Thursday, December 30, 2010

Butternut Bliss

This fall I went to a dinner party hosted by my friend and her sister. We enjoyed an array of seasonal comfort foods, but I swooned most over the butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. I was thrilled to learn of a new way to eat the beautiful fall squash. They found the recipe at, where recipes are sorted by season.

I finally got around to making it on Christmas Eve. I prepared for a longer process than was necessary; there are quite a few steps, but they're all pretty simple: make the dough, roast the squash, caramelize the onions - and you can do it all at roughly the same time. I was baffled, though, when the first step asked me to put the flour and salt in one bowl and butter in another, then put both bowls in the freezer for an hour. Apparently, when making pie crusts, you want the ingredients to be as cold as possible. I would guess this fact is widely known but often ignored. Anyway, after the dough and filling are made and the galette assembled, it's a relaxing 40 minutes between this:

and this:

And I daresay it tastes even better than it looks (and that's a bold claim - do you see the individual bits of squash and caramelized onion?!) Needless to say, this savory little tart was a popular dish Christmas Eve. So thanks to smittenkitchen for providing the recipe, thanks to the Schnobrichs for introducing me, and biggest thanks to the reason we're all here:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ode to Cinnamon & Sugar

Are you familiar with the simplest, most delectable cinnamon rolls in the world? That's my own claim, but I don't see how anyone could argue. We made these on Christmas morning and were so impressed that we did it again a couple days later. We used Rhode's sweet dough, which obviously plays a huge role in the simplicity factor. Before you go to bed the night before, set the frozen dough out in a pan covered with cling wrap, and be sure to grease the underside of the cling wrap so the dough doesn't stick to it when it rises. In the morning it'll be ready to pull apart into golf ball-size (or slightly bigger) chunks. Dip those in melted butter, then roll them in a sugar/cinnamon mix. Be generous! - the coating thins out as the rolls get bigger in the second rising. When everything's coated, cover the pan with the greased cling wrap once again and put it in front of a fire (or a sunny spot on the counter) for about 45 minutes - 1 hr, allowing the rolls to double in size. They'll be pretty cozy inside the pan, but this is just how you want them. Bake at 350F for about 12-15 minutes. The result:

When my mom and I made them today, we were positively floored by the underbelly of the rolls. I can only hope that others appreciate the beauty as much as we did:

Especially when baked in such close quarters, the rolls achieve the perfect balance: incredibly light in the middle, soft and sticky on the sides, and the most delicate crunch on the top and bottom. There is no need for icing here, lest you compromise the gorgeous simplicty of butter, cinnamon and sugar.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Camera's First Christmas

In exchange for my undergraduate degree, my parents gave me a digital camera - a big deal to the person who left for a semester in England with a pack of disposable cameras. No need to pity - I was steadfast in my rejection of digital cameras, believing that they bewitch their users into experiencing things through a lens, thinking only of who would see the photos and what they would think, meanwhile forgetting to be fully present and experience the world for themselves. I still believe this to an extent, but in the last year or so I've found there is one thing with which I take no issue pausing to capture: food. Until now I've been harboring delicious images in the only device I owned with a viewfinder, modest as it may be: my cell phone. The pictures were actually pretty decent, but I had no way of transferring them to my computer to share with all. And so I gave in. A digital camera it would be.

The little Olympus Stylus conveniently made its way into the palm of my hand in the week before Christmas - the baking week. I became quite friendly with my new camera this past week, keeping it at arm's length and handling it with floured or sticky hands when there just wasn't time to wash them first.

So here are some of the bits and pieces of my Christmas at home in St Cloud, MN.

The Reason I'm Here

Newly graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I am switching gears. I am going to baking school.

It started years ago when my mom and sister and I began describing the perfect bakery/cafe - the kind we would own. What started as a nice thought turned into a mild obsession.

In Fall 2009 I studied in London. During one of several trips down Portobello Road, I made a stop at the hummingbird bakery, an American bakery in central London. The line went out the door, but I would wait; I had cupcakes on my mind. Once I made it into the little shop, I still had plenty of time to look around. I saw cupcakes. I saw cake on pedestals. I saw bustling employees keeping their cool as their tiny store got slammed by market-goers. And then I saw an aproned woman emerge from a doorway behind the counter, carrying a pan of newly baked cupcakes. She dropped them off behind the counter before disappearing back through the doorway. I knew nothing about this woman except that she had looked tired and a bit overheated, and yet I found myself romanticizing her entire life. Oh, to be a baker on Portobello Road, I thought. Then: Oh, to be a baker.

And so that mild obsession became a serious consideration. Now it's an inevitable truth: we will have our own bakery someday. And perhaps this very blog will play witness to that day. Meanwhile, I'm headed in the right direction.

And so begins my adventure in baking, at school and at home.