Apple Galette

Thanksgiving kind of snuck up on me this year. I’ve been anticipating it since early October but I’m still shocked it’s actually next week! I’m even more shocked because I have nothing planned yet, which is SO not me. By now, my mom and I usually already have our game plan down, with only last minute things on the grocery list. We don’t even have a turkey yet! What makes it worse is that I’m already getting ready for Christmas, which totally goes against the traditionalist in me that doesn’t skip over holidays. I don’t know, but the holidays so far have thrown me for a loop.

Besides the fact I have nothing planned, I at least have a quick and awesome dessert option for you semi-traditionalists. This isn’t your traditional apple pie, but is delicious in its own right.

Apple Tart 1

Part of what attracted me to making a galette, aside from it being an apple dessert, is its simplicity. If you can make pie crust, you can make this galette. Even if you can’t make pie crust, you can still make this galette. No fancy equipment is needed to make this, which is awesome, and is super quick to put together.

The other thing that attracted me to this galette? The fact that it’s free form. I don’t yet own a pie dish (gasp!). It’s true, I don’t have one. I’ve mentioned it before but we’re just not pie people. No matter how hard I try to get my folks to appreciate pie, it just won’t happen. I guess that’s just one of those American things that’ll never stick at the table at my house. Sad because pie is awesome but there’s not much I can do there. The only thing I own relatively close to a pie pan is a tart pan. The issue there is that it’s pretty big, which is hard to use when most pies and tarts are usually 9 inches in diameter. This is where the galette saves the day. After making the crust, you just roll it out as far as you can, place it on a lined baking sheet, pile the apples on top and fold up the edges. That’s it! No matter how ugly you think it looks, it will come out beautiful and rustic looking. I love it when desserts aren’t intentionally pretty; makes the homemade factor look even more appealing.

Apple Tart 4

Speaking of the crust, it’s super easy to make. No food processor required at all. Sure, it’s handy but you can easily make this crust without it. To cut in the butter, you can either use a dough cutter, a pair of forks, or your hands. I opted for my hands but any of the above works fine. I also subbed half the flour with whole wheat for some nuttiness and pseudo healthiness.

Now, let’s talk about the apples for a minute. For this galette, your apples need to be thinly sliced. You don’t need fancy equipment to make this happen but if you want all slices to be even, break out your mandoline (or handoline, like we did last week) for slicing. I freehanded the slicing this time, because I don’t think evenness is necessary here. You can also artistically lay the slices onto the crust to make it look even fancier, but I just piled them in.

Apple Tart 3

The result is this lovely and rustic dessert that didn’t take too much time or effort to make. The crust is nutty and crunchy against the soft and tart apples. A dessert this simple is perfect for your Thanksgiving table. Not much thought or effort goes into it, and it looks super pretty and like you spent a ton of time on it. No one has to know it was that easy ;)

Apple Tart 2

Apple Galette – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Dough: 

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

Filling:

  • 2 pounds apples (I used Granny Smith), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • Cores and peels from sliced apples

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, add flour, sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer, using a dough cutter, with forks, or your hands until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter and mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.
  2. Drizzle in the water, stir, then drizzle in more until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit out for a couple of minutes, until the dough is malleable but still cold. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
  4. Place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Heat oven to 400°F. Toss sliced apples with 4 tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon.
  5. Place the apples on dough, either rustically or in a ring 2 inches from edge; continuing inward until you reach the center. Fold over the dough edges back onto itself, at about one inch intervals until the galette is ‘closed.’
  6. Brush melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge.
  7. Bake in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown, about 45 minutes, making sure to rotate galette every 15 minutes.
  8. For the glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth or sieve.
  9. Remove tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes before glazing, slicing, and serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I originally sprinkled the sugar (as per the original recipe) onto the apples, but will toss them in sugar in the future. I found it wasn’t sweet enough but if you like your galettes on the tart side, stick to sprinkling. 
  • The galette is best served slightly warm. Even better with ice cream and a side of whipped cream. Just sayin’.

 

Kitchen Experiments: Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

So far, I’ve been all about apples this fall. Besides the two awesome recipes I’ve posted thus far, this one is a favorite: the simple and delicious baked apple chip.

It all started years ago, when I bought a bag of apple chips that brought like, three in the bag. I loved them but was outraged by the fact that the bag was practically empty. As usual, I uttered an “I can probably make this myself but way better” and started planning. After I figured it out, I made so many and so often, I got sick of them. It’s been quite a minute but I decided to bring them back; for old time’s sake.

Apple Chips11

For apple chips, you don’t need many tools and they aren’t as fancy as you may think. First, you need your apples (obviously), a cutting board, and knife. You can use any apple you’d like but I’m very partial to the Granny Smith. For you lucky ducks who have a full sized mandoline, you can skip this step. I cut them so it’s easier for me to core and slice but if you have an apple corer, this is the time to use it. For those like me who don’t have a full sized mandoline, it’s time to cut the apples. I like quartering them to remove the core. That, and a quartered apple is easier to slice once cored.

Now that the apple is quartered, let’s core. Place an apple quarter on one of its flat sides. Introduce the knife to the apple at an angle (like maybe 45 degrees?) and slice out the core. Sounds weird to explain it like this, so I hope the pictures helped! Once that’s done, we can move on to slicing.

Apple Chips Prep3

At this point, if you’ve got the knife skillz, you can do it by hand. I do not, so I use a hand mandoline. I call it the ‘handoline.’ Catchy, right? I love slicing with it because I get kind of uniform slices every time. I say ‘kind of’ because depending on the amount of force used when slicing, the end product can end up either too thick or thin. Speaking of which, if free handing, make sure they’re all about the same thickness. This is crucial to the apple chip’s chippyness. And for safety’s sake, use the hand guard. Yeah, I know I’m not using mine but do as I say and not as I do. SAFETY FIRST.

Now that all the apples are sliced, let’s talk toppings. If you’re a purist, you can lay them out on the baking sheet and bake them as is. I’m not, so I like topping mine with cinnamon sugar. I use about two tablespoons of sugar to 1/2-1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon per apple. The amount of cinnamon varies, depending on how festive I’m feeling. You can pretty much go either way here, and top them however you like. Toss the slices in the sugar and cinnamon, making sure they’re all somewhat coated. On prepped baking sheets (prepped = lined with parchment), lay out your slices carefully. Make sure they’re as close as possible without touching. This isn’t one of those recipes where you can get away with throwing everything on the pan all haphazardly. Take the time to line them up.

At this point, you should’ve had your oven preheating before you even started. For those keeping score, it’s at a whopping 250 degrees fahrenheit. I know what you’re thinking; “does my oven even go that low?” Yes it does! Believe me, I thought mine didn’t either. Now, place your apple soldiers into the oven and bake for AN HOUR AND A HALF. Why so long? Well, apple chips get their chipyness from being dehydrated in the oven. The low temperature and long bake time makes it so the dehydration is done carefully and evenly, so the apples hold their shape and are crisp when done. You really can’t crank the oven up with shorter times to speed up the process. It won’t work, and your apples will burn. Patience, grasshopper. You shall be rewarded.

Midway through baking, flip the slices over and rotate the pans in the oven. Also, watch the apples as they can burn if you don’t. Believe me, I know. After that painstaking hour and a half is over, it’s time for the slices to cool. This is also crucial because out of the oven, the slices are still floppy and not very chippy. We don’t want that. Let them sit on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, and watch your previously floppy apple crisp with delight. The apples turn into chips that still taste very much like apples, with a slight sweetness from the sugar and a hint of spiciness from the cinnamon. They are extremely addicting, so make a lot!

Coolin' chips

Coolin’ chips

I’m glad I brought these back from the mental grave I dug them into. It reminded me of why I started making them (and also why I stopped). I can’t hate them though; they are the perfect snack.

Apple Chips10

Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

Makes about four cups

  • 2 large apples (I love using Granny Smith)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. On a cutting board, quarter and core the apples. If you have a full sized mandoline, feel free to core the apples (with a corer) before slicing. Or, you can slice them without coring.
  3. Once quartered and cored, begin slicing the apples. You may do so with a knife or with a hand mandoline (handoline!).
  4. Place the apple slices in a large bowl and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar. Gently toss the apples to evenly coat. Carefully place the apple slices on the prepped baking sheets as close as possible without touching.
  5. Bake the apple slices for an hour and a half, flipping the slices over and rotating the pans halfway through baking. The apples are done when they look a little wrinkly and are dry to the touch.
  6. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before devouring. Any leftovers keep well in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Please watch them while they bake! Multitasking while baking this batch caused me to burn half. Again, do as I say…

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Chocolate Ganache Filling

For the first time ever, I went to a Halloween party. Well, to be fair, it was more of a “get together” than a party. There’s a difference. My CO*OP family and I got together at our founder’s house for snacks, games, and super intense discussions on rousing topics.

As the self proclaimed class baker, I knew I wanted to bring something awesome. Two of my CO*OP friends requested chocolate cupcakes with black frosting. I’m all about pleasing people, even if it meant coloring some buttercream black (not that visually appealing but whatever). Regular chocolate cupcakes seemed so passé, so I went a slightly different route.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 3

If you know me, you know that I LOVE putting booze in things. Sometimes, I put it where it doesn’t belong. I can’t help it! Liquor is every baker’s secret weapon, whether they admit to it or not. There’s just something about putting liquor in stuff that makes things awesome. It might be the liquor itself or the devious feeling I get from secretly putting it in things. Tomato, potato; same thing.

These cupcakes are extra boozy and special because it has not one, but two different liquor components. The cupcakes themselves are made with Guinness. Now, I know what you’re thinking; “beer in cupcakes?! NO WAY.” YES WAY! Guinness and chocolate are actually secret BFFs. There’s something about the dark richness of stout that pairs so well with chocolate. Not only that but the beer also helps the cupcakes stay super moist. Double bonus!

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 1

The second introduction to booze in this recipe is through the ganache filling. At first, I thought adding a filling was a little extra but the more chocolate, the better! It’s just an ordinary chocolate ganache but with a couple teaspoons of whiskey. Here’s the part where I tell you I wish I had put more whiskey in this. I wish I had put more whiskey in the ganache. Do yourself a favor and add more liquor in there because what doesn’t kill you, ends up making you a little tipsy.

I swear my goal was not to get my friends drunk. Well, maybe considering I also brought rummy bears with me. Not really because the cupcakes couldn’t do it. Even so, they were fantastic. This was my first time dealing with beer, so I was skeptical but then surprised with the results. The cakes were super rich and chocolatey, with a slight taste of hoppyness (I guess?) from the beer. That was the only indicator that there was any beer in the cupcakes, unless I told you beforehand or you’re some type of beer wizard that just KNOWS when you taste things. The stout helped keep the cupcakes moist and make the chocolate taste more like chocolate. I guess it works a little like how coffee enhances the chocolate flavor. Then the ganache. Not too sweet with that hint of whiskey. It almost tasted like caramel. I don’t know what kind of sorcery the whiskey did in there, but I was all about it.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 2

Let’s talk about the frosting for a minute. This isn’t your typical buttercream. I have been hearing on the internets about this awesome method for frosting that required less butter and sugar, but still had the buttercream taste. Intrigued, I decided to go for it. Initially, these cupcakes were supposed to have even more booze in the frosting, per Deb’s original recipe. Like I said above, I wasn’t about to get my friends drunk off cupcakes, so I refrained from adding more.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 4

My sister’s a hand model

Either way, the recipe is just as easy as regular buttercream. Basically, you make a roux out of flour and milk on the stove, until it’s thick like cake batter. Yes, there’s flour in here. I know, I was like “whaaaaa” when I saw it  but trust; it works. Let that cool completely before proceeding to the next step, which is creaming softened butter and some sugar. Just one cup of butter with a cup and a quarter of regular granulated sugar. WAIT. Granulated sugar? I was skeptical about this too, considering you can feel the sugar even after creaming the crap out it. After joining the cold roux and the creamed butter, magic happens because it turns into a light and fluffy dream. It’s lighter than traditional buttercream but still has the taste. You can’t feel the sugar granules at all. Like MAGIC.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 5

I must say, for a bunch of firsts in one batch of cupcakes, they came out extremely well and very much on theme. They so looked the part for Halloween. If anything, this success is just making me wonder what else I can put booze in. I guess I’m just going to have to figure that out with some trial and error ;)

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Chocolate Ganache Filling – barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 22-24 cupcakes

  • 1 cup stout, such as Guinness
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1-4 teaspoons Irish whiskey, or any whiskey (the more the merrier!)

Directions:

  1. For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners.
  2. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.
  4. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way.
  5. Bake the cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 17-22 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.
  6. For the ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.
  7. Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped. Alternatively, you can spoon the filling into the cupcakes. Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife with skilled hands, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way.  Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top. Or use a teaspoon to spoon the filling into the cupcakes. You can put a “lid” on the filling, by adding the tops of the cut centers back on the filled cupcakes but that’s optional.

Cooked Whipped Frosting – adapted from Can You Stay For Dinner?

Makes enough to generously frost all 24 cupcakes, and have leftovers

  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (not powdered sugar)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour and milk over medium heat. Keep whisking and cooking until the mixture has thickened and resembles cake batter; about 7 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let mixture cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until light, pale, and fluffy. This can take anywhere from three to 10 minutes, depending on how long you can go. You basically want the sugar and butter to be really incorporated. Don’t be afraid to beat it more!
  3. Add the completely cooled flour mixture to the creamed butter, and beat until completely incorporated, making sure to periodically scrape the bowl. Add food coloring, if using.
  4. Place the frosting in a piping bag and frost cooled cupcakes. Enjoy!

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in the cupcakes for three reasons; it was the only Dutch processed cocoa in the supermarket, it’s my favorite, and it tastes good.
  • I don’t have a small circle cutter, so I used a paring knife to cut out the circles freehanded. Use what you have!
  • I also skipped the piping bag for the ganache, and opted for a teaspoon to fill the cupcakes. 

Pinwheel Sugar Cookies

I am so not here for holidays skipping over each other. Like, Halloween is this Friday and my local drugstore already has their Christmas stuff up! It’s absolutely crazy! The wall of Christmas lights and a small assortment of ornaments are right next to the Halloween candy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas but let the other holidays have their time in the spotlight!

With that said, let’s talk about Halloween. Even though I don’t celebrate it like I used to when I was a kid, I still get excited this time of year. Mostly because holiday season begins with Halloween, but also because CANDY! As evidenced by this blog, I have an enormous sweet tooth. No matter how hard I try, I can’t give up the stuff. Whether it’s candy or baked goods, I’m eating it. Can you believe I almost gave up candy and sweets for good? It was a very dark time in my life. I’m just glad I saw the light.

Pinwheel Sugar Cookies1

Despite the fact I can’t eat candy or sweets like I used to, I still enjoy a variety of sweets. I love it when Halloween rolls around because there’s SO MANY options. Halloween’s one of the big candy holidays, up there with Easter. I love seeing all the seasonal offerings, and every year there’s always something new. The best part is the discounted candy on sale on November 1st. Half off a giant bag of candy is such a steal!

One of my favorite Halloween candies is actually candy corn. I swear, I can hear the groans of disgust from here. Yes, they’re insanely sweet and taste of pure sugar, but to me they’re Halloween. I love getting the bags of Autumn mix because it had a bit of everything; regular candy corn, cocoa flavored Indian corn, and candy corn on steroids in the form of mellowcreme pumpkins. Granted, I can’t eat as many as I used to but I still enjoy like, three when I have them.

Pinwheel Sugar Cookies3

I knew I wanted to make something festive for this year. I planned on taking whatever I made to class with me, but because I didn’t want to subject my classmates to candy corn, I had to get creative. Cookies are an absolute given, so I rolled (ha!) with that.

The best thing about sugar cookies is that they’re a blank canvas, both in taste and in appearance. I wanted to stay on topic, so making them bright orange was the best option. This was slightly tricky, as I didn’t have any orange food coloring. Instead, I had to use the liquid ones and make orange out of red and yellow. First of all, the directions on the back of the box are a lie. I used the same ratio of red to yellow to make orange and ended up with a pink dough instead. Appalled at the fact that I made pink, I kept adding drops of red and then yellow to get orange. Took me what felt like forever, and a lot of color drops but I got it.

Pinwheel Sugar Cookies4

The second best thing about sugar cookies is that they can be made ahead. SUCH a good time saver, let me tell you. I have been insanely busy these past few weeks and barely have time to bake. I make it a point to bake as much as I can when I have the chance, but usually aim to do it on days I have class. I love treating my classmates to baked goods, especially when they’re really appreciative and genuinely love what I bring. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, to be honest. The problem is that I don’t have much time to bake on days I have class with the whole gang. My inner lightbulb went on (or off?) when I realized slice and bake cookies were the way to go. Let me just preface by saying slice and bakes never really worked for me. I’m a drop cookie kinda girl, and all this extra work for a cookie seemed overwhelming. That, and the cookie dough never worked for me; it was always too soft, despite it spending time in the fridge.

I went for it anyway and was very pleased with the result. I made the dough the night before and baked them off the next morning. They were absolutely adorable! I was so happy to see the swirl came out. I was even happier when I tasted the cookie. Sugar cookies to me always taste like butter covered in sugar. I guess they kind of are, but these cookies tasted like a real cookie and not like sugared butter. My classmates loved them, and so did my sister! The cookies didn’t last long in class, and all the cookies I had at home were gone within a day. They reminded me of the Pillsbury cookies that come out for the holiday seasons. You know, the ones with the pumpkins or Christmas trees on them? Either way, these were crumbly, sweet, and delicious.

Pinwheel Sugar Cookies2

Even though everyone has basically moved on to the next holidays in the line up, I’m still about Halloween. At least for the next few days ;)

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Pinwheel Sugar Cookies – adapted from Just A Taste

Makes 22-24 cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 – 2 teaspoons rum (optional)
  • Orange food coloring
  • about 1 cup of festive sprinkles

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. In another large bowl, beat the butter until smooth with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 more minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition, then add the vanilla.
  3. Slowly add the flour and then beat just until combined. Remove the dough and separate it into two equal pieces. Shape one piece of the dough into an 8-inch square, wrap it securely in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. (This will be the white portion of the cookies.)
  4. Keep the remaining piece of dough in the bowl, and add in the food coloring, drop by drop. Mix the food coloring into the dough with a rubber spatula, until it reaches your desired color.
  5. Remove the colored dough, and shape it into an 8-inch square. Wrap it securely in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. Refrigerate both doughs for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut each square in half to form two rectangles. Wrap half of each color of dough in plastic wrap and return it to the fridge. Place the white dough in between two pieces of wax paper and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick.
  7. Roll out the colored half of dough between two separate pieces of wax paper until it is a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick.
  8. Peel the top layer of wax paper off of the white dough and then peel the wax paper off one side of the colored dough. Use the other side to transfer the colored dough on top of the white dough. Very lightly roll the two layers together.
  9. Starting at the shorter end of the rectangle, roll the dough as tightly as possible into a log.
  10. Repeat the rolling and stacking process with the remaining dough in the fridge. Wrap the logs in wax paper and then plastic wrap and refrigerate them for 1 hour.
  11. Remove the dough logs and roll them on the counter several times so they don’t develop a flat side. Unwrap the dough logs and place the sprinkles in a large, shallow dish. Roll the dough logs in the sprinkles until they are completely coated. Re-wrap the dough logs in wax paper and plastic and refrigerate them for 4 more hours.
  12. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and slice each log into 1/4-inch rounds. Place the rounds about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, as the cookies will expand when baked.
  13. Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes until pale golden, and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • An easy way to cut wait time in the fridge is to use the freezer. Try freezing your dough for half of the suggested time, to move the prep process along a bit quicker
  • These cookies really are a blank canvas and can go really well with many flavorings. Orange zest would’ve gone well with these orange cookies!
  • I threw a bit of rum (whiskey, actually) into my cookies just for kicks. Not sure if it was detectable but I knew it was in there!

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread

When the weather finally starts to chill out, all I want to do is eat something warm and cinnamon-y. My folks have been nagging me to make cinnamon rolls again. Been there, done that. Instead, I looked for something similar that’ll please my folks, and give me something new to make.

I’ve been seeing pull apart bread for what feels like ages all over the internet. They’ve always intrigued me but I never really thought about making one. It reminds me a little of monkey bread, another one I’ve seen everywhere. The fact that these recipes are both interactive seemed like a good idea. Little did I know I was in for a bit of a challenge.

Pull Apart Loaf1

First of all, the recipe itself is a little strange to me. It’s a bread recipe, which I am familiar with, except this one has a different method. The dough is very wet at first and it’ll feel like it’s never going to come together. I was initially concerned midway through the recipe when I saw how sticky it was, and that I barely needed to knead it. The dough actually reminded me of two things: an egg bread, and the aforementioned cinnamon rolls. The only difference was that the cinnamon roll dough wasn’t this sticky (it handled like a dream. I swear I’m not talking about a car).  As I moved further along in the process, it did come together.

Relieved from knowing the dough turned into dough, I moved forward onto the next steps. Let’s talk about this topping for a minute. Cinnamon sugar is super simple to make, and does this thing where whatever it’s on is basically automatically delicious. I don’t know how that works but it does. This recipe calls for a lot. A LOT. Joy (the mastermind behind this recipe) says to use it all. Look, I was as skeptical as you when I read that. I thought about it for quite some time (read: two minutes) and ended up holding back. Listen to Joy, people. Use it all. When stacking the slices of dough encased in sugar, a lot of it fell off. It kind of defeats the purpose of using all of it but make sure you slap on all that butter, too. Sprinkle the leftover sugar on top if you must but use it all up.

Proofed, looking like an accordion

After I got through the messy cinnamon sugar stage, it was time to pop the slices in the pan. I have a regular loaf pan (a 9×5), which is what the recipe called for. Considering my measuring skills suck, my rectangle of dough wasn’t the exact size in the recipe, which means my strips weren’t sliced into six. I had five strips that turned into eight stacks, which ended up backfiring on me a little bit. I gently maneuvered my stacked and sliced sugared strips into the pan and let it rise. It looked like a beautiful, sugary accordion. So lovely. I popped it in the oven and proceeded to clean up my kitchen.

About 10 minutes in, I hear sizzling. Confused about the noise (because since when does bread sizzle?), I turned on the oven light and checked on the bread through the oven door. Pieces of the bread had come out of the loaf pan and onto my oven racks and floor! I dropped whatever I was doing, grabbed the longest pair of tongs in my house, and popped the oven open. I was able to rescue the piece that fell on the rack but the one on the oven floor ended up giving me grief. Since it was covered in sugar, it burned all over my oven floor. It smelled like burnt sugar for a while, too. I guess that was my fault but I wasn’t expecting that to happen! I cleaned up my oven after I finished baking, though. A real pain but it happens.

Pull Apart Loaf3

Even after all of that, the bread continued to give me grief. It did not want to get out of the pan. Like at all. I buttered it twice, and it still stuck. Again, all that sugar was to blame. It caramelized and hardened a little while it was cooling. After several knife runs and turns upside down, I got the bread out with a few minor injuries (read: the bread fell apart in some places).

Despite the fact that it gave me some trouble, the bread came out absolutely delicious! It didn’t even last the day in my house; it was that good. The top was super crunchy because of all that sugar. The bread itself was light and fluffy, which I guess has to do with the odd dough method. Kudos to that, to be honest. It actually reminded me a lot of a Dominican sweet I can only get when I’m over there called ‘pan dulce;’ which literally translates to sweet bread, and that’s exactly what they are. And like I correctly assumed, it was fun to peel off each layer before devouring it. My folks peeled them off in chunks, and all you heard were approving noises come out of them while they had their mouths full.

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I’m not one to repeat recipes but even though this bread gave me a little trouble, I’d make it again. At least I now know how to handle it!

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread – barely adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes one 9×5″ loaf

Dough:

  • 3  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sugar topping:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned

Directions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl (I used just the bowl of my stand mixer) whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.  Set aside. Whisk together the eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt together milk and butter until butter has just melted.  Remove from the heat and add water and vanilla extract.  Let mixture stand for a minute or two, or until the mixture registers 115 to 125 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, it should be a little warmer than body temperature.
  3. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula.  Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter.  The eggs will feel soupy and it’ll seem like the dough and the eggs are never going to come together.  Keep stirring.  Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes.  The mixture will be very sticky.
  4. Place the dough in a large, and well greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel.  Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  5. While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg for the filling.  Set aside.  Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned, and set aside.  Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch  loaf pan.  Set that aside too.
  6. Deflate the risen dough and knead about 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes.  On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out.  The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long. Use a pastry brush to spread melted butter across all of the dough.  Sprinkle with all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Emphasis on ‘all
  7. Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips.  Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again.  You’ll have six stacks of six squares.  Layer the dough squares in the loaf pan like a flip-book.  Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
  8. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown.  The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw.  A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.   Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the bread and invert onto  a clean board.  Place a cake stand or cake plate on top of the  upside down loaf, and carefully invert so it’s right side up.  Serve warm with coffee or tea.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Rereading the recipe made me realize a very important tidbit I missed the first time. FLOUR THE PAN. Jeez, that would’ve save me a lot of time (and a minor headache). 
  • Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t roll out to exactly the size stated in the recipe. I didn’t and it came out fine. Sorta. 
  • Make sure your loaf is completely cooked through. The bread should be super brown, like almost on the verge of burning. Not only does that leave you with a super crunchy crust, but it gives the bread time to cook through without sacrificing taste. 

Apple Cinnamon Scones

I’ve had scones on the brain since the last time I made them, which feels like it was ages ago. There’s something awesome about scones that makes me want to keep eating them all the time and forever. It might be all the butter and cream, to be honest. Since I have been dreaming about scones, I couldn’t decide what flavor to make them. I’ve had success with pretty much any flavor in my house because apparently, I’m not the only one with a scone fixation here.

Apple Cinnamon Scones Plated

I’m not sure if I mentioned it here before but I am done with pumpkin for the time being. I went HAM last year with the pumpkin recipes and decided this was the year for apples. Pumpkin anything seems so played out these days. Like, Starbucks brought out the Pumpkin Spice Latte in August. AUGUST! It wasn’t even remotely close to fall weather then! I don’t know but that kind of takes out the novelty of things when they’re brought out too early; kind of like putting Christmas decorations on sale in September. As much as I love Christmas and the holiday season, it’s not time for that yet.

For me, this is apple season. I already made and posted one apple recipe this season, but I have a couple more up my sleeve. When my dad isn’t ranting about his OTM (one true muffin), he’s eating apple things. With that in mind, I set out to make apple cinnamon everything and I’m not even done. For today though, let’s talk about scones.

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Like I mentioned before, there’s something about scones. I still don’t know what it is but there’s a distinct scone taste that only certain scones have. I briefly mentioned it the first time I made them here but I can only imagine it has something to do with butter. Speaking of that first time, I used the same recipe but modified it to use apples and cinnamon for a more seasonal offering.

Besides swapping out the orange for apples and cinnamon, I opted for cream instead of milk. Decadent much? Hell yes! I just feel that butter and cream both belong in scones at the same time. No other way about it. For the apples, I used McIntosh because it was the only kind I had around. They’re not the optimal apple to bake with though, and work better when used in conjunction with other apples. For example, my one true apple is the Granny Smith. It’s perfect for baking because its flavor is still there, they’re sturdy, and still have a bit of bite to them even after being baked. If I make these again, I’ll definitely change the apples from McIntosh to Granny Smith (and suggest you do the same, too). I also grated the apple instead of chunks because I wanted the flavor to be ‘equally distributed.’ Might’ve backfired on me but it can probably work with a Granny Smith, as opposed to the soft McIntosh.

Apple Cinnamon Scone Wedges

Even though I had slight moisture issues with this batch (again), they came out delicious. Unfortunately, they spread out quite a bit in the oven and barely held their shape. This probably happened for two reasons; the butter got too soft in the batter and because of the excess moisture. And then because of my choice of apple, their flavor kind of disappeared in the scone. Upsetting but nothing too bad. They still had that scone taste that I love, and were very cinnamon-y. I topped some of them with a cream and cinnamon glaze to amp up that fall flavor. SO GOOD!

Apple Cinnamon Scone solo

Mind you, these aren’t very photogenic. As much as I tried to make them look appetizing, it didn’t really work. Trust me when I tell you they were delish, especially since they were gone within a day. I guess I’m really not the only one with a scone fixation!

Apple Cinnamon Scones – adapted from this recipe

makes 16 scones

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp of salt
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • about 1 cup shredded apples
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two sheet pans with parchment and set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and sugar. Mix well.
  3. Cut in the butter, either with a pastry cutter, forks or your fingers, into the dry ingredients. Continue until the butter chunks are about the size of peas.
  4. Add the grated apple and mix well.
  5. In another small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla extract. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients until dough comes together and everything is well moistened.
  6. Divide the dough in half and form each into a ball. Flour a clean work surface and pat down each ball to form a 6-7″ circle. Roll out the circles until they are 3/4″ thick. Cut each round into 8 wedges. Repeat with the second dough ball.
  7. Arrange the wedges on the pans without any crowding. Sprinkle with sugar (optional), and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm if unglazed.

Creamy Cinnamon Glaze

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Add the cinnamon and whisk together.
  2. Add in the heavy cream and vanilla, and mix until sugar is moistened.  Stop here if you like your glazes thick. If not, add in the milk.
  3. Drizzle or dip your cooled scones in the glaze. Set the glazed scones on a wire rack to set.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Use any firm apple you’d like for this recipe. You can also opt for chunks instead of grated apples.
  • To prevent your scones from spreading, freeze the wedges for 10-15 minutes before baking to help the butter set back up.
  • To glaze all of the scones, you might need to double the glaze recipe.
  • To amp up the apple flavor, you can also use a tablespoon of apple juice in the glaze. Sounds weird but it could work!

Kitchen Experiments: Pilot Cookies

Recipe development has always scared me. I’ve been baking for a while now, so it was only a matter of time until I finally made something up myself. Baking is a science and that means that if things aren’t exact in the formula, it can go south fairly quickly.

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I set out on trying my hand at cookies as my first attempt at sweet recipe development. The first thing I thought to myself was: “how many of my favorite mix-ins can I put into a cookie dough?” With that in mind, I looked for a guide to help me formulate this recipe.

Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio” was the help I was looking for. I read and re-read the chapter on cookies one day at work, and without looking at the recipes included in the chapter, I used his formula and wrote my first draft on a piece of scrap paper.

The formula is fairly simple: 1 part sugar: 2 parts fat: 3 parts flour. This formula is the same one behind chocolate chip cookies, which is what I was going for. He measured by weights but I wanted to measure by volume, so my ratios were; 1/2 cup of sugar: 1 cup of butter: 1 1/2 cups of flour.

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From there, everything else was easy. I knew I wanted to put as many mix-ins as I could, but ended up settling for four: rolled oats, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pretzels. In my first draft, I wanted to replace some of the flour with ground oats, and chop up the pretzels to incorporate it into the dough.

Satisfied with my first draft, I made my first batch of cookies and ended up failing. Since I took out some of the flour for oats, the cookies were too brittle and barely made it from the tray to the cooling racks. The chopped up pretzels weren’t much help, as they made the cookie heavier and took over the entire cookie. I took my scrap paper and went back to the drawing board.

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Not to be defeated by a failed batch, I decided to put back the flour I took out and incorporate the rolled oats as a mix-in. I also took the chopped pretzels out and opted to top each scoop of dough with one instead. I said a little prayer and popped them into the oven on my second try. It took me two weeks to try to make this recipe and I think it was definitely worth the wait. The cookies came out with the right structure; sturdy but not heavy. The oats made them chewy, which went great with the soft chocolate and sweet butterscotch chips. And then the pretzel. Easily the best part of the cookie! I was worried the oven would soften them but they stayed crispy atop the cookie, and added a little saltiness.

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I took my cookies to class with me and they were definitely a hit! My classmates were already supportive of me and my baking endeavors (those sweethearts), so I already felt better about debuting these with them. One of my classmates even said these were her new favorite!

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To be completely honest, they were the inspiration behind this cookie. I am part of this super new and innovative program called CO*OP that aims to bridge the college to career gap in New York City for advertising and marketing graduates. For those who don’t know, I graduated college over a year ago and have been struggling to start my career ever since. This opportunity kind of fell into my lap this past summer, and I have been rocking with it ever since. We’re the guinea pigs for the program, so things are always changing and we’re just rolling with the punches. Our founder told us from the beginning that we were the pilot, hence the name of these cookies. We’re the first group and since this was my first try at creating a sweet recipe, I named them pilot cookies (that, and because ‘oatmeal butterscotch chocolate chip pretzel cookies’ is a mouthful).

I learned a lot while creating and trying these cookies out, and definitely had fun doing it. For one, I won’t replace ingredients for others without seeing how it’ll affect the final product. Since these are my pilot, it’s only a matter of time until I start creating more recipes on my own (with Ratio’s help, of course)!

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For more information on CO*OP, check us (and my face) out here and here

Pilot Cookies – a  Lucy the Baker Original

Makes 28-30 cookies

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter, room temperature and slightly softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup each of rolled oats, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips
  • 28-30 salted pretzels

Directions:

  1. Place the oven racks in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, cream together with an electric mixer the slightly softened butter and the sugars until light and fluffy; up to five minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix until completely incorporated.
  4. Gradually add the flour mix to the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically. Do not overmix!
  5. Fold in the oats, chocolate and butterscotch chips with a rubber spatula. Using a small disher or two spoons, scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, about an inch or two apart. Place a pretzel atop each scoop of batter and gently press down so the pretzel sticks to the cookie dough.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Rotate the pans halfway through baking.
  7. Cool cookies on the pan for a minute before transferring to racks to cool completely. For storage, place in an airtight container at room temperature. Cookies should keep for about a week.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Make sure your butter is room temp and slightly softened; not completely softened, as that will affect your final product. If your butter got too soft, make the batter and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to firm the dough back up. To know if your butter is ready, gently press it with a finger. It should be firm, not too cold, and your finger should only make a slight indent. 
  • To prevent overmixing, incorporate the last bit of flour with a rubber spatula instead of the mixer. It’s also a good opportunity to scrape the bowl and make sure all the flour is incorporated. 
  • I use a #50 disher (similar to this one), which holds 1 1/4 tablespoons of dough. Feel free to use a larger one or two spoons to scoop your batter. 
  • To rotate your pans during baking, switch the top tray and the bottom tray (so the top one is now on the bottom rack and vice versa), and turn them 180 degrees. Sounds confusing but I hope that makes sense!

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Ah, the fall. It’s finally getting chilly, the leaves are falling, and I can wear a jacket out without immediately suffering from heatstroke. I’m excited about the weather and upcoming holidays, among other fall things.

The best part about the fall, though, is that the best fruits and vegetables are now in season! Of course I’m talking apples. Technically, they’re always in season but apples are in their prime in the fall. I’m dying to go apple picking one day. I’d make apple EVERYTHING. Yeah, right; I’d probably eat more than half the apples straight up! Anyway, I planned on making a bunch of apple things this fall and may have a couple more recipes up my sleeve, but let’s start with these muffins.

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I’ve discussed a few times on here how much of a muffin fiend my dad is. While he believes the corn muffin is the “one true muffin,” he can’t really say no to anything apple related. Apple cinnamon is one of his favorite combos for pastries. I’m talking turnovers, danishes, pies, whatever. Out of all of those things, I’ve only attempted one and did not get his seal of approval. Sad, but I’m working on it!

I decided on muffins for my first apple entry this year because of my dad, and because I wanted to switch things up a bit. Last year, I made an apple cake (from one of my favorite bloggers) that went over really well. I wanted to remake that success but in miniature form. The muffins themselves are actually pretty simple, which almost guarantees its deliciousness.

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Before I get into the muffins themselves, let me wax poetic about these liners. If you’ve been following me since last fall, you know how I feel about muffins in cupcake liners. They’re a no go for me. Now, the recipe states to use these things and then grease them. WHO DOES THAT?! How do you even grease a cupcake liner? I don’t know but that doesn’t make sense to me AT ALL. I went to Target (holy grail) a couple months ago and bought these liners, in preparation for some cupcakes I had planned. I didn’t use them to make the cupcakes (go figure) but considered them for these muffins. I had a mini internal debate right before it but I went ahead and used them. Since they’re parchment, I skipped the greasing (still a weird concept to me but okay).

Can I just say these things are the biggest blessing to my non-cupcake-liners-for-muffins heart? OMG NOTHING STUCK TO THESE LINERS. N O T H I N G. I was amazed, thrilled, and surprised with the result. I mean, see for yourself. The muffins came clean off the liner. I got to enjoy the ENTIRE muffin, without a single crumb sticking to the liner. Very impressive, Target. Four for you.

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Back to the muffins. They were awesome. Just the right amount of cinnamon and apples. I should’ve cut the chunks a tad smaller, but will keep that in mind for the next recipe. The cinnamon sugar topping goes perfectly well with these muffins, considering the muffin itself isn’t that sweet. It was fluffy and moist too, thanks to the buttermilk. Besides the fact that the muffins were delicious, I was way too impressed with the functionality of these liners. I’m still impressed, actually.

For my first apple recipe this season, I think it went pretty well. I can’t wait to see what else I can come up with!

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Apple Cinnamon Muffins – adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 12-16 muffins

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided (1/2 cup + 1/4 cup)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken (not stirred)
  • 1 cup whole wheat Flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups peeled, cored, and chopped apples (about 2 large apples, about 3/4 pound whole apples)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a 12-cup muffin pan, or line with magical parchment cupcake liners and skip the greasing all together. No magical liners? Grease regular paper liners instead. 

  2. Mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, beating until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, stopping once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.

  3. Gently mix in the buttermilk. At this point, the batter will look curdled and gross. It’s supposed to, so keep going!

  4. Stir in the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Fold in the chopped apples.

  5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar on top. Bake the muffins for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

  6. Remove the muffins from the oven, cool them for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling completely.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Get those magical liners. Worth every penny!
  • I tossed my apple chunks in a bit of cinnamon and flour before folding them into the batter. The cinnamon was for extra flavor but the flour was so the apples wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the muffin. 
  • Top the muffins with the sugar topping a tad sparingly. Melted sugar is a pain to get off the pan, just saying. 
  • Use a disher or ice cream scoop to help evenly distribute the batter among the pans. Helps get consistent muffins, and ensures they’ll all be done at the same time. 

Pizza Crust Redux

I posted not one, but TWO different pizza crust recipes on here last year. Since then, I’ve made a lot more pizza than I’d like to admit but didn’t use the same crust recipe each time. While the ones I posted were delicious, I started looking for something else. All of a sudden, I had new criteria for the pizza dough I was looking for. As a New Yorker, I’d like to think I know what good pizza (and crust) should look and taste like. I’m not a professional pizza person but I know what I like.

For me, the key to great pizza crust is to have one that’s sturdy, slightly chewy, super thin, toasty and crunchy. Sounds complicated but is actually somewhat easy.

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First thing’s first, let’s talk ingredients. The main difference between this recipe and the one I posted previously is the flour. What’s the big deal here? Well for one, this recipe uses bread flour! I started using bread flour just recently and have completely blown my own mind, which is ridiculous considering I bake bread weekly and have never used it. It’s crazy but I’m like, bread flour 4 lyfe now. The thing about bread flour, that isn’t the same as all-purpose, is that there is more protein in there. More protein = more gluten. The more gluten in your dough, the chewier it becomes. Magical, right? Obviously we want a chewy crust, so bread flour was a little bit of a no brainer.

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From L to R: Bread flour, instant dry yeast, whole wheat flour (with a measuring cup), salt, phone, and bowl. Phones (or binder clips) aren’t required for this recipe

The second difference between both recipes is the yeast. For this recipe, I used instant yeast. Now, there’s not much of a difference between instant and active dry yeast because they both do the exact same thing. However, one is a lot easier to use than the other. For starters, with instant yeast, there’s no need to proof it in warm water before incorporating into all the other ingredients. The yeast can be combined with the dry ingredients with zero issues. That means I don’t have to worry about killing the yeast before I even start the recipe by using water that’s too hot.

The second best thing about instant yeast? You can skip the first rise! Man, I love this part so much! Instead of having your dough proof for an hour after kneading, cover that bad boy for just 10 whole minutes before moving on to part two. Isn’t that great? This means I can get to bread, or pizza in this case, a lot faster than before. One final note about instant yeast is that if you’re subbing it for active dry, the amounts do not change. An envelope of active dry yeast contains 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast, which means that if I were to use instant, I’d use 2 1/4 teaspoons as well.

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Now that we have our ingredients down, let’s talk dough for a second. I make all my doughs by hand. It’s good to get into kneading and making your own dough before letting a machine do it, so you know when your dough is ready. Considering I don’t have a mixer yet (insert tears here), I know my doughs quite well. When kneading, you need to keep on going until it’s no longer sticky, and is smooth and elasticky (is that a word?). It sounds weird but the more you get to know your dough, the easier it is to figure out when you’re done kneading. It’s also helpful to knead as quickly as possible. The faster you move your dough around, the faster it’ll come together and minimize your kneading time. If you’re doing it by hand, this is especially important.

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Since we skipped the first rise, thanks to instant yeast, make sure your oven is hot before you get started. A hot oven is crucial when making the ideal pizza crust. If you have a pizza or baking stone (you lucky duck), this is the best time to use it. It helps get that crispy and toasty thing I mentioned, and it also looks cool in your oven. I don’t have one, so a baking sheet works just fine. Line that sheet with some parchment paper before putting the dough on it. I think you can skip this step for most sheets (maybe a drizzle of olive oil for security) but I like having it on there. Once that’s ready, roll out the dough. There’s two ways to go about this; you can use a rolling pin or stretch it out by hand. I won’t judge you if you use a rolling pin (I’ve done it before) but I prefer stretching it out by hand; makes me feel like a legit pizza maker. You don’t have to do any air tricks or anything, just make sure you’re stretching it out uniformly.

Once it’s stretched and shaped to your liking, sauce and top that beautiful hunk of unbaked crust. Go crazy with your toppings! We kept it pretty clean and simple but use what you like. I’m a fan of throwing greens on my pizza for two reasons: makes me feel like my pizza is ~healthier~ and because I won’t eat them otherwise. I’m terrible like that. When I do add greens, I top my pizza with them during the last five minutes of baking so they won’t burn or dry out too much.

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Does this crust match my criteria? Yes it does! It was definitely sturdy; it held all that cheese and those greens beautifully. It was slightly chewy, thanks to that bread flour. Most parts were thin, crispy and crunchy just like I like, and was ultimately delicious! The crust parts got away from me and got a little too thick but no worries there. It’s subtle in taste as well, which is great if you’re using toppings that should be singing on their own. Since we kept it plain, my pizza tasted like the pizza I was looking for.

Since converting to bread flour and the magical instant yeast, this recipe a keeper!

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Quick and Easy Pizza Crust – adapted from allrecipes

Makes one large pizza (feeds up to four or two very hungry people)

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Line or grease a sheet pan and set aside. Alternatively, ready your baking stone if you’ve got it. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the warm water and olive oil, and mix until combined.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, up to 10 minutes. Cover the dough either with a towel or the bowl and rest for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Gently deflate the dough and roll/stretch out into your desired shape. Transfer the dough to your prepped pan and top as desired. Bake pizza for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and toppings are cooked. Cool for five minutes before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • If you don’t want to use parchment or oil, lightly dust your pan or stone with cornmeal.
  • Another great thing about this recipe is that it uses less flour. Yay!

Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Every baker has their own arsenal of classic recipes. They all have their preferred versions of almost anything, but not many discuss how long it took them to get to that choice of a recipe. I’m still very much a beginner baker, and as I try to build my own arsenal, there’s tons of trial and error in choosing recipes, testing, and tasting.

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I’ve been searching for the perfect yellow cake recipe for a couple of years now. It’s complicated because the recipe stratosphere is crowded with hundreds of variations of the same thing. There’s no way to test them all, and there’s no way to tell which one’s the best. As I go through many of these recipes, I ask myself what it is I’m looking for exactly. Criteria is important because how else will you know if a certain recipe is “it?” For me, it has to do with what I grew up with.

As a kid, I grew up with Dominican cakes; which consist of two yellow cake layers, a middle layer of some sort of filling, all covered in meringue frosting (similar to 7 minute frosting). My entire cake life revolved around this style of cake, and still kind of does. There’s only one bakery that does these cakes the “right” way (according to my mom, and everyone else we’ve introduced those cakes to),  but I have yet to find a recipe that resembles their yellow cake.

SO MANY

SO MANY

While that still haunts me from time to time, I set out on looking for a different kind of cake that still reminded me of my childhood. I’ve mentioned here before how my dad was the resident baker in my house way back in the day. I inherited his hand mixer, which we got at a garage sale, and consequently killed it last year (RIP green Presto mixer; you lived a long and productive life). He used it to make boxed cake mix for us every now and then. I watched him in the kitchen (obviously) when he made it because mixing powder with some eggs, oil, and milk into a real cake was mind blowing. It actually still is, more because I know how to make them from scratch now. He used to make them in a 9×13″ pan, which produced a golden brown pillow sized cake. I remember fighting with my sister over the who got the corner pieces, and arguing with my dad that cakes taste best warm so he’d let us eat it straight out of the oven.

Besides the awesome memories, I remember how the cake tasted. It was box mix, so it tasted exactly the same each and every time. It still tastes the same today, but I haven’t had box mix in forever. It tasted like perfection; like how all cakes should taste. There’s no other way to describe it. When I’m not trying to resemble those Dominican cakes, this is my standard. What cake recipe can resemble a box mix, without the box mix, and taste like what I remembered from when I was a kid?

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I had planned on making cupcakes a couple weeks ago for my class. I’m not back in school but am part of a program that requires a month of class. So, me and 11 other awesome grads hang out every night and learn about digital marketing, and other business skills we need to know. Since before classes started, I knew I wanted to use them as my guinea pigs for testing recipes. Sounds bad saying it like that, but I mean no harm! Anyway, I wanted to take some cupcakes in for two reasons; I hadn’t made any cupcakes in forever and because who doesn’t love cupcakes?! I thought about what flavor combinations I could use and came up with the classic yellow cake and chocolate frosting. I know most people grew up with this kind of cake for their birthdays. None of us are those people but the combo is such a classic, I wanted to go for it anyway.

Trust me when I tell you that this cake tastes like my childhood. It was ridiculously amazing. I’m still perplexed as to how I can bake a cake from scratch that tastes so similar to box mix! The cakes came out super soft and fluffy, with a hint of a golden brown hue from the oven. It was like a melt in your mouth kind of experience. Then coupled with chocolate frosting, it was just great. The frosting had a slight tang from the cream cheese and sour cream but still packed a chocolatey punch; thanks to the cocoa powder and semisweet chocolate in there. It also wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet, which happens with most frostings. I loved them, my folks loved them, and my class loved them too!

While this isn’t the recipe that resembles the cakes from birthdays past, it does take me back to being in the kitchen with my dad as I watched him transform a cake mix into a real cake. That right there is reason enough to put this one in my arsenal.

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Classic Yellow Cupcakes – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 30 cupcakes

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (sifted before measuring!)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake liners into your cupcake/muffin tins.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Incorporate the vanilla, and add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  3. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled and gross; do not be deterred!). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  4. Spoon batter into lined cups, 3/4 of the way up, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from the pan to finish cooling on the racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes enough to frost those 30 cupcakes (4 cups)

  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6oz softened cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 9oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3/4 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Over a double boiler, carefully melt the chocolate. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar/cocoa mix, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  4. Pour in the melted chocolate until incorporated. Finally, beat in the sour cream and vanilla until combined.
  5. Frost cupcakes!

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Always, always, ALWAYS, sift your cake flour before measuring. Sift, and gently spoon into your measuring cups. Sift once more after measuring for added security. I know, it seems like a ton of work but trust me, it’s worth it!
  • The recipe calls for large eggs (as all recipes do; it’s the standard in baking) but I got away with using three jumbo eggs (my folks don’t believe in eggs that are smaller). Use what you have, just be mindful of the amount of moisture you’re adding vs. what’s needed. 
  • The frosting is pretty good but I feel like the sour cream can almost be optional. 
  • Deb lied to me in telling me this recipe made 22 to 24 cupcakes. I expected that many but ended up with 30. I usually have the opposite of that problem but just a heads up (not that 30 cupcakes is a bad thing; I’m happy I got more it’s just that I wasn’t ready to have my kitchen overtaken by cupcakes!)
  • To ensure the same amount of batter goes into every cupcake, use an ice cream scoop/disher to distribute the batter.