Light Brioche Buns

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Here’s the deal.  One day, we’d like to open our own restaurant.  When that happens, I’d like to make just about everything from scratch.  Running a restaurant currently, I completely realize how unrealistic that is, but nonetheless I want to try.  When I make something that I think might fit into that ‘future restaurant product’ category I tuck it away into a file.  Like, an old school file in a filing cabinet… not a newfangled file on my computer.  This just might be a recipe that makes it into that file.

You see, one night a few weeks ago we were having hamburgers for dinner.  I forgot to buy buns.  Being me, I decided that instead of piling children back into the car, I would just make buns.  Thus began my search.  This Light Brioche Burger Bun recipe popped up on my Google search from Smitten Kitchen.  If Deb thinks it’s good, then it must be good.  Thus concluded my search.  I like searches that like.  You try one recipe and BAM, that’s it.

These buns are, in a word, delicious.  I don’t really have another word.  I ate two by themselves before even putting a hamburger patty on one.  They would be perfect for sandwiches or as dinner bread.  Like a classic brioche, they aren’t super moist or dense, but just enough so that they don’t crumble under the pressure of housing juicy ground beef.  This is one of those awesome recipes that requires you to remove your rings and get your hands dirty.  I love recipes like that.  The best utensils reside at the ends of our arms.  Next time, I’ll add sesame seeds and a little more egg wash.  On a side note, they freeze really well.  HUGE PLUS!

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Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 8 4-5 inch buns

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 tablespoons warm milk
  • 2 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

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In a glass bowl, mix water, milk, yeast and sugar.  Stir just a bit, but then let it sit for about 5 minutes… until it’s foamy.  In a small bowl, beat one egg.  In a large bowl, beat flours together with the salt.  Work the butter into the flour with your fingers, making fine crumbs (see photo above).  Using a dough scraper, mix in yeast mixture and egg until a sticky dough forms.  Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes (until smooth and elastic) picking it up and slapping it onto the counter every minute or so.  The dough will still be a little sticky… and remember that the more flour you add, the tougher the buns will be.

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Return dough to the bowl, loosely cover and let rest in a warm place for one to two hours… until doubled in size.  Then, divide dough into 8 equal parts and gently roll into balls.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and let rise again, covered and in a warm place, for another hour or so… again until doubled.  Two notes: 1.  I have 9 rolls, because I split one in two to make smaller buns for Bug; 2.  I usually cover rising dough with a kitchen towel, but plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray works fine, too.

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Place a shallow pan with water in the bottom of the oven and preheat to 400′.  Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of warm water and gently wash over buns.  Sprinkle sesame seeds, if using.  Bake at 400′ for about 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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No Bake Granola Bars

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Like a lot of moms, I love the idea of feeding my children preservative free, healthy foods all the time.  The key word there is idea.  Convenience often trumps that desire.  One of Bug’s (and mine!) favorite snack is a granola bar… “granilla bar” if you ask him.  We have a shelf in our pantry that has been deemed the ‘snack shelf’ and it is stocked with store bought granola bars, raisins and Craisins.  We do at least try to buy the ‘healthier’ of the granola bars available (my new favorites are Quaker Real Medleys), but there still has to be not-so-good stuff going into them just to preserve their shelf life.

So, I sought out an easy-to-make, homemade granola bar recipe.  Turns out, you don’t really need a recipe for granola bars.  You just need a combination of oats, fruits, nuts, seeds and something sticky and slightly sweet to make it gel together.  I used the base recipe from the Minimalist Baker, and then added whatever I thought looked yummy.  And yummy they were!

Keep in mind that making granola bars is not necessarily something that will save you money.  But it is something that you can feel really good about feeding your kids… and yourself.

Here’s what you need: (adapted from The Minimalist Baker)
Yield: 8-16 bars depending on thickness

  • 1 cup packed pitted dates
  • 1/4 honey (you can sub maple syrup or agave)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (you can sub almond butter, or probably any other nut butter)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (you can use whole ones and loosely chop them)
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, loosely chopped
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (mostly so I could tell Bug there was chocolate in them!)

This is totally optional, but I toasted the oats and flax seeds on 350′ for about 10 minutes.

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Throw the dates in a food processor and process until it forms a dough like consistency.  Mine turned into a ball.  Put everything except for the peanut butter and honey into a large mixing bowl.

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In a small saucepan on low heat, stir together peanut butter and honey until it is warm and melty.  Add peanut butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix it all together.  You could use a spoon, but I totally used my (very clean) hands.

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Line an 8×8 or other small pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper.  Put granola mixture in pan and press down firmly until uniformly flattened.  Cover with plastic wrap, put in the fridge for 20 minutes.  Cut into desired size bars and voila!  You have super delicious granola bars!

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These will keep for a few days in an airtight container on your counter, or for up to a week in the fridge.  They will keep for a few months if you freeze them.  We froze ours and actually ate them right out of the freezer.  We thought they tasted better that way!  They only needed to thaw for a few minutes.

Holiday Baking: Caramel Apple Fantans

So, here’s the thing.  I like Fall.  But, I don’t love Fall.  I love Spring.  I just feel like I needed to throw that out there.  I enjoy the cooler weather and all, but let’s face it… it’s just not that much cooler in southwest Florida.  It was like 87 degrees the day I made these fantans.  In November.  Of course, since I’m saying that, the low tomorrow is supposed to be 40 and the high on Thanksgiving is like 65.  It will be the coldest Thanksgiving we’ve had in maybe 10 years.  Don’t worry, we’ll still go to the beach and play bocce ball.  Because that’s just what we do in Florida on holidays.

The one thing I actually do love about Fall is the seasonal baking.  In all reality, you can bake with apples and pumpkin (albeit canned, but who purees their own fresh pumpkin for pumpkin pie these days?) all year.  I’m assuming that up north, where the seasons actually change, warm apples and pumpkin deliciousness make everybody feel a little warmer.  Here, it’s partly an excuse to make it feel like the season has changed… and mostly to get us more in the mood for something completely awesome: Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Which, to me, means time with awesome family!  Bah!  All of a sudden SO excited for Thanksgiving!

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Okay, to the task at hand.  My contribution for Turkey Day is always these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, which are dessert for the Thanksgiving Eve festivities (yes, we have those at our house and they usually involve deep frying anything we can get our hands on, including whoopie pies) and then usually breakfast for T-Day morning.  This year, I’m adding these amaze-balls Caramel Apple Fantans.  They take a while to make, but each step in the process is relatively easy, and the end result is worth.it.  Promise.  They are pull apart, sticky, sugary, apply delicious.  If you don’t have time for Thanksgiving, they would be great for Christmas, too!  And, AND, you can make them ahead of time (sans caramel).  They freeze really well… just make the caramel right before you serve ’em.  Please excuse the lighting in the photos… I made these at night, because that’s when I have time to bake with a newborn.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Southern Living)
Makes 12 – allow yourself a total of 3 hours, an hour of which is hands on

For the dough:

  • 1 (1/4-oz.) envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

For the filling:

  • 9 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
  • 3 cups peeled and diced baking apples… I used Envy, but you can use Braeburn, Gala, Honeycrisp, etc.  Envys are huge, so I only used 2 apples
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional… I didn’t use nuts)

For the caramel glaze:

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

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To prepare your dough, combine yeast, water and the teaspoon of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for about 5 minutes.  Using the paddle attachment, stir in egg, the 1/4 cup sugar, butter, salt and 1 1/2 cups bread flour.  Beat on medium for about a minute or so.  Gradually add in the whole wheat flour and enough of the remaining bread flour to make a soft dough.  Turn the dough out on a bread-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic… somewhere between 5-10 minutes… sprinkling with bread flour as needed.    Put dough ball into a lightly grease bowl and turn once to grease all sides.  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise in a warm place for 45-55 minutes, until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.  In a large skillet on medium-high, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Add apples, raisins and brown sugar.  Saute about 5 minutes, until the apples are tender but still slightly crisp.  Remove from heat and let cool completely… at least 30 minutes.

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Punch your dough down and turn back out onto floured surface.  Roll to a 20″ x 12″ rectangle.  Spread remaining 8 tablespoons of butter evenly onto surface.  Mix together 3/4 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle/spread over butter.  Spread apple mixture onto surface.

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Pay attention here:  Cut dough into 5 (12″ x 4″) strips and stack, replacing any apple mixture back onto the dough.  Then, cut into 6 (4″ x 2″) rectangles.  THEN, cut those rectangles in half so that you have 12 (2″ x 2″) squares.

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Stuff each set of squares sideways into cups of a greased muffin pan (cut sides up).  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise about 45 minutes – 1 hour, until dough has risen 3/4″ above pan.  Preheat oven to 375 and bake 18-20 minutes, until deep golden brown.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  You’re supposed to remove the fantans after 5 minutes and let cool completely on a wire rack, but mine started falling apart, so I let them completely cool on a plate.

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For the glaze, bring butter and brown sugar to boil in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat and drizzle over rolls.  As I said before, the pre-glazed rolls freeze well.  The post-glazed rolls refrigerate well, also!  Enjoy!

Bug’s 3rd Birthday Party

Eleven days ago, my baby turned 3.  Although I’m not one of those moms that loved the baby stage, I’m still wondering where the heck my baby has gone.  Seriously.  The boy turned into a legit kid overnight.  (And I somehow slipped into my early 30s during that night… yeesh.)

We asked Bug what kind of party he wanted, and he answered with an obvious, “Superheroes!”  Last year we had Bug’s birthday party at our community pool, which was great because it’s so darn hot in June.  We totally would have done that again this year, but we may or may not have gotten in trouble last year for having beer at the pool.  I mean, it’s not like anyone was hammered… just some dads (and maybe a couple of moms) enjoying a beer or two while watching burgers cook on the grill and kids playing (supervised) in the pool.  Needless to say, we had to find somewhere else for a party.  We chose the beach.  My wonderful in-laws live in a neighborhood that has a private beach access with a grill and a little pavilion.  It’s the perfect party spot.  We used it for Bug’s 1st birthday, and I’m sure we’ll be using it again!

Party details: Bug requested a Superman cake.  With Superman on a motorcycle.  Because, you see, his friend Ben had a cake with Batman on the Batcycle, but Bug “likes Superman the best.”  I’m thinking, great, I’m going to have to find a motorcycle that a Superman figuring will fit on and superglue them together.  Luckily, at Target one day I happened across an actual Superman on a motorcycle set.  Score.  Bug’s cake (as requested) was chocolate with blue, red & yellow.  I’m pretty sure the kids’ mouths were blue for days.  I know my hands were.  Also, side note on the cake – I used a recipe that replicates Publix’s buttercream icing, because I figured it would hold up well in the heat.  It did, and it was yummy, but it was SUPER GREASY.  Like impossible to wash off of your hands without loads of Dawn greasy.  I won’t make it again unless I need a cake to sit outside for hours.  (So, probably Bug’s next birthday.)

I made superhero capes for all of the kids, with a special E cape for Bug.  We had little party favor bags with Thank You cards attached, little waters for the kiddos with cute labels and an Eli banner.  I designed the graphics, so if you’re looking for Superhero Party labels and whatnot, email me and I’ll hook you up (thebakerbee@hotmail.com).  All in all, the details looked awesome and the capes were a huge hit.

Funny how we have a party at the beach and nobody actually went down to the beach.  The ids were having so much fun playing in the kiddie pool and in the shower that they never even made it to the sand.  Which, in actuality, was just fine because it kept everyone in the same area.

We grilled burgers & dogs and had cake, of course.  Don’t worry, Bug got to finish his.  I mentioned in an earlier post that it rained for over a week here in SW Florida.  On Bug’s birthday, it rained at our house (several miles east of the beach) off an on all day.  We get to the beach and no rain.  We saw lots of gray clouds, but they floated on past us.  It started raining about 15 minutes or so after the festivities were pretty much done.  It was perfect timing.

My favorite part of Bug’s party was the pinata.  I was mostly impressed with how a group of 2-5 year olds took turns and cheered each other on.  Nobody cried.  Nobody fought.  Everybody shared.  Each kid got  a turn before it busted open.  It was amazing.  Plus, the kids’ faces are priceless.

All in all, Bug had a pretty awesome birthday.  He got to play with his friends (this is his sweet buddy Isaac… Bug pretty much idolizes him) and we got to play with our friends, too.  I guess we never really grow up, huh?

Instawhat Week of 6/9

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Bugger’s 3rd birthday was last Sunday… woot!  We had a superhero party at the beach and had a grand ole time.  There will be an actual, for real post on the party later this week.  This is Bug wearing his pinata as a hat.  It is also my new favorite picture ever.  Silly boy.

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Summer in Florida means that it is bright & sunny in the mornings and early afternoon with a rain shower rolling in around 4:00 or so.  Then it clears up for sunset.  Generally speaking.  Not this year.  Well, at least not for the last week of May and the first week of June.  Thanks to Tropical Storm Andrea, we had something like 10 straight days of grey skies and rain, rain, rain.  It felt like we were in Seattle, just way warmer.  It was depressing.  Bug and I spent some time playing in puddles because playing inside was no longer fun after so many days!

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The upside of all that rain was 1) maybe the water table was raised enough to where we won’t have any water restrictions this summer and 2) my rain lilies are SO HAPPY.

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Peanut butter jelly face!  This is how my son eats (and has always eaten) his sandwiches: he separates the two pieces of bread, scrapes all of the peanut butter off and eats it, scrapes all the jelly off and eats it and then eats each piece of bread.  This makes for a messy lunch.  And, also, a long lunch.

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This wasn’t on my Instagram feed this week, but on my work’s.  Strawberry Napolean.  I’m sharing it here as a sneak peak for my next recipe post.  I’m photographing it at work today, so hopefully I’ll have it posted next week!  Talk about perfect summer dessert.  This, folks, is it.

Double Chocolate Snowquakes

One day, probably 3 years ago, Hubby was bored at work and scouring the internet for delicious things for me to make so that he could eat them.  This is how you know he was bored.  He was spending his time looking online for recipes for his wife.  Out of all of the decadent and intricate recipes on delish, he chose these guys.  For as unassuming as these cookies look, though, they are actually pretty decadent on your tongue.  Rich and chocolatey with a sweet powdered sugar crust, Snowquakes are easy to make… and also easy to eat.

This is one of those old standby recipes that I’ve made time and time again.  That’s saying a lot for me, too, because I would rather make something new 9 times out of 10.  Try ’em out and let me know what you think!

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from delish.com)
Makes about 48 cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chocolate chips (I usually use a mix of milk chocolate and dark chocolate)
  • 1 cup or so confectioners’ sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, coca powder, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, cream the butter with a mixer (either stand or hand-held) on medium until light & fluffy.  Add both sugars and continue to beat on medium until combined.  Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla and beat for a minute or two to make sure everything has been incorporated.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and slowly add in the flour/cocoa mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.  Make sure you get all of the flour that makes it’s way to the bottom of the bowl.  Dump in the chocolate chips and fold in with a spatula.  Cover with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge for an hour.

Just before you take the dough out of the fridge, preheat your oven to 350′ and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pour confectioners’ sugar onto a plate or into a bowl.  Scoop dough by the tablespoon, roll into a ball, and then roll in sugar.  Don’t be afraid of the sugar… coat ’em good.  A stainless steel scoopis awesome for this, because then you don’t really have to roll the dough into a ball.  Saves time and soap used to clean super messy dough hands.  Place sugar coated dough goodness about 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes… they’ll be puffed and crackly looking.  Scrape the leftover dough from the bowl while they are cooking and savor it.  Trust me on this.  Transfer cookies still on the parchment paper to a wire rack and let completely cool.  It’s okay to pop one or seven warm cookies into your face.

Make these.  For your husband, your girlfriend, your office, yourself… doesn’t really matter.  Just do it.  You’re welcome.

Holiday Cookie Series: Sringerles

I’ve actually posted about these cookie twice in the past.  They were one of the cookies that my Grandma ALWAYS made at Christmas, I think mostly because they were my Grandpa’s favorite.  I haven’t made them in a couple of years, but I’ll certainly be making them this year.  My mom’s family is coming down for the first time in, like, ever for Christmas, so I want to make sure that these are there for everyone to enjoy!

Here’s the recipe & the step-by-step and here is a little history on the cookie.

I’ll share pictures of this year’s batch after Christmas!

Holiday Cookie Series: Orange Almond Lace Cookies

I first made these cookies like 5 years ago.  Ever since then, my coworkers have asked me to make them again every single year.  And every year I oblige.  Because they are different.  And delicious.  And easy.  And festive.  I’m not quite sure how they’re festive, but they are.  Just trust me on this.

Here’s what you need: (adapted from epicurious.com)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds (I use a food processor)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (or the zest from 1 orange)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Preheat your oven to 325 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (a must!!).  Melt the butter over medium-low in a saucepan.  Once melted, remove from heat and add everything but the egg, mixing with a spoon until just incorporated.  Add the egg and mix well.

Add batter by the spoonful onto parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving 3 inches or so in between each cookie.  These babies spread out quite a bit.  Bake for 13-17 minutes.  You want them to be browned… but once they start to brown, they’ll burn pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them.  Transfer paper to wire racks and let cool completely.

See, wasn’t that easy?  These cookies will last for a week in an airtight container with wax paper in between each layer at room temperature.

Holiday Cookie Series: Palmiers

One of my all time favorite cookies to make (and eat!) are these Lemon Rosemary Palmiers.  I blogged about them several years ago, so I’m going to repeat the instructions here today.  Seriously, they are delicious.  Well worth a spot in the Holiday Cookie Series.

Palmiers are fun because you can really fill them with just about anything.  Here is a recipe/how-to for Chocolate Orange Palmiers as well.

Puff pastry embedded with sugar and delicious flavors?  Yes, please!  They come out crispy and flaky and sometimes just a little bit chewy when you get to a good cooked sugar-filled pocket.

They are also incredibly easy to make.  The perfect oh-crap-I-need-to-make-cookies-and-I-don’t-have-time cookies.  For a long time, I kept puff pastry dough in my freezer just in case I needed to make a quick batch.

Coming up next… Almond Lace Cookies!