Erin Go Bread

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Snacks, Sweets

My version of this recipe defies all raisin.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has made Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day. She is not Irish, nor is anyone on either side of my family (as far as we know), but every year in mid-March, I receive a freshly-baked loaf from her kitchen.

The recipe was found in a church cookbook compiled years ago from favorites submitted by parishioners as a fundraising effort. The Irish Soda Bread entry is credited to Pat O’Connor, whose name inspires confidence in the authenticity of the recipe, but neither the shape nor the texture of this bread resembles the traditional raisin-studded, round loaves with a cross cut into the top that I typically see for sale at this time of year.

That suits me just fine, though, since—unlike most Irish Soda Bread I’ve tried—this version is super m-word (I’m not allowed to write or say it!), with a light, sweet flavor and an unusual texture that I’d describe as slightly, though not unpleasantly, “rubbery.” In any case, it’s SO easy to make that why would you buy one of those dry, rustic-looking loaves when you can pull this church-sanctioned knockoff from your oven in no time?

Like St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, my mother drives the raisins out of my Irish Soda Bread each year and replaces them with chocolate chips, so I ask you: who’s the real saint? It may not be traditional, but it’s tradition in my family. Every March 17th, along with the wearing (and sharing) o’ the green, my mother and I enjoy an Irish coffee with a slice from this recipe. Erin Go Bread!


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IRISH SODA BREAD

1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups sifted flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins (or chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream sugar and egg. Add sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix in buttermilk. Add raisins (or chocolate chips!). Bake for one hour.

 

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Expecto Delicioso!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

When I was little, I was very sure that my dolls were alive. While I was in my room, they looked past me with vacant but friendly eyes. As soon as I left the room, though, I knew they danced and played and sang, but were always able to get back in place before I returned. I would make a lot of noise as I was walking down the hall so they had ample warning (I didn’t want to embarrass them by catching them in the act). I was a sensitive child and didn’t want my dolls to feel like I favored one over the other, so I made sure to give them all equal play time. As an adult, I carry this silly practice over to other inanimate objects. I will wear a shirt that I don’t particularly like because I haven’t worn it for a while and don’t want the shirt to feel left out. I regularly rotate my bedding, so that “no sheets are left behind.” If I notice that I haven’t worn a lipstick in a while, I’ll find an outfit to wear with it, even if the color is so last season. I know I’m being ridiculous, but I can’t help it.

Expecto Delicioso 1

This Wilton pan makes donuts appear like magic.

About a year ago, Kirsten and I were talking about making donuts and she gave me a Wilton donut pan. I had never made donuts before and was excited to experiment, but I got busy and never made them. I have felt bad ever since. I only have kitchen gadgets I will actually use for this very reason. You won’t see me with a Ms. Tea iced tea maker or a sous-vide machine.

Lately, I’ll be cooking something in the kitchen and that guilty feeling will start to creep in. I think about the donut pan in the dark cabinet, glum with neglect, and promise myself that I will make donuts on the weekend…and then plans accumulate and another donutless weekend ensues. To me, the donut pan is like Harry Potter in his cupboard under the stairs and I am Petunia Dursley.

Expecto Delicioso 2Then, as if delivered by Hedwig herself, a recipe arrived in my inbox for cinnamon donuts and my resolve was set. They are as easy to make as pancakes, and you bake them, so they are healthier than their fried cousins. Friends, the smell of freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon that filled the house was extraordinary, and hot donuts dipped in melted butter and cinnamon sugar—a revelation! How could I not have made these sooner? Aaron ate four donuts immediately, which was a good sign that I had a winner. And the best part is that I was able to give some to my neighbor and some to our dinner guests that night and STILL have extra batter in the fridge, so I could make more donuts on Sunday to enjoy with a pot of hot coffee, the newspaper, and a snoring pug in my lap.

Now that I’ve liberated the donut pan, I’m sure it comes out to party with all my dolls and slightly worn shirts as soon as I leave the house. I might be a Muggle, but I still believe in magic. Expecto delicioso!

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BAKED CINNAMON DONUTS
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten)

DONUTS
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting the pan)
1½ cups sugar
Expecto Delicioso 32 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1¼ cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

TOPPING
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a donut pan (such as the Wilton 6-Cavity Doughnut Pan) with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with flour. Tap out excess flour (you can also use a spray that contains flour, such as Baker’s Joy).

In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Spoon the batter into the baking pan, filling each cavity three quarters full.

Expecto Delicioso 4Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and donuts are lightly browned. Cool in pan for five minutes and then tap out the donuts onto a sheet pan.

For the topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon in one small bowl and the melted butter in another. Dip each donut into the melted butter and then swirl around in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Makes about 18 donuts.

Any unused batter can be put in the refrigerator with a cover and made the next day.

 

In addition to the company’s website, you can purchase a Wilton donut pan from a variety of retailers, including Amazon,  Bed, Bath & Beyond, Jo-Ann, Michaels, and Walmart. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

New Hickory

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Cocktails, Food, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Recipes, Spirits, Sweets

New HickoryIt may have been Andrew Jackson who had the nickname Old Hickory, but it was at the home of Thomas Jefferson that I found this new hickory syrup. I’d never heard of hickory syrup before I spotted it in the Monticello shop, but it’s quickly gaining a following. Made by Falling Bark Farm from Virginia shagbark hickory, the flavor is slightly smoky (similar to hickory smoke), but has more of a woodsy overtone. I described the syrup to my mother by saying, “It tastes like a forest,” to which she responded, “And that’s a good thing?” Believe it or not, yes!

According to the label, hickory syrup can be used to make grilling glazes, marinades, and sauces, but I like to use it straight up in place of maple syrup. Why not pour it over cheddar cornmeal waffles for a multilayered taste sensation? It also makes a delicious sweetener for hot chocolate and a beguiling mixer in cocktails.

The applications are endless, so if you’re looking to try something new in the kitchen, get a bottle of hickory syrup and you’ll be barking up the right tree.

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Hickory Syrup

 

Learn more about hickory syrup and purchase additional flavors at Falling Bark Farm.

Fare and Square

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes, Savories, Sweets

Fare and Square 1When I was growing up, Sunday mornings meant church with the family followed by a breakfast of my father’s famous waffles. Sometimes he would make pancakes, but I preferred waffles, fresh and hot from the iron, spread thickly with peanut butter (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), and dripping with maple syrup. As my father got older and my sisters moved away, this tradition faded, but I never lost my love for waffles. I would make them regularly myself were it not for one obstacle: cleaning the waffle iron. Despite the directive to simply “wipe with a damp cloth,” I am a clean freak and nothing will suffice but using a soft scrub brush and some mild dish soap to get every little nook and cranny,* all the while trying not to let water leak into any of the electrical parts. Way too much trouble.

Fare and Square 2Being a night owl, I only go out to breakfast under duress, but I like to order a Belgian waffle when I do. There’s something about the structure and precision of those crisp, sturdy squares, which make perfect receptacles for puddles of melting butter and hot syrup (and ease the pain of getting up at the crack of dawn). A few years ago, I ordered cheddar waffles for the first time and had a conversion experience. Salty, sweet, and savory, they were definitely “scrub-worthy,” but I never exerted myself to make them at home.

A short time ago, Kirsti made some delicious cheddar waffles, which ignited my determination to finally get out the old waffle iron. Before I did, I noticed a jar of cornmeal that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. I don’t like when foods linger in the pantry or fridge, and I try to use up staples while they’re still fresh, so I searched for recipe ideas using cornmeal. Lo and behold, many of the results that popped up were for cornmeal waffles. Now I had a decision to make (and I hate making decisions!): cheddar or cornmeal? I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to make waffles twice in a brief period of time. Then it hit me—cheddar cornmeal waffles!

Fare and Square 3I am clearly not the first person to have had this idea based on the number of recipes I found online, but all of them had a string of ingredients and little extras added in like toasted nuts, corn kernels, bacon, and/or jalapeños. I like to keep things simple, so I found this straightforward recipe for Savory Cheddar Waffles and merely substituted one cup of cornmeal for a cup of the flour.

I whipped up a batch and they came out of the waffle iron extra crispy with the pungent, earthy aroma of cheddar hanging in the air. Even soaking in maple syrup, they maintained their crunch from the cornmeal. I put the extras in the freezer, then popped one in the toaster the next morning. It came out hot and crisp, as if made fresh that very day. This recipe is a winner! As I set to the task of cleaning the waffle iron, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I didn’t waffle on the answer: “Definitely.”

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SCRUB-WORTHY CHEDDAR CORNMEAL WAFFLES (adapted from Chowhound)

Fare and Square 4Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal†
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (about 5 oz.) shredded Irish cheddar cheese, such as Dubliner‡

Directions:
Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until there are no lumps. In a second bowl, whisk eggs lightly until just broken up. Add the milk. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the melted butter and stir to combine. Add the cheese and mix thoroughly. Pour the cheese mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Heat your waffle iron to medium according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once heated, fill it with batter, close the lid, and cook until the steam starts to diminish (my waffle iron has a light that tells me when the waffles are ready, but you can open the top and peek for doneness after a few minutes). Transfer waffles to a plate or wire rack.§ Repeat with the remaining batter. Makes about 6 Belgian waffles or 10-12 regular waffles.

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*My waffle iron has a nonstick coating, but I still need to use oil to prevent the waffles from sticking. I’ve read that you should season nonstick cookware, but I simply can’t bring myself to put it away when I can still see beads of oil between the squares. No.

†I used one full cup of cornmeal, because that’s what I had in my pantry, but the flavor was fairly strong in the waffles. If you want to reduce the amount of cornmeal in the recipe, simply increase the flour accordingly so that the total flour-cornmeal mixture equals 2 cups (e.g. 1 ½ cups flour plus ½ cup cornmeal). I would not use more than one cup of cornmeal in this recipe.

‡I went for broke and grated the full 7 oz. block of Dubliner cheese into the batter. Life is short!

§If you want to keep the waffles warm after they come out of the iron, preheat your oven to 250°F and place the waffles on a wire rack that’s been set on a baking sheet in the center of the oven.

At Croissant Purposes

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

At Croissant Purposes 1Is there a more decadent way to start the day than with a cup of rich café au lait accompanied by a buttery, flaky croissant? This version is light, airy, and oozing with melted chocolate, but you don’t have to fly to Paris or even make a trip to your local bakery to get one. Prepare to swoon, because this perfect pastry comes from…
Trader Joe’s!

I went to Paris a couple of years ago and tried pain au chocolat all over the city. When I returned home, I wanted to recapture the experience, so when I saw the chocolate-filled croissants in the frozen section at Trader Joe’s, I decided to try them out. I didn’t have high hopes when I popped one in the oven, but my mouth watered as the smell of freshly baking pastry began to waft through the house.

At Croissant Purposes 2When the timer dinged, I was amazed to see that the nondescript blob of dough that went into the oven had emerged as the golden perfection of the pastries I’d enjoyed in France. And the similarities were not just skin-deep. For flavor and texture, these croissants from TJ’s can hold their own against anything in a Paris boulangerie. In fact, they might even be better, since they can go straight from the oven into your mouth.

Unfortunately, they are not something you can make on a moment’s notice. The frozen dough must proof at room temperature for at least 9 hours before baking, so you’ll need to remember to set them out the night before you plan to make them.

At Croissant Purposes 3I have been enjoying these croissants regularly for the past two years and they are foolproof if you follow directions. After proofing for 9 hours (or up to 12 hours in cold weather), put them in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet (My oven cooks faster in the back, so I turn the sheet halfway through baking). They are flawless every time. Since all ovens are calibrated slightly differently, you may need to tweak the baking time a little, but once you figure it out…oh là là!

And I can’t believe that, as a committed chocoholic, I’m saying this, but I think I like the almond version even better. The almond croissants are crispier than the chocolate ones and have a delicious filling that’s reminiscent of marzipan.

An employee at my local TJ’s told me that people are always raving about these croissants and the reason is that they are actually imported from France. So, if you crave the taste of Paris, but don’t have the time or money to hop on a plane, Trader Jacques* is at your service. Bon appétit!

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Trader Joe’s Chocolate Croissants and Almond Croissants

 

*Jacques is the equivalent of James—not Joe—in French, but Trader Joe’s uses the name Trader Jacques on most of the French-themed items that it sells.

 

Update 6/10/15:

Shortly after writing this post, I had an inferior croissant from Trader Joe’s for the first time. The texture was different and there was noticeably less filling. Thinking it might have been a fluke, I bought another package of both the chocolate and almond versions. Again, the quality had dropped significantly. They were drier and less buttery than they used to be (the almond was worse than the chocolate) and had just the barest hint of filling.

I mentioned this to an employee of the store, who gave me a sheepish look as he said that sometimes the company is forced to change suppliers and the product will be slightly different. I got the feeling that this wasn’t the first time someone had complained about the recent quality of the croissants.

This news has taken me from bon appétit to non appétit. Unless the situation changes, I will no longer be purchasing these croissants. I’ll keep you updated on the state of Pastrygate. Until then, I may have to change the name of this post from At Croissant Purposes to My Croissant to Bear. 😦

 

Update 9/24/15:

I was passing through the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s last week and decided to grant the croissants one more appeal. I purchased both the chocolate and almond versions and made them on alternate mornings for the past few days. I am happy to report that, upon croissant examination, these pastries have been cleared of all wrongdoing! Actually, while the chocolate croissants seem to have been completely rehabilitated, the almond ones still have some minor offenses on their record. The texture, while infinitely better than the criminals that caused me to lodge my complaint, is not quite up to par, and the filling is still a little sparse, but they’re on the path to redemption. Therefore, my former ruling has been overturned and these pastries have been granted a conditional pardon. They will be on probation for a period of time, but it is my conviction that this trial is over and you are now free to enjoy Trader Joe’s croissants again. Case dismissed!