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Archive for the ‘Breakfast’ 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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