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 Peanut Butter Chocolate Molten Cake

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Zach and I were recently having lunch at a ubiquitous chain restaurant and we were extremely tempted by a new peanut butter version of their chocolate molten cake. Zach wanted to order it and endure the consequences of eating wheat, but I promised him I would develop a gluten-free version at home instead.

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Despite my experience with gourmet and homemade desserts, I am unashamedly a huge fan of chain restaurant desserts. They’re over-the-top, creatively indulgent, and unapologetic. I am often inspired by them in my own baking. Creating gluten-free versions is a challenge I love to attempt. This peanut butter chocolate molten cake was delicious. I haven’t tasted the original, but I don’t need to now!

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GLUTEN-FREE PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE MOLTEN CAKE
This recipe is primarily assembled from other sources – an almond flour brownie recipe for the cake, a peanut butter pie filling recipe for the filling, and a few of my own pointers for pulling it all together. The number of cakes made will depend on the size of your pans/ramekins.

Cake: Prepare this recipe with peanut butter instead of almond butter. Fill well-greased miniature tart pans or ramekins 3/4 full of batter and bake for 20 minutes instead of 30. Cool completely before unmolding.

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Peanut butter cream filling: Prepare a half batch of the filling from this recipe.

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Assembly: Once the cake is cool, use a paring knife to remove a plug of cake from the top. Heat cake in oven or microwave briefly, fill the hole on top with peanut butter cream, top with a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt, a drizzle of the filling, and chopped peanut butter cups. Enjoy immediately!

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Gluten-Free Cookies and Cream Tart

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If you don’t already know this, Trader Joe’s is awesome. There wasn’t one where I grew up but since I moved to Wisconsin I have access to a TJ’s and I love it. When I was there the other day buying the cookies for this recipe, the employee offered me a list of all their gluten-free items. And he asked me about my day in the genuine sort of way that seems almost uncomfortably intimate until you realize how much you miss it in everyday interactions.

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This tart is simple, pretty, and delicious. It’s a sandwich cookie in tart form….because that needed to happen. I wanted to make a traditional cookie crumb crust, but opted to add cookie crumbs to an almond-flour crust because I didn’t want the crust to crumble when I un-molded the tart.  It worked perfectly! The tart is filled with sweet and creamy vanilla pudding, which then gets covered with more cookie crumbs.

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Here’s a tip for un-molding a tart from a pan with a removable bottom…..set the pan on a bowl or cake pan that is smaller than the base of the tart pan. The tart (with the removable bottom of the pan) can then sit suspended on the bowl/cake pan while you carefully remove the outside edge of the tart pan.  This picture should help that make more sense…

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GLUTEN-FREE COOKIES AND CREAM TART 

Crust ingredients:

1 box Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Joe Joe Cookies

2 cups almond flour or almond meal

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 egg

Pudding ingredients:

1 cup cold milk

½ cup cornstarch

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

3 egg yolks

3 cups milk

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup sugar

Make the crust:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place all the cookies in a blender or food processor and blend until crushed into fine crumbs. Dump into a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the almond flour, coconut oil, egg, and 1 cup of crushed cookies until mixture forms a ball (I like to use my hands, but a large spoon would work too).

Press this crust mixture evenly into a 10” tart pan, using a knife to level off the top edge. Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until set. Let cool.

Make the pudding filling:

Whisk the 1 cup milk, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl. Set aside. Combine the egg yolks, 3 cups milk, butter, and sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.

Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and continue whisking as the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat, allow to cool briefly, and then pour into crust, spreading with a spatula if necessary.

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Place the tart in the refrigerator until ready to serve (three hours is ideal).

Before serving, sprinkle remaining cookie crumbs over pudding filling and remove tart from pan. Slice and enjoy!

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DSC_0562^ Poorly-lit photo of my late-night tart slice ^

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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Gluten-Free Breakfast in Bed Chocolate Chip Pancakes

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I have been on a trial-and-error quest to create the perfect pancakes for both Zach and me (meaning, gluten-free). My mom makes a mean almond flour pancake, but I can never get it to cooperate with me, and though I’ve tried multiple paleo pancake recipes, none of them tasted naughty enough. Enter a good old-fashioned blend of highly refined gluten-free flours.

This recipe is perfect: tender but not gummy, fluffy, and flavorful. And I was able to successfully cook them in a nonstick pan on our electric stovetop – not an easy feat.

Wake up a little early and make them for someone you love.

Gluten-Free Breakfast in Bed Chocolate Chip Pancakes

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 3 tablespoons tapioca flour
  • 1/3 cup potato starch
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar + enough milk to make 2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in wet ingredients until smooth and slightly thickened.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Spray with pan spray and scoop batter by 1/3 cup portions onto hot skillet. Press a few chocolate chips into each pancake as it cooks.

Flip pancakes after 1-2 minutes, or until edges are firm, undersides golden, and the bubbles on top have popped. Fry 1-2 minutes on other side.Keep in a 250 F oven until all pancakes are done. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup and in your underwear.