Homesick for Texas – Peach and Cream Cheese Kolaches

Despite not having grown up in Texas, I still consider myself to be somewhat Texan and associate with Texas all the time. I suppose living in Texas for four years brainwashed me. ūüėõ The funny thing is that when I first arrived in Texas, I wasn’t its biggest fan. I felt like I had been transported to another planet (ok, maybe that was a little exaggerated, but Texas does feel like a foreign country sometimes).

Living in Texas also introduced me to new foods, from real southern BBQ (before moving to Texas, I thought BBQ was hamburgers and hot dogs) to Tex-Mex.¬†One of my favorite foods I discovered in Texas was the kolache – a breakfast pastry similar to to the danish, but made with bread dough instead of danish/croissant dough. Even though it was originally brought over by Czech immigrants, Texans have made the kolache their own by putting their own twist on the fillings and even the¬†pronunciation. Texans say “kol-ah-chee” while the Czech¬†pronunciation¬†is “kolach” (with a silent “e”).

For some reason, kolaches are rather difficult to find outside of Texas. I’m sure they’re available in the Mid-West, but in California, no one has heard of them. So, feeling homesick for both the delicious pastry and Texas, I decided to make my own kolaches. I looked up a few recipes and found these from Homesick Texan and Confections of a Foodie Bride.

Kolaches consist of a basic sweet dough that are shaped into rounds or squares and filled with whatever fruit topping you like. Some people even stuff them with sausage. Common fruit fillings include apricot and blueberry. However, since I only had peaches in the house, I made peach kolaches instead. I also had an expiring block of cream cheese, so I made cream cheese kolaches as well.

This recipe was really easy to follow and straightforward. The only little problem (if you can call it that) was that I made the kolaches a tad too big. I thought I had shaped them into fairly small balls of dough, but boy was I wrong. They ended up rising quite a bit in the oven and became gigantic kolaches. Another difficulty I encountered was filling the wells. I suppose I just tried to put in too much filling because for every kolache, the filling spilled out of the well and down the sides. So make sure you put parchment paper underneath, which makes cleaning up extremely easy.

One of my fondest memories of eating kolaches was right before finals. Each semester, the Women in Engineering program hosted a pre-finals feast, consisting of Texas’ finest foods: breakfast tacos, chips and queso, and of course, kolaches. The fluffiness of the bread and the sweet filling of the kolache comforted me as I grew nervous about my imminent exams. After only four years, I’ve fallen in love with many traditions and cultural¬†idiosyncrasies of Texas, with kolaches being near the top. Making these kolaches brought back good memories and brought a bit of Texas to California.

Peach and Cream Cheese Kolaches
Adapted from Homesick Texan and Confections of a Foodie Bride

For dough:
1 package of active dry yeast
1 cup of warm water
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup of melted butter
1 teaspoon of salt

For cream cheese filling:
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon

For peach filling:
2 peaches
peach jam (I used apricot jam)

For posypka:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in warm water, then sprinkle yeast on top. Set aside for 10 minutes or until foamy.
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, 1/2 cup of melted butter (reserve 1/4 cup for brushing on the pastry) and salt.
3. Add 1 cup of flour and yeast to the egg mixture and mix.
4. Stir in about two more cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough should be soft and moist.
5. Knead dough for about 10 minutes on floured surface.
6.¬†Put dough in a greased bowl and let rise covered until doubled in size‚ÄĒabout an hour. (I left in the refrigerator overnight and let the dough warm up the next day before using it.)
7. After dough has risen, punch it down. Pull off egg-sized pieces (maybe even smaller!), roll into balls, and then flatten to about three inches in diameter.
8. Place flattened pieces on a greased cookie sheet, brush with melted butter, cover and let rise again for another half-hour.
9. While waiting for the dough to rise, make the fillings and posypka. To make the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese, sugar, and lemon zest. To make the peach filling, cut up the two peaches into small pieces and mix with peach/apricot jam. (I microwaved the jam to make it more liquidy.) To make the posypka, crumble the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon together with your hands.
10. After second rising, gently make an indention in the center of the dough with two or three fingers. Fill each well with peach filling or cream cheese filling (about 1 tablespoon) and sprinkle with posypka.
11. Bake at 375F for 12 to 15 minutes and serve warm. Kolaches are best eaten warm and fresh from the oven, but they also taste good the day after.

This post has been Yeastspotted and submitted to Bake Your Own Bread.

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Recreating Old Favorites – Berry Cheesecake Cupcakes

While waiting for the purple ombre cakes to cool and bitten by the baking bug, I decided to whip up some cupcakes. I searched the kitchen and found half a bag of frozen berries left in the freezer as well as my roommates’ leftover raspberries and blueberries sitting in the fridge. So, I decided to make berry cupcakes again (which were a hit on July 4th) But since I don’t really like to make the same thing twice, I added in some cream cheese filling to spice up the cupcakes.

I loosely followed this recipe for berry cheesecake muffins. Once you’ve made cupcakes (or any recipe for that matter) several times, you know the basic steps for making any kind of cupcake. In that sense, I feel that baking is very loose and not as restrictive as some people think. In my opinion, all cakes, cupcakes, and cookies follow the same basic recipe. You just vary what you mix-in to change it up.

For these cupcakes, I decided to change it up by adding in a cream cheese filling. I filled the cupcake liners about 1/3 full of the berry cupcake batter, then added a heaping spoonful of the cream cheese mixture, topped it with a raspberry and blueberry, and filled up the rest with batter. Since I only wanted to use one muffin tin, I filled each liner full to the brim with filling. Seeing how full they were (i.e. on the verge of spilling out of the liners), I was worried that the cupcakes would rise too much while baking. But my worries were for naught. The cupcakes did rise quite a bit while in the oven; however, when I took them out and let them cool, they deflated down to regular sized cupcakes. So bottom line: don’t be afraid to fill up your cupcake liners – the cupcakes will deflate anyway.

I had leftover blackcurrant buttercream frosting from the purple ombre cake, so I used that to frost these cupcakes. However, any frosting would be good with these cupcakes, such as raspberry, strawberry, blackberry or even lemon frosting.

When I got to my last two cupcakes, I ran out of the blackcurrant frosting. Luckily, I had leftover cream cheese frosting in the fridge and used that for the last two. (I don’t usually have frosting just lying around. It just so happened that I was baking and decorating a lot of cakes that weekend. :P) Also, I highly recommend decorating these cupcakes with fresh berries if you have them. The fresh berries make the cupcakes absolutely gorgeous!

These cupcakes ended up being so delicious that my friend’s mom declared them the best cupcakes she had ever had! (However, that may be a bit of a hyperbole since she tends to exaggerate things.) These cupcakes were definitely some of the best I’ve made in both taste and presentation. The cream cheese filling was rich and creamy and tasted very similar to cheesecake.¬†The berries inside were refreshing and their tartness helped cut some of the richness of the cream cheese filling as well as the sweetness of the frosting.

These cupcakes are a nice twist on regular berry cupcakes and beautifully combine the flavors and textures of cheesecake with those of cupcakes.¬†Just by adding a heaping spoonful of cream cheese filling, I created a delicious hybrid of cupcake and cheesecake. Try playing around with some of your favorite traditional recipes – you’ll create a new dish while still enjoying the old one.

Berry Cheesecake Cupcakes
Adapted from chef-in-training

For the cupcakes:
1/3 cup butter (softened)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A bag (or half a bag) of frozen berries (you can always use fresh berries too)

For the cream cheese filling:
6 ounces cream cheese (softened)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon

For the buttercream frosting:
1 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 jar of blackcurrant, raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry jam

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Add one egg a time to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition.
3. Beat in the milk.
4. Combine the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
5. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture just until moistened.
6. Fold in berries gently.
7. Fill paper lined muffin cups one-third full with the cupcake batter.
8. For the cream cheese filling, in a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and egg until smooth.
9. Drop a heaping tablespoonful into the center of each cupcake.
10. Place fresh berries in the center of each cupcake.
11. Fill up the rest of the liner with the cupcake batter.
12. Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out clean.
13. Let the cupcakes cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a wire rack.
14. To make the frosting, beat the butter and 1 cup of sugar. Gradually add in the rest of the sugar, one cup at a time. Beat until light and fluffy. Add in the jam and continue beating.
15. Frost cupcakes with the buttercream frosting and decorate as you wish. Then enjoy!

Easier than braiding hair – Braided Lemon Bread

The second I saw this recipe for braided lemon bread from Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to make it someday. I filed it away in my brain and waited for the opportune moment. So when I made too much lemon curd for the brioche crescent rolls, I secretly did this:

What I love about this recipe is that it’s so straightforward and easy yet yields a final product that is so intricately beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that everyone will believe that this braid was store-bought instead of homemade. For example, when I delivered the bread to my friends, they were all so impressed by it and were convinced that I had bought it rather than made it. I felt a little bad accepting their praises since it really was super easy to make.

Despite looking complicated to make, this bread is actually extremely simple. So much easier than french braiding hair, which I still can’t do. ūüėõ All you have to do is cut the sides into strips and alternately lay them over each other. Easy, right? Following Deb’s step-by-step photos doesn’t hurt either.

What’s also great about this recipe is that you can make the braid ahead of time, and then bake it right before you’re ready to serve it. I made the dough and braid the night before, then baked it the next morning, so it was nice and fresh for breakfast.

This bread is really delicious – my friends gobbled it up within 30 minutes. The soft, fluffiness of the bread is complemented with the tartness of the lemon curd. Since I didn’t have pearl sugar (I really need to invest in it, so I can make Liege waffles!), I sifted powder sugar on top. However, the cream cheese is rather unnoticeable. In fact, my brother couldn’t even taste it when he ate it. So I’d either increase the cream cheese filling or leave it out completely. The latter is probably better since the flavor of the lemon curd overpowers the cream cheese anyways. You could also exchange the lemon curd with any kind of curd or jam. I think raspberry jam would be a delicious alternative.

If you’re looking for a recipe to impress friends with, this is it. This lemon braid is perfect to bring to a brunch, like Deb did, or as a dessert to a dinner party. When your friends and family see this bread, they’ll praise you for your master baking skills and you’ll smile and say thanks, knowing that it was actually incredibly easy to make.

This post has been Yeastspotted and submitted to Bake Your Own Bread.

Queen of the Quick Breads

Before I really started getting into baking, I usually baked quick breads because they were simple, easy, and always yielded good results. No need to fuss with yeast or complicated procedures or worry about the delicateness of peaks of beaten egg whites. Quick breads are so robust that you can basically throw anything in there along with the ¬†standard flour, sugar, eggs, etc… and you’ll still have something that tastes good. Plus, you can make so many substitutions. Who cares if you only have one egg left? Just add in some applesauce.

One of my favorite quick breads is this whole wheat and millet banana bread from Joy the Baker. I love the extra crunch millet gives to the bread. I usually add in chocolate chips, which make the bread even more delicious. (You can also make chocolate chip cookies to surround your quick bread with to make it look even prettier. :P)

Another good quick bread is beer bread. You can make any kind of bread you want with just a can of any beer. It shouldn’t be good beer either. In fact, the worse the beer, the better. (So you don’t feel so guilty about using the beer in bread instead of drinking it). With several cans of leftover PBR, I made all different kinds of bread, including cinnamon raisin, green chile cheddar, and rosemary and thyme. Beer bread is so easy – it’s basically just flour, beer, and whatever else you want to put in it. Here’s a couple of good beer bread recipes, with several variations: Beer Bread 4 ways and Easy Beer Bread.

Adding a little something extra to your quick bread is always fun, and can be as simple as incorporating chocolate chips and millet or swirling in cream cheese or jam. One of my friend’s favorite quick breads that I made is a pumpkin loaf with a layer of cream cheese in the middle. I did a variation of this bread using apple sauce instead of canned pumpkin and swirling the cream cheese instead, following this recipe.

Another bonus of quick breads is that if you have leftovers, you can always make muffins! ūüėÄ

Sometimes you just want to bake something simple, easy, and foolproof. Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit off if I don’t bake something that week. And if I don’t want to deal with the added stress of yeast or some fancy French technique, I know I can always turn to the old, reliable quick bread and make something delicious. Quick breads may not be nearly as impressive or exotic as some other baked goods, but in my experience, they will always work and that reassurance is sometimes all you need.

This post has been Yeastspotted.