Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fig bars (Modern Baker)

I was so excited to see that Nick Malgieri's Modern Baker came with a recipe for homemade fig newtons...they've always been a favorite of mine!

It took me forever to get around to making them, though, because I couldn't find the dried Calimyrna figs that NM calls for. Finally, Phyl said that he thought regular mission figs would work, so that's what I went with.

The dough is NM's biscotti regina (I made a 1/2 recipe). The dough is rolled into long ropes, pressed out into rectangles, and then folded around the fig filling. I only had 8 ounces of figs, so I made a 1/3 recipe of the filling with figs, water, apricot preserves, dark rum, cinnamon, and cloves.

My bars baked for a long time without ever getting golden; finally when they had just a hint of color, we pulled them out. I thought the filling was spot-on for fig newtons...delicious! The outside was more like shortbread than a traditional chewy fig newton; I'm not sure if that's because I baked them for so long? Regardless, hubby and I enjoyed these!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Coconut pecan chocolate chunk bars (Modern Baker)

I'm just loving the cookie section from The Modern Baker. The only problem is figuring out which recipe to try next!

Luckily, Kayte saved me this time, posting this amazing picture of NM's coconut pecan chocolate chunk bars. Once hubby caught a glimpse, he was in full support of my stopping everything to make them immediately.

These have a taste reminiscent of seven layer bars, but with a cleaner, better flavor. They start with a buttery dough pressed into the pan and baked lightly. The topping is made with brown sugar, eggs, sugar, vanilla, coconut, pecans, and chocolate (I used a combination of chopped 60% and semi-sweet chocolate chips).

NM says to store them at room temperature, but I saw that Margaret had put hers in the fridge to firm up, so I went that route.

While these were yummy straight from the oven, chilled, they were ah-maz-ing! Definitely a new favorite around here.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

English muffins and mini-pizza-snacks

I've loved all of the recipes I've tried from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, in a large part because they're all so easy: mix up some dough, shove it in the fridge, bake the next day. I've been wanting to try his English muffin recipe, but unlike the recipe from BBA, in which the English muffins are shaped sort of like buns, in ABED, the muffin batter is more similar to pancake batter and thus requires muffin rings...which I didn't have. :(

Flash forward to the beginning of this year, when my friend Melanie emailed me to tell me that Santa had left her a new set of rings...but she'd just gotten herself a set. She offered to send the extra set to me, and I was just thrilled.

It didn't take me long to break them in; hubby absolutely loves English muffins!

The dough is mixed together: honey, olive oil, warm milk, bread flour, salt, and instant yeast, and then placed in the fridge.

When I pulled the dough out of the fridge the next day, it was bubbling like crazy. Right before baking, I dissolved some baking soda in warm water and gently folded into the dough. Meanwhile, I turned on my electric griddle, set to 300º.

The rings are coated with cooking spray and cornmeal, and then placed on the griddle and filled with 1/3 c of the dough/batter. It was so much fun to watch them turn into English muffins before our eyes...I think that's my favorite part of making English muffins: you get to see the bread making action up close and personal!

We used these to make mini pizzas / pizza snacks, which were staples in both hubby's and my home when we were growing up. We have very different philosophies: hubby's family used cheddar cheese, chopped ham, onion, and green peppers. My mom always made mine with a little pizza sauce and mozzarella, much more like a real pizza. Luckily English muffins are small enough that everyone can make one that fits their needs.

Hubby and I loved these muffins....the kiddos were sadly not as impressed with the pizza snacks, maybe because they're accustomed to pizza with homemade crust on a regular basis. The rest of the muffins have been used for breakfast, with eggs, and I'm sure this recipe will become a new staple around here.

Thanks, Mel! :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Better late than never: Dorie's CCCs

Finally, finally after reading so many of my Twitter pals' delicious TWD posts, I caved and ordered my very own copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

TWD: BFMHTY started before I even knew that food blogging existed, or had even heard of Dorie Greenspan. In fact, if I remember correctly, I believe that in January 2008 when TWD started, I was busy with a not-quite-one-year-old, trying to figure out how in the heck I was going to deal with the new baby who was due in a few short months.

Anyway, I've made quite a few TWD recipes, after seeing the recipes posted on my friends (and others') blogs, and finally realized that if I was going to make so many of those recipes, I needed to own my own copy of the book. And it is gorgeous! I am so excited to own it...I can't believe how many incredible recipes there are and how many variations. The pictures are amazing and I love the baking techniques. So I know I'm late to the party, but I'm really happy to be here. :)

My first official recipe that I baked from the book (rather than from recipes posted on blogs) was her chocolate chip cookies. There were no surprising ingredients, but I did follow Dorie's advice to use quality chocolate, chopped in chunks. I did need to shorten the baking time, as mine were really brown after 10 minutes. Regardless of degree of doneness (I experimented with several baking times), these cookies were amazing: almost toffee-like, tons of chocolate, filled with buttery goodness.

This is all that was left for a photo.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cooking with kids: pigs in a blanket

In my final Mellow Bakers' post, I talked about how excited I was to be finished with my bread baking challenge(s). Finally, I'd have time to experiment! To bake on a whim. Hubby noticed tonight that I've been doing just that: making fun little desserts again, baking a spontaneous batch of rolls for a quick lunch, cooking for fun.

So, on a whim, yesterday I picked up a package of beef lil' smokies. When we got home from our museum adventures today, I mixed up a half-batch of PR's BBA white bread (with a little white whole wheat thrown in). Because it was already 3:00, I helped the dough a bit by letting it rise in my slightly warm oven.

Once doubled, I measured out 9 two-ounce portions which I rolled into balls. I used my rolling pin to roll out the rest of the dough into a big sheet of dough, about 1/8" thick. I used my pizza cutter to cut out one-inch strips, and then trimmed them to about 1 1/2". And this is where the kiddos came in: they rolled each strip of dough around one of the lil' smokies. As they rolled, they talked to their sausages, "Good night, little piggie. Time to go to sleep! I'm rolling you up into your little blanket!" And then they sang good night songs. Good times were had by all.

I let the pigs in a blanket (and the rolls) rest on their baking sheet for another 45 minutes or so, and then baked them in a 350º oven for fifteen minutes. Because I was brushing the rolls with melted butter, I brushed the piggies, too.

These were a huge hit! And unlike many bread baking projects, they actually had a pretty quick turn-around time. They're so tiny that they only needed to cool for about three minutes before the kiddos (and hubby) started gobbling them up.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Honey peanut wafers (Modern Baker Challenge)

The other night, I posed this question to my husband: "Should I go to bed early or stay up for a bit and bake some cookies?" Can you guess how he responded? Yeah, kind of a no-brainer.......

Still, it was close to bedtime, so I wanted something quick and easy. I paged through my Modern Baker book and found just the thing: honey peanut wafers, a cookie on my to-do list that doesn't require softened butter or a mixer.

In fact, this cookie is incredibly easy. The only ingredient that might not be in your pantry already is honey-roasted peanuts. But if you pick up a canister to have on-hand, you'll be able to decide to bake cookies, preheat the oven, mix them up, bake them all, do the dishes, eat a couple, and still be in bed in an hour. That's what I did!

First, you whisk flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Then in another bowl, you whisk an egg, honey, and melted butter. Fold in the flour and then the chopped honey roasted peanuts (there are a LOT of peanuts in this recipe!). The batter is really wet, but I just used my scoop. I only put about six cookies on the sheet because I was worried about spreading (NM says to space them FOUR inches apart; I've never seen directions to space them out that much before!)...and rightfully so. These spread a ton and grew huge in the oven.

The verdict: Not surprisingly, considered they're called "wafer" cookies and they spread so much, these cookies are really thin. Parts of them have an almost-toffee-like consistency, and then there's a nice crunch from the bits of peanut. They have a very strong peanut-honey flavor (again, not surprising), so if you didn't like either of those flavors, you wouldn't like these. But if, like me, you love both peanuts and honey, these cookies are delicious! They're very sweet (I could see cutting down the honey just a bit), but we all (my hubby, dad, and me) found them quite delicious and addictive. (The kids, who are anti-nut, wouldn't even try them.) I will definitely make these again when I'm looking for a quick salty-crunchy-sweet treat!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Turkey wild rice soup in bread bowls

Sometimes, things are just supposed to happen: within a few days, I finished the Mellow Baker challenge, which means I can bake any bread I want (yay!), KAF wrote a post about bread bowls, and Nancy, Rebecca, and I, visiting over Twitter Saturday night, decided Sunday should be soup day. Yep, this meal was meant to be.

I actually made a really similar meal last year for Christmas Eve (here's the post). These bread bowls came together more quickly, a really easy recipe. And I much preferred this wild rice soup recipe (plus it made a whole lot more).

Bread bowls
adapted from King Arthur Flour

50 g unsalted butter, melted
283 g lukewarm water
100 g bread flour
100 g white whole wheat flour
50 g semolina flour
200 g all-purpose flour
10 g (1 1/4 tsp) salt
15 g (1 tbsp) sugar
35 g (1/2 c) dry potato flakes
14 g nonfat dry milk
9 g (2 1/2 tsp) instant yeast

1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. (I used my stand mixer.) Knead or mix with the dough hook for 3 or 4 minutes until a smooth dough forms.
2. Place the dough in a large bowl lightly coated with cooking spray and allow to rise until doubled (about 60-90 minutes).
3. Divide the dough into six pieces (mine were 144 g each) and round each piece into a large ball. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap.
4. If baking right away, allow to rise until puffy, 60-90 minutes. I mixed the dough early in the morning, so put the covered baking sheet into the fridge for the day. I pulled the tray out about an hour before baking the rolls.
5. Bake the rolls for 25 minutes at 350º. Cool on the pan.
6. Cut a cone shape out of the top of each bread bowl, fill with soup, and serve!

KAF instructs you to pull out all of the bread from the bowl; I just use my fingers to press it in. The bowl isn't quite as big that way, but you get lovely chunks of bread in each spoonful of soup. These bowls are fairly small; each only held 1/2 cup of soup. I'd be wary of making the bowls bigger, though; that's an awful lot of bread. The 1/2 cup was perfect for the kiddos. Hubby and I just refilled our bowls once.

Creamy wild rice-turkey-ham soup
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 8 servings (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups each)

1 tbsp butter 
1 1/2 c chopped carrot (3 large carrots)
2 1/2 c chopped onion (1 giant onion)
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
32 oz fat-free chicken broth
2 c chopped turkey (I used Christmas dinner leftovers that I'd frozen)
1 c chopped turkey ham
1 c uncooked wild rice
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 3/4 c 2% milk
2 tbsp dry sherry
1/2 tsp salt

1. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, ham, spices, pepper, and garlic, and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.
2. Stir in wild rice and turkey. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for one hour, or until rice is tender.
3. About 10 minutes before the timer beeps, make a roux. (Cooking Light didn't include this step, but it was suggested by one of the commenters. Ours definitely didn't taste floury, so maybe it was worth dirtying the extra pan.) Melt 2 tbsp butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and stir until flour turns a nice light brown, about 5 or 6 minutes. Whisk in the milk a bit at a time until smooth.
4. Add the roux, sherry, and salt, and cook (uncovered) for about 8 more minutes or until thickened.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Donna Hay's rainbow whoopie pies (Twitter avatar fun)

Our first chef-of-the-month for 2012 is Donna Hay, chosen by Kayte. I'd never heard of Donna Hay, but apparently she is a very famous and prolific Australian cookbook author. I spent quite an enjoyable amount of time browsing her site and checking out recipes. She has a kids' section, which especially appealed to me.

Baby girl and I picked the rainbow whoopie pies...baking them together was a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning! I've heard a lot about whoopie pies on the blogosphere over the past year, but had yet to try any. We still have a counter-full of holiday cookies that hubby's mom left for us when she visited last week, so I knew we didn't need a lot more sweets, so I just made a third of the recipe.

The cookies were easy and the little girl had fun dumping ingredients into the bowl and using the scale to make sure we had the right amount. DH says the dough is wet (which it is) and difficult to form into balls, but we used one of my cookie scoops, which worked just fine. I actually got 16 cookies from the 1/3 batch, and they were perfectly done in 15 minutes. While they baked, I made the filling with marshmallows, butter, and a little white chocolate. Unsurprisingly, the taste and texture was very similar to a rice crispie bar. I'm a little confused about the amounts; I made over 1/3 of the filling recipe, and yet it was only enough to fill the three sandwiches you see in the picture above. So we had ten plain chocolate cookies leftover (unfortunately, I'm out of marshmallows so I couldn't make more filling).

These were delicious little treats! Hubby especially enjoyed his with his coffee, although I'm not sure they technically count as a healthy breakfast treat. :) And the leftover cookies made perfect ice cream sandwiches for dessert. ;)

Donna Hay's rainbow whoopie pies
scaled from Donna Hay
makes 8 or 9 whoopie pies (this is 1/3 of the cookie recipe and 2/3 of the filling recipe)

83 g unsalted butter, softened
60 g light brown sugar
55 g superfine sugar
1 egg
125 g all-purpose flour
17 g cocoa
scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
100 g marshmallows
20 g unsalted butter
40 g white chocolate (chips or chopped bar)
rainbow sprinkles

1. Preheat oven to 300º.
2. Beat butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl until pale and creamy.
3. Add egg and beat until combined.
4. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking powder on top of the wet ingredients and stir until combined.
5. Use a cookie scoop to portion cookie balls onto parchment-lined baking sheet.
6. Bake cookies for 15 minutes, until baked through. Cool on wire rack.
7.While cookies are baking, make filling: combine marshmallows and 20 g butter in a small saucepan and cook over low, stirring constantly, until smooth. Off heat, add chocolate and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool. (It will get firm and sticky instantly, so I transferred it quickly to a bowl to cool.)
8. Match cookies up by size. Put filling on one side, put another cookie on top, and sprinkle the sprinkles around the outside.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sourdough seed rye: Mellow Bakers finale

Well here we are at the end! (again) When I was nearing the end of the BBA Challenge and wondering, "What in the heck am I going to do without a new bread to bake every week?!" Paul suggested a Mellow group...a group of bakers who would spend two years baking through Jeffrey Hamelman's amazing book Bread. Even though I wasn't quite finished with the BBA, I happily jumped on board.

And here we are...94 weeks and 64 breads later.

I've thoroughly enjoyed participating on the ever-helpful Mellow Bakers forum and meeting so many wonderful bread bakers. And of course trying so many new bread formulas and techniques. I feel like the BBA introduced me to bread baking and taught me so many basics. Baking through Bread turned me into a bread baker. My confidence has improved a ton, as well as my knowledge, and not many recipes intimidate me anymore.

My top recipes from the book (all of which have been made repeatedly) are:

There is some talk on the forum about choosing a new book and starting a new challenge. At this point, I think I will probably purchase whichever book is picked so that I can bake along occasionally, but I will not plan to bake my way through another bread book. My family is really excited about the possibility of getting to pick their past favorites and have me actually be willing to bake them again because I'm not so worried about finishing breads for a challenge! :) And I'm excited to be able to bake things that look/sound good from various sources.

So the last bread I baked was actually a December bread that I missed with all of the holiday baking last month. Having just made the roasted garlic (which hubby says makes the most excellent eggs in a nest, FYI) and the 66% sourdough rye, and knowing how anti-seed breads my kiddos are, I only made a 1/4 of the recipe, enough for one small loaf. I made the levain and the flax seed soaker late at night, and then mixed the dough together after work on Friday (bread flour, rye flour, toasted sesame and sunflower seeds, the flax seed soaker, the levain, salt, and water). The dough was quite wet, but developed a lot of strength after two stretch-and-folds. (Never one to let bread dough get in the way of life, this bread actually came with us to the Children's Museum. It had a lot of fun watching the kids play, and I folded it at 50 minute intervals...after thoroughly washing my hands of course!) :) Once we got home, I shaped it into a round loaf and, as JH recommends, left it in the fridge for an overnight rest. Surprisingly, it took the full 40 minutes to bake the small loaf; I'm guessing because it was still cold from the fridge. The bread is quite dense, with excellent flavor from the toasted seeds.

bread dough playing at the Children's Museum

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

66% Sourdough rye (Mellow Bakers)

I made this bread (a Mellow Bakers from December) over the weekend, while making the roasted garlic levain, but I passed it on to my official sourdough rye taster (my dad) and had to wait for his report. (My first December bread was the unkneaded six-fold French bread, which I made this past summer.)

The 66% sourdough rye was similar to many of the other sourdough ryes we've made. Actually the enormous number of sourdough ryes has been my biggest struggle with this challenge, since it is not a favorite bread around here and there are just so many different versions.

I made the sourdough starter and let it ripen over night. The next morning, I mixed everything (rye flour, bread flour, some vital wheat gluten to fill in for the high-gluten flour, water, salt, and a pinch of instant yeast) together in my stand mixer. I often have the problem of my dough hook refusing to mix ryes, especially when I've cut down the recipe and there's not much dough in the bowl. The hook ends up mashing around on top of the bowl without ever actually doing much kneading. So I tried a new technique: I saved a little of the bread flour and sprinkled it around the outside of the dough. It seemed to do the trick, giving the dough hook a little something to latch on to, and the dough actually kneaded well.

Once everything was kneaded, this was actually a really quick bread, with two very short rises and then a quick bake. After a 24 hour rest, my dad reports that the bread was delicious with butter for breakfast along with his tea. Nothing unusual about it, just another good sourdough rye. My dad will definitely be the only one in the family sad to see the end to all of these rye breads.

Roasted garlic levain (Mellow Bakers)

Here we are at the final month of the Mellow Bakers...hard to believe! I actually made the other two January breads already, the semolina in December when I was looking for a quick one-day bread for dinner one night and the five-grain levain over a year ago.

This weekend I refreshed my starter in preparation for my last three breads (my last January bread and two December ones that I missed). When it was good and bubbly, I mixed up sourdough builds for all three (I later realized that I forgot to make the soaker for the sourdough seed bread, so I only ended up making the 66% sourdough rye and this one, roasted garlic levain).

I followed the instructions from KAF for roasting heads of garlic (I needed less than half of one for the half recipe, but I made two heads and dumped the rest of the cloves in a baggie with some olive oil and stuck it in the freezer).

I mixed all the ingredients in my stand mixer (bread flour, whole wheat flour, olive oil, water, instant yeast, salt, garlic, and the levain). I let the bread rise for two hours with a fold in the middle. I shaped the loaf into a long oval and then life got in the way. I ended up changing our dinner plans and the loaf went into the fridge for 24 hours. The loaf exploded in the fridge. I was nervous about slashing it, but decided to risk it, and sure enough it started deflating immediately. Happily, it recovered somewhat in the oven.

We ate the bread with our favorite chicken-veggie-noodle soup. My little guy who usually only likes white breads of the ciabatta/French bread/dinner roll variety actually gobbled up two big pieces. Hubby loved it (no surprise there). The garlic flavor was consistent but not overpowering, and it paired especially nicely with the soup.