Monday, August 29, 2011

Babka....Ever heard of it???



For the longest time, I was always nervous about creating yeast bread from scratch. The thought of killing the yeast with hot temperature and having to start over was always in the front of my mind...(and usually when the recipe used pounds of butter...lol). But over the years, I have learned with yeast it is simple...have faith in your instincts, don't rush the process and enjoy the results. 

Amazing how much that last sentence reflects how we should enjoy life as a whole (not just baked goods).....

In today's society, I, for one, am willing to admit I fail at this goal on a regular basis. There is so much contact aimed at us constantly from the outside world - tvs, computers, cell phones, and wifi are just examples of our constant interaction. We are inundated with information and I, at times, wonder if I get addicted to this need for immediate answers or just stimuli (in addition, the life memories I miss out on with those closest to me).....

When I was a child, I remember a study coming out about how children who watched a specific show had attention span issues it was believed because the images constantly were changing. So if that tv show (back in the late 70s) was labeled as overwhelming.....what would the study say with today's technology and how we access news, internet or other media outlets. 


For myself, I realize there are times technology gets in the way (yes, I know it is ironic I write this on a blog........but it is reality!). Have you ever missed a conversation, a caring look from a loved one, or even the simple enjoyment of that moment with your child??? Unfortunately, I seem to realize it after the moment has passed. 


So when you find yourself at that crossroad, be sure to step away from technology and enjoy your life. Whether it is playing with your children, a game of chess, a great conversation or even a sunset.  Be sure to take that detour on your way home.....or take those extra few seconds to let someone know your listening and care.... 

Hopefully this recipe can help you with that moment.....Just remember.......have faith in your instincts, dont rush the moment, and savor life for all it is worth......

Chocolate Babka
(adapted from MarthaStewart.com)

1 1/2 C Milk, warm (about 110 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast (1/4 oz each)
1 2/3 C plus a pinch of Sugar
3  Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
6 C Unbleached Flour, plus more for dusting
1 Tsp Salt
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
24 oz Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped finely
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Heavy Cream

Combine warm milk, yeast and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl. Let sit for about 4 minutes until foamy.

In a bowl, mix 2/3 C sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add yeast mixture to bowl with egg mixture until combined.

In the bowl with an electric mixer, combine flour and salt. Next add in egg mixture, and beat on low speed until just combined. Add dough hook to mixer, add in 2 sticks butter in pieces until incorporated about 8 minutes. 

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Place dough in greased bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.

Butter three loaf pans, then line with parchment paper and grease paper. Combine remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream, set aside. 

Punch down dough and place on a floured surface. Rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch rectangle on long side.

Brush about 1/2 in edges on dough with egg wash. Place 1 C chocolate filling on dough, leaving a border.  Roll dough up from long side sealing ends.  Twist dough 4 times. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with additional chocolate filling (about 1 1/2 Tbsp). Twist end over each other to form a "braid" and place in prepared pan. Repeat.
Streusel Topping
1/2 C Powdered Sugar 
3/4 C Unbleached Flour
1 stick Unsalted Butter, room temperature

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter until well combined. 

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot for  40 minutes.

Bake loaves about 50 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325 degrees. Continue baking until golden (about additional 20 minutes). Transfer to wire racks to cool in pans. 

Note: this recipe makes 3 loaves. You can freeze and thaw when ready to cook.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Garden Harvest........


It is once again Harvest Time in the Midwest!!!! Gardens are plentiful and blessing us with everything you can imagine and enjoy from melon to fresh Peaches-n-Cream Sweet Corn. Weekly trips to the Farmer's Market remind me of how great it is to live in the Midwest where local vegetables are easy to come by. The ability to enjoy what is the best part of summer is always an exciting time and one I take full advantage of.  

One of these time occurred last week when I was having dinner with a friend. They happily graced me with a wonderful gift of zucchini from a family garden.  Being a veggie lover, I am not one to pass up any gift of vegetables. While there are so many choices when cooking zucchini, I of course had to find a way to make it into something sweet. So...I thought it was time for a visit to a classic.

While the work week started out busy with no time to bake, I was left to daydream of what to do with this gift sitting on my counter. Chocolate Zucchini??? Zucchini with Raisins and Nuts??? Muffins?? Pancakes??? It kept taunting me every night when I came home to do something with it (if vegetables can taunt..lol).

So here it is......Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Zucchini Bread. I chose to make several small loaves allowing me to freeze them individually and pull them out for occasions down the road. I hope you enjoy this recipe now or from your freezer in the future.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Zucchini Bread

3 C Zucchini, grated
3/4 C Brown Sugar, packed
3/4 C White Sugar
2/3 C Vegetable Oil
2 Tsp Vanilla
4 Eggs
3 C Unbleached Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/2 Tsp Ground Cloves
1 C Cinnamon Chips
1 C Oatmeal

Turn on oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of loaf pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, grate zucchini.  Mix in brown sugar, white sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs. Add in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ground cloves until combined. By hand, mix in oatmeal and cinnamon chips.

Pour into pans. Bake 8 inch loaf pans about 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean in center. (I used a pan with space for 8 small loaves and baked for 22 minutes.) Cool on wire rack and store wrapped at room temperature or freeze.

This photo shows the left half with the oatmeal and cinnamon chips and the right side without. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Unexpected" Surprises....the lesson!!!



For those who know me, I am a huge fan of planning. I love being able to look forward to what is coming in the future and enjoy it. However, there are times when life chooses differently for you. While at first these interruptions are annoying and a little frustrating,  I realized once I am present in these events everything worked out the way they needed to. 

This week was a perfect example of "unexpected" surprises. Some positive and some negative. Now that it is over, I realize everything ended up being perfect.  The week started with a fiasco in the car department, an amazing lunch, live music, a new recipe and ended at a pool with a friend and her child. While some events were a challenge I would rather not have occur again,  others turned out to be a true surprise and made for some great times. 

The biggest lesson this week taught me is that all of these events made me realize nothing is under our control (while we wish they were).  Life can end up being so much more fulfilling if you just step back, let go and just enjoy the ride.  If you let it, this ride can show you what is possible, who is important and how a surprise can make life just that much more enjoyable. 

Out of this week, came these amazing Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bites..which were truly needed. So I hope you remember when these "surprises" occur.........just say thanks (or bite your tongue), find time to enjoy the experience ... or just be sure to learn the lesson (whatever it may be)!!!

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bites

Chocolate Crust
2 C Unbleached Flour
1 C Sugar
6 Tbsp Baking Cocoa
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 C Unsalted Butter, cubed
2 Egg Yolk
2 Tsp Vanilla 

Line a 9- by -13-in.  pan with foil lined across the long edge. Grease foil (I use Pam) and set aside. In a food processor, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla. Press into the bottom of prepared pan. Bake at 325° for 20 minutes.

Cheesecake Filling
2 pkg (16 ounces) Cream Cheese, softened
2/3 C Sugar
1 C Sour Cream
2 Tbsp Unbleached Flour
1/2 Tsp Salt
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
2 Egg Whites, lightly beaten
1 Tsp Vanilla
1/2 C Mini Chocolate Chips 
In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the sour cream, flour and salt. Beat in the eggs, egg whites and vanilla on low speed just until combined. For a smooth filling, pour filling though a sieve to remove any lumps. Pour filling over warm crust.  Tap pan on counter lightly to remove any bubble in filling until they come to the top. Sprinkle Chocolate Chips over filling.  
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until center is almost set (if center of filling is loose in pan, return to oven and continue checking every 5 minutes).  Cool on a wire rack and then refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, lift out of pan using foil. Discard foil, trim edges  and then cut into 1-in squares. Serve cold. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dutch Wooden Windmill.....an American Experience!!!


Have you ever seen a Windmill up close?? Yes, I understand someone asking about a windmill is not so "run of the mill".....Sorry I had to go there!!!

But back to the windmill....I am not just talking about  the standard windmills you see driving through the Midwest. I am talking about a true Dutch wooden windmill. If you have ever wandered up Route 84 in Western Illinois, you might have just passed it without realizing it since the windmill is exactly where you would not expect to see one  - along the Mississippi River.

This small Midwest community had the windmill manufactured and preassembled in the Netherlands and then brought to the United States and installed. When visiting, you might be lucky enough to see this mill in action. Not only do you get to see the mill and it's size, this mill is a full-size "working grain" windmill so if you stop by on the right day they may be milling flour.
And for individuals like myself, any excuse to purchase more flour is worth the trip...ha ha! (Plus, it is nice to support a local business) To be honest, it is actually one of my favorite places to take a day trip to as well as the ability to introduce those who have never visited.  I enjoy this roadside attraction because it is a great experience if you have never seen a windmill but also love the fact that it is a working mill.

On a day like today, I am always amazed at how August seems to just arrive. It seems so far away at the beginning of summer but then one day it just appears. While this is less of an issue for adults, we can all remember being children and the reality of August always caused disappointment since that meant school was right around the corner.

So to celebrate Back-to-School, I thought it was fun to do a twist on a childhood favorite -  Mini Mocha Hi-Hats. What is better than a chocolate cupcake, marshmallow filling and more chocolate?!!

Mini Mocha Hi-Hats
Turn on oven to 350 Degrees. Coat 24 mini muffin cups with non-stick spray (or softened butter). Set pan aside.

Mocha Sour Cream Batter
3 oz. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
1 C Unbleached Flour
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Tsp Salt
1/2 C Unsalted Butter, softened
3/4 C White Sugar
3/4 C Brown Sugar, packed
2 Eggs
1/3 C Espresso Coffee, cooled
2 Tsp Vanilla
1/2 C Sour Cream

Melt chocolate in a small bowl in microwave, stir every thirty seconds until melted. Cool.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, set aside.  In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended, about 2 minutes.  On low speed, mix in chocolate. Add coffee and stir until combined. On medium speed, add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla, beat until smooth. Add sour cream until fully combined. Beat in flour and mix until smooth.  Fill muffin cup 2/3 full and bake for 12 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and place on wire rack until completely cool.  Repeat until all batter is used.
Vanilla Marshmallow Filling
1 1/4 C White Sugar
1/2 C Vanilla Sugar
1/4 C Water
3 Egg Whites
1/4 Tsp Cream of Tarter
1 Tsp Vanilla

Fill bottom of double boiler with water and heat to a simmer on stove. (Do not place double boiler top on stove) In double boiler top, place sugars, 1/4 C water, egg whites and cream of tarter (not over hot water). Beat with handheld mixer for about one minute, or until white and foamy.  Place over simmering water, beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 10 minutes. Remove from water, add vanilla and continue beating until mixture thickens further, about 2 minutes. (Filling will firm as it cools on cupcakes)

Spoon into pastry bag (or ziplock bag cut off 1/2 inch of one corner with a piping tip). Pipe onto cupcake in a spiral into a 1 inch cone-shape mound, leaving 1/8 inch border. Place in freezer for 15-20 minutes on a foil-lined baking sheet until firm. (This will keep filling from melting while being coated)
Chocolate Coating
2 C Bittersweet Chocolate
3 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

Microwave chocolate and oil in a small bowl stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth. Cool about 12 minutes. Dip top of each cupcake in coating, letting excess drip off. Refrigerate about 30 minutes to set coating. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or until ready. Serve cold.

It's always nice to take a moment and remember the simple things in life that remind us of a favorite time from childhood.  What is your favorite memory???