I’m going to let you in on a secret of mine: I have a bit of a baking obsession.
Actually, it’s a not-so-well-kept secret and forget the “bit”: I bake like the wind and force-feed everyone into a communal sugar high. But, what can I say, I dig being in the kitchen.
Most of the time, I bake in the evenings and late at night. For some reason, that’s always when I’m most creative and twitching to try what would normally be incredibly scary things like making croissants from a recipe written in French. So, in any one baking session, I can go from wanting a simple boxed cake to making a sugary feast of cake, pie, cookies, and something I can’t pronounce. (Life tip: always try foods you can’t pronounce.)
There’s just something so invigorating and therapeutic about baking.
You start with raw ingredients–a few cups of this, a tablespoon of that, maybe the zest of something strange–and somehow the sum of all the parts is an entirely new entity. It’s a bit like writing really. You mix everything together and hope that it becomes coherent. You pour yourself into something common and, with any luck, it becomes something extraordinary. There’s something beautiful in that coalescence.
The strange part of all of this is that I didn’t bake much before 2013. I could make a boxed cake with the best of them, and I thought I was pretty creative for adding Coca-Cola to boxed brownies, but I wasn’t a recipe-hoarding baker until last year. After a 3-almost-4-month-long RV trip with my parents in the summer of 2012, where we ate entirely too much fast food, I guess you could say I was desperate for something homemade.
In an attempt to feel a little less like a recipe-hoarder, here are a few of the recipes I’ve discovered and loved over the past year…
I found this delightful recipe for German cinnamon rolls over at Food Thinkers by Breville just last week. I had gotten a bit of a wild hair and decided that puff pastry couldn’t be as difficult as it sounded, and thankfully these lovelies came out quite well, even if I did become a bit impatient at the time required.
Helpful hints: If you’re like me and have never tried a recipe like this (read: anything pastry-related), be careful to mind the temperature of your butter, don’t be too rough with the rolling pin, and make sure to keep your work surface well-floured. Also, I found that I had to bake them for 18 to 21 minutes in a convection oven for even the slightest golden edge, but obviously every oven is different, so pay close attention to how your oven is treating the delicate franzbrötchen.
Russian Tea Cakes
These shortbread-like (read: on the dry side) cookies have a lot of different names–Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes, snowball cookies, butterballs, and snowballs–and come in quite a few variations (almond, pecan, walnut, pistachio, chestnut etc). I found this particular, walnut-based recipe at AllRecipes.com.
Helpful hints: My family isn’t big on the more dry and crumbly cookies/cakes, so making these was a bit of an experiment. Although they loved the flavor and sugary coating, they wished it was a little less dry. If you or your family is the same way, simply add 1-3 tablespoons of milk to the recipe, or consider adding 1 tablespoon of milk and reducing the flour to about 2 and 2/3 cups. Also, I followed the baking instructions stated in the comments (300F for about 15 minutes) with great success–the originally stated temperature (350F) just seemed a bit high.
(Sort-of) Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
I’ve never been good with chocolate chip cookies. I am as good at burning cookies unintentionally as I am at getting the perfect layer of black on toast intentionally. Just as I was about to give up on cookies and drown my sorrows in something I can’t burn, I gave this recipe from Cookies & Cups a shot and was beyond euphoric to have them come out just right and without a single burn.
Helpful hints: Due to the polar vortex making Texas into Michigan I didn’t go out for groceries before I made these cookies, and I ended up using Country Crock Original instead of the stick butter called for in the recipe. I found that the switch made the dough a bit tackier/stickier than expected, but adding about 3 teaspoons of flour remedied the situation. In the end, the cookies rose well, maintained their softness for days, and tasted no different due to their whole wheat-ness.
Apple Pie Cookies
I have to give full credit for this discovery to the wonderful people of Pinterest, where the sheer number of pins (repins? pinnings?) practically forced me to venture over to Oh, Bite It! and take my first leap into the world of all things apple cinnamon.
Helpful hints: Although I used Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust, I would truly recommend trying a scratch recipe for the crust. Doing so allows you to have the fun of mixing a bit of cinnamon sugar into the dough to compensate for the typical lack thereof in the canned apple pie filling.
Chocolate Chip Irish Soda Bread
I pulled this recipe out the google hat when I decided to learn foods based on my heritage and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It may look like a chocolate heart attack waiting to happen, but this Baking Bites recipe yields a bread that is the perfect mix of sweet and savory.
Helpful hints: If my attempt proves average, then you’ll probably need the extra tablespoon (or 3) of flour to make the dough a bit less sticky and easier to work with. Also, if you’re like me, then 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, all of that cocoa powder, and sugar is a bit daunting. Don’t be afraid to cut the amount of chocolate chips; it will turn out fine with more or less of them.
Orange Pound Cake
My mother actually tipped me off to this cake late one night when I couldn’t sleep and really needed a good baking binge to get ready for bed. The recipe can be found on Yummly, but it is technically intended as an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! recipe, but it comes out just the same with regular stick butter.
Helpful hints: On first glance, you’ve probably already noticed that the directions are a bit out of order, but that can be corrected by simply adding step 5 in before 3 and step 4 after 6. Anyways, I make my orange pound cake with Dannon Oikos Greek Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt and an extra 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. I find that these two vanilla ingredients balance out the orange a bit better and give the cake a smoother, more palatable taste.
Best of luck in your baking endeavors and feel free to share other recipes in the comments!