Category Archives: sweet

Sourdough Cinnamon-Sugar Monkey Bread

sorry for the lack of items ot show scale...this is roughly the size of a standard angel food cake

Giant Interactive Sticky-Bun Hurrah!

Earlier this year, I posted the recipe for a savory cheesy garlic monkey bread, with a note about the name (to recap: it’s either a reference to the monkey puzzle tree or the process of assembling the loaf or the process or eating it, no one really knows). This one is more like what most people call “monkey bread,” with the pieces of dough covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, which caramelize in the oven until the whole thing resembles a giant sticky bun.

Most recipes start with refrigerated biscuit dough, which is a bit easier and quicker. However, if you have a sourdough starter that needs regular feeding & culling, you can use it to make a soft, slightly-sweet yeast-risen dough that works just as well. Depending on how active your starter is and how long you let the dough rise, the final product can have as much or as little sourdough flavor as you like (longer rise = more sour). I think a little tanginess is a nice counterpart to all the butter and sugar. Someone at the potluck I took this to asked if there was any alcohol in it, I think because the sourdough starter gives it a mildly boozy flavor. Speaking of which, adding a shot of whiskey or rum to the butter probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

I went with

Like basically all kinds of monkey bread, you assemble it by dipping small pieces of the dough in melted butter. In this version, the buttery pieces get a second coating of brown sugar and cinnamon (although you could substitute cardamom or ginger or cloves or whatever else you like—Alton Brown recommends rosemary). For a little extra sticky-sweetness, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of brown sugar in the pan before filling it with bread. For a lot of extra sticky-sweetness, you can combine more brown sugar and melted butter and pour half in the bottom of the pan before filling it with the bread and the other half on top just before baking. If you want it sweeter still, you can drizzle the finished loaf with a powdered sugar glaze or cream cheese frosting. mini-loaf advantages: every piece is a "top"piece with lots of caramel

This recipe makes slightly too much for my tube pan, so I put the overflow in a regular loaf pan. Tube pans are ideal for monkey bread because they provide lots of surface area—fluted tube pans are even better. However, any kind of pan will work. You could use a 9×13 baking dish, or a few cake pans, or a large soufflé dish, or make individual serving-sized portions in muffin tins or ramekins, just adjust the baking time accordingly (see recipe).

Other combinations that might be tasty: rosemary & raisins with a lemony cream-cheese frosting, ginger and clove in addition to the cinnamon with tart apple pieces, cardamom with dried pear pieces & sliced almonds, maximum caramel with vanilla bean in place of the cinnamon and an extra pinch of salt, or Chinese five-spice with currants & walnuts. Nothing wrong with classic cinnamon, raisins & pecans, though.

this is a little misleading. there were more leftovers, but they stayed at the potluck I took this to; it does tend to disappear quickly

Recipe: Sourdough Cinnamon-Sugar Monkey Bread (adapted from Linda Wan, browneyedbaker, Alton Brown, and Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (sub whole wheat, if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar, honey, or other sweetener

*To substitute packaged yeast, dissolve 1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) of yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water with the sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until frothy and then combine with the rest of the ingredients. Increase the flour to 4 1/2-5/12 cups

Coating:

  • 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or other spices/herbs as desired)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Optional additions: 1/2-3/4 cup dried fruit and/or nuts, 2-3 Tablespoons extra brown sugar for lining pan

Sweeter options:

Maximum caramel topping:

  • 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Cream-cheese frosting:

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar (plus more as needed)
  • 2 Tablespoons milk (plus more as needed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon flavor extract (optional)

Method:

1. Make Dough: Combine all the dough ingredients (only 3 cups of the flour at first) and mix until combined. Add more flour as necessary to form a dough that will clean the sides of the bowl and sticks to itself more than it sticks to you—I start mixing with a spoon, but finish with my hands. Continue mixing/kneading in the bowl for a few minutes, just until it’s evenly combined. You can turn it onto a floured surface and knead longer if you like, but it’s not necessary.

2. First Rise: Cover the bowl and let rise 2-24 hours (1-2 hours if using instant yeast), or until doubled. The rising time will depend on how active your starter is and how sour you want the dough to be. As soon as the dough is doubled in size, you can assemble the loaf; however, if you want a lot of sourdough flavor, you should let it rise at least 8-12 hours.

a nearly no-knead dough after ~12 hours

3. Prepare Pans: Generously butter your baking dish(es). Sprinkle with additional brown sugar or pour half of the “maximum caramel topping” into the bottom.

4. Assemble: Melt the butter for the coating in one bowl. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt or other spices in another bowl. Divide the dough into pieces roughly the size of ping pong balls, either by pinching pieces off one by one, pressing the dough into a rectangle and cutting it crosswise with a knife or bench scraper, or forming a long rope and snipping pieces off with scissors. Roll each piece into a ball between the palms of your hands, dip it in the butter, roll it in the sugar & spice mixture, and the place them in the prepared pan(s) just barely touching each other or with a little space between them. If using fruit and nuts, sprinkle them in between the layers of dough balls.

if you use the cutting method, there will be some smaller pieces in the corners, which is fine--I like to put smaller pieces towards the inside of the tube pan and larger ones on the outside

5. Second Rise: Cover the pans and let rise 2-8 hours, or until doubled in size again. Alternatively, refrigerate for up to 24 hours and remove from cold storage 1-2 hours before baking to return to room temperature.

assembled risen again

6. Bake: Preheat the oven to 350F for 15-20 minutes. Uncover the risen dough. If using “maximum caramel topping, pour the remaining half over the risen dough. Bake for 15-50 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. Smaller portions/more surface area = less baking time, larger vessel/less surface area = more baking time. Individual servings in muffin tins may only take about 15-18 minutes. The single layer in my regular loaf pan took 20 minutes. Two layers in a 9×13 pan will probably take around 30-35 minutes. My tube pan with three layers took 45 minutes. A very large soufflé dish may take 50 minutes or longer. It’s done when the top is very brown and the internal temperature is 190F or a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

7. Invert: Let cool in the pans, on a rack if desired, for 5-10 minutes. Gently cut around the edges of the pan(s) with a knife, and then invert onto a serving plate. If icing, combine the ingredients for your desired topping and drizzle with a spoon or from a plastic zip-top bag with one corner snipped off.  

this is why you do not fill the tube pan to the top just inverted, ready to serve, and I think it's pretty even without icing

Dulce de Leche Macarons, Defense Catering Part II

If cupcakes were typically glazed with dulce de leche instead of piled high with too-sweet buttercream, I might feel differently about them.

According Bon Apetit, NPR, Salon, and The New York Post, macarons are “the new cupcake.” I, for one, welcome our new, smaller, less frosting-dominated confectionery overlords.

Unlike the American macaroon, usually composed mostly of shredded coconut, the French macaron is a little sandwich cookie made from two airy disks of sweetened almond meal and beaten egg whites stuck together with buttercream or jam. The meringue-like shells usually aren’t flavored, although they are often tinted to match the filling. Traditional filling flavors include vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, and  pistachio. I decided to fill mine with dulce de leche, which I prefer to even the most delicious cooked buttercream. Dulce de leche is basically the apotheosis of the Maillard reaction—milk cooked down with sugar until it forms a thick, sticky caramel. You can start with fresh milk if you prefer, but most people just use sweetened condensed milk.

I baked the dulce du leche in a water bath this time; in the past, I've used the dangerous boiling-a-whole-can method. Both detailed below.

If you cover the dish, you won't have to pull off the burned layer...if you forget, like I did, don't throw it away. That part is almost more delicious than the regular stuff. 

I used a recipe from Tartelette, which appeared to be studded with some kind of caramelized sugar. That turned out to be a praline. However, it wasn’t clear from the recipe when the almonds were supposed to be added to the sugar or in what form (whole? chopped? all it said was “not blanched”). For my first attempt, I added whole almonds to the praline, but once I chopped it up in a food processor as instructed, it just looked like regular chopped up almonds, not at all like Tartelette’s pictures. So I made a second hard caramel without the almonds. That looked right…but then, in the oven, the bits sprinkled on the macaron shells melted and made half of the shells collapse.

I later discovered a much more thorough write-up on all things macaron at Not So Humble Pie. In the future, I’ll use that recipe and skip sprinkling the shells with anything.

The shells, before baking. As they bake, the meringue rises up and forms the little ruffled "feet"

Anyhow, despite being half-collapsed, they were pretty delicious, although they are intensely sweet. You can make them significantly in advance of serving—the quality doesn’t begin to degrade noticeably for at least a few days. We’re still enjoying the leftovers, a full week after the defense. Also, any leftover dulce de leche is incredible on ice cream, pancakes, apple slices, or just licked off a spoon.

Recipe: Dulce de Leche Macarons (adapted from Tartelette)

For the praline sprinkle (if using):Whenever I'm blending powdered sugar, I cover the food processor bowl with plastic wrap so it doesn't billow out like smoke and coat the kitchen in stickyness

  • 2/3 cup sugar

For the dulce du leche:

  • 1 can sweetened condense milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1/4 t. vanilla bean paste)

For the macaron shells:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 50 g. granulated sugar
  • 200 g. powdered sugar
  • 110 g. almond meal

1. Place the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize. Cook to a light amber, and then spread on an oiled baking sheet. Let cool for about 10 minutes, and then break into pieces and whiz to a fine powder in a blender or food processor.

dry caramel cooking shards of praline in the food processor

2. If you feel like living dangerously, simply cover the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk with water and boil for 3-4 hours. Make sure to check the water level frequently—if the can gets too hot, it may explode. If there’s any air trapped in the can and it expands, it’ll explode anyway. Assuming no explosions happen, let the can cool, open it, and whisk in the salt and vanilla bean seeds.

Alternatively: poke 2 holes in one side of the can and place it in a pot with water up to 1” from the top of the can and simmer for about 2 hrs, adding water periodically to keep the can at least half-submerged. A washcloth placed under the can will keep it from rattling. Ditto with the whisking salt and vanilla bean in after it’s cool.

Or use the oven method: Preheat the oven to 425F. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a shallow pan and whisk in the salt and vanilla bean seeds. Cover that pan tightly with foil and place it in another larger pan. Pour enough water into the larger pan to rise at least halfway up the sides of the smaller pan, and bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until it’s as thick and dark as you want it. Whisk until smooth.

If you’re dumb like me and forget to cover the pan with foil, you’ll end up with a dark, blistered skin on top that you’ll have to skin off if you want your dulce de leche to be smooth and creamy.

3. Measure the powdered sugar and almond meal into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Alternatively, just whisk them together by hand.

4. Whip the egg whites using electric beaters or a whisk. Gradually add the granulated sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture forms a glossy meringue. Beat just until there are semi-stiff peaks. You don’t want to overbeat the mixture to the point where it looks dry. Not So Humble Pie swears by hand-beating in a copper bowl. I used a KitchenAid and checked the mixture every 10-15 seconds once it looked thick and glossy. I stopped as soon as the peak formed by lifting up the beaters would stay standing up.

the peak folded over a bit, but the peak was stiff

4. Gently sprinkle 1/3 of the almond-powdered sugar mixture over the egg whites, and then fold in with a spatula just until almost combined. Use big strokes that scoop from the bottom of the bowl—you don’t want to deflate the egg white foam you’ve created too much. Repeat with the remaining two thirds of the almond meal—sprinkle and fold, sprinkle and fold, and then continue folding just until fully combined. It should flow like thick cream or pouring custard—if you spoon a little bit onto a plate, it should flatten into a smooth round on its own within 30 seconds with no peaks. If there are peaks that won’t flatten out, give the batter a few more turns with the spatula until it flows like magma.

5. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag or a ziploc with the tip cut off. Pipe little circles about the size of a quarter or a bit larger onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

6. Let the shells sit for 30-60 minutes, or until the tops are dry. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 290F.

7. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until the shells are set. Watch carefully in the last minutes and remove them before they begin to brown. They should remain a tiny bit moist inside, like a mini version of pavlova.

8. Let cool completely, and then fill with dulce du leche (or whatever else you like).

Tis the Season for DIY Gifts: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

If you want perfectly smooth chocolate coating, you have to use a plastic mold. Otherwise, unless you're a chocolate-dipping ninja, they will look "homemade." But that's sort of the point, right?

Making Candy Worth the Effort

A friend and fellow Michigan food blogger just celebrated her 10th Wedding Anniversary. The internet  informed me that the 10 years is the “tin” anniversary and her weddingAnd yet I made peppermint patties anyway because they're a classic I knew people would enjoy even if they weren't excited about the other flavors. (not-)colors were black & white, so I thought a tin full of black & white candies would be an appropriate gift. The first thing that came to mind were peppermint patties. Bittersweet chocolate may not be quite black, but contrasted with the white, creamy center, it has the right effect.

However, it seemed a little silly to make peppermint patties by hand when those are so easy to find ready-made. Sure, if you use expensive chocolate and real butter, a homemade peppermint patty might taste a little different than a York. But probably not enough to justify going to all the trouble of clearing out space in the fridge for multiple rounds of chilling and dealing with the mess of dipping things in molten chocolate.

Instead, I decided to make an assortment of flavors that aren’t as easy to buy. The black & white theme restricted the flavor options a little, mostly because I thought it would be a little strange to eat something with a white filling that tasted like something with a firmly-established color signifier, like raspberry or orange or maple. Additionally, I have this silly desire to use the “real" thing when possible or something based on it—i.e., if not fresh or frozen raspberries, then raspberry preserves or Chambord, etc. So I had to come up with flavors that 1) aren’t readily available in commercial chocolates but do go well with chocolate and 2) make both culinary and aesthetic sense in white (or nearly-white) buttercream.the hibiscus tinted the buttercream a very pale pink (left) and lavender tinted it a barely-discernable lilac which almost looked greyish (right)You could also use milk or white chocolate

The answer seemed to be other herbs, like peppermint, or something similar: flowers, spices, tea, etc. Basically anything that would make the buttercream gritty if you tried to add it in its usual edible form. So texture was the culinary justification. The aesthetic justification is that there’s not as strong of a color association with things like jasmine or cardamom. Even things like lavender, both a color and a flavor/scent, doesn’t seem like it has to be purple in the same way that raspberry has to be red. The problem with things like lavender and jasmine is they run the risk of seeming more like bath salts than candy, so I decided on a few combinations and decided to make different shapes so people could distinguish between them visually:

Peppermint (patties)
Cinnamon-orange (squares)
Lavender-almond (balls)
Hibiscus-rose (striped balls)

peppermint  cinnamon-orangelavender-almond 

For a slightly more elegant presentation, you could put them in individual fluted foil or paper cups in a flat gift box.

Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure

You can use any edible extract, oil, or concentrate or infuse a flavor into the liquid in the buttercream. Some options:

Extracts and essential oils: Most grocery stores carry peppermint, lemon, orange, almond, and raspberry extracts. Some also have rum, maple, hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon. Natural or specialty foods stores sometimes have essential oils designed for therapeutic use, but many of those are not safe for internal use. You can order edible essential oils online in a wide range of flavors including all the classics and more unusual things like bergamot, clove, oregano, and key lime. Essential oils are much stronger than extracts, so you only need 1/4 and 1/2 t. Start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary. Any of them can be combined—I’m especially fond of almond + orange.

Fruit: You can flavor any kind of buttercream with 2-4 T. fruit preserves—any kind of jam, marmalade, or curd will work. If you can’t find preserves in the flavor you want or don’t want to use something pre-made, you can make them yourself by cooking the fruit down into a concentrated paste, adding sugar if desired. You may want to add a flavor extract to the buttecream, too—raspberry preserves + raspberry extract will have more “pop” than either one alone.

Here's the lavender being strained out of the milk. The floral flavors were very strong in the buttercream, but were somewhat masked by the bittersweet chocolate. But the lavender-chocolate combination was especially nice, even though it was subtle.Infusions: Herbs, spices, tea, or anything masquerading as tea can be incorporated as follows: heat the evaporated milk or cream to a simmer (20-30 seconds in a microwave on high) and add 2 T. fresh or dried leaves or flowers, and/or 1-2 t. whole spices crushed slightly. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then press through a fine mesh strainer. This is where you can really play with things that don’t show up in commercial candies—basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom pods, earl grey, oolong, rooibos, chai, tea scented with jasmine or fruit. The only thing you have to avoid are spices too finely ground to strain out of the liquid, although even those could be used if you have a very fine mesh bag—one of those disposable bags some coffee shops use for loose teas would probably work.

2 1/2 lbs of Callebaut bittersweet ($15) was more than enough to cover 120 chocolates Some flavors I considered and might make in the future, especially if color isn’t an issue, are cardamom-plum, strawberry-basil, and orange-bergamot. Of the four I made this time, cinnamon-orange is my favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with how they all turned out.

They may not be quite as sophisticated as truffles—buttercream is a cheap, pedestrian filling compared to ganache, and this recipe doesn’t even call for a real, cooked buttercream, it’s the powdered sugar version. Additionally, the chocolate coating has a little shortening added to it, which is a cheat that ensures the coating will be hard and shiny without the fuss of tempering, even if you store them in the refrigerator. So these are easier, less expensive, and more of a blank canvas for other flavors. I think that’s what makes them an ideal DIY gift—what makes them special isn’t pricey ingredients, but how you customize them for your recipients. 

Recipe: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams (adapted from The Joy of Baking and Chocolate Candy Mall #3)

all the flavorings involved--lavender and hibiscus flowers infusing in hot milk, rose water, and peppermint, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, and almond extractsIngredients:

  • 3 cups (240 g) powdered sugar
  • 4 T. (20 g) butter
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 t. of another flavor extract and/or 1-2 T dried herbs, loosed tea, or flowers, 1-2 t. whole spices, or 1 tea bag*
  • 3 T. (30 ml) evaporated milk or cream
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. shortening

*The Classics:
For peppermint patties, use 2 t. peppermint extract or 1/2 t. peppermint oil, which is much stronger
For maple creams, use 2 t. maple extract 
For vanilla buttecreams use an additional 2 t. vanilla extract
For all other options, see the notes above.

1. Let the butter come to room temperature. If using dried flowers, herbs, spices, and/or tea, heat the evaporated milk to a simmer (about 20 seconds in a microwave on high), and steep the flavor element in the milk for 10-15 minutes. Press through a fine mesh strainer.

2. Combine the first five ingredients, using a spatula or a stand mixer—hand mixer not recommended  because the powdered sugar will just get everywhere. If using a stand mixer, start on a low speed. Once everything is combined, increase the speed and beat until the mixture is very smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes with a stand mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand).

powdered sugar, softened butter, hibiscus-infused milk, vanilla, and rosewaterin a different bowl, this one peppermint

3. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a small container with a lid and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Prepare a few cookie sheets by covering them with foil and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar. Shape as desired—For balls, quickly roll small amounts of the batter between your hands to form 1” balls. For patties, flatten balls with your hand or the bottom of a drinking glass to a thickness of about 1 cm. For squares or rectangles, place the buttercream in a quart-sized zip-top bag and roll flat with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Cut away the bag, and cut into desired shapes.

this is way faster than shaping them all by hand, but the squares are a little harder to dip whatever shape I made, 1 batch = approximately 30 candies

4. Return shaped buttercreams to the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top part of a double-boiler, a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave just until smooth. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then begin dipping the buttercreams one at a time, making sure they get completely coated. Remove with two forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Set back on the foil or on waxed paper. Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes if desired to set faster—the shortening will prevent the chocolate from “blooming.”

if you're not making a quadruple-batch, feel free to use a smaller bowl the little pooling bits can be snapped off after they're cooled