• Conchas!!

    I would like to mark down March 10th, 2019 as a very special day in my life calendar, because it was the day that I made my first Concha, and I can already tell that we will have a long and happy life together. Also called Pan Dulce, these beautiful works of art are a Mexican bakery staple known for their intricately patterned tops, often resembling the swirl of a shell. A concha consists of two parts: a sweet cinnamon roll, and a crisp, colored (and sometimes flavored) streusel-like topping, which forms the crackly pattern on top. Whenever I used to come across pictures of these, I just assumed that some kind of baking pan or stamp was required and so I never really gave it much more thought. THEN, I came across this recipe from A Cozy Kitchen, and suddenly they were so attainable!!! No stamp needed, just a pairing knife, a steady hand, and some patience, and since I have two of those things, I once again took a bread-making quest that paid of incredibly well!

    Almost as soon as you start this recipe, you will start to wonder why no one has managed to make a candle that can capture this scent exactly. No offense but the combination of fresh bread and cinnamon is the only thing that matters in this world. Truly. Anyway, if you thought these treats couldn’t get any better, boy do I have news for you! Something that is very fun and special about this recipe is that it’s totally customizable! By mixing different flavors and colors into your streusel topping, you are opening up so many possibilities here! You can add cocoa powder for a hint of chocolate, lemon zest, freeze dried berries, or combine several food colors for a rainbow pattern, and it’s 100% up to you! I kept mine on the simpler side for my first try, and used a red gel food coloring to give my Conchas a bright pink finish. From there, you could follow the traditional concha shaped top by cutting a shell pattern into the top (the bun rises and expands while baking to form the crackled top that these are known for), but you can also add concentric circles, stripes, grids, or any number of patterns and see how they turn out!

    Before we get started, let’s all take a moment to appreciate these 5 things to be happy about today:
    ONE. Falling asleep in the car on the way home from a long day.
    TWO. Using something you had been saving for a special occasion.
    THREE. An evening of zero productivity.
    FOUR. An evening of extreme productivity.
    FIVE. Asking for a booth at the restaurant.

     

    MAKES: 12 buns with topping
    PREP TIME: 30 minutes
    RISING TIME: 2½ hours (divided)
    BAKE TIME: 18-20 minutes

    DOUGH INGREDIENTS

    3 Tbsp. warm water
    2½ tsp active dry yeast
    1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
    1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
    1/3 white sugar
    ¾ cup evaporated milk
    2 tsp kosher salt
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    2 tsp ground cinnamon
    2 eggs, at room temperature
    4 cups all purpose flour

    TOPPING INGREDIENTS

    ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
    2/3 cup white sugar
    1 cup all purpose flour
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    Gel food coloring of your choice or 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder

    STEPS

    ONE. Warm the bowl of your stand mixer by filling it with hot water and letting it sit for a minute. This will allow you to add warm water with the yeast and not have the heat change when it touches the cold metal bowl. Once the bowl is warmed, remove that water and add in the 3 tablespoons of warm water and yeast. Allow the yeast to bloom and get foamy, about 5-7 minutes. If it doesn’t foam up, your water was either too hot or too cold, or the yeast is no good, so you’ll have to start over.

    TWO. When the yeast is ready, add in the oil, melted (and slightly cooled!) butter, sugar, evaporated milk, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs. Using the dough hook attachment, mix until the eggs are slightly broken up and everything is incorporated.

    THREE. Add the flour all at once, and mix the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft and smooth, and a little sticky. Coat a large bowl with oil or cooking spray and transfer the dough. Cover with a towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

    FOUR. While your dough is rising, you can make the buttery streusel topping! Mix all the ingredients in your stand mixer until smooth and incorporated, then decide whether you want the topping to be chocolate (add the 2 tablespoons of cocoa) or colored (add gel food coloring of your choice!), or both! I went for pink this time but you can do whatever you want! Scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of topping for each bun, I did this ahead of time so that the topping was ready when the bread was!

    FIVE. After the bread dough has doubled, turn it out onto a baking mat or countertop and section it into 12 rolls. If you want to weigh them individually so that they’re even, you can, but I just eyeballed it. Shape them by hand into uniform, round buns and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

    SIX. Take each topping round and flatten it into a disk in your palms, then lay it over the top of each bun so that the top is totally covered. Repeat for all. Using a pairing knife, cut some patterns into the top- you can research some of the more traditional patterns here, but you can also do whatever you feel like! When all designs are done, cover the whole tray with a towel and allow the buns to rise again for another 30 minutes, until doubled in size again. Preheat your oven to 350ºF halfway through this second rise.

    SEVEN. Bake the buns for 18-20 minutes, until they are lightly golden and the topping has spread into the classic concha shape. Best eaten soon after baking, with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate!!

    YAY! xoxoxoxD

     

  • Braided Jammy Breakfast Breads

    Over this year I’ve conquered many a fear, but none that I am more proud of than my old fear of bread. Maybe I was just doing everything wrong before now, but after making these beautiful braids, it’s clear that this recipe is going to become a staple in my home. Inspired by two different people, this original recipe comes from Zoe Francois of Zoe Bakes, in her new book Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes A Day. I believe the original recipe used raspberry jam and cream cheese with a hint of lemon, so my second bread closely resembles that one. Last week, I came across Adrianna Adarme of A Cozy Kitchen, preparing her variations on this beautiful bread and by then, I was convinced. So, here we are, with one classic raspberry and lemon, and a second that tastes like breakfast and pie in one. What is it, you ask? Oh only blueberry jam with cinnamon cream cheese and maple glaze! I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s truly heavenly.

    With next week being Christmas, I’ll be taking a week off to spend time with all my siblings and family together, as well as my best friend, who works with the Peace Corps and is home from Ethiopia for just two weeks!!! But never fear, for I will be back New Year’s Day with a fresh start to 2019 and plenty more to be happy about in the future. If you celebrate, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a healthy, prosperous New Year full of food and happiness.

    Some notes on this bread: I give the preparations for two variations of cream cheese, jam and glaze fillings, but you have total creative license here! Fill them with chocolate like my incredibly talented friend Taylor, fill them with different jams or homemade jams or make them savory! It’s totally up to you, and it will be delicious any way you slice it. Also, when following this recipe, she mentions that the dough is easier to roll and slice if it’s been chilled after it rises, I was slightly pressed for time so I skipped this step and found it to be perfectly manageable, but if you’re having difficulty with forming the shape, try to refrigerate the dough for a while! Finally, this dough should be cooled completely before it’s glazed so that the glaze doesn’t melt right off, but it would be delicious warmed up before eating. There’s also no need to double this recipe for two loaves, one batch of dough is divided into two.

    Before we get to breading and braiding, here are 5 things to be happy about today!
    ONE. The smell of bread baking and filling your whole house.

    TWO. Having specific candles for specific holidays and seasons.

    THREE. Hosting a dinner party with a signature cocktail.

    FOUR. Star Wars Episode IV.

    FIVE. Spending New Year’s Eve in your pajamas with friends and never having to venture into the cold.


    Makes:
    2 braided loaves
    Prep Time: 1 hour
    Inactive Time: 2 hours
    Bake Time: 30 minutes

    Bread Dough Ingredients

    2 eggs, lightly beaten
    ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp lukewarm water
    1½ tsp dry active yeast
    1½ tsp kosher salt
    ¼ cup honey
    4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    3½ cups bread flour

    Filling Ingredients

    8 ounces cream cheese, divided in half
    ½ tsp ground cinnamon
    Pinch of nutmeg
    ½ tsp lemon zest
    2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided in half
    ¼ cup blueberry jam
    ¼ cup raspberry jam
    Egg Wash (1 egg whisked with 1 Tbsp water)

    Icing Ingredients

    1 cup powdered sugar, divided in half
    ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
    Splash of vanilla extract
    2 to 3 Tbsp maple syrup
    ½ tsp lemon zest
    2 to 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    Milk, to thin glaze as necessary

    Steps

    ONE. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon), mix together the beaten eggs, yeast, water, salt, honey, and melted butter. Add the flour and, without kneading, mix with a paddle attachment or with a large spoon until combined. Allow to rise, covered, in a warm place for at least 2 hours.

     

    TWO. In two separate bowls, make the cream cheese fillings. In one bowl, mix together 4 oz. cream cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1 Tbsp granulated sugar. Set aside. In a second bowl mix together the remaining 4 oz. cream cheese, lemon zest, and remaining 1 Tbsp sugar.

    THREE. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust your rolling surface with flour, and divide your dough in half. With the first half of dough, roll into a rectangle that is roughly 9″ x 12″. It may take some stretching, I found that it tends to shrink back at first.

    FOUR. Transfer the rectangle of dough carefully to your first baking sheet. Using a ruler and a knife or bench scraper, lightly mark the dough into 3 long sections, this will make it easier to fill and fold. In the center third, spread an even layer of the cinnamon cream cheese, then top with the blueberry jam, spreading with an offset spatula to keep everything uniform.

    FIVE. Using a pair of kitchen shears (or a knife), cut the two outer thirds into ½ inch strips all the way down. To form the log shape, alternate folding a strip from each side across the filling in a slant, from top to bottom, to form a braid. Wrap the tray in plastic wrap the baking sheet loosely in plastic wrap and allow to sit for an hour before baking.

     

    SIX. Repeat steps two through five with the second type of cream cheese and jam, and allow to rest for an hour.

    SEVEN. When there’s about 15 minutes left in the bread’s hour long rest, preheat your oven to 350ºF. To bake, brush each loaf with your prepared egg wash, and bake for 30 minutes, switching trays halfway through to ensure both loaves brown evenly.

    EIGHT. While the loaves are cooling, prepare the glazes in two bowls. In the first, mix ½ cup powdered sugar with cinnamon, vanilla, and maple syrup. If it’s too thick for pouring, it can be thinned with milk as necessary, or thickened with more powdered sugar. For the second, mix the remaining powdered sugar with lemon zest and lemon juice, adjusting the amounts of lemon juice and sugar as necessary so that the glaze is opaque and thick.

    NINE. When the breads have cooled completely, drizzle generously with the glazes (with a spoon or with a ziplock with the tip cut off) and enjoy at any time of the day or night, but specifically for breakfast with a cup of coffee by the Christmas tree or on the couch.

    YUM!!! xoxoxoxoxoD

  • Classic Focaccia

    If you’re even slightly a food person like myself, you’ve probably seen or heard about the new Netflix show Salt Fat Acid Heat. I admit that since its premiere, I have watched it through at least 3 times, crying, laughing, and planning food for the future. The premise behind the show comes from a cookbook of the same name, written by Samin Nosrat. Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat, the four elements of good cooking. Master the balance of these, master good cooking. The special is broken into 4, each in a different location and each tackling a different element. Unsurprisingly, the episode that I felt myself watching over and over again centered around Italy. Titled “Fat”, it tackled just what makes Italian food so good, from the olive oil, to the pork fat, to the cows milk cheese.

    The recipe that caught my eye for sure was this focaccia, and even though I have a deep-seated fear of bread making, nothing was going to stop me from this. It is SO good, so crisp on the outside and light and airy on the inside, rich and salty and perfect for dipping in coffee (the Ligurian way) or eating straight from the oven. It reminds me so much of the Schiacchiata bread that makes the best sandwiches in Florence, which I’d get on my way home from school and finish eating before even getting to the steps of my apartment. I would give literally anything to be back there right now, but until then, this is pretty close to perfect. By the way, the original recipe can be found here, but I tried to keep this as close to the original as possible!

    Before you go become your best bread-making self, here are 5 things to be happy about today:

    ONE. Puffy winter coats.
    TWO. Keeping your room cold so that you can sleep with two cozy blankets.
    THREE. “Flannel Fridays”.
    FOUR. Apple cider cocktails.
    FIVE. Impromptu photoshoots.

    Makes: About 24 pieces of focaccia
    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Inactive Time: 12-14 hours
    Bake Time: 25-30 minutes

    Ingredients

    2½ cups warm water
    ½ tsp active dry yeast
    2½ tsp honey
    5 1/3 cups all purpose flour
    2 Tbsp large crystal kosher salt
    ¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
    Salt, for sprinkling
    1½ tsp kosher salt (for brine)
    1/3 cup warm water (for brine)

    Steps

    ONE. In a medium sized bowl, combine the warm water, yeast, and honey and stir until dissolved. In another large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add in the dissolved yeast mixture and the olive oil and stir until everything is just combined. At this point, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to ferment overnight or for at least 12-14 hours.

    TWO. When the dough has finished fermenting and is more than doubled in size, spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil on an 18″ x 13″ baking sheet (a baker’s half sheet) so that the whole sheet is covered. Gently release the dough from the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula, and carefully add to the baking sheet. Add another tablespoon of oil and gently stretch the dough so that it covers the entire bottom of the sheet evenly. Because the dough will shrink at first, over the course of 30 minutes gently push the dough back to the corners until it stays.

    THREE. Press your index, middle and ring fingers into the dough at an angle to make the signature focaccia dimples. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the warm water and salt until the salt has been totally dissolved. Pour this brine over the whole sheet evenly, and then proof for a final 45 minutes.

    FOUR. About 30 minutes into this final proof, position your oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 450ºF. To bake, either place a baking stone on the oven rack with the baking sheet on top of it, or flip another baking sheet upside down and place the baking sheet with the dough on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden brown.

    FIVE. To finish, generously drizzle olive oil over the top (it will sink into the bread), and sprinkle with flaky salt. Serve thick slices warm and try not to eat the entire sheet yourself, but if you do, I won’t judge.

    YUM!! xoxoxoxox