Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mom's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (a saga)

When I was in seventh grade, my mom stayed home with my little brother and sister. Every afternoon I'd arrive home from school, usually with my BFF in tow, to find the counters covered with miniature oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (okay, it probably wasn't really every day, but this is the way I remember it). My mom knew our family well; she knew that my stepdad and my big brother would walk by and take a handful of cookies every time they walked into the kitchen. If she made normal-sized cookies, and thus only a couple of dozen, they would be gone after each of us had walked through the kitchen twice. So instead, she made mini-cookies and, even after grabbing a handful, they'd last for at least five or six trips past the kitchen!

I've carried on the tradition; these cookies are just not right unless they are bite-sized.

When I was student teaching, one of my close friends (who was student teaching with me) and I would bake these about once a week. And actually, for the first few years of our teaching careers, before marriage and kids, we'd meet every other Thursday night to watch Friends, eat pizza, and make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. My coworkers loved Fridays and the containers of mini-cookies that would show up for lunch (and my close friends at work expected their own private bags full of them!).

Fast-forward to present day. Andrea, over at Family & Food, recently posted about baking Irish Lace Cookies. I commented that these sounded very similar to my all-time favorite cookie recipe, she asked for the recipe, and . . . . . everything came to a screeching halt.

The problem was that the recipe itself is unreliable. I finally asked my mom about the origins of this recipe; it turns out it was my step-grandmother's, and it's always been unreliable. Make the recipe as printed and the cookies spread out, flat and crispy. Add just a touch of flour - oops, too much - and the cookies are hard and dense. I've really always made these cookies by feel.

Recently, I was craving oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, only my ingredient list wasn't quite what it needed to be: I was running low on butter, running low on oats, compensated with a little extra flour . . . and they were perfect! The perfectest perfect they've ever been! So I quickly wrote down my adjustments . . . which I now can't find it anywhere.

Several experiments later, here's what I've come up with. Don't forget to make them bite-sized!

Mom's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

10 tbsp butter, softened (I've always used salted butter, but only because I started baking these cookies before I knew unsalted butter existed!)
a little less than 1 c light brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c water
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c rolled oats
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Either grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
2. Beat butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, and water until creamy.
3. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 12 minutes.
7. Cool for a couple of minutes on the pan.
8. Attempt to move them to a cooling rack and not straight into your mouth (mine never make it this far).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

BBA #37: Swedish Rye (Limpa)

This bread was surprising. It's the second to the last of the BBA Challenge breads that I have . . . not been dreading, but not looking forward to either. (Last is Tuscan: a bread made without salt.)

It started in a very unusual way: with molasses mixed with spices. I don't love the flavor of molasses, and recently discovered that there are both full-flavor and mild varieties; I finally found a bottle of mild-flavored and have been much happier with it. I also needed dried orange peel, ground aniseeds, ground fennel seeds, and ground cardamom. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a bunch of spices I'd probably not use again, so I borrowed my dad's fennel seeds and cardamom . . . I'm pretty sure that both bottles were from about 1972, although they still smelled strongly, so I figured they were okay.

I ground up the seeds (used hubby's coffee grinder . . . shhhh! don't tell!), mixed them and the orange peel with the molasses and brought the whole mixture to a boil. Once it had cooled, I added in some double-sifted rye flour and a bunch of my starter. It had a very strange smell for a bread sponge, that's for sure!

It foamed up over night, and this morning, I added in bread flour, a little vital wheat gluten, instant yeast, salt, light brown sugar, and some melted unsalted butter. I kneaded it for about three minutes and then let it rise for a couple of hours.

I decided to make a large two-pound loaf, so I didn't split it, and just formed the whole thing into a batard. And then another unusual step: with this bread, you slash it prior to the second rise instead of just before baking. This allows the slashes to really open up.

After its second rise, I brushed the loaf with an egg wash and baked it for about forty-five minutes.

When it was just slightly warm, we cut into it, still not expecting much. And . . . we loved it! The crust is just a little crunchy and slightly sweet. The texture is light and chewy. And the flavor is quite unique: the anise is really dominant, and while normally not a favorite flavor of mine, it just works for me in this bread. (I'm wondering if its so dominant because the other spices were so old??) Hubby, the baby, and I have already eaten several slices each, warm with a spread of butter. I can't believe how much I like this bread!

UPDATE: Here's what we did with the leftovers (courtesy of Janice): and it was AWESOME!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Modern Baker Challenge: Cocoa Banana Muffins

I'm enjoying my self-imposed flexibility with the Modern Baker Challenge: baking the breads from The Modern Baker that seem interesting when they fit my schedule (or fit the ingredients in my house) rather than sticking to a strict schedule or order.

Up especially early this morning, with three brown-spotted bananas on the counter, I decided to make cocoa banana muffins, which came highly recommended from Andrea over at Family & Food (the official Modern Bakers poster for this recipe).

This was a very easy recipe; the only time-consuming step was the fact that it required three separate mixing bowls (only a problem because I had to wash the dishes before leaving for work!). Into one went sifted cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt. In another, I mashed up the bananas and mixed them with sour cream. Meanwhile, my stand mixer took care of the softened butter, two types of sugar, and eggs. Then I combined it all and put it into muffin tins. Just as with the blueberry crumb muffins, my batter made many more muffins than the twelve that Nick Malgieri said it would: I ended up with twenty-four mini-muffins and ten regular-sized muffins.

The kids loved these and kept asking for more. The hubby said, "They're just like chocolate-covered bananas, only you don't get to that annoying stage where the chocolate is all gone and there's only banana left." We both brought muffins to work, where most people seemed to like them, although a few were a little weirded out by the banana flavor in chocolate muffins. Will I make them again? I'm not sure . . . because the kiddos like to eat muffins for breakfast, I'd rather have fruit or veggie muffins instead of chocolate ones. But these were a fun treat today!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not so mellow after all: Light Rye (Mellow Bakers)

I happily joined the Mellow Bakers, liking the idea that we only need to bake three breads a month, can bake in any order we want, and can choose to skip ones we find unappealing or uninteresting or don't have time for.

Apparently, I am not so mellow after all. (Actually, this will not surprise anyone who knows me in real life.) I was pretty firmly convinced that I would not bake the light rye this month, since I've been feeling a little ryed-out with all of the recent rye breads in the BBA Challenge, plus it's not my favorite style of bread. But . . . I really can't stand to leave something undone . . . and anyway, hubby just recently informed me that he's really starting to love rye breads for his sandwiches . . . and I really wanted to vote legitimately in the Mellow Bakers' April poll . . . so I caved.

Two days ago, I made the sourdough starter: rye flour, water, and a teeny tiny bit of my mother starter. I was really surprised by how little of the starter he called for, and I'm not sure if this was supposed to rise or not. Hamelman says to leave it out for twelve to sixteen hours; I actually left mine for a day and a half because it just took me that long to baking the bread. It did not move.

Once it was time, though, this bread was really easy to make! In my bowl, I mixed bread flour, yeast, salt, caraway seeds, the sourdough starter, and water. Unfortunately, my scale quit on me right in the middle of measuring the water. Gr! This is where I really missed Peter Reinhart's detailed instructions on how the dough is supposed to look and feel at every single stage of the process. But I persevered, added as much water as I thought I should, and mixed it together with my dough whisk. Then I kneaded it in my mixer for three minutes, and judged it to look and feel just about perfect. An hour to proof (it doubled easily), and then I formed it into two oval loaves. I was going to go with Reinhart's shaping, since I had a difficult time understanding Hamelman's instructions last time, but I decided to try Hamelman again, and it went much better this time! (Maybe because I skipped his pre-shaping stage?)

The loaves rose easily again, and I slashed them (slashing also went much better this time), sprinkled caraway seeds on one, and slid them onto my baking stone. I baked them for fifteen minutes at 460 df in my steam oven (= disposable aluminum baking pan) and then for another eighteen at 440 df. Hamelman says they should take 35 to 40 minutes to bake; I checked at 33 and they were already well over 205 df, so I guess I need to check even earlier.

Results: they turned out beautifully. Hubby said they were the most professional-looking loaves I've ever baked. The crumb was very tight and uniform, the texture was light and fluffy, and the taste was very complex. The caraway flavor was really strong; I kind of wish I'd made one of the loaves without caraway, just for comparison. Rustic bread is still my favorite April bread, but this one was pretty great, too!

Friday, April 16, 2010

BBA #36: Stollen

I had mixed feelings about baking stollen, the next bread in the BBA Challenge. First of all, it is exciting to bake a quick-ish bread (PR claims it takes four hours from start to finish) after all of the multiple-day sourdoughs. On the other hand, hubby and I are not big fans of fruit in our bread (with the exception of the mightily yummy hot cross buns), so I didn't have high hopes.

A few days ago, I soaked golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and dried apricots in some rum and orange extract. I've been shaking the mixture daily, and by yesterday, most of the liquid was gone.

Yesterday evening, I mixed a bit of warm milk with flour and an insane amount of yeast. It was supposed to get "very foamy and ready to collapse" after an hour . . . mine easily filled the bowl it was in after only thirty minutes. I still waited for the full hour, and then mixed together AP flour, sugar, salt, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, egg, unsalted butter, the sponge, and a bit of water. Then I mixed in the fruit.

My dough was extremely wet and sticky; PR says it should be tacky, but not sticky. I had to add a bit more flour to get it to the right consistency, and with all of the fruit and butter and such, it definitely had more of a brioche consistency than a normal bread consistency.

I let it ferment for forty-five minutes; PR says it will rise somewhat but not double. Mine didn't look like it had moved at all. Still, I plowed on and rolled the dough into a rectangle, sprinkled some almonds on it, formed it into a batard, and set it, curved, onto a cookie sheet.

After an hour proofing, it again didn't look like it had risen much, if at all. Hubby and I had a brief discussion about it . . . it was getting close to bed time. We decided to give it a few more minutes and then throw it in the oven and see what happened. After all, it's not really our kind of bread anyway.

It smelled delicious as it was baking, and it did spring up in the oven, so that was good. It took a little over an hour to reach an internal temperature of 195, and then I took it out, brushed it with melted butter, dusted it twice with powdered sugar, and went to bed.

The verdict this morning? Hubby said that it was great for breakfast with coffee. And then he emailed me, "It's the best of the weird fruity breads." It's pretty good, and hubby and I will both bring it in to work to share . . . but I don't think we'll be making this one again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Rustic Bread

Or The Case of the Missing Yeast

This is bread #2 for the Mellow Bakers' April selection. (I still haven't decided if I'm going to make the light rye, since we are a mellow group and I'm allowed to skip . . . and I've kind of gotten ryed-out with the sourdough section of the BBAC).

This bread should have been fairly straight-forward and easy. The biggest struggle was finding a chunk of time where I'd be home at the appropriate times to attend to it.

So last night, I made the preferment: bread flour, a tiny bit of yeast, and water. I mixed it together and then kneaded it for a second on the counter before setting it aside. Hamelman calls for a twelve to sixteen hour fermentation at 75 degrees; I left it for almost eighteen hours, but it was a little cooler here, so it all worked out. It had a very impressive rise.

This afternoon, I got home from work and set about making the dough: weighed out the bread flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, salt . . . But where was the jar of yeast?! It wasn't in the fridge door where I normally keep it. I reflected on my projects from last night: the preferment and the fruit for my stollen (next up in the BBA): I checked the bread shelf, the dried fruit shelf, the liquor cabinet, the spice cupboard, the extract shelf. Then hubby checked all of those places, plus the fridge again. And the recycling bin. And the fridge again. The knife drawer. The dishes cabinet. Wondering if I was going to have to give up on making this bread tonight, hubby had an epiphany: and there was the yeast, happily nestled among my measuring cups in my baking drawer. Sigh.

Then I worried, yeast is supposed to be refrigerated . . . would a night at room temperature have harmed it? Apparently not, because while the dough went through it's two and a half hours of fermentation (with two folds), it grew considerably.

I really tried to follow Hamelman's instructions for preshaping and shaping into loaves, but I definitely need more practice. I wasn't always sure what he was talking about; I wish the written instructions were right underneath the illustrations. Anyway, I did my best, and then again, the loaves rose rapidly.

At just a little over an hour, I did my best slashing them (it did not go well) and put them into the 450df oven, covered with my disposable roasting pan. Hubby said tonight, "I kind of miss helping you with the regular hearth steaming, but this is so much easier!!" So true.

The two loaves exploded under the pan (not literally); they grew into each other and one of them actually stuck to the pan as I pulled it off, so it has a funny little dent on the end. I checked the loaves after about thirty-two minutes and they were already over 205df, so I probably should have checked them even earlier.

The loaves smelled and looked wonderful when they came out of the oven (except for the terrible slashing). Hubby commented that the crust was chewier and less crunchy than on some of the other breads (ciabatta, Italian, etc.). I was expecting more holes, but then I was also a little confused when Hamelman instructs you to pat out the bigger holes when preforming and forming, so I guess that's where they went. The texture was soft, fluffy, slightly chewy; it will go beautifully with the pasta fagioli I have planned for tomorrow night's dinner!

The taste was awesome; I love the more complex flavors from the combination of grains. We will definitely be making this bread again.

Things to work on for next time:
1. Slashing
2. Shaping
3. Keeping track of that pesky yeast jar

For other Mellow Bakers' rustic breads (including beautiful slashing), check this out!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Bagels

I started my bread baking journey with bagels. Having baked about two loaves of bread in my entire life, I was browsing Smitten Kitchen one spring day and read Deb's post about baking Peter Reinhart's bagels. I was intrigued and, feeling adventurous, decided to try it. It went really well, my family loved them, and I started baking them pretty frequently. In the middle of the summer, I tried a challah (also from Deb's site) and finally, in August, I stumbled on Pinch My Salt and the BBA Challenge, and the rest is history!

Having learned to bake bread through The Bread Baker's Apprentice with its very detailed step-by-step tutorials, I am still not used to Hamelman's Bread minimalist instructions, and I found myself flipping back to the BBA for some help occasionally. But in the making, I found this recipe to be very similar to the Reinhart one with which I am very familiar.

I mixed bread flour, a little vital wheat gluten (and actually one ounce of AP flour because I ran out of bread flour during my baking today), yeast, and salt. I never got around to ordering diastic malt powder and didn't find it at our local brewing shop. I still would like to give it a try one day to compare the results with using plain malt syrup, but this time, I just subbed in the syrup. Then I added the water. As with the Reinhart recipe, I let my stand mixer start the process, but this is a very stiff dough, so I soon switched to kneading by hand. Once I got a windowpane (old habits die hard!), I let it rise; I think it took about two hours to double.

One thing my family really liked about the Reinhart recipe was his option of making mini-bagels, using only two ounces of dough instead of four. The chain bagel stores around here (we don't have any independent bagelries) make enormous bagels, but these minis were just about the perfect size for the kids and me. So I decided to make twenty-four minis (two-ouncers) with this recipe, too, instead of the thirteen four-ounce bagels that Hamelman specifies.

When shaping bagels, I'd always been intimidated by the rolling it into a log and then looping it option, so I have only made the version where you roll the dough into a ball, stick your thumb in it, and stretch it all around. But I found that the traditional log and loop version really wasn't so hard, especially once I remembered Paul's tip about having a little water bowl nearby to help seal the ends if necessary. I made my two trays, stacked them in the fridge using my hubby's nifty wooden block trick, and went to sleep.

out of the fridge

In the morning, I started the oven preheating and the pot of water boiling. I mixed up my "everything" topping for hubby's and my bagels (the kids like them plain): 1 tbsp each of kosher salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, minced garlic, and minced onion. I've been really curious about the different baking-day methods that Reinhart and Hamelman use, so I decided to divide the bagels in half and try both techniques for a side-by-side comparison.

* boil water with malt syrup
* boil 45 sec total
* immerse in ice water for 3-4 min
* bake in 500df oven for 15-18 min, flipping after a few minutes

* boil water w/ added baking soda
* boil for 2 min per side
* bake in 500df oven for 10 min (I always went about 12)

ready to go into the oven

What I discovered:
* If you add a spoonful of baking soda to a boiling pot of water with malt syrup, it will cause an eruption of water that will flood your stove, kill your pilot light, and make a big mess.
* Reinhart's bagels puff up in the pot of boiling water, but don't continue to puff in the oven. Hamelman's bagels don't puff up in the pot, but have a lot of oven spring. At the end, they were exactly the same size.
* I don't understand why Hamelman has you top them and then flip them so early in the oven. My toppings burned and the tops ended up much darker; they were not pretty when flipped right side up.
* I am not as good at the new method of forming bagels as I thought; once they puffed up, they were very clearly thinner where they'd been joined and a few seemed almost like they were going to split open (although none did).
* Texture-wise, the bagels were very similar to one another: soft and chewy inside, nice slightly-crunchy crust on the outside, similarly colored a dark golden brown.
* Taste-wise: Hubby thought the bagel baked with the Hamelman method tasted more bagel-y, but that the Reinhart version tasted better prepared with cream cheese and topping. I couldn't detect any major differences in the flavors.
* For the second tray, I went all Hamelman in method and timing, except that I decided not to flip the bagels.

out of the oven: Reinhart method on left; Hamelman method on right

ready to eat: Hamelman method on top; Reinhart method on bottom

Verdict: I think I would maybe use the Reinhart recipe and method in the future, simply because it's the one I'm most familiar with. I didn't like flipping the bagels over and I didn't really understand the extra step of the ice water bath; it didn't seem to make much difference, except to increase the baking time. But hubby seemed convinced that the Hamelman bagels tasted a bit better, so maybe not . . . .
Choosing not to flip the bagels did not change the second tray of bagels in any way (except that the topping did not burn). They were delicious and a big hit at my book club! Whatever version you choose, homemade bagels are wonderful and a great way to start a weekend!

Check out other Mellow Bakers' bagels and discussions here!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

BBA #35: Sunflower seed rye

I wasn't all that excited about making this bread. I'm not a big rye person (as I've discussed) and after baking all of the sourdough breads in this section, I'm kind of feeling ready to move on to something different. Nevertheless, on we go!

I refreshed Austin yesterday and then made a firm starter and the soaker (pumpernickel flour mixed with water) last night. After doing both of those steps, I realized that part of the reason that I've been feeling challenged to keep up with all of these baking challenges is because we have so much bread hanging around; it's hard to eat it all! So I decided to cut the recipe in half. Wanting to avoid previous disasters of forgetting to halve certain ingredients, I wrote all of the halved measurements in my book; no mistakes this time!

This afternoon, I combined the firm starter (only half of it!), the soaker, bread flour, salt, instant yeast, and water, and mixed them all in my stand mixer. Well, I tried; it was such a little batch that I ended up switching to hand-kneading to incorporate the sunflower seeds.

I had recently read a fellow BBACer's blog post about this bread (Salt and Serenity) and she talked about using honey roasted sunflower seeds. Having a huge sweet tooth, I was intrigued. Alas, I couldn't find them anywhere. I purchased regular sunflower seeds and tried making them myself: I mixed 2 tsp butter with 1 tbsp honey and 1/4 tsp salt and then mixed in the seeds. I spread them on a baking sheet and baked them for ten minutes at 325 degrees, stirring them every few minutes. They turned out okay, not great, and sadly, I couldn't detect the honey roasted flavor in the final bread.

I let the dough ferment for ninety minutes and then shaped it. Another rise; this time, it rose more quickly than I expected. Maybe because I had the oven preheating? I put it into the oven and used my roasting pan as steamer technique. For the first time, it didn't work. I had ZERO oven spring. None. I'm wondering if it's because the dough overproofed while I was waiting for the oven to preheat. So . . . it looked kind of funny and flat. The taste was good; we liked the flavor from the sunflower seeds and it was delicious with butter. Still, I don't forsee making this one again.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Modern Baker Challenge: Blueberry Crumb Muffins

As bakers have been finishing up the BBA Challenge (I still have nine breads to go), many have been asking: What next?! Thankfully, two BBACers came up with two new challenges: Paul came up with Mellow Bakers (the first bread was Hot Cross Buns), and Phyl came up with The Modern Baker Challenge. Happily they were different enough from each other that I thought it would be fun to participate in both.

The Modern Bakers are a group baking their way through The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri, an enormous (150 recipes!) and beautiful book that includes not only yeasted breads, but quick breads, sweet tarts and pies, savory tarts and pies, puff pastries, cakes, and cookies, bars, and biscotti. I took a little longer to commit to this challenge because, while I'm new to bread baking and have a ton to learn, I've been baking quick breads, cookies, and cakes since I was a kid.

Four things convinced me to join: #1, I have very little experience baking tarts, pies, and puff pastries; #2, I really enjoy group baking/blogging/discussing; #3, the group offers the option of not necessarily baking all of the 150 recipes, which makes it much less stressful; and #4, my husband (who loves baked goods of every variety) fully supported the venture.

Part of #3 above is that instead of blogging about all recipes in a section (sections are divied up by months: April through June is devoted to Quick Breads), we each pick a bread that we want to be responsible for. My family loves muffins, especially blueberry muffins, so Blueberry Crumb Muffins were an easy first choice for me.

Nick Malgieri says that his ideal blueberry muffin is "a sweet muffin, but one that's not overly sweet, and it must be packed with blueberries." Indeed, he calls for a pint of fresh blueberries. I suppose I could've waited until June, but they sounded so good, I was impatient to make them now. Unfortunately, given that I live in the frozen North, it would've cost approximately twelve dollars to buy a pint of blueberries . . . um, I don't think so. So I subbed in frozen. I think the frozen blues are probably bigger than fresh, which means I ended up with fewer blueberries and the muffins weren't so jam-packed as Nick Malgieri would've liked.

The recipe was easily made during morning breakfast time, especially since he indicates using the stand mixer (which I don't think I've ever used for muffins before). So into the mixer went softened unsalted butter, sugar, and light brown sugar; then the sugar; and finally milk and the flour mixture. The flour mixture included freshly grated nutmeg, which I've recently discovered, and which really is the best!

I thought the next step was interesting. He has you add the blueberries and run the mixer for a few seconds to "crush some of the berries slightly." Blueberry muffin recipes often have you take a lot of precautions to prevent the blueberries from staining the batter, so I was intrigued that he wanted them a little crushed.

I then put the muffins into the prepared muffin cups. He says that the recipe yields twelve standard sized muffins, but I had quite a bit of batter left. (I haven't made the leftovers yet, but I'd imagine it will make about three or four more muffins.)

While all of this was going on, I also made the topping: melted butter mixed with brown sugar, then flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. I crumbled the topping on the muffins, not quite sure how much to use. I ended up sprinkling maybe two teaspoons on each muffin? I still had a ton of topping leftover; I mean, at least two-thirds of the batch. I would definitely halve the topping recipe next time.

I put the muffins into a 375 df oven for thirty minutes. I checked them at about twenty-seven minutes, and they definitely looked golden. In retrospect, I should have removed them then, but I gave them the called-for thirty minutes. The result was a lightly sweet, deliciously topped, very flavorful blueberry muffin . . . that was a tad dry. I think they probably would have been perfect at twenty-seven minutes; I'll try that when I make the rest of the batter.

The kiddos gobbled them up, and my stepmom, who loves muffins almost as much as the kids, said they were the best blueberry muffins she'd ever had. I believe that with fresh blueberries and a slightly shorter baking time, this will become my new go-to blueberry muffin recipe. Oh yes, I will definitely be baking them again!

Here are some of the other quick breads that have been baked by Modern Bakers so far:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chewy granola bars

I've been promising my mom for ages that I would post the recipe to the granola bars that I make each week. Here you go, Mom!

First, I feel that I need to tell you about my ideal granola bar. There are so many different styles of granola bars and no one likes to get a crunchy one when they were expecting chewy, or savory when they were expecting sweet, or one filled with all kinds of fruits and nuts when they like plain.

I really like chewy granola bars, and, while I have a huge sweet tooth, I don't want a granola bar that tastes like a candy bar. Because I feed them to my family on a daily basis, I wanted to include a lot of good healthy grains. I looked and looked for a recipe that met my expectations, but never could find one . . . so finally I made this one up!

Chewy granola bars
2 c rolled oats
1/2 - 1 c nuts or seeds (I generally use sliced almonds)
1/4 - 1/2 c light brown sugar (I use a 1/2 cup but don't fill it all the way)
1/2 c wheat germ
1 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c flax seeds (I used to grind them, but I like the texture they add when they're whole)
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c raisins/dried cranberries
1/2 c oil (I use safflower oil)
1/2 c honey
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 300 df.
2. Place a piece of parchment paper in a 9x13 glass baking dish and grease it lightly. (I'm not sure if the greasing step is even necessary with the parchment, but it's what I've always done with granola bars.)
3. Place the oats and almonds on a jelly roll pan and bake them for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until they are fragrant and lightly toasted.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 df.
5. Combine the oats, almonds, brown sugar, wheat germ, flour, raisins, nuts, flax seeds, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
6. In a small saucepan, gently heat the oil, honey, and vanilla, just until they are combined.
7. Add the liquids and the egg to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is equally moistened.
8. Dump the mixture into the prepared baking dish (it will be very crumbly) and press it firmly down until it clumps together. (I sometimes leave about an inch of the pan empty to make slightly thicker bars.)
9. Bake at 350 for 26 minutes.
10. Put the pan on a cooling rack until completely cool and then cut into squares.

A few notes:
* I store the squares in a large square container, and I've found that they taste better if I keep them in the fridge, although I don't think refrigeration is really necessary.
* I have looked everywhere for a granola bar recipe that is chewy and is easy to cut into squares without crumbling all over. This one works the best for me. However, there are still some crumbly pieces that escape when I'm cutting. I put those into a small container, and the little guy eats granola with yogurt for breakfast every morning.
* The baby does not like dried fruit of any kind, so I actually leave the fruit out, pour half of the mixture into the pan, then stir in the fruit for the little guy, and pour the rest into the pan. That way everyone gets what they like!
* I've found that they hold together best when I let them cool for a really long time, both in the pan and then just on the parchment paper.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's been too long! BBA #34: Pumpernickel

We're back from a week of spring break, and I thoroughly enjoyed being cooked for and cleaned up after and generally spoiled at my in-laws' . . . but I was also so excited to get back to baking in my kitchen today! The only problem? I still have ten breads left in the BBA Challenge, three new breads for Mellow Bakers, and a bunch of quick breads (however many I can get to; I'm determined not to obsess over baking every single one in this gigantic book!) for the Modern Baker challenge. What to do first?!

I've not been excited about the next few breads in the BBA Challenge (pumpernickel, sunflower seed rye, stollen, and Swedish rye); I'm not a big fan of rye or breads with fruit in them. But once I'm finished with those, the rest of the breads look pretty good to me, so I decided to push on.

Pumpernickel was pretty straight-forward. We'd been away for a little over a week, so I gave Austin (my starter) a couple of refreshments. After the second, he doubled in under two hours: woo-hoo, a new record! So I combined him with pumpernickel flour (which I was happy to find at our local co-op) and water, and left it to get foamy and bubbly. Then into the fridge overnight. This afternoon, I mixed the starter with bread flour, salt, instant yeast, brown sugar, cocoa powder, some oil, a tiny bit of water, and some bread crumbs made from the end of my miche. Being careful not to overknead, I alternated between my stand mixer and kneading by hand until the bread came together. It smelled really strongly of the cocoa, which was unexpected; I was curious to see if it did anything to the taste. I think I should've processed my bread crumbs to a finer consistency, and I think I should've sifted my cocoa, because the dough had a lot more texture than I've noticed in other BBACers' pictures. Oh well!

I proofed the dough in a bowl for two hours until it doubled and then formed it. I really wanted to do free-standing loaves so I could practice my slashing, but we also thought it made sense to use loaf pans because we usually use our bread for sandwiches. So since the free-standing loaves bake at a different temperature from the loaf pans, and I did not feel like baking twice, I compromised and made one boule and one batard (figuring the batard could be used for sandwiches). Then I left the loaves to rise for another ninety minutes. Meanwhile, I preheated my oven and my baking stone to 450 df.

I slashed the loaves, which went pretty well with my new lame, although I think I could've slashed more deeply. Then I put them into the oven, covered for the first 12 minutes with a roasting pan. One day I'd like to do a side-by-side comparison of the roasting pan method versus the hearth steaming Reinhart describes in his book, but the roasting pan is so much easier, who knows if I ever will!

After the twelve minutes, I realized that I'd forgotten to lower the oven temperature to 400, but the bread still needed the full thirty minutes to reach the desired internal temperature of 200 df. I let the loaves cool and then sliced into them. SHOCKING NEWS! I actually really liked this bread. I totally wasn't expecting to, but I thought it had a nice subtle rye flavor with just a hint of something extra from the cocoa. I think it will make for some great sandwiches for this week's lunches!