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Day 12: Caramel Monkey Bread

So, you know how yesterday I said that the Salted Caramel sauce with Maple Bourbon was just about the most delicious thing I have ever eaten?  That is still true, but it is also true that today’s recipe is almost as good as yesterday’s, and that is mostly because it includes yesterday’s sauce.

After I made the caramel sauce, I started thinking about all the things that it would go well with.  Ice cream.  Cake. Coffee.  And then I thought of bread.  Monkey bread.  What if I used the caramel sauce with monkey bread?  Now, normally I don’t love monkey bread.  I find it too sticky, kinda how I feel about sticky buns as well.  They are always good for a few bites, but after that, stuff starts sticking to my teeth and it loses its charm for me.  But, with this awesome sauce, how could it be bad?  So, I tried it.

Oh my goodness, it was amazing!  It was soft and gooey, but not sticky.  There was just enough sweetness to let you know you were not having a plain roll, but not so much that it felt like you were having a serving of candy with your breakfast.

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I loved it.  The boys loved it.  The husband even loves it and he hates sticky things.

Do you want to hear the best news about this recipe?  You can make it ahead of time.  It can be made and assembled the day before and refrigerated to be popped into the oven when you wake up the next morning.  Or, if you are really thinking ahead, you can make it several weeks ahead of time and freeze it.  Yes, I said you could freeze it!  Then, whenever you want to bake it, just take it out of the freezer, let it sit for a bit while the oven preheats, and then you bake it.  It just needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven.

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When I made this, I split the dough in half and made two loaf shaped breads so that I could bake one immediately and freeze one for later.  If you want to feed more people, you can put all the dough in a bundt pan.

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This is also a really fun thing to do with the kids.  They loved helping out and it makes the tedious job of rolling little balls of dough in butter and sugar go by much more quickly.

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It is so good that this monkey bread has been officially voted in to the standard Christmas list of baked goods.  In order to make this very short list, everyone has to love it.  Many breads have auditioned, but few make it.  This group includes Pannetone, Pandoro, Snowflake Buns, and, now, Caramel Monkey Bread.

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If you have taken my advice and made the caramel sauce from yesterday, I hope you will take my advice today and make this bread.  If you are feeling really generous, you can make the sauce and the bread and give it away as a gift.  That would just about make you a saint, I think!

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If you do make it, be sure to put the pans on another baking pan to catch the drips.  Otherwise, you will get a house full of smoke because that caramel sauce will definitely bubble up.  Ask me how I know, haha.  Also, when you eat it, be sure to scrape up that yummy sauce with each little pillow of dough!  Yum.

With that, my Twelve Days of Christmas Gifts is done.  I think I said that the deadline is midnight tonight to enter, but this post is a little late in the day, so I will extend the deadline to 6pm tomorrow, December 20, Eastern standard time.  I will announce the winner tomorrow night.  Leave me a comment to be entered.  Tell me what you would love to get for Christmas this year.

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Caramel Monkey Bread

makes one large bundt bread or two loaf pan breads

3 3/4 cups or 18.5 ounces all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk

1 envelope of instant yeast or a scant tablespoon

1 cup hot water, not over 115 degrees

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2/3 cup of caramel sauce (see recipe here)

Filling:

6 Tablespoons melted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup toasted pecans(optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, dry milk, and yeast.

Melt the butter in the hot water.

With the stand mixer on low speed, add the buttered water and eggs to the flour mixture and mix just until the dough comes together.  Stop the mixer and cover the bowl.  Let stand for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle on the salt and continue mixing the dough until it is smooth.  If it does not clear the sides of the bowl after five minutes, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it does.  Be sure to let the flour fully incorporate before adding more flour.

Cover and let rise until doubled, about 60-90 minutes, depending on the temperature of your house.  Meanwhile, prepare your pans and filling.

Spray with oil or butter your bundt pan or two 8 1/2 by 4 inch loaf pans with oil.  Pour the caramel into the bottom of your pan(s).  If using the pecans, sprinkle half of them over the caramel in the pans.

Melt the butter in a small bowl.  Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon in another small bowl.

When the dough has risen, scrape it onto your counter.  Divide it into 4 pieces and then cut each piece into 12-16 more pieces.  Roll into little balls.

Dip each ball into the butter and then into the brown sugar mixture to coat.  Drop the balls into the baking pans.  Repeat with all the balls, evenly distributing them.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts on top.

Cover the pans and let them rise until just doubled, about an hour.  If you are making them ahead of time, make sure they are tightly wrapped and then put it in the freezer or refrigerator after they are fully risen the second time.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If your pans are cold, just take them out, unwrap them and let them sit on the counter until the oven is preheated.

Cover the pans loosely with foil and place on a baking sheet.  Don’t skip this step!  The caramel will bubble up and drip out!

Bake for 20 minutes.  Then, remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes for unchilled dough.  For chilled dough, bake for another 25 minutes.  For frozen dough, bake for another 40 minutes.  These are all estimates.  If you want to check for sure if it is done, slip a knife into the dough between two of the balls and look inside.  If it still looks doughy, bake a little longer.

Have a rimmed plate or platter ready for the bread when it comes out of the oven.  When the bread is done, take it out and turn it over onto your serving plate within a few minutes.  Be careful as the caramel sauce is very hot!  Try not to burn your fingers when you eat it.  This is best served warm and eaten within a day.

 

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Day 8: Caramel

Like toffee, caramel is one of those things that I could eat every day. I love a good caramel, especially if it has a sprinkling of sea salt. I have made several recipes for caramels in the past and have loved them all. Basically, I am learning with this whole candy making enterprise is that the candies I love the best all involve burnt sugar, otherwise known as caramel.

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For today’s post, I veered from the traditional caramel path and tried Apple Cider Caramels. We had a stray jug of apple cider in the fridge left from making fruitcake and instead of letting it go to vinegar, like I usually do, I decided to try to use it.

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I used this recipe, except I did not already have the concentrated boiled cider. I just took two cups of cider and boiled it down until it was a half cup.

Unlike yesterday’s candy, once this one reached the right temp, it was easy peasy work to just pour it into a pan and wait for it to cool.

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I did not wait for the full amount of time before I started cutting because caramels have a tendency to cool hard and then become very difficult to cut. We let it cool until I was sure the candies wouldn’t lose their shape too much when we cut them, but were still manageable with a good pair of greased scissors. You could use a knife, but I found that the candy kept sticking to it, no matter how much I oiled it. Scissors worked best.

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We really like these caramels. They have a lighter flavor than the traditional caramels and really do taste like spiced cider. Be careful, though, these candies have already claimed the tooth of a little friend of ours and I once lost a crown to a caramel. Eating caramels can be hazardous.

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Still, the taffy and the caramels together will make fun little gifts for the boys’ friends and I am sure some of them will make their way into the candy box I am giving away at the end of the week. So, leave your comment for a chance to win! The boys and I are enjoying a lot of Christmas music as we are candy making. A Charlie Brown’s Christmas is a current fave as well as Handel’s Messiah. What is your favorite Christmas song/piece?

Checklist

Ack. Things are beginning to get really busy now. I hardly have any time to think, much less write something coherent here. But, there are a few things done.

1. My squall shawl if finally done and blocked. I finished knitting it some weeks ago and only just got around to blocking last week. This shawl got started months ago and I am really glad it is done.

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2. I finished another hat.

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3. The caramels have been made. The boys are working on wrapping, bagging, and tagging them for their Christmas Bazaar next week. Unfortunately, they are more like hard candy than soft, but still pretty tasty.

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4. Yay! I also got this weeks FFwD recipe done on time! Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream was right up my alley! Of course, I just had to add some bacon because it was just calling me. Trader Joe’s sells these great packages of bacon ends and bits that are perfect for soups.

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The soup was easy to put together.

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It’s kinda boring to look at, but really tasty. It was a little sweet from the onion and everyone loved the little salty bits of bacon.

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I wish I could get better pictures of things in my house at night, but we just don’t have great lighting. The sun is setting earlier and earlier these days.

It seems like with everything I check off my list, five new things get added to it. I think I need a little nap now. How’s your to-do list coming along?

Sweet Stuff

You would think after making over one hundred dozen cookies in the last couple of weeks that I would be tired of making cookies.  Something happens to me sometimes, though, when I get immersed in a project.  I get into the groove of making stuff and just cannot seem to stop making stuff.  Last week, at the tail end of our cookie making, I found myself with an itch to make a different kind of cookie.  The recipe comes from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook (the same one that has the compost cookie recipe that sold so well for us) and is just as unusual as all the other recipes in the book.

This cookie uses cornflakes.

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And marshmallows, as well as the usual stuff, such as chocolate chips.

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I had high hopes for this one.  They looked good out of the oven.

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But all the marshmallows melted into hard sticky spots and they were super sweet.  I guess I overbaked them.  Ah well, I froze the rest of the dough, so I will try again another time.

After that disappointment, I decided to move on to candy.  First, there were more caramels.  This time, pumpkin with spices and pumpkin seeds.

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These turned out incredibly well and, thanks to little helpers, got all cut up and wrapped before I had a chance to take a single photo.  But, of course, I had to try one, so here it is.

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Click here for the recipe.  It was delicious.  I added a large dash of cayenne pepper, which gave them just the right amount of kick.

Happy with my success here, I moved on to more confections.

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Caramel popcorn, using this recipe.  Oh. My.  I love caramel popcorn and this is the best I have ever tasted.  It was super easy to make as well.

Lastly, but not leastly, I just had to try another candy recipe.  Rosemary Pine Nut Brittle with Sea Salt.

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Yum!  You can find the recipe here.

Why, you ask, have I gone crazy with all this candy making?  Well, I finally got a new candy thermometer that works.  It sits in the pan without falling over (too much) and is easy to read.  It even has key temperature points marked, such as soft ball, hard ball, etc.

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I got the thermometer from King Arthur Flour.  Speaking of KAF, I just got an email from them offering free shipping to all my readers on orders placed on Thursday that are over $60.  You can access the special by clicking here.  I know, Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, but you could scope it out now and make a list.  If you do a lot of holiday baking, like I do, it’s worth considering.  Or, you could just sign up to be on their email list and get their special emails which have coupons or specials included.

The other reason I’ve been making lots of candy is to test the recipes to see if they would make good Christmas presents.  We have liked every one of these and will probably be making more batches in the very near future to give away for Christmas.  Everyone likes a little something sweet, right?

Caramelized Spicy Apple Butter

I confess that I have a problem with most apple butters. To my taste, they tend to be too sweet and too spicy, not in the chile pepper kind of way, but in the sweet cinnamon-y kind of way. I do love spicy things such as gingerbread and spice cookies and cakes. But, I’ve always thought that fruit butters that use all those sweet spices just mask the flavors of the fruit and they all end up tasting the same so that I can’t tell a pumpkin butter from an apple butter from a peach butter. All I taste is cinnamon and nutmeg and sugar.

As a result, when I decided to make apple butter this year, I knew it would have to be different. Unlike the peach butter I make, which is just basically peaches and sugar and bourbon, the apple butter would have to have some flavoring added. Otherwise, it would just be concentrated applesauce, right? My inspiration came from thinking about caramel apples and from a juice bar apple drink I once had with fresh ginger added. I decided to try to mix those flavors and see what would happen.

I started with caramelizing the sugar. Here is one pound of sugar in the pot, melting and turning into a wonderful color. I have never caramelized this much sugar at once. It was amazing and scary at the same time.

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Four pounds of peeled and cored apples go in next. This was a scary few minutes. Boy, that sugar turned into a huge mass of hard candy.

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I added some apple cider, brought it all up to a simmer, and stirred it occasionally until all the sugar melted again. It cooked for awhile; 30 minutes, maybe? I basically boiled it until a lot of the liquid had evaporated. I thought it would be easier to boil away the liquid while the apples were still in chunks rather than when it was pureed. Purees tend to spit all over the place and make a mess.

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When everything was nice and soft and there was just a little liquid in the bottom of the pan, I got out the immersion blender and blended it all together until it was as smooth as I could get it.

Here’s the fun part. Two tablespoons of freshly grated ginger went into the pot. I let it cook down for awhile and tasted. It still needed something. It was a little flat. The ginger had a nice zing and I could taste the caramel, but it needed another flavor. This is when I opened the spice drawer and took a look around. I saw the smoked paprika and decided to throw some of that in the mix.

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Ooh! What a lovely sweet smokey scent! I think maybe at this point my tastebuds were a little apple saturated, because when I tasted the butter, it was hard for me to distinguish any ginger or paprika or caramel flavors. The husband said it was fine, but I really thought it needed a little extra kick, so I added some cayenne pepper as well.

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When the mixture was nice and thick, I declared it done before I could add anything else to the mix and make it weird.

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How was it, you ask? Well, it was pretty good. There’s a subtle, smoky heat to it that lingers in your mouth, but it is not overtly spicy. It’s also not too sweet, which is nice for a fruit butter. It was yummy on freshly baked biscuits. If you look closely enough, you’ll see red flecks from the cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. The boys thought it was a little too spicy, but I think it will mellow out as it ages.

Want some? I have an extra half pint jar to give away. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite Fall activity is and I’ll randomly pick someone on Friday. Sadly, I will only be able to ship domestically this time–not sure what the customs regulations for jams are. Anyway, leave me a comment for a chance to taste this unique apple butter!

Next: freezing apples