in my meal this year…

And now for everyone’s favorite side dish… Chestnut, Prune, and Pancetta Stuffing.  This stuffing has something for everyone: a little sweet with the prunes, salty pancetta, tart sourdough bread, hearty chestnuts, and then all of the usual stuffing ingredients that add lots of flavor– celery, onion, sage, chicken stock.

Moving on to desserts, one that will be part of my meal this year is Cranberry Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Streusel Topping.  I love this crisp because it is on the light side which is welcome after a heavy meal and also it is not overly sweet.  This is going to be great with the mascarpone gelato I’m making tomorrow.

This Chess Tart will blow your guests’ minds.  Chess pies are another southern gem and are full of butter and sugary goodness and the vanilla wafer crust on this one is out-of-this-world.  A real charmer.

Finally, what would Thanksgiving be without apple pie?  In Wisconsin they put a slice of cheddar cheese on top of slices of apple pie which I’m not super into, however, Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust is something I can totally get behind because it is crazy delicious.  Trust.

Whatever you decide to make for the big day (aka my most favorite holiday since I stopped receiving toys for Christmas) I hope it is a great one filled with lots of friends and family and tasty food.

sage advice: make this pumpkin bread now

I know I’ve made pumpkin bread for you before but I promise you there is room in your recipe book for this version too.  The difference here is I left out chocolate chips and added sage.  The addition of sage made my kitchen smell like Thanksgiving which was an added bonus.

The bread is moist and sweet but the sage gives it a hint of a savory vibe, which in this case is a good thing.  The recipe was meant to be baked into small loaves so that you can have one for yourself and give the rest away to friends.  What lucky friends!

Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Quick Breads (from “Martha Stewart Living” magazine, also found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, cut into thin strips, plus more, whole, for garnish
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup solid-pack pumpkin (from one 15-ounce can
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour eight 2 1/2-by-4-inch loaf pans. (The smallest pans I had were 3 1/4-by-5 3/4-inch loaf pans so I buttered and floured four of them and they worked just fine.) Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sage strips, and cook until butter turns golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl, and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

Whisk together pumpkin, sugar, eggs, and browned butter with sage. Add flour mixture, and whisk until incorporated. Divide mixture evenly among 8 pans. Smooth tops gently using an offset spatula.

Place pans on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until a tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack, and let cool for 15 minutes. Invert pans to remove breads, transfer to wire rack, top sides up, and let cool completely. Garnish with whole sage leaves before serving.

berry season is here!

I hadn’t been to the farmer’s market for a few weeks so was pleasantly surprised to see loads of strawberries, raspberries, and even a few tart cherries on Saturday.  Allegedly there are some local blueberries that are coming in too but alas, I bought mine on sale at the supermarket last week and they originated in California.  Never mind.  The season is upon us no matter where the berries may have grown!

I had been craving blueberry muffins ever since I brought the blueberries home so this morning got to quick work making it happen.  I tried a Barefoot Contessa recipe that sounded interesting due to the streusel topping (I’m a sucker for streusel toppings) and use of lemon zest in the batter.  I know Ina is a big fan of using lemon zest to bring out other flavors in baking (or adding coffee to chocolate baked goods to deepen the chocolate flavor) and it really works here.  It brightens the flavor of the muffin, if that makes sense.

They were a cinch to make and they made a lovely second breakfast this morning.  The first breakfast of steel cut oats was hearty and all but not the most exciting.  (No offense steel cut oats, we’re still bros.)

Blueberry Streusel Muffins (from “Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics” by Ina Garten)

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk, shaken
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (2 half-pints)

For the streusel topping:

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and blend with your hands.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, lemon zest, and eggs.  Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a fork, mixing just until blended.  Fold the blueberries into the batter.  Don’t overmix!  With a standard (2 1/4-inch) ice-cream scoop or large spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cups, filling them almost full.

For the topping, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until the butter is in very small pieces.  Pour into a bowl and rub with your fingers until crumbly.  Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the streusel on top of each muffin.  Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

rosemary bread

When I first moved to Wisconsin I stayed in temporary corporate housing for the first month while I searched for an apartment.  The temporary housing was lovely and all but it had that kind of generic, sterile, hotel vibe to it.  Tan carpet, tan couch, beige walls, wooden fruit on the kitchen counter for decoration, sateen bedspread, that kind of thing.  The good news about the temporary housing was that it was within walking distance of a great produce market/speciality food store that immediately made me feel at home.

My first night in town I walked over and picked up the essentials: cheese, sausage, bottle of wine, fruit, and a loaf of bread.  And not just any bread but a fancy loaf of rosemary bread.  Best decision I made.  I ate it sliced with butter on it (delicious) and made grilled cheese with it (even better).  I had forgotten about that wonderful bread until I saw this recipe in a magazine I picked up a few months back.

This bread was very easy to make at home, though be aware that you have to do some serious kneading and allow plenty of time for the dough to rise so it cannot be made in a hurry.  But good things shouldn’t be rushed.  Also note that the original recipe called for 3 to 5 minced cloves of garlic so I split the difference and made mine with 4 and though I love garlic I found it too overpowering here.  If you’d like to add the garlic I recommend using no more than 3 cloves but certainly feel this bread would be great without it.

Rosemary Bread (from Homemade Bread magazine)

For the bread:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active-dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, snipped
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

For the tops of the loaves:

  • 1 egg white, beaten to a froth
  • 2 teaspoon fresh, whole rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the baking sheets:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal

In a large bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast, and let this rest until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the oil, sat, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary.  Stir in the flours; then knead for 10 minutes.

Oil a clean bowl, and then roll the dough around to oil the surface.  Let it rise until doubled, about one hour.

Once risen, knead the dough again for five minutes.  Let it rise for another 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal parts, and shape each into a small ball-shaped loaf.  Place each on an oiled baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal.

Brush the foamy egg white on the tops of the shaped loaves, and sprinkle with coarse salt and rosemary leaves, pressing lightly into the surface of the dough.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  With a sharp knife or kitchen shears, make 3 ¼-inch-deep cuts in the top of each loaf.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust looks light brown and the loaves make a hollow sound when lightly thumped on the bottom.

Cool on wire rack.  Makes two 6-inch round or oval loaves.

awesome gluten free pumpkin muffins

Yesterday it was sunny and in the 70’s.  I sat in a backyard and enjoyed the sun whilst food grilled behind me.  There was frisbee tossing and cold drinks and small children running around in shorts.  What a difference a day made… today it was gray and in the 40’s.  I had to turn my heat on for the first time in over two weeks!  Boo.  But I also made you some weather-worthy pumpkin muffins that almost make the return to typical spring temps worthwhile.

A few months back, before Thanksgiving, I roasted some pumpkins from my parents garden and pureed them up.  I then conveniently froze the pumpkin puree in one-cup portions so that I could thaw them out whenever I felt like baking up a taste of fall.  (You can certainly use canned pumpkin here, I’m just bragging because my foresight was pretty awesome last November, though it was kind of a pain to puree up the pumpkin to be honest.  Do yourself a favor and buy it canned… unless of course you grow pumpkins in your garden and have a few spare hours next fall.)

These muffins are the perfect antidote to gray days like today.  A little spicey, sweet, and best served warm with butter.

Pumpkin Muffins (adapted slightly from Apple-Pumpkin Muffins recipe from “Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free” by Karen Morgan)

  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup tapioca flour
  • 2 teaspoons guar gum
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • One 15-ounce can solid-pack unsweetened pumpkin (or 1 ½ cups pureed pumpkin)
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line muffin cups with paper liners.  (Makes about 18 to 24 muffins.)

In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, including the sugars and spices, and stir with a whisk to blend.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until soft.  Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla and mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times.  Using an ice-cream scoop, fill the prepared muffin cups three-fourths full with batter and bake for 25 minutes, or until cracked on top and browned on the edges.  A wooden skewer inserted into one of the muffins will come out clean.