Thursday, September 26, 2013


I love croissants!  They are definitely my favorite pastry.  I have never made them before but I recently read a fiction book about 3 girls who inherited a bakery from their Grandmother they had never met.  The book went into detail about these women learning to make croissants and I instantly knew I wanted to give it a try.  While they can be labor intensive, they are not difficult! I actually loved the process and the outcome.  I filled about half with good quality chocolate chips and those were the best! Don't let these lovely pastries intimidate you, give them a try, you will not be disappointed! I found this recipe over at King Arthur Flour's website. Make sure to read through the whole recipe as there is quite a bit of fridge time needed! But don't worry, they are totally worth the wait!

(2 dozen)


2 large eggs, plus enough warm water to make 2 cups of liquid
1/4 cup sugar
5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 t yeast
1/2 cup dry milk
1 scant tablespoon salt
2 T butter, melted

1 7/8 cup butter, cool to the touch
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the dough:
Male a sponge by cracking 2 eggs into a 2 cup measuring cup and add enough warm water to make 2 cups. Beat well and put into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer.  Using the dough hook, add one Tablespoon of the sugar, 3 cups of flour and the yeast.  Mix until smooth, cover and set aside.

For the butter:
While the sponge is doing its thing, set up the butter inlay.  Mix the butter and flour together until it is smooth and there are no hard lumps.  You can do this using a spoon, food processor, mixer or by hand. Be careful not the use a high speed, that will incorporate air and we don't want that! Lightly flour a piece of plastic wrap and shape the butter into an 8 inch square using a dough scraper or a spatula. Wrap up the butter and place it in the fridge on a flat surface for at least 30 minutes.

Finish the dough:
Stir the melted and cooled butter into the sponge. In another bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups of the remaining flour, the sugar, the dry milk and the salt.  Add this to the sponge and mix until you have a soft but kneadable dough.  Check the dough after kneading for 4-5 minutes and add more the remaining flour if it is still sticky.

Once the dough is smooth and elastic, pat it into a square, loosely cover it and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. (The goal is to have the butter and the dough the same consistency, that will make it easier to fold them together to create layers).

Rolling in:
Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured surface.  Roll it into a square about 12 inches across.  Unwrap the butter slab and place it in the center of the square at a 45 degree angle so it looks like a diamond in a square. Fold the flaps of the dough over the butter until they touch in the center.  Pinch them together to seal in the butter. Lightly flour the top and then turn the dough over so the seams are on the bottom.  Gently tap the dough into a rectangle using your rolling pin. Lift the dough to make sure it isn't sticking, dusting with flour as necessary.  Gently roll the dough from the center out until you have a rectangle 20 inches long by 10 inches wide. When you have reached this size, brush off any excess four and fold the bottom 1/3 of the dough into the center and the top 1/3 over that, like folding a letter. Turn the dough 90 degrees to the right so it looks like a book ready to open.  That is your first turn!

You need to do this a totally of 4 times.  Between each turn wrap the dough and return it to the fridge for up to 30 minutes.  This will keep the thin layers of dough and butter you are creating from breaking open.  Also remember to keep your surface and rolling pin lightly dusted with flour. (Don't worry if your layers break open, that is how I knew it was time to put it back in the fridge). Also, I would flip my dough and make sure the underneath was lightly floured, this seemed to help too. When my layer would break, I would just make sure that it was on the inside when I folded the dough into a book. Once you have done this 4 times, wrap the dough and place in your fridge for at least 1 hour but preferably overnight. 

Shaping the dough:
using half the dough at a time, roll it into a 12" x 18"rectangle.  Trim the edges, on every edge with a ruler and a pizza wheel.  (this will allow the croissant to puff up when baking). Cut the dough in thirds length wise and in half through the middle. This will give you six pieces.  Now cut each of those in half diagonally, making twelve total. Roll the dough starting with the point facing away from you.  It is ok to stretch them a little as you roll them.  If you want to put filling in your croissants, this is the time. (I highly recommend chocolate.)  Place a table spoon of filling at the wide edge near you and roll from there.  I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips, they were heaven! Make sure the tip of the croissant is tucked underneath. Place the croissants on a lightly greased or parchment papered cookie sheet. Cover and chill for 30 minutes, or you can freeze them at this point. 

Baking the croissants:
take the croissants out of the oven and preheat the oven to 425.  While the oven is heating, brush the tops with 1 well beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water. When the oven is hot, bake the croissants for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. The croissants should be a golden brown, even where the folds overlap so you don't have a doughy center.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Buttermilk Banana Bread (One Loaf)

This banana bread is super moist and delish! I found it over at Mel's Kitchen Cafe (LOVE her!).  I totally dig that it just makes one loaf, that is usually how many bananas I have left that get ripe enough for bread! I have made it a few times and always use her suggestion of cutting the sugar and adding an extra banana so that is how I have written it here. Enjoy!

Buttermilk Banana Bread
(1 loaf)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
about 1 1/2 cups mashed bananas, 4 average sized bananas, I never measure
4 T buttermilk
1/2 t vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/8 t baking soda

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour 1 large loaf pan.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add bananas and mix until mashed.  Add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and mix well.  Add in the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Mix until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Search for the Best Vanilla

The Search for the Best Vanilla
Ok Merrie, this is for you! (and me!)

  This all started when my sister-in-law asked what kind of vanilla I used and loved.  I didn't really have an answer other than I haven't ever lived near any gourmet food stores to try different kinds.  But it sure got me thinking.  I usually turn to good old McCormick's Pure Vanilla Extract because Sam's Club carries the big bottle for $6.88 :)  But I do LOVE Vanilla Bean Paste, especially Nielson-Massey.  For those of you who haven't used it, it is just like vanilla extract but it has the little black vanilla bean seeds in it that give that great look and flavor to ice cream and puddings.  A friend of mine brought me some Mexican Vanilla from her vacation so I have tried that too. It is sweeter and has a little different flavor than other vanillas I have tried.
    With that all said, I started doing a little internet research to find out more about this amazing flavoring that is used so, so often.  I want to share with you a little of what I found.  Now, I realized that my search was internet based and therefore may not be the most reliable but I am on a mission to find out just what is the best, and what I may have been missing.
  First things first, vanilla extract should be a dark amber color.  If it is any other color (clear, foggy, milky) know that it is NOT real vanilla but rather synthetic.  There are many countries that vanilla comes from.  A few are: Tahiti, Mexico, Madagascar (are these all countries? I know I am LAME for not knowing!).  Hawaii is the ONLY place in the US that grows and produces their own vanilla extract.  It seems to me that Mexican vanilla is one of the more popular kinds.  There is a big warning out there about Mexican vanilla and it sure caught my attention.  Much of the mexican vanilla (found outside the US) is derived from couramin which is the bean from a Brazilian tonka bean.  While this bean has a very similar taste to vanilla, it is NOT vanilla and the process it goes through actually makes it TOXIC! It has been know to cause liver damage and is also a carcinogen.  Couramin is used extensively in Mexico to produce vanilla.  The US banned couramin laced products back in the 1950's but they still get in.  If you are buying vanilla in Mexico or Mexican vanilla anywhere else, make sure it is clearly labeled "couramin-free".
   Many of the vanilla extracts that find their way into the US are synthetic. The best way to determine quality is based on price.  If they are selling a large bottle for a bargain price it is almost assuredly synthetic.  Another tell-tale sigh is the color. Is the vanilla is foggy, or in anyway NOT dark amber it was probably made through a process using coal tar or from red and brown food coloring.
    Ok, now that I have put all that out there (please don't hate me if I have some faulty info, this is internet research, remember?) I want your opinion.

What is your favorite brand/type of vanilla?

I am excited to find and try some new stuff!  Ok, GO!

Vanilla sites:

Caprese Grilled Cheese

I have always loved caprese salad.  The fresh flavors are just amazing.  And grilled cheese is one of my favorite things to have for lunch, so I decided to combine the two.  I used provolone cheese instead of the typical fresh mozzarella but this sandwich is so delish, I have had it a few times this week and thought I would share the love! 

Caprese Grilled Cheese

2 slices sourdough bread
2 slices provolone cheese
4 leaves fresh basil, sliced thin
4 slices fresh Roma tomatoes

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil - for dipping

Assemble sandwich with cheese, tomato, and basil.  Butter the outside of the bread and grill on a hot griddle until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden.  ( Placing a lid over the sandwich as it cooks helps the cheese to melt without burning the bread). Mix balsamic vinegar and oil together to dip the grilled cheese in!

P.S. I found a living basil plant in my grocery store and all you need is a jar or cup and some water to keep it going!  I have had this plant for about a month and it is growing strong!  I LOVE having fresh basil at my finger tips during these winter months! And it makes my kitchen so bring and spring-y!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cinnamon Quick Bread

This bread is Yum!  And made my house smell incredible!  It is similar to Friendship Bread.  Not quite the same but hey, you don't have to wait 10 days for this! Gotta love instant gratification!  I found the recipe here.

Cinnamon Quick Bread

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
4 cups flour
2 t baking soda

Cinnamon/sugar mixture:
2/3 cup sugar
2 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease 2 loaf pans and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, 2 cups sugar, and eggs.  Add the buttermilk, flour, and baking soda and mix until combined.  Pour 1/4 of the batter into each loaf pan.  Now sprinkle about 1/4 of the cinnamon/sugar mixture on each loaf.  Divide the rest of the batter evenly into the two loaf pans and then do the same with the cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Swirl each loaf with a knife.  Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for a few minutes in the pan before removing to a cooling rack.
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