Saturday, November 21, 2009

close to magic

Whew! Is it just me, or does time go by faster and faster every year? (Maybe i'm getting old.) It seems we were just vacationing in Cape Cod and eating tomato salad, but judging by the endless stream of Christmas tunes on the radio and the sparkle of twinkle lights all over the city, the holiday season--with its familiar sights and smells and sounds--is fully upon us.

This time of year always makes me think about God, or the absence of God. I haven't yet decided, and maybe never will. One thing i do believe in, and think about a lot during the holidays, is nature--the changing of seasons, the perfect balance of the universe. In these hard times, it can be challenging to stay faithful to anything, whether it's God, nature or whatever higher power you may believe in. I find cooking keeps me sane, or happy, in any case. And nothing restores my faith in nature more than making yeast bread.

Have you tried baking with yeast? A lot of people are intimidated by it, because it seems finicky and demanding (after all, yeast is a living organism). But once you get started, it's really simple to work with, and the results are truly worth it. And it's as close to magic you'll ever get in the kitchen.

These caramelized onion rolls (from the Pioneer Woman again) are easy, delicious and make your home smell like a bakery. You start with a simple, almost-no-knead yeast dough, fold in some chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano) and caramelized onions and garlic, shape into rounds and bake. Delicious!

Caramelized Onion and Oregano Rolls
adapted from the Pioneer Woman

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 cups warm water
3 tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. olive oil

3 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose and it turned out fine)
2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly chopped herbs to taste (I used oregano; PW uses rosemary)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Saute sliced onions and minced garlic in olive oil over medium heat until brown and caramelized, about 10 min. Cool.

Pour warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top. Add sugar and olive oil, then stir gently with a fork until combined. Set aside.

Combine flour and salt in a separate bowl.

Alternately add flour mixture, onions and herbs to yeast mixture, stirring gently until dough is combined. (It'll be sticky.)

Generously flour a flat surface. Knead dough 15 to 20 times, adding flour generously to make it easier to handle. (Keep it sticky, though!) Drizzle olive oil in a separate bowl and add the ball of dough, turning to coat. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Divide dough into eight portions and form a round from each piece. Place on baking sheet and allow to rise for 20 min. Bake for 20 min. or until brown. About 5 min. before the bread is done, brush with butter and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, November 2, 2009

c-c-c-cinnamon lips

i have a bad case of nesting syndrome lately. oh, people, is it ever bad. all i want to do is sip peppermint tea, curl up on the couch with a stack of cookbooks and bake complicated, delicious treats. maybe it's the weather.

as anyone who's ever lived with me can attest, i read cookbooks like novels, and one of the newest additions to my ever-growing collection is the pioneer woman cooks by ree drummond. have you read it yet? it's funny, beautifully photographed and filled with the most indulgent recipes you can imagine. (seriously, i've never seen more butter in my life. it's amazing.) anyway, i'll forever be indebted to ms. drummond for this cinnamon bun recipe, which i made on halloween and carried around the city like some pastry-wielding trick-or-treater.

disclaimer: if you're frightened by high-calorie treats...look away.

cinnamon buns
adapted from the pioneer woman cooks

1 quart whole milk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
4 1/2 tsp. (2 pkgs.) active dry yeast
9 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 scant tsp. baking soda
1 Tbs. salt

3 sticks very soft butter
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
a pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter

1 lb. powdered sugar
3 Tbs. whole milk
4 Tbs. melted butter
3 Tbs. brewed coffee

For the dough, scald the milk, oil and sugar in a large saucepot over medium heat (do not boil). Set aside and cool to lukewarm, about 1 hour.

Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit on the milk for 1 minute. Add 8 cups of the flour; stir. (If the dough looks very liquidy, add another cup of flour.) Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a relatively warm place to rise for 1 hour.

Remove the towel and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining cup of flour. Stir thoroughly to combine. (If not using the dough right away, you can refrigerate for up to 3 days, punching down the dough if it rises to the top of the pot.)

To assemble the rolls, remove half the dough from the pan. On a floured baking surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 30x10 inches. To make the filling, pour half the softened butter over the surface of the dough, using your fingers or the back of a spoon to spread the butter evenly. Sprinkle half the cinnamon, sugar and salt (if using) over the butter.

Beginning at the long end farthest from you, roll the rectangle of dough tightly toward you into a log. When you reach the end, pinch the seam together. With a sharp knife, make 1-inch slices. One log will produce about 25 rolls. Arrange the slices in greased 9-inch cake or pie pans. Repeat the rolling/sugar/butter process with the other half of the dough. (I ended up with 8 pans of about 7 rolls each.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Allow the rolls to rise for about 30 minutes before baking. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown.

While the rolls are baking, make the icing: In a bowl, whisk the powdered sugar, milk, butter and coffee until smooth. Drizzle generously over the warm rolls. As they sit, the rolls will absorb some of the icing, becoming gooier and sweeter.

Yum! This makes a LOT of cinnamon buns, so bring them to all your friends. it's the nice thing to do. and, let's face it, the only way to fit into your jeans tomorrow.