Confession. Until this past spring, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I was checking out my Instagram feed and saw a post by @zoebakes aka Zoe Francois about her new cookbook, Zoe Bakes Cakes being chosen by @rainydaybites for the May and June cookbook challenge. Zoe gave a great description of the cookbook club and how it worked. I clicked the links and was impressed to see all the beautiful bakes that had been produced and thought the concept sounded fun, but I was late to the party as the challenge was halfway over. The way the club works is that a particular cookbook is chosen, a specific recipe or recipes are chosen from the book, and participants post photos of what they made on a specific date. It was something I wanted to do, but to be honest, I was late to the party several times. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and make sure I didn’t miss out again, and asked Ray if he wanted to join in. He also thought it sounded like fun and agreed to participate.

The book selection for November and December was Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season by Sarah Kieffer. That sounded liked a perfect selection as we both expected to bake a lot during these months. Once we made the commitment to one another, I ordered the book right away and was delighted to receive my beautiful copy. A quick look through is all I needed to know that I would be making many of the recipes from this book outside of what was chosen for the club.

The first recipe for the club was Lemon Pull-Apart Bread. Well, that sounded delicious! So, I gathered my ingredients and went to work. First the dough had to be made. It needed to be made ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator overnight or up to 72 hours. That flexibility ended up being a godsend as family obligations interfered with my plans the next day, but my dough was still waiting for me when I was ready. On baking day, things appeared to be going well at first. I followed the instructions and admired the slices of dough as they sat in the pan for the final rise. All was great!

Lemon Pull-Apart Bread Dough

Then came time to bake. I’d already seen what Ray had produced, so I excitedly placed my loaf in the oven. After several minutes, I turned the oven light on to take a peek. Well, it didn’t quite look like what I was expecting. It was the opposite of Ohio – high on both ends and round in the middle. At the midway point I decided to tent the bread with foil to control the browning. The bread still had the odd shape, but the smell of butter that wafted up was heavenly! Once the bread was finished baking, it had a greater resemblance to a bouquet of flowers than the neatly stacked image that was in my head.

Lemon Pull-Apart Bread

What went wrong? I don’t know if I should say anything went wrong. What I got in the end was actually delicious. Tom likened it to a lemon Danish, which he said was one of the few breakfast pastries he likes. I wondered if I let the rise go longer than I should have? There was a range of 45 to 60 minutes, and I let mine go the full 60. More is better, right? I also think in retrospect, that I could have been much neater when placing my strips of dough into the pan. Nonetheless, I completed the icing and took additional pictures and posted one of them to Instagram. The response was so positive! I had many likes and warm comments. Both Sarah Kieffer and Deborah of @rainydaybites gave very nice compliments. I’d been reluctant to share, but Ray had nudged me to post, and I’m glad I did. This was so much fun, and the cookbook club is a really kind and supportive community. I’m definitely in for round two!

Let’s see how the experience went for Ray…

Let me start by picking up where Karen left off. I really wouldn’t say she had gone wrong in any way either. We discussed what we had done differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean her following my exact path would have produced the same end result. I only did 45 minutes for the final rise, but would that have changed things for her? Probably not. There are many factors that could come into play. Perhaps the strength of the yeast she used was better than mine. Maybe her kitchen was warmer than mine which resulted in a more powerful final rise. Who knows?

I will also echo her thoughts regarding the nice group of people that were baking along with us! I had finished and posted mine much earlier in the day than Karen and had spent the rest of the day checking in from time to time and watching the results unfold. So many people (including Sarah Kieffer and Deborah of @rainydaybites) gave my end results likes and took the time to comment and I enjoyed replying to their comments and commenting on their work as well.

These friendly exchanges and the camaraderie within the group were the reason I encouraged Karen to go ahead and post her results. Of all the results posted, no two looked alike – some of the participants even talked about crazy results and slices of dough popping out of place as well! They posted their work proudly and with good humor and it really made for a fun and great experience for all.

As for my results… In our family since the very early days of Karen becoming my sister-in-law, we have teamed up to make a dessert or two each Thanksgiving. Baking is a very precise thing and I believe in following recipes, but after making a particular recipe several times, I am known to consider changes to the process. There is one pecan pie recipe that comes to mind. We choose new recipes each year, but this particular pie became a favorite of our nephew, so we still make it most years along with our other selection for that year.

Like most pecan pies, you fill the pie shell with toasted pecans before pouring the filling over them. In this particular recipe it calls for an extra step – after putting the pecan halves in the pie shell, you are supposed to add some chopped pecans to the filling before you pour it over the other pecans. After a few years of doing this I began to wonder what is the point of it? It has become sort of humorous traditional exchange between us when preparing the pie.

Karen: “Now we need to add the chopped pecans.”

Ray: “Is this step really necessary? Do we really need to do it?”

Karen: “Yes, that’s what the recipe says to do!”

Ray: “Fine, we’ll do it!”

Family anecdote aside, I did follow the recipe to the letter and I ended up with amazing results! One of the fun things about the club is that if there are variations in the book for a chosen recipe, you can make one of them instead. I like lemon desserts, probably better than my family, but I knew I would get a better response to one of the other options. In order to save myself from having to eat the bulk of the lemon bread alone, I decided to make the cinnamon version.

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread – Final Rise

After the final rise was complete, it was all set to go in the oven. While it was baking the house filled with an amazing cinnamon smell and my son couldn’t stop asking me how much longer it would be before we could eat it. I understood how he felt – I couldn’t wait to try it either! When it was done baking and topped with icing, I was amazed at what I saw – it was probably one of the nicest looking things I had ever made.

After snapping a few pictures, we tore into it. It was truly delicious and in short order the loaf in the picture above was half its former size! My son asked for more and my wife said it reminded her a bit of Cinnabon – I agreed. It took a great deal of restraint, but we wrapped it up and set it aside for the next day when we enjoyed another slice. The author states that the bread is best eaten the day it’s made. While that is no doubt true, especially if you plan to serve it to company, it was just as good the second day after a few seconds in the microwave.

Round one really was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to the second challenge next week.

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