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Archive for the ‘Bread’ Category

This is the kind of recipe that gives you faith in yourself as a baker, that makes you feel confident and sure in the kitchen and officially puts you in the camp of people who “just whip up a little something” when friends come over for Brunch. And thank goodness it is, because after last month’s bagel experiment, I was questioning whether I would continue with TWD. But then I remembered that this is a journey, that I’m becoming a better baker and that if I can throw together something as delicious and easy as these Buttermilk Crumb Muffins I must be doing something right (go here for the full recipe).

You have to love a recipe that requires nothing more than a bowl, a spoon and a baking pan. Usually I wouldn’t be able to restrain my impulse to tinker with a new recipe, adding a bit of this and a little of that. But this time I was in the midst of a busy week and was so happy to see this simple recipe that I made it to the letter and couldn’t have been happier.

Despite it’s ease, this recipe has some really smart take-away lessons:

(1.) Pull back some of the dry mixture to use as a crumble topping — it’s the best part and I love the idea that I don’t have to make a separate crumble topping.

(2.) When you are making muffins and don’t have enough batter to fill all the tins, fill any empty muffin tin 1/2 way up with water so that you whole pan cooks evenly. Brilliant!!

(3.) Although this recipe calls only for shortening and the muffins turned out light and crumbly as a result, I think they could have used the flavor boost of butter or olive oil. I find most all-shortening baked good recipes to be a bit bland and prefer to swap out at least some of the shortening with butter or olive oil whenever possible — both of these full-flavor fats lend to more complex flavors in the finished product.

Speaking of next time, although these muffins were light and tasty and the perfect simple treat in a busy work week, I will certainly make some additions in the future. Perhaps dried cherries and toasted almonds, or diced pear and ground cardamom, or chopped banana chips and bittersweet chocolate….the possibilities are endless….I think these are going to be a new staple on our brunch catering menu.

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Some things are a labor of love. And some things are just a labor. After doing this week’s TWD baking assignment, I’ve decided bagels are the latter. Don’t get me wrong — I love bagels and the ones I made were delicious. But were they more delicious than the fresh bagels I get on Sundays at my local shop? Not really. In the end, this should be chalked up as one of those projects done by people who really love making bread. I’m afraid I’m not one of those people.

All that being said, I am proud of myself for giving this “project” a go. After a first read-through of the recipe (find it here) I was pretty scared and considering skipping this round all together. There were just so many steps and in my experience lots of steps does not always make for a better recipes. So I put it off. And procrastinated some more. And then some more. And finally got down to business (you can see now why I’m 3 days late with this post!).

To get over my fear, I read and then re-read the recipe to see what I was getting myself into. As you know, I’m not really a baker. But I reminded myself that I decided to participate in TWD to get better at baking and here was another chance to face my fears. So here it goes. The recipe, however, was not comforting. It read something like this:

Work with half the dough at a time, each batch makes 5 bagels.

Shape the bagels: Stretch the dough into a purse-shaped ball, punch a hole, shape with your fingers and set aside to rest.

Boil the bagels: Boil in small batches because they can’t touch. Flip them over in the water. Take them out. Glaze them with egg white – the egg whites need to be strained (?!?) — glaze them quickly so they don’t stick and don’t let the glaze hit the pan because it can make the bagels stick.

Bake the bagels: Pour 2 cups of water in the bottom of your oven (yes, really) to create steam. Bake the bagels one rack at a time. Bake 25 minutes. Turn oven off. Bake 5 minutes. Open oven door. Bake 5 more minutes.

Now you’re done. Deep breath.

For a somewhat-non-baker like me, making this recipe feels like I’m cracking a code. True confessions: I made some adjustments. Not that I’m a rebel — I’m just an impatient person. Probably why baking and I are not always friends. So for any of you scared bakers out there, here are some short-cuts I took that worked.

1. I used regular unbleached flour, not high gluten or bread flour. Didn’t want to go around town finding the right flour.

2. I worked in 2 batches but shaped all the dough pieces at the same time.

3. I did one pan of bagels on parchment and one on an oiled pan per the recipe. Bagels stuck to the oiled pan so parchment won that technique contest.

4. I didn’t strain the egg whites. I was exhausted. I was impatient. I was starting to get angry at egg whites…and bagels. It was time to skip a step and this seemed like a good one. It all worked out in the end.

5. I tried to rush it and put both sheet pans in the oven at once on different racks — BIG mistake. The recipe was right. The bottom rack rose nicely but the top rack didn’t benefit from the steam.

6. I did do the 2 cups of water in the oven to create steam. LOVED this trick — very cool method to have up my sleeve. I kind of feel like a “real” baker having done something so cool.

In the end I had lovely, tasty bagels and, I’ll admit, was pretty darn proud of myself for making it through this recipe. Would I make them again? Probably not.

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I love it when my kitchen is granted a moment of culinary serendipity. Like when you realize you have a bundle of tomatoes nearly too ripe AND the cilantro & lime needed to turn them into a quick salsa. Or when you have some leftover mashed potatoes AND you discover that last bit of ground beef in the freezer perfect for assembling a shepard’s pie. Or what happened this past week: I’d reached a stone fruit breaking point with over 6 lbs of assorted plums from the last few weeks of Farm Box deliveries threatening to take over my crisper drawer AND realized that this week’s TWD baking assignment was a basic whole wheat bread. Fresh baked bread was the only excuse I needed to turn all those plums into a huge batch of jam. A match made in heaven.

First, the jam. I used this recipe as my base — I like the method of cooking half of the fruit in a sugar syrup until soft and then adding the rest of the fruit. This leaves you with a lovely textured jam with bits of chunky fruit and bits of mashed fruit. I ended up combining three different varieties of plums with a basket of blueberries. And then, for a little twist, one lonely star anise pod — it may seem like a small, insignificant addition, but this tiny flavor bomb adds a complex “black liquorice” taste that blends so nicely with the plum’s acidity.

Once I had a huge pot of jam, it was time for the bread. The recipe (found here and here) is so, so easy. A few simple ingredients (whole wheat flour, bread flour, yeast, honey, salt and water) are combined, kneaded and left to rise. After a second rise in loaf pans, they’re ready for the oven. With about 2 hours of unattended rise time, this recipe does require some forethought — but ultimately  it’s very little actual work and such a simple endeavor. Within 5 minutes of the bread hitting the oven, my house smelled like a bakery — the smell alone is reason to bake bread more often. Is there anyone who doesn’t associate the smell of fresh-baked bread with happiness? It’s truly one of my favorite smells.

I let the bread rest as long as I could stand (about 22 minutes I think) and then carved off a slice and sat down to warm bread and homemade jam. The bread was truly the perfect bread for toast and sandwiches — a light crumb, a faint sweetness from the honey and not too heavy. The jam was sweet but not too sweet thanks to the tartness of the plums and a savory backbone provided by the star anise. Has anyone come up with a carb-only diet yet? I think I need to start one because I could eat this every day!

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This week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie was naan – that lovely leavened bread that’s best used to sop up a creamy chicken korma from the local Indian restaurant. As I was reading through the recipe for the first time, I realized it’s very similar to the pizza dough we make all the time for our caterings and cooking parties. (Check out the naan recipe at this week’s host blogs: Always Add More Butter and Of Cabbage & King Cakes.) They both have flour, yeast and water..how different could they be? Well, it turns out there are a couple of key differences in cooking technique that resulted in a clear verdict: we prefer the pizza dough. Here’s how it went down in the kitchen:

The naan dough was easy enough to make. We did the overnight-rise-in-the-fridge option and that resulted in a supple dough. Our toppings were some caraway seeds and sliced scallion. The recipe suggested having a large quarry tile or pizza stone in the oven — we didn’t have either so we used the second option, the back of a baking sheet, as a cooking surface. Here’s where we ran into trouble. Even at 500 degrees, the oven just wasn’t hot enough to cook the naan quickly and encourage any browning. And since there was no oil on or in the dough, the end result, while tasty, was a very pale dough without the color and texture we expected from naan. In the end we were left sheepishly muttering that the Trader Joe’s frozen naan was so much better…why even go through this effort (gasp!). But it’s no wonder! Traditional naan is made in a firey-hot tandoori oven and the dough it slapped against the side of the oven wall, creating a blackened, blistered bread that is crunchy in some parts and soft in others and full of flavor. So this naan, while somewhat pleasant and chewy, left a lot to be desired.

Then we made our favorite pizza dough just to see what the difference in flavor and texture would be in a side-by-side tasting (and because we are always looking for an excuse to make pizza). The pizza won hands-down. First, there’s the addition of olive oil in the dough and on the outside of the dough — that helps with the texture and taste. The dough takes on some of that grassy olive oil flavor throughout. And when it’s baked in the same 500 degree oven it gets browned thanks to the olive oil. Of course, once we had pizza dough made, we couldn’t help but start topping it with all kinds of goodies….mozzarella, tomatoes, ricotta, figs….

In the end, despite our distractions with pizza toppings, we decided that we preferred the taste and texture of the pizza dough. So the next time we want some naan to eat alongside an Indian-inspired meal, we’ll use this dough recipe, brush it with some olive oil, sprinkle with the caraway seeds and a bit of onion and bake until crispy. Although chances are pretty good we’ll get distracted with toppings again……

Basic Pizza Dough

makes about 1 1/2 pounds (NOTE: This dough is easily doubled or tripled and can be used to make pizzas OR pressed into a baking sheet, topped with caramelized onions and baked up as the most delicious focaccia bread.)

3 tsp dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water (just warm to the touch)

2 tbl honey

5 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tbl salt

3 tbl olive oil

Combine the yeast, water and honey in the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the flour, salt and oil and stir. Beat with a dough-hook attachment for 10 minutes on medium, adding a bit more flour as needed, until elastic and smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel and let sit in a warm spot for 1 hour to rise (it will at least double in size).

Now the dough is ready to use. If making pizza, cut the dough in half or thirds and press gently into a circle/oblong shape — then place on a baking sheet or onto a pizza peel. Top with your favorite toppings and slide into a 500 degree oven to bake for 10-12 minutes. If making focaccia bread, dump the dough onto an oiled 11×17-inch baking sheet and press to fill the pan. Let rise for another 45 minutes (it will fill out the pan as it rises). Top with caramelized onions (or your favorite toppings) and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden.

OR, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for up to a month. Be sure to let come to room temperature for 1-2 hours before using.

 

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When I first read Nancy Silverton’s Sticky Bun recipe, this week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie, it was the middle of a busy work week and I was skeptical. Were these sticky, calorie-laden guys going to be worth the two days and one-plus pound of butter it would take to make them? I decided to set down the recipe and come back to it on my day off, and boy am I glad I did. These buns are hot-out-of-the-oven proof that good things take time, patience….oh, and butter.

The recipe is actually two recipes in one (for complete details, go to one of this week’s hosts: Cookies on Friday and Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat). First, there’s the dough. This was my first time making a brioche dough and I was delighted how tasty and tender it turned out. I found making the dough quite easy — as long as you have a standing mixer and a little patience.

The second part of the recipe is the filling and forming of the buns…and here is where the butter gets a little crazy. I should say up front that I love butter. While I use olive oil for most of my cooking (and even some of my baking) I think there is an important time and place for butter. These sticky buns are absolutely that time and place. That being said, even I was a little alarmed when I was dotting the dough with 1 1/2 sticks of butter (this, after 1 1/2 sticks had already been incorporated into the dough). BUT who am I to argue with baking legend Nancy Silverton. So I took a deep, buttery, breath and continued dotting.

After the dough was enriched with additional butter and rested in the fridge for 30 minutes, I filled it will cinnamon sugar and pecans. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to work with this dough — it was supple and tender and rolled out beautifully. After freezing the logs, slicing the individual buns and nestling them in MORE butter and sugar, I covered with a towel and let them rise a final time. And here is where the magic happened. What was supposed to be a 2 hour rise turned into a 4 hour rise on my counter thanks to some errands that took longer to run that I thought. And boy am I glad they did! When I finally went to put the buns in the oven, they had plumped up and risen all the way to the edge of the pan……and when they came out of the oven and I popped them out of the pan they were amazingly light and fluffy thanks to that long rise. And when I finally bit into one, I immediately forgot the two long days of laboring involved. They were the most flaky and tender rolls I’ve ever tasted….and with that extra punch of cinnamon I added there were full of spicy goodness.

I may need to hang this picture in my office. These are truly the most beautiful baked-good I’ve ever made….and possibly the tastiest. While I may not make these buttery little devils very often, at least I know now that they are worth every dot of butter and every minute spent waiting for them to rise. I think they next time these will make an appearance is on Christmas….perhaps with a little orange zest and nutmeg in the mix….

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Sometimes in the midst of a busy week, a simple baking task can help put everything in perspective. Some sugar, some butter, some flour, a flick of wrist with nothing more than a whisk and, voila, a lovely little cake in born. A slice, still warm from the oven, alongside an afternoon cup of coffee demands a quiet moment….and such demands are not only heaven-scent but, at times, necessary. And so I have this simple little recipe for a Lemon Loaf Cake, baked on assignment from Tuesdays with Dorie, to thank for such a moment.

This is the kind of cake that’s easy to make and easy to eat. So easy, in fact, that it took nothing more than a bowl, a whisk and a few measuring cups to make this recipe. The only “special” ingredient called for was cake flour — since I was looking for simplicity on this particular afternoon, I decided to triple sift regular flour and use that instead.

While the fundamental recipe was fine (find the actual recipe on this week’s hosts: Treats and The Beauty of Life), I found this cake was begging for some improvisation. A bit more lemon zest and maybe some lemon oil to heighten the tang, a bit of vanilla bean paste or ground cardamom for a floral note, and perhaps even some toasted pistachios for an exotic, hidden crunch. The cake was dense — perfect for dipping in tea or, better yet, for toasting the next day and slathering with lemon curd. I think I’ll file this one away as a recipe to use for our Kids Cooking Camps…..thin slices of this cake would be the prefect “bread” for a summer ice cream sandwich….but that’s for a different post.

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The food industry today is such a mixed bag of pleasure and pain. On the one hand we are so inundated by processed foods that we have become addicted to sugar and salt. We are the most obese society in the world and our children have a shorter life expectancy than their parent’s did when they were born. But on the other hand, there is a steadily growing community of artisinal food producers who are dedicated to getting back to whole food, real food, food you can recognize, food that is good for you and that tastes amazing. When I think about these food producers, I feel kind of glass-is-half-full about the food in America. I’ve been making it a point to search out local, artisinal food producers and have never been more inspired. Last week was a case in point.

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I was in Surfas (the amazing culinary store in Culver City that has everything from commercial restaurant equipment to specialty foods that will blow your mind) and was introduced to their selection of flours. First of all, their flours are kept refrigerated — that infers a level of freshness that piqued my interest. The culinary manager then directed my attention to the Hard Red Winter Wheat Flour by Community Grains. Turns out Community Grains is a local company that makes flours from California-grown grains and specializes in true whole grain products. This means their flours are minimally processed and really reflect the flavors of the original grain. I was intrigued! So armed with a bag of Hard Red Winter Wheat, I headed home to try it out in my favorite bread recipe.

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This recipe is adapted from Good to the Grain (my favorite book about cooking with whole grains) and is a fool-proof one for anyone who is a beginner bread maker. It’s dense, grainy and full of flavor. While I love it for sandwiches, my favorite way to eat it is lightly toasted with butter and honey. I could live on this stuff! After having made this bread many times before with a regular whole wheat flour, it was interesting to try the Community Grains flour. I found the texture more chewy (YUM!) and the flavor more complex — there was a kind of nuttiness to the grain that I didn’t expect. Hands-down the best loaf of bread I’ve ever made. Can’t wait to teach this in our next bread baking cooking class in our Los Angeles kitchen.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

makes 1 large loaf

butter, for the bowl and pan

1 package active dry-yeast

3 tbl unsulphured molasses

2 cups warm water (should be just warmer than body temperature — warm to the touch)

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (this is where I used the Community Grains flour)

2 cups bread flour (mandatory for the right texture)

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 stick melted butter (cooled)

1 1/2 tbl kosher salt

Lightly butter a large bowl and bread loaf pan (9x5x3 inches).

Add the water, yeast and molasses to the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir to combine. Let sit for  5 minutes. Yeast should become frothy (if it doesn’t, discard and start over with new yeast — that means the yeast is dead).

Add the flours, oats, sunflower seeds, and butter into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

Add the salt and attach the bowl to the standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Beat on medium for 6 minutes. Dough should slap around the bowl without sticking — if it sticks add a couple tablespoons flour. Dough should be soft and slightly tacky.

Dump the dough onto a floured counter and knead about 10 times. place in the buttered bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and form into a thick log and place into the loaf pan. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bake for 40 minutes. Loaf is done when top is dark brown and sounds hollow when given a thump on the top.

Let cool a few hours (that’s hard, I know!!) so the crumb doesn’t collapse when you cut into it.

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