Tag Archives: apple

Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (using leftover yeast dough!)

While we’re on the subject of getting used to failure and letting yourself take shortcuts, I have a confession to make. Growing up as a perfectionist sometimes meant I was a very, very poor sport.

In 6th grade, I was determined to accumulate every possible accolade available to me. I tore through novels at a frantic pace to be the top Electronic Bookshelf reader. I drew up posters to campaign for a student council position. I left class each day to run the controls for the entire school’s closed circuit news station. I assisted the computer teacher setting up technology for special events. I wrote columns for the 6th grade newsletter, The Leopard’s Roar. I slaved over every assignment as part of my neverending quest for perfect grades. I practiced endlessly to execute the perfect flip over the monkey bars on the playground. Life was juuuust about perfect.

One cool spring morning, though, things changed. I’d been eagerly awaiting an announcement from my teacher, Mrs. McRae. She was looking for a few trustworthy students with integrity and strong academic performance to appoint to the coveted position of safety patrol. Being on the safety patrol would add another shiny pip to my starched, pristine collar, and I was absolutely rabid over it.

The morning was packed with independent work. I was absorbed in completing my math worksheet while folks milled about the room attending to their own tasks. At one point, I realized Mrs. McRae was calling out the answers to the worksheet, but since I wasn’t finished, I tuned her out and continued working without much thought. I didn’t think twice about doing so until one of my classmates piped up with a whine, “Mrs. McRae, Julie’s cheating! She’s writing down answers while we’re checking it!” I looked up, shocked.

Just to bandage my wounded pride a little (15 years later, because you know, that’s normal), I was not cheating. I was calculating the answer to every problem and hadn’t heard or recorded a single answer that was called out. I was just trying to finish my worksheet, y’all! Nevertheless, Mrs. McRae called me out of the classroom.

I explained my situation to her in a panic. Surely she couldn’t possibly think that what that little twerp said about me was true?! Her bespectacled face stared down at me with doubt. You could see the wheels turning in her head: Well, Julie does care an awful lot about grades. Maybe…

Confronted with what felt like the greatest injustice I’d ever suffered, I began to have a full-on anxious meltdown. As I restated my case and pleaded with her to believe me, I started crying tears of frustration. Finally, I stormed into the bathroom beside our mobile classroom to flip out in private. A few minutes later, Mrs. McRae followed me. She told me that she didn’t know if I’d cheated or not, but considering the situation, she did not feel it was appropriate to appoint me to safety patrol.

Oh my goodness, y’all. Oh my goodness.

My little 6th grade life flashed before my eyes. I cried some more in the bathroom. I cried at home that night. I glared daggers at the safety patrol students when I passed them in the hallways in the following weeks. I’d love to say, “And then I got over it!” but here I am writing an entire blog post about it as an adult, so uh. That’s probably kind of unhealthy, right? Whatev. It scarred me, people!

But ultimately, even though it was hard to swallow, I can honestly say I appreciate the lesson in dealing with unfairness and disappointment. Getting used to the fact that things don’t always go your way (and sometimes, aren’t even fair!) is part of being a healthy human being.

Talking about disappointments is an apt opening to a monkey bread post on Willow Bird Baking. Don’t worry; these Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes aren’t disappointing! They’re gorgeous, rich fall treats. Monkey bread in general, though, has always been a total fail for me. It typically falls apart, overflows its pan, or ends up doughy in the middle. Even when I tried straight up convenience monkey bread with canned biscuit dough I managed to use too many cans and create quite the underbaked mess (stop laughing!) I can’t explain this phenomenon — monkey bread should be so darn easy. What’s the matter with me?!

Anyhow, instead of throwing a fit in the bathroom, I’ve kept trying new monkey bread recipes. I love the stuff, so even the “failures” get devoured in short order. And these Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes were quite the little success. With one batch of yeast dough, you can make some Taco Pockets and a quick dessert — two dishes for the effort of one! The “recipe” that follows outlines this simple method for dressing up your leftovers. Next time you’re making some yeast rolls or dinner pockets, save some dough for monkey bread!

What’s an injustice you remember experiencing?

Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (using leftover yeast dough!)



Recipe by: Bits and pieces adapted from What’s Cookin’, Chicago?, All Recipes
Yield: depends on your leftover dough

This recipe is actually just a method of dolling up leftover dough to make monkey bread sundaes. Using this little technique, you can save some dough from any dinner recipe and create a dessert to enjoy at the end of the meal with no extra fuss. Even if you only have a small amount of leftover dough, you can bake your monkey bread in the wells of a cupcake pan and serve the warm, gooey pieces over vanilla bean ice cream!

To make Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread with leftover dough, grab:

Leftover yeast dough* that has already completed one rise. Maybe you used the first half for some Taco Pockets? You sly devil, you.
Sauce: You can use 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter mixed with 1 cup brown sugar to form a caramelly sauce. For more apple flavor, you could also try mixing 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar over the stove, removing it from heat, and adding 1/2 cup apple butter.
Cinnamon and sugar mixture: 1/2 cup sugar whisked together with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Melted butter: about 1/2 cup.
Apples: 1 peeled, cored, and chopped apple (or more if you have lots of leftover dough)
Nuts: about 1 cup of chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts. I chose pecans because I love them.

Then do this:
Set up each of your items in a row to form an assembly line: an apple station, a melted butter station, a cinnamon/sugar station, and then a greased bundt pan (or greased cupcake pan if you only have a bit of leftover dough). Set your sauce and nuts to the side for now.

With floured fingers, take a ping-pong-ball-sized pinch of leftover yeast dough (you can change this to smaller pinches if you’re baking in a cupcake pan). First, place some apples in the middle of the ball of dough and pinch the dough closed around them. Then drop the dough ball in melted butter, tossing gently to coat with a fork. Next, drop it in the cinnamon and sugar mixture and toss gently to coat (use a separate fork in this bowl). Drop your coated dough ball in the greased pan.

Once you have a single layer covering the bottom of the pan you’re using, spoon a layer of sauce over the dough balls and sprinkle on a layer of nuts. Continue pinching, filling, and coating dough balls to form another layer, and then spoon sauce and sprinkle nuts over this, too. Keep going until you’ve used all your dough.

When you’ve used all of your dough, distribute a last bit of sauce and nuts over the top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour in a draft-free place. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When risen, bake the bread for 20-35 minutes (this can vary depending on the size of your dough balls and the size pan you used, but look for a dark golden brown color on top. If you take it out when it’s just golden brown, it’ll likely still be raw inside, so let it get dark.) Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then invert onto a plate (or pick out the monkey bread pieces with a fork like I did, to serve over vanilla bean ice cream!)

*Note: You can use this technique with canned biscuit dough, too — just cut out the rise time.

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Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes: NOT Back-to-School Cupcakes!

It’s Cupcake Week on Willow Bird Baking! Cupcake Capers was a 5-day summer camp I conducted last week wherein 5 middle school girls learned to bake, fill, and frost cupcakes. We eschewed pedestrian cupcake flavors in favor of creative combinations that I now get to share with you! Every day this week I’ve been posting fun memories and recipes from Cupcake Camp.


No really, they’re not Back-to-School Cupcakes.

Like all good things, Cupcake Camp had to eventually come to an end. Day 5 arrived and so did the campers, eager to pack in one last day of cake pops and cupcakes. At the end of the day they would finally carry home their aprons, recipe notebooks, and colorful bakery boxes filled with the cupcakes we’d made all week (the ones they hadn’t already devoured, that is) to share with their families.

But first, we sat down to complete the cutest decorating job of the week: turning cupcakes into apples! We baked these apple cupcakes in bright red liners to begin creating the effect. Once they were cooled and frosted, we dipped the tops in red sanding sugar, used bits of pretzel for their “stems,” and cut “leaves” from green fruit roll-ups.

These cupcakes weren’t just adorable, though — they were also one of the girls’ favorite recipes all week long. The spice cake, creamy cinnamon mousse, and brown sugar buttercream frosting melded into a delicious preview of fall flavors. Bright smiles broke out all around as the campers first tasted one of their “apples.” Even though they had already ranked their favorite cupcakes, several of them went back and added Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes right at the top of their lists!

After tasting, we sat back and admired our handiwork. Meticulous Mary Rood made the comment that these looked like Back-to-School cupcakes. She’s right, of course. Isn’t it funny how just as soon as August peeks around the corner, stores everywhere roll out the red plaid, apples, mini chalkboards, and school supplies in an array of primary colors? These cupcakes fit right in.

Her comment sunk in for a moment before our summer spirit rebelled. We still have a few weeks of freedom! The temperature still climbs to 100 degrees each day! We still have beach trips, pool trips, and sprints through the sprinkler planned!

I don’t care what the stores might have you believe, it’s still SUMMER! We’ll go back to school when our parents drag us, kicking and screaming, and not one second before!

(Okay, I guess I can’t quite wait until my parents drag me . . . )

So these may look like Back-to-School cupcakes. They may taste like Back-to-School cupcakes. I may have gotten carried away and photographed them surrounded by a bunch of the brightly colored school supplies I just made fun of.

But these are NOT Back-to-School cupcakes. These are IT’S-STILL-SUMMER-AND-I-DON’T-CARE-WHAT-YOU-SAY-LA-LA-LA cupcakes.

Now that we’re clear on that, you should go make them and eat about twenty.

What summer plans do you still have to accomplish before summer ends? Or, for readers on the tail end of winter, what exciting things do you have lined up for the spring?

Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes



Recipe by: adapted from Baked Bree
Yields:about 24-28 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped (optional)

Cinnamon Mousse Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (4 serving) package vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (not Cook & Serve)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick room temperature butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups of powdered sugar (depends on consistency desired)
3 tablespoons of heavy cream (depends on consistency desired)

Directions:
*Note: This recipe makes twice as much mousse as you need for filling the cupcakes. If you want to use half the pudding pack and save the rest for later, just measure it out and do so. Or use the extra mousse for another project (you know, like eating it with a spoon).

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate, large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy (several minutes). Add the eggs in one at a time, beating after each addition, and then mix in the applesauce. Finally, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full of batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes and let cool completely.

Make mousse: To make the cinnamon mousse, combine milk, cream, and pudding mix, and spices in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer until you reach soft peaks, or a thick whipped cream consistency (this takes a few minutes). Refrigerate mousse until you’re ready to use it.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, beat butter and shortening together until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix. Gradually add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and alternately add the cream. Adjust these items until desired consistency is reached.

Assemble cupcakes: To fill the cupcakes, use the Cone Method: cut an upside-down cone out of the top of each one. Cut off the tip of the cone (and eat it, if you wish) leaving just the “lid.” Fill the cavity with mousse using a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off, and then replace the “lid” to give you a relatively smooth surface to frost. Don’t overfill these, or they’ll be hard to frost.

Use the back of a spoon, a knife, or an offset spatula to cover the cupcakes with a layer of frosting. To ensure you don’t accidentally shift your “lid,” use a pretty thick layer of frosting and just gently pull it out toward the sides of the cupcake to achieve full coverage — that way you’re never pulling your spoon/spatula straight up and pulling the lid off. Dip frosted cupcakes into a bowl of red sanding sugar or sprinkles. Add a piece of a pretzel stick for a stem. Add a leaf cut from a green fruit roll up (I made a little indentation in my frosting with the tip of a knife to stick the tip of the leaf into). Enjoy!

All Cupcake Week Recipes:
Day One: Chocolate Pistachio Cream Cupcakes
Day Two: Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Three: Creamsicle Cupcakes
Day Four: Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Five: Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes

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Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts

On car trips when I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was to torment my little brother. He would be tucked safely into his car seat minding his own business when I would attack. There was no tickling or hitting or poking involved — that’s just not my style. Instead, I launched a calculated verbal and psychological assault.

Despite the fact that we were usually in Tennessee or Kentucky at the time, I’d point out the window and scream, “HEY, look, it’s Disney World!” His hopeful little face would whip around to see the happiest place on earth, only to be confronted with cornfields and the occasional disinterested cow. “Oh, you just missed it,” I’d say, consoling him with a pat on the arm.

After he’d missed a few more Disney Worlds and a Sea World or two, he was about as frustrated as a hornet in a mason jar. His spluttering protests were met with one of those smug-big-sister shrugs on my part. “What?” I’d say, “I can’t help it if you’re turning around too slow.”

Okay, so I was kind of a punk. In my defense, I was little. And he was usually a pill, I promise.

Anyway, huge counterexample aside, I’m actually a pretty trustworthy person. I don’t know if Alex will ever trust me again, but you can.

One thing you should certainly trust me about is the fact that apple pies and cheddar cheese were made for each other. Some folks — especially in my part of the world, it seems — have never heard of this combo. People can be downright skeptical when you mention it.

I first heard about pairing apple pie and cheddar cheese only a few years ago. I was shocked to find out that this odd couple was an established and beloved tradition in some places. How had I missed out on this my entire life? I promptly ran to the grocery store, bought a mini apple pie and a block of sharp cheddar, and gave it a try. Turns out all those crazy New Englanders (love you guys!) weren’t wrong: the sweet filling with the sharp cheese was a perfect match.

So what would be better than a slice of apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top? How about a pie that fully integrates the apply and cheddary goodness? I created these mini apple pies with cheddar crusts to do just that. The cheddar crust is phenomenal — I think I ate more of it raw than I used in the pies — and I chose a sweet apple filling to balance it out. The result is a buttery, sweet-and-salty piece of heaven.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of the apple pie and cheddar combo, trust me — all Disney Worlds and Sea Worlds aside — when I say you have to try it. And if you’ve enjoyed a slice of apple pie with a hunk of cheddar on top, back me up: tell us how much you love it.

P.S.: Some folks have apparently been known to say, “An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze.”

P.S. 2: Happy Pi Day — only one day late. These little guys are worth the wait.

Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts



Recipe by: Adapted from my own pie crust and Betty Crocker’s filling
Yield: 4 cupcake-sized apple pies and 10-12 mini apple-pies

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/4 cup white sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon for sprinkling
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch salt
4 cups mixed apples, peeled and chopped (4 medium — I used Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious)
1 tablespoon butter

Directions: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and cheese and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

Prepare filling: Mix all ingredients together except for butter.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Use cupcake pans, mini-cupcake pans or both for your pies, as desired. After crust has chilled, roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper until it’s relatively thin — a little thinner than 1/4 inch. Pull the parchment paper off the dough every now and then (flipping to do this on both sides) to ensure your dough isn’t sticking. Use a big round cookie cutter or a knife to cut out a piece of dough about 2 inches larger around than your cupcake wells (or about 1 inch larger around than your mini-cupcake wells). Fit this dough down into a well as a bottom crust. Fill it with filling, top it with a few bits of butter, and use another circle of dough to form the top crust. Crimp the edges (careful not to make your crimping too elaborate — if your edge is too big, your pies can be top-heavy and pull apart. You may just want to use a fork to create decorative edges instead of traditional “crimping.”) Repeat this process until all of your mini pies are ready for the oven. Brush them all with egg wash and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mixture over the top.

Bake mini pies at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (for cupcake-sized) or 10 minutes (for mini-cupcake sized). Turn temperature down to 375 degrees F, open the oven to rotate your pans and cool it off for a few seconds, and turn temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake cupcake-size pies for 7-9 minutes longer, and mini-cupcake sized pies for 6-7 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let pies cool completely in the pan — then gently “twist” the pies in their wells to be sure they aren’t sticking and pull them out. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Easy Apple Puff Pastry Tarts with Almond Whipped Cream (Voting Now Open in Project Food Blog!)

Willow Bird Baking is a contestant in Project Food Blog, a contest comprised of a series of 10 challenges to find the next food blog star. Voting for Challenge #7 is now open! I would be SO grateful if you’d consider voting for me in this round! Just sign in to your Foodbuzz account (or register if you don’t already have one). Then go to my cheesecake video entry here and vote by clicking the heart next to the words “Vote for this Entry.” I appreciate your support so much!

I just arrived in Orlando after 9 hours in a car (thankfully, I was accompanied by a fun coworker, Kyle). I’m in town to give a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English convention, but after that road trip, I’m not even sure I can still speak English, much less teach others how to teach it.

I kind of expect the next few days to be a blur. Wayyy too much Coke Zero, wayyy too much work done this week, and wayyy too much bustling around this morning means that I’m currently feeling crumpled and headachy.

Kyle and I spent the last 45 minutes of the trip searching for food in a starvation-induced trance. We’d already ruled out Steak ‘n Shake, but every exit had one (and almost nothing else), as if taunting us. Lots of hotels, lots of outlet malls, lots of big-neon-lit-Orlandoy places — but no normal, honest-to-goodness FOOD. Lulled by hunger delirium and the soporific British accent of Kyle’s GPS, I had almost lost touch with reality when we finally spotted a Chick-fil-a. We definitely needed one of those easy buttons you see on TV. Easy dinner for people with currently confuzzled brains, please!

Well, an easy dinner didn’t happen, but here’s an “easy button” for dessert, at least. These apple puff pastry tarts are truly painless in addition to being warm and comforting. I served these treats at my parents’ anniversary dinner. Before beginning dinner prep, I made sure my puff pastry was thawed, cut into squares, and ready to go. After dinner, the family retired to the living room to relax while I mixed my apples and spices and baked up the tarts. Just before serving, we topped each tart with almond whipped cream, which turned out to be my favorite component.

The entire dessert was fancy-looking enough for company, but easy enough for any busy weeknight (easier, obviously, than my food quest with Kyle).

Okay, enough bleary-eyed blogging. Before I say anything too silly, I’m signing off and heading to bed (in the condo bedroom that’s decorated entirely in Disney characters — no confusion about what city I’m in!)

Make some tarts, y’all!

Easy Apple Puff Pastry Tarts with Almond Whipped Cream



Recipe by: Pioneer Woman
Yields: about 6 individual tarts

Tart Ingredients:
homemade or store-bought puff pastry sheets, thawed and cut into rectangles
4 apples, cored and sliced but not peeled
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
optional spices to taste: cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.

Almond Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
5-6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (to taste)
1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 415 degrees. Put the puff pastry rectangles on a greased baking pan (with edges, so the juices don’t run down and caramelize on your oven, or on your mom’s freshly cleaned oven . . . not that I’m speaking from experience, or anything. Combine apple slices, sugar, salt, and any spices you’re using in a bowl and allow them to sit for a few minutes. Then arrange the apple slices on the puff pastry in a straight line, overlapping.

Bake 18 – 20 minutes, or until pastry is puffy and golden brown. While pastry is baking, whip together cream, sugar, and almond extract in a medium bowl to soft peaks. Place this in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Remove pastries from the oven and immediately serve with a dollop of cold almond whipped cream (allow diners to place this on their own tarts to ensure it doesn’t melt before it gets to them!)

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Apple, Brie, and Toasted Pecan Panini (& Voting Now Open in Project Food Blog Round 4!)

Willow Bird Baking is a contestant in Project Food Blog, a contest comprised of a series of 10 challenges to find the next food blog star. Voting for Challenge #4 is now open! To vote for my Croissant Tutorial to win this round, register for a Foodbuzz account. Once you’re registered, sign in and go to my Croissant Tutorial entry here. To vote, click the heart next to the words “Vote for this Entry.” I am so grateful for your support!

A few of years ago, back when I was still working in a developmental neuroscience lab (sounds fancy, but you can think of it as “playing with tadpole neurons”), I was given a travel stipend to head to San Diego for a conference. To put this trip in perspective for those of you who are jet-setters, I had never in my life been west of Missouri. Even that 12-hour Missouri trip had always been taken by car; I had only been on a plane once when I was 8 years old. I was also 22 years old and poor, so the last thing I expected was to suddenly be able to fly off to beautiful California for a visit.

Apart from being terrified of the plane, I was over the moon about traveling 2,500 miles away from everything familiar. I traced the distance on maps and looked through photos of the city, trying to get a grasp on the journey I was about to embark upon. My awesome sister, Sarah, volunteered to fly out and show me around, since she loves the city.

Every part of that trip was incredible: walking into the raspberry scented hotel lobby each night and seeing the lights of downtown all around my window, walking past flowers that seemed overwhelmed by their own huge blooms, eating pastries above the surf in La Jolla — and the HILLS! Hills like I’d never seen, rolling all around with houses creeping stealthily up their sides and staring off into the Pacific Ocean.

My sister rented a convertible and even though it was November, we drove with the top down to Coronado Island. We stopped into a little restaurant, Cafe 1134, for lunch. We weren’t expecting much, but ordered some panini. As we each took our first bites, our eyes met, and we realized we had just walked into something special. These were no ordinary panini. These were extraordinary panini: warm, melty, amazing! Even after a fancy seafood dinner, pasta in Little Italy, breakfast by the shore, and an Indian feast in La Jolla, we both still think of those panini as one of the best meals we ate in San Diego.

They’re just sandwiches, right? Wrong! They can be transcendental.

What perfect, amazing timing for this post. I’m so excited to share with you that I’m about to embark upon my second journey to the West Coast. I’ve just been chosen as the Nature’s Pride Bread Ambassador and awarded a trip to San Francisco.

How fitting is it that, just as I’ve discovered I’ll be returning to California, I’ve also found another transcendental panini — this time from my own kitchen, with my own homemade croissants! My sister Sarah isn’t going to believe me when I say that these are as good (if not better) than the panini at Cafe 1134, but perhaps I’ll make her a believer with a bite!

Everything about this panini is incredible. The buttery, fresh croissants embrace crisp apples, creamy brie, toasted pecans, bright rosemary, and a drizzle of sweet honey. The flavors melt and meld into a gorgeous medley of sweet and savory. I swooned. I devoured. I wished I hadn’t frozen the rest of the croissants.

Have you made your croissants yet? I’ll let you in on a little secret: I tried “handmade” croissants from a Charlotte bakery, and scout’s honor, homemade was about a billion times better. That being said, making these panini is an urgent matter. Even if you have to pick up some croissants from your local bakery to try this, you should do so as soon as possible!

What are your special travel memories? What food reminds you of your trip?

Apple, Brie, and Toasted Pecan Panini



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 3 panini

Ingredients:
3 big croissants (preferably homemade!)
1 large apple (I use Gala), cored and sliced relatively thin
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1 8-ounce round of brie, sliced
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
honey for drizzling

Directions:
Toast the pecans: Place nuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat and stir constantly. Once they begin to toast (when you start to smell them), shake pan to ensure all sides of the nuts are toasted evenly and none of them burn. Pour out onto a plate to cool while you assemble the sandwiches.

Preheat panini press to medium and spray with cooking spray. Slice croissants open and layer brie slices, apple slices, a small handful of nuts, a generous pinch of the chopped rosemary, and one more slice of brie on top. Drizzle with honey and replace the top of the croissant. Grill on panini press for a few minutes, checking periodically, until cheese is starting to melt and croissant is toasted. I finish mine in the microwave for about 15 seconds to get the cheesy nice and melty. Serve warm.

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Assorted Donut Muffins and Project Food Blog: Vote Now!

Willow Bird Baking is a contestant in Project Food Blog, a contest comprised of a series of challenges to find the next food blog star. If you missed it, my first challenge post explains why I blog, and what makes WBB special. Voting for Challenge #1 is now open! To vote, register for a Foodbuzz account. Once you’re registered, sign in and go here. To vote, click the heart next to the words “Vote for this Entry.” I am so grateful for your support!


At this point, just about all of us have either made Donut Muffins, eaten Donut Muffins from a generous friend, bookmarked a recipe for Donut Muffins, drooled over photos of Donut Muffins, or cursed the day Donut Muffins were invented as we kicked our scales across the bathroom.

I was in the “bookmarked the recipe” category for way too long. Every time I’d see another Donut Muffin post pop up in my Google Reader, I’d admonish myself for not having made them yet. They’re billed as warm, pluffy cake-donut-like muffins that have soaked up butter before being coated in cinnamon and sugar. It’s basically criminal that I hadn’t made them until this past weekend. But don’t worry — I made up for lost time.

What’s the fun of donuts? The taste, definitely — but also the puff of powdered sugar, the jam centers, the colorful sprinkles, the melty chocolate, the sticky glaze. A major component of what makes donuts so fun is the assortment. Even though I have a favorite donut, I always buy a few kinds so that I can pick through the box excitedly, tasting different combinations and flavors. So why make just one sort of Donut Muffin? Especially when it’s so easy to make a few kinds?

In my Donut Muffin assortment: Caramel Apple Donut Muffins, Jam-Filled Powdered Sugar Donut Muffins, and of course, Chocolate Sprinkle Donut Muffins.

You start out by making the batter like normal, but then separate a third of it to add diced apples to. After baking all the muffins up, the apple donut muffins get coated in cinnamon, sugar, and a caramel glaze. Another 1/3 of the batch gets coated with powdered sugar and filled with raspberry jam. The final 1/3 gets a bath in melted chocolate and some sprinkles. I bought a box of bakery cookies just to have a cute little “donut box” to put them in (no clue what I’m going to do with those cookies)!

The Chocolate Sprinkle Donut Muffins were good — but next time I’ll fill them with whipped cream or pastry cream for more donuttiness (that is a Merriam-Webster-certified real word, y’all. Okay, it’s not. Not even close). The Jam-Filled Powdered Sugar Donut Muffins were delicious little jammy bites. But the Caramel Apple Donut Muffins . . . they were OUT OF THIS WORLD. Like, OUT OF THIS GALAXY. Like, OH MY GOODNESS. My roommate had to sit down when she took her first bite, and she insists they’re the best thing I’ve ever made. Are you dicing apples yet? Good.

When they’re warmed up slightly, full of apply, buttery, cinnamon-sugary goodness, and coated with the buttery caramel glaze, these fluffy Caramel Apple Donut Muffins are analogous to the donuts you’d drive across town for. Sure, you want the assortment — and I ate plenty of the other two tasty flavors — but these are the ones you’d keep coming back for.

By the way, are you afraid of caramel? That’s probably because you’ve been using recipes with directions that say things like “look for an amber color,” or, even better, a “dark amber color.” I don’t know about you, but I think “amber” is pretty subjective. What gives? We stopped using terms like “low oven” and “slow oven” in recipes long ago in favor of fancy little things called oven temperatures. It’s time we switched over our sugar recipes to include temperatures as well. Caramel is nowhere near as frightening with a candy thermometer, y’all. You’ll be glad to see I’ve provided temperatures for your caramel sauce below, since I’m not feeling prehistoric.

What’s your favorite kind of donut? I think mine changed with my first bite o’ Donut Muffins! The recipe below shows you how to make all 3 kinds at once, but feel free to make just one sort if you’re feeling decisive.

Assorted Donut Muffins


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, adapted from the base recipe by Buns In My Oven. Caramel sauce by Martha Stewart.
Yield: 36 mini-muffins or 18 regular muffins

Batter Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk (low fat is fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Extras for Chocolate Sprinkle Donut Muffins:
melted chocolate
sprinkles
whipped cream (if desired, for filling)

Extras for Caramel Apple Donut Muffins:
2 tablespoons melted butter, for dipping
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 apple, peeled and diced (I used a Gala apple)
caramel sauce (recipe below)

Extras for Jam-Filled Powdered Sugar Donut Muffins:
raspberry jam (or flavor of your choice)
about 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
melted butter leftover from Caramel Apple Donut Muffins

Directions:
Prepare two mini-muffin pans by spraying with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat sugar and egg together in a large bowl until fluffy. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until combined. Add vegetable oil, milk, and vanilla extract and mix. Separate 1/3 of mixture into separate bowl and fold in diced apples (these will be the Caramel Apple Donut Muffins). Pour all batter into prepared muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake for 13-15 minutes until tester comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing onto a cooling rack (if muffins are extremely delicate and difficult to remove, you may need to bake them a minute longer — mine weren’t quite done enough. On the cooling rack, separate the donut muffins into 3 batches: the apple muffins, 1/2 of the plain muffins, and the other half of the plain muffins. These will be your three types of donuts.

For the Caramel Apple Donut Muffins: Melt the butter in the microwave and mix the cinnamon and sugar in a separate bowl. When the muffins are cool enough to handle, dunk the tops into the melted butter and then into the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Let dry/cool on cooling rack as you prepare caramel sauce (as directed in recipe below). Store caramel in fridge and drizzle on heated Apple Muffins right before serving.

For the Chocolate Donut muffins: When the muffins are cool enough to handle, dunk the tops into the melted chocolate. Add colorful sprinkles. You could fill these with pastry cream or whipped cream using a narrow pastry tip inserted into the bottom of the muffin if you wanted a cream-filled donut muffin.

For the Jam-Filled Powdered Sugar Donut Muffins: When the muffins are cool enough to handle, dunk the tops into the leftover melted butter and then into sifted powdered sugar. When donuts are cool, fill them with raspberry jam using a small pastry tip jabbed into the bottom of the muffin. Be careful not to overfill and burst your muffin (that should definitely be a more popular idiom than ‘burst your bubble,’ don’t you agree?) You may have to re-powder tops before serving if you keep these overnight, since some of the powdered sugar dissolves.

NOTE: Store all your muffins in an airtight container in the fridge.

Caramel Sauce Ingredients:
3/4 cups sugar
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt

Directions:
NOTE: This makes more caramel than you need, but I don’t reduce the recipe because it would make it difficult to use a candy thermometer, a tool that I believe is absolutely crucial in preparing caramel. I know you can find something else to spoon caramel sauce over — and this is truly delectable caramel.

Prepare a bowl set in an ice-water bath. Place sugar and water in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until it boils and the sugar is dissolved. Throughout this process, use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of your saucepan often to prevent crystal formation. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the mixture reaches 345 degrees on a candy thermometer (begin swirling gently when you see hints of amber, so the sugar cooks evenly), about 5-7 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and add cream carefully (the mixture will bubble up) while whisking constantly. Return mixture to medium heat until it boils and sugar melts.

Remove from heat, and pour into the bowl set in your ice-water bath. Let the caramel cool, whisking often, for 10 minutes before whisking in creme fraiche, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving over Caramel Apple Donut Muffins. Can store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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3.14159265358979323846…

Happy Pi Day! My math geek boyfriend had never heard of it, so go figure.

Here are my favorite pie recipes (and okay, some tarts for good measure). Whether you’re a math nerd or just want another excuse to eat pie, you have my blessing.


Fresh Blueberry Pie



Red Berry Pie



Mini-Pies! Pumpkin, Sour Cream Apple, Peach Crisp



Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart



Chocolate Tart



Peach Crisp Pie

Apparently there’s also a Pie — er, I mean Pi — Approximation Day in July?! Score!


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