Pecan Rolls – deliciously simple and simply delicious

If you are like me, you have been leery of recipes that require a specific temperature for the yeast and several iterations of kneading. This recipe is quite easy as it relates to an actual dough. Read through the recipe and see what you think, it really was pretty simple. If you are going to make them, be sure do make the dough the night/day before as it really needs to sit about 12 hours before you bake them; there is a short ~30 minute rise again before you bake them.

Oh and you can use this dough for cinnamon rolls too! It’s your food, make it your own…

I didn’t use the scale for this recipe and it turned out great so you can use simple measuring cups for this. Here is what you will need:

For the dough

  • 7 cups flour (don’t scoop out 7 straight away, you’ll use it in “parts”)
  • 1/2 ounce yeast (2 packages or 4.5 tsp)
  • 2 cups milk (I recommend whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (just use tap water at the hottest setting and let it cool to the point where you can just put your finger in it, shouldn’t be too hot)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used canola)
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

For the caramel in the pan:

  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted if you have time)

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans

Okay so let’s start with the milk, you’ll need to heat it to a luke warm temperature, I did this by putting it in a small saucepan and setting the heat to medium-low; I did this before I started anything.

While the milk is warming, I place the yeast in a bowl and poured the warm water over the yeast and let it sit. I didn’t stir or disturb it in any way, just poured over and let it sit for ~10 minutes. You want it to look “creamy” before you use it. It should look kind of like this:

Now start on the dough, place 4 cups flour, egg, oil, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl; I beat the egg with the oil to make sure it is fully incorporated. Test the milk, should feel just warm (not hot), put milk and yeast mixture in the bowl then stir to combine. I find it best to use a wooden spoon but I am not sure how important that is but it is what I always do. Continue to add the remaining flour, by cup, until completed. I didn’t use the full cup from 6-7 becuase the dough looked as thought it was good. Use your judgement on the last cup, start with 1/2 cup and stop when you think it is not absorbing any more liquid. After adding cup 6, I started using my hands to really incorporate the flour. Dust some flour on the counter and dump the dough.

Knead the dougn until it is a little smooth on the surface and elastically. The best method i found is to “push” the dough away from you with the bottom of your hand. Fold the dough over itself from side to side and continue to push away from you and downward; I did this for maybe 5 minutes. Rinse out the bowl you used to mix the dough and then coat it with oil (I used canola oil becuase it is virtually flavorless, I wouldn’t use olive oil here since it is a sweet dish).

Place the dough in the bowl and turn it a couple of times to coat the ball of dough and cover with a damp towel. I soaked a kitchen towel with hot water and wrung (wringed?) the water out and covered the bowl then set it in a warm place in the kitchen for an hour to rise. I was skeptical about the serving size when I covered it becuase it was prety small (I didn’t take a photo because my hands were covered with schmutz) but when I uncovered the bowl….. I saw this:

Now I think you should do something else for ~30 minutes, you don’t want to make the filling too early.

To make the filling, place 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick) in a smaller saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low. Let me butter begin to melt and add in the brown sugar and pecans, stir until it is fully melted then remove from heat and add the corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Line 3 smaller pans with wax or parchment paper for easier cleanup, I used 2 9“ cake pans and 1 9” square pan but you can use 2 9×13” baking dishes [see note]. Place the caramel mixture into the prepared pans. And now on to rolling out the dough.

Note: you can freeze them at this point, quick a quick flash freeze on a baking sheet until they are firm then place them in your desired vessel.

Place the dough on a floured surface and start rolling out to a shape that resembles a large rectangle, you don’t have to be too finicky about this but the more square the dough, the better the “roll”. It shouldn’t be too thin, here is what mine looked like to make 28 rolls (10 each Round pan and with in the square pan). I made it more square as I began to roll it up onto itself. You will want enough surface area to accommodate the filling and enough of a rectangle for the “ends” to meet when you complete the roll. You most certainly can adjust the shape as you roll the dough by stretching the edges to be more square as you roll; it was able to do it easily because the dough is pretty “elastic” at this phase. Just pull the dough to the shape you want as you roll.

Now you want to slather this dough with the room temp butter then mix the cinnamon, salt and sugar together and sprinkle the whole area with that and the pecans. Then you are ready to roll. You want to roll from the long side or else you will have Godzilla rolls which is fine with sushi but I think it would be a little much here…. Just roll and stretch until it is all completed then I grabbed both ends and stretched out a little more (gently) just to make sure there wasn’t large gaps in the roll. Then you want to start slicing the dough, I used a sharp large knife just make sure you don’t “saw” through it as this will seal the edges and prevent proper rising (like how you shouldn’t “twist” when cutting biscuits, same concept here). I sliced them maybe 1” thick and placed on top of the topping in the pans. I put them closer to the center so they would “grow outward” during the cooking process. They definitely grow as you cook them.

Cover the pans with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator For about 12 hours but don’t leave them much longer than 18 hours. When you are ready to bake, remove the foil and place on the stovetop (somewhere warm) while the oven preheats (should be ~30 minutes) then bake for 30 at 350. They will look like this, the ones on the top look weird because they were the ends that weren’t even:

Let them sit for a minute and dump the entire pan onto a plate. Enjoy!!!

Pecan rolls fresh from the oven....

Chocolate Cupcakes: Heaven in a Little Tin Cup

Did you know that the best way to eat a cupcake is to turn it into a Sandwich? Seriously, if you remove the wrapper and pull the cupcake in half, you can make a sandwich and not get icing all over your face by placing the bottom half on top of the frosting. It is like magic really….. Enough about that.

I may be biased but these chocolate cupcakes are one of the best I have ever had. They are moist and sweet but not too sweet but the frosting…. The frosting! Perfection, sheer perfection….

This is one of the recipes that I do not believe has to be particular about adding the wet to the dry, you can jut throw it all in together except for the water, that is a critical step where timing is important.

Here is what you will need:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp cake flour

1 cup sugar

7 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp espresso powder (you can use instant coffee granules If you have to)

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup butter (melted)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup boiling water

Mix together buttermilk, melted (and cooled) butter, egg (beat well before adding) and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder; stir well to combine (or use your mixer).

Combine wet and dry and mix until well combined, add the boiling water; the batter will be very “loose” but that is how it is supposed to be.

Place in muffin tins and bake for 15 minutes at 350.

Meanwhile, make the frosting:

1 block of cream cheese (at room temp)

1/4 cup of butter (at room temp)

2 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp sour cream

1 tsp lemon zest

1 quick squeeze of lemon juice (no more than 1/2 tsp)

3 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (please make sure it is confectioners sugar)

Mix cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest and juice until well combined and there are no lumps. Add sugar and mix until combined.

If you don’t have a fancy piping bag with metal tip, just do what I do and use a gallon sized Zip-loc bag. Place the corner of the bag into a large drinking glass and fill with frosting. Cut the tip off and squeeze on the cupcakes in a circular motion!

Blueberry Syrup? Yes please!!!

So I have a friend with the most adorable kids and I am working with her weekly on new dishes and ideas to feed them; it is really a ton of fun. Every week when I leave, I ask them what they want to cook next time and one week they asked for syrup so, of course, I obliged.

This syrup can be made with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries; you can even combine them into one! It’s your food, make it your own!

It is super easy and tasty for pancakes, ice cream, cake, waffles, anything you could put a compote or syrup on. You could even try some on French Toast like in this blog. Use your imagination.

What you will need:

2 cups of blueberries

3/4 cup of water

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar (I like dark but you can use light)

2 tsp corn, tapioca or arrowroot starch

Dash of cinnamon

1 lemon

Clean the blueberries of stems and place in a medium saucepan with 1/2 cup of water and the white sugar. Bring to a boil and search for anything rising to the top that could have been on the berries (stems or leaves, etc.) and add the brown sugar and remaining water combined with the starch (to thicken it up) plus a dash of cinnamon.

Boil for ~5 minutes and turn to a simmer for ~15 minutes Stirring occasionally to prevent the sugar from sticking to the bottom and sides (use a rubber spatula to use a folding motion along the sides and bottom). Test for sweetness and alter as necessary, add a little zest and a small squeeze of lemon and let cool.

You can either blend to have a smoother consistency, use as it for a chunkier experience or strain and use the solids for a butter or smoothie!

Should last ~2 weeks in the fridge but I am sure it won’t. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Sweet Treat for you to Eats and Some things you need to know….

So, these cookies are the flat and crispy on the outside kind so don’t expect the dense cake like cookie here; these are the male-y crispy sweet goodness kind of cookies.

First things first, you must start with room temperature everything. Take your butter* and eggs from the fridge at least an hour before you begin to cook.

Pro Tip: If you are short on time, you can unwrap the butter and place it on a plate with a glass bowl on top which speeds up the softening process.

When creating the dough for any cookie it is vital to follow the order indicated which usually indicates mixing the dry in a separate bowl and combining with the wet after that is combined. There is generally a reason for this however explaining the science of that is boring so I will skip right past that. Here are a few things to consider when making any cookie:

  • If the recipe doesn’t indicate specifically the type of flour, look for baking powder or baking soda. If the recipe lists that as an ingredient, use All Purpose Flour (AP) and if it doesn’t, look for another recipe because nothing good comes out of self-rising flour.
  • If the recipe calls for “extra large” eggs, I always beat one extra egg and add half. If the recipe is a detailed to indicate the size eggs to use, don’t alter anything until you try it first, this is a seriously thought out process so don’t discount that value.
  • You don’t ever need to add the eggs “one at a time”, just make sure you beat them really well. Generally you are adding the eggs to other wet ingredients so you can’t hurt the batter; if it tells you to add the eggs to dry ingredients for a cookie, move on and don’t make those bricks.
  • Vanilla is a beautiful addition to any baked good, feel free to be liberal when adding this but never add less. Never.
  • Baking power and baking soda are NOT the same thing. Please don’t ever make that mistake
  • Never use salted butter (in anything except that beautiful gold brick of goodness Calle Kerrygold to slater on toast). You want to control the amount of salt in all dishes.
  • Take that round paper can of Morton Salt and use it to put out fires only, use the box of Morton Kosher Salt when including in recipes. Maldon Sea Salt Flakes are simply perfection when sprinkling on cookies or fudge.
  • It is always a good idea to chill dough before you bake cookies, peanut butter, sugar, and chocolate chip cookies benefit the most from this.
  • You cannot turn a simple sugar cookie recipe into a “cut out cookie” recipe, it will not hold up.
  • You can add nuts, candies, toffee, oats, etc. to any cookie recipe, just don’t overdo it. Always remember to toast your nuts please, you will thank me later.
  • Invest in either vanilla beans or Madagascar vanilla, it makes all of the difference. If you are going to use that “imitation vanilla extract” crap, just buy chips ahoy. The beans aren’t necessary and maybe not worth the effort unless you are making ice cream so go with the Madagascar variety, you can get a giant bottle at Costco.
  • You can make the “balls” and freeze them then bake one (or 5) at a time. Just put them on a pan in the freezer so they don’t touch until they are frozen solid then move to a more space friendly container. Bake an additional 3-5 minutes depending on your oven. Just watch them for doneness and make note for future baking.

Here is what you will need:

2 cups flour

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 – 1 tbsp kosher salt

Dash of cinnamon

2 sticks of butter (softened)

1 1/4 cup brown sugar (I like dark)

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tbsp vanilla

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate (I like to purchase a chunk and put in chunks and shavings but chips work nicely also). For the love of all things good, please do not use Milk Chocolate. Please….

Mix together the dry ingredients, you can use a whisk, sifter or fork; just make sure it is combined. Okay, if I am being honest, you can add them all in the same bowl as the wet without combining first but it is a good practice to mix them separately.

Note: I have a stand mixer but I always use my hand mixer for this because you can mix gather dough too much (quite easily actually) which results in a funky texture. Just use your hand mixer or a wooden spoon, nothing fancy needed here.

Cream the butter and sugars together until they look a little “fluffy” (read: it is creamy without any noticeable lumps of butter) then add the eggs And vanilla making sure you beat them well as no cookie every survived that gross stringy egg white that didn’t get incorporated enough.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until halfway incorporated then toss in the chocolate (and nuts or candies or anything you wish to add here), continue to mix until just combined. Chill for a couple of hours (one hour minimum but overnight is great).

One thing I recommend you invest in here is a cookie scoop, it really helps make sure all cookies are the same size (it is not about aesthetics, it is about cooking time). Scoop out the cookies on a large lined baking sheet (I highly recommend the Reynolds Non-Stick Aluminum Foil for this) making sure there is room for them to “spread” without touching and bake in a 325 degree oven for ~15 minutes. I always bake on the second lowest rack to take advantage of the slightly higher heat which appears to assist with the crispy-ness.

Ovens are different so the time is specific to your oven specifically. They should look a little underdone when you pull them out, watch them closely.

I suggest, also, sprinkling with a touch of the Maldon Sea Salt before baking. Give it that extra something special. Enjoy!!!

As an extra bonus for you, here are some of the things I like to add to cookies, add one, add all. You can omit the chocolate and add anything else, they are your cookies so make it your Fro-Yo:

  • Bacon (um, a million times yes!)
  • Plain M&Ms
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Nuts, any (toasted please)
  • Oats (toasted please)
  • Banana Chips
  • Toffee
  • Caramel Bits
  • Coconut
  • Raisins
  • Whatever you have in your pantry, just. Make sure the moisture content is very (very) low.

French Toast can be Magical

I assume everyone likes french toast, I would like for everyone to love french toast…

As the foundation of the meal, bread is the single most important ingredient so choose it wisely; the good thing is, you can (read: should) use stale bread. The French call it “pain perdu” which literally means “lost bread” so you kind of have to respect it’s origin. The bread needs to be hearty and thick like one of those giant loaves of sourdough you get at Whole Foods and can never finish before it molds unless you are using it to panel a wall. Look for tips on how to use the portions of bread you don’t use in my tips and tricks section here.

First you need to make the custard and, forgive me, I am not an exact science person unless I am baking (where it is required for me because I am not that experienced) so there are rough estimates here. I think, traditionally, there should be two eggs for every person you are serving and let’s assume there are six people for this recipe so we can use up the eggs and have leftovers! This should make 12 slices of french toast.

Make the Custard (the wet stuff)

Break 12 eggs into a bowl [Note: don’t break the eggs on the edge of the bowl, always on the counter so you don’t splinter the shell] and add some milk, maybe one and a half cups; for a richer and “less egg-y” taste, use the whites of only 6 or 8 of the eggs and increase the milk by 1/4 of a cup. Several things make french toast great like vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, maple syrup and even pumpkin pie spice mix in the fall so add in smaller doses. I always add vanilla and cinnamon because it is a good foundation for the custard but it’s your meal so add what you like/feel like. Smell is a good barometer to taste so start with small doses until you feel it is just right.

Spice Note: Careful with powerful spices like cloves and nutmeg because you can really ruin a dish with too much. The same with the syrup but that’s for a different reason, you can dilute the custard too much; I always err on the side of caution using the syrup.

Prepare the Bread

One of the most important characteristics of french toast (to me) is the “crust” on the completed dish so I like to prepare the bread before the custard and butter…. butter makes everything better!

I am assuming the bread is thickly sliced so we will go right to the prep, slather that bread with some softened butter but don’t overdo it because no one likes soggy French Toast. Put it on both sides so there is a consistent crust.

[Note: I always have a stick of butter on the kitchen counter just in case]

Start the Soak

Place the buttered bread in a 9×13 baking dish and pour the custard over the bread.

Custard Sidebar: Unfortunately it isn’t that simple, I routinely don’t have enough custard so don’t take it personally if you don’t. I just break some more eggs and use the reduced ration to keep it consistent then pour it over until the bread is covered.

The soaking time is important, you want the bread to really absorb the custard, the amount of custard you need and the soaking time is relative to the type of bread you are using. Pour until it is just covered almost to the top and turn halfway through the soaking time so you don’t get it too saturated.

Bread Note: If you are using regular white bread just throw it in the garbage and eat a banana, it isn’t even worth the calories.

You can soak for as little as 10 minutes or even overnight, it is directly related to how easy you need your morning breakfast to be.

Post Soak Cooking

There are two very acceptable methods of cooking french toast: baking and “frying” (in a skillet). They each have merits and it can be a heated debate, treat it like politics and don’t discuss your preferred method. Regardless of the method, sprinkle both sides with cinnamon and sugar before you start so it can caramelize during the cooking process.

If you are baking it you can either move the bread to a baking sheet or, if all of the custard is absorbed, just pop the baking dish into a 350 degree oven for ~30-45 minutes (again depending on the thickness of your bread); this results in a less crunchy version but it is still good. I turn the slices over about halfway through to try to get equal “bread to pan” action.

If you are cooking in a skillet, heat it first. You want the shock of the hot pan against the butter/sugar but don’t let it get too hot, use your best judgement. Place the bread in the pan and let it sit until the crust forms, it is important the heat is high enough to cook all the way through and low enough not to scorch the outside before the inside is done; I like to use a rule of 5-7 minutes per side but you can probably do it quicker if you’re in a time crunch. Seriously, the entire subject of French Toast is subjective to me so make it your own.

Top that Stuff!

Okay so this is where it really takes a turn to the independent. You can top french toast with almost anything and presentation is important so slice it on the diagonal before you top it and serve it straight away so it doesn’t get soggy.

Following are some of the options I like to add and it is never just one (Chris’ fave combo of mine is berries, granola, honey, powdered sugar and yogurt):

  • Crumbled Cooked Bacon
  • Crumbled Cooked Sausage
  • Granola (thoughts on granola and my recipe coming soon)
  • Nuts (I always have toasted nuts on hand but you can toast them while it cooks too)
  • Yogurt
  • Honey
  • Fruit (any kind but berries, bananas and stone fruits are the best; I always use fresh)
  • Pomegranate Seeds!!!
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Syrup (recipe coming soon)
  • Roasted squash, sweet potato or pumpkin (for a more savory brunch option)

I hope you enjoy this much as he does…..