There it was, perched on a rack at the checkout at Whole Foods, taunting me: the latest issue of Cook's Country magazine.
The first shocker was that the food-porn image on the cover -- which grabbed this sweet-seeker's attention all the way from the cheese counter -- wasn't a turkey. When it comes to American food magazines and the month of November, not featuring a Thanksgiving turkey is the equivalent of slapping Zack Galifianakis on the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue.
Three cheers to the person or persons on the magazine's masthead responsible for skipping the path to chestnut stuffing nirvana and instead treating readers to a drool-inducing portrayal of a knife spreading thick cream cheese icing over a pan of spiraled cinnamon buns. I know my response was embarrassingly predictable: I immediately went in search of instant yeast, cream cheese and cinnamon.
Within little more than an hour -- no exaggeration -- this was the view inside my oven:
The dough -- super-powered by far more instant yeast used in conventional recipes, and boosted by a second leavening agent, quick-acting baking powder -- came together in a snap, just a bowl and a spoon followed by a few easy minutes of kneading.
The recipe's genius is its 30-minute proofing time. Cinnamon bun recipes that I've used in the past require a minimum of three hours for the dough to rise, in two 90-minute periods. Not here, which means that homemade cinnamon buns can be a relatively spontaneous breakfast decision. (A side benefit: You can't imagine the cinnamon-yeast scent that sneaks out of the oven and perfumes the kitchen).
Are they as habit-forming as the buns my grandmother Hedvig made when I was a kid? I wish I could say yes, but no, they're not. The quick-rise dough doesn't achieve the rich puffiness that comes with more carefully proofed breads. However, as a substitute for those tubes of cottony refrigerated dough (even the not-so-bad version from Immaculate), there's absolutely no comparison. They're also far superior to any supermarket bakery cinnamon bun that I've encountered. No doubt about it, this recipe belongs in the repertoire of every cabin baker. Certainly ever weekend baker. Next time we have company, I know what I'll be serving for breakfast.
Following true America's Test Kitchen form, author Diane Unger tinkered over successive batches until she reached this ideal formula. Find her recipe here.
Sometimes I find the ATK recipe format to be a bit confusing (Wait, who am I kidding? If I'd followed my own advice and read the recipe -- twice -- before I started, I probably wouldn't have screwed up and forced to start over). Partly for my own edification, I've re-written the recipe (below) to fit the format we use for Taste.
Three notes: I found that Unger's recipe yielded way too much glaze (although, really, can you ever have too much glaze?). Still, the next time I pull out this recipe, I'll probably cut the amount of glaze in half. One of the recipe's most endearing qualities is the buns' intense cinnamon bite. Rather than defaulting to cinnamon that has been lingering in a tiny plastic McCormick jar in the cupboard for the past two years, growing weaker by the day, I highly recommend going to the bulk spices department at your local natural foods co-op or Whole Foods Market, where the cinnamon will be fresher than its supermarket counterpart, with a far more intense flavor and scent. It's economical, too, allowing you to buy what you need and nothing more.
QUICKER CINNAMON BUNS
Makes 8 buns.
Note: From Cook's Country magazine, which offers the following tips. The recipe requires a total of 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) melted butter, so it's easiest to melt it all at once. Unger suggests using a dark baking pan, which will yield a much more deeply golden brown roll. If using a light-colored baking pan, increase heat to 375 degrees and adjust the baking time to 29 to 32 minutes.
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Butter for pan
1 1/4 c. whole milk, at room temperature, divided
4 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 tbsp. (6 tsp.) granulated sugar, divided
2 3/4 c. flour, plus extra for kneading dough
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp, salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, and divided
3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp. whole milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
To prepare filling: In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt. Stir in melted butter and vanilla extract until mixture resembles wet sand. Set aside.
To prepare dough: Grease a dark 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment paper and grease parchment. Heat 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl in a microwave oven to 110 degrees (about 10 to 20 seconds). Stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and let sit until mixture is bubbly, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 5 teaspoons granulated sugar. Stir in 2 tablespoons melted butter, yeast mixture and remaining 1 cup milk until dough forms (dough will be sticky). Transfer dough to a well-floured work surface and knead until a smooth ball forms, about 2 minutes.
Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 12x9-inch rectangle, with the long side parallel to the counter edge. Brush dough all over with 2 tablespoons butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the far long edge. Sprinkle dough evenly with filling, then press filling firmly into dough. Using a bench scraper or spatula, if necessary, loosen dough from the work surface. Roll dough away from you into a tight log and pinch seam to seal.
Roll log seam side down and cut into 8 equal pieces. Stand buns on end and gently re-form ends that were pinched during cutting. Place 1 bun in center of prepared pan and others around perimeter of pan, seams facing in. Brush tops of buns with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Cover buns loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Discard plastic and bake buns until edges are well browned, 23 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and, using a paring knife, loosen buns from side of pan. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Invert a large plate over pan. Using potholders, flip plate and pan upside down; remove pan and parchment. Reinvert buns onto a wire rack, set wire rack inside a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and let cool for 5 minutes.
To prepare glaze: In a large bowl, whisk together cream cheese, butter, milk, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. Whisk in powdered sugar until smooth. Using a spatula, spread glaze evenly over tops of buns. Serve warm.
In between meals during my recent visit to Duluth, I spent some quality time browsing through the Bookstore at Fitger's, the sweet indie-owned retailer (it focuses on northeastern Minnesota titles) in the Fitger's shopping complex.
I was delighted to come across "The Duluth Grill Cookbook." Souvenir time.
Published earlier this year, the story- and image-packed volume (produced by author Robert Lillegard and photographer Rolf Hagberg) is filled with more than 100 make-at-home versions of the restaurant's most popular recipes. Here are three.
DULUTH GRILL PANCAKES
Makes about 1 dozen pancakes.
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. plus 2 3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 3/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. plus 1 3/4 tsp. cornstarch
2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cornstarch and reserve. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat buttermilk and eggs until well combined. Add dry mixture, stirring until just combined. Add melted butter and stir until just combined.
Preheat a non-stick griddle to medium-high. Make pancakes, 1 at time, by pouring 1/3 cup batter onto hot griddle. When bubbles form on top of pancake, flip and cook until both sides are golden brown. Serve with room temperature butter and maple syrup.
DULUTH GRILL WILD RICE BURGERS
Note: Panko are Japanese bread crumbs. For 5 cups cooked wild rice, rinse 1 1/2 cups uncooked wild rice. In a saucepan over high heat, bring 4 1/2 cups salted boiling water. Add uncooked wild rice. Return to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until kernels puff open, about 45 to 60 minutes (for chewier wild rice, use a shorter cooking time). Fluff wild rice with a fork and simmer 5 additional minutes, uncovered. Drain any excess liquid.
1 c. panko
1 1/2 c. mayonnaise
4 eggs, beaten
1 c. diced mushrooms
5 c. cooked wild rice
1 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
4 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
Vegetable oil for cooking
In a large bowl, stir together panko, wild rice and mushrooms. Stir in eggs and mayonnaise. In a small bowl, combine pepper, salt, garlic, cumin and red pepper. Stir seasonings into wild rice mixture. Using a 1-cup metal measuring cup, scoop up mixture and form into patties about 2 inches thick.
In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add patties and pan fry until bottom side is browned. Flip patties and fry until browned and heated through. Serve on toasted buns.
DULUTH GRILL KETCHUP
Makes about 3 cups.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. diced onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 29-oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. cider vinegar
1 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Dash ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. cornstarch added to a bit of cold water to make a slurry
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onions and cook until transluscent. Add garlic and cook until garlic beings to change color; do not burn.
Add tomato sauce, honey, cider vinegar, molasses, red wine vinegar and cinnamon and whisk together thoroughly and increase heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.
Transfer mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Stain sauce through a strainer back into the saucepan over high heat. Stir in cornstarch slurry, increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a boil (you can add more cornstarch if you would like a thicker ketchup, or leave it out entirely if you prefer a thin ketchup). Remove from heat, transfer ketchup to a container and refrigerate.
Today's snowstorm knocked out my plan to drop by Mel-O-Glaze or Mojo Monkey Donuts -- just a few of the doughnut-makers featured in today's Taste rundown on don't-miss doughnuts -- to pick up some deep-fried goodies for my colleagues. Sorry, guys.
I mean, driving any more than I have to when the roads are this bad? Forget it. I don't want to even drive to the end of our alley. But pulling out our heavy-duty Staub cast-iron pot and engaging in a little a.m. deep frying? Why not?
By some miracle, we had all the ingredients for making old-fashioned sour cream doughnuts, and for reasons unknown, I remembered that I had a doughnut cutter in our kitchen's tool drawer. Talk about your rainy- (OK, snowy-) day good fortune.
I've only made doughnuts once before, at a remote lake cabin, on a similarly precipitation-ruined day, and here's what I'd forgotten about the process: it's really easy.
My results may not be on the same level as the marvelous cake doughnuts at A Baker's Wife's, or the Lynn on Bryant, but in a snowstorm-ed pinch, they'll do just fine. Better than fine, actually; they're moist and cakey, and have a pleasant crusty outer shell. And they came together in a snap.
I'm left with just two concerns. First, how am I going to properly dispose of 24 ounces of vegetable oil?
But my greater worry is wondering how many of these cute little doughnuts (and doughnut holes, which I tossed in sugar and cinnamon a few moments after they came out of the pan) will actually make it all the way to the office? After all, with winter storms like this one, it's wise to keep an emergency rations kit in the car.
OLD-FASHIONED SOUR CREAM DOUGHNUTS
Makes 6 to 10 doughnuts.
From "Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home" by Lara Ferroni (Sasquatch Books, $16.95).
1 1/4 c. flour, plus extra for rolling out dough
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. superfine sugar
1/4 c. sour cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter (or vegetable shortening), at room temperature
Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
3 to 4 tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
To prepare doughnuts: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and reserve. In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, sour cream, egg and butter (or shortening) until smooth. Add flour mixture, a little at a time, until a solid dough forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for 15 to 20 minutes.
On a lightly floured work surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnuts (and doughnut holes), re-rolling and re-cutting any scrap dough.
In a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, add at least 2 inches of oil and heat until a deep-fat thermometer registers 360 degrees. Using a metal spatula, carefully place doughnuts in oil. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and doughnut holes. Let cool just slightly before glazing.
To prepare glaze: Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and slowly stir in milk and vanilla extract, a little at a time, to make a smooth, pourable glaze. Dip doughnuts in glaze and transfer to a wire rack until glaze sets.
Pass the bicarb: It was bipartisan cookoff time in Washington, D.C., today, when Sen. Al Franken hosted fellow Minnesotans Sen. Amy Klobuchar and representatives Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Michele Bachmann, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Erik Paulsen for his third-annual "Hotdish- Off" (photo provided by Sen. Franken's office).
The winner? Walz and his "Hermann the German Hotdish." Find the recipe below.
Several recipes have promise. On paper, anyway. This is hotdish, after all.
The most compelling recipe is McCollum's, which is essentially a beer-braised pot roast served over savory drop biscuits. What's not to like, right? She's clearly the Barefoot Contessa of the Minnesota congressional delegation, although the recipe doesn't seem to exude an essential hotdish essence.
I'm also intrigued by Walz's winning recipe, in part because it would have never occurred to my Lutheran mother to incorporate bratwurst or beer into one of her hotdishes.
Both Klobuchar's "Hormel 'I Can't Believe It's Not SPAM' Pepperoni PIzza Hotdish" and Bachmann's "Southwest Metro Hotdish," so named for its taco seasoning and salsa and its amusing nod to the geography of congresswoman's re-formatted Sixth Distrct, also have a certain appeal. But bear in mind that I grew up in a household where a favorite hotdish was an alchemy of canned sweet corn, cream of mushroom soup, ground hamburger and Tater Tots. Next to that, these two sound downright exotic.
A major appeal of Franken's "Willmar Stew" comes from what it doesn't contain, namely a salty, glopped-up can of cream-of-something soup. Paulsen's easy-to-prepare "Taco Hotdish" doesn't have the nuance -- and I can't believe that I just invoked that word when referring to hotdish -- of Bachmann's version, but for the time-pressed, it doesn't sound half bad.
It's tough to generate enthusiam for Ellison's "Juicy Lucy Hotdish" -- although kudos to the congressman for attempting to link to a culinary icon from his Minneapolis district -- in part because I don't know if I can embrace toasted hamburger buns as a key hotdish building block.
Because venison isn't readily available, I'm probably not going to be preparing Nolan's "'Real Deal' Ranger Hotdish" any time soon, a shame. And I'm truly bored by Peterson's six-ingredient "Easter Ham and Cheese Hotdish."
The competition's most telling element was how most of the contestants, politicians to the core, were careful to incorporate famously made-in-Minnesota ingredients into their recipes.
Ever the locavore, Rep. Nolan proved the most enthusiastic on this front, calling for venison that the congressman harvested and processed himself, wild rice he had hand-picked, maple syrup tapped and boiled on the Nolan family farm, bacon from a Pierz, Minn., processor and cream from, yes, Land O' Lakes. I'm exhausted just reading about it, although it sounds delicious.
Were the pols following the example of those Pillsbury supermarket check-out stand cookbooks, the ones with recipes that call for "Pillsbury's Best Flour" rather than "all-purpose flour"?
I ask because Klobuchar includes shout-outs to Hormel and Kemps (let it be known that she specifically and rather sacrilegiously specifies New York-based Ronzoni pasta, and not Minnesota's own Creamette!), Franken takes a shine to Jennie-O and Bachmann spotlights Green Giant.
Judges were fellow Minnesotans and former Reps. Vin Weber and Gerry Sikorski. Franken and former Rep. Chip Cravaack were last year's winners, and the 2011 crown belonged to Klobuchar, who took the title with the best vote-getting name, ever: "Taconite Tater-Tot Hotdish."
Find the other eight 2013 recipes here.
REP. TIM WALZ'S HERMANN THE GERMAN HOTDISH
Serves 6 to 8.
1 20-oz. package of brats
1 bottle Schell's beer
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder
Butter for casserole
1 c. freshly chopped celery
1 10.75 oz. can cream of Cheddar soup
1 10.75 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 c. milk
1 c. grated Cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 28-oz. package Tater Tots
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place brats in a Dutch oven and fill with water to cover. Add beer, onion and garlic powder. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes. Remove brats from water and let cool.
Butter bottom and sides of an oven-proof casserole. In a large bowl, combine celery, cream of Cheddar soup, cream of mushroom soup, milk and Cheddar cheese. Chop brats into bite-size pieces and add to soup mixture. Pour mixture into prepared casserole, top with tator tots and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle top with Cheddar cheese and return to oven to bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Beth Dooley's absorbing article on cornbread in this week's Taste reminded me of a favorite recipe.
It's for scones -- although they're billed as "cakes" -- and it's from a cookbook by Los Angeles baking titan Nancy Silverton. The easy-to-prepare formula calls upon the complementary flavors of cornmeal and rosemary -- such a harmonious flavor combination -- and the end result gracefully skirts the line between sweet and savory. Try them, you'll love them.
The recipe's source, Silverton's "Pastries from the La Brea Bakery," belongs on every baker's kitchen bookshelf. If for no other reason, buy it for the bran muffin recipe to end all bran muffin recipes, or for the page-turning chapter that Silverton lovingly devotes to doughnuts.
Oh, and that cornmeal from Riverbend Farm (pictured, above) that Beth wrote about? It's amazing, truly one of the region's great farmstead products. After test-driving this golden, fragrant reminder of late summer -- when I opened the package and that corn perfume hit my nostrils, my mind immediately flew to August -- I'll never bake with shelf-stable cornmeal, ever again.
Makes 12 scones.
Note: Author Nancy Silverton suggests using extra-large eggs. From "Pastries from the La Brea Bakery" (Villard Books, $35).
3 3/4 c. unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping dough
1 3/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp. plus 1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. mild-flavored honey, such as clover
1/2 c. plus 2 tsp. heavy cream, plus extra for brushing tops of scones
24 small tufts of fresh rosemary for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade (or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment), combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, chopped rosemary and brown sugar and process (or mix) on low until incorporated. Add butter and pulse on and off a few times (or mix on low), until mixture is pale yellow and the consistency of fine meal.
Transfer mixture to a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in eggs, honey and cream and whisk together the liquids. Using one hand, draw in the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
Wash and dry your hands and dust them with flour. On a lightly floured work surface, turn out dough and knead a few times to gather it together into a ball. Roll or pat dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut out scones, cutting as closely as possible and keeping trimmings intact.
Gather scraps, pat and press the pieces back together and cut out remaining dough. Place scones 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with cream and poke 2 small tufts of rosemary into the center of each.
Bake until slightly browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes before transferring scones to a wire rack to cool.
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