Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why I Love My Husband

Don't worry. This isn't some mushy, lovey-dovey, sap-fest, that'll make you stick your finger down your throat or roll your eyes. I promise.

About two weeks ago, in our regular Amazon.com package delivery, Dwight pulls out a remastered DVD of the BBC mini series adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice." He knows I love it. He bought it for me before, on regular DVD but this is a MUCH better copy. So score one for being thoughtful. What a guy.

I was watching it this weekend while baking and Dwight sat down for a bite to eat. Darcy had already declared his love for Elizabeth, she vigorously refused and he responded in a letter, explaining his actions and clarifying her misconceptions surrounding Mr. Wickham. They, along with Mr. Bingley and his sisters, as well as Georgina, Darcy's sister, were gathered in the parlor. Things were said, looks were exchanged and it was clear that Darcy still had the hots for Elizabeth.

Just after Darcy gave his smoldering look, Dwight said, "He's picturing what her ankle looks like."

I burst out lauging. In fact, I'm lauging right now. And THAT is why I love my husband. He makes me laugh like no one else can.

He's picturing what her ankle looks like. Priceless.

Monday, July 27, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 10 — Corn Bread

Corn Bread was on tap for Week 10 in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

So. Corn Bread. It's the only quick-bread in the book, the others made with either commercial yeast, wild yeast starters, or both. I really wanted to like this. Really. I love cornbread. I love corn casserole. And this seemed to be a combination of the two, so I had high hopes.

To be perfectly honest and in the interest of full disclosure, I did make some short cuts. The recipe called for fresh or frozen corn. I used extra-crunchy canned corn. It also calls for bacon that you cook in the oven, cool and crumble for the top. You're also supposed to collect the drippings to use to grease the pan. I did neither. I used Hormel Real Bacon Pieces. I tend to have them on hand because they're perfect for a quick breakfast bake or to just throw in some eggs or toss on a salad, so I figured they would do the trick and save me a step.

I also spaced using my cast iron skillet. Damn it. I really meant to, but I was kind of going through the motions with this one and grabbed my 9x13 glass pan instead. The recipe calls for a 10-in cake pan, which I don't have, but you can also use a 9x13 pan or a 12-inch square pan—which I also don't have. 9x13 it is! Except I meant to use the skillet. Gah.

But despite all of these substitutions and goofs, they're not what made this a bust. I'm pretty sure it was the baking powder. I took a bite and thought, "Mmm good. Wait. What is that taste? Salt? No. Not salt. Hm." Chew, chew. "It's bitter. Ugh. It's got to be the baking powder." There's a TABLESPOON and a HALF in this. Could my powder be bad?

One thing I noticed after mixing the dough and pouring in the pan, is that it was bubbling, like a chemical reaction. Which is exactly what it is, of course. Baking powder and soda are chemical leavaners and this bread has both. I just thought it was really odd that it bubbled like it did, like how baking soda bubbles when you add vinegar. Well, not that vigorous, but the same priciple.

ANYway. This just didn't do it for me. I had half a piece and took the rest to work. I usually have no problem unloading leftovers at work. Dwight jokes that we could slather frosting on an old shoe and it would get eaten, but not all of the corn bread. There were two large pieces left at the end of the day. This one is a definite thumbs down for me. I won't be making it again. There are too many other recipes out there that taste great.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 9 — Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut bread is (was) on the schedule for Week 9 in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I'm baking my way through Peter Reinart's award winning book along with 200+ other amateur bakers. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

I'm a bit behind on my blogging, but am on schedule baking wise. I baked this yummy bread three weeks ago, and am finally getting around to telling you about it.

It's super delicious.

The End.

Kidding! Not about the delicious part, though. I would never kid about a cinnamon-infused, raisin-and-walnut-filled bread. Not this one. Because it's goooood. Here, let me show you.

Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread is a one-day formula, straight forward and to the point. Mix your dry ingredients, add the wet, which includes buttermilk (love what that does for bread!), knead in the raisins and nuts and BAM! You're ready to wait.

Have I mentioned that bread making involves a lot of waiting? Because it does. But that's OK, because you can fit in all kind of things in the mean time. Fun things like laundry. At least that's what my bread wait time consists of. There are only two humans in my home; how do we end up with so much laundry? Oh, right. I save it all up for the weekend. Ahem.

Back to the bread.

After about 2 hours, the yeast works its lovely magic and THIS is what you get — soft, puffy dough. The only issue I had, though, was that this dough seemed to get "tough" after degassing. Anyone else run into that?

I split the dough in two pieces, shaped on into a regular loaf and popped it in a pan. For the second half, I decided to try the alternative described in a side-note — cinnamon-swirl bread. That alternative got a big "DUH" from me. More cinnamon PLUS sugar rolled in the middle of a cinnamon-infused dough? "Duh, of course I'm going to do that." And I did.

Here are both versions, ready to wait again. The swirl version is at the bottom. Notice how it's more compact. It's the result of the rolling. I think I should have been a little more loose with my technique.

But they both seemed to rise nicely. This is after about 90 minutes. I was hoping to get some oven spring out of it, but didn't, not even a little. For those that might not know (I only learned of this term myself after starting the challenge. I'd witnessed it, but didn't know it had a name), "oven spring" is the term for additional rise in the oven. When you put the bread in the oven, the yeast goes crazy in the heat, generating even more carbon dioxide, until the internal temperature of the dough gets hot enough to finally kill the yeast. *Saluting yeast* I thank you for your sacrifice.

Oh, baby, did this smell good. There's nothing like fresh bread, I tell ya.

Although the flavor was exceptional — especially the cinnamon swirl version (SO good), I felt like the bread was a little too dense, but Dwight didn't think so. "Mm, ssiss goord," he said, gesturing with the bread in hand, having just taken a big bite of it. Success.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Favorite Made-up Word

It comes from a friend of a friend that had a talent for making up words. I know there were others, but the one I remember and still use is "greebly".

Now, I've only heard the word, so the spelling might be incorrect, but that has to be close.

There are a number of things that make "greebly" the greatest made-up word. First of all, you can pretty much "get" the definition just from hearing it. It's not really onomatopoeic, but it kind of sounds like its definition.

Greebly — gross; dirty; icky; disgusting

The second best thing about this word is it's versatility. It's an adjective, of course.
"My keyboard is completely greebly."

BUT. It's also a noun.
"My keyboard is fully of little greeblies."

I love it. It's a great word that is the perfect in so many situations. Make it part of your vocabulary. It's fun!

Monday, July 6, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 8 Redux — Sticky Buns

As promised, here is Part Two of my Week 8 BBA Challenge baking experience.

So I made the sticky bun version of the cinnamon rolls... and my life will never be the same. The skies parted, rays from heaven shone upon my kitchen and a chorus of angels sang as I took my first bite. These might possibly be the greatest thing I've ever baked. The only exception I can think of might be the Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake. But it would be a close race.

I know I said that the cinnamon twists were the best cinnamon rolls I've ever made, and I'm not retracting that, just now it would be with an asterisk. *The sticky bun version

That's not to disparage the cinnamon buns. They're still wonderful and will be my cinnamon roll recipe from now until eternity. It's just that the sticky buns add to the cinnamon roll greatness in exponential proportions, creating the ultimate sweet, gooey, chewy, caramelly, buttery masterpiece. Yeah, I'm getting a little carried away, but it's deserved, trust me. Better yet, make them yourself, and you'll see what I mean.

In the mean time, here are a bunch of pictures and a few notes about this baking experience.

Cinnamon rolls, straight up. I cut these with thread, hence the perfect edges. I normally use a serrated knife, but it tends to squish them and create less than perfect edges. I'd heard of dental floss, but read about using regular sewing thread. Slide the thread underneath, criss cross the ends at the top and swiftly pull through the dough. It will cleanly slice through the roll, leaving a perfect edge.

This is the concoction for the bottom of the sticky bun pan. It's a mixture of butter, white and brown sugar and salt, whipped smooth, to which is added corn syrup and flavor extract (I used vanilla). You beat it for about 5 minutes until it's light and fluffy. It's freakin' delicious, just like this. I kind of licked the beater. And the spatula. And and side of the bowl...

Dollops of butter and sugar spread.

Spread and ready for nuts and dried fruit of choice. I forgot to add said ingredients before plopping on the rolls shown below. But I remembered just after shooting the pic and was able to gently lift them up and add chopped walnuts and dried cranberries.

I then popped the sticky buns and cinnamon buns into the fridge, saving the baking until the following afternoon. I planned on taking them to a family BBQ.

Proofed and ready to bake. For some reason, these "oozed" a bit. See the liquid surrounding each bun? It's basically syrup. I was worried that it would burn, but it didn't. Whew.

These did. Well, not really. They didn't burn, but they did bubble out all over the bottom of my stove. Crap! I forgot to put a pan underneath the tin. They have a tendency to overflow, so TAKE PRECAUTIONS. Or your oven will start billowing smoke and your house will smell of burnt sugar. Trust me.

Ready for the icing. I had leftovers from the Strawberry Shortcake Cake, which is basically a cream cheese/buttercream frosting, to which I added a touch of maple flavoring because it seemed like the thing to do.

That's a diabetic coma waiting to happen, let me tell ya. That frosting is SWEET.

So there you have it. Round 2 of Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Buns and Sticky Buns. If it wouldn't mean having to repeatedly buy new pants, I'd make these bad boys every week. But I think I'll have to save them for special occasions. 'Cause my arse is already big enough, thankyouverymuch.

click any photo to enlarge

Sunday, July 5, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 8—Cinnamon Buns (or twists!)

Here we are at week 8 in the Bread Bakers Apprentice Challenge. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

Pinch My Salt BBA Challenge page—master resource for the challenge

Buy the Book

List of Breads

Blogroll (Do yourself a favor and check this out. There are so many incredible bakers and bloggers on this list. It's a treasure trove of information)

Flickr Group Photos, photos and more photos!


This week's bread is Cinnamon Buns and Sticky Buns. The bread formula is the same for either, only the final prep is different. The cinnamon buns are self-explanatory; cinnamon sugar sprinkled over flattened dough, rolled, sliced and baked.

Loved the cinnamon-to-sugar ratio in this recipe.
Most call for far too little cinnamon, but not this one.

The sticky buns take this and go even further into ooey-gooey territory. The sliced rolls are arranged atop a fluffy mixture of white and brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and flavor extract. You can also add nuts and dried fruit on top of the butter mixture before finally adding the rolls.

The idea is that, as the rolls bake, the sugar and butter transform into caramel. The pan is flipped over so that the bottom becomes the top and all of the sticky, syrupy goodness flows over the cinnamon buns. Sounds kind of awesome, doesn't it?

One of the really great things about this recipe is that you can finish it in one day. But you can also take advantage of a two-day prep. Take them up until the shaping and slicing stage and pop them in the fridge overnight so you can bake them the next morning. Granted, you'll need to get up a bit early to take them out the fridge to warm up, but there's really nothing like freshly baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

I knew there was way too much potential for awesomeness with this recipe, so I planned on making these at least twice. This is the chronicle of my first attempt.

Cinnamon Twists

I used the recipe as written, right up to the point of rolling the sugared dough into a spiral. Instead of rolling, I folded it in thirds, like a letter.

Stretching it out a bit before rolling


Ah, cinnamon sugar

Fold 1

Fold 2

Then I took my dough cutter and chopped off 1 to 1-1/2 inch slices, took them by the ends and twisted. Once placed on the pan, they want to unroll a bit, but with a little persuasion, they held their shape.

After proofing, just before baking

They puffed up nicely for the final proofing and baked up beautiful and golden. I made a super simple icing of milk, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. And because I felt like it, I scraped a vanilla bean and added that as well.

I have to say, that without any trace of hyperbole, these are the best cinnamon rolls I've ever made. The incredible thing is, they're even delicious the next day. You might be thinking, "What's the big deal about that?" Until now, I've yet to have cinnamon roll recipe taste as good the next day. They get dry very quickly and taste stale unless you heat them up.

Dough right out of the mixer

And after kneading

The triumph with these is the dough. It's sweet without being obnoxious, has enough butter (or shortening) to add flavor and richness, and milk to keep it soft. I used buttermilk. You can't believe how much this adds to a bread. One of my favorite breads is called "buttermilk bread" and it's tender and flavorful, which is why I wanted to use buttermilk in this recipe.

I use buttermilk powder. Ever since I discovered it, I've had a container of it in my fridge at all times. You can find it in the baking aisle by the baking powder. Once opened, it needs to be refrigerated, but you don't have to worry about it spoiling like you would buying liquid buttermilk. It's pretty much the greatest thing ever.

Please, do yourself a favor and make these rolls. Your family and friends will love you forever.

Attempt #2 is sitting on my counter, ready to go in the oven in about an hour. I made half sticky buns and half regular rolls. Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Quick Tip — Hulling Strawberries

The other day, I was reading through the comments for Pioneer Woman's Strawberry Shortcake Cake recipe and discovered a fun and effective way of hulling strawberries.

Use a straw!

You push a straw into the bottom of the strawberry...

and out through the top.

Ta Da!

It's not perfect every time, especially on really large berries, but did a great job overall. Try it sometime!

Here's my attempt at PW's Strawberry Shortcake Cake. It was very good, but VERY sweet, especially the icing. A small slice of this goes a long way!
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