Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stollen~A Christmas Tradition

Stollen is a German bread filled with fruit, usually candied and/or dried and is covered with icing sugar or confectioners' sugar.  For as far back as I can remember, my mother made Stollen every year on Christmas Eve--eight loaves.  Two for our family, two for dear friends of theirs, one for our family doctor and one for the family dentist...always.  My dad had the chore of being the delivery service! I loved helping my mother in the kitchen,  even as small as it was. She was so productive in their tiny kitchen during the holidays and we made so many special memories together that I hold dear.

My mother's Stollen was filled with candied fruit and almonds, then decorated with a glaze.  Then, I would create candied cherry flowers on the top with an almond in the middle.  After I was married, my family didn't necessary like the candied fruit, so a few years ago I made a big change and went with dried fruit.  However, so it doesn't dry out, the dried fruit is soaked in brandy for 7-12 hours!  Also, instead of a glaze, I use an ingredient called "glazing sugar" which is what is used on powdered sugar donuts; it doesn't soak into the dough and keeps that while snowy look.  One more addition came from my research on Stollen and that was the addition of almond paste in the center.  Today, I even made homemade almond paste; this is a very special tradition that I will continue to do with my Stollen each year.

Christmas Stollen

3 cups dried fruit (cranberries, apricots, raisins, currants)
1/3 cup brandy (or you can used orange juice)
Cover the bowl and allow the fruit to set for 7-12 hours)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110F-degrees)
1 T instant dry yeast
1/4 tsp. granulated sugar
In a 1 cup glass measure, whisk the yeast into the water and allow to set until foamy--about 5 to 7 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the dough attachment, measure:
3 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dry milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon
1 T grated lemon or orange zest

Add the proofed yeast and an additional 1/4-1/2 cup of water and mix until dough comes together.  Turn out onto a bread board and knead until smooth.  Place dough right-side-down in a buttered large bowl, then turn over.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap.
Allow to rise in a warm place, 60 to 90 minutes.  You need to lightly toast about 1/2 cup of almonds.  Chop the almonds and set aside.

In the meantime, if you want to add almond paste to the center of the bread as I did you can buy a 7 oz. tube or make your own.

1 1/2 cups almond flour (you can grind your own, using blanched almonds, but I brought the flour)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 large egg white (don't worry, eggs are pasteurized)

In a food processor blend all the ingredients together, pulsing.  Turn the paste out on a board and knead slightly to form a smooth ball.  You will need 3/4 cup for the bread, but any remaining will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

To assemble the Stollen:

Remove the dough from the bowl and roll out.  Sprinkle the drained fruit and almonds over the surface and roll up.  Knead the fruit and nuts into the dough.  Divide into three pieces and shape each piece into an oval, about 8" x 6".

Divide the almond paste into three pieces and roll each piece into a 7-inch rope.

Place one piece of almond paste down the center of each oval, and fold dough over it lengthwise, leaving the top each of the dough just shy of the bottom edge.  Press the top edge firmly and seal in the almond paste into the dough.

Repeat with the remaining two pieces.  Place the loaves on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Cover them lightly and let them rise an additional 45 to 60 minutes, until puffy.
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees with a rack in the upper third of the oven.  Bake the stollen for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown and its internal temperature reads 190F-degrees on a digital thermometer.
Remove the stollen from the oven and brush the loaves with melted butter.  After 5 minutes, dust with  glazing sugar or confectioners' sugar.  You can also prepare a glaze of 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 T light Karo syrup, and 1-2 T hot water.

Transfer to a rack and cool completely.  Wrap airtight and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.  Freeze for longer storage.
Wishing all my friends and followers a very merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Butter Pecan Kringle

Next to chocolate, butter pecan was my mother's favorite flavor so when I saw this challenge on King Arthur Flour's "bakealong" for December, I couldn't resist making it in her memory.  December was a big baking month for us; getting ready for the holidays and sharing those goodies with friends and family.

The second reason to bake this dessert is because I love using ingredients that are grown locally in our state.  Pecans are a big crop in both North Carolina and South Carolina where they are grown for both income and food for many farmers in the southeastern part of our state.  The trees take long term commitment and care, but they can produce nuts for decades.  There are actually trees over 75 years old still producing nuts!
Butter Pecan Kringle
1/2 cup (1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into pats)
1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
To make the base--I used the food processor and combined the dry ingredients in the work bowl, then pulsed a few times to mix.  I added the butter and pulsed until the mixture was crumbly.  Then, I added the water and mixed until the dough just came together.

Pick up pieces of the dough and aha;e it into a 12" x 8" oval ring on the parchment sheet.  If the dough is too sticky, wet your finger tips.  Once you've made the ring, flatter the dough and shape it into a 1 1/2" wide we say in the South, basically it'll look like a NASCAR track!

Pastry Topping:
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. butter rum, eggnog, or vanilla butternut flavor, optional

To make the pastry topping:  Place the water, butter and salt in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is boiling.  Add the flour and beat until the mixtures cohesive and starts to form a ball.
I used my food processor once more, but you can all mix with a hand mixer to add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the flavor at the end, if you're using it.

Spoon dollops on the base, then use an off-set spatula to spread the pastry along the ring, covering it completely.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until a deep golden brown.  You can toast your pecans at the same time for 8 to 9 minutes.

Pecans & Caramel
2 cups of toasted pecans
12 ounces of caramel (about 36 individual wrapped soft caramel candies

When the Kringle is done, allow to cool completely in the pan.  Have the toasted pecans next to you.  Melt the caramels in a heat-proof bowl (preferably with a spout for ease in pouring).  Immediately drizzle the melted caramel over the Kringle and sprinkle with pecans, pressing them gently.
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 T heavy cream, half-&-half, or milk
1/8 tsp. of flavoring
pinch of salt

Stir together the confectioners' sugar, salt and flavoring.  Add enough cream/milk to make a pourable glaze.  Drizzle it over the Kringle.
Kringle has been our favorite dessert to have on Christmas morning while everyone is opening their packages.  Our family will be coming the day after, so we'll be FACE-timing while watching the girls open their presents and have this when they come.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Brown Butter "Crispy" Chocolate Chip Cookies & December's Give-Away Apron

Some people like their chocolate chip cookies soft and gooey, but I'm weird and love thin and crispy! I don't think it matters what side you're on, but I will say, these are darn good and worth a try.  Maybe it will be a mind changer!

I actually baked these with the intention of getting them up on the blog for the feast of St. Nicholas--December 6th; a day we like to honor in our home.  However, in spite of good intentions, it never happened.  I have a collection of Father Christmases (aka St. Nicholas) and have always celebrated this particular day with high regard.  His reputation as a bringer of gifts is known world-wide. In Europe, especially Germany and Poland, boys dress as bishops begging alms for the poor.  In the Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and put a present under their pillows...provided they have been good.  In the Netherlands, Dutch children put out a clog filled with hay and a carrot for Sinterklaas' horse.  In the United States, one custom associated with Saint Nicholas Day is children leaving their shoes in the foyer in hopes that he will place some coins on the soles...typical of our Capitalism values:-)!

Brown Butter Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
14 T (1 stick + 6T) unsalted butter, browned
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 extra large egg + 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup room temperature water
1 cup + 2T King Arthur all-purpose flour (plain flour)
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

In a medium saucepan, heat butter over medium heat until he foams and browns...about 7 - 9 minutes.
Pour butter into a heat-proof dish and allow to cool slightly.  Place in the refrigerator to firm up again.

In a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add the dry ingredients and chips.  Stir until well incorporated.
Transfer the dough to parchment paper and wrap.  Chill for 30 minutes in the freezer.
Preheat oven to 325F-degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Scoop up about 1 1/2T dough and place on the parchment line baking sheet, spacing them about 3 inches apart.  Squish them either by pressing your palm, flat bottom of a glass, or dough tamper as I did. Flatten to about 1/4-inch thick.

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until the cookies are kinda dark golden brown.  Let cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

This month's apron is brightly colored and full of the holiday spirit.  If you would like to win this apron, comment on any posts this month and you could be wearing this lovely apron!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sweet Potato's a Southern thing!

Sweet potatoes and cornbread are definitely Southern staples.  I love both and when I came across this recipe in Cook's Country magazine, I couldn't help but put it on my list to try.  After all, I grew up on cornbread, the best made by my mother and always in a cast iron skillet.  However, trying to incorporate sweet potatoes is tricky--getting a sweet potato flavor without a soggy bottom. That's what I love about America's Test Kitchen.

They tested several precooking methods--boiling, roasting, and microwaving and found the latter to be the best in controlling the moisture that sweet potatoes can give off.  But, they didn't stop at just testing the sweet potatoes. You will also notice the ratio of cornmeal to flour this recipe has.  Most of my recipes call for equal proportions, but ATK found that a 3:1 ratio of cornmeal to flour made a light, yet sturdy bread by changing it.  Finally, they added brown sugar, to develop a deeper color and enhance the flavor, instead of granulated sugar and shied away from adding spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg.  I usually add buttermilk or sour cream to my cornbread, like mom did, but they found that whole milk was preferred by their tasters.  There is a science to baking!

My mother liked to start her cast iron skillet in the preheated oven with a tablespoon of butter and this recipe calls to do the same.  I declare, it was such a good recipe and with a bowl of (vegetarian) chili, it was perfect for the chilly, overcast day; hubby said it was the best I've ever made!

Sweet Potato Cornbread
1 1/2 lbs. (about 2 large)sweet potatoes, unpeeled

Wash and prick potatoes all over with a fork.  Microwave on a large paper plate for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes until the potatoes are soft and surfaces are slightly wet.  Immediately slice potatoes in half to release the steam.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop flesh into bowl and mash until smooth.  You should have about 1 3/4 cups).

Preheat oven to 425F-degrees.  Add 1 T butter to a 10-inch cast iron skillet to heat while mixing up cornbread.

8 T (1 stick/4oz) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup whole milk (I used 2%)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz.) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz.) cornmeal 
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz.) King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 tsp. salt

Whisk the melted butter, milk and eggs into the mashed sweet potatoes.
Whisk the dry ingredients together, then add to the sweet potato mixture and stir to combine.

Swirl skillet to coat bottom of skillet and pour batter into it.  Smooth top with a rubber spatula.  Bake until cornbread is golden brown and toothpick, inserted in center, comes out clean--25 to 30 minutes.

Allow cornbread to cool in skillet, about 30 to 1 hour.  Loosen edges and cut into wedges and serve. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Bara Brith & November's Apron winner

My mother made the best fruitcake!  Now, before you say, "ugh," homemade fruitcake is nothing like the loaf you see wrapped in the grocery stores this time of year.  Her's were loaded with fruit and nuts with the perfect ratio of batter to hold everything together.  After the cakes were baked and cooled, she wrapped them in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and sealed them in tin cans weeks before Christmas. In thinking about it, as I write this post, it probably was the Brandy that made the difference:-)

The fruited cake I made this morning is called Bara Brith, which is Welsh for "Speckled Bread" and I thought it would be a good recipe to ease you into the idea of really good fruit cake! Loaded with raisins (sultanas) and currants, this tea bread makes the perfect mid-morning snack with a cup a tea.  This bread can be made with yeast or as I did today, with self-rising flour.  It is claimed to be invented by a Welsh chef who added dried fruit and spices to dough creating a newer version of a favorite tea bread.  There are similar loaves in Ireland--Barm Brack and in Scotland--Selkirk Bannock.  I have made Black Bun, which is similar and Scottish for Christmas several times for my hubby during the holidays.  I first saw this tea bread on the 4th season of The British Baking Contest (on PBS) and knew one day I'd have to bake it.

Bara Brith

1 1/3 cups (300g) strong tea
1 1/2 cups (6oz) raisins/sultanas
1 1/4 cups (6oz) currants
1 cup + 1T firmly packed light brown sugar (8oz of muscovado sugar)

Measure the fruit and sugar in a bowl and pour the tea over it.  Allow to set, covered, overnight on the counter.

Preheat oven to 300F-degrees (150C-degrees/Fan or 130C-degrees/gas).  Grease a 2 lb. loaf pan (5" x 10" x 3 1/2" high) and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2 1/2 cups (10oz) King Arthur Self-rising flour
1 large egg

Stir the flour and egg into the fruit mixture until fully incorporated.

Spoon into the prepared pan and bake for 80 - 90 minutes.  Testing with a wooden skewer in the center should come out cleanly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before lifting it out of the pan onto a parchment-lined rack.  Serve slathered with butter, of course. I love sharing recipes that come from other cultures; it's a way to learn so much about the people.  I'm proud to be a mixture and think the recipes my ancestors shared has made me understand traditions that were dear to them.  Enjoy!

November's apron winner is Mary Bolton!  Please email me your address so I can send this lovely apron out to you ASAP!  

I hope to have December's apron up shortly, however since my hubby had hip replacement surgery my days are 24/7 with chores and helping him through rehab.  It's all worth it, but I'm going to need a much needed vacation when he's back on his feet!  Happy Holidays to All!