March 29, 2011

back to basics: tomato sauce

My slowly-but-surely expanding recipe index boasts its fair share of fancy birthday desserts, tales of holiday culinary escapades, newly-discovered vegetables, and the occasional weeknight meal.  I realized recently, however, that it’s sorely lacking in the fundamental recipes of my Italo-American kitchen.  In an attempt to remedy this situation, I’m getting back to basics.

In this ongoing “series,” I’ll take an occasional breather from new recipes and share some of my old standbys that provide the foundations for lots of other dishes.  I hope that these posts (like many of my others) might also demonstrate just how possible it is to cook real food, from scratch on an almost daily basis.

This particular recipe holds a special place in my heart, as it kept my now-husband well fed for many months when he was living in a champagne city on a beer budget.  (Spending thirty dollars on groceries every two weeks is a feat anywhere, let alone New York City.)  This recipe is also one of the first that I developed on my own, and although it has changed a bit over the years, it’s essentially the same as it was a decade ago.

And now, if I may further extol its virtues:  This sauce is inexpensive, easy, quick, incredibly versatile (as is or with any number of small adjustments), and it can easily be doubled or tripled to feed a larger crowd or freeze for future use.  It’s worlds better than any store-bought counterpart, making the extra bit of time and effort well worth it.


Tomato Sauce

printable recipe button 2

Yield: 1 quart (about 8 servings).
Keeps in the refrigerator for about a week. Freezes well!

½ medium-large onion
2 small-medium carrots, peeled
1 stalk of celery
2-4 medium cloves of garlic
handful of fresh parsley (6-8 sprigs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
28 ounces (large can or jar) of whole peeled tomatoes*
6 ounces (small can or jar) of tomato paste*
12 ounces (1 ½ cups) water (plus more as needed)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
parmesan cheese, freshly grated

optional additions
finely chopped basil, thyme, and oregano (fresh or dry)
or 1 teaspoon dried Italian spice blend
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream**
½ cup red wine***

*For the first time, I made this recipe with home-canned tomatoes!  In place of the store-bought tomatoes above, I used the following:

  • two 17-ounce jars of whole tomatoes canned in water (½ of the water drained)
  • 18 ounces passata (tomato puree); omitted the water

Basically, you want a about 46 ounces of “liquid tomatoes” – whether that be 28 ounces whole canned tomatoes and 6 ounces of paste plus 12 ounces water , 46 ounces of  of passata, or some other combination of tomatoes.


Pulse in a food processor or finely chop onion, carrot, celery, 2 cloves of garlic, and parsley. Heat olive oil in a 4-quart pot and sauté the chopped veggies for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.


Add all tomatoes/paste/puree (and water, if using), crushing any whole tomatoes in your hand as you go.  (You want the sauce to have enough liquid that it can simmer for a while and not get too dry.)


Bring sauce to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Let sauce simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add herbs and spices, if using.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you’re a garlic-lover, add up to 2 additional cloves of minced or pressed garlic.


For a smooth sauce, remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender or a food processor.

If serving with pasta, about five minutes before sauce is finished, cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and return to cooking pot. Add desired amount of sauce (about ½ cup sauce per 2-ounce serving of pasta) and stir gently over medium heat for about 2 minutes. You may also add parmesan cheese at this time (reserving some for sprinkling on top).

Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese.


**Variation 1: Tomato Cream Sauce
Remove sauce from heat and stir in heavy cream to taste (start with a tablespoon, and add more as desired). Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

***Variation 2: Tomato Sauce with red wine
When you add the tomatoes, add ½ cup red wine.  Continue cooking as usual.

A few other ideas:

DSC_1147- Tomato sauce with a dash of balsamic vinegar (added in last 5 minutes of cooking), farfalle, parmesan cheese, and fresh basil.

- Tomato sauce with gemelli pasta and sautéed mushrooms, topped with parmesan and lots of fresh basil.

- Tomato sauce with dried Italian spices, gemelli, spicy Italian (chicken) sausage, and parmesan.

- Tomato cream sauce (recipe above) with a can of tuna and any short, tubular pasta shape. (Brian’s go-to variation when he lived in New York: an inexpensive and tasty way to get some extra protein!)

March 23, 2011

Tiramisù Meringue Cake

Last week, we continued the accidental tradition of inventing a new dessert in honor of Brian’s birthday. He began brainstorming weeks in advance, starting out somewhere around chocolate mint whoopie pies and ending up at dacquoise. Brian said he wanted something like a cake but with more texture, remembering the layered Doberge; cake we had at a Mardi Gras party. From there, we got around to dacquoise because I thought the meringue would provide the consistency he was looking for. The decision finally came down to the fact that we had some mascarpone we needed to use. He was glad to relinquish control over his birthday dessert to give me a chance to experiment. Happily, it turned out to be just what Brian wanted – a nice combination of creamy and firm and some of his favorite flavors. I was surprised by how much it resembled tiramisù – the flavors, though rearranged, had a similar effect. The major difference was that, unlike soaked ladyfingers, the meringue retained most of its original texture, softening just enough from the moisture in the filling to be perfectly fork-friendly.

A note about the name: The resulting recipe is technically not dacquoise, since I ended up not using any nuts in the meringue, so we decided “meringue cake” would be more appropriate.

Tiramisù Meringue Cake

Note: Because the meringue needs time to dry and the final cake needs time to set in the freezer, it’s best to make the meringue a day or two in advance.

for the meringue (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
¾ cup sugar
4 egg whites
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 ounces dark chocolate (preferably 60% cacao)

for the filling 8 ounces mascarpone
3 egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar + 2 tablespoons sugar
1¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons (1½ ounce) espresso (or strong coffee), chilled

for the glaze
2 ounces dark chocolate (preferably 60% cacao)
1 teaspoon butter
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream

for the meringue
With racks in upper- and lower-middle positions, heat oven to 225°F. Line 2 half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper. Draw two 8-inch circles on each sheet of parchment paper and turn over.

Break chocolate into pieces and chop very finely, or pulse in a food processor until finely chopped. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cornstarch.

In stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites, vanilla, and salt on high speed until soft peaks just begin to form (about 30-45 seconds). Reduce to medium speed and add sugar mixture in a slow, steady stream. Scrape down bowl and return mixer to high speed.

Beat until stiff, glossy peaks are formed (30-45 seconds).

Gently fold in chocolate.
Drop ¼ of meringue in the center of each of the 4 circles. Use an offset spatula in a circular motion to evenly spread meringue to the edges of the circles. Smooth the tops.
Bake for 1 to 1½ hours until meringues are dry, rotating the sheet pans (top to bottom and front to back) after 30 minutes. Turn off oven and, keeping oven door closed, allow meringues to continue drying until cool, another 2 to 3 hours or as long as overnight. If not using immediately, store meringues in two gallon zipper backs, separated by parchment paper. (You can use the same paper used to bake them.)

for the filling
Combine 3 egg yolks and ⅓ cup sugar in the top bowl of a double boiler (or other heatproof bowl). Whisk until yolks are thick and pale yellow. Set over a pot with 1-2 inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until egg mixture is warm and very thick, 5-6 minutes. Set aside to cool, stirring frequently.

Using a handheld mixer (or my personal favorite, an immersion blender with whisk attachment), whip cream. When it begins to thicken, add remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form.

Stir egg yolk mixture and mascarpone together in a medium bowl. Fold in about ⅓ of whipped cream. Set aside.

Into remaining whipped cream, fold chilled espresso.

to assemble
On a serving plate, spread ⅓ of mascarpone mixture onto 1 round of meringue.
Then spread ⅓ of espresso cream. Top with second meringue round and repeat: ⅓ of mascarpone, ⅓ of espresso cream. Top with third meringue round and remaining ⅓ of mascarpone and espresso cream. Top with fourth meringue round.
for the glaze
Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler (or in the microwave). Remove from heat and add a small amount of cream until the chocolate reaches desired consistency (depending on whether you prefer to spread or drizzle the chocolate over the cake).

Spread or drizzle the chocolate over the top of the cake.

Allow cake to freeze for at least 2 hours before serving (for easier slicing/serving). If the cake has been in the freezer for more than 8 hours, allow to thaw at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving.

If you want to put candles on it, melt some extra chocolate when you remove the cake from the freezer to serve. Drop a small dollop of chocolate for each candle, allow to harden for 20-30 seconds and press candles into chocolate.

March 19, 2011

St. Louis-Style Pizza

The subtitle of this post should be something like “Imo’s Pizza for the Purist.”
I mean “pure” in the sense that it’s made with all-natural ingredients, including real cheese.


Brian has plenty of food memories from his growing-up years in St. Louis.  Among them is a preference for super-thin-crust pizza with melty, flavorful cheese and sweet, oregano-laden sauce, usually in the form of Imo’s pizza (topped with pepperoni or bacon and mushrooms).  It’s tough to find anything like it anywhere but St. Louis.  In fact, the cheese used on Imo’s pizza is a St. Louis original, obtainable only from online merchants in most parts of the country.  It’s called “Provel,” and it creates controversy wherever it goes.

Outside of St. Louis, Provel is most certainly divisive, the major point of contention being that Provel is not actual cheese, but processed cheese (much like American or Velveeta).  On the package, it’s described as “pasteurized process cheddar, swiss and provolone.”  In my experience, the majority of St. Louisans are Provel devotees.  However, even in the St. Louis area (and I just discovered -- coming soon to DC!), there has cropped up a small franchise of pizzerias called “Pi” who unabashedly protest fake cheese.

We had the opportunity to eat at one of these St. Louis pizzerias when visiting Brian’s family last year.  It was a great time – craft beer on tap and delicious pizza (thick or thin crust).  And I’m a big fan of their focus on sustainability.

When we make a trip back to St. Louis, we inevitably have a meal of Imo’s pizza at Brian’s request.  It’s quite good, as delivery pizza goes, and Brian’s nostalgia for the pizza outweighs any protest I might have over the processed the cheese.  It’s only once a year.

This year, as Brian’s birthday drew near, we set out to achieve Imo’s-like pizza using high quality ingredients and no processed cheese.  Luckily, Cook’s Country magazine had already developed a recipe, which had been subsequently posted on and shared with us by Brian’s dad.  It was a great place to start. 

The first time, we followed the recipe to the letter – except for the Provel substitute, which called for American cheese.  It didn’t quite make sense to go to the trouble of avoiding one processed cheese just to replace it with another.  Instead of CC’s blend of American and Monterey Jack, we used sharp provolone, white cheddar, and Swiss cheeses with some whole milk mozzarella thrown in for its melting properties.   We decided that the smoke flavor called for by Cook’s Country gave the cheese a chemical aftertaste, but the sharp cheddar and provolone did the trick without the added smoke.

The crust on a St. Louis-style pizza is super thin and yeast-less.  It does its job but is nothing to write home about. (That is, unless you’re from St. Louis.)  The crust is unremarkable in the sense that it exists merely as a vehicle for the toppings.  While many St. Louisans appreciate its texture, it does not boast any of the fabulous chew or multi-dimensional flavor of a yeast-fermented/-risen crust.  With a chemical leavening (baking powder) rather than yeast, it can be made in about one-tenth of the time of traditional crust.  No rise and very little kneading are necessary, making it the quickest and easiest from-scratch pizza crust you’ll ever find. 

For our second attempt, I reduced the oregano and eliminated the sugar from the pizza sauce. (I’ve never trusted a tomato sauce with added sugar.)  My home-canned tomatoes were plenty sweet on their own.

Brian says the pizzas were spot-on.  About as close as we could get to the real thing without actually ordering Imo’s. 

St. Louis-Style (Imo’s) Pizza with real cheese
(sauce and crust recipes adapted from Cook’s Country as published on

Makes 3 10-12” pizzas (depending on crust thickness).

1 cup (8 ounces) jarred or canned tomato sauce (passata)
3 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably double concentrated)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano

all cheeses should be grated
1 ¾ cups sharp provolone
1 ½ cups sharp white cheddar
½ cup Swiss cheese
½ cup whole milk mozzarella


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 475°F, with pizza stone (or inverted baking sheet) on lower middle rack.

Whisk together all sauce ingredients and set aside.

Toss grated cheeses and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder and salt. Combine water and oil in a small bowl or measuring cup; then stir into flour mixture until dough starts to come together. Knead a few times in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface. Dough should be uniform but does not need to be perfectly smooth.

Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Working with each piece separately on a lightly floured surface, form into a ball, press flat, and use a rolling pin to roll dough into a circle or rectangle, turning and stretching as you go, until desired thickness is reached. The crust should be very thin. (Ours was 2mm thick, cooked.) If dough shrinks back to smaller size, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then roll again. (If you have room, begin rolling out another piece while the first one rests.)

Transfer dough to parchment paper.  Top with 1/3 of sauce, 1/3 of cheese, and any additional toppings you desire. (Our favorite combos include salame/kalamata olives/red onion and mushroom/bacon. Plain cheese is good, too!)

DSC_0800Uncured Calabrese salame and local red onion.

Use a pizza peel or the back of a cookie sheet to transfer pizza to the preheated stone or baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is melted and crust begins to crisp and brown.

Repeat rolling/topping/baking process with remaining pieces of dough. Serve pizza cut into two-inch squares.

(Dough can be made in advance; wrap tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)

DSC_0850Gooey, melty UNprocessed cheese.


March 14, 2011

crema gianduia: homemade chocolate hazelnut spread

A few weeks ago, we made our very own chocolate hazelnut spread.  Luckily, Lent has arrived, or we’d still be hovering over the jar with our spoons out…but I’m sure we’ll be ready to dig back in once these forty days are up.


All the chocolate-hazelnut recipes posted across the blogosphere in honor of Nutella Day last month got me thinking about attempting to make my own again.  A well-timed article in La Cucina Italiana magazine provided the impetus and guidance I needed to get started.  For my first batch, I followed the recipe exactly as written. 

The recipe had only 5 ingredients, took less than half an hour to make, and left me wondering what in the world had gone wrong with my last attempt

The La Cucina Italiana recipe called for 8 ounces of milk chocolate to 5 ounces of toasted hazelnuts and Chef Karen DeMasco’s special touch, coarse Demerara or turbinado sugar (for a bit of crunch).  It comes out to 29.5% hazelnuts.  (If you’ve followed my Nutella study, that’s a significantly higher proportion of hazelnuts than contained in either the Italian or American versions of Nutella.)

Although it was an excellent variation on the chocolate-hazelnut-spread theme (it tasted almost exactly like the filling of one of my favorite candies), we prefer our gianduia like we prefer our chocolate: dark.  

For round two, we created three different adaptations, one with 3 ounces of dark chocolate added to the the original recipe, one with 4 ounces each dark and milk chocolate, and one with all dark chocolate (plus a little extra oil to replace the missing fat).  While all three were good, the clear winner was the half-and-half version.  The dark chocolate gave it just the extra boost it needed to balance out the hazelnuts, and the milk chocolate kept it creamy and more spreadable than the other two. 

Gianduia (chocolate hazelnut spread) adapted from La Cucina Italiana
printable recipe

makes about 1½ cups

4 oz good quality milk chocolate*
4 oz good quality dark chocolate (54%)*
8 oz raw hazelnuts
2 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp dark brown sugar
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ cup grapeseed oil

*For the chocolate, we used Whole Foods’ organic, fair trade.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Spread hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until fragrant and just beginning to brown. The skins should also begin to visibly loosen.


Meanwhile, break chocolate into pieces and combine in the bowl of a food processor with all remaining ingredients, except the grapeseed oil.

Remove nuts from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Using a tea towel, rub hazelnuts a handful at a time to remove the bitter skins. (It’s okay if they don’t all come off.)


Add warm hazelnuts to bowl of food processor.


Puree.  With the processor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify.  Continue blending until mixture is smooth. (The spread will not become perfectly smooth but will retain small flecks of hazelnuts and sugar for a slight crunch.)


Transfer to an airtight container and allow to thicken (at room temperature for about 2 days, or in the refrigerator for 1 hour.)


Tip: For faster thickening, remove spread from refrigerator after 20-30 minutes.  Stir.  Let rest for 2 minutes.  Stir again.

Spread keeps at room temperature for up to three months.  To soften slightly for spreading, microwave for 5-10 seconds.


March 8, 2011

a tale of two King Cakes

It’s Fat Tuesday!  In anticipation of the lean season of Lent, I spent the weekend getting some baking out of my system.

Growing up, the arrival of Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Carnevale usually brought a batch of my mother’s King Cake (adapted from a recipe she got from a friend years ago).  The cake is basically a huge cinnamon roll with purple, green, and gold sugar on top and a plastic baby hidden inside.  What could be better than a big, sweet ring of cake, cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar?

I never questioned the cake's authenticity until a few weeks ago, when we were treated to a weekend of authentic, New Orleans-style Mardi Gras parties thrown by the Mystick Krewe of Louisiana.  During one late-night gathering as they were cutting the King Cake, my Louisianan cousin commented that it just wouldn’t be authentic King Cake without cream cheese filling.  I had never heard of such a thing, but sure enough, the cake was filled with cream cheese.  The texture of the cake struck a lovely balance between cakey and flaky.  I was surprised by how much I liked it (and was tempted to go back for more).

When it came time to make my own King Cake this year, I wanted to try it with cream cheese and decided to do some experimenting.  The King Cake has a long, often disputed history, and the various incarnations of the traditional pre-Lenten treat are endless.  In New Orleans, there are probably as many versions as there are bakers.  I sifted through lots of recipes, very few of which included the desired cream cheese.  I finally found an Emeril Lagasse recipe on  I figured if anyone had an authentic recipe, he would.

A few hours of kneading and rising later, I had a 1/2 batch of Emeril's cream-cheese-filled King Cake and a full batch of my mom's recipe, with various filling variations.

The two doughs were quite different.  For the same amount of water, butter, yeast, and salt, my mom’s recipe called for 2 eggs, 7 cups of flour, and a cup of water.  Emeril’s, on the other hand, called for 5 egg yolks, only 5 cups of flour , and no water.  My mom's came out more like a traditional cinnamon roll (fluffy and spongy with a moist chew) and Emeril's more brioche-like with a lighter mouth-feel and a drier crumb.
my mom’s recipe is on the left; Emeril’s on the right

I loved the cream cheese filling.  The problem with Emeril's was that the lemon zest and nutmeg in the dough combined with the cream cheese filling made the whole thing taste like apples.  I have no problem with apples. They are one of my favorite foods.  But if I want an apple-stuffed pastry, I'll make an apple-stuffed pastry.

The problem with the family recipe was that once I'd tasted Emeril's dough, I realized how much it was really just a cinnamon roll.  I like cinnamon rolls, but as with the apples, I was going for something all little different.  It was certainly just a texture rather than a flavor issue.  I liked both the butter-pecan-cinnamon-brown sugar filling and the cinnamon-brown sugar-cream cheese filling I had tried, but I wanted a dough more similar to Emeril’s.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time or the audience for a third batch of King Cake, so I wasn’t able to come up with my ideal recipe.  I supposed it will have to wait until next year.  Instead, I’ll offer the recipes I used and some ideas if you feel like experimenting yourself.

You can find Emeril’s original recipe here.  If I were to make it again, I would omit the nutmeg and lemon from the dough and add cinnamon and brown sugar to the cream cheese filling.  I’d also sub milk and vanilla extract for the lemon juice in the glaze. It would look a little something like this:

King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling (adapted from Emeril’s King Cake)

5 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
4 tsp instant yeast (or two packages active dry yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
5 egg yolks

8 ounces cream cheese, softened slightly
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans (optional)

2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk

Decorating Sugar
½ cup granulated sugar, divided in three (Color each with a few drops of yellow, green, or red/blue food coloring and toss with a fork in order create yellow, green, and purple decorating sugar.)

Plastic baby or coin

In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, sugar, butter, egg yolks, and milk.  Stir to combine. (If using active dry yeast, you must wait for the yeast to activate before adding the dry ingredients.  After several minutes, the mixture should begin to bubble.)

Add the flour and salt.   Stir until dough begins to come together.  Then, either mix with dough hook on lowest setting for 5 minutes (until dough pulls away from side of bowl and becomes smooth), or turn mixture onto floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes until dough is smooth, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking. 

Place dough in a large, oiled bowl, turning dough over once so that all sides are coated.   Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1.5 to 2 hours.

When dough is almost finished rising, combine the cream cheese and ½ cup powdered sugar in a small mixing bowl. Mix well.

In another small bowl, stir together cinnamon and brown sugar.

When dough has risen, turn onto floured surface and roll until about 30 inches long by 6 inches wide.

Spread the cream cheese in a wide strip down the center of the dough. Sprinkle with brown sugar mixture and optional pecans.
Bring the two long edges together and use your fingers to press dough together, sealing all sides completely. DSC_0372 
Place dough on a greased baking sheet seam side down and carefully shape into a ring.
Cover the ring with a damp tea towel or flour sack cloth and set in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Make the glaze: In a small bowl, combine 2 cups powdered sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk. Whisk or beat until smooth.  If glaze is too thick, add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Once dough is risen, remove towel and use a sharp knife, sharp scissors, or a lame to make several slits around the top of the ring. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Allow the cake to cool partially, then insert the plastic baby or coin into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the cake.

While cake it is still slightly warm, drizzle with glaze. DSC_0473 DSC_0474
Sprinkle with colored sugar, alternating purple, green, and gold
Once cool, cut the cake into individual pieces and serve.

Alternatively, if you prefer a cinnamon roll-style cake, go with the following tried and true recipe.  There are two filling options – one with cream cheese and one without.

King Cake
(cinnamon-roll style)

3 ½ cups (16 oz) all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ cup (25 g) granulated sugar
2 tsp instant yeast (or 1 package active dry yeast)
1 tsp salt
½ cup water
½ cup milk
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 egg

Filling Option 1
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup chopped pecans (optional)
Filling Option 2
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup powdered sugar
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk

Decorating Sugar
½ cup granulated sugar, divided in three (Color each with a few drops of yellow, green, or red/blue food coloring and toss with a fork in order create yellow, green, and purple decorating sugar.)

Plastic baby or coin

Sift and measure flour. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together sugar, yeast, salt, and 1 cup flour.  In a small sauce pan, heat milk, water, and butter over low heat until butter is melted and liquids are warm.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly (to about 110 degrees F). 

Gradually add liquid to dry ingredients and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed for about 2 minutes.  Add egg and 1 cup flour and beat at high speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add enough of remaining flour to make a stiff dough.  Switch from paddle attachment to dough hook and knead on low speed for 5 minutes until smooth (or turn dough onto well-floured surface and knead by hand for 5-10 minutes until smooth).  Add flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Place dough in a large, oiled bowl, turning dough over once so that all sides are coated.   Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours. 

When dough is almost finished rising, prepare filling: 
Filling 1
In another small bowl, stir together cinnamon and brown sugar.
Filling 2
Combine the cream cheese and ½ cup powdered sugar in a small mixing bowl. Mix well. In another small bowl, stir together cinnamon and brown sugar.
Turn dough onto floured surface, punch down, and knead about 5 times.  Divide dough into two pieces.  One at a time, roll out each piece of dough until about 20 inches long and 6 inches wide.  DSC_0395

Spread butter or cream cheese over entire surface of dough and top with cinnamon/sugar mixture (and pecans, if using).


Starting with the long side of the dough, roll into a spiral and pinch edges to seal.  Repeat with second piece of dough.  


Twist each piece of dough and place on greased baking sheet.  Press ends together, forming one large ring with the two halves. 

Cover the ring with a damp tea towel or flour sack cloth and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Make glaze: In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk. Whisk or beat until smooth.  If glaze is too thick, add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Once dough is risen, bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Allow the cake to cool partially, then insert the plastic baby or coin into the ring under one of the folds.  While cake it is still slightly warm, drizzle with glaze. Sprinkle with colored sugar, alternating purple, green, and gold.

Once cool, cut the cake into individual pieces and serve.