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.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

BBA #7: Ciabatta

Well...this is not going well. I am part-way through the process of making my first ciabatta, and I was pretty nervous going in. Every post I read talked about how challenging this bread was, how difficult it was to get the requisite holes. I even read some people who speculated that there was actually an error in the recipe itself, since it was consistently producing such less-than-stellar results. So I read...a lot. Nicole from Pinch My Salt explained that many people had found more success with the biga version, but she opted to try the poolish anyway. Being a much less experienced baker than her, I decided that if the biga was working better, that's probably what I should try. So I found this post from Hayley at Appoggiatura and it was extremely helpful. She also referenced this thread from The Fresh Loaf, which I studied multiple times. Although the discussion at the Fresh Loaf referenced another recipe that seemed to deliver more positive results, I decided that being part of the Challenge meant that I should try to stick to Peter Reinhart's basic recipe.

But I decided to use two pieces of advice that seemed to be repeated throughout the thread: keep the dough very hydrated and cut the initial mixing time.

I made my biga last night, using the maximum amount of water called for. It sat overnight and, while sticky, was pretty easy to deal with this morning.

When it came time to add the rest of the ingredients, I again added the max amount of water and the optional olive oil.

I think I messed up in the next step. In the Fresh Loaf thread, people talked about not overmixing, so I only mixed it for 3-4 minutes in my mixer, at the lowest speed, instead of the 7-9 called for in the book. And I realized that I also never switched to the dough hook.

As such, my dough never seemed to turn into dough. I mean, I know this is wet and sticky stuff, but I just couldn't do the stretch and fold step because the dough would absolutely not stretch; it just glopped. It was beyond wet.

And now I'm thinking that I should've just stuck to the book....Everyone's complaint with the recipe is that it doesn't produce the requisite holes - but it still tastes great. So what do we care about the holes? We are all about taste in this house; I should've just given up on the holes on my first try and concentrated on the taste. We are in the second (and longer) rise time right now before final forming....So I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

***Change in plans
So after typing all of this up, I was still obsessing and went back and re-read a bunch of the posts I'd read earlier. And no one else seemed to have this extra gloppy, super wet dough; everyone said the stretching and turning went fine. I went back to the Fresh Loaf thread and spent a lot of time on this comment, which said, "If your dough is not really gloppy, add extra water until the dough is soft enough to spread" - um, that is my dough. So I changed my mind and decided to use the turning method recommended in the Glezer recipe (the one they kept comparing the Reinhart recipe to). She comments, "You will be amazed at how the dough firms up during the turning," and I really was. After some extra time, some extra turning, and a blend of the two methods, my dough finally feels like dough and not like sloppy gloppy batter.

.............I did not have a couche (could not find one in any store, or even a piece of untreated canvas or heavy linen); finally my dad found an old cotton futon cover in the basement, so I washed it and it worked really well. I got the bread situated on my make-shift couche and I will say that this was the one step out of the whole process where my bread dough actually looked like the pictures in the book:

While the bread was in its final proofing stage, I got the oven ready: preheated to 500 degrees, steam pan in place, baking stone on the center shelf.

I used a sheet pan coated with semolina flour to transfer the bread to the baking stone - only it wouldn't slide off the pan. I didn't read about that happening to anyone else; maybe I didn't use enough semolina? So my prettily shaped loaves had to be globbed off and lost their form. I then tried to do the steaming: a cup of hot water into the steam pan and spritzing the oven walls at 30 second intervals....But to add to my excitement, the baby just would not stay out of the kitchen, so I kept having to yell and then chase her out and then try to spritz again and then chase her again....I'm guessing the oven was open way too long and lost a lot of its heat; anyway, my loaves achieved the appropriate temperature after 20 minutes but never got to that pretty golden color. Here is the (not so pretty) final product:

And after all of that....same thing everyone else reported: great ciabatta taste (in fact, one loaf totally disappeared when I had my brother, mom, and stepdad over for stew tonight and the other one was almost completely depleted once hubby got home from his football game), but no big holes.

Oh well. Hubby said he's glad because they make better sandwiches without the giant holes. At any rate, I don't see myself making this one again...at least not for a while.

I'm excited that the next several breads (cinnamon buns, cinnamon-walnut bread, corn bread) seem relatively easy...and we'll jump back into the more challenging ones once football season is over and hubby can help with the kids while I'm baking.