Thursday, January 29, 2009


I seem to be waiting until the last minute with everything this month!  Though I think my TWD gingerbread is as last minute as it gets... =)  I deliberately waited until this week to make this month's Daring Bakers challenge, though.  I knew I'd be on vacation and I'd have more time available.

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

They wanted to give us something that could be easily mixed up from ingredients already in our kitchens.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been meaning to try my hand at tuiles, but just haven't gotten around to it.  We were required to use a specific recipe, shape the tuiles in some way, and pair them with something light.  

I knew I wanted to make some sort of cup out of mine to meet the shaping requirement.  I made some delicious sorbet last week that I could put in the cups, and that fit the requirement that we pair our tuiles with something light.  After mixing and chilling the batter, I took part of it and tinted it pink with some gel food coloring.  I used my small offset spatula to spread large circles of batter on my sheet pan that I had lined with non-stick foil (I love that stuff!).  Then I had some fun decorating them with spirals and dots.

I think I had the batter a bit too thick, and it took about 9 minutes for the tuiles to start turning a faint brown around the edges.  I think I baked them too long, because when I tried to shape them over a ramekin, they cracked.  So I made some more, baking them for a couple minutes less.  They were okay to shape, but I wish I'd been able to get them a bit more brown, for better flavor.  Later I had the idea to make some thinner freeform tuiles for a garnish, and I was able to get them much more brown.  

The verdict?  I found that although the formation of the tuiles looks fairly simple, getting a good result can be a bit more difficult than it at first appears.  I definitely want to try this again to see if I can get a better result.  I'd also like to try another recipe to see if I can get something that's more crisp while still flexible enough to shape.  Brianna and Gillian seemed to enjoy eating the pieces from my broken first attempt, and Brianna asked if I could make bowls like that again some time.

If you want to try your hand at this month's challenge, head over to Karen's blog or Zorra's blog for the recipe.  And be sure to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see what everyone else came up with!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spicing up dessert

Okay, I think this is the latest I've done a Tuesdays with Dorie post that was still technically on time.  This week's selection comes from Heather of Sherry Trifle.  She chose Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread.  I hear about gingerbread a lot from Gillian, actually.  At her daycare, the children have various things in the classroom (cubbies, placemats) labeled with their names and a picture of something that starts with the same letter as their name.  Gillian's is a gingerbread man.  I appreciate that they took the time to find something that starts with the soft g sound (I guess giraffe would have worked, too).  =)

I like most things that are chocolate, and I like baking with spices as well.  But I was a bit skeptical about combining the two, especially after reading some of the reviews from the other bakers.  And my chocolate stash is somewhat depleted at the moment, after making chocolate birthday cake and cupcakes over the weekend.  I started to add up just how much chocolate I used, and I think it was about 2 pounds all together.  Scary, huh?  But it was for a 13"x9" cake and two dozen cupcakes.  Anyway, since I'm a bit tired of chocolate right now (crazy, I know!), I did make a couple of small changes to the recipe.

This recipe calls for fresh ginger as well as dried, and you have the option of adding stem ginger (or crystallized ginger) as well. There's some melted chocolate in the batter and some chunks stirred in at the end. And then you finish everything off with a chocolate glaze.  I used my microplane grater on the ginger, and only grated about a tablespoon of it.  One taste was enough to remind me that, like garlic, the finer you chop or grate ginger, the stronger it tastes.  One tablespoon (as opposed to two) was plenty.  I used the full amount of dried ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  As I was mixing the dried ingredients together, I realized that I'd forgotten to add the salt.  That's when I realized that the recipe doesn't have any, so I added a quarter teaspoon.  I didn't add any crystallized ginger.  For the 2 ounces of melted chocolate, I used some El Rey 70%.  I had part of a bag of semisweet mini chips left in my pantry, so I added those instead of chunks of chocolate (3 ounces).

I made sure I used my 9" square baking pan.  And thanks to Kim for the great idea to line the pan with a parchment sling.  I baked my gingerbread for 40 minutes.  When I first tested it, I thought it wasn't done, then I realized that I'd hit some chocolate chips with the toothpick. =)  I let it cool for a bit, but we dug into it while it was still warm, since I wanted to get this done sometime tonight...

The verdict?  I liked it quite a bit, and Jamie did as well.  I skipped the glaze and just topped the warm gingerbread with some vanilla ice cream.  That was a great match.  The chocolate didn't stand out a lot, but did add something to the cake.  I could still taste the spices, and there was a bit of a bite from the fresh ginger.  I can see myself making this one again if I'm in the right mood. I'll have to see what Gillian and Brianna think tomorrow.

If you want to give this one a try, head over to Heather's blog for the recipe.  And check out the list of bakers over at TWD to see how everyone else did this week.  

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hit or miss

For those who are looking for this week's TWD, it'll be coming a bit later on Tuesday.  My dad has been here for a long weekend, so I haven't been spending much time on the computer.  And Brianna's birthday (6 already--where does the time go?!) was on Sunday, so we're still recovering from chocolate cake and cupcakes.

I may have mentioned this before...  When I was growing up, it was tradition that for your birthday you got to pick what to eat for dinner and what kind of cake you wanted.  Brianna's pick for dinner was hamburgers and french fries.  The bucket of dough in my fridge came in handy for making burger buns.  =)  Dad asked me what my favorite birthday dinner used to be.  I'd have to say it was ravioli.  But I haven't found that particular sort of ravioli in years.  They were frozen.  There were 50 in a package--two sheets of 25 each (5 x 5), and you had to snap them apart before dropping them into the boiling water.  No idea what the brand was, but both the meat and cheese ones tasted different from (i.e. much better than) the ones I can buy in my grocery store now.  

As for the cake, that changed for me over time.  I can remember having a few spice cakes.  And I really liked angel food cake (with either chocolate or raspberry glaze) for quite a while.  But yellow cake with chocolate frosting was ultimately my favorite, and still is.  Brianna's hasn't changed since she was old enough to tell me what kind she wanted--"all chocolate."  

This year was no different.  I used the same chocolate cake recipe that I've been using for the past several years.  It's the Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake from Cooks Illustrated (Jan/Feb 2001).  I played around with it just a bit this year.  I added about a teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the chocolate mixture.  I also mixed the batter differently, although that wasn't really on purpose.  I just started mixing without looking back at the recipe.  =)  Since I was planning on taking the cake out of the pan to decorate it, I also lined the baking pan with parchment.  

As usual, the cake turned out great.  Next up, frosting.  I stuck with another tried-and-true recipe, the Dark Chocolate Frosting from the Feb/Mar 2006 issue of Cook's Country.  It's more or less a ganache frosting, made in the food processor.  As usual, I got it too warm trying to melt all the chocolate, and had to whisk it over a bowl of ice and water to get it to firm up.  For the trim (pink, of course), I just whipped up a quick buttercream consisting of butter (8 tablespoons), powdered sugar (about 4 ounces, I think), milk (a couple tablespoons?) and a bit of salt.  I overdid it a bit on the food coloring and ended up with a pretty bright shade of pink. =)  The decorating was nothing fancy.  For the fourth birthday running, it was a Princess cake, complete with Belle, Aurora, Ariel and Cinderella.  Buying those toppers is some of the best money that I've ever spent (about $10, if I recall correctly).  

The verdict?  The cake was a big hit with everyone--kids and adults alike.  Some kids may dislike dark chocolate, but not mine. =)  And it's really not all that hard to make.

So that was for Brianna's actual birthday and party on Sunday.  Since her birthday fell on the weekend this year, I told her I would make cupcakes for her kindergarten class on Monday.  Since the weekend was pretty busy, I didn't make them until Monday morning.  I've made a few chocolate cupcake recipes, but for some reason it didn't occur to me to use a recipe that I've made before.  Instead, I decided to try the Devil's Food Cupcakes from the same article as the frosting (Cook's Country).  Unfortunately, that didn't go as well as I hoped.  

The recipe makes 24 cupcakes (the amount I needed), but I only have one muffin/cupcake pan.  So I made two half-batches.  I think something is wrong with the leavening, because for both batches, the cupcakes rose nicely but then sank in the middle when they started to cool.  The cupcakes also spread out too much on top, and then the edges broke off when I took them out of the pan.  I thought that I'd overfilled the cups in the pan, so I put a bit less batter in each one for the second batch, but that didn't help.  They still spread on top, and just ended up with bigger dents in the middle.  

Fortunately, I was making these for a bunch of 5- and 6-year-olds who would just think "Hey, more room for frosting!"  So I kept going.  For the frosting, I wanted something that wouldn't be too sugary-sweet.  I made what was more or less a whipped ganache.  It was on the soft side, since I ran out of time to chill it, but it was quite tasty.

The verdict?  I spent several hours making cupcakes, and they were devoured in under two minutes. =)  The frosting really was pretty fantastic.  I won't bother making the cupcake recipe again though.  It clearly has issues, and the taste isn't good enough for me to want to spend a lot of time fixing it when I have some other perfectly good recipes that work.

Want to try some of these yourself?  The America's Test Kitchen recipes are only available to website subscribers and those who buy the magazines and books.  If you subscribe to the Cooks Illustrated site, the Sheet Cake recipe can be found here.  It's also in Baking Illustrated (page 342).  The Dark Chocolate Frosting can be found here on the Cook's Country site.  And if you want to see if you have better luck with the cupcakes, that recipe is here.  Here's the frosting I made for the cupcakes:

Creamy Whipped Ganache Frosting

12 ounces heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (I used El Rey 58.5%)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used a combination of El Rey 70% and Ghirardelli 72%)
6 ounces powdered sugar
pinch salt

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream until very hot. (I microwave it for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in 30 second bursts to make sure it doesn't boil over.)  Pour half of the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for several minutes.  Stir the chocolate and cream mixture together in small circles, starting at the center and working your way out in increasingly larger circles, until it forms an emulsion.  Carefully stir in the other half of the cream.  Let stand at room temperature until the mixture thickens a bit.  With a hand or stand mixer, beat in the powdered sugar.  Continue to beat until the mixture lightens and eventually forms peaks, kind of like making whipped cream (6-8 minutes?).  You want it thick enough to pipe, but still somewhat soft.  

I know, it's a picture of Gillian on a post about Brianna's birthday.  But it was too cute to pass up. =)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Surprise! No berries here

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen.  She chose Berry Surprise Cake for us to make.  You're supposed to bake the cake (a thick layer of genoise), slice off the top, hollow out the middle, fill it with cream filling and berries, and put the top back on.  This is a great pick for some of our southern hemisphere bakers, who should be able to find berries in season.  But I knew I wouldn't be going with fresh berries for mine, since they'd be quite expensive if I could even find decent ones.

My first thought was to use frozen raspberries, and I did buy some.  But I was afraid they'd be too juicy once thawed to work very well.  Then I thought about just using them anyway, but cutting up my cake layer to make trifle with the cake, filling and berry sauce.  From what I read on the P&Q this week, a lot of people had problems with their cakes sinking in the middle.  I was not one of them, though.  I made my cake this morning, and it turned out perfect.  One thing that I think helped was how I folded everything together for the batter.  I used my biggest balloon whisk.  That's what I always use when making angel food cake from scratch, and it works great.  My cake was beautifully even, and I just couldn't cut it up.  So back to the drawing board...

Another idea that had been floating around in my brain was finding a way to use up the rest of the blood orange juice I bought for my sorbet.  And citrus is a nice in-season flavor.  I decided to make orange curd (thanks to LW for her comment on the P&Q that put the idea in my head).  I knew that I couldn't just substitute orange juice for lemon in a lemon curd recipe, since oranges are less acidic.  I ended up combining a couple recipes and using about 1/4 lemon juice and 3/4 orange juice.  I would have added more lemon, but I only had one left.  The curd turned out pretty good, though not as thick as I would have liked.  I'll post the recipe when I have a bit more time.

I also used some of the blood orange juice to make the soaking syrup for the cake.  I used 1/2 cup of juice and 1/4 cup of sugar and let it boil for a bit longer than a minute to reduce it somewhat.  Then I added a tablespoon of Grand Marnier--not my favorite liqueur, but I thought it would be good with the orange.  When making the cream filling, I also increased the sugar to 2 tablespoons, since a number of people said it wasn't sweet enough, and I agreed.  After folding the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture, I also folded in half a cup of my orange curd, stopping before it was completely mixed in.

For the cake assembly, I cut the top off my cake and hollowed out the middle.  Then I brushed the inside of the cake with my orange syrup.  I followed that with a thin layer of orange curd.  I only had room for about half of the cream mixture, so after putting the top back on the cake, I spread the remaining cream on top of the cake and skipped the sweetened whipped cream that Dorie has in the recipe.

The verdict?  We really enjoyed this one.  I like the contrast between the firm cake and the soft filling.  I'd like to try it again when fresh berries are in season.  I'm picturing a sophisticated version of strawberry shortcake. =)  Gillian liked it, once we convinced her to stop playing with the cake and eat it.  Brianna thought the orange curd was too tart, so she might like it better with another flavor.  Jamie liked what he could taste, though his allergies were making it difficult.  

Be sure to head over to the Tuesdays with Dorie page for a list of the other bakers so you can see what they've come up with this week.  And you can find the original recipe over at Mare's blog.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Change is good

Like most people, I'm usually somewhat resistant to change.  Don't fix what ain't broke, right?  So I was a bit apprehensive when I got my December/January issue of Fine Cooking, and read that they were planning some changes for the magazine and website.  I got busy with the holidays and forgot about it.  Then I opened my mailbox a week or two ago and pulled out the February/March issue.  It definitely looked a bit different, but good.  I've had time to read through the entire issue now, and I think I like it.  There are a number of things I want to try, including making croissants (one of the things I'd like to accomplish in 2009).  

I don't read magazines straight through.  I thumb through the whole thing when I get it, just to get an idea of what's in there.  But then I jump around, depending on what's most appealing and how much time I have at the moment.  So it took me a few days to get around to reading the article on oranges.  I like oranges, but don't really go out of my way to cook or bake with them.  For instance, much as I love chocolate, I'm not that big a fan of chocolate and orange together.  And for savory recipes, I love lemon, but never really thought about using oranges.  Then I saw the recipe for Blood Orange and Mango Sorbet.  Now that sounded really good.  

The recipe calls for juicing blood oranges and cutting up fresh mangos.  I took a couple shortcuts. =)  I needed 2 1/2 cups of the orange juice.  Fortunately, Anna over at Cookie Madness had a post about blood orange juice a few days ago.  I was able to find cartons of it at Central Market.  And for the mango, I actually used frozen mango chunks (12 ounces).  I pureed the mango pieces with the orange juice in my blender.  Then I heated a cup of the puree with a cup of sugar just until the sugar was dissolved, and mixed it back into the rest of the orange/mango mixture.  I added the tablespoon of lemon juice called for in the recipe, but didn't have any orange zest since I just bought juice.  And the great thing about using the frozen mango is that the mixture was quite cold, so I didn't have to wait for it to chill before churning it.  (Keeping a canister in the freezer all the time is great for spur of the moment frozen concoctions.)  

The verdict?  This one was a hit with everyone!  Brianna and Gillian loved it, and Jamie really liked it too.  I kept sampling it all afternoon. =)  The flavor is a great combination of sweet and tart--very refreshing.  And the color is lovely.  I'll definitely be making this sorbet again.

I'm also submitting this to Ivonne over at Cream Puffs in Venice for her Magazine Mondays event.  If you want to try this sorbet, you can access the original recipe here. (Right now, at least, it's available whether you subscribe to Fine Cooking's website or not.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A future in food styling

I know I said the challah would be next (and it's coming as soon as I finish writing the post), but I'm taking things a bit out of order.  When I was off last Wednesday, I mixed up a batch of light whole wheat bread using the Artisan Bread in Five method.  It's pretty similar to the master bread recipe that I started with.  You just substitute a cup of whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur white whole wheat flour) for a cup of the all-purpose flour.  After I mixed it, I let it rise at room temperature for a couple hours and then put it in the fridge.  I pretty much ignored it until Saturday morning.  When I checked on it, I noticed that the dough had deflated some.  So I stirred it around in the bucket with a spatula, thinking that might get the yeast going some more.  And it did.  When I checked it again this morning, it was bubbly and had risen back up somewhat.  I took out a pound of the dough and made a batard with it.  After letting it rise at room temperature for about an hour and a half, I baked it for 35 minutes.

The bread was cool just in time for lunch, so I used it to make some sandwiches for Brianna and Gillian.  Chicken and mozzarella cheese for Gillian, chicken and "orange cheese" (sharp cheddar) for Brianna.  It's funny how they're different about so many little things... =)  After cutting the sandwiches in half, I turned around to get a couple plates out of the cupboard.  When I turned back, Brianna told me, "Look, Mommy!  I stacked it up so it looks nice.  Will you take a picture of it?"  "Sure, I can do that."  "And then will you put it on the computer?"  How could I say no? =)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Maybe later...

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake.  She selected Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins for us to make.  I still haven't made the muffins, and can't decide if I'm going to.  If I get to them this evening, I'll definitely make some changes to the recipe.  I don't like jalapenos and cilantro, and can't eat bell peppers.  I was thinking that cheddar cheese and some scallions would make for a tasty (and still savory) muffin.  

In the meantime, be sure to head over to Tuesdays with Dorie to check out the blogroll and see how others fared with this one.  We have a bunch of new members, too!  And visit Rebecca's blog for the recipe if you'd like to give these muffins a try.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More fun with bread

Lately my pantry seems a lot more full than before.  And I'm not quite sure why.  Okay, I do have some idea.  I've always had a lot of chocolate on hand.  (And it's about to get worse, since as usual Jamie did his best to completely fill my Christmas stocking with assorted bars of chocolate.)  The canisters for light brown sugar, cornmeal, regular sugar and AP flour live on my kitchen counter, but others are in the pantry--cake flour, dark brown sugar, powdered sugar, bread flour, whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, rolled oats, semolina.  And with all the baking I've been doing, I keep extra of a lot of stuff on hand--unopened bags of all-purpose flour, bread flour, white whole wheat flour, brown sugar, powdered sugar, granulated sugar.  Most of this stuff I use quite regularly.  And occasionally I'll pick up something just because it looks interesting and I might want to use it in something.  Which is why, when I decided that I was going to try the European Peasant Bread from my new cookbook, I actually had rye flour on hand.  Now I just need to find a container for it...  

Before embarking on my second Artisan Bread recipe, I had to acquire a new piece of equipment as well.  Since the first batch of dough threatened to escape my 4-quart container (I wish I'd taken a picture!), I wanted something bigger.  I managed to get down to my favorite restaurant supply store, Ace Mart, just a few days after Christmas.  Thank you to the nice employee who let me in even though it was about 2 minutes before closing time!  I got in and out with what I wanted, picked the girls up from day care, and went home to make dough.  

This dough is similar to the first one I made from this book, with some whole wheat and rye flour substituted for part of the all-purpose (2.5 ounces each of whole wheat and rye; 27 ounces AP flour).  I went with white whole wheat flour, since that's what I had on hand.  I used an extra two ounces of water (26 ounces total), as I did with the master boule recipe, since I use King Arthur all-purpose flour.  I cut the yeast and kosher salt back to 4 teaspooons each.    (The basic recipe and method can be found here.)

The first loaf I baked from this batch was the simple boule shape.   With the later loaves, I tried my hand at baguettes.  I need to work on my shaping skills!  A boule is pretty easy with this rather wet dough.  I have a harder time making other shapes without handling the dough too much.  I did find some great tips here, with pictures that help a lot.  I got one baguette that turned out pretty good!  

Even though the recipe says it makes 4 1-pound loaves, I found that I was able to make three, but then there wasn't quite enough dough left for a fourth.  So I made a second batch of dough and added the remaining old dough to it, figuring it would add flavor.  I've made three loaves from that and have enough left in the fridge for one more.

The verdict?  We all really liked this one!  The whole grains give some interesting flavor to the bread.  Brianna happily ate it in her lunch all week.  And it makes great toast.  The loaves made with the old dough did develop more interesting flavors, but didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped--kind of dense.  I'm still working on the shaping issues; I think my dense baguettes were handled too much.  And I've learned that while you can get away with a minimal rising time with this dough, the bread is much better if you let it rise longer after shaping.  I found some great tips here on how to deal with the dense crumb.  On the whole, I'm having a lot of fun experimenting!  

And I'm submitting this European Peasant Bread to Yeastspotting.  

Next up:  Challah

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Modern bakers

Despite the fact that I just got two new cookbooks for Christmas, when a 40% off Borders coupon appeared in my inbox, I just couldn't resist.  So after work on Monday, I made a quick stop at the bookstore.  I didn't have much time, so I picked up a book that I've borrowed from the library, the King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking.  Right, another huge book that I don't have room for. =)  But it's in keeping with my recent attempts to make our diet healthier.

As I was quickly browsing, a book cover caught my eye.  It was Nick Malgieri's new book, The Modern Baker.  I'll have to take a closer look at it the next time I'm at the bookstore.  But it got me thinking about how lucky today's home bakers are.  We have access to a lot of tools that just weren't easily available to home bakers not that long ago.  For instance, I love my scale and parchment paper, just to name a couple things.  And we have access to some fantastic ingredients, either online, in specialty stores, or often in our neighborhood grocery stores.  

But I think the greatest thing we have available to us is the knowledge and experience of others.  The Tuesdays with Dorie group of bakers is a great example.  We have the collective experience of several hundred bakers to draw on.  We can ask each other questions, through the weekly P&Q posts, by email, on Facebook...  Each week we can read about each others experiences, mistakes, new ideas, best practices...  And it just amazes me that we can so easily connect with Dorie Greenspan herself, the author of the cookbook we're baking from.

Which leads me to this week's TWD recipe.  The way our group works is that each week, a different person selects a recipe for everyone else to make.  Well, for the start of the new year, Laurie asked Dorie to choose a recipe for us and bake along with us.  What a great idea!  She chose the French Pear Tart.

The biggest change I made to the recipe was to use apples instead of pears, since I don't like pears.  I thought of Nancy over at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs as I picked up some macoun apples at Central Market on Friday night.  I made the Sweet Tart Dough for the base, adding a little freshly grated nutmeg, since I like nutmeg with apples.  The almond cream filling came together quickly in my food processor.  I was lucky enough to be able to buy almond meal in the bulk section at Central Market.  Then I peeled and sliced the apples to place on top of the filling.  

I baked the tart for about 45 minutes, until the almond cream was getting browned on top.  But after taking it out of the oven, I realized that the middle didn't look done enough.  So I ended up putting the tart back in the oven for another 15 minutes, with foil over the edges to keep it from browning too much.  I'm still not sure it was quite done enough, since the filling was pretty soft in the middle.  Dorie suggests brushing the tops of the apples (or pears) with apple jelly as a glaze.  My apples looked pretty dry on top, so they definitely needed something, but I didn't have any jelly that seemed like a good flavor match.  So while the tart was cooling, I made a quick batch of caramel syrup to brush onto the apples.

Okay, that last statement really sums up how far I've come in the last year.  I never would have said that I could quickly make caramel anything this time last year. =)  Some of the confidence comes from practice, but some of it comes from the great tips I've gotten from other bakers.

The verdict?  Wow.  I loved this dessert.  The flavors were delicious together.  My crust got really browned around the edges, which was fantastic.  The apples were just right, and I was surprised how much I liked the almond cream, since I'm not that fond of almonds.  I especially liked how it got crisp on top and sort of melded with the crust near the edges of the tart.  I liked it the first day, but I think I liked it even more the next, once the flavors had more time to blend together.  Jamie liked it a lot too, and so did Gillian.  Brianna just liked the crust, so maybe I should just make her some shortbread cookies. =)

For the recipe, head on over to Dorie's blog.  Don't forget to check out all the other wonderful French Tarts on the TWD blogroll.  And for a special anniversary treat this week, read Dorie's answers to many of the questions that the TWD members have wanted to ask her over the past year.  

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Daily bread

Yay for Christmas presents, especially when they're new cookbooks!  I've mentioned before that I have a lot of cookbooks.  So I have no idea where I'm going to put these new ones.  =)  But I'll figure something out.  The two new ones bring my collection of bread-specific books to four.  I already had The Bread Bible and The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I've had The Bread Bible for quite a while, but haven't baked that much out of it.  I was kind of intimidated by it at first--it's a pretty impressive tome.  I should really go back through it now that I've got more bread baking experience.  I bought The Bread Baker's Apprentice back in May, and I really like it.  I've made a number of the recipes from it, although not all of them have made it as far as the blog (like the Italian Bread post that's been sitting in draft for a couple months).  

So it was pretty safe for Jamie to point his parents in the direction of my Amazon wishlist, where there were a couple other Peter Reinhart books.  They were nice enough to send me a copy of Crust and Crumb.  I've just started reading it, and I'm sure that I'll be making some of the recipes soon.

Jamie decided to look for books similar to what I have on my list but not actually on there.  He always does such a great job picking stuff that I'll like that I haven't actually considered for myself.  (He's the one who bought me The Bread Bible before I even knew it was out.  The Secrets of Baking is another favorite that he got me.)  He gave me a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  As I started looking through it Christmas morning, I realized that I'd seen references to it on a lot of other food blogs, but I'd never even looked at it at the bookstore.  The idea introduced in the book is that it's easy to have fresh bread with minimal daily effort when you make a large batch of dough and store it in your fridge for up to two weeks.  

It's an understatement to say that I'm thrilled with this gift!  I think Jamie was surprised and impressed that I started my first batch of dough on Christmas Day.  =)  I hadn't read through the entire book, so I just started with the Master Recipe Boule.  The process is pretty straightforward--I mixed together water, yeast, salt and flour with my dough hook in my stand mixer.  I transferred the dough to one of my Cambro buckets that I use for dough and left it on the counter to rise for a couple hours.  I quickly learned that when they say that you should use at least a 5-quart container, they mean it. =)  My container was only 4 quarts, and the dough tried to push the lid off!  I was able to get by with stirring the dough to deflate it a bit so it would stay in the container.  

I pulled out enough dough for the first loaf and stuck the rest in the fridge.  This is definitely a sticky dough.  I shaped it into a boule and placed it on a sheet of parchment paper on top of my peel.  (I find that's a great trick for dealing with very wet doughs so you don't have to worry about them sticking to the peel.)  Once the dough had time to rise some, I preheated the oven with my baking stone on the lower middle rack and put the bottom of my broiler pan on the top rack for the water (I think the use of the broiler pan is brilliant--I never would have thought of it, and it works better than other things I've used for making steam in the past).  I baked the loaf for about 25 minutes, when the internal temperature was about 200 degrees F.  I could tell the loaf had worked the way it was supposed to because I could hear it crackling once I took it out of the oven.  It was hard, but I let it cool for about 45 minutes before slicing it. 

The verdict?  Very tasty. =)  Maybe a bit on the salty side, but that's easy to adjust.  I buy my kosher salt in bulk, so I don't know how it measures compared to what the authors used (different brands of kosher salt compact differently in the measuring spoon).  

A couple days later (Saturday; about 36 hours after the first loaf) I decided to bake a second loaf for breakfast.  I was trying to make a batard (my shaping needs work), but the dough seemed to spread out quite a bit on the peel while it was resting, so I thought I'd end up with something more like ciabatta, so I didn't slash it before putting it into the oven.  I was wrong--I didn't realize just how much oven spring this wet dough has!  Good to know for next time.  As for the flavor, it definitely had more character than the first loaf.  

For the third loaf on Sunday I was much more successful with the batard shaping.  And the flavor was even better.  I didn't have quite enough dough left in the bucket for a fourth loaf, and I was thinking about mixing it into a new batch of dough for more flavor.  But then I realized that I needed rolls for hamburgers that evening, so my 10 ounces of remaining dough turned into four rolls of varying sizes (for 2 adults and 2 kids).  

One really cool thing I discovered is that there's a website/blog run by the cookbook authors, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François.  You can find it here.  I found lots of great information, including what weights of flours they use (the book only has volume measures) and how to adjust the ratio of water to flour depending on what flour you use.  Zoë also has her own blog, found here.   

Next up: European Peasant Dough (already in progress)

Dough for Master Recipe Boule

26 ounces warm spring water (my house has very hard water, so I use bottled; I increased the water because KA flour has higher protein than most AP flours)
4 teaspoons instant yeast (what I'll use next time to slow the rise just a bit)
4 teaspoons kosher salt (since the original amount was a bit too salty)
2 pounds (32 ounces) King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour

Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the yeast, salt and flour.  Mix the dough with the dough hook until it is just mixed together with no dry patches.  Transfer the dough to a 5 or 6-quart container and let it rise at room temperature for about 2 hours.  Store the dough in the refrigerator for up to 14 days (though it hasn't lasted more than 5 so far!).  

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008: The year in review

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here's hoping that 2009 will be a happy and healthy year for all of you.  I've been fortunate enough to "meet" and become friends with some really wonderful people during this past year.  I really appreciate all of you who read and comment on my blog.  

In my Blogiversary post, I mentioned that I wanted to highlight some of my favorite posts from the past year.  Since I started my blog a week before the start of 2008, it works out for me to do a year-in-review post for the calendar year.  I had fun looking back, seeing how much I've progressed in the past year.  My photography has gotten much better--finding the macro button and indoor light setting on my camera helped a lot!  I realized that this was going to be a baking blog, rather than a general cooking blog.  I didn't really plan it that way, but baked goods are what I really enjoy writing about.  I also defined my writing style somewhat.  I tried some posts with process pictures, but I prefer to photograph the finished products.  And I've had fun figuring out how to plate and garnish things.

Some months I only picked one recipes, others I picked two or three.  I wanted to get some of my favorite pictures in, as well as the recipes.  So here goes...

January marked the first appearance of my kiddos on my young blog.  Brianna, in particular, likes to help me with things like cracking eggs and drizzling icing.  And sampling the finished products, of course. =)  Here we made her favorite Coffeecake Muffins.  

February is when I joined Tuesdays with Dorie, after seeing one of the great recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours on Peabody's blog.  To date, one of my favorite recipes that we've made is the Almost Fudge Gateau.  

February is also when I stumbled across the Daring Bakers.  I sent in my request to join, but my first recipe wouldn't be until March.  But I did try my hand at an earlier challenge, Bagels.  

March included some great new accomplishments.  I had my first experience with butter-laden yeast dough and flaming fruit with alcohol in the Brioche Raisin Snails.  

And my first Daring Bakers challenge was also a Dorie recipe--the Perfect Party Cake.

More Tuesdays with Dorie baking for April.  I started to play around with the recipes more.  A good example is when I made mini Lemon Cream Tarts.  I love the way the filling looks, swirled into the mini tart shells.

And I had a lot of fun decorating Bill's Big (or Small) Carrot Cake.  The cream cheese frosting worked well for the decorations.

May gave me an excuse to buy new bakeware.  Who could pass up an adorable mini madeleine pan? =)  I got to play around with the flavoring on these, adding some spices.  

And I picked up a new 7-inch springform pan to make a smaller version of the Peanut Butter Torte.  More fun with piping, too!

In June, I got to pick a recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie!  French Chocolate Brownies seemed like a great idea, since we hadn't had many chocolate recipes.  And it gave me another chance to make rum raisins. =)

I also started following the blog from King Arthur Flour, which is where I found the recipe for this wonderful Stuffed Cheese Bread.  Yes, it tasted as good as it looks. 

And I can't forget about my favorite Daring Bakers challenge of the year, Danish Braids.  It's probably a good thing I haven't made one since--I'd be tempted to eat the whole thing.  

For July, I want to highlight another Daring Bakers challenge, the Filbert Gateau.  I got to try several new things this month.  Like figuring out how the heck to get the skins off hazelnuts.  =)  I played with dry caramel (I'm used to starting with water and sugar, not just sugar) to make praline, which was used to make some of the best buttercream I've ever tasted.  Wow.

August was a month for ice cream, including this delicious Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream.  

I love reading other food blogs to find new inspiration.  In September, Mary the Food Librarian blogged about these amazing Breakfast Buns, and I immediately decided I had to make them too.

And I got to make my first Tuesdays with Dorie post away from home.  I made these decadent Chocolate Chunkers while we were in Pennsylvania for my sister's wedding.

I made my biggest mess in October, while making caramel for the Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake.  The cake itself was so-so, but the caramel is a keeper.

And we celebrated Gillian's birthday with Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes.

November brought pumpkin.  (Okay, actually it started in October.)  And my favorite pumpkin recipe this year was this Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Which brings us to December.  I actually made Dorie's All Occasion Sugar Cookies a couple of times.  They were a big hit with Brianna's kindergarten class.

Well, if you've made it this far, thanks for reviewing 2008 with me.  I can't wait to see what 2009 brings.  More bread, for sure.  And hopefully croissants.  And macarons.  And who knows what other delicious baked goods.  Happy New Year!