Cinnamon Rolls + A Little Baking Philosophy

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I made cinnamon rolls today for breakfast tomorrow before we head to northern Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with extended family. I’ve been making this cinnamon roll recipe since my first job at seventeen, when I was asked to develop a signature roll for the cafe where I worked. The cafe closed after three months in business, but I’ve continued baking these since then because they’re so damn good.

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They’re a pretty irresponsible way to start the day (sugar/carb coma, anyone?) but their extravagance is part of their charm. There have been days where I’ve eaten only cinnamon rolls, grabbing an edge every time I walked by the pan in the kitchen. Bad life choice.

The best time to bake, in my opinion, is at night. It’s okay to drink a little bit; since the events of the day have passed, it’s easier to focus completely on the project at hand; and no one is coming into the kitchen to bother you since all the meals have been eaten. My family, who’s dealt with clunking pans, whirring mixers, and beeping timers at 10:30 PM might disagree with me. Too bad.

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The one “down side”, as a blogger, is that the lighting is not ideal for photography at night. I use “” because I actually don’t think it’s a real down side. The whole home baking blog scene has become a little food porn-y for me these days. It seems like a big ridiculous competition to see who can make the most picture-perfect sweets. Who can capture the realest drip of melting chocolate, who can create the best bokeh, who can include the most salt, bacon, pretzels, sprinkles, and dulce de leche.

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I don’t mean to sound so disenchanted. Sometimes I love the aesthetics of it all. I’m as guilty of scrolling through pins and blogs and salivating as the next baking enthusiast. However, at a certain point it ceases to agree with my baking philosophy. Maybe a baking philosophy is a stupid thing to have, but I’ve been thinking about the subject long enough that I’ve inevitably come to some conclusions.

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Food should be pretty. It’s what makes us want to eat it. But I find myself drawn to vintage cookbooks, classic cooking shows (original Martha Stewart, Julia Child, etc.), and actual functioning home kitchens, where the food looks more real. I think the flawlessness of today’s home baking blogs belies the humble beauty of home baking. The flour on the floor, the inconsistencies between cupcakes, the cookies frosted by enthusiastic kids, the piles of dishes in the sink – this is the appeal of home baking to me.

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The internet can set me up to have very unrealistic expectations of real life. It should – everything there is staged and color-corrected and hand-picked to look perfect. The best comparison I can think of is women in movies. In movies made even 15-20years ago (some of Meg Ryan’s and Andy McDowell’s work comes to mind) I’m often struck at how much less perfect the women looked. Their hair was a little frizzy. They wore lighter makeup and less form-fitting clothes. Their bodies were a little softer. And they looked gorgeous. Now, most women in movies have perfectly muscular bodies and precisely shaded eyebrows.

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The crispy, caramelized underside of the roll is my favorite part. 

Baking has followed the same trajectory to me. While I’m all for creativity and  beautiful photography, at a certain point I begin to crave the simplicity and messiness of the home kitchen atmosphere where I first learned to bake. Maybe that just means I need to get off the internet. Why not just not blog? I guess I want to inspire people to embrace the reality of their kitchens without feeling like they are failing if things are imperfect.

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So here is my favorite cinnamon roll recipe, and the photos in this post were unapologetically shot under florescent lighting and in my messy kitchen without props or mini spoons or repurposed wood or napkins from Etsy. Also, unedited. I don’t have any shots of frosted rolls because I’m going to wait to frost them until right before we eat them tomorrow.

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Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 9

Dough:

-2 cups whole milk

-1/2 cup vegetable oil

-1/2 cup granulated sugar

-2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

-5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

-3/4 tsp. baking powder

-1/2 tsp. baking soda

-1 1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:

-1/2 cup salted butter, softened

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-1/2 cup white sugar

-2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Buttercream:

-1 cup salted butter, softened

-2 cups confectioner’s sugar

-Vanilla extract and salt, to taste

1. For the dough, heat oil, sugar, and milk in a medium saucepan until sugar dissolves (do not boil). Cool to 110 F, then stir in yeast. Measure 5 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in milk mixture to create a loose dough. Spray surface of dough with cooking spray, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and leave dough in a warm place for an hour to rise.

2. In the meantime, combine the remaining 1/2 cup flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Measure the filling sugars and cinnamon into another small bowl and stir to combine. Grab your rolling pin and a little flour to keep the dough from sticking.

3. You can also make the buttercream while you’re waiting. Beat the butter in a stand mixture for a couple minutes until it’s very fluffy. Add the sugar a little at a time and continue beating until frosting is light and shiny. Add vanilla and salt to taste.

4. Once the dough is risen, punch it down and stir in the flour/leavener mixture. Dust your work surface with flour and then roll the dough out into a large rectangle. Don’t make it too thin. Spread with softened butter (I like to use my hands) and then with sugar mixture. Carefully roll the dough up from the bottom of the long edge, keeping it as tight as possible. Pinch the roll to seal and then flip the roll so that the seam is on the bottom.

5. Cut 9 2″ wide rolls using a serrated bread knife. Butter two sheet pans and transfer rolls to pans, spacing them evenly. Preheat oven to 375 F and allow rolls to raise while oven preheats. Once hot, bake the rolls for about 12 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Cool slightly and then spread with frosting. Eat warm!

Notes:

I’ve also made these with glaze or cream cheese frosting. Equally delicious.

They freeze surprisingly well after baking. You can also freeze them raw prior to second rise.

This batch easily doubles if you need more. Just roll two logs instead of one.

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Gluten-Free and Low(er) Carb Breakfast Ideas Part 3: Customizable Chocolate Protein Shakes

Parts 1 and 2 of this series:

Customizable Chocolate Protein Shakes 

protein shakes

I’m pretty picky about protein shakes but my riff on this recipe is delicious and relatively cheap too. Listed below the recipe are all the different versions I’ve made. 

Makes 2 shakes

  • 1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2 scoops chocolate Designer Whey (this is the cheapest decent-tasting whey I’ve found at Woodman’s, where I buy most of my groceries)
  • 4 teaspoons Pyure brand stevia (I buy this at Wal-Mart – it’s 2X sweeter than sugar)
  • 2 standard ice cube trays’ worth of ice (or about 20 large ice cubes)
  • 1 1/2 cups vanilla or chocolate unsweetened almond milk

Blend together all ingredients except ice. If you’re not going to drink the smoothie right away, you can throw this mixture in the fridge. Sometimes I do this the night before a busy day if I’m not sure that I’ll be able to find time for breakfast.

Just before drinking, add ice and blend on high until smooth.

Variations:

Add in ideas

  • Add 2 tablespoons of nut butter (almond is my favorite)
  • Top with sugar-free whipped cream
  • Add a few drops of mint or vanilla extract
  • Blend in two frozen bananas
  • Add 2 tablespoons of MCT oil (basically liquid-state coconut oil) for healthy fats
  • Use vanilla protein powder, chocolate almond milk, and a handful of fresh raspberries for a shake that tastes surprisingly like raspberry cake batter!

Gluten-Free + Low(er) Carb Breakfast Ideas Part 2: Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes

Check out the first post in this series here:

Gluten-Free + Low(er) Carb Breakfast Ideas Part 1: Protein Pancakes

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My quest to eat a high-fat and/or high-protein, low-carb, gluten-free breakfast (whew, that’s a lot of qualifiers) every day continues. These cheesecakes have been a favorite grab-and-go option. They’re also great for people like me who prefer sweet over savory in the morning.

#2: Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes

Cheesecake for breakfast is weird – but you won’t catch me arguing. These are easy to make, easy to grab out of the fridge, they’re gluten- and sugar-free, and the ingredients list includes eggs, berries, and nuts. If fat is an issue for you, you can substitute reduced-fat cream cheese and sour cream. Adapted from this recipe.

Makes 24 mini cheesecakes

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups almond flour
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons Pyure stevia (I buy this at Wal-Mart – it’s 2X sweeter than sugar)

Filling:

  • Four 8 ounce blocks of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Pyure stevia
  • 1 cup raspberries, frozen or fresh
  • Sugar-free whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 F and put cupcake liners in two cupcake pans. Combine all crust ingredients in a medium bowl (I like to use my hands). Measure 1 tablespoon of crust mixture into each cupcake well, pressing down with fingertips to form crusts.

In a stand mixer, beat together all filling ingredients except raspberries until smooth, scraping bowl with a spatula as necessary. Stir in raspberries. Divide filling among crusts, filling cheesecakes to the top of liners. If you have any extra filling left over, spray a couple ramekins with nonstick spray and bake the extra filling in those. They can be enjoyed as crustless cheesecakes.

Bake cheesecakes for 15 minutes, or until set in the center. Cool completely on cooling racks, then store in the fridge until enjoying. You can also freeze cheesecakes and simply thaw them overnight in the fridge when ready to eat. Top with sugar-free whipped cream for extra fun 🙂 

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Gluten-Free + Low(er) Carb Breakfast Ideas Part 1: Protein Pancakes

Protein Pancakes

As my pregnancy winds down (my due date is November 6th already!), I am trying to  curb my carb- and wheat-centric ways that I’ve given free reign for the past nine months. Bagels, cornbread, cereal, sandwiches, egregious amounts of fruit, pasta, and DESSERTS – all have figured prominently into my diet and I’ve been pretty much okay with that. But I know the party has to end eventually.

This means slowly reintroducing healthier habits, starting with making gluten-free and lower-carb breakfasts for Z and me every day. I find that if I eat lots of protein and/or fat in the morning I’m less likely to a) get super-hungry mid-morning, b) eat poorly the rest of the day, and c) feel tired and lethargic.

However, usually the only thing that sounds good to me is  a big bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats or a cinnamon-raisin bagel soaked in butter. Through trial-and-error I’ve found some healthier options that I can stomach (and actually enjoy!). They’re easy to make or prepare ahead of time and Z likes them too.

#1: Protein Pancakes 

Recipe here. These are the best-tasting higher-protein pancakes I’ve found and they’re not a pain to make either. It’s nice to make a bunch ahead of time and eat leftovers for a few days in a row. I top them with plain Greek yogurt, raspberries, and a little sugar-free syrup. And you can’t beat 200 calories and 22 grams of protein per 3 pancakes!

More ideas to come! I’ve been working on my food photography this week with the help of Helene Dujardin’s fabulous book Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling and I need practice 🙂

Gluten-Free Quinoa Granola

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This is the healthiest granola I’ve ever made. Usually when I eat granola I have this foreboding in the back of my mind that I’m just eating junky boxed cereal with a better PR profile. Probably over-dramatic. But we all need to admit that granola is so good because of that wonderful trifecta: fat, sugar, and carbs. This recipe is an improvement! And it’s really delicious.  I’ve eaten it everyday this week. It’s also gluten-free and a 1/2 cup serving has 4 grams fiber and 5 grams of protein.

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Make it. It will make your kitchen smell wonderful and your meals more tasty.

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GLUTEN-FREE QUINOA GRANOLA

 *Adapted from this recipe*

Dry:

2 cups quick-cooking gluten-free oats (Not instant! You can use old-fashioned oats, but I like the extra crunchy/clumpy texture quick-cooking oats bring to this granola)

½ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

½ cup uncooked quinoa

3 Tbsp. ground flax

½ tsp. sea salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

Wet:

¼ cup applesauce

¼ cup maple syrup

3 Tbsp. nut butter

½ tsp. almond extract

Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir wet ingredients together in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 2 minutes, or until nut butter is melted. Whisk wet ingredients together to combine, then stir into dry ingredients until mixture is clumpy and well-combined.

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Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 325 F for about 25 minutes, stirring if necessary to prevent excessive browning (stir less if you want chunkier granola). Let cool on pan and then store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

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Vacay

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*Sorry my pictures are so small. I forgot to pack the appropriate camera cord!*

Zach and I decided for our first married Christmas to spend Christmas Eve at his family’s big yearly party and then fly to Florida Christmas Day to stay with my family for nearly two weeks.

We foolishly made this decision in the summer before our work/school schedules had fully materialized and I’m so glad we did. It’s good to be forced to make getting away happen. The more I read that sentence the less it makes sense but I trust you understand.

My family is from Iowa, not Florida, but my dad works down here part of the year so it’s a business/fun trip for them. Neither of us have much money budgeted for vacation (thank you, Christmas) so our trip has involved a lot of library trips, cooking at home, and BYOB beach days. This suits me fine. We’ve also had the flu circulating through our group, so it’s a good day when all of us feel like doing something exciting anyway.

READS

Vacation is the perfect time for book binging. The three I have in circulation right now:

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The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece

This was a random find on the New Non-Fiction shelf and it has proved fascinating. It follows the parallel stories of science’s attempts at re-animation and Mary Shelley’s literary creation of Frankenstein’s monster in the 19th century. True to history but with enough intrigue, romance, and the macabre to keep it interesting.

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The Help

I’m late on this bandwagon, I know. I recently re-watched the movie and decided to read the book, and a coworker was kind enough to lend me her copy. I feel incredibly nervous when people lend me books because I love to eat while I read and I take books everywhere with me. So far I haven’t damaged it! *Fingers crossed*

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 Start.

This book, surprisingly by the author of the Stuff Christians Like blog/book, was another random New Non-Fiction find. I’ve been a long-time Seth Godin fan, which drew me to this book. It is similar to Godin’s work and very readable. If you’re looking for a kick in the pants to start off the new year, this will provide it.

PURCHASES

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Juicy Couture Cross/Sword Necklace

I’m not usually a big Juicy Couture girl, but I have been looking for a cross necklace for a while and this was the most interesting one I’ve seen. And it was somehow marked down to $12. Sold.

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J. Crew Phone Wallet

 Another after-Christmas steal. This is my first phone wallet and it’s super convenient! I feel inspired to buy a cheapo plastic phone case and make my own out of felt and fabric.

EATS

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 Thai Kitchen Rice Noodle Cart

This was a late-night grocery trip throw-in-the-cart purchase – you know. It was delicious, particularly with some extra stir-fried veggies thrown in, but tasted processed and has 26 (!) grams of sugar in one serving. Not a keeper.

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Trader Joe’s 0% Greek Yogurt

Trader Joe’s Vanilla Almond Granola Cereal

Trader Joe’s Greek yogurt is my absolute favorite – it doesn’t have that vomit-y flavor Chobani can sometimes have, and the texture is perfect (Fage is a close second but I think it’s a little more expensive). I like to buy the 16 oz. tubs of Vanilla and Plain and mix them to keep the sugar in check. This, along with TJ’s Vanilla Almond Granola and fruit, has been my go-to vacation breakfast.

The Vanilla Almond Granola tastes almost just like a rice krispie treat – no lie. It is gluten-free (not strictly) and lower fat, but kind of high on sugar. When I keep it around at home I tend to eat large bowls of it in the evening and pretend it’s healthy, but it’s a good vacation staple.

The former residents of our condo were apparently also gluten-free because they left this:

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Jackpot! My first thought was cookies. A quick trip for eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips, and baking soda later…

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (with vacation-appropriate instructions) 

2 cups brown rice flour

3 cups gluten-free rolled oats

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F, thankful for the fact that it’s the same model as your mother-in-law’s so you know how to operate it.
  2. Realize that the condo you’re staying at only has a single ¼ cup measuring cup and that measuring is going to require multiplication and be a pain in the butt. Proceed to mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Notice also that there are no measuring spoons; use a normal spoon to measure baking soda and salt and hope your cookies don’t taste metallic.
  3. Forgot to soften butter and don’t have a mixer – microwave butter and “cream” it together with sugar using your hands. Works surprisingly well and hands feel soft and smooth afterwards. Stir in vanilla and eggs loudly by hand and wake sick sister sleeping on couch.
  4. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture and be pleasantly surprised by how nice the dough looks. Scrounge around for cookie scoop and decide that the coffee scoop will work. Be pleasantly surprised that the condo has parchment paper and cookie sheets. Scoop cookies onto parchment-lined trays and bake for about 12 minutes, or until set and lightly browned.
  5. Set cookies on granite countertop to cool. Be shunned by four-year-old sister who wants spinach salad instead of your cookies (?!). Feel placated when she eats one after lunch. Return to normal schedule of sitting around and reading.

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The Struggle is Real

So, a little more than a week in and I’ve lost around…1 lb. Somewhat discouraging. I’m going to stick with this exact plan for another week and if progress continues to drag its feet I’m planning on adding in running one mile a day and a day of intermittent fasting.

Eats. 

I’ve cooked and eaten some delicious and healthy food this week. A couple highlights:

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Mac n cheese with bacon, collards, and leeks. I used Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta, which is the best GF pasta I’ve found and so affordable. This spur-of-the-moment flavor combo was super tasty.

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Steel-cut oats with chopped pear and toasted (oops burnt) pecans. Ignore the yellowed early morning lighting…this was the breakfast of champions.  Overall, the eating has been easier and more delicious than I first imagined. Yay!

Let’s talk about…

Cheats. 

I’ve missed one day of yoga practice so far and was unable to make EITHER Zumba class due to my schedule. Uh-oh.

 I was in Chicago for a weekend yoga instructor training (more on in a later post) and I ate some chocolate and Garrett’s caramel corn. Not in egregious amounts (two servings of corn and probably seven-ish pieces of chocolate over the weekend) and I did walk and do yoga a lot, but if my weight isn’t cooperating the cheats must end.

However, I was proud of how well I stuck to my guns this weekend eating-wise despite eating mostly at restaurants. A number of Chipotle salads + burrito bowls were consumed…

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I had a weird and gross continental breakfast, but bought some apples, almonds, and plain Greek yogurt at Trader Joe’s for the next morning, which hit the spot.

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We also ate a P.F. Chang’s, Corner Bakery, and FoodLife in The Watertower Place…very easy to eat healthy at all those places. Also very easy to eat TJ and Fannie May chocolate and buttery delicious caramel corn. Ehem. Onward and upward!