Chocolate Cherry Almond Amish Friendship Bread

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This post marks the second installation of my Amish Friendship Bread baking challenge. As a part of this challenge, I’ve committed to baking one recipe each month using my Amish Friendship Bread Starter. For those of you that are new, Amish Friendship Bread is made from a sourdough starter and is shared in a manner similar to a chain letter. The starter is a substitute for baking yeast and can be used to make many kinds of yeast-based breads and shared with friends.

I learned an important lesson during this round of baking. There isn’t an exact science behind baking this bread—gasp! As I was chatting with my mom on the phone this week, we realized that there were several variations on the traditional recipe. Some called for two cups of the starter, while others only called for one. Some called for two small packages of pudding, while others called for one large package. For someone that embraces precision, this was hard for me to accept! Regardless, the important takeaway for you is that you can feel free to experiment with your Amish Friendship Bread.

Today’s recipe is a unique twist on the traditional cinnamon flavored bread. With the additions of chocolate pudding, cherries, and almonds, this recipe is moist and full of flavor. The almonds pair beautifully with the cherries and chocolate.

Chocolate Cherry Almond Amish Friendship Bread
Adapted from Friendship Bread Kitchen 

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Ingredients
1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter
3 eggs
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
2 small boxes instant chocolate pudding
1 cup maraschino cherries,  drained
1 cup sliced almonds
1 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

In a medium-sized bowl mix Amish Friendship Bread starter, eggs, oil, milk, and almond extract. In a large bowl mix sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, flour, and pudding. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold in cherries and almonds.

Grease two large loaf pans and dust with a sugar-cocoa mixture of 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa powder. Pour the batter evenly into the pans. Bake for one hour or until the bread loosens evenly from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you have a problem with ingredients (think cherries or almonds) sinking to the bottom of your batter, try tossing them with a tablespoon of flour before adding to the batter. You can also try chopping them up into larger pieces. If all else fails, try reducing the liquid content of your batter. For instance, you could leave out one egg or add 2-3 tablespoons of flour.

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Hot Cross Buns

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Are you ready for a little baking history? Hot cross buns are often synonymous with Easter, but if you’re like me, you likely have no idea why. I did a little research to come up with the answer for you. We’ll start with the basics. A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins and marked with a cross on the top.

Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion and the spices representing those used in the entombment of Jesus. However, the actual origin of these treats appears to be a little hazy. Google the term and you’ll find a plethora of theories—that they go back to Roman times, that they are a Saxon thing, and even that they are a pagan rather than Christian item.

Still further references tie them only into the Easter tradition from the Elizabethan era. It is suggested that they were viewed with suspicion by some Protestants and that legal moves were made to restrict their consumption to Easter and some other festival periods. Who knew these buns had such a controversial past?!

With all these theories swirling about, I can’t give you the official origins of these buns—that’s for the historians to battle out. However, I can offer you this delicious recipe which I adapted from Cooking Light magazine. Typically these miniature buns run around are about 270 calories, but this revamped recipe clocks in at an impressive 180 calories per bun. It’s the perfect addition to your Easter meal.

Hot Cross Buns Recipe
Adapted from Cooking Light

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Ingredients for Rolls
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup warm orange juice (120° to 130°)
19 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/4 cups), divided
4.5 ounces whole-grain pastry flour (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg
1 package quick-rise yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm fat-free milk (120° to 130°)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
1 large egg white

Ingredients for Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon 2% reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Directions
To prepare rolls, combine the raisins, currants, and warm orange juice in a small bowl and let stand 10 minutes. Drain fruit in a colander over a bowl, reserving fruit and juice.

Weigh or lightly spoon 18.5 ounces (about 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour and pastry flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, salt, and next 5 ingredients (through yeast) in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached; mix until combined.

Combine reserved orange juice, fat-free milk, honey, butter, and 2 eggs in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. With mixer on, slowly add milk mixture to flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed 7 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Add reserved fruit. Knead 2 minutes or until smooth and elastic; add enough of remaining 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm, dry place, free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Divide into 24 equal portions; roll each portion into a ball. Place rolls in muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine 1 tablespoon water and egg white; stir with a whisk. Gently brush rolls with egg white mixture. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until golden, rotating pans once during baking. Remove from pans; cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.

To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar and remaining ingredients in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Microwave at HIGH 20 seconds or until warm. Spoon glaze into a piping bag and pipe a cross on top of each warm roll.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Don’t despair if you don’t own a piping bag. Before you run off to the nearest baking store, try this quick fix. Spoon your glaze into a zip-lock plastic bag. Seal the bag and snip a tiny hole in one corner of bag. Voila, you have your own homemade piping bag!

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Classic Pound Cake

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I was chatting with a group of girlfriends a couple weekends ago and we got to talking about whether we felt like adults in our day-to-day lives. One friend posed the question, when was the first time you really felt like a grown-up? The first thought that floated through my mind was, Yikes… do I even feel like a grown up now?!

Sometimes I feel like my life is punctuated by specific instances when I feel more grown up. One specific occasion that I can remember takes me back to my junior year in college. This was the first year I had a car, which allowed me greater freedom to run the occasional errand, such as a trip to the grocery store. On this particular day, I was on my way to the grocery store to gather ingredients to make a pound cake. I was using a recipe passed down from my grandma, who I’m certain had not used a recipe when making her cakes for several years.

On this particular day I felt rather grown up primarily because baking anything as a college student was an impressive feat. But the task also held a more sentimental value for me. I grew up watching my grandma baking cakes. I remember barely being able to peer over the kitchen counter to see her mixing ingredients. I remember there always being some type of cake sitting out on the counter temping me to have a slice. Therefore, my first attempt at baking this cake felt like a culmination of many years of watching and wisdom passed down. I definitely felt like an adult when the oven timer went off and my creation was complete.

Did you know that the name for a pound cake originated because recipes used to call for a pound of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs? While this recipe makes a few diversions from the classic combination, I think you will find it boasts a nice and moist crumb with an evenly browned exterior.

Classic Pound Cake Recipe

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Ingredients
2 sticks butter, unsalted
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

With a mixer, cream butter and shortening together. Add sugar, a little at a time. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl and add to mixer alternately with milk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour. Mix in vanilla. Pour into a greased and floured tube pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Pound cake rises primarily due to the air that is beaten in to the eggs when you are adding them to the butter and sugar. To aid the process make sure your eggs are at room temperature and give each egg a two minute beat after each addition. When you are blending the flour and milk into the batter, do this very gently to preserve all the air you incorporated into the eggs. This will help you achieve a nice moist crumb to your cake.

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Birthday Cake

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Something special happened last week, but I didn’t have time to share it with you right away. Last week was… (drumroll please) my birthday! I realize this notice comes late, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate with me. I’ve still got some birthday cake left (at least what I haven’t devoured yet) and I’m going to share the delicious and simple recipe with you so you can bake some too!

I had a bonus birthday surprise last weekend when my friend Danielle flew into DC to surprise me for my birthday! She conspired with my boyfriend Matt to surprise me at the airport—I had absolutely no idea she was coming! We had a wonderful weekend filled with sightseeing, a comedy show, brunch, a visit to Home Depot (to get tools to mount my spice rack to the wall), and of course—a wonderful baking adventure.

This strawberry cake has been a birthday tradition of mine for several years. My mom has made this cake for as long as I can remember and it’s always been a favorite of mine. Remember that picture of me frosting a cake as a little kid? Yep, that’s me making this strawberry cake. This year I requested the recipe from my mom so I could try and make it myself!

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Cake Ingredients
1 box white cake mix
1 (6 oz) box strawberry jello
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup water

Frosting Ingredients
1 (16 oz) box confectioners sugar
1/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup butter

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch round baking pans and set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix wet ingredients together, including strawberries. Slowly stir wet ingredients in with the dry being careful not to over mix the batter. Pour batter into baking rounds and bake in the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in the pan and then invert onto a baking rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, cream together butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer. Make sure butter is at room temperature prior to mixing. At very end, add strawberries and blend until well mixed.

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Heather’s Helpful Hints
I’ve found that often frosting recipes end up making way more than you need for a recipe. To store frosting, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Before using, just be sure to quickly re-whip the frosting to restore its original consistency.

Cappuccino Cookies

IMG_1118If you had to describe your relationship with your cell phone, what label would you use? If you asked me this question 4 months ago, I would have responded that my cell phone was a minor nuisance in my life—something that I used only when I needed to talk or text with someone. I proudly sported my stylish sliding phone, but I would have labeled our relationship as pretty low maintenance.

Flash forward to March, and today I would respond telling you that my cell phone is an integral part of my life. Our relationship started out slowly but has blossomed into something so serious I don’t think I could live without it… seriously. If it went missing, I would have a serious problem. Why the sudden change in heart? Well, I turned in my sliding phone for an iPhone 5 and I’ve become somewhat attached. I used to laugh at the people seemingly glued to their phones, but now the joke is on me because I’ve become one of them.

I wake up in the morning and check both my work and regular email on my phone. I check what the weather looks like for the day. I see if any of my friends have played me on Words with Friends. All this before I’m even out the door. Once I’m on the move and walking to the metro, I call my boyfriend to say good morning. Even when I’m on the metro I have an app where I read my Bible verses for the day (my New Year’s resolution is to read the entire Bible in a year). At work the onslaught on technology continues as I text throughout the day. And a similar pattern ensues on my way home.

It’s scary to me what a change can happen in such a short period of time. Technology is great and brings all sorts of convenience into our lives—but at the expense of what? When you’re out to dinner with a friend and feel that all too familiar buzz, do you really need to take that glimpse at your phone? Probably not.

In fact, even the pictures for my post on cappuccino cookies today were taken with my iPhone. It was a rude awakening when I realized that the camera on my phone was better than my trusty digital camera. Okay, I hear you—enough about my steamy relationship with my cell phone and onto the delicious cookies that I made this past week. I first tried this recipe from Joy the Baker last summer and immediately got addicted. Since then, I’ve made them 4 times! I’m not even a coffee drinker, but somehow everything aligns perfectly from the espresso granules to the white chocolate to make these an addictive treat to add to your repertoire.

Cappuccino Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker

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Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons instant espresso
1 cup white chocolate chunks

Directions
Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside and we’ll preheat the oven after we chill the dough.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and instant espresso powder. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk and beat on medium speed until mixture is fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients, all at once to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the chocolate chunks and fold together with a spatula until well combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes.

Just before you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scoop cookie dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking pans. Bake for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you want the espresso powder to dissolve into your cookies, look for one that is crushed finer. However, if you like the idea of having little bits of coffee in your cookies, try to find a slightly chunkier instant powder.