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Bake a Difference with OXO For Cookies for Kids’ Cancer + Oatmeal Muffins

It’s that time of year again, when the folks at OXO host a blogger campaign for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. The goal is to help raise both awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. For every blogger who dedicates a post to the topic, they donate $100 to the cause.

I participated last year, sharing my story of losing a friend to cancer when I was in middle school, and making a batch of tasty cookie bars from Dorie’s Cookies.

This year, I’m offering up a batch of muffins rather than cookies, thankfully, I’m told that they’ll still count. And if you missed Shianne’s story last year, consider hopping over to that blog post to read it.

OXO sent me their Non-Stick Pro 12 Cup Muffin Pan, a dozen Silicone Baking Cups, and Baker’s Decorating Tool and told me to be creative. I spent a little time worrying about doing that decorating tool justice before realizing that one should always write what they know (as it were).

And so I opted to adapt a simple oatmeal muffin recipe from the classic and invaluable King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion and use the filling tip on the decorating tool to give them a plum butter center. It worked better than I’d even hoped. Next time I’m invited to a brunch potluck, I know what I’ll be bringing!

I’m not someone who typically goes in for fancy decorations on baked goods of any stripe (I’d be a terrible contestant on the Great British Bake Off), and so it was my first experience using a decorating tool. I was happy to discover that it was really intuitive to use and fun to booth. I predict that there will be more jam-filling and piped frosting in my future thanks to this devise.

Oh, and if you don’t have a nifty tool for filling your muffins with jam, they would be equally good if you split them and simply gave them a healthy dollop.

Disclosure: OXO sent me the tools you see above. No additional compensation was provided for this post. 

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Sprouted Wheat Berries in Excalibur 5-Tray Dehydrator

Some months back now, my friend Audra spread the word that she was ordering bulk grains and other dry goods from her favorite organic suppler. Her hope was to spread the word about this very good way to get high quality food and to get the total weight of the order high enough to qualify for discounted shipping.

I took her up on the call and ordered 25 pounds of hard winter wheat berries. My goal was to improve my bread baking habit with the addition of sprouted and freshly ground flour. Of course, when I committed to 25 pounds of wheat berries, I’d never sprouted or ground my own flour before. But I had enthusiasm, a vast array of cookbooks, and all the internet at my disposal. What could go wrong?

The truthful answer is that actually, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong, but as is the case with many new things, I did have a few missteps. The first time I tried to sprout a batch of wheat berries, I left them in the soaking water too long and they developed a funky smell, akin to stinky feet.

And I’ve also learned that I really need to get a few of these non-stick sheets to prevent the wheat berries from falling off the dehydrator trays as they dry and shrink a little. Both are relatively low prices to pay in pursuit of greater knowledge and understanding!

I’ve been using my new, fancy 5-tray Excalibur to dehydrate the berries once they’ve been soaked and sprouted and that part couldn’t be easier. I love that I can set both the time and temperature so precisely. I run it at 112F to preserve the enzymatic activity of the wheat (a useful thing if you’re working with a sourdough starter), so appreciate how easy it is to dial in that exact temperature.

Now, you might be wondering why I’d take the time to soak, sprout, and dehydrate my wheat before grinding it into flour. The primary reason is that it helps make it easier to digest. Secondarily, I find that it grinds more readily (which is good, since I’m using the KitchenAid Grain Mill, and the unsprouted grain made the motor work really hard).

If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of homemade sprouted wheat flour, here’s how you do it.

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Speedy Pizza Dough + OXO Pizza Tools

I believe that the process of learning a new kitchen skill is much like learning a new dialect of a language you already speak. In the beginning, you feel awkward and mistake-prone. However, over time you begin to find markers in the landscape and soon enough, your brain builds the pathways necessary for increasing mastery. Eventually, you find that the new knowledge informs your previous understanding and brings greater depth to that which you thought you’d already known intimately.

This is why, despite having at last seven pizza joints within a three block radius of my apartment, I make my own pizza. Because it informs my baking and cooking, deepens my grasp of caramelization, and tastes mighty good, to boot. (I learned a great deal about making pizza from this free Craftsy class taught by baking great Peter Reinhart. If you have the time, I highly recommend it.)

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different pizza dough recipes. When I have an active sourdough starter and I plan ahead, there’s nothing more delicious than a naturally leaven crust. Other times, I’ll use a recipe with very little yeast and do a long, slow rise.

However, most often, I have neither a sourdough starter at the perfect stage of readiness or the time for an overnight rise. When that happens, I use this recipe. It has a generous amount of instant yeast and gets mixed by hand, for a fast rise and a minimum of fuss.

Now, if you have the time, you can let this dough do a second rise, which increases its tangy flavor and makes it even more delicious. But that’s entirely optional. Once the dough is ready, you divide into two portions and then work them flat. For most of my pizza making life, I stretched my dough out on a sheet of parchment paper, topped it and then carefully transferred it to a hot baking steel.

However, recently the folks at OXO sent me some of their pizza tools to try and I’ve fallen hard for their non-stick pizza pan. Instead of using and trashing a sheet of parchment for every pie (and sometimes setting it to smolder in my very hot oven), I work the dough out into a round on the pan (the trick is to work the dough with damp hands and then let it rest for a minute or two. If you keep working it without a rest, it bounces back into a ball), top it, and bake all on the pan.

When it comes to topping my pizzas, I go simple. A jar of homemade sauce (my favorite small batch recipe is in Preserving by the Pint), a combination of grated mozzarella and cheddar, and some slivered onion and pepper (I’m loving the OXO Grate & Slice Set they sent for this prep). If we have it, Scott likes pepperoni, but it rarely feels necessary to me.

Baked at 475F on a pre-heated baking steel (I love this thing! I’ve owned and cracked several ceramic pizza stones over the years, but the steel is indestructible), the finished pizza is ready after 10 minutes or so (if you’re using a non-stick pan like I am these days, make sure to check out OXO’s non-stick safe pizza wheel).

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Sour Cherry Thumbprints for Valentine’s Day

When I was a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day. Not for it’s romantic implications, but for the simple fact that it was an excuse to take a trip to the craft store for heart-shaped doilies, glitter, and card stock. I would spent weeks making pretty cards for my friends and classmates.

It’s been years since I did anything particularly crafty for Valentine’s Day, but earlier this morning, I started feeling the itch to make something in honor of the holiday.

A couple weeks ago, the folks from Foodstirs* sent me few of their baking and frosting mixes and they’ve been sitting next to my desk, waiting for me to feel inspired to bake.

And so in between wrapping my husband’s birthday presents (he was a Valentine’s baby!) and slicing the last of my Meyer lemons for the dehydrator, I made some cookies.

I have long been of the opinion that you can incorporate jam into nearly any cookie. Thin roll-outs? Turn them into jam sandwiches. Crumbly oatmeal cookie? Grab a baking dish and turn it into a jam-filled bar. And when you decide to make sugar cookies on a whim and have an open jar of sour cherry jam in the fridge? Turn ’em into thumbprints.

I used a tablespoon cookie scoop to portion out the dough and then used a wet fingertip to make them impressions (sometimes I use a melon baller for this task, but this dough was a little sticky for the task).

The tart jam is a tasty contrast to the sweet cookies and they look perfectly appropriate for the day.

*They offer baking kits featuring organic and non-GMO ingredients that can be ordered individually or you can subscribe to a monthly delivery. And for the Buffy fans among you, it also happens to be owned by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

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Jammy Oatmeal Pecan Bar Cookies

I’m at my sister’s house in Austin for the holiday. I’ve done a bunch of cooking and baking since I’ve been here and one of the break-out hits was this pan of oatmeal pecan bar cookies. The recipe is based on one that my friend and former intern Olivia turned me on to. It started life as a thumbprint and I’ve translated it to work as 13 x 9 inch bar.

These not-too-sweet cookies are a good afternoon snack and the presence of nuts and oatmeal makes them even feel appropriate for breakfast. We’ve slowly been chiseling away at the pan, taking a sliver or two when the mood strikes.

May your holidays be merry!

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Babka for Now, Sticky Buns for Later + OXO Glass Bakeware

Use this sweet, yeasted dough to make a batch of apricot walnut babka for now, and a batch of sticky buns that can be par-baked and popped into the freezer for another day. It’s perfect do-ahead baking for the upcoming holiday.

Back in November, I got an email from OXO looking for bloggers to participate in a campaign designed to feature their sturdy glass bakeware. The idea was to create something that could be made ahead, frozen, and then either baked off or reheated later. Their glassware is particularly good for these fridge or freezer to oven situations, because it’s made from sturdy resistant borosilicate glass.

They sent out a Glass 9″ Pie Plate, a Glass 1.6 Qt Loaf Baking Dish, one SteeL Pie Server, a nifty Double Pastry Wheel, and 1″ Pastry Brush. I spent a little time pondering what I might make that would fit the assignment, make good use of these tools, and would also allow for a liberal application of jam.

What I came up with was a single dough that allowed me to both have a relatively immediate treat, as well as one to freeze and finish baking on another day. I’m calling this concept babka for now, sticky buns for later. Because who wouldn’t want that?

I started by searching out recipes for a sweet, yeast-risen dough. After a bit of internet searching and book scanning, I found what I was looking for in Tammy Donroe Inman’s fabulous book Wintersweet (it’s a favorite of mine for holiday baking).

I made Tammy’s dough the day before I wanted to bake. After its first rise, I punched it down, tucked it into a glass storage container, and popped it into the fridge (a handy trick any time you need to make yeasted doughs work for your schedule). The next day, I divided it up into two balls and began to turn one into babka. I opted for a filling of apricot jam and toasted walnuts.

Once the dough was rolled out into a large rectangle (about 18 x 12 inches), I brushed it with melted butter, spread out a half pint of apricot jam, and sprinkled the whole things with those toasted and chopped walnuts.

As far as I can tell, the thing that makes a babka a babka is that it’s a slightly sweet, buttery, yeasted dought that’s filled, rolled, sliced and twisted. And so that’s what I did. Starting with the short side, I carefully rolled until I had a fat tube of filled dough. Then, taking a sharp knife, I cut the roll down the middle, taking care to leave the top inch (or so) intact.

After slicing the dough, I took a deep, steadying breath, firmly grasped the two ends and twisted them outward in opposite directions. There was some filling loss, but not enough to be particularly worrisome.

Once sliced and twisted, it was simply a matter of nestling the dough in the loaf pan and letting it rise in a warm place before baking.

While the babka took its time rising, I turned my attention to that second ball of dough. Much like the babka, it needed to be rolled out into a generous rectangle. I brushed the dough with melted butter. However, instead of applying jam, I dusted the dough with cinnamon and sugar (using OXO’s tea ball to ensure even distribution) and used the rest of the walnuts.

I rolled up the dough (starting with the long side, rather than the short one) and sliced it into rounds. I set them into the pie plate and let them rise (at this point, the babka was ready for the oven, since I actually ate dinner in between working with the two sets of dough).

When the babka was done (it should be around 200 degrees F inside when finished. If the exposed jam seems to be getting too done, perch a sheet of foil on top of the pan) and the sticky buns had risen, I popped that pan into the oven. However, instead of cooking them to completion like the babka, I only baked them for 12 minutes. This is just long enough to get a little color and set their shape. Once they are cool, pop the pan into a big ziptop bag and nestle it into the freezer.

The night before you want to eat your sticky buns (perhaps when the babka is all gone?), pull the pan out of the freezer and make room for it in the fridge so that they can defrost slowly. The next morning, heat the oven to 350 degrees and slide in your pan of sticky buns. They’ll only need a quick 15 minutes in the oven and they’ll be ready to eat.

Brush the finished sticky buns with a little melted butter to help them stay soft, and then drizzle them with a little glaze made from powdered sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and a dusting of cinnamon.

As we head into the frenzy of this week, wouldn’t it be nice to have a loaf of babka on the counter and a pan of sticky buns ready to go in the freezer?

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