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Does this look familiar?  It's almost hard enough to build with...

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Less than a minute later, it can be measured!


Did you know sugar stores forever?  It doesn't ever spoil or go rancid.  And here's a little practical science for your kitchen- brown sugar is hygroscopic,  meaning that it attracts moisture from the air.   Cookies made with it have a better chance of being chewy.  This also depends, of course, on how long you let them bake!  Brown sugar adds moistness, chewiness in baked goods, and a deeper, caramel-like flavor.  All of this is because of the small amount of molasses in it.  Most brown sugar is just refined white sugar with molasses added at the factory.  Turbinado, or raw cane sugar is an exception to this- the brown color in it is because the molasses wasn't taken out to begin with.

What this hygroscopic nature means for you is that if there’s any moisture available to the sugar, it will soften up over the course of several hours or overnight.  Some ways to add moisture are:

·         Add a slice of apple to a sealed container of brown sugar.  Let sit.

·         Add a slice of bread.  This is a great use for those heels that sometimes don’t get eaten.  When it’s totally dried out, you can crush it into breadcrumbs.

·         Soak a small  (clean!) terra-cotta pot, saucer, or shard (piece of a broken pot), in water.  When it’s moist, add it to your brown sugar container.  This one’s reusable! Just soak it again when dry.

·         Put a dampened cloth or paper towel in the container, or just put the brown sugar in a bowl and cover it with the damp cloth.


·         Any place the brown sugar actually touches something wet, the moisture may drive out the molasses (which is what makes it brown) and leave a white, moist section of sugar.  It’s fine.  Stir it back in.


 If you can’t wait that long for your sugar, there are more options:

·         Microwave the brown sugar for 30 seconds.   If it’s not softened yet, put it in for a little longer.  It will be soft and easy to measure, but only while it’s still warm!  Crumble it while you can, measure what you need, and put the rest in a container with one of the ideas above.

·         If you don’t have a microwave, you can use a grater to get what you need off that solid block of sugar.

·         If you have molasses on hand, stir it into regular sugar.  This is how they make brown sugar at the factory!  For light brown sugar, use 1/2 Tbsp (1 ½ tsp). molasses to 1 cup white sugar.  If you want dark brown sugar, use 1 Tbsp. molasses instead.

·         Knock off some chunks with a hammer or other heavy item.  Weigh them instead of using a measuring cup.  A cup of brown sugar weighs about 7 ounces. (For the curious or the kitchen scientist, a handy chart listing other foods’ weights per cup, see http://www.veg-world.com/articles/cups.htm)  Most recipes use some form of liquid- add the hard sugar lumps to the recipe's liquid to let it soften, dissolve, or mix in.

One great thing to make with brown sugar is

Caramel Pudding
2-4 Tbsp. butter
1/4-1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch OR 1/2 c. flour
2 c. milk
1/8 tsp. salt, optional
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stir occasionally until it turns brown and smells heavenly.  Remove from heat.  Add brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt; stir until smooth.  Gradually stir in the milk; return to heat and stir until it comes to a boil.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl.  Pour a thin stream of the hot milk into the beaten egg, stirring constantly, until about half the milk is mixed with it.  This keeps the egg from curdling (scrambling).  Pour the egg mixture back into the boiling mixture; cook and stir for two minutes more.  

For more variations on pudding, see White Sauces and Pudding 

 
 
 
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This one doesn't taste like a candy cane- though you could make it so that it does!

I just noticed that in my 'dinner rolls' post there were no instructions for making that candy cane bread.  So here they are.  Use the same technique to make cinnamon rolls, only those need sliced at the end of making the roll.
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The simplest way I've found to roll a rectangle is to give the shape a head-start before rolling it out.  Pat or stretch it into an oblong shape.

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Roll it out to its full finished length.  In this case, I have a pound of dough that I want to be about 8x14, so it's now rolled to be 14" long.

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Then work on getting it the right width.  Eight inches is the width of my thumb to pinky, when I stretch my hand.  It doesn't have to be exact when you roll these things out; a hand width is a great measuring tool!

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Spread soft butter on it, using a utensil or your hand.  If your butter is cold and hard, your hand warms it up in a hurry.  The butter prevents the dough from sticking to itself, which leaves your finished spiral open (great for letting frosting ooze into if you're making cinnamon rolls!).  This means you DON'T want to spread the butter clear to the edge; stay about an inch or two away from one long edge.

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Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, if that's the filling you want.   I 'eyeball' this kind of thing, but this was about 1- 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 2-3 Tbsp. sugar.  Again, stay an inch away from one long edge.

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You can add whatever you want as filling- this one has the cinnamon and sugar, but then also has raisins, chopped toasted hazelnuts, and some chopped candied orange peel.

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This flavor was the most popular with everyone who tried it this year- raspberry filling, sprinkled with little chocolate chunks, or chocolate chips.  I get the raspberry filling from the bakery at a local grocery store; it's cheaper than I can make it, plus it doesn't go runny when heated, like raspberry jam does.  Raspberry jam does have better flavor, however.

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Start rolling the dough, starting with the long side opposite the unbuttered one.

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This is when you'll be glad you remembered to keep the butter away from the edge.  Pinch the edge to seal.

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Curve the roll into a candy cane shape and put it pinched-side down on a cookie sheet.  Butter it or use parchment paper.   When I have different flavors on the same cookie sheet, I sprinkle or spread some of the filling on top, too, so it's easy to tell them apart.   Let rise until nearly doubled, 45-90 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen, and bake at 350- 375 degrees F  about 20-25 minutes, or until well browned on bottom, and a little browned on top.  It will continue to cook outside the oven for the next 15-20 minutes.  When they're cool.  Drizzle with icing, chocolate syrup, melted chocolate or white chocolate, or melted jam, and sprinkle with some nuts, cinnamon, or chocolate chips if you like.

 
 
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Merry Christmas!

Here is a simple thing to make with your family- hot chocolate.  There are a few different ways to make it-  you can add chocolate syrup to milk, or you can melt a chocolate bar into milk, or you can make it the old-fashioned way, starting with unsweetened cocoa.  It’s really fast and easy.

May you have a wonderful Christmas, full of the spirit of love and of God.

-Rhonda

Homemade Hot Cocoa

1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. sugar or honey
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt, ¼ tsp. vanilla, optional
 
Stir together the cocoa powder and sugar.  Stir in 2 Tbsp. milk, mix until smooth.  Bring to a boil, either on the stove or in a microwave.  This is to dissolve the sugar and bring out the flavor of the cocoa.   Stir in the remaining milk, the salt, and vanilla.  Heat to the temperature you like. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream if you have them.

This recipe can be sized up to whatever you like.  I usually make a 4-cup batch, using the microwave, and a canning jar for my cooking container.  

This makes a ‘milk chocolate’ flavor.  If you like it darker, use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. cocoa.  If it’s bitter, add the same amount additional sugar.

 For mint chocolate, use whatever form of mint you have- mint extract, peppermint patties, or crushed candy canes.

For raspberry flavor, you can use 1 Tbsp. of raspberry Jello powder instead of the sugar.  Orange is another good flavor to make this way.

If you like richer cocoa, use whole milk, or a bit of cream, evaporated milk,  or half-and-half.   

To make it frothy, use a blender, or an immersion blender, to whip it.  This works especially well if you used powdered milk!
 
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The cocoa and sugar, ready to be stirred.

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Add as much milk as you have of the sugar and cocoa- in this case, 2 Tbsp.  You want to make a smooth, pancake-batter-consistency slurry.

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Bring it to a boil to dissolve the sugar and 'bloom' (bring out the flavor of) the cocoa.  Once it's at this point, add the rest of the milk, along with salt and vanilla if you want them.

 
 
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To make 2 oz. Butterhorn rolls- start with one pound of dough and roll it into about a 12" circle.  Spread softened butter on all except the middle, leave about a 2-3" circle unbuttered so the dough can stick to itself.  With a pizza cutter or knife, cut into eight wedges.  Roll each one up, starting with the wide edge.  Pinch the point so it sticks to the rest of the roll.  Put the rolls on parchment or a greased baking sheet, point-side tucked securely underneath so it doesn't unroll during baking. Curve ends a bit, then cover and let rise.
If you're making a bunch of these, use a loaf's worth of dough (about 1 1/2 lbs), roll into a 12-15" circle, and cut into 12 wedges.

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Great gift bread for Christmas- the Candy Cane loaf.  This one has a raspberry-chocolate swirl through it; see the slice at right.  I like to give these to neighbors with a little poem about the symbolism of the candy cane

This week here  is a review of the ideal we work towards as women, and then the info from the Dinner Rolls class I held this week.

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Have you read Proverbs chapter 31 lately?  I think most of us remember reading verse 10, but look what else it says.  I know that all of us can grow by picking something in here to begin or continue our efforts on.  Are you ‘afraid of the snow for [your] household’?  Or are they going to be fine through lean times because of your preparations?

 10¶Who can find a avirtuousbwoman? for her price is far above rubies.
 11The heart of her husband doth safely atrust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

 12She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

 13She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her ahands.

 14She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.

 15She ariseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

 16She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth  a vineyard.

 17She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

 18She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by  night.

 19She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the adistaff.

 20She stretcheth out her hand to the apoor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

 21She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her aclothing is silk and purple.

 23Her in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.

 24She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

25Strength and honour are her aclothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

 26She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of akindness.

 27She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of aidleness.

 28Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her

 29Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.



 30Favour is deceitful, and abeauty is vain: but a woman that bfeareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

 31Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. 

  

For  the basic bread recipe along with these variations, see my Google Docs version  

This makes 2 dozen 2 oz. rolls (if basic shape rolls, closely spaced, they’ll fill a 12x18 baking sheet perfectly), two dozen medium-small cinnamon rolls (a trayful),  two 8x4” loaves, OR three 1-lb. ‘candy cane’ loaves.

 
Dinner Roll/ Sweetbread Dough

3 cups flour to start with (5-6 cups total)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. yeast
¼-1/3 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. oil or butter
1 egg
2 cups hot water or milk (no hotter than 130 degrees F or it will kill the yeast)

      Mix salt, yeast, sugar, oil, water, and first amount of flour in a bowl.  Beat about two minutes with a wooden spoon.  Stir in half of what’s left, then mix in more until too stiff to stir.  Dump out onto a floured counter and knead for 8-10 minutes, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.   The dough should be smooth and elastic after kneading.  (Yes, you could use a stand mixer for this, too….)

     Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic grocery bag and let rise 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until doubled.  Punch down and shape into rolls or loaves.  Place on greased baking sheet or in 8x4 loaf pans and let rise about 45 minutes or until nearly doubled.  Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the bottoms of rolls, or sides of loaves, are brown.  (Tip a loaf out of the pan to check.)  Remove from pans and cool on a rack.

 
This is my basic bread recipe with three tweaks: egg, milk, and more sugar.

The egg helps make the bread more moist, springy, higher-rising, and tender.  The white helps add strength and leavening.  The yolk adds a tiny bit of color, plus some richness and tenderness from the natural fats in it, especially from the lecithin (worth a whole blog post just for lecithin!) it contains.

Milk helps a little bit with browning, as well as making the internal structure (“the crumb”) softer and smoother.  It’s one of those things that may be harder for an amateur to notice, but it makes enough of a difference that I always use it in sweet breads for competitions.  If you have powdered milk available, just mix the milk powder in with the other dry ingredients, and use water.  For this size batch, you’ll use 6 Tbsp powder, which is just over 1/3 c.

Sugar makes a big difference in the crust browning, or ‘caramelizing’, as well as in the flavor of the bread.  Sugar can also help the yeasts grow, but it only helps to a certain point.  No-sugar-used bread will still rise, but will take twice as long.  And you can get it to brown, too, because of the natural sugars in the flour, but you have to use a higher temperature.  When I’m making bread with no sugar, I bake it between 400 and 450 degrees F, which gives a nice brown crust.  If you cook bread with sugar in the dough, if you cook that hot it will be black on the outside before the inside is done.  When baking sweetened breads like this, then, keep the temperature between 350-400; the bigger the loaf, the lower temperature.  Smaller things, like individual rolls, can still handle up to 400 degrees because the insides can cook quickly.  The other thing about sugar, helping the yeasts grow, is kind of funny.  A moderate amount of sugar is good food for the yeast, but over a certain point actually slows down its growth.  To compensate, let it rise a little longer, or add more yeast. 

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How long the rolls are in the oven will make a HUGE difference in how dry or moist and velvety they are.  Cook them just until the bottoms are brown and they sound a bit hollow.  They will continue to cook for 15-20 minutes after coming out of the oven.  The roll  on the left is overbaked and is dry.  The one on the right is perfect.  If you want more color on top, brush with oil or butter after baking; this will intensify the color that is there.  You can also brush them before baking, with milk, beaten egg, or melted butter.  Each one has a little different effect; see which you prefer.

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(left) Mock Cloverleaf rolls, (right) Cloverleaf rolls.  Start with 2 oz dough, a little bigger than a golf ball.  For the Mock style, shape it into a smooth ball, put in greased muffin tins, and make two snips with scissors to create four points.
For the Cloverleaf, divide each golf-ball-sized into three; shape each into a smooth ball.

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For cinnamon rolls, roll dough into a rectangle.  A two-loaf batch will make 2 dozen; roll into a 24x10 rectangle, spread with butter (so the rolls will 'peel' open and let frosting seep between the spirals!), sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, raisins if you want.  Roll up and pinch to seal.

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Cut into 1” sections using dental floss or thread, put on greased baking sheet, let rise, and bake.  Frost (Cream Cheese Frosting is great!!!) or glaze while warm.

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To make a filled ladder loaf, roll dough into a rectangle.  I used one pound of dough and rolled it to about 8" by 14".  Whatever amount of dough you use, roll it to about 1/4-inch thick.  Put filling down the center third.  I used apple pie filling from a can, but you can use cream cheese and jam, rehydrated dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon, or thinly sliced or chopped fruit, sweetened or not, depending on what you have.  What's in your house or yard that might taste good in this?

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Make cuts about an inch apart.  You'll want to have the same number on each side.  A pizza cutter makes great work of slicing.

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Bring opposite slices together; pinch together in the middle to seal them.  Let it rise until dough is nearly doubled, then bake.  Great with a drizzle of glaze (powdered sugar and water), maybe with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nuts on top for a nice presentation.

 
 
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Fresh fudge, made whatever flavor you feel like.  This one is Gingerbread Fudge.

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Truffles, the same on the inside but rolled in cocoa, powdered sugar, and sprinkles.

I love making treats; it makes me very popular with my children and the neighbors!  Every Christmas season I make 'goodie plates' with my family, and take them to neighbors, teachers, and friends. We try to get them done by the first or second week of December.  This way mine are distributed before anyone has overindulged and decreased in their appreciation for sugar.  So far we've made lots of bread, caramels, truffles, and fudge.   See here for the candy recipes.
Below the list are photos and instructions for making a fun layered and swirled Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge.
True to form, this includes basic recipes, then how to tweak them to get new flavors.  Here's what's in that file:
Buttercream Fondant
Fondant centers

Pecan logs

English Toffee

Fudge

Two-Minute Fudge

Milk Chocolate Fudge

Peanut Butter or Butterscotch Fudge
Vanilla Fudge
Cherry Vanilla Fudge
Cookies and Creme Fudge
Orange Creme Fudge (Creamsicle)
Caramel Swirl Fudge
Candy Bar Fudge
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Fudge
Mint Layer Fudge
Orange-Pecan Fudge
Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge
Rocky Road Fudge
S’mores fudge
Strawberry Fudge
Strawberry ‘Truffle Layer’ Fudge
Toasted Coconut Fudge
Wonka Bar Fudge
Five Minute Fudge
Easy Fudge
Old-Time Fudge
Blue Ribbon Fudge
Quick Penuche
Maple-nut Fudge
Maple-nut Goodies
Molasses Fudge/Gingerbread Fudge
Quick Centers for Pecan Logs
Truffles
Milk Chocolate Truffles
White Chocolate Truffles
Whipped Truffles
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For this batch of chocolate-peanut butter fudge, I used the Five Minute Fudge recipe but split the batch in half after adding the marshmallow.  Half of it got peanut butter, half of it got chocolate chips.  I spread the peanut butter layer into a lined pan, then topped it with the chocolate mixture.

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Lining the pan with waxed paper or foil, buttered, makes it much easier to cut the fudge when finished. 

To make the peanut butter swirl, drop several small spoonfuls of plain peanut butter on top.

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Tap the pan on the counter to get the peanut butter to flatten into the fudge.

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Drag a knife or spoon back and forth through it to swirl a bit.

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It's best to not break it up too much.  Tap the pan on the counter again to flatten the top.

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Chill until it's firm, then lift the whole batch out.  Put it on a cutting board, and cut into squares.