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Domestic Goddess Cooking Tip: Vanilla Sugar

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When I make my Monkey Bread I like to roll the dough balls in my own homemade Vanilla Sugar which is mixed with Cinnamon.
Of course, this sugar is great in application you’d want that hint of vanilla with your sweetness: Hot Cocoa, Cinnamon-Sugar Toast, Sugar cookies, Shortbread, Pie Sweetners, etc.
I’ve been working on switching from refined white sugar to organic cane sugar, but I noticed that some brands are more coarse than the standard traditional white sugar we normally find. So that my family and guests don’t get the impression I’m adding sand to my sugar, I improvise and ‘refine’ the sugar a bit finer, myself.
First, grab your Vitamix. I assume a blender will work also, just work smaller batches so that it has a chance to turn over the sugar without turning the bottom to powdered sugar before the top has a chance to mix in.

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Scrape a couple of vanilla bean guts into your sugar, and then give a quick whiz in the mixer. I use the tamper to really force the top to the bottom and I pulse it with my other hand.

Here, you can see the difference in coarseness in a before:

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And the after:

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Your not aiming for powdered sugar, which your Vitamix CAN DO, so don’t over do it! Pour the sugar into a mason jar or airtight container, add the stripped vanilla beans and let sit for at least a month.

If you have standard C&H white sugar, you get to skip the refining process. Just add the scraped vanilla bean insides to the sugar. mix well, add the beans and let it sit.


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Gluten Free Monkey Bread

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With our little family being on our own for so many years, we developed Christmas traditions to fill the void that would normally be filled by the bustle of  family gatherings. Our traditions are activity based, and certain foods we enjoy every year. When the children were little, Christmas Eve consisted of Ham, scalloped potatoes and a green veggie, all foods easily popped in the oven to bake while we were at church. After dinner, we made traditional Christmas Eve phone calls to out of state Grandparents and relatives. The girls opened the gifts relatives had sent while on the phone, so that the relatives were able to share in the joy despite the distance. Once all the calls were made and well wishes given, the girls opened their annual Christmas PJ’s. While the girls changed, I would make a batch of homemade hot cocoa to be poured into Santa mugs, while dad warmed up the car. Once ready, we piled into the car and drove around the neighborhoods, enjoying the Christmas light displays. This was immediately followed by checking Norad’s Santa Tracker, setting out Santa’s cookies, and finally little ones tucked into bed.

Christmas morning was a continuation of traditions. Trying to beat the girls awake, I would stumble down blurry-eyed to get breakfast/brunch going. In between mixing and baking time, with coffee in hand, presents were opened. Breakfast was served. Messes cleaned up. Then we host an Open House for our local friends. While our friends come and go, spreading and sharing cheer, Big Man tends the Roast Beast.

For many years I made the same Christmas Brunch starting with a yummy Apple-Ginger Strudel Bundt cake, Quiche Lorraine (made with leftover ham from Christmas Eve), fresh Fruit Salad and Steamed Asparagus. However, with the diagnosis of gluten intolerance in the girls, I decided to change things up with a Gluten Free Monkey Bread. Monkey Bread on Christmas morning has become a welcome new tradition. Nothing says warm, cozy, yumminess than bread dredged and baked in buttery cinnamon sweetness. Along with this, I serve a crustless quiche and simple fruit salad. It’s a great way to start the day. Give it a try and tell me what you think.

Gluten Free Monkey Bread

1.5 cups Brown Rice Flour
2 cups Tapioca Starch
1/2 cup Sorghum Flour
1 tbsp Xanthan Gum
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tbsp Baking Powder
4 oz (1 cube) Unsalted Butter, Frozen
1 cup Water + 1 cup Whole Milk or Almond Milk. (You may not need it all- read Step 3)
1 large Egg

Dough Dredge

1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar
4 oz Butter, melted. (1 stick-use regular salted butter- you may need more. better more than not enough!)
2 tsp Vanilla

Optional: Chopped Pecans

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees
Lightly butter a 9 inch baking dish – such as a 9 in pie plate or 2 in deep casserole dish. I prefer round, but you can use a 9×9. (The photo above is made in a Bundt pan. While prettier for display, I have achieved better baking results with a pie dish, the dough cooks more evenly.)

To make the Dough:

1. Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, sugar, and xanthem gum in a large bowl.
2. Using a box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flour. If possible, use the smallest holes. Toss the dry ingredients as you go, coating the butter and mixing it well into the flours.
3. Mix the egg into 1.5 cups of the liquid, and add to the flour. Continue to add additional water until you get a dough that is soft, but firm enough to hold the shape of a ball. If your flours are dry, you might need more water. You want it to be the texture of a sweet bread dough. It needs to be firm enough to hold its shape, but moist enough to not turn out dry. It’s better to err on the side of moist.

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To Assemble:

1. Mix the white and brown sugars together with the cinnamon and put in a shallow bowl or pan.
2. Melt the butter, add the vanilla and put in a shallow bowl or pan.
3. Roll the dough into balls that are about 1.5 inches in diameter. The balls should be smaller than the length of your thumb. My technique is this: With my right hand, I use my fingertips to grab a small ball of dough. I use that hand to drop into the butter. I then flip the ball, and on the palm of my left hand, shape it into a ball. Then, still with my right hand, I drop the ball into the sugar. Using my left hand I toss the balls in the sugar and lay in the pan. This will prevent ‘club hand’, as they put it in the cooking realm.

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4. Dredge the rolls in the Vanilla/Butter mixture, then roll in the Cinnamon-Sugar mixture. Scatter the balls evenly in the pan, laying them so the the next layer fits into the empty spaces of the first. They should be nestled like loosely linked puzzle pieces. If you run out of sugar or butter, just make some more and continue.

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5. If there is any leftover sugar, butter, or if using pecans, sprinkle over the top.

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6. Place on a rack in the center of your oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. You will need to check it at 20 mins, but it might take up to 30 minutes to be fully cooked. You do not want it doughy.
7. Let rest for about 5 minutes, then turn over on to a serving platter.

Note: If you decide to give this a try, please leave me feedback in the comments. I am going to bake a trial run this year modifying the recipe with Pamelas Artisan Flour, the same one I use successful for my GF Scones. If it improves the taste/texture, I’ll be sure to modify this post.