Sunday, May 31, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 3 - Bagels

I don't know if you know this about me, but I love carbs. It's why breakfast is my favorite meal. It's not because of omelets or sausage or bacon. OK, maybe a little about the bacon. No, it's mainly because the entire meal can consist entirely of carbs—pancakes, waffles, hash browns, cereal, cinnamon rolls, toast... and bagels. Ah, bagels. Chewy yet crusty, plain or with a schmear of peanut butter, savory or sweet—although I much prefer sweet, especially if we're talking about breakfast.

I've attempted to make bagels a couple of times and have ended up with something more suitable for a door stop than breakfast. So it was with as much trepidation as anticipation that I approached this week's BBA Challenge bread.

These bagels, as with many of the recipes in Peter Reinhart's book, are a two-day process. The first involves a sponge, waiting, mixing the rest of the ingredients, kneading, dividing, waiting, shaping, waiting and putting in the fridge for an overnight rest. This is called "retarding" the dough so that it has a chance to develop more complex flavors. You can even leave them for a couple of days before proceeding to the next steps.

This? Right here? Breakfast nirvana.

Day one went swimmingly. The sponge got spongy, the dough came together nicely and kneading did its usual trick of making me feel like a strong pioneer woman (not THE Pioneer Woman, more of a "Mrs. Ingalls" kind of pioneer woman). But things weren't looking very promising 10 or 15 minutes into the kneading. I attempted to achieve a "windowpane"— stretching a small portion of dough until it's transcluscent—but mine kept tearing. I kept up the kneading for another 10-15 minutes, but it didn't seem to help.

So I did what any self-respecting home baker would do and gave up. Threw in the towel, hung up my apron. Kidding. I did give up kneading, but continued with the rest of the process, weighing hunks of dough so that each was approximately 4.5 ounces. I ended up with 11 full size and one around 3 ounces. I covered them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes while I poured myself a glass of wine and hoped for the best.

Measured and shaped rolls, ready for a nice rest.

Next came the shaping. Resting the dough worked some sort of miracle, because the dough seemed just about perfect. I turned each roll into a rope, wrapped it around my hand and pressed the ends together to form the circles. I was feeling much better about the whole thing while letting the shaped bagels rest for another 20 minutes.

At this point, you have to do the float test. If a bagel floats in a bowl of water, you're ready put them in the fridge. My test bagel floated like a champ, so into the fridge they went. And I had another glass of wine.

Day two: boiling and baking. A straightforward day, consisting of—you guessed it—boiling and baking. It wasn't until I snapped my first picture that I realized I'd forgotten to put the baking soda in the pot of boiling water. A mistake easily corrected.

The bagels boil one minute for each side, then you slide them back onto the baking sheets and top with whatever strikes your fancy. I opted for sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and garlic for the savory ones. The rest were either straight turbinado sugar or cinnamon sugar. LOTS of cinnamon sugar. I was going for a Panera-esque look and taste for those. Unfortunately, my heavy-handed sugaring lead to my overly sensitive smoke alarm going off three times while the sugar overflow melted on the baking sheet.

Just-boiled and ready for some toppings.

As a result, I think I undercooked them a bit. The bagels were done, but the crusts weren't browned enough. Didn't stop me from consuming two of them as soon as they were cool enough to eat without burning my mouth.

Get a look at that crumb. Looks like a real bagel and everything.

The verdict: A bit too chewy with a not-as-crisp-as-I'd-like-it crust, but utterly delicious. I'll definitely make them again, just adjust the baking time to achieve the proper crust. Given some practice, I think these could rival any bakery-made bagel I've had.

Next week: Schedule some extra gym time, because we're making BRIOCHE!

Monday, May 25, 2009

My take on Pastor Ryan's bread

Those of you that follow Pioneer Woman know what I'm about to talk about. Last weekend, PW Cooks guest poster and total cutie Pastor Ryan traveled with his wife and daughter to The Ranch. During his stay, he fixed some amazing meals, and went "Iron Chef" style on a crazy ingredient list gathered from PW's readers.

The one that really caught my attention was—no surprise—the bread he whipped up on his first day at the Ranch. I had some time tonight and decided to give it a whirl. Naturally, I changed it up a bit, 'cause that's how I roll. You can check out the recipe here, but here are my alts:

I didn't measure the flour, but I would guess that I had closer to 3 cups than 4. Four would have been way too much. I also added 1-1/2 tsp yeast instead of just 1 tsp. I cut the butter from 4 oz. to 2 oz. I allowed the dough to proof for about 20-25 min after the first rise and before popping it into my PREHEATED baker. Ryan shaped the bread right after the first rise and baked it right away.

I proofed it on a piece of parchment and when the stoneware baker was hot, I dropped the whole thing in, covered it and cooked it 25 min before removing the lid for the last 10 min. It looked done, so I checked the temp. Bingo!

It smelled amazing and tastes great. For a yeast bread, it was incredibly quick. I'll probably keep this one in my arsenal.

BBA Challenge Week 2 — Artos: Greek Celebration Breads

Yesterday wrapped up week 2 for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge group. If you're interested in learning more about the challenge, Nicole at Pinch My Salt has created an incredibly helpful FAQ here. Although the official group is closed to new members, there's no reason not to join us. Here's how.

This week's bread was Artos, Greek celebration breads. It's an enriched bread (in this case, meaning it contains fat, eggs and milk) and is the basis for holiday-specific variations. The book lists two, Christopsomos and Lambropsomo, for Christmas and Easter respectively. Each has its own combination of add-ins in the form of various dried fruits and nuts, and also has a specific shape. The Christopsomos is a boule with a fancy cross/swirl over the top and the Lambropsomo is a braid with hard boiled eggs nestled in the strands.

Right after shaping ... and just before going into the oven.

I chose the Chrisopsomos add-ins but went with the braid shape. I'm partial to braided bread; I think it's just gorgeous. Despite not having honey (I substituted with agave syrup), everything seemed to be going swimmingly. It wasn't until I was shaping the bread for its final proofing that I realized I'd left out the fruits and nuts.

I could have left it alone and baked it without, but I decided to gather the dough back together and knead them in, letting the dough rest again before shaping. I had already shaped a small boule with about 1/3 of the dough and left that alone.

This is a 1/4 sheet pan, which makes this loaf look huge. It's not!
See the flecks? Those are all of the fragrant spices. Mmm...

The re-kneaded dough proofed beautifully and baked up as good as I could have hoped—it was gorgeous. But I think the interruption of adding the fruits and nuts changed the crumb. Unlike the boule that was as soft as can be and almost melt-in-your-mouth tender, the braid was drier and more dense. While they both tasted excellent, Dwight preferred the boule with its soft texture. In his words, "It was perfect."

Clockwise from the top: Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, Penzeys Baking Spice, and a puddle of yeast and fresh nutmeg at 7 o'clock. They were victims of a flour avalanche.

I love this stuff. I put it in many of my baked goods.

Nutmeg innards. Cool, eh?

I will definitely be making this bread again. It's loaded with all of my favorite baking spices, and is a beautiful dough to work with, not to mention that it's delicious. It was absolutely perfect as french toast!

This week, we move on to bagels. I'm anxious to try them. I've made some in the past using different recipes and they were better suited to hockey pucks than breakfast food, so keep your fingers crossed that Mr. Reinhart will help me finally get them right.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 1 — Anadama

First, a little background. This challenge began with a casual comment by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. About three weeks ago, she decided to bake her way through the book and posted her thoughts on Twitter, asking if anyone would be interested in joining her. Much to her surprise, like-minded bakers chimed in, eager to join her challenge. From there, it exploded. I happened to find a reference to it in my foodgawker feed. I clicked on the link and was instantly drawn to the challenge, and was thrilled to see that the deadline for joining was that day—seredipity.

Today was the final day for Anadama bread, the first of 43 breads the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge group is baking. I won't be posting any recipe today or for any of my BBA posts due to the group's repect for copyright laws. Feel free to Google any bread name to find other recipes out there, or check your local library for a copy of Peter Reinhart's book. If you're really interested in learning about bread baking and not just looking for a recipe, this is a great resource.

Because I was baking last minute, I was able to read the notes from other BBA bakers and I started to get worried. I was wondering if I would have falling loaves, as others did, or if the taste would be just "eh." I had a few moments of doubt along the process. I had to add quite a bit of flour when I kneaded the dough. I also worried about the temperature of the dough. According to the book, the dough should have been between 77° and 81°F. Mine was about 71°F. Ack! Also, I never achieved a "windowpane" when stretching the dough, not even close.

So I was a little concerned. But I finished the kneading and popped it into the greased bowl for it's first rise. It looked great. Whew. I dumped it onto the counter and cut it roughly in half. In comes the kitchen scale. I weighed the pieces, shooting for 24 oz. The recipe was supposed to make 2-24 oz loaves or 3-16oz loaves. I planed up making 2, but ended up with some extra, so I made three - one at 24 oz, one at 16 oz, and the leftovers as the third.

The verdict: the loaves rose beautifully, baked great (and in about half the time called for), and tastes wonderful—soft, flavorful and a bit crunchy. Simply delicious!

Here are some images from the process.

The "sponge"—it was bubbling as I took pics!

Adding molasses and shortening.

After adding the flour and getting ready to knead.

After the final rise, ready for the oven. I was supposed to dust with cornmeal, but forgot—oops.

Checking for doneness using an instant read thermometer. Not quite there, but very close.

The 24 oz and 16 oz loaves. The "leftover" loaf had already been consumed!
The 16 oz went home with my parents.

Did I mention that I love making bread?

p.s. I used AP flour—I didn't realize I was all out of bread flour. Didn't seem to adversely affect the bread.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Looks like I'm feeding an army

I'm in the middle of dinner prep for just myself, Dwight and another couple and I appear to have made A LOT. Of course, how do you make "a little" lasagne? That's like making "a little chili" — not possible.

On the menu is the aforementioned lasagne, along with a mixed green salad, homemade bread with roasted garlic and tiramisu cupcakes. The bread is proofing, the cupcakes are baked, cooling on the counter, and the lasagne is in the oven. I'm cooking it a bit early, but I'll need the oven for the bread. Besides, I figured I'd mostly cook it now, let it sit a bit, flavors getting all meldy with each other, then pop it back in the oven for a few minutes to brown the cheese on top.

Here are some in-process shots:

My newest kitchen gadget—a scale. I've been wanting one for a long time and it's going to come in VERY handy with the BBA Challenge. This will ensure I'm measuring correctly AND that my loaves are of equal weight. No more guessing and having uneven loaves which means uneven baking times. Hooray!

Off to finish up. Man, does it smell good in here!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge

I love making bread. I don't know exactly why or how it came to be, but I do. There's something very soothing and therapeutic about it. It's tactile. Visceral. Natural. It seems to be one of the few things I do that allow me to just…be. When I make bread it's all I'm thinking about—mostly.

I haven't tried a lot of recipes, though. I've never made a starter, for instance. Never made rye bread. Or panettone. But that's about to change. I've joined an on-line group of crazy bakers, determined to bake our way through Peter Reinhart's award-winning book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.

I've had this book for a little over a year. Dwight gave it—and two other bread books—to me for my birthday. I've often thought that I should take more time with it and learn how to make some new kinds of bread. I read through all of the introduction and tutorials, the how's and why's of making bread. With this challenge, I now have the perfect excuse to put it to the test.

So for the next year, give or take, I'll be living with Peter and his wonderful book, baking a new bread every week, along side 200+ bakers all over the world, sharing with them my successes—and inevitable failures—learning more about bread than I ever could just reading about it.

My journey begins tomorrow. The first bread, Anadama, takes two days, beginning with a cornmeal soak followed the next day by mixing, proofing, shaping and baking. I'm so excited to be doing this and I hope you follow me along the way.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mother's Day Baking, part 2

I haven't done much baking lately and needed a fix. Mother's Day gave me the perfect excuse. I actually wanted to do even more baking, including some bread, but only ended up making two desserts. You've already seen the simple yet perfectly delicious Lemon Cake with Raspberries, but I wanted to make something a little more kid-friendly.

I'm a huge fan of foodgawker and tastespotting and have literally hundreds of recipes bookmarked in my browser and/or saved to my bloglines feed. One of them is a recipe for the "perfect" cupcake filling. I decided to give it a try.

I'd also seen a reference to a gluten-free cake mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen. It caught my attention because my sister has been tossing around the idea that she might be allergic to gluten. I went the the Cherrybrook Kitchen website to see if any local stores carry their products. Many do, including the area Super Target, the very place I needed to go anyway. Hoorah!

The cake mix came together and baked up just fine. The texture was good as was the taste, albeit less sweet than you would expect. No worries as I was planning to fill them with a super sweet concoction and top with an equally sweet frosting.

Speaking of frosting, I bought the Cherrybrook Kitchen vanilla frosting and was really disappointed. The taste was OK, but the texture was just wrong. It was NOTHING like a can of Duncan Hines frosting or homemade for that matter. It was not remotely fluffy and had the consistency of paste. Not something I wanted to put on the top of my cupcakes. So I doctored it up and it came out great. (Let this be a lesson to me—make your own frosting!)

On to the recipes. Now, I improvised like crazy, so what you read below is almost entirely an approximation.

Creamy Caramel Marshmallow Filling
loosely adapted from (click for original recipe)

5 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 jar marshmallow fluff
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla (homemade, if you've got it!)

Beat the dickens out of the butter; add fluff, caramel and vanilla and beat like crazy; add powdered sugar and well, you know.

To fill the cupcakes, you can either shove the tip of a pastry bag into the center and squeeze in about a tablespoon, or you can cut a hole out of the center, fill it with cream then jam the piece of cake back on. OK, maybe not JAM it on, but you will need to be a bit forceful. I cut the pointy bottom off of the cake plugs to make some room for the filling.

Now to cover up the evidence of filling—Frosting!

Creamy Vanilla Marshmallow Frosting (with a hint of caramel)
my own "creation" — there's a hint of caramel because I left some of the filling in the mixing bowl and just added to it.

3/4 jar prepared frosting
1/2 cup ? marshmallow fluff
left over filling

Beat it, just beat it — WOO!

This is not a stiff frosting, but it holds a loose shape fairly well. Pipe it on the cupcakes in whatever manner you see fit. Enjoy!

p.s. The filling was sticky and delicious. Kids and grownups alike enjoyed them. I'd be willing to guess that the original recipe is just as good and I'll probably make it again. I might even follow the recipe next time!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day Baking, part 1

I wasn't sure what I was going to get my mom for Mother's Day. As is almost always the case with me, this holiday suddenly arrived much sooner than anticipated and caught me off guard. This despite the fact that I hung a calender right by my mirror so I would see it each morning and avoid such things. It was worth a shot.

Since time was becoming scarce, I decided to check out, my go-to place for just about all of my gift shopping. Jackpot! I found the CUTEST tea set and just had to get it. Had to. I decided to run with the tea theme and also picked up some tea and a book about tea. Well, about recipes for tea time.

The book, aptly titled Afternoon Tea by Savannah Blake, is small but full of wonderful sounding recipes. I flipped through it when it arrived and determined to make something from it for Mother's Day. I settled on the last recipe in the book. Since I no longer have the book in my possession, I don't recall the actual name, but it was a lemon cake and it sounded perfect.

I decided to mix it up a bit, as I'm wont to do, and determined that I would turn it into a layer cake with a raspberry center, garnished with fresh raspberries. I baked it in a small, round pan instead of the square one the recipe called for, hoping to slice it in half and stack. Unfortunately, the cake fell completely in the center once it started to cool. Darn.

My mom, cutting the cake

But! Necessity is the mother of invention, so I decided to take a liability and turn it into an asset. I scratched the layer idea and decided to fill the center with the fresh raspberries and used the seedless jam, once destined for the filling, as a glaze. A quick zap in the microwave and it was thin enough to brush on with my silicone pastry brush. Lovely—and delicious!

The cake got raves. My mom loved it and was thrilled with the gifts. I'm hoping for an invitation to tea any day now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Drive, Spring Edition

You might remember that about two months ago, I posted pictures of my drive home from dance class. I pulled out my camera again tonight to document the changes in scenery since then.

Lookit! It's GREEN! Spring did, in fact, manage to make it's way to northern Indiana, albeit a bit later than normal.

Where there were seemingly endless puddles of water, there is now lush, green grass. Where there were bare trees, there are leaves...

and flowers!

And this was just a lucky shot. Without looking, I swung the camera over, pointed it out the driver's side and clicked. I love lilacs. I'd love to bury my face in all of those lovely flower clusters and inhale. Ahhhh. Wonderful.

Check out my odometer. I passed the 80,000 mile mark. I put on about 800 miles in two months. Wow, that seems like a lot to me even though I know that's chump change for most people.

Something happened between that day in March and this, the 6th of May. Yeah, I know. It's called April. An on April 5th, the scenery changed drastically. The weather went all to hell and it looked like this:


I can't even begin to tell you how glad I am that I don't have to see this scene again, not for months and months.
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