Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Calling All Buddies!

One of the fun things about the Bread Baking Babes is that lots of bloggers who bake the bread of the month get to be Buddies. Not only do you get to make something delicious, you can read all of the Babe posts to get our take on it, you can always e-mail the Kitchen of the Month (this month that's moi) to get help with the recipe and, after the 29th, you get a Bread Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site if you have a blog. As you can see, tomorrow is the last day for posting your bread and sending me a link at plachman at sonic dot net.

Since life is rearely simple, I'll make the cut-off midnight East Coast of America Daylight Savings Time (9 pm my time) and send badges to everyone who have e-mailed me by then. The round-up will have to wait until Monday or Tuesday of next week due to circumstances that are allowing me to have fun and earn money all weekend.

So give those pretzels a try, send me an e-mail with info on how the baking went, how you liked them, etc, and please include a photo.

XO Elle

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Doesn't English have the oddest words? Due to the chilly and wet spring and early summer, we had a dearth of ripe tomatoes, even in August. Dearth sounds so heavy and sad (and means a lack of or inadequate supply or [even more so] a scarcity that makes something dear) which is appropriate since the scarcity of tomatoes was a sad thing. Now, with the onset of almost a full week of hot weather, we have a plethora of ripe tomatoes!Plethora is another one of those unusual words but it is perfect for the current situation; we do indeed have an excess, superfluity, over supply, profusion and abundance of a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes.

I've been giving them away to friends, eating them at almost every meal, and still there are plenty of bright red Costoluttos, yellow-orange Persimmons, striped Green Zebra tomatoes with a yellow tinge under the stripes to let me know its ripe, big fat Marvel Stripes and dark green brown and pink Black Krims, plus a dusky plum shaped one that is twice the size of my old favorite Romas. This makes me the opposite of sad as you can imagine. The wait was worth it. Don't you just love it when you finally get something you've been waiting patiently for and it actually lives up to your expectations?

I have to boast a little. One of the plants that I fed and watered for so long produced an absolutely huge tomato. Here is a photo of it by the KitchenAid mixer paddle to give you a visual idea of just how much of a big guy it was. There have been a few more that were large, but that one was giant.

Once each season when we get to this point and there are tomatoes to choose from, each more luscious looking than the other, I make a classic BLT sandwich.

This time it took a day longer than planned because the sourdough bread I baked to use to hold the sandwich together and to capture those delicious fresh tomato juices baked up too thin. It made great toast but I wanted a nice tall sandwich bread. The next day I made some for my sandwich and some to share with friends. I tried something different. I fastened a folded parchment collar around a small spring form pan and put the dough ball in that. It rose up beautifully so I had the perfect tall sandwich loaf, even if it was round instead of loaf shaped.

Some thoughtfully cooked platter bacon from our local market (not undercooked with flabby parts where the fat didn't crisp up, not overcooked so it would be crumbly, a handful of baby lettuce leaves, light mayonnaise (the only thing I should have made from scratch instead...but the taste was still just fine), freshly ground pepper and slices of juicy tomato fresh from the made a really iconic BLT!

I ended up wiping tomato juices from my chin because the bread just couldn't soak them all up. It was like biting into the best of summer.

Best BLT
two slices bread, if possible a sourdough bread (I made a sourdough herb bread with whole wheat flour)
2-4 slices good quality bacon
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1-2 ripe tomatoes, home grow if possible
1-2 full sized lettuce leaves or a handful of baby leaves
pepper to taste

Toast the bread.
Fry the bacon until just barely crisp, turning a few times as the slices cook. Lay cooked slices on paper towels or brown paper to drain.
Spread both slices with the mayonnaise. Slice the tomato in thick (about 1/2 inch) slices. On one slice arrange the tomato slices. Top tomatoes with the cooked bacon strips. Top with the lettuce. Add pepper to taste on the other slice of bread. Freshly ground pepper is the best.
Place the peppered bread on top of the bacon. Press the sandwich together slightly. Serve at once. Be sure to have some napkins on hand to handle those fresh tomato juices that might escape the sandwich.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Au Revoir Cake Slice Bakers

It has been a pleasure baking with the Cake Slice Bakers the past year, allowing me to find a number of new-to-me and wonderful blogs, and also to try some really nice cakes.

My favorite was the Coffee-Heath Bar Crunch Cake we made in February, but I also enjoyed the first recipe I tried...Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pound Cake. Sweetie's favorite was the Cranberry Cake we baked in December, with extra almonds due to a senior moment of mine. This month's opportunity to choose our own recipe was great!

Since it is the height of peach season with luscious ripe peaches easily available I did change the fruit from nectarines to peaches. I love nutmeg with peach so I left out the cinnamon and used nutmeg instead. This was my second favorite of all the cakes we have baked...warm peaches, a moist, vanilla scented cake and spicy-nutty topping made an outstanding combination. Do try it!
Please be sure to visit other Cake Slice Bakers this month to see what they have chosen, too. It's sure to be a delight. HERE is the blogroll for the links.

Next month the group will be baking from another cake book. I'm taking a break from the group for a while in order to devote more time to my studies. It turns out that InDesign is very complex and the class I'm taking requires some work so that I can learn the program as well as possible. You, dear reader, can still check in on the 20th of the month and see what the Cake Slice Bakers have been up to...I'll most likely be visiting their blogs myself to 'ooooh' and 'ahhhh' over their creations...using the same link as above.

Peach Cake with Nutmeg-Nut Topping
Adapted from a recipe in Cake Keeper Cakes
by Lauren Chattman

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (Next time I would reduce it to 3/4 cup sugar)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (use 1/4 teaspoon if fruit isn't completely ripe)
1 cup sugar (again I would reduce to 3/4 cup sugar)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 medium ripe peaches, peeled, halved, pitted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 10-inch round springform pan.

Topping: Combine the sugar, nutmeg and nuts in a small bowl. Set aside.

Cake: Combine the flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beaters once or twice. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Scrape the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Arrange the peaches, cut side down, on top of the batter. (I arranged sliced peaches on top of the batter...the peaches were so ripe that some parts had spoiled and had to be removed, so slices worked better).Sprinkle with the topping. Bake the cake until it is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Release the sides of the pan (run a knife around the cake first if it might stick to the sides), and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom to a wire rack.

Cool completely, cut into wedges, and serve.

Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Now please go visit the other Cake Slice Bakers to see what they chose for this special month. Blogroll is HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bread Baking Babes Get Twisted

For September let's gather around the kitchen table as the fabulous Bread Baking Babes delve into the past...610 AD in fact...and we can decide if we believe that these bread morsels were used by monks of that time to teach little boys to pray or to reward them for staying quiet during Mass...or both. That's the story behind Soft Pretzels, called Bretzels in German. The traditional shape resembles hands folded in prayer. Even if it isn't true, it's true that soft pretzels are a county fair and mall favorite snack food. I've included directions for the traditional salted soft pretzels and for the more contemporary cinnamon sugar ones. However you flavor them, they give you a chance to have fun shaping the dough.

They make a wonderful snack, are pretty easy to make, get their chewy, slightly craggy exterior from a dip in a caustic boiling bath.

After the dip the pretzels are put on parchment lined baking sheets (I used a silicone mat instead),

brushed with the egg and water mixture, which gives them a shine (and a double dose of egg wash, with drying time in between gives an even shinier finish), then sprinkled with a topping. Here is your chance to get creative, or you can go classic by using pretzel salt or kosher salt.

One baker added roasted garlic to the dough. Bet they would be good with chopped rosemary, too.

They puff up slightly in the oven and turn an appealing dark golden brown. I used a single egg wash but next time plan to let the first wash dry, then give them another dose of egg wash right before putting them in the oven for a more lacquered look. I might also throw a few ice cubes into a pan on the bottom of the oven for a crustier crust. For authentic pretzels the water bath should contain lye...a weak solution but still a bit dangerous to work with. Most of the recipes I saw used baking soda instead. I'm giving instructions for boiling the pretzels in the baking soda enriched water. You could also just dip them in water than has baking soda dissolved in it, but the 30 seconds in the simmering water seemed to firm up the dough, making it easier to handle the shaped pretzels.

The only major difference between the MyRecipes Soft Pretzel recipe and mine is that they called for 3 1/4 cups flour. I found that I only needed 2 1/2 cups of flour, and I was careful to measure by spooning the flour into the measuring cup. Too bad that there was no weight measurements. I suspect that would have been better. As you can see this amount of flour created a nice dough to work with. This rope is less tapered at the end but still made a nice pretzel shape.

The traditional dip for the salted ones is a good mustard. If you like beer these are great with beer...and maybe some cheese for a light lunch. Sweetie preferred the cinnamon sugar ones.

So let's gather around the kitchen table for September and bake up some soft pretzels! If you are having folks over to watch a ball game you might want to double the recipe. If it's just you, these don't keep well (neither airtight nor at room temperature) so your best bet is to make 'em plain and freeze what you don't eat freshly made. You can brush the thawed pretzel with water, sprinkle on the salt and re-heat in the microwave or oven and they will be soft and yummy. For the sweet and spicy ones, just reheat and dip in melted butter and then into cinnamon sugar.

Saturday morning: OK, my brain was sooo tired yesterday when I posted (not to mention I'd had some wine before hand) so I completely left out three important messages:

1) I really, really hope you will bake these Pretzels and become a Bread Baking Buddy! They are pretty easy, lots of fun, and yummy. To become a Buddy and get the Pretzel badge you just e-mail me at "plachman-at-sonic-dot-net" and include your URL for your post and a photo. You don't need a blog and you can write about the bread, with photo, in email and we'll post that. We do want to know something about your bread baking experience or how you liked or didn't like the bread. We need your e-mail by September 30 so that I can post a round-up. The last official date to post is September 29th (Thursday). Looking forward to getting lots of e-mails!

2) Please be sure to visit the rest of the Fabulous Bread Baking Babes to see how beautifully they have made their pretzels! The links are to the right.

3) I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting, the weekly extravaganza of wonderful yeasted recipes. Visit often to be inspired and impressed.

Soft Pretzels
Found at MyRecipes:
(NOTE: Because I only used 2.5 cups of flour, I made 8 pretzels, not 12)
• YIELD: 12 servings (serving size: 1 pretzel)

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 14 1/2 ounces) (I used 2 1/2 cups total)
1 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
6 cups water
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cornmeal (Didn't use this on the silicone mat)
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a large bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes). Add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion into an 18-inch-long rope with tapered ends.

Cross one end of rope over the other to form a circle, leaving about 4 inches at end of each rope. Twist the rope at the base of the circle.

Fold the ends over the circle and into a traditional pretzel shape, pinching gently to seal.

Place pretzels on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 10 minutes (pretzels will rise only slightly).

Combine 6 cups water and baking soda in a nonaluminum Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer.

Gently lower 1 pretzel into simmering water mixture; cook 15 seconds. Turn pretzel with a slotted spatula; cook an additional 15 seconds. Transfer pretzel to a wire rack coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining pretzels.

Place pretzels on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Combine 1 teaspoon water and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Brush a thin layer of egg mixture over pretzels; sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until pretzels are deep golden brown.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

from Cooking Light OCTOBER 2005
To make Cinnamon Sugar Soft Pretzels: (see photo at top of post)
When you put on the egg glaze in the above recipe, don't add any toppings. When the pretzels are baked and still a little warm, dip them in melted butter (I used unsalted) and then into a cinnamon-sugar mixture. I made 4 of the pretzels as cinnamon sugar ones and used 1/2 stick of melted butter (and there was plenty left over), plus 1/2 cup sugar and about 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I like cinnamon) but make use the cinnamon amount that suits your taste.

Coming Soon - Pretzels

Dear Reader,

So sorry to be late with the Bread Baking Babe post...especially since I'm the Kitchen of the Month. What a terrible hostess you must think I am. Too true. I'm hoping to have the post up this evening, with the recipe and some photos. The soft pretzels were delicious and not nearly as difficult to make as you might imagine.

Warmly, Elle

Friday, September 09, 2011

Starting to Look Like Fall

For some people the time of new beginnings is at the beginning of January...all those New Year's resolutions feel so cleansing. For some the turn of the year marked by their birthday sets them thinking of the year past and the year to come. For me new beginnings often come with the fall. Since summer is and was my least favorite time of year I guess that the return of cooler air, fall colors and, for many years, the beginning of school is a cause for celebration...summer is over! Feeling the light turn more golden and the air more crisp often starts me thinking of new ways to do things and new experiences to enjoy.

In the spring I'm tuned in to the garden...weeding, setting out new plants, trying to visualize the garden-to-be filled with big tomato plants spilling over their cages, rambling cucumber vines, squash plants with huge fans of leaves hiding those baseball bat sized zucchini, while all I can see now are puny little plantlets with just a few tender leaves surrounded by large areas of cleared soil. Sometimes I've had enough time to cover that soil with wood chips for mulch. In some ways that just makes the tiny plants look even smaller.

Come fall and the realization of those dreams of a bountiful harvest I suddenly find myself with the energy and interest to do 'spring' cleaning which is a good thing since it usually didn't happen in the spring. Garden cleanup is easy. Months of accumulated clutter in the house is more challenging.

Invariably when I'm cleaning up and getting rid of junk I'll come across a recipe or two that I intended to make until the doldrums of summer got in the way. That, too, is part of the excitement of fall. Now it's cool enough to do a bit more baking. Spending more time in the kitchen is fun now that I'm feeling more energetic.

It's a good time to experiment, too. On our trip back from a wedding this past spring Sweetie and I enjoyed a multi-grain cracker that I later tracked down at our Whole Paycheck store. As expected, it was too expensive to purchase very often so I've been wanting to make something similar at home.

The latest catalog from King Arthur Flour has a recipe for canape pumpernickel bread. That seemed like a good jumping off place since the crackers we enjoyed were dark brown and looked like they started out as little loaves of bread that were sliced thin and then baked again to make them crisp.

You understand that I'm mostly using their recipe for proportions, right? I have a vision of my version even before I begin. My version will probably include a little rye flour, but also some buckwheat flour or maybe some of that KA Ancient Grain mix, along with regular unbleached and some stone ground whole wheat flours. There will be a little molasses for color and flavor, sea salt, some nuts...maybe pecans since they are soft enough slice well, perhaps some pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds and dried cranberries.

Doesn't that sound delicious?

I have some mini bread pans to bake the dough in and a very sharp serrated bread knife to use for making the thin slices. If these work I may have to splurge and buy some triple cream cheese to have with them. Yum!

The crackers turned out almost like I had hoped. Next time I'll up the add-ins a lot because there was too much dough to 'nuts and seeds' ratio. I'll also use more rye flour and less all purpose for a deeper flavor and slightly denser crumb. I might even try it as a quick bread although I do like the tang from the sourdough starter.

A big mistake was to forget to score the top of the dough to allow for oven spring. Mine blew out dramatically which made cutting super thin slices a challenge.

Freezing the loaves before cutting them thinly might also be a good idea.

I loved the mixture of grains and the flavors of the nuts, seeds and cranberries. These make a nice late afternoon snack with some creamy mild cheese. Bet they will be good with some blue cheese, too.

I will make these again and keep trying for a cracker that meets my expectations. These were close, and ever so delicious. Sweetie even liked thicker slices toasted with his breakfast. He asked that one of the little loaves be saved for regular use, not crackers. I think he was right. Fortunately, the weather is getting cooler...time for some more fall baking!

Au revoir dear readers.

Redwood Forest Crackers
1 1/2 oz (1/4 cup dark rye flour1 1/2 oz. (1 cup) KA Ancient Grains flour
1 5/8 oz. (1/4 cup) buckwheat flour
6 1/4 oz ( 1 1/2 cups) Unbleached all-purpose flour
7 1/4 oz. (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) KA Irish wholemeal wheat flour (or whole wheat flour)

1 cup sourdough starter OR 2 teaspoons instant yeast dissolved in 1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons mild molasses (not blackstrap)
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 tablespoons vegetable or mild olive oil
1/2 cup pecans
1 teaspoon flax seeds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon light colored sesame seeds
3 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1/4 cup dried cranberries

In a bowl, mix together the flours until combined.
In another bowl combine the sourdough starter, water, molasses and oil. Stir to combine.

In another bowl combine the pecans, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and cranberries. (Note: Next time I'll double the quantities of these...less dough, more add-ins will create the crackers I dream of.)

Combine the ingredients from all three bowls in another bowl (of a stand mixer if you have one) and mix and knead to make a stiff, sticky dough. Let the dough rise until it's almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape them into loaves. Place in greased mini loaf pans, cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise about 30 minutes. (Note: Next time I'll make sure to score the top of the dough to allow for oven spring. The photo above shows the error of neglecting that step...although the crackers still tasted great.)

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is brown and the internal temperature registers 190 degrees F. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a rack. When completely cool, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice in very thin slices. (Note: Next time I may freeze the loaves to make it possible to slice them even thinner, although these were beautifully crisp and crunchy.)