Two easy muffins: blueberry oat and mini pecan pie

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In my last post on St. Louis gooey butter cake I mentioned our recent driving trip to various parts of the eastern USA. One of our stops just happened to be in Louisiana pecan country in the vicinity of Natchitoches, home to our friends Ed and Chris.

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One morning Chris treated us to freshly baked mini pecan pie muffins and, since I had purchased a big bag of Louisiana pecans at Little Eva’s Pecan House, I simply had to make these little babies once we arrived back home in Michigan. Being on a muffin kick, I also reviewed some of my recipe files and thought some blueberry oat muffins sounded good too. So back to the Americana themed baking table, as it were.

I had some springy tulip style muffin papers that have been stashed in with some of my miscellaneous baking stuff for awhile now. My friend Patty of Patricia’s Chocolate in Grand Haven had received them as samples from one of her suppliers and offered them to me. It was finally time to give them a whirl.

The process for both of these treats is a basic muffin mixing approach - stir the dry ingredients together in one bowl, the wet in another then stir the wet into the dry until just blended. Scoop the batter into your chosen prepared pan and bake away. Easy.

The blueberry oat batter came out pretty loose (reminded me of financier batter), so my blueberries tended to sink to the bottom. Next time I’ll partially bake the muffins, poke some blueberries into each one part way through and hope for the best. The photo below is before baking - I only had 9 of the pretty papers so I buttered and floured the other three wells and just went for it.

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They baked up nicely and tasted great too! Moist, tender and oh so good.

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Blueberry oat recipe: makes 12 (see followup note at end of post)
Heat oven to 400ºF. Lightly butter a standard 12 well muffin pan or line the pan with papers and butter the papers (interesting step I thought).
In a large bowl stir together 195 g (1.5 cups) whole wheat pastry flour (all purpose is fine too), 50 g (1/2 cup) toasted old fashioned oats, 100 g (packed 1/2 cup) light or dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2.5 teaspoons baking powder.
In a separate bowl blend together 240 ml (1 cup) whole milk with 75 g melted and slightly cooled unsalted butter and 2 large eggs.
Blend wet ingredients into dry until just combined.
Fold in 1 cup fresh blueberries.
Portion into prepared pan, sprinkle tops with oats and raw sugar (or cinnamon sugar if you prefer).
Bake for about 20 min until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool about 5 minutes then remove from the pan and cool completely (or just go ahead and try one slightly warm - you won’t be disappointed!).

Next up . . . .

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The pecan gems were even easier - combine brown sugar, flour, chopped pecans, mix with melted butter and egg et voilà! The batter goes into well buttered mini muffin pans and they bake for about 22-24 minutes at 400ºF. Easy again.

Pecan pie muffin recipe: makes 24 minis
Heat oven to 350ºF. Thoroughly butter a 24 well mini muffin pan.
In a medium bowl combine 200 g (1 cup packed) light or dark brown sugar, 65 g (1/2 cup) whole wheat pastry flour (all purpose is fine too) and 1 cup chopped pecans.
In a separate bowl blend 150 g (2/3 cup) melted unsalted butter with 2 large eggs, lightly beaten.
Blend wet ingredients with dry and portion into prepared pans.
Bake 22-25 minutes until fragrant, set and golden.
Cool 5-10 minutes then remove from pan to cool completely.
Enjoy!

These babies are moist with even an ooze of pecan pie-ness on the bottom. Not bad for a classic Louisiana pecan treat!

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Enjoy spring and keep on baking!

Now for a quick followup on the blueberry oat - I made another batch (1.5 times the base recipe) and baked them in my individual Fat Daddio 3” diameter cake pans. First I buttered and cinnamon sugared the pans. This time I added a bit of cinnamon as well as some orange zest to the batter for a slightly different flavor profile. I portioned a tad over 3 ounces (90 -95 g) of batter into 12 of the individual cake pans. I baked them for 5 minutes at 400ºF and THEN topped each one with blueberries, raw sugar and a sprinkle of oats. I gave them another 5 minutes then reduced the temp to 385ºF and baked another 12 or so.

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It worked! The blueberries didn’t sink and the cakes baked up beautifully. After just a few minutes of cooling I quickly ran a knife around the edges and popped the cakes out to cool completely.

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Yippee yo-ki-yay! Until next time!!

Orange glazed brioche

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Yes, I admit that I love delicious brioche, both making and eating it. Even though there’s a good deal of butter and egg in this enriched dough, if the base recipe is just right and the process is executed just so, it’s a real winner in my book. Light and pillowy with a tight yet soft crumb, it’s a canvas for so many different creations.

I’ve written about brioche in the past, but I’m one of those folks who loves to peruse recipes, compare and tweak the ingredient ratios as well as the methods used to produce some version of this particular delight. Knot rolls coming up!

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This time I had citrus (orange to be exact) on my mind. During the winter months I often have a mix of orange segments with their juice plus some cut-up apples in a bowl in my fridge for that all important daily fruit quotient that we all need. Not wishing to waste any part of the orange, I zest my oranges before segmenting them, then wrap the zest in little packets, stashing them in the freezer so the zest is handy for my next citrus baking adventure.

I reviewed Dorie Greenspan’s brioche recipe in her book Baking Chez Moi in addition to Jeffrey Hamelman’s in his book Bread - A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. While there are tons of recipes out there for brioche, what I took away from this review was one small interesting technique that Hamelman recommends when using a planetary stand mixer (like the ubiquitous Kitchenaid that many of us have). He notes that it’s more difficult to adequately develop the dough in a planetary mixer so suggests holding back half or more of the sugar at the beginning of the knead.

Sugar is hygroscopic and actually acts as a liquefying agent, so if it’s all added at the beginning, the result is a looser textured dough that doesn’t develop as well. Who knew? Learn something new everyday.

NOTE: if you’re interested in a quick run down on planetary (most commonly used) and spiral mixers (more specifically for bread and artisan dough) check this out.

The mixing process went well, the resulting dough had that silky, buttery texture one hopes for before the overnight refrigeration, and the following morning the division and shaping proceeded apace. I divided my dough into 42 g / 1.5 ounce portions, did the preliminary ball shaping and gave them a 10 minute rest.

Balled up dough ready for final shaping

Balled up dough ready for final shaping

I rolled each one into a snake and then formed ‘em into single knots. Kind of reminds me of some sort of creature peaking out of its burrow or a coiled snake (hopefully not ready to strike!)

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One of the important steps in the brioche making process is the final rise - if it’s too short, the end result isn’t that wonderful light, airy and oh-so delicious creation on which you’ve spent a decent amount of effort. Especially during the winter months in my 69º kitchen, I’m careful to give the dough plenty of time, sometimes up to 2 hours, for that all important rise.

Note that since brioche is such an enriched dough, the rise may not be as obvious as that of lean breads, but you should be able to appreciate the increased fullness and puffiness of the risen dough.

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These baked at 375º F for about 20 minutes - all nice and golden brown.

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Once cooled I opted for an orange cream cheese glaze that set these babies off with just the right touch. Delicious. Soft, delicate crumb, light and wonderful.

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Here’s the recipe for my orange brioche dough, yield 1320 g / approximately 2.9 lbs.

  • 537 g flour, half bread and half all purpose

  • 90 ml whole milk, cold

  • 90 ml water, cold

  • 5 large eggs, cold

  • 11 g salt

  • 68 g sugar, divided in two portions

  • 18 g instant yeast

  • 255 g unsalted butter, cool and pliable, medium diced

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (from 2 medium oranges)

  1. Place flour, milk, water, eggs, salt, yeast and half the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low to incorporate then knead on speed 2 for 5-7 minutes until you have a strong dough using the windowpane test.

  2. Add the second half of the sugar and knead for 2 more minutes.

  3. Add butter bit by bit on speed 2. Once all added, knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and sheets nicely.

  4. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl, tuck plastic on and around the top and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

  5. Fold the dough gently, place it back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. De-gas 2-3 times over several hours then refrigerate overnight.

  6. Proceed with dividing and shaping as noted above . For these orange rolls I divided the dough into fifteen 42 g portions, using about half the dough (a full batch would give you 30 rolls!). You don’t have to use all the dough - just tightly wrap any unused dough with plastic wrap and freeze for later.

  7. Once the knot rolls are shaped, cover lightly with buttered plastic wrap and let rise 1.5-2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

  8. Heat the oven to 375ºF and bake for approximately 20 minutes until golden brown.

  9. Cool before icing.

For the icing I blended 227 g / 8 oz softened cream cheese, 2 T corn syrup, 2 T heavy cream, 75 g / 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, pinch salt and the zest from one medium orange. You may not need all of it - it keeps in the fridge, covered for a week or so.

I used my leftover glaze on some petite citrus financiers. Deelish. Now go have some brioche fun!

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Cran-oat-almond shortbread

Before we jump in, don't forget to check out this month's specialties - Valentine's goodies and my favorite chocolate ganache tart!

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Recently inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's book "Sweet", I put together these absolutely wonderful shortbread cookies (or biscuits as the Brits would say) full of cranberries, oats and almonds. You can choose whether you'd like a white chocolate garnish or prefer them au naturel. Either way they are SO GOOD.

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Some of the ingredients require a bit of prep before putting the final dough together - chop cranberries and soak them in OJ; toast, cool and chop almonds; have butter at room temp - that kind of stuff. Simple but requires some planning on your part. It comes back to that important and well worn advice - always read the recipe through at least twice before you begin.

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I tweaked the recipe, which calls for both all purpose and whole wheat flour, to create my own version using white whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour. As I continue to experiment with different whole grain flours, it's fun to learn about the various nuances of each.

White whole wheat flour is ground from hard white whole wheat, whereas whole wheat pastry flour comes from whole grain soft white wheat. Each contains all the nutrients that come from the whole grain, including the outer bran full of fiber, B vitamins and trace minerals and the small central germ containing antioxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins and healthy fats.

Whole wheat pastry flour is softer and thus lends itself well to things like scones, biscuits, flaky pie and tart crusts and fluffy pancakes. I'll be playing around with different combos and variations as time goes on. Cool. Always so much to learn.

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Now for my version of the recipe and many thanks to Yotam and Helen!

1. Heat your oven to 350ºF. Have a couple of 1/2 sheet pans lined with parchment at the ready.
2. Chop 125 g dried cranberries in half (unless they're already chopped), place them in a microwave safe bowl in 25 ml of orange juice and zap for about 10 seconds. Let them soak while you're getting other things ready. 
3. Place 150 g natural raw skin-on almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Let cool, rough chop and place in a large bowl.
4. Add 175 g white whole wheat flour, 50 g whole wheat pastry flour, 150 g old fashioned oats and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the bowl with the almonds. Set aside.
5. Put 227 g room temperature unsalted butter, 100 g granulated sugar into which you've rubbed the zest of one or two large oranges (use two for that extra citrus zip!) into a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium about 2 minutes until blended and light.
6. Add the nut-oat-flour mixture and beat on low to bring it together.
7. Add in the cranberries along with the orange juice and combine on low to mix in.
8. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, bring it into a ball and divide in half. Roll each half to about 1/4 thick. I find it works well, particularly with a slightly sticky dough, to roll between two pieces of film wrap - keeps things neat!
9. Chill the dough for an hour or so before cutting out. Choose whatever shape and size you'd like, cut and place on the parchment lined sheets. As you can see I tried some different versions.
10. Bake about 18 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely.

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If you choose to garnish your cookies with white chocolate, either drizzled, edge-dipped or spread in a layer, I found it worked best for me to microwave my Guittard wafers at half power for 30-45 second bursts, stirring until melted. My results are rustic for sure, but I. LOVE. THESE. COOKIES.

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Hot cross buns



Last week, as the days ticked by before Easter, I kept thinking about the hot cross buns my mom used to buy at the Fremont bakery when we were kids.  They were always a treat back then, and, since I hadn't eaten one in years and had never made them myself, I thought it was high time.

There are a variety of stories about the history of these buns, a topic I'll let you research for yourself.

Popular in many countries, particularly with the Brits, these lightly spiced, yeasted, fruit-studded sweet buns are traditionally served during the Lenten period leading up to Easter, particularly on Good Friday.

They are usually baked with raisins or currants mixed into the dough, although some recipes suggest other dried fruits or candied citron.  I considered dried tart cherries and apricots for a somewhat more modern switch, but ultimately went with currants, orange zest and spices.

As usual, I did a bit of recipe research, including checking out Joy of Cooking (which has been sitting on my cookbook shelf for years).  Joy's recipe is basically a Parker House roll with a few tweaks.  I found a few other sources and compared amounts of sugar and egg, opting for less of those two ingredients in creating my own version.



Let's go!

les ingredients

Here I'm working in my mom's kitchen since ours is currently under renovation.  Just a couple more weeks, and I'm back into the baking swing at home.  Can't wait!

This dough is a straight forward direct dough, meaning there is no starter, pre-ferment, poolish or sponge (for all you bread bakers out there).  It comes together easily, is on the moist side once mixed, and kneads up into a luscious, soft, silky dough.

First I briefly microwaved 3/4 cup currants in 1/4 orange juice to plump them up, then let them cool.

Add 10 grams instant yeast to 240 ml (1 cup) tepid whole milk, along with a pinch of brown sugar and let sit for 10 minutes or so until foamy.  Whisk in 75 grams melted (but not hot!) unsalted butter, 1 egg yolk and 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract.

In a separate large mixing bowl whisk together 390 grams (3 cups) all purpose flour, 50 grams (1/4 cup) brown sugar, zest of two oranges, 3/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp powdered ginger and a few fresh grates of nutmeg (or more according to your taste).

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in.


yup - wet and dry

Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until moistened and the dough comes together in shaggy ball.


Drain the currants and briefly knead them in.


Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 8 minutes until the dough becomes soft and elastic.

 
I love kneading by hand and getting a real feel for the dough, but you can also knead in a stand mixer with the dough hook for about 4-5 minutes.

finished kneading

Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl . . . .


cover and let rise in a warm environment for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours until about doubled.  I planned it so I could go out for my daily walk during the rise.  Not a bad deal, eh?

after the first rise

Now divide the dough into 15 pieces of sixty grams each (about 2 ounces) and form into balls.


Place them in a buttered 9x13 pan . . . .


cover with buttered plastic wrap and let rise about 45-60 minutes until puffed and touching.

after the second rise

Heat the oven to 375ºF.

Brush the rolls with egg wash or milk and bake about 25 minutes until nicely browned.

right out of the oven - smells great!

Once cooled a bit, gently pull the rolls apart and finish cooling them on a wire rack.



looks just like a good roll should

To make the icing I mixed 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, yielding a consistency just right for piping.




Steve, Mom and I couldn't wait too long for the first taste test - it just HAD to be done!

Soft, lightly sweetened, citrus scented, spiced pillows of goodness indeed.

Not bad for my first hot cross buns.

 

 


Orange clove bread

Another Samantha Seneviratne recipe here we come!

This one is fun and the recipe lends itself to your own flavor variations.  Go for it.




While generally not a huge fan of cloves, I figured what the heck, I'll give this one a try.  The "pull apart" nature of the finished product pulled (pun intended) me in.

This is a yeasted bread so put that into your planning agenda.

It's an easy dough to prepare and potentially requires a few hours (total) of rising time, depending on how warm your kitchen is.

Let's go.

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Have a large buttered bowl ready.

Bring 120 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk to a boil (I did it in the microwave), remove from the heat and add 56 grams (1/2 stick) unsalted butter to melt it.  Let it cool to about 105ºF.

Blend 1 large egg, lightly beaten and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract into the milk-butter mixture.


the liquid and dry ingredients

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl) whisk together 130 grams (1 cup) all purpose flour, 130 grams (1 cup) bread flour, 56 grams (1/4 cup) sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.

Add the milk mixture and mix with the paddle attachment ( or with a wooden spoon) until just combined.

Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed about 6 minutes until smooth and elastic (or knead on a work surface by hand for about 12 minutes).


after the mixer knead 

 I turned the dough out onto my pastry board and gave it a few quick hand kneads, formed a ball and placed it in my buttered container for the first rise.


ready to rise

My rise took about 1 1/2 hours.

During that time you can prepare the filling.  Mix 75 grams (1/3 cup) granulated sugar with the grated zest of 2 oranges and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.  Have 42 grams (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature.




Blend the butter into the zest-sugar mixture, cover and set aside until ready to use.


filling's ready!

Prepare a medium loaf pan - butter it, line it with parchment and butter the parchment.

Once the dough has doubled, turn it onto a lightly floured work surface, give it a knead or two and roll it into a 9" square.




Spread the filling over the dough . . . .




then cut into 4 strips . . . .




and stack the strips on each other, filling side up (isn't this fun?!).




Then cut the stack into 4 piles . . . .




and line them up on their sides in the prepared loaf pan.




Love it!

Now it's time for the second rise so cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap, put it in a warm spot and let it rise until it reaches to just under the lip of the loaf pan.  About an hour.

Heat the oven to 375ºF.

I forgot to take a picture before I popped it in the oven so I quickly snapped a shot at the start of the bake.




Bake until nicely browned and puffed, about 30-35 minutes.  If the center sections seem soft, bake a few minutes more.

et voila!  C'est fini!

I must say the aroma during baking was delightful, clove or not.  I couldn't wait to give it a try.

First let it cool about 15 minutes, then lift it out by the overhanging parchment and finish cooling on a rack.



The sections pulled apart easily.  The interior had a soft, tender, sort of sweet-roll-like characteristic and the orange-sugar filling added just the right citrus note.  And the clove wasn't bad either!

Steve liked the texture but didn't care much for the clove.  Oh well.

I like the dough for sure - easy to mix and handle and nice texture.

Next time I'm thinking of replacing the orange zest with lemon zest and the clove with perhaps a bit of coriander and ginger.  And maybe buttermilk instead of milk.  One could throw in some chopped dried cherries, raisins or apricots too, depending on your flavor profile.  Or some finely chopped nuts.

You make up your own and have some fun!  You can do it.