Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nutella Polka Dot Cheesecake, with a Chocolate Hazelnut Crust

There was a time when I thought no cheesecake could be better than the no-bake kind that came in a box, topped with canned cherry pie filling.  This was around the same time that I turned my nose up at real whipped cream if there was no cool whip available.

I was probably around 10 years old, but I held on to those notions for a ridiculously long time, and I don't really remember the day I changed my mind, but at some point I started to appreciate real cheesecake.

It seems unlikely to say that the first time I remember tasting an utterly divine piece of cheesecake was in China, but it's true.  Some friends and I had gone out for a special dinner at a very expensive (by Chinese standards) Italian restaurant with white linen tablecloths and all.  After the pasta and the wine, the cheesecake inside the glass counter beckoned us with their white cream cheese fillings, crumbly cookie crusts and toppings of fruit, nuts or chocolate.

The one topped with a simple but rich ganache had my name on it, and after that slice of cheesecake, there was no going back to cheesecake from a box.

Something else there's no going back from...  Pinterest!  I wish I'd thought of it, because I'd be rich by now.  There's so much food porn, style ideas, beautiful rooms and decorating tips, that I find myself pinning one thing after the next, not even realizing I've just spent a whole hour browsing photos and sites.

I discovered an adorable black and white polka dot umbrella, similar to this one, and wish we had enough rain here to justify buying it, but sadly we don't.  I'm also convinced I need this dress, and somewhere to wear it.  Or any combination of this outfit...  Black and White.  Polka Dots.  Touches of red.  I love everything about it.

This Nutella Polka Dot Cheesecake is a combination of the delicious and the adorable, not to mention the complex flavors in the crust of crushed hazelnut, cocoa and coffee which keeps it from being too girly.

Speaking of cocoa and coffee...  we grilled the most delicious rib eye steak last night with a dry rub of cocoa and coffee and a few other spices, along with baked potatoes and baked crispy kale chips.  The idea for the rub came to me as I was thinking up the recipe for this cheesecake, and it was one of the most flavorful and juicy steaks I've tasted.  I've included the amounts of the dry rub ingredients below, although I didn't photograph the steak.

Slightly bitter and just salty enough, the crust was a wonderful contrast to the creamy filling.  I love a cheesecake with chocolate or some kind of sauce on top, but it would have been a shame to cover up the pretty dots on top.  I baked this in our smaller convection oven, forgetting that the close quarters in there tends to over-brown delicate baked goods, so if you like your cheesecake to have a pretty white finished look on top as I do, then bake it in a standard oven where it shouldn't brown as much as mine did, or just lay a piece of foil loosely over the top, tented slightly so that it doesn't rest on the surface of the cake.  Either way, golden brown or not, it didn't affect the taste.

It's also much smaller than it looks in the photos - only 7 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 inches high - just right for about 6 servings if you don't want too much leftover.

The filling was light and fluffy, not at all heavy as some cheesecakes can be, and the polka dots so pretty and whimsical.  As the adorable Zooey Deschanel has said in New Girl, I rock a lot of polka dots, and there's nothing wrong with that.  :)

Coffee and Cocoa Dry Rub
printable recipe

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Combine all ingredients; coat steaks thoroughly with dry rub and grill according to your liking.

Nutella Polka Dot Cheesecake with a Chocolate Hazelnut Crust
printable recipe

  • 3/4 cup crushed chocolate graham crackers (about 3/4 of a "sleeve")
  • 1/2 cup shelled raw hazelnuts, toasted and finely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 pound (two 8-ounce boxes) low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Nutella
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

*  This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9 or 10-inch spring form pan for a larger/standard-sized cheesecake.  Baking time may need to be increased a little.
*  To toast the hazelnuts, place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes; the skins will loosen, the nuts may split a little, and they will become very fragrant.

Getting ready:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Wrap a small spring form pan (7 inches in diameter, with 2 1/2 inch-high sides) with heavy foil (the foil will prevent the water from the water bath from leaking into the cake).  Spray the inside bottom and sides of the pan with non-stick spray.

Prepare the crust:
In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, toasted and crushed hazelnuts, cocoa powder, sugar, espresso powder and salt.  Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork to moisten.  Press the crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.

Freeze crust in the pan for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes.  Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300.

Prepare the filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese for 3 minutes until smooth and creamy.  Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat for 4-5 minutes until light and smooth.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Beat in the sour cream and heavy cream.  Scrape the sides and bottom and beat for several more minutes for a very light and airy batter.

Scoop out 1/2 cup of the batter; transfer to a small bowl.  Whisk the 1/2 cup of batter with the Nutella and cocoa powder until perfectly smooth.  Scrape into a plastic bag, with one corner snipped off and a round tip fitted into the hole.

Take the remaining plain batter; scoop half into the pan over the crust and smooth out the top.  Squeeze dollops of the Nutella batter over the first layer, randomly or in a pattern, whatever you like; use just half of the Nutella batter.  Now pour the rest of the plain batter into the pan - carefully so that you don't swirl the Nutella - and smooth out the top.  Squeeze the rest of the Nutella batter into dollops over the 2nd layer of batter.  The dollops will settle into the batter as it bakes, so don't worry if they stick out above the surface of the cake.  The pan should be full almost to the top.

Place the spring form pan into a baking dish or roasting pan.  Pour boiling or very hot water into the baking dish, so that it comes halfway up the sides of the pan.  Bake for 1 hour, until the top is a pale golden brown and a crust has formed on top and the cake has risen very slightly (the cake will still seem jiggly if you shake it, though).  (Note, I baked mine in a convection oven, which tends to over-brown delicate baked goods due to the close quarters - a conventional oven should yield a paler crust on top, or place a piece of tented foil loosely over the top to keep it from over-browning.)  After 1 hour, turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake sit in the warm oven for 1 more hour.  Transfer to a wire rack on the counter, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool for several hours.  Then cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, take a sharp knife and run it around the edges to loosen the crust from the pan.  Remove the sides of the pan.  Serve the cake on its base, or if you're careful, you can slide a large spatula under the crust to transfer it from the base to a serving plate.

Yields 6-8 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, April 27, 2012

Limoncello Mascarpone Ice Cream, with mini Vanilla Cream Cheese Bundt Cakes...

One of my family's favorite cassette tapes to listen to when I was growing up was one called "One Rainy Night".  As the story goes, a recording studio taped a storm one night, capturing the sounds of rain and thunder from the storm, then added in music, as well as the occasionally whistle of a train.  I loved that tape, and could listen to it over and over.

Last night we had an unusually intense lightning and thunderstorm, followed by the heaviest rain I've seen in a while.  It didn't last nearly as long as I would have liked, and this morning it's just a little gray and overcast out.  As much as I welcome the warm sunny days of spring, I would be happy if it rained like that all weekend.  This is one of those rare weekends where there's actually nothing written on the calendar, and nowhere we have to be except home.  When it started raining, I started envisioning the weekend we could spend, listening to the rain and thunder outside while cuddled under cozy blankets inside, watching movies and sampling the Nutella cheesecake I'm going to make tonight.

Although I wouldn't make Jamie watch this movie, one of my favorite rainy day movies is Under the Tuscan Sun, and if you've ever seen it, then you probably fell a little bit in love with blue-eyed, dark-haired Marcello, describing in his dreamy Italian accent how to make Limoncello at his family's restaurant...

An Italian lemon liqueur, Limoncello is made from lemon peel, sugar and alcohol, resulting in the syrupy lemon drink that's so delicious.  I first tasted Limoncello a few years ago, but at the time it didn't occur to me to cook or bake with it.

So when I saw a bottle of Limoncello Creme, I thought of ice cream.

I dreamed of a creamy, lemony concoction of milk, cream and Mascarpone cheese, steeped with lemon juice and zest, mildly sweetened with sugar and vanilla, a hint of salt, and flavored with the Limoncello Creme.  I knew it would be an ice cream like no other.

And it was.  Creamy, smooth, sweet, tart, and completely unique.  It tasted of warm and sunny days outside, fluttery sundresses, buzzing bees and fragrant flowers, the feeling of cool green grass under bare feet.

Mini vanilla cream cheese Bundt cakes made a pretty little companion for the ice cream.  The moist, dense pound cakes baked perfectly and looked lovely dusted with powdered sugar.  A little lemon could even be added to the cakes themselves, but I flavored them simply with vanilla, letting the tanginess of the cream cheese shine through.

If I had to choose only one flavor to cook and bake with, it would be lemon.  The flavor of spring and sunshine.

Limoncello Mascarpone Ice Cream
printable recipe
  • 8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Limoncello Creme
  • juice and zest of 2 small lemons
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cup powdered sugar

Note: If you can't find Limoncello Creme then just use original Limoncello - note that the original, non-creme Limoncello is stronger, so you may want to start by adding 1/4 cup, then increasing to taste.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the Mascarpone cheese with 1/2 cup of the milk until smooth.  Add the remaining milk and the rest of the ingredients and whip until very well blended.  Taste and adjust sugar and lemon as desired.

Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, until well chilled.  After mixture has chilled, whisk it until smooth, then pour through a mesh strainer to strain out the lemon zest.  Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions of your ice cream maker.  Transfer to a container and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields slightly more than 1 quart.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Mini Vanilla Cream Cheese Bundt Cakes
printable recipe

  • 6 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Turbinado sugar (very coarse)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray 4 mini Bundt cake pans with non-stick baking spray and set on a baking sheet.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down a few times, until very light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly.  Add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.  Batter will be very thick.

Sprinkle the Turbinado sugar into the bottom of each mini cake pan.  Divide the cake batter between the pans and smooth out the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown, and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

If desired, use a sharp knife to slice off 1/4 an inch from the bottom of the cakes so they sit level.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey and Pork Meatballs, with Spaghetti Marinara...

I'm home again after my second trip in two weeks, and so happy to not be sitting in an airplane, hoping that I don't get queasy during the landing, or sleeping in a hotel room.  On Monday night, after a few happy hour drinks with coworkers and a dinner of fish and chips at a pub near the hotel, I relaxed on a questionable hotel bedspread in my room, watching a movie I'd seen three times already, and drinking hot chocolate while dipping pieces of hard pretzels into my cup.

I missed being home.

I should have enjoyed having a whole king-sized bed to myself, but those are so big I feel like I get lost in the middle and can't find the edge during the night.

The night before I left, we made spaghetti with meatballs for dinner - they were extra special being stuffed with gooey mozzarella, and then smothered with marinara sauce.  The combination of ground pork and turkey gave them a nice richness without being too heavy, and the mild spiciness from a little cayenne and crushed red pepper was perfect with the oregano, paprika, garlic and Parmesan. We ended up with a lot of meatballs, so Jamie had plenty to eat while I was gone, instead of subsisting on scrambled eggs as he sometimes does when on his own.  As good as they were, though, he may not want to eat another meatball for a while after eating them for three days in a row.  :)

But now I'll say goodnight, since there's a gorgeous man saving me a spot in my favorite corner on the couch...

Marinara Sauce
printable recipe

  • 30 ounces tomato sauce
  • 30 ounces stewed or diced tomatoes in Italian seasoning
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh basil
In a large stockpot, combine all the ingredients except the basil.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer, covered, for at least one hour; taste and adjust seasoning as needing.  Before serving, stir in freshly chopped basil.

Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey and Pork Meatballs
printable recipe

  • 1 pound Italian-seasoned ground turkey (93/7)
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5 ounces fresh mozzarella balls (about 20 balls, weighing .2 ounces each / measuring 3/4 inch in diameter)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups Marinara Sauce (above)

In a large bowl, use your hands to combine all ingredients, except the mozzarella balls, olive oil and marinara sauce.  Weigh the meatball mixture out into 2-ounce portions, which will yield about 20 meatballs.  Take a portion of the meat, flatten it in your hand, place a mozzarella ball in the middle, then shape the meatball around the mozzarella.  Repeat with remaining meat and mozzarella.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a large baking dish with non-stick spray; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick cast iron skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is hot enough to sizzle, add the meatballs, working in batches.  Sear the meatballs for 2-3 minutes on each side, for a nicely browned-crust.  Transfer to the baking dish; repeat with remaining meatballs.

Pour 4 cups of the marinara sauce (reserve the rest to toss with the spaghetti) over the meatballs in the baking dish.  Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook one pound of spaghetti according to the instructions on the box.  Toss the cooked spaghetti with the remainder of the marinara sauce.  Serve the spaghetti with the meatballs, spooning the extra sauce from the baking dish over the meatballs.  Top with more grated Parmesan and freshly chopped basil.

Yields enough pasta, sauce and meatballs for about 6-8 servings (2-3 meatballs per person)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Apple, Cardamom and Ginger Streusel Muffins

A pan of warm muffins on the counter on a Saturday or Sunday morning makes my kitchen happy...  Especially when there's a crumbly streusel topping, and the muffins are full of spices.

These muffins are a little unique, spiced with cardamom, nutmeg and a hint of ginger.  There's crystallized (candied) ginger in the topping, too, and the unexpected mild heat of the ginger is a wake-up to the taste buds first thing in the morning.

I found the crystallized ginger at World Market, a store I'm tempted to visit every week, but have to limit myself to visiting just once every couple of months.  Jamie might regret having introduced me to that store, since every time I walk in, I find something new and interesting that I just know wants to come home with me.  Striped pasta, unique spices and exotic teas, cute little ramekins, baking dishes and utensils, pretty plates, bowls and table linens, rustic wine bottle racks...  It's a good thing I'm limited by our cupboard space - there simply isn't room for anything else.

Some major things are changing at work, although I won't go into detail since I don't like talking about work in my blog posts.  But I will say that I'm facing some big decisions, and while it's also an opportunity to try something new and possibly pursue something I'm more passionate about, it's also stressful and a little overwhelming.  On a related note of pursuing my passion, I've been following the progress of the Cottage Food Law, which just passed in Colorado last month, now making it legal to operate a home-based food business.  I would love to hear from any of you who have started your own food business, as I can use all the advice and insight that someone experienced in that area could offer me.

So these muffins are a comfort.  We ate the muffins plain, just warm from the oven, but if you have to put something on them, a drizzle of honey might be just the thing.

Apple, Cardamom and Ginger Streusel Muffins
printable recipe

muffin batter:
  • 2/3 cup grated apple (1 medium-large or 2 small apples)
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
streusel topping:
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized or candied ginger, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray (the muffins will overflow to create muffin tops, so the spray will keep them from sticking where they spill over), then line the pan with 12 paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the grated apple, brown sugar, honey, oil, eggs, vanilla and yogurt until well combined.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.

Fill the muffin cups with the batter; they will be full, almost to the top.  In a small bowl, combine all the streusel ingredients, using your fingers or a fork to mash the butter into the dry ingredients until moist and crumbly - I like my streusel topping a little more dry and crumbly, but if you like yours more moist and buttery, just increase the amount of butter.  Sprinkle the streusel topping over the batter and gently press it into the batter.

Bake muffins for 18-22 minutes, until the topping is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Yields 12 muffins.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, April 20, 2012

Salted Caramel Almond Tarts

Salted Caramel Sauce might be my new favorite condiment.  We drizzled it over Flourless Chocolate Cake for Easter, and then I poured the leftover caramel into little mini pastry shells and baked these delicious tarts.

But let me backtrack a little to last week, when I visited my sister for a few days.  It had been a year and a half since I'd seen her, and it was so fun to get to spend time with her and my three beautiful nieces.  With all us girls in the house, my brother-in-law was definitely outnumbered!

One night we made chocolate cupcakes, a new recipe that Laura wanted to try, and while they didn't end up looking very pretty, they sure tasted good.  Everyone got to help mix and measure, except the baby of course.  Instead of frosting, we just topped them with a little whipped cream.  We also had a girls night with face masks and cucumber peels, ice cream, wine (which we drank from mason jars), and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Then the rain came, and it drizzled and poured throughout the day.  It's been a long time since I've seen it rain that hard.  We almost got some rain in Colorado yesterday - the skies were gray and overcast, and some menacing storm clouds hovered so close.  I was looking forward to a rainy night, snuggled on the couch with Jamie.  But it only lasted for about 5 minutes and then the clouds drifted away again.

On Sunday, we all hugged goodbye and I headed home.  As much as I knew I would miss them, I looked forward to sleeping in my own bed again and taking a shower without toys in the bathtub.  :)  And I missed Jamie after 5 days apart.  It was wonderful to come home to him, a clean house, red roses, and a delicious dinner of halibut with sauteed mushrooms, salad, white asparagus, and one of my favorite things to eat, steamed artichoke with aioli.

Since he was so sweet to make me such a nice dinner, I made something sweet for him on Wednesday.  There was a lot of drooling over the Salted Caramel Sauce in my Easter dessert post, and since I wasn't sure how long the leftover caramel would keep in the fridge, I decided to make mini caramel tarts so that not a drop of caramel would go to waste.

The simple buttery pastry was flaky and tender and the crunchy almonds added a delicious contrast to the hot caramel filling.  If I had pecans on hand, or bittersweet chocolate, I might have used those instead of the almonds, but really you can use whatever you have handy and whatever you like.

I sprinkled each tart with a little coarse sea salt, and with the salty, sweet, buttery, crunchy, creamy combination, these tarts were little bites of heaven.

Salted Caramel Almond Tarts
printable recipe

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1-2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds
  • 6 tablespoons Salted Caramel Sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fleur de Sel or coarse salt

Note: Any type of nuts you would like to substitute for the almonds, such as hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans would work.  Chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips could also be used instead of the nuts for a salted caramel chocolate tart.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spray 4 individual tart shells with non-stick spray.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Scatter the butter over the flour and cut in with a pastry cutter so that mixture is crumbly, but there are still visible pieces of butter remaining.  Add the water, a little at a time, working it in quickly with your hands, just until you're able to gather the dough together into a ball.  Use a knife or bench scraper to cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.  Press into the bottom and sides of the tart shells.

Divide the almonds between the tart shells, then pour the caramel sauce (warm it slightly if needed) over the almonds.

Bake for 25 minutes, just until the visible edges of the crust are pale golden.  Caramel will be bubbly and liquid, but will set up quickly as the tarts cool.  Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, or until caramel is set, then turn tarts out onto a serving plate.  Sprinkle with the Fleur de Sel and serve warm or room temperature. (Note: If you reheat the tarts later, do it carefully!  The caramel heats very quickly in the microwave.)

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, April 16, 2012

Caramelized Balsamic Onion and Parmesan Mini Pizzas

Whenever we take a road trip that happens to take us through Idaho Springs around lunch or dinner time, one of our favorite places to stop to eat is Beau Jo's.  There are several locations in Colorado, but the original restaurant is in Idaho Springs, and they make fantastic pizza.  I know everyone raves about NY-style pizza, but I'll admit I've never tasted it.  Maybe I just don't know what I'm missing, but I like Colorado pizza.

I think my favorite thing that Beau Jo's does is to serve honey with the pizza - for dipping their amazing, chewy crust into after you've finished a slice.  The combination is surprisingly delicious.

Lately, we've been making homemade pizza on Saturday or Sunday nights.  I like the chance to experiment with different styles of crust (remember when I made a Margherita Pizza using a recipe for Naan?).  As far as toppings go, I've decided that I prefer the minimalist pizzas - little to no sauce, just olive oil, 2-3 delicious ingredients, a sprinkling of herbs and cheese.  Nothing too fancy.  Less is more.

After eating ham, carrots, potatoes and hot cross buns for dinner and then again for lunch the next day on Easter weekend, as well as a breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham, I wanted to make something for dinner that didn't involve any of those foods.  I found two portions of mini pizza dough in the freezer that I'd made a few weeks before, and set those on the counter to thaw for dinner.

The mini pizza dough is possibly my favorite dough I've made so far - although there's really no need to pick a favorite.  Trying a variety of techniques and flavors is what makes it so fun.

I made this particular dough with honey and cinnamon in the dough, and used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, and the result was a slightly sweet dough that baked nice and chewy, while still crisp.  So yummy.

There wasn't much in the fridge by way of toppings, but I found an onion and a tomato, and a small wedge of Parmesan cheese.  Sounds like the makings of a pizza to me!  I thinly sliced the onions and got them caramelizing in a skillet - on impulse, I grabbed the bottle of balsamic vinegar and stirred a few teaspoons into the caramelized onions to add another dimension of sweetness and flavor.

A little cracked pepper, oregano and crushed red pepper were all the seasoning the pizzas needed, with some honey on the side, of course.  Simple, easy and so delicious.

Caramelized Balsamic Onion and Parmesan Mini Pizzas
printable recipe

  • recipe for Honey Pizza Dough (below), for 4 mini pizzas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing on the dough
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  freshly cracked pepper
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or your favorite pizza cheese)
  • honey, for dipping

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until a deep golden brown.  When the onion is caramelized, remove from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar.

Meanwhile, roll out each portion of the dough to about 8 inches in diameter.  Place dough on the baking sheets.  Use a fork to lightly prick the dough, about an inch from the edge all around, and then several times in the middle - this will help to prevent the dough from bubbling too much in the middle.

Brush the dough with olive oil, about a teaspoon per portion.  Sprinkle with the crushed red pepper, oregano and cracked pepper, using as much as you like to suit your taste.  Pre-bake the dough for 5 minutes - after 5 minutes it will be a very pale golden and slightly bubbled.

Remove from the oven and top with the sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese.  Return to the oven and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

Slice each pizza into 4 pieces; serve with honey on the side for dipping the crust.

Yields 4 servings.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Honey Pizza Dough

  • 1 ¼ cups very warm water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 ¾ cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine ½ cup of the water with the yeast.  Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.  Add 1 cup of the flour, the salt, cinnamon, honey and olive oil.  With the dough hook attachment, stir on low to combine.  Add the remainder of the water and flour and stir until moistened and the dough pulls together.  Increase speed to medium and knead for 5-7 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  If you press a finger in the dough, it should hold the indentation, and spring back very slowly.  This can also be kneaded by hand.

Gather the dough into a ball and smooth out the surface.  Place dough smooth side up, in an oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or you can use your pizza stone if you have one.

Dump out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch to release the air.  Using a knife or dough scraper, cut into 4 equal portions.  (If you’d like to save any of the dough for later, just place each portion into an individual zip-lock freezer bag and freeze for future use.)  Shape each portion into a ball then let the dough balls rest for 5 minutes.  Roll or press each ball out into a disk measuring about 8 inches in diameter.  If the dough is too stiff to work with, let it rest for another 5-10 minutes, then come back and continue rolling.

Place the disks of dough on the parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake as directed above.

For a thinner, crispier crust, work the air out of each portion of dough as you roll it out, and bake right away.
For a softer, puffier crust, be careful not to overwork the dough (using your fingers to shape the disks is better than rolling it out).  Cover with a towel and set in a warm place to rise again for 10-15 minutes before baking.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hot Cross Bun Bread Pudding (using day-old hot cross buns)...

"Hot Cross Buns are a real food?  It's not just a song?"

I heard this several times at a party with friends on Sunday, and I couldn't help but laugh.  I think just about every kid who owned a recorder learned how to play Hot Cross Buns.  It also made me realize that as much as hot cross buns are considered an Easter tradition, not a lot of people actually make them.  My family never did, so I've decided to start the tradition myself.

I really loved the buns, especially straight from the oven when they were soft and piping hot, sticky with the orange marmalade I brushed over the top - for my previous post with a recipe for the buns, click here.

After making the hot cross buns, I knew we were going to have leftovers, since there was so much delicious ham and other things to eat.  And as homemade yeast bread without preservatives tends to do, I knew these would be getting stale as soon as the next day.  Stale bread is perfect for re-purposing in dishes like strata and bread pudding.  With the raisins and sweet spices already in the bread, I tossed the buns with an egg and milk custard to make bread pudding for breakfast.

To drizzle over the bread pudding, I made a sauce of orange juice, honey, vanilla and nutmeg, simmered and reduced until syrupy.  Orange slices added a nice freshness.  The flavors were reminiscent of the dinner we'd eaten the day before, the kind of dinner where you can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch.

This post is coming a little late, as I've been visiting my sister and her family this week, and having so much fun with my nieces.  I'm missing Colorado, though, especially Jamie, and can't wait to see him waiting for me at the airport tomorrow...

Hot Cross Bun Bread Pudding
printable recipe

  • 4 day-old hot cross buns, cut into cubes (about 6 cups)
  • 2 whole eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray 4 ramekins or oven-safe bowls with non-stick spray.  Place ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.

Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolks, milk, orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and brown sugar.  Pour mixture over the bread and toss with a spatula.  Let sit for a few minutes until the bread absorbs the liquid.  Divide mixture between the ramekins.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the all the ingredients for the sauce.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil until reduced by half, about 15 minutes.  Pour the sauce over the bread pudding before serving.

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce

This dessert that I made for Easter dinner with my parents is a celebration of rich dark chocolate and gooey caramel, as well as the result of a personal achievement for me.

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll know that making caramel has been a source of great frustration for me, and something that I've been determined to master - I'm just stubborn that way.  I've never known anyone to love caramel as much as my man does, and I've tried so many times to make homemade caramel for him.

Following all the tips and tricks that all the experts use, I've made batch after batch of caramel, only to have to scrub a grainy white mess of lumpy, crystallized sugar, that didn't even get close to turning into caramel, out of my stock pot.  Once, just once, I made a successful batch of toffee, but I have no idea how that happened since every attempt after that one ended in failure, leaving a very annoyed me scrubbing my stock pot yet again in a hot kitchen.  A kitchen devoid of pretty jars of caramel on the counter to reward my efforts.

One day we were watching an episode of Good Eats, and Alton Brown happened to be making caramel.  I had to find out if he had an answer to my troubles with caramel making.

And the answer:  Corn Syrup.  His explanation was that introducing a different form of sugar into the pot, such as a few tablespoons of corn syrup with the granulated sugar, would help to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.  I don't quite understand the chemistry of it all - after all, my high school "science project" involved a very lame poster board of perfume samples and the way the scent varied on my best friend and me, whether on our wrists, neck, etc... - I'm surprised our teacher even gave us a passing grade on that project.

But anyway, as far as adding corn syrup, it has something to do with two forms of sugar not being able to bind together, which in theory, should provide more stability during the process of caramel making.  I started doing a little more research on the subject and found more and more references here and there to adding corn syrup to sugar when making caramel.

And I have to admit, all this made me wonder why it seemed to be such a well-kept secret?  I've perused so many recipes for caramel, all of which make it all sound so easy to make, with no reference to this particular trick.  Were they all doing this all along, but not wanting anyone to know, so that they could be the master of caramel?  I'm not saying that people aren't making caramel without corn syrup, and being completely successful at it - good for them!  I, however, need this technique.

It makes me think of a funny story I read somewhere, of a young bride who asked her grandmother for a recipe - but every time she made the recipe, it was never the same as her grandmother's.  When she asked her grandmother what she did wrong, the response was always something like "Hmm, I don't know, that never happens when I make it!".  The bride later found out that when her grandmother shared her recipes, she always left out one or two ingredients, or a crucial piece of the instructions, so that no one would ever be able to make her recipes better than she could!

I have no such compunctions, though, and want only to encourage and help all those cooks out there, trying to learn, as I am, how to be a better cook and baker.  So here I am, sharing this secret with all of you.  Because if you've experienced even half the frustration that I have, then I feel for you.

Even with the corn syrup, there was a moment when I almost thought that I'd ruined the caramel when I poured in the cream.  I had started by cooking the sugar, corn syrup and water over very low heat to dissolve the sugar as much as possible before cranking up the heat.  Then I let it cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the color deepened to amber - I let it go as long as possible, up to the point where I feared it might start to burn, because I wanted the caramel to be as rich in flavor as possible.  This took about 10 minutes.

And then I took the pot off the heat and poured in the cream.  The hot liquid bubbled up as it should have, but when I went to stir it up with a wooden spoon, I found that the liquid had seized up, and become one big lump.  My heart sank, and I thought I had ruined the caramel.  Again.  But it looked so close to being caramel, that I held onto hope that it could be rescued, so I decided it just needed a little more heat to loosen it up.  So I returned the pot to the stove over low heat and let it cook and melt down a little, while I stirred constantly.  The caramel began to smooth out almost immediately, and my heart started to hope!  I stirred in the butter, then the vanilla and salt, and realized that I was staring into a pot of perfect, ooey gooey caramel.  I was so excited, that I immediately took a picture with my phone and sent it to Jamie - I wanted him to start drooling in anticipation of dessert that night!  Just in case there were any remaining lumps that hadn't dissolved, I poured the caramel through a mesh strainer into a glass jar.

I kept the jar on the counter all day, periodically going back, lifting the lid, and sticking a finger in - just to be sure that I hadn't been dreaming earlier, and that it hadn't changed into something other than caramel while I wasn't looking...

Ok, this has already become a pretty wordy post, and I haven't even talked about the cake yet!  You could of course just eat caramel with a spoon, as I'm sure most of you out there have done at one point or another, but let's face it, something to drizzle caramel on is never a bad thing, either.

This cake isn't just a vehicle for the caramel, though, and really doesn't even need the caramel, but the two together were pretty amazing.  Flourless chocolate cakes are composed primarily of chocolate, butter and eggs.  And really, they don't need anything else, although a little sugar, cream and vanilla are welcome additions, too.

Since chocolate is the main ingredient, you should use the best quality chocolate that you can afford.  You don't have to spend a fortune, but every grocery store has a nice selection of organic chocolate on the candy aisle that isn't full of mystery ingredients like a bag of chocolate chips tends to contain.  I used an organic bittersweet chocolate of about 54% cacao, but you can definitely go darker.  Just remember, the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it contains, so if you want your cake to be sweeter, then you'll need to increase the amount of sugar you add.

I knew this cake would be extremely rich, which is why I made it so thin, barely an inch tall.  If you'd like a thicker cake, you can easily double the recipe, but I'll warn you, you'll want to cut much smaller pieces, unless you'd like your tombstone to read "Death by Chocolate"! :)

For a finishing touch to the cake, I made a ganache out of the same bittersweet chocolate to spread over the top of the cake.  The cake was moist and indulgent, almost like a pudding, and the salted caramel added a delicious contrast of flavors.  It was a sweet and satisfying way to end dinner.

And now, to end a too-long post, I'll simply ask this question when faced with any future culinary predicaments and frustrations...

"What would Alton do?"

Flourless Chocolate Cake
printable recipe

  • 8 ounces good quality dark, bittersweet chocolate, chopped (54% cacao or higher)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 ounces good quality dark, bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line the bottom of an 8-inch spring form pan with parchment and grease the sides of the pan.  Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with a sheet of heavy foil (so that the water from the water bath doesn't leak into the pan).  Place the foil-wrapped spring form pan inside a large roasting pan.  Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl.  Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water), stirring occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla on medium high speed until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Gently whisk the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture in 3 additions, until well blended.  Pour the batter into the spring form pan.  Set the roasting pan in the oven; pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, taking care not to get it inside the spring form pan; the water should come about halfway up the side of the spring form pan.

Bake for about 22-25 minutes, until the edges are set but the center is a little jiggly.  Lift the spring form pan from its water bath and place on a wire rack to cool for about an hour.  Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

To serve, remove the sides of the spring form pan.  Carefully, invert the cake onto a sheet of parchment paper; peel the paper off the bottom of the cake, then set the cake on a serving plate or cake pedestal.

To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.  Warm the cream over medium-low heat, just until the cream starts to bubble.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let it stand for 3 minutes.  Whisk the mixture until smooth and shiny, then pour over the cake; you can let it run over the sides if you like, but I spread mine just to the edge of the top.  Return the cake to the fridge to set the ganache, about 30 minutes, before serving.

Drizzle each slice with warm salted caramel sauce (recipe below), or with some fresh, lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Note: this recipe can easily be doubled for a thicker cake (may require baking a little longer), but it's so rich that if you do double it, you'll want to cut smaller pieces, as a little piece goes a long way!

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.

Salted Caramel Sauce
printable recipe

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water.  Warm the mixture gently over low heat until the sugar is dissolved (I kept mine on low heat for as long as I could before the sugar started to bubble, about 15 minutes).  Wash down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush to get rid of any sugar crystals, then turn the heat up to medium to medium/high.  Cook, without stirring, until the sugar becomes a deep amber color (may take from 5-10 minutes).

Remove from the heat and pour in the cream - the mixture will bubble up quite a bit.  Stir  briskly to incorporate the cream; if the mixture seizes up at this point (which happened to me!), return it to the stove over low heat, and cook, stirring constantly and vigorously, to dissolve any lumps and/or sugar crystals.  Stir in the butter, one piece at a time until incorporated, then stir in the salt and vanilla.  If any lumps remain, pour caramel through a fine mesh strainer into a glass jar.

Serve warm over the flourless chocolate cake or over ice cream.
Refrigerate any leftovers, rewarming in the microwave on 50% power.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.  Technique inspired by Alton Brown.

Monday, April 9, 2012

our Easter dinner... Citrus and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham with Carrots, Fingerling Potatoes and Hot Cross Buns

While paying for my leafy-topped carrots the other day to cook with the ham on Friday night, the girl at the register exclaimed, "Are these for the Easter bunny?"

I said, "Of course!"  I suppose now I should actually leave one out for him, although the Easter bunny came early to our house, bringing us lots of chocolate eggs filled with caramel, cream, peanut butter and coconut.

We've had both sunshine and snow this week - in Colorado it's the April snow showers that bring May flowers.  I kept my fingers crossed for a sunny Easter Sunday, and the day turned out to be so beautiful.  I even got a little sun on my arms.

I love cooking family holiday dinners, remembering the old traditions and creating new ones, too.  One of my all-time favorite scenes from a movie is from the family dinner scene in While You Were Sleeping - the dorky but loveable Bill Pullman and quirky Sandra Bullock resisting their attraction to each other, everyone at the dinner table talking at once about a million different topics with no one listening to anyone...

My sister and I must have had that entire movie memorized at one point, and would bounce lines back and forth in a way that never ceased to amaze my parents.  How is it that I could memorize entire movies, but not remember the U.S. Presidents or any significant date in history except for 1492?  And even for that one, I only remember it because of the rhyme...)  But that's just the way it goes, I guess.

Jamie, on the other hand, can remember just about any type of wine we've tried on any number of special dates...  and I remember what I was wearing that night.

For our Easter/Good Friday dinner with my parents, I started by slow-baking a ham for about 4 hours, basting it in a syrup of butter, brown sugar and orange juice, seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and crystallized ginger, with slices of tangerine becoming soft and candied in the juices.  In the last hour of cooking, I added the carrots to the pot so they could get nicely glazed in the sweet citrus syrup.  The house smelled incredible, and made my stomach growl all afternoon.

After taking the meat out of the oven, I poured the rest of the syrup from the roasting pan into a saucepan and let it reduce to a thick, fragrant sauce to drizzle over the ham and carrots before serving.

That morning, I had simmered some raisins to get them soft and plump, then mixed up the dough for the hot cross buns, using the warm raisin-infused water to activate the yeast.   Adding the water used to simmer raisins into recipes was something I remember my mom doing all the time.  One of my most-loved baked treats she made were Raisin Spice Bars, a soft, raisin-filled cookie bar full of sweet spices, and topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting.  The batter for the cookie bars was so thick, and as much as I wanted to help stir it, I was more of a hindrance to my mom than I was a help.  Something I'm sure moms don't mind most of the time, unless they just need to get something done quickly.

Hot cross buns were not something we ever made for Easter, but it's something I've been curious about, and wanted to start the tradition for Jamie and me.  Until now, I thought that the white cross on top was frosting, and was surprised to learn that it was a flour/water paste which keeps the buns from browning where it's piped across them.

The soft, raisin studded dough smelled so fragrant, and was so relaxing to work with.  I had no desire to let my Kitchen Aid mixer do the kneading for this recipe - I wanted to use my hands.  The buns rose beautifully, looking soft, yeasty and lovely.  After they came out of the oven all golden brown, I brushed some warmed orange marmalade over the top of them, which made them delightfully sticky.

For our dinner with my parents, I shaped the dough into 12 buns and baked them in a 9x13 pan, but for Sunday, I shaped them into 24 smaller buns and baked them in a mini-muffin pan, which worked just as well.  I actually think the smaller buns were my favorite version.

To eat with our ham and carrots, my mom steamed colorful fingerling potatoes until they were tender, then seasoned them with butter, salt and pepper.

And for dessert, a decadent flourless chocolate cake, topped with a rich ganache.  To drizzle over the cake, a warm salted caramel sauce completed the meal.  I'll be writing a separate post with the recipe and photos of the cake and caramel...

After dinner, everyone was full and happy, and my parents agreed that it was an Easter dinner they wouldn't soon forget!

Now after eating two Easter dinners in one weekend, I think it's time for a nap on the couch while I watch While You Were Sleeping...

Citrus and Brown Sugar-Glazed Ham and Carrots
printable recipe

  • 1 smoked ham, bone-in, about 6-8 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons crystallized (candied) ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2 oranges, tangerines, minneolas, etc, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 bunch organic carrots with leafy tops (7-8 carrots)

Several hours before you plan to start baking the ham, set it on the counter to let it come to room temperature - this will help it to warm through evenly.  Take a sharp knife and score the fat and skin crosswise in a diamond pattern, all over the ham.  Rub the ham with the olive oil, then season generously with salt and pepper.  Rub the ham with the crystallized ginger, working it into the cuts.  Set aside in a roasting pan with a rack.

In a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, orange juice, sliced oranges, water, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes.  Taste it - the citrus syrup is so delicious, you'll want to drink it straight from the pot!

Preheat the oven to 300.  Pour the syrup and slices of fruit all over the ham.  Insert a meat thermometer into the center of the ham, not touching the bone.  Bake for about 3-4 hours (about 18-20 minutes per pound), basting with the syrup every 30 minutes, until the internal temperature is 150.  The skin and fat will be crispy and browned, even blackened in some areas, and the ham inside will be extremely moist and flavorful.

While the ham is baking, trim the tops off the carrots, leaving a little green for a pretty effect.  Peel the carrots, if you like.  When the ham has about an hour left to bake, place the carrots in the roasting pan with the ham and baste them with the juices.  If the carrots aren't tender enough by the time the ham is done, you can return them to the oven in a separate baking dish and roast until tender (I returned my carrots to the oven to finish up while I baked the hot cross buns, and roasting them at 400 gave them the nice charred, candied edges that everyone loved).

When the ham and carrots are done, remove from the oven and cover with foil to rest while you finish the rest of the meal.  Use a bulb baster to remove the liquid from the roasting pan.  Pour it into a saucepan and place on the stove over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and boil over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until reduced and very flavorful.  Drizzle the syrup over the ham and carrots before serving.

Ham Stock:
To make your own ham stock, slice as much ham off the bone as you can for leftovers.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stock pot.  Add 1 diced sweet yellow onion with a pinch of salt, and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the ham bone, 4 whole cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh sage, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, several teaspoons of salt, 1 tablespoon whole cloves and 1 thinly sliced orange.  If I had them on hand, I would have also added some chopped celery and carrots.  You could also add cinnamon and nutmeg, and any number of fresh or dried herbs that you like.  Fill the pot with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low to simmer for 4-5 hours.  Turn off the heat, strain the liquid and let cool.  After it cools, skim off the fat, and you'll have a delicious homemade ham stock.  I like to portion out my homemade stock in freezer bags or small Tupperware, and freeze for future use, so that I can just thaw out what I need for a particular recipe.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Hot Cross Buns
printable recipe

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
for the "cross" and glaze:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade, slightly warmed

Combine the raisins and water in a small saucepan.  Over medium low heat, bring barely to a simmer, just enough to plump up the raisins.  Drain, reserving the water.

Measure 1 1/3 cups of the hot raisin water into a small mixing bowl.  Stir in the sugar and yeast.  Set aside for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 cups of flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.  Sprinkle the pieces of butter over the flour and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until crumbly.  Add the beaten eggs and raisins and stir just to moisten the mixture.  Pour in the yeast mixture and stir to form a soft dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead for about 5 minutes, adding the remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Lightly oil a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Punch the dough down with your fist.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and use a bench scraper or knife to cut into 12 equal portions.  Shape each portion into a ball, and place in a greased 9x13 baking dish.  I also made these smaller for a party on Sunday, dividing the dough into 24 small balls, and baking the buns in a mini-muffin pan - very cute!

If you'll be baking these immediately, go ahead and preheat the oven to 400.  Let the buns rise again for 15-20 minutes in a warm place before baking.  If you're preparing these in advance, then at this point, cover the pan of buns with plastic and refrigerate immediately.  The cool temperature will help to slow down the second rising - although they will still rise a little in the fridge.  Remove from the fridge to come to room temperature 1 hour before baking.  These can be made up to a day in advance.

The last step before baking the buns is to mix the flour/water paste to create the cross.  Many recipes call for equal parts flour and water, but I found that ratio to be far too thin, and it ran everywhere.  Start with 2 parts flour and 1 part water, then slowly add a little more water if needed to create a thick, but pliable paste.  Scrape the paste into a plastic baggie and snip off the corner.  Pipe the paste across the buns to create a cross across each.

Bake the buns for 10 minutes at 400.  Reduce the heat to 350, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.  Before serving, brush the tops of the buns with the warmed orange marmalade.

Yields 12 large or 24 medium buns.

Recipe adapted from Hot Cross Buns by Citrus and Candy.