Spiced Pecan Rolls

I’m a bread amateur, and most of the bread I’ve baked has been of the sweet, filled-with-something variety. Poppy seed and nut rolls, babkas, cinnamon rolls…these are my breads of choice. Someday I plan to bake “normal” breads – you know, the kind that you can make a sandwich with – but for now, I’ll stick with the sweet variety.

My Better Homes & Gardens Baking book has a great recipe for “make it mine” cinnamon rolls, and I chose to go with apple pie spice, chopped pecans, and cinnamon chips for this recipe. The end result is an incredibly tasty creation that had an excellent texture when they first came out of the oven. Today, they were quite dry; I’m not sure if this means I over-baked them, but they still tasted pretty good. I also think the cinnamon chips got a bit lost in the filling, but hey – we bake, we learn. I look forward to making more versions of this in the future.

Ingredients

Dough

  • 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

Filling

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon apple pie spice
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon chips

Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 2 1/2 tablespoons milk

Preparation

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 and 1/2 cups flour and active dry yeast.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, masked potato flakes, butter, sugar, and salt; heat on medium in just warm, between 120 and 130 degrees. Pour into flour/yeast mixture, then add eggs, and beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down your bowl and beat for 3 minutes on medium.

Switch to your dough hook, and add another 2 1/2 cups flour. Mix on low speed until flour incorporates as much as possible, then turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Dough will be very sticky; I used a bench knife to scrape it from the countertop during kneading. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft though that is smooth and elastic; this can take between 3 and 5 minutes. Shape dough into a ball.

Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm place until about doubled in size, 45-60 minutes. I place my dough bowl on a heating pad set to low, as my house tends to be on the cooler side. Once dough has risen, punch it down gently and turn it onto a lightly floured surface to rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough rests, make the filling by combining brown sugar, apple pie spice, pecans, and cinnamon chips in a medium bowl. Set aside. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 baking tin.

Shape dough into an 18 x 12 rectangle and spread with softened butter; I just used my fingers for this. Sprinkle filling leaving 1 inch unfilled along the sides. Roll up the rectangle, starting from the long side, and pinch the dough to seal the seams. Slice into 12 equal portions and place cut-sides down in the baking tin. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Uncover rolls and bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

While rolls are cooling, make the icing by combining the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk in a small bowl. Stir in enough remaining milk to make a drizzly consistency. Remove rolls from the pan and drizzle with icing; allow icing to set before storing. Serve warm or at room temperature; keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days. Makes 12.

Black Forest Cake for Two

Dark chocolate cake, sweetened whipped cream, and cherries: that’s really all you need for a Black Forest cake. But if you’re like me, and you like cherry-flavored things but not actual cherries, what can you do? You can whip up your own version of this famous dessert, that’s what.

Cherries have wonderful flavor, but I don’t want to eat an actual cherry because of the skin. So instead of making this cake with cherries, I put a few tablespoons of cherry preserves into my food processor and spun it until it became smooth, then folded it into my Kirsch-flavored whipped cream. The end result is one of the best little cakes I’ve made in some time; it’s a small, two-layer 6-inch cake, perfect for just Mike and me. I chose to level my cakes, leaving me with a fair amount of leftover scraps; those will likely become cake pops later this week. You could absolutely make this without leveling your cakes, though the layers just won’t be quite as even; you could also bake this in a regular 8-inch cake pan and just split that one layer into two. 

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the whipped cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kirsch
  • 2 tablespoons cherry preserves, pureed if desired
  • Semisweet chocolate, for garnish

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 6-inch round cake tins and line each with a parchment circle.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together, then add water, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth; it will be thin.

Divide batter evenly between the two tins; bake for 22-25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tins for just a minute or two, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cakes are cool, level them if desired; reserve the scraps for a trifle, cake pops, or other treat. 

Place heavy cream and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on low at first to combine. Add Kirsch, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in cherry preserves.

Place bottom layer of cake on your cake plate and top with a thick layer of whipped cream. Carefully place the top layer, covering the top and outside of the cake. Using a fine grater, grate semisweet chocolate over the top of the cake for garnish. 

Store cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 2 days; the cake will dry out once it’s cut, but still taste delicious. Makes about 6 servings. 

Apricot Fruitcake

During my pre-Christmas baking extravaganza, I decided to make a second type of fruitcake using “lighter” ingredients. This meant using light brown sugar rather than dark, and including a hearty quantity of apricots (hence this recipe’s name), golden raisins, and currants, rather than candied cherries and dates.

Both Mike and my mom tried both types of fruitcake, and while they preferred the darker version, they also liked this one. I chose to bake this recipe in two smaller loaf tins, which I think helps with baking time, and also allows you to give one away as a gift – perfect for the holidays. My second loaf went to my friend Arvind and his family, and he let me know that it was gone in less than 48 hours.

Ingredients

  • Heaping 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) diced dried apricots
  • Heaping 3/4 cup (125 grams) golden raisins
  • Heaping 1/2 cup (75 grams) currants
  • 6 tablespoons dark rum
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • Heaping 2/3 cup (90 grams) chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/4 cup cranberry juice
  • A few more tablespoons rum, for brushing

Preparation

Combine dried fruits and 6 tablespoons dark rum in a glass or ceramic bowl; stir together and let rest overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8 x 4 loaf tins.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and baking powder and beat to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl and mixing well between each addition. Add flour and golden syrup and beat until just combined; add cranberry juice and beat, then fold in rum-soaked fruits and pecans, stirring to distribute evenly.

Spoon batter into loaf tins, dividing evenly and filling about 3/4 full. Bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then brush with remaining rum. Allow to cool completely; fruitcake can be stored in the loaf tin for several days. Makes two 8 x 4 loaves; servings vary based on how thick you slice it.

Nutty Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies are an excellent example of the classic chocolate and peanut butter flavor combination with a fun twist. Adapted from a recipe from my King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion (of course), this recipe blends a peanut butter cookie base, made with dark brown sugar for rich flavor, with chopped lightly salted peanuts and chocolate chips. The end result is, not surprisingly, delicious, and the dough is very easy to make.

The recipe below makes a pretty big batch at 46 cookies, but you could yield even more if you used a smaller cookie scoop. I went with a 2-inch scoop for slightly larger treats.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, very soft
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 cups lightly salted, dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars, peanut butter, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in flour, peanuts, and chocolate chips.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough into the baking sheets; the cookies don’t spread much during baking, but you want to leave a bit of room between them. Bake for 13-14 minutes, until edges are brown. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 46.

Blood Orange Tart

Last week I came home from the grocery store and announced to Mike, with great joy, that it is blood orange season. I even did a little “it’s blood orange season” dance in our kitchen. Few citrus fruits are as beautiful to me as the blood orange, and I absolutely love to bake with them. 

This year’s Christmas dessert was a blood orange tart, a wonderful concoction of shortbread crust and blood orange filling. I’m not sure why they have a sort of top crust on top of them, but I suspect it has something to do with the sugars in the filling mixture rising to the top during baking. Regardless, they are absolutely delicious. 

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1 3/4 cups flour

For the filling

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice (about 3 blood oranges)
  • Zest of 1 1/2 blood oranges
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preparation

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Add flour and mix to combine completely, then press crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Allow the crust to rise slightly above the edge of the pan because it will shrink slightly during baking. Chill for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the crust with foil or parchment and fill with dried beans or pie weights; bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is light golden brown at the edges. Remove the weights and allow to bake for another 2-3 minutes to slightly brown the inside crust. Remove from oven and trim the crust edges to neaten the tart’s appearance. 

While crust is baking, make filling; whisk sugar, blood orange juice, blood orange zest, eggs, flour, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Pour filling into a large glass measuring cup; keep cool while crust finishes baking.

Once you’ve trimmed your crust edges, place the tart pan on a baking sheet and place it back into the oven, then slowly pour the filling into the crust. Carefully place a crust guard around the edge to prevent over-browning. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until center is set; my center was set at about 25 minutes.

Remove tart from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack to room temperature; remove edge from tart pan and store tart, covered, in the refrigerator. Makes about 12 servings. 

Fruitcake

This year, to my great surprise, I learned that several people in my life like fruitcake. Mike requested one for his holiday treat, and soon thereafter my mom, cousin Barb, and friend and colleague Arvind all expressed their appreciation for this often-joked-about confection. I had never made one before yesterday, but I’m actually quite pleased with how it turned out. I mean, I didn’t taste it because I think dried fruits are kind of icky, but Mike told me it was delicious.

This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Everyone’s Favorite Fruitcake, and though it has a slight crack down the middle, Mike loved it. Apparently you can experiment with all types of different dried fruits in this type of cake, but for my first foray, I went for a pretty traditional mix of dried apricots, dates, candied pineapple, candied cherries (the red ones, not those electric green ones), and golden raisins. I also did this recipe entirely by weight, but I’m listing the ingredients by volume below since most people bake by volume.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup diced candied pineapple
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup diced dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped candied cherries
  • 6 tablespoons dark rum
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup or dark corn syrup
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/4 cup cranberry juice or water
  • A few more tablespoons rum, for brushing

Preparation

Combine dried fruits and 6 tablespoons dark rum in a glass or ceramic bowl; stir together and let rest overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf tin.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and dark brown sugar until fluffy. Add salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and baking powder and beat to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl and mixing well between each addition. Add flour and golden syrup and beat until just combined; add cranberry juice and beat, then fold in rum-soaked fruits and pecans, stirring to distribute evenly.

Spoon batter into loaf tin and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours, checking after about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until a  cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then brush with remaining rum. Allow to cool completely; fruitcake can be stored in the loaf tin for several days. Makes one 9 x 5 loaf; servings vary based on how thick you slice it.

Gingerbread Bars

gingerbread barsHappy winter solstice, friends! This is one of my favorite days of the year. And it’s just a few more days until Christmas, so seasonal flavors – like these gingerbread bars – are definitely in order.

Most bars I found online had a cream cheese frosting, but because Mike took them to work today I wanted to have a more stable, room-temperature-friendly frosting on them. Enter molasses buttercream, a tasty topping I’ve used on gingerbread cake before. You could also frost these with a tangy lemon buttercream, as gingerbread and lemon are good flavor friends. These bars taste absolutely amazing, but they’re just a bit more dry than I’d like. I suspect I baked them a few minutes too long, but I’m sure I’ll make them again, and can safely shorten my baking time to about 16-18 minutes, rather than 18-20. 

Ingredients

For the bars

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 9 baking tin with foil, extending the foil over the sides.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat to combine, then scrape down the sides of your bowl and add the flour mixture. Beat to combine completely.

Press mixture into the baking tin; you can use your palm to flatten it or the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter for about 1 minute, then add all the powdered sugar at once and beat on low, then medium speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add molasses and ginger and beat to fully combine, scraping the sides of the bowl at least a few times.

Remove bars from pan and discard the foil; frost with molasses buttercream. Cut into squares; I made small squares, so my batch yielded about 24 bars, but I think a more ideal quantity would be 16.

Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

The holidays are in full swing, and I’m baking like there’s no tomorrow. Or perhaps I’m baking like tomorrow is Christmas? In any case, I’m baking a lot.

Today’s chocolate peppermint cupcakes are inspired by the York Peppermint Pattie, one of the best treats around regardless of time of year, but a treat I always associate with winter. I’ve started eating chocolate again and have, thus far, remained stable in the migraine department. But darker chocolate – like the variety used on the famous pattie – will be a new frontier for me, so wish me luck. I found this recipe over at The Baker Chick and adapted it to include some peppermint extract in the cupcake batter, while omitting the peppermint pattie inside the cupcake itself. You could certainly do that, but I wanted to use the patties just as a garnish on top, like a delightfully delicious chocolate moon rising out of a peppermint cloud. Perhaps all the sugar has finally gone to my brain…

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract, to taste
  • 12 snack-size York Peppermint Patties

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together, then add water, oil, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth; it will be thin.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared cupcake tin, filling wells about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from cupcake tin and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on low speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of milk and 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract and beat for another 1-2 minutes. Add another 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus additional peppermint extract to taste; my frosting used 3 tablespoons of milk and 1/8 teaspoon plus a few additional drops of extract to reach my desired flavor and consistency.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip (like the Wilton M1) and pipe swirls onto cupcakes. Press a peppermint pattie into the frosting to garnish. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 12.

Old-Fashioned Peanut Cookies

Peanut butter cookies are a classic, especially when topped with a Hershey’s Kiss. But these old-fashioned peanut cookies from King Arthur Flour are quite different than that childhood staple. Featuring both peanut butter and ground peanuts, these cookies are almost cake-like, with a delightful crunch from the ground nuts.

I definitely plan to make these again, and next time I plan to under-bake them but just a few minutes. They were delicious the first day, but started to dry out quicker than I expected on the following days. I suspect a 10-minute bake would be sufficient, so we’ll see what happens next time. I also wonder about adding some peanut butter or chocolate frosting to these cookies, or even some miniature chocolate chips. Ideas for next time!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salted peanuts, ground*

*When grinding nuts, place them in a food processor and pulse them until they’re a fine consistency with some larger pieces. Don’t go too far, or you’ll make your own nut butter…which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, peanut butter, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Beat in eggs, then stir in the flour and ground peanuts.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are set and light golden brown at the edges. Remove from an oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes about 3 dozen.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

Mike’s coworkers have gone crazy for my pumpkin bars, especially this most recent iteration: the pumpkin chocolate chip bar. So far this fall I’ve made a few different varieties, and these seem to be the favorite. And strictly speaking, these bars are more cake-like than bar-like, with an excellent springy texture. 

Anyway…pumpkin and chocolate, you ask? I know, there was a time when I doubted it, too. But there’s something about the blend of pumpkin and chocolate, especially semisweet or dark chocolate, that just works. Who decided to put these flavors together, I don’t have any idea. But I’m incredibly glad that they did. Miniature chocolate chips work well in these bars, but you could use regular-sized ones if you prefer. 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cloves until completely combined.

Add eggs, pumpkin puree, and vegetable oil, stirring well to completely combine, with no dry streaks or lumps remaining. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 2 hours before cutting.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 32.