Salted Toffee Bars

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These toffee bars were a staple in our house growing up. Everyone always wanted to eat them and someone was usually down to make them. This is one of those recipes that produces insane results with the most basic of ingredients. And they’re easy, very easy. You can customize the toppings as well – milk chocolate, dark chocolate, peppermint bark! pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, coconut!

Toffee bars – recipe adapted from Betty Crocker

1 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg yolk

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 ounces chocolate

1/2 cup chopped almonds

sea salt for sprinkling

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy for a few minutes.

Add egg yolk and beat until combined,

Add flour and salt.

Press into parchment lined 13×9 inch pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

While still hot, sprinkle chocolate chips evenly across the top of the toffee bars. Let it sit for a few minutes then come back with a spatula or knife and smooth the chocolate across the top. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and salt.

Espresso Black Bottom Cupcakes

 

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These cupcakes are so good I requested them instead of birthday cake for my 8th birthday. I have a picture of myself, long hair in pigtail braids sitting on the steps of our house in North Bend with a cake plate toppled high with black bottom cupcakes.

The cream cheese topping made with sugar, 1 egg, a block of cream cheese, and a mess of chocolate chips sinks into the chocolate batter so that when you take a bite you are met with a mouthful of chocolate cream cheese surprise. I switched up the original recipe from my mom by substituting a half cup of strongly brewed hot coffee and half a cup of milk for the 1 cup of water. I also added a teaspoon of espresso powder for a sophisticated twist.

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Black Bottom Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 heaping teaspoon salt

1/4 cup cocoa

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup hot freshly brewed coffee

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1/2 cup milk

8 ounces room temperature cream cheese

1 egg

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine hot coffee, espresso powder, and cocoa powder. In a separate bowl combine sugars and oil. Add the coffee and cocoa to the oil and sugars. Stir until smooth and add vanilla. Add in dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda) and give it a quick stir. Add milk and stir mixture until just combined.

Make the cream cheese layer: beat cream cheese, sugar, and egg until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon chocolate cupcake batter into cupcake tin lined with cupcake papers. Spoon on about a tablespoon and a half of the cream cheese mixture. Bake for 20 minutes.

Kouign Amann Adventures with Sahara

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My sister’s name is Sahara. Like the desert. And her middle name is Rose. She is almost exactly two years younger than me. But she is much taller than me. Really only by 4 inches or so, but enough for people to think she’s the older one. She came and visited me here in Santa Barbara a couple weeks ago. We made Kouign Amann.

The first time I had Kouign Amann was while sitting in a coffee shop one summer in Seattle drinking a soy latte. We sat in the coffee shop while she ran to Crumble and Flake to pick us up some Kougin Amann. Up until this point I had only heard of the pastry and had no idea what its texture or taste would be like. After biting into that strong carmelized crust, shard of wispy thin sugar falling, I knew Kougin Amann were something special.

I make a habit of visiting a lot of bakeries. In Santa Barbara or anywhere I go. When I see Kougin Amann behind that glass bakery case, I order one. The one bakery in town that has Kouign Amann is C’est Cheese on De la Guerra. That place is great.

I never thought of attempting to make Kougin Amann but when Sahara came to visit she wanted to do an “ambitious baking project” (her exact words). So not only did we both make Kouign Amann for the first time but we added rye flour to the dough and packed some dark chocolate inside a few of them. And not surprisingly for first timers, they turned out just ok, not great. But, actually pretty impressive, considering. We used the croissant dough recipe from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook.

Here’s how it works:

The night before you are going to make the pastry, you need to make a “poolish” or starter. You mix together water, flour, and a pinch (seriously just a pinch) of yeast. You let that stew overnight.

Next morning you make your dough by combining more yeast, flour, sugar, with the poolish. You mix all of that in your stand mixer for 20 minutes.

You rest the dough and you make your butter block by pounding a bunch of butter into a flat square. Wrap in parchment and refrigerate.

Get out your dough and roll it into a big ol’ rectangle. Place butter block in the middle and fold it up like it’s a treasure of a present. Refrigerate.

Let warm a bit when you take it out of the fridge. This is the part where you’ve got to be careful and meticulous. Sprinkle the dough with a hefty first of raw sugar. You then roll out the dough with the butter block locked away in there. You don’t want the butter to be too cold or it will break but you don’t want it to be too warm so that it melts. It has to be just right to be distributed evenly as you roll out into another large rectangle. Then you fold into a square and refrigerate.

Repeat this process two more times and refrigerate. Remove and roll out again into a large rectangle. At this point you need to cut square of dough that you will fold in on themselves to be placed in a buttered muffin tin. You know those fortune tellers you used to make in elementary school out of pieces of square paper? Well the first step of making one of those is how you fold the Kouign Amann. Or in other words, you fold each of the four corners into the center of the dough and then pace in a muffin tin. But before you fold, spoon some raw sugar into the middle of that square. Let rise.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake Kougin Amann until very brown and puffy. Here’s the recipe:

Poolish:

1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon all purpose flour

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons + 2 1/2 teaspoons water about 75 degrees F.

pinch of yeast

Instructions:

12 to 15 hours before you plan on making the dough, prepare the poolish.

Combine flour and yeast. Add water and mix until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit.

Butter block:

11.6 ounces butter

Instructions:

Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface. Place the butter on the paper and top with a second piece of parchment. Begin to pound the butter from left to right with a rolling pin. The butter will start to warm up and flatten. Remove top parchment and flip the butter over, rotating 90 degrees. Re-top with the parchment and continue to flatten the butter until it resembles a 6 3/4 inch by 7 1/2 inch rectangle. Wrap in parchment and refrigerate.

Dough:

3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon + 1 3/4 teaspoons water

1 tablespoon yeast

1 teaspoon malt powder

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons +1/14 teaspoon sugar

3 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon all purpose flour

3.5 ounces room temperature butter

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons

Instructions: 

Combine flour, sugar, yeast, malt powder. Pour half of water around the poolish to loosen it. Add poolish to the dry ingredient mixture. Add the rest of the water – except for 3 1/2 tablespoons. Add butter. Mix on low for 2 minutes. Add salt. Add reserved water if it feels dry. Continue to mix for 20 minutes.

Remove dough from mixing bowl. Pull out left side of dough and fold into the middle, pull out right side of dough and fold into the middle. Repeat the process from the top. Place seam side down into a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit and rise 1 hour.

Remove dough from bowl and roll out into a large rectangle about 10 by 7 1/2 inches. Freeze for 20 minutes.

Remove from freezer, sprinkle raw sugar on top and begin to encase the butter in the dough.

For rest of instructions see above.

For assembly:

Raw sugar

dark chocolate

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“Pumpkin Yummy” Cookies

These are cookies I grew up eating, a fall tradition. They are called “Pumpkin Yummy” cookies on the recipe card. These cookies also travel well. My mom sent me a batch one autumn while I was living in Chicago and they came to me in mint condition.

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These cookies are fluffy and cake-y, pillowy and soft. I am usually not a fan of cake-y cookies, wanting my cookies chewy and crispy. These cookies are the exception. Give them a whirl if you’re hesitant.

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The different elements of these cookies is really where it’s at. I have yet to see many recipes combining orange zest and pumpkin but it’s a match made in heaven for sure. Then there are the raisins which add a juicy depth to the cookie. And the brown butter frosting takes it over the top.

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I have no idea where this recipe was originally taken from but I’m pretty sure it was before brown butter was cool.

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“Pumpkin Yummy” Cookies

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raisins

Instructions:

Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin and orange zest.

Add all dry ingredients except for the raisins and mix until just combined.

Gently stir in the raisins.

Refrigerate dough for half an hour while the oven preheats to 350 degrees.

Spoon dough into small rounds onto baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Brown Butter Frosting

1/4 cup butter browned

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

In a saucepan over medium heat, brown the butter. Add powdered sugar, milk and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Top cooled cookies with frosting.

Sorting Hats dusted with red chile

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I was Harry Potter for Halloween way before Harry Potter was cool. I remember that as we were trick or treating no one knew who I was. We were living in North Bend, Washington. You know Twin Peaks the show? That’s where they filmed it. It’s a dreamy little town tucked away in the evergreens 45 minutes outside of Seattle. My mom commuted to downtown Seattle every day for work.

For my Harry Potter costume I wore jeans, tennis shoes, a striped shirt, a red cape, and glasses. I pulled my hair back and painted a lightning bolt on my forehead. Ever since I started reading Harry Potter I felt a special kinship with him (just like all the other kids in the world ; ) But I really thought our connection was special because I was born with a huge pink birthmark on my forehead. My parents called it an angel’s kiss but it was a big large red dot just to the left of the center of my forehead. It faded over time and now you can just barely see it. It looks more like a faint scar than anything else. So as you can see, Harry and I are kindred spirits.

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Every new Harry Potter book was a special occasion in our family – just like I know it was for other people’s families. One summer in high school, my mom took me and my two sisters plus my sister’s friend on a road trip to California. The main purpose of the trip was to tour colleges for me. That was the summer the new Harry Potter book was coming out (I can’t remember which one it was though). Somewhere in Northern California on the day that book came out, we all ran into a Costco. We each bought a copy and were silent the entire road trip. My sister Sahara and I read faster than our other sister and friend and it was really difficult to keep our mouths shut about what was happening. We were constantly yelling at each other not to spoil any surprises.

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Yesterday at the grocery store, we started talking to the lady employee at the cash register about Harry Potter. She said that if she could wish anything and have it come true it would be to read the Harry Potter books all over again without knowing anything about them. And boy oh boy do I agree with that.

These witches hat cookies come from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. I have made the speculoos cookie dough used as the base for the cookie many times. And if you’ve ever eaten speculoos or biscoff – maybe with your complimentary airplane drink, then you know how insanely good those cookies are. Homemade speculoos is really just a dream come true. You top these round and crisp cookies with homemade marshmallow fluff. Then you enrobe them in chocolate. I sprinkled some New Mexico red chile on for good measure.

Sorting Hats – recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery cookbook

Speculoos cookies – recipe from Bouchon Bakery cookbook

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 heaping cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

6 ounces butter at room temperature

Instructions:

Cream butter, sugars and honey together. Add in all dry ingredients and mix slowly until just combined. Dump out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a flat disc. Wrap in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to use, remove dough from fridge and let soften a bit. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut into circular shapes and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Marshmallow – recipe adapted from Bakers Royale

5 egg whites

1 1/2 cups sugar

pinch of salt

pinch of cream of tartar

drop of vanilla

Instructions:

In a bowl of a stand mixer combine egg whites and sugar.

Over a pot of simmering water, whisk egg whites and sugar until the sugar has melted and the egg whites are warm to the touch.

Remove from pot of water and begin to whisk using stand mixer. Add in salt and cream of tartar. Keep beating the egg whites for up to 15 minutes. They should hold stiff peaks and be very glossy and thick. Spoon into piping bag and use immediately.

Chocolate shell – recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

10 ounces chopped chocolate

1 tablespoon refined coconut oil

Instructions:

Using a double boiler, melt chocolate and coconut oil. Let cool for a few minutes.

Assembly:

Take each cooled cookie round and pipe a mound of marshmallow. Bake the cookies topped with marshmallow in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes. Let cool.

Spoon chocolate over the tops of the marshmallow and onto the sides of the cookie. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to help chocolate set and then remove from refrigerator.

Hunger by Roxanne Gay + Brown Sugar and Brown Butter Cinnabuns

Hunger. by Roxane Gay. It is raw and it is what the world needs. Thank you Roxanne.

In her book and in an interview on This American Life, Roxane Gay discusses the difficulties of living in a fat and “super morbidly obese” body. The categories of overweight and obese, invented by medical practitioners and healthcare professionals extend from overweight with a BMI between 25.1 and 29.9, obese with a BMI of 30 to 34.9, obesity class II 35 to 39.9, obesity class III a BMI of 40 and above.

Roxane points out that life is difficult for all fat people, but it is especially and particularly difficult for people with bodies like hers, bodies that would be classified as class III obese. And that is why she struggles with the body positivity movement and the notion of accepting her body. Because she doesn’t like her body as it is and often can’t accept it. She makes note of those she most often sees as advocates for the body positivity movement as women who might be classified as plus size models – those who wear sizes 10 to 14, women who might be classified as overweight but not obese. So what does the body positivity movement bring to people living in the size of Roxanne’s body? Accepting and loving your body are nice goals but for many people, a constantly real struggle, potentially much harder to obtain than someone living in a smaller body.

I have no idea what it is like to live in a body categorized as obese, or even an overweight that matter. One thing I can connect to with Roxane is not liking or wanting to accept your body. As a feminist, as a person who has struggled with eating and body issues for years, and as a person who desperately wants to believe in the body positivity movement.

One solution that I am trying on for size is body neutrality, which is actually what I think some people are talking about when they mention body positivity. The overwhelmingly popular image of body positivity is the idea that all bodies are good bodies and that we need to learn to love and accept our bodies for what they do for us. Easier said than done (particularly for those with additional barriers and marginalized bodies). So instead of running after yet another unattainable goal of loving my body, I’m trying not to think too much about my body. In other words, I’m trying to feel neutral towards my body and let it do its thing. We put unnecessary pressure on ourselves whether we want to lose weight or we want to desperately love our bodies. Body neutrality takes the desperation, pressure, and emotional work out of the equation.

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Here is a recipe for some cinnamon buns slathered in brown sugar + brown butter glaze.

Cinnabun Recipe – adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 1/4 teaspoon yeast

3/4 cup buttermilk

3 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 teaspoon salt

4 1/4 cups flour

6 tablespoons melted butter

Filling:

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter

Instructions:

In a bowl of a stand mixer, whisk eggs, milk, sugar, yeast, and salt.

Add 2 cups of the flour and the melted butter and stir.

Add all but the last 1/4 cup of the flour and knead with dough hook for about 5 minutes.

After kneading, dough should be moist and soft but not sticky. Add the rest of the flour if it feels sticky and knead for 5 minutes more.

Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

After dough has risen, shape into a large rectangle (about 12 x 16 inches). Brush or dab dough with butter. Mix cinnamon and brown sugar together. Sprinkle evenly over buttered dough.

Starting from the long end, roll the dough up nice and tightly into a long cigar shape. Using a serrated knife, cut off 2 to 3 inches of dough, continuing until you have about 18 buns. Place into buttered cupcake tin or 9×13 pan. Let rise 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden toasty brown.

Brown Sugar, Brown Butter Glaze

1/2 cup brown sugar

5 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons half and half

Sea salt

Directions:

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Keep stirring for 5 to 10 minutes until butter has turned a dark golden brown color and smells nutty and delicious. Let cool for a few minutes.

Add in brown sugar and replace saucepan over low to medium heat. Stir stir stir. The mixture will be separated at this point. Add in the half and half and keep stirring. The mixture will come together after stirring a few minutes.

Use a pastry brush or spoon to dab the glaze on top of the hot buns.

 

Toasty Coconut and Pineapple Layer Cake

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This cake was inspired by a piña colada. I wanted to capture the flavor of the drink in cake form. I wanted to get the flavor of coconut throughout the cake without using an extract. That’s why I used coconut milk in the cake itself and whipped up coconut cream for the frosting. The pineapple jam just melts into the coconut cake creating a wonderful meld of flavors. I didn’t add any rum to the cake, but you definitely could!

Coconut Cake – recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living

3 3/4 cup flour

3 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature

5 eggs

1 1/2 coconut milk or 1 can with cream removed

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 8 inch cake pans.

Mix dry ingredients together.

In separate bowl beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla.

Add eggs one at a time until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Alternate adding dry ingredients and coconut milk until batter is just mixed but not overmixed.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Pineapple Jam

1 fresh pineapple or 12 ounces frozen or canned pineapple

3/4 cup sugar

Instructions:

Cook pineapple and sugar on medium heat for 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick.

Cool and store in air tight container.

Coconut Cream Frosting 

1 can coconut milk chilled

1/2 cup cold whipping cream

3 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups toasted coconut

Instructions: 

In chilled stand mixer bowl, add the cream from the can of coconut. Add whipping cream. Beat with whisk attachment till light and fluffy.

Add in powdered sugar and vanilla and mix till just combined. Refrigerate.