Local Ingredients: Way Down Yonder In The Pawpaw Patch

Where oh where is Susie?
Where oh where is Susie?

I have been minorly obsessed lately with pawpaws.

My particular friend and I were visiting friends Luke and Keveney at Redwing Farm in West Virginia when Keveney mentioned pawpaws in passing; her family grows apples commercially and she mentioned something about someone mentioning pawpaws (this is how my brain works, which is why I write everything down. #Senile).

You know those times when something just lodges itself in your brain and you can’t shake it loose? It’s like a tiny little worm, wiggling its way into your brain, burrowing deep.

For me, this was the pawpaw conversation.

It also doesn’t help when you become a bit like a dog with a bone about it and the little worm in your brain turns into a minor obsession that isn’t really able to be alleviated because the thing you are obsessed about is not really anywhere you can physically put your hands on it. Not yet anyway. So you think about it and roll it over in your mind and in the meantime summer turns to fall and you become aware that, at least for pawpaws, TIME IS RUNNING OUT.

Pawpaws are a very, very strange fruit. They are the largest indigenous fruit tree in North America, but they are tropical. They are the only tropical fruit tree found in a temperate climate, and the tree is deciduous. Harvest time is short, from mid-August to the end of October. They are native to 26 states from the Great Lakes to the Florida panhandle (and even now in Medford, Oregon).

In addition to being very confused about where they should actually be growing in the world, pawpaws are alternately temperamental as hell and ridiculously easy to grow. They can go from rock hard to ripe in 24 hours and once ripe have an on-the-counter shelf life of only a day or two (or a week in the ‘fridge).

But pawpaws thrive in low sunlight and are often found underneath the canopy, which makes them an easy harvest (they can even be maintained as dwarf trees for easiest picking, as the largest commercial cultivator of pawpaws right here in Maryland – Deep Run Pawpaw Orchard – does). The evidence of their ease of cultivation is apparent in the huge groves of trees located along the Susquehanna and Alleghany rivers as well as by the two pawpaw seedlings I currently have growing in pots in my backyard (which were germinated accidentally by a landscaper I met at the Hampden farmer’s market here in Baltimore). Most people who experience pawpaws do so quite accidentally, stumbling upon a grove of wild trees and sampling the fruit (which it should be said is generally a stupid thing to do, randomly sampling something that looks like fruit. #BeCarefulOutThere).

The history of the pawpaw finds First People using pawpaw’s fibrous branches for rope, Lewis and Clark relying on them for sustenance when their food ran out in 1806, and Thomas Jefferson cultivating them at Monticello. John James Audubon perched his yellow-billed cuckoo on a branch laden with pawpaws, and zebra swallowtail butterflies eat their leaves exclusively.

Cuckoo on a pawpaw tree, JJ Audubon.
Cuckoo on a pawpaw tree, JJ Audubon.

All well and good. History is lovely, but what do they taste like?

To find out, I headed to Two Boots Farm in Hampstead, Maryland. There is a pawpaw festival in Ohio that sounded like it could be interesting, but I didn’t particularly feel like driving six and a half hours to chase down a taste – I will never be Anthony Bourdain (which is good because, turns out, he has become something of a massive douche and pretentious fuck. So there’s that). Two Boots is located just 40 minutes from where I am currently typing this, and their little festival (partnered with Slow Food Baltimore) offered tastings and a tour of their orchard, plus the opportunity to purchase some pawpaws.

I sampled five varieties of pawpaw at Two Boots: Shenandoah, Allegheny, Susquehanna, PA Golden, and a small unknown variety called Wildcard (tasted like bubblegum).

And to be perfectly honest, which I always try to be, I am not sure how I feel about them.

Their texture may be off-putting to some. The fruits, which range in size from the two-inch Wildcard variety to the much larger four+ inch Shenandoah, have a strange custard-like texture (which is why they are often referred to incorrectly as a “custard apple” which has an entirely different botanical name altogether). This texture is broken up by large seeds that don’t separate cleanly from the flesh (I had visions of choking on the seed as we sampled – the flesh clings to the seed like mango strands cling to the pit and I could see myself inhaling a pit).

The taste is like nothing I have ever tasted before. It is most often compared to a cross between a mild-flavored mango and a banana (hence the nickname “Hoosier banana” or “Indiana banana,”which makes me laugh and think about sex in the Midwest, which may or may not be a laughing matter). I found this comparison to be true, with one additional sensation: astringency. If the pawpaw is not completely ripe, the closest part of the peel offers the slight sensation of astringency, as if you have mistakenly licked an anti-perspirant-slathered armpit.

This is not the sensation you want to experience in fruit.

But there is something deeply intriguing about the pawpaw for me, and it wasn’t until I purchased six pounds (three pounds each of the Shenandoah and Allegheny) that I figured out why.

It’s not the taste or the rarity or the fact that preparing pawpaws is a total pain in the ass (see below).

As I looked into the history behind this fruit, I suddenly remembered that my cousin Teddy used to sing “Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch” to me as a child (when I went by “Suzie” instead of Suzannah). Theodore Litovitz was a cousin but many decades older than me and a true genius. Growing up, he was the only person in my family to speak to me as if what I had to say mattered; he asked deep questions and listened when I answered, even when I was young. Maybe it had to do with the fact that we didn’t see him often, but he never seemed annoyed by what I had to say, never treated me like I was foolish or childish or in the way.

I remember sitting with Teddy on the lawnchairs that looked out over the Chesapeake Bay at his house in Annapolis, talking about school and watching the sunset. He always had time for me. He always listened. I always felt heard.

But he was mischievous and often a pain in the ass himself. Once when I was around six or seven, he told me about a magical chocolate bar he had at his house, one that grew back with every bite. It was late when he started this story, and we were leaving his house after Passover seder for a long drive back home. Thinking I had found a new permanent home with people who not only understoood me but would also feed me what was generally forbidden otherwise and not wanting to leave behind a special article of clothing I had just purchased, I turned to my mother and said, “Bring my long dress.”

That was probably the longest car ride home ever.

So Teddy and the pawpaws and being just slightly troublesome are deeply woven together in a way that makes the nature of my obsession over pawpaws more understandable. As I started to work with them, I found myself slowing down a bit, as one must when dealing with this fruit. Something about working with an ingredient that holds a deeply personal connection as well as a connection to the history of the nation in which I live made the experience of pawpaws more profound for me.

But pawpaws, as with many things worth doing and as previously mentioned, are a bit of a pain in the ass.

Choosing the proper one comes first: pawpaws are ripe when they separate from the tree with no resistance. Their flesh gives slightly, and as they ripen the flesh begins to deepen in color. Of the Shenandoah and the Alleghany varieties, I found the former easiest to work with as they are larger and offer more pulp.

Flavor-wise, pawpaws work best with tropical, mild flavors. In the three recipes I made, I paired them with pineapple, coconut, and fresh corn (the ice cream below, pawpaw fritters with fresh corn, and pawpaw-pineapple chia seed pie). The subtle flavor of pawpaws changes somewhat when they are heated, and I found that cold applications made for the best clean pawpaw flavor.

I started each recipe with a basic puree that can be used immediately or frozen. This puree used six Shenandoah pawpaws and the juice of one lime (lime prevents oxidation). Slice the pawpaws in half and remove the seeds. Place the pulp and the lime juice in a food processor and process until smooth. Press through a sieve, then use immediately or freeze in one-cup portions. Makes two and a half cups of puree.

I did also make a puree with the Allegheny pawpaws, but the same three pounds of fruit yielded less than two cups of puree. Best to eat these in hand.

My favorite application thus far was the ice cream. This ice cream has a subtle, delicate flavor that is not overshadowed by any one of the ingredients, which allows the pawpaws’ complexity to shine through. Plus, it’s easy, which makes the work to get the puree seem less.

Pawpaw Ice Cream With Toasted Cashews

Ingredients

1 cup pawpaw puree

1 can unsweetened coconut milk

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

splash of vanilla

1/2 cup of chopped cashews, toasted and lightly salted

Method

Combine all ingredients except for the cashews in a large bowl and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

Place in ice cream machine and process according to directions.

In the last five minutes of churning, add the toasted cashews and allow them to mix in completely.

Full disclosure: I cannot resist a small bowl of this before it freezes completely. It’s like a milkshake rather than straight-up ice cream. I also like to place this between two gluten-free graham crackers for an ice cream sandwich.

As I worked with them pawpaws changed from an obsessive curiosity to something that connected me to someone I loved dearly and miss terribly. Which foods connect you to a time, place, or person?

The Art of Colossal Failure: Gluten-Free Baking Edition

Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.
Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be an influencer.

It’s the new trend now to sell yourself as an influencer when you are applying for writing jobs; employers want to know how many Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook followers you have before they even want to talk to you (hence the rise in the market for fake followers on all social media).

As an influencer, I make a pretty good dogwalker. Although I often claim to my friend Kerry’s husband Mark that I know 10% of everything, we all know that it’s actually closer to 7.5%.

Just kidding.

(Or am I?)

Anyway.

When I develop a recipe, and share it with you, I’m not trying to influence you.

At least not yet. I have a few things in development that I may run by you eventually, but I won’t put them on my site unless they’re amazing and I think you’ll love them and if you don’t want to buy, make, or use them it’s no skin off my nose because you know what you want better than I do and I am a wretched salesperson in that regard but have no desire to get any better.

No, when I put something on this website, I do it because I made it and it’s delicious and I think you should know all about it and make it for your family so that they can tell you how delicious it is, too.

I put stuff on this site so that you can see that cooking gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless and horrible. It doesn’t even mean health food. All of these recipes happen to work well with regular flour, too. That’s on purpose so everyone can eat good stuff.

I cook because food is one of the most wonderful things that you can share with another human being.

I cook and I write about it to share a little bit of my life. It’s an instinct and an impulse that I can’t quite explain, but it’s part of the deep down core of the person that I am. I have cooked as a creative outlet since I left home at 17, and I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. This blog brings those two things together in a way that is deeply satisfying to me.

I post. Sometimes you click on the link in your email or on your Facebook wall, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the fact that you don’t hurts my feelings a little bit, but I continue to post anyway. And here’s why.

I’m not trying to get you to change your life or steer you in a different direction. All I want to do is share what I know. I want to share the things that work for me in my kitchen, and I want to share the things that have gone wrong and wonderful and incredible and amazing in my life. It’s the way that the (predominantly) introverted part of me can reach out and really connect with people.

I write because I love it. I cook because I love it. I continue to learn about cooking because it’s fascinating, and it’s the one thing that everyone can access. Everyone has to eat. It might as well be delicious.

Sometimes, though, it’s really great to see the failures. One thing that really chaps my ass is seeing perfection on every food blog I come across. The food is perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, shot with perfect lighting and accessorized with happy, well-dressed, and obviously prosperous folks gathered with friends or their impeccable family.

Turns out, not every recipe works out. And not everything tastes great. And definitely not everything looks beautiful.

You wouldn’t know that by Instagram with its glossy pictures of perfection. But here’s the thing: perfection isn’t real, or even real desirable. Sometimes the food isn’t even real or is enhanced with non-edible garnish (that enticing steam may be a microwaved tampon. #TrueStory).

I just got this new tart pan that I’ve been wanting for a really long time. The first tart I made was delicious. The second tart (pictured above) leaked and the crust was horribly soggy and fairly tasteless.

If I was 100% living the dream, I would have posted a picture of my soggy bottom, but that might be a whole other type of blog (#CueLovemakinMusic)

Cooking and writing for me are more about the process, and less about the flawless product (although HOT DAMN I like it when it all comes together). Failure is infinitely more valuable as a learning tool than success, but failure is a taboo subject. When I mentioned to a couple of people what I was writing about today, they were minorly horrified at the thought of failure. A standard response, I think, but the instinct is misplaced.

Fear of failure holds us back.

Fear of failure stops us from trying.

Fear of failure makes failure inevitable.

It’s not the failure that’s the issue: it’s the fear.

So today’s blog isn’t about the failure that is the soggy-bottomed tart pictured fuzzily above. It’s about the fact that in spite of this failure, I will try again. And maybe the next time won’t work out either. But I won’t be scared that it will taste bad or you won’t read my recipe.

Because there is a lot of fear in the world, but moving through fear gets to the other side of failure. That’s what we are all about here at Charm City Edibles (in a shaky-kneed way at times, but still).

What do you think about failure? I’d like to know how failure (or fear) has influenced you (or not).

 

Living Simply: Candied Jalapeño

Cowboy candy.
Cowboy candy.

It may seem silly, but I miss David Foster Wallace nearly every day since he killed himself on September 12, 2008.

I “met” him first through his novel Infinite Jest, a 1,100 page tome with 150 pages of endnotes (give or take, depending on the edition you have).

I read this book three times.

The first time it took me three weeks, as I was taking notes, writing down vocabulary lists (for real, and I am an English major), and looking up definitions. I also referred when necessary to the endnotes DFW created, including the complete movie catalogue of one of the characters (with plot synopsis and everything).

It’s the kind of brain-based focus that has not really occurred in my life for the past several years.

The next two times I read Infinite Jest, it was for the simple pleasure of winding myself up in his beautiful prose. His complex characters, modeled on real life people, perhaps, or mostly on autobiographical bits of himself, are deep and complicated and sometimes downright unlikeable.

The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, which explains the book’s length, but every word feels necessary and in service to the larger purpose. I read it as a marathoner might pop out and jog a quick ten miles  – to keep my intellectual muscles strong and engaged and with a type of joy that comes from already knowing what happens. In this way I could gather the little pebbles I missed along the way (which happens quite a bit, as I may already be a little senile, the most burnt out non-potsmoker one might meet).

Few books have called to me in the same way before or after. I don’t know what it is about the reward you get when you need to spend more effort on something to truly understand it. Infinite Jest was not an easy read any of the times that I read it. I read it at times when I was most preoccupied in my life (grad school, with a newborn, and when I started my school), almost as if the action of reading such a book pulled me out of the foggiest parts of my brain and made me sharpen my gaze, like honing a blade.

Sometimes, though, this steel-sharp focus is counterintuitive. Sometimes simplicity is what we really need.

Simplicity does not equal stupidity, although one could be lead to believe otherwise by the current state of everything in the U.S.

Simplicity can easily be achieved by allowing whatever is to be whatever it is without wallowing in it or reveling in it or otherwise complicating it with interpretation and reaction. Seems easy enough, right?

In another part of my life, I am a 500-hour certified yoga teacher, and one of the texts we studied during my training was The Splendor of Recognition. This is a study of 21 Tantric sutras (which, disappointingly, DON’T MENTION SEX EVEN ONCE).

Side note: One of my main issues with spirituality in general is that language is inadequate for its discussion, so I will keep it to a minimum here. 

The Splendor of Recognition posits that not only are we in the universe, but the universe is also in us. All we need to become as limitless and boundless as the universe is to recognize that truth.

The best part is that once that recognition happens, it’s always there. There is no backsliding. So you can still do the things you love (like drink and have sex and whatever else it is that you love) without thinking that your soul is in jeopardy. The universe springs forth from the heart, and you can dive into it whenever you want.

This is, of course, deceptively simple. It’s not so easy to truly believe that you are in the universe and the universe is in you. And we are all of us human beings (I think), and human beings like to react and interpret and make it ALL ABOUT OURSELVES. That’s the rub.

Putting up summer produce, however, is about as simple as it gets, and it’s also meditative as hell for those of you that wish to skip sitting down and thinking about nothing (HA. Good luck with that.) for 30 minutes a day.

In just three hours, I canned 13 pints of tomatoes, three 1/2 pints of cowboy candy, and an experimental quart jar of sauerkraut.

Some things that made this so simple:

  • I didn’t make more work than there had to be. The standard way to skin tomatoes is to boil a huge vat of water, plunge the tomatoes in there, and then plunge them in an ice bath to easily remove the skins. This is 100% effective. You know what else is 100% effective? Using a box grater. I turned 16 pounds of tomatoes into pureed tomatoes in less than 20 minutes by cutting off the stems, cutting the tomatoes in half, and rubbing them on a box grater until all I had in my hand was a little wisp of skin. Simple, and no messy boiling water or skinless-tomato chopping.
  • I used what I had. I had six cups of jalapeños, some sugar, and some vinegar. This is perfection for cowboy candy (recipe below).
  • I just thought about what was happening in front of me. For three hours, all I did was cook and can. I didn’t worry about the fact that I have not yet found mercenary writing work to replace the writing job that ended two weeks ago (I am for hire – FYI.), or about the dog who may or may not (but probably does) have an ear infection, or the kid many thousands of miles away, studying in France until June 2017 (2017, people. TEN MONTHS.).

I just grated tomatoes, chopped jalapeños, sterilized jars, and massaged cabbage.

You, too, can live simply.

Cowboy Candy (a.k.a, Candied Jalapeños)

Note: This makes three half pints but can easily be doubled. You can also mess with the ratio (1:2 vinegar to sugar) just a bit and make an even two full pints. #YouAreTheUniverse

Ingredients

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 cups jalapeños, sliced about 1/4″ thick (more or less)

Method

Before beginning, make sure you have your canning jars are ready to go. “Ready to go” means washed in hot soapy water and sterilized. You could kill many birds with one stone by washing them in the dishwasher right before you begin. Then they are clean AND sterilized. Otherwise, clean by washing by hand and then sterilize by submerging jars in boiling water for five minutes.

Remove with tongs, and for fuck’s sake be careful. That water is boiling.

If you are planning to be legit and can these to last for a year, use new canning lids and dip them in the boiling water for a minute. Set all of this aside.

In a large pot, combine vinegar, sugar, celery seed, and jalapeños. Stir to dissolve sugar over medium heat, then bring to a boil. Boil gently (not a rolling, vigorous boil) for five minutes.

Add jalapeños to the pot and simmer for five minutes. Try not to inhale the steam coming off the pot. You will be very, very sorry if you get a lungful of that, and you may cough until you puke. I did not, but this is also not my first rodeo.

Use a slotted spoon (or a fork or whatever is handy) to remove jalapeños from the syrup and pack into jars. Don’t push too hard, but make sure each nook and cranny is filled.

Return the syrup to a boil, and boil for six minutes.

Ladle HOT SYRUP into the canning jars, leaving space at the top (about 1/4″ or maybe a little more if you are making pints.).

Wipe the rims of the jars and place lids on top, screwing the metal band of the canning lid until it is just a little tight (not all the way – canning books sometimes call this “fingertip tight,” which I think is super odd, but whatever makes you happy).

At this point, you could let these cool on the counter before placing them in the ‘fridge and then waiting at least three days to start eating. This way, they will last about two weeks.

If you want to get old school, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (the same pot you sterilized the jars in) and place your jars in that pot of boiling water for 15 minutes (with at least an inch of water covering the top of the jars) before removing them to a counter. Let them sit, untouched, until completely cool. If you hear a little “pop,” your jars have sealed and will be good on the shelf for a year.

If you don’t hear the pop, and the little button in the center of the lid still moves up and down, they have not sealed properly and should be placed in the ‘fridge. You could try to re-process, but that’s a pain in the ass and completely unnecessary since you will be eating all of these pretty much ummediately anyway.

Recipe notes:

  • Botulism is NO JOKE, but canning is not actually rocket science. I was trying to find a solid guide to link to, but honestly, lots of them are either trying to sell you something or to not get sued (that’s the USDA canning guide). A can lifter is helpful, as is a wide-mouth canning funnel (but strictly speaking neither are necessary). You do not need a special pot or anything fancy. The Serious Eats guide to canning is pretty good for method, and it links to the sites trying to sell you something or not get sued so you can make up your own mind.
  • Slicing jalapeños is also no joke. Wear gloves if you are very sensitive (which I am) or cheat (as I did) and just hold on to the stem while you slice them. If you touch the juice of the jalapeño, wash your hands immediately. Do not touch your face or, heaven forbid, go to the bathroom. #YouWillBeSorry
  • You can submerge a towel or a wire rack in the bottom of your pot of boiling water before you place your jars in the pot. This will keep the jars from dancing around and potentially cracking.

I cook when I need to be the universe. If you require some simplicity, what do you do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Like Your Kid: Trouble But Worth It Cinnamon Rolls

Nothing gold can stay.
Nothing gold can stay.

Exactly five hours from now (or thereabouts, as these things go), I am taking my child to France.

Not France, exactly.

Worse: taking her to Boston to hand her over to a group of (hopefully kindly) strangers who will then shuffle her off to Anglet by way of Paris/Normandy in a mere 48 hours. She will be gone for ten months, and as these things sometimes go, I may not actually see her for any of those ten months.

If ever there was a time for comfort food, this is it.

This is when I start hunkering down, loading up the pantry with staples and filling the ‘fridge with things that are substantial and too much of them.

If we weren’t busy with frantic, last-minute packing, I would make these cinnamon rolls.

I call them Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls. They are a pain in the ass, but in the end oh so very worth it.

When I made these the first time, I held my breath. I have made gluten-free cinnamon rolls before, and they were tough, dry, awful things that were saved only by copious amounts of cinnamon and overly-sweet cream cheese icing and a burning need for a cinnamon roll.

These cinnamon rolls. Zoiks.

They are everything they should be. Soft and yielding and hot and sweet and pungent with the sharp smell and taste of cinnamon. They melt in your mouth. These cinnamon rolls are the thick, fluffy blanket I want to wrap myself in when I think of food that is comforting.

Bonus: they are gluten-free. My god. Could it get any better?

Side note: of course you can make them with regular flour. Whatever comforts you most.

If I had time on this morning where I am trying not to think too hard about sending my baby off to another country for nearly a year, I would go ahead and make a big batch of these. I would wake her up with one of these and a cup of coffee (with cream and just a little sugar but not too much anymore because she is using less these days) on a tray to her room.

I would spoil her in the way I do, with food delivered to her in the morning and the simple grace of allowing her to rise into this new day gently.

But since I can’t do that, and we don’t have anymore time, you’ll just have to make these and let me know how they work out.

Just Like Your Kid Cinnamon Rolls

Note: Read the recipe through first. This is not a complicated recipe, but the butter that needs to be softened needs to be very, very soft for spreading.

Ingredients

Dough

2 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 cup white sugar
2⁄3 cup milk, warmed (80 to 100 degrees)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 large egg (room temperature is best)
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1⁄2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 1⁄2 tablespoons cinnamon
1⁄3 cup butter, very softened (spreadable)
Icing

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1⁄2 cups powdered sugar
1⁄4 cup cream cheese, softened
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Method

Wake your yeast as you would your teen: gently. Place warmed milk into a large bowl and allow to bubble for a few minutes.

Add sugar, butter, oil, and vanilla to milk/yeast mixture. Stir gently until completely combined.

Add egg and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine salt, gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder, and xanthan gum.

Add flour mixture to mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. This dough is somewhat sticky, but if it seems unworkable, add a little more flour, just a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want it too dry.

Place dough in a greased container and put in a warm place to rise for 45-60 minutes. I like to preheat my oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off. If you are using gluten-free flour, the dough will not double in size, but it will rise just a bit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish. 8″x8″ works great.

Get ready to roll.

Tear off a piece of plastic wrap, about 18″ long or so and lay it on your counter. Place the dough on this plastic wrap, then cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap.

If you skip this and act like a teenager and think you just know everything (#RollsEyes) then you will wind up with a sticky mess and no cinnamon rolls and YOU SHOULD ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER (or, in this case, this recipe. #Trust).

Roll dough to 1/4″ thick rectangle between the plastic wrap. I use a wine bottle if I don’t feel like digging out my rolling pin, and I have also used floured parchment paper instead of plastic wrap (when I am feeling uptown) or plain old waxed paper.

Your rectangle should be about 13″ or so long and nearly as wide as the plastic wrap.

Spread very softened butter on the dough.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle liberally onto the dough, leaving a 1″ edge clean (the long edge farthest away from you).

Now here’s the tricky part – rolling the dough into cinnamon rolls.

Use the bottom piece of plastic wrap to begin to roll the dough away from you. You are going for a tight log shape. The tighter, the better, but don’t sweat it. When you get to the naked part of the dough, the part with no filling, then you’re done and that naked edge will help seal the log shape.

Use a serrated knife to cut the log into eight pieces. Tranfer these pieces to your greased baking dish. Leave a little breathing room between each roll.

You could let them rise a little longer here if you’d like. OR you could make them up to this point the night before, put them in the ‘fridge, and then bring them to room temperature in the morning before baking.

Bake for about 2o minutes until tops are golden brown. To check for sure that they are done, run a butter knife into the very center rolls. If dough sticks, bake a little longer.

Combine frosting ingredients while the cinnamon rolls bake, and frost the cinnamon rolls while they are piping hot. Don’t expect these to last long, but if you manage to have leftovers, cover and keep in the ‘fridge.

What’s your comfort food?

The Antidote: Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

(no caption needed, is there?)
(no caption needed, is there?)

You deserve to treat yourself to something sweet.

#TreatYoSelf

Maybe it’s a Wednesday and things are a little crappy. Like maybe your teenager is having a meltdown and so are you because she is leaving for France for a year and hormones.

Or maybe it’s about to be 114 degrees and this might be the last time the oven gets used for the next week. #GlobalWarmingYall

Or maybe the circus that is the Republican National Convention makes you feel like grabbing a little sugar high. Or Rocky Mountain High because, seriously, #WhatTheFuck?

Whatever your issue. Whatever is happening.

Make THIS.

This surely is not legal in some states. There is a pound of butter in the frosting, and more sugar than you probably have in your kitchen right now in the whole cake. It takes a couple hours to make, what with the three layers (which I had to make in two pans and then one because I only have two pans, but that’s what being flexible is all about) and the filling and crumb coat  (which I will always do from now on) and the cooling and then the final frosting.

In the words of my very lucky neighbor: “This is legit.”

#YoureWelcome

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Note: Mad love to Baker By Nature from whom this recipe was adapted. I made changes to the flours, the levening agents, and added some coffee, but other than that, it’s genius all on its own. 

Ingredients

Cake:

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2  3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1  1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1  1/2 cups full-fat sour cream
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups hot, strong brewed coffee (essential for deep chocolate flavor)

Salted caramel chocolate frosting:
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks, 16 ounces), completely soft
4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk, half-n-half, or heavy cream (it seriously does not matter which)
2 tablespoons salted caramel sauce (I bought a jar of Smucker’s salted caramel sauce, but you could DIY)
Assembly:
1 and 1/4 cups salted caramel sauce (please see post for more on this)
Flaky sea salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350°(F).

Grease three 9-inch cakepans (or spray with cooking spray) and line bottom with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the rounds and set pans aside. As noted above, I had to bake two layers then bake the third due to lack of a third cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (I used the whisk attachment), or in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, combine both sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt; mix on low until dry ingredients are thoroughly combined (or just whisk well to combine, breaking up large clumps).

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, egg yolks, sour cream, milk, oil, and vanilla extract; mix until completely combined.

Pour wet mixture into the dry ingredients and beat on low until just incorporated. Pour in hot coffee and continue mixing until completely combined (about one minute).

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.

Baking times:

  • 30 minutes for regular oven
  • 25 for convection (I used convection; more even heat for baking)

Test with a wooden toothpick. Insert toothpick into the center of the cake. It should come out clean or with just a few crumbs attached.

Cool cakes for 10 minutes in the pan before removing from pans and transferring to a cooling rack. Cool cakes completely before frosting.

For the chocolate frosting:
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or again using a hand mixer), cream the softened butter until completely smooth.

Turn the mixer off and sift the powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Use a spatula to gently stir in the chocolate/sugar mixture before turning the mixer back on or you will have a fine layer of chocolate/sugar dust coating all of the surfaces of your kitchen. #LearnFromExperience

Turn the mixer on the lowest speed and mix until the chocolate/sugar has been absorbed by the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium; add in vanilla extract, salt, whatever dairy you are using, and salted caramel. Beat for three minutes. If your frosting appears a little too thin, add a little more confectioners’ sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinner, add more dairy, one tablespoon at a time.

Assembly:
If your cake does not have a lovely flat surface, you can use a serrated knife to trim whatever is sticking up, OR you can make the top the bottom. Place one layer on a large plate or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top, then add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of caramel and spread over the layer. Top with another cake layer, and thinly spread it with a layer of frosting, then adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of caramel. Place final cake layer on top.

At this point, if your cake is listing due to the slippery nature of caramel, inserting dowels into the cake can help.

If you are using a crumb coat, do that now.

Chill cake in the ‘fridge for one hour, then remove to finish the frosting. Sprinkle with best-quality sea salt.

Keeps in the ‘fridge for five days. It won’t last that long, but that’s the theory anyway.