Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls with a Cream Cheese Glaze

Baking is challenging. Some might even say stressful. And when you find yourself cutting cinnamon roll dough before the second rise and saying out-loud with much despair, "I've ruined everything", you might even say baking can be downright panic-inducing.

But, you know what else is true about baking? When you are lost in a bite of a warm, melt-in-your mouth, make you 'mmm' out-loud cream-cheese glazed cinnamon roll that you made, who has time for anxiety?

So, here's my inaugural run at cinnamon rolls.
The process was a touch bumpy, but the results were completely wonderful. Which, let's be honest, is just how it sometimes goes.

You start by creaming together room temperature butter, salt, and sugar.
Add in an egg and some lemon zest. Come on, how brilliant is the lemon zest?
Now, time for the other ingredients: flour, yeast, and buttermilk.
Mix that all up until it forms a ball.
Get the dough on your work surface.
Now time for a work-out: knead the dough for 12 minutes if you are strong, and more like 15 minutes if you are like me. Do this until the dough is silky and tacky, it is 77-81 degrees, and passes the window-pane test.
Now get it into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling wrap.
Let it rise for 2 hours, or until it is doubled in size.
In the meantime, mix together your cinnamon and sugar. So so delicious.
Now, transfer the dough to your work surface,
and roll out into a 14x12 inch rectangle(-like sort of thing).
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Now, roll it up.
I'm not sure I rolled it tight enough, but that is something I can worry about next time. For now, look at the lovely swirl!
With the seam down, cut into 1 3/4 inch buns. This was the point I panicked. So, listen, do not worry if the buns get a bit squashed when you cut them. It will all work out.
And let rise for 75-90 minutes, or until doubled in size and some of them have grown into each other.
(And, yes, I realize they aren't exactly cut evenly.)

Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Try not to eat the air while they are baking.

In the meantime, make your glaze. I have a penchant for cream cheese glaze, so that is what I made. Super easy, just beat together room temperature cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar.

Once they are golden, or you cannot wait any longer, take them out of the oven. And marvel.
Let them cool for about 10 minutes on the pan. And feel free to continue to marvel.
Remove to a wire rack and get ready to glaze.
Spread the glaze evenly over the top of the warm cinnamon roll.
While the book says after you do this you are to wait at least 20 minutes, I say posh. Eat them while they are warm.
I mean, come on, how could you possibly resist?
Get ready to have all your cares melt away.

Cinnamon Buns (from The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
6 1/2 Tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (.25 ounce) salt
5 1/2 Tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, slightly beaten*
1 teaspoon (.17 ounce) lemon extract or 1 teaspoon (.1 ounce) grated zest of one lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (.22 ounce) instant yeast**
1 1/8 to 1 1/2 cups (9-10 ounces) whole milk or butter milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon)

Cream together the sugar, salt, and butter on medium-high speed. Whip in the egg and lemon zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed or stir by hand until it forms a ball. Either switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing approximately 10 minutes, or knead by hand for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77-81 degrees F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour to keep it from sticking. Roll into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns.*** Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seem side down, cut the dough into 8-12 even pieces about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger puns; or 12-16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.

Proof at room temperature for 75-90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Preheat the oven to 350 with the oven rack in the middle shelf. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Cool buns in pan for about 5-7**** minutes, and remove to rack. Frost with cream cheese frosting (see recipe below).*****

*I used an extra-large one
** Instant = Rapid Rise Yeast
***Why ever would you opt for smaller?
****The recipe has you cool them for 10 minutes, but I don't think it is necessary, and, they are better the warmer they are.
*****The Bread Baker's Apprentice has you make a fondant.

Cream Cheese Glaze (from
4 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(1 tsp of lemon zest*)

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread evenly over cinnamon rolls.

*While this is not in the original recipe, I think it would taste gorgeous and really liven up an already delicious glaze

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Luscious Fig Balsamic Jam

Even though they look dainty and beautiful, don't be deceived: figs are a very powerful fruit.
Not only do they make you feel elegant and slightly exotic when you eat them, but also they can transform any other food they touch into something sumptuous.

Sadly, figs are around for only a brief time in the grocery stores out here in California (late August-September). Even less out on that other, more east coast. The obvious solution: make fig jam! Better yet: make fig balsamic jam!
I have been wanting to make this fig balsamic jam recipe from Ad Hoc at Home since I got the book in December. Those were 9 very long months. And 9 very long months worth the wait.

This jam is lush, there is no better way to put it.
It has this gorgeous, round, deep sweetness from the figs, but then there are also these whisps of smokiness and ash. Simply luscious!

What do you have balsamic fig jam with, you ask. It is to die for with anything savory, especially with rosemary olive oil bread and any kind of meat. But, as long as it is used in measured quantities, it will take a regular cheese plate and turn it into a gourmet cheese plate. I happen to also like it on plain old toast, and... I'll admit it, simply off a spoon.

It was easy to make. As long as you have some good figs,
you are in business.

Start by chopping up your figs. I quartered them, but next time an even smaller chop would be better.

In the meantime, since this is a Thomas Keller recipe after all, time for a peppercorn sachet.

You don't really get the peppercorn flavor in the end product, but it helps make your jam have an ever more deep, rich, and complex flavor.

Now, get your figs in a Dutch oven.
Add some sugar.
Next: a crucial ingredient:
I think what takes this jam and turns it lush is the mix of balsamic and fig. They were simply meant to be together.
Stir that all up, and add your sachet.
Simmer it all together, and break up the bigger chunks of fig, but leave smaller chunks. This jam is meant to have some gorgeous, identifiable bits of fig in it.
Cook until your jam can pass the plate test and registers 215-220 degrees.
Once it is done, remove from the heat, remove the sachet, and add a squeeze of lemon to balance out the sweetness.
Get it into jars, process, and you have a secret weapon in your refrigerator and pantry that will turn everything you add it to into gold.
Enjoy being lush!

Fig Balsamic Jam (from Ad Hoc at Home)
2 pounds of figs, preferably Black Mission or Kadota, stems removed and coarsely chopped*
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, tied into a sachet
Fresh lemon juice

Combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and sachet into a large sauce pan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and soak, stirring to break up the larger pieces of fig, keeping a chunky consistency, until the jam reaches 215 to 220 degrees.** Remove from the heat.

Remove the sachet and stir in lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, the refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

*This time I quartered them, but I think do a slightly finer chop would be better in the long run.
**I like using the plate test to check for jelling.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Roasted Balsamic Carrots

Remember my father's garden?
Well, this is how it looks in September. All fall colors and 100 pound pumpkins.

But, believe me, it is still chalk full of goodies.
Pulling up carrots in the garden is one of my favorite activities, and it has been as long as I can remember. I mean you start pulling on this green stuff surrounded by dirt, and all of a sudden:

Not only is pulling up carrots enjoyable, I think carrots might be one of the most underestimated vegetables. People think they are fine as far as carrots go, but rarely do people think of them as impressive or delicious. But, just look at them: something this gorgeous has to be delicious.
The key to unlocking the potential in carrots involves giving them a little extra love. Do things to bring out their natural sweetness: pair them with flavors that suit them, like balsamic, orange, or thyme; and choose a method that gives them a little extra time to sweeten up. I like roasting them, with that high heat, they get almost caramelized.

This go round, I roasted the carrots and tossed them with balsamic, and I am telling you, this dish is one of the best things I have ever made.

To make them, as ever with roasting, two things are important. First, cut the carrots evenly, so they roast at the same rate. Second, get the carrots in one layer on a baking sheet. If you crowd them or layer them on top of each other, they will steam, and not roast. Which means that the outside will not get crisp and golden, just mushy.
(I threw in some garden picked new potatoes as well).

Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Pop them in the oven for 45-50 minutes, until they are beginning to look charred.
Pull them out, and immediately toss with a splash of balsamic vinegar, a little salt, and a little pepper. Let them sit for a few minutes,
and these will get you rethinking the everything you knew about carrots.

Roasted Balsamic Carrots
Carrots, peeled and cut into even pieces*
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 425. Arrange carrots in one layer on a baking sheet. Toss with salt, pepper, and a light coating of olive oil. Roast for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the carrots, until beginning to look slightly charred. Stir occasionally.

Remove from the oven into a separate bowl. Add a splash of balsamic, salt, and pepper.** Let sit for a few minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Since I had smaller carrots, I cut them into match-stick like pieces. But, there is nothing wrong with bigger chunks of carrots, they will just take more like an hour to roast than 45 minutes.
**You can also add another splash of olive oil if you want.