Friday, May 25, 2012

My Mother's Zucchini. And Her Bread!

Growing up, it was just my mom and me. And we moved around a lot. She wasn't in the military, by any means. Her wanderlust was un-quenched. Life was constantly changing for us, but I remember one thing that stayed the same. My mother has a fantastic green thumb. I used to secretly imagine she was a "plant whisperer" or something just as silly. Everywhere we lived, we made sure to have a garden. I think my favorite was when we lived in Colorado, and happened upon a raspberry bush right in our backyard. If there's one thing my mom is terrific at, (and let's face it, there's not much my mom CAN'T do) it's making homemade jam. Our church's parking lot had almost an orchard full of plums, and she had even gotten permission to pick and jam all the plums there as well. Getting off the school bus and walking the secret path to my backyard always brought on a new debate for my after-school snack: Nutella or jam on bread? I'm not exaggerating. It's as high on my yum list as hazelnut and chocolate. But back to the subject of gardens. A constant friend to our gardens was always zucchini. I never wanted to pick them, just to see how big they could get. Mostly they'd be about the size of my forearm now. And my mother could turn those babies into bread that was absolutely heavenly. I just loved the stuff! And so I'm attempting to re-create this wonderful blast from my past!

Zucchini Bread
my mother's recipe

3 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil (any kind will do)
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

I just want to take the time to point out the size of that zucchini. If you notice, it's about three times as big as the other squash. Here's a close-up:

My mom and her green thumb. :)

First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Grease a loaf pan well. I'm not sure the exact dimensions, but I believe it's a standard loaf.

Sift the flour, salt, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. 

Set it aside. If you're anything like me, this probably happened to you...

I call it the flour phenomenon. Happens to me every stinkin' time! My apron, too, as you can see, is always a mess, too.

Grate your zucchini, if you haven't already done so.

Now, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla in a large bowl. 

Mmm... zucchini mush...

Slowly add in the dry ingredients, just a little at a time, until it's all incorporated.

You can leave it plain, or jazz it up with some walnuts, white chocolate chips, or even some cranberries! Like this batch of muffins:

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. You could probably split it into two pans, or even make muffins out of them, but I'm sticking with my one. I'm sure my sweet mom will come by with more fruits of her labors, so I can try them as muffins too! I'm already excited. :D

Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted towards the middle of the bread comes out clean. If you decide to do muffins instead, bake them for 20 to 22 minutes, then check them with a toothpick.

Now it's time to enjoy! Pour yourself a tall glass of milk and slop some butter on a slice (or two) of fresh-baked zucchini bread. Who needs a time machine when you've got zucchini bread to take you down memory lane?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Ultimate Cinnamon Roll Weekend

This weekend, I decided to do a little kitchen experimenting. I'd heard rumors of a no-yeast cinnamon roll recipe that would rival the original. Naturally, I wanted to test it out. I wanted to make sure this was no hoax! Sam, ever the encouragement and pep talk I need (although, I'm pretty sure he was stoked on a weekend full of cinnamon rolls...), said, "Why not?" So, I channeled my inner Barney Stinson and declared, "Challenge accepted!" So this post has not one, but TWO cinnamon roll recipes, and my final verdict on both.

First up, we'll start with the no-yeast contestant:

No-Yeast Cinnamon Rolls

For the Rolls:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk*
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

If you are like me and do not have buttermilk on hand and can't find it in a store anywhere, you can use one of these substitutes (from Good Life Eats):

Cream of Tartar: Measure 1 3/4 tablespoon cream of tartar and a cup of milk. Whisk them together, then let it sit on the counter for 5 to 10 minutes, until the milk curdles.
Lemon Juice: Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then, add milk until you get one cup's worth of liquid. Let the mixture stand for 5-10 minutes, until curdling happens
Plain Yogurt: You can easily add 2 tablespoons milk to enough plain yogurt to equal one cup. Mix well, and off you go!
Sour Cream: If you have sour cream in the fridge, you can thin the sour cream down with some milk until it reaches the consistency of buttermilk. 
White Vinegar: Just pour one tablespoon of white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Next, add  enough milk to equal one cup. Let it stand on the counter for about 5-10 minutes.

For the Cinnamon Filling:
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I'm sure dark brown would be a-MA-zing, but alas, I have none on hand...)
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Generously coat a 9 inch round cake pan with some Pam.

We're gonna make the filling first, since the dough doesn't take super long to whip up. Combine the brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated white sugar, cinnamon, salt, and the melted butter. This will resemble wet sand.

Makes me want to go to the beach and stick my toes in the sand!

Now on to the dough. In a fairly large bowl, whisk together the flour 2 Tablespoons white granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk and 2 Tablespoons of the melted butter together.

I'm a nincompoop  who just happened to read that as MIX ALL THE BUTTER. Don't do that. If you do, it will make the dough really sticky. Easy enough to fix, since you'll just add a smidgen of flour (or six) to get the dough to not glue itself to your hand.

Also, check out that curdling! Who knew cream of tartar would have such an effect on butter?

Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until all the dry ingredients are absorbed, which is about 30 seconds.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured counter and knead until smooth, which should be about 1 minute. It took me far longer, due to my inability to read late at night.

Shape the dough into a 9 by 12 rectangle, or as close to it as you can manage.

Brush the dough with 2 Tablespoons melted butter. I was so excited to bust out my pastry brush! I feel like an artist when I use it. I am painting a masterpiece of butter and cinnamon. You must love it. Sorry. It's late. Forgive my excessive silliness...

Sprinkle the dough evenly with the cinnamon concoction, leaving about a half-inch at each border. 

Starting at one of the long sides, roll the dough, pressing lightly as you go, to form a tight log of cinnamon heaven. You'll want to have a handy dandy metal spatula nearby to pry the dough gently from the counter, as it will still be the tiniest bit sticky.

Pinch the seam to seal, and then slice the dough into 8 even pieces. I feel sometimes like 8 is nowhere near enough. Not that I would eat 8 cinnamon rolls in one sitting. Maybe in 4, though.

Place the slices in the greased pan. Arrange them so that they will have enough room to spread out as they bake. Seven along the outer rim of the pan, then one in the middle. That seems to be the perfect set-up.

Brush with the remaining 2 Tablespoons melted butter. Yeah, that's right, more butter! Do it.

Bake until the edges are golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

If you smell something burning in the direction of your precious cinnamon rolls, don't worry too much. It might be just the excess filling and butter spilling over the top of the pan. It sure did make the house stink, though!

Use a knife to loosen the buns from the pan. Or! You can save dishes and just use that same metal spatula from before.

Now, flip the rolls onto a wire rack, then turn buns upright and let cool for 10 minutes. Definitely let them cool before attempting the frosting.

While they're cooling off, whisk all the icing ingredients together. I recommend using a whisk or a fork, because no matter how soft your cream cheese is, it will still look chunky unless you whisk it good.

These are definitely best served warm, and have a biscuit-like texture. I enjoyed them for sure, but I want to see how they stack up to the tried and true original. Which brings us to contestant number 2:

Cinnamon Rolls
same site and link as previous

For the Rolls:
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed (nuke it for 2 minutes or so. You want it to be like 110 degrees or thereabouts)
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoon) yeast
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Cinnamon Filling:
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

For the Cream Cheese Frosting: (I ended up with leftovers from the no-yeast rolls, so I'm hoping I can skip this part later on!)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. When the oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. You'll just be warming the dough as it rises, not baking anything.

Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil, allowing excess foil to hang over pan edges. I'm not big on lining my baking pans with aluminum foil, so I skipped that and just greased up my pan.

Cut the butter into 12 pieces and let it sit out on the counter. You want it to be at room temperature for easier mixing. Also, do them in that order. I let my butter sit out first before slicing it up and the paper wrapping on the sticks of butter were almost impossible to remove.

Stupid paper wrapping...

Now, you'll want to whisk the milk and yeast in a measuring cup until the yeast dissolves.

Add the eggs and whisk away!

You're looking at 9 eggs because I tripled the batch for Sam's co-workers. I think he deserves a raise...

In the bowl of a stand mixer (do not attempt with mixer if being an overachiever like me and making 3 batches), mix together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt until well combined.

Haven't even gotten to the wet stuff and already, the bowl is so freaking full!

With mixer on low, or with your super-hero forearm strength, add the warm milk mixture in steady stream and mix until dough comes together, about 1 minute.

I had to separate some of the mix so I could actually mix it! So much dough.

Now, you'll add butter, one pat at a time, until well mixed. Since I had to do 36, I kinda got lazy and added, oh, four or five at a time.

Continue to mix until dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes or more. I feel like I worked that dough for half an hour, at least!

Turn the dough out onto clean surface and knead to form a smooth, round ball. I love kneading dough. It's so relaxing. :) However, I had to stand on a chair just to get the right angle.

Transfer dough to a greased, oven-safe bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and place it in your nice, toasty warm oven.

Let that puppy rise until it has doubled in size, so about 2 hours. You might want to keep an eye on it, otherwise this will happen:

Luckily, this dough isn't sticky, so it came right off, no muss, no fuss! Whew.

Now that the dough's all taken care of, start mixing the filling. Mix the cinnamon, sugar and salt. Don't add the butter. That's for later.

Roll out the dough on a very floured counter top. Same drill as before, 9 by 12 rectangle, or as close as you can get. Use a rolling pin to flatten it all out.

Spread the butter onto the dough.

Now sprinkle the filling on top. Press it into the dough as much as you can.

Pick a long side to start with, then roll the dough into tight cylinder, then pinch the seam to seal all that goodness inside.

Cut the cylinder into 8 even little rolls.

Transfer the rolls, cut-side up, to your prepared pan.

Set them aside, and let them rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in size. I turned the oven on again and set it to 170 degrees. Then I put the cinnamon rolls in.

After rolls are done rising, heat the oven up to 350 degrees.

Remove the plastic wrap, then bake the rolls until they are a deep golden brown and the filling is melted, which is about 35 to 40 minutes.

While rolls are baking, make the frosting, using the same guidelines as the no-yeasts. Use a whisk to get those pesky cream cheese lumps.

When the cinnamon rolls are done baking, transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool 30 minutes.

Now frost these babies before serving.

Eat them warm. Seriously. They might taste okay cold, but they're soft and yummy when they're warm.

My verdict: The no-yeast cinnamon rolls are quick and easy, but have a biscuit-like texture. Not very much like the yeast ones, but still delicious! The original yeast-y delicious rolls took forever (literally. I started at 8 at night, then didn't go to bed until 3 the next morning.) but were hands-down my favorite texture-wise. And now I'm going to go take a nap. 3 hours of sleep rocks.