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Nutella Brioche Flower, Bad Pictures, and a Frosty Valentine’s Weekend

19 Feb

Just in case anyone thought I was playing around, I made the most amazing treat over the weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Nutella Brioche Flower!photo(4)I fell in love with the idea of this when I saw it on Instagram (first, follow me @ChefKefiRN…then, search #FOODWINEWOMEN to be amazed at the stuff people come up with) and decided it would be the Valentine’s Day treat that I would bring to MrKef’s family on Staten Island. I found this recipe and knew within about 15 seconds that it was the one for me: it promised my kitchen would be filled with the “smell of lemon and nutella” (umm..yes, please!) and the woman who narrates the amazingly-instructional video does a dead-on Mrs. Potts and what’s better than cooking with Angela Lansbury, really?

Before you make any judgment as to your ability to make this bread, I implore you to watch the video–it really is not skills intensive at all, especially if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook!

Since this one is full of gluten and full of sugar, I did not taste it, but it got very positive feedback from those who did, and –as promised–the kitchen smelled really amazing. I am looking forward to making all kinds of iterations of this one–a FIG jam tsoureki flower, a s’mores flower, a peanut butter and jelly flower…. the possibilities are endless. I will try the next one with Cup4Cup to see how it fares as a gluten-free brioche (which seems about as oxymoronic as you can get, but a girl can dream).

Next on the docket: Valentine’s Day weekend. MrKef and I are not that into the holiday, but as it’s fallen around a long weekend for the last couple years, we usually try to do something out of the ordinary together. This year, we went up to New York to see our families, a play, and check out a fun hotel. But before all that, we ate our body weight in paella at Guardado‘s in Bethesda. They say the $35 served-still-steaming pallea feeds 2-3, but honestly I think 4 really hungry people would still struggle to make a dent in it! We went for the Valenciana and the Black varieties, as I will order pretty much anything with squid ink, and I highly recommend it.

photo 2(1) photo 1(1)

Moving right along from dimly-lit restaurant photos: frosty, blustery, freezing New York. Every time I go home, I think to myself, “Why don’t I live here?” and then I remember that it can be in single digits for days and days and I snap out of my NY nostalgia pretty quickly.

After a really lovely visit with MrKef’s family, we went to see Disgraced, which is an intense 90-minute play about Islamaphobia and assumptions in America (is anyone surprised that was our Vday pick? I don’t think so.). We both loved it and I would actually really like to go and see it again–lots of threads to tease out. In addition to being reasonably-timed, it is extremely reasonably priced because the Lyceum is such a big theater… and it has Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother and the woman who played Jimmy’s mom in Boardwalk Empire. So, really, go see it and we will unpack it all over coffee.

Following the play, we met up with JetSetKef and his FIANCEE, KimmieKef. They are being totally Amish about their engagement status (MamaKef says it still isn’t “official” until it’s on Facebook), so I am not even stressed that I am grinding JetSet’s gears by not taking the time to find the accented-capital E to correctly use the word fiancée above. QueijoKef joined us and we recreated this amazing evening. But first, we took a selfie:

photo 3Once all that fun was over, MrKef and I headed back to the VERY highly-recommended Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City. Very hip, reasonably priced (on a Sunday night, anyway) and super close to the subway, we had a blast at this place–especially in the Mediterranean/Latin American fusion restaurant, Mundo (grape-leaf-wrapped halloumi and yucca fries, anyone?), and at the PINGPONG TABLE. Check out MrKef’s moves:

photo 2 photo 1Whew, that was a long one. Finally we come back full circle: the recipe!

Nutella Brioche Flower


  • 3c + 3TBS bread flour or all-purpose flour (I used all purpose)
  • 6 oz room-temp milk
  • 3 TBS sugar
  • 2 oz butter, melted
  • 2 room-temp eggs, beaten lightly
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • Nutella (I used about half a jar and it was a little too much) or whatever spread you’d like
  • 1 TBS milk + 1 TBS water (for glaze)


  1. Whisk together the yeast, sugar and milk. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and lemon zest. Make a well in the center and add the butter, beaten eggs and yeast/milk mixture. Mix to a soft dough–if you’re using a standing mixer, just use the dough hook on med-low, otherwise just use your hands (this dough is not particularly sticky).
  3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes by hand or 4 minutes by mixer.  Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly-greased bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough has about doubled in size (about an hour). I always use the microwave for this.
  4. Cut a circle 12″ in diameter out of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. If you haven’t watched the instructional video here yet, do it while the dough is rising.
  5. After the dough has doubled, punch it down for any air bubbles and knead it for another 3-4 minutes by hand or 1 minute by mixer. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form each piece into a ball.
  6. One at a time, roll out each ball  into a circle measuring about 10″ in diameter. The dough should be about 1/8″ thick. Do not be intimidated- this is a study dough and you can do this without very good pastry skills (like me!)
  7. Place the rolled-out dough onto the parchment circle and use a flat spatula or knife to spread an even layer of nutella, leaving a small border at the edge. It really doesn’t have to be a very thick layer, or the center of your flower will look a bit too nutella-heavy.
  8. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough but do NOT spread nutella on the top of the final layer.
  9. Leaving a small circle at the center, cut the dough in half, then quarters, then eighths, and finally sixteenths.
  10. Take a pair of adjacent segments. Lift and twist them away from each other through 180°. Lift and twist through 180° again, then twist through 90° so that the ends are vertical. Press the edges together firmly. Repeat this process for all pairs of segments.
  11. Cover with lightly-oiled plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 1-2 hours. Preheat the oven to 360F.
  12. Mix together the water and milk. Brush the brioche with the glaze and then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until center begins to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Gratuitous Gratitude #1: The Calculus of Cooking

22 Nov

One day in college, I decided to throw a dinner party.  I didn’t know how to cook, really, but having mastered literacy by the second grade, I felt confident I could at least follow a recipe.  So I picked out several ambitious recipes with about 100 ingredients each, and muddled my way through, to pretty spectacular results (if I do say so myself).  The problem came the next time I offered to make dinner for people: this time, I had deluded myself into thinking I knew how to cook and picked out new, equally-ambitious recipes with even more ingredients. The result was, uh, less-than spectacular.

This persisted for the next four years and led to many nights of apologizing (“I can’t imagine what went wrong with the duck confit, but my isn’t this mango gallete delicious?”), until one day it occurred to me that I had started with calculus before I knew how to multiply.  So I went back to some more basic things and experimented with types of food I wanted to learn how to cook.

So now I present to you: three recipes I am grateful for.   These are three of the easiest, most basic, most instructive recipes I know.  The Bluberry Focacia is a GREAT first-bread to make and you’ll learn a lot about how a dough is supposed to look/rise because you can’t mess it up; the smokey marinara sauce can be paired with ANYTHING and make it better, and the nutella bread pudding (yes… you read that right) is just the best thing you will ever put in your mouth, period.  Plus, they’re so good everyone will be very impressed and think you are a domestic-mother-effing goddess, as some of us are known around these parts. And that’s something to be grateful for.

Also- I don’t know how to make a “jump”–but one day I will, so sorry if these multi-recipe posts give your fingers carpal tunnel from scrolling down.

The easiest bread I’ve ever made: Blueberry Focacia
I got this from Oprah Magazine and it has been a big hit everywhere. DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED.

  • 1 package (1/4 oz) acive dry yeast (you can get this in the baking section of most grocery stores)
  • 2 1/4 c warm water
  • 6 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 lg egg
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter at room temp (seriously room temp– makes everything easier)
  • 5-6 c blueberries (at this time of year, you might be able to get away with 1/2 fresh, 1/2 frozen–but try it once with fresh so you can see what it should be like!)
  • Oven preheated to 400F

1. In small bowl, mix yeast and water together and set aside for about
5 minutes (will get a little foamy).  In a large bowl (on standing
mixer if you have one– if not, no biggie), combine flour, HALF cup of
brown sugar (save the rest for later), salt, and cinnamon. Stir the
egg into yeast, then pour wet mixture into dry mixture and mix on low
speed (or combine very quickly if you don’t have standing mixture).
Add butter, mix until combine. Knead dough until smooth and pliable
but still relatively wet– about 5 minutes.
2. Grease large bowl with oil or Pam. Put dough in bowl and cover w
plastic wrap (again– has to be plastic, not tin foil, or it won’t
rise).  Let rise for about an hour in a warm place- dough will double.
3. Grease two baking sheets. Break the dough into two halves and place
one half on each baking sheet. Stretch out slightly until dough is
1-inch thick and oval-shaped. Cover with greased plastic wrap for
another 45-60 min.
4. With greased fingers, “dimple” surface of each loaf. Sprinkle each
loaf with half your berries and 1/4 c brown sugar.  Bake until golden
brown- about 30-35 min.

The most versatile sauce I’ve ever made: Smokey Marinara
Many thanks to the people at for bringing me this incredible sauce (and, incidentally, the inspiration for butternut squash lasagne)!

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (this is what makes it so delicious
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained (I cannot say enough how much it matters that they are fire-roasted–the flavor differential is incredible)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained (in late summer, I substitute with fresh heirloom tomatoes and it makes it even better)


1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add garlic, basil, parsley, and oregano; sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently.
3. Stir in balsamic vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

The best dessert I’ve ever made: Nutella Bread Pudding

Do I even need to preface this? I found this recipe while in South Africa, and since then it has tantalized palates from five countries on four continents. Be careful- it is truly dangerous!

•    6 croissants for a small batch, 12 for a large
•    as much Nutella as you dare (I use about 5/6 a jar for a large batch)
•    2 eggs
•    1 cup cream
•    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•    1/2 cup sugar

1.    Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2.    Slice each croissant in half lengthwise, then slather one side with Nutella. Place the croissants nutella-side-up in an ungreased glass baking pan until you get to the top layer, where I like to do nutella-side-down.  Try and arrange them as equally as possible with as few gaps as possible. This does not have to be pretty!
4.    Whisk/beat Teggs, cream, vanilla extract, and sugar to a medium bowl and until combined.  On good days, I get this to a custard-consistency, but it works even if it doesn’t quite make it there.
5.    Pour the custard over the croissant-nutella-goodness until it is covered. You may need to manipulate this by pushing down on some of the croissant pieces–that is fine.
6.   Let sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes–if you have longer, let it sit for about 90 minutes.
7.  Bake for 30-45 minutes. That is a huge range, I know– but this is an oven-sensitive recipe, so check it a few times.  You want a golden brown top and a “set” pudding– so basically it should look like there’s no more liquid in the mixture.

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