Sunday, April 24, 2011

Loaded bread (Mellow Bakers: April)

Who would've thought that our final bread for April, a bread with "things" in it, would end up being my favorite for the month? I do not generally like "things" in my bread...not fruit, nuts, big chunks of spices. And this one has all three!

This is supposed to be Hazelnut and Fig Bread with Fennel Seeds and Rosemary. I couldn't find hazelnuts, and I don't like them anyway, so I decided to sub in walnuts. And then the figs that were in my pantry ended up being really old and hard; I was able to salvage about half as much as I needed. A friend of my mom's recently gave her a giant bag of currants, which she passed on to me, and I've been dying to use them in a bread. So I subbed in currants for the remaining weight of figs.

So here we are with Walnut, Fig, Currant, Fennel, and Rosemary Whole Wheat Bread. This is a one-day bread from the straight dough section. I mixed bread flour, whole wheat flour, instant yeast, salt, fennel seeds, rosemary, and water, for about three minutes. Then I added in the nuts and fruit; I had to incorporate them by hand. After a two hour rise with one fold, I shaped my half-batch into four mini-boules (about 8 ounces each). I baked them for about 28 minutes at 425 F.

These were surprisingly tasty, especially with a little butter. They were a strange but flavorful addition to our dinner (cider-baked ham, chantilly potatoes, cucumber salad, and angel food cake).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Roman almond and pine nut tart

As I said yesterday, I baked two mini-tarts last night with my last two chunks of frozen sweet tart dough: we had the banana walnut tart for dessert last night, and it was okay. We saved the Roman almond and pine nut tart for breakfast this morning because NM says it is better served as a tea pastry than for dessert.

I thought this recipe had a weird ingredient list: almond paste, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, lemon zest, flour, and pine nuts. In fact, I wasn't even going to make it until Kayte (the official blogger for this recipe) said that it was her new favorite recipe from the book.

I've never cooked with almond paste before, and wasn't able to find it the last time I had a recipe that called for it. Luckily, I found it the other day, and picked up a tube. It was odd stuff, more solid than paste-y, but I chopped it up and gave it a whir in my stand mixer with some sugar. Then I added in the egg, butter, and the rest of the ingredients, plopped it in the mini-tart pan, and pressed a thin layer of pine nuts into the top. I baked it for about 24 minutes. (I made 1/4 recipe for my mini-tart pan, filled the pan pretty full, and had just a tiny bit of filling left over.)

I snuck a bite before giving it to hubby for his breakfast this morning...and then another...and then another. This tart was such a pleasant surprise: so incredibly yummy! I think it would be a fun addition to a brunch, and I'm definitely putting it on the make-again list!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Banana walnut tart

Hubby says this tart is like being the slowest guy on the US Olympic 4x100 relay team: it's our least favorite of the Modern Baker tarts so far, but that's not saying much given how ultra-amazing the others have been. It's still pretty good.

I had enough sweet tart dough left for two mini tarts; I decided to make one banana walnut tart and one roman almond and pine nut tart.

The filling for the banana walnut tart came together more quickly than any of the others so far: brown sugar, walnuts, softened butter, egg, cinnamon, vanilla, flour, and baking powder are all mixed in the food processor. A banana is sliced and placed on the crust floor; the filling is poured over the bananas; chopped walnuts are placed on top. I made 1/4 of the filling recipe and used it all...this was a little mistake, as the filling overflowed just a bit in the oven (didn't make that big of a mess, though). I baked it for 26 minutes, until the tart was golden and set.

The sweet, jammy bananas were yummy, the walnuts provided a nice crunch. I doubt I'll make it again, but only because there are already so many of the must-redo-and-soon list.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Flaxseed bread (April)

After two (yes, there was another failed attempt) attempts at my first Mellow Bakers April bread, pain au levain, I decided to move along. I've been craving cucumber and cream cheese on rye sandwiches lately, so I made a loaf of flaxseed bread this weekend.

The flaxseeds were an interesting addition to this otherwise normal sourdough rye. They are soaked overnight in cold water, and by the time I was ready to bake, they had the most interesting, almost gel-like consistency.

The bread was made with rye flour, bread flour, water, salt, a tiny bit of yeast, the flaxseed soaker, and a rye sourdough starter. It went pretty quickly; each fermentation period was only about an hour, although after coming out of the oven, the bread stays wrapped overnight before tasting.

The bread made perfect lunchtime sandwiches: cucs and cream cheese for me, meat and cheese and mustard for the hubby.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bake! Carrot cake

Our next Bake! recipe is the Best and Easiest Carrot Cake, chosen by Phyl.

I was hoping to make this one this weekend, but we really really didn't need any more sweets in the house. And then there was the incident yesterday morning of (briefly, but scarily) losing the little girl at the the time I got home, I was not exactly in a baking frame of mind. But peer pressure is a wonderful thing, and my Twitter friends assured me that baking was exactly what I needed to feel better.

So I made a batch of carrot cake mini-cupcakes. This really was a super easy recipe: mix flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon; then combine the dry ingredients with melted butter, brown sugar, and safflower oil. Add grated carrots and chopped pecans, fill the muffin cups, and bake!

I made 1/2 batch of the recipe which perfectly filled the 24 cups in my mini muffin tin. I baked them for 26 minutes, which ended up being too long. I think I'll try 22-24 minutes next time. I made 1/3 of the cream cheese frosting recipe; next time, I'll make 1/2. I didn't have quite enough for all of the cupcakes, and the frosting was very yummy.

Even slightly overdone, the cupcakes were not at all dry and were really tasty. Hubby and I both brought plates to work today, and they met with rave reviews. And both of our plates had a few missing cupcakes because the kiddos spotted them this morning; both kids loved them (although they did ask us to take the nuts out).

I have a fancy-schmancy carrot cake that is very rich (and very time-consuming); this one might not replace that one for fancy occasions. But this is definitely the best easiest carrot cake recipe!

(No carrot cake cupcakes survived for a daylight photo op; check out Kayte's blog for pictures of how pretty this cake can be! )

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Blueberry Crumble Pie

Here is my official recipe for the sweet tarts and pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge, and boy, did I make a good choice. Hubby just declared that blueberry crumble pie is the best so far, even better than the amazing bourban-scented pecan-walnut tart or the to-die-for bittersweet chocolate tart.

I've been enjoying my mini tart pans, so that we can try a lot of recipes without having a lot of extra desserts floating around, but I don't have any small pie plates. I asked my dad, who was able to dig up an 8 1/2" pie plate, just slightly smaller than a regular 9". I used a little under 3/4 of the sweet tart crust recipe (about 270 g) and exactly 3/4 of the topping and filling recipes. It all fit perfectly.

The crumble topping was made by combining melted butter with light brown sugar, and then stirring them into a flour, baking powder, cinnamon mixture.

To start the filling, I put about 1/4 of the blueberries into a saucepan with sugar. These were cooked over low heat until the blueberries gave up their juices and started to boil. Then a corn starch/water mixture was added and the blueberries were stirred until they thickened into a nice syrup. Finally, the blueberry syrup was folded into the rest of the blueberries and some fresh nutmeg.

I scraped it all into the pie plate and then had to take a picture of the empty bowl, which was an incredibly beautiful deep purple color. As I was sprinkling on the chunks of topping, the process began to feel familiar, and I suddenly remembered that the blueberry crumble muffins were my very first official Modern Baker post; I guess I'm pretty predictable! With the muffins, I hadn't used all of the topping. NM himself actually left comments for most of us on the Modern Baker Challenge website, and in my comment, he said that I should've used all of the topping. So even though it seemed like a lot, I used it all this time.

I let my pie bake for the full 40 minutes; the crust was starting to get a little dark, but it needed the full 40 minutes for the topping to cook through all of the way.

We served it with some of the best vanilla ice cream that I'd made last night. I cannot describe how perfect the flavor combinations were: the fantasticness of the ice cream was almost overshadowed by the amazingness of the blueberry pie. Mmmm, I could go for another piece right now........You must try this recipe.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pumpkin pie tart and the best vanilla ice cream

I was so excited to try the next recipe on my list in the Modern Baker Challenge: pumpkin-pecan buttermilk tart...and I almost did. (Notice anything missing in the picture?)

This was such an easy recipe; I had a cup of pumpkin in the freezer, leftover from some pumpkin muffins this past fall, so I made 2/3 of the recipe. I mixed the defrosted pumpkin with eggs, sugar, salt, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, freshly grated nutmeg, and some buttermilk. I poured half of it into two mini tart pans and half into a mini-casserole dish.

And then I got into a conversation with my husband and distractedly put the three pans into the oven. It wasn't until ten minutes later, when we'd finished our conversation and I sat down to relax in the family room for a minute, that I realized that I completely forgot the pecan topping! Argh!!!

It's not that I'm not happy to make this recipe's a very delicious pumpkin pie...but there are so many good recipes in this section and I already feel like we've been eating way too many desserts lately. So I may just say that this recipe was yummy, and I'm guessing it would have been even better with the pecans, and hopefully I'll get around to trying it the right way some day.

I made a recipe of David Lebovitz's best vanilla ice cream from The Perfect Scoop (similar recipe here), and oh-my-goodness, we've never tasted a better vanilla ice cream. It was truly amazing, and the perfect accompaniment to my almost-pumpkin pecan buttermilk tart.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Bittersweet chocolate tart

Oh no. I didn't think it was possible, but this one is even better than the previous ones.

Here I am at my fifth sweet tart in the Modern Baker Challenge: bittersweet chocolate tart. This one calls for the press-in cookie dough crust; I remembered really struggling with that one when I made the Parisian fruit tart, so I subbed in the sweet tart dough. I rolled this out and put it into my mini tart pans, which I baked for about 15 minutes.

The filling is a ganache made by combining cream and light corn syrup, bringing them to a boil, combining them with unsalted butter, and then combining the whole mixture with melted bittersweet chocolate (I used 70%). The filling is poured into the crust and then refrigerated until it sets. I made 1/3 of a recipe...knowing the crust was a little thick, I really piled it on, although I still had a tiny bit leftover (this was delicious plain, incidentally!).

I made this one while I was working on the bourbon pecan tart, which worked out well because there's a lot of waiting in this one: waiting for things to boil or melt or cool. It's an easy recipe...just need to make sure you have time for the waiting.

NM says that it's best unadorned, but oh man, it was amazing with a little leftover sweetened whipped cream!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Bourbon-scented pecan-walnut tart

Danger! Danger! We are entering the next chapter in the Modern Baker Challenge: sweet tarts and pies. I have already made three recipes from this section, all of which were amazingly good: chocolate orange hazelnut tart, Parisian fruit tart, and Maida's Big Apple Pie.

Knowing this will be a dangerous section for us, I am following Kayte's lead; she recently purchased a 6" tart pan and has been baking mini tarts, which has allowed her to make many more recipes. For my birthday, I received a set of 4" mini tart pans, so I'm planning to make two mini tarts for each recipe, hoping that this will allow us to sample more recipes without gaining 5,000,000 pounds. =)

Yesterday afternoon, I whipped up a batch of the sweet tart dough: flour, sugar, baking powder, unsalted butter, eggs, and salt. It came together perfectly, and I set it to rest in the fridge. I figured that one recipe of tart dough (409 g) would break down into 6 mini tarts (136 g for each recipe; 68 g for each mini tart).

Last night, I was all ready to make us tarts for dessert, but hubby and I simply could not agree which one we should start with. And then it got too late, and we had to settle for ice cream. I did use the rest of my evening wisely, though, and divided all of the filling recipes into thirds so that I could make two mini-tarts of any of them at a moment's notice.

Tonight, I made two: bourbon-scented pecan and bittersweet chocolate, the first for tonight and the second for tomorrow. Failing to make a mis en place (as usual), I didn't realize that I was short pecans until I was measuring them to stir them into the syrup, so I added walnut pieces, too. This tart started with a syrup of dark corn syrup, sugar, and unsalted butter, which was whipped into a mix of egg, salt, and bourbon. The nuts are mixed in, the mixture is poured into the crusts, and then they are set to bake; my minis took about 22 minutes, until the tops were puffed, set, and had popped bubbles on the top.

Unsurprisingly, this tart was amazing. Even hubby, who claims to not like nuts in desserts, couldn't stop raving. Of course these are going on the make-again list.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Truly perfect pita bread with curried chicken salad

I have a favorite curry chicken salad that I make pretty frequently in the summer. Hubby and I both love it. But it requires pita bread, and I often find that the stuff from the supermarket is dry and tough. I tried making my own, and it didn't go very well. The dough was sticky, the process was challenging, the flavor was so-so, and the texture was similar to the store-bought bread.

I asked on Twitter for great pita recipes, and Joanna immediately responded that I should check out Dan Lepard's recipe.

Happy day, this recipe truly made perfect pita bread. I mixed the dough one evening, subbing in white whole wheat flour for the plain flour that was called for. The mixing and kneading process was easy; the dough was a dream. I let it rise in the fridge overnight. The next afternoon when I was ready to prepare supper, I divided and rolled the dough. Again, it was so easy. These pitas were gorgeous and delicious, the perfect vehicle for my favorite chicken salad. In the past, we've always had to slather mayo on the pita (in addition to the mayo in the chicken salad) to make the bread palatable...completely unnecessary with this soft pillowy pita. The kiddos didn't like the chicken salad, but the little girl ate two pitas with butter and the little guy ate his with salami and mayo.

Easy and delicious...this will be my go-to pita recipe from now on!

Perfect pita bread
adapted from Dan Lepard

300 g bread flour
200 g white whole wheat flour
3 g instant yeast
12 g superfine sugar
5 g table salt
17 g safflower oil
325 g warm water (about 85 F)

1. Mix the flours, yeast, and sugar in a bowl. Add the oil and the water to make a soft, sticky dough.
2. Cover the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
3. Knead the dough on an oiled counter for 10 seconds, until smooth.
4. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes; knead for 10 seconds; rest for 10 minutes; knead for 10 seconds.
5. Cover the bowl and let rest for at least 30 minutes, or put it in the fridge overnight.
6. Heat the oven to between 480 F and 500 F (I heated mine to 490 F). Once preheated, place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.
7. Divide the dough into 100 g pieces (I ended up with 9 pitas), shape them into balls, and let them rest for 15 minutes.
8. Roll the dough balls into circles about 6 inches in diameter (about 1/2 cm thick). If they resist and bounce back, let them rest for a couple of minutes and then try again.
9. Bake the pitas 2 or 3 at a time for 4 or 5 minutes until they've colored slightly and puffed up. (DL says to remove the tray from the oven, but I found this unnecessary. I just opened the oven, pulled the tray out slightly and tossed a few pitas onto it...easy!)
10. Remove the pitas from the oven with tongs and keep them under a cloth until ready to eat.

Curried chicken salad
adapted from Cooking Light

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp grated orange rind
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp minced ginger
2 - 2 1/2 cups skinless roasted chicken, diced (I used half of a supermarket roast chicken)
1 cup seedless green grapes, cut in half
1/4 c dried apricots, diced
4 green onions, thinly sliced (a little more than 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup cashews, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
several large lettuce leaves (I used romaine)
4 - 6 pita breads

1. Combine mayo, orange rind, orange juice, curry powder, and ginger in a small bowl; whisk until smooth.
2. Combine chicken, grapes, apricots, green onions, cashews, and parsley in a large bowl.
3. Pour sauce over the top and stir to combine.
4. Serve in pita bread with large lettuce leaves.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rainbow ice cream

Homemade ice cream and I have had a tumultuous relationship.

Several years ago, I got curious about the process of making homemade ice cream. I seemed to remember that my dad and stepmom had an ice cream maker that they'd received for a wedding gift years ago, so I inquired...sure enough, they did! They'd never used it and were happy to give it to us. Hubby and I made ice cream once. I was pregnant and craving the kind of fresh strawberry ice cream that tastes just like fresh, perfect strawberries drowned in rich whipped cream. I made the egg custard and for whatever reason, the look and smell of the egg/milk mixture just turned my stomach. Apparently the ice cream tasted pretty good; I wouldn't know. I made my husband leave the room if he was going to eat any, and even seeing the metal canister was enough to send my stomach into a tailspin. The ice cream maker went to the basement for a few years.

Last summer, we tried it again, thinking it would be a fun activity to do with the kids. We made ice cream maybe was fun, it was fine, it was kind of a hectic pain in the butt. We were running between smashing up ice cubes, adding more layers of ice and salt to the outside of the bucket, trying to keep the kids' fingers out of the moving parts. Fun, but not something you'd want to do very often.

Fast forward to this year. Some of my Twitter buddies routinely tweet about whipping up a batch of ice cream just because they feel like it. I just couldn't understand how. Finally, I asked, "What am I missing? How can you make ice cream that frequently and that easily?" And they directed me to this style of ice cream where you don't have to worry about the ice or the salt or the mess; you just have to stick a canister into the freezer for 24 hours prior to churning.

Now, I am not one to make frivolous purchases, but when I saw that I could get this ice cream maker for the cost of a dinner out, I just had to have it. We love ice cream; hubby and I (shhh, don't tell the kids!) have a little bowl almost every night after the little ones go to sleep.

I let the kids browse about 25 recipes....they picked rainbow vanilla ice cream, which we saw on Di's blog. I followed Di's recipe as written, except that we added the m&ms in the last five minutes of mixing instead of layering them in after churning. This created a pink ice cream, which delighted my little girl to no end.

So easy. So fun. No mess. And the ice cream was rich, creamy, vanilla-y deliciousness. The little guy (the one who doesn't like any of my homemade sandwich bread) didn't eat his...go figure...I truly do not understand. But the hubby, the little girl, and I loved this more than any ice cream ever, going back for seconds and "just one more spoonful" and licking the bowl clean.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What happens when you don't take your time with sourdough

It's my student teacher's last week of full-time teaching, and I thought I'd use this non-stressful time to get a little ahead with my April Mellow Bakers breads. For my first one, I picked the pain au levain: a nice, simple sourdough loaf. Our fearless leader Paul suggested making all three variations (pain au levain, pain au levain with whole wheat, and pain au levain with two different pre-ferments). I fully intended to just pick one, knowing that this time of the year is not conducive to comparison posts for me...have to save that for the summer when school's out.

But when I looked at the pain au levain and the one with whole wheat, they were so similar, I figured it would be easy enough to make them side by side. I decided to make a whole batch of the starter (which was exactly the same for both versions) and then half batches of the rest of the recipe so I'd get one loaf of each. Easy!

I mixed up the various flours and the water in two different bowls and then let them sit for their autolyse. And when I went to add the starter to the first bowl (the basic pain au levain), I realized that I'd somehow only made a half-batch of stiff starter. Argh! So I decided to go back to my initial plan and just make one loaf.

Now, I could end the post there with the nice picture above of my perfect little boule..........but April Fools! That wouldn't be nearly as honest or as funny, and you wouldn't learn nearly as much from my mistakes. So instead, I present you with the truth: this is what happens when you don't take your time with sourdough:

Where did it all go wrong? Let me count the ways. First of all, I didn't let Austin (my starter) get bubbly enough before I mixed it into the stiff starter. But I think that ended up being okay, because I just let the stiff starter sit out for a few extra hours.

But those extra hours threw the rest of my bread-baking plans off. I ended up having to mix up the dough while making dinner. And then the two strech-and-folds were off a little due to bath and bedtime. And by the time I finally shaped the bread and but it into the banneton, it was getting late. So I didn't spend time preshaping and shaping. I just formed a rough boule and dumped it into the banneton. The book said to let it do its final rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and I knew it would probably need even more time than that in my cool house. But I was soooo tired and it was late and I needed to wake up early for work. So after a measley 1 1/2 hours, when clearly it wasn't even close to ready yet, I threw the bread into the oven.

So, no surprise, but lesson learned and reaffirmed: see above for what happens when you don't give a sourdough the time it wants and needs. (Happily, it did still taste yummy...soft crumb and delicate sour flavor. Worked beautifully as a vehicle, albeit a holey one, for my lunch sandwich today.)