Friday, December 31, 2010

Last breads of 2010!

I've admitted in the past that I am not the mellow type. Which means I had a hard time accepting that 2010 would end with two Mellow Bakers breads skipped ~ pretzels, which I skipped in October because I just couldn't figure out what to do with the whole lye bath business, and semolina bread with soaker and fennel seeds, which was slated for this month but just didn't sound all that great.

Luckily, we didn't have many plans today and there is an ice storm outside, so I was able to finish my last two breads!

For the pretzels . . . I'd initially thought I would brave the lye bath, as instructed in Hamelman's book. I even asked my dad if he'd come help, as he is meticulous about things in the kitchen so I thought between the two of us, we just might be able to do it. But after much research, I decided I really wasn't comfortable having that harsh of a chemical in the house with my two little ones underfoot. So I used Hamelman's recipe and procedures, with the exception of the lye bath. When I got to that part, I subbed in Peter Reinhart's (ABED) baking soda bath instructions.

As a result, the pretzels don't have that distinctively pretzel taste. But they're still tasty little snacks and I think they look pretty cute!

For the semolina bread with soaker and fennel seed . . . Hubby and I discussed the possibility of skipping breads like this one, ones that just don't sound very good. And then we reflected on my bread making over the past year and realized that many breads that we've been skeptical about have turned out to be some of our favorites, so maybe it was good to try them all. The recipe makes 3 medium loaves, so I cut it in thirds and just made one loaf. Like other Mellow Bakers, I shaped it into an S as we did in the BBA Challenge. I was surprised by the lack of oven spring, so I'm guessing I may have let it proof too long on the counter.

The fennel is pretty strong, definitely dominates any flavor from the semolina. Hubby liked it; I thought it was fine.

I can't wait to see what new breads and other cooking adventures 2011 brings!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2011 is full of peace and joy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bread bowls with wild rice soup

Ever since the kids were born and we committed to staying home for Christmas (we used to travel to my in-laws, but it's a treacherous drive through the mountains, so we only drive that way in the summer now), we've had the Christmas Eve tradition of ordering dinner in from my very favorite restaurant. It was a hole-in-the-wall, family-owned Chinese restaurant that my family has been going to since I was four years old. Sadly, this past year, the owners retired, sold the business, and the food isn't even close to what it once was.

We debated getting take-out from several other places for Christmas eve, especially since I decided to host Christmas dinner for the first time this year, but in the end, I decided I wanted to cook...just something simple.

I've been thinking about trying soup and bread bowls for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Following Frieda's suggestion, I used Peter Reinhart's Italian bread recipe from the BBA. I divided the dough into 6 ounce portions and formed them into tight boules to try to encourage them to rise up instead of out. It worked nicely.

Before dinner, I cut out the tops of the bread bowls, and pushed in the sides to try to create a wide opening. Following Mags' suggestion, I brushed the insides with olive oil and toasted them at 350F for about ten minutes.

I was concerned that the 6 ounce bowls turned out pretty small and thought maybe I should make bigger ones next time. Buuuuut, I'm not sure. The bowls were small; I could only fit one small ladle of soup into each. But there was a perfect amount of bread. The guys just had second scoops of soup, so maybe that's the answer.

For the soup, I made Byerly's wild rice soup. The last step of the recipe is to add the cream and sherry and then serve. I found that the flavors didn't meld; next time, I think I will either make the soup ahead of time or cook it for longer.

Either way, it went perfectly with the bread bowls.

I was nervous that we wouldn't have enough food, as the soup recipe did not make much and the bread bowls were so small, so I decided to throw together a salad from some leftovers in the fridge. It was awesome! My dad requested the recipe, although I just kind of threw things together. This is my best guess:

Spinach and pomegranate salad
3 packed cups of spinach
1 pomegranate (I used this no-mess process to remove the arils)
2 ounces gruyere cheese, cut into very small chunks
2 tbsp chopped walnuts
2 tbsp sliced red onion

for the dressing
1/4 cup cidar vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp poppy seeds
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
pinch of salt

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Irish Soda Bread (Dec)

I've never eaten Irish soda bread, but I was intrigued when I saw it on the Mellow Bakers' December list. A non-yeasted bread in Hamelman's book? A bread that can be made in just an hour?

At first I thought it sounded like a very convenient accompaniment to soup, perfect for those nights when we really want soup, but don't have any bread; usually we have to wait until the next day. Then I talked to my dad, who informed me that Irish soda bread (at least the kind my aunt used to make) was a sweeter bread, better for breakfast, great for French toast, not good for soup.

So I figured I'd make it tonight and then plan the rest of dinner accordingly depending on how it turned out.

I mixed ground up multigrain flakes (I couldn't find wheat flakes, so I used a combination of wheat, barley, and oat flakes), white pastry flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with a little buttermilk and yogurt. And then I baked it for about 25 minutes.

The results? This was not soup bread and it wasn't French toast bread. It didn't taste like bread at all. Hubby tried a piece and cleared up the mystery: it tastes just like a buttermilk biscuit. Once we figured that out, we tried it with butter and honey. Yep, biscuity. Don't think we'll be making this one again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Virtual Cookie Exchange: Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwiches

Really, there's a picnic table under there! Can you see it?

Di, over at the lovely Di's Kitchen Notebook, offered to host a virtual cookie exchange this year with Kayte, Phyl, and several others who routinely do "Twitterbakes" together.

Stuck under 17 inches of snow (some are calling it Snowmaggedon or Snowpocolypse here) and therefore unexpectedly home on a Saturday afternoon, I jumped onto the baking bandwagon, along with Andrea. This was my first time joining in a Twitterbake ~ where a group of bakers bake the same, or a similar, recipe and tweet about their process ~ and it was great fun!

The recipe I chose was chocolate-peppermint sandwiches from the newest issue of Cook's Country, a finalist from their reader Christmas cookie contest.

I was initially concerned that I'd overbaked the cookies, but they ended up being perfectly chewy. The recipe calls for basic semi-sweet chocolate chips, which is what I used, but I'm intrigued with the thought of experimenting with a higher quality darker chocolate. The other change I'm planning to make next time (and there will be a next time!) is to use a smaller scoop. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of dough for each cookie; this made cookies that were way too big for my little ones. I think I will use a teaspoon next time.

I had some challenges with the frosting. It was too runny, not very pepperminty, and there was only enough to fill about half of the cookie sandwiches. I made several changes, which are indicated below.

The sandwich cookies were chocolately but not too sweet, and were tasty by themselves. But with the addition of the pepperminty frosting, they were just amazing!
Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies
adapted from Cook's Country

For the cookie dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp water
1 egg

For the frosting:
3 tsp milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 drops of red or green food coloring (optional)

For the cookies:
1. Preheat oven to 350F with racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions
2. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper
3. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl
4. Heat butter, chocolate, brown sugar, and water in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. (I used frozen butter, so I heated it on low heat for a bit by itself until it began to melt.)
5. Transfer to large bowl and beat in the egg.
6. Stir in flour mixture until just combined.
7. Place 1 tbsp (I'll use a teaspoon next time) dough on the baking sheets. Bake cookies until puffed and edges are smooth, about 10 minutes (I baked them for 11 or 12). Cool 5 minutes on sheets and then transfer to a wire rack.

For the filling:
1. Whisk melted butter, milk, and extract in medium bowl until combined. (Check peppermint flavor; the recipe calls for 1/8 tsp, but I couldn't taste the peppermint at all.) Add sifted sugar and mix until smooth. Then add food coloring, if desired. (I split mine into two batches and colored one red and one green.)
2. Spread 2 tsp filling over bottom of cookie (the recipe calls for 1 tsp, but that wasn't nearly enough to taste it between two cookies; 1 tsp might be enough for smaller cookies) and then top with remaining cookie.
(The recipe says that sandwiches can be refrigerated in airtight container for 2 days, but ours didn't make it that long.)

Thanks for hosting, Di! It was so much fun! (Check Di's post later this week for a round-up of all the fun cookies people baked!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Ciabatta with Poolish (December)

My first December bread for the Mellow Bakers is ciabatta. We have three choices: ciabatta with poolish, ciabatta with biga, and ciabatta with olive oil and wheat germ. Based on the recommendation of Natashya, who baked all three, I decided to try the poolish version.

We are buried under 17 inches of snow, so there's not much to do but bake. And what better than bread to go with a warm bowl of soup?

The recipe was easy, although (as usual) my bread did not need to bake for as long as  specified in the recipe.

We loved this beautifully-holed, perfect-tasting ciabatta.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hamelman's whole wheat levain

On my never-ending quest to find a home-baked bread that the kids will actually accept for their sandwiches, I tried Hamelman's whole wheat levain. Although I had no experience with wild yeast before a year ago, and I wasn't wild about what I thought of as "sourdough breads," I've come to really like the flavor, texture, and staying quality of breads made with my starter. I've found that most whole grain sandwich loaves made with instant yeast are a little too crumbly to hold up to my two little ones trying to eat a sandwich.

I prefer multi-grains (Hamelman's whole wheat multi-grain levain is my current favorite), but the kids don't really like "things" in their bread.

Anyway, I also thought they might be more apt to eat my bread for sandwiches if it was shaped like a sandwich (in other words, baked in a tin). So I requested a little advice from the Mellow Bakers gang, and, as usual, they were awesome. Jacqueline and Joanna both gave me helpful advice for baking this bread in a tin, and I was off!

The recipe was pretty basic and baking in the loaf pan went off without a hitch. The sourdough bite was pretty pronounced (I imagine it was because I was trying to bake it while making Thanksgiving dinner, so it got a couple of surprise rests in the fridge), so the kids didn't really like it. And hubby and I found it...okay. Nothing great. Also, I buttered the loaf out of the oven, which turned out to be a mistake, as it just made the top kind of soggy. So...not a repeat, but it still provided us with a solid base for Thanksgiving leftovers!