Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Finally, after two weeks, I think I'm over the illness I caught from Brianna.  Of course, now Jamie has it. He's about a week behind me, so he's pretty miserable right now.  Gillian's take on the whole thing is interesting.  We were in the car one day last week, and she struck up a conversation with me.
"Mommy?"  "Yes, Gillian?"  "Did you get Brianna's germs and that's why you're sick?"  "Yes."  "You need some germs lotion."  "Germs lotion?"  "Yeah, so you can get rid of the germs you got and make sure you don't get any more.  But it's not the same as the lotion for the dry skin."  (The fun of 3-year-olds--all I hear about lately is how she needs Chapstick because her lips hurt and lotion because she has "the dry skin.")  I never did get an answer as to where I could find some of this magic "germs lotion" but it sure would be nice... =)

It didn't help that through all this, work has been totally crazy.  It's a lot harder to get better when you don't really get time to rest.  Since I was seizing any rest time I could get, baking and blogging have definitely been on the back burner.  I never did get as far as baking last week's chocolate chip cookies for TWD.  So I knew I needed to be sure to make this week's recipe.  Even so, it almost got lost in the shuffle over the weekend.  Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated by doing lots of baking.  I made crumb cake for breakfast and hamburger buns for dinner, not to mention baking myself a birthday cake.  Then Sunday evening, I realized that it might be good to look at this week's recipe.

Michelle of Flourchild picked another cookie for us this week, Honey-Wheat Cookies.  Going along with our germ theme for the week, the wheat mentioned in the title is wheat germ, and I actually remembered to pick some up from the bulk department at Central Market.  I did end up making a couple changes with the other ingredients, though.  For starters, I didn't have much honey on hand.  I don't usually have a lot, since I don't like it all that much.  And then Jamie's been using lots of what I did have in his tea (as I mentioned, he's still suffering from the cold that we're all sharing).    So I decided to substitute golden syrup for the honey.  The next thing to go was the lemon zest.  I wasn't sure that it would taste as good with the syrup as with honey, and I was being lazy and didn't want to zest anything.  Golden syrup has a brown sugary sort of taste, so I thought that some sort of spice might be nice.  I ended up using about half a teaspoon of ground ginger.  I mixed up the dough Sunday night, stuck it in the fridge overnight, and baked the cookies before work on Monday.

The verdict?  I liked these cookies more than I expected to.  The dough is really tasty. =)  The cookies don't quite live up to the promise of the dough, but they're pretty good.  I took some to work and they got  a positive response there as well.  If I make them again, I'll increase the amount of spice, though.  The ginger got somewhat lost under the wheat germ.

If you'd like to try these for yourself, you can find them in the book, of course.  Or head on over to Michelle's blog for the recipe.  And be sure to check out the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Italian bread

I mentioned in my last post that Brianna was sick last week and into the weekend.  I could tell when she was finally really feeling better--she actually ate all of her dinner on Sunday night.  But that's wasn't very surprising, since everyone else cleaned their plates as well.  Spaghetti and meatballs has that effect around here.  And Gillian is very proud of herself for the fact that she can pronounce it correctly (she's been working very hard at it).  =)  Italian dishes are always a hit around here.  And what better to go with a plate covered in tomato sauce than Italian bread?

Okay, to be honest, we didn't eat Italian bread with our spaghetti this week.  We would have, but I had just made some sourdough rye (yet another upcoming bread post), so we ate that.  But we did have Italian bread with our chicken parmigiana a few weeks ago when my Dad was here.  And it was fantastic.  It was next up for the BBA Challenge, perfectly timed.  I've made this recipe several times before, and it's always a hit.  I was kind of surprised when I looked through my archives and realized that while I took pictures, I never actually posted about this bread.  It's definitely time to remedy that.

Since I've made this one before, and because I've been having so much fun playing with my sourdough starters, I decided to combine the two.  Italian bread is yet another of the breads that employ some sort of preferment to add flavor.  In this case, being Italian, it uses biga, which is a firm preferment consisting of flour, water and a small amount of yeast.  Conveniently, the percentage of hydration for the biga is pretty much the same as my bread flour starter.  So I substituted some of the starter for part of the flour and water, and omitted the small amount of commercial yeast.  I ended up using 3 ounces of my 67% hydration starter, 9 ounces of flour, and 6 ounces of water, giving me a total of 18 ounces and keeping the hydration at about 67%.  I let the mixture sit at room temperature until it almost doubled in size.  I don't actually remember how long that took, but I was going by the activity of the starter, not by the clock.  Once it was doubled, I followed the instructions for the biga, lightly degassing the dough and then putting it in the fridge overnight.

The next day I made the dough.  Having learned my lesson with the French bread, I started by cutting the biga into pieces (I usually just use my kitchen shears) and putting it in the bowl of my stand mixer with the water (6 ounces) and oil.  I stirred these ingredients together with the paddle attachment to start softening the biga.  Then I added the rest of the ingredients, switched to the dough hook, and mixed the dough until it formed a ball.  I kneaded it for a couple minutes in the mixer, then finished it by hand on an oiled surface.  I stuck the dough in my 4 quart bucket and let it rise at room temp for about an hour and a half (dough tends to rise fast in my kitchen).  

As far as shaping goes, I decided I wanted to be able to use the leftover bread for toast and sandwiches, so I went for one really big loaf.  I shaped the full amount of dough into a batard shape.  I put it on a sheet of parchment paper on my peel, sprayed it with Pam (high heat version) and covered it with plastic to rise.  For hearth baking, I use my baking stone (preheated to 500F as directed) and put the bottom of my broiler pan on the floor of my gas oven.  When I put the loaf in the oven (parchment and all), I added hot water to the steam pan as directed and sprayed water in the oven as well.  I baked the bread for about 30 minutes total, rotating it and removing the parchment paper after 15 minutes.  I don't remember the exact time, but I went by temperature, taking the loaf out when it was over 200F.

The verdict?  It was really hard to wait for the bread to cool before we tried it.  The five of us went through about half the loaf at dinner the night I made it, so I think it's safe to say everyone liked it.  =)  Brianna quickly requested that I save some of the remaining bread for her lunches.  The sourdough starter worked nicely in the biga--it didn't add sour flavor in this case, but just made the bread more flavorful in general.  I'm sure I'll make this Italian bread many times more.

If you'd like to try this recipe, I highly recommend getting your own copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Be sure to check out the BBA Challenge blogroll to see how everyone else is doing (we're all at different points in the book).  And head over to Yeastspotting to see this and many other wonderful yeasted creations.  Next up in the challenge--kaiser rolls!  

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

All's well that ends well

I think this is going to be a short post today, as I'm still feeling under the weather.  Brianna was sick for most of last week, and she was so nice to share her germs with me. =)  So far, I mostly just feel icky and have a sore throat.  Conveniently, I have this lovely ice cream in my freezer that is quite soothing to my irritated throat.  I've been eating it purely for medicinal purposes, of course. =)

At first glance, this wouldn't seem to have much to do with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  I knew that this week's selection was Rick Katz's Brownies for Julia.  But until I was getting ready to write this post, I hadn't looked at who picked the recipe.  I wasn't surprised to learn that Tanya of Chocolatechic was responsible for this one. =)  I'm hoping that she'll be proud of me when she sees that I've combined the brownies with even more chocolate!

I made the brownies Saturday morning.  Nancy and I were going to bake together via Twitter, but couldn't quite get things coordinated.  I ended up starting mine first.  As I was mixing up the batter, it seemed to me that there was going to be way too much for the 9"x9" pan called for in the recipe.  Plus I had read a number of reports in the P and Q of brownies that were underbaked.  So I went with a 13"x9" Pyrex pan.  (Dorie says in the recipe header that she usually uses Pyrex for this recipe.)  The mixing method for these brownies is a bit unusual, but not difficult.  First you melt together butter and unsweetened and bittersweet chocolates.  (I used Ghirardelli 100% pieces and some El Rey 58%.)  Then you mix in half of the sugar.  The other half of the sugar gets whisked together with the eggs.  Half of the egg/sugar mixture is then stirred into the chocolate.  The other half is whipped until increased in volume, then folded into the batter.  Finally, the dry ingredients are folded in.  I baked my brownies for 25 minutes.  At that point, the edges were definitely done and I didn't want them to go too long.  I thought the middle was done as well.  

After cooling, I discovered that the middle wasn't as done as I thought.  It was set, but rather soft.  The flavor of everything was fine, and there was a nice appealing crust on the top of the brownies, they were just softer than I prefer.  I thought that they might be better cold.  Then I had a better idea--maybe they would be best frozen.  In ice cream!  

I turned to my copy of The Perfect Scoop, which my husband Jamie got me for Christmas.  I knew I wanted chocolate ice cream rather than vanilla.  But I didn't want something that would compete too much with the brownies, either.  Then I found the perfect recipe--Milk Chocolate Ice Cream.  Fortunately, I had just enough milk chocolate (El Rey 41%) left in my pantry from last week's bundt cakes.  The ice cream was pretty quick to mix up.  Cream is melted with the chocolate to make ganache.  Milk is heated with sugar and a bit of salt, then tempered into some egg yolks.  Then the custard mixture is put back in the pot and heated until slightly thickened (I go by temp--just over 170 degrees F).  Next the custard is strained into the ganache and the whole mixture is chilled in an ice bath.  Then you're supposed to add a couple of teaspoons of Cognac.  I had rum, so I went with that.  I misread the measurement and used two tablespoons, though.  Oops.  =)  Still tasted good, though, and I knew that wasn't enough alcohol to cause a big problem.

While the ice cream was churning, I cut some of the brownies into bite-sized pieces and stuck them in the freezer to chill.  Once the ice cream was done to soft-serve consistency, I put it into freezer containers, layering with the brownie pieces.  I ended up with about one and a half quarts.  Once the ice cream was fully frozen, we sampled it.  (For the record, I also sampled the plain ice cream when it was still soft--it tasted just like a Frosty. =)  )

The verdicts?  We did like the brownies by themselves, but I would like to play around with the recipe a bit to make the texture more to my liking.  I think I'll reduce the butter a bit next time, or use a bit more flour, or maybe just try baking in a metal pan.  The taste was good though.  As they turned out, though, they were perfect for the ice cream.  They got nice and chewy when frozen, but not too hard.  And the contrast of flavors in the ice cream was perfect.  The milk chocolate ice cream was delicious, both by itself and combined with the brownies.  I will definitely be making it again soon.  

If you'd like to give the brownies a try for yourself, head on over to Tanya's blog for the recipe.  If you like to make ice cream, you should definitely get a copy of The Perfect Scoop.  But if you want to try the ice cream first, you can also find the recipe here.  And be sure to head over to the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else did this week.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I've talked before about how my kids eat a lot of stuff that isn't typical "kid food."  That's a good thing--they're much more adventurous eaters than I was when I was little.  I can't take the credit, though, since I'm still rather picky.  My husband Jamie is the omniverous one.  I don't think either of my girls has met a chocolate dessert that she didn't like.  Both routinely request chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for birthdays, and they just finished eating chocolate pudding with lunch.  (Brianna has been sick and pudding is one thing that she'll pretty much always eat.  Plus it has calcium, so that's good, right?)  Even though milk chocolate is generally considered more "kid-friendly," we eat mostly dark chocolate around here.

So I was curious to see what the reaction would be to this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection.  Our hostess this week was Kristin, aka The Queen of Quite a Lot, over at I'm Right About Everything.  Her pick was Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes.  I actually made this dessert Monday morning, but this has been a crazy week, so I'm posting about it more than a little late.  (Work has been nuts, and as I mentioned, Brianna has been sick for several days.)  The recipe is designed to be made in a mini bundt pan (6 small cakes).  I don't have one, so I decided to go with my two 3-cup bundt pans.  They weren't quite full, but it worked out okay.  The recipe is pretty straightforward--cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs, stir in dry ingredients alternating with milk.  At the end, melted milk chocolate is folded into the batter (I used El Rey, which is 41%).  My two small cakes baked for 25 minutes.  I pulled them out as soon as they appeared done, so they wouldn't end up dry.

The next question was how to top them.  I heard from a lot of people that they had trouble with the glaze.  It's simply melted chocolate with some corn syrup whisked in (to maintain the shine, I assume).  I had problems with it, too.  As soon as I mixed in the corn syrup, the glaze thickened to the point where I knew I wouldn't be able to drizzle it.  So I played around with it, adding a bit more chocolate and thinning it with milk.  I eventually ended up with a thick chocolate sauce that I still wasn't thrilled with.  I stuck it on one of the cakes anyway and let Brianna and Gillian decorate it with sprinkles.  They were very excited to eat it when they were done sprinkling. =)

For me and Jamie, I decided to dress things up a little.  For the second cake, I skipped the glaze and simply dusted the cake with cocoa powder.  I then cut it into quarters and plated two of the pieces with some of the fabulous caramel ice cream that Nancy, Leslie and Tracey talked me into making last weekend.  The burnt sugar flavor of the ice cream was a very nice foil to the mild chocolate flavor of the cake.

The verdict?  I really liked this cake.  It certainly doesn't scream chocolate, but it was really tasty.  It was wonderful with the ice cream.  Brianna and Gillian liked the glazed version a lot.  I would definitely like to make this one again, maybe adding the swirl or something else (I saw at least one person that added mini chocolate chips).  

And I couldn't resist sharing this picture of my helper (Gillian), taken shortly before I discovered that she was chewing on my spatula.  One of these days she'll stop doing stuff like that....

If you'd like to try this week's recipe for yourself, you can find the recipe in the book, of course, and also here.  If you'd like to try the ice cream recipe (and you should!), the recipe is at the bottom of this page.  Don't freak out when you see the quantity of egg yolks--it's totally worth it! =)  And the full recipe makes about 2 quarts of ice cream.  Finally, if you haven't already done so by now, be sure to check out what the rest of the TWD bakers did this week!