Fig and Orange Sweet Buns

Soft, fluffy, lightly sweet buns studded with dried figs and candied orange peel – the ideal accompaniment to a steaming mug of coffee.

A woman holds a basket of Sweet Buns

Is there any better partner to a steamy mug of coffee than a warm, yeasty, enriched-dough treat like buttery brioche, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, yeasted coffee cakes, fruit-studded Christmas stollen or panettone? I think not!

And although the process of making enriched dough can be, well…a process, it’s one of my favorite types of baking. You can’t rush yeasted doughs, you can’t cut corners. They needs time – time for kneading, time for proofing. They require a lazy afternoon at home tending to your bread. Even if you want to cross things off your to-do list during those hour-long proofs, somehow you’ll find yourself curled up on the couch watching a TV program waiting for your dough baby to “double in size.” And, ahhh, the smell of yeast dough baking in the oven – if home could be captured in a scent, this would be it for me.

The best part? After the kneading, proofing, and baking – nothing beats the satisfaction of popping a home-baked, oven-warmed, roll, bun, or slice in your mouth, accompanied by a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, of course. I had planned on bringing these beauties to the office, but decided to keep them for my weekday morning cuppas instead.


Fig and Orange Sweet Buns

Soft, fluffy, lightly sweet buns studded with dried figs and candied orange peel.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried figs, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Decorator or pearl sugar

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and honey until warm (105⁰ – 110⁰ F). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, and cardamom (if using) in a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter and vanilla to milk mixture (it should be foamy by now) and then stir into the flour to create a shaggy dough. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer the dough to your work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes. Pat the dough into a disk, sprinkle with figs and orange peel, and press into dough. Roll the dough up like a sausage encasing the fruit and then lightly knead to distribute the fruit well. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to proof in a warm spot until doubled in size, about one hour.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 even pieces, roll into round balls, picking off any fruit on the outside that is exposed, and place each bun on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and proof again until risen, about 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the buns with beaten egg and liberally sprinkled with decorator sugar. Bake for 17-22 minutes until buns are dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. If you want to add a bit more sweetness, drizzle with confectioners sugar icing.

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Pumpkin Spice Couronne

Pumpkin Spice Couronne – a French sweet dough ring filled with pumpkin, warming spices and toasted pecans – just in time for autumn.

A ring of pumpkin spice couronne glazed with icing

“I have Pumpkin Kringle at my desk,” she confided conspiratorially. All I could envision was an obscene mishmash of holidays that somehow culminated with a roundly obese Santa Claus in a pumpkin costume shacked underneath her desk. “Who exactly,” I wondered, “is Pumpkin Kringle?”

“You know what pumpkin kringle is, don’t you?” she inquired when I responded with a blank stare. (Ah, thank goodness, she said “what” rather than “who.” Pumpkin kringle, whatever it was, wasn’t a person at all!)

A kringle, I discovered that day, is a ring of Danish pastry dough filled with nuts or fruit, in this case pumpkin, which is baked and then iced. Racine, Wisconsin is the mecca of kringles and, hers, thanks to Trader Joe’s, was an ideal specimen of Racine’s baking prowess.

Now please don’t be confused, the recipe below is decidedly NOT a kringle. The recipe below is a Couronne, a French filled sweet bread. I only mention the kringle because it was the impetus for my foray into couronne baking this weekend. After I nibbled a bit of the kringle…okay, full confession, after I devoured two thick slices, I started dreaming about enriched yeast doughs, I started dreaming about breakfast sweet breads, I started dreaming about Paul Hollywood’s apricot couronne (which I’ve been meaning to make!), I started dreaming about pumpkin spice season (now!) and well…this just happened.

There’s really nothing more lovely than hand-kneading a supple enriched yeast dough.  I love the texture of it under the heel of my hand, which is a good thing since my Kitchen Aid Pro Mixer died last week.


Pumpkin Spice Couronne

  • Servings: One Couronne
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A rich French sweet bread filled with pumpkin, spices and toasted pecans.


Ingredients

    Dough
  • 2 cups strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons fast-rising yeast
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon full-fat milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Filling
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup lightly-packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 Tablespoon white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground clove
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • Zest from ½ of an orange
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup toasted chopped pecans, plus more for topping
  • Glaze
  • ⅓ cup apricot jam
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

Directions


1. Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt to one side and the yeast on the other (salt can slow yeasts reaction so keep them separate in the beginning). Add the butter, milk and egg and stir to combine.
2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 6-7 minutes until the dough is smooth and supple. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and let rise until at least doubled in size (1-2 hours).
3. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and heat over medium heat until melted. Add puree, flour, cinnamon, ginger nutmeg, clove and salt and stir over medium heat until mixture is thick and sticks to the spoon. Remove from heat; add orange zest, vanilla and pecans. Set aside.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll the dough into a rectangle, 13” x 10”. Spread the pumpkin filling evenly over the dough to the edges. From the long end, roll up the dough tightly, jelly-roll style. Roll it back and forth lightly to seal the edge.
5. Cut the dough in half lengthwise, leaving it joined just at one end – like a pair of legs. Twist the two dough lengths together, somewhat tightly and then join the ends together to form a circle. Transfer to a baking tray and cover with plastic wrap or a plastic baking bag.
6. Let proof for at least an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes (internal temperature 185). Place on a wire rack to cool.
7. Heat apricot jam in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, sieve and brush over the couronne to glaze. Mix the powdered sugar with enough water to make an icing. Drizzle over the couronne and sprinkle with remaining pecans.

Slow-Cooker Spiced Apple Butter

Extra apples? This easy slow-cooker apple butter requires minimal stirring and fuss – and makes the house smell wonderful while it bubbles away.

Easy apple butter
Blame it on baking ADD, but when I spied a few empty jam jars piled next to the basket of homegrown apples, my thoughts quickly turned from classic apple pies and apple frangipane tarts to jars of thick, slow-simmered, spiced apple butter. Since the slow-cooker does most of the work, I was back to baking in no time while the scent of slow-cooked apples wafted through the house.


Slow-Cooker Spiced Apple Butter

  • Servings: Two half-pint jars
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Extra apples? This easy slow-cooker apple butter requires minimal stirring and fuss - and makes the house smell wonderful while it bubbles away.


Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. apples
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Peel, core and dice apples. Place in a slow cooker on low. Cover apples with sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, Chinese 5-spice, and salt.
  2. Let simmer on low for 10-12 hours, stirring every hour or so, until very dark and very thick. Spoon in jars and refrigerate. Keeps for 3 weeks. Freeze for 6 months.


Apple Butter

Blame it on this sight.

 

Nectarine Coffee Cake

Fresh summer fruit keeps this Nectarine Coffee Cake moist. Try substituting the nectarines for other seasonal fruit like cherries or pears.

Coffee cake with fresh nectarines
The nectarine tree in the front yard is pregnant with fruit. The firm, juicy orbs are days away from their peak ripeness.  The bounty came late this year. The heavy clusters already snapping a large branch, an annual occurrence.  I should cull them in March, but I feel guilty not giving each one the chance to ripen.  A few sun-soaked fruit are ready to burst.  This weekend, I plucked two of these soft, round globes of goodness and consumed them sun-warmed and straight from the tree – juice dripping unabashedly down my chin. A handful more made it into this moist nectarine coffee cake.


Nectarine Coffee Cake

  • Servings: 6-8 Servings
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Fresh summer nectarines keep this cake moist. Try substituting the nectarines for other seasonal fruit like cherries or pears.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ¼ lbs. nectarines, cut into ½ inch wedges
  • Topping
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • ⅓ cup apricot jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9” springform pan. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour (batter with be thick).
  2. Spread batter in prepared pan. Press nectarine wedges halfway into batter in concentric circles, spacing slightly apart. Combine remaining sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle over nectarines. Bake until cake is golden and tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Release pan sides. Cool for 10 minutes.
  3. Warm apricot jam in microwave 30 seconds. Sieve jam and brush over coffee cake. Serve warm or room temperature.

Adapted from Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake

Quiche with hash brown crust

This Quiche with Hash Brown Crust is a flavorful and savory addition to any brunch buffet and a great way to use up leftover meat and veggies. And, it’s gluten-free.

Quiche with potato crust
With a record high of 114 degrees today, I’ve decided to forgo my late-morning walk and midday backyard gardening. With the air-conditioning cranked on high, I’m retreating to my kitchen instead. My friends think I’m crazy to bake on a scorcher like today, but as long as I keep the A/C to oven temp ratio just so, it becomes a normal baking day just like any other – and the ideal opportunity to whip up something special like this brunch classic – with a hash brown twist.


Quiche with hash brown crust

  • Servings: One 9” Quiche
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A flavorful savory addition to any brunch buffet and a great way to use up leftover meat and veggies; Also tasty for dinner with a lightly dressed salad.


Ingredients

  • 3 cups frozen shredded hash browns, thawed and blotted dry with paper towels
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup meat such as bacon, ham, or chicken (I used sweet Italian sausage)
  • 1 ½ cups vegetables, thawed if frozen (I used frozen artichoke hearts and spinach)
  • 1 cup cheese, divided (I used mozzarella)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • 1 (rounded) Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a bowl, toss hash browns, butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper until combined. Press in the bottom and up the sides of a 9” pie plate to form a crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crust begins to turn golden brown and crisp along the edges. Remove from oven and gently press on crust to compact slightly (I use the bottom of a glass or measuring cup). Let cool for 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pan, sauté meat until beginning to brown. Add vegetables and sauté until all moisture has evaporated and meat is cooked through. Let cool for 5 minutes and then arrange on top of crust. Cover with half the cheese.
  3. In a bowl, beat eggs with half-and-half. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over meat and vegetables.
  4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and continue baking for 10-15 minutes until top is set and egg mixture is slightly wet when pierced with a sharp knife (egg will continue to cook). Cool 5 minutes, slice and serve plain, with tomato sauce or guacamole.