Archives for category: Pastry, All Other

This weekend turned out to be a baking-filled weekend, all without my meaning to!  I kicked it off with some blueberry muffins and had planned to make a batch of semlor for Martin.

Have you ever had semlor before?  The first time I ever heard of it was not from my own Swedish husband, but from my Swedish teacher.  March was nearing and she mentioned that it was now semlor time.  Immediately, everyone in our class began raving about how wonderful semlor was.  Later that night, I asked Martin about them.  His eyes lit up and he became almost poetic about these almond-paste filled funs.  It was the closest to infatuation I had ever seen stoic Martin get about food.

Fact (according to Wikipedia):  Swedes eat an average of five of these suckers from a bakery.  This does not include however many homemade ones they ate.

Another fact:  Bears eat beets.  Bears.  Beets.  Battlestar Galactica.

This is probably the size of a “normal” semlor.  It is a good 4 – 5″ across and packed full of cream and almond paste.

What’s a girl to do?  Last year, I bought some at a Scandinavian bakery for Martin’s birthday.  The buns, traditionally served the day before Lent and designed to fatten you up, was literally the size of two of my fists.  I couldn’t finish mine but Martin happily finished it for me.  Such a hardship for him.  😉

This year, I decided to make my own.  Armed with several recipes (some of which were from his mom), I chose the one that made dainty, hand-sized buns.  Filling-to-ratio, peeps.  It’s all about the filling-to-ratio.  Unfortunately, it’s also all about how I probably chose the least authentic recipe out there.

A few not-great things happened in the making of mine.  Mistake #1, I seriously overbaked my buns.  I think the issue was that my bread did not rise as much as it should have, so these buns are smaller than typical semlor (and small, period) but I didn’t realize that and didn’t change my cooking time to compensate for that.  Rookie mistake.

After I’d baked the buns and made the cardamom cream came the realization that my particular recipe did not call for almond paste of any kind.   Anywhere.  It was a pretty tragic realization, as Martin is a huge fan of almond paste.  Also, since this is a key semlor ingredient, it did not bode well that this recipe forgot it.  Mistake #2 and #3 (major enough to count for two mistakes!).

I served them cream puff style the first night to lukewarm results.  Mistake #4, I didn’t whip my whipped cream enough so the filing was runny rather than stiff.

So this morning, in an effort to salvage things, I bought some almond paste at the store. I scooped out the insides (a melon baller works great) and mashed them with a bit of the runny-cardamom-vanilla-cream and almond paste.  I stuffed it all back inside and topped it with more whipped cream.

This was more like the semlor I remembered and I savored every bite.  In the end, it’ll go back to a personal preference.  I actually preferred these and even the harder bread to my only other semlor experience.  The portion was half a bakery semlor but the perfect size for me.  The harder bread held the almond paste mixture in well.  I think Martin has childhood nostalgia on his side and holds strong preferences for what he grew up with.  He still prefers a softer, bigger bun and the verdict is out on whether he likes the cardamom added to the dough (most recipes I’d seen, including his mom’s, do not include that but I rather liked it).   We’ll see whose tastes prevail.  🙂


I believe the exact term, according to the recipe, was “Luscious Lemon Bars.”  Who can resist a word like luscious?  Something about that ‘sh’ sound in the middle makes it sound positively decadently wonderful and when it comes to baking, I am so so weak.  Plus, I had these beauties:

Meyer Lemons, how I love you!

I saw them at Whole Foods, a whole basket of them sitting temptingly near ugly hard skinned lemons, and couldn’t resist buying some (the trickery!).  They’re thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin orange, so they’re sweeter than the typical lemon and their skin is thinner and more orange-colored.  They also feel softer when you pick them up and seem to juice easier, too.

I had so many thoughts on what to do with these, I didn’t know where to begin.  But then I saw this recipe and I was sold.  After all, it used the word ‘luscious’ and I believe we have since established what a persuasive word that is!

After grating, baking, zesting and juicing my little heart out:

Can you taste the lusciousness?  CAN YOU?

My thoughts were that they could definitely use less sugar, probably about 1/4 – 1/2 cup or so.  I even spent some time debating this while making the filling and the little voice inside my head went something like this:

mental-me:  You know, I always think the lemon filling in lemon bars is too sweet so I should probably cut back the sugar.
mental-me:  (pause)
mental-me:  But we are talking about lemons, which are tart, so perhaps all that sugar is justified.
mental-me:  (dumps in sugar)
Oh, but wait, I’m using meyer lemons, which are sweeter.
mental-me: (pause)
mental-me: Crap.

The number of times I have inner dialogues in my head, ignore myself and then regret it later are just too many to be numbered.

So yes, they were a bit sweeter than I wanted.  I also think I like lemon bars without that signature powdered sugar dusting.  They’re already tooth-achingly sweet and there’s no need to hurl yourself at diabetes.  🙂

Also, I totally amped up the lemon zest.  You have to juice, like, 3.5 of these little lemons to get the requisite 1/3 cup of juice so might as well take advantage of the lovely zest from all of the lemons.  What else are you going to do with it?

When you make the shortbread crust, it will basically feel like a loose powder.  Sort of like how pancake mix feels – if you pinch it, it’ll stick together for a second before crumbling apart again.  Pressed in the pan, it won’t feel like anything that could make a crust.  But I watched it while it was in the oven, it’s a pretty neat transformation.  All that lovely butter just melts and binds all the flour together.  I’d recommend grating the butter because it’s the easiest method, though “easiest” is relative.  I firmly believe there is no easy way to cut butter into flour.

In my life, I’ve only made 2 other lemon bar recipes.  One was my friend MacKenzie’s, who I swear has the magic touch with lemon bars, as mine were a mess and hers are always amazing.  The other was from the Tartine cookbook (of San Francisco Tartine Bakery fame), which I think was delicious but a lot of (sometimes unnecessary) work, if I recall.

My friend Leslie and I took a page out of Julia and Julia and decided it would be fun to work our way through one cookbook together.  We debated for a long time on which one until inspiration struck:  The Bread Baker’s Apprentice!  We both love bread and we both feel we have so far to go in learning bread technique that it seemed like a good choice.

I think it is still a good choice but here is what we found out:  most of the recipes need some sort of overnight proofing.  Not so good, because we didn’t factor that in at all – we had assumed we could do each recipe over the course of one day.  We still haven’t made a recipe that called for an overnight proof, so we’ll see what happens when we hit that road block.

The first recipe we tried out of this book was the Sticky Toffee Buns, mostly because it was one of the few recipes that we could do in the time we had.  This is also where I learned how wrong I was when it came to kneading.  The recipe called for kneading in a stand mixer for 10 minutes at a certain speed (6, I believe).  Looking at the result of doing that was so different from what I had previously made, I know I had been doing something wrong all this time.

And it really showed when it came time to roll out the dough.  Usually, I have the worst problems rolling up cinnamon buns because the dough is too soft.  It stretches too easily and soon I have oblong buns instead of round ones.

But check them out this time around:

So they’re still not quite smooth and disc-shaped, because in the process of cutting them, we probably used too much downward force and they bulged out.  Next time, I would use a knife with an actual blade rather than a dough cutter, I think.  But other than that — don’t they actually LOOK like cinnamon buns?!

We split them up into two groups and put them into 2 square pans.  Then we made the sticky caramel topping.  The book warned us that it might be hard to tell when the buns are done, because the tops may look finished even if the bottom is not.  That definitely happened to us.  We took them out and the sauce was still a little separated (you could see some butter, rather than all sticky caramel goo).  So we popped the other one in for a bit longer and it was much better.

What were our thoughts?  Leslie and Martin both said they didn’t like the presence of lemon in the buns, they would have preferred just vanilla.  I was a bit unsurprised about that, from Martin.  He can eat lemons straight up but he hates lemon flavored things.  Seriously hates it, which is a bit sad because I like a little bit of lemon juice or lemon zest sprinkled into vegetables to brighten the flavors.  Overall, very good but very heavy.

Also, even though we made the “small” size, we thought the buns were still just huge!  We could not imagine how big the “big” buns would be … one is definitely more than enough for one person for a filling dessert!

Sticky Buns
from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart

Days to Make: 1
Active / Resting / Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3-1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 – 40 minutes to bake

The Dough
6-1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
5-1/2 tbsp. butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. lemon extract
3-1/2 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 tsp. instant yeast
1-1/8 to 1-1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (or 3 tsp. powdered milk and 1 cup water)
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6-1/2 tbsp. sugar + 1-1/2 tbsp. cinnamon)

Caramel Glaze
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp. lemon, orange or vanilla extract

Cream together the sugar, salt and shortening on medium-high speed in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. If using powdered milk, cream the dry milk with the sugar, but wait to add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast and milk.

Mix on low speed until a dough ball forms.

Switch to the dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. Add water or more flour as necessary to achieve this texture.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for approx. 2 hours, until doubled in size.

While waiting for the dough to rise, go ahead and made the caramel glaze. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, salt and butter. Cream together for 2 minutes on high. Add the corn syrup and extract and cream together for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Spread in a 1/4″ thick layer on the bottom of a pan that is at least 1-1/2″ high. Any extra can be stored in an airtight container and can keep for months.

Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer dough to counter. Shape buns into a rough rectangular shape, 2/3″ thick and 14″ x 12″ wide for large buns, 18″ x 9″ for smaller buns. Rolling the dough too thin will cause the buns to be tough rather than soft.

Sprinkle cinnamon sugar all over the surface and roll the dough into a cigar shaped log. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 – 12 even pieces about 1-3/4″ thick for large buns or 12 – 16 even pieces that are about 1-1/4″ thick.

Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spaced about 1/2″ apart. Mist dough with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap.

Proof further for 75 – 90 minutes or until the pieces now tough and have doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F and put the rack on the lowest shelf.

Bake the buns for 30 – 40 minutes, until golden brown. The bottom is really the top, so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize. The tops become the bottoms, so they may appear to be dark and done, but the key is if the underside is baked.

Cool the buns in the pan for 5 – 10 minutes, then remove by flipping over onto another pan. Wait 20 minutes and serve.

Servings: 8 – 12 large buns or 12 – 16 small buns

Yesterday, I had the great fortune of doing two things I love: celebrating a friend’s birthday and eating fabulous cake.  The Birthday Girl was none other than K-J-E-R-S-T-I, KJERSTI!

Two of Kjersti’s friends, Melissa and Mabel, hosted her birthday party and also laid out the yummiest spread I have had in awhile.  Martin loved the pasta-that-tasted-like-pizza (that is exactly how he described it and exactly how it tasted, too!).  But I could not take my eyes off of the amazing cake, even though I wasn’t even the birthday girl!  (Sorry, Kjersti).

Take a peek:

Can I be forgiven if I somehow also managed to get a picture of the birthday girl WITH her cake?  I think I also had pictures when she was about to blow out her cake, but they came out a bit blurry.

Amazing looking, huh?  And amazing tasting.  This was a four-layer cake (2 layers each red velvet and almond) and made by Mabel and Melissa.  I can honestly say the red velvet was some of the BEST red velvet I have ever tasted and since it is my favorite cake and all, I have tasted many a dry, disappointing red velvet in my time.  This was not the case by any means and I was sad my stomach was already full from other food.  My stomach, however, was probably relieved I did not try to stuff more food into it (you got off easy this time, stomach!).

I love how you can see the texture in the frosting, even when taken by my iPhone camera!

I am definitely going to ask Melissa for the recipe, but I doubt that I will get the same results.  Cake and me don’t get along when it comes time to make it (eating it, definitely not a problem!) … I have never even made a layer cake in my life!  I am much better at other kinds of baked goods (cooooookies) and have learned to fill my cake needs elsewhere if I’m craving some (usually I stuff a brownie in my face and the world is good again.  HA!).

Would you be surprised if I said they opened up a bake store together, wonderfully named Sugar Therapy?  I really admire the fact that they are turning something they love into a business like that, especially because I don’t think I would be able to handle that kind of responsibility.  I think it is so cool!

So thank you, Mabel and Melissa, for being such gracious hosts!  And Mabel, for opening her home to us.  And also to Kjersti, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!  You have a beautiful heart and a wonderful joy for life that I think is just amazing.

Awhile back, I was pondering a very important question: to wedding cake or not to wedding cake?  I do like cake, very much.  But I like other desserts a lot more.  Would I miss eating it?  A previous caterer had wow’ed me with the idea of a small pound cake slathered in cream cheese frosting to bite into for those all-important cake-cutting shots.  It would be a light pink in color and have madeleines decorating the side.  I loved it.

But I still couldn’t decide.

So I did what I thought was best: I baked the cake to see how I felt about it.

I was very meticulous about the whole situation, more so than I generally am.  After all, the opportunity to stuff Martin’s face with cake was on the line!!

This is 3 sticks of butter and a bar of cream cheese.  MMMmmm.  Can you smell the fat fumes rising through the computer?

It was all pretty standard:  Dry white ingredients.  Fat. Flavoring.  Mixing it all together.

But here was the part I was really excited about:

Yes, that’s almond extract.  And yes, I have a weird idea of what exciting is.  But I love the smell of almondy things and when I opened this bottle … well … YUM is all I can say.  (After this, I started adding it to everything, but that is another story)

Will you look at that?  It’s all ready to bake.  I can hardly wait for the results!

(Check out all that yellow in the background – yellow pot holders, yellow spoon rest, yellow utensil holder, bananas.  Gee – do I like yellow?)

It’s looking good.  And it smelled amazing while it was baking.  I could barely wait to dig in.  And then I choked on the finale:

How embarrassing.  But I’m happy to share this with you, inner embarrassment aside.

Here is what I learned from the experience:

1/ It is really gross fresh from the oven, all sticky and smushy.  The crumb definitely needs to be cool before eating for maximum enjoyment.
2/   The crust is the best part.  The crunchier, more caramelized, the better.
3/  I am okay with not having a cake to cut at the wedding.  🙂  Also, did you know that southern bakeries apparently only bake pound cake in bundt form?  Shocking, but true.
4/  Knowing how much butter went into made me not want to make the cream cheese frosting, which called for another bar of cream cheese and another stick of butter. 

Southern Pound Cake

1 (8 oz.) bar cream cheese, softened
3 sticks butter, softened 
3 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted after measuring
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

1-  Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth and fluffy, scraping down bowl.  

2-  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Scrape down bowl.

3-  Add eggs one at a time, mixing just until each combined.  Add extracts and mix until combined.

4-  Combine cake flour and salt.  Add flour salt mixture and beat until just combined.

5-  Pour into greased and floured bundt pan.  Bake for about 1h20 minutes.

6-  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let sit in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and let sit until cool.

Servings:   1 bundt cake (around 12)

After Brian so kindly gave me pie-crust-pointers over the holidays, I was eager to try again. I tried to coach myself and really pep myself up – “You CAN make pie crusts and you are a GREAT person!  People will respect you!”

I made sure to chill all ingredients and even took a few deep breaths. This time, I wanted to use a pastry cutter rather than a grater, so I made sure to refrigerate my butter rather than freeze it. Then I cut it up and added the chilled water in tablespoon increments.

Hey, looking good.  I tried the technique Brian taught me, of gathering it all together and rolling it over to pick up all the excess butter and flour at the bottom.  But it crumbled apart in my hands, refusing to come together.

So … what did I do?  I added another tablespoon of water.

Uh oh.  Too much.  😦  Pulling it together, I could feel immediately that the dough was too wet.  I covered it with saran wrap and put it in the fridge.  Then I wished with all my may and might that it would all work out.

I had to add more flour than I would have liked to the surface of the dough to make it roll out nicely but I forged on, brave in the midst of disaster.   And came up with this:

After baking, it looked good.  It tasted much better than previous attempts, but not as flaky as it could have been.  After my mostly successful attempt, I am eager to try again.  🙂

And what went in this crust, you may ask?  Coconut cream, thank you very much.

I know I’ve been pretty chatty, especially on Twitter (hellooooo shiny website of the moment), but I really have been trying to churn out my next food post.  I even put it down on my agenda for the weekend, only to be thwarted with things like being social.  Sheesh!

May I take a second to reiterate (AGAIN) that I really should stay more up to date on this stuff.  Not being able to coherently write about something because I’m such a slackass is just getting embarrassing.  I apologize on behalf of Slacker Melanie.

So what’s on the menu today?  Nothing too shock-gasp-awe-like, just some pumpkin cake.

Can you handle me the way I are?  Apparently not …

There’s only one picture because I quickly whipped it up for dinner with a friend who was visiting from out-of-town.  He teases me (nicely) about my weird obsession with food photography.  I didn’t want to give him more ammo, so I just quickly snapped one off, to remind myself of what I made.  Which can be considered good (or bad) – it wasn’t so memorable that I would have remembered making it if the picture didn’t prove that I did.  And now I will share its memory with you!  Yay!

I got this from trusty trusty Pioneer Woman, who normally never lets me down, but I thought this one wasn’t quite up to snuff.  The spices didn’t come through as much to me, so it just sort of tasted like soft squishy pumpkin-ish bread.  I should have listened to my cardinal rule: when in doubt, add more cinnamon.  (Cinnamon?  More like cinnaYUM).  Also, I wouldn’t really call that my cardinal rule, just a nice rule of thumb by Melanie.

Anyway, offtrack.  Spices do that to me.  The raisins were an interesting touch and added texture but not necessarily taste.  I did enjoy her recommended topping (whiskey-flavored whipped cream), which made it pretty easy to scarf down.  And the texture was very nice and light.  Other than though, though, not the best cake I’ve had, especially from her.  The sign of death?  Martin didn’t even ask for seconds!  Recipe can be found here, in case anyone wants to try their luck and impart their I-make-cake-awesome secrets!

For my birthday this year, I got not one but TWO sets of ice cream molds, from two very different (but very loved) friends.  Amazing!  One had a cowboy theme and the other was pastel colored farm animals.  I truly hit the jackpot this year.

I had never thought about buying ice cream molds before but the minute I got them, I knew I had to try them out.  I chose speed over everything this time around and baked up a pan of brownies (from a mix, no less!) and took out some Breyers Natural Vanilla ice cream.  Then I created my sticky-sweet assembly line of love. ( Yeah, you like how complicated I made that last sentence?)

First, I thought to myself, “Maybe it is time to get a good, sturdy, 9×13 baking pan that isn’t a one trick pony, although its one trick DOES make me spasm with joy whenever I bite into an extra-edgy brownie.”  Because it made cutting out brownie slices a bit difficult:

As an engineer, though, I persevered:

Cut, cut, and now ice cream time!!!

What time?  Vanilla bean ice cream time!  Heya!  Heya!

Okay, please forgive me for my sugar-induced high, and for peanut butter jelly time being SUCH a catchy song.

Top with another brownie and now it’s time to squish:

And squish … and squish some more.  And woah, will you take a look at that:

Here is my opinion on ice cream sandwich molds.  They do their work well.  But then the insides squish out if you bite into them.  Maybe I should have put in less ice cream.  But ice cream = WIN.  So I put them onto a plate and into the freezer to firm up, where they promptly froze out of shape.  Then I put them in the freezer to firm up, STILL IN THE MOLDS.  These did just fine.  But then I can only make 6 ice cream sandwiches at a time.  So I can only have me and five other friends over to partake in ice cream sandwich-ness.  Is this a life I want to lead?  Is it so bad to want your ice cream and eat it too?  Did this last paragraph make any sense?  Only you can decide!

Sometimes, I make food that I think looks pretty neat / cool / tasty, but that have no interesting explanations behind it.  Case in point, see above.  So how do you make a post out of it?

I guess by asking readers, “Would you eat this?”  Respond in comments, if you please.

I think Alex’s answer is no, because when I told him what I had made, he gave me an “Ew” sort of reaction.

It seems like just yesterday that I made these for the Morning After Mark and Emily Got Married Brunch.  But it wasn’t yesterday, it was more like yestermonth.  As you can tell, I’ve been slow with the uploading of pictures.  But I’ve just completed a giant batch, hopefully enough to last me through my next upload dry spell.

I used this recipe for the first time that day.  I woke up early-ish to make them in time for the brunch and was a little worried.  The dough didn’t look like it had risen properly, it was still somewhat soft and the filling kept inconveniently oozing out.  It took about half an hour between putting the time I sliced them and put them into a pan and the time they started baking (aka, the commute to Tara’s house).  I like to think of that half hour as when the magic happened, as they puffed up even more while sitting in the pan.  The oozing filling also created a nice caramelization affect wherever it wasn’t covered by soft bun.  And, best of all, three pans of this stuff were devoured.  I think that is a testament to deliciousness if I ever saw one

Sadly, since I was in a rush to create, this is the only picture I took of the cinnamon rolls:

That’s right, it’s the remains of the cinnamon and flour on the counter space that I used to roll them up.  And that’s it.  No pictures of them in pans, no indication of how amazingly they puffed up given another 1/2 hour to rise, no nothing.  So you’ll have to trust me.  These cinnamon buns look mighty tasty coming out of the oven.

Because the recipe I took it from makes an insane number of rolls and I didn’t always do the best job halving stuff (butter, I am pointing at you), I am going to go ahead and transcribe it.  It came from one of my favorite sites, The Pioneer Woman.  She does not hesitate to use butter.  And that’s how it should be.

Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups whole milk
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup sugar
1 pkg. (2-¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
4 cups AP flour
½ – 1 cup AP flour
½ heaping tsp. baking powder
½ scant tsp. baking soda
½ heaping tsp. salt
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar

1- Combine milk, vegetable oil and sugar in saucepan.  Heat until 105 – 115 degrees F.

2- Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for a few minutes.

3- Add flour and mix to combine.  Mixture will be soft and soupy.

4- Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for approximately an hour or until doubled in size.

5- Add ½ cup AP flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix together.  If mixture is still a little soft, add a little more flour.

6- Generously flour surface and pour dough onto surface.

7- Roll dough out into a rough rectangle.

8- Melt butter and pour on top.  Spread with a pastry brush if necessary.

9- Sprinkle sugar on top.  Top with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

10- Starting on the side furthest away, start rolling cinnamon up.

11- Cut into ½” pieces and place in a dish to bake.  Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

12- Let rise for ½ hour while oven is preheating.

13- Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven.

14- Brush with glaze of choice and serve warm.

Servings:  3 pans of 9 each.