A Few of My Favorite (Baked) Things

I’m still getting the hang of baking–in that, I can follow a recipe pretty well, but haven’t been brave enough to branch out on my own and try crazy inventions yet (unless you count adding cranberries and pecans to French bread). But I have ventured far enough down my Baking Bucket List to have a few favorites…

Favorite to photograph: Challah

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The braided design and glossy, egg-wash finish makes this one a no-brainer. Definitely the most Instagrammable of my baked goods, even when it’s a little wonky or lop-sided. I’ve tried different styles–a spiral and a braided coil–but the 6-strand, braided log is my favorite.

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Favorite to bake: French Bread

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It’s a pretty straight-forward recipe, and I love the way the entire apartment smells like bread. I bake it in my beautiful Le Cruset Dutch (French?) oven, and it leaves us a versatile bread that’s tasty morning, noon, and night.

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Favorite to eat: Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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What’s better than red wine or chocolate? Combining them into a decadent cake topped with a layer of dark chocolate ganache (or cream cheese frosting, your choice!). This photo is of a similar recipe for chocolate sour cream cake, which is nearly as delish.

Favorite surprise/transformation: Chocolate Babka

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I just had to include this one because it looks absolutely terrifying before going into the oven, but it comes out completely gorgeous and so scrumptious. There’s definitely an ugly-duckling-metaphor in here somewhere. 😉

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I plan on sharing my recipes for each of these (and more!) soon–is there one in particular you’d like to see first? What’s your favorite baked good, to bake and/or eat? Let me know in the comments!

 

Baking Bucket List

In case you were wondering, in no particular order, and by no means complete, here is a list of the items I plan to try my hand at in my lifetime:

  • Challah
  • Meringue Cookies
  • Pavlova
  • Macarons
  • Croissants
  • Rugelach
  • Stroopwafel
  • Bagels
  • Ciabatta
  • Biscotti
  • White/Sandwich Bread
  • French Bread
  • Cinnamon Rolls
  • Chocolate Babka
  • Rainbow Cookies
  • Buche de Noel (Yule Log)
  • Stollen
  • Calzones/Pizza
  • Lucia Buns
  • Swedish Tea Ring
  • Honey Buns

It seems like each episode of the Great British Baking Show inspires another addition to the list, and with this newfound hobby, I’ve started checking out more baking blogs for tips (and even more inspiration). Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see me try–I’m game to post about all my baking triumphs and failures!

A Brilliant 2020

I already wrote my post reflecting on 2019, so this post is about my hopes for 2020 and beyond. Last year, I said I don’t like resolutions because they’re broken so easily, but I did keep to my 2019 goal of reading 40+ books (the grand total is over 60 and I promise I’ll post the entire list and highlight my favorites). I also sent queries to over 20 agents, so I kept to my goal of pursuing publishing in 2019. I *didn’t* do so hot at keeping up bi-weekly manicures (and my hands are still a mess most of the time) BUT I was getting a little better at “treating” myself more frequently–then we moved and I’ve yet to find a nail salon I love as much as the one in the Central West End (but one goal for 2020 is to stop being passive-aggressively-bitter about no longer living in St. Louis).

Riding on last year’s coattails, my goals for 2020 are similar. This year, my goal is 50 books. I’m not anticipating the downtime of a move between jobs, so most of my reading will be squeezed into the in-between-life moments: brushing my teeth, waiting for elevators, steeping my tea in the mornings.

I’ve decided to hold off querying any more agents until I’ve gotten a first draft of my sequel finished. Partially because I think this might take some pressure off, mostly because I know how the story ends but no idea how to get there, and I like the flexibility of being able to tweak book 1 if needed to make the entire story better. So my 2020 goal is to finish drafting Sticks and Stones (working title), then regroup in terms of publishing. (Of course, that goes completely out the window if an agent offers representation now) 😉

I like the idea of doing something very resolution-y and health/physical-body-related, even though my follow through is statistically horrible. I’m going to try getting up a half hour early and incorporating a quick yoga routine into my mornings. And maybe get more manicures again.

I’m also going to return to therapy in 2020. This one’s kind of cheating, because I’ve already made the appointment, but I like crossing things off lists. Look at me go, already starting 2020 ahead of the game! I want to be more honest (I know that’s a goal I’ve had in the past, but this year I’m particularly focused on no longer lying to myself), and I hope therapy will help me separate out how I actually think/feel/want to act from the ways I *think* I should think/feel/act.

And I’m totally going to bake more, because I absolutely love it. I want to master challah, and tackle at least 5 items on my baking bucket list in 2020: macarons, croissants, sandwich bread, pretzel buns, and rainbow cookies.

Because everything in life should come with a soundtrack, here’s my song for 2020: BRILLIANT by Shinedown. If I can be one thing in 2020, let it be this kind of brilliant.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Our wee little Chrismukkah corner…pending a *real* tree

And by that I mean baking season. Fireplaces curling smoke from chimneys. A hint of snow seasoning the air. Christmas trees glowing from living room windows. Festive music in every store, pumping up shoppers while slowly destroying the poor workers’ souls.

It’s CHRISTMAS TIME!

My husband said the most awful thing I’ve ever heard yesterday: “You know Christmas is just one day, right?”

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After demanding he get out of my life, I told him in no uncertain terms do I get to have a Christmas SEASON (and really, it’s limited to the confines of post-Thanksgiving to 12/25 so it’s not even technically a full season, so there), and I mean he gets 8 whole freaking days for Hanukkah, so he can just shut his mouth and let me do my Christmas thing.

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We just spent a week-plus in California with my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and I had many adventures I’ll be sure to write about in the coming weeks, but right now, I want to talk about cookies. My sister-in-law and I discussed a baking cookies before, during, and after Thanksgiving, but the timing wasn’t right (there were SO MANY DESSERTS already). When we got home, amidst setting up the tree and singing Christmas songs off-key, it felt like a cookie kind of day. The sky was that snowy-gray, the apartment was toasty-warm, and my fantasy football team was holding steady against a team I was sure I’d lose to.

All that was missing was a flurry of Earl Grey Lavender Cookies.

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The original recipe I used is here. I went a little wild and halved the recipe, making a small batch of my standard Earl Grey Lavender Cookies (using Adagio teas Earl Grey Lavender loose leaf tea — seriously my favorite tea ever) and experimented with the other half to create a Cocoa-Coffee Shortbread.

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*This is the result of three chopped kisses…wayyy too much

Because this recipe yields like two dozen cookies, I wasn’t trying to risk all that goodness on an experiment. Plus it’s super easy to halve, especially if you just got an amazing set of measuring spoons that range from 1/8 tsp to 2 tbs from Crate & Barrel for your birthday (husband win). For the Cocoa-Coffee batch, I subbed just under a tablespoon of Peet’s coffee and one finely chopped dark chocolate Hershey’s kiss (man am I product-placing like a champ right now or what?) in place of the tablespoon of tea leaves. These cookies came out a shade overcooked — they’d probably be best coming out of the oven right at 12 minutes. The tea cookies I had to leave for another 3 minutes or so.

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In case you need a little extra calories (wink), a swipe of Nutella across the top of the still-warm coffee cookies is heavenly. Come on, it’s the holidays. Calories don’t count at Christmas! And as we’ve already established, Christmas is all month long!

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Base Recipe – Tea Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 tbs Tea Leaves
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 cup Confectioners Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Butter
  1. Sift/whisk together the flour, tea leaves, and salt, until the leaves are spotted throughout.
  2. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream flour mixture with confectioners sugar, vanilla, and butter.
  3. Put dough on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log, twisting both ends to seal closed. Place in fridge for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  5. Cut dough in 1/4-inch sections and arrange on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet ~2 inches apart (they do spread a little).
  6. Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just turning golden.
  7. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Experiment with the add-ins! My best so far has been the Earl Grey Lavender, but I’ve tried other herbs, too. The coffee is pretty tasty. Thyme was…less enthusiastically received.

I’d love to hear what you try!

This Election Day, Let’s All Eat Our Feelings

I was going to email this recipe to my mom, because that’s what I do when I’m eating lunch and really patting myself on the back mentally. Then I remembered I have a blog I can brag through, so you’re welcome, world. Also, it’s Election Day, and almost everyone I know wants to puke for one reason or another, regardless of political affiliations. Why not stuff our faces with gooey, sweet, buttery dessert instead?

Sorry there are no pictures to go along with this recipe. Like I said, I was just going to email it to my mom and I rarely need to send photographic evidence of my culinary prowess.

If you ever feel like eating apple pie but also don’t feel like actually making apple pie you can try this apple crisp recipe I did spontaneously last night. Though now that I think about it, it’s probably barely less effort than apple pie. It just seemed like nothing because I already had the knives and cutting boards out and the oven already heating because I was cooking spaghetti squash and roasting tomatoes (which by the way turned out ah-mazing). Anyway, so I was going to make cookies because I was in a dessert kind of mood but I also didn’t want to do the cleanup and the waiting that can go into my shortbread cookies and also I’d just bought several apples at the farmer’s market and it’s fall so it’s like apple pie season, right?

But I didn’t have any pie crust and I was not trying to make that from scratch after all the hard work I’d already done cutting a spaghetti squash in half (guys, it’s really hard, okay?). So I basically was like “excuse me, Google, can you tell me what delicious desserts I can make with apples that don’t involve pie crusts?” and Google was like “duh, I know everything.” (I could have asked Siri but I’m not really talking to him right now [yes, him. I changed the voice option to male and British and I used to have him read me my texts but then my husband got jealous and sent me rude texts that Siri then read, and it’s really uncool to have your own phone call you smelly in a sexy British accent]. Google, on the other hand, is always so helpful. Probably because I don’t have the thing where Google talks to you, and I just Google things the old fashioned way by typing them into Google. Okay, at this point I should probably get some sort of endorsement deal for the number of times I’ve mentioned Google, right?)

Moving on, I found a recipe for apple crisp that had been adapted from a peach crisp recipe, and I think it was on allrecipes.com but I don’t know for sure so I’m really really sorry to whomever is not receiving the proper credit for this recipe but I just don’t feel like getting back on the Google right now, especially since I’m not even getting paid to talk about Google.

It goes like this:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup white sugar (I think I’ll try trimming this down to like 3/4 cup next time…but it hasn’t been tested yet so proceed at your own risk)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups apples, peeled and sliced (I used 2 big Granny Smith apples and a decent-sized…Honeycrisp, maybe? I don’t remember I just started grabbing up apples without reading the labels — other than the Granny Smith which we all already know are poison-apple-green)
  1. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease 8×8 pan
  2. Layer in your apple slices. Eat a few because they don’t quite fit or because you feel like it (or because they fell on the stove top and your husband won’t eat the dessert if they’re included because he doesn’t trust that heat kills germs and besides, the stove top is actually pretty clean right now anyway, Charlie).
  3. In a large bowl, sift (or whisk) dry ingredients.
  4. Cut in butter. Okay, so I just remembered this was actually weird and difficult because I’ve never “cut in” butter before — I mean what even does that mean? I used my awesome brain power and context clues (the recipe said I could use two knives to do this) to kind of wing it. I just plopped my butter into the dry mixture and started slicing and dicing and sort-of-stirring until it was a crumbly sort of mixture.
  5. Sprinkle (or use my method: dump & spread) over the slices in the pan.
  6. Bake 40 minutes (until the crust is golden around the edges)
  7. Let it sit for a hot second and taste-test a small piece because apples get really dang hot and if you take too large a bite you will scald your entire mouth and throat and complain all night, Charlie.

Oh, and for my fellow Americans, don’t skip out on voting today! It’s super important, because what even is a democracy if the people don’t get a say, however tiny you might feel yours is? If nothing else, give yourself license to complain for the next four years by making a choice today. And then reward yourself with this dish.

Also bonus recipe because that spaghetti squash is still making me irrationally smug:

https://ramblingsofawildcard.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/dinner-so-easy-my-husband-could-do-it/

A Crisis Averted

Remember when I was pity-partying over my lack of chocolate chip cookie skills? My sister-in-law just shut it down with a life-saving recipe.

Okay, that’s a tad dramatic, but having a good cookie recipe up your sleeve is pretty much crucial for things like making friends, impressing co-workers, or surviving the winter. 

When I told my husband his sister sent me a recipe to try, his eyes widened with excitement and his voice took on a reverent hush: “Nina is a great baker!”

Fall has arrived in our neck of the woods, bringing with it the blustery wind I hate and the blushing leaves I love. With football on TV, it just felt like a cookie day. Armed with the recipe my sister swears by, annotated with her own tips, I took a deep breath and opened my heart to the chance I could make a perfect chocolate chip cookie after all.

I was not disappointed. If you are struggling to find the *perfect* recipe (and if your definition of perfect is golden outside, fluffy, chewy, not-cakey inside), let Smitten Kitchen rock your world.

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This guy is so happy to become my delicious dream-come-true!

The most reassuring bit of advice from Nina: The cookies will still look gooey when you take them out at 11 minutes, but they cook more on the sheet. Also, if — like me — you are in a rental with a standard, inexpensive oven, don’t beat yourself up if they don’t come out perfect every time. It’s the oven’s fault!

Thank you, thank you, to my lovely sister — and to Smitten Kitchen, the source of this great recipe. My husband has already eaten about half the batch.