Super Fast Cinnamon Rolls

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As you know, I’m on a quest to create the best cinnamon bun out there, for my tastes, at least. People are very particular about their cinnamon buns: some like them frosted, some like them dry, with nuts, with raisins, with nothing … I like mine soft and sticky AND frosted. Raisins are okay but nuts I can usually do without.

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I don’t make cinnamon buns very often because of all the kneading and rising that they entail (and my current house is a little too cold at the moment). But these ones were easy – they’re not actually cinnamon buns in the way you’d expect – and they served to assuage my craving until I have the time and the temperature to do another batch for real. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. I wouldn’t skip the parchment paper, as the sugar coming out of these will caramelize and stick, so it’s better that it sticks to the parchment and not your pans.

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Grab a small bowl and dump in about 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1/2 cup softened butter. Or less. You might want slightly less, as mine oozed everywhere. But if you like to live dangerously, then follow me!

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Give that a good mooshing with a fork or pastry cutter or even your hands, doesn’t matter.

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Now grab a package of thawed puff pastry (you will need to think far enough ahead for this to grab the box out of your freezer and chuck it in the fridge the day before, but that’s not that hard) and roll out the two rectangular sheets. If you bought the stuff that comes in blocks, then just roll it out flat.

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Sprinkle the sugar mixture generously and evenly across the surface of the pastry.

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If you’re feeling like going further, add a sprinkling of raisins and crushed walnuts as well.

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Carefully roll each sheet up into a tube. Chuck that in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to stiffen up.

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Slice each tube into disks about 1 1/2″ thick. I think I ended up with 8 buns from each tube.

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Lay those flat on your baking sheets and shove them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden and the butter is all melted.

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Remove the sheets from the oven and carefully slip the still-hot buns onto a sheet of waxed paper or parchment to cool completely. Feel free to flip them upside down while they’re still warm and oozy if you like your sticky part to be on top.

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If you leave them in the pan they’ll stick to the caramelized sugar at the bottom and then they won’t come off and you’ll be sad.

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When they were cool, I mixed together about 1/2 cup icing sugar with 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste and a dribbling (probably 1 tablespoon) of whipping cream.

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Doesn’t that glaze make your mouth water?

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I dumped it into a small plastic bag.

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And piped it onto the cooled buns.

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Try not to eat them all at once, okay?

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Better Than the Box Brownies

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I know.  There are a plethora of brownie recipes on this website.  But until I find the perfect one, the search continues.  I found this one when both the Pie and I had meetings on the same day (which meant we had to change out of our pyjamas and actually go to work).  The Pie’s boss (and his family) had been complaining for a while that there had been no baked goods delivered, and my boss was doing the same.  So I whipped up a double batch of these in the hopes that they would shut up for a while be pleased.  These are more adult brownies, as they’re not as sweet as some recipes that use melted chocolate.

Start by preheating your oven to 325°F and line a 8″ x 8″ baking pan with parchment paper such that you end up with two handles out the sides.

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Find a heat-proof bowl and dump in 10 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.

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Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and let the butter melt until the whole thing is a gooey, grainy mess.

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Remove from the heat and allow it to cool so it’s just warm to the touch.  Add in, one at a time, 2 cold eggs (if the mixture was hot you’d cook the eggs and that would be bad).

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Add in as well 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat the whole thing for a little bit until it’s nice and smooth.

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Now you’ll want to stir in 1/2 cup all purpose flour.  Stir that in really well, until it’s totally combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

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Continue to beat the batter until it’s smooth and glossy again.  This is very thick batter for brownies, so don’t be shocked if it takes you a bit of effort.

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Now, if you want, you can tip in 2/3 cup nuts of your choice.  The recipe calls for chopped walnuts, but I find them too bitter so I used pecans.

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Pour the batter into your parchment-ed pan.

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You’ll have to put some effort into smoothing it into the corners.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the centre is completely set, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Some people making this recipe had to cook it for an additional ten minutes but mine was done after twenty (I’m using a convection oven).  Let it cool completely on a wire rack before lifting out and cutting into small pieces. I don’t have any pictures of the cut up brownies for you because I forgot and by the time I remembered they’d already been eaten.  Sorry!

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Pesto Pasta with Veg

HAPPY CANADA DAY!  Be safe and well today!

This recipe is a good and quick one if you are heading out to your local festivities today.  Of course, if you’re in Ottawa today, the third-largest party in the world (supposedly, the first-largest is New Year’s Eve in Kuala Lumpur, second is NYE in Times Square, NYC, and the third is Canada Day in our nation’s capital) is going to be extra big with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in attendance.  You’re going to want to make sure you eat enough to have energy for the party.

The Pie wants me to let you know that normally, we use pesto that we’ve made ourselves from scratch, but that this year is a bad one for our basil, so we went with store-bought instead.  But he wants you to know that normally we don’t stoop to such levels.

Set a pot of water a-boiling and fry up a couple (or a few) boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  If you have leftover chicken lying around, this will do as well. 

Once the chicken is cooked through, cube it up.

Leftover bacon?  I know, it’s like a mythical creature.  But we had some.  So I shredded that.

We had some asparagus and cauliflower lying around, so I cut those up into bite-sized pieces as well.  Whatever vegetables you have on hand will do, of course.  Red peppers, perhaps, or onion.

Chuck enough pasta in your boiling pot to feed four and cook it according to the package instructions, usually for 10-12 minutes.  We used whole wheat spaghetti here, but penne and rigatoni would work equally well.

For the last two minutes of your pasta cooking, chuck in your vegetables, just to get them a wee bit soft.  If your vegetables are already cooked, I would skip this part, otherwise they might get soggy.

Drain the pasta and toss in your meats, as well as about a cup of pesto (the store-bought stuff, at least.  If we’d made it from scratch we probably would have used less).

Toss well to coat the pasta and circulate the vegetables and meat, then serve, topped with grated parmesan cheese.

Utterly fantastic the next day as well.  You can serve it hot or cold!

Walnut Cheesecake Squares

These were another creation for a research participant, and I like them because they’re not too sweet.  And because the base is the same as the topping the whole thing is incredibly easy.  This recipe is from Esther Brody’s 250 Best Brownies, Bars & Squares.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9×13″ pan and line it with parchment paper — then butter the parchment paper as well.

Mix together in a bowl 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, and 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

You’re looking for crumbs here, so if you have walnut pieces, pop them in the food processor (slightly more than the cup measure as it will settle) for a spell.

Using a pastry blender:

Or two knives:

Cut in 2/3 cup cold cubed butter until the mixture is entirely coarse crumbs.

This may take a while, so be patient.  Too large pieces of butter will result in holes in your base.

Pour half the mixture into your prepared pan and press it to the bottom.  Set the other half aside.  

Bake the mixture in the pan for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool slightly.

In another bowl, beat 1lb (500g) softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until smooth.

Beat in 2 eggs and 1/4 cup milk, then add in 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over that nice warm base.

Sprinkle the reserved base stuff evenly over the top.

Bake the whole shebang for 20-25 minutes more, or until everything is just set, and then remove the pan to a rack and let it cool completely.

Use the parchment paper to lift the cooled squares out of the pan and cut them into squares.

If you have any left, store them covered in your refrigerator.

Espresso Brownies

Would you like another life-changing experience?

You should make these brownies.  I mean it.

I made about three hundred.  Every single one of them was eaten.  They’re even good stale.  The recipe for these babies comes with thanks from the folks at my mother’s physiotherapy place.  Not that they need any more caffeine.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 15″x10″x1″ baking pan (or whatever you can find that will fit the brownie goodness.

In a large saucepan, plop yourself in 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder.

Add to that 1 cup butter (oh yes) and 1 1/2 cups chopped chocolate pieces (your choice).

Melt that pot of loveliness until it’s smooth and then remove from heat. 

Now this next part you are supposed to do in the saucepan but because I tripled the recipe I had to expand to a bowl.

Crack four eggs into a large bowl (I know there are more than four there, but just roll with it) and beat them up.

Add 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Beat it up.

Pour in your lovely chocolate goo and beat until just combined.

Stir in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

Stir in 2 cups all-purpose flour.

Spread your batter evenly in the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

I love that crackly-shiny top on a brownie.

While the brownies are baking and cooling you can whip together 3 cups icing sugar, 1/4 cup softened butter, 2 tablespoons boiling water, 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and, if you wish, 2 tablespoons of a coffee liqueur.

Spread the frosting evenly over the cooled brownies and dust with more espresso powder.

Cut into pieces.

LOVE.

Extreme Comfort Brownies

I made these brownies at the end of what had been a tough week for some of my friends.  Nothing makes me feel better faster than a gift of comforting baked goods.  Especially if they’re made of chocolate.  This comfort recipe is an embellishment on the traditional brownie, and has an extreme amount of frosting.  It’s fab.  I doubled the recipe here to make two 8-inch pans, but you can halve this easily if you wish.  For this recipe I also used unsalted butter for once, so I did end up adding salt to the mix, which I usually don’t do.  Go with your own preferences on this one.

Line your two pans with foil and spray them evenly with vegetable oil or cooking spray.  Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Sift together in a large measuring cup 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking powder.

In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water (or a double boiler if you’ve got one), melt 4 squares (1 ounce each) baking chocolate (your preference as to sweetness) together with 2/3 cup butter.

I also had some leftover Nutella lying around so I added that as well, about 4 tablespoons.

When it’s all melted and smooth, remove it from the heat and allow the bowl and its contents to cool slightly before stirring in 2 cups granulated sugar.

Add 4 eggs and beat until blended.  For a lighter-textured brownie, beat the eggs more thoroughly.  For a denser brownie, beat the eggs a little less. 

Pour in 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans.

Add your flour mixture and stir it up, then spread the batter evenly into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the pan comes out clean.  Place the pan on a rack to cool completely before lifting out the giant brownie blocks.

Now, you can just leave them plain at this point, or dust them with icing sugar, or you can frost them.  I’m going with frosting.  More chocolate means more comfort.  Honest.

While the brownies are cooling, cream together 6 tablespoons softened butter with 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.  An electric mixer helps with this part.

Alternating and adding a bit at a time, stir in 4 cups confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) and 6 tablespoons milk.  Blend it until smooth and the right texture for spreading. 

I think I added more milk than was required to get the right texture.

When you get it to your preference, add in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix that up as well.

Remove the brownies from the pan and separate them from the foil lining.  Spread the frosting generously across the tops of the brownie.  And I’m serious when I tell you to be generous.

Cut the brownie into small squares and pop them in the refrigerator so the frosting can harden a little.

You can keep them at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for a little while.  Kristopf ate all of the leftovers, however, so I’m not sure how long that little while actually is.

Yes! We have no bananas Banana Bread

There are so, so very many bananas in my freezer.  I swear that the Pie doesn’t eat the fresh bananas simply so I will chuck them in the freezer in anticipation of me having a banana bread fest.  He loves banana bread.  More than he loves me. Honest.

This recipe comes from my magic book, though I think Kristopf actually gave it to me, ages ago.  Who knows where he got it from.  I was about ten or twelve at the time, which would put him at about fourteen or sixteen.  What teenage boy makes banana bread for fun?

Anyway.

Me being me, I of course have modified the original recipe, and I generally use more bananas than is really necessary.  It makes the finished loaf a little more crumbly but it ups the banana-y-ness to the max.  I also generally make these loaves in bulk, usually three at a time (I have three pans) but sometimes more, and then I wrap what we don’t eat tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for another day.  Or give it to KK.  Or both.

I thawed the bananas in a bowl on my counter overnight and they were nice and blackened and soggy.  Today I made the recipe below, but I did it in triplicate.  If you make the single version that I’ve outlined below you should end up with two loaves.

The Pie, having nothing to keep him occupied, decided to help me today.  He has never made banana bread before.  He absolutely refused to touch the bananas in their black skins.  He promised me he would do all the raw chicken touching for the rest of our lives if I would do the banana stuff.  I’m okay with that.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

You’ll need 5 defrosted or very ripe bananas. Peel those gooshy suckers into a bowl.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon baking soda in 3 tablespoons hot water.  Of course, it doesn’t really dissolve, but if you keep stirring it you can get a temporary suspension.

Pour this into the banana mixture and mush it in with a fork until the bananas are all separated into small pieces.  The Pie helped me with this part, but under duress.  Set them aside for the nonce.

In a large bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1 cup room temperature butter (that’s half of one of those 1-pound blocks), and 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar until fluffy.

In yet another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  Set that aside, too.

Pour your banana mixture into your egg mixture and stir that up as well. 

The mixture should look slightly curdled at this point, and weird tendrils of banana fibre will stick to your mixing utensil and may gross you out.  The Pie said, at this point, “This – making banana bread for the first time – is kind of like seeing a woman give birth.  It’s something that you can’t un-see, and it will always affect how you see it in the future.”

Fold in your flour mixture, a little at a time.  If you want to put in chocolate chips or walnuts or whatever, now is the time to do so.  The Pie is a purist, however, so we have ours plain.

If you are following my lead and doing more than two loaves, do all your batches separately (in case of measuring mistakes) and don’t mix your wet and dry ingredients together in the other batches until you are ready to bake them.  Don’t want no chemical reactions to start too early.

Divide your batter between two greased loaf pans and smooth the tops.  I’ve been having trouble getting my extra-crumbly loaf out of the pan in one piece, so this time I decided to line them with parchment paper to ease the passage.  It was an experiment that worked out really well because it was a snap to use the edges of the paper to lift out the cooked loaves.  Then I just peeled off the paper and left the loaf on the rack to cool.

Bake for 60 minutes until dark brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Turn out and let cool on a wire rack.

This stuff is good hot, it’s good cold, and as I said above, it freezes really well.