Archive for ‘Baking, Breads, & Pastries’

April 25, 2012

Variations on a Theme: Homemade Granola


On camping trips, our menu varied, but my mom would always pack three camping staples in the cooler: chili con carne for our first dinner at camp (who wants to cook on the first night when there’s so much set-up to do and so much excitement to be had in the great outdoors?), a 2-pound block of Tillamook cheddar cheese with Dad’s bread, and homemade granola.  Nowhere do those food taste better than on a campground.  Mom mostly only made this granola when we went camping, rarely anytime else.  I’ve been breaking my cream of wheat habit and eating this granola for breakfast these days, because the whole grains and dried fruits fill me up so I can last until lunchtime.

The recipe is originally from the Menonite cookbook “More with Less,” but my mom and I have both adapted it for our liking. And that’s the great thing about this recipe: its endless variations. I mix it up a little each time I make it, but the base always stays the same: oats, honey, oil.  It’s easily scalable, so feel free to double or triple the recipe (if you have a convection oven and multiple large cookie sheets, you can make up to three batches of this at once!).

The only tricky thing is keeping track of the cooking time. You might think that a minute here or there doesn’t count, but trust our experience here: it counts. Keep a timer, and don’t wander too far from the oven when the granola is baking. And lastly, don’t skip a stir, it’s necessary to make sure everything is coated and bakes evenly.

Now go get creative, and let me know what you come up with! And as camping season gears up, remember to pack this easy breakfast along with your sunscreen.


Homemade Chewy Granola
Yield: 6-7 cups (depending on added ingredients)
Time: 20 minutes, including prep and baking time

Note: I’ve broken down the ingredients by round that they get added to the baking process.  This will help for when you choose variations. The only ingredients you have to have are the oats, honey, and oil – and are marked with asterisks.  Otherwise, feel free to mix things up!  If you want a crunchier granola, use less honey (but not less than 1/2 cup)

1st Round
6 cups whole rolled oats*
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seeds (if seeds are already toasted, add in 2nd Round)
1/2 cup walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, or nut/seed of your choice (if nuts are already toasted, add in 2nd Round)

2nd Round
2/3 cup honey*
2/3 cup vegetable oil*

Last Round
1/2 cup dry fruit (currants, dates, raisins, apricots, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, go wild – but not too wild, I usually only put one of these in at a time)

*Required ingredients

Baking Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper (important: even if your cookie sheet is non-stick, this stuff sticks and you’ll thank me later for telling you about the parchment paper).

Mix 1st round ingredients together and bake on lined cookie sheet for 10 minutes.

Take out, add 2nd round ingredients, stir to coat evenly. Bake again for 5 minutes.

Take out, stir ingredients, and bake again for 4 minutes.

Take out, stir ingredients, add Last Round ingredients, and bake for 3 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool. Enjoy!

Suggested nut/fruit combinations: walnut & currant (pictured), pecan & date, almond & apricot, hazelnut & cherry


March 19, 2012

Making Hazelnut “Cotton Candy”

I stumbled across Hazelnut “Cotton Candy” by accident. It was a result of a total experiment before my friend’s wedding. And it’s a good thing it went well, because if it had gone wrong, over 150 people would have known about it.


I’ve been known among my friends to make chocolate truffles. I have made upwards of 300+ for a few weddings. The first times I made them they included four different kinds with tempered chocolate coatings. However, last summer for a hot Willamette Valley vineyard wedding (say that five times fast!), my friend and I decided that simple would be better. Many of her guests were coming from out of town, and she wanted to spotlight Oregon’s bounty. What better way than to have a hazelnut dessert?



We decided on making a hazelnut center with a chopped hazelnut coating. I took it a step further and candied the hazelnuts, then ground them in a food processor. I had no idea what I was doing, but when I tasted it I jumped up and down with glee (if you know me, you know I did this, and then looked around sheepishly to see if anyone in the empty house noticed). It took me a second, and then I realized it: these hazelnuts had the texture of fluffy cotton candy with a sweet nutty flavor. Perfect!



The truffles were delicious, despite the 90-degree melting heat.  Since then I’ve also used this “cotton candy” for coating a Frankfurter Kranz (see above), and I’m sure it would be delicious sprinkled on custards and topping berries. Or, you could just eat it plain with a spoon when nobody’s looking. Not that I’ve done that before…

Hazelnut “Cotton Candy”

1 cup hazelnuts, whole
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup sugar

1. Preheat an oven to 350F and roast the hazelnuts for about ten minutes, until golden. Let cool, then rub in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins.

2. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.

3. While the nuts are roasting, in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and sugar on medium-low heat. If you have not made caramel before, keep it on the low side of heat. The sugar will begin to melt, then parts will start to brown. Do not stir it. At some point, you will have some whole sugar grains, melted clear sugar liquid, and caramelized brown liquid. Pick the pan up and rotate it gently to make sure the brown liquid doesn’t burn, but still don’t stir it. Be zen, and let the whole thing just melt out. If it looks like it will burn, immediately take it off the heat and let it cool.  If it burns, start over.

4. When the sugar has completely melted and becomes a nice light-brown color (careful, it will go from perfect to burned in milliseconds!), add the hazelnuts. Stir quickly to coat as much of the hazelnuts as possible, then turn out onto the prepared cookie sheet. Let cool. It will be one big, ugly, almost unmanageable, and incredibly hot chunk at this point. That is okay, just be careful not to burn yourself. Do not touch it until it’s cooled for at least fifteen minutes!

5. When cool, break up the hazelnuts with your hands (carefully, the caramel can be sharp), and toss them into a food processor. Whir until you get a fine powder. It will keep for several days in an air tight container. If it becomes hard, break it up and then process it again, or use it in larger chunks (delicious for breakfast with cheerios or other unsweetened cereal). If you prefer larger chunks, just don’t process it as long.

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) in Leipzig

May your celebration be full of love, laughter, delicious drinks, and warmth.


Weihnachtsmarkt in Dresden

May you have time to play and enjoy all the little things.

Spitzbuben Christmas Cookies

And may you eat all the cookies you can muster!

I’ll be back in the New Year with more new posts and projects. For now I’m going to go back to hunkering down with my family in our little piece of awesomeness here in Germany.  So many things to be thankful for!

November 28, 2011

Spritz Cookies


Spritz cookies are not something I grew up making.  However, I’ve certainly had them a lot growing up – in plates of cookies given to my family over the holidays and at friends’ houses.  I never thought twice about them – they were simply, tasty, crumbly cookies, sometimes with colored sugar decorations.  I never thought about how they were made, or that I would even ever make them.

And then two years ago, I inherited my grandmother’s cookie press.  I had no idea what to do with it – it came with its original “recipe booklet” which I was more fascinated in as a historical object than as a useful tool to help me learn how to use this thing that came with metal disks shaped like trees, camels, and flowers.  No idea that is until I asked my friends for their favorite cookie recipes, my friend M sent over her family’s spritz cookie recipe.  Suddenly I realized it was time to give this thing a turn (literally).

It wasn’t easy – the dough never stuck to the cookie sheet so I couldn’t actually press things out.  I gave up and did several batches  of cookies as blobs on the sheet.  And then I decided to go on YouTube (yup, it’s become one of my g0-to sources when I don’t know what else to do).  The recipes I was reading said to put the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, and the videos all said you “don’t need to grease the pan.” However, I’d been doing what I always do when I bake cookies: even when recipes say to just plop cookies directly on the sheet, I always put down parchment paper.  Well, what the recipes and videos should be saying is not that you don’t need this, but that you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t do it!  Press directly on the cookie sheet.  Only this way will the cookie batter stick to the sheet and come off the press.  There is enough butter that the cookies won’t stick to your cookie sheet.  Also, do not put this dough in the refrigerator – use it at room temperature.

Now, without further ado, here is the recipe my friend shared with me.  She said her mom got it from a traditional American cookbook like Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker, she couldn’t remember where.

Spritz Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine, softened (I used butter)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla (I used anise)
1. Preheat your oven to 400F.  In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until they appear white.  Add the egg and extract and blend in briefly.  Add the flour and salt and continue to mix with the hand mixer until the batter is uniform.

2. If you wish, you can portion out the recipe and add food coloring to different batches.  People often do this to make the green trees.  I didn’t, because I don’t care much for food coloring, but if you do it do it in this step.  Be sure to use the hand mixer and not your fingers, because they will get stained.

3. Put the batter into your cookie press and squeeze onto the (unlined, ungreased!) cookie sheet.  You don’t need to space them too far apart because they will not expand.  Switch out shapes as you like, and decorate with colored sugar or sprinkles if you like.

4. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 6-9 minutes, until set but not browned.  Cool on the cookie sheet, then transfer to an air-tight container.

November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Roundup, Schedule, & Shopping List

And here we are – it’s Thanksgiving Week!  Here is the roundup of recipes we’ve gone over this month in preparation:

Thanksgiving Menu

Apple Martinis

Butternut Squash Soup
Roast Chicken & Stuffing
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dinner Rolls (goes to King Arthur site with step-by-step picture instructions)

Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pielets

For those who still need or want to make turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce, my sister shared with me this fantastic video by Mary Risley, a woman after my own heart.  Here’s everything you’ll need to know on these dishes:


Schedule & Shopping

Now, grab a glass of wine/beer/apple martini and relax.  Here’s a shopping list and schedule for you. The shopping list is based on one times each of the recipes, which will make a dinner for 4-6. You can edit both to fit your needs.

Thanksgiving Shopping List
Thanksgiving Timeline

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of happiness, laughter, cooking, and fun.  May the conversation at your table never be awkward, may your kitchen mishaps create funny stories, and may your family and friends enjoy health, love, and joy this year!