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.
"It's a tsunami of blue out there."
That's the first thing John Cuddy said to us when we got out of the car last weekend at his Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis. Cuddy doesn't seem to be a man prone to exaggeration, so he's not kidding when he says that this year's blueberry crop appears to be one for the record books.
I've been visiting this nothing-else-like-it U-pick destination for more than a decade, and I've never witnessed anything that comes close to the abundance of this summer's output. To say that the farm's 10,000-plus plants are heavy with fruit is an understatement.
This summer is also unusual in that the crop is maturing on a stepped-up schedule.
"In 25 years, I've never seen so many berries, so early," said Terry Cuddy, John's spouse and fellow blueberry enthusiast. Again, she's not overselling. She directed me down to the rows of Nelson berries (a variety after my own heart), which usually mature in early August. Last weekend, many Nelson berries were already starting to turn blue.
Yes, the picking has never been easier at the Cuddys' strikingly picturesque farm, where colorful, well-tended flower gardens give way to neat rows of bushes ("We've got nine miles of blueberries," is the farm's party line) cascading down rolling hills and melding into spectacular Rush River valley views. The abundance means that pickers don't have to go to too much effort to get their fill; with very little effort, three of us filled two boxes (one of them is pictured, top) in less than an hour, roughly seven pounds of summer treasure.
The Cuddys cultivate more than a dozen northern blueberry varieties, which translates into berries of varying sizes and flavors. They also have a small side business in currants (red, black and white) and gooseberries.
The farm is roughly 70 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, and is open Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Although the place is brimming over with berries, it's still best to call ahead and check on availability: 715-594-3648. Cost is $4.50 per pound (or $9 per pound for pre-picked berries), cash or check.
Pack a picnic lunch, or, if it's Friday, Saturday or Sunday, stop into Maiden Rock and enjoy inexpensive sandwiches or quiche on the front porch at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop (one note: cash only). Don't miss a slice of one of baker Sandra Thielman's extraordinary pies. We made quick work of a fantastic buttermilk-lemon pie topped with blackberries and some of the farm's blueberries (pictured, below); my only regret of an otherwise perfect day is that we didn't buy a second slice.
Once we got all those blueberries home (the gentle scent that filled the car was semi-intoxicating), I wondered if we'd gone a little overboard. But after handing out a few stashes to friends, I picked up a box of quart-sized freezer bags and jumped into the freezing process.
It's easy. The first step is filling a small baking tray with a single layer of berries -- and taking a few moments to weed out the duds -- and freezing them for at least an hour, enough time to transform them into cold marbles.
It's a time-consuming and slightly awkward process -- fortunately, I've got a jelly roll pan that just squeezes within the confines of our side-by-side freezer. But in the end, it's better to take the extra step than simply freezing fresh berries by the bag; the berries won't be stuck together. I choose quart bags vs. gallon bags for a reason; it's more convenient to thaw only what's needed, and who ever needs an entire gallon of blueberries?
The fruits of our labors yielded 14 quart-sized bags, minus all the snacking (and baking, see below) that we did prior to filling the freezer. Not bad for 45 minutes work.
I did manage to set aside a few fresh berries for some weekend baking. This coffee cake went fast.
Judging from its popularity, I'll be making this recipe for months. It's a good thing I've got all those berries in the freezer.
EASY BLUEBERRY-PECAN COFFEE CAKE
Serves 12 to 16.
3 c. flour, plus extra for pan
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
Freshly grated zest from 1 lemon
12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 c. chopped pecans
3 tbsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) melted butter
To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour bottom and sides of a 9- x 13-inch pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and lemon zest and reserve. In bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour in thirds, alternating with sour cream and mixing until just combined; do not overmix. Gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.
To prepare topping: Sprinkle pecans evenly over top of batter. In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle mixture over top of pecans. Evenly pour melted butter over top of cake, then run a knife through batter to allow butter to run down into cake. Bake until top is lightly browned and springs back from a light touch, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
By Lee Svitak Dean
If you've got a taste for Scandinavian food and beautiful photographs, "The Scandinavian Cookbook" is for you. The author is Trina Hahnemann (pictured below) of Denmark, where she is a well-known chef and author who appears on TV. See her talk about her book here. Trina sees no reason that "rodgrod med flode" should not be as popular a dessert as tiramisu all over the world. And that's true for many other of the Scandinavian specialties.
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Trina will be at Magers and Quinn Booksellers (3038 Hennepin Av. S., Minneapolis; 612-822-4611) at 7:30 p.m. to talk about her new book, which she has divided into recipes for each month. The photos are stunning and take the reader all over Scandinavia -- and into the kitchen with many of the recipes shown in full color. Some recipes are standards -- gravlax, for example -- but the range of recipes is broad and very do-able for home cooks.
Here are two recipes for September from her book.
CHANTERELLE, BACON AND
PLUM SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE
Note: Chanterelles are ruined if you wash them in water; brushing them clean is a lot of work, but worth the effort.
1/2 pound bacon, cubed
1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms
1 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
10 red or green plums, pitted and cut into wedges
6 cups mixed lettuce leaves
4 1/2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cook the bacon until golden in a skillet. Drain on a paper towel.
Use a dry brush to clean the chanterelles, then pan-fry them for 5 minutes in 1 tablespoon olive oil.
To make the dressing: Mix the balsamic vinegar and sugar together in a small bowl, then whisk in 2 tablespooons olive oil until the mixture has emulsified (this will take a while as there is more vinegar than oil).
Just before serving, combine the bacon, mushrooms, plums and lettuce in a serving bowl. Pour the dressing over and toss gently Add the blue cheese but do not toss the salad any more because it easily turns mushy.
WALNUTS IN WINE
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup dessert wine, port, sherry, or red or white wine
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts
Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue simmering for about 10 minutes, stirring occasinoally, until the mixture develops a syrupy consistency.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, boil the walnuts in a generous amount of water for 1 minute, then drain. Mix the syrup and walnuts together and store in a sterilized jar until serving. Kept in the refrigerator, they can last for up to a month.
Blueberry season means Blueberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake.
Blueberry-Lemon Sour Cream cake, cooling on the counter.
By Rick Nelson
True confessions: I would probably never bake this cake at a cabin (although never say "never," right?), because it requires a food processor and an electric mixer, and it leaves a clean-up in its wake that is best dispatched with a dishwasher.
I would, however, bake this cake at home the day before leaving for the cabin, as I did last weekend. Why? For starters, it travels well; just stick it on a plate, cover it with plastic wrap and carry it to the car. But the main reason is that it's one of those cakes that actually tastes better the day after it's baked. Who knows why? Maybe it's the moist factor; there's a heck of a lot of butter and sour cream in it, and the four eggs don't hurt. Looks-wise, it also makes a pretty impressive first impression. Oh, and it tastes even better than it looks.
This cake has been in my baking repertoire for about five or six years, and I almost always whip one up after I've been blueberry picking at the spectacular Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis. I haven't made it down to that part of Lake Pepin yet this summer, but when I spied the beautiful blueberries at the Country Lane Farm stand last week at the University of Minnesota Farmers Market, I knew that I'd be buying sour cream.
Straight out of the oven.
Don't let the fussy directions turn you off. It's Cook's Illustrated, so nothing is left to chance. Just read them through a few times before getting started. It's actually a very simple process. Believe me, when you show up at the cabin with this cake in your hands, you'll be popular.
BLUEBERRY-LEMON SOUR CREAM CAKE
Serves 12 to 16.
Note: A tube pan (also known as an angel food cake pan) works best. If using a tube pan with a removable bottom, set pan on a large sheet of foil, then fold foil up around sides of pan before filling it with batter. From "Here in America's Test Kitchen" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen, $29.95).
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar, divided
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter , cold, cut into 2 pieces
1 c. pecans , chopped
1 c. fresh blueberries
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons softened butter for greasing pan
1 1/2 c. sour cream, divided
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
To prepare streusel: You will be preparing two streusel toppings. In food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, sugar, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar and cinnamon and process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer 1 1/4 cups of flour/sugar mixture to small bowl and stir in remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, then set aside to use as one of the streusel fillings. Add butter and pecans to mixture remaining in food processor; pulse until nuts and butter resemble small pebbly pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Set aside to use as the second streusel (which will serve as a topping). In a small bowl, gently combine blueberries and lemon zest and reserve.
To prepare cake batter: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10-inch tube pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, 1 cup sour cream and vanilla extract until combined. In a medium bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add butter and remaining 1/2 cup sour cream; mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened and mixture resembles wet sand, with few large butter pieces remaining, about 1 1/2 minutes. Increase to medium speed and beat until batter comes together, about 10 seconds; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Lower speed to medium-low and gradually add egg mixture in 3 additions, beating for 20 seconds after each and scraping down sides of bowl. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
To prepare cake: Using rubber spatula, spread 2 cups batter in bottom of prepared pan, smoothing surface. Sprinkle evenly with 3/4 cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts) and sprinkle 1/2 cup blueberries over streusel. Repeat with another 2 cups batter and remaining 3/4 cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts) and remaining 1/2 cup blueberries. Spread remaining batter over, then sprinkle with streusel topping (with butter and nuts). Bake until cake feels firm to touch and long toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean (bits of sugar from streusel may cling to tester), 50 to 60 minutes. Remove cake from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet (cake will be streusel-side down); remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and reinvert cake streusel-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve. Cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.
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