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.
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.
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.
In this week's live chat, a participant who calls herself "popovergirl" (a woman after my own heart) chimed in during a thread on the late, great Ediner.
"I have a recipe for Ediner brownies somewhere...." she wrote. Later that day, she generously forwarded it in an email.
"I don't think I've ever made them, but my friend Beth has," she wrote. "[It's] from a weird charity cookbook she had called 'Food for Show, Food on the Go!'"
Then she added a link; she had discovered a copy of the book for sale on Amazon.
Anyway, I baked them this morning. They're pretty swell. Not that I'm surprised, because in its heyday, the Ediner really had it going on.
The restaurant -- a retro-bathed tribute to short-order cooking, done up to resemble a railroad dining car and originally located in the Galleria -- was founded in 1982 by Susan and Jack Seltz. The concept (a diner, in Edina; get it?) quickly blossomed into a mini-chain with six locations, with additional outlets in Roseville, Minnetonka, Uptown Minneapolis, Detroit and Toronto.
Unfortunately, the growth was short-lived (after the Seltzes sold the company, it went through three different ownerships), and when the Calhoun Square location sputtered to a close in 1992, only the original Ediner in the Galleria remained standing; it shut down in 1995. But it was fun while it lasted, right? (The Galleria location has been home to Big Bowl for nearly 15 years, and the Calhoun Square location is now the site of Republic).
As for the recipe, it's one of many bonuses found inside our live chats. We conduct them on Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m. (the next one is Feb. 21st). Find them at startribune.com/taste, and the transcripts are archived here.
EDINER SUPER BROWNIES
Adapted from "Food for Show Food on the Go" by the Mt. Sinai Hospital Auxillary (1983).
Makes 12 to 24 bars.
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. (10 2/3 tbsp., or 1 stick plus 2 2/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
2 c. granulated sugar
4 eggs slightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
1/3 c. (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. hot coffee
To prepare brownies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and reserve. In a double boiler over gently simmering water, melt butter and chocolate and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and cool about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, using a rubber spatula, stir together butter-chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until well-combined. Stir in flour and mix and until well-combined. Stir in nuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula.
Bake until center has just set, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to completely.
To prepare icing: In a double boiler over gently simmering water, melt butter and chocolate and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat, add powdered sugar and coffee and whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly before spreading evenly on cooled brownies. Allow icing to set before cutting brownies.
I can't be the only baker in the world -- or the Twin Cities, anyway -- who enjoys giving the gift of colorful tins filled with holiday cookies, particularly when we have so many terrific recipes in our 10th-annual Taste Holiday Cookie Contest.
But I was starting to feel that way when I went out in search of them and came up short. I ran through Target, Tuesday Morning, Crate & Barrel and Macy's -- heck, even the Container Store -- and walked out empty handed.
Then my editor gave me a tip: Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft. True confessions: I've never set foot inside a Jo-Ann store; up until a few days ago I was only vaguely aware of the company's existence. But the chain is now on my radar, thanks to its impressive cookie tin inventory (pictured, above). More than a dozen festive patterns are stocked in several sizes, with prices ranging from $5.99 to $7.99. When it comes to cookie tins, Jo-Ann is the mother lode.
Not being much of a scrapbooker, I'm not terribly familiar with Michaels, either. But the crafters' paradise is another reliable source for cookie tins. I counted nearly 10 different decorative options (pictured, above) in a range of shapes and sizes, sold at $1.99 to $6.49.
Cost Plus World Market has returned to the Twin Cities, and while the selection is slim -- I found just one rectangular container (pictured, above), which was priced at $4.99 -- the store also had a decent array of holiday-themed cardboard cookie boxes (6 or 10 for $4.99). To my eye, they're the cookie equivalent of using a gift bag rather than a gift-wrapped box, but that's just the traditionalist in me. Still, they're better than having to resort to a coffee can. Wait, is coffee still sold in cans?
Strangely, cooking stores, their shelves heaving with bakeware, come up short. Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table and Cooks of Crocus Hill don't keep them in stock, although I did encounter two at Kitchen Window (pictured, above): a small, candy-appropriate container for $3.99, and a cookie-scaled tin for $4.50. Better than nothing, right?
I would probably brave the big-box gauntlet that is IKEA for a few of the Swedish giant's stackable, white-and-gold "Tripp" containers (pictured, above, in a provided photo). The price is right, too: a set of three is $9.99.
Two other possibilities that I didn't check: I've heard that various dollars stores (Family Dollar, Dollar Tree) occasionally keep cookie tins on hand. For vintage versions, check out a thrift store near you, or click into eBay.
Oh, and because there seems to be a website for everything, there's always cookietins.com.
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