Tuesday, December 30, 2008

cinnamon rolls

I had a tremendous amount of dough left over from the Gigantor loaf of challah bread, so I decided to make cinnamon rolls. I kind of winged it on the recipe by referring to others, primarily one from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, for the shaping, filling, timing and glaze recipe. I think they turned out great, but now I have a huge pan of cinnamon rolls to eat! Thankfully, I also have a teenage son.

Monday, December 29, 2008

hurrah for challah!

Here's my first attempt at challah bread. I've never made one before and I was quite pleased with how it turned out. I'm not sure if the picture quite captured it but the loaf was ENORMOUS. It was not my best attempt at a 3-strand braid, but I had tried the 4-strand braid unsuccessfully and was getting really frustrated. The good news is that I've finally figured out how to do the 4-strand braid. The crust was brushed with an egg wash (twice!) and sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

sourdough, here we go! (again)

I'm trying again to make a sourdough starter. Some of you may recall the disasters (thank you, C., for suggesting a word that was much less offensive than my original choice) that were my previous attempts. This time, I am following a modified version of the starter recipe in Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. So far, so good, although I am more than a week into the starter, but really only on the 4th step. I am told that the winter (or rather the ambient temperature of my frigid house) as well as many other factors can slow down the process, so I'm just soldiering on, one foot in front of the other. So far, no catastrophes (fingers crossed), no mold, nice boozy (yeasty) smell... just not a lot of bubbles. In the meantime, I'll... just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

raspberry nut shortbread bars

Due to incredibly poor planning, I had to go to the local warehouse store and the grocery store on Monday, 2 days before Christmas Eve. This is not something I normally aim to do because it seems that on Christmas week, food stores are suddenly filled with the shopping-challenged -- there are the people who have never been in a grocery store ("oh my goodness, Herb, look at all the different salad dressings!"), those who don't know basic shopping carriage etiquette (they are not meant for plowing into fellow shoppers), and my favorite, the folks who believe that if I am looking at a shelf of food, this means that they should then step in between me and the shelf to consider the choices for themselves.

So after I returned home from nightmare that was food shopping on Monday, my very dear sister-in-law called me to request something desserty for Christmas dinner. I was torn between steeling myself to go back out into the throng (it IS Christmas, after all) or being practical (and hopefully not too Scroogish) and combing my cookbooks and the Internet until I found something festive I could make with what I had at home. To be fair, my kitchen is not exactly spartan -- I had about 25 pounds of assorted types of flour, 10 pounds of different kinds of sugars, 5 pounds of different types of baking chocolate, all sorts of nuts and so on. In the end, I opted to make these raspberry shortbread bars, which I found in a community cookbook. I knew my SIL had made fudge and I figured that the shortbread would counterbalance the chocolate nicely (and to be honest, it's been a chocolate-filled month for me, and (insert shock and horror here) I was getting pretty sick of all things chocolate.

Raspberry Nut Shortbread Bars

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup raspberry jam
2 eggs
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped nuts (original recipe calls for walnuts, but I used hazelnuts)

To prepare the shortbread base, prepare the 1 1/4 cup of flour and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl; cut in butter until the mixture is resembles fine bread crumbs. Press the mixture firmly into bottom of a lightly greased 9" square baking pan to make an even layer (I used the bottom of a glass to pack it down tightly). Bake for 350 degrees for 20 minutes or just until the edges have become lightly browned. Remove pan from oven and spread the raspberry jam over the shortbread. Beat eggs with brown sugar and vanilla until well blended. Mix the 2 tablespoons of flour with the salt and baking soda and it all to the egg/brown sugar/vanilla. Add nuts. Spoon the mixture over the jam and spread lightly to the edges. Return pan to oven and bake for 25 minutes longer or until the top is set. Cool in pan and then cut into bars. Makes 24 bars.

The sprinkled confectioners' sugar is to camoflage the overbrowning (I used half dark brown sugar when I ran out of light brown sugar halfway through measuring).

On a side note: I am so done with sweets. Thank goodness Christmas is here so I can go back to bread baking! Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

mexican wedding cakes/russian tea cakes

I discovered these goodies when working our church's Holiday Fair this fall. They weren't among the cookies that I had personally prepared, but my curiosity with piqued when a gentleman bought a whole pound of them (bear in mind we sell dozens and dozens of different varieties of cookies and almost everyone buys an assortment and not just one type). I've spent considerable time since researching these melt-in-your-mouth shortbread type cookies and thought they'd be the perfect gift for my husband's aunt who's a great lover of shortbread.

I found a lot of information and a great recipe at joyofbaking.com, one of my favorite websites, and a treasure trove of info on holiday baked goods. They are so easy to make and they are so pretty to look at, but the recipe doesn't yield a lot of cookies (or is it that I eat them as fast as I can bake them?) so make a double batch if you are planning to give them to more than one person.

choco-nilla cake revisited

By request! Every Christmas Eve, our little family has the same dinner menu -- a baked pasta dish (Baked Ziti with Ricotta -- from the back of the Ronzoni box -- for a few years running now), garlic bread, Caesar salad and something decadently chocolatey for dessert. C. suggested I make the Choco-nilla Cake from the Baker's Banter that I made for his birthday back in August, but this time with the chocolate ganache and filling that the recipe originally called for.

It was definitely more chocolatey this time 'round (last time I commented on the lack of chocolateyness), and the issues I had with the differing consistencies of the two batters (and resulting cakes) persisted (although the chocolate cake cooked in the recommended 35 minutes this time). However, none of this interfered with our enjoyment (particularly C.'s). If you decide to make it, be forewarned: the finished cake weighs a ton.

Monday, December 22, 2008

biscotti anyone?

I've never made biscotti before. I had read that they were a great thing to make for holiday giving, plus I'm always up for a new challenge (at least if it's a baking challenge). I found many promising recipes online but narrowed them down to two King Arthur recipes, the Butter-Pecan Biscotti and the Barista Biscotti (the recipe is named Barista Biscotti Bites but mine weren't exactly bite-sized). Both were simple and straightforward to make using a stand mixer (I can't say if they'd be back-breaking by hand or motor-killing for a hand mixer). Actually it was embarrassing how easy they were to make. I found the flavors just OK though. I was expecting something more from the Butter-Pecan... the butterscotch chips just didn't do it for me. Maybe a little butter rum flavoring would help? And to be fair, I didn't have the foresight to order the hazelnut flavoring or the espresso chips for the Barista Biscotti (the recipe suggests vanilla and chocolate chips as substitutes) which are said to be essential to the distinctiveness of the biscotti. Without those two ingredients, the Barista Biscotti come off as a chocolate-dipped chocolate chip biscotti (which are good in their own right, but hardly extraordinary). I'm dying to try them out on a biscotti connoisseur to see what they'd say about them, but my non-biscotti-savvy family really took to them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

christmas sugar cookies

Sugar cookies are perhaps the earliest baked good I ever remember making by myself. When I was about 8 or 9, armed with my mother's (early 1970's era) copy of Joy of Cooking, I would take over the kitchen and bake sugar cookies in our little countertop oven. I never really planned out what I would make in advance (and probably couldn't have gotten a hold of many of the ingredients even if I had), so I'd often wind up making sugar cookies. I recall that the recipe I made called for cooking oil rather than butter or shortening (Or maybe it did call for butter or shortening, and being 8 and having neither of those things, I just substituted. I was an independent child.). Also, as I was using a small oven with a small baking sheet (about the size of a typical microwave), I was usually only good for one tray of conventional sized cookies. After that first batch, I would make pan-sized cookies (I was also an impatient child.).

These days, I don't make sugar cookies all that often. It's something I'd probably make if I had an extreme craving for sugar and had no other ingredients with which to make something more complicated. (I generally have other ingredients, so this scenario rarely occurs.) As a result, I don't have a preferred recipe for sugar cookies. This year, I got my recipe from a wonderful site called joyofbaking.com.

C., who is 11, and well on his way to becoming a master baker himself, helped me roll and cut the dough. After a few less than stellar attempts at mixing royal icing (using a few different recipes) we ended up with an old recipe (after following the link, scroll down for the icing recipe) I had jotted down years ago from the Necco site -- it's the recipe for the mortar of my gingerbread houses. We added gel food coloring and used ziplock baggies with a corner snipped off to pipe the icing on. C. did such a wonderful job I think he should take over this particular baking project next year!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

date nut bread

I am a big fan of dates. Apparently many people don't care for them, but I find the inadulterated sugary sweetness of dates irresistable. And I find date nut bread to be pretty foolproof. I got my recipe from P.'s Auntie Norma many years ago -- I'd had tasted some she had made and I was hooked. I never really questioned why the dates are soaked in boiling water before they go into the batter, but was told recently that it was because the recipe dates back to the Depression and soaking the dates and then adding them to the batter, water and all, was a way to make the bread moist without the need for a lot of butter. Whatever the reason, I love date nut bread, particularly toasted and with a little schmear of cream cheese!

Monday, December 8, 2008

chocolate scotcheroos

A lot of people prepare family favorites during the holidays, as a tradition, or even just as a way to connect with loved ones. I don't have much in my holiday baking repetoire that fits that category. Living in Bangkok with my mother, we weren't really in the practice of baking holiday goodies at Christmastime. And when I was with my father in the States, holiday baking was just not one of his traditions.

When I was a teenager, my father was married to a woman who loved all things peanut butter. At holiday time she'd make peanut brittle (and a few different kinds of fudges), but throughout the year she'd make this concoction called Scotcheroos. I actually thought she'd invented it, although I've since learned that it was actually a popular recipe. For potlucks she'd make the complete version of the recipe with the melted chocolate and butterscotch chips on top, but much more often she'd make an everyday version -- just the peanut butter-cereal base -- for a treat, or a snack, or even a pick-me-up after a bad day. Most often she'd make it with Wheaties, and on a really bad day, she'd eat it warm out of the bowl.

I always make my Scotcheroos with the melted chips -- my teenage son demands it -- and I use Rice Krispies rather than Wheaties. I haven't lived with my stepmother in almost 25 years, but every time I make Scotcheroos I always think of her.

Chocolate Scotcheroos

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup white sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup light corn syrup
6 cups Rice Krispies (or Wheaties)

Cook sugar and corn syrup in a large pot until mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat and add peanut butter; stir until smooth. Add the cereal and mix until all the cereal is coated. Press into a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Let harden. Melt butterscotch and chocolate chips together over hot water (or melt in microwave in glass bowl). Spread the melted chocolate/butterscotch chips over the cereal mixture. Cut into bars after top is firm.

crisp holiday m&m cookies

Another version of the endlessly useful chocolate-chip and seasonal m&m cookie -- this time I made the same recipe but using Holiday M&Ms (red and two shades of green). This recipe continues to please everyone -- something about the blend of butter and shortening, plus the dark brown sugar just does it for both flavor and texture.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

cranberry-orange nut bread

I don't know if this is true elsewhere in the country, but here in New England, come autumn you start to see fresh cranberries being advertised in the supermarket circulars. Once upon a time, some savvy cranberry marketing genius came up with the "buy two, freeze one" tagline, which was then placed on the cranberry packaging and in the supermarket ad copy. I am guessing that once the fresh cranberry supply runs out in the fall, that's it for consumers who are looking for fresh or even frozen cranberries, or else why would we have to take it upon ourselves to preemptively scoop up the cranberries and hold them in our own home freezers?

I generally ignore such mandates from food packaging and advertising but this year, crazy manic baker that I've become, I decided this buying and freezing idea might have some merit. And as I usually make a cranberry relish from scratch at Thanksgiving anyway, buying 2 bags (I even considering buying 3 or 4) seemed pretty reasonable. As it turns out, I didn't end up making my usual cranberry relish this Thanksgiving, so I ended up with 2 bags of cranberries in my freezer at the end of November. My thoughts turned to coming up with something to make with all the cranberries I had now burning a hole in my freezer and despite being the mostly delighted new owner of a side-by-side refrigerator, I was ever mindful that freezer space is always at a premium.

To my shock and surprise, I discovered that all those cranberry-themed recipes I had been imagining when I bought those fresh cranberries don't actually require the use of fresh (or frozen) cranberries. The majority of the recipes called for dried cranberries, which are readily available year-round.

Part two of my thought process was that I've been contemplating different quick bread recipes to bake and give as gifts. I've never been a big fan of cranberry breads, largely because all the cranberry bread I've ever consumed has been off supermarket bakery catering platters and they were disgustingly artificial tasting and memorable only in that regard. But with 2 bags of cranberries staring me in the face, I decided to have faith in my culinary abilities and give cranberry bread another try.

I found a recipe for Cranberry-Orange Nut Bread in my King Arthur Flour cookbook and decided to give it a whirl. The recipe calls for fresh, frozen or dried cranberries, orange juice and extract (or if you'd rather, orange zest and juice), walnuts and buttermilk (as luck would have it, I still had some buttermilk left from making cornbread for Thanksgiving stuffing -- oh joy!). The finished bread was moist and subtly orangey -- not overwhelmingly orange with that fakey taste so prominent in the supermarket cranberry breads. The chopped cranberry and walnut bits didn't overwhelm, which pleased my chunk-phobic husband. The bread was very light on sweetness, something that might not be true if I had made it with the dried cranberries (which are sweetened). Not being a typical cranberry bread fan I'm not sure I'd put it on my must-bake list (date nut bread would come first, for starters), but aficionados of tart fruit and nut breads might really enjoy this one.

Friday, December 5, 2008

gingerbread do-over

OK, admittedly the last thing I need right now is more cookies in the house. In fact, last night I had told myself that there would be no baking today. My digestive health is suffering and I needed a day free of refined sugar and white (albeit unbleached -- thank you, King Arthur!) flour. And I knew I had a full day of baking ahead of me on Saturday (which will be interesting since I'm having my pupils dilated that morning too).

However, those godawful gingerbread men from yesterday still stare at me from the racks in my kitchen. (Remember how I hate to throw food away? That's why they are still in my kitchen and not at the curb.) So before breakfast this morning I perused my cookbooks and found a gingerbread recipe that met my needs. What this means is it wouldn't necessitate dipping too heavily into my supply of eggs and butter. And it made less than 50-some cookies.

The recipe seemed a bit unconventional to me. You heat the molasses, add butter, sugar and milk. Then add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and spices) and form a dough. I was concerned the heat would cook the dough, but apparently not. Then you roll, cut and bake. I was surprised to discover that the men rose and expanded a bit in the oven, which distorted their shape a bit. I don't remember this from my previous forays into gingerbread man making. I'll just define them with the icing instead.

This batch is subtly sweet, spicy, crisp but with a touch of chewiness inside. In short, they are everything gingerbread men should be.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

whole wheat gingerbread men = yuck

Anyone who knows me well knows two basic facts about me: 1) I don't like to waste food, and 2) I have a big sweet tooth. Another fact: I haven't baked anything from a box in quite awhile. But going through my baking stash the other day, I came across a boxed gingerbread mix I received last Christmas. As I said, mixes aren't my thing these days, and I would've donated it to the local food pantry if only I could've checked the sell-by date (I couldn't find one) on the box. Given that the ingredients were flour, brown sugar, molasses and spices, I felt safe making it for our consumption though. I've made gingerbread from scratch many times so I feel reasonably assured I know what it's supposed to taste like. The fact that the mix was made with whole wheat flour should've raised some mighty big red flags, but I felt hopeful. I mean, it had molasses, brown sugar and spices in it, right? How bad could it be?

Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck.

Why is it doughy? Why is it salty? Why is there no discernible sweetness at all? And what is that weird aftertaste? My sweet tooth aside -- it is truly devoid of sweetness. I wasn't even planning on baking gingerbread cookies this Christmas but now I almost feel have to if only to remind myself how good it can be.

Why is this cookie so angry? Because no amount of royal icing can make him sweet.

(Not even this much.)


Snickerdoodles are essentially a sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar. I've never made them before, but they seemed like they would be something pleasing in the sea of chocolate that is often my Christmas season. After perusing many different recipes I settled on this one, thanks in no small part to the fact that I would finally be able to use the cream of tartar in my pantry (When did I buy that? It appears that I've already used it at least once -- for what??). I was a little leery of using shortening (all shortening, not even 1/2 shortening, 1/2 butter), but it turned out great. I suspect all butter would've spread too much, although I did see recipes that called for just that.

The snickerdoodles were light and crunchy but still had a little chewy tenderness in the center. They'd be lovely to have with a nice cup of tea if I ever manage to stop eating them while standing over my kitchen sink and actually sit down with a couple!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

oatmeal scotchies

I recently worked our church's Holiday Fair and brought home some oatmeal scotchies (along with dozens of other types of cookies). I made these for a church gathering L. is attending this evening (per his request). When I suggested that perhaps some might find neither oatmeal nor butterscotch appealing, he said "Oh well... more for me!"

I actually ran a little short of the amount of oatmeal called for (by about a cup) but preceeded with the recipe. As a result I think they spread a bit more than they normally would. Of course, the 2 sticks of butter didn't help with the spreading either!

my first babke

What is a babke, you ask? (Or maybe it was me doing the asking.) A babke is sort of a yeast-risen cake from Eastern Europe, made with rich ingredients, including egg yolks, sugar and butter. Sort of like a cross between a cake and a bread. I baked mine in a loaf shaped and it was filled with semisweet chocolate and cinnamon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Who knew bagels were so easy to make?? Last night I started the dough and I boiled and baked them this morning. L. said they are so good, they are "beyond a bagel."

Cinnamon Sugar Bagels

Sesame Seed Bagels

Monday, November 3, 2008

another picture...

Here is a shot of my dear husband slicing the French boule I made last weekend. He was excited at the prospect of having his picture posted on my blog, but I couldn't fit it into my last post. For the record, he's very good at slicing crusty breads, even with lousy knives.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

lots of breads

I've been baking up a storm (of breads) lately. Here are pictures from some of the different batches I baked this week. (By the way, the breads were amazing... )

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

crisp halloween cookies

These were a big hit! They differed from the earlier (chewy) cookies in that the recipe called for 1 part butter and 1 part shortening and they were sweetened with 2 parts dark brown sugar to 1 part white granulated sugar. I did the same chocolate chips in the batter with Halloween M&Ms on top treatment that I did in the chewy cookie.

Oddly these cookies were chewier than the chewy cookie and had a pleasing amount of crispness. I baked them for (another) Halloween party and they were very, very well-received, particularly by the adults, who couldn't stop raving. There was only one cookie remaining at the end of the party and I'm sure that if I hadn't squirreled it away and actually offered it to someone, it would've been gone as well. Thank goodness I set some aside for the family before I left or else we would have been out of luck!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

chewy (?) halloween cookies

This is the time of year when I am challenged to come up with some yummy, homemade seasonal goody for the myriad Halloween parties my kids attend. I don't think I'm the most creative type, plus I'm loathe to slave over something that the other partygoers will not appreciate (i.e. shove in their mouths and swallow whole). Plus I'm a big believer in chocolate chip cookies as a popular party food. Whenever I go to a children's party, if there are homemade chocolate chip cookies available, I am shameless about parking my butt at the buffet table so that I can better chain-eat them.

I usually go by the traditional Toll House Cookie recipe, but I'm not actually enamored of that recipe. It's just feh to me. But it's safe so I keep making it. This year, I have the King Arthur Flour Baking Companion at my disposal. There are a couple different chocolate chip recipes in there -- a chewy cookie, and a crisp version. The chewy version (which I made today) is notable because it uses brown sugar and light corn syrup (no granulated sugar). It also calls for butter rather than suggesting shortening or margarine as substitutes. As a result, the dough spreads quite a bit in the oven.

I mixed in 1/2 the usual quantity of chocolate chips and did not add nuts. After plopping the dough on the cookie sheets, I topped each dough dollop with 3 Halloween M&Ms (they come in fluorescent green, purple, orange and black).

The finished cookie was very thin (as expected) but crisp to hard, in spite of the fact that I baked them for the low end of the suggested time. After they cooled, I put them all in a loosely covered Gladware container and I'm told they softened up a bit. I personally like crisp and overcooked chocolate chip cookies, but that wasn't what I was aiming for today. I'll be baking another batch of chocolate chip-Halloween M&M cookies for a party on Tuesday; I'll give the other (intentionally crispy) recipe a whirl that day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

chocolate-chocolate cupcakes

This is another selection from Dorie Greenspan's Baking. I wanted to make something small and simple for P.'s homecoming, back from Portugal. Cupcakes fit the bill for me and I wanted something chocolate (and boy-friendly for C. who's not been thrilled with some of my recent "exotic" baking projects -- the blue cheese-walnut fougasse and the coconut cake, to name two). And I'm always a sucker for Chocolate ganache.

The cake was very soft and moist, and not excessively chocolatey, but the ganache elevated it to perfection. Dark and chocolatey and with only a whisper of sweetness, it just brought the cupcake to a whole new level of goodness. And they were pretty to look at, even without any embellishments (sprinkles, silver ball thingies, whatever).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

coconut tea cake

This really isn't the kind of cake I typically make. I'm not a cake person anyway, and when I do have cake I like a bit of glaze. But Dorie Greenspan says it's a great cake to have with tea and it's definitely been tea weather the past few days, so I gave it a try. It didn't hurt that I had shredded coconut in my freezer and coconut milk in my pantry.

The coconut flavor is very subtle and while the cake is sweet, it's also nice and light. The outside has a bit of crunch to it but the cake itself is soft and smooth. The sprinkling of confectioner's sugar was my own added touch.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

blue cheese and walnut fougasse

Fougasse is a Provençal bread, made from a pain ordinaire dough.

According to Wikipedia:
In ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the hearth (focus in Latin). This became a diverse range of breads that include "focaccia" in Italian cuisine, "fugassa" in the Ligurian language, "pogača" in the Balkans, "fougasse" in Provence and "fouaisse" or "foisse" in Burgundy. The French versions are more likely to have additions in the form of olives, cheese, anchovies etc, which may be regarded as a primitive form of pizza without the tomato.

Given that fougasse is a relative of Italian focaccia, I would have thought my dough would have been more wet and sticky. The recipe I had used both unbleached all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour so maybe that had something to do with the consistency of the dough. I was warned that mixing in the blue cheese and walnuts would be a messy endeavor, but I found it to be pretty straightforward.

Monday, October 13, 2008

another apple pie

The problem with becoming increasingly adept at making pie crust is there is never a good reason not to make pie. This is another "The Best Apple Pie" from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. We ate more than half the first night (it was still warm), and that was only by exercising superhuman self-restraint.

This one was made with all Cortland apples. I think next time I will go back to a mixture. The Cortlands broke down a lot in the cooking process and I like a little chunkiness in my apple pie.

Friday, October 10, 2008

cheese bread

Another recipe from King Arthur's Baker's Companion.

First of all, I have to point out that without my mixer, I would never be able to muster the energy or motivation to bake multiple breads in a week. It's been a godsend, particularly since I might have overdone it with the lifting yesterday while working on cookie dough for our church's Holiday Fair.

I made this cheese bread for 3 reasons -- 1) I am trying to methodically go through every recipe in the Baker's Companion, 2) I wanted something suitable to go with the chili leftovers from last night, and 3) I had all the ingredients (including leftover tomato paste from the chili recipe). The dough mixed up great, but I had a little issue with the first rise. Namely, it didn't. The culprit was my kitchen -- too cold. Later I noticed the thermostat read a perfectly respectable 70 degrees -- toasty warm for October, downright chilly for rising bread. After shaping the dough, I moved it into my relatively sauna-like bedroom (great afternoon sun in there) for the 2nd rise and it did a bit better, although it didn't rise to the extent that I had hoped.

No matter... I put it in the oven after about an hour (15 minutes longer than the recipe indicated) and it did fine. It probably wasn't as "high-rising" as King Arthur had intended, but given my many recent unintentionally flat loaves, I was happy with the results. The house smells great -- rather like cheddar Pepperidge Farm goldfish!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

herbed monkey bread

This is made using the same dough at the white bread in my last post. After the first rise, you divide the dough into little balls, toss them in a bundt pan and brush them with some herb-infused olive oil. It smells glorious. I made this to serve with Slow-Cooker Ground Beef Chili tonight.

Update: The monkey bread was indeed yummy (L. devoured it), although next time I think I will tweak the recipe a bit by mixing the herbs and garlic directly into the dough and simply brushing the dough nuggets with straight olive oil. As made, the herbs tended to clump and wound up everywhere but in your mouth -- on the plate, the table, your hands, the sink drain...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

white bread 101

This recipe is from King Arthur's Baker's Companion. OK, I realize this may be one of the sadder looking loaves of bread I've ever baked. It looked beautifully risen when I put it in the oven and then while it was in the oven, it just SANK. According to King Arthur's website, I probably let it rise too much before baking it. I did let it rise beyond what the recipe indicated, but the recipe also said to "let the bread rise until the outer edge has risen about 1 inch over the rim of the pan" which it hadn't when the prescribed time was up. I figured my kitchen was a little cool and to give it a little time until it did. This was the result.

Oh well... add it to the list of not so great results (i.e. "learning experiences") with the ciabattas and the no-knead breads. I hope it's tasty anyway.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


L. is a sucker for calzones. However, sometimes calzones from the local House of Pizza aren't in the budget. I made this stromboli from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe this week for dinner for "Guys' Night." Guys' Night is what the guys have when I have book club. Usually the offerings are take-out or something somewhat decadent at least, but neither were in the cards this week so I thought I'd try to come up with something worthy instead. I was able to make the stromboli earlier in the day and refrigerate it so they could just pop it in the oven in the evening.

I prepared my stromboli with browned ground beef, turkey pepperoni and bacon bits. An odd combo, I know, but it's what I had kicking around in the fridge! L. and P. had it with a little (jarred) marinara on the side. It was very well-received!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

my new toy

OK, remember back last June when I posted about my (then) new toy -- the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker? Remember how I said it was a birthday gift from P.? Well, it really wasn't what P. had intended to give me for my birthday. What he actually gave me was a stand mixer. I was to go select it myself because (he knows me well) I probably had a specific mixer already in mind. Which I did. However, I then chickened out (not cheap, these mixers) and bought myself the ice cream maker as my substitute (and much more reasonable) birthday gift. Because pastry chefs need to know how to make all sorts of desserts, yes?

Since then I've been investigating and pricing out stand mixers, particularly the Cuisinart. I was attracted to the 800 watt motor in particular and was impressed that Cook's Illustrated thought highly of it as well. So I bought myself one (I still consider it a birthday gift from P.). And I love it! I just love the hum of it, I love how it makes quick work of what was almost literally back-breaking labor for me, I love how it looks on my kitchen counter. I get all warm inside thinking about it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the best apple pie

I'm not what I would call a pie person. I will gladly eat pie, but I don't crave it the way some people do. There is only one apple pie I love though, and that's the one they bake at the Big Apple Farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts. Somehow it always seems to stay warm long after we bring it home, which I'm sure adds to my fondness for it.

We haven't visited the Big Apple this fall though, so I thought I would try to make my own. I used King Arthur Flour's The Best Apple Pie recipe (slightly different on the website from my version, which is from the cookbook). In my version, I used King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour (my regular go-to flour; my grocery store didn't have pastry flour anyway), and substituted vegetable shortening for half the butter called for in the crust. Also, my recipe made a bit more crust than the recipe on the website. In the filling, I used a combination of McIntosh and Gala apples. They weren't my first choice, but were the only apples my grocery had that day that were grown in the U.S. (i.e. "local"). I omitted the rum, and used apple cider instead of boiled cider. I also used cornstarch instead of the King Arthur Pie Filling Enhancer listed on the website, as that was how the recipe was written in the book.

The pie turned out very rustic looking (due to my lack of finesse with the crust). The apples were heaped to overflowing before the pie went in the oven but cooked down appropriately. Note to self: next time put a cookie sheet on the bottom oven rack to catch the drips. The oven was smoking for the last 30 minutes and I ended having to run the self-cleaning cycle right away so I'd be able to use the oven the next day without succumbing to the fumes.

So the result of all this drama is that the pie was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S, worthy (or perhaps superior to?) of being a Big Apple pie substitute. L. and I had it for breakfast (and dessert) for the next several days (it was an enormous pie, even for 2 adults and a teenager to consume).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

chocolate chip muffins

C. loves (plain) chocolate chip muffins. In fact, for a long time it was the only muffin variety he would eat. Needless to say, I wasn't sure serving chocolate at breakfast would put me in the running for Mom Of The Year, so I had long been trying to find a recipe that would please him and make me feel good about serving it. So I found this recipe on Nestle's Very Best Baking website and modified it slightly. I omitted the streusel (not his thing anyway), and substituted whole-wheat flour for a 1/4 of the all-purpose flour. The results are smallish (no streusel to add to the height) and not very brown on top (maybe downright pale), although the sides and bottom are golden brown when done. But they are very tasty. The next step will be to replace some of that stick of butter the recipe calls for!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

banana chocolate chip muffins

From the same issue of fresh magazine -- banana chocolate chip muffins. I loved that these contained mini chocolate chips. It made the chocolate more evenly distributed plus you weren't overwhelmed by a mega mouthful of oozy chocolate (I know this is desirable to some, but a bit much for me, at least at breakfast). They freeze nicely too. Also, I made 12 rather than 16 since I didn't have a second muffin tin. These bigger muffins took 25 minutes to bake.

Monday, September 15, 2008

jumbo trail mix cookies

I found this recipe in an old issue of fresh, a food magazine put out by Hannaford Supermarkets. I liked that "trail mix with chocolate chips" was one of the ingredients. It made me think of Chunky bars. Incidentally, all I could find was trail mix with m&m's, so that's what I used.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

milk chocolate snack cake

It's a tradition in our house that I bake a cake to celebrate the boys' return to school each fall. Usually it's a store-bought mix, but this year I decided to make a cake from scratch. I chose to bake a smaller cake than I typically do, just because we've been overindulging this summer -- 4 birthdays in our house, plus I baked a gateau for my mother-in-law as well. That's a lot of cake!

The boys both had 2 servings (although given the size of the cake, the two servings probably added up to one average-sized slice of layer cake). The cake was moist and buttery, and the lack of relative sweetness in the "frosting" provided a nice contrast. The only downside was that the cake was so small!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

big no on the no-knead bread

I'm not loving the no-knead bread. I just can't get it to work. It just turns out flat and gummy. I baked this second attempt for 30 minutes over the suggested time and barely got it up to the 210 degrees F internal temperature. It has a nice crumb and it did make decent grilled (Pepperjack) cheese sandwiches, which is all I wanted it for. But I have to say, I'd much rather put in the work for a conventional kneaded bread and get more consistent results.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

no-knead bread (again)

I started another batch of no-knead bread, this time a full loaf. I’m going to try baking it in the largish Corningware covered casserole dish Auntie brought over last weekend. Having just turned the dough (or slopping it, since it’s much too wet to really “turn”) I’m not feeling optimistic about the finished bread.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

i hate pampered chef

I hate Pampered Chef. I hate Pampered Chef. I hate Pampered Chef. I am never going to buy anything from them again, nor am I going to one of their forsaken parties ever again.

My next baking stone is coming from the Baker’s Catalogue, as soon as they have a sale. This old stone is going in the trash; I'm done with paying for return shipping to replace it with another stone (that will break).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

baking powder biscuits

We were having leftover chili last night and instead of buying my customary refrigerated biscuit dough in a can, or even using the ubiquitous buttermilk pancake mix that’s in our fridge, I decided I’d try making biscuits myself. I didn’t have the ingredients (shortening, heavy cream, etc.) that a lot of biscuit recipes called for, but I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour site.

They looked great – I followed the instructions for the cut biscuits, folding the dough into thirds and cut the dough into squares (I don’t have a biscuit cutter and I don’t really like the look of dropped biscuits). The boys, young, older and adult, liked them well enough (although C. said they were too crispy) but I found them rather coarse and hard. In the future, I might try pastry flour instead and add the maximum amount of butter (this time I used the middle range – 5 tablespoons).

Monday, August 25, 2008

no-knead bread

I had long wanted to try making No-Knead Bread. All accounts said it was foolproof and easy, and consistently generated great bread. However, you needed a piece of equipment I did not have, which was a 5-quart cast iron dutch oven (or some other similarly sized pot that was heat-proof to 450 degrees F). Buying a new (somewhat costly) piece for a single untested recipe was not in my budget so I spent a lot of time investigating cheaper options, such as budget cast iron, pyrex and anodized aluminum pots, but I never ended up buying anything.

Yesterday, P’s aunt gave me a piece of enameled Dansk Bistroware – a 2 ½ quart casserole that I thought might be suitable. So I set to work making the dough. I halved the recipe to account for the smaller sized piece (I had read where others had done this with no problem). However, the dough didn’t really behave as the recipe said it would, and I’m not accustomed to working with such wet slack dough. There was absolutely no “[nudging] it into a ball shape.” It was a puddle of wet yeasty goo. It looked great, but stuck horribly to the floured towel, and deflated completely when the time came to transfer it to the preheated dish. The finished bread was just a flat (but pleasingly crispy) gummy (no matter how long I cooked it, I couldn’t get the inside temp above 205 degrees) hockey puck. Argh.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

rustic country bread

Since it appears as though any kind of sourdough creation is going to be later rather than sooner for me, I decided to make the Rustic Country Bread found on the Cook's Illustrated website. I liked this one because it had a hand-mixed variation, which is particularly important since I don't yet own a stand mixer.

The bread was primarily made with white bread flour, with some whole wheat and rye flours too. I wasn't sure how this was going to fly with C., the committed white foodatarian. He wasn't ecstatic, but he did try some after liberally buttering both sides of a slice. Those of us who are not as bound to white flour thought it was really tasty and not excessively whole-grainy.

I'm dying to try the Rustic Italian Bread on the CI site too but it's going to have to wait for that darn stand mixer.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home