Bread Illustrated’s Kouign-Amann: A Colossal Disaster

This one really stung.

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Do not be deceived by this seemingly delicious-looking photo.

I have wanted to make the Kouign-Amann recipe in my Bread Illustrated cookbook for eons. I remember seeing the bakers on the Great British Bake-Off scratching their heads when faced with a challenge that required them to bake this old-school pastry-type thing from Brittany. I was thinking, “I need make this” – and then I was delighted to discover that Bread Illustrated include a recipe for this obscure bread on its very last page.

I’ve read that Kouign-Amann (pronounced kind of like “queen ah-mahn”… I think…) are incredibly delicious. I believe it, too – it’s a laminated dough with lots of butter and a thin shell of caramelized goodness. I just, unfortunately, haven’t had the opportunity to experience the deliciousness for myself.

Because my own attempt at baking Kouign-Amann’s was a total, utter disaster and such a tragic waste of expensive butter.

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Let me rewind.

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I decided to try to bake the Kouign-Amann’s for a book club meeting. Things started out well: the first step involved mixing some dry (flour, yeast, salt) ingredients with some wet (milk, sugar, melted butter) ingredients in the stand mixer, letting it rest, and whacking together a perfect parchment square of butter.

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I love the butter whacking and Bread Illustrated provides a fairly easy way of making the parchment square. It involves carefully measuring and folding a big piece of parchment and then smacking some butter with a rolling pin until it fills the origami-like square.

It is VERY satisfying when it’s finished.

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Then, you laminate everything by rolling and folding and rolling and folding the butter into the dough. This is the same process that I used when I made croissants earlier this year, and let me tell you – it is WAY easier to do in the winter in a cold house! I didn’t have any issues of tearing down or melting butter.

Things were going very well.

(Hahahahaha. Little did I know.)

The sugar step came next (well, one of the sugar steps – there is quite a bit of sugar going on here. It’s a dessert, people). You sprinkle sugar onto the dough and fold it a few times, creating delicious layers of sugar and butter and dough. It’s a beautiful thing.

After allowing the dough to chill in the fridge, literally and figuratively, it’s time to shape these pretty little clover-like pastries. You have to roll and trim the dough into two perfect rectangles. I used a pizza wheel to cut the dough into strips, then squares. My corners were sharp and my dough looked pro – things looked so promising!

(Hahahahaha)

To give the Kouign-Amanns their signature caramelly bottom, you brush each cup in a muffin tin with melted butter and sprinkle in a little sugar (because of course¬†there’s more sugar), tapping out the excess. Then, you dip each square of pastry into – what else – a shallow bowl of sugar, then fold the squares into the muffin tin. The pastry looks a bit like those cootie-catcher fortune teller thingies we all made when we were younger.

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The recipe indicates that at this point, “unrisen Kouign-Amann can be refrigerated for up to 18 hours; let rise at room temperature for 3 to 3.5 hours before baking”. It was getting late, so I popped everything in the fridge – and then I got a text saying that I had to work as an extra on a made-for-TV film set the following day. Which meant that I woke up at 3 AM to take the Kouign-Amanns out of the fridge so that I could bake them before I left the house. Yes, it was totally insane – but I just knew it would be worth it.

(Hahahahahah)

Before you bake them, the Kouign-Amanns get juuuuust a little more sugar and butter: brush the tops with melted butter, dust the tops with a bit of sugar, and bake the whole thing for 25 to 30 minutes.

HERE IS MY TIP: PUT THE MUFFIN TIN ON A COOKIE SHEET.

This is what happened to me: I put the Kouign-Amanns in the oven and set the timer for 12 minutes, which was when I planned on rotating the pan in the oven to ensure an even bake. Then I got out of the way so that Cedric could make his breakfast and coffee. Remember – it is presently 6 AM.

I’m in another room tapping away at my computer when, from the kitchen, Cedric tells me that whatever I’m baking appears to be smoking. I tell him to turn on the oven fan, but he tells me I might want to come take a look.

The pastries have only been in the oven about 5 minutes, but I head over and it smells a little burny. I open the oven and smoke BILLOWS out – I can’t see and it immediately stings my nose and throat. While Cedric is dismantling the smoke detector, I pull the muffin tin out and close the oven door, then proceed to open all the windows to let the smoke escape.

I’m in a bit of a predicament, here. My not-even-half-baked pastries sit pale on the stove, and my oven is still smoking like mad. After a bit of investigation, it appears that something overflowed and spilled onto the bottom of the oven. I’m able to pull out the liner at the bottom of the oven and let some air circulate until the smoke is gone.

I decided to try throwing the Kouign-Amanns back in the oven, despite the fact that they’ve been sitting out for a few minutes and the oven has cooled with all the opening and closing. I cross my fingers and hope for the best as I keep a very close eye on things.

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Unfortunately, luck was not on my side. Although they emerged from the oven looking pretty good – they even had a gooey caramel bottom when I flipped them out, which hardened just as it was supposed to – the taste was seriously compromised.

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Shiny little bottoms

They tasted of smoke – nasty, nasty smoke. You could almost get a sense of what they were supposed to taste like, but the taste of smoke was so overpowering that they were inedible.

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How can something so lovely taste so bad!

I left them for a day, but nothing had changed when I bit into one the next day (the day of my book club meeting). They tasted so badly of smoke that I had to throw the whole batch out. HEARTBREAKING!

I made an emergency batch of chocolate chip cookies for book club. They were good – but they weren’t Kouign-Amanns.

The worst part is that I know I probably won’t try this recipe again for a long, long time – if I ever do at all. They were so labour intensive, and all for naught. I’m thinking I’m better off flying to France and visiting every pastry shop in Brittany to find one baked by a pro.

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: (

I think it’s safe to say that if I had been on the Kouign-Amann episode of the Great British Bake-Off, I would have been sent home.


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Bread Illustrated’s Quick Cheese Bread

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In the summer, I’m all about great big salads with fresh ingredients straight from the Farmer’s Market. But this time of year, my theme in the kitchen is: bring on the soup.

Soup has been on the menu a lot as of late. Turkey soup, sweet potato curry soup, broccoli soup, cauliflower arugula soup… it’s all delicious, but sometimes, you need to spice it up a little.

I usually serve our soups with a crusty bread, a grilled cheese, or maybe a salad. On the broccoli soup night, I wanted something a little more exciting than regular sourdough – but I didn’t have time to make a very labour intensive bread. I found the perfect recipe in my Bread Illustrated cookbook: Quick Cheese Bread.

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This bread only takes an hour and a half to make – and half of that time is spent in the oven. And here’s the kicker – it doesn’t even require the use of the stand mixer. This bread is EASY PEASY.

The first step in making this bread calls for sprinkling a layer of grated Parmesan on the bottom of the loaf pan. You already know this bread is going to be delicious.

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Then you whisk flour, baking powder (baking powder! in bread!), salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl. By hand. The old school way. You stir in a cup of cheddar chunks (I just grated my cheddar), then you add the wet ingredients (consisting of milk, sour cream, melted butter, and an egg).

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You fold the whole thing together very briefly and very gently – and that’s it! The whole thing gets plunked into the cheese coated pan, then you add another layer of parm on top of the loaf and bake.

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Is it quick? YES. Is it easy? YES. Is it cheesy? YES.

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Cedric could not believe his luck when he discovered that this bread basically included a crust of cheese. His favourite thing ever is when the cheese spills out of a grilled cheese and becomes a hard cheesy crispy thing, so this bread was right up his alley. I liked it, too – though neither of us loved it quite as much as the Cheddar Pepper Bread.

Here’s the thing: it had a distinct taste was oddly familiar.

Eventually, I figured out what it reminded me of: the cheesy biscuits from Red Lobsters. My Papa loved Red Lobsters and we went pretty frequently when I was little, and I lived for the cheese biscuits. I’ve actually tried to replicate the recipe a few times in the past, but nothing has turned out like I hoped. This quick cheese bread had the right crumbly consistency, so I decided to do a little recipe doctoring.

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I remade the recipe with a few modifications:

  1. I cut Cedric’s favourite part, the Parmesan crust. I had to stay true to the Red Lobster biscuit style – although I did sprinkle a little parm on a few of my biscuits just to see if it would be good. (It was – but somewhat undetectable.)
  2. I added 2 teaspoons of garlic powder and a big minced clove of garlic.
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I put grated Parmesan on the ones on the right. You know, as evidenced by the Parmesan shards.

I scooped the batter with an ice cream scoop onto my silicon Silpat, then I baked for 15 minutes, rotated, and gave it another 15 minutes. I wanted them a liiiiittle more golden, so I turned off the oven and left them in for a bonus 5 minutes.

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They are delicious, especially still warm out of the oven. However, I find they actually taste more Red Lobstery the longer they sit out. They aren’t the perfect reproduction, but they’re really, really good.

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That picture makes my stomach rumble.

So there you have it, folks: a bread that is actually better in biscuit form.

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Bobbette & Belle’s Soft & Chewy Ginger Cookies

I’ve got to say – compared to baking bread, making a simple cookie is soooo wonderfully easy. I have a newfound appreciation for straightforward recipes.

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I recently made Bobbette & Belle’s Soft & Chewy Ginger Cookies on a whim. I wanted a sweet treat and I happened to have all of the requisite ingredients on hand, so I gave it a whirl.

The result was a delicious, classic ginger cookie – but be warned: this is the one Bobbette & Belle recipe that you don’t want to leave in the oven longer than recommended. Read on, folks.

Let’s start with the ingredients: as I mentioned, I already had them in my pantry and chances are good you’ve got most of them, too. Flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, unsalted butter, brown sugar, a single egg, fancy molasses, and some granulated sugar to give it a sparkly finish – and that’s all it takes.

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Totally smells like gingerbread house batter

It’s a typical quick and easy cookie recipe: mix the dry, cream the butter and the sugar,¬† add the wet stuff (egg, molasses), then add the dry. There is one additional crucial step that you don’t find in every cookie recipe, and that is to pop the dough in the fridge for at least an hour before baking. If you skip this, the dough is a bit finicky to handle.

(As you can imagine, this hour waiting time didn’t particularly mesh well with my desire to eat something sweet instantly. Patience is a virtue.)

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I used a small ice cream scoop to fill two cookie sheets. Each scoop then got rolled into a ball and then each ball got rolled into a dish of sugar. I’m a firm believer that just about everything is better coated in sugar.

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Alright, the only hiccup I encountered occurred relates to the bake time. The recipe instructs 15 to 18 minutes, but EVERY Bobbette & Belle recipe I’ve made thus far takes way longer (like, 20 – 30 minutes more in some cases) to bake than instructed.

I made two cookie sheets worth of cookies and I took one out at 20 minutes and the other out at 25. Both looked softish when I took them out, and because the dough is a golden brown, it was hard to determine done-ness based on colour. The 20 minute batch straddled the line between chewy and not, while the 25 minute batch was decidedly crunchy. Delicious? Yes – but the recipe is called “soft and chewy ginger cookies” and I think they would have been tastier if I’d cooked them as per the instructions.

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Look at that gorgeous crackle!

Oh well – that didn’t stop me from enjoying them.

I kept these in a closed tupperware and found that after about three days, they’d gone a bit stale. Solution: each them faster and/or share them with friends next time.

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Bonus: here’s another ginger cookie recipe that I have made a few times. It calls for REAL ginger, not ground. The cookies are super soft and pliable – I highly recommend this recipe.


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Bread Illustrated’s Caramelized Onion Bread

Watch out, Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread. You’ve got some competition.

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Previously, Cedric declared the Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread to be his all-time favourite. He’s got a point: it is incredibly delicious. I’ve made it four or five times and it has NEVER lasted long enough to make it to the freezer – it always gets eaten fresh.

But there’s a new bread contending for the number one spot on Cedric’s most beloved bread list. Incidentally, it is the recipe that immediately follows the Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread in the cookbook. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Caramelized Onion Bread.

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If you like savoury, you’ll love this bread. You’ll just have to get your hands a little dirty if you want to make it.

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Since this bread comes from the Bread Illustrated’s “Upping Your Game With Sponges” chapter, it’s no shocker that this bread requires a sponge to be made ahead of time. You can either make it the day before and let it sit up to 24 hours, or you can time your day just right by making the sponge in the morning and continuing with the rest of the steps six hours later. I opted for the former.

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After the sponge has risen and started its collapse, it’s time to caramelize the onions. This is pretty straightforward and also involves a little garlic, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper. You have to let the onions cool completely before mixing them into the bread.

The caramelized onions are incorporated in two different steps. The first half of the onions is kneaded in right away with the flour, yeast, and water. This part went alright for me. The second half of the onions is added after the dough has had a short rest and salt has been added – you add the onions in increments of one tablespoon while the dough is mixing away. This made my dough very sticky and it had trouble “catching” on the hook attachment in my mixer. Scraping it with a rubber spatula didn’t do much – I had to periodically stop the machine and use my hands to pull the dough off the bottom of the bowl to get it to mix properly.

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It was worth the constant stop-scrape-start, because my onions looked pretty incorporated when it was all said and done – though the dough was very sticky.

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Pre-shaping – doesn’t it look like molten lava?

After another brief (30 minute) rest, there are a couple of fold-and-rise sessions. Then, the dough is shaped.

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I use a colander lined with a tea towel as the book suggests – be sure to dust the tea towel with AMPLE amounts of flour, as my dough got quite stuck to the towel even though I’d floured it.

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Aaaaand this is why you use plenty of flour. This is one sticky dough!

I’ve talked about Bread Illustrated’s lava-rock-in-pie-plates method of baking before – it’s the one I use when I make my weekly sourdough or any other crusty type breads (think pain de campagne). It took just under 50 minutes in the oven for my bread to get nice and crusty.

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I salvaged the shape somewhat despite the tea towel stickiness.

While Cedric LOVED this bread (even for breakfast), I wasn’t quite as passionate about it. It was good and the onion flavour was definitely there, but it didn’t sweep me off my feet and it required a little more effort than your typical loaf. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it again – but since Cedric is such a fan, I’m sure I’ll whip it up every now and then.

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YUM. (Yes, I added heaps of flour pre-bake.)

Truthfully, I think I’m just more of a sweet or neutral bread person. The savoury ones are nice, but they’re usually not my favourites.

What do you think – is sweet or savoury bread better?


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Bobbette & Belle’s Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake (in Cupcake and Mini Loaf Form)

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Although I have baked numerous recipes from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook, there is a chapter I haven’t touched. (Until now.)

Layer cakes.

I’ll admit that I don’t like making cakes. Layer cakes? Even worse! They’re tricky to get even, they take forever to assemble, and they’re just so much cake. Cupcakes, muffins, brownies, mini tars – these are all so easy to split up, transport, and share with the masses. Cake? Not so much.

But one day while flipping through my Bobbette & Belle cookbook, I came across this eye-opening text book that is so obvious that I can’t believe I overlooked it:

This recipe also works wonderfully as muffins or a loaf. No toppings necessary.

Wait a minute – you mean I can bake the cake and skip the stacking, assembling, icing, and cake cutting? Brilliant!

The particular recipe that enlightened me was for a Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake. The photo looks decadent and delicious, but it involves a dark chocolate fudge frosting, a chocolate buttercream, a chocolate gaze, and banana chips and chocolate chips as garnishes. That’s a lot of sweetness – and a lot of dirty dishes.

However, the combination of banana bread and chocolate is perfection, so I decided to make these in cupcake form for a friend’s birthday. As a bonus, I’d even throw in one of the toppings: the chocolate glaze, which ended up giving it a gorgeous finish.

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In cake form, this recipe makes three cakes. It yielded me something like two dozen cupcakes and eight mini loaves. I ended up sharing – a lot. (And I can attest to the fact that these freeze and thaw well.)

The execution of this recipe is pretty simple and straightforward. First, you mix ripe bananas with brown sugar, then you add in eggs, vegetable oil, and a bit of salt. Then, you mix in dry (flour, baking powder, baking soda) and wet (milk) ingredients, alternating between dry and wet for a total of five additions. Finally, you stir in chocolate chips by hand. The recipe calls for one cup, but I always add the whole bag.

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The chocolate glaze is relatively easy, too. It calls for melting and mixing dark chocolate and butter in a bain marie, with a bit of corn syrup, vanilla, and fleur de sel.

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At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to glaze the cupcakes and loaves – pouring the glaze over, as I would with a cake, seemed wasteful. I decided to dip the mini cakes into the bowl of glaze. This was super easy, quick, and I think the final result looked pretty pro.

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The glossy topping solidified after a bit of time, but it didn’t lose its sheen. It was the perfect complement to the cake, but the cake really is the star element here (you might say it takes the cake). It’s impossibly moist and has a nice spring to it, if that makes any sense. It’s not overly sweet, although I imagine the three different types of frostings may kick up the sugar level a few notches.

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I’m probably not going to be baking a ton of layer cakes any time soon, but this definitely isn’t the last time I morph a B&B cake recipe into a cupcake recipe.

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Bread Illustrated’s Mallorcas: Sweet Puerto Rican Bread

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I love my book club. Not only does it give me the chance to read books I may not otherwise have come across, but it also provides a convenient opportunity to expand my baking horizons. Everybody typically brings something edible or drinkable to share, and my fellow book clubees are always willing to sample my latest culinary experiments.

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At my last book club meeting, the recipe in question happened to be Mallorcas from the Bread Illustrated cookbook. I was most surprised to discover how many members had connections to Mallorca (an island in Spain) – go figure! Mallorcas are named after the Spanish island, but they’re actually a sweet bread that comes from Puerto Rico. The photo in the cookbook made them look like a sweet, fluffy cloud of a dessert bread, so I decided to give the recipe a go.

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This enriched bread calls for the usual bread ingredient suspects (flour, yeast, salt, water), plus sugar, butter, milk, and four eggs. Combined, the dough becomes rather sticky – frequent bowl scrapings are must during the initial stand mixing stage.

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After some hand kneading, the dough sits for two to two and a half hours – then, the fun part starts: shaping.

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Yup – this looks ready

Mallorcas look easy enough to shape – in the picture, they’re just thick, fluffy coils. In practice, I found it to be a little trickier than I expected. First, the dough is split into two. One piece at a time is flattened out into a big rectangle, which is then brushed with melted butter.

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The dough is then hand rolled into a yule log shape and sliced into six pieces. (Remember, the dough was split into to two – the process is repeated twice, yielding twelve buns in total.)

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Here’s where it really gets finicky: each of the 12 slices is stretched and rolled by hand into a snake-like rope. I found the dough really resisted stretching, and the layers of brushed melted butter added a whole new hurdle. Once they’ve assumed their new rope-like state, each piece is coiled into a spiral – end tucked under, centre pushed in.

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Despite repeating the process 12 times, I never really felt like I found my groove here. Some of my spirals ended up kind of twisted, and I have a feeling that my final product wouldn’t look quite as smooth as the Mallorcas in the photo.

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After leaving the spirals to rise, I attempted to reshape a few – many required having the tails re-tucked. I think I attempted to spiral each piece too tightly – a looser swirl probably would have been a better idea.

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The Mallorcas only require 12 to 15 minutes in the oven (I think I kept them in for 14). After cooling, the buns are coated with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. The icing sugar should definitely be sifted – I found some not-very-appetizing photos online where it appears the baker tried to coat the buns using a spoon, which resulting in some funky sugar clumps. Incidentally, the sugar is a key addition. I sampled the buns both with and without, and they’re much better with.

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My Mallorcas were not particularly uniform in shape, but they were delicious – as light and fluffy as I could have hoped for. They’re delicately sweet – a nice alternative to a heavy, super-sugary donut. My fellow book clubbers gave them two icing sugary thumbs up.

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Evidently, the thing to do with day-old Mallorcas is use them to make some sort of grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich. I couldn’t quite convince myself to try this sweet-and-savoury combo, so I ended up freezing the few leftover buns I had. They thawed out perfectly and were delicious warmed up in the oven – mmmmm.

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Bobbette & Belle’s Fleur de Sel Caramel Corn

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Making candy can be a little scary. I feel like I never use candy thermometers correctly – and candy is soooo sensitive to temperatures that being only a couple of degrees off can be the difference between delicious bonbons and a waste of ingredients (and money). It seems safer to just avoid it altogether.

I’ve been conveniently avoiding the Confections and Sweets chapter of Bobbette and Belle’s cookbook, but I’ve had my eye on a few recipes (including the Fleur de Sel Caramels, which I WILL make one day – a local baker sells her version at seasonal craft fairs and they are delicious but very expensive, so I need to learn how to DIY).

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Finally, I found the perfect excuse to dip into the chapter. I had a Halloween night with a few girlfriends (centered around the classic – and timeless, as we discovered – film, Hocus Pocus) and one of them had mentioned some tasty seasonal treats, including caramel corn.

I remembered that the Bobbette & Belle book had a recipe for caramel corn, so I offered to bring some. Bonus: the recipe doesn’t require a candy thermometer.

I’ve made poppycock before (which is caramel corn with mixed nuts – absolutely delectable), but never just straight caramel corn. I was pleased to find out that it’s actually very easy.

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The first step involves making 15 cups of popcorn. If you’re reading this, I assume you’re not the type to use microwave popcorn (please, please don’t). You don’t need a fancy popcorn maker to make popcorn. I make mine on the stove top with a regular pot. I put some oil in it along with four kernels, crank the heat to medium-high, and wait until those four kernels have popped. I then add the rest of the kernels (2/3 cup of kernels = 15 cups of popcorn), cover my pot with a screen top thing that my mom got me eons ago (thanks, mom!), and shake lightly. I don’t shake non-stop, but I do it pretty frequently to let the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom.

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This is what 15 cups of popcorn looks like.

Once the kernels are popped, it’s time to make the caramel. Easy peasy: you melt butter + brown sugar + corn syrup + vanilla, let it get nice and bubbly (no mixing!), then add some baking soda and fleur de sel. The book calls for a “Rounded 1/4 teaspoon baking soda” – I have no idea what is meant by rounded, so I just used a regular 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. It also says “stir in the baking soda and fleur de sel and baking soda”, which amused me. An aside: the fleur de sel definitely has a presence in the final product. This is, after all, fleur de sel caramel corn, not regular caramel corn.

 

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Here is where I assumed the recipe would end; but, in fact, there is one final step. You spread the caramel-coated popcorn onto a pair of baking sheets at bake them for an hour at 275 degrees. After it has cooled, you get the most delicious popcorn, each pieces coated in a light caramel shell. I kept mine in a sealed tupperware style bowl and served it the next day, and it didn’t get stale at all.

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This caramel corn is superior to the stuff you get at Kernels. It’s really, really good – the recipe introduction says that they call it “crack corn” and their bakery, and I understand why. Caramel corn isn’t really filling in the way, say, cake is, so it’s easy to go back for “just one more handful” until there’s nothing left in the bowl.

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… after being baked.

This recipe is a keeper, folks.


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