Caramel Apple Bread

Ah, another recommended recipe, and just in time to cherish the last month of summer. To many, autumn is already beginning because it's August and schools are going back. Technically, we have until September (unless you live in Florida, where we really can't tell when summer ends), but since Autumn makes me think of golden, brown leaves and this recipe feels like something you'd find at a state fair, seeing it put me in a boots and scarves kinda mood. And that's how my brain functions. Like a rock tumbling down a hill.

The caramel apple bread recipe was suggested by a friend who needed a pick-me-up, and one can't turn down the opportunity to brighten a day with baked goods.

To elaborate on that thought a bit, I bumped into a photographer colleague I hadn't seen in some time last week. You don't always see people consistently in this type of work, and it had been a few months since we spoke. The interesting thing she mentioned was that she received a complement from our team the last time she worked with us, and had kept the e-mail set aside to review on days that didn't shine as bright as others. The small feat of writing a quick e-mail to give feedback was nothing to the writer, but everything to the reader.

Sometimes the little things we do are actually big things to another, and that's one of many reasons I love baking. I can make someone feel special and appreciated for a few moments, and that brings me joy.

The recipe was fairly simple, though it called for apple sauce and I did not have any on hand. As I was also down to one apple, making apple sauce wasn't an option either; I needed to chop up my last one and mix the chunks right in the bread. Greek yogurt has come to my rescue in more than one cake and muffin recipe, so that became the swap.

It was easy enough. I beat together the white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, coconut oil, Greek yogurt, and vanilla extract, then stirred in the dry ingredients, just enough to mix it but not too much. I added in one cubed apple (I used a gala), then stirred to combine.


Instead of a loaf, I went with mini bundts. More personalized and more caramel (say no more!). The individuality makes for easier serving, too.

Though I greased the pan lightly with some shortening, I still occasionally have some cakes stick to the pan. I took this one next level and placed the bundt pan on top of a water-filled jelly roll pan. The result was a little bundt that stayed soft inside and out rather than browning significantly on the outside.


While my little bundts were baking, I started the caramel. This was a variety I'd never tried and was definitely the easiest and fastest yet. It's made with brown sugar (which advances the coloring of the syrup) instead of white, and takes only a few minutes to whip up. I melted the butter, then added the sugar and half and half, heating it until it boiled for two minutes. I stirred in the vanilla and set aside the caramel to cool.


The recipe suggested allowing the caramel to cool and then reheating it. As an evening baker - as in, one that works all day, does her evening stuff like work out and make dinner, then finally bakes - I took a shortcut and just let the caramel cool slightly, then poured some over the cooled cakes. It worked out just fine.


Pure love. I'm sure with a quick scroll through my recent blog posts, one can tell that the scarcity of posted recipes has increased dramatically the past two years. For me to take the time to put this together means it was dayum good. I felt like I was eating a soft candy apple. It was great.

Of course, the best part was, as expected, the sharing. I made enough to share some samples with a few folks and got good feedback. What's it matter what I think if I'm partial? The original requester was happy and that's what really mattered to me.

Based on my survey results, this is a thumbs up, gotta make it for fall bread (it's a cake, if we go by softness and dessert-ability, but I'll stick with the original title). Yum.

Caramel Apple Bread Recipe

Ingredients:

For the bread:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 apple, diced

For the caramel glaze:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon half and half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

For the bread, begin by heating oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, coconut oil, Greek yogurt, and vanilla extract. Gradually mix in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then stir until just combined. Gently stir in the apple cubes, then spoon into a greased loaf pan or pan of choice. If baking as a single loaf, cook for 1 hour. If baking muffins, check after 25 minutes. After baking, cool to room temperature before adding glaze.

For the glaze, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar and half and half, then whisk as the mixture heats to a boil. Keep stirring and boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Once muffins are room temperature and caramel has cooled slightly, spoon glaze over top of bread. Allow glaze to finish cooling, then slice to serve.

adapted from caramel apple bread

Yum Yum Pie

Every now and again, I get a special recipe request. It's a cherished gift, because when people with varied experiences, tastes, and histories give me input, they often make suggestions I would never have thought of and provide me with the incentive to take action and make it (favors often hold more weight than my own wishes).  Even better are all the locations people have lived and traveled, because if I've learned anything from visiting new places, it's that every city can contribute to the palette. Diversity at it's best.

When my colleague first mentioned the mysterious "Yum Yum Pie", I figured given his southern upbringing that this was the kind of thing you'd find at a Ryan's Steakhouse. The recipe he referenced had lots of  instant items, including two varieties of instant pudding and frozen whipped topping (The shock! The horror!). Don't get me wrong, I was a Cool Whip and Jell-O pudding kid, but since that baking passion got sparked, I feel the need to up the ante and make things from scratch

Yum Yum Pie is a 4 layer pudding pie. From the base up:
1. Graham crust
2. Cream cheese layer
3. Chocolate pudding
4. Vanilla pudding
5. Whipped cream

Pudding is actually one of the easiest recipes to make, with basic steps to complete and containing sugar, salt, starch, milk, cream, butter, and egg. I used my trusty Banana Pudding recipe as the basis for the two pudding portions, however in this version I used whole milk, tapioca starch, and one entire egg instead of egg yolks. I'll crack the egg swap further down.

I started with the dry ingredients in a saucepan - brown and white sugar, salt, and tapioca starch. I slowly whisked in the milk and cream while heating the pan to medium. My goal was to get the mixture to a light boil while avoiding letting the starch gum up on the bottom of the pan or burning the milk. It took about 7 minutes with me stirring fairly frequently before I saw the simmer begin.

In a separate bowl, I whisked the egg. Once I had the slow boil going, I spooned some of the hot mixture into the eggs and whisked away at the mixture. I wanted to get the egg as warm as the mixture on the stove without scrambling them. I spooned more of the hot milk into the egg and kept stirring until the eggs were hot. It wound up being about 25% of the milk mixture spooned in to accomplish this. And that's how you temper an egg.


After the egg was mixed in to the pain, I kept the heat on medium and simmered the pudding for a minute longer to completely cook the eggs. No salmonella here.

At this point, I mixed in the butter and vanilla extract, then stirred in nutmeg and cinnamon (some of the quintessential dessert spices) and set the pan aside to cool. It takes a long time, so I put the saucepan over some ice.

I repeated this again to make a chocolate version, stirring in 4-6 ounces of dark chocolate before mixing in the butter.


With both the vanilla and chocolate puddings cooling down, I got to work on the other layers, one of which was a cream cheese and powdered sugar piece of paradise. After letting the cream cheese soften for about 15 minutes, I put it in my stand mixer and whipped it for 2-3 minutes. I then gradually added in powdered sugar and some vanilla bean paste to get the base layer of the pie.


I popped out my other mixer to make the whipped cream at the same time as mixing the cream cheese, because, why not? Dueling mixers.

Half of the whipped cream was gently folded into the cream cheese, and the other half remained for a topping on the pie.


Though I was making a standard pie (this time around I used a pre-made graham crust, which tends to be smaller than a regular pie dish), I quickly realized I had an abundance of filling that would overflow the pan. I decided to make some mini versions, using vanilla wafers as the base. Note: Foil wrappers would work best for this due to sturdiness. The paper ones couldn't hang.


One everything was cooled enough, I built the pie. Cream cheese, chocolate, vanilla, whipped cream, and lastly, some grated chocolate.


We all know this is exactly how the Sugar Bombs from Fallout taste. But oh was it good. I've had plenty of pudding, but that cream cheese layer blended in gave this pie a really unique flavor. My colleague said he'd grown up on this pie, and that this was exactly how he remembered it.

The use of a whole egg instead of egg yolks really didn't have a negative impact on the flavor or the consistency of the end product, which is good news for a conservative baker like myself. If I don't get the chance to cook the whites, I feel poorly throwing them away. I think this worked out great in this recipe because it wasn't a large scale one. But after a bit more reading on the topic, I wouldn't replace a larger scale recipe with all whole eggs so as not to mess up the end result. It will be matter of trial and error, but I felt it important to note here.

Another interesting thing this recipe brought up was pudding vs. custard. Apparently most puddings don't have eggs, but that's not necessarily the determining factor in making it a custard. Chowhound had a good bit on it. What we have here is a cream pudding.

I did learn that using different kinds of milks will make a difference (almond vs whole vs 2%), which seems obvious but wasn't something I had thought to compensate for. I made a pudding the week prior with almond milk, heavy cream, and egg yolks, but should have added more tapioca due to the thinner milk (this one was skim-like, so more watered down than the milk in my original recipe). The pudding wound up not thickening as expected (which possibly had to do with my attempt to cool it down quickly to bring it to a get-together), however I found it important to point out.

There you have it: baking experimentation and pie delights. Make this for the next potluck and you might just beat out the cookies.

Yum Yum Pie Recipe

Ingredients:

2 pre-made graham pie crusts

For the cream cheese filling:
1 package of cream cheese (8 ounces)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the vanilla pudding:
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate pudding:
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4-6 ounces dark chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

To make the cream cheese filling, let cream cheese soften at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Beat in a stand mixer until creamy, the gradually mix in powdered sugar and vanilla. Make the whipped cream topping gently fold half into the cream cheese.

For the puddings, whisk egg in a small bowl. In a saucepan, add the sugar, brown sugar, tapioca, and salt. Gradually whisk in milk and heavy cream. Heat to medium, until the mixture starts to gently bubble, and simmer for 8 minutes, until mixture thickens. Gradually stir about half the milk mixture into the eggs to temper them, stirring until well combined. Pour egg and milk into saucepan and heat to gentle boil again, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in butter, vanilla and almond extracts, and cinnamon. Set aside to cool. Repeat again and add chocolate for chocolate pudding.

For the whipped cream topping, beat heavy cream for about 2 minutes, until. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.

Make pie by layering cream cheese filling, chocolate pudding, vanilla pudding, then whipped cream. Top with grated chocolate if desired.

adapted from texas yum yum

General Tsofu

Tofu isn't the most appreciated version of the soybean. While it's grown in popularity in recent years, I still find that admissions of use as an ingredient are often met with scowls and negativity, as if I'd just said I fry up fresh litterbox scoopings for dinner. Give tofu a break!

For some, it's simply stomach incompatibility or allergies, but to others, the idea of a meat substitute originating from beans instills horror. But why? Tofu is known to be a great source of protein, and it's true what you've heard; it does absorb the flavor of what you are cooking with it. Plus, one of the biggest benefits I have found is convenience.

This year has been extremely busy for me. I've traveled and worked more in a 6 month period than ever before. Of course, the blog has suffered most (last post in March. What?), but what that also means is that my oh-so-precious kitchen time has been more limited than ever. Insert heartbreak emoji here, and cue tofu mention.

Depending on if you choose to make your own (coming soon!) or buy tofu, it's fairly inexpensive and tends to keep a few weeks in the fridge. I've even seen shelf-stable versions at the Asian market, meaning that unlike meats that require either cooking or freezing within a few days, you can keep tofu on hand for when you need it. I love this, as it spares me from worrying about keeping up with my fridge as much and saves me thaw time when I do get the chance to cook. Bam. (Side note: I'm obviously not the best meal planner.)

My blogging history on tofu hasn't been incredibly extensive, but I have tested out Buffalo Tofu and Tofu Meatballs and dug the results. In the past 6 months, I've used it more and more in Asian-style dishes, at least partially because that Amy's Pad Thai with tofu is one of my favorite frozen dishes on the planet.

I hit the jackpot over at Lucky's Market nearby when they had packages of tofu 2 for $3. I can't buy any meat that cheap! Well, none I would want to ingest anyway. But what to make?

A few minutes of brainstorming later, the idea of breading it worked its way into reality and General Tso's tofu began it's journey from pan to plate. (By the way, due to the loss of a hard drive recently, forgive the lack of many photos on this recipe.)

I mentioned tofu's amazing ability to soak up flavor, and I've found that soy sauce and Worcestershire are very useful on that quest. I tend to pour one or both on tofu while it cooks on the stove, but in this recipe, marinating it for 5 minutes in soy sauce and apple cider vinegar was called for. I took it to the next level and after draining the water from the tofu and cutting slices in it, soaked it in combination of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and rice vinegar for about 45 minutes. It was enough time to see the tofu had absorbed the marinade and turned a light brown color.

I do want to point out that I have seen several recipes for tofu where the block is drained more extensively - often in towels with weight pressed on them - but sofar for my needs a soak has been plenty enough.

The next step was to toss the cubed tofu in starch and pan fry it in avocado oil. It's important to heat the oil enough to cook and brown the starch, because too low of heat or too little cooking time will result in a goopy, almost melted texture to the breading. That golden brown look is the indicator that the tofu is done.


I removed the cooked pieces to a paper towel-lined plate to cool while cooking the remaining pieces, only tossing in 5-7 at a time. Too many at once can result in uneven cooking.

In the meantime, I made some quinoa on the side as an alternative to rice, and once the tofu was complete, I made my sauce. It was easy; just a few more ingredients than the marinade. I added tofu, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, cayenne and crushed red pepper, honey, brown sugar,, and water to my pan and heated it over medium-low. In a small bowl, I dissolved about 2 tablespoons of tapioca starch into 1 tablespoon of water, then stirred it into the soy sauce mixture. It thickened after several seconds, and the sauce was ready to serve.


Hot dayum, the tofu was just what I was looking for. Crispy on the outside and a chewier, chicken-like firmness to it. The sauce was beyond easy and very flavorful without being too sweet. The quinoa made a good side, but I also steamed some green beans and those paired nicely, too. Soybean curd is like magic.

I had some leftover, and for that I would recommend not storing in the fridge with the sauce on it because the breading soaked it all up. As with most meals, best when fresh. Still, fried tofu may be my favorite yet. Five stars.

General Tsofu

Ingredients:

For the tofu:
1 package firm tofu (14 ounces)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons avocado oil
1 cup tapioca starch

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
1 tablespoon water

Instructions:

Open tofu package and drain, then cut block into thirds and then crosswise into slices. Pour soy sauce and vinegars over the top and marinate for 20-30 minutes. Heat avocado oil in frying pan over medium heat. Spread tapioca starch on to a plate, then toss tapioca pieces in it until coated on all sides. Fry a few pieces at a time for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned. Set aside on paper towel lined plate and continue frying in batches until complete.

To make the sauce, heat soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, water, brown sugar, honey, cayenne powder, and crushed red pepper over medium heat until it begins to simmer. Mix water and tapioca starch in a small bowl, then pour into soy sauce mixture. Stir until sauce thickens, then serve over tofu with quinoa or rice.

adapted from general tso's tofu

Samoa Cookies

I'm the special occasion nerd at work. It's possible I'm more excited about a birthday than the actual person celebrating it, because it means I have to challenge myself. It's like I have to top the last one every time, or at least attempt it, because this blog isn't about being perfect at cooking and baking, but learning about it.

One of my colleagues is a chronic Facebook sharer. I'm always tagged in some meme or recipe. Given that I love memes, I don't find that to be an issue. And recipes! Give me all the food ideas.

Well, on at least three of these random taggings, there's been a samoa cookie-inspired recipe. I knew workiversary time was around the corner, so the most recent recipe was recorded in the mental notes. These are handy because sometimes I'm at a loss as to what I can make. Work smarter, not harder.

Dolmadakia

Dolma refers to stuffed leaves in the general sense. There are versions with meat (dolmades, typically with lamb and beef), and some without (dolmadakia, which has rice). I've seen dolmades at many a Greek restaurant, and the flavors and fillings have been quite different regularly. I've had a few, and the meat-filled were always my favorite. A friend of mine picked up some rice filled ones in a can at a point and the disappointment was real. She loved 'em, but it just wasn't my thing.

At the same time as that cold dolmadakia encounter, I picked up some grape leaves. We were in Tarpon Springs, a little Greek fishing village near Tampa, Florida. It's a cute little spot right on the Gulf coast, with some Greek restaurants and shops. We were there a typically hot Florida day with bright blue skies and the smell of salty sea air. I can't think of a better place to enjoy Greek food.

Fig Rolls

After my recent Figgy Pudding experience, I was left with a bunch of dates and figs. The obvious choice with figs are Fig Newtons. Isn't that what you know figs best for? If not, I'll take a list of the next most popular items. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

Muffins are one of the easiest grab and go breakfast items. While certainly not a full balanced meal, for a person sneaking in extra time whenever she can, I find muffins to be an easy thing to snag on my way out the door. And ok, muffins can taste dayum good, too. It's like a half-assed cupcake for a breakfast. Which is a good thing.

Cranberry and orange are a powerful flavor combination. I've had it in cookies before, and so muffins are an easy swap. Rather than using orange juice, I used zest, as adding liquid to batter can alter the final result. Citrus is notorious for causing curdling when you have milk/cream in something as well, and I'm still figuring that out. While I doubt the final baked result would be affected by curdling (though it would create an ugly batter), orange zest adds flavor even in small doses without affecting consistency. Easy.

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

My mom watches a lot of TV. When it comes down to it, it's roughly 75% cooking shows, followed by random news and crime stories. I can't say I spend much time watching that glistening screen in my living room, which I can't say is a bad thing, but does not leave me with much time to skim food shows for recipe suggestions and ideas. There's a point to all this, I swear.

My mom and I were chatting one day and she mentioned seeing a spaghetti squash recipe where they made little alfredo pasta bowls out of the squash. She saw in on one of the super-famous shows - I couldn't tell you if it was "The Chew", "The Kitchen" or something else starting with "The" - and said it looked amazing. Using the squash skin as a bowl isn't exactly a new concept, but frankly, I'd never even considered making spaghetti squash alfredo. Marinara is my sauce of preference for the most part, and tomatoes seemed like an appropriate fit for the yellow veggie.
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