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)

  Brioche 1

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.

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!

Vanilla Bean Cocoa Nib Meringues

These are my new favorite cookies, which is fortunate considering the amount of effort I had to put into just being able to bake them.  You see, I saw this recipe on Joy the Baker months ago.  It’s been in the back of my mind this whole time.  I would have made them the moment I saw the recipe, but I did not have cocoa nibs, nor did I even know where to find them.  Sarasota = not the best place ever when it comes to specialty baking items.  I called every whole foods type store in the area and found the one. single. store. that carries cocoa nibs (thank you, Whole Foods).  Of course, this store is the farthest away from anywhere I frequent.  Whole Foods is a good twenty minutes from where I work, and closer to 45 minutes from where I live.  Yes.  I drove that far just to be able to make cookies.  WORTH IT.

Meringues are light, airy cookies with a slightly crispy outside… beautiful textures fill up your mouth.  These meringues are especially special because of the fragrant vanilla and the unexpected crunch and chocolatey bitterness of the cocoa nibs.  Cocoa nibs, by the way, are basically broken up bits of roasted cocoa beans.

For the record, I’ve made these three times now and each time they haven’t lasted more than an hour amongst my staff at the restaurant.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Joy the Baker)

  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split & seeds scraped
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa nibs

To prep: place rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat to 275.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Parchment paper is a must for meringues.

Never scraped vanilla seeds before?  I know that vanilla beans are expensive, but the fragrance and flavor is unparalleled.  Tip: don’t buy vanilla beans from your regular grocery store.  A single bean is like $8 at Publix.  Whole foods stores are the way to go.  I can get good beans from my local whole foods store (Richard’s) for $2.99.  Slice the bean down the middle and open it up.  Hold it down at the top and scrape with the back, flat side of your knife.  You might need to do this two or three times to get all of the super tiny seeds out.  They’ll be all bunch together and your fingers will smell delicious.  Put the sugar and the vanilla into a bowl.  Press the vanilla into the sugar with the back of a spoon until it is distributed and fragrant.

There is some stigma that meringues are difficult to make.  This is incorrect.  They just take a watchful eye and the ability to follow directions.  I understand how that last part might make it difficult for some.  Make sure the bowl of your mixer is clean and dry.  Put in the egg whites and beat on medium until foamy… just about a minute.  Add the salt & cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium high.  Beat until soft peaks form… there will be lots of tight bubbles.  Then, gradually add the vanilla sugar.  Increase the speed to high as you are adding the sugar.  Continue to beat until glossy, stiff peaks form… about 3 minutes or so.

Add the cocoa nibs and gently fold them in with a spatula.

Dollop the batter onto a parchment lined baking sheet by the tablespoonful about an inch apart.  The will expand a little when they bake, but for the most part they will retain their size and shape.

Bake on 275 for 60-70 minutes, until slightly browned.  You want the shells to be hard and hollow feeling to the touch.  Cool completely on baking sheet.  Try not to eat all of them.

These babies will last in an airtight container at room temperature for about 3 days, but really are best the day they’re made.

Stuff I Feed My Kid: Meat Fingers

Ok, I know that sounds gross.  Just think of them as chicken fingers, just with ground beef instead and not fried.  You can call them meat sticks if it makes you more comfortable.  Anywho, I had some ground beef that needed to be used.  We didn’t really want to make hamburgers or spaghetti and didn’t have much else in the house to be creative with.  I had Parmesan cheese and some condiments.  That was about it.  So, here’s what I came up with: MEAT FINGERS.  I apologize in advance for the crappy picture quality.  My camera battery is dead, so cell phone pictures is what you get.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 scant cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400.  Throw all of the stuff in a bowl and mix it together.  Might as well use your hands.  Go ahead.  Get ’em dirty.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Form fingers/sticks/whatever you want to call them out of the meat mixture.  In reality, they’re almost like little mini-meatloaves.  Bake them for about 15 minutes.  I wasn’t very diligent about checking the time, so that’s just an estimate.

Bug will tell you that his meat fingers were awesome… as were his rice & asparagus.  And, not only did he enjoy them, but Hubby & I did as well.  This is a super simple dinner that can be tailored to whatever you have in the fridge.  Totally doable with cheddar & ketchup.  Or maybe gouda and honey mustard.  Actually, that sounds awesome.  I might have to try that next!

*Side note – this is the first time Bug has actually consumed asparagus.  We cook it the same way every time (baked with olive oil & salt).  Each of the dozen times he’s tried it, he takes a bite and says “ewww, gross.”  For some reason, though, tonight he devoured it.  Ahhh, the way kids eat.

Homemade Citrus Rosemary Butter

1.  See that pretty red mixer below?  I got her for my birthday.  I love her.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.  I haven’t named her yet.  Any suggestions?

2.  Did you know that it is stupidly easy to make butter at home?  Right now, you’re probably all like, “Yes, Casey, I did know how easy it is to make butter.  You’re a baker.  How did you not know this?”  Apparently I’ve been hiding under a you-only-get-butter-at-the-store rock for thirty years, because I seriously thought butter was difficult to make.  Turns out you don’t even need a butter churn.

3.  Although butter is easy to make all by yourself, it is not actually cost-effective.  It is less expensive to buy butter at the store… plus, it lasts longer.  It is, however, a fun experiment and something I suggest that you try at least once.

You really only need one ingredient to make butter – heavy cream.  I wanted to make my butter a little fancier.  So, here’s what I used:

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Ctirus Spice from the Spice & Tea Exchange
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Put all of the ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  COVER WITH A TOWEL.  Trust me on this one… it gets messy.

Mix on medium-high to high for 2-3 minutes… peeking in from time to time.  The fat separates from the liquid pretty quickly, so just watch it.

Once the fat is separated from the liquid, strain it.  The liquid that remains is technically buttermilk, though it isn’t think like regular buttermilk that you buy at the store, so I’m not sure how well you could substitute it in baking.  And anyways, this particular buttermilk is full of the essence of rosemary & citrus & is rather salty, so it would probably be best utilized in bread.

Once you have strained the liquid, rinse your hands in cold water.  Run the butter under cold water, squeezing it into a ball and squeezing the excess moisture out of it.  Once the water runs clear, you’re all done.  Slight problem with this step for me… in Florida in the summer, our water is neverreally cold.  Made it a little melty.

The butter was, in short, delicious.  I sauteed some shrimp in it.  I coated corn on the cob with it.  I used it to brown some tortillas in a pan.  Awesome.

Oh… and as far as yield is concerned… a pint of cream will get you just about 2 sticks (aka 16 tablespoons/1 cup/8 ounces).  It will last in the freezer for a couple of months, or in the fridge for only about 5 days.

You can totally get creative with this.  I’m thinking maybe a cinnamon & sugar butter to use with grits & toast.  What do you think?

Have you ever made your own butter?

Martha Project 6: One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

This might be kind of cheating on the “project,” because not only am I not going to do the whole step-by-step picture tutorial thing for these cupcakes, but I also did not make the cupcakes as stated in Martha’s book.  *GASP*  I have good reasons:

1.  Bug helped me make the cupcakes.  Baking + Toddler = Super Fun.  Also, Baking + Toddler = no way in hell are pictures possible.

2.  The recipe calls for Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  I mess this frosting up every. single. time.  It takes a long time and therefore I get peeved because it takes me 30 minutes to realized it’s not working.  I think this is due to me not having a) patience and b) a stand mixer.  Also, I don’t love Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  It’s too, ummm, buttery for me.  Not enough sweet.  And, these cupcakes screamed sweet.

Review on the cupcakes?  They’re good.  Very easy to make… hence the one bowl.  I’ve learned that pretty much all of the cupcakes I make from this book are a little on the dry side, so I’ve started really underbaking them, which helped make these nice & moist.  I highly recommend using my buttercream recipe… it was a good match.  The Martha recipe calls for gumdrops to be put on top, but I wasn’t feeling that, so I left them out.

So, here’s the boring written out recipe with no pictures for Martha Project #6 – One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with Casey’s regular ol’ supersweet buttercream frosting – page 152.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes)
Makes 20 regular-sized cupcakes.
For the cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 warm water

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter – room temperature
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar (best if it’s sifted)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tablespoons heavy cream (milk will work fine, too)

Preheat your oven to 350 and line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder & salt and mix on medium with an electric mixer.

Reduce speed to low and add eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and water, beating until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Ready for this?  Batter’s done.  I told you it was easy.  Pour batter into cups, filling each cup 2/3 of the way… I like to put about 3 tablespoons in each cup.  Bake for 16-18 minutes, rotating tins halfway, until a skewer or toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.

Cool on wire racks, in tins, for 10 minutes and then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

For the icing: in a medium bowl, cream butter on medium for a couple of minutes… until nice & smooth.  Add powdered sugar a few tablespoons at a time until desired consistency.  Add salt & vanilla.  Slowly add cream.  If it’s too thin, add more sugar.  If it’s too stiff, add more cream.  Easy peasy.

Fill a pastry bag and pipe away… I used some kind of star tip to make the starbursts pictured, but I didn’t write down which one it was.  Whoops!

Cupcakes will last 1 day, frosted, at room temperature or refrigerated for up to 3 days in an airtight container.  Cupcakes can be frozen by themselves (no frosting) for up to 2 months.