Category Archives: Just Because

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

This past May, we celebrated my triplets 9th birthday. May begins a very busy birthday season in my home which includes three kid parties and one family party. This year, I let me kids each have their own kid birthday party. I decided to make them each their special themed cake for their indiviudal party. As I was planning my trio’s family birthday party, I did not want to add a fourth fancy cake to my list of party duties to accomplish in a matter of weeks. May is such a busy month for us with birthdays, baseball, softball, end of the year activities, and the regular day to day responsibilities. I know I am not the only one who feels the May crunch! My kids love making brownie sundaes, so I came up with the idea to have brownie sundaes for their family birthday party, but really kick them up a notch with the ultimate brownie sundae bar! I chose my kiddos favorite ice cream flavors, and a few of their favorite treats to use as toppings. Putting together an ultimate brownie sundae bar is quick and simple!

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

My ulitmate brownie sundae bar included homemade chocolate chip cookies, which I choped some into cubes and left some whole,

Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

crushed oreos, which I placed whole oreos in a zip top bag and let my kids go to town smashing them into crumbs,

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

freshly whipped cream,

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chocolate and vanilla ice cream,The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

sprinkles and chocolate sauce,

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

homemade mini vanilla bean donuts,

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

and of course, homemade delicious fudge brownies.

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

Everyone at the party enjoyed being able to build their own brownie sundae. It was fun to watch how the kids “designed” their own sundaes! They were so excited to see their favorite treats on the table as toppings for one of their favorite desserts. I just love using food and my baking skills to make people feel happy, loved, and special! The excitement and smiles on my kids faces was priceless!

The Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar

To set up your own ultimate brownie sundae bar:

  1. Choose your favorite brownie recipe or store bought brownie. Click HERE to get my absolute favorite recipe for delicious, rich, fudge brownies.
  2. Next, choose your ice cream flavors. Any flavor would work wonderfully with brownies!
  3. Then, choose your toppings. Have fun with this part! The sky is the limit! After all, this is an ULTIMATE brownie sundae bar!!! I chose my kids favorite treats as toppings. *For my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (and one of my most requested recipes of all time) click HERE.                                                                                                           *For the mini baked vanilla bean donut recipe, click HERE. To bake the donuts in a mini donut pan, bake them for 4-6 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the donut comes out clean.                                                                                                                           *To make the fresh whipped cream, place 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract, and 1-3 tablespoons (depending on your preference of sweetness) of sugar into a large bowl. Whip with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. I made this the morning of the party, and kept it refrigerated until ready to serve.                                      A few other topping ideas are: mini marshmallows, candies, chocolate chips, caramel sauce, fruit puree, crushed vanilla wafers, pirouette cookies, mini waffles, pizzelle cookies, etc.
  4. Set up your table. I chose to use bowls to serve the brownie sundaes in, but plates would work as well. Have fun displaying all of your wonderful items and toppings for your ultimate brownie sundae bar. You can include cute labels for each topping if desired to make your table come together and look cute and pretty!

I would love to see what you come up with when you create your own brownie sundae bar! Please stop my blog at www.bakingforblessings.com. If you follow me on Facebook or instagram, take a photo of your ultimate brownie sundae bar and tag me so I can see your wonderful creations!!

Bake and Share Ideas:

  1. Do an Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar for your next gathering such as a birthday party, baby shower, wedding shower, BBQ, or fourth of July. Choose toppings that the guest of honor loves or that fits with the theme of your gathering.
  2. Invite friends and neighbors over for an Ultimate Brownie Sundae Bar. You provide the brownies and ice cream and ask each family to bring their favorite topping to share.
  3. Have a family movie night and enjoy an ultimate brownie sundae bar with your movie. Choose toppings that coincide with the movie you are watching or you can use movie theater candy and popcorn as toppings!

Challah Donuts

As I mentioned in my last post, Challah Bread, my family discovered that my father is half European Jewish through an ancestry DNA test this past fall. I turned to baking to celebrate this new family heritage by making challah bread for my families holiday celebrations. It was so exciting to be able to connect to our family history through baking!

While strolling along in the grocery store one day shortly before the holidays, I came across a “bake From Scratch” magazine holiday issue. (Just a side note here…this magazine has become one of my new favorite baking publications out there!-and no, they did not pay me to say that.) I was thrilled to come across an entire section in the magazine devoted to challah dough! It included four recipes you can make with challah dough including challah donuts. YUP, I said CHALLAH DONUTS!!!!!! I about jumped up and down in the store thinking of how delicious fried challah dough would be. That soft, fluffy, and slightly sweet dough fried into a donut sounded like heaven to me.  Then I thought about how I could fill these fried rounds of deliciousness with one of my most favorite things on this earth, vanilla bean pastry cream. AND, I found another way to connect to my family history though baking…well baking and frying in this case.

I decided to treat my family to a very special movie snack for family movie night during the kids holiday break. At first, the kids were a little disappointed that I did not make popcorn…until they took one bite of these drool worthy challah donuts. I heard words like, “amazing,” “the best thing you have ever made,” and “can I have another one.” Nobody missed the popcorn! Since then, I have gotten many requests to make them again. I just fulfilled one of those requests last week. My son requested challah donuts  to celebrate getting his cast off his arm. I was more than happy to bless him with these fried, pastry cream filled bites from heaven!

Challah Donuts

Ingredients:

For the Donuts:

1 recipe of Challah Dough (see recipe below)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 C (210 grams) granulated sugar (vanilla sugar works wonderfully here! See my baking tip below)

For the Pastry Cream:

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise, seeds scraped
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Directions:

For the Pastry Cream:

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.

3. When the milk mixture comes to a simmer, very slowly pour 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Continue to slowly add the milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until it has all been incorporated.

4. Place a fine mesh strainer over your saucepan. Pour the mixture back into the sauce pan through the mesh strainer to catch the vanilla bean pod and and any bits of egg.

5. Cook the mixture over medium high heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, about two minutes.

6. Transfer the mixture to a an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attached, or a hand mixer. Add the butter and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.

7. Place the pastry cream into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

For the donuts:
    1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with baking spray with flour.
    2. Turn out dough onto a heavily floured surface, and roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Using a 3 1/2- inch round cutter, cut dough, rerolling scraps as necessary.  Place onto prepared pans.
    3.  Set a wire rack over paper towels. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (I like to use my cast iron dutch oven) pour oil to a depth of 3 inches, and heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees. Add donuts to hot oil in batches of 3-4, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry until light golden brown, 1 1/2-2 minutes per side. Remove, and let drain on prepared rack. Let cool for 5 minutes. Place the granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Dip doughnuts in sugar.
    4. Spoon pastry cream into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Use a sharp knife to make a small hole in one end of each doughnut. Insert piping tip and fill with cream. Serve immediately.*Makes approximately 24 donuts. You can freeze half of your challah dough to use at a later time if you only want to make 12 donuts.

       Challah Dough

      Ingredients:

      1¾ cups warm water (105° to 110°)
      2 tablespoons (24 grams) granulated sugar
      1 tablespoon (14 grams) active dry yeast
      ½ cup (100 grams) olive oil
      5 large eggs
      ½ cup (144 grams) honey
      2 tablespoons (36 grams) kosher salt
      7½ to 8 cups (1,050 to 1,120 grams) all-purpose flour

      Directions:

      1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 1¾ cups warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let stand until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes. With mixer on low speed, gradually beat in oil. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in honey and salt. Gradually add flour, ½ cup (70 grams) at a time, until dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl. Increase mixer speed to medium-high, and knead for 3 to 5 minutes.

      2. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let stand in a warm, draft-free place (75°) until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

      Recipe adapted from bake From Scratch Holiday 2016

      Recipe Source for pastry Cream: Martha Stewart Baking Handbook

      Baking Tips:

      • Dip your donuts in vanilla sugar to take them above and beyond. Vanilla sugar can be purchased or you can make some by placing a used vanilla bean in a bowl of sugar. Let the bowl of sugar sit for a few days before using.
      • Use a good deep fry thermometer to maintain the proper temperature when frying
      • Place your challah dough in your oven with the oven light on to rise. If it gets too warm with the oven light on, prop the oven door open.
      • If your dough is too sticky while kneading, add flour 2 TBS at a time until dough pulls away from side of bowl

      Bake and Share Ideas:

      1. Whip up a batch of challah donuts for your next family movie or game night
      2. Share challah donuts at your next brunch whether you host a brunch or attend a brunch
      3. Invite some friends over for coffee and challah donuts!

Challah Bread

It has been a few months since I have shared a new post. I wanted to take some time to focus on my family. One of the things I did during this time was to help my dad find out some information about his ancestors. He had asked for my help early last fall. My dad’s mother was adopted, so he wasn’t sure what her background was. Although, he always suspected that her ancestors may have been jewish. To confirm his suspicions, I had an ancestry DNA test done on my dad. He was right!! The test showed that he is almost half European Jewish. It was such a wonderful thing for him and my family to find out this information. It is such a great feeling to be able to connect who we are to our past. This knowledge does not change who we are now, yet it gives us a connection to where we came from. To celebrate these new findings, I decided I needed to learn to make a traditional jewish bread called Challah bread. I have heard of it many times, but had never tried it. I turned to one of my most trusted recipe and ingredient sources of all time, King Arthur Flour. Now, a traditional jewish Challah bread is made using a 6 stranded braid. However, I was new at making this, so I decided to go with the four stranded braid. It turned out beautifully.

To test my new recipe, I made a loaf of challah bread one afternoon in December.  When my kids arrived home from school, the smell alone drove them to beg me for a taste. I was honestly quite pleasantly surprised at how delicious this bread is. It is a little sweet and has an incredibly soft and fluffy texture. Each of my children ate two pieces back to back of that first loaf. I am usually in charge of bringing bread or rolls to my families holiday celebrations. I decided that this year, I would bring Challah bread in honor of our new found ancestry. When I brought the bread to my parents house and explained what it was to my dad, he immediately hugged and kissed me. I do believe that he was truly touched by this simple gesture. What a blessing to be able to bless my family and my dad with this simple act of making a loaf of delicious bread! I also brought a loaf to my husband’s families holiday festivities.

I have recently made two loves in the past couple of weeks. This Challah bread is delicious toasted and served with butter and jam. It also makes wonderful ham sandwiches! My newly found way to use the challah bread is to make french toast with it. OMG!!! It is amazing! As I ate my challah bread french toast, I imagined how delicious it would be in a french toast casserole. I also thought how delicious it would be to add a bit of cinnamon and sugar to the loaf itself before baking…oh the possibilities! I froze a half of one of the recent loaves of bread that I made. I will update this post in the near future when I use that frozen loaf to determine if the bread freezes well.

Challah Bread

QUICK STARTER
1 cup (4 1/4 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 oz) lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
DOUGH
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 3/8 oz) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the glaze, below)
GLAZE
1 egg white, saved from above
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) water

Instructions

To make the starter:

  1. Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine.

2. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.

To make the dough:

  1. Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, supple dough is formed. The dough should not be too sticky. If it is sticky, add 1-2 TBS of flour at a time while kneading. Each time I have made this dough, I have had to add extra flour. However, that all depends on the environment that you live in.
  2. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil.

3. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s not quite doubled in size.

To shape the dough:

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18″ long.


On the lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, braid a four-strand braid.

First, Squeeze the ends of the strands together.

Take the left-handed strand and move it to the right over two strands

Then take that same strand and move it under one strand to the left

Next, take the right handed strand and move it to the left over 2 strands

Then take that strand and move it under one strand to the right.

Repeat until the loaf is done and pinch the ends together.

 

In a small bowl, make the glaze by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf, reserving some for a second application.
Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.


To bake the loaf:

Brush the loaf with the remaining glaze (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust.) If desired, sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seed, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and the internal temperature is 195°F.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.
Store completely cool bread, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour

Baking Tips:

  • When proofing dough (or letting it rise) be sure you place the dough in a warm, draft free environment. I like to use my oven for this. I turn my oven light on to warm it up a tiny bit. I also place a small bowl of warm water in the oven to keep the bread dough from drying out.
  • Don’t afraid of yeast breads! Give this one a try. The rising times are just a guide. Be sure your dough has doubled in size. If it has not doubled by the suggested time, check it every ten minutes

Bake and Share Ideas:

  1. Bake a loaf for a new mom, new neighbor, or use as a hostess gift. Put the loaf in a basket with all the fixings for making french toast along with syrup and jam.
  2. Bake a loaf for valentine’s day. Slice the bread then cut it into heart shapes. Use the heart shaped bread to make sandwiches or heart shaped french toast for your sweethearts!
  3. Bake a loaf of challah bread. Slice it horizontally (like one large sub sandwich) and layer lettuce, tomato, cheese, and ham on the bottom of the bread. Place the top of the loaf on the lettuce, tomato, and cheese. Slice and serve! Bring this to a friend, family member, or neighbor in need of a meal, or serve at your next gathering.