Empanada Bakefest

We were supposed to get together for our regular bakefest the other weekend, but after helping Shannon and Matt move, we were more inclined to eat pizza and drink beer than to do anything useful. Which is what we did. And then I took a nap. And we didn’t get around to making these delicious empanadas until Wednesday night, when the group cleared two trays of them in no time flat – which is why the only photo I have is of the leftovers, or, more properly, leftover:


I’m pretty sure that I first encountered empanadas in Champaign – there is photo evidence of empanadas being consumed at the Capricorn birthday dinner at Radio Maria. We discovered the empanadas from Manolo’s right before we left town – in fact, the below photo is from the yard sale we held two weeks before Shane left Champaign for good. Our loss, truly.

Day 21 - 8/13/07

In general, I’m a fan of food in pockets. We made totally delightful pop-tarts at a previous bakefest. I had a serious calzone problem when I lived in Rockford – either take-out from the Logli pizzeria after a long day at Barnes & Noble, or with a beer at Old Chicago while working on the World Beer Tour. When we were serious about losing weight, we both ate A LOT of Lean Pockets, as they were an easy way to take lunch to work and control calories. I’ve never gotten into pierogies, but I loved filled pastas of all sorts. It’s hard to screw up the pocket formula: take something good, wrap it up in sweet or savory dough, bake it for a bit, and then enjoy.

Tonight’s empanadas were no exception. The dough was crumbly at first, but rolled out beautifully in Olivia’s capable hands. Shannon conveyed the discs of dough from roller to kitchen, while Susie played the very important role of cat cop. Shana and I filled the flattened rounds with a few spoonfuls of a savory chicken-chorizo stew, then rolled and crimped the edges, brushed on an egg wash, and popped them in the oven.  25 minutes later, we sat down with the boys and other friends for a fantastic spread: two dozen empanadas (including a few stuffed with sweet potato and feta), roasted asparagus with sea salt, a fantastic salad with beets and candied nuts, home brew and rosé, and ice cream eaten straight from the pint.  A fine start to the Wednesday night potluck season, and yet another successful bakefest.

Chicken empanada with chorizo and olives from Smitten Kitchen


A Very Purim Bakefest

As I understand it, the holiday of Purim celebrates the Jews’ narrow avoidance of extermination at the hands of an evil man named Hamen. How the holiday came to involve also eating Hamen’s hat, I’m not sure, but it’s delicious and I’ll take it. I’ll also take any excuse to bake delicious pastries:

A Very Purim Bakefest

After a brunch of savory spinach kugel, fresh grapefruit juice, and a salad, we got to work. Olivia rolled out the dough for the rugelach, a flaky rolled pastry filled with dried fruit, nuts, jam, or other sweets.


Susie spread the apricot jam (or apple butter when we ran out) and sprinkled on the raisins, chopped walnuts, and cinnamon sugar. Shannon rolled up the rugelach, tucking in the ends of keep the sweets from escaping:


I took up the rolling pin for the hamentaschen, so there are only photos of the final product – so you’ll have to imagine me rolling out the deliciously lemon-scented dough and cutting it into small rounds. Susie painted an X of butter on each, then Shannon added a dollop of prune or apple butter. Olivia pinched up the corners of Hamen’s hats, and into the oven they went:


We each went home with a box full of treats and a vague understanding of the story of Purim, based entirely on what we remembered from the Book of Esther and what I could parse together from Wikipedia. Purim starts on the 19th, so we have some time to read up – and to enjoy deliciously buttery, flaky, rich and flavorful treats.

Rugelach from Gourmet
The Perfect Hamentaschen from the New York Times

Cinnamon Rolls

For our first baking brunch of the year, we took on cinnamon rolls. Ooey, gooey, sticky, nutty cinnamon rolls.

Legit cinnamon rolls

Two and a half sticks of butter cinnamon rolls.


Cinnamon perfection cinnamon rolls

Applying the frosting

Cinnamon roll recipes fit into a funny category between sweet treats and yeast breads. Since they typically use a yeast dough, at least a short rise will be required. Really, the time commitment was the main thing holding me back from trying cinnamon rolls again – the first time I made them, I used a recipe that called for a potato base and at least 8 hours between the mashing, kneading, rising, rolling, rising, and baking. But who wants to wait all that time before baking a delicious treat? Not me.

For this batch of goodies, we used this recipe, adapted by Nicole Ray, a local artist, crafter, and blogger. I started and kneaded the dough at home, and by the time we got to Shana’s, it was ready to be rolled out, buttered up, and topped with cinnamon, brown sugar, and chopped nuts. While the rolls rose, we scrambled eggs, whipped meringue for cocktails, and got caught up on gossip, football, and manicures. We pulled the rolls out of the oven just in time for dessert:


Shannon commented that our baking gets better each time, and the proof is in these gorgeous rolls. The dough was sweet but not overwhelmingly so – and the cinnamon-sugar filling was balanced by the tang of the cream cheese frosting. I opted for no frosting, and was completely happy with my choice – just as happy as Shane was with the sticky leftovers he ate for breakfast on Sunday.

Having only made this recipe once, I can only speculate on what I might change for next time, so see my notes in text below:

Ceylon Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Whipped and reproduced with comment from Sloe Gin Fizz

Yields 15-16 medium-sized rolls

1 cup warm milk – warmed over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or microwaved for ~1 minute
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature – not melted, but soft enough to be pliable
2 eggs, room temperature and beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 cups bread flour
3 teaspoons instant yeast – you can buy this in packets or in bulk, but make sure it is instant, not active dry

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted or softened? – melted will be easier to spread. Can probably reduce by half.
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar? – can probably reduce to 3/4 cup.
4-5 tablespoons ground cinnamon – we used 5 tbsp and it was a bit too much.
3/4-1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) – if you like nutty cinnamon rolls, you might consider doubling this.

2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all dough ingredients in the order provided. Since you’re using instant yeast, it isn’t necessary to proof the yeast; however it is critical that your water and milk be warm so that the yeast dissolves properly. Stir with a dough hook until a soft dough forms, then turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface, and knead until elastic — about 10 minutes. The dough felt a little grainy to me – certainly less smooth than pizza dough – but don’t get too stressed out about that as long as it’s stretchy and elastic. Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, butter a 9×13×2 inch baking pan; set aside. Combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling in a separate bowl.

After dough has rested, roll and stretch the dough into approximately a 15×22.5-inch rectangle. This is much larger than you’d think, so you might want to actually measure rather than eyeball it. Spread the softened butter over the top of the dough with a spatula or pastry brush. This is a LOT of butter, guys. While I have no complaints about the deliciousness of it, I think the rolls might’ve baked more evenly (and been marginally less bad for us) if we’d reduced this by 1/3 or 1/2. Sprinkle the cinnamon filling over the butter, then top with the chopped nuts (if using). We used 1 cup brown sugar, 5 tablespoons cinnamon, and a generous 3/4 cup chopped pecans, and ended up with at least 1/4 cup extra cinnamon filling and a very uneven nut distribution – hence the note about reducing the cinnamon/sugar and increasing the nuts. Starting with long edge, roll up dough jellyroll style, pinching the seam to seal.

With a serrated knife, gently mark sections of 1 1/2-inches wide, then saw into pieces and place cut side up in the prepared pan. The unbaked cinnamon rolls should not touch each other before rising and baking. If your rolls are too close together, you might consider using a second pan (or two 9x9x2 pans) to ensure even baking. Cover and let rise in a warm place for approximately 45 to 60 minutes or until doubled in size – rolls should be touching each other and the sides of the pan.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake approximately 25-30 minutes or until they are a light golden brown. SGF recommends 20-25 minutes, but the inner rolls’ dough was still gooey after 25. While the rolls are baking, prepare your frosting by combing all frosting ingredients and stirring until creamy. Remove the rolls from the oven and spread with frosting. Eat and enjoy!

Note: SGF indicates that this recipe can be made in advance. After the rolls are placed in the buttered trays, you can either refrigerate them overnight or wrap in plastic and place in the freezer. To bake the next day, resume the recipe at the preheat step. To bake from frozen, remove the rolls from the freezer the night before baking and let thaw on the counter, then resume the recipe at the preheat step.

1107 Post-Bakefest Dinner

So see, we had these for breakfast:

Chocolate + Sprinkles

That’s right.

An Array of Wonders

Homemade donuts. And a lot of them, including this beauty that I dipped myself:

A Perfect Donut

All made by the usual bakefest crew while we ate breakfast burritos and Matt and Shane stoked the fire in Olivia’s woodburning stove.

Boys at work

So you can imagine that we were on a bit of a sugar high for a few hours. And when we came down, our brains and bellies aching from too many sweets, we needed something simple and healthy. This soup wasn’t quite as creamy and wonderful as the one Suz made the other week, but it was filling without feeling heavy. Next time I think I’ll roast the cauliflower instead of boiling it, and maybe use a bit of cream in addition to the cup of shredded parmesan that Suz recommended.  So very good.

Cauliflower Soup from Whole Living (Nov ’10 issue)

0821 All Girl Bagelfest

Who would’ve thought you could go from this:
How else would you do it?

to this:
Final product!

with really not THAT much effort? OK, it did involve ten minutes of kneading. And also clearing out my fridge so that 2 1/2 dozen bagels could do their thing:
Ready for the pot

2 minutes boiling in the pot, a bit of an egg wash, and some expert decorating before the bagels went into the oven:

And then we tucked in to a gorgeous brunch – prosciutto and Olivia’s tea-cured salmon, thick slices of tomato and thin ones of cucumber and red onion, cream cheese and two kinds of melon. Mimosas with mango or apricot nectar. Good friends and good conversation. And amazing bagels:

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels from Smitten Kitchen

0605 Leland Palmers and A Very Market Brunch

Olivia has already done a great job of documenting what we baked, so I’ll focus on the rest of this morning’s bakefest: brunch.  Also the Leland Palmer, featured in this month’s Bon Appetit.

Leland Palmers

I can’t fairly say that I was a Twin Peaks fan ‘back in the day’, as I didn’t discover the show until 6-7 years after it aired, but at that point, I more than made up for lost time.  My dorm neighbor and I binged on Twin Peaks while studying for our art history final – and all the rest of our finals – and it’s fair to say that Twin Peaks has had a more lasting impression on me than most of what I was studying for that week in 1997.  I dressed up as Laura Palmer for Halloween one year (“she’s dead, wrapped in plastic”), and the only recurring nightmares I’ve had as an adult have involved Bob (to whom I would provide a link, but it’s too scary). One of the most exciting parts of our trip to Seattle last year was the daytrip out to the Double R Diner, where Mel and Ray and I had cherry pie in honor of Agent Cooper:

This cherry pie is a miracle

This is all to say that when I saw a drink named after Laura Palmer’s creepy dad, whose hair turned white from an intense shock, I had to make it, even if it is only spuriously connected to the show.  The drink recipe comes from a Brooklyn bartender who was inspired to doctor the classic Arnold Palmer while nursing a hangover with said drink and with old episodes of Twin Peaks.

With jasmine tea, two kinds of citrus, gin, limoncello, and a honey syrup, the Leland Palmer is sort of a halfway point between gin-and-juice and the more refined Arnold Palmer – floral and a little bit boozy, dangerously refreshing – just the sort of thing that could land you in trouble if you drank too many of them on a hot summer day.  Today, though, we exercised restraint – not that we needed to, what with a ridiculously delicious and also good for us and also super local brunch like this:

Over-medium egg over rapini and a slice of excellent toast, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and radishes, and a couple of perfect strawberries

Oh yeah, and the final product of our baking day – brioche a la Jefferson Market filled with vanilla cream and chocolate chips:

Final product

Thanks, ladies, for another month of good baking and good eating!

0604 Marathon Night in the Kitchen

I had good intentions for tonight.  They involved sitting on the couch with my knitting and watching The Straight Story or maybe The Jerk and a leetle bit of prep for the Saturday bakefest.  Instead I spent literally the entire evening in the kitchen, save the 15 minutes when I ran cookies over to SELMA.  The. Entire. Evening.  I mean, there are worse ways to spend a Friday night – this just wasn’t what I had in mind.

First, cookies for Saturday’s hoop build and also for a Couchsurfing potluck.  SELMA’s stopped using white sugar since there doesn’t appear to be any sugar available that is local AND non-GMO – so I tried to find a recipe that used other kinds of sweeteners.  This recipe, from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, uses corn syrup, apple butter, and brown sugar – all of which are a little bit more wholesome, even if they don’t hit the local/non-GMO mark entirely.  I made a double batch – which should have been 40 cookies, but resulted in 66 dense and chewy cookies.  To be honest, they tasted more like fuel than like a treat, which is probably A-OK for hoop builders and race runners.  I probably won’t make this recipe again, though.

Between cookie tasks, I prepped the ingredients for Saturday’s brunch cocktail, the Leland Palmer.  I’ll tell you more about that once we actually consume them, but the prep involved a good amount of juicing, playing with jasmine tea pearls, and the last of our honey.

The last of our [x] turned out to be a theme of the evening – over the course of a few hours, I ran out of honey AND flour AND milk AND raisins AND probably some other stuff that I’m just blocking out right now because it was so ridiculous.

Finally, and perhaps in a kitchen that was too hot, I made the pastry cream for Saturday’s bakefest.  Having helped with the pastry cream for both the croquembouche and the homemade Twinkies, I figured I’d be in good shape – but the damned cream just refused to thicken.  It smelled fantastic, though, and after a few frantic texts to Olivia, I decided to leave well-enough alone and just put the cream in the fridge for further examination on Saturday.

Somewhere in there, I realized that it had gotten late and I was hungry.  In lieu of dinner and in the spirit of using up the extra egg whites from pastry cream, I made a quick omelette with the last of the garlic scapes and the last tomato.  Let me draw your attention to one important fact in this paragraph: this was the first time I think I have ever made a successful omelette.  It was delicate.  It folded in half.  It was delicious.  Perhaps the secret is more whites than yolks, and also benign neglect – I was so busy with everything else that I couldn’t really stress out over the eggs or the sauteeing scapes, and as a result, everything was perfect.

Oatmeal Cookies from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook
Leland Palmers from Bon Appetit
Pastry Cream from Martha Stewart

0424 A Perfect Spring Brunch

Shane left in the wee hours to drive to Indiana for Dark Lord Day, which, along with the drizzly spring weather, made it a perfect morning for brunch and baking – or, as I like to think of it, Fancy Lady Baking Brunch.

After last month’s relatively successful batch of Twinkies, we settled on pop-tarts for our next baking adventure, nudged on by the good fortune of a recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit.  As it worked out, I had very little to do with the preparation of the actual pop-tarts, as I was busy with the main brunch event: bacon-wrapped asparagus and soft-boiled eggs.

Susie and I washed and snapped the asparagus, fresh from the farmers’ market, and wrapped each little spear in lovely bacon from Sparrow Market.

Jamie’s recipe recommends baking for 10 minutes, but I’ve found that it takes a LOT longer to get crispy bacon. In this case, 25 minutes, with a break in the middle to switch the pans around. While the asparagus soldiers were in the oven, I boiled a dozen 5 minute eggs – long enough for the whites to be set but the yolks still lovely and molten.

In the meantime, Olivia, Shana, Shannon, and Maria were busy rolling out pastry and filling it with a panoply of jams.

For me, asparagus, bacon, soft-boiled eggs, and toast are all simple pleasures. Put them all together, and you’ve got something magic. Add some local greens, a homemade dressing, and a spoonful of thinly sliced potatoes baked with a fair amount of herbs and cheese, and you’ve got a fantastic spring brunch, made all the more amazing by what came out of the oven an hour later:

I’ll take one of everything, please.

Crispy Asparagus Soldiers with Soft-Boiled Eggs from Jamie at Home (oops, temperatures in Celsius)
Strawberry “Pop-Tarts” from Bon Appetit

Thanks to Maria for her photos!

Oh, and how great is it that we totally made these before Smitten Kitchen posted her version?

0116 Birthday Croquembouche!

I realized, in going through old posts, that I still owe you a post about my magical birthday confection, a croquembouche!

Shane did a marvelous job of taking pictures, and Olivia has already posted a fantastic summary from imagination to execution to consumption.  I did an excellent job of making a sugar volcano when the caramel sauce got a little too caramelized.  The end result? A delicious, delicate tower of pastry full of vanilla bean-y cream.  Each profiterole did, in fact, crunch in the mouth, and I felt like a little kid as I licked sticky sugar off my fingers.  And I felt a rush of both pride – in having tackled a fancy baking challenge – and sugar, both of which are very good things on one’s birthday.

0228 A Stellar Day in the Kitchen

Today started with an outstanding breakfast and carried on full-bore to homemade Twinkies.  Pretty damned amazing.

Breakfast: ruby-red grapefruit broiled with a bit of sugar.  Fresh squeezed orange juice for Shane from 2nds produce we found at Meijer.  Soft scrambled eggs with wheat toast and slices of avocado.  A pot of  Ethiopian Sidamo from Zingerman’s.  If I could breakfast like this every day, I’d be a happy girl.

But before that, and actually before the coffee had started brewing, I had Thin Mint ice cream freezing away.  I haven’t made it to custard-based ice creams, but when the basics taste this good, I’m not going to sweat it.

After breakfast, I infused some olive oil with garlic, then added it to the dough for a savory flatbread for tonight’s baking extravaganza.  While the bread rose, I made paneer – the second cheese making adventure!  Paneer is much more forgiving and simple than mozzarella – basically just heating up milk with an acid to separate the whey from the solids, then draining, rinsing, and pressing.  We’ll use it up in matar paneer tomorrow night.  The warmth from the paneer process made the bread rise beautifully – much better than the last time ’round.

To go with the flatbread, a spinach pesto with sun-dried tomatoes, all whirred together in the Cuisinart with olive oil, salt and pepper, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a handful of toasted pine nuts.  It tasted so green and fresh that it was hard not to dig in right away.  The flatbread, just fancied up pizza dough, was rolled out thin, rubbed with the infused oil, and topped with lavender salt and oregano.  Savory, crispy, and delicious.

And then the pièce de résistance – homemade Twinkies.  But that may be a story for another day.

Twinkies awaiting their buttercream

Simple Vanilla Ice Cream from Cuisinart – sub 1 tbsp vanilla extract and 1 tbsp mint extract for the vanilla, and add 1 cup crushed Thin Mints in the last 5 minutes of the freezing process.  I didn’t have enough heavy cream, so I subbed in 1 cup half and half and increased the freezing by a couple of minutes.

Paneer from fxcuisine – made a half batch, as we really didn’t need a gallon’s worth

Pesto from Jamie’s Dinners – except with spinach instead of basil, and with a handful of sun-dried tomatoes tossed in for good measure

Pizza Dough from a variety of sources
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 1/4 c flour, any type or combo
1 tsp salt
1/4 c olive oil (garlic-infused!)

In a small bowl or a measuring cup, dissolve sugar in warm water.  Sprinkle yeast over water and stir a minute or so to dissolve.  Set aside for 5 min or so–a layer of foam should form on top.  In a big bowl, mix together flour and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in the yeasty water and the olive oil.  Stir with a wooden spoon (and possibly your hands) until everything holds together as a dough.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and flexible and not sticky.  When you’re done kneading, form the dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to rest, flipping it around in the bowl so it gets coated with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let it sit for about an hour.  When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and make it into a ball, then roll it out and top it.  This recipe makes enough dough for one great big pizza or two small-medium ones.  Preheat your oven to 500, then bake the rolled-out dough 10-12 minutes before adding toppings.