Monday, February 28, 2011

Under the wire: Normandy Apple Bread (Mellow Bakers - February)

Phew...wasn't sure I was going to get this one in on time! Luckily my hubby is a patient guy and was willing to do a little extra kiddo duty so I could spend a few minutes building a stiff levain this morning, peeling and slicing apples this afternoon, and mixing up the dough this evening.

So here we are, at bedtime on February 28, with the last of the Mellow Bakers' February breads: Normandy apple bread.

The dough includes dried apples (we were short on time, so I sliced the apples very thinly and baked them at 250F for two hours), old apple cider (I splurged on some good stuff!), bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, a little instant yeast, salt, and some water (I mixed hot water with the cider to try to regulate the temperature a bit).

I was a bit distracted at times and rushing at other times, but the final result is quite tasty: slightly sweet from the apples, chewy crust, delicious smell, all around good flavor...this one is a win!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A birthday party featuring Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (Bake!)

My son fell in love with trains when he was really young. Happily, before his second birthday, I found this pan on clearance at a store's going-out-of-business sale. So my guy has gotten a train cake for his past three birthdays (by request ~ he's pretty predictable!).

The cake is always adorable...but sadly, always dry. I've experimented with different bundt cake recipes: a couple from Cook's Illustrated, an old family recipe. But by the next day when I decorate them and we eat, they've always been dry and a little tasteless.

Finally I decided that maybe the problem was that I was cooking bundt recipes, which are often glazed to hold in the moisture. I wondered about pound cakes, which Nick Malgieri describes as being moist without needing any sort of glaze. I'd loved his New Orleans praline pound cake, so I decided to try the vanilla bean option from Bake! Phyl had already made this and commented that the vanilla flavor wasn't very strong, so although the recipe says to use the vanilla bean in place of vanilla extract, I decided to use both. And then I used another vanilla bean in the Bake! meringue buttercream frosting.

The cake was still not moist, but it was way better than it's been in previous years: not too dry, great vanilla flavor, and (key with a pan like this) popped out of the pan easily without much mess. I think pound cake is the way to go!

We decided to have a birthday brunch for the little guy because he loves all breakfast foods. I made three pans of BBA cinnamon rolls, two NM ham, egg, and cheese tarts, ATK's blueberry pancakes, a fruit salad, bacon and sausage. Lots of fun and not many leftovers...a success!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


My little guy turned four today...guess he's not so little any more. (sniff) Actually, I enjoy birthdays. I enjoy getting older and I like watching my kids grow older, too. I'm always excited to see what the next stage has in store.

His birthday party is tomorrow...a birthday brunch. I've got cinnamon rolls, pancakes, two Nick Malgieri egg tarts, and the annual train cake all in the works. Today, his actual birthday, we celebrated as a family. He requested "butternut and chocolate scones" (NM's butterscotch scones to which we always add chocolate chips) for breakfast. Then we went to our Saturday morning swimming lessons, played at the small indoor playground at the elementary school where we take lessons, went out for bagels, and then went to a large indoor park for running and climbing and sliding.

We let him set the agenda and the menu for the day. He requested mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets for dinner, and for his birthday dessert, chocolate cupcakes with yellow banana frosting. Having just made chocolate cupcakes for my mother-in-law's birthday last weekend, I wasn't especially enthused about the request. And I thought banana frosting sounded strange.

Luckily the day after he told me what he wanted, I read Tracey's post on banana split brownies. They sounded perfect: chocolate and banana, as requested! I asked him what he thought about brownies with banana and (the thing I knew would push him over the edge) mini marshmellows! My kids love mini marshmellows. Sure enough, he told me, "I like to change my mind, Mom! That sounds great!"

I decided to fulfill the request for cupcakes by baking the brownies in a muffin tin. I followed the recipe Tracey posted, but made only a 1/2 batch. I put 1/4 cup of brownie batter into each muffin cup, and the 1/2 batch made 10 muffins. They baked for 25 minutes and were perfect.

I made the ganache, although I didn't even use close to the 1/2 batch I'd made. I'd probably make 1/3 or 1/4 batch next time. And I skipped the sliced almonds because, while I love them, my kids aren't fans of nuts in, well, anything. I put the mini marshmellows on top and set the cupcakes under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Way too long! While not blackened, the marshmellows were definitely darker than we'd like. Luckily, they peeled off easily and I tried again, this time watching like a hawk.

The verdict? Perfection! Hubby said they were the best cupcakes he's ever had in his life, the kids gobbled them up, and I loved them. We will definitely make these again!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I may have a problem...... (simple milk loaf)

I may be a trifle obsessed with my pullman pan. I can't seem to make bread in any other pan these days.

Here's my newest loaf: simple milk loaf, which was recommended to me by Nancy and Kayte when I was bemoaning the fact that I simply cannot find a homemade bread that the little guy will eat with his sandwiches. I found a lot of recipes and discussions around Dan Lepard's milk loaf, and ended up adapting a bit based on what I had in the house.

Simple milk loaf
adapted from Dan Lepard

7g instant yeast
720g whole milk, room temperature
58g maple syrup
15g kosher salt
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
250g all purpose flour
450g whole wheat flour
300g bread flour

1. Mix everything together except the salt until it forms a shaggy mass.
2. Let rest for 10 minutes.
3. Sprinkle salt and knead briefly to incorporate.
4. Let rest for 10 minutes. Knead for 10 seconds. Rest for 10 minutes. Knead for 10 seconds. Rest for 30 minutes.
5. Form into four equal balls (each about a pound) and put into greased and floured pullman pan.
6. Let rise until 1/4 inch from top of pan.
7. Bake for 15 minutes at 410F and then 40 minutes at 350F (until internal temperature reaches 190-200F).
8. Cool.

The verdict? The milk loaf smelled wonderful while baking, and we all enjoyed it as an after school snack with butter. As for the sandwich test? The kiddos licked off the peanut butter and jelly from one sandwich and ate the turkey off the other one.... And the search continues.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pain de mie with whole wheat flour

We really enjoyed both the pain de mie and the toast bread from Hamelman's Bread, but because I like to feed my family whole grains, I was eager to try adding whole wheat flour.

When hubby requested that I make chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (with pain de mie, of course!) during his parents' visit, I decided it was the perfect time to try it with whole wheat.

I had a big breakthrough with this recipe, too. I used Hamelman's instructions on baker's math to rescale the recipe, and for the first time, I feel like I actually understood what I was doing. Having struggled with getting the straight pullman pan corners, I decided to try 3 pounds of dough in the pan this time. I scaled the recipe for 3 pounds and was on my way!

I followed Hamelman's pain de mie recipe, but used half whole wheat flour (actually part white whole wheat and part whole wheat, finishing up two bags of flour that I had in the cupboard). The only problem was with my scale (again!): right as I started pouring water, my scale turned off (GR!), so I ended up with too much water and had to put in extra flour to compensate. I think I ended up with more than 3 pounds of dough. And then I forgot about the bread while it was doing its final proof and came to find it had exploded out of the sides of the pan! We really struggled to get the lid off, but finally did. I punched down the dough, reformed it, and put it back in the pan.

The next challenge was that this last (unexpected) rise happened during bed time, so it overproofed a little again. I ended up with not only square corners, but square corners with an extra T at the top. least I discovered that I really could get square corners. :P

Anyway, the bread was delicious and the grilled cheese sandwiches were the best ever. Next time I'll try it with just slightly under 3 pounds of bread, but will still use at least 50% whole wheat.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting (Bake!)

My mother-in-law requested cheesecake for her birthday. I was eager to try it, but was worried the kiddos wouldn't like it.

Ever since I received my birthday copy of Bake! last week, my kids have been begging me to make the cupcakes which are featured on a large picture in the middle of the book. So I decided to make a half-batch of chocolate butter cake cupcakes for them to eat while the adults enjoyed the cheesecake.

The recipe was time-consuming but not difficult. The most challenging part for me is that NM starts with a base recipe and then gives variations on later pages...the chocolate was the variation I picked. So I had to bounce between pages because all of the ingredients are listed on the variation page, but most of the method is listed on the original recipe page...but then there are some variations to the method listed on the variation page, too. Seemed to increase the likelihood of making mistakes, especially for a distracted baker like me. Luckily I baked these when the kids were in bed, so there were no distractions and I didn't mess up! =)

The side note suggests that a half-batch should make about 9 or 10 cupcakes. I made 11, and I should've made 12. My cupcakes spread out over the sides of the pan and I couldn't get them out without breaking them. I ended up cutting out an outline around the outside of the muffin cup to get them out. My in-laws, hubby, and I were happy to eat the scraps, but I was still a little disappointed at how rough they looked.

The next afternoon, I made the meringue buttercream frosting recipe also from Bake! ~ another first for me. I started with egg whites, sugar, and salt, and then added soft butter. The kids had requested pink frosting, and I decided that instead of using food coloring, I would try NM's fruit puree variation. I made a little strawberry puree and mixed it with the buttercream. It was sooooooo tasty; I had to fill the mixing bowl with water to avoid licking it out! Then I played with my new-to-me pastry set to decorate them with ribbons of frosting.

These were a huge success. The kids often lick off frosting and leave cake/cupcake on their plates, but they devoured these. And my father-in-law and hubby had some, too, even after the cheesecake! I'm looking forward to trying the other variations of both cake and frosting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Individual NY Cheesecake

My in-laws were on their way to town and were planning to be here for my mother-in-law's birthday. I offered to make her any dessert treat she wanted. After discussing several possibilities, she decided on cheesecake.

I was excited but nervous...I've never made cheesecake before! I wanted a great recipe (of course), so I began to do some research. A friend of my dad's is known for her cheesecake, so I started with her recipe. It called for shortening, which I never use and don't keep in the house. I was nervous about substituting butter when I had no experience with either her recipe or cheesecake in general.

I cried out for help on Twitter and both Phyl and Di sent me links to their favorite recipes, both of which looked awesome.

And then I thought about the kiddos...I began to worry that they wouldn't like cheesecake. They look forward to birthday celebrations so much, and I didn't want them to be disappointed by the lack of traditional cake and ice cream.

Andrea had recommended Nick Malgieri's individual cheesecakes from Modern Baker, which had the advantages of being small enough for just one serving per adult and taking care of one of my challenge recipes! Oh, and a third advantage: I actually had all of the ingredients in the house. I decided to make these individual cakes and a batch of cupcakes for the kiddos.

I made a half-batch, which should've been 4 1/2 individual cheesecakes. But my ramekins are a little bigger than the ones NM calls for, so I just made 4 slightly bigger cheesecakes.

The recipe was really easy. The only difficulty was baking them...the recipe says 25-30 minutes, until they are set on top. I baked mine for 40 and still wasn't convinced they were done. They cooled in the fridge over night. Like Andrea, I had some trouble getting them out of the ramekins neatly. But after the first fail, the other three came out okay.

The verdict? My in-laws and husband mother-in-law said she could eat this cheesecake every night for a month. And always proper mother-in-law licked. her. plate. clean. Yes, I will make these again!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bake! Spinach and bacon tart

My Twitter pals made this spinach and bacon tart before I received my own copy of Nick Malgieri's Bake! so it was on my catch-up list.

I made this last weekend for book club, and unfortunately the flu hit our house before I had a chance to blog about it, so I don't remember much...except two things: it was easy and it was delicious. I'm not sure of the difference (if there is one) between a tart and a quiche, but this was very quichey to me. The crust was easy to make and easy to roll. The filling included egg, bacon, spinach (I used frozen), cheese (I used gruyere), half-and-half, and seasonings.

My book club enjoyed it, and my dad (who is known for "honest feedback" about my cooking and baking and doesn't often give rave reviews) said it was "wonderful." Definitely a make-again!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday: Pizza MB-style

I asked hubby what he wanted for Super Bowl Sunday dinner. He looked at me like I was crazy. "Pizza, of course." Duh. What was I thinking?! Unfortunately, we were out and about at the time, so I had no way to know if we had the required supplies at home. I usually keep multiple balls of our favorite pizza dough in the freezer so we can make it at a moment's notice.

When we finally got home from our trip to the Big Zoo, errands, and the grocery store, it was already 3:00. And then I checked in the freezer: one dough ball (enough for one personal pizza) and a tiny bag of pizza sauce. What would we do?!

So I pulled open The Modern Baker. I knew that if there was a quick pizza dough recipe to be found, it would be in there. And it did not disappoint! NM has a recipe for focaccia/pizza dough...Hubby really likes deep dish pizza, so we decided to try it.

This was so easy: mix flour and salt in a big bowl. Whisk instant yeast into warm water, add olive oil. Add it to the dry ingredients and mix. Let rise until doubled (I did it in my slightly warm oven because we were in a time-crunch; took about 40 minutes). Slide onto an oiled pan. Use oiled fingers to spread it all around. Let rise again (took about 40 minutes again). Top. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 5. Devour.

NM's Nonna's pizza recipe uses tomatoes instead of sauce. But I'm married to a guy who thinks that if it doesn't come with red sauce, it's not pizza. So I used the little bit of pizza sauce that I'd had in the freezer, plus some diced tomatoes. Then we topped it with the kids' favorites: pepperoni, pineapple, and olives, and some mozzarella and grated romano.

Hubby loved it. The kids ate a ton. I thought it was quite tasty. PR's neo-neopolitan pizza is still my favorite, but this will be my go-to recipe for pizza-in-a-flash or hubby's occasional craving for deep dish.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Whole wheat with multigrain soaker

My second February bread for Mellow Bakers is another sandwich loaf (hubby says he's ready to get back to ciabattas and baguettes...maybe next month!). We have the choice between three whole wheats: a plain whole wheat, whole wheat with hazelnuts and currants, and whole wheat with multigrain soaker.

I've already established that I love a good multigrain (and I generally dislike both fruit in my bread and hazelnuts in general), so this was an easy choice.

I used oats, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, corn meal, and wheat bran in my soaker and let it soak overnight. I also made a pre-ferment, which sat out for about 16 hours.

The final dough included whole wheat flour, bread flour (so it wasn't a 100% wholegrain), instant yeast, salt, and water, along with the soaker and the pre-ferment. I'd made half the recipe and baked it in my largest loaf pan (a 10"). I think it probably would have fit better in my 9x5; the loaf was a little short.

We really enjoyed the flavor of this one...made great sandwiches for lunch!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bake! Cream cheese heaven

I love scones, and Nick Malgieri's scone recipes were enough to make the purchase of The Modern Baker totally worth it for me (even if there hadn't been other hits in the book). I've made both the butterscotch and the Welsh scones more times that I can count.

So I was really excited to see several more scone recipes in Bake! On Thursday morning, I decided the coworkers needed a little treat, and I whipped up a batch of the cream cheese scones. They weren't quite as easy as the recipes in Modern Baker, but still came together quickly: cream cheese, unsalted butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk, and eggs. The scones were simple, rich, and tasty (although the kids were disappointed in the lack of chocolate). I think next time, I'll experiment with adding some goodies (cranberries and white chocolate, perhaps?).

This morning was my morning to wake up early with the kiddos (hubby and I take turns getting up early on the weekends), so I whipped up a batch of the quick Danish pastry dough. Some of the Twitter gang had talked about making the Danish cheese pockets this weekend, and it didn't take long to convince my hubby that that was a good idea.

The dough was a little odd to me: a cross between a yeast sweet bread (as you'd make for cinnamon rolls) and a rich buttery pie crust. It uses yeast dissolved in warm water and milk, combined with all purpose flour, sugar, salt, and 3 sticks of butter...and 2 eggs. This stuff is rich!

The dough rests a couple of times in the fridge and goes through a couple of press and folds ("giving the dough a turn"). When it was ready, I divided it in half, stuck half in the freezer, and used the other half to make the cheese pockets.

For the pockets, I decided to make two kinds: the traditional cream cheese filling (which is my favorite) and the poppy seed variation (which my dad and stepmom love). Assembly was a bit time consuming, but not difficult.

They were supposed to rise for 30 minutes, although I didn't detect much actual rising. And then they baked for 20; they were a little darker than "deep golden," so I guess I should've pulled them a few minutes earlier.

I was a bit surprised by the final result. I was expecting a more yeasty dough (again, similar to cinnamon rolls) but these definitely had a more buttery pie-crust texture and flavor. Still, they were yummy!

These were a lot more work than my usual breakfast treats of cinnamon rolls or scones, so I doubt I will make them very often...but they'll be fun for an occasional special breakfast treat.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Twitter: Good for the tastebuds, not so much the waistline (A review of Bake!)

Several of my Twitter friends have recently purchased Nick Malgieri's newest book Bake! and have been Twitterbaking some of the recipes. I was intrigued by the orange-almond scones (loving scones as I do), and I happily joined in on the New Orleans praline pound cake when Andrea forwarded me the recipe. Their discussion and Kayte's post of Florida brownies pushed me over the edge, and when the baby girl and I were on a date to the library this week, I picked up Bake! to see for myself.

Oh my!

I made the Florida brownies tonight. They were pretty easy to throw together while our lasagna was baking. Melt butter and unsweetened chocolate. Whisk eggs with vanilla and salt and then sugar. Then let the standmixer whip it all for ten minutes until it's light and fluffy. Add the butter and chocolate mixture and then a little bit of flour. The recipe says to bake it for 35 minutes, until "firm but not dry." When I tested the middle, there was still wet batter in the middle, so I let them go for 5 more minutes, at which point they were definitely done. I probably should've taken them out a couple of minutes earlier to get the "moist crumbs" clinging to my testing knife.

They're supposed to be refrigerated overnight, and I'm sure they'll be even better tomorrow. But when I was removing them from the pan, the corner of the brownie slab just accidentally broke off and accidentally fell into a bowl where a bit of vanilla ice cream was just accidentally waiting. Seriously: oh my!

I've been trying to be good and not purchase any more cookbooks, but I'm afraid I need my own copy of Bake! I already purchased ingredients for four more recipes at the store tonight. This one's a keeper!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Toast bread (Mellow Bakers: February)

After receiving a nifty pullman pan for Christmas, I was so excited to see pain de mie on the January list for Mellow Bakers...and now here we are in February, and toast bread shows up: another pullman pan bread!

I'd never heard of toast bread, but apparently it's an English bread and is similar to last month's pain de mie. From what I noticed, they are different in that the toast bread has no powdered milk, less butter, and the addition of malt powder.

This was the most stressful bread I've made in a long time! Actually, it was a very easy recipe, but the batteries in my scale went out just as I was in the middle of pouring in the flour. Grrrrr. Luckily, I was able to jiggle the batteries a bit and get them to weigh the flour after a bit. But then I had to add all of the other ingredients by measuring instead of weighing.

The bread included bread flour, high gluten flour (which I didn't have, so I just added some vital wheat gluten to my bread flour), instant yeast, unsalted butter, water, salt, and malt powder. It's all mixed together and folded once during it's first proof. Then into the tin and then into the oven.

I still didn't get the perfect pullman corners. As with the pain de mie, I used 2 1/2 pounds of dough, but this time I let it rise a lot longer...probably an extra hour. The dough was a little under an inch from the top when I put it in. I guess next time I'll try a bit more dough and a longer proofing time.

I think I prefer last month's recipe, but I still really enjoyed this bread. We'll use it for grilled cheese sandwiches and eggs in a nest this week. And it made wonderful pb&j for a quick lunch this afternoon!

UPDATE: Hubby said that this bread made the absolute best grilled cheese sandwich he'd ever had in his life.