Category Archives: Baking

The Cinnamon Bread Test

As a kid, I always looked forward to when our neighbor, Mrs. Anderson, gave our family a loaf of her homemade cinnamon bread. My favorite way to eat it was to broil thin slices with a little butter on top, and then unswirl my way through each piece so every bite had some of the cinnamon filling.

Before she moved away, Mrs. Anderson gave me this copy of her recipe.

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As delicious as Mrs. Anderson’s Cinnamon Bread was, it took me several years before I dared to test her recipe. Why? It might be hard to see in the photos above, but her recipe is a little vague. Sort of like the incomplete recipes contestants are challenged with in the second round of each episode of The Great British Baking Show.

Maybe seven or eight years ago I decided to give it a try, and it actually turned out great.

First problem: I couldn’t tell from her handwriting if she wrote “a scant TB of dry yeast” or “2 scant TB of dry yeast.” I went with one packet of dry yeast. It worked.

Other question marks:

  • “a little sugar”
  • “2/3 to 3/4 C sugar”
  • “enough flour to be able to knead”
  • “roll dough into rectangles”
  • “spread with softened margarine”
  • “sprinkle brown sugar over dough”
  • “..and then a mixture of sugar and cinnamon”
  • “roll up”
  • “[bake] 35 min or so – or until you think it looks done”

This is how I addressed these questions:

  • pinch of sugar
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • roughly 5 cups of flour
  • roll the narrowest part of the dough slightly smaller than the pan I plan to use
  • soften one stick of butter and use it to both grease the pans and spread of the dough
  • sprinkle two generous handfuls of brown sugar over the dough
  • dust about 1-1/2 Tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the brown sugar
  • tightly roll dough starting from one of the narrow ends and seal all edges
  • bake at least 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pan

I quickly realized my pans are smaller than hers were, so I usually make two mini loaves as well. Once I started doing that I didn’t have to worry as much about the filling spilling out of the pans and burning in the oven. (Just to be safe I always cover the bottom rack with aluminum foil.)

Here’s a little photo journey of the bread I made this weekend:

Getting the yeast jump started with a pinch of sugar and hot water.

Getting the yeast jump started with a pinch of sugar and hot water.

The yeast mixture five minutes later.

The yeast mixture five minutes later.

Yes. I cheat. I use my stand mixer to do the initial kneading.

Yes. I cheat. I use my stand mixer to do the initial kneading.

Because this is a rich dough — containing sugar, eggs, vanilla, and butter — it tends to be wetter and a bit softer than traditional bread dough. After five or six minutes of kneading, the dough needs to rise until doubled in bulk.

Ready to rise!

Ready to rise!

Luckily, the radiators were just warm enough (without being too hot) to do the trick. I covered the bowl loosely with plastic, and topped it off—as the late great Julia Child might say— with an impeccably clean towel.

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I love the idea of taking a photo before the dough rises to help gauge when it’s doubled in size. Compare this to the previous photo of dough.

It has risen!

It has risen!

Next is the fun part—hand kneading the dough, dividing it in half, and then trimming a little extra off each half to make the small loaves.

Turned out onto a lightly floured surface.

Turned out onto a lightly floured surface.

Divided and ready to knead.

Divided and ready to knead.

I don’t want to overwork the dough at this point. I just knead it for a minute or so to smooth it out. I knead until it feels a bit like soft bubblegum. Then it’s time to roll. I like longer rectangles, because they result in more swirls when then bread is sliced.

Roll the width of the dough so it's almost as wide as the baking pan.

Roll the width of the dough so it’s almost as wide as the baking pan.

Next, brush with the softened (in this case over-softened) butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon sugar mixture, then start rolling it up.

Not having made the bread in nearly a year, I forgot to leave about an inch of bare dough at the end I'd be rolling toward. Oops!

This is why you need to start with a piece of dough not quite as wide as your pan. t invariably spreads out a bit as you roll it up.

Oops! I forgot to leave about an inch of bare dough to help seal the edge.

Oops! I forgot to leave about an inch of bare dough to help seal the edge. No problem. I wiped some of a cinnamon and sugar off, then swiped a little water on the edge.

All sealed up and ready for the pan!

All sealed up and ready for the pan!

Place seam-side down in a buttered bread pan.

Place seam-side down in a buttered bread pan.

Repeat with the rest of the dough and they’re ready to bake.

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The smaller loaves were done after about 40 minutes, but the larger ones took 10-15 minutes longer, proving that even when you try to make sense of a vague recipe, you still wind up with inexact instructions.

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This bread freezes really well. Because I made it ahead of time and froze it for our big family Thanksgiving, I don’t have a photo showing the inside of a loaf. I’ll try to get a photo of the swirled cinnamon goodness when we finally cut into these beauties. If I do I’ll add it to the post later.

I’m really glad I decided to try to decipher Mrs. Anderson’s recipe. My bread might not be exactly the same (I use skim milk and real butter instead of  2% or whole milk and margarine), but no one has complained about it yet. Not unless they’re complaining that someone else ate the last piece.

 

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I’ve Gone Bananas

I admit it. Sometimes I buy more bananas than I need just so this will happen:

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Whenever I see at least two over ripe bananas, I know it’s time to bake some banana bread.

There are dozens of great banana bread recipes out there, but I really love the one from Joy of Cooking (1997 edition, page 773-4). It’s probably my favorite quick bread.

Sadly, the only recipes I’ve seen online attributed to Joy of Cooking aren’t quite the same (the recipe I use starts with 1-1/3 cups of flour, the others call for 1-3/4 cups and also require more butter and sugar), so I don’t have a link to provide. Instead of using the traditional method – cream butter and sugar, add eggs and mashed bananas, then gradually add dry ingredients – this particular recipe has you cream the butter and sugar and then beat in the flour until it has “the consistency of brown sugar.” After that you add the eggs and fold in the bananas. Nuts are optional. If I have nuts I’ll add them.

I guess having the exact recipe doesn’t really matter, since I don’t follow it exactly. I add a little vanilla, a dash of cinnamon and sometimes chocolate chips. (Sorry, but I left the chocolate chips out this time.) And I don’t mash the bananas as well as you’d think. I like to leave a few good chunks of banana.

Have you ever made a quick bread only to have the middle puff up or maybe not quite bake all the way through? My trick for avoiding either of those problems is simple. Take your spatula and push some of the batter from the middle up along the sides of your pan, leaving a slight indentation down the middle, like this:

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I sprinkled a few sliced almonds on top just to be pretty, and so people who don’t like nuts will know there are almonds in the bread.

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Banana bread is good anytime of year, but other other kinds of quick breads – zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, even apple bread – are definite fall favorites.

What’s your favorite kind of quick bread? And what special touches do you throw into the batter?

Bake your own doggie treats

Anyone with a dog knows a lot of dog treats have been recalled in recent months. Why risk your pet’s health on pre-made, processed by-products when making treats from scratch isn’t any harder than baking cookies?

That, and I have been looking for an excuse to use these cool doggie bone cookie cutters….

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When a neighbor passed along this recipe her sister’s dogs loved, I asked Doggie Lily’s vet if it sounded like a healthy treat. She said pumpkin is really nutritious, good for digestion (it’s great for cats, too), then asked me to let her know how they turn out.

This weekend Doggie Lily and I broke out the rolling pin and started baking.

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Measure and mix as directed, then use your hands to knead it into shape. Then roll out the dough and start cutting.

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They don’t need much space for baking, so you can pack them fairly closely.

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Bake as directed (flipping the treats half way through), and this is what you get.

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Yield: 20 small, 18 medium and 12 large, crunchy treats.

Lily’s verdict?

Lily didn't stay still, and had most of this treat down before I could get a photo.

Lily didn’t stay still, and had most of this treat down before I could get a photo.

That's my girl. She didn't miss a crumb!

That’s my girl. She doesn’t want to miss a crumb!

She’s already had two medium sized treats and is still sniffing around for more.

With lots of leftover ingredients, we just might bake some more when Doggies Finn and Stella are here for their spring vacation next week.

What are some of the crazier things you’ve done or made for your furry babies?

Fun Halloween Treat

Last spring I bought these two copper cookie cutters at a flea market for $2 – half the asking price.

I’m not a cat person, but bought the kitty cat cookie cutter anyway. Once October rolled around, I realized it was exactly what I needed to make black cat Halloween cookies.

I used the recipe for the I Hate You Cookies, and made my usual powdered sugar and water icing (I go by consistency instead of measuring, but always add a couple drops of vanilla). I reserved about a tablespoon of it before adding a tablespoon or two of  Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa to the bulk of the icing.

Once the cookies were iced, I added yellow food coloring to the reserved icing and used a chopstick to give each cat a pair of glowing yellow eyes. (I bet they’d look even better if I’d used  neon yellow food coloring!)

Here’s the finished product:

My not-quite-black cat cookies were a hit with the roofing crew working here the next day.

Best of all, the cocoa powder cut the cloying sugary taste of the icing. I will definitely do that again.

What Halloween treats are you scaring up this year?

The I-Hate-You Cookies

A couple years ago I found this recipe* on the packaging of a Wilton cookie cutter I bought, and it soon became a family favorite. Why? Two reasons: 1) no chilling or waiting required as with most roll-out cookies, and 2) they’re really good.

They’re versatile, too. Last year I made the cookies as place cards for Easter dinner. It’s pretty simple and not quite as messy as dyeing eggs.

A little icing and food coloring make all the difference!

If memory serves, some of the place cards were eaten before dinner, but luckily I brought extras.

The icing is simply powdered sugar, a dash of vanilla and enough milk to get it to your desired consistency – plus food coloring. After I’d iced the cookies, I mixed the leftover colors together and wound up with sort of an eggplant color that I used for some of the names. Using a toothpick made the lettering a bit easier to do. The only thing that could make them better? Sprinkles.

If you decide to bake these cookies, beware. They are extremely addictive and you will likely be despised for “forcing” people to eat one cookie after another. One time a relative said, “I hate you,” just before biting into a second cookie. The ultimate compliment, indeed.

What recipes that you make do your friends and family love so much they “hate” you for making those things?

* Disclaimer : I’m not a fan of almond extract, so in this recipe I omit it and increase the Vanilla Extract to 2 teaspoons.

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