Tight Buns

Brioche Hamburger Buns | Flour Arrangements

The other morning, six-year-old Tessa said,”I want to do a baking project today called ‘not those buns.'”

Frankly, I felt the same.  I’d baked brioche hamburger buns nearly every day for a week.  Ever since I’d feasted on pulled pork layered thickly into a toasted brioche bun at Dad’s Diner A Go-Go in Anacortes, WA, I’d become obsessed with creating the perfect brioche bun.

I’d gotten damn close, too.  Time and time again, the rolls emerged from the oven with a flaky, tender texture and a rich, buttery flavor.  We’d savored them with hamburgers, sloppy joes, and roast beef.  My daughters popped them in the toaster with abandon and gobbled them down with butter and honey for breakfast.  These brioche buns were perfect in every way but one: they always cracked down the middle while baking.

Brioche Hamburger Buns | Flour Arrangements

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Vacation Sweets

Double Chocolate Cookies | Flour Arrangements

My tradition of baking a sweets to bring along on vacation started two years ago when I brought sesame cookies on a weekend getaway with girlfriends to Victoria, B.C.

I didn’t recognize that baking had become an essential part of my travel routine, though, until my family headed to Disneyland this spring.   Neglecting clothes, my younger daughter instead detailed, at length, essential food items to bring with us.  As I started packing up lemon-thyme shortbread cookies for my own bag, I suddenly understood the origin of her obsession.  Looking back, it’s hard to recall a single trip for which I didn’t bake something to take with us.  In addition to cookies, a variety of cakes, brownies, and tiny tarts have accompanied us on various adventures.

Last week, as we prepared for our trip to the San Juan Islands, it felt only natural to bake a batch of double chocolate cookies before I stuffed a raincoat, Xtratuff boots, and other essentials into my suitcase.

Full of rich, dark chocolate and the sweet, resinous crunch of toasted pine nuts, these cookies kept us going throughout our long day of travel, which included a train ride, a bus trip, an airplane flight, a taxi ride, a car drive, and a ferry crossing.

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Pure Sunshine

Apricot Pie | Flour Arrangements

Apricot season feels so fleeting.  Every summer, when these ephemeral little fruits begin to appear, they feel almost exotic.  I love tearing them in half, plucking out the stones, and biting into their sweet, tart fruit.

Whenever I see them, soft and blushing rosy over their pale peach hue, I find it nearly impossible not to over-purchase. Without fail, the mound of fruit in my kitchen ripens all at once.  If we can’t keep up, it’s pie time.

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Top Secret

Macaroni and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Ham | Flour Arrangements

When my girls were much younger, they refused to take even the smallest bite of any dish containing onions.

Because I understood the value of choosing my battles, I sometimes left onions out of recipes or resorted to sneaking them into food rather suffer through dinner-time tension.

Here’s the funny part:  whenever I used onions incognito, my kids never, ever noticed.  Usually, instead of adding diced onions as called for, I’d caramelize onions and puree them before adding them to a dish.  I was never super subtle about this, either.   I’d prep onions while my daughters hung out in the the kitchen.  Sometimes, they’d even complain that the onions hurt their eyes.  But by the time they’d tucked into generous bowls of, say, macaroni and cheese, no one ever asked what happened to the onions.

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My Cup Runneth Over

Rosemary-Cornmeal Cracker Cups | Flour Arrangements

For the last two weeks, the internet service at our house has worked for maybe 20 minutes a day.  Writing a post about this daisy cake took entirely too long.  Whenever the internet timed out, I lost everything.

As that frustrating exercise tested my patience, my camera began flashing error messages as I tried to photograph the little cracker cups I’d baked.  It refused to take a single picture.

Rosemary-Cornmeal Cracker Cups | Flour Arrangements

When my oven started moaning like a dying animal, I realized that this streak of technological decay signified more than mere bad luck.  As any English teacher will tell you, when things begin happening in threes, it’s time to pay attention.

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Flower Power

Daisy Cake | Flour Arrangements

After last year’s gingerbread Ferris wheel project, I breathed a sigh of relief when Eliza asked for a daisy cake for her birthday this year.  I pictured a cake with no moving parts, one that required no odd-shaped pans or carving to achieve an elaborate form, and one that didn’t require an eruption to complete its effect.  This seemed almost too good to be true, so I asked Eliza to sketch the cake.  Fortunately, it looked just like I imagined it would: a simple layer cake topped with green fondant and covered with lots of little daisies.

Making the cake turned out to be as easy as I’d hoped.  I’ve had plenty of practice making fondant shapes with cookie cutters, including hearts, balloons, and even diamonds. Repeating basic shapes on a cake is an simple trick for creating a dramatic effect.

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Naked Lemons

Frozen Lemon Slices | Flour Arrangements

When life gives you lemons, rejoice and start baking!  I’m on a citrus roll lately, partly because the streets of Albany sometimes seem like a lemon grove, but mostly because this succulent fruit gives food a tangy kick that makes you want to pay attention to every tart, sometimes puckery bite.

From quick and simple baking projects like shortbread cookies or muffins, to the more elaborate and fancy, like lemon-lime meringue pie or lemon raspberry swirl cake, I’ve consumed more lemons than I can count.   I’m also currently obsessed with this lemon-arugula pasta recipe because of the extra punch it gets from lemon in the pasta itself, but let’s face it, pasta tossed simply with zest and juice and herbs makes an awesome meal as well.  And let’s not forget lemon rosemary monkey bread.  I could consume an entire platter of this addictive pull-apart bread all on my own.

Lemons just rock.  I love them with pretty much anything.

Frozen Lemon Slices | Flour Arrangements

Because I hate to waste any part of a precious lemon, I like it best when recipes use both lemon juice and zest.  I’ll often pass over recipes that list only one or the other.  Sometimes, though, I can’t resist baking an otherwise perfect recipe, like this one for lemon-thyme shortbread cookies.  The recipe lists three-to-four lemons — zested — with nary a word about the juice.  Gaah!

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Perfect Thyme

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies | Flour Arrangements

Unable to contain their enthusiasm for our trip to Disneyland last weekend, my daughters tried to pack days in advance.  When I reminded them that they couldn’t actually put anything in their backpacks until the day we left — they’d need them for school — Tessa, who’s six, made herself a packing list. She’s particular, that Tessa, which means she categorized:  food first, clothes second.

As Tessa’s catalog of edibles grew, I managed to talk her out of yogurt and juice since I knew we couldn’t get them through airport security.  I tried to convince her to pare down even more by explaining that we could actually find food at Disneyland, but she told me that she planned to eat all of her snacks on our way.

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies | Flour Arrangements

The day we left, as I finished packing my bags, I realized that I’m not so different from Tessa;  before I tossed shorts, t-shirts, and sundresses into my bag along with a toothbrush and some sunscreen, I baked some lemon-thyme shortbread cookies to take on the plane with us.

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