Tuesday, December 18, 2012

TWD -- Beatrice, I love you!!

After a couple of recent failures, I was ready for a success. When I saw the recipe for the week was a Beatrice Ojakangas bread, I knew I was on solid ground. I am a big Beatrice fan! I own two of her whole grain bread books and use them constantly. I have come to trust Beatrice on every recipe. She has never lead me astray. Three smaller sizes of this same bread are in her book "Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand," a book a heartily recommend.

I was really ready to try her Finnish Pulla, since I grew up with Finnish descendants in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and knew they baked somewhat differently that those of us of German descent. I recognized from reading the recipe that cardamon was going to make this coffee bread distinctive, and I wasn't wrong.

The braid with raisins
Half the dough before adding sugar mixture
The recipe looked like it would make a big ring, so I decided to make two breads. After researching Finnish Pulla on the Internet, I saw that some people added cinnamon and sugar, others raisins. So I did both. To  half of the dough, I added plumped raisins, then braided the dough into one long loaf. Following Beatrice's suggestion, I used the egg wash, almonds and sparkling sugar.

I rolled out the other half of the dough, slattered butter on a 12 by 18 inch rectangle, then rolled up the dough, and cut it into 12 cinnamon rolls. I kept the filling rather tame not wanting to overpower the cardamon. I used a Christmas tree shaped pan, and after baking the rolls, used a simple confectioners' sugar glaze and some Christmas sprinkles to decorate the tree. The tree will go in the freezer for Christmas morning.
The cinnamon roll tree ready for freezing
The baked braid with almonds and sugar

I waited a day before sampling the first pulla, and wish I hadn't. Beatrice is right in that the loaf goes stale rather quickly. But with some butter on the bread and after warming it a wee bit in the toaster, the taste was delicious. I will make this again!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TWD -- The good, the bad and the ugly

As you can see by the headline, I didn't have a great experience with the Gingerbread Baby Cakes. Not owning the appropriate pans (neither the small cake pans nor the 10-inch pan) and, after reading the pre-deadline comments, I decided to try a Bundt pan instead. Big mistake. I will be curious to see if others were successful using a Bundt pan.

First, the good. The gingerbread had a wonderful taste. All those flavors mixed together (the pepper, the espresso, the ginger, the molasses, the chocolate). The combination of all these was nothing short of wonderful.

Next, the bad. The cake tested done after 50 minutes. There wasn't a crumb left on the straw that I inserted in the cake. Just for good measure, I gave the cake another five minutes. After letting the cake cool, I wrapped it in foil and froze it, intending to take it to a dinner party four days later. On the day of the party, I removed the cake from the freezer, gave it plenty of time to thaw, then decided to slice into it, just to make sure all was well.

Alarm bells went off when it took real muscle to slice through the cake. It was hard as a rock in the upper portion of the cake. Soldiering on, I kept sawing away until I got to the bottom third of the cake, and then I felt real disaster striking. The lower part of the cake was squishy and fudgy, a sure sign the cake didn't get done all the way through. I sliced off a piece just so I could taste it, and as mentioned above, the cake tasted wonderful. But, there was no way I could take it to a party. Luckily I had some cookies in the freezer I could thaw.

Notice the undercooked darker portion, noticeable on left
Now, the ugly. The worst part of the disaster was about one-fourth of the cake stuck to the pan, even though I had scrupulously greased and floured it. I was able to stick the piece back on the cake, but the appearance wasn't the best.

There is a happy ending to this story, however. After letting the cake age two days tightly wrapped in foil, the top part of the cake softened considerably and my husband and I will be able to eat it, after cutting off the undercooked bottom portion.

Monday, November 5, 2012

TWD -- Muffing the muffin assignment

A complete disaster. That was my experience with this week's Tuesday's With Dorie assignment baking Buttermilk Crumb Muffins from Baking With Julia. I don't know where I went wrong, so I am curious to read everyone's posts to see how they fared.

It's not that I've never made muffins before. I have been making them for more than 50 years -- all kinds of muffins. So inexperience could not be a factor.

Muffins before baking, some of which were overfilled
I followed the recipe, weighing the ingredients to make sure the proportions were as written. I will admit that on my first go-round, I filled some of the muffin pans about two-thirds full, not half full as the recipe indicated. I used my ice cream scoop to fill the paper-lined muffin pan, something I invariably do when making muffins. I would estimate that my muffin scoop holds about 1/3 cup of batter.

The first pan of muffins not only sunk, but had spread all over the pan. I obviously should have heeded the warning of one-half full. But why did then sink?

Notice the sinking
Before making the second pan of the muffins, I watched the video hoping to see what I might have done wrong. I noted that Marion Cunningham, the baker for that episode with the Baking with Julia PBS series, sprayed her muffin pans instead of using paper liners. But, Marion Cunningham filled her pans about two-thirds full. What gives?

Instead of getting 14 to 16 muffins, I got a total of 20 muffins. And that was after overfilling my muffin cups on the first baking.

The muffins appeared as if they were only slightly sunken after a 25-minute spell in the 350 degree oven. So I had high hopes. I let the muffins rest about five minutes, then tried to slip them out of the pan as Marion Cunningham did on the video. No such luck. Then I started prodding and prying with a knife -- again no luck. I all but had to get a wide spoon and scoop the muffins out of the pan. You can see by the accompanying pictures, it was NOT A PRETTY SITE.

The disasterour second batch
Then I really got suspicious. I started looking at other muffin recipes and found they didn't have near the same amount of sugar. And, why did I get 20 muffins using a standard muffin pan when the recipe stated I might expect 14? If I had filled the first batch one-half full as directed, I might have gotten 22 muffins out of the recipe. The Blueberry Muffins on the following page make 18 muffins with 1 3/4 cups of flour. And they are to bake for only 18-20 minutes in a 400-degree oven. So, help, follow bakers. WHAT WENT WRONG???? Was it the recipe, or me?
What was left in the pan

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TWD--Bagel shaping method a winner

The bagel recipe in Baking with Julia is unlike my favorite Jewish egg bagels, but I was ready to give it a try to see if I might like it as well or even better. Plus, the addition of black pepper was pretty intriguing..

After reading through the recipe, I saw that it used six cups of flower -- yowsah! That's a lot of flour for just 10 bagels. I reasoned the bagels could be the size of small car tires, so I opted to cut the recipe in half, then reduce the size of the bagels, getting a half-dozen out of a half recipe. The step of refrigerating the dough was new to me in making bagels, but I thought it would be worth doing unlike the refrigeration step in the pumpkin bread. I could see no reason for it in that recipe, but thought the cold dough might make shaping the bagels a bit easier.

Risen dough
I made no additions or subtractions to the recipe, and added a teaspoon of black pepper for the half recipe. I allowed it to rise about an hour in my microwave (which I had warmed by heating an inch of water in a glass on high for two minutes). After that proofing, I stuck the dough in the refrig for an overnight rising. Here is what the half recipe looked like after a night in the fridge.

Bagels after shaping and boiling
The book's technique of shaping the bagels was different than my usual method. Normally, I roll about four ounces of dough in a rope, then wrap the dough around my hand with the ends meeting at my palm. I then roll my hand back and forth on the counter, merging the two ends of dough together. I must say I liked the Baking with Julia method much better and thought that it worked very well with the chilled dough. I allowed one piece of dough to warm up, just to see if it was harder to shape and it was. Thus, the step of chilling was worthwhile. The boiling step went well, except for the fact that I mistakenly put one boiled bagel on the towel with the flour -- oh no! It stuck to the towel as if it were glued. After all, flour and water make paste. I opted to use poppy seeds after applying the egg white wash.

The bagels after baking
I chose to bake my bagels five minutes less than the recipe instructed and was I glad I did. Even at that, I thought they were somewhat over baked. The taste? They were good, but very chewy. That night in the fridge probably made the dough all that more glutenous. If you like a very chewy bagel, this is the recipe for you. But, I confess, I couldn't taste the pepper. Frankly, I like Jewish egg bagels better -- less chewy and lighter, making them excellent for sandwiches.

Monday, October 1, 2012

TWD -- My favorite recipe so far

I loved, loved, loved the Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Yeast Bread, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment! I can't say enough good things about it. I had pumpkin in the freezer left over from last year's crop of pie pumpkins, and I thawed it enabling me to use the real McCoy, rather than the canned, processed variety.

After reading the recipe, I decided to skip the refrigeration step. I know, I know, I cheated, but time was of the essence and I needed to be up and gone today and lacked the luxury of waiting around for refrigerated dough to warm and then rise. Plus, I have baked with refrigerated dough before and don't think the extra step adds enough to the final product to make it all worthwhile. It may pay off when making a baguette, but when making a vegetable, fruit bread, I couldn't see the advantage.
I made no changes to the recipe except for substituting dried cranberries (Craisins) for fresh ones. I love Craisins, and I reasoned that fresh cranberries could give the bread too tart a taste.

Baked in 71.2- by 4-inch pans
I opted to bake my loaves in 71/2- by 4-inch pans rather than the three smaller ones. First of all, I don't own those minuscule pans (what's the point?) and I wanted a sizable loaf to take to a Debate Party on Wednesday night (go Obama).

Second rise, 2 hours
Sliced when still warm
My dough did need a bit more water, perhaps an ounce or so, but otherwise the it acted as it should, slapping the sides of the Kitchen Aid bowl like a good loaf of bread should. The dough took a while to rise, due I think to the sugar and the cinnamon in the mixture, but it was well worth the wait. The first rise took 90 minutes, the second rise 120. I couldn't wait to carve into the loaf, and I was ecstatic over its taste, its crumb, its texture. I will definitely make this bread again!

Monday, September 17, 2012

TWD -- A recipe in my comfort zone

Finally: A recipe I could feel confident about. The whole wheat bread recipe, this week's Tuesday's With Dorie challenge from the book, "Baking with Julia," was right up my alley. As a self-confessed "bread head" who has not purchased a loaf of bread in 11 years and has experimented with almost every bread recipe known to man in that time period, I recognized the whole wheat recipe as the de riguer recipe now making the rounds in cookbooks, magazines and Internet recipes. This standard formula of approximately half white flour and half whole wheat with honey used as sweetener is the homecoming queen of all whole wheat recipes.

Sourdough starter crock
Since I bake mostly sourdough bread, I decided to convert the Baking with Julia recipe using some sourdough starter in the formula. Sourdough bread stays fresh longer than other breads, and the use of natural yeast cuts back the need for store-bought yeast.

My sourdough starter, now eight years old, is fed with equal portions of water and flour measured by weight, not volume. In other words, I feed it weekly with four ounces of water and four onces of flour. Thus, to convert a standard recipe to a sourdough recipe, I need to subtract equal amounts of flour and water from the original recipe. In the case of the Baking with Julia whole wheat loaf, I first cut the recipe in half to make only one loaf not two, then added six ounces of sourdough starter. This meant that I needed three ounces less of both flour and water.

Microwsve as proofing box
After mixing and kneading the dough with my stand mixer, I used by microwave oven as a proofing box. I heated about an inch of water in a microwave safe glass for two minutes on high. Then, leaving the glass in the microwave for moisture, I added the bowl of bread dough, shut the door, and allowed the dough to rise for 90 minutes. I used the same technique to let the dough rise in the pan for 60 minutes.

The finished loaf
The bread turned out lovely, and I felt I gained the advantage of adding more chew (sourdough starter acts much like a poolish or biga providing more chew to the crumb) and I was able to cut back on the yeast by about half. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

TWD -- Nervous Nelly over Nectarines

I'll confess. I was more than a bit nervous about making Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment.  After viewing the schedule and seeing that a cake was due the day after Labor Day, I volunteered to bring the dessert to a Labor Day gathering.

Then I read the comments -- those helpful suggestions from bakers who had gotten a jump on the assignment, had made the cake and were describing their experiences. That's when the worry set in. I saw the word "sinking" in several comments, and thought, "If there's any chance of a cake sinking, it will happen to me." I have been known to have cake-mix cakes sink. However, after doing a test on my oven temperature about three weeks ago, I discovered that the thermostat was off by 15 degrees. After adjusting it upward, I was having better luck baking other desserts -- but a cake, and a chiffon cake at that?

Here was my quandary. I was obligated now to take a dessert, but what if the cake sank so badly it wasn't edible. And, during my period of obsessing (should I bake something else as backup?) I got out the ruler and measured my springform pan. It wasn't a 10-inch pan, but a 9-inch pan. The bakers' comments had addressed that issue. Use less batter. But how much less? I concluded I needed nine-tenths the amount of everything mentioned in the recipe. I got out my calculator and scale and decided to proceed, but plugging in enough time to make a fruit cobbler if things went really wrong.

Oh, I forgot to mention. During my obsessing phase, I watched the video (as suggested in the comments suggestion) not once but twice. The lovely baker in the video made the cake look so easy. It appeared that nothing could go wrong. Then I "googled" Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake and saw where Tish Boyle had baked it on Julia's 100th birthday on August 15 and hers looked delicious in the photo on her blog. But, then again, I'm nowhere near Tish Boyle's league, so I began preparing raspberry cobbler ingredients as I had now worried myself into believing, MY CAKE WILL SINK!

So, to make a long story short, the cake did sink. I watched it sink through the window in the oven door. Everything was going smoothly until about 35 minutes into the baking time, and I then it began to sink before my very eyes. By the time 45 minutes were up, the crater in the middle looked like the Grand Canyon (that is a bit of an exaggeration and the picture makes it look less sunken than it really was), but remember I'm obsessing and tempus is fugiting.

The 25 minutes before I could turn it out on a plate were the longest 25 minutes in my life. Should I start the cobbler NOW, or should I hope in the upside down state it wouldn't look half bad. And some of the comments said even though their cakes sunk, they were still good. So, I held off starting the cobbler and watched the clock slowly tick away.

Turning it out was pretty easy. I did not use parchment paper as some in the comments section suggested.  I found I didn't need it. Once the cake was on the plate it didn't look half bad. Would it sink more as it cooled? Should I start the cobbler, or hold out another hour. I held out. It sank no further and I reasoned that if I said not a word at the Labor Day gathering to the effect, "Sorry, but my cake sunk a bit" people just might assume it was meant to be concave in the middle. After all, would anyone there have ever tasted Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake before? I rather doubted it.

This story has a happy ending. I took the cake first to the Labor Day dinner and everyone loved it. Then I took the rest of the cake to the bakery where I volunteer, and there were just enough  left so all 10 volunteers could try it. Again, it got rave reviews. Although the cake was a hit, I would still like to know: Why did it sink? If anyone has the answer, I'd love to hear from you. I'd really like to make this cake again!

Monday, August 20, 2012

TWD -- Bland, bland, bland

Popovers, America's version of Yorkshire Pudding, are vastly overrated in my opinion. Perhaps we are now so used to big, mouth-watering muffins served up at every Starbucks and local cafe, or maybe our tastebuds are so sophisticated after two decades or more of the "food movement" where dishes are served with a plethora of herbs and spices that we no longer care much for bland.

Whatever the reason, I found popovers to have little to recommend them. Maybe I needed the roast beef and juices to get the authentic experience. But when you live in a hot, dry climate as the Midwest has been this summer, fixing a joint to go with the latest Baking with Julia adventure wasn't on my radar screen.

Since my husband and I are empty nesters and I didn't think I could even palm popovers over onto grandkids no matter how much jelly I slathered on them, I elected to halve the recipe and make a half dozen of them.

Popovers best attributes are that they are easy to make, don't call for expensive ingredients and their preparation doesn't dirty too many dishes. I elected to use my stick blender and it's accompanying tall cup to make them. It worked perfectly. Since I didn't have custard cups, I used a muffin pan, leaving empty every other cup allowing the dough plenty of room to expand.

After mixing up the flour, egg, salt, milk and butter, I popped them into the oven and awaited the results. The popovers rose beautifully, browned perhaps too quickly at 425 (I had to turn the oven down a bit), then dried out at the 350 temperature for 15 minutes.

The results? They looked like popovers although a bit too brown, but they tasted -- well, bland. The taste was similar to a cream puff, but without the cream. No fun in that! Would I make them again? Probably not, but the experience was worth the effort. Come winter when the winds are howling and a roast beef with its accompanying juices sounds inviting and I ask myself, "Should I make popovers to go with that?" I can safely answer myself with an unqualified "no."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TWD -- First a failure, then some tweaking

I confess. I didn't like this blueberry/nectarine pie in Baking with Julia. So, I made it twice, once following the recipe almost exactly, and then making adaptations which I felt improved it immensely.

My faults with the recipe were three: the crust recipe, the amount of thickener and the baking temperature. By following the recipe I was left with a non-flaky, very pale crust. I had to jack up the oven temperature to 450 degrees at the end, just to get the pie to brown. And, had I used only the 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour called for in the recipe, I would have been left with a runny mess. I hate pie fillings that run all over the plate, so on the first go-round I doubled the amount of flour. The pie (at left) looks pretty decent. But trust me, the crust was NOT flaky.

On the second time around, I used my favorite crust recipe (5 cups of pastry flour, 2 cups of Crisco or a combination of lard and Crisco, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp. salt, 1 egg, 1 tbls. of vinegar and approximately 2/3 cup of ice water. I worked the fat into flour mixture with my hands, leaving some pretty big chunks of Crisco. I portion the picture into 6 ounce discs and freeze what I don't need immediately. This is the same pastry recipe used in the bakery for which I volunteer and it is a very popular way of making pie crust in Ohio. Look in any community cookbook from this area and you will find this crust recipe. A variation has been published in two of Marcia Adams' cookbooks (a Midwest cook) and the 200th Anniversary King Arthur cookbook. In my mind, it can't be beat. The egg helps the crust brown -- I hate a pale pie crust.

I also switched thickeners the second time around, going from flour to Clear Jel. I used four tablespoons of Clear Jel -- my new go-to thickener for pies. I used to use tapioca, but Clear Jel is even better.

And, I upped the baking temperature to 400 degrees. This, too, helped the pie brown.

I'm not sure after making this pie twice that cooking part of the filling on top of the stove helps in the overall flavor. Since I make a lot of pies and taste a lot of pies at the bakery, I can't say that this method improves upon the end result. Plus, it's an added step that takes time and dirties a saucepan.

So, here is a picture of Pie No. 2 with the all-Crisco, pastry flour, vinegar and egg crust; Clear Jel; and a baking temperature of 400 degrees. As soon as I put a fork in the pie, I could tell a huge difference in the crust. The pastry all but melted in your mouth. Would I make this pie again -- yes, but with the adaptations mentioned above. And, I would substitute peaches for the nectarines -- I think they offer up more flavor.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TWD--Semolina Bread

I was in my element with the latest Tuesdays with Dorie assignment: Semolina Bread. Although I have used semolina in pasta and pizza crust, I have never actually made a loaf of bread with the flour.

The instructions were clear, but anyone not used to making bread may have been put off with the loose and wet dough. It's tempting to keep adding flour, but I resisted, thinking that the wet dough would make a superior loaf.

I chose to bake my bread in a La Cloche. Being a "bread head," (I confess I currently have 14 kinds of flour on my shelves) I have a lot of equipment, and I often use the stone La Cloche baker for making French bread-like loafs. I recalled that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommended the La Cloche for her semolina loaf, so I looked up her recipe in "The Bread Bible" and, sure enough, it was very much like the one in "Baking with Julia." I let the bread rise in the La Cloche bottom, while I preheated the lid while preheating the oven. I then clamped the lid on the La Cloche just before putting the bread in the oven. With a La Cloche, there is no need to produce steam in the oven by dumping water or ice cubes in a preheated pan. The baker keeps the moisture in the bread from evaporating. I removed the lid after the first 15 mintues to allow the crust to develop.

I served the loaf at a Fourth of July get-together. Although no one commented on it, I thought it was good with a distinctive "buttery" taste. I froze the rest of the loaf and intend to make garlic bread with the remainder.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TWD -- Hazelnut aka almond biscotti

Hazelnut, aka almond biscotti, was a fairly simple assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie. If you live in a town of 6,000 people and the nearest big market is more than 30 miles away, you have to find something to substitute for hazelnuts. I chose almonds after "googling" hazelnut substitute. I roasted the almonds for 15 minues at 350 degrees, then chopped them with a knife, rather than use a nut chopper. I wanted big chunks of almonds, not miniscule pieces.

From there on out, I followed the recipe to a T, even going so far as to measure the length of my biscotti "logs" with a ruler.

What I learned from this recipe is to bake the biscotti on a cooling rack for the second baking. That way you don't have to flip each cookie halfway through. What a concept! I loved it.

The biscotti turned out perfectly after 10 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees.. I hate jaw-breaking biscotti that one needs to keep the dentist's phone number nearby when taking the first bite. This biscotti was pretty crunchy (there was no fat in the recipe which tends to make it softer), but it wasn't so hard one had to fear an impending dental crown. One thing that might have made the recipe better was a half teaspoon of almond extract to boost the almond taste a bit. I added brandy and vanilla, but I found I couldn't taste either in the final product. But, all in all, the taste was good, perfect with a morning cup of coffee!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TWD: Genoise -- the French can have it!

Put me in the failure column for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie. My French strawberry cake would turn anyone off genoise. I have successfully made sponge cake and jelly roll cakes in the past, but genoise was a new experience. Unfortunately, my cake bottom was tough enough to use as paving material. Notice the lighter bottom half in the picture at right. That was the tough and doughy portion.

Rather than cut the 8-inch cake in thirds, put strawberries and whipped cream between the layers, then frost the cake with whipped cream, I elected to cut my cake into rounds using a 3-inch biscuit cutter hoping to salvage at least part of the cake.

I followed the instructions to a T, whipping the mixture until I got the prescribed ribbon of batter. I believe I folded the flour in adequately. Although the bump in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixture did hide pockets of flour, I folded and folded until I felt I got all the flour incorporated. I then carefully folded in the butter and a portion of the batter mixture, but to no avail. The cake, particularly the shoe-leather bottom layer, looked inedible.

Soldiering on, I divided my rounds in half, layered each half with strawberries and whipped cream, and tried to soak enough juice into the intractable bottom layer to make it edible. It didn't work. The bottom layer was so rubbery, the strawberry syrup rolled off like water off a duck's back. My husband and I ate the top half of the cakes and put the bottom half down the disposal. I will be very interested to see how others fared with this recipe. Although I was only able to eat the top portion of the cake, I learned that I much prefer the southern version of strawberry shortcake, using warm biscuit-like rounds made with White Lily self-rising flour, lard, buttermilk and sugar. I will concede the genoise version to the French and stick to my tried-and-true shortcake.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TWD--Oasis Naan

The Oasis Naan, the latest Tuesdays with Dorie assignment, was not at all what I expected. I have tasted naan once at an Indian restaurant, and I remembered it as being much like an Arabic flatbread; not puffy but relatively flat.

When I read through the ingredients I realized this was basically the formula for French bread. And mine ended up tasting like French bread and looking like French bread once it was cut.

I decided early on to cut the recipe in half, make one naan round and use the rest of the dough for focaccia. The dough was somewhat slack, so I folded it after one hour to help give it structure.

 I portioned the half recipe into fourths, patted one fourth into the five- to six-inch round, then poked away at the dough with the round end of my wire whisk. I wet the dough, added chopped scallion and cumin.

After baking the round for about five to six minutes at 500 degrees, I was surprised to see a puffy end product. After letting it cool, I sliced it, and the crumb was holey, much as a French baguette would be studded with holes. I tried some hummus on one slice, some pimento cheese on another. Both were yummy.

I patted the other three-fourths of the dough into a 9-inch pan, let it rise once, dimpled it with my fingers and poured some olive oil in the holes. I then sprinkled kocher salt and rosemary over the entire surface and baked the foccacia at 500 degrees for 13 minutes. I did not get the oven spring I got with the naan, and I reasoned that was because I let it rise before dimpling it. If I had it to do again, I would bake it after shaping as I did the naan. I am now going to research other recipes for naan and see if they differ from the one in Baking with Julia.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

TWD -- Pecan Sticky Buns

In short, the Pecan Sticky Buns for our latest Tuesdays with Dorie assignment were good, but not worth the 12-hour effort and the pound of butter it took to make them. After reading through the recipe, I decided at the outset to make only one pan of buns and to turn the other half of the dough into a loaf of brioche. I have always wanted to make brioche, so I'm glad I had this experience, but I doubt if I will repeat it.

I made the mistake of not making the brioche dough the night before baking the buns, so I had to accomplish the task in a day. I started at 9 a.m. and finished at 9 p.m. And, I skipped one step in the lamination process, to save both time and butter.

My KitchenAid was up to the task of mixing the dough for 15 minutes. I did find I had to add a bit more flour, but hestitated adding too much for fear I would throw off the proportions of flour and butter. I was sorely tempted, however, but glad I didn't cave in, for my dough was easy enough to roll after the 4-hour refrigeration. The extra flour would not have been needed.

After letting the dough rise twice (once at room temperature and once in the fridge) I was ready to laminate half of it. The other half was shaped into a bread pan as described in "Baking with Julia" by forming the dough into three balls and placing them side by side in a 9 by 5 bread pan. I let that dough rise at room temperature. The laminated dough went back in the refrigerator for half an hour.

After the 30-minute cold rest, it was ready to roll for the sticky buns. I liked the method of painting the dough with the egg wash. Although I have made sweet rolls all  my adult life, I had never used egg wash using a whole egg. My previous experiences were to either use butter, water or egg white. I used a ground pecan mixture for my nuts, a product I buy in bulk from a Mennonite store in Ohio. I was doubtful if there was enough cinnamon/sugar mixture, but after tasting the buns, I found it to be just right.

After rolling up the dough and slicing it (using the dental floss method by wrapping a length of floss around the dough, then criss-crossing the ends to get a perfect cut, I found I needed to make eight rolls, not seven. If I had cut seven rolls they would have been too tall, especially after the two-hour rise. I found two hours to actually be too much and wished I had let them rise a shorter time period. My rolls were, perhaps, overrisen as they were immense after coming out of the oven.

I first baked the brioche bread, which turned out lovely, then baked the rolls. I put the rolls in a carrying case, then drove them 10 miles north to the bakery where I volunteer. I thought, "Who better to judge the quality of these rolls but my baking companions?" Their verdict? Good, but perhaps not worth all the time and expense. A simpler sweet dough might have been just as tasty with far less time and butter involved. There was one roll left, which I brought home to my husband. He gave it a big thumbs up, even though he is not a sweets lover. He thought the brioche dough resulted in a much more tender and tasty sweet roll than a normal sweet dough would have made. So, perhaps, I will make these again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TWD -- Hungarian Shorbread

My first decision when I looked at the Hungarian Shortbread recipe in "Baking with Julia" for the Internet baking group Tuesday with Dorie was this: Did I really want to make the whole entire recipe? That pound of butter was rather daunting. What if I didn't like it? So, I decided to cut the recipe in half and make it in an 8-inch square pan.

I then needed to decide if I wanted to make the rhubarb filling or substitute for something else. We have a rhubarb patch in the yard, but then I reasoned that some people don't like rhubarb, and we happened to have several jars of homemade blueberry jam on the shelf made last summer from home-grown blueberres. So, I settled on blueberries.

With those decisions behind me, I started creaming the butter. I would like to make a pitch here for the Kitchen Aid paddle beater that has a rubber scraper attached to one side. This all but eliminates having to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. A friend recommended this attachment to me, and her advice was right on. For anyone who makes a lot of cookies or cakes, this beater can't be beat!

There were no quirks in the recipe, and the batter went together like most shortbread batters. I froze the dough into two balls, and after the 30 minutes of freezing, started grating the first ball using the largest hole on my box grater. I debated whether to grease the pan, but since the recipe didn't indicate one should, I didn't. I later came to regret that as the combination of shortbread dough and blueberry jam tended to stick to the sides of the pan.

I baked the shortbread on the short end of the time suggested, since I had cut down the pan size. That seemed to work out well. I then piled on the confectioner's sugar, something I realized after cutting the bars that I had overdone. But the first time one makes anything is a learning experience.

Once the bars cooled, my husband and I sampled one. Both of us loved the combination of shortbread, blueberries and confectioner's sugar. I cut the bars into 16 portions, which were plenty large. Would I make them again? Yes, without a doubt, but perhaps I would next try strawberry or raspberry jam. I still have reservations about rhubarb.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TWD--Lemon Loaf Cake

Lemon loaf cake, this week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, couldn't have come at a better time for this baker. My friend Susan convinced me that I should try baking my way through Baking with Julia with the Internet TWD group after hearing it featured on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. It just so happens that Susan is coming for dinner Thursday evening, and serving the lemon cake with a dollop of lemon curd would be just the thing for a spring-time dessert. And, it is springlike in Ohio this week.

I started the process by zesting the three lemons. I love my zester, given to me by my baking daughter Katie who is doing TWD from her home in Sugar Land, Texas.
I confess, I didn't read through the instructions carefully, so I did not bring my eggs up to room temperature. What to do? I put them in a container of warm water for about five minutes, while I melted the butter and they were quickly warmed sufficiently to put in my Kitchen Aid mixing bowl. I used the wisk attachment to mix the eggs and the sugar.
 The recipe differed from any cake recipe I had previously made. There was no creaming of the butter and sugar, and the instructions did not indicate that the eggs should be beaten enough to incorporate air. I began to wonder if this cake would rise, particularly since there was so little baking powder in the recipe.

After adding all the ingredients and mixing them as indicated in the recipe, I poured the batter in a 9 by 5 pan, as instructed. However, there seemed to be too little batter for a loaf pan of this size. I wondered if an 8 by 4 pan might have been more appropriate.

I set my timer for 50 minutes, the minimum required for the recipe, but found that it didn't pass the toothpick test after that amount of time. I added another 5 minutes, and then the toothpick came out clean.
 The cake came out of the pan very nicely, after waiting the requisite 10 minutes. However, I would have liked it to look taller and think if I'd used a smaller pan it would have. I can't report on the taste yet, since I froze the cake, waiting for Susan's arrival on Thursday.