Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

Hybrid Pastry

I was a bit torn over whether or not to post this recipe. The results were good – very good, in fact, and I had trouble trying not to devour the leftovers. But they could stand some tweaking and perfecting. Moreover, I’ve gone a bit overboard on the baking posts as of late – a trend quite uncharacteristic of my typical warm-weather cooking patterns.

But, thanks to the recent earthquake + hurricane + busy schedule, my kitchen experimentation has been a bit … uninspired as of late. Picture lots of cereal, a few too many tomato sandwiches and more than a few corn tortillas topped with beans and avocado. All tasty treats, but none particularly blog-worthy. 

So, I’ve opted to share with you my experience with the doughnut muffin. I have a recently-pregnant friend to thank for the inspiration for this baked good. She typically lacks much of a sweet tooth, but as her due date approached (and the baby arrived, woo hoo!), it seems sweets are high on her taste bud radar. She mentioned a fondness for a doughnut muffin that a coworker had brought into the office. Clearly, the term “doughnut muffin” gave me pause. I like doughnuts. I like muffins. So a recipe with the ease of a muffin and the flavor of a cake doughnut held massive appeal for this amateur baker.

I tweaked a recipe I discovered over at How To: Simplify. The batter couldn’t have been easier, and the texture is quite nice. The idea is that you bake a simple yellow muffin, dunk it in butter and roll it in a cinnamon sugar mixture. I found that the cinnamon sugar absorbed too quickly into the buttery muffin, which tasted fine but was visually unpleasing and left the muffin with a tacky texture. I’d recommend experimenting with dipping a muffin in the cinnamon sugar mixture sans-butter, or increasing the proportion of sugar to cinnamon – the end result you’re looking for is a muffin thoroughly dusted in a lovely coating of cinnamon sweetness. I MIGHT even experiment with lining the muffin tins with cinnamon sugar, pouring the batter and then sprinkling the top of the batter with more cinnamon sugar.

Make sure you have friends over when you prepare this recipe – the doughnut muffins taste best on the day they’re baked, preferably served hot with a glass of cold milk.

Doughnut Muffins

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 melted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon, for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.


Combine dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon – in a medium bowl using a spoon or fork to stir together.


Combine wet ingredients – oil, egg and milk – with sugar in a large bowl. Add dry ingredients and stir together until just combined. 


Bake 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick removed from the center of the muffin has just one or two crumbs clinging to it. Cool for 5-10 minutes on a baking sheet, in the tins.


Use a butter knife to unmold the muffin. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. One by one, dip each muffin first in melted butter, then in the cinnamon sugar recipe (see my notes above if you want to experiment with a different method).


Place muffins on a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

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Miniature versions of just about anything are universally accepted as the ultimate in cuteness. Puppies? Yup. Babies? Them too. These miniature pie bites are no exception to the rule. 

But the real question at hand for Miss Menu is, how does size affect taste? Is the proportion of crust-to-filling acceptable? Can a mini-pie hold a candle to a traditional wedge sliced from a 9-inch pie plate?

The original version of these miniature pies over at Crepes of Wrath (love the name) called for a blueberry filling. While I’m a fool for blueberries in my everyday life, blueberry pie does not rate at the top of list of fruit favorites. I remembered achieving a certain degree of success a few years back when I served a free-form, rustic tart stuffed with nectarines and raspberries. Something about that particular combination is my idea of the perfect mixture of texture and flavors. So, I decided to tweak this recipe for a recent celebratory picnic – but feel free to tweak it right back.

Now, here’s a note on a few things I didn’t do that I’d advise that you do do.

  1. I didn’t serve with homemade vanilla ice cream. You really should. Or maybe homemade cinnamon ice cream, eh? And certainly nobody shall call the dessert police if you use Edy’s as a stand-in.
  2. I didn’t use arrowroot powder. I knew I should. Cornstarch works, but lends a slight chalkiness of texture and muddiness of flavor, to my taste buds, at least.
  3. I didn’t roll my crust thin enough. I also didn’t use a proper biscuit cutter. I let nostalgia get the best of me, perhaps, and used the vintage juice glass that my mom used to use to cut biscuits when I was a kid. But with such a tiny bite, you’d be wise to use a properly sized cutter – no bigger than 2 inches across – and roll it thinly to produce the appropriate ratio of filling to crust.

Now, even when you roll the crust to just the right width, this is still going to be a bit more crust-heavy than your traditional pie. Lucky for this girl, I’m a crust fanatic. The recipe I used was one that mixes butter and Crisco to be both buttery AND flaky – but feel free to use your own all-butter crust, if you’re a butter purist. I’d trust this Smitten Kitchen recipe.

Peach-Raspberry Pie Bites

Serves 24.

For the Pie Crust:
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
2/3 cup shortening, cold
2/3 cup ice water, plus more as needed
4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar, chilled
2 tablespoons room temperature butter
1 egg yolk, for the egg wash
1 tablespoon water
1-2 tablespoons additional sugar 

For the Filling:

½ pint raspberries
2 ripe peaches, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1/3 cup sugar

Food Processor Method: Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Add cold butter and shortening, pulsing to combine until fat is pea-sized. Mix together cold water with vinegar and add to mixture, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing between each addition until a dough forms. You probably won’t use all of the liquid.


Pastry Cutter Method: Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add cold butter and shortening, using a pastry cutter or two forks to blend fat into dry ingredients until pea-sized clumps form. Mix together cold water with vinegar and add to mixture, one tablespoon at a time, turning dough with forks and incorporating liquid into the mixture until a dough forms. You probably won’t use all of the liquid.


Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a ball. Wrap well and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (but only if you have a really cool fridge – two to three hours is more likely). I made mine the night ahead.


Mix the fruit together in a large bowl and sprinkle with sugar and arrowroot powder. Stir well to combine and set aside.

When dough is chilled,

Remove dough from fridge and divide into two halves. Place one half back in fridge. Roll the remaining half nice and thin, about 1/8 inch thick, between two sheets of waxed paper. Cut 24 rounds from the dough. Keep in mind that you might not be able to get 24 rounds on the first roll-out – you might have to collect your scraps, stick them in the fridge for a few minutes and then re-roll to eke out all 24 rounds.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray your mini cupcake tin with non-stick cooking spray. Tuck a round of dough into each of the 24 cups. Shmear each round with room temperature butter (I used a pastry brush, but a spoon would also suffice). This will help prevent the crust from becoming too soggy. Place the cupcake tin in the freezer while you roll out the remaining dough and, once again, cut out 24 rounds.


Remove tin from freezer and spoon a heaping tablespoon-full of fruit mixture into each cup. Top with another round of dough and pinch to seal the edges. Make three slits in top of crust. Whisk together egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Using a pastry brush, spread the wash lightly on top of each pie, then sprinkle with sugar.

And finally,

Bake for about 20 minutes, until crust starts to brown just a bit around the edges. Allow pies to cool in tins on a cooling rack before loosening around the edges with a butter knife and popping them out. Don’t forget to serve with ice cream!

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Some foods are inherently satisfying to make: a lofty layer cake for its majesty; a succulent soup for its comfort and ease; a soufflé for its airy perfection. For Miss Menu, the Indian grilled flatbread called chapati falls into this same category. I discovered this savory treat thanks to the Food Network’s Aarti Sequira, whose specialty is demystifying the world of Indian cuisine.

My familiarity with Indian flatbreads thus far has only extended to the pillowy naan, so I was happy to come across its cousin chapati, whose beauty lies not only in the fact that it does not require leavening, but also in the rhythmic process of forming the bread itself. You start with a simple mix of whole wheat flour, water and salt, which receives a good 10-minutes’ worth of stress-reducing kneading. After a short rest to allow the gluten to form, the dough gets divided into a set of pucks that you roll out with a small pin, brush with oil, fold and pat closed and roll again into an oblong triangle. The rolling, patting, dunking in flour, brushing and rolling again yields perfectly smooth and lovely blankets of dough that receive a quick turn on the grill pan, puffing up just beautifully to yield pockets of bread with delectable char marks.

There’s no other way to describe the process other than satisfying. It’s a perfectly lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and a little effort yields a delicious return.

What to serve with your chewy chapati? Your options are endless – a nice curry, perhaps, or a beef vindaloo – but I propose for you a couple of super-easy and equally tasty variations on a traditional hummus. The base for this particular dip is a faux-tahini made by toasting sesame seeds and mixing with sesame oil (necessity is the mother of invention, right?) before adding either chickpeas or black beans, plus plenty of raw garlic, toasted fennel & cumin seeds and paprika. The result is a tasty spread that is excellent when scooped with chapati, but would also serve as a flavorful mayo-substitute on a veggie panini! I like to add a large handful of spinach for color and freshness, too.

A platter of chapati and black bean hummus with spinach.

I’m so enamored of this project that I’ve made the whole mess of it – chapati and hummus – two weekends in a row. I highly recommend that you follow suit!

For the chapati, I recommend following Aarti’s recipe to the letter, but here’s a pictorial lesson to help you out.

After kneading, the chapati dough receives a quick rest.
I use a small rolling pin to roll a puck of dough into a four-inch circle before brushing with oil.


After folding the dough twice into a triangle, I pinch the edges closed and give it a quick dusting of flour.

Rolling the ball of folded dough flat yields a slim, oblong triangle of chapati.

Grill time is short - a minute or two per side on the grill pan, just enough to allow time for the layers of dough to puff up.

The finished product in its chapatiful glory!

Variations on Hummus
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 can chickpeas, white beans or black beans
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (I used white balsamic)
  • 1 large handful spinach
  • Salt & pepper

Toast all seeds until fragrant – I do this in a dry pan over a medium flame for 2-4 minutes. Watch carefully for burning, and remove from the heat as soon as they become fragrant.

Use a spice grinder or coffee grinder to grind the toasted seeds into a powder. Place powdered seeds in the bowl of a food processor and add sesame oil. Pulse several times to combine. Add garlic and pulse several times until it’s finely chopped. Add beans, continuing to pulse, then vinegar, paprika and spinach. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

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Miss Menu is happy to report that her lack of recent blogging has been due to the fact that she’s been too busy doing actual cooking! So, let’s get right down to business with the final – and favorite – installment of the holiday cooking recap: sweet endings.

Caramel Walnut Chocolate Tart
I’ve long been tempted by the allure of the dessert tart due to one simple fact: the tart is perfectly pretty. Aesthetics aside, though, I couldn’t resist the call of this Chocolate, Caramel and Walnut Tart. I’m typically pretty intimidated by any recipe that calls for making caramel – but in reality, it’s super simple and doesn’t even require a candy thermometer. The end result is intensely rich, so make plans to serve small slices alongside a slightly-more-than-healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream. I successfully substituted agave syrup for honey in the recipe, and relied on this tart crust recipe, which doesn’t call for par-baking the crust.

Pressing the crust into the tart pan.


Caramel bubbles away on the stovetop.



Homemade Oreos
I’m a fool for homemade versions of popular store-bought desserts, and oreos are certainly no exception! In this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, I reduced the amount of confectioner’s sugar in the filling by 1/2 cup – and the result rings true to the not-too-sweet, slightly granular filling of the original Oreo. The finished product is delightfully reminiscent of a whoopie pie.

Gingersnap Palmiers
The palmier, to me, is the perfect blend of impressive and easy. By relying on store-bought, high-quality puff pastry dough, these lovely, buttery cookies – also known as elephant ears for their distinctive shape – are a snap to prepare while making a stellar presentation. Martha Stewart takes things up a notch by adding molasses and spicy ginger to the mix in her gingersnap palmier recipe. Next time I make them, I might add some finely chopped crystalized ginger to the spice mixture to give even more flavorful oomph to these crispy cookies.


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Everything’s Coming Up Pumpkin

Every year at this time, Miss Menu gets a bad case of pumpkin cravings. Last year, they manifested themselves in the form of 16 pumpkin whoopie pies. This year I continued the sweet treat trend.

The more decadent of my two pumpkin encounters was the result (as are so many of Miss Menu’s cooking adventures) of a small but fateful mistake. I intended to amp up the volume of Gourmet’s Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with the addition of a generous handful of milk chocolate chips. The cake baking was going perfectly according to plan. The batter whipped up quickly and rose beautifully in the pan. More importantly, it unmolded perfectly. And then I looked and saw the still-full bag of chips sitting sadly next to my plain pumpkin bundt cake.

Determined to put some chocolate flavor into my pumpkin dessert, a quick frosting came to the rescue! The end result is reminiscent of a cakey pumpkin doughnut with chocolate frosting. In other words, totally addictive. And totally breakfast-appropriate.

Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from Gourmet recipe on Epicurious.com

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin 
  • 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for coating pan
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bundt pan generously, then dust with sugar, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and vanilla in another bowl.

Beat butter (1 1/2 sticks) and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy, then add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is smooth.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert cake onto serving plate.

While cake is cooling, whisk together buttermilk and confectioners sugar until smooth. Melt two tablespoons butter and chocolate chips together in glass bowl in microwave or on stove top. Add chocolate mixture to buttermilk glaze, stirring quickly to combine until no lumps remain. Place parchment or wax paper under edges of cake to catch excess icing. Pour icing generously over warm cake and remove paper.


My next pumpkin option is certainly on the healthier side. And I’ll admit, it’s hard to compete, taste-wise, with the Pumpkin Chocolate Bundt Cake. But if you’re looking for a lightly sweet treat that pairs well with tea or coffee, look no further than the Pumpkin Scookie. This low-fat confection combines pumpkin, oatmeal and pecan in a cookie-scone hybrid that is the perfect mid-morning snack. Based on my research, I do believe it’s based on a Weight Watchers recipe.

Low-Fat Pumpkin Oatmeal Scookies

  • 1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin
  • 2 egg whites, whipped just until very soft peaks are barely forming
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin and egg whites, folding together. In a separate bowl combine sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, oats and pecans. Mix ingredients together very well until moistened.

Drop cookies by tablespoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart.  Flatten them out with the bottom of a glass before baking (feel free to sprinkle with a bit of sugar, salt or cinnamon for extra “oomph”). Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and slightly craggy peaks form.

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