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TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Corn Tortillas

Do something different for Cinco de Mayo: Make your own corn tortillas.

Americans eat lots of tortillas: Back in 2000, the Tortilla Industry Association estimated that Americans consumed approximately 85 billion tortillas (not including tortilla chips). They haven’t updated their website information, but we can safely assume that tortilla sales have only gone up. [Source]

Yet the majority of us have never have seen handmade tortillas. Most Mexican restaurants and retailers have machine-made tortillas, pressed very flat with added preservatives to extend their shelf life.

Tortillas are a flatbread (see the different types of bread). In a tortilleria (tortilla bakery) or Mexican restaurant, masa (cornmeal dough) is rolled into small balls of dough, flattened and cooked them quickly on a hot skillet. They require only one ingredient—masa harina, a special cornmeal—plus water.

Like fresh-baked loaves of bread, fresh-baked tortillas are heavenly—and much faster to make. They have no fat or preservatives, so must be eaten the day they’re made (or stored in the fridge for 2-3 days).

If you don’t have a local tortilleria, it’s easy to make your own.
 
THE ORIGIN OF TORTILLAS

Before wild yeast was harnessed by man, bread meant flatbread the world over: arepa, bánh, bannock, focaccia, injera, johnnycake, lavash, matzoh, naan, piadina, pita, pizza, puri, roti, tortilla and dozens of others.

Tortillerias are native to Mexico and Central America, where they remain a staple food. The oldest tortillas discovered by archaeologists date back to around 10,000 B.C.E., made of maize (maize—corn—is native to Central America). The dried corn kernels were ground into cornmeal, which was mixed with water to make a dough called masa.

When Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors arrived in what is today Mexico (on April 22, 1519), they encountered the native women making tortillas—flat corn bread. In the Aztec language Nahuatl, it was called tlaxcalli (teu-ax-CAH-lee). The Spanish called them tortillas, little cakes.

Originally hand-flattened, “technology” most likely evolved to flattening with an implement, and later to manually operated wooden tortilla presses, flattening the tortilla dough one by one. Modern machinery can produce up to 60,000 tortillas an hour.

Tortillas are now wheat flour in addition to maize. Typically, corn tortillas are used for tacos, flour tortillas for burritos.

   
Tortillas Recipe

Tortillas Recipe

Tortilla Recipe

Top: The dough is rolled into small balls, eachh of which becomes a tortilla (photo courtesy LoveAndOliveOil.com). Center: The balls are flattened and placed on the grill (photo © Jim Damaske | Tampa Bay Times). Bottom: Beautiful, fresh tortillas (photo TheGumDropButton.com).

 
Women Making Tortillas
 
Mexican women making grits in a work by Carl Nebel, 1836.
 
THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF GROUND CORN

Unless you work with these products regularly, you can’t be expected to know that all arground cornmeal, dried corn that’s ground down into smaller, coarse bits.

  • Corn flour is the most finely-ground maize. When nixtimalized, it becomes masa harina, used to make tortillas and other flat breads. Compare it in uses to all-purpose wheat flour: for fried food batter (start with a 50:50 mix of wheat and corn flours, for dredging, pancakes, etc.).
  • Cornmeal, also spelled corn meal, is coarse-ground maize (corn). It is used for arepas, grits for breakfast cereal or dinner sides, cornbread, fried foods, gluten-free cakes and pie crusts, hush puppies, Indian Pudding, shrimp and grits, and many other recipes.
  • Cornstarch is a thickener made from refined maize starch. It is a very fine powder.
  • Grits are hulled and coarsely ground grain. Grits can be made from any cereal, although corn grits are the norm. Here are uses for grits for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Hominy grits are the same thing as grits. Grits is the shortened term for hominy grits.
  • Masa harina, meaning “dough flour for tamales,” is very fine-ground nixtimalized corn used for tortillas and tamales.
  • Masa and hominy are both nixtimalized corn kernels, but hominy is ground from white corn.
  • Nixtimalization is a process that soaks the grain kernels in an alkaline solution, usually limewater—a diluted solution of calcium hydroxide. The kernels are then rinsed. This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. Masa harina is nixtimalized corn,
  • Polenta is a paste or dough made from medium- or coarse-ground cornmeal. It is cooked, formed into a roll and then fried or baked.
  • Southern grits are made from a different type of corn than polenta. Grits are made from dent corn; polenta from Italy is made from flint corn. Flint corn holds its texture better, which is why grits are the consistency of porridge and polenta is coarser and more toothsome.
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    RECIPE: HOMEMADE CORN TORTILLAS

    All you need to make tortillas is masa harina and water. Masa harina, Spanish for dough flour, is the corn flour (corn meal) used to make tortillas and tamales. You can’t substitute regular cornmeal: Masa harina is specially treated corn (see the next section).

    You can find masa harina in any Latin American market or other market with a good Latin American foods section. We prefer Bob’s Red Mill brand, which we pick up at Whole Foods. Rick Bayless uses Maseca brand. Since the cornmeal provides the only flavor in the tortilla, go for the freshest, best-quality product. And don’t buy “instant.”
     
    Ingredients For 15 Tortillas

  • 1-3/4 cups masa harina (substitute 1 pound fresh smooth-ground corn masa*)
  • Water
  •  
    ________________________________
    *If you’re near a tortilleria, you may be able to purchase fresh, smooth-ground corn masa. On the other hand, if you’re at a tortilleria, you can purchase the tortillas freshly baked.

     

    Masa  Harina Bob's Red Mill

    51L2KlaJw7L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

    Top: All you need to make tortillas: masa harina and water (photo courtesy Bob’s Red Mill). Because the corn flour is the only flavor to the tortilla, buy the best. Bottom: The tortilla recipe is from Rick Bayless’ great book, Everyday Mexican (photo courtesy W.W. Norton, Inc.).

     

    Preparation

    1. MEASURE the masa harina into a bowl and add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water. Knead with your hands until thoroughly combined. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. (If using fresh-ground masa, available from a tortilleria, scoop it into bowl, break it up and knead a few times until smooth.)

    2. SET a large griddle (one that stretches over 2 burners) or 2 skillets on your stovetop. Heat one end of the griddle (or one skillet) to medium, the other end (or other skillet) to medium-high.

    3. SQUEEZE the dough gently. If it is stiff (it probably will be), knead in some water, 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time, until the dough feels like soft cookie dough: not stiff, but not sticky. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, rolling each into a ball. Cover with plastic.

    4. CUT 2 squares of a plastic bag, 1 inch larger than your tortilla press (we used our George Forman grill with the flat plates). Open the press and lay on one piece of plastic. Lay a dough ball in the center, and gently mash it. Top with the second piece of plastic and close press. Gently flatten the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick disk. Peel off the top piece of plastic.

    5. FLIP the tortilla onto your right hand (if you’re right-handed); the top of the tortilla should line up with the side of your index finger. Gently roll it onto the side of the griddle (or skillet) heated to medium. Let the bottom of the tortilla touch the griddle, then lower your hand slightly and move it away from you. The tortilla will stick to the hot surface so you can roll your hand out from under it as it rolls down flat. After 30 seconds, the edges of the tortilla will dry slightly and the tortilla will release from the griddle. Until this moment, the tortilla will be stuck.

    6. FLIP the tortilla onto the hotter side of the griddle (or the hotter skillet) with a metal spatula. After 30 seconds, the tortilla should be lightly browned underneath. Flip it over. Cook 30 seconds more—the tortilla should puff in places (or all over—a gentle press with metal spatula or fingers encourages puffing). Transfer to a basket lined with a napkin or towel.

    7. PRESS and bake the remaining tortillas. Stack each newly baked tortilla on top of the previously baked tortillas. Keep the tortillas well wrapped in a kitchen towel for warmth.

     
    REHEATING CORN TORTILLAS

    Some people have a tortilla steamer to reheat tortillas in the microwave (we picked up a silicone steamer and use it every day to warm or steam other foods in our microwave). But you don’t need one: You can substitute a kitchen towel.

  • In the microwave: Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water over a clean kitchen towel and wrap the tortillas. Place in a microwaveable plastic bag and fold it over—don’t seal the bag. Microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes to create a steamy environment around tortillas. Let stand for 2 or 3 minutes before serving.
  • In a vegetable steamer: If there is a center post, remove it. Pour 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a pot. Wrap the tortillas (no more than 12 at a time) in a clean kitchen towel. Place it in the steamer, put the lid on the pot and set it over high heat. When the steam begins to seep out under the lid, time for 1 minute. Then turn off the heat and let the tortillas steam for 10 minutes.
  • On a griddle: Quickly reheat the tortillas one at a time on a dry griddle or skillet.
  • With kitchen tongs: Hold the tortilla with tongs over a low flame.
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    CORN TORTILLAS VS. FLOUR TORTILLAS

    People who don’t enjoy the more pronounced flavor or texture of corn tortillas prefer the milder, softer flour tortillas are prized for their mild flavor and softness. Either can be used in any recipe requiring tortillas. However:

  • Flour tortillas are made with added fat—lard or vegetable shortening—and salt.
  • A standard six-inch corn tortilla contains about half the fat and calories and one fourth the sodium of a similar-sized flour tortilla.
  •  
    Recipe © copyright 2005 Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
     

      

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    PASSOVER: Matzoh Strawberry “Shortcake” Recipe

    Matzoh Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

    Substitute matzoh for the biscuits or cake in this Passover Strawberry Shortcake recipe. Photo and recipe courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

    In addition to Chocolate Matzoh Crunch and chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, we’ve added anther Passover treat to our recommendations. It’s courtesy of Good Eggs in San Francisco.

    “Shortcake“ is a stretch as a substitute for biscuits or sponge cake, but this no-cook, no-bake Passover dessert is delicious and oh-so-easy to make.

    Speaking of sponge cake, our standard family Passover dessert is Strawberry Shortcake with sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream. Since sponge cakes are not leavened with yeast, they can be eaten during Passover when made with matzoh meal instead of wheat flour.

    RECIPE: MATZOH STRAWBERRY “SHORTCAKES”

    Prep time is 15 minutes.

    Ingredients For 3 Servings

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 8 ounces mascarpone
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 boards matzoh
  • Optional garnish: mint sprigs
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the strawberries and let them macerate in the orange juice, reserving one tablespoon. Mix the mascarpone with the powdered sugar, half of the zest and the reserved tablespoon of orange juice.

    2. MELT the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the matzoh and fry until crispy and golden-brown, about 1 minute on each side.

    3. ASSEMBLE the shortcakes: spread a generous layer of mascarpone on each piece of fried matzo, then top with sliced strawberries and mint. Dust powdered sugar over the top for an extra touch of sweetness!

     
      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Australian Lamb

    While Mom always served great meals, a leg of lamb was a special treat. It was the star of our yearly Easter dinner, served with mint jelly and sides of spring peas and roasted potatoes.

    When the folks from Aussie Lamb contacted us with the offer to try Australia-raised lamb, they didn’t have to twist arms. The lamb arrived frozen, but it didn’t stay that way for long. We defrosted a different cut overnight in the fridge, and the next day enjoyed an exceptional lamb dinner.

    Australia is known worldwide as a producer and exporter of high-quality lamb with a top food safety record. The lamb is 100% free-range, feeding on grass. It is all-natural, free of artificial additives including hormone.

    Naturally lean, tender and juicy with superb flavor, the lamb is aged to retain moisture and then vacuum-packed. Our “Lambathon”—three consecutive days of lamb dinners—has made us a big fan. The chops were wonderful, the rack of lamb celestial.

    All of the cuts are available, from ground meat and kabobs to shank and shoulder—for special occasions to every day. The lamb is certified Halal.

    And, it is half the price of fresh lamb (we checked prices at FreshDirect.com). No one could tell the difference.

     

    Rack Of Lamb

    Cooked Lamb Shank

    Top: Elegant rack of lamb for special occasions. Bottom: Luscious lamb shank for every day. Photos courtesy Australian Lamb.

     
    LAMB: A HEALTHY RED MEAT

    Lamb is a lean protein with low cholesterol. An average 3-ounce serving is just 175 calories. Lamb is an excellent source of protein, niacin, selenium and vitamin B12, and a good source of riboflavin.

    And here’s a surprise: Lamb has three times more iron than chicken and two times m ore iron than pork and salmon. While fish contains the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids, lean lamb is close behind.

    Australian Lamb is a healthy choice for any lifestyle—a naturally nutrient-rich food with high levels of zinc, Vitamin B12, iron, riboflavin and thiamin.

    In our neighborhood, it is carried by the best markets, Citarella and Whole Foods among them. Here’s a store locator.

    There are more recipes than you can shake a tail at, at AustralianLamb.com, along with cooking tips and a video library.

    The council will also send you a free cookbook.

    Could you ask for anything more?

      

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    FOOD FUN: Easter Popcorn Recipe

    For an Easter weekend snack, how about some “Easter” popcorn?

    Just combine plain popcorn with an Easter-theme confection: pastel sprinkles, mini pastel jelly beans or baking chips. We use pastel mint chips from Guittard, but a trip to the nearest candy store will yield other choices.

    You can go one step further and make white chocolate popcorn bark with an Easter candy garnish. Because the candies adhere to the chocolate, you can use pastel M&Ms and other heavier confections (without the chocolate they’ll sink to the bottom of the bowl). This recipe is from Popcorn.org.

     
    RECIPE: WHITE CHOCOLATE POPCORN BARK

    Ingredients For 1 Pound (Twelve 3-Inch Squares)

  • 5 cups popped popcorn (purchased or home-popped)
  • 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white candy coating*
  • 1 cup pastel candy (less for sprinkles)
  •  
    ________________________________
    *We use Guittard white chocolate chips or chop Green & Black’s or Lindt white chocolate bars. We avoid white candy coating because it substitutes vegetable oil for the cocoa butter in real chocolate (and that’s the reason many people dislike “white chocolate,” as they’re actually eating white candy coating).

     

    popcorn-rainbow-sprinkles-urbanaccents-230

    Easter popcorn. This batch is made with white chocolate and pastel sprinkles. Photo courtesy Popcorn.org.

     
    Preparation

    1. COVER a baking pan with foil or wax paper; set aside. Place the popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

    2. MELT the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the candy.

    3. POUR the chocolate mixture over the popcorn and stir to coat. Spread the popcorn onto the prepared pan and allow to cool completely. When chocolate is cooled and set…

    4. BREAK into chunks for serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Easter Egg Dessert Pizza Or Fruit Platter

    fruit-pizza-easter-egg-sugarhero-230

    This Easter egg “dessert pizza” is glazed fruit atop baked cookie dough. Photo courtesy Elizabeth LaBau | Sugar Hero.

     

    Pastry chef Elizabeth LaBau of the blog SugarHero.com decided back in 2013 to create an egg-shaped dessert “pizza” for Easter: a cookie dough base topped with glazed fruit.

    Looks delicious, doesn’t it? Here’s the recipe.

    We always bake a cake with Easter decorations, and also serve a fruit salad. So three years ago, we adapted the “pizza” idea to a fruit platter.

  • Year 1: We took a tray and piped royal icing in an Easter egg shape, a border to contain the fruit. You could arrange the fruit without one, but as guests serve themselves, the border keeps the shape of the egg (not to mention, it keeps the grapes from rolling away).
  • Year 2: We had an inspiration to go back to the original recipe’s cookie dough, but use it raw to build the border. Unless you have a very steady hand, it’s much easier to shape strips of cookie dough into an egg than to pipe the shape. We used a tube of egg-free sugar cookie dough. Some people nibbled on the dough, some didn’t.
  • Year 3: We used chocolate chip cookie dough. Not surprisingly, most of it was nibbled up.
  •  

  • Year 4: This year, we’re using cream cheese frosting for the border. It’s easier to pipe and tweak (fix the shape) than royal icing. A recipe is below.
  •  
    Truth to tell, even with three years of practice, Ms. LaBau’s work is still far lovelier than ours. But we never claimed to be a professional pastry chef—just a professional pastry eater.

    RECIPE: CREAM CHEESE FROSTiNG

    Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup strawberry jam, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  •  
    Note: To frost a cake, you need a larger amount of icing. For vanilla cream cheese frosting, combine: 16 ounces cream cheese, 2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter, 1-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted after measuring) and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract.
     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients and place in a piping bag and pipe an Easter egg shape.

    2. TIP: If you don’t want to pipe freehand, cut an egg shape from foil or parchment and use it as a guide. The trick is to fold the foil in half and cut half an Easter egg, so the halves will be perfectly symmetrical when you unfold it.

      

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    RECIPE: Double Coconut Easter Layer Cake

    Coconut Easter Layer Cake

    Easter Layer Cake

    Top: A classic Easter cake with coconut “grass” and Easter eggs. Bottom: You can tint the batter different colors for a surprise. Photo courtesy Reynolds Kitchens.

     

    Coconut cake has become an Easter tradition. Adults and children alike are tickled pink by the green coconut “grass” and Easter egg candies.

    This recipe from Reynolds Kitchens is “double coconut,” made with coconut layers as well a coconut frosting.

    RECIPE: DOUBLE COCONUT EASTER LAYER CAKE

    Ingredients
     
    For the Cake

  • 3-1/4 cups of flour
  • 1-/34 cups of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1 cup of room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1-1/4 cups of canned coconut milk
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
  • Optional: food color
  •  
    For the Frosting

  • 12 ounces of softened creamed cheese
  • 1 pound of room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of coconut extract
  • 1 pound of sifted powdered sugar
  • 4 cups of sweetened shredded coconut
  • Green food coloring
  • Garnishes: small Easter egg candies
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.

    2. WHISK together the egg whites and shredded coconut in a separate bowl. Add in the coconut extract and then the egg whites and shredded coconut mixture in 3 batches into the butter-sugar mixture.

    3a. MIX the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and add into the creamed butter-sugar mixture, while alternating with the coconut milk but beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Be sure to stop and scrape the sides of the bowl often.

    3b. If you want to tint the layers, divide the batter into thirds and tint two of the three with a different pastel color.

    4. DISTRIBUTE the cake batter evenly into 3 cake pans. Bake the cake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown and firm in the center. Cool the cake pans on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes.

    5. WHIP the butter and cream cheese in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Mix in the coconut extract and powdered sugar until completely blended.

    6. TOSS together in a slider storage bag 1-1/2 cups of the shredded coconut and 4 to 6 drops of green food coloring, until the coconut becomes green. Frost the cooled coconut cake in layers with a small amount of frosting. After each layer has been frosted, sprinkle on ½ cup of shredded coconut and press into the frosting before adding on the next layer of cake.

    7. FROST the entire outside and top of the cake and use the remaining shredded white coconut to coat the outside of the cake.

    8. FINISH the top of the layered coconut cake by sprinkling on the green coconut shreds, but take care to not get any of the shreds around the outside. Garnish the top of the cake with assorted Easter egg candy and chocolate.

     

    LAKER CAKE BAKING TIPS

    These tips for creating the perfect layer cake are from Reynolds Kitchens:

  • Start by carefully reading the recipe. Baking is scientific, and requires ingredient precision to achieve the best results. For example, if you combine all your ingredients and later realize your eggs needed to be beaten separately, your cake could come out mealy.
  • Cool the layers upside-down. When the layers are done baking (a toothpick can be inserted and removed cleanly), flip them upside down onto a cooling rack so the cake tops are flat. Otherwise, your cakes may cool with a rounded top, which must be leveled with a long serrated knife.
  • Use applesauce to lighten the calories. Substitute plain applesauce evenly for vegetable oil in the recipe. The applesauce will maintain the cake’s moisture and flavor but will decrease the unwanted fat and calories.
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    FROSTING TIPS

     

    Cake Icing

    Icing a cake is easier on a pedestal. Photo courtesy SugarSweetBakery.

  • Allow the cake to cool entirely prior to frosting. A warm cake will cause the frosting to melt into a messy, thin layer on top and virtually no frosting on the sides.
  • Use a generous amount of frosting between layers and ensure that it is evenly distributed. If you are filling with custard, fruit purée or jam, first create a barrier of frosting around the top rim of the layer, to keep the filling from spilling out of the cake.
  • Place the cake on its pedestal prior to frosting. First use 4 to 5 pieces of wax paper to completely covering the pedestal, allowing some to hang over the pedestal sides. Frost the cake and remove the wax paper.
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Hot Cross Buns

    Hot Cross Buns

    Hot Cross Buns

    Top: What a treat: Warm hot cross buns (photo King Arthur Flour). Bottom: You can substitute dried cherries or cranberries for the raisins (photo Ocean Spray).

     

    Tomorrow is Good Friday, a traditional time for Hot Cross Buns. You can mix up the dough today, divide it into muffin pans, mix up the frosting…and have everything ready when you wake up tomorrow. In just 20 minutes, Hot Cross Buns will emerge from the oven: fragrant with spices, sweet with dried fruit.

    from King Arthur Flour

    And you don’t need to save these delicious breakfast buns for Easter. Although that’s why they have an icing cross, you can…

    RECIPE: HOT CROSS BUNS

    Prep time is 25-35 minutes, rise time is 1 hour, bake time is 20 minutes. You can prepare the dough in advance and refrigerate it overnight. See footnote*.

    Ingredients For 12 To 14 Buns

    For The Buns

  • 1/4 cup apple juice or rum
  • 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
  • 1-1/4 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, 1 separated
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1-3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • For The Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg white, reserved from above
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  •  
    For The Icing

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing
  •  
    ___________________________________
     
    *You can refrigerate the completed dough for the first rise (first proof), from a few hours to a few days. For loaves of bread, refrigerate unshaped dough; then shape it after removing it from the fridge. Refrigerate the dough immediately after mixing, not after a rise. After removing from the fridge, let it rise a second time on the counter. This can take one hour or several, depending on the yeast. Refrigeration actually yields tastier results because the yeast has more time to do its work. Allow the dough to warm up a little before baking.

    You can shape loaves before refrigeration, but it may produce an uneven rise because the center of a large loaf will warm much more slowly after removal from the fridge. However, buns are small enough to avoid this problem, so feel free to shape before you refrigerate. [Source]

     

    Preparation

    1. LIGHTLY GREASE a 10″ square pan or 9″ x 13″ pan.

    2. MIX the rum or apple juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave briefly, just until the fruit and liquid are very warm and the plastic starts to “shrink wrap” itself over the top of the bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. When the fruit is cool…

    3. MIX together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit. Knead, using an electric mixer or bread machine, until the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid. Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though it may not double in bulk.

    4. DIVIDE the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces. That’s about 3-3/4 ounces each—about 1/3 cup, a heaped muffin scoop. Use greased hands to round the dough into balls and place them in the prepared pan.

     

    Good Friday Buns

    Originally, the cross atop Hot Cross Buns was a simple knife cut. The icing came later. Photo courtesy BBCGoodFood.com. Photo courtesy BBCGoodFood.com.

     
    5. COVER the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they’ve puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

    6. WHISK together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns. Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.

    7. MIX together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe a cross shape atop each bun.
     

    THE HISTORY OF HOT CROSS BUNS

    The first recorded use of the term “hot cross bun” appears in 1733. A sweet yeast bun filled with raisins or currants, the cross on top was originally made with knife cuts. Over time, icing was piped over the cuts.

    The cross symbolizes the crucifixion, and the buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday.

    They are believed to predate Christianity: Similar buns were eaten by Saxons to honor Eostre, the goddess of spring. In their ancient pagan culture, the cross is believed to have symbolized the four quarters of the moon.

    “Eostre” is believed to be the origin of Easter. Many pagan holidays were ported into Christianity in its early days, to encourage pagans to convert to the new faith.

    You don’t have to wait for Good Friday to enjoy hot cross buns. They’re too delicious to save for one day of the year. You can variety the recipe with dried cherries or cranberries instead of raisins.

      

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    EASTER: Peeps Cupcakes With Hidden Surprise

    Who doesn’t love a surprise? Certainly, this Easter cupcake counts as one: In addition to an alluring Peeps chick on top, these cupcakes from Betty Crocker have a surprise in the middle—other Easter candies.

     
    RECIPE: PEEPS CUPCAKES WITH HIDDEN SURPRISE

    Ingredients For 24 Cupcakes

  • 1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist yellow cake mix (or your own yellow cupcake recipe)
  • Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix box
  • 1 cup assorted mini candy-coated chocolate candies, jimmies or confetti candy sprinkles (we used pastel M&Ms)
  • 1 container Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy white frosting -or- make the easy (and much better-tasting) homemade buttercream*—recipe below
  • Green food color
  • Optional: green sparkling/decorating sugar
  • 24 Peeps marshmallow chicks (yellow or assorted colors)
  • Optional: Pastel cupcake wrappers
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pans). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups.

    2. MAKE the cake batter as directed on box. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (about two-thirds full). Bake as directed on box for cupcakes. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

    3. SCOOP out the center of each cupcake, about 1 inch deep, using melon baller. Fill each with 1 heaping teaspoonful candies.

    4. SPOON the frosting into a medium bowl; stir in enough food color until you have your desired green color. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with colored sugar. Top with a Peeps chick. Store loosely covered.

       

    peeps-surprise-cupcakes-1-bettycrocker-230

    peeps-Chick-Surprise-Cupcakes-2-230

    Peeps Easter cupcakes with a hidden surprise. Photos courtesy Betty Crocker.

     
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    *All you need to make buttercream is a stick of unsalted butter, a cup of confectioners’ sugar, 1/4 cup whole milk and the flavoring of your choice, such as 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. You can tint it any color you like. Here’s the recipe for chocolate buttercream and other flavors.

     

    Colored Peeps

    Easter Cake

    Top: The original Peeps were made in yellow and white. Today there’s a rainbow of colors (photo courtesy Pioneer Press). Bottom: This Peeps Easter Bunny Cake recipe is from FoodySchmoodyBlog.com.

     

    PEEPS HISTORY

    In 1920, confectioner Sam Born opened a small candy store in Brooklyn, New York, selling fresh confections made daily. In 1953, he introduced Peeps marshmallow chicks in yellow and white.

    It used to take 27 hours to make a single Peep: Each one was hand-squeezed from a pastry tube. Now it takes six minutes on a mechanized line. Sam Born’s son, Bob, mechanized production in 1954 with a special machine still used today. The business, the Just Born Company, is still family owned.

    An average 5.5 million Peeps are made every day. That’s 2 billion Peeps a year, enough to circle the Earth three times.

    Peeps bunnies were added in 1973. The chicks way outsell the bunnies: 4 of every 5 Peeps purchased are chicks. But chick or bunny, Peeps are the number-one selling non-chocolate Easter candy.

    Beyond Original Marshmallow Peeps, there are now flavored Peeps (Blueberry Delight, Candy Cane, Candy Corn Dipped Peeps, Cherry Cordial, Chocolate Mousse, Fruit Punch, Lime Delight, Mystery Flavor, Orange Delight, Raspberry Delight, Strawberry Creme, Sugar Plum, Vanilla), as well as Original in blue, green, lavender, orange and pink colors.

    There are chocolate-dipped Peeps, Peeps atop sugar cookies, Sugar-Free Peeps, Peeps Marshmallow Eggs, Peeps Lollipops, gift sets and wearables (headbands, slippers, socks, etc.), all sold at Peeps & Company retail stores and online.

    And there’s more: Peeps Snowmen, Peeps Jack o’Lanterns, Peeps Witch Chicks, Green Marshmallow Christmas Trees and Chocolate Mint Christmas Trees.

     
    You can see them all here.

    Google “Peeps recipes” and you’ll find Peeps fondue, Peeps sushi, Peeps pizza, Peepsicles, even Peeps pots de crème.

    Just Born also makes Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike and Teenee Beanee jelly beans.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Easter Candy Apples

    M&Ms Caramel Apple

    Easter Chick Chocolate Apple

    Easter Candy Apples

    TOP: Roll a caramel apple in M&Ms (photo Amy’s Apples). Center: Turn the apple into a chick with yellow sprinkles (photo Amy’s Apples). Bottom: You can make a hard candy coating like the red Halloween apples, switching the red food color for pastels. Photo courtesy Rose Bakes.

     

    Candy apples have a strong association with Halloween. But the treat, which adds a good-for-you apple to the candy components, can be embellished for any occasion.

    It’s the first full day of spring and a week from Easter, so what are you waiting for?

    Join confectioners across the nation who make seasonal apples, typically caramel or caramel coated with chocolate. White chocolate can be used as is or tinted in Easter and spring colors.

    You can also use a milk or dark chocolate coat, but some decorations look better against white. However, if you’re totally covering the apple with coconut or M&Ms, the color of chocolate underneath doesn’t matter matter.

    You can also make a hard candy apple coating like the red Halloween apples, but with pastel spring colors instead of red. Here’s how.

    You can use any candy apple, caramel apple or chocolate apple recipe.

    The apples of choice are sweet-tart varieties: Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith.

    If you’re using chocolate, you can melt baking chips; but if your palate is sensitive to the difference, spring for Lindt bars or other well-priced “premium” brands.
     
    WHERE TO BEGIN

    Click the links to take a look at different approaches to decorating Easter apples. Most are very easy to make; adding bunny ears does take some technique.

    Popular decorations include:

  • Colored chocolate shavings or baking chips.
  • Himalayan pink sea salt. For a sweet and salty apple you can use 100% pink sea salt or blended with pink sparkling sugar), lavender sparkling sugar, etc.
  • Mini candy Easter eggs or jelly beans, placed around the stick end of the apple. First add with other decorations like sprinkles or green tinted coconut.
  • Pastel candy pearls.
  • Pastel sprinkles and confetti. Wilton has a nice Easter mix.
  • Pink or mixed color sparkling sugar (a.k.a. decorator sugar and sanding sugar).
  • Something exotic, like pink bunny sprinkles, or an actual marshmallow Peep sitting atop the decorated apple (the stick is pushed through it).
  •  
    CANDY APPLES HISTORY

    The practice of coating fruit in sugar syrup dates back to ancient times. In addition to tasting good, honey and sugar were used as preserving agents to keep fruit from rotting.

    According to FoodTimeline.org, food historians generally agree that caramel apples (toffee apples) probably date to the late 19th century. Both toffee and caramel can be traced to the early decades of the 18th century. Inexpensive toffee and caramels became available by the end of the 19th century. Culinary evidence confirms soft, chewy caramel coatings from that time.

    Red cinnamon-accented candy apples came later. And, while long associated with Halloween, they were originally Christmas fare, not a Halloween confection.

    According to articles in the Newark Evening News in 1948 and 1964, the red candy apple was invented in 1908 by William W. Kolb, a local confectioner.

     
    Experimenting with red cinnamon candies for Christmas, he dipped apples into the mixture and the modern candy apple was born. The tasty treat was soon being sold at the Jersey Shore, the circus and then in candy shops nationwide.

    Later, coatings evolved to include caramel and chocolate, along with candy decorations ranging from simple to elaborate.

     
      

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    RECIPE: Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies

    Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies

    Dutched Cocoa Powder

    Top: Sweet and salty, chocolate and caramel: How can you resist? A recipe and photo from The Baker Chick. Bottom: Dutch process, or Dutched cocoa, is processed with alkali to neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity. It is milder in flavor and lighter in color than non-Dutched cocoa powder. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.

     

    Thanks to The Baker Chick for helping us celebrate National Chocolate Caramel Day, March 19th. We made her wickedly good Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies.

     
    RECIPE: SALTED CARAMEL PRETZEL BROWNIES

     
    Ingredients For 24 Brownies

    For The Pretzel Crust

  • 4 cups small pretzels, crushed into small pieces
  • 6 tablespoons of butter, melted
  •  
    For The Brownies

  • 1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  •  
    For The Toppings

  • 1 cup salted caramel sauce (purchased or homemade)
  • Flaky sea salt for sprinkling
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Fit a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment paper. Overlap two sheets, including two tabs that hang over the sides, so you can easily lift the brownies out of the pan.

    2. ADD the crushed pretzels to the bottom of the pan and drizzle with the melted butter. Set aside while you make the brownie batter.

     
    3. WHISK together the cocoa powder and boiling water in a large bowl, whisking quickly until just combined. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Add the oil, melted butter, eggs, yolks and vanilla, whisking after each addition. Add the sugar, mix until well-combined. Sprinkle the flour and salt over the batter and then fold in, mixing until smooth and well incorporated while not over-mixing.

    4. POUR the caramel sauce over the batter in lines going vertically, then horizontally. Use the tip of a knife or skewer to swirl the batter back and forth.

    5. BAKE for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let brownies cool completely before cutting into squares.

     
      

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