Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nutella Scones


Several years ago, I got myself a copy of the book, Baked Explorations.  It had so many wonderful looking recipes in it, but for some reason or other, I never got around to making any of them.  So, there it sat, on my bookshelf, gathering dust.  Terrible, I know.  Till one lovely Sunday I started looking for a new recipe to make.  Somehow, the Internet didn't have what I was looking for and I decided that it was high time to go old school and open up a book. 

Originally, I though that I'd make some cookies.  But, then, my eyes landed on the recipe for scones.  Not just any scones, rich, chocolatey, scones with Nutella inside AND out.  Oh my gosh, did it ever look irresistible.  That was it!  I just had to have me some scones. 

The recipe is actually quite interesting in that it's almost a process similar to making cinnamon rolls.  You roll out the dough, spread the Nutella on it, then roll it up.  But, instead of cutting it like you would rolls, you proceed to mash it out into a disk again, then bake.  After letting them cool a bit, you then drizzle them with even more Nutella.  Definitely do not skip out on this step because you can never have too much Nutella flavor. 

 

Let me tell you, these scones were amazing!  The inside was like a fudgy brownie.  Then, you come upon a melty layer of Nutella in the middle of each bite.  They were moist, decadent, and delectable.  Perhaps a little indulgent for breakfast, but oh so worth it.  I wouldn't mind trying these again and filling them with peanut butter or raspberry jam or even marshmallow fluff.  Mmm, possibilities. 

Nutella Scones (from Baked Explorations)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. Nutella, divided

Combine the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter until the mixture is coarse.  Combine the cream with the egg and stir into the flour mixture until the dough just comes together.  Lay the dough on a piece of parchment paper and gently pat it out into a 6x12" rectangle.  Spread with 1/4 c. of the Nutella, then roll it up into a 6" long cylinder.  Flatten it again into a disk and score it into 6 or 8 wedges.  Bake on a parchment paper lined baking sheet at 375F for 18-20 minutes (mine took 24 minutes).  Let cool, then drizzle with 1/4 c. warmed Nutella.   



Monday, October 20, 2014

Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie Bars


Several years ago, I made these pumpkin pie bars and proclaimed them the best pumpkin brownie/blondie recipe I had ever tried.  They were moist and chock full of pumpkiny, spicy flavors.  I honestly did not think that they could get any better.  I was wrong.  Two words - browned butter.   

It's that whole adage . . . if I knew then what I know now.  Well, what I know now is how to brown butter and I also know that browned butter makes everything, and I mean everything, so much better.  The smell of it alone is like the most delightful perfume in your house.  Intoxicating.  They should make air fresheners and candles scented like browned butter.  I'm totally serious.

 

But, going back to these bars.  Browned butter immediately adds a depth of flavor that you simply won't get with regular melted butter.  It's true that it takes more time to make, a little more patience, and a bit of skill, but you really won't regret it.  Once you go browned, you'll never go back.  So it was with these pumpkin pie bars.  One taste of them and the difference was like night and day.  Oooohhh, I was in pumpkin heaven.  Correction - browned butter pumpkin heaven.  I eagerly shared these bars with friends of mine and they were just as over the moon about them as I was.  May I never forget this important lesson - browned butter = better!

Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie Bars (slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

2 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, browned
2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree

For the top:
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper.  Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  Brown the butter until it smells nutty (do not discard the browned bits).  Let the browned butter cool slightly to room temperature.  Combine the butter with the sugar, then beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Mix in the pumpkin.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs on it.  Cool completely before cutting.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Spun Sugar Decorations


Several weeks from now, I will be making a cake for a special occasion.  Which means that for the past week, I've been trying to figure out how I intend to decorate it.  I admit that I could probably recycle one of my old designs and no one would really care.  But, the thing is that I enjoy pushing myself to learn new techniques and exercise my creative side, even if it means a little more time or effort involved.  As with anything, if you want to get better at it, you have to keep going higher (or something like that).

For some reason, the one thing that stuck out in my mind was sugar decorations.  You know, those little spun sugar nests or shards of sugar that look just like glass?  I thought it would be so neat to do something like that, especially since the cake I'll be making has caramel filling.  It would match so perfectly.

I found the recipe for the sugar syrup on the blog, Mimi's Kitchen, and it sounded so easy that I just knew I had to give it a try.  Mimi actually made sugar nests, which you do by drizzling the syrup onto a bowl.  But, I decided to go freestyle and just see where serendipity would take me.   

First, I did the easiest one - toffee shards, which I learned how to do from HERE.  Really, so simple.  Once you've made the burnt sugar, you just pour it, spread it out, let it cool, and break away.  After it was finished, it was a thing of beauty.  It looked just like broken glass and would add such an elegant accent to any cake.

 

I then made a second batch of sugar syrup and decided to just play around with it.  So, after letting it cool slightly in the pan, I took a fork and just started drizzling it back and forth on some parchment paper.


I just did some long streaky things, but you can let your imagination go wild and do whatever you want to do.  Swirls, amber drops (which will look like jewels), squigglies.  It will all look fantastic.  

 

Finally, with some of the remaining syrup (which I had to warm up again to soften), I went for the final look - sugary threads.  I know some people line up wooden spoons or broomstick handles or whatnot and then start flicking it back and forth, but I just didn't want to have to go through all that trouble, or risk getting the sugary stuff onto my floor.  So, I dipped the fork into the syrup, let a small bit drip down, and then I caught onto that strand and just started pulling as fast as I could, again and again.  You have to work fast or else it will all turn brittle before you've managed to even pull a couple strands.  Think Rumplestiltzkin spinning straw into gold, just backwards - you're turning the gold back into straw.  Ha!  As long as you don't touch the big glob of syrup on the fork, you don't have to worry about burning your fingers because the little strands cool as soon as they hit the air.  Once I had a mass of sugary threads, I sort of pushed them together with my fingers (gently, or the heat from your fingers will melt the threads) into a nest shape.  Cute!


If you've ever had doubts/fears about working with liquefied sugar, put them to rest.  It could not be any easier, I promise.  And, it was super quick too.  I absolutely love that I've now learned a new skill and I've also now got some great ideas that I may use for my cake.  Give it a try!  

Spun Sugar (Mimi's Kitchen)

1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. water

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottom saucepan.   Heat on medium-high heat until it turns amber colored.  Whatever you do, do not stir it.  If the sugar is too clumped up in one spot, just swirl the pan to distribute the mixture evenly.  Once the mixture is caramelized, remove it from the heat.

To make the toffee shards (from Taste)
Pour out the mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Spread it out evenly and quickly into a thin layer (depending on how thick you want the finished product to be).  Let it cool until it hardens.  Use the parchment paper to hold it and break it into shards.  If you use your hands, it will start to soften.

For the sugar squiggles:
After the caramelized mixture has cooled and thickened slightly in the pan (shouldn't take more than a minute or two), dip in a fork or wire whisk and drizzle the mixture back and forth onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  You'll know it's thick enough when you see the sticky strands trailing (not dripping) from the fork after you dip it.

For the sugar nest:
Dip the fork into the hot sugar mixture.  Let a small bit of it drip down and grab onto that small drip.  Start pulling as quickly as you can, back and forth, and the strands should appear.  Keep going until you have a sufficient amount of strands.  Repeat as needed.  Do NOT grab onto the hot glob of syrup itself or you will get burned.  Once you have a good amount of strands, use your fingers to gently mold it into a nested shape.
 
Note:  With the exception of the toffee shards, the other methods are my own.