Carrot Cake with Walnuts & Dates

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April is my second favorite month of the year, after Christmas season of course. This month has a lot of meaning in my life. It was the month I became a mother to a beautiful baby boy, Ezi, and it is the month we celebrate Lent; two things that lead my life. It’s a time to be thankful for what God has done for me and his blessings over my life.

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Also, April is a month full of Easter and Lent recipes! A whole full month of baking fun! Here in the States is not Easter without a classic Carrot Cake. It’s the classic cake for Easter Sunday at Churches, and for the famous egg hunt.

I love this recipe because this carrot cake is so moist and full of flavor. Carrots, crushed pineapple, cinnamon, nutmeg, and dates. Yes, Dates! It’s the secret ingredient that makes this carrot cake a winner. Usually, southern cakes include raisins, but the sweetness of the dates will give a caramelized taste that takes this cake to the next level. You will thank me later!

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Bonus: This is a sheet cake, which means no intimidating frosting job! Which is perfect for me because I have no cake decorating skills. It’s also great for Easter family reunions since yields up to 16 people.  So, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup of chopped dates (optional)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 3  cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Let’s bake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9×13″ cake pan with baking spray and parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, white sugar, brown sugar, carrots, and crush pineapple until light in color.
  3. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; gradually beat into carrot mixture. Folds in walnuts and dates.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
  5. Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • Combine the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and mix until fully combined and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy.
  • Frost cooled cake with frosting and sprinkle the top with extra walnuts if desired. Enjoy!IMG_9943

Note: I like to refrigerate this cake and then make the frosting the next day. Carrots cakes have the particularity of having a better flavor after two days in the refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from Taste of home

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Irish Soda Bread

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When you live in Northeast Indiana you’re more influenced from the Chicago culture than anything else. And there St. Patrick day is a huge celebration! Chicago has an enormous Irish community, so this week is full of festivities to commemorate St. Patrick’s day. There’s a parade and they even dyed the river green. You can find the traditional Irish Soda Bread at any bakery, restaurants are serving Corned Beef & Cabbage, and of course Irish Pubs are full! So, I’m always looking to bake something new, and breads or desserts from others countries are always my first option. Which means this is the perfect time to bake the traditional Soda Bread.

This is not a yeast bread, therefore its very easy and simple to make. Which is the best part! This bread goes great with any comfort food, but it is the essential side dish in any St. Patrick’s Day meal. Soda Bread goes perfect with any breakfast, served warm with jam, or dunking it into any soup or stew dinner. What I love about this bread is that you can make it at any time, usually you have all the ingredients at home. You can make it more sweet if you like by adding chocolate chips or any dry fruits. You can also make it into a dinner roll, adding herbs and even garlic. This Irish Soda Bread is absolutely delish! I encourage you to make it!!

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar (divided)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp. butter; cold, diced
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk (You can make your own buttermilk by just adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar per cup of whole milk)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 1/2 c. mini chocolate chips (You can substitute with raisins or currants)

Reserve for glaze:       

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp. of sugar

 

Let’s Bake:

 

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease an ovenproof 10” skillet with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper or with melted butter.
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

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  1. Using a pastry cutter, or your hands, work in the butter until it’s evenly incorporated.

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  1. In a separate medium bowl, combine buttermilk and egg. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over mix!
  1. Fold in chocolate raisins, currants, or chocolate chips.

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  1. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf and sprinkle with sugar.

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  1. Bake until golden, or until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Check for doneness after 30 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes as desired.
  1. When you tap the loaf, it should sound hollow. Cool at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

 

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Mama’s Pound Cake

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I always say the simplest things are sometimes the most difficult to achieve. A few weeks ago my husband asked me: “Why you don’t make a pound cake?” You know, a traditional pound cake, the buttery kind that you don’t find at bakeries anymore. What task! Well, after a couple of days searching over my books and the web, looks like I did my assignment well because this old fashioned Mama’s Pound Cake is worth every bite!

The pound cake is made like grandmas use to do it, with a combination of butter and shortening. And let me tell you, the shortening can’t be replaced, is the key to success of this cake! One thing I learned during my search is that most pound cake recipes call for the combination of two or more flavors extracts. That’s what makes that particular pound cake taste. I chose almond & vanilla, since is the more traditional.

To make a long story short, when my husband tasted his first slice he told me : “Oh my! How did you find this recipe?! This is exactly the flavor I was looking for!” So I’m very excited to share this classic recipe with you! And I hope all of you enjoy it with a good cup of coffee of course!

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter, plus more for pan
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract

 

Let’s Bake!

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. With a mixer, cream butter and shortening together, add sugar a little at a time. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.
  3. In another bowl, stir dry ingredients together (flour, salt & baking powder), then add to mixer alternating with milk; starting with flour and ending with flour. Mix in vanilla.FullSizeRender
  4. Pour into a greased and floured tube pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean  Note: if you are using a bread pan, the baking time is 50 minutes and yield two loaf

Recipe Adapted from, Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook, copyright 1997. 

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Liebster Award

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I want to give special thanks to Nena Baking Recipes for nominating me for the Liebster Awards.  Please feel free to check out her blog, she has great ideas in baking, cooking & cocktails. This is my First award since I started blogging and I really appreciate it. Blogging is one the best hobbies I have done, I love to bake and share my experiences.

The Liebster Awards requires 11 Facts About Me, so here are a few things so you can get to know me a little bit more:

  • I live in Northwest Indiana, but I come from Puerto Rico, a beautiful island of the Caribbean.
  • As you all know, I Iove baking, especially sweet breads.
  • My favorite thing in the world is playing and spending time with my little boy. He’s my greatest blessing from heaven.
  • I became a mom at my 40’s.
  • When I have free time I’m usually baking, and when I’m not baking I love to crochet & knit.
  • I like watching The Great British Baking Show. I think it’s a great show to learn baking techniques.
  • I love Baking Books! I think they are like shoes, you can have enough!
  • My favorite book is the Bible. It’s my guide.
  • I am follower of Jesus Christ.
  • I went to Uganda Africa as Missionary during the summer of 2010. It was one the best experience of my life.
  • And yes, I love shopping, like all women.

Questions For Me:

  1. What do you do during your free time? When I have free time I am usually baking, but if not, I love to crochet & knit.
  2. What is your favorite food? Do you like desserts? As I mention before, I came from Puerto Rico, so my favorite food is a traditional Mofongo (a fried green plantain mashed with butter garlic and bacon, then stuffed with seafood). There’s always room for dessert! Actually, sometimes is better to start with the dessert.
  3. What kind of sport you like? I am not a sporty girl, but I like to do Pilates sometimes during the week.
  1. Have you ever had a pet? What kind of animal you like? Yes, I had various during my childhood. A rabbit, two dogs, a cockatiel and even a rooster! I love dogs and birds.
  2. Which countries do you like to spend your vacation? In first place, my place, Puerto Rico. I also love Spain and Italy.
  3. Do you prefer to live in a cold place or a tropical place? Definitely a Tropical place! Life is better in the Tropics!
  4. What kind of books do you like? Any favorite authors? I Like Christian Books. Authors likes C.S. Lewis, Rick Warren, Lisa Bevere and Joyce Mayer.
  5. What do you prefer to wear, high heel shoes or flat shoes? Well, I am a 40 year old mom, so before my baby I always wore heels, but now I use flats most of the time.
  6. Do you know how to swim? What style do you like? Yes I know how to swim and I prefer freestyle swimming.
  7. What kind of vegetables do you always cook or include to your meals? Broccoli is the number one in my house.
  8. Which one you do like best, diamond or gold? Why? Both, why not!

11 questions for the for the Nominees:

  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. Assuming money was not an issue, what is the one thing you’re dying to do?
  3. What is one international food dish you would love to make or want to learn to make?
  4. What’s your favorite style of music?
  5. What is your favorite season and why?
  6. Do you have any pets? If no, are there any pets you would like?
  7. What’s the most important thing in your life?
  8. What is your favorite dessert?
  9. Can you bake? Do you like to bake?
  10. What are your hobbies?
  11. What have you read or listened to recently that touched you?

My Nominees

Red Velvet Donuts

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Red velvet cake has a very special place in our heart. My husband and I had our first date at San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas and we were walking around the river when we stopped by a coffee shop. Just as we went in, the baker was bringing a tray of fresh red velvet cupcakes. At that very moment we looked at each other and we both had a look that said: “This is heaven on earth!”. We just laughed knowing that for sure red velvet was our favorite cake. Long story short, we love it so much that even our wedding cake was red velvet!

So it’s very common for us to have something with red velvet flavor on Valentine’s day. That’s usually a red velvet cheesecake from a famous cheesecake store, that we all know, or some traditional cupcakes. But this year, oh this year! I found a great red velvet baked doughnuts recipe that rocks our world! These doughnuts were a hit! And the cream cheese glaze that frosts them is just heavenly! My mouth is watering already, so let me share this recipe with you!

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick spray
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup red cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring

Cream Cheese Glaze

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp butter softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 Tbsp milk (more or less to reach desired consistency)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Let’s Bake:

  1. Preheat to 350°F. Spray doughnut pan with nonstick spray and wipe off excess.
  2. Mix flour, cocoa powder, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt in small bowl.
  3. Beat butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
  4. Add eggs, mixing for 30 seconds in between each addition.
  5. Add vanilla. Turn off mixer and scrape down sides. Mix on high for 15-20 seconds.
  6. Then, turn mixer to low. Add 1/3 of flour mixture. Add half of the buttermilk. Repeat, ending with flour. Add red food coloring if desired.
  7. Transfer the doughnut batter to a pastry bag fitted with a round piping tip. Pipe batter into pan, leaving a 1/4” of room. Note: You can spoon the batter into a large ziplock baggie, and cut off a 1/2 inch tip from one corner.img_9113
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until they spring back when gently touched. Let rest for 5-7 min, remove from pan.

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For the Glaze:

  1. In a mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer set on medium speed, blend together cream cheese and butter until well combine and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in remaining ingredients and mix about 1 minute until well combine. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
  1. While the doughnuts are still warm, dip them into the glaze, on the pale side, then give them a little twist as you raise them up out of the bowl. Decorate as desired and set them on the cooling rack to dry.
  1. Baked doughnuts are best when they’re freshly made, so enjoy them warm with a good cup of coffee

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Mallorcas (Majorca Bread)

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Lately, I’ve been missing the traditional pastries of my little island Puerto Rico. Two weeks ago I woke up thinking about some “pastelillos de guayaba”, guava puff pastries, and then it was Mallorcas. How not to miss them?! Back on the island, they were my favorite when I needed a sweet note for breakfast. So I made some a few days ago!

These delicate and sweet nautilus-shaped buns are filled with layers over layers of fat (sweet butter), so they are soft, flaky and rich in sweetness. Pan de Mallorca is one of the most famous breads in Puerto Rico, especially for breakfast, and can be found in nearly every bakery on the island. Is very common to have a warm Mallorca in the morning with a cup of good strong coffee, like we make on the island. Or full of ham a cheese like a sandwich. Yes! The combination of the sweet bread and the saltiness of ham and cheese is simply amazing!!

It’s origins can be traced back to the Ensaïmada, a twisted pastry from the Spanish Island of Majorca. The dough is rolled and coiled to create airy and flaky layers, then these cloudy rolls are baked until golden and topped with plenty of powdered sugar, exactly like we make it in Puerto Rico. Mallorca bread is a common bread in most former Spanish territories in Latin America and the Philippines. Thank you, Lord, for being born in a place where Mallorcas exist!! The best part is that you don’t need to fly to P.R. to have a good Mallorca. As a good hostess, I will share this recipe with you! So enjoy this pinch of sugar!!

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups  all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • ½ cup of water
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ cup of granulated sugar
  • 10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) melted
  • Confectioners’ sugar

 

Let’s Bake!:

  1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt together in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk milk, water, eggs, and granulated sugar in 4-cup liquid measuring cup until sugar has dissolved.
  1. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add milk mixture to flour mixture and mix until a cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Note: You can make this procedure with a large bowl and spatula, after all ingredients are incorporated, transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth round ball, about 10 minutes.
  1. Increase speed to medium-low and knead until dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl but sticks to bottom, about 5 minutes.
  1. With mixer running, add softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until butter is fully incorporated, about 5 minutes. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl but sticks to bottom, about 3 minutes.
  1. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 3 minutes. Place dough seam side down in lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, 2 to 2½ hours.img_8635
  1. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Press down on dough to deflate. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, divide in half, and cover loosely with greased plastic.
  1. Press and roll 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece covered) into 18 by 12-inch rectangle, with long side parallel to counter edge.
  1. Brush 2 tablespoons melted butter over dough. Using serrated knife, cut 2 inch strips and cover loosely with greased plastic wrap.Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (keep remaining pieces covered), stretch and roll into 10-inch rope. Lightly brush rope with melted butter, coil into spiral, and tuck tail end underneath. (Repeat process with the remaining dough).
  1. Arrange rolls on prepared sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart. Using finger, gently poke indentation into center of each spiral. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until nearly doubled in size and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 2 to 2½ hours.fullsizerender
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350° F. Bake 1 sheet at a time until rolls are light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Transfer rolls to wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm. 

Recipe adapted from the book, Bread Illustrated from America’s Test Kitchens

 

 

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Nutella & Walnut Babka

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This year I had the blessing of having part of my family at home. The house was full and the kitchen busy! So, the Friday before New Year Eve I finally had the chance to make a Babka bread for my special guests. Even though I had the opportunity to practice this bread before, this was the first time making it with Nutella and Walnuts, and I was very excited about it.

But what is this Babka bread? Babka is a spongy brioche like yeast cake made mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s traditionally baked for Easter Sunday and the major holidays like Christmas & New Year’s. Traditionally, Bakba doesn’t have any filling and is glazed with a vanilla or chocolate flavored icing and decorated with almonds or candied fruit. But the most famous version of babka is associated with the Eastern European Jewish tradition. This babka is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan. Instead of a fruit filling the dough is filled with cinnamon and/or chocolate. This is the version we will be doing!

Until recently, Bakba could only be found in Jewish or Eastern European bakeries, but now you can find this decadent sweet bread in cafes or fine bakeries. None which are near me, unfortunately. So when I started seen this decadent bread all over the web it was a must try for me. And because I like to do it right, it took me months to find a good European recipe that I could say: “Yes! I know what Babka is!!!!” So I hope you like this sweet bread as much as I did!

Here are a few notes before we dive in. Remember, recipes can vary based on ingredients. For example, a high-percentage chocolate might be dry due to less cocoa butter, and more cacao beans, so it’s more about personal taste. But if you’ll be using Nutella, I highly recommend to also use a dark or semi-sweet chocolate to make a balanced combination. Also, some Babka recipes call to add a ½ cup of sugar into the dough, but European recipes ask for simple syrup instead. Which it’s just like icing on a cake! Trust me on this one, the syrup will take this bread to a whole other level of moist goodness. The best part of the syrup is that you can change it up into any flavor, just add a tablespoon of vanilla, almond, maple, or honey.But enough technical talk! Let’s dive into this Backba!

But enough technical talk! Let’s dive into this Backba!

Ingredients:

Babka dough

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • Scant 1/2 cup whole milk very slightly warmed
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour ( reserve 1/4 cup of flour if is necessary to the final kneading process)

Nutella filling

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped or chips
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup or more of warmed Nutella

Syrup

  • 1/2 cup  sugar
  • 1/2 cup  water
  • 1 tablespoon honey or vanilla

Let’s Bake!

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the yeast with milk and sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour. Let rest until small bubbles appear and break the surface, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. With the mixer fitted with the dough hook, on low speed, mix in the 3 ounces butter, then the egg and salt. Gradually add the flour until it’s incorporated. *Note: You can make this dough by hand just: Simply mix the ingredients for the dough in a mixer bowl, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead until smooth.*
  3. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and knead the dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. If your dough seems too soft and is sticking considerably to the sides of the mixer bowl after kneading, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away from the sides. (The original recipe called 2 1/4 cups, but it depends on room temperature; this last ¼ may not be necessary).
  4. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel until the dough doubles in size, then refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 6 hours, or overnight. The more the dough is refrigerated the easyer is to roll out and bread benefits from a leisurely rise.
  5. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and line the bottom and up the sides with a piece of parchment paper overhanging the two long sides, which will help you remove the baked babka later.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a rectangle 12 x 20-inches. If the dough contracts and resists when rolling it, roll it out partially into a rectangle, let it sit 5 to 10 minutes, then continue to roll it out to the final dimensions once it’s relaxed.
  7. Spread the Nutella filling over the surface of the rectangle all the way to the edges. Strew the nuts and chocolate bits (if using) over the Nutella.
  8. Starting at one of the long ends of the rectangle, roll up the dough tightly so you have a loaf of approximately 20 inches long.
  9. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough completely in half lengthwise. With the cut sides facing up, overlap the end of one cut half over the other (with the cut sides still facing up), then take the other cut half and fold it over the other, making sure the cut sides are always facing up. Continue making a rope-like formation overlapping and twisting the two halves of the dough together until the dough into one big twist. Any nuts or filling that have fallen out, toss into the bottom of the loaf pan.
  10. Lift the twisted loaf and squidge it into the prepared loaf pan by pushing in on the two ends, so it fits in nicely.fullsizerender-3
  11. Put the loaf pan in a very warm place, such as near a radiator or in an oven that has a pilot light, and let rise for about 1 hour, or until it’s puffy and almost doubled in size. Note: For a golden brown surface, make an egg wash with 2 tablespoons of water and pour it over the dough before baking.
  12. While the dough is rising, make the syrup by bringing the water, sugar, and the honey to a boil in a small saucepan. (If using vanilla extract, or any other alcohol based flavoring, make sure to add it after you remove the pan from the burner.) Let boil for 4 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface with a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside.
  13. Fifteen minutes before you bake the babka, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the babka on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 195ºF.
  14. Remove the babka from the oven and spoon or brush the room temperature syrup over the babka and let cool completely before lifting the babka out. Do not try to remove it or slice it while it’s warm, or it will break.IMG_6797.JPG
  15. Serve the babka sliced. It will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature or can be frozen for up to two months, if well-wrapped.

Recipe Adapted from David Leibovitz & the book, Bread Illustrated from America’s Test kitchen

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Puerto Rican Coconut Rice Pudding (Arroz con Dulce)

 

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If you didn’t know yet, I come from Puerto Rico, a little island in the Caribbean, and there Christmas is serious business. Just how serious? They last the longest there than anywhere in the world! We start on November, just after Thanksgiving day, and we end it on the second week of January with the “Octavitas”, celebrated after “Día de Reyes” on January 6th.

“Día de Reyes” (Three Kings Day or Epiphany Day) is a Spanish tradition in which we commemorate the moment when the three Wise Men went to visit Baby Jesus and gave him presents. On the night before, kids are to gather hay or grass into a shoebox and leave it by their bed to feed the camels of the Wise Men. In the morning they will find that the hay is gone and in its place the Wise Men left them presents. The “Octavitas”come right after that on January 7th. In the past it was celebrated with a religious background in which they dedicated a day for each of the Wise King, and later three more days for the Three Mary’s. But at this point it is really more of an excuse to continue the Christmas celebrations and parties. And we do love to party!

But among all the traditions and celebrations, adapted from both Spain and the US, food is at the center of it all. This is the case of the Coconut Rice Pudding, one of the most popular Christmas dessert on the island. You can go to any house, any party or any Christmas celebration and you will find a large tray of Coconut Rice Pudding! There are so many things I love about this beautiful dessert. It’s creamy, it’s sweet, a little sticky and it’s  full of coconut flavor. But, what I love is the combination of the spices and raisins that make this rice pudding exceptional. For me “Arroz con Dulce” means Christmas!

I have very good memories of my childhood and this pudding. When my mother’s family was about to make coconut rice pudding the whole family was there to make it. My uncle was outside breaking fresh coconuts and reserving the coconut water, one of my cousins was extracting the coconut meat, meanwhile my grandma was making the coconut milk. Everything was fresh and everything tasted better! These days you can find everything at the groceries store and the process is way more quicker. Even though it’s not longer done from scratch, like my family used to do, I encourage you this Christmas to make this dessert a new family project!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cup of medium grain rice
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • ½ cup Brandy , to pre-soak the raisins (optional)

To make the infusion:

  • 6 cup of water
  • 8 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 start anise
  • ¼ cup of fresh ginger
  • 12-15 clove sticks
  • ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

 

For the rice:

  • 3 ½ cups of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 can of cream of coconut, about 13 oz
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 1 cup of turbinado sugar or brown sugar
  • ground cinnamon for garnish

 

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, add rice and enough cold water to cover by 2”. Let the rice soak a minimum of 5 hours, or even better overnight. Drain and set aside. Optional: Soak the raisins in the Brandy for 1-2 hours.
  1. Meanwhile, in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to boil 6 cups of water, cloves, ginger, star anise , cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Lower heat to medium low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard spices. Reserve water in saucepan.
  1. Stir the coconut milk into the reserved water; bring to boil. Add the rice and raisins. Lower heat to medium low. Simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  1. Continue checking on rice until is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the cream of coconut and the condensed milk and stir until well combined. Continue to cook uncovered until creamy, like a soft pudding. It’s OK if it’s a little runny because the rice will continue to absorb the coconut milk as it cools.
  1. Transfer the rice pudding to a large casserole dish; cool at room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator to set.img_6184
  1. To serve, scoop pudding onto serving plate. Garnish with cinnamon, and enjoy this pinch of sugar! fullsizerender-2

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Soft Sugar Cookies

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A soft, chewy and flaworful sugar cookie that you will love! 

 

Is the most wonderful time of the year! Without a doubt Christmas is the best holiday! Is the time we’ve all been waiting for all year long. Even though sometimes it can be a little nostalgic, it’s full of hope and magic. Therefore, I think that the best way to start this holiday is by making a good batch of Christmas cookies.

I’ve been making these cookies for the last three years and I love them! What I like about this recipe is that you have two types of cookies in one. Yes, you read me right! Simple, if you like cookies buttery and crispy avoid the cream cheese and lemon zest, if you like a softer and chewy cookie with a balanced flavor then add the cream cheese. For sure you will love both versions, like I do. This recipe yields 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on the cuter size. What I do is that I make the dough in advance, usually the first week of Christmas, then I divide the dough in three small portion. I bake one portion and I freeze the rest for Christmas Eve or to make a goodies gift. You can decorate these cookies however you want. Also, you can make cookie sandwiches with fruit jam or Nutella, or make them more festive with some royal icing, which is always fun for the kids!

Well, I think I have covered the basic, so let’s enjoy this pinch of sugar and Merry Christmas !!!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the royal icing that I usually make, visit: Royal Icing Recipe & Video

 

Let’s Bake:

  1. In a large bowl using a hand mixer, or a stand mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese with the sugar. Beat for several minutes, or until light and fluffy. Then add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon zest.
  1. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, then gradually add it with a spoon to the butter and sugar mixture until fully incorporated and a soft dough is formed.
  1. Divide the dough into 3 balls. At this point the dough can, and should be, chilled or frozen.img_4388
  1. Refrigerate the dough that you will baking for at least 1 hour. Then freeze the rest of the dough balls, wrapped in plastic wrap and into a freezer bag, for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave in the refrigerator overnight then proceed with the recipe.
  1. Once the cookie dough is chilled, roll it out onto a floured surface or between two parchment papers. You want these cookies to be on the thicker side (closer to 1/4 inch rather than 1/8). Note: When you take the chilled dough out of the fridge you may need to let it sit for a few minutes before is soft enough to roll out.
  2. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or a Silpat. Cut cookies out of the rolled dough and place on the prepared baking sheets.img_4820
  1. Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack.
  2. Cool completely before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container. For Royal Icing Decorating Tips refer to the video mention in the ingredients list.img_6057

 

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Apple Pie with Dark Rum Crust

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I can’t start Christmas Season without making the traditional apple pie. Even though I wasn’t born here, once I made my first apple pie it became a family tradition. I personally think that you’ll always have room to improve an apple pie. So far I am quite content with this recipe. But if you are like me, always searching for new techniques and flavor twists, you know that I will probably be revisiting this recipe in the future.

I really don’t consider myself an expert in doing apple pies, but I know a thing or two about it. There are two elements for making an apple pie and that’s the pastry and the apples.

My favorite pie crust is made with butter rather than shortening because it has a buttery flavor and a crumbly texture. But you could use your own pastry crust recipe or you can just use store bought pie crust. I added a third element in making this crust and that is alcohol. There are some recipes over the web that call for vodka to make the crust. Well, the first time I tried this trend I did not have vodka, so instead I used dark rum. And let me tell you, I loved it! The alcohol adds more moisture to the dough, so it’s becomes more flexible to roll and the crust will have a beautiful golden color. One thing that is very important is temperature. It is crucial to have the water and the butter very chilled; If you want a firm and flaky crumbly texture that is key, otherwise your hands will melt the butter very quickly and your crust could end up greasy and flat.

Now, let’s talk about the apple filling. You can make this pie with any firm textured apple that will not lose its shape when baked. My favorites are Honey Crisps, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Fuji. Also, is great to mix them; you’ll have a different tone of tangy flavor and textures.

The other key into making apple pie is just to be very patient, so just enjoy the process and make a great piece of apple pie with ice cream!

Ingredients:

Pie Crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
  • 2 tablespoon of dark rum or vodka (optional)

Apple Filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds of apples (about 6 large), peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch-thick (about 8 cups (2 L))
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour)

Lets Bake:

Making the Crust:

  1. In a food processor, place the flour, salt, cinnamon and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture look like coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Do not over mix.
  1. Pour 1/4 cup of water and the tablespoons of rum in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds.img_5939
  1. Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour before using.  Note: You can freeze the dough for up to 6 months. To use it transfer the dough to the refrigerator a day before.
  1. After the dough has chilled sufficiently, remove one portion of the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry into a 12 inch (30 cm) circle. (Always roll from the center of the pastry outwards, flip up the dough meanwhile rolling to ensure uniform thickness).
  1. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9 inch (23 cm) pie pan. Trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.
  1. Then remove the second round of pastry and roll it into a 12 inch (30 cm) circle. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.

Making the Apple Filling:

  1. In a large bowl combine the sliced apples with the sugars, lemon juice, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to three hours.img_3325
  2. Place the apples and their juices in a strainer that is placed over a large bowl in order to capture the juices. Let the apples drain for about 15minutes – or until you have at least 1/2 cup of juice.
  3. Spray a 4 cup heatproof measuring cup with a nonstick vegetable spray, and then pour in the collected juices and add the 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Place in the microwave and boil the liquid, on high, about 5 to 7 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to about 1/3 cup and is syrupy and lightly caramelized. You can also make this process in a saucepan.
  4. Meanwhile, remove the bottom pastry crust from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes so it has time to soften. Transfer the drained apples slices to a large bowl and mix them with the cornstarch (corn flour). Then pour the reduced syrup over the apples and toss to combine. Pour the apples and their syrup into the chilled pie crust. Moist the edges of the pie shell with a little water and then place the top crust over the apples. fullsizerender-5
  5. Fold any excess pastry under the bottom crust and then curve the edges using your fingers or a fork. Using a sharp knife, make five 2 inch slits from the center of the pie out towards the edge of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill the pastry while you preheat the oven.fullsizerender-6
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Place the oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on the rack before preheating the oven. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the stone (or pan) to catch any apple juices.
  1. Bush with an egg wash and sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over the top. Then, set the pie on the stone or pan and bake for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the juices start to bubble through the slits and the apples feel tender (not mushy) when a toothpick or sharp knife is inserted through one of the slits.
  2. Make sure to cover the edges of the pie with a foil ring to prevent over browning after about 30 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 3-4 hours before cutting.
  1. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream. Store at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from : Joy of Baking

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