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Velvet Banana Bread – my blue ribbon winner!

It all started in 2009 when I entered the foods competitions at the Kansas State Fair for the first time, and met a wonderful & talented woman named Colleen Woker.  We met while watching the pie judging and I asked her if she’d won any ribbons in the other competitions. She listed off approximately 241 things she’d placed in, including getting “Best in Show” for her banana bread, which as far as I understand means that her banana bread was so good, that the judges deemed it better than anything else submitted for judging in the foods competitions. I mean, it beat cakes!  CAKES! I was so impressed by her and in that moment, knew that some day I had to get myself a blue ribbon in the banana bread competition.  Little did I know it would become nearly an obsession.

In my quest to win a blue ribbon, I’ve made over fifty different banana bread recipes, and no matter how hard I tried to find the best, most perfect banana bread, the highest I ever placed was 3rd.  I really thought I was doomed to never get my blue ribbon, or even a red one.  This year I had no idea what recipe I was going to make until the day before the competition.  In fact, I had even forgotten to buy bananas in advance to let them get super duper ripe, and all I had was bananas that were still green at the stems.  Not acceptable!

I posted a last minute plea on Facebook for rotten bananas and was given some by two wonderful women (thank you Lacey & Lisa!), enough to make a practice loaf or two if I could find the time.  I decided to take my best good friend, Jackie‘s, advice and replace the pumpkin in my most favoritest pumpkin bread recipe with bananas, which she has been doing for a year.  That recipe has 1/2 cup of water in it, which I’d never ever seen in all the banana bread recipes I’ve read in my search for the perfect one, and I was so scared to try it.  I asked her probably five times, “Do you really put the water in it when you make it? REALLY?” She assured me she did, and that it wasn’t wet or gummy, but really similar in texture to the pumpkin bread.  That sold me, because that soft texture is the ultimate for me in a quick bread.

Despite my deep fears of including the water, and the temptation to replace it with something more exciting like milk or pineapple juice, I gave her idea a go, adding a touch of cardamom, and was absolutely floored by the result.  I had never in my life had such tender, soft banana bread.  And so delicious, sweet & perfectly banana-y with a the perfect balance of spices to set it off.  Unfortunately, it was one of the uglier loaves I’d ever made, and since 25% of the judging score was based on appearance, I lost all hope right there.  Because I knew it was too good not to submit, but also knew it was too ugly to win a blue ribbon. I just hoped it was good enough to win a red.

So many things went wrong in making the official loaf and my spirits sunk deeper and deeper with each obstacle. I kept questioning why I was even bothering.  This wasn’t the regular little banana bread competition, this one was sponsored by King Arthur Flour and the first place prize was a $150 gift card to their catalog, which is much bigger than the usual $9 prize.  This was a big deal, and more people would be entering than usual.  I didn’t have a chance! I was exhausted, would have loved to sleep in the next morning, didn’t want to waste the gas or the effort when I knew it was hopeless, but I’d been in the paper about the being the Banana Bread Queen Wannabe, and everyone on Facebook knew about it.  I had to go.

When I arrived to submit my bread, I noticed that everyone around me had loaves that were the same dark shiny brown, which I found unattractive.  That made me feel a little better, until I looked to see if any of my other three baked goods I’d already turned in had placed, and they hadn’t.  I knew it was going to be my very first no-ribbon year, and I went home defeated, knowing my quest might never end.

But when we returned to the fair as a family two days later, there it was. My ugly brown banana bread sitting front and center.  Next to a blue ribbon.

I squealed. I hopped around.  I squealed and hopped some more.  I think there was a lot of, “I can’t believe it!!”  I gushed my entire banana bread story to the poor couple standing nearby when my freak out started.  They were so happy for me, but everyone else looked pretty perturbed & disturbed by my antics.  I stopped myself several times from running up to random people to tell them I won.  Joshua was grinning and giggling, clearly trying to figure out what had Mom so excited.  I took his hands and we did a little celebration dance together.  When Dennis approached us (he’d been in the bathroom), I wanted to let him discover it on his own but I just couldn’t contain myself and as soon as I saw him I beamed and jumped up and down and waved him over, pointing wildly at the display case where my winning bread resided. He knew instantly of course what that meant, and he hopped up and down with me a little in celebration.  Joshua was so happy to see all the happiness and I was so happy, and Dennis was so happy, I thought all our heads might explode.

It took six years and countless loaves of banana bread, but I did it. The blue ribbon is MINE! Thanks be to God, to Jackie, Lisa, Lacey, and to Colleen for not entering the banana bread competition this year and giving me a chance.  And to everyone who has rooted for me all these years, thank you!!  My quest is complete and I couldn’t be happier to have found my very favorite recipe for banana bread and gotten the blue for it so that I never have to try another recipe again.  I’m so DONE with new banana bread recipes.  This one is definitely my new favorite, and I truly may never make another recipe again.

Velvet Banana Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 cup (8 oz) mashed overripe banana
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 1/8 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine banana, sugar, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. Whisk until well mixed. Measure the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves into a separate bowl and stir until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, beating until smooth. Mixture will be very very thin and it’s OK to mix until no flour streaks remain, but if you see little lumps of flour that won’t mix out, don’t sweat it, they will dissolve while baking and overmixing will make this tender loaf tough and dry.

Spray the bottom of a 9×5 loaf pan and pour batter in (if your pan sticks, go ahead and grease the whole thing). Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan, and cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. Remove from pan immediately and allow to cool at least 15 minutes on a wire rack before slicing. Cool completely before wrapping leftovers in plastic wrap.

Veronica’s notes: If you aren’t measuring your ingredients on a scale, please use a very light hand when measuring the flour, spooning it gently into the cup and not packing it at all before leveling it.

Also, I only left the sides of my pan ungreased because the state fair judges have disqualified me in the past for greasing the whole pan. According to them, this is a baking sin and the sides of your bread will be much more tender if you grease only the bottom. This works fine with my new nifty galifty USA Loaf Pan because it’s crazy nonstick, but if you have any other not fabulously non-stick pan, you’d better go ahead and grease the sides. I honestly can’t tell a difference in the finished loaf whether the sides have been greased or not, the judges need to chill.

Speaking of loaf pans, be sure to use a large 9×5 as this is too much batter for an 8×4 loaf pan.  If you only have a small loaf pan, make some muffins with the extra batter, but don’t fill your pan more than 3/4 full.

Lastly, if you overbake your loaf a bit (I did on the one photographed, by a couple minutes because I was busy when the timer went off), don’t forget my water trick. It works on quick breads as well as cakes! Spray the sides and bottom well with water, don’t be shy with it, and it will all absorb while cooling and soften those hardened edges right up.


Cinnamon Freud Banana Bread

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I was assigned to Karen’s blog, Cinnamon Freud, for the Secret Recipe Club this month. She’s a counseling psychology doctoral student who also loves to cook and bake. How genius is her blog name?! I know she must get that a lot, but it’s true. Genius.

So anyway, last month I chose banana bread for my SRC assignment and Debra suggested I do banana bread every month because of my outrageous obsession with it. Although I didn’t intend to take her up on that challenge, as soon as I received my SRC assignment, I looked to see if Karen had a banana bread recipe, because I had a bunch of bananas that were really overripe and needing to be used. And she did – this recipe, in fact.  I made this bread the same day I received my assignment – the quickest I’ve ever done it!

Since she simply called it banana bread, and I have way too many banana recipes on my blog to call it just banana bread, I added her blog name into it.  I couldn’t resist – it’s just so catchy!  :)  My second choice for this bread’s name would be “Dessert Banana Bread.”  This bread has more sugar than normal (which I totally am on board with – the more sugar the better, as far as I’m concerned), making it a bit more indulgent and appropriate for dessert…with a scoop of ice cream and caramel sauce on top, of course. haha! ;)  Oh and I have to tell you this bread is excellent with black walnuts. I made one plain, one with black walnuts. They were beautiful – sweet, dense, soft & velvety, just perfect.  These disappeared FAST – a definite winner!

Cinnamon Freud Banana Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 cups mix-ins (nuts, chocolate chips, etc)
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 loaf pans and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and any mix-ins you want to add. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until blended, then add the remaining ingredients, beating until combined. Add approximately 1/4 cup dry ingredients into the wet. Mix until just combined. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients.

Spread into prepared loaf pans & bake for 55-70 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Recipe source: Cinnamon Freud


I usually keep my recipe posts and baby posts totally separate, but since I haven’t been posting very much period, I just can’t resist including some baby love. :)  Here he is being a cloth diaper and baby leg warmers model. :D

Be sure to check out the other Group C Secret Recipe Club contributions this month by clicking the linky frog below!

Basic Buttermilk Biscuits & Sausage Gravy

Happy Monday, my Cornicopi-cats! :)  Today I was just going to share my basic recipe for buttermilk biscuits, but I figured you can’t have biscuits without sausage gravy. OK, so you can, you can have them plain, with butter, with jam, with honey, but once in a while you gotta get your sausage gravy on.  Is it a custom where you live to eat biscuits smothered in sausage or country gravy?  If not, you must try it, at least once.  This is straight up comfort food for me.

I make my biscuits two ways, depending on how much time I want to spend on them.  The first way includes a little bit of folding the dough over and then cutting into rounds. This yields a taller, layered biscuit.  The second way is just dropping the dough onto a baking sheet, then patting it into place with floured hands.  Either way, they are soft and so tender–some seriously good eatin’.

Basic Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 8-10 biscuits
Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
¾ cup cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Measure the dry ingredients into a food processor or bowl and pulse once to combine. Pulse or cut in the butter and shortening until fats are the size of peas. Dump the contents into a bowl and stir in the buttermilk until dough is moistened.  You can pulse to combine in the food processor, but it is too easy to overwork the dough so I like to stir it in by hand.  At this point you can either 1) drop the dough in mounds the size of your choice onto prepared baking sheet. With floured hands, pat the tops and sides of the dough until they take on more of a shaped appearance.

Or 2) dump dough onto a floured surface and lightly flour the top.  Knead a few times (careful, don’t knead more than ten turns) and roll out to 1” thick.  Using a 2 ½” biscuit cutter or glass, cut out rounds going straight up and down without twisting the cutter, place on baking sheet, and brush tops with beaten egg if desired (this will make the tops golden but doesn’t change the flavor).  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Serve warm with butter, jelly, or…

Suzie’s Sausage Gravy

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 lb. good quality sausage roll, like Bob Evans
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
salt and black pepper to taste
Prepared biscuits

Crumble and cook sausage in large skillet over medium heat until browned. Stir in flour until dissolved. Gradually stir in milk. Cook gravy until thick and bubbly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over biscuits. Refrigerate leftovers.

Secret Recipe Club

Whole Wheat Potato Bread

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You can thank The Secret Recipe Club for bringing me out of hiding this week! If it weren’t for being in the club, I’m sure I’d have gone to bed early last night (long day) instead of scheduling this to post.  So hopefully you’re more thankful about that than I am-LOL! ;)

This month I was assigned to The Vanderbilt Wife.  Yay, another blog that starts with “V” (you might not be aware, but we are an endangered blog species, though not as bad off as blogs beginning with  “X” and “Z”)!  Jessie is also a sister in Christ, so let’s give a little HOO-WAH for that too.  Or maybe you could just wait while I do it.  HOO-WAH!  So lovely to meet you, Jessie!

Anyway, my assignment came right after a failed attempt at 100% whole wheat bread.  It was supposed to be the best whole wheat bread ever…but it was not.  So when I saw Jessie’s beautiful Fluffy 100% Whole Wheat Bread, I freaked.

“Dennis, guess what she has on her blog?” I shrieked.

“Light and fluffy whole wheat bread?” he guessed without even glancing over at my computer screen.

(From that you can assume correctly that I had made it very obvious how deeply disappointed I was with the dense and yucky-tasting loaves I’d just made.)

“YES!” I screamed.

And I proceeded to make the recipe.  Three times.  It makes three loaves per recipe, so I made nine loaves of whole wheat bread within the span of two weeks.  Unfortunately, I never got the bread to stay risen once it started baking so those nine loaves weren’t as light and fluffy as I’d have liked.  Each batch started out so high and promising…

only to let me down half way through baking.


Since I couldn’t consult Jessie to see if she had any suggestions (in the SRC, you don’t alert the blog you’re assigned to because it’s meant to be a surprise on reveal day, and I couldn’t ruin the surprise by asking her for help), I never got the recipe to turn out for me,  but it did work for her so please visit her blog to see how light and fluffy her loaves are.  I’m bound and determined to get the same result and will post the recipe on my own blog once I’ve got it figured out.

Since I started out with a yeast bread recipe from Jessie’s blog that I couldn’t get to turn out right, I went with another yeast bread recipe of hers that included some white flour (white flour helps because the gluten develops better and easier than with whole wheat).  I’ve been wanting to try making potato bread for years, interested in how the potato would affect the texture, so I was excited to see she had a whole wheat potato bread recipe on her blog.

Let me tell you, making those nine failed loaves was totally worth it since they eventually led me to this recipe.  (Also, those nine loaves, though deflated, were delicious and still fairly light, and all were eaten by my family who praised it highly.)  This is the lightest, softest bread I have ever made that has whole wheat in it!  It is so soft, in fact, that it’s hard to hold on to it while slicing without smashing it (I used an electric knife after the first slice, and highly suggest it if you have one–it makes the slices nice and even without crushing the bread.)

It is delicious and is perfect for making sandwiches, with a little more nutrition than plain white bread.  Jessie said it made killer grilled cheese sandwiches, so I put it to the test with some pepper jack cheese.  And I concur, KILLER!  I really hope you try this!

Whole Wheat Potato Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 medium potato
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ to 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Peel the potato, cut into cubes, and boil in a small saucepan until very soft. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Mash the potato in a small bowl and let cool slightly.

Cream butter, sugar, salt, and egg with an electric mixer. Add potato and mix well.

In a small bowl, put the ½ cup warm water and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let is sit for 10 minutes, then add to the potato mixture and beat until combined.

Change beaters to dough hooks and set mixer to 2. If you don’t have dough hooks, you will use your hands from this point forward. Add 2 cups whole wheat flour alternately with the 1 cup cooking liquid*, mixing/kneading well after each addition. Gradually add in the remaining flour until the dough starts to clean the side of the bowl. When that happens, let mixer go an additional 2 minutes. If kneading by hand, knead it in the bowl for about five minutes, or turn out onto a floured surface to knead. My dough was still a bit sticky when I stopped adding flour, but if I picked a ball off and rolled it in my hands, it did not stick to my hands. That is my test to know when I can stop adding flour, even though I really wanted to add more to keep it from sticking as I kneaded. I dealt with it and just scraped my hands off afterward. :)

Once your dough looks a little shiny, you’re done. If it doesn’t look shiny, just let it mix or knead it by hand until it does.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel and place somewhere warm. I like to preheat my oven to 350F for one minute, then turn it off and place my bowl in the oven. Let rise for an hour or until dough is doubled.

Punch dough down; divide in half. Shape into loaves by pushing each half into a rectangle, rolling it up, pinching the seam, and tucking the ends under. Place in two greased loaf pans (I slathered mine generously with softened butter). Cover with the towel again and let rise another 30-45 minutes or until doubled again.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans and rub the tops with a stick of cold butter. Set on a wire rack to cool

*Notes: Make sure your cooking liquid has cooled to about 115F before adding to the bread dough. If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

Recipe source: The Vanderbilt Wife

If you’d like to check out the other Secret Recipe Club submissions, click the link below!

Sneaky Snickers Cookies

The Cooking Photographer posted this recipe over two years ago and her picture, with the caramel and peanuts oozing out, planted itself and made deep roots in my cranium.  Then she had to go and use that same picture in her website header, reminding me weekly how much I wanted to make them.

Well, as I may have mentioned before, cookies are my favorite food group (in my perfect world, yes, they would be a food group, and a prominent one), and as I may have also mentioned, I do not make treats that I REALLY like very often because I simply can not trust myself with them.  I knew I would be in trouble if I made these without a specific purpose in mind and without  a good reason to get rid of most of the batch.

That reason finally arrived with The Great Blogger Cookie Swap of 2011.  (If you missed this year’s, sign up to be notified of of next year’s swap here!)  I had just picked up a bunch of half price Halloween candy when I was brainstorming what kind of cookies I could make for the swap, and how I could use up some of the candy I bought and of course, the first thing I though of was Laura’s Sneaky Snickers Cookies.

Well, the batch made enough that there was still plenty for me to sample and go a little overboard on, but it was well worth it!  Soft peanut butter cookies surrounding a chewy chocolate, peanut, caramel, and nougat center is just a lovely combination.  I especially love them warm so that the middles are oozing gooey caramel when you bite into them, and might have kept a few for myself in the freezer to nuke in the microwave for cookie-craving emergencies.  They are so yummy!

Sneaky Snickers Cookies

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 (11.5 ounce) bags Snickers Miniatures (Half a bag is for snacking during cookie making.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla until light and fluffy, five minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until combined, another minute. Add the eggs and baking soda and beat until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Add the flour and beat until just incorporated. Don’t over-mix. Press plastic wrap down over the surface of the dough and refrigerate at least two hours before baking.

Unwrap 52 mini Snickers bars. Then with a standard cookie scoop (size 50), scoop the dough into your hand. Press the dough together and flatten. Place a Snickers bar in the center of the dough and push the dough around to seal, rolling into a ball.

Place cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheets and bake for about 12 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing to cooling racks.

Recipe source: The Cooking Photographer, with slight changes in preparation method.


I wanted to share the cookies I received through this swap as well!  Click the blog links to get their recipes, which are posting today.

Christian of M.E. sent me these Carrot Cake Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing and they were a lifesaver.  It was 4 PM when I received them, and I hadn’t eaten anything all day.  I was running on empty and didn’t have time to stop and figure out something to eat.  I ripped into the cookies and ate half a dozen right away, which got me through to the party I was preparing for.  Thanks, Christian!

Check out the carrots, nuts & raisins these cookies were loaded with!

Lauren Brennan of Lauren’s Latest sent me these soft and buttery Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Stars (aren’t they beautiful?):

Julie M. of Burnt Carrots sent me my favorite batch of cookies, at least for the blogger swap.  Her Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookies took me by surprise because I would have thought they had butterscotch chips in them, and maybe they do, but they also have toffee chips and I looooove toffee.  The combination of chocolate chips and toffee is a winner!

I also received cookies through my own cookie swap for non-bloggers, and will share those with tomorrow’s cookie recipe that I sent out for that swap!

Buttery-Soft Beer Bread

One of my all-time favorite recipes on this blog is for Buttery Beer Bread, which is slightly sweet with a delicious yeasty flavor, and a thick, crunchy, and buttery crust.  The only downside to it is that it is best fresh from the oven and does not store well, so it’s a little hard to fit into a diet plan because we usually end up splitting the whole loaf between us and polishing it off in one sitting.  (Avoiding dry leftover bread is perfection justification for the overindulgence, no?)  If you’ve made this bread, you know that eating half a loaf of it is a lot easier to manage than one would imagine.  In the interest of trying to shrink our midsections, however, we try not to pull that stunt too often.

Deciding I needed a soft beer bread that stored well so that we could enjoy it for several days versus five minutes, I instinctively knew (well, hoped may be the better word) all I had to do was add an egg and blend the butter in with everything else instead of pouring it over the top.  And voilà!  I was right.  I love being right.  Especially when it results in something so delicious!

This bread has the same flavor I fell in love with in the original beer bread, the beer giving it a nice yeasty flavor despite this being a quick bread containing no yeast (another bonus-fresh bread in under an hour!).  But it is a million times prettier (smooth top versus major bumpiness), the texture is velvety soft when fresh from the oven, and the crust still has just a bit of that buttery crunch to it.  And it fulfills the reason for the modification: it stores well and stays soft and moist!

While I might still make the original if we have company over since there would be less risk of leftovers, and I adore that thick, crunchy & buttery crust, this is the one I’ll be making most often because the texture is so wonderful and its ability to stay that way upon storage robs me of the justification for polishing off an entire loaf in one sitting.  Which I may not be so thankful for, but my hips surely are.

*Despite this loaf storing well, we still ate half of it as soon as it was out of the oven, so I only had half a loaf (OK, maybe a little less than half, truth be told) to photograph the next day.  Sorry.  Our stomachs got in the way of the interests of my blog!  At least we didn’t eat the whole thing this time. At least not all at once.  :)

Buttery-Soft Beer Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

3 cups self-rising flour*
1/4 cup sugar
1 (12-oz) can beer
1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour and sugar together in a large bowl. Add beer, butter, and the egg, and whisk well to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

*I know it’s weird, but I really feel I get the best results using self-rising flour for this bread. However, if you do not have it, you can replace it with 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 Tablespoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt instead. I recommend using a baking powder without aluminum, such as Rumford, particularly in this recipe since you need so much of it. The aluminum has an aftertaste and can foul up baked goods which call for quantities in excess of 1 teaspoon.

Update 2/18/15: I’ve discovered you can substitute honey for the sugar with delicious results as well, lending a light honey-sweet taste to the bread.  Just look at how tender it is!


Incredible Dinner Rolls (bread machine)

It took countless batches of dinner roll failures over the course of two years to finally perfect a recipe to my tastes. This one has everything I love in a dinner roll: soft, light, slightly sweet, and simple to make. They are just incredible, especially when warm and served with butter.

Incredible Dinner Rolls
Printable recipe

1 egg
3 Tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 ¼ teaspoon (1 package) bread machine yeast*

Crack the egg into a Ziploc bag and place it in a bowl of hot tap water, so that it will come quickly to room temperature.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the milk and heat the mixture until it reaches 110-115 degrees, or until it feels very warm to the touch.

Squish the egg while it’s inside the bag until it looks lightly beaten. Empty it into the bread machine pan; add the milk mixture, and then top with the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Set the machine to the dough cycle.

When the machine starts to mix the dough faster, check on it and, if necessary, use a spatula to help incorporate the flour. I always have to do this, but that may be because my machine is old and sub-par.

Once the cycle is complete, remove pan and punch down dough. If you’re making 12 large rolls, spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. If you’re making 20 standard-size rolls, spray two 9-inch round cake pans.

Divide the dough in half, and then divide each half into 6-10 pieces, depending on the amount you want to make. Shape each piece into a ball as you pull off the dough, and place in pan(s), spacing evenly.

Cover with clean cloth(s) and allow to rise in a warm place for about 30-45 minutes, or until rolls are doubled in size.** Preheat oven to 375 while your dough is rising.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden-brown. When done, remove from oven and rub the end of a cold stick of butter over the tops of the rolls. Serve warm & with lots of butter.  :)   If making in advance, store them in an airtight container (I always use a gallon-size Ziploc bag) and reheat them in the oven when you’re ready to serve them (be sure to remove them from the bag first!)

*Also marketed as “rapid-rise” and “instant” yeast.
**I most often use my oven for rising bread. I preheat it to its lowest setting (170 degrees) once the dough begins its first rise in the bread machine and turning it off when it’s done preheating, that way it’s warm but not too hot once I place the pans in to rise. That works the best. (If you use this method, you’ll have to remove them after they’re done rising, preheat the oven, and let the rolls rest on the counter until it reaches 375.) If the top of your oven gets warm when you preheat it, you could also set your pans up there. The last trick I use is to place the pan on a heating pad set to low.
***You could also make these by hand or using your stand mixer with dough hooks, letting the dough rise in an oiled bowl for one hour or until doubled after kneading. I don’t know how long you’d have to knead it, though. I’d estimate 10 minutes.

Soft Caramels

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Something has come over me.  For the past two days, I haven’t been able to sleep until two in the morning and during the day, I’ve been so tired that it literally feels like my eyes are going to fall out of their sockets.

The reason?  Caramels.  Cararmels have turned me into a zombie woman.  They’ve completely taken over my life and I can get no rest!

Two days ago I got the brilliant idea to finally give homemade caramels a go.  I was pleasantly surprised at how simple they were to prepare.  They weren’t, however, easy to remove from the pan, and so I stayed up until two in the morning scraping each square from the pan and wrapping them in waxed paper.  And eating every other one.

I have to say, store-bought caramels can’t hold a candle to homemade.  Homemade is soft, gooey, buttery, caramelly deliciousness.  They are so delicious that I couldn’t resist making another batch the following day.  After all, I made the first batch for gifts and now I needed more for an upcoming Christmas party.  (Not for myself…of course not.)  And besides, I needed to figure out a way to keep the caramels from sticking to the pan and what better way than trial and error?

So I made a second batch, lining the pan with waxed paper and spraying it with oil.  And I stayed up until two in the morning the second day in a row, scraping each piece off the waxed paper, then dipping them in chocolate (because party caramels should be pretty and irresistable).

And they were.  Irresistable.  I ate every other one.  Again.

Obviously I also encountered a problem with photography as well.  I absolutely could not stop shooting photos of these beautiful things.  After shooting picture after picture, I eventually ran to the garage and got out Christmas decorations (I’ve been too busy making caramels to decorate with them yet) to use for props.  All told, I took well over 100 pictures of them.   I’m not even kidding. Then it took me almost an hour to narrow down the ones I wanted to keep to the myriad I’m posting here.

And now it’s nearly one in the morning, and what am I doing?  Staying up so I can tell everyone about these fabulous things.  Like I said, they’ve taken over my life.  And I suppose I’ve happily relinquished control!

As for the problem with the caramel sticking to the pan, I now know you have to very generous with the butter.  I should have consulted my friend, Teri, before I made the caramels, since I knew she makes them every year at this time.  Ah well, now I have an excuse to make another batch.  You know, just to see if it works.

Soft Caramels

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 pound brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan (my 3-quart was the perfect size–don’t go any smaller) and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and continue to boil, stirring constantly, for ten minutes. Set the timer as soon as it begins to bubble and take the pan off as soon as it goes off. Pour caramel into a buttered 9×13 pan and let cool completely before cutting & wrapping in squares of waxed paper.

Tips for success

*If you have a candy thermometer, it wouldn’t hurt to attach it to the pan to make sure the caramel is at 245 degrees F when you remove it from the heat. My first batch was actually at 240 when I removed it and it still turned out fine, but my second batch reached 245 in nine minutes so I removed it early and it was the same texture as the first batch.

*You can stir in a teaspoon of vanilla after you remove the pan from the heat. I did this the second time but didn’t notice an improvement in flavor. It seemed just as good without the vanilla, so I didn’t include it in the ingredient list.

*When you pour the caramel into the buttered pan, there will be some that clings to the bottom and sides. Don’t scrape this out on top of the pan of caramel like I did on my first batch. Have a small buttered bowl on hand and scrape it into that. This caramel will be harder than the other caramel, because it remained in contact with the heat longer. If you scrape it out, you will have a hard piece among the soft and when you try to cut it, the softer caramel will squish out and it won’t be pretty and perfect. This caramel is totally edible, just a little more chewy, so you can snack on it while rolling your evenly-textured caramels into waxed paper.

*On both batches, I put salted, roasted peanuts on half of the pan.  The salty/sweet combo is yummy and kind of reminds me of a PayDay. And when you dip the pieces in chocolate, it’s kind of like a Snickers. Except it’s way better than either because it’s homemade! If you want to add nuts to the whole batch, you can stir them in after removing the pan from the heat. If you only want half the batch with nuts or want two or more types of nuts, dump the caramel into the pan and then sprinkle the nuts over the top. The first batch I tried putting the nuts on half of the bottom and pouring the caramel over, but the nuts got all pushed around and then tons of air bubbles kept rising up and I had to keep popping them so that the surface didn’t look all funkalicious.

*If you’d like to dip the caramels in chocolate, you can either melt chocolate almond bark, an equal amount of chocolate chips with almond bark (this makes the color darker & it tastes better while still setting up nicely) or you can melt chocolate with some shaved paraffin wax. (This makes the chocolate shiny & makes it set up really nicely. You can find it on the baking aisle.) I melted 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I think milk chocolate would be even better!) with 1/8 of a block of finely shaved paraffin in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until everything was melted and smooth and shiny. Dip the caramels with a fork, tap off the excess and slide them onto a sheet of waxed paper to set. I ground a bit of sea salt over the plain caramels while the chocolate was still wet because I like salted caramels and it did have a nice flavor. For a prettier presentation, I would use flaky sea salt (also on the baking aisle).

*I encourage you to dip at least half the caramels in chocolate. I didn’t think caramel could get any better after I made it from scratch. And then I dipped it. And dipped some more!

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