Today is the last day of the year, and I thought I was so sick of sweets that it would be easy to slip into better baking habits. Until I had this brainstorm that involved the box of puff pastry lurking in my freezer. And the unopened jar of Biscoff in the pantry. Oh, and the lone apple languishing in my refrigerator.
The pastry of my dreams!
It’s a good thing that my goal is to eat everything that’s tempting now so that I can start the new year on the right foot. I have exactly 6 hours to clean these babies up (with help from The Man) and I believe I will be able to do that. Yes, indeed.
Biscoff is a spread that tastes just like Biscoff cookies, primarily because it is made from Biscoff cookies! The closest flavor I can compare it to is cinnamony graham crackers. Yummy stuff – especially as a dip for apples.
In a very short amount of time you can make a flaky, not-too-sweet sweet roll that will knock your socks off! Here’s the recipe:
As the holidays approach there is the urge to re-create wonderful childhood memories. I was fortunate to have parents who made the holidays picture perfect for my two sisters and me. My parents set the bar high, and though I never managed to capture that serene, calm, carefree ambience, my children certainly benefited from my eternal love of Christmas.
One of my favorite traditions was our Christmas Eve dinner. My father would lay the fire (with some magical substance that turned the flames into wisps of blue and green), and my mother would set the “table,” which was one of her best tablecloths spread on the floor in front of the fireplace. There were full place settings, with the best china. No everyday dishes for this dinner!
There would be a bowl of fresh crab with my father’s special dip (I can identify it now as a homemade Thousand Island dressing), crusty French rolls, and a salad. Dessert was a rarity in our household, but on Christmas Eve my mother served an angel food cake with big, fluffy mounds of whipping cream mixed with crushed candy canes and marshmallows. Mom was a good cook, but rarely baked, so the rolls were store bought and the cake was from a box. We ate both with great enthusiasm.
The food was wonderful, but it was the effect of the fire and the flickering bayberry candles—and the anticipation of gifts and the arrival of our grandparents—that made the evening magical. Later there would be Bing Crosby on the record player, eggnogs carefully mixed by my father (plain for us, and certainly spiked for the adults, dusted with just the perfect amount of nutmeg), and Aunt Patte’s big tin of assorted homemade candies. When it was nearly bedtime my father would play the violin, and we would go upstairs to bed, falling asleep to his carols.
Christmas Day could find us anywhere. Sometimes we went to my grandparents’ house and had turkey. My grandfather would sit at the head of a mile-long table and serve each person, beginning with the youngest. As one of the youngsters, I usually had a plate of cold food by the time we were allowed to eat.
When we were hosting dinner, we would usually have a turkey or a big beef roast. If we expected a lot of people throughout the day, my mother would make her special “Company Casserole,” a wickedly rich mixture of crab and olives and eggs.
Nuts in their shells were poured into large bowls, stubbornly resisting our attacks with nutcrackers and picks. Satsuma oranges, each in their paper wrapper, were a seasonal delicacy that we found irresistible. The pretty candy dishes with foil-wrapped chocolate balls were for “looking at,” not eating. This still makes me laugh. From experience I can assure you there is no way of rearranging chocolate balls to make them look untouched.
When company arrived, my mother made it all look effortless, though I remember well being put to work before the big day—washing windows, polishing silver, dusting, and waxing. We stuffed dates with walnuts and cream cheese, mixed the punch, and arranged crackers on platters. When my parents weren’t looking, we picked all of the Cheerios out of the Chex Mix and ate them. We picked the cashews out of the mixed nut dishes and ate them. We sneaked black olives from their bowls and ate them. I’m certain this didn’t go unnoticed, but it usually went unremarked.
My Christmas Eve menu is different, though crab still holds the place of honor at my table, cooked in a steaming pot of crab and corn chowder.
2 cups bell peppers, chopped (I use red and green)
2 cups fresh corn cut from cobs (about 4 ears)
2 medium potatoes, cut in small cubes
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ to 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 can (14 ounces) chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
4 tablespoons flour
Crab (NOT imitation) I usually add at least 8 ounces—more if my budget allows
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in large skillet.
Add onion, peppers, and corn. Sauté gently for about 3 minutes. Add potatoes and garlic, sauté for 3 more minutes. Peppers should be crisp/tender.
Add pepper flakes and chicken broth. Bring to simmer. Whisk flour into whipping cream, adding slowly, stirring constantly until thickened.
At this point, you can add milk if you want to make it thinner, or a little more flour in milk or cream to thicken. Simmer very gently until potatoes are tender.
Add crab, heat through.
Variations: You can add prawns if you wish, and serve with small bowls of green onions and bacon bits to sprinkle over the top. This is also wonderful when served in crusty french bread bowls. If you must use frozen corn, add it with the potatoes since it won't need to cook long.
My rolls are homemade, as is the angel food cake. I have all of Aunt Patte’s candy recipes and make them faithfully each year. We don’t have a fireplace, but I make sure the bayberry candles are lit. And if I close my eyes and listen hard, I can hear my father’s violin.
My warmest wishes to each and every one of you. Have a wonderful holiday!
A sweet orange bread with festive chocolate morsels!
After a frustrating day in the kitchen yesterday (which involved overfilling a pan with cake batter, battling a small oven fire, and wasting two beautiful cake batters) I needed to shake it off and try something very simple today. These sweet little slices of orange bread are very easy to make, and perfect for entertaining. Don’t expect a cake-like texture; it’s more of a moist, dense bread. The batter is jazzed up a little with Tuaca – a vanilla and orange liqueur, and colored chocolate morsels. You can make this bread ahead and freeze (just thaw and slice) for convenience.
For this recipe I used two vertical star pans (also known as canapé bread tubes) which were about half filled. Whatever you do, don’t fill the pan more than half full! If you only have one pan, the remaining batter can be baked in cupcake tins. If you don’t own one of these fun pans, this bread can also be baked in a loaf pan for about an hour.
Expect some oozing. The pan fits into a round cap, which I lined with parchment. It still blurped out of there a little. I love crunchy stuff, so the crispy pieces were a bonus for me! I didn’t put a cap on the top of the pans; just covered them with a loose piece of foil. You will need something long to poke in the pan to test the bread. I use a wooden skewer, but a piece of a straw broom (does anyone use those anymore?) would work too. Lacking either of those options, if you’ve baked them for 50 minutes and the tops are brown, it’s a pretty safe bet that the bread is done!
During the holidays I bake this bread in vertical star-shaped bread tubes.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest (or ½ teaspoon orange extract)
¼ cup Tuaca (a liqueur flavored with vanilla and orange)
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ cups chocolate chips (or nuts, raisins, or berries)
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Prepare two vertical tube pans by spraying with a flour/oil mixture like Baker's Joy. Put a piece of parchment or foil between the bottom of the pans and their round caps. Stand both pans up in a cake pan in case batter leaks from the bottom.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, orange juice, orange zest (or extract), Tuaca, and oil. If you prefer not to use Tuaca, put one teaspoon of vanilla and ½ teaspoon of orange extract in a ¼ cup measuring cup and fill it with water.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. This is a very thick batter.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two pans, and tap the bottoms on the counter to settle the dough.
Bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the bread.
Remove from the oven and allow the pans to cool for at least a half hour. Remove the bottom of the pan and gently press to push the bread out of the pan.
When completely cool, slice thinly. It may be easier to slice if you chill it briefly.
Now, I’m pretty sure you could use more orange liqueur and less orange juice (just sayin’) without a problem, but I haven’t tested that yet. Grand Marnier and a dash of vanilla would work beautifully. Of course, if my budget allowed Grand Marnier, I’d be gently warming a little in a snifter and sipping appreciatively, not mixing it into a bread batter! Did you hear that, Santa? I’ve been VERY good this year. Bwahahaha.
I’ve put off posting a blog about my favorite pastry of all time, because I keep telling you that baking is easy–that rules are meant to be broken. Please don’t look at this recipe and bail on me. Croissants aren’t what I would consider difficult, but they are time consuming and no matter how I tried to condense my instructions, the recipe seems to go on forever!
Believe me when I tell you that the time spent mixing, rolling, aging, and baking these rolls is totally worth it. Learn to make them, and you will be known as the person who bakes the most heavenly croissants!
Buttery, flaky, delicate, decadent…how could you resist?
There are more complicated recipes (I’ve tried them) but I think this recipe makes a very nice croissant with the least effort. For the best flavor, start them at least a day before you want to serve them. Two days is even better! When the dough is kept chilled for a day or two before baking, it acquires a better flavor. It also makes sense to get the hard work out of the way before your special meal, to leave you time for other things.
This is a fairly large recipe, making 28 jumbo croissants. The beauty of this is you can bake some now and freeze the rest for later. When you get to the final step of rolling up the pastries, pop some on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. When they’re hard, move them to a freezer bag or airtight container. To use them, simply put them on a cookie sheet, cover lightly, and allow them to thaw and rise until doubled in size, (this can take a while – at least 6 hours) then bake. If you bring them out before you go to bed and leave them on the counter they should be ready to bake for breakfast!
Things I’ve learned about baking croissants:
Each time you roll and fold the dough it gets harder to do. The dough gets a little tougher and more elastic. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to stretch and shape the dough a little.
If your dough isn’t exactly 8-inches by 12-inches, the world won’t end. Get it as close as you can, but don’t lose any sleep over it!
When you’ve rolled each piece into a crescent shape and are letting them rise, don’t keep them in a really warm spot. Room temperature is fine, but if your house is toasty, try to find a cooler spot or the butter might melt out of the pastry, which doesn’t make for a very pretty finished product.
These rolls are best when freshly baked, so pig out on them immediately! They’re fine the next day (especially for turkey sandwiches!) but not quite as light and tender, so seize the moment. When I bake croissants with a turkey dinner, I try to time it so they can go in the oven when the turkey comes out, so they are hot and crispy. Sometimes I even manage to do this!
A good way to serve them the next day is to split them toast them lightly under a broiler. Do NOT get distracted. Stand right there by the oven and watch them closely. Otherwise, you will end up with this:
Yeah. You really don’t want to do this to your beautiful creations!
Here’s the printable recipe. Look below for lots of helpful photos.
In a large bowl (a stand mixer works best), mix the yeast and warm milk together. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
Using a dough hook, mix in 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and the salt. Stir well and add the remaining flour gradually. It should come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a dishtowel or plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for about an hour.
Split the dough in half and on a floured surface, form each half into a ball. Put each half into a heavy plastic bag and put in the refrigerator.
Bring one stick of butter out of the refrigerator at a time, and cut lengthwise into 4 equal slices. Place them snugly together with two pieces end to end on top, and two pieces end to end directly below the first two on a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper, forming a rectangle approximately 6-1/2 inches by 3 inches. Cover with plastic wrap and roll gently to make a solid rectangle, 6-1/2 by 4 inches. (If your butter comes in the long, skinny sticks, you'll have to improvise!) Place it back in the refrigerator, and repeat with the other 3 sticks of butter. Let everything rest in the refrigerator for 15 more minutes while you grab a cup of coffee!
Working with one piece of dough (leave the other one in the fridge), roll it out on a floured surface until it is approximately 12 inches by 8 inches, with the long side facing you. You may have to do a little stretching to get a nice rectangular shape.
Bring out two rectangles of butter and put one directly in the middle of the dough, with the short side facing you. Fold the right side over the butter and press all around it gently to seal the butter in. Put the other piece of butter on top, and fold the left side over it, pinching well to seal. So...your layers at this point are: dough, butter, dough, butter, dough.
The short side should be facing you, and it should be like a book - with the open edge to the right. Now roll it gently, being careful not to squeeze butter out of the dough, until it again measures 12 inches by 8 inches. Fold it in thirds again (you now have 15 layers!) and put it back in the plastic bag in the refrigerator. Repeat with the other bag of dough.
Let them both rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then bring them out, roll each one to 12 inches by 8 inches, fold, and return to the refrigerator for 30 more minutes.
Do this one more time! (I'm not counting layers anymore) and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but at this point you can let the dough sit in the refrigerator for several days if you wish. The flavor just gets better.
To form the croissants, work with one piece of dough at a time. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to about 12 inches wide and 20 inches long, trimming the edges to make them neat and tidy. Cut in half, lengthwise, using a sharp knife or (my favorite) pizza cutter. Working with one half, mark the edges every 5 inches on one long side. Cut into triangles. This will give you 4 triangles on one side, and 3 full-size ones on the other, plus 2 halves. Repeat with the other half. You should have 14 triangles, and 4 half triangles.
Roll each piece up, starting at the wide end, and stretching lightly as you go. I find it helps to lightly roll each triangle with a rolling pin so it is thinner and sticks to the counter a bit. It helps with the rolling process. Place each croissant on the baking sheet, tip down, curving the ends to the middle. You can make them "hold hands" if you want. They'll come apart when they rise, but it helps them retain their crescent shape. Repeat with the other piece of dough, or save it for later.
Allow the croissants to rise at room temperature. Depending on the temperature of your home, this can be anywhere from 1-1/2 hours to 3 hours. They're ready to bake when they're plump and feel like marshmallows when you poke them.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Brush the croissants lightly with the egg wash, and bake for approximately 12 minutes.
If you’re scratching your head over some of my instructions, hopefully these pictures will help:
Slice the butter lengthwise in 4 equal pieces.
Put the 4 slices of butter together snugly.
Roll the butter a little to make a 4″x6-1/2″ rectangle.
Peel off the plastic wrap (in this case, I used the butter wrapper)
Put the butter in the middle and fold the right side over.
Put another rectangle of butter on top, and fold left over right.
Cutting out triangles. No, they don’t have to be perfect. (Press the half pieces together or just make little croissants!)
Formed and ready to rise.
Brush on the egg wash. You can use a pastry brush, but I prefer a paper towel. It’s more gentle.
Bake ’em and just TRY to wait until they cool down a bit.
Since my budget doesn’t allow me a quick jaunt to Paris, where I’m certain the pastry is far superior to anything I can make, I’ll just make some super-strong coffee, nibble on a warm croissant, close my eyes, and dream.
And by the way, I happen to know that THIS is what Santa prefers: