Sunday, March 28, 2010

BBA Challenge Bread #30 — Basic Sourdough

Basic SD-starter

I've noticed something as I've become more familiar with cooking, baking and all things foodie. There are as many snobs as there are foods – and drinks. I think the one that first comes to mind for me and for many others is the "wine snob." But pick a food, any food, and you'll find snobs there, too. Chocolate, cheese, coffee—just a very few that first come to mind. But I've also discovered that there are many bread snobs out there, too.

Let me clarify my definitions before I really start to rub someone the wrong way. I don't have any beef with people that love wine, or chocolate, or cheese, or coffee or bread and have definite opinions on what they like and enjoy. Heck, I'm one of them. I love all of those things. But for me, a line is crossed when someone – anyone, be they a recognized expert to just some other blogger with an opinion – proclaims that what they love and enjoy is the be all end all, and that anything else is garbage and shouldn't be touched with a 10 foot pole. THOSE are snobs. The ones that don't recognize that there are, in fact, many people out there that don't share their tastes or opinions. But to them it doesn't matter. They're right, you're wrong, period.

I run from those kinds of foodies as fast as I can, because there are so many others out there that, thankfully, aren't like that at all. Sure they have definite favorites and would never personally eat or drink certain foods, but recognize that other people would and do. Those are the kinds of people I love to follow and read. They get it.

So when I read recently on a random foodie message board someone use the term "real bread," my hackles rose. To some people out there, "real" bread consists of just water, flour, salt and yeast and the rest is, apparently, fake bread.

Here's what is so wonderful about the BBA group: Nary a bread snob in sight, even though we all have our favorites and openly give our opinions. At least we recognize that they are just that – opinions, not fact. Some really enjoy sourdough bread and prefer them to commercial yeast breads, or to the enriched varieties, but they don't eschew the others altogether. We decided, as a group, to try them ALL. For me, this means making sourdough, a kind of bread I don't particularly care for, but think deserves its fare chance.

Which is why this is my second attempt at PR's Basic Sourdough.  I made this the first time way back at the beginning of January, but was less than thrilled with the results. It was just OK. After finally having more time on the weekends and taking that time to make bread, I gave it another go.

My first effort wasn't a disaster. The proofed loaves looked promising.
Basic SD-1st try-proofed

But the hearth baking didn't produce quite what I'd hoped. The loaves were pale and the taste was nothing to write home about.
Basic SD-1st try-baked2

So I changed things up a bit with my next try. I decided to use my Pampered Chef stonewear baker. I've had good luck using it with other, commercial yeast breads. For full disclosure, I have to admit that I DID spike this with commercial yeast. PR said I could, and it speeds up the process, something I found very appealing.

Basic SD-proofed

Basic SH-baked

I love how the stone roasting pan works. I preheat it in the oven just as I would my flat baking stone. Then I plop the dough in, parchment paper and all, quickly covering with the lid. I let it bake about 20 minutes with the lid on, then take it off for the rest of the time. The enclosed baker performs the same function as the steam pan, keeping moisture in, keeping the crust hyrated, letting the bread expand. It does brown up with the lid on, but removing it lets it get nice and brown and crusty.

Basic SD-overhead

Basic SD-crumb

I'm still not completely sold on this bread, but it sure looked good. The taste is rather bland and the texture is sort of ... spongy. I've noticed that with the various breads I've made with my starter.

Can someone out there tell me — is that normal? Do sourdough breads tend to have a spongy texture?

Check out these other BBA bakers' Basic Sourdough loaves:

Victoria at Goth Panda
Daniel at Ährelich Gesagt
Janice at Round the Table

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My First Wedding Cake

wedding cake-done

This wasn't a commissioned cake, just something I wanted to do. Part, "Oh, goody. An excuse to try a tiered cake," and part "I'm pretty sure the happy couple won't have a cake, so at least they'll have this, however imperfect it might turn out."

Wedding cake-overhead

See, we were surprised by a phone call Tuesday night, letting us know that our engaged friends were getting married on Saturday. As in 4 days away. Wow! I knew they'd be dashing around getting the "have tos" done, and that a cake wouldn't be one of them. So I looked around for some decorating ideas and decided to give it a shot. I already knew what kind of cake, so that was set. (And I had the very good sense to nix my idea of using fondant. I've never used it before and this was NOT the time to experiment!)

1-2-3-4 Cake
You've seen this one before. It's my go-to cake recipe.
Adapted from Paula Deen
A delicious, easy, all-purpose yellow cake that stays nice and moist.

1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups self-rising flour*, sifted
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp butter flavoring
*An easy substitute for self-rising flour is to add 1-1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt for EACH cup of flour. That's what I did.

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  • Grease and flour 1 9-inch cake pan and 1 6-inch pan. Here's how! On parchment paper, trace around the bottom of each pan and trim just inside the line. Spray pan with cooking spray, then line with trimmed parchment. Spray again, making sure to coat entire pan. You can smooth it out with a pastry brush if you want. Then sprinkle with flour, tapping the edge of the pan with the heel of one hand as you rotate the pan with the other. This ensures that the flour is evenly distributed over the entire surface. Don't skip this step. You'll be sorry - trust me!
  • Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. This will take a few minutes. Scrape the bowl and continue mixing.
  • Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes, scraping down the bowl a couple of times to make sure it's all getting mixed in and fluffy.
  • Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape.
  • Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour.
  • Add vanilla and butter flavoring and continue to beat until just mixed. 
  • Scoop 2 generous cups of batter into the 6-inch pan. Fill the 9" with remaining batter. Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4 inches above counter, then dropping it flat onto counter. Do this several times to release air bubbles and assure you of a more level cake. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until done. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Run knife along edge of pan and invert cakes onto cooling racks lined with plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour prior to decorating, overnight would be good, too. Frozen cakes are MUCH easier to cut and decorate.
wedding cake-frozen layers
wedding cake-split layer

The Best Buttercream Frosting EVER
Seriously, this stuff is amazing. It frosts beautifully and isn't too sweet. If you've checked out Tasty Kitchen lately, you'll see that PW and others are gushing over this one, too. It's slightly different process, but same ingredients and end result.

1 cup sugar
6 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 cup butter (2 sticks) {Do NOT use butter that has been frozen - it won't whip up properly}
1 tsp vanilla extract (you could use any flavoring you want)

  • Measure sugar and flour into a medium sauce pan. Whisk together to incorporate the flour into the sugar. This makes it easier to dissolve. Add milk to pan and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. It will seem like nothing is going to happen, when all of the sudden, it thickens up. Cook for just a few minutes after it begins to set up. Keep stirring; you don't want it to burn-and it will.
  • Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  • Once cooled, add vanilla and combine with butter in large mixing bowl or stand mixer and whip like crazy (use whisk attachment). Beat for at least 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Use immediately. It can be kept in the fridge, but it hardens considerably and will need to warm up a bit before being spreadable.
 wedding cake-crumb coat
I made a single batch of The Best Buttercream Frosting EVER. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Not the frosting — that's still the best. I CLEARLY needed to double the recipe. Something I realized way too late to make more. So, I had to make a more traditional buttercream:

Basic Buttercream Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
about 1/4 cup milk, whipping cream or half and half (Adjust amount for correct consistency. If you get heavy-handed and add too much, just add more sugar until you get it right.)

This cake has a wonderful surprise—raspberry buttercream filling. And it's SO easy to make. Take some of your Best Buttercream Frosting EVER and add THIS to it:
solo raspberry filling

For one batch of frosting, add the entire can. I made mine super concentrated and added about 3/4 can to half a batch of frosting. This works great as filling OR as regular on the outside of the cake frosting. Trust me, you'll love this. I got the recipe from a woman at work who's cakes are the stuff of legend. Everyone loved the raspberry filled cakes.

raspberry filling
raspberry filling mixed

I'm no expert. I'm not even a good novice. I'm a tiered cake virgin, so I'm not going to attempt to tell YOU how to make a wedding cake. Instead, here are some progress pictures and a few notes on what I did.

wedding cake-foil wrap
This was for the 6" top tier. I cut down a 10" cardboard cake round to size and wrapped it in foil per the directions on the back of the cake rounds package.

wedding cake-filling layer
Piping a ring of plain buttercream around the edge of the layer keeps the filling in check and from squishing out the sides.
wedding cake-sm stacked
dowel cut
Because the top layer needs something to keep it from squishing the bottom layer, you use dowels. Cut to size using garden shears or similar tool.

wedding cake-dowels in
I lightly rested the empty 6" cake pan on the 9" bottom layer and marked the edges to keep the dowels in the right place.

These are "crumb coated" and have been in the fridge a few minutes to set the icing. Longer would have been better. I left them in the fridge while I whipped up the basic buttercream.

wedding cake-2tiers-1

Quick tip: quickly bring butter to room temperature buy cutting it in small pieces. Better than microwaving because you don't want to risk melting it. Melting = not good.
butter on plate

After covering the entire cake with the basic buttercream, I added the super cute ribbon, then pipied small dots around all of the edges.

wedding cake-2tiers-ribbon only

When I picked up the ribbon, I also got a pick of fake hydrangeas. Nothing fancy, just a $3 pick at Walmart.

wedding cake-flower topper1
wedding cake flower topper-close

I cut one complete clump and stuck it in the top, but it needed filling in. I cut up another clump...
wedding cake-cutting flowers

And filled in around the exposed areas...
wedding cake flower top-filled in
Much better!
Then I added some single flowers around the second layer and called it good.

wedding cake-angle

I'm SO glad I picked up those flowers on a whim. I figured some sort of topper would be nice, but I didn't count on it distracting from the multitude of imperfections on the cake. If you stepped back and squinted, the cake looked pretty good. About half way through this whole process, I tweeted that this was going to be an "it's the thought that counts" kind of cake. Fortunately, it turned out nicely despite icing issues and my inexperience. Guess I just need to practice my decorating skills some more. I think I can find volunteers to eat the results.

Congratulations, David and Amy!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How To: Make a Cake Pop Stand

the stand in action (before finishing)

What you'll need:
12" round wood table top/bar stool seat
11/64" bit (or 3/16" if you want a little more wiggle room)
Ruler or piece of paper
Compass (optional)
Acrylic craft paint
Small paint brush
Drop cloth or large piece of cardboard

I lieu of a piece of styrofoam for holding cake pops, I decided to make a stand out of wood. I picked up a pre-cut piece of wood at Menards and went to town drilling, measuring and finishing.
pop stand-1

The board is mainly for holding the pops while they dry then for photographing, but you can also use it for presentation. I had cake pops handy so I could determine how far apart to make the holes. I marked the distance on a piece of paper and used it for reference. You could use an acutal ruler, but I didn't want to go looking for mine—paper was easier!
pop stand-2 distance btw

A compass comes in really handy (but isn't absolutely necessary). Find the center of the board, adjust the size to match the right distance...
pop stand-5 next row
pop stand-6 next row compass
Draw a circle
pop stand-7 next row circle
pop stand-8 measure compas

Make cross hatch mark at the correct distance along the circle & drill at the intersections.
pop stand-9 marks
pop stand-10 all drilled

You can drill all the way through if you want, but I decided (after drilling two holes all the way through) that drilling MOST of the way through is better. That way you can pick up the board with pops in it and they won't slide down! I'll just fill the bottoms of those holes with wood putty.

Lightly sand with fine sand paper or a fine sanding block.
pop stand-11 sand 

Then all you have to do is paint it. Acrylic craft paint is the best because it comes in a bunch of colors and is really thick—covers great. But you can use regular wall paint if that's what you have handy.
pop stand-13 paint tube
painting collage

After painting, be sure to put a stick in each hole and wiggle it around a bit so the paint doesn't block the holes as it dries.
 pop stand-21 clean out
pop stand-23 done
I painted mine white to keep it simple, but I think it would be really fun to have them in different colors to match the holiday or occasion. Have fun with it!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's Here.

2 crocus
Well, sort of. It's getting started anyway. SPRING is showing signs of actually making an appearance this year. I have flowers. And GREEN things poking up all over. It's heavenly.

So despite the fact that today hasn't been so great (understatement of the week), I'm going to remember that these are blooming on my front walk, right now, as I type.

3 crocus

Happy sigh.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Baking Extravaganza

spd collage

Hang on. It's going to be a photo-filled post! Don't say I didn't warn you.

I actually planned ahead for St. Patrick's Day. Hey, it's as much of a shock to me as it is to you, trust me. I had a hankerin' to make sugar cookies and knew I wanted to send some to friends hither and yon, so I got to baking last weekend.

I knew which recipes to use and that I wanted to make shamrocks, but wasn't sure about how to decorate them. So I did some looking around and found this:

So cute! Now I had my inspiration, just had to execute. First, the recipes:

The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies
Allrecipes by Jill Saunders

Note: I halved this.

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 400 °F. Roll out dough on surface sprinkled with powdered sugar (won't make the dough tough like flour will) 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on parchment lined cookie sheets.
Bake 6 to 8 minutes until JUST turning golden on the edges. Cool completely on racks before decorating.
If you want to keep these simple, just sprinkle them with decorator sugar, non-pareils or other decorating sprinkles before baking. These cookies are very good all on their own!

Royal Icing
Dries hard - makes for easy transport. Mine held up through a UPS trek to NY 

3 tablespoons meringue powder
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or other flavoring of choice - watch color though, it will tint the frosting)
6 tablespoons water (less for really thick icing, more for thin)

Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Beat on high for at about 10 minutes or until stiff peaks form.
Divide and color as desired. Add more water as needed for flooding or more sugar if you get a little heavy handed with the water.

Now for the pictures:
green icing bowls
I divided the icing into thirds, keeping one white. The other two are as you see.
ltgrn outline
I outlined some in light green...

dkgrn outline2
And some in darker green.

Here's a handy tip for filling bags. (I just use sandwich bags instead of decorator bags. Snip the corner and you're good to go.) Place the bag in a small drinking glass, pulling the edges over the sides. Fill with icing, twist the top, snip the corner and decorate. The icing is pretty runny though, so work quickly and try to keep the end pointed up.
filling bag-1
filling bag-2
Also, keep the bowls covered with damp towels. It will keep the icing from drying out. It will form a crust pretty quickly!

After the outlines have dried, it's time to flood the insides.
dk green-flooding
Smear it around with a tooth pick to get the icing to all of the edges.
dk green-flooding-done
ltgreen-flooding done
white flooding

Once the flooding dries,  it's time to decorate. Rember the idea cookies? I loved the swirly one, but...
Hm. Not exactly like the picture, eh? I laughed and laughed, then moved on to a different attempt. I stuck with a checkerboard and dots. Even with just three colors and two "designs", I ended up with a nice looking mix.
finished cookies2
finished cookies1

Then I wrapped each one in plastic wrap, nestled them in a bed of crinkly paper and shipped them to well-deserving folks.


This weekend was Round Two.

I knew I wanted to do cupcakes and quickly got my inspiration from Bakerella. I didn't use her recipe, but loved the GREEN!

Green Velvet Cupcakes
Slightly modified from Joy of Baking

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (original called for 1/2 cup - I had 2 sticks ready so I used both. Stick with original for lower fat option.)
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk (I used powdered buttermilk. Add powder to dry ingredients, add water when adding wet)
1 oz (one bottle) liquid green food coloring (see pic below)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar (used white wine vinegar-didn't have any distilled on hand)
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine flour, cocoa and butter in medium bowl. Set aside.
In mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth and light. Add sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each and scraping down sides of bowl. Add vanilla. Add food color to buttermilk (or water if using buttermilk powder).
Alternately add flour mixture with buttermilk/color beginning and ending with flour, beating well each time. Mix SLOOOWLY to start when adding the liquid. Otherwise it will splash and get green food color everywhere. (It's a good idea to wear an apron or at least something that won't be ruined if you get food color on it.)

In small bowl or measuring cup, dissolve soda in vinegar. It will bubble (yay, chemistry) quickly add to batter, just folding in until incorporated - don't beat in.

Divide into 2 prepared 9" cake pans or cupcake liners. I got 12 cupcakes and a single 9" layer.

Bake cake approximately 25 minutes or until toothpick comes clean. Cupcakes will only take about 15 minutes. Ovens vary, so keep an eye on them. The might need more or less time. Cool in pans about 10 minutes then transfer to racks. Cool completely before decorating (or turning into cake pops).

The Best Buttercream Frosting EVER
I used this on my niece's birthday cake. It's da BOMB.

spd-cupcakes-soda vinegar
Woo-Chemical reaction in progress! And really, that's what baking is all about.

Now THAT's green!

The large Pampered Chef scoop works great for cupcakes.

SPD-cupcakes-1st decorated
I used plain white frosting first, but decided I need a bit of color to make the white sprinkles show more.
SPD-cupcake-dye icing1
SPD-cupcake-dye icing2
SPD-cupcake-dye icing-mixed
Dip a clean toothpick in the gel color, smear into the frosting and mix. A nice, pale green, just what I wanted. Obviously you can add more if you want a deeper shade. Go crazy!

Better! And I got to use my cupcake stand - so fun.

Next up — CAKE POPS!

Take the 9" cake, crumble, add frosting (about a 3/4-1 cup), mix, scoop.
spd-cakepops-mixing collage-sm


almond bark



SPD-cakepops-in sugar


If you didn't get enough pictures here, head over to my Flickr photstream for even more. (Yes, there are more!)

And if you're wondering about the wood stand in the group cake pop photos, stay tuned. I'll be posting a "How-To" on that later this week.
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