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!

Friday, November 27, 2009


I am known for my mashed potatoes (at least in my immediate family). There's no special recipe to post. I just peel 10 pounds of Yukon golds, follow the normal rules for cutting, boiling, and mashing, and then dump in about five pounds of butter (not literally), a carton of sour cream, a little milk, a whole lot of cream, and some salt and pepper. I only make them like this for two meals: Thanksgiving and Christmas. The rest of the year, I prefer to be at least moderately healthy.

I did debate trying two new techniques this year: boiling potatoes in large chunks with their skins on or steaming them as ATK recently suggested, but unfortunately I didn't really get the idea until Thanksgiving morning and it seemed too late to start the research.

This is our fifth or sixth year hosting Thanksgiving, I believe. I discovered that I wasn't even stressed this year; I keep notes every year (what to make, who is bringing what, what time to put things into the oven to have everything ready on time), but this year, we had the same number of people (14), the same menu, and the same eat time (4 or 4:30), so I didn't even bother recopying it. I was so out of my normal planning mode that I almost forgot to grocery shop for the meal! And I did forget to get paper plates, which meant slightly more dishes last night, but that was no big deal; I had help drying. Even without overly stressing myself, everything was ready at about the same time, everything tasted pretty darn good, and the only thing we had an issue with was the gravy (same recipe I successfully used last year!) not thickening. (Thank goodness for a little corn starch...shhh, don't tell!)

Another thing I thought about trying was ATK's suggestion for starting the turkey upside down for the first hour to help with browning and cooking the dark meat a little faster. Again I didn't think about it until the turkey was in the roaster, so I'll have to think about it next year.

My one big accomplishment for the day: homemade dinner rolls! I've come to bread baking very recently (with the BBA Challenge), so we've always just done the can of crescent rolls...or done without. But this year I thought, "Given the fact that I've made homemade ciabatta, Italian bread, French bread, would seem pretty silly not to have homemade dinner rolls!" I was kind of hoping that my BBA Challenge would present a good Thanksgiving roll recipe and I could kill two birds with one stone (so to speak), but alas, I'm on Kaiser rolls, next up crackers, neither of which fit the bill.

So I turned to my trusty ATK cookbook and their dinner roll recipe. Even so, I found myself using many of my BBA-learned techniques. The recipe didn't call for it, but I still temped the dough and did the windowpane test (the dough was a little warm; windowpane was lovely). Instead of rising in a warm place for 30 minutes, I let the dough take an hour and a half in normal temperature. I thought about what I knew about splitting the dough and forming it into balls. And I let the rolls retard overnight in the fridge. ATK says to take them out 30-60 minutes before baking. I took them out about 70 minutes before and they still hadn't warmed up enough, but it was getting close to dinner time, so I popped them into the oven. Even though they weren't yet touching when I put them in, they grew together almost immediately after I put them in the oven. And the taste? Oh man, these were easily the best dinner rolls I've ever had. I will be making them again!

And here are the requisite food shots of the day:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Mathematical Kitchen!

While reading the first couple of sections of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and getting ready to embark on the awesome BBA Challenge, I happened to be simultaneously planning our school's new targeted intervention period. (For anyone who doesn't already know, in my non-mommy, non-cooking, non-baking life, I am also a 7th grade English teacher.) There is so much math and science in the second section of the book (The Twelve Stages of Bread: Evoking the fullness of flavor from the grain, p. 48). To be honest, even after reading these sections twice, I still don't understand many of the principles he covers. (Science was never my strong suit.)

Anyway, the focus of this period is targeting students' needs in order to raise test scores (oh the joy). But every couple of months, we're having a two week break for a purely fun "choice" time. Suddenly, I had an awesome brainstorm. Chatting with my friend P (the one who sent me the Auntie Abby email jokingly asking me to bake her pretzels), who teaches math at my school, I said, "We should team teach a choice time on baking bread!" I figured we could use the bread baking as an incentive to figure out all of the math and formulas in Peter Reinhart's book. Luckily, she said yes, and we started planning like mad.

P had the beautiful brainstorm of calling our class The Mathematical Kitchen. (We figured we'd only get sweet, geeky kids who would be willing to do math during their choice time.) We also realized that, especially this first time, baking bread was probably a bit too ambitious. We only see our students for 30 minutes, three times a week, for two weeks. We couldn't quite figure out how to break up the bread baking process, and I wanted to test it out first to make sure the bread dough could handle so many waiting periods in the fridge.

So we switched to cookies. Meanwhile, the students - all 803 of them - got to fill out their choice surveys, and I (lucky me) got to enter their choices into the computer. TMK blew the competition away! Even with choices like playing computer games, walking outside, breakdancing, reading graphic novels, playing other games, and art, we had more requests than anyone! Unfortunately we could only take 32, which was way more kids than we'd initially planned on.

So with a trip to the dollar store and a trip to the local warehouse store (25 pound bag of flour, 20 pound bag of sugar), we were off. We made eight groups of four, dove into math, and had an absolute blast!

Day 1: Students were given a giant mixing bowl full of lentils, a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons, and a worksheet asking them to figure out as many ways as possible of making 2 cups, 1/3 cup, 1 tablespoon. We wanted them to begin to really understand and have a visual picture of fractions.

Day 2: Students worked on doubling, tripling, and halving recipes.

Day 3: Students read this article from the Post-Gazette on cookie chemistry. We talked about the functions of all of the different ingredients, and we kind of wished we had a science teacher working with us, too! Students were given a basic sugar cookie recipe and were told to tamper with it...experiment, hypothesize, see what would happen if....

Day 4: Students finished creating their new recipe and then halved it. Then they mixed their dry ingredients. We gave them paper bowls filled with flour and paper cups with salt and baking powder. Watching them measure the flour was pretty hysterical: grabbing giant handfuls, tamping it down with their fingers..... I'm guessing the measurements were not exact. =)

Day 5: Was insane!!! In 30 minutes, we: handed out recipes, baggies full of dry ingredients, paper bowls full of sugar, sticks of butter, latex gloves, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, and giant wooden spoons; handed out and helped put together hand mixers; explained that they needed to reserve 1/4 cup of sugar for coating their cookies; measured out vanilla; handed out and cracked eggs; had students cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and eggs, and then the dry ingredients; had students roll out 12 cookies, roll those cookies in sugar, and place them on a plate; labeled plates and covered them with plastic wrap; and got everything picked up and cleaned up. It was pure craziness and so much fun! We were short two mixers, so two groups had to mix by hand. They were crabby, but they actually had an easier time. P had left the butter out overnight, but our school gets so cold at night that it hadn't softened much. The kids mixing by hand (and they were literally mixing by hand: eight glove-covered hands in the bowl squishing the dough!) used the warmth of their hands to get the butter to the right temperature and texture. I so wish we'd had a camera to take pictures!!

Unfortunately, in my rush to get back to my own classroom, I stacked the plates on top of one another. When I went to put them into the fridge after my class, I had one plate of nicely rolled cookies, two plates of slightly smushed rolled cookies, and five plates of pancakes.

That night, I baked like a mad woman. Eight sheet pans of cookies: re-rolled, re-rolled in sugar, flattened, sprinkled with additional sugar, into the oven for 12-14 minutes, cooling on the pans for 10 minutes, cooling on the counter, and then placed into baggies and labeled with the group name. While most of dough looked pretty standard going into the oven, the look and texture differences upon coming out of the oven were fascinating!

Day 6: Taste testing day! The kids got their baggies of cookies, a placemat with a spot for each cookie, and a taste-testing comparison worksheet. One student from each group was the waiter or waitress and delivered a cookie to each of the other groups. While P led them in a discussion of how each tasted, which were the best and the worst, and what changes each group had made to the original recipe, I demonstrated the actual recipe. I whipped up a triple batch of the cookies in another mad dash.

This weekend, I've rolled out 80 cookies, which are in the freezer waiting to be baked on Monday night. And (another of P's brilliant ideas) I picked up blue and yellow sugar at the store tonight so I can decorate them with our school colors. On Tuesday, our last TMK class, we will have our celebration and enjoy more cookies (which will hopefully turn out, despite the chaotic atmosphere I made them in on Thursday!).

If schools valued it, and if it didn't include sewing, I could seriously consider teaching middle school home ec. It is so much fun to watch the kids experiment; it's pretty clear that many of them do not have much experience in the kitchen. How lucky I feel to get to share my love of cooking and food with them, and to show them how fun it can be! It also makes me wonder about a charter school...English, math, science, social studies, art, music....all centered around cooking......... A girl can dream, right?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Finally #15: Italian Bread

I totally expected hubby's football coaching schedule to be the thing to interrupt my bread baking. And I was fully prepared to be very resentful of that fact.

I never expected that it would be my insane work commitments that would force me to break my promise to myself of one bread per week. But it was and it did, and I actually almost didn't bake this weekend either (so tired and busy!)...but that seemed like a dangerous slippery slope. Plus, I was getting guilt emails from the lunch group at work about how long it's been since I brought them any bread.

I tried something new with this bread. I've been having an insanely hard time getting my KA to knead my dough satisfactorily. I always end up having to finish it by hand. Don't get me wrong, I totally enjoy kneading by hand...but given how busy we've been lately, it's not always practical. First I thought that maybe it was because the book says to knead the dough on medium, but I always knead on speed 2. The KA manual says that any speed over 2 can/will burn out your motor...I love my while I contemplated trying to mix on 4, I decided it wasn't worth the risk. Then, in some of my bread baking discussion browsing, I found a discussion about the autolyse method on The Fresh Loaf. It suggests that if you mix the flour and water and then leave them for 20 minutes to let the gluten start to develop, you don't need to knead (ha!) nearly as long.

Would this work to help my dough achieve the windowpane when mixed in my stand mixer? It did! I mixed the flour and water (and actually the yeast, too, although I later learned that I should've waited adding it), let it sit 20 minutes, and then kneaded it for four minutes in my mixer. The temp was a little low (so was my water temp when I added it), but I got a windowpane! Without having to do any extra kneading!

Unfortunately, I then read that the dough needs to rise for 2 - 4 hours before getting refrigerated. And it was already after 8:00. I let it rise for almost two before I caved, degassed it, refrigerated it, and went to bed.


I tried the autolyse technique again with the main part of the dough this morning. Again, with minimal mixing, I was able to achieve a windowpane, although not the required temperature. Still, even without being as warm as it needed to be, the bread rose in the suggested time.

In technique, this was pretty similar to the baguette, although it was enriched with malt barley (I used syrup), oil (I used olive), and a little sugar.

I was able to shape it into a batard while still maintaining a lot of the gas: check out the bubble on the left end of the far loaf!

And now that we've done it a couple of times, the hearth baking process went better than before. I could actually see steam filling the oven...that's a first! And it seemed to work...unlike the ciabatta and the baguette, which were both really pale, this one actually turned golden. It also has the best-looking crumb; the holes aren't huge, but they're the biggest I've gotten so far.

As for the taste? Creamy and delicious and . . . well, doesn't this blissed-out baby girl say it best?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

#14: French Bread

Two main thoughts about French bread: 1st, it made me feel like a real bread baker and 2nd, wow, that was a lot of work!

For French bread, you make a pâte fermentée, which pretty much just means you make the bread, let it rise, stick it in the fridge overnight, and then make the exact same bread again, using the old bread (the pâte fermentée) as a starter. The fermenting/proofing time is especially important in this one in order to develop the proper flavor. (I love the giant bubbles in the picture above; it looked almost like a face in the surface of the dough when I pulled it out of the fridge this morning...appropriate for the day after Halloween!)

This one is all pretty simple: flour, yeast, salt, and water.

I couldn't ever get the windowpane or achieve the desired temperature while kneading, but the dough felt right and I kneaded it for at least twice as long as I was supposed to. I decided to move along.

My dough rose in only an hour; unlike other breads, where you'd just continue along with the process, because the proofing time is so important for flavor-development, I actually needed to degas the dough and then let it rise again to achieve the proper two hour rise.

The shaping was not nearly as scary as I was anticipating. The dough was really easy to work with and it was especially easy to see the surface tension that Peter Reinhart talks about during the shaping stage.

We had a hard time determining if the shaped bread had risen enough on my make-shift couche, but it was getting close to bed time so we decided to move things along.

Luckily hubbie found an exacto blade to use for scoring the bread. I'd never done anything like that, and it was interesting. I think it went best on my middle loaf. The other two weren't so great, but I'll do better next time!

I also realized as we were getting ready to transfer the shaped loaves onto the baking stone that I forgot to make sure the oven (and therefore the baking stone) had been heating for a full hour. Oops! It was definitely easier to do the hearth method with another set of hands to help, although it was still hectic and we managed to forget to cover the oven door glass with a towel; luckily we did not hear the cracking sounds that Peter Reinhart warns about!

The results: after twenty minutes, my loaves weren't as dark as they were supposed to be, but the temperature was absolutely perfect. I was right that I hadn't scored them very well; the lines are very fine and they don't have that split of traditional French bread. Forty (loooooong) minutes later, and we were able to cut in - or break it, more accurately. Hubbie's comment, "Hey, it doesn't taste like crap white bread." Um, thanks. Seriously, though, the flavor is very complex...which is a pretty big comment for me because I don't usually think of myself as having a very discerning palate. I think it's denser than it was supposed to be, not quite as many big holes as I was anticipating.

But yum, I would definitely make this again.

**Update: Apparently hubbie would have me make it again as well, as the bread has been ready to eat for 16 minutes and one of the three loaves is gone. Um, yeah.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Um, yum. Focaccia (#13)

First of all, I'm not sure I could go as far as Nicole (Pinch my salt) and put this one above casatiello, but man, this is some amazingly yummy bread!

Pretty simple to make, too. I mixed up everything in my KA (#1 because it's incredibly wet sticky dough and #2 because I was (as always) multi-tasking and dealing with the kiddos at the same time as baking...shhhh, don't tell Peter!) and then dumped it out onto the counter.

I was a little nervous with the similarity of this recipe to the ciabatta (especially the fact that they're both super wet sticky doughs). The stretch-and-fold part of the ciabatta did not go well for me; in fact, if you recall, I actually gave up on that method and switched to another and...yeah. But this time, on examining the stretch-and-fold picture, I realized what I was doing wrong. Instead of stretching the dough out to try to lengthen it, I pulled the dough up and it totally worked! I was able to do the stretch-and-fold successfully three times!

Time consuming, but overall a pretty easy process. Then I had to dump 1/4 cup oil on the pan before putting the bread on it. And then I poured another 1/4+ cup of herb oil on top of the bread. I didn't have any fresh herbs, so I just used dried: parsley, basil, oregano, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper. Oh my: the smell! Yum.

I used my fingers to dimple the bread and push it out to the sides of the pan. I didn't feel like mine looked as dimpled as in the book, but hubby said it was just their lighting. Anyway, into the fridge for an overnight rest. I took it out today and let it rise for three hours (totally enough time for another trip to the zoo!).

Into the oven for 15 minutes - and voila! Perfection! Seriously, this is the first time in the Challenge when I felt like my texture and crumb were exactly what they were supposed to be! Check it out:

Monday, October 19, 2009

BBA Challenge #12: English muffins

This was an easy recipe, which is a good thing since I foresee many requests to make it again in my future. Before beginning, I debated doubling the recipe...I definitely should have. All six muffins were gone less than 24 hours after they were made.

The dough came together beautifully; it was so satiny smooth, very pliable, incredibly easy to work with. I didn't have time to let it completely double because we were off to the zoo, but it seemed to do okay.

At the other end, my dough balls probably proofed for a little too long because we were gone to the zoo for a full 90 minutes (he recommends 60-90 for proofing, and things usually double in the shorter end of the timeframe in my house).

I kneaded it in my trusty KA; didn't have to add any more of anything because it mixed up perfectly immediately. I'm wondering if I should've kneaded it by hand, however, since I know the dough cannot be at all stiff in order for the muffins to spread out during the baking stage. Mine didn't spread much. I thought about using the spatula to press them down (much like you do with a hamburger) which another blogger had mentioned, but when I tried it with one, the dough started to crack, so I decided to let them be puffy.

When they were finished, they looked like English muffins and tasted like English muffins.

All of my tasters/critics (hubby, dad, and stepmom) said they were much better than the store-bought kind. They even had the signature nooks and crannies (when split with a fork instead of a knife, of course!):

Hubby's dream meal: egg, sausage, and cheese on a muffin:

Very cool recipe. I loved that you got to watch them bake...I will definitely make these again! Peter Reinhart suggests that this is a fun recipe for kids, too, so as soon as the kiddos get a little older, I'll have to try it with them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spaghetti Carbonara

In my recent discovery/exploration/love affair with food blogs, I always felt that that I didn't quite fit into the community. Unlike most of these bloggers (who I so enjoy reading), I don't see myself as a recipe developer. Actually, I am also unlike my husband, most of his family, and my dad, all of whom enjoy cooking by feel, happily experimenting in the kitchen, and totally accepting that sometimes things turn out better than other times. I am a rule follower. One of the things that I love best about cooking is losing myself in the intricate details of a recipe, the precision of the measurements, following someone else's ideas to create an amazing dish for my family. It's one of the reasons I love to read Cook's Illustrated: talk about intricate recipes!

However, as I've spent more and more time cooking over the past few years, I've started to experience a new freedom in the kitchen. I add a little more of this spice, sub in this ingredient for that, cut this down a bit because we don't like it quite as much, add in a bit of that because that other recipe that we love calls for it. And tonight, as I was making spaghetti carbonara, hubby walked through the kitchen and said, "I love that this carbonara is a little of this recipe and a little of that, but done the way we like it," and I realized that although I originally started with an America's Test Kitchen recipe and a Cooking Light recipe, the one I was making has become entirely my own.

So with that, I enter (in baby steps) the food blogging world. If nothing else, it will provide me with a record so I can recreate this version next time; it was the best carbonara we've ever had in this house!

Spaghetti Carbonara
1 lb spaghetti (I always use whole wheat)
10 oz bacon (I use center cut), chopped
1 onion, minced
1/4 c white wine (I use Reisling)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 heaping tsp minced garlic
2 oz Parmesan, grated

  1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, omitting salt and oil. Reserve 2 tbsp of cooking liquid.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, salt, pepper, garlic, and parmesan.
  3. Cook bacon over med-high heat in a large skillet (10 minutes or so); drain on paper towel, saving 2-3 tsp of bacon grease.
  4. In skillet, use the bacon grease to cook the onion until tender (2-4 minutes).
  5. Add wine and continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half (about 2-4 minutes).
  6. Return bacon to pan; add pasta and reserved pasta cooking liquid.
  7. Make a well in the center of the pan and add egg mixture. Cook until egg is almost done (2-3 minutes), stirring/mixing constantly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And (another one already?!) BBA #11: Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread

Well, we are on break for the next couple of days, but really, what's inspiring my rapid baking over these past couple of days is that the next recipe on the list is homemade English muffins! I am so intrigued, but being a good little rule-follower, I had to bake the ones in-between first.

So, cranberry-walnut celebration bread! Or, since I apparently didn't look in my cupboards, go shopping, or plan ahead, cranberry-cherry-pecan-almond bread....because those were the only fruits and nuts I had in the house (wow, there are a lot of jokes waiting there) and I only had a tiny bit of each.

Also, given how un-in-love we were with the cinnamon raisin walnut bread (and fruit-nut bread of any variety), I decided to make a half-batch, just a small braided loaf instead of the enormous double-braided celebration loaf.

The dough came together quickly and easily. I was going to use the trusty ol' stand mixer today, but given how small and malleable the dough was, I ended up just mixing and kneading by hand. As with the cinnamon raisin bread, incorporating the fruits and nuts was a bit of a pain, but I eventually got the stuff mixed in.

With the lemon extract and the cranberries in the dough, it smelt pretty heavenly while kneading and also while baking. And for the first time ever, its temperature was exactly right! Peter Reinhart says 155 - 190 degrees, and it was 186 when I took it out. We waited the requisite hour and then dug in. The flavor was very nice, and neither of us minded the fruits and nuts the way we did in the cinnamon raisin. Hubby didn't love the texture as much (he said it was too light and airy?!), but the kiddos both asked for more. I'm still glad I didn't make a big loaf because it wouldn't have gotten eaten, but I think it will make a lovely breakfast bread for tomorrow morning! (Except for hubby, who is still working on single-handedly finishing the entire pan of cornbread!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BBA #10!!! Corn Bread

Woo hoo, I've made it through 10 breads! Thankfully, given the current stress of life, #10 was a quick bread, the only one in the book. Peter Reinhart says he included it because it's the best corn bread recipe ever. That's a good enough reason for me!

I decided to go mainly with the measuring cup route, since quick breads are nothing new to me and I know you don't have to be quite as precise to be successful. But I decided to use the scale for the dry ingredients to save myself some dishes....wanna hear how that decision bit me on the butt? I wasn't paying close enough attention and put in .5 oz salt instead of .25 and then had to try to scrape out little bits of salt - without removing any of the flour - until the scale went back down. Oh the joys of trying to save a step.

Anyway, this corn bread recipe starts with bacon grease at the bottom of a pan (I used my cast iron skillet) and ends with sprinkling crumbled bacon on top - what could be bad?! With the exception of having to soak the corn meal overnight, and the fact that it used 5,963 bowls (well, just four), this was really easy to make. (Baked for 40 minutes: perfectly done.) Cutting into it, it smelled like corn...I'm not sure I've ever made corn bread that actually smells like corn before, and I've been searching for a good corn bread recipe for a long time. And it tastes like corny, cakey, sweet, bacony goodness. This could be a meal in itself. Not a bread I would personally gobble up, but hubby had two pieces immediately and is planning to eat more for breakfast; he said it's the best corn bread ever!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cinnamony goodness: BBA #8 & #9

BBA Challenge #8: Cinnamon buns & Sticky buns
Made this one on a weeknight, while also making mac and cheese and chicken nuggets for the kiddos. It was a little hurried and hectic, but I have to say that overall (especially using my trusty stand mixer), it was a really easy recipe.

As usual, I didn't feel like the stand mixer could finish the job; the dough just never feels right when it comes out of there. So I finished up on the counter (while the kiddos cried from hunger - just kidding - sort of)...I checked for windowpane a few times and never got it, but I achieved the proper temperature and finally I just had to slap the stuff in the bowl and feed the kids dinner.

I don't have a lot of experience with rolling out dough, so I did my best and checked: exact measurements on the first try! I had to take a picture.

We really wanted fresh baked rolls that night, but by the time the rolls were rolled and ready to proof, it was 9:30, and we still had 90 minutes of rising, 20-40 minutes of baking, and 20 minutes of cooling left, so we decided to stick them in the fridge and bake them the next night.

We couldn't agree on whether to make cinnamon buns (hubby's request) or sticky buns (my favorite), so we made a few of each. Three hours on the counter to finish proofing, 23 minutes for the cinnamon rolls (perfect), and 35 minutes for the sticky buns (also perfect). The buns themselves: OMG yum. The glaze on the buns was fine, nothing great. (I did use vanilla extract instead of lemon as per hubby-request.) And the caramel, while yummy, did not have enough nuts (in my opinion) and was hard enough to set my teeth on edge; I'm thinking of cutting down or eliminating the corn syrup next time (I don't really like cooking with that stuff anyway). Funnily enough, I preferred the cinnamon buns while hubby said the sticky buns were the best ever: go figure!

fresh out of the oven (after the dropping-on-the-floor-incident, which we will not discuss because it was too traumatizing)

and frosted

sticky-bunny goodness

Hubby just came over to tell me he could eat them all right now because they are that addictive, so I'm figuring these will be made again.

BBA Challenge #9: Cinnamon Walnut Raisin Bread
Because hubby was home this weekend (no football: WAHOOOOO!!!), I decided to go for it and bake a second bread. I love to bake while he and the kiddos are hanging out, playing in the family room, and besides, the buns were easy enough and the next bread looked pretty easy, too, and I'm way behind in the Challenge and...hey, I just wanted to!

Cinnamon raisin bread is not a big favorite in this house, nor is bread with nuts, but all of the posts I read said that this one was worth it. I also decided that because hubby was home and I didn't have to bake while making dinner and taking care of the kiddos, that I would go back to the basics and mix and knead by hand and with my awesome new dough whisk.

I found the dough pretty sticky; it took me about a half-cup of additional flour before I could get it to achieve the right texture, but I got both a windowpane and the right temp, so that was pretty exciting. I did have issues with adding the raisins and nuts. In fact, I incorporated about two-thirds of each, and decided to give up (we don't love raisins or walnuts that much anyway); everything just kept falling out. But I hate to be a quitter, so I did a few dishes and then went back to work, and was able to get in the rest of the fillings.

After an hour and a half, the dough had definitely doubled. I decided (of course) to go with the cinnamon swirl version, so I rolled out the dough and spread out the mixture before rolling up my loaves.

I managed to do this whole step and get the loaves ready to bake while the hubby and kids were eating lunch; we all noticed how much more quickly I can do much of this bread-baking stuff now!

I read somewhere that if you allow the dough to over-proof, it won't spring much in the oven and the center swirl won't come apart. That's why these are so big (not because hubby and I decided to snuggle down for a little snooze while the kids were napping....nope, that's not the reason.....):

Here they are, fresh out of the oven:

And of course I elected to use the optional cinnamon-sugar-buttery topping:

And here is the lovely swirl:

Taste? It was okay. Hubby said it was the best cinnamon raisin bread he'd ever had, but he didn't have a second piece, so what does that tell you? Yeah, I guess this just isn't really our kind of bread. I imagine that the rest of this first loaf will make a delicious French toast in the next day or two and the other will be a treat for the folks at work. Will I make it again? Not for us, but hubby suggested it might make a nice gift for people around the holidays. Not a bad idea!

UPDATE: While the loaf at work disappeared within two hours, the French toast tonight was not so great. The kids ate a normal amount, but I could barely choke down a piece and hubby threw away his last two pieces; the nuts and raisins were just too weird. Don't think I'll be making this one again.