A Festive Baked Brie

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I happen to love baked brie. I’ve discovered since joining the blogging world, however, that there are those who don’t. Personally, I feel like these people are missing out.

But, like with all food, taste is subjective, and no one need be forced to eat baked brie or anything else he or she doesn’t love, ever. Thankfully. Or I’d have to eat uni.

Hopefully at some point in your life you’ve tried a baked brie – perhaps at a party. It might have been a fancy baked brie, topped with chutney, then artistically wrapped in phyllo dough. When I catered, this is the sort of presentation I used to create because it makes an impression.

And, the pièce de resistance – you get to pierce the cheese rind, and the wonderfully warm, oozy brie pours out, along with the chutney, and you get to spread this mixture on bread. A baked brie is heavenly.

But a baked brie doesn’t have to be wrapped in pasty. Here’s a simple baked brie recipe that I made over the holidays. This one is on the sweeter side, which might surprise you. I do love a savory baked brie…

The main flavors are maple and pecan, so you can serve this brie anytime in the fall or winter, not just for the holidays.

I made this same brie for a Christmas party at my house 16 years ago. It was definitely a hit! (Hiding behind the crackers on the left.)

Maple Pecan Baked Brie

1 – 2 pound wheel of brie, at room temperature
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1 stick, or 4 ounces unsalted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of ground cayenne (optional)
1 1/4 cups toasted pecan halves*
Water crackers or French bread slices

Unwrap the brie, and place it on a greased cookie sheet. The greasing helps insure that the brie can simply be slid on to the serving dish. If you use a spatula, you run the risk of prematurely piercing the brie, and you’ll have to start over.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium pot, combine the maple syrup, butter, and brown sugar. Heat over medium heat until the butter dissolves. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes to reduce slightly and thicken. Then add the cinnamon, and cayenne, if using. Set aside to cool somewhat, stirring frequently.

Break up the toasted pecans and set aside.

Bake the brie as is for about 20 minutes. Carefully slide it onto a heat-proof serving dish. Alternately, if you’re really good using your microwave, have the brie on the heat-proof and microwave-proof serving dish, and gently and slowly on the lowest power settings warm the brie. Do not let it cook.

If you baked the brie in the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, then pour the warm maple mixture over the top, and sprinkle the top with the broken pecan pieces. I first put a little blob on the brie to help the pecans stick, added the pecans, and then poured more of the maple mixture on the top and sides of the brie, followed by a last few pieces of pecans.

Serve immediately with crackers or bread.

Full disclosure – I used a 1-lb brie in the photos, because I didn’t want to eat 2 pounds of brie, basically on my own!

* The easiest way to toast a small amount of pecans is in a skillet on the stove. Place the desired amount of pecan halves in a skillet over medium-high heat, in one layer only. Once the skillet heats up, you will smell the pecans toasting. Shake the skillet around, moving the pecans around, until you can see that they’re toasted on all sides. Then remove the skillet from the heat. Let cool completely.

Mincemeat Ice Cream

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I know. Your initial impression of ice cream with mincemeat may not be favorable. But this isn’t the suet and minced meat type of olden days mincemeat. This is a glorious mixture of spiced apples, raisins, and pecans – mixed into ice cream.

Last Thanksgiving I made the ubiquitous pumpkin pie, a favorite of my family, and served it with this mincemeat ice cream. And it was a sublime pairing. There are no photos, because I’ve learned that food blogging can’t really happen during special meals! But I did want to share the recipe, which originally came from Bon Appetit.

The recipe is for a custard-style ice cream plus the mincemeat that is folded into the prepared ice cream.

This year, for the sake of time, I purchased a gallon of high-quality vanilla bean ice cream, made the mincemeat per this recipe, and folded it into the softened ice cream. You can do it all from scratch like I did last year, or cheat like I did this year.

I purchased a pumpkin pie for the purpose of photographing this ice cream, because this year I have other dessert plans for Thanksgiving. You know me – so much food, so little time… but I did want to share this spectacular recipe.

Mincemeat Ice Cream
Bon Appetit recipe, slightly adapted
printable recipe below

Ice cream:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
10 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar

Mincemeat:
2 Golden Delicious apples (about 1 1/3 pounds), peeled, cored, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup pecans, toasted, chopped
3/4 cup white sugar
2/3 cup apple cider
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Juice of one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

To make the ice cream, mix cream and milk in heavy large saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to simmer; remove from heat.

Whisk yolks and sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Stir over medium heat until mixture thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 5 minutes. Strain custard into bowl. Cover; chill until cold, about 4 hours.

To prepare the mincemeat, bring all 13 ingredients to boil in heavy large saucepan.

Reduce heat to medium and cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.

Transfer mixture to bowl; refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

Process custard in ice cream maker. Transfer ice cream to bowl. Fold in 3 cups cold mincemeat. Cover and freeze until firm, about 4 hours. I you’re using a gallon of purchased ice cream, use all of the mincemeat, which measures 3 cups.

The mince meat could be made with pears as well if they were firm.

Just for fun, I combined some of the cider and brown sugar bourbon I used in the mincemeat and reduced to a syrup, then poured it warm over the ice cream on the pumpkin pie.

I have the worst time photographing ice cream, but I can guarantee that if you love apple pie filling, you will love this recipe.

It is so good by itself, but especially good with pumpkin pie!

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!

 

 

Wild Rice and Pecan Pancakes

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Savory pancakes are something I really enjoy creating, not just because they are so delicious, but more because you can incorporate just about anything and everything into the batter.

Just on this blog I’ve offered potato and halloumi pancakes, butternut squash and bacon pancakes, zucchini pancakes, and squash and corn pancakes. All different, all wonderfully satisfying.

My secret if to use very little flour; it’s all about the main ingredients. Sometimes it’s vegetables with herbs, sometimes vegetables and nuts, sometimes I mix in grains, cooked or not, for texture.

These pancakes are an autumnal offering, using wild rice and toasted pecans. If you are serving a Mexican or Southwestern-inspired meal, include cilantro in the pancakes, plus some ground cumin and dried oregano. If you want a more generic pancake, stick with some parsley for a fresh flavor, like I did here.

Wild rice is actually a seed, not a grain, and it can taste and feel like little sticks, so I prefer a mixture of rice, brown or white, and wild rice.

These can be served with any kind of protein, from a pork chop to salmon. They’re quite versatile.

Wild rice and Pecan Pancakes
Makes 15 pancakes

2 ounces pecans
4 ounces wild rice
1 cup cooked white or brown rice, cooled
2 eggs
4 ounces 1/2 & 1/2, evaporated milk, or other
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Approximately 1/4 finely chopped onions or shallots
Approximately 1/4 chopped parsley
1/2 cup flour plus a little more
Butter or olive oil

Toast the pecans in a cast-iron skillet and let cool.

Meanwhile, cook the wild rice in 2 cups of water just as you would rice, for about 50 minutes. You actually have the option to cook less or more, depending on how you like your wild rice. It softens more with more cooking, obviously, which is how I prefer it. If there’s leftover water in the pot you can drain it.

Place the leftover cooked white rice in a small bowl, then add the cooked wild rice and let cool.

In a larger bowl, combine the eggs and 1/2 & 1/2 and stir well. Add the garlic pepper and salt.

When the rice has cooled, add to the egg and milk mixture. Stir well, then add the onions and parsley.

When you are ready to cook the pancakes, add the pecans and stir in the flour.

When you stir the batter, you shouldn’t see any liquid (the egg and milk mixture). If you do, sprinkle a little more flour over the batter, only about one tablespoon at a time. If you add too much flour, the pancakes will be stiff and dry.

I used a large non-stick skillet to cook the pancakes. Start over medium-high heat. Add some butter to the skillet, and when it melts, add a spoonful of batter carefully, pressing it down to form a pancake.

After a minute, turn down the heat and let the pancakes cook for a few minutes. Turn them over carefully, and continue to cook a few more minutes. If you want more browning on the second side, raise the heat a bit.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Take your time, these are a bit more delicate than potato pancakes. The rices are cooked, but you still have to cook the batter slowly but thoroughly.

I served the pancakes as a side to a filet mignon.

I think a vegetarian would enjoy them as a meal, because they’re pretty hearty.

Speaking of non-vegetarians, these would also be good made with bacon.

If you feel extra decadent, serve sour cream with the pancakes.

 

 

A Zucchini Pancake Challenge

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For a significant part of my life I can honestly say that I worked tirelessly to get people into the kitchen to make home-cooked meals. It makes so much sense from an economic standpoint, as well as for health and wellness reasons. Home cooking is generally less expensive and healthier than meals eaten out or worse than that – purchased as fast food.

But novice cooks are often overwhelmed with the idea of cooking without having a specific recipe in front of them. Especially women, in my experience. As a result, often food goes to waste, which defeats the purpose of home cooking.

Cooking at home is work, let’s face it. You need to keep your pantry stocked. And if you believe in fresh food, you need to make grocery lists and shop often.

But the most important thing in my mind, is to be creative in the kitchen without having recipes. A scary sounding proposition if you think that cooking is difficult.

Home cooking is not difficult. In fact, it’s way more fun than being a chef in a restaurant kitchen, in my mind, because you can make whatever you want on a daily basis, to suit your tastes.

Certainly prepping skills are good to know, as well as cooking techniques. But what I’m talking about is creating your own dishes based on what you have on hand. That way there is no waste.

Take zucchini. It’s September right now in the US, and zucchini, a summer squash, is still growing in my garden and readily available at grocery stores.

Sure, you can bake zucchini bread and muffins, but that’s not something that’s nourishing. I’m talking savory zucchini pancakes – a lovely vegetarian option, or a fabulous side dish to protein.

If you want an exact recipe, check out my squash and corn pancakes from last summer. It’s a little more involved, but there is a recipe.

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So the following is a guide to make your own zucchini pancakes. Put your personality into your own recipe. Season as you like. You’ll know when the texture is perfect when the batter is similar to breakfast pancakes – although breakfast pancakes with lots of grated zucchini! Take the challenge and see what you come up with. No recipe allowed!

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Zucchini Pancakes

Eggs, whisked
Zucchini, grated
Liquid of choice
Onion, diced
Chile peppers, diced (optional)
Parsley, chopped
Salt
Garlic pepper
Thyme (optional)
Flour
Butter

First, whisk your eggs in a large bowl. I used 2 extra-large eggs. Grate your zucchini and add it to the eggs. I used a medium-sized zucchini.

Prep your aromatics. I chose onion, red chile peppers, and parsley. Here’s how I chopped the chile peppers.

Then add the liquid to the batter, only about 1/3 cup, and the seasonings. You can use any herbs, spices, or even pesto!

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Give everything a stir. The mixture should look similar to this.

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Begin adding flour, about 1/3 cup at a time. Don’t stir the flour in completely, just fold it in well enough to see if more flour is needed. These savory pancakes are not going to be as tender as breakfast pancakes, but we don’t want them tough and rubbery, either.

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Just add enough flour to bind all of the ingredients. Then stop. I didn’t use more than 1 cup of flour.

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These are not supposed to be big doughy pancakes with a little bit of zucchini. These are zucchini pancakes.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat.

Add a generous amount of butter to the skillet, and then, when it’s almost browned, add spoonfuls of batter. Take the spoon and flatten the pancakes gently. If they’re too thick, there’s a risk of them not being cooked through.

After a couple of minutes, turn them over and cook for another couple of minutes.

If you’re unsure of the total amount of time required to cook these through, break open the first pancake and look at it. If the middle is still doughy, as this one is, then the pancakes need to be cook longer.

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Ideally, the outsides of the pancakes should be crispy and golden brown and the insides soft, but not raw.

Serve the pancakes warm. They’re delicious with a little dab of butter or even a little sour cream. Or simply, on their own.

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I served these spicy zucchini pancakes with a tomato salad, but my husband enjoyed the pancakes as a side dish. They also reheat very well.

Ideas for other options:

Shallots/garlic instead of onions
Green onions/chives instead of onions
Bell peppers/roasted red bell peppers instead of chile peppers
Other vegetables included like corn
Cilantro instead of parsley
Grated potato/summer squash along with the zucchini
Chopped walnuts/pecans
Whole wheat flour instead of white
Olive oil instead of butter

If you haven’t attempted savory pancakes like these before, and follow through on them without a recipe, please tell me about it. I love to see how you did. Because trust me, it will work!

Lingonberry Vinaigrette

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The other day while I was on hold with American Airlines, I spent the hours perusing recipes at Epicurious.com. I love the site, and its recipe search engine is very smart. You can search for a specific ingredient, for only dessert recipes, holiday dishes, and so forth.

I was just searching randomly, to pass the time, but then I came across this recipe: Red Cabbage Salad with Green Apple, Lingonberry Preserves, and Toasted Walnuts. The salad wasn’t too different than ones I’ve made; I’ve even blogged about a couple that are very similar, because I happen to love hearty, crunchy salads. It was the dressing, made with lingonberry preserves, that really caught my attention.

So that idea stayed in my head, and when I was at Whole Foods last week I found them! Swedish Lingonberries! I couldn’t wait to play with them and make a vinaigrette.

From the list of ingredients, lingonberries, sugar, and pectin, I expected the lingonberries to be very jam-like. In fact, they weren’t very sweet at all, and didn’t have a jam-like texture to them either. So I got creative, and here’s what I did.

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Lingonberry Vinaigrette

1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons beet juice, from canned beets
4 tablespoons lingonberries
1/2 teaspoon sugar

To begin, I added all of the above ingredients to a blender jar, because that’s second nature to me. Then it dawned on me. With beautiful, whole lingonberries in the dressing, it would be much prettier with the ingredients left as is, instead of blending them all together.

So I simply shook the ingredients in the blender jar, and poured the vinaigrette into a serving bowl.

My salad was simple – Romaine lettuce, purple cabbage, carrots, grilled chicken, beets, and a few pine nuts.

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I also decided to decorate the salad with a few extra lingonberries, so I rinsed some of the “jam” gently with warm water to separate the individual lingonberries.

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Just now as I’m writing this post, I looked back at the recipe that inspired me, and I wish I’d included apple in my salad. With the lingonberries not being as sweet as I expected, a fruit would have been a delicious addition.

But in any case, this vinaigrette is wonderful. Only slightly sweet, and slightly tart at the same time.

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note: If you don’t love beets, omit the beet juice. I added it, again, because I wanted to offset the sweetness from the berries, but it wasn’t necessary.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

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It seems like I’ve been entertaining a lot lately. I love having company. But what that means is that I have a lot of extra cheese on hand, because I always purchase good cheeses for entertaining.

Inspired by a recipe by Jacques Pepin, I decided to combine all of my leftover cheeses and make a cheese log. Jacques Pepin calls this fromage fort, which literally translates to “strong” cheese.

That’s really a misnomer because there’s nothing strong about this cheese unless you choose to make it strong. It’s all about your choice of cheeses. I used goat cheese, Manchego, and Fontina.

In his book, Chez Jacques, Jacques tells the story about how his father always made crocks of cheeses created by whatever leftover cheeses they had on hand. He also included other things like wine and sometimes garlic. His father’s cheese creations were definitely strong because he aged them for about 1 1/2 weeks in the cellar before serving.

Mrs. Pepin follows the same method of combining leftover cheese to make fromage fort, but unlike the “old” days, uses a food processor. She also adds some cream cheese or cottage cheese if the cheeses are on the dry side. I use butter for that purpose.

I’m not including cheese weights in this “recipe,” because the whole point of making this fromage fort, or potted cheese, is using what you have left over.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

Goat cheese, at room temperature
Manchego, chopped or grated
Fontina, chopped coarsely
Butter, at room temperature
Walnuts

I placed the goat cheese and the grated Manchego and Fontina in a large bowl. Then I added some butter just to make things a little softer and smoother.

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I toasted the walnuts. Then I chopped them on a cutting board.

I layed out a piece of plastic wrap on my workspace, and then carefully placed some of the chopped walnuts on the plastic wrap. I did this instead of just pouring the walnuts onto the plastic, because I didn’t want to include the walnut “powder” that comes from chopping the walnuts. I wanted the bigger, cleaner pieces.

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I used my hands to mix everything together – it was almost like kneading a greasy bread. It all could have been done in the food processor as well.

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Then I formed a log of sorts and pressed it down onto the stretch of walnuts.

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Then I added more walnuts, and kept turning over the log until all sides were completely covered with walnuts.

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Wrap the log securely and store in the refrigerator.

At least 2 hours before serving, remove the log from the fridge and place on the serving plate. Then let it come to room temperature. Serve with crackers or bread.

This is really good cheese to serve with charcuterie and olives or cornichons, as well as other cheeses.

You don’t have to turn your cheeses into a log. If you prefer, just place the mixture in a crock. But if you stick to the log idea, different nuts can be used. Instead of nuts you could use only chopped herbs in the summer. And, you could use dried fruit as well – think dried cranberries and pistachios for the holidays!!

Do this yourself some time and create a new cheese with your leftovers!

Chili Pecan Buns

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Back when I was a personal cook for a family, I made bread at least every few days. And I never made the same bread twice. It was perfect for me, because it’s just the kind of thing I like to do in the kitchen – mix it up! And bread is so versatile, with various grains and flours from which to choose. Not to mention the liquids as well as the different seasonings you can use in your bread to really enhance a meal.

I always made bread for my family as well, but a certain family member has recently eschewed the merits of whole-grain carbs. I know. Boo. But to be fair, he has a specific wheat allergy, so of course, I will occasionally “force” home-made gluten-free bread on him. In spite of his carb issues, the bread always disappears quickly.

But occasionally I like to made bread the old-fashioned way with wheat. And today I wanted a rich spicy bread to go with a very mild bean and green chile, if you will. So since I was thinking Southwestern flavors, I came up with using chili powder and pecans. It turned out fabulous, I must say.

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I’ve included photos representing all of the steps, just in case you’re not familiar with the bread-making process. Relax, it’s easy. So here’s my recipe:

Chili Pecan Buns

1/2 cup warmish-hottish water
2 teaspoons yeast
Sprinkling of sugar
1 1/2 cups milk*, warmed
2 – 3 tablespoons chili powder (I used 3)
2 tablespoons plain oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup pecan halves, toasted, ground up
2 cups unbleached bread flour
plus a little more for kneading

Place the warmish-hottish water in a large bowl. You should be able to hold your finger in the water and it not burn. If it’s too hot or cold, adjust accordingly. If you’re a perfectionist, the water should be 110 – 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Also make sure the bowl doesn’t cool down the water.

Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar. Wait about 5 minutes.

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Then whisk the mixture together and let it sit another 5 minutes or so.

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This is called proofing, and the mixture will look all bubbly and doubled in volume. If none of this happened, your water was too cold or hot, or your yeast isn’t working. But I doubt the yeast, because I’m still using at least ten-year old yeast that I bought in bulk and store in my freezer. It always works.

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At this point, add the warmed up milk, oil, salt, and chili powder.

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Add the whole wheat flour and whisk the mixture together until very smooth. It will look like this:

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Cover the bowl and place it in a warm place for about an hour. It will double in volume. Remove it from your warm place and whisk the mixture again. Now is when you add your ground pecans.

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Stir the pecans into the batter, and then add one cup of flour and stir until well combined. Add the second cup of flour and stir as well as you can to incorporate it. At some point, when the dough isn’t too sticky, you need to remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface. You have to use your instinct for this – sticky dough can be dealt with by patiently using floured hands. If you prefer your dough less sticky, incorporate more flour into it before attempting the kneading process.

Knead the dough and incorporate flour as needed for about 5 minutes. What that means is, if the dough is sticking to your work surface, add a sprinkling of flour. If your hands begin to stick, add a sprinkling of flour. In my experience, it is best to use as little flour as possible, while still managing to knead your dough properly.

Leave the dough on your work surface and cover with a damp towel for at least an hour. After it has risen, remove the towel.

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Knead the dough a little bit, and then cut into half. Since I made buns, I wanted them to all be about the same size for baking purposes, so I used a scale to weigh out the halves. My dough ended up in eight pieces, at about 5 1/2 ounces each. They ended up the size of hamburger buns, so if you want them smaller, cut your dough into 16 pieces.

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Make nice round buns by rolling the dough in between your hands, them place them on a greased cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining buns. Then let them rise in a warm place until they double in size once again.

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Bake the buns for about 20 minutes. Again, if you’re a perfectionist, test a bun with a thermometer – it should read 195 degrees Farenheit.

Remove the buns from the oven and let cool slightly. They are best served warm, but they reheat really well.

* Just for fun, I did not use a dairy milk for this recipe. I’ve always loved showing people how easy it to substitute ingredients in cooking – especially in simple, every day kind of cooking. So, surprise! I used coconut milk in this recipe!!!

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note: If you don’t want pecans or other nuts in this bread you could always add about 8 ounces of grated cheddar to make a Chili Cheese Bread!!!