Autumn Spice Bread

Sometimes people tell me that they don’t bake because baking isn’t as creative as cooking. This bread is a perfect example of how baking can be much more creative than people realize.

This recipe began as a basic quick bread and used cinnamon and walnuts in the filling and topping, but when I thought about it, that flavor combination didn’t seem to pack enough of a punch for me. I added both cinnamon and allspice to the batter and swapped pecans for the walnuts, creating a richer, autumn-themed treat. Next time, I’ll put about half of the batter into the pan and sprinkle it with the nut mixture instead of two-thirds; my nut layer rose to the top a bit more than I expected, and although that’s definitely not a bad thing, I’d like more bread between it and the crunchy streusel topping.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 2/3 finely chopped pecans
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 1/4 cups flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and pecans. Stir together well.

In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine egg, milk, and vegetable oil. Add all at once to flour mixture and stir just until no dry streaks remain; batter should be lumpy, so be careful not to over-mix.

Spoon half the batter into the loaf pan and top with half the nut mixture, then spoon in remaining batter. Add flour to remaining nut mixture, then stir in melted butter to make a crumb topping. Sprinkle topping over batter.

Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. You may need to cover the loaf during the last 20 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning.

Cool loaf in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Chocolate Babka

Bread adventures continue with this amazing chocolate babka, a sweet yeast dough swirled with chocolate. According to The Nosher, a food blog from My Jewish Learning, babka means “little grandmother” in Ukranian, Russian, and Eastern European Yiddish. It’s exactly the kind of thing I imagine grandmothers throughout Eastern Europe making.

Although it looks incredibly complicated, babka is actually easy to make, at least in terms of the mixing and assembling. It does require a good deal of rising time, but it’s worth it. Mike and his coworkers proclaimed it delicious, and now I have plans to make a cinnamon version. I’d also like to make a poppy seed version in honor of my own little Eastern European grandmother Zella, who passed away five years ago this month.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture along with egg and mix until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl to combine. Add remaining 1 cup flour and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, until dough becomes smooth – it will gather itself around the dough hook.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air; turn onto a very lightly floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine sugar and cocoa powder; set aside.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12 rectangle and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar/cocoa mixture and miniature chocolate chips. From the long side, roll dough into a log and cut in half to make two shorter logs.

Place one log on top of the other to form an X, then twist ends together. Place in the loaf pan, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly beat egg and combine with heavy cream; brush over top of loaf.

Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped or the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees. Loosen loaf from pan; allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Cinnamon Bars

In addition to my bread baking endeavors, I’m working my way through the Better Homes & Gardens Fall Baking magazine. These delicious cinnamon bars are one of many creative treats therein, offering an interesting and spicy alternative to the blondie.

These bars are supposed to bake in a 9-inch square pan; I used an 8-inch square, and I think the additional inch would make a difference in the end result (and next time, I’ll bake them another 5 minutes or so). Although these are delicious – and kind of fudgy, if something cinnamon-based can be fudgy – they fell a bit while cooling and the tops broke apart somewhat when I cut them. Mike loves them, though, so I must have done something right. I can see these served slightly warm with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel, but they’re perfectly delicious as-is.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with foil and spray with baking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and cool for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring to combine. Pour into flour mixture, stirring until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Brush top of bars with melted butter, then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon mixture over the top. Cool completely; using the foil, lift the bars out and place them on a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 16.

Cinnamon Rolls

I’ve decided to become a bread baker. Make no mistake: I’m not abandoning the cookies, bars, cakes, and pies that have made this blog what it is today. But earlier this year I took a bread class at Enrico Biscotti, and it changed my life. For months I’ve wanted to work on bread, and so, with fall upon us, it is Bread Season in my kitchen.

I’ve not worked with yeast very much, so I wanted to start with something basic: a classic cinnamon roll. This recipe comes from my trusty Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, and although it was a bit time-consuming, it was absolutely worth it. For this first try, I worked with active dry yeast, but I also bought instant yeast and hope to someday work with fresh yeast. Baby steps, you know.

Note: I used bread flour in this recipe, but you could easily use regular, all-purpose flour. I also used the dough hook of my mixer to knead the dough, but you could knead by hand if you prefer.

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 4 to 4 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

For the filling

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

For the icing

  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • About 4 teaspoons water

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture and beat for 30 seconds, scraping the bowl, then beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl again, then beat in 2 remaining cups of flour.

Beat on low speed for 3-5 minutes, until dough becomes smooth and elastic – it will gather itself all around the dough hook, and that’s fine. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand for the same amount of time.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air (I’ve recently learned that punching it down will disturb the yeast too much, so gently pressing it is better); turn onto a very lightly floured surface and divide in half, then allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar; set aside.

Roll dough into a 12 x 8 rectangle; brush with melted butter, leaving about 1 inch at the far side of your dough for a seam. Spread half the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the dough, then roll up like a jelly roll. Repeat with second portion.

Slice logs of dough into equal slices; mine yielded 10 slices per log. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans and place rolls into the pans; cover and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Cool in pans for about 5 minutes.

While rolls are cooling, make icing; combine powdered sugar and vanilla in a small bowl, then add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, stirring between each addition to reach a thick drizzling consistency (like thick honey). Remove rolls from pans and place on a wire rack with waxed paper beneath; drizzle with icing.

Serve warm, or store in an airtight container once rolls are completely cool.

Makes 20.

*I used the “make-ahead” method instead, allowing my rolls to chill in the fridge overnight until I was ready to bake them. Rolls can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours before baking; to bake them, remove them from the fridge and let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then bake as directed. 

Peanut Butter & Jam Bars

My new Better Homes & Gardens Fall Baking magazine has a chapter on peanut butter treats, including these peanut butter and jam bars. While the original recipe called for tossing some chocolate-covered peanuts into the top crumb mixture, I omitted them because a) I can’t eat chocolate and b) that just seemed like an odd addition to me. You could certainly leave them in if you like, but I think my plain bars are absolutely delicious.

I chose strawberry jam, but you could use raspberry or blackberry with equal success. The sweetness of the strawberry jam pairs very well with the sweet/salty combination in the peanut butter, without yielding a treat that’s too sweet. They remind me of something you’d find at an old-fashioned bakery or on the menu at a school bake sale, the type of treat that sells out quickly because once you have one, you really want another.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour
  • 12-ounce jar strawberry jam

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil; lightly grease the foil or spray it with baking spray.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and peanut butter on medium speed until smooth. Add brown sugar, vanilla, baking soda, and salt, beating until well combined, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Add oats and beat to combine, then add flour in two batches and beat to combine. The mixture will be crumbly.

Reserve 2 cups of the oat mixture; press the remainder into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Stir jam until smooth, then spread over crust within about 1 inch of the edges. Top with remaining oat mixture, covering jam completely.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack; when completely cool, use edges of foil to lift bars out and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 32.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Last weekend at the grocery store, as I waited at the self-checkout, I spotted a Better Homes & Gardens fall baking magazine. Flipping through, I saw chapters on maple, cobblers, whole grain treats, apples, cinnamon, and peanut butter…and I simply had to get it.

The next time I make this recipe, I’ll remember to leave about 1/4 inch of dough uncovered to make a seal; I had a hard time getting my dough to stick together because I spread my cinnamon-sugar mixture all the way to each edge, which I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to do. Oh well. The cookies were delicious anyway! I added a bit of vanilla extract to the icing for a richer flavor, but you could certainly leave it plain. These cookies are also delicious without the icing, so you could skip that step if you prefer (see the photo below).

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the icing

  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • About 2 teaspoons milk

Preparation

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add sugar and salt and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl a few times.

Beat in 1 egg and vanilla, then beat in flour.

Wrap dough in plastic and chill until easy to handle, about 30-60 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar and cinnamon until well-blended.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 15 x 10 rectangle. Brush with lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, leaving about 1/4 inch edge of the far end to make a seam. Roll up from the long end closest to you to make a log; cover with plastic wrap and freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm enough to slice.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three cookie sheets with parchment.

Remove cookie log from freezer and slice into 1/4 inch slices; place about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8-11 minutes, until edges are very light brown. Remove from oven and cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat cream cheese and butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat well; add vanilla extract, then add milk about 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you have an easily spreadable consistency.

Frost cookies and place in the refrigerator to set the icing; store iced cookies between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Makes about 40 cookies.

The un-iced cookies are delicious, too!

Vanilla Bean Cake

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the kind of gal who bakes her own birthday cake. This year I went back and forth between several ideas, and finally settled on a two-layer, 6-inch cake decorated with a buttercream hydrangea. Happy birthday to me, eh?

A while back I’d bought this color swirl piping set, and it was a total disaster. This time, I tinted my buttercream three different shades of purple and blue, then put them in three separate 12-inch piping bags, all of which went into an enormous, 18-inch piping bag. It worked incredibly well; see more photos of the cake below. A word of caution, though: I actually think this cake would be even more delicious without buttercream frosting. The next time I make it, I think I’ll bake it in a regular 8-inch round pan and either drizzle it with a powdered sugar icing or just serve it with fruit and whipped cream.

Vanilla Bean Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped*
  • 6 tablespoons milk

*Save the pod and make vanilla sugar – just add the pod to a jar of white sugar and let it infuse the sugar with vanilla-ness!

Preparation

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

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs and vanilla seeds and beat well to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Almond Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • Purple, sky blue, and leaf green gel food coloring

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes.

Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat on medium, then medium high speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape down your bowl, then add the heavy cream and beat for another 2-3 minutes.

To frost and decorate your cake, place one cake on your cake stand and top with buttercream, spreading almost to the edge. Top with the second cake and frost the top and sides, smoothing the buttercream as much as you can.

Divide your remaining frosting into one small portion (about 1/4 cup) and tint leaf green; set aside. Divide the rest into three equal portions and tint one dark purple, another light purple, and the other sky blue.

Place dark purple, light purple, and sky blue frosting into separate 12-inch piping bags. Fit an 18-inch piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and place the 12-inch bags inside. Pipe petals in a few layers (I did three, and it was a ton of frosting) to make your hydrangea flower, then pipe petals around the bottom edge of the cake.

Fit a small piping bag with a leaf tip and fill with leaf green frosting; pipe leaves on each side of your hydrangea flower, then pipe a few leaves around the bottom of the cake.

Store in a domed cake stand at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes about 6 slices.

Here’s a detail of the flower.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look closely you can see the tiny vanilla seeds in the cake.