Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cornmeal Muffins with Three Lemony Herbs for #Baketogether

Lemon verbena, lemon thyme and lemon mint flavor these cornmeal muffins.
Sometimes, well, most of the time, I don’t like picking sides. That’s why these cornmeal muffins with three lemony herbs can walk the fine line between sweet and savory.

Abby posted her recipe for May’s #baketogether event, giving us two versions from which to choose. I tweaked the recipe just a little bit, kept a bit of sugar and used three fresh herbs — lemon verbena, lemon thyme and lemon  mint — that work well for any time of day.

For a sweet course, I’d serve these warm, sliced and topped with a strawberry sauce, a bit like shortcake, with some whipped cream on the side. For teatime: Warmed with a slather of butter, maybe a drizzle of honey.

In savory situations, put one of these muffins alongside a salad, perhaps making little crouton. I placed a small knob of goat cheese atop some of the muffins before they went into the oven. Goat cheese and lemony flavors are very compatible.

From left: Lemon verbena, lemon thyme and lemon mint.

My first tweak of Abby’s recipe juggles the ratio of flour to cornmeal. My family’s cornbread traditions have never involved wheat flour, only cornmeal, which means it’s a pretty sturdy bread. I kept the all purpose flour, just used a little less of it and a tad more cornmeal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

TWD: Pecan Sticky Buns from Baking with Julia

Nancy Silverton’s Pecan Sticky Buns from Baking with Julia
When Dorie Greenspan described these pastries as the “ne plus ultra of sticky bundom,” indeed she was correct. Chances are, you’ve never tasted sticky buns like these.

Nancy Silverton’s recipe makes the the fluffiest sticky buns you’ll ever see. They were downright pillowy, a lovely thing to behold, the stuff that makes a cook exceedingly proud of her accomplishments.

And as pretty as these are, and as fun as they were to make, I was underwhelmed. Yes, technically I was very pleased with the outcome, but not thrilled with the end result.

These sticky buns had a little too much something-something.

I know that for me to say something is too much is a little out of character because I like bold flavors and certainly wear too many accessories and tend to overdress no matter what the occasion and cannot help but dream of big hair.

To me, it is gilding the lily to turn a rich and buttery brioche dough into sticky buns.

I held back for the same reason years ago when it was trendy to use croissants in bread pudding. I prefer sticky buns and cinnamon rolls made with dough that is only slightly sweet. For me, it is the contrast of cinnamon filling, the caramel sauce and rather plainish dough that makes sticky buns so yummy.

And as for brioche, well, I’d rather you give me a big warm loaf with a nice top knot and let me go off into a corner to enjoy it by myself with maybe just a cup of good, dark coffee to finish. Brioche, when it’s done well, needs nothing else.

My husband, however, did not think this recipe gilded the lily, or if he did, he saw no problem with it (and he isn’t even Southern). He loved these sticky buns. It was a special luxury for us to tuck into them at 9:45 on a work night. (I did sleep very well after a sticky bun nightcap.)

Now, as to the technical aspects of the recipe, I have no complaints at all. Everything worked beautifully. The recipe was fun and easy to execute, not at all complicated. If you’d like to see the recipe and make these buns for yourself, visit the host blogs of Lynn at Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat and Nicole at Cookies on Friday.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TWD From Baking with Julia: Hungarian Shortbread with Cherry Preserves

Hungarian Shortbread from the book Baking with Julia
A few years ago, one of my husband’s many cousins — this one on his mother’s side of the family — discovered Great Grandfather’s naturalization papers in an attic trunk. The paper suggested their lineage was Hungarian — not the Slovak they’d always believed.

This caused some vexation over which side to choose.

“We don’t know it’s accurate,” my husband said of the artifact. “People who came through Ellis Island had all kinds of crazy things written on their papers.”

Indeed. We’re pretty sure my husband’s paternal great-grandfather’s Italian surname was considerably longer when he arrived at Ellis Island.

My mother-in-law, for one, does not accept the Hungarian designation. She was told her grandfather was Slovak and that’s how it will remain.

As for this Hungarian Shortbread, well, I suppose it could be Slovak. It doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that butter, sugar and flour bake up into something good, and if you spread a little jam between the layers, so much the better.

This layered shortbread is a recipe from the pastry chef Gayle Gand which appears in Baking with Julia. The recipe directs you to handle the often sticky shortbread dough by freezing it first. Freeze it, then grate it into the pan. Brilliant.

I’ve used this technique to grate butter into flour for making biscuits and pie crusts, but would never have thought to try it here.

This is a flexible recipe that can accommodate a baker’s busy schedule.

Being in somewhat of a hurry (and also being short on butter), I made one quarter of the recipe. The ingredients are easily adjusted into fourths. I used white whole wheat flour, which made me feel healthier, and half raw cane sugar, which contributed a richer flavor.

It’s worth mentioning that I accidentally melted the butter instead of softening it. It wasn’t a problem, especially as the dough was going to be frozen.

Sadly, I did not get to prepare the rhubarb jam called for in the original recipe. Instead, I used a jar of commercially prepared tart cherry preserves, which were a good foil for the sweet dough.

Instead of baking in a sheet pan, I used my mini muffin tin. I put a layer of grated dough in each section, then spooned a small amount of preserves before sprinkling on the final layer of shortbread dough.

Into the oven and out in short order.

Today’s Hungarian Shortbread recipe is being hosted by Lynette of One Small Kitchen and by Cher at The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler. Visit their blogs to get the recipe. And while you’re at it, take a look at other Tuesdays with Dorie bloggers.
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