Tuesday, December 29, 2009

E is for English Muffins







A couple of friends received little Christmas gift bags filled with english muffins.  It was a spontaneous gift, or kinda spontaneous...meaning, I didn't sit down and write out a gift list in August and next to Lisa's name write english muffins, but rather I had some freshly baked english muffins on the counter, I was heading to work on Christmas Eve, thought of Lisa, etc...of course, spontaneous can be a multi-step process.  F'rinstance, before giving them I asked Nik (as I oft do), "Is that too wierd?"  Nik obligingly answers, "She'll be glad to get them."  But it was just a little before 6:00 in the morning and I had to wake him up to ask him and he probably would have said anything to get me to turn off the light and let him go back to sleep.  So, not quite satisfied with his first opinion, I actually toasted up one of the english muffins, spread it lovingly (and generously) with butter and raspberry jam, woke him up again and said "Taste this...is it okay?"  Because he is Nik, he opened his eyes, said "mmmm" even before taking a bite, chewed thoughtfully and said, "Yes, it's good."  It was early (still dark out, in fact), they aren't really pretty english muffins, and they did taste (I thought) a little malty (not a flavor some people might enjoy in the morning), so I pressed further and asked, "Really?  Is it okay?"  His eyes were closed again by this time, he was starting to roll over (away from me), and I think I heard him say, "mm hmmm."  Convinced, or at least more confident, that english muffins were an okay gift item, I went to work and delivered them to Lisa C....along with caveats and instructions and after-thoughts. 

The next morning, Christmas morning, I again toasted up an english muffin.  Wearing red and green flannel and my old man slippers, sipping a cup of hot coffee, sitting in front of the twinkling Christmas tree just as the sun was coming up, surrounded by 3 of 4 dogs, a little sleepy and a little excited because it was Christmas...english muffins seemed at that moment like the perfect food/gift.  Not too malty at all, temptingly crunchy and chewy at the same time, lots of nooks and crannies (which seem to be the hallmark of a good english muffin) for butter and jam, and (were it not for the butter) fairly healthy given that they are made with several whole grains.  These english muffins weren't just comfort food...they were cozy food.  Deep breath, take another sip of coffee, close your eyes, smile...a cozy start to a really nice Christmas day.


English Muffins
(adapted from Breads from La Brea Bakery, by Nancy Silverton)
Yield:  approx 17-20
SPONGE
Liquid Levain (sourdough starter).................18 oz
Skim Milk.............................................2 cups
Bread Flour...........................................8 oz
Rye Flour.............................................3 1/2 oz
1.  Mix the Sponge ingredients thoroughly in stand mixer bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment at room temperature for 2 hours.

DOUGH
Sponge.................................all of the above
Water (room temp)..................10 oz
Active Dry Yeast......................1 Tbl
Bran Cereal (crushed)................1/2 cup
Flax Seeds.............................1/4 cup
Spelt Flakes............................1/4 cup
Cornmeal...............................1/4 cup
Bread Flour.............................8 oz
Barley Malt Syrup......................4 Tbl
Vegetable Oil..........................4 Tbl
Kosher Salt.............................1 Tbl
Semolina Flour/Cornmeal.............for dusting
Melted butter..........................2 Tbl
1.  In a small bowl (or measuring cup) rehydrate the yeast in the water.
2.  Add the rehydrated yeast mixture, crushed bran cereal, flax seeds, spelt, cornmeal, flour, malt syrup, and vegetable oil to the sponge in the mixer bowl.  With paddle attachment, mix on low until all ingredients are combined, about 1-2 minutes.  Increase speed to medium and continue to mix for 6 minutes.  The dough will be VERY wet but should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl as it is mixing.  Add a small amount of flour if you do not see a very very wet dough forming.  Add the salt and continue to mix on medium for 2 minutes. 
3.  Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled (it will come to the top of the mixer bowl), about 1 1/2 hours.  (Dough can be refrigerated at this time...but watch it in the 'fridge, it may try to flow over the edges of the bowl).
4.  Line baking sheets with parchment and dust generously with semolina or cornmeal.  Brush inside of baking rings with the melted butter and set them on the baking sheets.

5.  With a plastic dough scraper, scoop the dough out of the bowl in portions big enough to fill each ring nearly full.  (May need to wet your hands with water and spread the dough to fill the ring -- though it will continue to look sloppy and a bit uneven.)
6.  Let them sit at room temp, uncovered, for an hour - they will rise slightly during this time.  Preheat oven to 400.
7.  Sprinkle with dough with semolina or cornmeal and bake for 20 minutes.  Rotate the trays and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.  The tops will be slightly browned when done.
8.  Let cool and remove from rings. 
9.  When serving, split in half with fork and toast.  (WARNING:  these are not so good untoasted)




Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!!


Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!




Thursday, December 17, 2009

D is for Donuts


Donuts are a guilty pleasure for me.  Of course, membership in that quirky club is not terribly exclusive...a healthy dedicated neurosis such as mine lends itself to a broad and varied guilty pleasure repetoire.  Along with donuts (because they are a fried and relatively large snack), some of my other rather ridiculous guilty pleasures include: turning the stove all the way up to High (because it seems excessive),  Diet Coke before noon (because soda is not a breakfast item, of course), reading for more than an hour at a time (because that seems so nonproductive), ordering something other than The Big Salad when we go out to eat (again, because it just seems excessive), and generally taking credit for something good (because it wasn't that hard and I really didn't do it all by myself and because Nik helped...). 

I like to think that one of my motto's is Don't Think So Much but I realize that the simple fact that I have more than one motto is proof enough that, yes...I do think too much.  And isn't that what quirks (or neuroses, if you must) are...cognitive overflow?  Thinking too much about what time it is when I pop open a Diet Coke, or thinking too much about if anyone will notice that I have worn the same shirt for the past 3 Thursdays.  Worrying if my socks are a couple of shades too dark, relative to the pants that I am wearing.  These are not worries that require counseling or pharmeceuticals, fear not...but they have been present on a daily basis. 

I do believe that there probably was a time when my guilty pleasures/quirks/neuroses played a greater role in shaping my daily behavior...a time when these worries/facts crossed the line from being merely a passing thought to actually prompting a behavioral change.  The process worked something like this...Quirk leads to behavior leads to thinking about the quirk and the behavior which leads to worrying about what will happen next time.  And all that takes alot of energy.  I can't talk to you right now, I'm worrying about my socks. 

And if I'm going to worry about soda or socks or any number of seemingly trivial facts of life, why not just go for it and start worrying about what impression you are making or what people are saying about you when you leave a room or worrying if you are doing as good a job as other people, or the fact that the universe is contunually expanding.  Really, soda and socks are entry-level anxieties, there are so many bigger problems to tackle...if you think about it.  Don't.

But I went to culinary school for my 40th birthday.  And it changed my life, truly.  40 years is a long time to worry about socks.  And I'm really not sure why, but as the mixers were turning and the dough was rising, and as I was learning to shape bread and roll croissants, I also learned to let go of so much that got in the way during that first 40 years.  Baking bread is/was/continues to be therapeutic.  It's ancient and basic.  It's tactile.  It's satisfying.  A few simple ingredients, a little manual labor, heat, and you have bread...there's no hiding, no excuses, no faking it...bread is what it is.  If it is good, eat it and enjoy.  If it isn't good, well then we eat it anyway and make it better the next time. 

I think that has become my new motto...If it's good, eat it and enjoy; it if isn't good, eat it anyway and make it better next time. 

Baked Donuts

Yield:  Approx. 2 1/2 dozen
These donuts are baked, rather than fried, making them slightly less of a guilty pleasure.  And the dough is soft and alive and makes sweet little breakfast treats that almost melt if your mouth.  Enjoy them...and don't think so much. 

AP Flour..................................785 grams
Warm Milk...............................361 grams
Active Dry Yeast........................2 1/4 tsp (1 env)
Sugar.....................................64 grams
Salt.......................................16 grams
Eggs......................................106 grams
Cinnamon................................1/4 tsp
Nutmeg...................................3 grams
Softened Butter.........................180 grams
Currants..................................255 grams

Melted Butter............................2 oz
Vanilla Sugar.............................1 1/2 cups

1.  In mixer bowl, rehydrate the yeast in the milk.
2.  Add all the other ingredients except butter and currants.
3.  With paddle, mix on low speed until all ingredients are moistened and dough begins to develop (about 2-3 minutes).
4.  Add the softened butter and mix on medium for additional 4-6 minutes.  Dough will be soft but cohesive. 
5.  Add currants and mix on low until currents are evenly incorporated.  May need to knead a few minutes by hand to thoroughly incorporate the currants.
6.  Round the dough into a ball, place in mixer bowl, cover with plastic and let rise 1 hour.
7.  Preheat oven to 425.  Line sheet pans with parchment or Silpat.
8.  Roll dough to approx 1/2-inch thick.  Cut with donut cutter or with large and small round cookie cutters (I used a 3-inch round).  Lightly knead the scraps together and reroll. 
9.  Place donuts on prepared pans, cover and let rise approx 90 minutes (they will be puffy but not quite doubled in size).
10.  Brush with melted butter before baking.  Bake for 10-12 minutes (Do Not Overbake).
11.  Remove from the oven, brush with melted butter while still hot, and roll lightly in Vanilla sugar.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

C is for Chocolate Car Cake




Little Jaecy (whose middle name is Svetlana) (and whom I have never actually met) will be turning one year old this week, and her mom asked if I would make a Wiggles Big Red Car cake for her birthday party.  My knowledge of The Wiggles was limited to their sometime appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and I think I probably hit the mute button when they rounded the corner.  That had to change with this cake request. 

I had to immerse myself in Wiggles, extracting just enough iconic and style information from their website and television show to design a credible cake, while ramping up the power of my blood-brain barrier to prevent catchy-kid-song-contagions from inhabiting my head and playing in a nonstop loop for the next 12-18 years.  When talking to Jaecy's mom about the cake, she did sing for me the phrase "toot toot chugga chugga big red car"... a phrase I was destined to repeat repeatedly, aloud and otherwise, for the duration of this particular cake project.  (and yes...it's playing in my head right now, as I type this sentence) 


It turned out okay...but I am not a Master of Fondant, as evidenced by the cracks and ripples in the surface and edges of the cake and car.  I recall Nik saying, mid-crisis, that I just need to practice more (true)..."Make one cake a week"...(maybe).  When done well, fondant looks spectacular; when done not-so-well, imperfections are glaring and nearly impossible to repair.  Gum Paste flowers are useful for hiding large cracks and holes in the fondant, as well as making a car-based cake look a little more girly.  My limited knowledge of The Wiggles leads me to belive that Greg, Murray, Jeff, and Anthony would just keep smiling...no matter what the cake looked like.  Works for me. 

The details:
Base Cakes:  Chocolate cake with a dark chocolate whipped ganache and a milk chocolate whipped ganache filling.
Car Cake:  Red Velvet cake with a milk chocolate whipped ganache filling. 
Coverings, Tires, Dorothy, small lettering:  rolled fondant.
Small flowers, hub caps, headlights, tail lights:  Gum Paste
JAECY flowers:  Inedible sticky-backed foam from the craft store. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

B is for Brioche






There is a sentiment/comment/reprimand that I hear on occasion...okay, well, maybe a little more frequently than "on occasion."  It has something to do with crossing the line, a phrase I dislike and a behavior for which I am rarely sorry.  Let's say, for example, that maybe a few friends are talking about music, and then maybe the topic shifts to, oh, say...country music, and then maybe The Judds are mentioned (well, why wouldn't they, the color of Wynonna's hair demands attention), and then maybe Nik says something about how it seemed like the Judds Farewell Tour lasted for about 3 years...chuckle chuckle chuckle, end of conversation.  Um, no, I don't think so, I cannot just let that one slip by...so, just maybe I suggest a possible (graphic) regretful comment that Mrs. Judd may have made when finding out she had Hepatitis C.  Which undoubtedly is followed by a laugh/a groan/then another laugh/and a final groan, and then I hear it...You had to, didn't you...you had to cross the line. 
Or, for example, when a longtime local TV news anchorwoman appears on our television in high definition with bangs (at her age?) and more than her daily allotment of make-up, so I casually mention that she looks like a tribeswoman from one of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon who went to the big city to become a prostitute.  Sure, he's laughing AND he agrees, but he also implies that I crossed the line.
But it isn't limited to verbage or spontaneous commentary.  F'rinstance, there's the annual Halloween battle.  Halloween...an international holiday that exists, as far as I'm concerned, for crossing the line, for pete's sake, and yet, I get shot down year after year.  Why?  Because instead of appearing at J and T's party as the overdone and predictable "Diana Ross and The Supremes" (yawn), apparently I cross the line when I want to dress as "Diana Ross And The White Supremacists."  Come on, it's Halloween!!!

I could go on, and apparently that's the point, sometimes I do go on...a bit much, some might suggest.  Perhaps it's really just a matter of editing.  There are those who edit prior to speaking.  I, on the other hand, sometimes, allow my listeners to make the choice for themselves, and thus provide them with the unedited/unfiltered version of my thoughts, from which they can choose to respond/react/revolt/retreat. 
But, to be honest, really...it's almost always just for laughs.  I have always said that I will gladly sacrifice a meaningful conversation for a really good one-liner.  Personality flaw?  Avoidance behavior?  Politically incorrect? Sophomoric?  Sure, maybe, probably.  But, say what he wants, Nik still laughs...when I am the one crossing the line. 

Brioche is a rich, heavenly, wonderful medium with which to cross culinary lines, because it crosses lines by its very existence.  Pastry chefs consider brioche a cake, while for bakers it is certainly a bread.  Rich with eggs and butter, legend has it that (the tragically out of touch) M. Antoinette actually said "Let them eat brioche" in reponse to the peasants' lack of bread.  Crossing the line, when referring to food, might also be called gilding the lily, because what brioche does not need is an additional layer of richness.  But one bite of a soft buttery brioche filled with a vanilla pastry cream, and the concept of need is irrelevant/out the window, and we can be glad for those who cross lines.  

Brioche
Yield:  Approx 20 small brioche

AP Flour.......................................500 grams
Water...........................................50 grams
Sugar............................................70 grams
Eggs............................................250 grams
Salt..............................................12 grams
Yeast............................................30 grams
Butter (softened).............................250 grams
Egg Wash
Turbinado Sugar
1.  Combine yeast and water in mixer bowl, let set about 5 minutes until rehydrated.
2.  Combine dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients and eggs to yeast mixture and mix with paddle attachment for 12 minutes.  (This builds the strength of the dough).
3.  Add the butter to the dough, bit by bit, with the paddle attachment incorporating the dough slightly as you go.  Don't dawdle -- get that butter into the dough.
4.  Beat for approx 6 minutes on medium speed, until the butter is fully incorporated into the dough.  (It may take a few minutes more or less)  The dough will be soft and silky.
5.  Scrape dough into a bowl, cover and let chill at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

When ready to bake...
1.  Prehat oven to 350.
2.  Butter 20 muffin cups (or small brioche molds, if you have them)
3.  Divide dough into 2 ounce pieces.

4.  Roll the dough into a ball, then into a bowling pin laying on its side (using the side of your little finger), then into a sombrero, then place in the buttered muffin cups - folding the rim of the sombrero up and a little around the peak of the sombrero (see picture).
5.  Cover with plastic and let rise about an hour, until they are puffy and almost rise above the rim of the muffin tin. 
6.  Brush gently with an egg wash, sprinkle with Turbinado sugar, and bake for approx 20 minutes (until golden).

7.  Remove from muffin tins carefully (you may have to loosen the sides with a small, thin spatula).
If you are crossing the line/gilding the lily:
1.  Slice off the cap of the brioche. 
2.  Gently remove the interior crumb from the base of the brioche.

3.  Fill with a spoonful or two of pastry cream (see recipe).  (Add a few sliced strawberries in the base of the brioche and atop the pastry cream if you have them.)
4.  Replace the cap of the brioche, serve and enjoy.

Pastry Cream
Yield:  2 1/2 cups

Whole Milk...............................2 cups
Sugar......................................1/2 cup, divided
Salt........................................1/4 tsp
Cornstarch................................3 1/2 Tbl
Eggs........................................1 whole
Egg Yolks..................................2
Butter......................................2 Tbl
Vanilla Extract............................3/4 tsp

1.  In medium saucepan, bring milk and half the sugar to a simmer.
2.  Combine the salt, cornstarch, and remaining sugar in medium bowl.  Mix in egg and egg yolks.
3.  Slowly add the warmed milk to the egg mixture, whisking continually.
4.  Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat until it begins to bubble, stirring/whisking continually.  Let it bubble for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and add the butter and the vanilla, stirring until it is combined.
3.  Scrape pastry cream out of saucepan, into medium bowl.  Plac ein ice bath, and place platic wrap directly on the top of the pastry cream.  Let cool then refrigerate.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A is for Apple Tart

Every October, for at least the past decade, we have been making the trip to Willcox to pick apples, and tomatoes, and chilies, and whatever else looks tasty and ripe at the U-Pick farms.  We usually pack a lunch and eat at picnic tables that are between the rows of trees in the peach orchard. 
 It's a hot and dusty and wonderful day.  We carry buckets through the apple orchards and fill them to the top with Granny Smiths and Fujis.  Using some weird sort of intuition not to pick from this tree, but then go two rows over to pick from that tree.  Then we head over to the vegetable farm and make a beeline for the rows and rows of tomato plants.  The plants aren't staked up nicely like in a home garden, but rather are draped over themselves, hugging the ground, hiding their fruit.  I can't even tell you how thrilling it is for me, everytime, to lift up the branch of a tomato plant and find 2 or 3 or 4 large, juicy, perfectly ripe tomatoes.  Beautiful, truly vine-ripened tomatoes.  I can honestly say that it is one of my favorite annual moments.  And the smell of a tomato plant, when you rub your fingers on the leaves or brush your arm against them as you are picking the tomatoes...that tart, tangy fragrance....mmmmm, love that.  Nik doesn't agree...but what does he know, he has cologne that smells like Play-Doh.

But we didn't get to Willcox this year.  And I'm not really sure why.  True, we did become The House Of Limping Men in the past several weeks...but that shouldn't have stopped us.  And I did make a trip out of town one weekend...but there were several other weekends in September and October when we both were home, so that shouldn't have stopped us.  And none of the other real-life barriers (illness, money, work) were an issue, so they didn't stop us.  I hate to say it, but it was inertia that did it.  The dreaded black-cloud/quicksand/empty tank/myopic/impotent fact of inertia.  We just didn't get it together to do one of our favorite events of the year.  We allowed life to stall for a period of time. 

So we don't have a freezer full of green chiles, tomato sauce, peeled/sliced apples, or okra.  Too bad but not a big deal, not really...we can always buy those things at the grocery store.  But Willcox isn't really about the produce.  It's about the fun, and the sunshine and dirt, and the tradition, and the familiar, and the "remember that one year when..."  And we let that slip by this year.  Too bad, sure, but we won't next year.  And in a few years, when we are drinking our Starbucks and heading east on I-10, lunch in the cooler in the back of the car, maybe a couple of friends in the back seat who (can you believe it?) have never before been to Willcox to pick apples, we will remember when we didn't get to Willcox that one year and we won't remember why.  And we'll just keep talking and laughing and driving east.

French Apple Tart
Makes a 9-inch round tart
(filling based on recipe from Baking with Julia)
Crust
AP Flour........................1 1/4 cups
Whole Wheat Flour...........1/4 cup
Salt..............................3/4 tsp
Unsalted Butter, cold.........5 oz
Shortening, frozen............2 1/2 Tbl
Ice Water.......................approx 1/4 cup
1.  Pulse the dry ingredients in the food processer a few times to combine.
2.  Cut the butter and shortening into Tablespoon-sized pieces and add to flour.  Pulse until the butter is broken into pea-sized pieces. 
3.  Drizzle in some of the water, pulse, some more of the water, pulse, etc...until the dough begins to come together.  Don't overmix it. 
4.  Turn the dough onto a worksurface or into a large bowl and knead it briefly (just a few turns) to get it to form a ball.  Wrap it in plastic and flatten it into a disc.  Let chill at least an hour.
5.  When ready to make the tart, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to 10-inch round, and fit into the tart pan.   Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork and let chill for at least 30 minutes (while you prepare the apple compote).
6.  Fit a piece of foil into the chilled crust and fill with pie weights or dry beans.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil/weights and bake for another 4 minutes.  Let cool slightly before filling.

Apple Compote
Granny Smith Apples...................6
White Sugar. ...........................1/2 cup
Brown Sugar.............................1/4 cup
AP Flour..................................1 Tbl
Cinnamon................................Largeish pinch
Fresh Bread Crumbs....................1/2 cup
Lemon Juice.............................2 tsp
1.  Preheat oven to 375.
2.  Peel, core, and chop the apples (each apple should yield about 24 pieces).  Toss the apple pieces with the remaining ingredients, and turn out into a large roasting pan.  Cook for 25-30 minutes, until the apples have released some of their juice and are easily pierced with a fork.
3.  Mash with a potato masher, but leave a few small lumps of apple for texture.  Let cool while the crust bakes.
4.  Fill the crust with a layer of the apple compote, bring it just below the rim of the crust.  Smooth the top.

Apple Topping
Grany Smith Apples......................3
Lemon Juice..............................approx 1 Tbl
Butter, melted...........................2 Tbl
White Sugar..............................1 1/2 tsp
1.  Peel, quarter, and thinly slice apples.  Toss in lemon juice.
2.  Arrange apple slices atop the apple compote in an tightly overlapping pattern.  When the outside circle is completed, arrange an inner circle, overlapping the outside row slightly.  (You can lay some of the odd shaped apple pieces underneath the inner row to make it level with the outer row.)  Cut a small circle of apple and place in the middle of the inner circle. 
3.  Gently brush the apple slices with the melted butter and sprinkle with the granulated sugar.
4.  Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes.  Let the apple slices get a little dark along the edges.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Is For Anadama



Motivation is a strange  and elusive state of mind.  When it hits, fo-gittaboutit, nothing can stop me, and all else is deprioritized and of little import.  Cleaning the house, reading a book, working on a play, perfecting a recipe, it is all fair game for tunnel vision and a mad whirl of activity.  (Usually accompanied by statements like, "This is gonna be great!...I love this!...I gotta get this done!...This is the best idea!...Now!  And, or course, lots of exclamation points!).  Productive, stimulating, imaginative, and a tad bit manic.  Yes, suffice it to say that the line between motivation and obsession is quite thin.
On the flip side, because life is filled with big buts, there are times when motivation is hard to muster.  When sitting on the porch and flipping through a magazine is about as creative and devoted to a project as I can get.  When life and synapses seem still and sluggish.  Waiting for the next bolt of motivation to strike.  Authors would probably say that these are periods of writer's block, and those with a decidely artistic bent may call it waiting for the muse...though I hardly think that dusting, vacuuming and mopping require a muse...a fire under one's rearend perhaps, but not a muse. 
The philosophically-minded may spin this toward the positive, believing that the mind continues to work even when the body isn't.  Those lovely do-nothing afternoons on the back porch are not periods of dormancy, but rather are moments when the internal processes are still doing their thing...the mind is percolating and motivation and imagination are recuperating and regenerating, getting ready to burst to the surface in another flurry of something-or-other. 
Again, the cleaning-the-house test raises its dusty head...does the brain really need to cogitate and shoot off chemical fireworks just to get the floor mopped?  Obviously it does not. 
But...another big but...hmmm, consider that motivation may just be energy (mental/physical/spiritual/whatevah)...free-floating energy looking for an outlet.  So, if the house is dirty (and four dogs and an acre of mostly dirt means the house is usually dirty), that energy gets applied to a mop.  If I am thinking about a play, or a book, or a recipe, and coincidentally my mind has dumped a surplus of this ambiguous energy into the psyche...2 + 2 = new obsession. 
Example:  the other day, sitting on the back porch, flipping through magazines, that funny feeling starts poking at me somewhere between the brain and the spine and the stomach and then it hits...blogblogblogblogblogblogblogblog, wait, wait, maybe, I could, whatabout, Yes, I like it...The ABC's of Baking.  And so we begin...

A is for Anadama Bread. 
An old-fashioned bread with a silly story behind it (suffice it to say the name supposedly derives from the phrase "Anna, damn her" said with a New England accent).  It is a nice, easy bread that I always think of in the fall, perhaps because it has molasses in it, which, in my mind is a colder weather ingredient.  Nik is not a fan of molasses, so I twisted the recipe a little and used brown sugar (which does contain molasses) and honey, which results in a notably lighter (and I think, better) bread.  Anadama dough also must have cornmeal in it (according to the Bread Police?).  And because I still have several bags of cranberries from last year in the freezer, I added some of them (and some orange juice) to the dough as well. 

Makes 2 loaves
Active Dry Yeast........................2 1/4 tsp
Warm Water............................1 1/4 cups
Orange Juice............................1/3 cup
Butter....................................2 Tbl
Honey....................................1/8 cup
Brown Sugar.............................1/8 cup
Salt.......................................1 Tbl
Cornmeal................................1/2 cup
AP Flour..................................4 cups
Whole Wheat Flour.....................1/2 cup
Whole Cranberries......................1 cup

1.  Rehydrate yeast in 1/4 cup water in small bowl.
2.  Combine 1 cup water, orange juice, brown sugar, honey, and salt in small saucepan and heat over low until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted.  Let cool to barely warm.
3.  Combine yeast mixture and sugar mixture in mixer bowl. 


4.  Add the flours and mix with dough hook 2 minutes on low speed.  Dough should be soft but not wet - add more orange juice is it feels too dry.  Mix an additional 2 minutes on second speed.  Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and briefly knead in the cranberries, a few quick folds should do it. Form into a ball, place in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic and let rise until doubled (about 2 hours).

5.  Butter two loaf pans.  Divide the dough in half.  Pat each half into a rectangle shape, then fold two sides over each other (as with a letter).  Roll each piece into a log and place, seam side down, in the buttered pan.  Cover and let rise until nearly doubled.
6.  Preheat oven to 375.  Just prior to baking, using a sharp thin blade, score the top of each loaf with a long cut.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, until lightly golden on top.





Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finally...



The baking boys have not died, retired, gone Atkins, or otherwise removed themselves from the kitchen. No, there was merely a brief hiatus from the oven and the keyboard. But the yeast is reproducing and the dough is proofing. We're back, and just in time for fall baking...which is the BEST baking of the year...except for maybe Holiday baking.

But autumn has, in this baker's humble opinion, some of the year's bests: Best weather...Best clothes...Best colors...Best events...Best holidays...Best attitude. Okay, to be fair, Summer is great and I love it, but this is the desert and the heat is an overwhelming reality. By the time October gets here, I am ready for temperatures a little less extreme. And Spring is nice, but, for me, it's just foreplay before we hit the toe-curling heat of Summer. Winter in the desert is not bad at all...but face it, what's the point. Winter is after Christmas, the new year has already started...and who gets excited about Valentine's Day, really.

But the autumn is a huge, wonderful, reviving sigh of relief; it's a skip in your step because things are starting up again; it's a time of planning and thinking ahead and getting excited for the weekend; it's the beginning of those wonderful rich, dark flavors that are my favorites; it's romantic and refreshing and anxiety-producing (in a good way). Yes, yes, yes, of course I have heard of those, who tend toward the dismal and poetic, who say that autumn is a time of dying...a transitional season of fading away before the big winter sleep...blah blah blah. And yes, of course, horticulturally speaking, I suppose that is true...but I love when leaves fall off the trees and get blown around in the wind. They might be dead leaves...but they are also beautiful.

So, since my last comments on this blog, life has been spinning along, gaining momentum as the weeks go by...my nieces have gone off to college and grad school, the 100 degree weather has slowly faded away, I had a birthday, we were able to get out of town for a lovely long weekend in the mountains (where they just happened to be celebrating Fall Festival), and Nik, true to the excitement and rejuvination that I feel this time of year, decided that what was missing from our backyard (or guest bathroom for the next three weeks) was chickens. Chickens. More on them in future posts, I'm sure.

And now...Pumpkin-Cranberry Dinner Rolls...easy, seasonal, delicious, and pretty too. Because it's time. Let the blog begin...again.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Dinner Rolls
(adapted from Gourmet Magazine)
Yield = 1 dozen rolls
Unsalted Butter..........................6 Tbl, melted, divided
Active Dry Yeast........................1 1/2 tsp
Warm Milk...............................1/4 cup
Honey....................................1 1/2 Tbl
AP Flour..................................2 3/4 cups
Nutmeg...................................3-4 gratings
Salt.......................................1 1/2 tsp
Canned Pumpkin........................1/3 cup
Eggs.......................................1 whole + 1 yolk
(save the extra white for the egg wash)
Orange Zest..............................from 1 orange
Orange Juice.............................2 Tbl
Water.....................................1 Tbl
Chopped Cranberries...................1/3 cup
Egg Wash
1. Smear melted butter inside 12 muffin cups.
2. Combine the milk, honey, and yeast. Let it foam.
3. Stir the flour, salt, nutmeg, pumpkin, whole egg and egg yolk, orange zest and juice, water, and 5 tbl melted cooled butter into the milk/yeast mixture. When it comes together into a soft dough, knead it on a lightly floured surface until it is elastic and smooth (about 6 minutes). Just before you are done kneading, sprinkle the cranberries on the dough and knead briefly until they are incorporated.
4. Form the dough into a ball, place in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled (about 2 hours).
5. Divide the dough in half. Roll each piece into a foot-long log, then cut each log into 6 equal-sized pieces. Cut each piece into 3 equal size pieces.
6. Roll each piece into a small ball. Place three balls into each buttered muffin cup.
7. Cover with plastic and let rise until the rolls have risen about an inch above the rim of the pan (1 - 1 1/2 hours).
8. Preheat the oven to 375. 9. Brush the risen rolls lightly with egg wash and bake for approx 20 minutes - the tops with be barely browned.
10. Let cool slightly before removing from pan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

It Doesn't Take Much...

It doesn't take much.
I wrote those words after Nik ate a coupla pieces of this bread and repeatedly exclaimed that this was "maybe the best bread I have ever made", he "loved this bread! it was so good! so good! you have to make this again!"...you get the idea. (Nik rarely implies the use of exclamation points, but when eating this bread...he did.)

This bread, from Carol Field's classic The Italian Baker, certainly is tasty. And it's as satisfying to make as it is to eat. Watching it mix, you can almost see the gluten gradually develop, creating a whirling amorphous soft elastic cohesive glob in the mixer bowl that YOU JUST KNOW is going to bake up splendidly and be really really good to eat. Moist bread with big holes in it, great flavor, chewy blistered crust...I'm in heaven.

This bread also is quite simple. I quote my FCI bread instructor Chef Amy Quazza..."Bread is nothing more than flour, water, yeast, and salt." It's what is done with those four ingredients that makes the difference. In this case, just a little time, a little patience, a soft touch, and a hot oven. But really, to go from flour to bread...it doesn't take much.

I was going to say that all good things should be so simple. But then I got to thinking about that idea, and...so many good things are that simple.

It doesn't take much to make our dogs happy...a belly rub, a treat, snuggle time.
It doesn't take much to make me take a deep rejuvinating breath...a gentle breeze early in the morning, a hint of autumn in the air, the desert after a rain.
It doesn't take much to stop and listen.
It doesn't take much to say hello.
It doesn't take much to ask rather than tell.
It doesn't take much to say thank you.
It doesn't take much to take a moment.
It doesn't take much to think.
It doesn't take much to think twice.

Now don't think me a gushy touchy-feely namby-pamby wuss...though sometimes I am a bit of a gushy namby-pamby wuss, because sometimes (though less and less frequently, I am happy to report) the flipside also can happen...

A jerk tailgating me at 55 mph...
Ignorance as the basis of an argument...
A smoker throwing a cigarette butt on the ground...
Egocentrism, without a neurological reason...
No big picture...

See, sometimes, it doesn't take much. In either direction. Which I think is both ridiculous and okay. I'm just glad that a loaf of bread can make Nik happy. I think I'll make another batch tomorrow.

Crocodile Bread
Makes 2 loaves
(I made this bread wrong, which is to say that I made it right. I was confused by the two starter thing, which after i did it wrong I figured out, but seeing as how the wrong way came out so good, I think that it's really a new right way...so I won't even include the original right way. Also - Please Note: I omitted 1 1/4 cup of water from Starter B in the orginal posting. It has been corrected, thanks to JOsh.)
Starter A
Water...................1 cup
Durum Flour............1/4 cup
AP Flour.................3/4 cup
Yeast....................1/2 tsp

Start B
Water...................1 1/2 cup
Durum Flour............1/2 cup
AP Flour................1 1/2 cups
Yeast....................1 tsp

1. Mix the ingredients for the two starters, in two separate bowls, until they are smooth. Cover with plastic and let rise for 12 - 24 hours.

Final Dough
Starters...................as above
Durum Flour..............1/4 cup
AP Flour...................1 cup (plus an additional 1/4 cup, if necessary)
Salt........................1 1/2 Tblsp
1. Combine the starters and the flours in mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on the lowest speed for 17 minutes.
2. Add the salt and mix 3 additional minutes (add the additional 1/4 cup flour if the dough has not come together).
3. Place the dough in a wide bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for 4-5 hours, folding every hour.
4. Turn dough out onto a well-flour board, preshape roughly into a round. Place on a well floured piece of parchment, cover with a damp towel and let rise for 45 minutes, until risen and bubbly.
5. Heat oven to 475.
6. Cut the dough in half lengthwise with a dough scraper and gently separate the halves, turning the cut side up in the process.
7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, placing the parchment directly on the baking stone.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Babies N Then


I have 3 nieces and a nephew, and they are no longer babies. And that is fine with me. Now, don't get all this-and-that about me being a baby-hater or something. Babies are cute and soft and smell wonderful/awful. The thought of having babies makes me get a little bit misty everytime. Babies cry and I just can't say no...babies scream and it's cute (unless you are their parent)...babies throw up a little bit and it's no big deal, it's not even called vomit, it goes by the cute/diminutive term spit up. But, I gotta be honest here, I don't know what to do with babies...hold them, look at them, smile, look at them some more, smile again...then wait until they start grade school when they have opinions and a sense of humor.

But that age can be a hazard as well, for those of us without small people in our daily lives. I remember talking to adults/family friends/distant relatives/the dentist when I was a kid. Short conversations mostly. They always asked what grade you were in. So you told them. Then they took a stab at what you might be learning in that grade ("So you must be working on fractions now? What do you think about them? Hehehe."). End of conversation. Of course, I was not the most outgoing kid in the world, so I am fairly certain that I did not hold up my end of the conversational agreement. Hey, I was shy, give me a break, I was a kid...and I was bad at math. As an uncle, I have tried to avoid that particular conversational black hole/grown-up nerd alert.

The next generation and I live in separate towns/states, so my interaction with them has been mostly on the phone, with an occasional short visit around a holiday/event. I am happy to report that they are better equipped to deal with adults than I was. They have interests, talents, conversational skills, and accomplishments that I honestly don't think I had at their ages. F'rinstance, Sally S. decided, when she was in kindergarten, that her favorite colors were brown and pink...and that was before Target designed a line of clothes featuring that palette. Joe J. is an honest-to-goodness world-class fisherman...in 6th grade. Miss M. wrote an award-winning essay on Darfur that took her to Washington. And Jackie L. is doing postgraduate work in math that uses symbols and logic that my temporal lobes do not recognize, let alone understand. I don't think this is merely uncle-pride talking here, I seriously think that evolution has occurred and genetic advances have been made...okay, maybe it is just uncle-pride, but (WARNING: old man statement ahead...) these kids seem to have it together more than did me and my friends at those ages.
Whatever...it makes me hopeful. Hopeful that some lessons were learned during the past 40-some years and that knowledge is being passed on. Hopeful that not everyone in our future is represented by Reality TV/Fox News/Social Conservatism. And hopeful that the children of today will see a bigger/brighter picture than did the children of yesterday/the adults of today.
Another baby shower cake at work prompted this familial beaming. Shelly currently is on bedrest and is as big as a house, with a couple more weeks of largedom ahead of her. The cake I made for her baby shower, as per usual with me and cakes, underwent several last minute edits...some successful, others not so much. All in all, I would say that it was tasty but clunky-looking...less than elegant. But, the sour cream sugar cookies with which it was decorated were as cute as I had envisioned...Good luck Shelly, husband, and baby!!
Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
Butter...........................1 1/2 cups
Sugar............................1 1/2 cups
Sour Cream....................1 cup
Eggs.............................3
Baking Soda....................1/2 tsp
Baking Powder.................1 tsp
Vanilla Ex.......................1 Tblsp
AP Flour.........................6 cups
1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Beat in the egg, sour cream, and vanilla.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients then add to butter mixture. Beat until combined thoroughly. Cover and let chill for at least 2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 350.
5. Roll approx. 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
6. Bake 10-12 minutes.
7. Let cool; then decorate. (I used royal icing.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

You Wanna Talk or Eat?













So two guys walk into a grocery store on the Greek island of Symi. One guy says to the other guy, "Hey, what are those two greek citizens arguing about?" The other guy laughs and says, "They aren't arguing...they're buying grapes." True story.
It is only a slight overstatement to say that nearly everywhere we went in Greece people were apparently buying grapes, because they were talking loud and getting louder, talking at the same time as everyone else in the vicinity, and gesturing wildly. In restaurants, on the street, in stores, inside their houses...loud, emotional, seemingly important conversations were happening all around us. Other than the sheer number of stray cats in that wonderful country, the emotional investment that people put into everyday conversation was perhaps the biggest culture shock we encountered on our trip to Greece.
On the other hand...I met an older couple from the upper midwest today and the husband declared that he and his wife were "not loud talkers." I hadn't asked him if they were, but he felt the need/desire/importance to inform me about that aspect of their interpersonal communication style. True, I do spend 8 hours a day as someone to whom people may feel it is important to admit this fact, so it was not inappropriate that he told me about their quiet habit, but it wasn't the fact that he told me they weren't loud talkers, it was the sense of pride I felt he implied when he said it. "We are not loud talkers." Okay.
We...my family...on the other hand, cannot make that claim. We most definitely are loud talkers. And please, infer neither a sense of pride in that statement nor a shred of shame...it is simply a well known fact. I come from a family of five - two sisters, me, mother and father. And were I to try to tease out the loudness gene, I believe that mother and younger sister would not be carriers. They talk, plenty, at a loudness level within the normal range. Father, older sister and I make up for that. 1 + 1 + 1 does not in this case equal 3 speakers. Somehow...be it competition, familial acoustics, or a deep seated survival instinct...when one of us enters a room already occupied with one of the other louds the volume more than doubles. But it's not merely loudness for loudness sake...it's excitement, enthusiasm, discovery, momentum, laughter. Nik once made the observation that my father and sister make more noise doing a crossword puzzle than most people do watching a football game...right, like Nik has ever watched a football game.
And I really don't think that the greek shoppers felt stronger emotions about grapes than did my midwestern quiet couple. Nor do I think that the quiet talkers lived lives of blunted emotions, compared to their Mediterranean counterparts. It's about expression, learning, and comfort, and culture. Remember that annoying perfume commercial from the 70's? If you want to get someone's attention...whisper. Try that in Greece (or in my family) and you end up with zip.
...So a speech therapist and a nurse walk into a Russian patient's room. The nurse says, "Hey what is that Russian man's family so mad about?" The speech therapist laughs and says, "They aren't mad, they're just talking about grapes." True story.

Chocolate Bobka
Based on Chocolate Coffee Cake, Pastries From The La Brea Bakery
(Makes 2)
Dough
Milk.................................1/2 cup
Yeast (instant).....................3 tsp
AP Flour............................3 cups
Sugar...............................1/4 cup
Salt.................................1 tsp
Baking Powder....................1/4 tsp
Spice...............................1/4 tsp nutmeg, cinnamon, or allspice
Butter..............................8 oz, cubed
Eggs................................2, lightly beaten
1. Combine the dry ingredients in bowl on stand mixer.
2. Add the butter and beat with paddle until butter is in pea-sized pieces.
3. Add the milk and the eggs. Beat briefly until dough comes together.
4. Knead a few turns on counter, form into large rectangle (3/4 inch thick), wrap in plastic and let chill for several hours.
Filling
Sour Cream.......................1 cup
Chocolate Cake Crumbs.........1 cup
Bittersweet Chocolate..........2 1/2 oz, chopped
Egg.................................1, beaten
Assembly
1. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thick rectangle on floured surface.
2. Spread dough with sour cream, then top with crumbs and chocolate. Press the crumbs and chocolate gently into the sour cream and dough.
3. Roll the rectangle towards you, with the long side of the rectangle facing you, keeping it tight and even, lengthening it slightly as you roll. Seal edge. The log should be about 24 inches long when done.
4. Cut the log in half (2 12-inch pieces). Working with one piece at a time, slice the log in half horizontally. Place the end of the pieces together at the top, diagonally, and twist them together gently, leaving the cut sides at the top. Place on lined baking sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover with plastic and let rise 2 1/2 hours in warm place. It will not double in size, but will be slightly puffy.
5. Brush with beaten egg and generously top with streusel.
6. Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until streusel is nicely browned.