Tuesday, April 26, 2011

recipe for a great easter sunday

It starts the evening before. Make a yeast dough for hot cross buns and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The buns will have to be baked in the morning since you're out of cinnamon and raisins and there's no time to go to the store. There's music to see: Sleigh Bells is in town!

Wake up around 9:30 Sunday after a few snooze hits. The dough's already mixed, so there's plenty of time before the 1 p.m. lunch with family to add in the dried fruit, sugar and spice and let it rise for another hour before 20 minutes of baking time. Except the empty H-E-B parking lot tells you the grocery stores are closed. Oh yeah — it's Easter! Let's see, Farm to Market is way too local to be open. Would a gas station stock cinnamon and raisins? Nah. A warning: this will prompt frustration that results in a harried sweeping of the entire house — because at least dingy floors are a frustration with an obvious solution.

Miguel's dad is visiting, so breakfast is barbacoa tacos. As if barbacoa itself wasn't miracle enough, how about a boyfriend who has the bright idea of driving to Wal-Mart for cinnamon and raisins while he's out picking up breakfast? Yes! The only thing is, after showering and eating and sweeping like mad, there's no time left to bake buns before lunch.

As it turns out, the 16 family members likely to show up on Easter are with the other sides of their families. A giant holiday feast turns into a super casual lunch for three — just you and the parents. You have time to really catch up, talk about Easter and work and the idiosyncrasies of grandmas. And they wouldn't be happy if you'd brought several dozen sticky buns to leave at their house, so it's best that the dough's still at home.

Next, drink a cappuccino and loiter for a few hours with a buddy who works at your favorite coffee shop. (Open on Easter!) Discuss the new indie movie theater opening this week and the recurrent topics of barbecue and The Wire. Decide you've been on hold in the middle of Season 3 for too long, pick up a pizza for dinner and go watch what Omar is up to. Watch one episode while you eat, another while your dough balls rise and a third one while they bake.

Decide not to worry that the eggs in the fridge are, let's say, passé. Make a glaze of powdered sugar and milk that will taste good even if it doesn't hold a cross shape. Finally, buns!

Hey, I tried.

Hot cross buns
Makes 18 buns or many more smaller ones if you've forgotten, like I did, how big a ping pong ball is

Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but I have tested and verified the theory that they taste good any day of the week, even post-holiday for breakfast. And even if they're not quite round.

2 cups whole milk
½ cup canola oil
½ cup, plus ¼ cup sugar, divided
1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
4 cups, plus ½ cup all-purpose flour, divided
½ tsp. (heaping) baking powder
½ tsp. (scant) baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (plus a few extra shakes because you can't overdo it with cinnamon)
Cardamom, nutmeg and allspice (optional)
½ cup raisins
2 whole egg whites
Splashes of milk
Powdered sugar

For the buns
Combine 2 cups milk, canola oil and sugar in a saucepan. Stir and heat until very warm but not boiling. Turn off the heat and allow to cool until mixture is still warm, but not hot — about 30 minutes.
Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Add 4 cups of flour and stir to combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover with a towel and set aside for one hour.
Add half cup flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir until combined. At this point, you can let it sit for a while covered with a tea towel, cover it and put it in the refrigerator overnight or just move on to the next step.
Combine 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon and whatever other spices you want to use.
Lightly flour surface. Press to slightly flatten dough. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Sprinkle on about a third of the raisins. Then fold the dough over on itself and flatten again so the dough is “plain” again. Repeat the sugar/raisin process, then fold the dough again. Repeat a third time until all the raisins are used. (You won’t use all the sugar/cinnamon mixture.)
Pinch off ping pong or golf ball-size bunches of dough. With floured hands, quickly roll it into a ball, then turn the edges under themselves slightly. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes. An hour-plus is better.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Mix one egg white with a splash of milk. Brush onto each roll.
Bake for 20 minutes, give or take, or until tops of buns have turned nice and golden brown.
Remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

For the icing
Mix one egg white with enough powdered sugar for icing to be very thick. Splash in milk as needed for consistency.
Add icing to a small plastic bag and snip the corner. Making sure the rolls are completely cooled first, make icing crosses on each roll.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

baked goods galore

Bake Sale for Japan on South Congress Avenue

Holy moly. The Bake Sale for Japan was a terrific way to spend a Friday night of baking and a Saturday morning of fundraising, visiting with Austin bakers and bloggers and buying up homemade treats that look good enough to be in a bakery case. I wish I'd reported back on it here sooner, but this time my slovenly ways aren't to blame for putting blogging on the back burner. It's just been a heck of a busy two weeks!

But don't feel too bad for me — sometimes busy means hiking, ice cream with a new buddy (met at the bake sale!) and late nights with these fine folks. Full days are good days.

So back to the update: the Austin bake sale raised more than $11,500! Donations were given to Americares to support medical and humanitarian aid efforts for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. One man walking by with his son bought a bag of cookies and said he'd tell his family members in Japan what people in Austin were doing to help. And really, the bounty these bakers provided was amazing. Three long tables were piled high with cookies, breads, cupcakes, tarts, muffins, cake pops, truffles and on and on. There were vegan cupcakes and gluten-free brownies. Potato chip cookies and Star Wars cookies. Homemade pop tarts, plum jam financiers and huckleberry cakelets (these three were my favorites). There was no shortage of generosity.

And because blogs are about sharing, if not always timeliness, I'll post the recipes for the cookies I brought, the ones in that box above. The ginger molasses chocolate chip ones I'd made several times before, but this time they unexpectedly spread out pretty flat in the oven — the same way the batch of cookies I made for my birthday party did. I started to think I'd lost my cookie-baking mojo. Especially when I also had to abandon my super cute plans for the linzer cookies. Picture two rectangular cookies sandwiching red berry jam that's visible through a round hole in the top cookie — the Japanese flag in linzer cookie form! But with a sticky dough that refused to be cut, I once again had to face my inability to cute-ify and just hoped they tasted good. With a recipe that called for three sticks of butter, not tasting good wasn't even an option.

My attempt to get sunlight in this picture means you can see
a bit of the first plant I've ever sustained, a pot of paperwhites!

Mini Linzer Cookies

From The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook via Food Network

Yields 36 cookies

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup raspberry preserves (I used the brightest red strawberry jam I could find but something not so sweet would have tasted better)

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter and sugar. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/4-inch thick and cut 2 3/4-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter. With half of the rounds, cut a hole from the middle of each round with a small heart-shaped cutter. [Alternatively, to make small discs without the hole, roll out 1-inch balls and flatten them slightly with your palm on the cookie sheet.] Place all the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and chill for 15 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature. Spread raspberry preserves on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the top of the cut-out cookies with confectioners' sugar and press the flat sides together, with the raspberry preserves in the middle and the confectioners' sugar on the top.

Cookie dough casting dramatic shadows.

Chocolate Chip Ginger-Molasses Cookies

From Molly Wizenberg of Orangette

Yields about 40 cookies

The original version of this recipe from Orangette calls for a half cup of butter and a quarter cup of vegetable shortening, but I went all-butter. And dark molasses and not blackstrap molasses is best here. Also, I've now learned for good how to spell molasses after writing it repeatedly on those labels!

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 ½ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground allspice

2 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. salt

1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

1½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg

¼ cup unsulphured molasses

½ cup demerara sugar, for rolling (I had turbinado)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda, and salt. Whisk well. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk to blend. Set aside.

In a large bowl – preferably, a stand mixer – beat the butter and shortening briefly to soften them. Add the sugars, and beat until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and the molasses and beat to blend well, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the flour mixture in two doses, beating briefly after each until the flour is just absorbed. Do not overmix. Use a rubber spatula to give the dough a final stir if necessary; it will be quite firm and stiff. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate for one to two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Pour the demerara sugar into a small bowl.

Using damp hands, pinch off blobs of dough and roll them into 1¼- to 1½-inch balls. Roll each ball in sugar to coat. Place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Roll only about eight balls per sheet at a time and cover and refrigerate the remaining dough.

Bake the cookies until they are cracked on top but still soft to the touch, about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Cool on the sheets for one minute, then carefully transfer the cookies – still on the parchment or silicone liner – to wire racks to cool completely. When they are cool, remove them from the parchment or silicone liner.

When the baking sheets have cooled, repeat with more dough.