Baking with Julia – Vanilla-Sugar Dusted Mixed Berry Muffins

IMG_5320The first day of spring is in two days. I know everyone is sick of winter and it’s nothing new or revolutionary to complain about it lasting forever blah, blah, blah but cripes, I need it to be over. I woke up this morning to a dull, gray, foggy, sleety darkness that didn’t relent all day and it’s just so gross. I bought cute new flats that I’d like to wear. My whole tan that I worked really hard to achieve last summer is gone. Pure, warm sunlight is a distant memory. I want an iced beverage to be appealing, not chill-inducing. Honestly, I want to sweat again. That’s weird, I know. If you’re thinking “Well why don’t you just work out or something?” you should leave now. Just go. That’s not at all what I meant.

Everyone who didn’t click away after that knows what I mean. You guys feel me. You understand.

I’ve been listening to a lot of this instrumental cover of “Hurt” by 2Cellos and maybe that’s also affecting my mood. Who knows? So in an effort to bring some cheer to this cheerless day, I made these muffins this morning. And they did help a little. The rest of the group did this recipe way back in September when I was on hiatus so it’s kind of a catch-up for me. Fresh berries seem to be on sale in all the grocery stores right now but frozen would probably work just as well.

Vanilla-Sugar Dusted Mixed Berry Muffins

1 3/4 cups cake flour

2 t baking soda

1 t cream of tartar

1 t salt

1/2 pint fresh blueberries

1/2 pint fresh raspberries

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup sour cream

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

2 T vanilla sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees. Butter or spray a 12 cup muffin pan, or line the cups with paper liners.

Sift or whisk the cake flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt together. Remove about a tablespoon of the sifted dry ingredients and toss with the berries in a small bowl.  In another small bowl, stir together the milk and sour cream and set aside until needed.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened butter on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until it’s very white and pale. Add in the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add in the egg and yolk and beat for another 2 or 3 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and pour in about half of the dry ingredients, along with half the milk/sour cream mixture. Using a large spoon or spatula, fold in these additions carefully. When everything has just come together, add in the rest of the dry and wet ingredients and continue to lightly fold everything together. Now add the berries, being careful not to crush them while folding. I really hate folding. I’ve mentioned it before. But unfortunately it’s a really necessary technique in baking. You definitely don’t want to overmix these babies. Use a triggered scoop to evenly divide the batter into the 12 muffin cups. You could spoon it too but scoops are where it’s at. Get one if you don’t have one, it’ll change your baking life.

Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the muffin tops and bake them for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are just starting to get golden. Let them cool in the pan on a rack for about 15-20 minutes before removing.

IMG_5319Eat a muffin, it helps with the winter doldrums. Maybe have a few while you fantasize about sandals and wearing only one layer of clothing…or gasp! a bathing suit. And don’t listen to “Hurt” anymore. Wait, who am I kidding? It’s an incredible and evocative song. Listen to it all you want. Just do it in a patch of weak sunlight with a muffin in each hand and you’ll probably be okay. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…..

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Baking with Julia – Rustic Potato Loaves

IMG_0224These little beauties are the first things I’ve baked in two weeks. My oven was starting to have an identity crisis – does it actually turn on and bake things or is it just a storage space ala Carrie Bradshaw? I’ve been trying to make good choices with food so I haven’t been baking really at all since the most delicious cookies ever. I have eaten A LOT of salad and veggies with a protein on top and guess what – it hasn’t been all bad. I have to keep reminding myself that I do actually really like these things and they do taste great, it’s just when I think about what I want to cook or eat, a pasta that is smothered in cheese is usually what comes to mind. Good news – my pants feel looser. Bad news- I haven’t weighed myself or anything so this could just be an illusion. More good news (who wants to end on a bad note, really?) it is finally feeling like spring around here which means I can start running again. I went 3 times last week and it felt really good to get outside and get moving again.

But about this bread – I really didn’t know what to expect here. My potatoes were a little small so I used five and I decided not to peel them. The book said to leave the peel on and I was curious about how it would turn out so I went with it. After they had cooled for the allotted time I threw them in the mixer to get blended and was pleasantly surprised by how the peels broke up into little itty bitty pieces.

IMG_0207The rest of the ingredients were super simple and just got thrown in with the potatoes before a loooooooooooooooong 11 minutes of mixing. I was a little worried and the top of the mixer did get kinda hot and smelled weird but she made it through. The directions in the book were spot on because it totally did look too dry at first but eventually got really creamy and brioche-like.

IMG_0215Kinda just looks like mashed potatoes right? Trust me, there’s yeast in there. It smelled really delicious and yeasty and potato-y. After a short rise time I got to use one of my new favorite toys that my friend Susan brought me from France – my dough scraper! You might think it’s weird to get super excited about a smallish piece of hard white plastic but I love it!!

IMG_0218Shaping the dough was easy because it wasn’t sticky in the least and it just behaved really well.

IMG_0220And now we have some little footballs!

IMG_0222Um okay I guess they were more football-shaped in my head than they really were in real life. Another short rise later and these were ready to be transported to the hot oven with another one of my favorite things:

IMG_0223I baked them for about 50 minutes and they were ready to go. I liked this bread because it was the work of just one afternoon and it didn’t take three days to make. There’s something satisfying about being able to do something start to finish with relatively no downtime in between. I froze one of the loaves and have been snacking on the other one since Saturday. I can say that it makes pretty delicious toast and I’m going to make a ham sandwich with it for lunch today for sure. Will I make this again? Probably not, but I’m glad I tried it this time.

IMG_0229This week’s host is Dawn from Simply Sweet so check out her site for the recipe!