too pooped to post

August 22, 2012 § 13 Comments

Well, almost. I wasn’t too pooped to pop though, and after seeing all the triumphant puffy popovers posted by the other punctual Tuesdays with Dorie members, here I am with my tardy popovers and a quick (for me) recap.

Little did I know when I bought these mini-cake pans years ago, that I had in fact purchased popover pans. Their straight sides looked perfect for turning out little chocolate cakes, which they did admirably then. They look and feel like cast iron covered with a durable non-stick, so they distribute heat evenly and with a thin coating of butter, nary a crumb of popover stickiness. I have no idea who made them or where I bought them.

One of the best things about popovers is that you almost always have all the ingredients you need – milk, eggs, butter, flour, salt – and they are very easily mixed together by hand or machine, just dump and mix! I recommend, however, that you never plug in the blender when you’ve already loaded the pitcher onto the base, but haven’t placed the lid on yet. Yeah, did that, but skipped taking a picture of the result. 😦

Like many of the TWD’ers I made this recipe more than once since it’s quick (unless you forget the blender lid) and the ingredients are readily available. It’s so intriguing and almost magical when you get these big puffy baked things from a 1/3 cup of rather thin batter and it’s pretty fun to watch them bake too. I altitude adjusted the first batch on the left by adding 1 1/2 cups each of milk and flour instead of the original 1 cup; these definitely rose taller and kept their shape better. The extra flour develops more gluten for structure, while the extra milk keeps the ingredients in balance and prevents dryness. While they looked amazing, they were a little doughy inside and a bit on the chewy side for me. So I went back to the original unadjusted recipe for Round 2. I bumped up the salt to 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher, and even added 1 tablespoon of sugar as Round 1 was also a little flat in taste while not in height. Round 2 did not have the impressive height of the altitude-adjusted batch, but I liked the more tender crumb, thinner crust and completely hollow interiors which were the perfect vessels for some homemade preserves.

And while we could have easily consumed both batches with my son visiting, I sent some of AA (altitude-adjusted) Round 1 to our next door neighbors along with apricot butter. The three of us enjoyed the rest alongside a summer frittata and cottage bacon Sunday brunch.

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sesame semolina breads

July 17, 2012 § 16 Comments

Breakfast – slices of sesame semolina toast, Farmer Mark’s fresh chèvre, apricot jam I just made a few days ago and my favorite locally roasted coffee!

Noted Italian baker, cookbook writer and culinary instructor Nick Malgieri’s semolina bread from Baking with Julia seemed to get mixed reviews from the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. Semolina bread happens to be one of the non-whole grain breads I really like, probably because I also love pasta (yes, also the non-whole wheat type which tends to break up when I cook it). With a couple of tweaks, the bread was easy to get together in an afternoon in time for dinner with leftovers for toast the next morning. The original recipe can be found here and here if you don’t have the book. Changes I made to the recipe included:

  1. reducing the rise time for the sponge from 2 to 1 hour by using instant yeast in place of active dry
  2. reducing the salt from 2 to 1 teaspoon
  3. reducing both the bulk rise and shaped loaf proof times to an hour or less
  4. preheating the oven to 500°F, then dropping it to 425ºF for baking (with steam)
  5. reducing the bake time to just over 25 minutes (BTW at altitude, there’s no way to get to 210°F internal temperature without completely drying the loaf; remember water turns to steam and disappears at 200°F at a mile high)

Of course some of these changes are inter-related. Since salt slows yeast activity, the rise and proof times were shortened since I used a lot less salt. I think I actually reduced the salt a little too much. I used kosher salt, so a teaspoon of kosher is LESS than a teaspoon of fine grain salt (think, a bucket of gravel weighs less than the same bucket of sand, because there is a lot more air space between the larger pieces of gravel/Kosher salt). This could also account for some of the perceived saltiness of this recipe, besides different taste preferences.

I raised the baking temperature to get better oven rise (“oven spring”) and color on the loaves, and to keep the bread’s crumb moist. Breads can sometimes dry out from longer bake times needed to brown the crust at lower temperatures. And I always bake breads on a well heated stone (500°F) with some water to steam the oven, which also helps with oven spring and crust color.

The sponge was bubbly, fragrant and well-risen after an hour so I added the rest of the ingredients to make the dough.

The final dough quickly came together and I covered it to rise for about an hour.

The dough was slightly over risen after just an hour, so I gently rounded it to give the gluten a little more strength. I covered it with the bowl to protect it from drying while it rested for just 5-10 minutes.

I had mixed a double batch, so I divided the dough in half. I gently stretched and then folded the half into thirds, like a letter. I then rolled and gently pressed the dough together from top to bottom, gave the loaf a final roll on the board and tucked the ends in towards the bottom seam.

Here’s the shaped loaf before I coated it with raw sesame seeds. To do this, I dampened a kitchen towel and laid it on a sheet pan along with a generous amount of seeds. I rolled the top side of the loaf on the wet towel, and then on the bed of seeds. You could also spritz the top of the loaf with water from a sprayer.

Here are the shaped loaves after they’ve been rolled in seeds, ready to proof on the parchment-lined sheet pan.

I placed the pan with the loaves into a large plastic bag and trapped some air inside so they proofed without touching the plastic. Meanwhile I preheated the oven with a baking stone to 500°F for at least a half hour. Definitely needed the A/C on for the bake!

Here are the finished burnished loaves just out of the oven. The seeds made it a little harder to score the tops before baking, and if I scored a little deeper, the loaves could open up a little more. But I was pretty happy with the result of a simple tasty bread, good by itself, and made even better with farmstead chèvre and jam made from local seasonal fruit.

apricot pecan cinna-buns

May 15, 2012 § 12 Comments

Published over 25 years ago, Baking with Julia is not shy about the butter. After all the cookbook is based on Julia Child’s PBS television series, and one of her famous lines is “If you are afraid of butter, use cream.” A young Nancy Silverton, known more for her artisanal sourdough breads than excessive use of butter, shows she can be right at home in Julia’s kitchen, with her brioche-based pecan sticky buns weighing in at over a pound of butter and 3/4 pound of sugar for a dozen or so buns. I reduced both ingredients by more than half, and we still enjoyed a rich and sweet breakfast treat. Although not as deliciously decadent as the originals, at least we lived to tell about it.

The recipe begins with an unusual method of proofing a sponge under half of its flour. When the flour “cracks”, you have a clear indicator that the sponge is ready to use. I’m in L.A. baking at sea level this month. My mom’s KitchenAid mixer is probably close to 50 years old, so I baby the old girl and skimp on the mixing time and keep the speed on low.

This is the softest stickiest brioche dough I’ve ever made (I only add 4 oz. instead of 6 oz. of very soft butter, but make it up with 1/4 cup of full fat yogurt). Since the sponge was really active, I decide to skip the room temperature rise and put it directly into the refrigerator for an overnight rise. It almost doubles overnight.

I decided to skip Nancy’s signature technique of laminating 6 more ounces of butter into the chilled dough. Instead I made a filling by beating 3 oz. of very soft butter with 2/3 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt.

I toast then chop 1 cup of pecans and chop 1/2 cup of California Bleinheim apricots. I line the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment. Only when everything is ready do I take the dough out of the refrigerator. I’m going to roll out all of the dough instead of doing half at a time, so I need to work fast so it doesn’t warm up and get sticky. To save more time I also want to get the buns into the pan without having to re-chill the dough (think how late can I sleep and still have these in the morning).

The cinnamon butter sugar mixture doesn’t look like enough but easily covers the full batch of rolled out dough

Sprinkle your choice of goodies over the filling and then gently but quickly roll up towards the “naked” edge which will stick and hold everything inside. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush, and if the dough sticks to the board, free it with a knife or other metal edge.

It’s easiest to mark then cut the roll into halves, then quarters and then cut each quarter into 4 pieces. The ends are smaller, so I stuff them into the center of the pan, arranging the rest of the buns in a 3 x 5 pattern. In less than an hour, the buns have proofed to fill the pan and are ready to bake. (My lighting isn’t consistent, but yes, the dough was a beautiful golden yellow from the farm eggs I used.)

Since I’m using a bigger pan than the recipe specified, I reduce the baking temperature slightly to 325°F and bake until the tops are pretty evenly browned. This dough is so moist, tender and rich I don’t really miss the sticky topping, and using a buttery filling gives a similar effect to laminating, while saving a lot of time. The shortcuts also cut down on the messes and cleanup time, so I’ll probably stick to doing these cinna-buns instead of sticky buns. This is my new favorite brioche recipe though, and you can find links to the recipe, plus other bakers’ buns at Tuesdays with Dorie.

I’ve been loafing

April 15, 2012 § 12 Comments

OK, you caught me. I haven’t posted for two weeks. But I’ll have a note from my doctor for an excused absence, promise!

Subtitled: A Lemon Loaf with Altitude (at 5000 feet)

I baked this Baking with Julia recipe in two small ceramic bakers, so I’d have one to give and one to taste. After reading a few of the TWD P&Q (translate Tuesdays with Dorie Problems & Questions) posts (dry, not enough lemon flavor), I made some on-the-fly changes. The resulting loaves seem true to the recipe’s introduction (moist, firm, rich and dense) and I was able to slice them as thinly as the recipe promised, yielding many servings/samples. The lemon loaf got many positive reviews and my husband thought it quite lemony. I think adding a little lemon juice, and some plain yogurt imparted a tartness that reinforced the lemon essence from all of the zest. Also, the acid from these ingredients helped keep the cake tender since I used all-purpose flour, and the extra liquid helped keep the cake moist. Here are my high altitude (and other) adjustments explained:

  1. increased salt to 1/4 teaspoon (improved flavor)
  2. added grated zest of 3 limes (my lemons were small and I also wanted the color)
  3. switched cake flour to all-purpose (made cake sturdier so it didn’t fall in the center, but could become dry and tough)
  4. added about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (flavor, additional moisture and avoid problem from 3.)
  5. added 1/4 cup plain whole yogurt (flavor, additional moisture and avoid problem from 3.)

There are some common high altitude adjustments that I didn’t make to this recipe:

  1. reduce sugar – sugar tenderizes, so I kept it the same since I used AP flour
  2. reduce leavening (baking powder) – it was such a small amount already, and I didn’t want a brick
  3. increase oven temperature by 25°F – this helps set the exterior of the cake quicker so it doesn’t over rise and then fall in the middle, but I had already reduced the size of the cake by using 2 loaf pans (they baked in less time)

The science behind high altitude baking is based on the fact that the higher you go, the lower the air pressure (think thinner atmosphere). Picture a balloon; if there’s less pressure surrounding that balloon, what might happen? Yup, it’ll get too big and pop. When you make a cake batter, you want it to have a lot of fine bubbles that will leaven and lighten the cake as the air bubbles expand from the heat of the oven. When the cake is done, hopefully the liquid batter has set into the desired type of cake, light and airy angel food to dense and rich pound cake. But if the ingredients aren’t balanced for altitude, you can get a cake that rises to great height in the oven and then collapses, leaving you with a dense gooey center (the classic high altitude dog dish cake). Or because water boils at a lower temperature at altitude (same reason, less air pressure so it changes to steam quicker), breads and cakes dry out during baking. Adding some extra liquid is almost always a helpful adjustment. It can seem like a maddeningly impossible task to learn how to make such a variety of adjustments. Be patient. Pay attention to your measurements and technique. Observe, dissect, taste and analyze your results. Decide on a small number of adjustments, and try again. With experience, you’ll be able predict what adjustments might help when trying a new recipe, and you’ll become a more confident high altitude baker (and a more knowledgeable food scientist).

The recipe began similarly to a genoise sponge cake, but the eggs, sugar and salt are just mixed to uniformly combine, not to a ribbon stage.

I combined the zests with a little lemon juice and mixed that into the egg-sugar mixture.

The rest of the ingredients are ready for the final mix. In the top bowl, I’ve combined the cream and melted butter with some yogurt; all at room temperature or slightly warmer so the butter doesn’t solidify. The egg mixture is on the right, and the flour and baking powder has been sifted 3 times so that it will blend in quickly and easily without forming dry clumps. The flour is sifted over the egg mixture in portions and folded in with minimal stirring.

I took a small amount of the batter and quickly stirred it into the cream-butter-yogurt mixture. This made it easier to fold the “batters” together and avoid over mixing which can lead to dry tough cakes.

Thin slices of the lemon loaf are rich, moist and pack a lemon-lime punch! They reminded me of a pagoda when I took this picture.

a last minute pizza rustica

April 3, 2012 § 29 Comments

I kept waffling about whether or not to participate in this TWD round with Nick Malgieri’s pizza rustica from Baking with Julia. Pro’s were I like Nick’s books and have several of them; his recipes work well and they give a good balance of sweet, savory, salt and richness in the results. Also, I like making pies or pie-type dishes, and am always interested in trying new crust recipes. Con’s were, I had just used up a batch of pasta frolla I had frozen to make an apple pie LAST week. And almost a month of very-warm-for-this-time-of-year weather wasn’t making me feel much like making a rich savory cheese pie for a meal! But today was cloudy and cold all day, which quickly got me into a pizza rustica mood in time for dinner. Picked up the ricotta and a small package of pre-sliced prosciutto and pinch hit with some cheeses I already had (cream cheese for the mozzarella, a parmesan for the pecorino and a few ounces of feta to bump up flavor and salt). I also added a splash of sauvignon blanc for some acidity and a generous grating of nutmeg; I think the sweet spice pairs well with dairy flavors. The already blooming and greening spring garden contributed some overwintered parsley. Making the rustica took just over an hour since blind baking wasn’t required. It baked in 45 minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen. I made a green salad with lemon and olive oil while I let it cool and settle. And we enjoyed a simple but rich dinner with the rest of the sauvignon blanc!

My 35 year old 4.5 quart KitchenAid mixer still does a great job on small batches of doughs or batters! Use the flat beater to cut in cold cut up butter until the dry mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. I used whole emmer flour for half of the all-purpose.

Stream in the beaten eggs on low speed and mix just until the dough roughly comes together (I added a little water to help). I portioned and wrapped the dough before chilling it briefly in the freezer while I made the filling.

Some of the filling ingredients, clockwise from top left: whole ricotta, prosciutto, farm eggs, garden-fresh parsley, grated grana padano.

I beat the cream cheese first, added the spices and a chunk of feta and beat again. Then the eggs, one at a time, followed by the other cheeses, white wine and “garnishes”.

The chilled dough had firmed enough that it was no longer sticky, but it wasn’t too hard and rolled out easily. It was still very tender and almost crumbly, so I rolled it loosely around the pin and brushed off the excess flour to move it to the pie dish. Then I rolled the smaller portion into a circle large enough to cover the top of the pie dish, and cut a dozen strips with a rolling cutter.

Use the strips from half of the circle, starting with the longest one in the center of the pie, and alternate on either side of that one while using strips from longer to shorter ones.

Rotate the pie slightly and place the remaining strips in a similar manner across the first layer. I like the look of a 45° angle, or you can place them at 90° if you like. Bake until both the bottom and top crusts are firm and both have browned somewhat. The filling should be set so that a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Try not to overcook the custard filling (it should still jiggle a little in the center) or it can “break” (the solids become grainy and the liquid starts to separate out). I bake all pies on the baking stone to help the bottom crust cook through. This one was a little underdone for me, but we didn’t blind bake the crust first as the pie had a top.

I’d like a little more color on both top and bottom crusts, but an overcooked custard would have been a worst crime! There was plenty of salt and flavor from the feta, nutmeg and black pepper. The leftovers will make a fine breakfast or lunch later this week! Buon appetito!

a new April Fool’s Day tradition

April 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

VERY LOCAL OMELET (3-mile eggs, Mark’s chèvre, Jay Hill Farm’s chard and spring onions, garden chives and parsley, Mo’s bacon) served with my Hot Cross buns and a Virgin Mary

Looking at this bright sunny photo, you might think we moved back to southern California. Nope, fooled ya! We’re still in Boulder, but it feels like the weather has moved here from SoCal. March set a record for high temperatures and low snowfall (almost nothing in the month that we expect to get most of our snow on the Front Range). I spent a good deal of time out in the garden, a few days in shorts, when normally my activities would be indoors and include trying to stay warm and dry. I can’t complain about getting a break from winter without having to travel, but I’m actually looking forward to getting some rain soon.

I did squeeze in a little of my own baking between challenge baking and gardening tasks…

Our “house” sourdough with mixed grain flours, apple pie and orange currant emmer scones (I froze some for later so we didn’t gain 5 pounds apiece).

And some cooking with Phil manning the grill (yup, it’s been warm)…

Grilled garlic-rosemary lamb and potatoes, shrimp risotto with peas and red pepper (locally frozen), and “Steak-for-Phil Night” with Hana patiently waiting for something yummy to hit the deck.

Finally, I did bake the Hot Cross buns for Mellow Bakers’ first Hamelman Bread challenge yesterday. His recipe used a unusually liquid sponge to get the dough started. It’s a somewhat rich sweet dough made from milk (no water), and included a couple ounces of butter, an egg, freshly ground allspice (I really liked that addition), and a pretty hefty load of currants, plus traditionally, candied lemon or orange peel which I didn’t have or make. I simply substituted the zest of a lemon which gave a nice fragrance without more sweetness, although I will plan ahead and candy some peel next time. The mixing technique was interesting because you combined all of the final dough ingredients including the butter and egg, before you added any liquid which was all in the sponge. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as gluten development from adding ingredients in this order, and it took several minutes for the dough to finally grab the dough hook so it could be effectively kneaded in the mixer. It was a little on the dry side after I added the currants (they had probably been in the cupboard a little too long), so I finished kneading those in by hand. My temperatures were a little cool, so I allowed some extra time for both the bulk fermentation and proofing the buns, and I skipped the light fold since my dough was on the firm side and had plenty of gluten strength.

My sister who does live in southern California just started to teach herself how to make bread by hand (instead of in the bread machine which she’s done for years). I got her both of the Mellow Bakers challenge bread books for her birthday and to encourage her baking (hopefully I haven’t scared her off). I’m sure we’ll both have occasions to appreciate the “mellow approach” when we get busy with other things. Oh, so why I mention this, is that my copy of Bread had a different crossing paste recipe than hers. The ingredients were just flour, oil and water – ick! She gave me the recipe in the updated edition which uses butter, milk, vanilla, sugar, lemon peel and flour (I skipped the egg because I reduced the recipe x 1/4) – yum! All in all, I was pleased with how these turned out. The aroma and flavor from the allspice had a good intensity, the texture was pleasantly chewy from the firm dough, and although some of the currants popped out when I portioned and shaped the buns, I liked the generous measure. The last two buns were even good day old with brunch this morning.

The sponge just after mixing and after proofing for about 40 minutes.

Final dough with all ingredients except for liquid; after adding and mixing in sponge.

After several minutes on low speed the dough finally grabs the dough hook but is still rough; add currants/raisins and lemon zest (in place of candied peel) towards the end of kneading.

Beginning and end of bulk rise (1 1/2 hours in my cool kitchen).

Portion slightly larger than 2 oz. and shape into buns; cover to proof another 1 1/2 hours.

Updated sweet crossing paste ready to pipe.

Pipe in one direction first, then turn pan to finish the crosses; paste holds a nice string for a neat cross pattern. You can see Hana’s forefeet peeking out from under the rotated pan. She’s hoping I’ll drip some paste on the floor for her to taste.

The buns brown very quickly but keep them in the oven for the minimum time to ensure doneness. These have just been brushed with the simple syrup for a sweet shiny (and sticky) finish.

First bites show a nice crumb and generous fruit. I substituted 2 oz. of the white flour with whole wheat and could increase to 25% with a slight increase of milk for the extra absorption of moisture from the bran. I’ll probably make these again next weekend for Easter Sunday.

My sister’s Hot Cross buns. Nice pic sis!

wearing o’ the green

March 20, 2012 § 13 Comments

I try to get peas started in the garden if it’s not too cold, wet or snowy by St. Patrick’s Day. No problem this year! In fact over-wintered kale, collard, spinach and watercress (above) have already poked their heads up along with the usual suspects of sorrel, chives and onions. I went ahead and sowed some greens and radishes along with the pea seeds, so now I’m keeping my fingers crossed for mild end-of-winter-beginning-of-spring weather.

Corned beef and cabbage sounded like way too much food for just the two of us. Grilled lamb chops (yes, it’s that warm), long-cooked broccoli for something green and the last of local potatoes were as close as we got to Ireland to celebrate the day. I did make the Irish soda bread for Tuesdays with Dorie, but couldn’t stay true to Marion Cunningham’s recipe in Baking with Julia (sorry, Marion!). Guess I really made “Spotted Dog” since I added some currants. At least I managed to make bread and not what the Irish would call cake, since I resisted the urge to add butter or an egg! Oh yeah, and I made two smaller loaves and gave one to a neighbor, since Marion warned that this bread doesn’t keep long and would be “hard as a Blarney stone” by the end of the day.

Spotted Dog (yield 2 small loaves)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup currants

2 cups buttermilk*, plus a little extra if needed

*Try to find full fat rather than low fat buttermilk, or use BWJ’s substitution of 2/3 cup plain whole yogurt plus 1/3 cup whole milk per cup of buttermilk. The extra fat will help your soda bread keep a wee bit longer.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and have a sheet pan with parchment ready. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl, add the currants and mix so they’re evenly distributed throughout. Add the buttermilk and gently mix with a spatula or bowl scraper so the flour mixture is evenly moistened and you have a rough sticky dough. I had to add a couple of splashes more milk to get the last of the flour in the bottom of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured board and divide in half by eye. With floured hands, quickly and gently form into two rounds and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet, patting into their final shape. Cut a deep “X” on top with a wet knife and place into the oven. Immediately drop the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for about 40-45 minutes (you may need to drop the temperature a little more towards the end of baking to prevent over-browning). When done, the loaves are well-risen and browned, the “X” no longer appears moist and the bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Combine all the dry ingredients together (you can leave out the 1/2 cup of rolled oats and use white or whole wheat flour in its place). Add the currants to the dry mix now to avoid the extra kneading of mixing them into the dough at the end. That gadget is a dough whisk I got from King Arthur Flour; it works well to mix stiff doughs like this one.

Only mix until a rough dough forms (over-mixing will make your bread tough), divide and shape into rounds, score the tops deeply with an “X” which helps the center of the bread bake through. You can also bake one large loaf; extend the baking time by about 10 minutes and lower the temperature again sooner if the loaves brown too quickly.

The second loaf made a yummy “almost spring” gift for our neighbors. And if you love to bake bread, my next post have info on two bread challenges starting up right away. So Follow Me, or if you can’t wait, check out Mellow Bakers from my Blogroll. More baking fun and learning coming your way!

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