Happy 4th of July!

Happy Fourth of July!


Psst.  I’ll be back soon!

Daring Bakers': Schichttorte

The January 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Francijn of “Koken in de Brouwerij.” She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake).   And many of the Daring Bakers took the challenge and ran with it.  Versions ranged from the provided recipe, which contained marzipan to alternating chocolate vanilla versions, chocolate-orange versions, and everything in between.  Me, I opted to do a lemon cake with a lemon cream cheese glaze topped off with a sprig of rosemary.

And…yeah…okay.  I cheated.  I used a–mm hmm– a cake mix.  There, I said it.  All of the cooking and baking I’ve done lately– risotto, arancini. cinnamon rolls (twice– I know, I know), stuffed and baked manicotti, and even a mile-high lemon meringue pie– and I just didn’t have it in me to whip and beat one more thing.  And since the challenge was the method and not the recipe, I opted for the easy way out.  But I did make my own glaze.  That makes it okay, right?

The method, while a bit time-consuming, wasn’t all that difficult.  Pour a little of the batter in a pan and bake it at a really high temperature for a really short amount of time, and then do it all over again nine to eleven more times.  The result is several very thin layers of cake.  Many of the final Bakers’ results were stunning to say the least.  My layers were a little more subtle.  They were there, but you had to look for them.  Next time maybe a layer  of vanilla batter and a layer of lemon batter.  Or perhaps, I shouldn’t use a cake mix.

I am hanging my head in shame.  Of course, it’s hovering over a plate of deliciousness.  Shameful deliciousness that wouldn’t be as good as homemade.  But still.

NOTE:  This was supposed to go up on January 27th, and I had this almost typed for reveal day. Then I got the flu.  Not quite as fun as making the cake was.

Lemon Schichttorte



1 box Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

2 large eggs

1 cup water

1/3 cup oil


2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1  cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, more if needed

1 sprig rosemary (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F.  So very hot, but it worked.

Prepare a 10-inch spring form pan, spraying the insides with cooking spray (or whatever it is you use to make your cakes not stick).  Make sure that your pan is safe to use in a high temperature oven.  The same goes if you decide to use parchment paper.  Some aren’t safe to use over certain temperatures and can catch fire in the oven.

Combine the cake mix, eggs, oil, and water in a mixing bowl.

Mix it however you mix your boxed cake mix.  I used a hand mixer for mine, following package instructions.

Now you have to do a little math.  Determine how much batter you have and how many layers you want.  I ended up with approximately 5 cups of batter, so I opted to use 1/2 cups of batter for each layer.  This gave me approximately 10 layers, though the 10th layer was very thin due to lost batter along the way (not to fingers, just natural drippage).

Pour your desired amount of batter into the bottom of the pan,

and spread it around as evenly as you can.  This pan is beautiful for cheesecakes as the grid holds a crumb crust beautifully, but the grid make the first layer a little difficult to spread.

Looks good here,

but you can see the uneven spots here.

When your pan is ready and the oven is to temperature, bake it for 4 minutes.  Set your timer and find some chore to do in the kitchen– like making the glaze.

Hey– make the glaze!  In a small bowl, gradually add the powdered sugar (1/4 cup at a time) to the cream cheese, then stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice until you reach whatever consistency your heart or taste buds or stomach desires.  Easy peasy.

When the timer goes off, remove the cake from the oven,

and pour the next layer over the baked layer.

And do it all over again: batter, spread, oven, timer for 4 minutes, work on glaze, beep!, remove it again.  It’s all very lather, rinse, repeat.  At least until you run out of batter.

And your cake will get taller and taller.

When you’re all done, about 40 minutes to an hour later (believe it or not, you can get a lot done in the kitchen during those four-minute intervals), let the cake cool for about 10 minutes.  Then run a knife carefully around the inside rim of the pan to loosen the cake for the sides.

Then remove the outside collar of the pan, and you get…this:

Strange, no?  Not really.  Normally, I might be a little freaked by the weirdly charred exterior, but this is just part of the baking process.  So what to do?  Let it cool all the way– at least an hour– and trim the char.

Not willing to stress over a perfect circle, I opted to turn mine into a square.

Pretty easy…and messy.

But you can kind of see the layers.  And the bottom is a bit burned, but you can trim that off if you want.  It actually tasted more caramelized than burned, though.

Then pour your glaze over the top.

And top it with some rosemary.  I initially did it because the cake needed something, but in the end I decided that flavor combination was pretty delicious even for a cake.  Next time I’ll chop about a teaspoon of rosemary and add it directly to the glaze.

As I said earlier, the layers are a little difficult to see, but they are there.

And it was pretty tasty.  Best of all, I determined the cooking method worked on a boxed mix just fine, which gives me faith that it might work on other homemade cakes just as well.

Either way, it was a fun experiment!  If you have a lot of patience, try it sometime!

Cinnamon Rolls

I’ve mentioned before how bread challenged I am.  And it’s true.  I’ve been attempting to make bread of many forms since first getting my Kitchen-Aid mixer in the summer of 2010, so 3-1/2 years now.  I’ve tried: doughnuts- okay,  pizza dough- not bad/ not great, dinner rolls- total failure almost every time, and cinnamon rolls- a 5-time failure…until now.   Perhaps it’s practice, perhaps it’s the recipes I have chosen, perhaps it’s all of the instructional videos and bread baking segments on TV that I’ve watched in the hopes they will teach me something.  Whatever the reason, I finally got it.

The recipe: Cook’s Country’s “Ultimate Cinnamon Buns.”  I highly recommend purchasing The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook.  So far, I’ve loved the four recipes I have tried, but I almost always love everything from the Cook’s Illustrated family.

The recipe and directions below are not exactly the same as in the cookbook.  I didn’t change the basic dough (a basic brioche recipe) or the filling; however, I adapted the glaze (slightly different ingredients) and the methods (a little less fussy in some ways and more so in others) to suit my tastes.  If you want to get the actual recipe and instructions, you’ll have to buy or borrow the book, subscribe to the website, or find the TV episode.  Otherwise, please understand that my version isn’t exactly what you’ll see on TV or get in the book.

And while I can’t speak for the exact recipe and method in the book– what I did here finally (cue the angelic music) worked for me.

Cinnamon Rolls

recipe and instructions adapted from The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook “Ultimate Cinnamon Buns” recipe (282-83)


Because the recipe has so many steps, I opted to include the ingredients lists in each of the steps below.  Not my usual way of doing things, but it was easiest for me in this instance.  If you choose to make this, just make sure to read through the recipe a few times first.

Make the Dough:


1 ½ tsp. table salt

4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup cornstarch

1 packet (2 ¼ tsp.) rapid rise yeast

½ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup whole milk, heated to 110 degrees

3 large eggs, room temperature

12 tbsp. softened unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces


Add the salt, flour, cornstarch, yeast, and sugar (in that order- salt retards the yeast, sugar is good for it) into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix them together on low-speed with a dough hook until it’s just combined.  Carefully, add the warm milk and mix it until the dough comes together. Add the eggs one at a time.  Raising the speed to medium, add the butter a piece at a time until each is incorporated into the dough.  Knead until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Cook’s Country says 10 minutes, and that’s how long mine took.  They also say if the dough is still wet and sticky, you should add up to ¼ cup flour 1 tbsp. at a time until the dough lets go of the bowl. I didn’t have to, but that could be because it’s winter (cold with little humidity) right now.

Put dough onto the counter and knead to form a smooth, round ball.  I sprayed my countertop first, so the dough didn’t stick.

Having so many cinnamon roll failures under my belt, I didn’t intend to share this recipe at all; therefore, I didn’t take many pictures to begin with.  In fact, I only took this photo and the following one as a reference for how much the dough had risen– I didn’t have my kitchen ruler handy, so I used the thermometer that happened to be in the drawer next to me.

Put the dough to a medium-sized oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let it rise until the dough has doubled in size (about 2 hours—mine took 1 hour 45 minutes).  I let it rise in the oven.  Turn it on to 170; when it comes to temp, then turn the oven off.  I’ve found this to be an excellent technique to use in the winter.  Cook’s Country uses a very different method for rising involving a pan of water.  I don’t know what the difference is, but since the dough was brioche and Martha Stewart says brioche should rise in an environment free of humidity (at least, that’s what I remember her saying in her Brioche episode of Martha Bakes), I chose this route instead of CC’s.

Make the Filling:


1 ½ cups packed (10 ½ oz.) light brown sugar

1 ½ tbsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

4 tbsp. softened unsalted butter


Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and salt into a small bowl.  Remove the dough from the oven, and turn it out onto a lightly floured counter.

Roll it into an 20 x 24 inch rectangle.

Spread the dough with butter up to ¼-inch from the edges.  Spread the sugar mixture evenly over the softened butter.  It’s messy and delicious, but don’t lick your fingers until you’re done spreading, please.  And then wash your hands!

Roll the dough into a tightly (start from the long side for more rolls, the short side start for bigger rolls) seam-side down.   Cook’s Country says to cut the rolls into 8 pieces.  I cut it into 14, 2 of which were the end pieces (trimmed and still baked, but think they could be cut into more pieces.  These were really big cinnamon rolls.

Transfer the pieces to 2 9-inch cake pans that have been double lined with aluminum foil and greased with butter.

Cover with plastic

and let rise in the oven until doubled—about 1 hour.  Use the same method as above for letting the dough rise.  Mine took 45 minutes.  You can see the two end pieces in there (the ones that have less cinnamon-sugar filling).

Remove the pan from the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the rolls for 35 to 45 minutes until they are brown and the filling is melted.  While the rolls are baking make the glaze.

Make the Glaze:



4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tbsp. heavy cream

1/8 tsp. vanilla bean seeds


In a small bowl, add the confectioner’s sugar ¼ cup at a time to the softened cream cheese.   Stir in the cream, and then the vanilla seeds.  The original recipe calls for milk and vanilla extract.

Remove the baked rolls from the oven and top with ¼ of the glaze (a total of half the glaze) over each pan of rolls.  Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.

Lift the rolls in the foil from the pan and top with the remaining glaze.  Serve them warm.  They’re so soft, and just…perfect.

My cinnamon rolls have always ended up rock hard and nothing at all like what I wanted.  These were exactly right.  The glaze gooey and drippy.

And look at how huge they are!  I can’t even begin to imagine how big these would have been had I only cut them into 8 rolls instead of 14.

As it is, I’m thinking about making them even smaller!

The cinnamon was warming.

And the rolls are perfect for peeling apart.  Do you do that, too?  The very center is my favorite part.

You always eat your cinnamon rolls with pinecones on the table, don’t you?

Serve these warm from the oven, or if reheating you can pop them in the microwave on high- 12 seconds for half a roll and 20 seconds for a full roll.

These were best the day of, pretty good the next day, and merely okay the next.  They didn’t last much after that.

Yield: 8-14 rolls, depending on how you slice it