Homemade Challah…

I’ve always loved home made bread. Who doesn’t? I was never good at making it. And just when I thought I was getting the hang of it we moved to Colorado and altitude. Yuck. Altitude and bread do not mix. Well actually they do, but altitude can add some additional problems. Just what I wanted.

So I decided to take a braided bread cooking class. Am I glad I did. The class itself was a little slow in the participation area, but I came away with one nugget of information that’s changed the whole ball game. So now I’m working on making bread again.

So let’s talk homemade challah…

Lesson Learned 1 – Learning how to know when the glutens in the dough have been developed properly: This was the biggest take away for me from the cooking class I attended. I learned you can underdeveloped, develop and overdevelop the glutens in your dough. Underdeveloped glutens will give you a heavy dense dough that may fall in on you when you bake your bread. Overdeveloped and your bread will be too dry.

So how do you tell? Simple. Just take a small piece of dough in your hand and begin to pinch it and spread it with your fingers. You should be able to work the dough so that it is smooth and paper tin without the dough tearing or breaking.

That was a big breakthrough learning for me especially since I live in high altitude and its tougher to make bread in my climate.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the humidity the day you make bread: The higher the humidity the less moisture you’ll need in your dough. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you pay attention to these two factors, gluten development and humidity, soon you will just be able to tell if your dough is of the correct consistency or not.

Lesson Learned 3 – Most people don’t knead their dough enough: Once I mixed all of the ingredients together I used the dough hook on my machine and kneaded the dough for five minutes. That, on average, is a good time to test the dough for gluten development. If the dough falls apart it will need more moisture, if it is too gloppy (technical term) it will need a little more flour. Once you think you have the correct consistency do the gluten test I refer to above. Chances are you’ll be right on the money.

Lesson Learned 4 – If your dough is completely stuck on your dough hook, stop your mixer and scrape the dough off: Some people think that if the dough is on the dough hook it is kneading the dough. That’s not true. The dough hook as to be working it’s way through the dough in order to be kneading it. Be mindful that you’re just not having your dough spin around in a circle without actually being kneaded.

Lesson Learned 5 – You can separate your dough into as many strands as you want for braiding: I did a traditional 3 strand braid. You braid it just like you braid hair. The picture to the right shows my strands. In hindsight I should have made the bottom one thinner and all the strands more even in size. In the end it really didn’t hurt anything as you leave the braided bread to rest on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for at least an hour and the dough rises and sort of fills itself in.

I will admit that this recipe is a little more challenging than what I normally post, but hopefully as a fledgling cook you are confident enough in yourself to try something a little more difficult. This was the very first time I ever made challah and it turned out magnificently. But if you’re does not, go back and try it again because once you master the art of making home made bread, you’ll never turn back.

Homemade Challah...

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/8 cup warm water

3/4 Tbs. instant yeast

6 egg yolks, one for the egg wash

2 1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil

3 -6  Tbs. sugar, depending how sweet you want your bread

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

3 3/4 cup flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. water for the egg wash

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl, whisk and let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the 5 eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla and whisk to break up and incorporate the eggs. Add the flour and salt.  If using a stand mixer use the paddle attachment and mix for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.

Switch to a dough hook and mix on low speed for 5 minutes (my mixer particularly specifies that whenever using the dough hook do not go above speed level #2. You may want check the directions that came with your mixture to see what they recommend. The speed should not go above medium low).

Use a bowl scraper and scrape the dough onto a floured surface and continue kneading the dough by hand for about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size, approximately 2 hours.

After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of pieces you will need for your braids – I made 3 braids of 10-14 inches in length. It is important that the braids are all the same length.

Braid the pieces of dough together and transfer the loaf to a parchment lined sheet pan. Make an egg wash by combining the last egg (you can do the whole egg or the yolk) and the water. Brush the entire surface of the loaf, including the sides with the egg wash. Refrigerate the remaining egg wash. Let the loaf stand uncovered for about 1 hour.

About 20 minutes before baking time preheat the over to 350. Brush the bread one more time with the egg wash. Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes (I only needed an additional 15 minutes).

Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy the beauty of homemade bread!

 

Skillet Irish Soda Bread…

There’s no doubt about it, the recipes that are handed down from generation to generation are the best. And sometimes that’s an impossible task as the old fashioned cooks would simply say, “Oh I just eyeballed what I needed and used a pinch of this and a little of that” leaving you to try to assimilate the exact ingredients to recreate the recipe.

This recipe is one of those handed down gems. A neighbor of mine served it at her St. Patrick’s Day party and the rest is history. I remember looking at all the wonderful things she laid out on her table but only eating the soda bread with some fresh Irish butter. It was heaven. I found out later it was her Mother’s recipe and she had been making this for years!

I’ve tasted many iterations of soda bread over the years and, to be honest, most of them were less than stellar. There was only one other time that I can remember having fabulous soda bread. That was when I was working at the Chicago Park District and one of my co-workers, Carol Diver, brought some to work. Carol was Irish through and through with an infectious laugh and a heart as big as all outdoors. And her soda bread was to die for. Unfortunately Carol is not longer with us and I’d never asked her for her soda bread recipe. But from then on, her soda bread was the standard to which I held all others. As time went on none would ever compare, until now.

So this time I made sure to get the recipe and with permission I am sharing it with you. I made it the other night and it was just as fabulous as I remember, moist with just the right amount of sweetness. I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it often.

So let’s talk Irish Soda Bread…

The dough did not reach the sides of a 10 inch skillet

Lesson Learned 1 – The size cast iron skillet you use is important:  The recipe I got said it made two loaves and my neighbor said she used a 10 inch skillet to bake the bread. But once I made the dough and put it in my 10 inch cast iron skillet I knew that couldn’t be the case. The only way there would be enough dough for two loaves is if you used a smaller cast iron skillet – probably an 8 inch skillet. With a 10 inch skillet there is only enough dough for one loaf.

With using a larger skillet it will take longer to cook, approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. If you use a smaller skillet I would begin checking it at 45 minutes. You want a nice gold brown on the top. Once you see that you know the bread is done.

Don’t get me wrong, the bread turned out beautifully and was so delicious as you can see from the pictures in this blog.  I just think the directions I got were for a smaller pan than what I used.

Lesson Learned 2 – Do not use self rising flour in this recipe: The second time I made this I decided to experiment and use self rising flour – BIG MISTAKE! The bread did not rise and the top of it looked like a battle had been fought on it, all lumpy and messy looking. And although I baked it for the correct amount of time, it did not cook through and was gooey inside. So take a tip from me, stick with regular flour and you’ll be just fine.

That’s the only advice I have for making this as the recipe is pretty straightforward. And let me reiterate, this is the best Irish Soda bread I have ever tasted since I had my friend’s, Carol Diver’s, bread all those years ago. I know you will enjoy this one!

Skillet Irish Soda Bread...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

2 Tbs. cold butter

1 1/2 cup raisins

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (you may need to add a little more)

Shortening, to grease the skillet

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325.

Whisk together the flour, sugar salt and baking soda until well combined. Cut in the butter. Add raisins and buttermilk and mix until moist. (You may need to add more buttermilk. I found I needed to add about a 1/4 cup more to get all the ingredients moist).

Lightly grease a cast iron skillet with shortening (use a 10 inch skillet for one large loaf or an 8 inch skillet for two loaves). Transfer dough to the skillet. Brush the top of the dough with a light coating of buttermilk. If desired, cut a cross on the dough.

Bake for 45 minutes for the smaller loaves and 75 minutes for a large loaf. Check the loaves at 45 minutes and 60 minutes respectively to see if you need to add extra time.

Let bread sit in skillet for about 5 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Remove the bread from the skillet and let it cool on a wire rack.

Serve with Irish butter for a delectable treat!

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Easy Chocolate Ganache…

My husband has an incurable sweet tooth. The other day he informed me we had nothing sweet in the house to eat and I was not in the mood to whip up something from scratch. I looked in the pantry and found a box of Duncan Hines decadent chocolate cake mix and told him I would make that. Unfortunately I opened my mouth before carefully reading the outside of the box. Staring me right in the face in clear letters on the front of the box were the words “frosting not included”. Now what… Luckily I thought I might have the ingredients for making chocolate ganache (which I did) so I thought ok, now’s the time to tackle your fears and make it. I had not other choice.

I’m not quite sure why I was afraid to make ganache but I always thought it was difficult and tricky. To my surprise it was unbelievably easy. So I thought I would dedicate this blog to a very simple way of making ganache that turns out silky, luscious and ever so decadent looking, not to mention absolutely incredibly delicious.

So let’s talk making chocolate ganache…

Lesson Learned 1 – There are many ways to make ganache: I am going to share with you the simplest way. The ratio is easy to remember 1:1. Use as many ounces of heavy cream as semi-sweet chocolate. It couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the chocolate squares into very small pieces: I used a 4 ounce box of Bakers semi-sweet chocolate. With my chef’s knife I cut off pieces and chopped them into small bits. If you decide to go the chip route, I would use the mini semi-sweet chips. You need the hot cream to melt the chocolate and if the pieces are too big that won’t happen.

Chocolate Covered In Hot Heavy Cream

Lesson Learned 2 – You can warm your heavy cream in the microwave: In order to get the desired consistency of the ganache, the cream has to melt the chocolate. So you have to get the cream hot enough to do that but you don’t want to scald the cream. That won’t work either.

Many recipes that I looked at recommended warming the cream on the stove. You can certainly do that especially since it gives you slightly more control in determining when the cream is hot enough. And you can certainly do that with this recipe, although I didn’t. I heated my cream (4 ounces) in the microwave for 45 seconds. After that time I found it still wasn’t hot enough. I heated it for an additional 15 seconds and it was bubbling. I was worried that I’d scalded the cream but I think what happened was the cream had just started to bubble, so I was still ok. The next time I think I’ll just nuke it for 50 seconds straight and go from there.

If you use a larger 1:1 ratio you will need to nuke the cream for a longer period of time. With this you’ll simply have to keep checking it. With 4 ounces I recommend 50 seconds. For larger amounts I would start checking at 1 minute and go from there.

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the chocolate and heavy cream sit for at least 3 minutes: Once you add the hot heavy cream you may be tempted to start whisking the mixture right away. Don’t. The cream has to melt the chocolate in order for you to get the desired consistency of the ganache. Be patient and let the cream do it’s work. I guarantee you it’s worth it.

This recipe makes enough to generously frost one bundt cake, one 9 x 13 sheet cake or one 9 inch round layer cake. So next time you need some frosting try this instead of buying the canned stuff. It looks impressive and it tastes divine!

Easy Chocolate Ganache...

  • Servings: 1 Bundt Cake
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate squares cut into small pieces

4 ounces heavy cream, heated

DIRECTIONS

Chop up the chocolate into very small pieces. Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe dish for approximately 50 seconds. Test with your finger to make sure it is sufficiently hot to melt the chocolate. If not, microwave at additional 5 second intervals until cream is hot but not scalded.

Pour cream over chocolate pieces. Let the hot mixture sit for at least 3 minutes. Whisk mixture until cream is incorporated and the chocolate is dark and smooth. Drizzle the chocolate over the top of your bundt cake. Let ganache set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

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Mini Cherry Cheese Danishes…

This recipe was born out of leftovers I had from making my Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake. I still had some of the cream cheese mixture and cherry pie filling leftover and really didn’t want to just throw them out. I searched online to see if I could get some ideas and found something similar to this and thought, I’ll make some mini cheese danishes.

Apparently a lot of people are using refrigerated dough to makes these types of recipes. I was surprised to find crescent dough “rounds”. I’d never seen them before. I was thinking I might have to take the traditional crescent dough and pinch the seams in order to get the rounds I needed. I was delighted that I did not have to do that work, that it was already done for me.

So let’s talk mini cherry cheese danishes…

Lesson Learned 1 – Working with the refrigerator dough: Using this kind of dough is very convenient but you do have to work it a little bit. I cut the pieces along the pre-perforated edges as best I could (I wound up with 9 rounds and  I should have only had 8 if I followed the perforations exactly – oh well…) and  rolled each piece into a ball. I flattened each piece with my hand and then used my thumbs to create a crater inside the dough. The crater is important because that’s where you put the cream cheese and cherries. Making the crater as deep as possible helps to prevent the cherries from falling off. But don’t worry, if they do once you pull them out of the oven just use a small spoon to push them back on top. Once they cool they will stay put.

Lesson Learned 2 – The cream cheese filling: This recipe was inspired by the cream cheese filling and canned cherries I had left over from making a Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake. After I made the cake I had enough filling and cherries left over that I really didn’t want to just throw out. This recipe is designed for that type of leftover. You can make the filling for this recipe versus using leftovers, and I will include the the recipe for the filling I used, but any type of cream cheese filling will do. Plus if you make the filling from scratch you will definitely have too much filling. There have been many times I’ve had filling like this left over and I just trashed it. But even if I didn’t have any leftover canned cherries, another type of fruit could be substituted, like left over apple sauce or apple pie filling. This recipe is a very easy way to use your baking leftovers.

Lesson Learned 3 – The Glaze: As I’ve shared before the formula for glaze is quite simple – a cup of confectioners sugar and 1 – 2 tbs. of liquid (water, milk, heavy cream) and a little flavoring like an extract, juice, and/or zest. For this recipe I used 1/8 tsp. of almond extract and the glaze was perfect.

My husband really liked these tasty little bites. Cover them with plastic wrap or put them in an air tight container and they’ll stay fresh for 3 days, if they even last that long. I know mine didn’t. Enjoy!

Mini Cherry Cream Cheese Danishes

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

1 can of crescent rounds, I used Pillsbury

Leftover cream cheese filling (note recipe below was the filling I used but if made from scratch is too much for this recipe)


2 – 8oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbs. flour

1 egg, room temperature


Leftover fruit  – I used leftover canned cherry pie filling

GLAZE:

I cup confectioners sugar

1 – 2 tsp milk

1/8 tsp almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Open the can of refrigerator dough and cut the dough rounds using the perforations as a guide. Roll each into a ball. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hands and create a crater in the center of each with your thumbs.

Place a half teaspoon of cream cheese filling and 2-3 cherries inside each crater.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

Remove each danish onto a wire rack and let cool. If any cherries have fallen off during the baking process, spoon them back on top before placing on the wire rack.

Once cooled, make the glaze and drizzle over the danishes. Serve or place in an air tight container. Danishes will stay fresh for approximately 3 days.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

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Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake…

What can I say about this one. It is simply over the top. Not only does it taste divine but it’s gorgeous. What more can you ask for from a cake? Now I’ll admit this cake takes a little more work than most but the result is breathtaking. This is possibly the most professional looking cake I’ve ever made. And we know looks are important but bottom line it has to taste good. Well let me tell you in the taste department I would consider this to be divine. I mean what’s not to love – chocolate, flavorful cream cheese, cherry pie filling, vanilla glaze – it just doesn’t get much better than that.

So let’s talk chocolate cherry cream cheese cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you make this cake: Really you should be organized when you make any cake but this one has so many components to it that your experience making it will be so much more delightful if you plan this out before you make it. Think about this one in stages.

  1. Get everything out in plenty of time that needs to be room temperature. In this recipe that means the eggs and sour cream. No need to worry about the butter because you melt that.
  2. Get the oven preheating. I believe it is better for your oven not only to be preheated but to be at the desired temperature for at least 5-10 minutes so that once you pop the cake pan in you can count on the oven truly being the correct temperature all throughout.
  3. Put together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, kosher salt and baking soda) and set them aside.
  4. Measure out all of the remaining ingredients. I use little bowls to organize what needs to be measured. That way when you come to a certain juncture in the process you are all ready to go. This includes opening up the can of cherry pie filling and measuring out the amount needed. As you do that, try to opt for more cherries than filling as some fillings tend to be more juice and less cherries.
  5. Count out, drain and rinse your maraschino cherries. For my pan I needed 16 cherries, so a small jar of cherries will work just fine.
  6. Assemble the chocolate mixture.
  7. Make the batter by combining the chocolate mixture with the dry ingredients. Now you’re ready to go.
  8. Wait to spray your bundt pan until the very end. For this recipe I recommend using a baking spray with flour. Coat the bundt pan liberally. You want it to be glistening all over before you begin assembling the cake.

Because there are so many components to this recipe I guarantee you will be a lot happier and have more fun making this cake if you organize yourself.

Lesson Learned 2 – Making the glaze: Making glaze for any type of cake or pastry couldn’t be easier. All it requires is some confectioners sugar, some liquid and perhaps some sort of additional flavoring. You can use water, milk, or heavy cream for your liquid and you can use a little extract, juice or zest to enhance the flavor of the glaze. More often than not I use milk as the liquid and in this particular recipe I used a little vanilla extract to enhance the flavor.

Keep in mind you need very little liquid to create a glaze. Normally it works out to about 1 cup of confectioners sugar to about a tablespoon or so of liquid and then, if using a liquid extract, only about 1/8 teaspoon of that. But don’t get bogged down in the measurements. If your glaze is too thick just add a little more liquid to thin it out. If it becomes too runny, add a little more confectioners sugar. Glaze is very forgiving and can be made to the correct consistency with some easy minor adjustments.

One caveat – don’t use the additional flavoring to thin out a glaze. The flavor can become overpowering if you do that. And lastly, I don’t always have heavy cream around the house, but when I do I use it as my liquid. That is when you get the richest flavor. I just can’t convince myself to buy a pint of heavy cream for the needed tablespoon I will use in a glaze. But it’s all up to you.

This cake is so good and so worth the effort. Try it – I just know you will like it!

Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup water

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 Tbs. espresso powder

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, melted

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

16 maraschino cherries, rinsed and drained

3/4 cup cherry pie filling

CREAM CHEESE FILLING:

2 – 8oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbs. flour

1 egg, room temperature

GLAZE:

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 – 2 Tbs. water, milk or heavy cream

1/8 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cream cheese filling by beating together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add the flour and egg and beat until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

In a saucepan melt the 3/4 cup butter. Add the water and stir to blend. Add the cocoa and espresso powder and whisk until there are not lumps. Add the chips and stir until they are completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Add the chocolate mixture to the dry mixture and whisk until combined. Blend in the sour cream. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.

Spray a 10-12 cup bundt pan thoroughly with baking spray with flour. Melt the 1 1/2 tsp of butter and pour it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the melted butter. Place two cherries on top of the brown sugar in each of the larger grooves of the bundt pan.

Fill the bundt pan with half the chocolate batter. Spoon in the cream cheese filling on top making sure not to have the filling touch the sides. Spoon the cherry pie filling on top of the cream cheese, making sure the filling does not touch the sides of the pan. (You may have some leftover cream cheese and cherry pie filling). Pour the remaining batter evenly on top making sure to cover the cream cheese and the cherry pie filling completely.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Put a plate over the bottom of the pan and flip the cake out of the pan onto the plate and let cool completely.

Mix together all of the ingredients for the glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake.

Pour the melted butter evenly over the bottom

Put the brown sugar on top of the butter

Place the cherries in the larger grooves

Layer the ingredients

The cake right out of the oven

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Marble Pound Cake…

I love this recipe not only because it produces a moist, flavorful cake but also because it’s a ton of fun to make.  And the finished product looks as good as it tastes.

I like experimenting with different cakes and when I read about the process for this one I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve made swirl cakes before where you basically have one little cinnamon swirl going through the cake but this way of making a swirl cake is much more dramatic. You create the dramatic swirls by dividing the batter and making one half chocolate and keeping the other half as is. Then you spoon in the batter alternating the colors and use a knife or another similar object and swirl them together. It was great fun (I know I need to get a life…). And the result, as you can see from the many pictures in this blog is a more dramatic density of swirls. It is a fun cake to make and eat.

So let’s talk marble pound cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The easy way to grease and flour a bundt cake pan: If you’re like me you love the way a bundt cake looks but you dread greasing and flouring the pan. Well I’ve found a way to make that process somewhat easier. First there’s no getting around it you need to grease the pan and pay attention to getting the grease into the many crevices. I usually use shortening to do that. I think I actually use less grease with shortening than I do with butter.

Then comes the flouring part and that was always a challenge because you need to get the flour up as high as you can and with the wide opening of the pan you can get flour all over the place if you’re not careful. Well, no more. All you need do is take some good cling wrap (and I mean the stuff that really clings – we buy ours at Costco and it is restaurant quality grade). Cover the top of the pan as shown in the picture below.

Once you do this you can turn the pan completely upside down and shake it all around and spread the flour easily throughout the entire pan. See for yourself…

After that you simply turn the pan upside down on the counter and tap the sides of the pan with a wooden spoon all the way around. I would do that a couple of times. Then remove the cling wrap from the sides of the pan, lift the pan up and you’ll be left with all the excess flour all on the cling wrap as seen in the picture below…

Then all you need to do is fold up the edges of the cling wrap and toss it with the flour inside. Believe me, this little trick saves a lot of time and mess. You’ll love it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Add the eggs individually and beat each of them for a long time: There is no leavening in this recipe (baking powder, soda). Leavening is traditionally used to make a cake rise in the oven. The only leavening agent in this recipe is the eggs.

Think of an egg as basically having three qualities – fat, foam and fat & foam. The fat is the yolk which primarily serves as a binder. It helps to make batters smooth and moist. The foam is the whites. Beat them into submission on their own and you get light stiff peaks that can be used for airiness in a recipe or to make a meringue.

The particular recipe relies on the fat and the foam. When mixed with sugar (like in a cake or cookie batter), eggs help trap and hold air — not quite as well as whipped egg whites, but enough to give the finished product some lightness and lift. And that’s what you are needing in this recipe. That is why it is important to make sure each egg is blended thoroughly. Do not add all the eggs in at the same time. It never mixes as well as you think and could affect the cakes ability to rise.

Also don’t crack the eggs directly into the batter. Since you are using so many eggs you don’t want to get to the fifth or sixth one and then find out you have a bad one as it drops in. Your batter will be ruined. In order to prevent this, crack each egg into a small dish before you add it to the batter. That way you can make sure you’re not adding a bad egg. I’ve only had this happen to me a couple of times, and it’s not fun. Believe me you don’t want to put yourself into a position of having to toss out all of those ingredients and start all over because you had one bad egg.

Lesson Learned 3 – Alternating the batters in the pan: I think I had the most fun with this part of the process. Once you create the two batters you alternate them by large spoonfuls in the pan.

After that you swirl the batters together being careful not to touch the edges or the bottom of the pan. I used a skewer that I used to grill vegetables. It was long enough and thin enough to give me control and to create some great swirls. Judge for yourself…

You add another layer of alternating batters, swirl again and you’re ready to pop the cake into the oven.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use instant espresso powder to enhance the flavor of the chocolate: In any recipe that includes chocolate I’d recommend adding at least a quarter teaspoon of espresso powder. It brings out the chocolate flavor so much more. Try making a chocolate recipe without it and then make the same recipe with it. You’ll be amazed at how much it enhances the flavor of the chocolate.

What I really like about this cake is it looks as good as it tastes. And I found it fun to make. I loved making the swirls! So try this one and tell me what you think. I just know you’ll love it.

Marble Pound Cake...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 cups sugar

6 large eggs, room temperature

3 cups flour

2 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. espresso powder

1/3 cup hot water

powdered sugar for sprinkling on top

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan. Set aside.

Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar for approximately 5 minutes. The mixture should be light and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time and combine each thoroughly. Add the vanilla and combine.

Mix together the flour and the salt. Add the flour a few large spoonfuls to the batter at a time until combined.

Whisk together the cocoa, espresso powder and hot water. Take half of the cake batter and stir it into the cocoa mixture.

Drop dollops of batter into the bundt pan alternating the chocolate and vanilla batters. Swirl the batters together being careful not to scrape the bottom or sides of the pan. Repeat the same process. (You should get two layers of alternating batter).

Bake for 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 30 minutes before inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

 

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Skillet Breads – Rosemary Parmesan and Cranberry Walnut…

Nothing in this world compares to home made bread. There is something so comforting about it, it creates that feeling of “there’s no place like home” every time you smell it baking in the oven. And bread baking has progressed over the years from a process that took hours to much quicker and easier methods. To date I have made bread the traditional way (letting it rise over and over for hours and baking in a loaf pan), to making bread in an enameled cast iron dutch oven and now this third way of making it in a plain old cast iron skillet.

I’ve made this recipe a few times before I felt I perfected it and I’ll go through all of that in my lessons learned. But bottom line, even with the few blips I encountered I still wound up with wonderful homemade bread. The two versions I’m going to talk about in this blog are Cranberry Walnut Skillet Bread and Rosemary Parmesan Skillet Bread. Two very different varieties but two wonderful breads.

So let’s talk skillet breads…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use rapid rise yeast and make sure it is fresh: I had a jar of rapid rise yeast in my refrigerator and used it the first time I tried to make this bread. It never rose the way it was supposed to (the jar had been in the fridge for quite some time) and the bread wound up “doughy” as if it didn’t have enough air in it. The second time I made the bread I used fresh yeast and their was a marked difference in how much the dough had risen. Also make sure that you use warm but not scolding water when you activate the yeast. Scolding water will kill the yeast but very warm water will activate it.

 

 

 

 

 

The picture on the left shows the newly mixed dough. The one on the right shows what the dough will look like after it had risen in the bowl for one hour.

Skillet bread requires the dough to rise twice, once for an hour in the bowl and once for a half hour in the skillet. The picture above shows what the dough should look like after it has risen in the skillet for a half hour.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use only a small amount of olive oil to season the skillet and use good olive oil: What I really like about making bread this way is the crust you get from the cast iron skillet. Take a silicone brush and lightly coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. You really don’t want a lot of oil sitting on the bottom. That will give you a greasy crust. And make sure you use a good quality olive oil. I used a garlic infused olive oil when I made the rosemary parmesan bread and a mild flavored premium olive oil for the cranberry walnut bread. If you don’t overdo the oil the crust will have just the right amount of crispiness and will taste heavenly.  Just make sure you use a good olive oil. I prefer the crust in this method compared to the crust you get when using an enameled cast iron dutch oven (in the process you do not oil the pan). That crust, to me, is a little tougher. But don’t get me wrong, both methods produce wonderful bread.

Lesson Learned 3 – Some recipes tell you to cut an “X” in the center (called scoring) of the dough before you put it in the oven – for this recipe DON’T:  I truly don’t think you need to score the bread using this method. When you put bread in the oven it continues to rise and a tension begins to exist between the top formed layer and the softer dough beneath. Scoring is done to assist with the bread rising consistently and predictably during this process.

When I made the rosemary parmesan skillet bread I scored it in the center before I put it in the oven. It created a small crater in the middle of the bread as seen below. It didn’t hurt anything and the bread still turned out fine but I was looking for a more rounded look in the finished product.

When I made the cranberry walnut bread I did not score it in the middle and got more of the rounded look I was wanting.

Lesson Learned 4 – The dough will be very sticky when you go to transfer it into the skillet: I’ve read many versions of how to make this type of bread and most recipes tell you to flour your hands and the dough to successfully transfer it to the skillet. I don’t find that works unless you use a lot of flour and I’m not a big fan of baking a lot of flour into my bread crust.

What I do is take a silicone spatula and work the dough to the edge of the bowl and then quickly move the spatula to get the dough into the skillet. The beauty of this type of bread is that it doesn’t need to look pristine. The more rustic looking the better. And after the dough rises for a half hour in the skillet, many of the imperfections have disappeared. So don’t angst over transferring the dough to the skillet. It’s really pretty simple if you use a silicone spatula.

I couldn’t believe how simple this was to make. The hardest part is letting the dough rise for an hour and a half – the rest is easy. And to me there is nothing like homemade bread. So try one or both of these recipes and let me know what you think…

Skillet Breads - Rosemary Parmesan or Cranberry Walnut...

  • Servings: 12 slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

BOTH BREADS:

1 package instant rapid rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)

2 cups warm water

4 1/2 cups all bread flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

Olive oil for the skillet

ROSEMARY PARMESAN BREAD ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS:

3 Tbs. of chopped fresh rosemary, divided

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

CRANBERRY WALNUT BREAD ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast and water. Add half the flour and mix together. Mix in the remaining flour along with either the rosemary or the cranberries and walnuts. If some of the flour is still dry add a little extra warm water until the dough is completely formed.

Cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Brush some olive oil on the bottom and sides of a cast iron skillet using a silicone brush. Transfer the dough to the skillet and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise for 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

After the dough has risen the second time put the skillet in the oven. If making the rosemary parmesan bread, sprinkle some chopped rosemary on the top of the bread before putting it in the oven. For rosemary parmesan bread, after 20 minutes remove the bread from the oven and sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese. Let the bread bake an additional 20 minutes. For cranberry walnut bread, let the bread bake for 40 minutes straight.

Remove the bread from the oven. Using a spatula, transfer the bread from the skillet to a cooling rack. (This should be very easy but be careful because the skillet will be very hot). Slice and enjoy.

These breads can also be frozen. Cut them into two slice or more pieces. Cover securely with plastic wrap. Put pieces in a freezer bag. Close the bag while trying to eliminate as much air as possible from the bag. Your bread will stay fresh for one month.

Rosemary Parmesan Skillet Bread

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake…

I belong to a book club in our condo community and at the last meeting I came across this recipe. The hostess served this cake but I didn’t eat any of it. As I was leaving she asked if I would like to bring a piece to my husband. I said sure. Well my husband raved over it so much I had to get the recipe and make it myself. OMG this has to be one of the lightest, moistest and most delicious coffee cakes you’ll ever make. I actually think this recipe is foolproof as I didn’t even need to adjust it to high altitude.

I think the cake gets its moistness from the 2 cups of sour cream you add to the batter. Regardless it is one of the best coffee cakes I’ve ever made. So let’s talk sour cream coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – You need a specific cake pan for this recipe: When I got a copy of this recipe it called for it to be made in a 10 cup flute pan (angel food cake pan). I did not have that but I had a 10 cup bundt pan so I used that. It worked just fine. The only difference is if you want your cinnamon and nut mixture to be on the top of your cake use a flute pan. If you use a bundt pan it will be on the bottom of your cake – I’m not sure that really matters one way or the other. It still tastes great!

If you use a flute pan you only need to grease the sides and the bottom of the pan due to its flat surfaces. If you use a bundt pan I would recommend both greasing and flouring the pan. That way the cake will release easily from all of the crevices in a bundt pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – Be systematic in how you prepare this cake: I’ve found whether in cooking or baking your results are much better if you systematically approach the recipe and organize yourself. Here’s what I recommend (and this applies to almost all baking):

  • Take your eggs and butter out of the refrigerator at least a couple of hours before you begin making the cake to get them to room temperature
  • Make sure you dust your cake pan and your mixing bowl(s) with a cloth before your begin anything – they are not immune to attracting dust and you certainly don’t want dust on your cake or in your batter
  • Take the time to thoroughly grease and flour your pan – if using a bundt pan make sure to get the flour in all the crevices but also make sure you remove as much excess flour as possible – I normally do that by holding the pan over the garbage can and banging it all over with a wooden spoon to remove the excess
  • Preheat your oven first thing – it’s always better to have your oven sit at the desired temperature for a while versus putting the cake in just as it reaches the correct temperature
  • Put together the dry ingredients and either sift them together or combine them with a whisk
  • Put together the ingredients for the topping and set them aside
  • Don’t be afraid to take some time to combine the butter and sugar (4 – 5 minutes) – the fluffier that mixture the better your cake batter will be
  • Make sure you mix your eggs in one by one – they will not combine thoroughly if you put them all in at the same time; the same applies to your dry ingredients – don’t add them all at once but in stages – this will ensure everything is thoroughly combined

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake freezes beautifully: This recipe produces a large cake that really only stays fresh for a couple of days. If you’re not making it for a party or to bring to work I suggest you take what you don’t think you’ll eat in a couple of days and freeze it. I wrapped mine in 2-slice portions. Make sure you wrap the pieces tightly in plastic wrap and then put them in a freezer bag(s). Let as much air out of the freezer bag as you possibly can. By doing this you’ll have fresh moist cake for a month!

I’m not kidding when I say I think this cake is foolproof. It is one of the few recipes that I did not have to adjust for high altitude. My husband loves this cake and I know you will too!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups of sugar, divided

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups sour cream

3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl combine the walnuts, cinnamon and 3/4 cups sugar. Set aside.

Grease a 10 cup tube pan or grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan. Set aside. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda) and set aside.

Using a stand mixture, mix together the butter and 1 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat to combine.

Add the dry ingredients in portions and beat until well combined.

Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture on top of the batter. Add the remaining batter on top. Sprinkle with the remaining nut mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. Cool the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes and then remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.