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Entries in baking (9)


Pumpkin Pie Braid Plus a Red Star Yeast Giveaway

Pumpkin Pie Braid

Fall. (almost!) Pumpkin Pie. Warm Spices. Soft, tender bread just dying to be had next to your cup of coffee or tea. It’s a Pumpkin Pie Braid--pumpkin pie filling surrounded by a most delicious bread, braided and iced with a cinnamon glaze. You know you want some. And this recipe makes two, so you can share the love. Plus it’s that time of year, when thoughts turn to pumpkin and spice things, right? Make one for the house and one for the office, the nice neighbor that lets you borrow the hedge trimmer, the UPS guy (we all keep UPS busy, don’t we?), whoever you want to be nice to--or bribe. They’ll love you for it.

Read through to see how you can try Red Star PLATINUM Superior Baking Yeast and win a VIP Prize Package, plus be entered to win a KitchenAid Mixer!


The giveaway is now closed, but the recipe is still fantastic, so check that out! 

The winner is comment #116, Bob George. Congrats, Bob! Good luck in the KitchenAid Mixer Drawing from Red Star Yeast! 

I love baking bread. It’s not scary--at least, not anymore. It used to make me nervous, especially the yeast part. Will it work? Did I kill it? Will I have a beautiful skyscraper loaf that reaches new heights, or will I bake a brick that can hold up my car while I change a tire? Relax!

Red Star PLATINUM Superior Baking Yeast

Red Star has a new yeast called PLATINUM Superior Baking Yeast that can ease all of your fears. They make baking bread easy, enjoyable and most importantly, reliable. It’s no fun to invest the time in baking bread just to have a big fat fail. You wan that crispy exterior, that rush of yeasty aroma hitting your nose when you tear open a hot loaf, and that tender crumb of a perfectly baked bread.


Red Star’s PLATINUM Superior Yeast is a premium instant yeast blended with dough improvers commonly used by professional bakers that will make your dough so forgiving that you will never be intimidated by yeast again!

• Simple to use.  So forgiving it takes the intimidation out of baking with yeast!
• Strengthens the dough and improves dough tolerance to variations in kneading, rising, and flour quality. 
• Produces consistent baked products home bakers will enjoy.
• Increases the amount of leavening retained in the dough.
• Decreases the risk of the dough collapsing after proofing or during baking.
• Increases oven ‘spring’ and the finished volume of the baked product.
• Works great in any bread recipe, but is particularly effective in producing healthy whole grain and sweet breads that are light, airy, and larger in volume. (How great is that?)

Red Star Premium Superior Baking Yeast has a wonderful video from Gesine Bullock-Prado on You Tube. Have a look to see the yeast in action and hear why it’s so fabulous. And a side note, I don’t know what Gesine put in those rolls, but I want some!

Pumpkin Pie Braid

I put it to the test with this pumpkin pie braid. I read a great tip on the Red Star site for helping your dough to rise:

Microwave Rising

The microwave oven can also be used for the first rising of doughs. Place 1 cup of water in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. Heat on high for 2 minutes. This creates a moist environment to keep the dough soft during rising. Place covered bowl of dough in microwave and close the door.

I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that! It works beautifully. I put the covered bowl in the warmed microwave, and walked away for about 40 minutes. When I returned, I almost had “the dough that ate the microwave.”

The recipe for the actual bread dough can be found here on Red Star’s site. I didn’t make any changes to the dough recipe. It’s a beautiful, egg enriched, tender bread that rolls out like nobody’s business! The pumpkin pie filling is adapted from Pillsbury. Don’t feel limited to pumpkin, use your favorite fillings!

Pumpkin Pie Filling for 2 Bread Braids


This has a deep, dark, not too sweet filling, and it tastes even better on the second day!

1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (this is about a whole can-the 14 oz size)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp chai spice blend (if you don't have this, just use cinnamon)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 egg yolks
1/2-2/3 cup chopped pecans - Optional (See Note)

Whisk all of the ingredients in a bowl and use to fill the breads.

NOTE: I added about 1/2-2/3 cup chopped pecans to the filling after using half of it in the first braid. So I ended up with one with and one without nuts.

You may think that make a bread braid is too hard, but it’s so simple with the correct cuts in the rolled out dough.

*I also did a simple egg wash over my braids before they went in the oven for nice color and shine.


To make the braids, you’re going to divide the dough in half. I like to roll my dough out for braids directly on a sheet of parchment paper, because I find it easier to transfer it to the baking sheet and bake it right on that paper.

Roll one half of the dough to about a 12x17 inch rectangle. Next, using a sharp blade or pizza cutter (which I use), cut strips along the long sides of the rectangle, about 1 inch wide and 2-3 inches long, leaving two flaps at each shorter end of the dough, like this:

Bread Braid Cuts

Fold the two end flaps over the filling, kind of crimping the edges with your fingertips. Now start with the top left strip, folding all the way across the filling, and crimping it down gently. Next do the same to the top right strip, folding it all the way over the filling and pressing it down on the left side. Alternate all the way down, covering the filling up as you go. It should look like this:

Finished Bread Braid
(These are photos from an old post I did for the Daring Bakers, but they give you an idea of what the slits in the dough should look like.) You can see the technique in action here. She starts the actual technique at about 2:15 into the video. I notice she says cut diagonal strips, but she cuts straight ones. Also, I like to have the flaps folded up at the ends to keep the filling from leaking out during baking, but you can get a good idea of the crossing and crimping if you watch this.

Now you can transfer the parchment paper and the braid easily to your baking sheet--just slide it on. Follow last rising and baking directions from the recipe on Red Star’s site. I also added about 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon the icing recipe given there.

Pumpkin Pie Braid


VIP Package Giveaway


Open to residents of the US and Canada!

One of you will receive a VIP Package from Red Star for your very own! It comes in a beautiful black box tied with a silver bow, and includes:

  • Samples of Red Star PLATINUM Superior Baking Yeast so you can see the difference for yourself.
  • A beautiful pinstripe Red Star apron.
  • A Red Star wood cutting/serving board.
  • A reusable grocery bag.
  • Coupons for the yeast.

As a bonus, the winner of this VIP Package will also be entered to win a KitchenAid Mixer!

To enter:

1. Leave a comment here (with a valid email address-which will not be made public) and tell me what you think you’d make first with Red Star PLATINUM Superior Baking Yeast.

Optional entries:

2. Follow Red Star on Facebook. Leave a comment here telling me you did.

3. Follow Red Star on Twitter. Leave a comment here telling me you did. And when you do, you can follow along at #RedStarPLATINUM for all the latest!

4. Tweet about this giveaway, and leave a comment here saying you did.

Pumpkin Pie Braid & a @RedStarYeast VIP pkg giveaway! Plus be entered to win a KitchenAid Mixer.

5. Share this page on Facebook--leave another separate comment.

6. Pin this post, and you guessed it, leave a comment here.

So you have SIX ways to earn entries, and remember, whoever wins this giveaway gets entered in the KitchenAid Mixer giveaway!

I’ll choose a random winner on Thursday, September 27th and email the lucky person. You’ll have 48 hours to respond or I’ll have to choose another winner. Like I said, open to the US and Canada!

Disclaimer: I was sent a VIP package at no cost, and was not paid for my opinions.


Blueberry Lemon Lime Corn Muffins

Blueberry Lemon Lime Corn Muffins

Today is National Blueberry Muffin Day, did you know? 

Blueberries have been available in abundance in my area lately, and they’ve been so sweet and juicy, so I’ve been buying a lot. We’ve just been eating them by the handful, but this past weekend, the baking mood hit me. I needed muffins, and fast!

I did a quick Google search for something different and found a recipe here that used orange juice and zest. I didn’t have either of those things, but I did have some pink lemonade in the fridge, and a lime in the crisper. Where are the damn lemons when you need them? Ah well, doesn’t matter, because the lime zest added a nice flavor kick.

Super simple muffins as always--mix the dry, whisk the wet, mix the two, fold in the extras.

Blueberry Lemon Lime Corn Muffins

Blueberry Lemon Lime Corn Muffins

Makes 11-12 muffins, adapted from this recipe.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lemonade
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
grated zest of one lime
2 1/4 cups fresh blueberries (frozen is fine if that's what you have)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard muffin tin, or line with papers. In a large bowl, whisk to combine the first six ingredients (flour through the salt).

In a medium bowl, whisk buttermilk, lemonade, butter, egg and zest. Add to the dry mixture and stir just to moisten. Fold in the berries.

I always use my ice cream scoop to fill the muffins tins. And I used a heaping scoop this time, so I ended up with 11 muffins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a tester inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes in the pan--5-10 minutes or so. Remove to a cooling rack.

  • These are such nice muffins--I love the texture that the cornmeal adds. I’m sure they’d also be wonderful with the OJ and OZ*, but they’re very versatile.
  • I think they could have used some vanilla or other extract, so I’ll try that next time.
  • They’re something a little different than your average blueberry muffin. The citrus always adds a nice touch!

*Orange juice and orange zest, of course.

Blueberry Lemon Lime Corn Muffins


Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Oh, those sweet lunch ladies back in the day…they had their special lunch lady secrets, didn’t they? Billy and I still talk about the fabulous soft, chewy peanut butter cookies we used to get at school. What made them so special? Are we just imagining how good they were? Let's face it, nearly every kid would be thrilled to get cookies with their lunch, right? Maybe we were over thinking it, making it all up in our heads. But--he and I didn’t go to school together at all. He moved around when he was a kid, and went to different school districts, and still had those old school peanut butter cookies on his mind.

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

I don’t think we were imagining it. No, I don’t. I think there’s a Lunch Lady Secret Society, like the Masons or Skull and Bones. I think they’re sworn in, given their hairnets and plastic gloves, and then sworn to secrecy. Secrets that they will take to the grave.  Secrets that can only be passed from one lunch lady to the next, in the cloak of darkness, at school cafeterias all over the country. Leaving us all to wonder…”What the heck did they DO to make those cookies so good?!”

Or…maybe if I’d had asked, they would have shared their secret. While I tend to believe the latter, I really like to imagine the former. It’s more fun that way!

I talked before on the blog about cracking the lunch lady PB cookie code. I thought I had. Silly me, I should have known it couldn’t be that simple. Well, it is actually simple--I just didn’t have it quite right. Right after posting those cookies, a long time reader (seriously, like from the beginning of my blog!), Jen B. contacted me and told me she had the secret. When she asked if I was interested, I almost thought we’d have to meet in secrecy, for fear of retaliation from the Lunch Lady Secret Society. Would we need disguises? Should I change cars every so many miles? Have I been watching too many movies?

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

No. Turns out none of that was necessary. Jen said she’d email the recipe to me when she got home from work. So yeah, too much TV for me, I guess. Haha! It turns out that Jen went to school not too far from where I did, and her school district published a cookbook. It seems everyone wanted Velma Houle’s (Jen calls her the “Queen of School Lunch”) PB cookie recipe.

Are you ready for the secret? Ok. Lock your doors, and close the curtains. Be sure no one is reading over your shoulder. Here goes:

14 lbs peanut butter

5 lbs Honey

3 lbs butter

From the school lunch program 1950 – 1985  Velma Houle, retired food service director.

That’s it! Jen assured me that yes, there are only three ingredients. How simple is that? She said they also used that mixture for pb and grape jelly sandwiches, and another treat I’m going to make and share with you later.

I scaled it down and mixed the three ingredients together. It was a lot looser than I expected, but I’m guessing it was because I used an organic peanut butter instead of a major brand. So I used the mixture in my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. I fully intend to try this again using just the three ingredients. I’ll be sure to report back to you how it goes!

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes about 75 (3 inch) cookies, or a lot of smaller ones.

5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter, room temp
1/2 cup shortening, room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
Peanut butter mixture (see below)
1 (10 oz) bag Mini Reese's Pieces

Peanut Butter Mixture

16 oz peanut butter (I used an organic peanut butter)
4 oz (1 stick) butter, room temp
1/4 cup  honey

Heat oven to 350 degrees. You can go ahead and mix up the peanut butter mixture first, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, set aside. In a standing mixer or large bowl, cream the 1 1/2 cups of butter, the shortening and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each one, then add the vanilla and the peanut butter mixture. Add the flour mixture by the cupful and beat at low speed until fully mixed.

At this point, it's a lot of dough! Billy wanted some w/out Reese's Pieces, so I took some of the dough out of the bowl to set aside for that, and it made it easier to mix in the candy. This really *does* make a lot of dough, so the larger the bowl, the better.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. I used a 2 inch scoop to make these cookies, so they're a good size, but not huge. Place about 2 inches apart on your baking sheet. Very important!! BAKE FOR 11 MINUTES ONLY! Any more than that, and they'll be overdone. The cookies will still be pale, maybe just a touch golden brown on the bottom edges. As long as your oven is running at the correct temp, this is all the time the cookies need. Remove from the oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for 1 minute, then remove to a cooling rack using a spatula. Even though they’ll look doughy and soft, they’ll set up perfectly, I promise! Let cool completely (yeah, right!) and then store in an airtight container.

  • I made these on Saturday, and now, on Tuesday, they're still as rich and chewy as the first day. The whole family loves these cookies!
  • I did some with cross hatch marks with a fork, and I don't recommend it. They came out too thin and fell apart when stored in the container. The ones you see in the photos have held up beautifully!
  • If you overcook these, they won’t be nice and chewy. I’m serious, folks-only 11 minutes in the oven. Trust me.
  • I know I've said it before, but you actually CAN bribe people with these cookies. Try it.
  • And finally, thank you so much, Jen!

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies


Coconut Lime Macadamia Cookies

Coconut lime macadamia cookies

I know.  I know!  Coconut Lime Macadamia Cookies are not a new idea.  They’re certainly not very Autumn-ish.  But--they are one of my all time favorite cookies.  I love anything with lime.  And macadamias?  Such a treat for me.  We don’t buy them very often--they come in such teeny jars, and not with a teeny price.

A short while ago, I was contacted by Sam at Oh! Nuts.  He wanted to know if I’d be interested in sampling some of their products.  I said I’d love to!  By the way, we’re not just talking nuts here--they’ve got quality dried fruits and tons o’ candy and chocolate, too!  I know, this site could be dangerous.  Dangerously GOOD!  They even have snack mixes, granola, ice creams, and baked goods if that’s what you’re looking for.

I gave Sam a list of what I’d like to try, he placed my order, and get this--it arrived in just a few days!  Super fast shipping. 


We tried California Medjool dates, popcorn kernels, roasted salted macadamias, sweet and salty peanuts, and chili lemon pistachios.  Everything was outstanding and so fresh--what great quality!  The dates?  They were the creamiest, most velvety dates I’ve ever had in my life--and we’ve tried a lot here.  They were truly decadent, and at only $7.99 per pound?  Totally worth it.  The popcorn kernels popped up so fluffy and really large, too!  We noticed the difference right away--and there were barely any unpopped ones!  Those sweet and salty peanuts are completely addictive.  I’m serious--you’ll have to have someone take the bag away from you if you want to stop.  Chili-lemon pistachios are incredible!  They take pistachios to a whole new level!  But be warned--the heat really creeps up on you--and still, you don’t want to stop.

I knew I was going to make cookies with the macadamias as soon as I ordered them. I think if you have macadamias in the house, it’s some kind of law that you make cookies. And who am I to break the laws of baking? Truth be told, when we first tasted them, I didn’t want to make anything with them.  I just wanted them straight from the bag!  You don’t get macadamias like this in grocery stores.  They’re golden brown and so flavorful--not all pale and blah like the ones we usually see.  Try some for yourself and taste the difference!

Oh! Nuts Macadamias

My cookies had to be full of flavor.  I toasted the coconut, used a whole mess of lime zest, and some lime juice.  I even used Lindt White Coconut Bars.  All of those things added up to cookies that are packed with great taste and  texture. 

Coconut Lime Macadamia Cookies

adapted from Taste of Home

Makes 17 (4") cookies, plus 19 (3") cookies.
Your amounts may differ if you're not weird like me, making all different sizes of cookies from one batch...

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
juice of half a lime
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
zest of one lime (I'm pretty sure I grabbed a bit out of the freezer and threw it  in, so maybe zest of 1 1/2 limes)
1 cup chopped macadamias 
1 cup toasted coconut
2 (3.5 oz) Lindt White Coconut Bars, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar.  Add the eggs, both extracts, and lime juice.  Blend well.

In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and lime zest.  Add this mixture to the wet ingredients and mix well.  Fold in the macadamias, coconut, and chocolate.

Bake larger cookies (made with a 2 inch cookie scoop) for about 16 minutes, and smaller cookies (dropped by rounded teaspoon) for about 11 minutes, on parchment covered baking sheets.  Move to cooling racks to cool completely. 

  • They’re crunchy on the edges, and chewy in the middle--like a cookie should be! 
  • There’s also crunch from the nuts and toasted coconut, and pretty flecks of lime zest. 
  • Though these aren’t traditionally a holiday cookie, I think they’d be right at home on your holiday cookie trays.  Like a taste of summer along with the traditional holiday flavors. 
  • Do yourself a favor and get on over to Oh! Nuts to check out what they have to offer.  With holiday baking coming up, I’m sure you’ll find a bunch of things you need.  Or want.
  • Seasonal Bonus:  Look at their Halloween and Autumn/Thanksgiving candy!  Be prepared for the upcoming holidays and have a look at their Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holiday assortments, as well.

Coconut lime macadamia cookies  

Disclaimer:  I received my full size samples from Oh! Nuts at no charge, and was not paid for my opinion.  I just really like nuts. Ha! 


Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

7:15 AM, any given weekday:

  “MOM!  I forgot--the bake sale is TODAY!”

7:15 AM, any given Friday:

  “It’s Friday?  &#$%*!! It’s my week to bring in classroom snacks!”

2:30 PM, also any given weekday:

  “Mom, you didn’t forget I have to bring snacks to today’s (fill in the blank) meeting/practice, did you?”

6:30 AM, any given weekday:

  “Sweetie, you did remember that there’s a potluck at work, and I need to bring a dessert?”


Sound familiar?  If we had a dime for every time, right?  We’d have…a lot of dimes.  I have the perfect solution for you!  These are the simplest chocolate chip cookie bars to throw together, and yet, they’re still rich and satisfying.  I’m serious, you can have these in the oven in about five minutes.  At least under ten!  Perfect for the above mentioned situations.  You don’t even need a mixer for these!

Remember the old commercial for Rice Krispies Treats?  The mom would toss flour on her face to make it look like she slaved over them!  You can do that for these.  They’re that easy. 



These bars are very much like a Blondie in texture, with a gorgeous golden brown crust, and filled with chocolate chips which give you little pockets or melty chocolaty goodness.  Sweet, but not too sweet--I’ve upped the salt from half a teaspoon to a full teaspoon.  They’re truly a hybrid Chocolate Chip Cookie/Blondie.  The best of both, and super simple!  Plus, I'll bet you already have everything on hand to make them.  If you don't, stock up for emergencies.

While we’re on the subject of chocolate chips, my absolute favorite are the Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips.  They’re larger than most chocolate chips, and even after baking, they stay creamy.  The flavor is outstanding, too!  Sure, you can buy more expensive chocolate, and even cheaper, for that matter--these run about $2.79 for an 11.5 oz bag.  I don’t want to waste my money on the cheaper ones, because they taste cheaper, and have a grainy texture.  I’m sure the pricier ones live up to their names, but they’re not available where I usually shop.  Special trips for chocolate chips?  Um, no.  I just don’t have the time, and don’t need to run around when I can get these.  Try them!  You’ll probably catch yourself eating them straight out of the bag.  Not that I do that.  Nope.  What?  I don’t buy two bags at a time so I can stash one to snack on.  Who told you that??

Careful! Don't get caught licking your computer screen!

Unfortunately, I have no clue who to credit for this recipe.  It’s been in my computer files for what seems like forever.  From one of the chocolate chip companies, I’d imagine.  My thanks to the genius that came up with this one!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
makes one 9x13 pan

1 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
11.5 oz bag chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350, and lightly grease a 9x13 inch pan.
Mix the butter and sugars in a large bowl.  Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well.

Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt, stir until completely blended.
Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread into the pan, and bake for 25-27 minutes, or until light golden brown on top.  Cool and cut into squares. 


  • See?  Easy!
  • You may not be able to wait for the bars to cool.  I know.  Go ahead, dive in!  You deserve it for all of your “hard work” on these.
  • These are also a life saver when your kids want cookies and you don’t have the time to (or feel like) stand around waiting making one or two pans of cookies at a time.
  • What? Oh, it’s you that wants instant cookie gratification?  Fair enough--been there myself!  Make these! 

   Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars