Brown Sugar and Spice Shortbread

My interest in experimenting with stamped cookies began about two years ago when I saw a recipe in a Christmas magazine for a particular kind of German cookie called Springerle. The design came from intricately hand-carved wood molds that are only sold on select websites & sparse authorized retail dealers. As such, and because they are hand carved, they’re not cheap. I found this out pretty quick and this is the reason why my Springerle mold collection is currently at a grand total of…two. It’ll probably stay that way for a while.

For a while I accepted this.

Then after a little while longer, I…didn’t want accept it anymore. I’m just that stubborn (and cheap) So, I started looking up alternatives to wood molds and found that there are a number of options. They may not be as intricate or elaborate as some of the springerle wood molds, but they still can create a pretty nice product. You just have to know where to look and what to look for.

I had success in just looking up rubber cookie stamp sets, like the one I bought (very cheaply at that) and then used for these Vanilla Sugar Cookies.I also started looking outside of cookie cutters and stamps and into other baking gadgets & gizmos. Turns out that quite a few of the plunger fondant and pie crust cutters you can both online and in stores can double as cookie cutters & stamps. What’s more, since fondant is a decorative element to cakes, the designs that you can find the cutters in are virtually limitless.

Perhaps most importantly, as the majority of them are plastic, they are very inexpensive.

I found a set of four small plunger fondant crust cutters on Amazon. They were in the shape of leaves. They set me back $3.93. I decided to see if they could and work the same way as my springerle molds did. I was pretty sure they would, but if they didn’t, well…it was only a $4 risk.

Here’s a pro-tip I’ve come to notice/learn when wanting to make cookies that won’t spread or lose the intricacy of their design: cookies with very few, (if any) leavening in their dough turn out the best. The more leavening agents that are in them (like baking powder, baking soda, eggs) the more likely they are to puff up & rise which is bad news for cookies that you want to have a noticeable design.

Shortbread is a great choice for just about any printed cookie you’d want to make. It has no baking powder, baking soda or eggs in it and has a very tight crumb which will help to preserve the design as it bakes. Shortbread was the way I knew I wanted to go to test out my new leaf cutters and should you guys get some for yourselves, it’s where I suggest you start.

I think the warm, rich spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves work nicely for a cookie to eat in autumn. They’re certainly good for dunking in coffee, I can attest to that personally. Plus, how about the results of the fondant cutters; turned out pretty nice didn’t it? I think I may have started something here. Stay tuned for more.

Sharing at the Fiesta Friday #192, co-hosted this week by Zeba @ Food For The Soul and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

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Brown Sugar & Spice Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from Sweet Paul Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1/2 packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

In a small bowl combine the flour and the dry spices together and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.

Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a disc. Wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Sprinkle a clean work surface (like a cutting board, wax paper you tape down to the counter, or a pastry mat) with flour. Separate the disc into quarters. Flour a rolling pin and roll/pat each quarter out to about 1/2  inch thick. Use whatever desired shape cookie cutter you wish (I used leaf fondant cutters) to cut out shapes. Immediately place the shapes on a half sheet pan you line with parchment paper, and place the half sheet in the freezer as you cut out the remaining dough. If the dough becomes too soft to work/cut out, just place it in the freezer and let firm up until easily rolled again, about 10 minutes.

Let the finished, cut shape dough firm up in the freezer, about 10 minutes. (This will keep them from spreading.) Take out the tray.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 10-12 minutes, until they are just turning golden brown at the edges. Allow to cool for about 3 minutes on the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: You don’t HAVE to use cookie stamps for this recipe. I think it would work just as well without it. Use whatever cookie cutters you have, or shape the dough into a log, freeze for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices and bake as directed. Also,  no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Browned Butter Spice Cake

So…Amazon.

Amazon is a bookmarked tab on my web browser. I have the mobile app. I look on the website at least once a day. I can admit it: I’m slightly addicted. This addiction may be made even worse by the Wishlist feature. I feel like the Amazon Wishlist is a like the grown-up version of a kid’s Christmas List for Santa Claus.

The downside to that comparison is that when you’re an adult you’re (presumably) not going to believe in a rotund, elderly magical elf who visits your house on the night of December 24th to give you presents. You know that he doesn’t exist and that unless your loved ones decide to be gracious, you’re gonna have to shell out the money to buy yourself the things you want.

I don’t know about you guys but with the number of items that are currently saved on my wishlist (also taking into consideration the condition of moi’s funds), let’s just say that ‘WISH’ is the operative word of the term. Most of the time my visits to Amazon are spent browsing or just looking at all the items on my wishlist for the umpteenth time, as if by some miracle the necessary funds will appear in my bank account to afford them all.

It still hasn’t happened yet.

But occasionally, at times when it isn’t Christmas or your birthday where you may be gifted with something you want from someone else, you just want to play Santa and spoil yourself with a gift that you really want. I don’t do this often, but if I’m feeling like ‘loving on myself’ and the timing and price is right (meaning low enough) on a particular item on the Wish List…I’ll spoil myself.

That’s kinda what happened here.

When we moved out here to the West coast, I had to leave behind all of the lovely bundt pans in my mom’s collection that I would borrow to bake in.  That was harder than I thought it would be. I had two loaf pans and three round cake pans of my own to bring with me, but I still found myself missing baking with the bundt pans. They help cakes to bake so much more evenly, and some of the more intricate ones give them such a pretty shape when they come out.  I have several saved to my Amazon Wishlist. When I got a notification that two of them had their prices lowered, it so happened to come on a day when I felt like ‘spoiling myself’ so I went ahead and got them. One was a simple round bundt pan, the other had the beautiful swirled fan design that you see in this cake.

This cake. Let’s talk about that now.

I’ve already let you guys in on the best kept secret of browned butter in chocolate chip cookies and banana bread. Now you get to find out how awesome it can be in cake. As I’ve said before, browned butter has a very rich, nutty and toasted smell/flavor that comes through in whatever you put it in. That toasty caramelized flavor gets combined with a combination of warm spices that complement the approach of autumn: cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg. All that good stuff.

All of THAT good stuff combines together to form the VERY good stuff that is this cake. If your eyes aren’t doing enough of a job to convince you, get them checked. This cake is every bit as delicious as it looks. It’s moist. It’s sweet. It’s slightly spicy. It came from a bundt pan that was worth every penny. However, if you don’t have the one I do, don’t let that dissuade you from making this: any standard 10 cup cake pan will do, OR two loaf pans with the batter divided between them. Try this. Kinda not asking or suggesting.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #190, co-hosted  this week by Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

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Browned Butter Spice Cake

Recipe Adapted from Lauren Chattman

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Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (2 sticks) cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup whole milk

For Glaze

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or spray with cooking spray, a 10-cup Bundt or tube pan (you can also use two loaf pans). Sprinkle with flour & tap out excess. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon, coriander, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture for the glaze.

Heat the 1 cup of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes, or until the milk solids on the bottom are dark brown and the mixture smells nutty& caramelized. Stir the rest of the spice mixture into the butter and let cook for about 10 more seconds. Immediately pour into a shallow dish and place in the freezer. Leave in there until the mixture is firm, like the texture of regular butter, about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

When the browned butter has become firm enough, place it in bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl. Add the light brown sugar, then use the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer) to beat at medium speed until creamed, light & fluffy. At medium low speed, add the eggs and egg yolks (one at a time EACH and beating well after each addition). Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl down regularly to make sure the ingredients are well combined. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Alternate between adding the flour mixture & the whole milk to the batter, starting and ending with the flour mixture. After last addition, turn up to medium speed and beat for about 30 final seconds. Spread the batter in the pan, using the spatula to smooth the top out. Lift the pan up and tap it onto the countertop 2-3 times to prevent air bubbles while baking. Place the pan on a sheet pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown, toothpick inserted in center comes out clean & inner temp reaches 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For Glaze: heat 1/4 cup butter in small saucepan over medium heat until milk solids on the bottom are dark brown and the mixture smells nutty& caramelized. Remove from heat & slight cool. Use a fork or a whisk to mix in the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, lemon juice, salt and reserved 1/2 teaspoon of spice mixture. Adjust the thickness and thinness of glaze to your desired consistency. Use the tines of a fork to drizzle over the cake. Allow to set for about 40 minutes before serving.

Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

First, let me just wish prayers, well wishes and safety to everyone in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and everywhere else that are being affected by these terrible hurricanes.

Second, today’s post is about doing things that I haven’t done for a while.

I haven’t traveled very far for a long time. The last time I was on a plane was when we made the cross-country move to California, almost exactly a year ago. Since then I’ve pretty much stayed on the west side. But that’s about to change.

By the time you guys read this post, I’ll have already hopped a Red Eye flight and arrived back in the Mitten for a visit, for the first time in a full year.

Apart from the fact that I cannot believe a full year has passed so quickly since the move, it’s going to be good to get back in my hometown to see my family again. We’re fortunate to live in a time where technology like Hangouts, Facetime and Messenger exists and I can video chat with them, but it’s not the same as in-person contact. The huge distance factor creates this feeling where you it’s like you’re out there in a kind of ‘bubble’ where you’re apart from other things that are going on.

I’m looking forward to taking a brief pause in the everyday routine and get back to something that I’ve been away from for a while. Sometimes it takes actually revisiting a memory, place or person to make you realize how much you missed them. That’s certainly the case with my going back to the hometown, and it’s also the case with today’s recipe.

Cause y’know, I can find a way to make just about anything link back to my food. It’s kinda what I ‘do’.

Before I baked the recipe and wrote this post I really can’t remember the last time I ate coffee cake. And I did try to remember. It’s not likely that I can forget food that I ate and really enjoyed so the chances are, I either haven’t had coffee cake in close to a decade, or if I did, it was so Godawful that I’ve subconsciously blocked it out of my memory.

(And if it was awful, I’m choosing to just not count it as something I actually ate. Therefore, the calories I wasted by eating it don’t exist. Cause, I do what I want,)

One thing I can promise is that I’m not going to be able to forget eating this cake. Nor do I want to.

The sour cream inside the batter makes the cake soft, with a moist crumb that (unlike a lot of run-the-mill coffee cakes) isn’t overly dry and crumbly. A ribbon of brown sugary goodness runs through the middle. Then on top is my personal favorite: the buttery cinnamon sugar streusel topping that when baked, forms an almost crunchy texture contrast to the softness of the cake. And because I just don’t ever know when to quit, I topped all of it off with a smooth powdered sugar icing drizzle.

If you’re like me and it’s been a long time since you had coffee cake, do yourself a favor and let this be the recipe that makes you go back to it and remember why you love it so much in the first place.

Linking this up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #188, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Nimmi @ Adorable Life.

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Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Cake

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick)
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

 

For Filling

  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For Streusel Topping

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk

 

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9 or 10 inch tube pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the filling. Set aside. In another small bowl, set aside the ingredients for the streusel topping. Set aside.

In a large bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract.

In a medium size bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder with a fork. Slowly fold in the dry ingredients into the wet. Place half of the batter into the bottom of the tube pan, using a spatula to spread it out.

Sprinkle the filling over the batter, then pour the rest of the batter on top of it. Use a butter knife to gently swirl the filling throughout the batter. Sprinkle the topping over the batter until completely covered.

Bake for 40-45 minutes in the oven, until a toothpick/tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven, allow to cool in pan for about 20 minutes, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

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There’s a large grocery store chain back in the Mitten that when I was growing up, sold their own generic brand of products that they would sell alongside the name-brand stuff. It wasn’t so very different from the name brand, and you could get just about anything. And believe me, we certainly did (it being the cheaper option and all).

One of the things I remember that my mom would get for us from this grocery store’s line of products were these cookie/crackers that the chain sold in the snack aisle. They came in an orange bag and were marketed as butter-flavored animal shaped cookies. But since, they were on the thin side, I always thought of them as crackers. They were SO delicious.

For whatever reason that still irritates me to this day, the product was discontinued. I haven’t seen it in years and there’s not even a trace of them left on the internet (which is how you KNOW they’re not coming back anytime soon). Nothing I’ve seen sold in stores since has ever replicated them in appearance or taste.

Isn’t that just the worst? Sometimes I wonder where the recipe for those crackers is now; shoved away somewhere at the bottom of a drawer in some corporate office, never to see the light of day again. And who was the genius who made the call to stop selling them in the first place? I want the name of their supervisor so I can write in a strongly worded complaint. Such a waste.

I mentioned before in my last few posts that I’d started in on a kind of cracker-making spree. When my first attempt turned out great, I started experimenting with a bunch of other recipes that I knew I would eventually get around to sharing on the blog. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I’ll make something that I end up liking SO much, that I almost immediately want to make it again–just to have plenty of it. Sometimes, I don’t even want to share it. I just want it all to myself.

That’s what happened here.

I tried this recipe on a whim. I had all the ingredients on hand, plus I made some additions/modifications of my own that I thought would make it taste a bit better, but I wasn’t expecting anything *huge* to come from it.

So, imagine my surprise when I tasted one and was immediately transported back to my childhood, reminded of the delicious butter cookies/crackers in the orange bag from the supermarket’s generic knock-off line.

Are they 100% the same? No. They’re (if I may say so myself), actually an improvement. Te vanilla in the dough gives them a wonderful aroma as they’re baking. The cinnamon and nutmeg is noticeable, but not overpowering. Besides the flavor, the texture of these is what I love best about it; it’s a tender crumb that still has that perfect amount of snap that gives it the ‘cracker’ feel. Then, the coarse sugar topping gives it a pleasant crunch to compliment the cracker itself.

I was SO impressed/thrilled/greedy with how these turned out that as soon as the first batch of these were done cooling, I was already washing out my dishes and getting all the ingredients back together again to make another. This is a very easy and forgiving dough; I just stuck with regular squares, but I think they will hold just about ANY shape, so if you have cookie cutters and want to make these with kids, I’d say anything will go & work.

I’m sure that that recipe for the discontinued butter cookie/crackers is out there somewhere; but I think that this one is a very easy and delicious substitute. So take that, processed food corporate execs.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #169, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Elaine @ Foodbod.

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Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, plus 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1 egg white
  • Extra flour for dusting
  • 1 heaping tablespoon coarse sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar with the dry powdered milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda. It doesn’t have to be light and fluffy, just combined.

With the mixer still running, drizzle in the vanilla. Add the egg white little by little alternately with the flour until dough just comes together. Don’t overmix.

Gather together into a ball, shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dust a clean work surface with flour. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Run a metal spatula underneath the dough as you roll and turn it out to make sure it doesn’t stick, sprinkling with additional flour if necessary.  Use a cookie cutter or bench scraper to cut out the dough into crackers. Place the crackers on the baking sheets and freeze for about 20 minutes.

Using the tines of a fork, evenly prick holes through the dough. In a small bowl, combine the coarse sugar, brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon and the 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Lightly sprinkle this on top of the crackers.

Bake for 12-13 minutes until just beginning to brown at the edges. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Six Braid Cinnamon Streusel Crunch Challah

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Oh man, you guys.

Oh maaaaaaan.

Where do I even START?

Well, off the bat I guess I can begin with sending a huge apology to all my followers who celebrate Passover. This post is probably the LAST thing you want to see as we approach a holiday that’s supposed to make the leavened stuff off limits.

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But to the rest of us who don’t, just pop a squat and let me chew your ear off about this bread.

THIS.BREAD.

It’s definitely one of the more ambitious undertakings I’ve encountered in the kitchen, but ever since the idea for it popped into my head a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Still, I was slightly intimidated and paranoid that this would be one thing I couldn’t successfully pull off. After all, the most I’ve ever attempted in challah is three braids that I usually wind into a round and bake in cake pans. This would involve much more labor not just in braiding, but also nailing the outer topping that I wasn’t even sure would work with the texture of the bread.

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So when Easter came around, I decided to put it off and make Pane di Pasqua instead. It turned out beautifully.

But I STILL wanted to try and see if I could pull this off; a six braid challah that I dipped in cinnamon sugar, then sprinkled with a cinnamon streusel on top.

So this past week, I sat down and started planning. I remembered a similar brioche recipe I’d seen done at another food blog and decided that if she could successfully pull it off with brioche (a more temperamental dough by far), then I could almost definitely be able to make this work with challah, particularly the laid back/fail-proof/go-to recipe I’ve been using for the past four years or so.

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I did decide to make one key revision to that recipe though, and I have to say it was a random decision that REALLY made all the difference. I swapped out one cup of all  purpose flour in the dough for one cup of whole wheat flour. This was a wonderful idea, as it gave a distinct but subtle earthy nuttiness to the dough that complemented perfectly with  all the sweetness you’re gonna get from the ‘rest’ of it.

And ohhh, the rest of it.

If challah can be improved at all, then it’s got to be when you dip it in cinnamon sugar and sprinkle it with a buttery cinnamon streusel topping. The chewiness of the bread combined with the crunch of the pecan streusel is a mouthgasm of epic proportions.

And when you just HAVE to eat it warm/hot because you just can’t wait any longer for it to cool down after taking it out the oven? Guys.

You.will.DIE.

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I know it may seem like an overload to make this a six braid challah, but in retrospect I can’t see making it any other way. The thing is, the more braids there are, the more of the cinnamon sugar coating that gets wound into the center of the loaf itself. Check out the layering on the inside; you can’t get that with just three braids. You gotta put in the extra work to get all that goodness.

And yes,I know six braids is daunting. It was for me too at first. But as I instruct in the recipe, a simple google search can be your best friend in getting those six braids wound together all nice and pretty.

Just make sure you find the how-to pic/video and have it handy BEFORE you get your hands smeared  messy with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. (Don’t ask why I’m telling you that. It’s not relevant.)

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There is one thing I have to put out there: this recipe yields two HUGE loaves of challah. You will have two HUGE six braid cinnamon streusel crunch challahs on your hands by the time you finish. Just let that sink in. ‘Cause that’s a lot of bread. 

I also refuse to be held responsible for what should happen if you don’t feel the imperative to share the wealth with some friends/family. I know I did. Because I’m not stingy. And because I still want to fit in my jeans.

I’ll leave you with one last thought just in case you weren’t completely sold on making this bread for yourself: Cinnamon Streusel Crunch Challah French Toast

*DEAD*

Aaaaand how about one more time with a full-body shot?

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It came to me. My own. My love.

Myyyyyyy preciousssssssssss.

Follow the heavenly smells and bread crumbs I’m leaving behind me to the Fiesta Friday #115 party where we’re being hosted by  Julie @ Hostess At Heart and Ashley @ Too Zesty.

Six Braid Cinnamon Streusel Crunch Challah

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com and Half Baked Harvest

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Ingredients

For Challah

  •  2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

For Cinnamon Sugar Coating

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 tsp cinnamon

For Streusel

  • 1 1/2 cups white all purpose flour
  • About 1/4 cup of crushed pecans
  • 1/4 tsp table salt

Directions

Mix the all purpose and whole wheat flour together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Add 1 tsp of white sugar and let it stand for about 10 minutes until yeast is proofed and puffy.

Beat honey, oil, the 2 eggs, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens.

Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk. Towards the end of the rising period, make the cinnamon sugar coating: pour the melted butter and vanilla extract in a shallow dish. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a shallow dish as well.

Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky.

Divide each half into six pieces and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Using a pastry brush, brush the melted vanilla-butter over both sides of the ropes. (You can also just dip it in the butter if you don’t have a pastry brush, just try and shake off the excess.) Then using your fingers, sprinkle the brown sugar mixture thoroughly over the ropes until they have a good coating. Don’t be shy with it, this is gonna get a little messy. Save the leftover melted butter and brown sugar as well- you’ll use it later.

Pinch the ends of the six snakes together firmly and braid from middle. You can google ‘Six Strand Challah Braid’ as I did and find MANY resources that will help you through this process.

Grease two baking trays and place finished braid on each. Cover with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel and let rise about one hour.

To Prepare the streusel: pour the melted butter into the brown sugar and add the all purpose flour, salt and pecans. Stir with a fork until it forms small clumps. Let it sit for about 30 minutes until firm; you may also want to refrigerate it for about 15 minutes depending on how long you let your braids rise.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Take your braids and lightly spray them with a coating of PAM baking spray. Gently sprinkle and press the streusel into the top of the challah braids until there is a generous coating over each.

(Note: you ARE probably going to have leftover streusel. Don’t throw it away! After your bread is done baking, simply spread the leftover streusel out on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake it on its own in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Use the excess to sprinkle on top of ice cream or yogurt; or you could just eat it all on it’s own.)

Bake the challah loaves at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Inner temp should be 195 F-200 F and the bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.

Biscochitos

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I’ve said it before, but I’m just gonna go ahead and say it again: I really, really REALLY would like to someday, somehow spend a Christmas season in New York City.

It’s one of the things that’s on my Bucket List of things to do before I die- actually living in New York City’s on that list too. But, Christmas in New York comes first. Even though I don’t live in one, I’m a huge fan of big cities. I love the energy and bustle of things always happening and going on- add to that the bustle of the Christmas season in general, and it’s my dream place.

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I want to go skating in Rockefeller Center and see the huge Christmas tree at night. I want to go to Macy’s and get completely and totally overwhelmed by the gigantic size of the store decked out in holiday gear. I want to walk the streets and see all of the skyscrapers and buildings lit up in decorations. I want to go see the American Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Then I want to be able to be in Times Square for New Years Eve to see the ball drop and bring in the New Year. I want it all. It doesn’t have to be every year. I’m actually one of those people who prefer to stay home for Christmas mostly. But the New York Christmas experience is something I’d just like to make happen for me at least once in my lifetime.

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So if any of your lovely people out there are residents of the Big Apple, then maybe you can be a Good Samaritan and invite yours truly over for a few weeks or so around Christmas time. Don’t worry, I’m no free loader; I’ll earn my keep through cooking you food and treats. That seems like a pretty fair trade off to me, right?

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My inspiration for my St. Lucia Buns post came from a memory I had of the American Girl doll character Kirsten, who made St. Lucia Buns for her family at Christmas. My inspiration for making Biscochitos also came from another of the American Girl characters- a young girl named Josefina living in New Mexico with her family shortly after her mother dies. As Kirsten’s ‘holiday treat’ in the American Girl catalog were the St. Lucia Buns, the holiday treat for Josefina’s story were Biscochito cookies. And yes: I’m still thinking about those Biscochito cookies I saw in the catalog over fifteen years later. Don’t judge me.

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Biscochitos are really just anise-flavored sugar cookies that are rolled in cinnamon sugar and typically served around Christmastime. But don’t let their simple ingredients fool you-this cookie is still a pretty big deal. It’s such a big deal that New Mexico has made the Biscochito it’s official ‘state cookie’. I didn’t even know that states had their own official cookies. A quick Google search revealed that the ‘Michigan Treasure’ is the Michigan state cookie. I’ve never heard of it. But whatever it is, it’s s still probably not as cool as the Biscochito- or yummy for that matter.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Cranberry-Clementine Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

Day 3: Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

Day 4: Giant Molasses Cookies

Day 5: Crustless Cranberry Pie

Day 6: St. Lucia Buns

Day 7: Brown Sugar Cookies

Day 8: Raspberry Linzer Cookies

Day 9: Biscochitos

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Biscochitos


Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Kitchen

Print

Ingredients

  • 6 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound lard (a must, no substitutes)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sweet table wine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt.

2. Cream the lard with sugar and anise seed on medium speed. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy.

3. Add beaten eggs to creamed mixture. Mix together well, adding wine to form a stiff-like dough, add more wine, if necessary. Refrigerate dough overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand for a while, until dough is soft enough to roll.

5. Divide dough in quarters and roll to about 1/16 to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until bottom of cookie is golden brown.

6. Meanwhile, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Drop the baked cookies into sugar and cinnamon mixture and set aside to cool.

Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

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It’s Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas on the blog; I’m sitting listening to my Christmas playlist as I write this post and it’s making me think of a question I’ve wondered about for a while now:

Why is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” considered a Christmas song/carol?

It’s not that I don’t like it. The Sound of Music is a pretty good musical and I’m a fan of the song in general..but I really doubt the writers were thinking of the Holiday as inspiration when they were putting it together.

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My more sentimental, sappy side assumes that because Christmastime is the best time of year, My Favorite Things is generally associated with it because at the very best time of year you start thinking about all of the things that you love the most.

Although I can’t think why the thoughts of “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” would suddenly make anyone feel better. Personally geese, ducks and the like freak me out. That could be because the geese and ducks on my university campus always chase people because over the years they’ve become too accustomed to parents taking their kids to the riverside to feed them bread. Therefore, they now think that all humans have a loaf of bread hidden somewhere on their person; they’ll chase you until you ‘give it up’. So yeah, geese are not one of my favorite things.

I’m thinking that Rodgers and Hammerstein just needed a word that rhymed with “things”, and that line is the best they could come up with.

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But whether they meant the song for Christmas or not, it DOES make you think of your favorite things. Heck, I’m starting to do it now. Maria von Trapp had nine, so I guess I can give nine of mine too:

Pancakes with slightly crisp edges doused in maple syrup.

Quiet mornings when the sky is bluish gray, but it’s not raining.

The A & E Pride and Prejudice movie.

Michigan State University football.

Binge watching  Netflix.

Chris Hemsworth’s arms. And abs. And pecs. Basically his ‘everything’ (so that still should count as one, right?).

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Cuddling with my baby niece.

The smell of freshly made bread in my kitchen.

My cookbook collection (it’s extensive and still growing, trust me.)

That’s nine, right? I notice that none of it rhymed with the word ‘things’. Gosh, now I’m starting to understand the inclusion of the whole “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” line. Song writing’s not all that easy.

Oh well. Moving on.

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I made two popcorn balls for the series, the first of which was these Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls. The second was this recipe; I saw it in a Christmas issue of Food Network magazine a year or so ago and had it pegged for such an occasion as this. After I made my Champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate) a few weeks ago, I remembered that I had this clipping in my recipe box and immediately decided to try it out for the 12 Days of Christmas.

Guys… Chocolate. Marshmallows. Cinnamon sugar. The popcorn balls are doused and dipped in all of these, resulting in one of the yummiest, addictive treats I’ve ever made for Christmas. It’s sweet. It’s gooey. It’s chewy. It’s everything.

C’mon, just look at that sugary crust on the top: isn’t it just making you salivate?

Just a reminder: if you’ve missed the other recipes we’ve done so far in the series, I’m including a list of links to them below. Seeya guys tomorrow 🙂

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Cranberry-Clementine Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

Day 3: Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

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Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

Print

Ingredients

  • 12 cups fresh popcorn (preferably made over the stove)
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp. butter, plus 2-3 tbsp. extra for buttering your hands
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

 Directions

1. Bring corn syrup, butter, confectioners’ sugar. mini marshmallows, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and water to a boil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring.

2. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt.

3. Remove from the heat; using a rubber spatula, stir in 12 cups popcorn and 1 more cup mini marshmallows.

4. Butter your hands, then shape into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar, working quickly before balls cool off. Place finished balls on parchment paper lined baking racks to set.