Monday, December 28, 2009

The Best Gift Ever

(Okay, okay, the best gifts ever are clearly my two kiddos and my hubby, but here I'm going to talk about material gifts received for Christmas this year.)

I am not a big fan of getting gifts. Or giving gifts, for that matter. I just feel like we all have so much stuff, and I hate getting (or giving) useless things just because it's expected. We certainly don't need more stuff cluttering up are already over-cluttered house, that's for sure.

I do like useful gifts, and every year at Christmas, I'm able to come up with a short list of things that I'd like to get. This year, for example, it was a set of heavy-duty (18/10) measuring cups and measuring spoons, a Silpat, and a Lodge enameled cast iron dutch oven. (It's certainly easier to come up with a list now that I spend so much of my time cooking!) And every once in a while, someone who knows me really well can pick out something that I didn't ask for, but that I love anyway; this year, hubby surprised me with a gorgeous new food processor. (The old one had so many chipped or broken parts that I almost never used it.)

But this year, my sister-in-law surprised me with an immersion blender, something I never would have thought I needed. I love it. I mean, I really, really love it. I have been using it every day since it arrived to make the kids a special "shake." We used to make this "shake" (it's really a smoothie; no ice cream involved) only on special occasions, when we felt like dragging out the blender, fighting with it to get it to work (it has many broken pieces, too), and cleaning all of the millions of parts.

With the immersion blender, I slice a cup of frozen strawberries and half of a banana, add a cup of vanilla yogurt, and blend for a minute. It is so easy. And the clean-up? Rinse off the blade part of the blender, wash two cups, a spoon, a measuring cup, a knife, and the mixing cup that came with the blender.

The kids are in heaven with this oh-so-special dessert-like treat...which is filled with ingredients that I would give them any day of the week for any meal.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

#20: Multigrain bread...What went wrong?!?

I was really looking forward to baking this bread. The recent light wheat bread and marble rye both made fine sandwiches, but multigrain or 100% wheat are much more my style.

I was hoping to get a lot of baking done over winter break, but, as I explained in my last post, I accidentally ran myself out of bread flour. I had .5 ounce left in the house. Hubby and I, in the midst of our errands yesterday, meant to go to the one store in town that sells King Arthur's bread flour, but when the car started making funny noises, we had to return home. We stopped at the closest grocery store, and our choices were Gold Medal bread flour, Pillsbury bread flour, or Bob's Red Mill unbleached white flour. I remembered that Peter Reinhart says in the book that Gold Medal bread flour is actually equivalent to KA's all-purpose flour, so I wasn't sure I wanted to get that (although that is what I was using when I first started the BBA Challenge). And right on the label of Bob's Red Mill, it said, "Supurb for bread baking by hand or machine," so I got it. And then did some online research when I got home that said it worked as a sub for all-purpose flour, but didn't have as high a protein content (11.9%) as King Arthur's bread flour (12.7%). But in the BBA, Peter Reinhart says that acceptable protein content for bread flour is 11.5 - 13.5% (Bob's falls in there), and he also says that you can sub in all-purpose flour for any of the recipes. So I went for it.

Last night, I created the soaker: polenta (which I finally found - hurray!), rolled oats, wheat bran, and water. I thought the wheat bran smelled a little stale, and I couldn't remember when I bought it. I had hubby taste a bit, and he said it tasted just like chewing on a piece of wheat. Huh?! That's my Kansas boy!

Then I decided to work on the brown rice. As some others have posted before me, I didn't have any leftover brown rice around (which is what Peter Reinhart suggests to use), so I tried to make the small amount called for (three tablespoons) in the microwave. It didn't go so well. I tried a few times: one time, the rice was hard and clearly uncooked, the next time it burned. I gave up and tried again this morning: 1/4 cup brown rice, 3/4 cup water, splash of safflower oil. Microwaved it on high for 8 minutes, then medium for about 6. Still a little hard, but then again, we're not really used to the chewier texture of brown rice, so maybe it's okay.

This afternoon, I mixed everything together, weighing all of the ingredients as I always do: 13.5 ounces of flour, 4 ounces of milk, 6 ounces of water, the soaker, brown sugar, honey, yeast, salt. It seemed pretty wet, but I reread the ingredient list and yep, everything was correctly measured. I mixed it in the KA for 10 minutes. This is what it looked like after mixing:

Hm. I let it sit, covered, for 10 or 20 minutes while we did our nap time ritual with the kiddos. That's worked for me in the past when my dough hasn't been behaving. When I got back, I scooped it out onto the counter. I added some more flour and tried to knead by hand. No way. I couldn't believe the stickiness of this dough! I always do a ton of reading before I start any new bread (an advantage to being so behind in the Challenge) and no one mentioned any problems like this. Was it the flour? Did I measure something wrong without realizing it? What went wrong?!

So I decided to try the fold and wait technique. Sally over at Bewitching Kitchen swears by it, and she explained it to me when I commented on her beautiful Kaiser rolls. I patted the dough into a rectangle, pulled each side out and folded it like a letter, and then let it sit for 20 more minutes. I did this at 20, 40, and 60 minutes. It seemed like the dough, although I could see some improvement, still wasn't developing the way it should. I did some research on the Fresh Loaf and found this site, with very detailed pictures and explanations about the stretch and fold technique. I decided to try a couple of more folds (folding the sides and also from top to bottom) and then give it one last long wait time.

Finally, I gave up. It still didn't feel or look right, but I'd been at it for three hours or so. Here it is:

Doesn't look so good, right?

After forming it into a half-hearted free form loaf, spritzing it with water, and sprinkling poppy and sesame seeds on top, we left for an hour and a half to go run errands.

We came home to this:

Yikes. Still, I put it in the oven. It smelled pretty good while it was baking, and my ever-optimistic hubby thought it would be fine. It didn't have much oven spring; no surprise since it proofed so much while we were out of the house. I was soooooo curious about the insides, but managed to put off slicing into it for the requisite hour...figured it didn't need any help getting even worse!

The flavor is great: slightly sweet (some people have said too sweet, and I can totally see that, but I have a massive sweet tooth, so I like it!), slightly crunchy with the different grains, pretty complex. The texture gives away that something went wrong somewhere: it's soft like sandwich bread but has an odd chewiness.

Anyway, I'm convinced this is a great bread. I like the flavor way better than any other sandwich bread I've tried, so I will definitely make it again. But I've decided that this was not enough of an abject failure to warrant making it again immediately, so on we go with the Challenge....

Any more experienced bakers have any idea what could've gone wrong?!?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

BBA #19: Marble rye

I'm not sure I've ever eaten rye bread, much less purchased it or baked it, so I wasn't sure what to expect with this recipe. I read the "caraway seeds, optional" to my husband..."Do you like caraway seeds?" I asked. Big shrug. "Dunno. I guess I do...?" so I used them. I'm not sure he's ever had rye bread, either.

The rest of this baking experience was something like a comedy of errors.

It began around 2 am, when I woke up to comfort a crying baby, and all of a sudden had a panicked thought: "Was I supposed to get white rye?! I think I just got normal rye!" So I ran downstairs to check. (Keep in mind, this was the only package of rye that I could get my hands on, after multiple trips to different stores.)

Sure enough, the package of Hodgson rye said "stone-ground," but didn't say anything about being white or light or anything to suggest that it was the right stuff. When I did some browsing on the internet, I learned that, sure enough, white rye was something different than what I'd found. I had a fleeting thought of going ahead to the multigrain; I knew I had all of the ingredients for that. But the rule-follower in me just couldn't bake out of order. Then I remembered Frieda over at Lovin' from the Oven mentioning something about sifting her homemade rye flour. (That gave me something to aspire to: making my own flour to bake my own bread!) I checked further over at the Fresh Loaf and found a discussion of Hodgson rye, with the suggestion that if I sifted it twice, it should be fine.

So this morning I sifted my flour - three times actually, because I wasn't convinced that my fine mesh strainer was doing a great job - to get the requisite 12 ounces.

And that's when I discovered that I was on my last package of bread flour...and that I only had fifteen ounces left. I needed 13 ounces per recipe. (Peter Reinhart has you create a double recipe of dough - the only difference being a coloring agent to darken one batch - to make marble rye.)

I was totally bummed and told the hubby that I needed to pout a bit. I really really wanted to bake something today. And I really wanted to use my winter break to get further ahead in the BBA Challenge. And then my brilliant hubby said, "We don't even know if we like this...Could you just make half a recipe and, like, a smaller loaf or something?" Duh! The recipe makes two loaves! Of course I could make half and only make one loaf! So that's what I did!

I'd decided against ordering the caramel coloring from King Arthur: we didn't know if we even liked this bread, and I really didn't want to wait to order supplies which would just make me get further behind. So I went the coffee disolved in water route, even though other BBAers had warned that it didn't make the dark rye as dark. There was still enough of a difference for me. I also subbed in unsalted butter for the shortening.

I started both doughs at the same time, weighing all of the dry ingredients and stirring them. I'd read that it's important to keep them as close together as possible (timing-wise) so that they're both ready for each new step at the same time. I wanted to be careful and not over-knead, as per all of the warnings about rye breads turning gummy if kneaded too much. No worries. After only three and a half minutes in my Kitchen Aid, the dough was perfect: slightly tacky, supple, very easy to work with. The darker rye, which I mixed next, certainly felt a little different from the lighter, but was also perfect after only three minutes.

I decided to make a spiral loaf, and based on multiple BBAers comments about the loaf being too big for the recommended 8 x 4 loaf pan, I decided to make it free form. Once I saw the size of my risen loaf, I was very glad I'd made that decision!

The bread was tasty. It had a great texture: soft and chewy, easy to butter. And I liked the taste of the caraway seeds; they made it a little different from the normal sandwich loaf. And, since our traditional Christmas Eve dinner plans were thwarted (our favorite Chinese restaurant was closed! Sadness!), I made chicken and dumpling soup and we used the marble rye for our grilled cheese sandwiches. Yum!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BBA #18: Wheat sandwich bread

"What's next?" asked the hubbie.
"Wheat know, for sandwiches."
[long pause] "But that's not right. Neither 'wheat' nor 'sandwich' comes after 'lavash'!"

Okay, so actually it's light wheat bread. This was a very easy recipe: mix high-gluten flour (I didn't have any, so I used my bread flour with a little added vital wheat gluten), whole wheat flour, honey, salt, yeast, powdered milk, butter, and water. Then knead. This bread gave my KA a workout; it was really stiff. In fact, when the bowl threatened to rock out of the mixer, I had to transfer it to the counter and knead by hand. The book said it should be a firm dough, and boy, was it ever. It also wasn't really tacky, so I dribbled a little bit more water on it while I was kneading. It never got up to the required temperature, but it was so firm, I was having difficulty kneading. I'm assuming that's why it took two hours instead of an hour and a half to double. Then I shaped it into a loaf, put it into a loaf pan, and let it rise (only took 60 minutes), and baked it for 44 minutes until it reached a perfect internal temperature of 190.

The fam ate it up: plain, buttered, and as sandwiches. I can see why so many BBA bloggers talk about using this one as the weekly sandwich bread of choice. It has a great flavor, soft texture, but is sturdy enough to stand up to being buttered or mayoed.

So the question is whether or not the family will be willing to go back to the store-bought stuff until after I finish the BBA Challenge, because I'm pretty sure I don't have time to bake more than one loaf a week.........

Sunday, December 6, 2009

#17: Lavash crackers

Oops...just went to take my lavash crackers out of the oven and all of my toppings slid off. Reread the final steps and yep, sure enough, I was supposed to mist the top of the crackers with water first.

Is this because I wasn't that excited about making them in the first place?

Making the crackers was actually pretty fun. The dough was simple: just mix everything together and knead! I even had two little assistants in the kitchen:

I was having some problems getting the dough to get to the smooth and supple stage.

Luckily I had a couple of little things to do, so I covered it with a towel, came back in 5 minutes: smooth, supple, windowpane, and perfect temperature! I've got to remember to do that whenever dough isn't behaving!

I let it rise for almost two hours and then went to roll it out. I was a little nervous about the dough sticking to the counter, as that happens all of the time on our counter tops. But the dough was really easy to work with. I let it rest a couple of times to give it time to relax, and I was able to get it pretty thin (although I'm not perfectionist enough to get it totally even...oh well!). Topped it with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, paprika, and kosher salt. (Of course, apparently none of those toppings will stick.)

The crackers smell pretty good, and I have the ingredients for hummus sitting around, so...we'll see!

.......Thank goodness for only a 10-minute out-of-the-oven wait time! I think they're pretty good! A little bland, since 95% of the spices fell off, but good crunch and good flavor. Totally can see how they'd be a perfect vehicle for hummus - that's next on the list for tonight...assuming I ever get any of my work finished!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

BBA #16: Kaiser Rolls

For some reason, I was uninspired about the next couple of BBA Challenge breads...I think because I didn't feel like I had time to both bake Kaiser rolls AND make anything that went with Kaiser rolls, so I wasn't really sure what we'd do with them. And after Kaiser rolls...lavash crackers...which seem interesting, but have not gotten very good reviews from many of the other BBA bloggers I follow.

My lunch bunch at work have been harassing me about not bringing in bread recently, and finally one of them said, "How do you need to find inspiration to make Kasier rolls?!? What's wrong with you?!" (or something like that)

So I did it. The recipe was pretty straight-forward. A night-before pâte fermentée...luckily I'd read from multiple bloggers that the rolls take only half of the pâte fermentée recipe in the book, so I just made half and didn't have to waste any. The little ball of dough was pretty cute; it didn't seem like it could possibly amount to much. (This is the dough in my tiny 1 qt glass mixing bowl. Teeny!)

The next day I mixed everything in the stand mixer and let it rise. Rolling and knoting the dough to achieve the Kaiser rolls shape was a little intimidating, but Peter Reinhart's instructions on page 82 were really clear. I had to call the hubby over to look at them and make sure I was doing it right - it seemed way too easy.

I let them rise again and then baked them. They turned out pretty well...for Kaiser rolls...not really my type of bread. Hubby and the baby ate them plain and seemed to love them. I brought one in to share with the lunch bunch and they tried many creative toppings, proving that you don't really need an impressive vehicle in order to justify making Kaiser rolls. I had a turkey sandwich on mine, and it was pretty tasty. My harshest critic (my dad) said that they weren't quite up to NY delicattesan standards: too tall and not wide enough, so each bite had too much bread. I'm not sure how you'd achieve a flatter wider roll with the knotting technique of forming them.

Anyway, there you have it, and now onto lavash crackers. I'm excited for next week and starting on a series of sandwich breads....I am a sandwich lover, and we go through a lot of sandwich bread each week. I'm hopeful I'll find a favorite to start making regularly - how fun to eat our normal lunch on homemade bread!