chocolate peanut butter bread.

I’m not a huge proponent of Valentine’s Day. It’s never been one of my favorite holidays. I’m not going to rattle off a spiel on how bitter I am about how our culture fuels an irrational need for us to spend millions of dollars each year on a single day to prove our love to others, blah blah blah… It’s just that if I could choose tomorrow to be any holiday, I’d choose Christmas, or my birthday, over Valentine’s Day.

Yes, my birthday is a holiday. Enough on that.
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mmm, stollen.

Every holiday season, I get a serious case of baking lust. I want to bake 134 billion different kinds of cookies, cakes and breads. I want to make truffles. I want to make homemade candy canes. I want to buy a tree and bedazzle (yes, bedazzle.) it with popcorn and cranberry-studded strings and sing “Fahoo fores, dahoo dores!” like the Whos down in Whoville do. (At least I think that’s what they’re singing.)

And yet, every year, I never do any of it. I involuntarily become a real Scrooge, with nary a decoration or a Christmas treat in my home. It’s a real “bah, humbug!” of a situation, I know, but alas, I only have 24 hours in a day, and my fantasy Christmas schedule calls for at least 72. Sigh.

holiday stollen.

I do still make it a point, however, to bake a few holiday treats during the season. Because if it’s got sugar, I’ve got time for it.

Last year, I made panettone, a traditional Italian holiday loaf. Rick Steves told me the other day that, during Christmas in Italy, children walk door-to-door in their neighborhoods handing out homemade panettone to the elderly who don’t have family in the area with whom to celebrate Christmas. Yes, I was watching Rick Steve’s “European Christmas” holiday special the other day. Yes, it did make me cry. Moving on.

you've stollen my heart. he he.

This year, I thought I’d keep with the tradition of holiday breads and baked this ah-maz-ing stollen. The husband was pretty happy about this one, as he grew up on the stuff. Soft, buttery and sweet (and I MEAN buttery and sweet — there are layers and layers of butter and sugar on top of the loaf), with colorful pieces of dried fruit inside that look like bright ornaments, it tastes like Christmas in bread form. For serious.

slices of stollen.

This particular recipe is the easier, yeast-free version of the loaf, though it’s traditionally made with the ingredient. In other words, it’s the perfect recipe for us involuntary Scrooges who only have so much time these days to soak up the Christmas spirit. Not that I’m complaining — after all, no matter how crazy life gets, it still is the most wonderful time of the year.

Debrief: Don’t freak out if the dough looks a funny shape — this is normal (as described below). Also, when brushing the bread with butter for a second time, don’t worry if it looks clumpy and, well, kind of gross — once you sprinkle it with sugar again and let it cool completely, you’ll be oh so glad you slathered on a double-dose of buttery, sugary goodness.

Easiest Stollen

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yields:
2 loaves

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp cold unsalted butter
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp lemon curd
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup combination of your favorite dried fruits, chopped (I chose cranberries, blueberries and apricots)
1/3 cup slivered almonds
6 tbsp melted butter (for the topping)
confectioners’ sugar (for the topping)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or set aside a baking stone.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter in small, 1/4-inch cubes, and blend into the flour mixture.
In a separate large bowl, combine cheese, egg, vanilla and lemon curd. Whisk until completely combined.
Add dried, chopped fruit and almonds to the flour mixture and mix until completely combined. Add wet mixture to the flour mixture and mix until completely combined.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times until dough holds together. Divide in half.
Roll out each piece of dough into an 8 x 7-inch oval, about a 1/2 inch thick. Fold each piece of dough lengthwise (or crosswise, up to you) leaving the edge of the top half about a 1/2 inch short of the bottom half’s edge (see step-by-step here).
Lightly press the dough to seal about 1 inch in back of the open edge to get that traditional stollen shape (it’ll look kind of funky, like an off-kilter, misshapen loaf — this is normal. Do not panic.). Place the stollen on prepared baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 30-40 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
Transfer baked stollen to a wire cooling rack and brush each with about 2 tbsp of the melted butter reserved for the topping. Sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar.
Allow the stollen to cool completely, then brush on the remaining melted butter and sprinkle again with confectioners’ sugar.

Extra punches:
There are no rules when it comes to what kinds of dried fruits go into stollen. I tend to throw in whatever I have on hand which, in the past, has been anything from dried pineapple to dates. It’s all tasty. Also, if you want, you can toast the almonds before adding them to the dough. Also also, this bread doesn’t mess around — wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, it will stay fresh (and dare I say, get better) for up to an impressive 2 1/2 weeks.

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apple cobbler, numero dos.

I have to apologize for these photos. I know, they’re terrible. Let me reassure you though; I have plenty of excuses.

reading.

One: I was watching Glee while making this cobbler. It was the Britney Spears episode. My eyes were glued. It’s understandable, right? Right.

butter.

Two: It was nighttime. Duh. And I had a random, overpowering hankering for apple cobbler (mostly because I just worked out and had a raging appetite/sweet tooth attack, and we had about five pounds’ worth of fresh apples from the orchard that were begging to be covered in buttery goodness).

apples.

Three: I was so impatient to eat the cobbler/biscuit combination that the last thing I wanted to do was pause to take photos. But I didn’t want to be selfish and not share this with you, so… all that to say, this cobbler tastes loads better than it looks.

fluffy biscuit dough.

My week has been a lot like this. Hectic, erratic, speckled with cobbler and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Peanut Butter Cup, oh my) and buttery monkey bread and a cruel apple pie that I can look at forever but can’t eat until Thanksgiving. Hmph.

apple cobbler.

So, I apologize for you having to see the results of my craziness. But hey, at least I shared, right? Right.

Debrief: If using apples for this recipe (you can use 3 cups of any cobbler-appropriate fruit), make sure to use tart apples, like Granny Smith or McIntosh. I accidentally added in a Gala, and it was mushy and overly sweet.

Apple Cobbler (with a Fluffy Biscuits foundation)
Courtesy of The Joy of Cooking

Yields one 8×8-inch pan of cobbler

Ingredients:
3 cups peeled, cored and thinly sliced apples
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 the recipe for Fluffy Biscuits (below)
2 tbsp butter
3/4 tsp cinnamon

Directions:
Turn on the TV; it’s Glee time. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Sit for five minutes watching Glee and wishing that Mr. Schuster would just let the kids sing Britney Spears! In a medium saucepan, heat apples, sugar and flour until boiling. Do not walk away from the kitchen at this point just because you hear “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Have ready half the recipe for Fluffy Biscuit Dough (below). Spread the dough on the bottom of a greased 8×8-inch square pan and cover closely with the hot fruit. Take a second to watch Glee cover another Britney song. Dot the fruit with the butter and sprinkle the cinnamon over the cobbler. Bake about a half hour. At this point, get a good chunk of Glee-watching in (though the Britney cameos could have been omitted, in my opinion. Just saying). Then, watch the sex riot ensue while enjoying a hefty plateful of this amazing cobbler. Repeat next week.

Fluffy Biscuit Dough recipe

Yields 24 1 1/2-inch biscuits (if just making biscuits) or 12 1 1/2-inch biscuits (if using the other half for the cobbler)

**Note: I didn’t make these biscuits this time. See above, Glee watching. Thus the lack of biscuit photos. Sorry, ya’ll. Next time.

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp double-acting baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
4 to 6 tbsp chilled butter or shortening, or a combo of both
3/4 cup milk

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add butter and make a well in the center. Add milk and stir until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead quickly, in about 8 to 10 folds. Roll out with a floured rolling pin to a desired thickness, and cut with a biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Brush the tops with milk or melted butter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake about 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

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mom's zucchini bread.

Friends!

I forgot to tell you (OK I didn’t forget, I just haven’t gotten around to it. There, I said it. Confession.) — I’m posting recipes on Tablespoon again. So far: Blueberry Muffin Bread, Avocado Quick Bread and today, Mom’s Zucchini Bread (yes you, Ma. Love you!). And there will be more, even yummier recipes on the way. So you should check out the blog every week for what I’m up to over there (or, if you’re here already, click on that nifty little box in the right column. The one that reads “Featured Tablespoon Blogger,” in case it’s been a long day and you still don’t get it.).

For now, a happy day to you all. It’s the weekend soon, so cheer up! Life is dang good, isn’t it? Indeed.

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IMG_0760

Yesterday was the husband’s and my very first anniversary. A year ago, on June 26, he and I both said, “I do.” And that’s that.

I have to say, I’m pretty dang lucky to have this guy in my life. He makes me happy every day. And he’s a fun roommate.

But enough on that. Let’s talk about this bread.
instant yeast.sponge.
eggs.lemon bread dough.

Yesterday was a crazy busy day. I was simultaneously baking this bread, this cake and this bread (for an upcoming Tablespoon post… eee!) all afternoon while watching (and/or yelling at) the TV while USA kicked a ball around with Ghana. USA lost. I was bummed. But then I realized I had cake, and I was happy.

lemon curd.

cream cheese filling.

lemon curd & cream cheese filling.

But once again, back to the bread. I’ve been planning to make this lovely creation since I first saw it on King Arthur Flour’s blog, but then life got in the way I guess and, lo and behold, it popped up on Smitten Kitchen days later, with a much simpler approach that I am grateful to say made my life yesterday easier.

braiding the loaf.

braided loaf.

There’s not much to say about this bread, other than the fact that within its lovely braid there is a concoction of sugar, cream cheese and lemon curd, and therefore it is undeniably amazing. It’s also not as intimidating as the directions may at first suggest, especially because they’ve been adapted so people like me, who don’t see why it would be impossible to transfer a 10 x 15-inch rectangle by hand from counter to baking sheet (let me tell you, it IS nearly impossible), don’t end up with a mess. If you don’t have parchment paper (and preferably a bench scraper, as well), get thee to the nearest grocery and buy one, especially if you plan to bake often. They are handy and nearly necessary tools.

braided lemon & cream cheese bread.

I had a lot more to say about this, but it’s been a busy weekend, and all I can think about right now is this. Yum.

Debrief: The original and adapted recipes call for pearl sugar sprinkled atop the braid, but I didn’t have any and really don’t see when I would use it ever again, so I opted out. It probably makes the bread look prettier, but I think the braid speaks volumes itself. The egg wash is still necessary though, in my opinion, as that’s what gives the loaf that glossy, ever-so-slightly crusty crust.

Braided Lemon Bread
Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yields: 1 loaf

Sponge:
6 tbsp warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough:
Sponge (above)
6 tbsp sour cream or yogurt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
(optional) Pearl sugar or sparkling white sugar for sprinkling

Lemon cream cheese filling:
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp sour cream or yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup lemon curd

Directions:
Make sponge — In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with a towel, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make dough — Combine the sponge, sour cream, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add flour and mix with the paddle attachment until you have a shaggy dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 to 6 minutes. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes until doubled. (Dough can also be made by hand, incorporating all ingredients in a bowl and using your hands to mix and knead. Kneading by hand will take about 5 to 10 minutes before smooth and soft.)

Make the filling (while dough rises) — Mix together all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd) in a small bowl until smooth (no lumps). Refrigerate the filling and set aside lemon curd until ready to fill the braids.

Prepare bread — Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a well-floured counter into a 10 x 15-inch rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper, folding in quarters and then unfolding once transferred (quickly, or it’ll stick together!). With the side of your hand (in a karate-chop fashion), lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center section, leaving the top and bottom two inches free of filling. Spread the lemon curd over the cream cheese filling.

To form the braid, cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of your dough (the parts without filling). Make sure you have an equal amount of 1-inch strips down the right and left sides. Be careful not to cut your parchment paper (now is when that bench scraper comes in handy). Remove the four corner segments (shown here on KAF). To “braid”, begin by folding top flap down and bottom flap up over the filling. Lift the top dough strip and gently bring it diagonally across the filling. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips until you are out. You can tuck the last couple over or under the end of the braid (I chose over, and you can barely tell the difference).

Carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes until puffy.

Bake bread — Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaves with your egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar if desired. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown (or a mere 17 minutes for me, as my oven is a beast). Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Extra punches: The dough can be set aside and refrigerated at nearly any point in the preparation process. Just take the dough out of the fridge when you’re ready to work with it again, and let sit until it reaches room temperature. Then, proceed.

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cinnamon sugar braided loaf.

Ah, yes. Another glorious Saturday. The weekend is upon us, dear friends, let’s make the best of it!

And if you have no plans yet, you should plan on making this bread. Because it’s dang good, that’s why. I plan on spending my weekend with my awesome mom who’s visiting, and watching the series finale of LOST tomorrow (O. M. G. I cannot wait!).

If anything, at least reading the letter I wrote to congratulate Cinnamon and Sugar on their marriage should intrigue you (yes, I am wooing you with the crazy things I do, like write letters to inanimate objects).

So check out my newest post on Tablespoon.com, already! This time: Cinnamon Sugar Braided Loaf. And a very happy weekend to you all.

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