The Fabulous Baker Girl

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English Muffin Loaf (a.k.a the bread we had at the cottage) July 31, 2009

I love having fans.

Okay, so fans might be a bit of a stretch but it’s nice knowing that a few of my nearest and dearest friends actually read this blog of mine.  It’s even nicer knowing that some of them (okay one of them) even wants recipes that I’ve made for them.

So Jason…this one is for you.

English Muffin Loaf

English Muffin Loaf

It’s a recipe for English muffin loaf and in terms of yeast breads it’s about as easy as it gets.  You basically just mix the ingredients together, let it rise in the pan, and bake it.  Not much to it.  I like to make it at night since it’s so easy to throw together.  Then you’ve got nice fresh bread for toast in the morning.  Serve it with homemade jam for best results!

English Muffin Loaf

from King Arthur’s Flour

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast (if you use dry active, proof it with the water first)*
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
  • cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan

  • Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and instant yeast in a large mixing bowl.

    Combine the milk, water, and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat to between 120°F and 130°F. The liquid will feel very hot (hotter than lukewarm), but not so hot that it would scald you. As a reference point, the hottest water from your kitchen tap is probably around 120°F (unless your tap water is so hot that it burns you).

    Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.

    Beat at high speed for 1 minute. The dough will be very soft.

    Lightly grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal.

    Scoop the soft dough into the pan, leveling it in the pan as much as possible.

    Cover the pan, and let the dough rise till it’s just barely crowned over the rim of the pan. When you look at the rim of the pan from eye level, you should see the dough, but it shouldn’t be more than, say, 1/4″ over the rim. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, if you heated the liquid to the correct temperature and your kitchen isn’t very cold. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

    Remove the cover, and bake the bread for 20 to 22 minutes, till it’s golden brown and its interior temperature is 190°F.

    Remove the bread from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

    * A note about proofing:  “Proofing” is basically just waking up the yeast by adding it to some warm water.  Make sure your water is about 100 to 110 degrees.  Make sure it’s not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast.  I always figure that if the temperature is good enough for a baby’s bath, it’s good enough for yeast.  I like to add a pinch of sugar to it so the yeast has some food to feast on after their long slumber.  After about 5 minutes the yeast should be all bubbly and frothy and smell like bread.  IF it does that, the yeast is alive and well and ready to use.


Late Night Delights (Cherry Pecan Streusal Muffins) July 30, 2009

I think it’s no secret that I love to bake.  To me, baking is magic.  Baking is a lot different than cooking.  In cooking, each ingredient typically remains the same.  Master chefs can blend ingredients seamlessly but carrots are still carrots, meat still meat.  In baking, you blend a bunch of ingredients together and what you get in the end is something entirely different.  What starts out as a lump of dough ends up as soft, sweet bread.  Lumpy, pourable batter transforms into moist, delicious cake.  Baking is all about synergy.  What you end up with is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I’ve been hankering to bake lately.   I mean really bake…and that usually means without my children.

I love my girls.  I adore my girls.  It’s just they tend to suck the joy out of baking for me (and I mean that in the best, most loving of ways).  When they help, there’s always spills and fighting and lots of noise.  When I get in my kitchen, I just want to create.  I want quiet and peace to focus on what I”m doing.  To enjoy the process and the magic.

(Note:  All that being said, I think it’s of the utmost importance to get kids in the kitchen.  It’s fun and it’s educational and it’s a time to really enjoy each other’s company.  Passing on time-honored recipes and the joy of baking or cooking is a something that bring parents and kids together and it helps develop important skills they’ll have for a lifetime.)

Last night, I found myself alone.  Howie was working late.  The kids were (mostly) asleep.  I had seen a recipe on Everyday Baking for mini cherry-pecan loaves that I wanted to try.  I’ve been on a mission lately to use up stuff in my pantry and fridge, not only for the space but to save money.  I had both cherries and pecans.  I thought this was a perfect recipe to make while I had a few moments of quiet, even if it was a bit late in the evening.

The online reviews for this recipe often reported that they had too many cherries so I decided to cut back on them.  It’s a good thing because the recipe called for 1 1/2 cups and I only 2/3 of a cup.  In all honesty, I wish I had had more but I do think that the full amount would have been too much.  Next time, I’ll aim for 3/4 to one cup.  Also the original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (mine were chopped a bit more finely).  I didn’t want the nuts to overpower the cherries, so I cut back on those as well.  I could have used some more of those as well.  I made a few other changes as well.  First, I made them into muffins since I didn’t have enough mini loaf pans.  Second, I added chocolate chips to the streusel.  How could that be wrong?

I really enjoyed these muffins.  Although they were a bit on the heavy side for a muffin, they weren’t too dry or too sweet.  The dried cherries gave them a sweet-tart almost spicy undertone and the pecans added a nice flavor and texture contrast.  I toyed with adding the chocolate to the batter but I’m glad I didn’t.  Putting it in the struesal gave it just a hint of chocolate that was both satisfying and left you wanting more (in a good way!).  I do wish that they hadn’t turned out so heavy.  They probably would have been much better as a loaf, but as muffins they were still delicious.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.  The best part is if you leave out the cherries and pecans, you have a great base recipe to which you can add other flavors.

Cherry-Pecans Streusal Muffins

This recipe is the way I made it so it is slightly different from the original recipe of mini cherry-pecan loaves.  To view the original click on this:

For the Streusal

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar and butter with your fingertips until small, moist clumps form.  Mix in pecans and chocolate chips.  Place in freezer.

For Muffins

Cherry-Pecan Streusel Muffins

Cherry-Pecan Streusel Muffins

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup sour cream

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 stick  butter, melted

2/3 cup dried cherries (I’d add 3/4 -1 cup next time)

2/3 cups chopped pecans (Again, I’d 3/4 – 1 cup next time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lighlty spray 15 muffin cups with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, and butter until smooth.  Mix in cherries and pecans.

Fold in dry ingredients until just moistened.

Divide batter among the muffin cups.  Top with streusal.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the largest muffin comes out clean.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing muffins to cooling rack.


A Taste of Chicago…Pretzels? July 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — amynb2008 @ 7:22 pm

In May, Howie and I went to Chicago for the weekend.  Just the two of us.  No kids.  It was wonderful.  We stayed downtown, right off the Magnificent Mile.  Chicago is known for many great things…great museums, great restaurants, great shopping.

What did I gravitate toward?


Yes…Border’s.  The same store that is within a mile’s distance of my own home.

Yet the call of the books beckoned and I, somehow, convinced Howie to go in.  He went off to look at…whatever it is he looks at while at a bookstore.  And I?  I headed for the cookbooks.

Did you expect any less of me?

This particular store had quite a nice selection of cookbooks.  It took up an entire back wall and had quite a few cookbooks I had never seen before.  I plopped myself down on the floor and perused.  I could have stayed all day.

By the time I managed to pull myself away, I had three books picked out, including one all about pretzels.  Howie wasn’t happy.  Although I’m not sure why.  If you’re going to come away from a weekend getaway with some souvenir, books really seem to be the best sort.  They just keep on giving.  He finally gave in when I promised him as many pretzels as he could possibly want.

Fast forward two months later.  I still hadn’t made any pretzels and Howie, being the gentleman that he is, had hardly pointed this out to me at all.  Still, I remembered my promise and knew it was time to follow through.

So on a nice Sunday morning, I put together my dough.  A nice dough, if I do say so myself.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the directions carefully enough before hand and realized too late that the directions called for the dough to sit in the fridge overnight.  Oh well…that would work.

Come Monday…I still hadn’t made the pretzels.  It escapes me now what I had to do, but it just didn’t work out.  But Tuesday!  Tuesday was the day!

Salsa-Pretzel "Muffins"

Salsa-Pretzel "Muffins"

After discarding a small piece of dough that had broke through the wrap, I decided what to do next.  And it didn’t have anything to do with pretzels.  It was lunch time and my girls needed to eat.

I broke off a few small dough balls, stuck them in muffin cups and filled them with deli turkey slices, salsa, and mozzarella cheese.  What emerged from the oven was a delightful surprise.  The “muffins” rose up over the top of the pan.  The cheese was all melty and even though these were never intended for my lunch, I couldn’t wait to try them!  Luckily, I had made an extra.  It was delicious!  I probably could have used less dough as they were mostly bread, but that didn’t bother me in the least.  I’m not usually a huge fan of salsa in things (I’m a minimalist, just pass the chips, please) but the balance between the salsa and cheese was perfect.  I could have left out the turkey as it basically disappeared in the bread.  The best part about these little rolls were that the girls liked them.  Even my picky one.  She came back for seconds!  Score!!!

Of course, with the remaining dough, I did make pretzels.  They were equally as delicious as the “muffins”…soft but chewy at the same time and salty.  Mmmmm…Why is it I took so long to make these?  Who cares?  I’ve made them now and all is good.

Basic Pretzels



from the Pretzel Cookbook

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (100-115 degrees F)

4 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup hot water

1 egg, lightly beaten

In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, water, and 1 tablespoon brown sugar.  Let set for about 5 minutes until the yeast if foamy and smells like bread.

Add the remaining brown sugar and mix until well incorporated.  Add the flour and salt and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a smooth dough.  If the mixture is dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons water.  Knead the dough until smooth 7-8 minutes.  (I did this in my stand mixer.)

Place the dough in a bowl sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rest overnight in the refrigerator.  (I actually wrapped it in plastic and left in the fridge for 2 days with no trouble other than a small part of the dough that dried out from breaking through the wrap.)

Punch the dough down, then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut it into equal pieces.  Six pieces will get you larger pretzels about 6-7 inches wide.  Twelve pieces will get you smaller pretzels about 4-5 inches wide.

Roll each piece out into a long rope (24-inches long for the larger pretzels and 12 inches long for the smaller).  Make a U shape with each rope.  Twist the ends together twice and then fold over on top of the bottom of the U.  Or be different like my girls and make any shape you want.

Put pretzels on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the baking soda and hot water in a bowl.  (I put them in a small sauce pan and heated it over low heat just until the baking soda dissolved and then I turned off the heat.)  Dip each risen pretzel in the water and return to baking sheet and brush them with the beaten egg (I thinned mine with a bit of water).  Sprinkle with kosher or pretzel salt.

Bake for 15 minutes or until dark golden brown.  Let them cool for 5-10 minutes on the baking sheet before eating.

Other ideas for toppings:  sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flax seeds, caraway seeds, minced garlic, sunflower seeds, anise seed, Or…all of the above.


Simple and Delicious…Blueberry Muffins July 28, 2009

Filed under: Marth Stewart,Muffins,Quick Breads — amynb2008 @ 3:32 pm
Martha's Blueberry Muffins

Martha's Blueberry Muffins

A few years ago, Martha Stewart came out with her Baking Handbook.  I, of course, bought it as soon as I could and was determined to bake my way through the entire book.  I even kept a journal to document what I had made.

That didn’t last too long.  I managed to make about 42 of the recipes but my dreams of writing my own memoir and getting on the Martha Stewart show was dashed as I found myself with too little time and too many recipes.

Still, all was not lost.  I did manage to find some gems in the recipes I did make.  One of my favorites is the white chocolate-butterscotch cookies.  Totally delicious!

However, the one recipe I keep coming back to, time and time again, is the blueberry muffins.  There are nothing fancy about these.  Simple preparation using simple ingredients.  They are just really, really good muffins.

A friend of mine mentioned to her daughter that she had never made homemade blueberry muffins before.  Her daughter told her that I should show her how.  So I did.  This was the recipe I showed her.  I think everyone was pleased with the results.

These muffins were made with fresh blueberries.  I usually use frozen.  Be warned they do turn the batter purple.  That doesn’t matter to me.  Purple or white or green…these are still my favorite muffins!  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Blueberry Muffins

from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh blueberries

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour a standard 12-cup muffin tin (I just spray it with Pam for Baking); set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Working over a bowl, toss the blueberries in a fine sieve with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the flour mixture to lightly coat (this keeps the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the muffin).  Set flour and blueberries aside

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.  Mix in the vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, add the reserved flour mixture beating until just combined.  Add milk beating until just combined.  Do not over mix.  Using a rubber scraper, fold in the blueberries.  Divide batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in one muffin comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes.  Turn the muffins on their sides in their cups and let cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


Gone Fishin’ July 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — amynb2008 @ 1:18 pm

Okay, so I don’t really fish so I most definitely have not gone fishing. I am, however, on vacation and have been since last week. I realized that I haven’t posted anything lately and figured I’d better clue in my loyal readers so they don’t abandon me. I’ll be back sometime next week — so don’t go away!