Monday, April 14, 2014

TWD -- Can-do Cantuccini

Practically perfect in every way
I loved this recipe. I was thrown at first by the name, but once I read this was real-deal biscotti, I couldn't wait to try it. I have been making biscotti off and on for some time, but had never run into a recipe for unblanched almonds. What were they and where did one get them? I ended up using a product called "raw almonds" so I hoped that meant unblanched.

I followed the recipe exactly and found the end product "practically perfect in every way," as Mary Poppins would say. I have come to believe that a biscotti recipe without any fat makes a cookie too tough and crunchy, but these weren't. My eight-year-old granddaughter even liked them and wasn't put off by the fact that they didn't look like the traditional cookie. I am going on a Cooks' Tour tomorrow and will take these along to pass out on the bus.

Monday, March 3, 2014

TWD -- Buttermilk Scones with two changes

We've all done it, I'm sure. Just
when we're ready to stick something in the oven we remember we forgot a key ingredient. In the case of Marion Cunningham's Buttermilk Scones, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment, it was the sugar. The scones (I chose the pinwheel version) were cut, buttered and ready to pop in the oven when I suddenly remembered the sugar that was supposed to go in with the flour and buttermilk. By then it was too late so I decided to see if the sugar would be missed -- it wasn't. I had sprinkled enough sugar on the completed pinwheels that it made no difference whatsoever that there was none in the dough.

Oops, I forgot the sugar when making the dough
I made one other alteration in the recipe. I substituted self-rising flour for the flour, baking powder and salt called for in the recipe. I like scones with made with self-rising flour, a softer flour that makes for a more tender and less dry scone. After tasting the finished product I was glad I had made the substitution. The scones were wonderful and all but melted in your mouth.

But then I tend to like Marion Cunningham's recipes. As the editor of two revised editions of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (a mainstay in my kitchen) I have come to trust Marion. And I love to watch her with Julia on You Tube making the recipes in "Baking with Julia." She's so relaxed, poised and elegant that it's hard to believe that she suffered from agoraphobia. When I learned this fact about her by reading her Wikipedia entry it just made me admire her all the more.

Marion suggested several kinds of fruits to put in the pinwheels but I picked something not on the list -- dates. It was an awesome choice and one I will make again. I liked the dough so well in this recipe that I thought it could be used to make quick cinnamon rolls when there is no time for yeast dough to rise. I served my scones with shepherd's pie, another British favorite in our house.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TWD: Onion Bialys: How do they eat them in New York?

I couldn't wait to try the Onion Bialys for this week's Tuesday with Dorie assignment. I love bagels -- love to make them, love to eat them. But bialys were uncharted territory for me. I had never heard of them, so consequently had never eaten one. For the correct pronunciation, I consulted the The Free Dictionary on the internet and learned the i was pronounced like an e.  I liked the fact that were from Poland and, according to the book, they were popular at New York brunches. When you live in a town the size of a postage stamp, eating brunch in New York seems so "Sex in City."  And that onion topping with poppy seeds looked awfully yummy in the pictures.

I wondered, "Would they taste like bagels without the water bath?" I was eager to find out. If these could taste as good as bagels, eliminating the water bath would save a step.

First batch -- too fat and with not enough of an indentation
I made mine in two batches. I believed I was following the directions in the book for batch No. 1, but my first half dozen obviously didn't look like the pictures. They were way too fat and the indentation in the middle was not nearly big enough. That's when I found Bill Dube. After Googling "how to shape bialys," I happened on Dube's You Tube video where he shows not only how to shape the dough (he uses the bottom of a water glass to make the indentation) but how to make the dough in a bread machine. I liked Dube's affable presentation so well, I watched a few of his other videos and decided he would make a great next-door neighbor. We could swap bread stories to a fare-three-well and sample each other's experiments.

Bath No.2
Thanks to Bill's help, my second batch turned out looking much more like the ones in the book. I couldn't wait to eat one.
I waited until they were relatively cool before slicing the first one. To my dismay, the filling spilled out of the indentation during the slicing process. This was a puzzler. Did people at New York brunches eat the entire roll without slicing? I couldn't picture people all over New York slicing into bialys and watching the topping fall out on the white tablecloth. The dough seemed too chewy and bagel-like to attempt eating one whole. After mulling this conundrum over, I decided to spoon out the filling, put it in a cup while I sliced the bialy horizontally, toast the two halves and then reapply the topping over the buttered halves. It was delicious fixed this way. My goal now is to finagle a trip to New York, find a brunch spot that serves bialys and watch how the natives eat them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TWD -- Country Bread: good but not great

Joe Ortiz' Country Bread, this week's assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie, was good, but not great. This is the kind of bread I love to make -- a mixture of wheat, whole wheat and rye flours with little or no sugar and oil -- a true artisan bread.

Baskets from Discount Drug Mart
I chose to divide my dough in half and make two loaves, not one, using baskets from our drug store (when you live in a small town you buy everything from window shades to lettuce at Discount Drug Mart.) I bought two wicker baskets there years ago and they are the perfect size to make 1 12-2- pound loaves of bread. I let the dough rise in the baskets seam side up, turn them out on a pizza paddle covered with cornmeal and slide them onto baking tiles.

I had three problems with Country Bread. The first was the yeast. I bake with instant yeast and the recipe called for active dry yeast. I know to use less instant yeast than a recipe for active dry yeast calls for, so I allowed for that fact. What I didn't allow for was the difference in rising times. My dough rose faster than the recipe indicated and I think my loaves were actually over-risen when I slid them in the oven.

My second problem was the amount of water. I thought my dough didn't have enough. Somewhere in the Baking with Julia book, it indicates a cup of flour used in the recipes should weigh 5 ounces. Using this as my guide, I used the minimum amount of flour called for (a total of 30 ounces) and used the 20 ounces of water indicated. That equates to a 66 percentage of four/water ratio. I normally like my bread with a 68 percent ratio and was tempted to add more water to get there, but decided to follow the recipe instead just to see what would happen.

My last problem I believe is the fault of the recipe. I view the baking temperature to be too low for this kind of bread. I normally start an artisan loaf at 460 degrees, then reduce the heat (only if it's browning to fast) after about 10 or 15 minutes. At 425 degrees, my loaves didn't brown that nicely.

When I cut into one of the loaves, I saw that the crumb was too tight and too dry -- an indication that more water was needed and that the dough had over-risen and had somewhat collapsed in the oven. Should I make this loaf again I would add more water, shorten my rising time on the second rise and jack up the oven temperature to at least 450 degrees.

The finished product

For those who love to make this kind of bread, I recommend two books: "The Bread Bible." by Rose Levy Beranbaum and "Bread" by Jeffery Hamelman.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TWD -- Gingersnaps that lacked snap

Beauty is their own excuse for being
I was really looking forward to this Tuesdays with Dorie assignment. Gingersnaps are just about my favorite cookie. But when I looked over the recipe I was dubious. There didn't seem to be enough ingredients -- particularly flour -- for the amount of cookies specified.

So, I decided to double the recipe, which was a smart move. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have had enough cookies to make it worth the effort of mixing, rolling, baking and decorating.

Even though the ingredient list looked quite different from my traditional gingersnap recipe, I decided to soldier on and try the Baking with Julia recipe. Plus, my daughter had just loaned me her snowflake cookie cutter and I was dying to try decorating with some meringue powder icing.

I'll have to say I was disappointed in the results. The cookies had snap on the edges, but the centers were chewy, not snappy. I did have fun with my attempt at decorating the snowflakes, but from here on out I will use another recipe for the cookies.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TWD -- A high maintenance cookie

Double chocolate cookies -- too thin for my taste.
Was it worth one pound of chocolate, a hard-to-work-with fudge like dough that refused to drop neatly from a cookie scoop and a cookie which stubbornly stuck to the cookie sheet? I vote no. The cookies were good but not THAT good. This cookie was high maintenance.

This cookie also required more time to make than, say, a typical chocolate chip cookie. I have recipes for chocolate cookies made with cocoa that I would rate higher than this one.

I rarely have cookies stick these days now that we have silicone and parchment paper. I first tried baking them on a silicone mat and they wanted to adhere to the silicone. I then tried parchment paper, as specified in the recipe, but with no better luck. And, the cookies tended to spread too much for my taste. I like a thicker, more substantial cookie.

The bottom line is that I won't make these cookies again -- too expensive, too hard to work with and too thin. Give me Martha Stewart's chocolate cookies any day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TWD -- A great chance to experiment

Nine cups of flour for two loaves of bread? That was the first thing that struck me when I read through this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe: Pumpernickel Bread. I found the list of ingredients (chocolate, espresso, molasses, yogurt) intriguing, but the amount of flour indicated that if this recipe was made into two loaves they would be HUGE!! With only two people in my household, I decided that loaves that big would get stale long before they were eaten. Thus, I decided to make three loaves, not two, and give one to friends and freeze one for later.

That decided, I then realized this was a chance to experiment with three different baking techniques and see which one proved to be the best. I would shape all three as described in the recipe (I also watched the video which helped in the shaping) but would bake one in a stone covered baking pan (similar to a La Cloche, but long and narrow), bake one in a traditional 9 by 5 bread pan (I chose stone for this as well) and bake the third in the manner described in the recipe, directly on baking tiles using ice water to create steam. I was dying to try the kitchen towel sling for rising, so the third loaf would be treated exactly like the recipe specified.

I also decided to experiment with the rising instructions. Recipes of old called for three rises, but most modern ones require only two. Was the third rise really necessary? I decided to find out. Thus, the first two loaves were allowed to rise twice, and the third would rise three times, just as the recipe prescribed.

Unable to find prune lekvar in my area, I substituted seedless blackberry jam for the prune butter. I was fortunate to have stone-ground rye flour, purchased on a recent trip to Bear's Mill ( in western Ohio. It's one of the few mills left in the state still grinding flour.  Aside from the lekvar substitution, I followed the recipe to a T. I soon learned that my Kitchen Aid mixer could not handle dough with nine cups of flour. The dough began crawling up the dough hook and beyond! This resulted in a major cleaning effort to coax the dough out of the mixing mechanism. Lesson learned: never try to mix three loaves of bread at once. I ended up taking the dough out of the mixer and finishing it by hand -- not the Herculean task as described in the recipe, but rather soul-satisfying after 10 minutes cleaning my Kitchen Aid of mud-colored globules of dough.

Loaves No. 1 and 2 in the oven
But once past that snag, I was off and running. Loaves one and two were shaped with one placed in the stone covered baker, the other positioned in the 9 by 5 loaf pan. I topped one with sesame seeds, the other with caraway seeds.

The towel technique
I then started work on loaf No. 3 -- the one by which I followed the recipe exactly (except of course for the blackberry jam). I let the loaf rise twice, then shaped it according to instructions.  I floured a kitchen dish towel and placed the loaf seam side up on the towel. I disliked the idea of poking a hole in the towel, as suggested, but discovered that the towel I chose had a piece of binding tape sewn diagonally across one of the top corners -- a device intended for hanging. Perfect. I shoved one end of the towel through the binding tape, then used the tape to hang the loaf from the knob on a kitchen cupboard.

After the requisite 40 minutes of rising, I turned the loaf onto a paddle sprinkled with cornmeal. I egg-washed the top, sprinkled on some seeds, slashed it and positioned it onto preheated baking tiles. I then threw in the ice water for steam and set the timer.

It turned out that I loved the kitchen towel-rising technique. It allowed me to achieve a fat boule without having the sides sag. I will definitely use this technique in the future. It was easy, foolproof and resulted in just the size loaf I wanted.

From left, stone covered baker, 9 by 5 bread pan, towel-rising loaf

So, which loaf tasted the best? I can honestly say I couldn't tell a difference. The mixture of ingredients was wonderful. The crispiest crust, however, was accomplished with the 9 by 5 pan, something I never would have predicted. The shape I liked the best was the one created by the kitchen towel. The least successful was the loaf made in the (expensive) covered stone baker. So, if anyone out there is contemplating purchasing such an item, I would advise against it. I have not found that it's worth the money. A kitchen towel is much, much cheaper.