Sunday, April 27, 2014


We've been saving scraps for Noodle lately. Fruit peels and broccoli ends and the occasional chicken bone, which he apparently thinks is as good as caviar. Noodle is our neighbor's copper colored pig and he is a charmer. They recently added another pig to the pen, a gray one named Mouse, but I don't have a photo of her.

Not much cooking or baking worth noting going on right now. We are deep in the heart of kitchen planning, including moving lots of stuff out and setting up an alternate kitchen in the studio, so things will be sparse here food wise for a while. Our kitchen planner has been a huge help in all the tiny details and the big decisions, too.

Noodle is food on the hoof in a way. I suspect that he may become a pet instead...he is too cute.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Surprise

My darling daughter had a visitor from out of town over the weekend, so I didn't think we would see her. Imagine my delight when she phoned Easter morning and said she wanted to visit at lunch time. The friend had to fly home in the morning.

We agreed that if I could get some eggs hard cooked in the morning that we would both love to color the eggs. She could take them home to have for lunch at work during the week.

It was a gorgeous day in the mid 70s, with a light breeze. We set up the little dishes with food coloring, vinegar and boiling water out on the deck and had our fun listening to the birds and watching the butterflies flit by. What a wonderful way to spend Easter afternoon.

Hope your weekend was great, too!

Want to learn how to color Easter eggs the old fashioned way? (Even if it is past Easter, eggs are a symbol of Spring and in some places, and you really know this year who you are, it is just barely past winter...a perfect way to celebrate the warming of the weather and coming of the flowers and new leaves...color eggs.

This method uses hard cooked, cooled eggs, food color, vinegar and boiling some creativity.
Give it a try! The link takes you to step by step directions. Child's play really.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Delicious Hybrid Croissant for the Babes

One of the delights each month is seeing what one of my fellow Bread Baking Babes, our Kitchen of the Month,  has come up with for us to bake. If you check out the post from the last twelve months we have had prunes and chocolate, various delicious flat breads, a water proofed bread, breads with lard and breads with nuts, with Italian flavors, with wine...lots of wonderful ways with bread.

This month we returned to croissants, but with a twist. Thank you Heather of Girlichef! This croissant is a hybrid of a croissant and a soft pretzel. The dough contains beer and the shaped croissant is dipped in a solution, just like pretzels, and has a sprinkle of seeds and salt, like a pretzel. They are totally delicious! I made a few without the salt and seeds and Sweetie decided that he liked them better. In truth, although I enjoyed trying the hybrid, I really like regular croissants better, so probably won't be making these again.

As with all laminated doughs, the flakiness depends on very thin layers of butter rolled between thin layers of dough. Some of the butter melted out, but the croissants soaked it up again during the five minutes of cooling after being removed from the oven.

Do try these and see if you enjoy the hybrid. The method isn't difficult, it just requires time and attention to detail. I only made a half recipe, which worked well, since I ended up with mini-croissants and they were cute, even if not the most perfectly shaped. If I did this again, I would make the triangles long and thin, not fat and short as I did. There was hardly enough dough to wrap around themselves. Didn't harm the taste any!

To be a Buddy, and you know you want to be one, just bake the croissants and the e-mail our wonderful Kitchen of the Month, Heather, with a link to your post and a photo by April 29th to be included in the roundup and to get a badge. You can find all of the information on her blog.

Check out the lovely croissants baked by my fellow Bread Baking Babes:
Bake My Day - Karen
Blog from Our Kitchen - Elizabeth
Bread Experience - Cathy
Girlichef - Heather
Life's a Feast - Jaime
Living in the Kitchen with Puppies - Natashya
Lucullian Delights - Ilva
My Diverse Kitchen - Aparna
My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna
Notitie van Lien - Lien
Thyme for Cooking - Katie our BBBB with the wonderful round-ups

Pretzel Croissants
yield: 1 dozen
Note that the dough takes from 24-48 hours from start to the time you form them. The butter block should be formed sometime while the dough is rising. Baked baking soda is an alternative to using lye; it needs 1 hour in the oven (see notes).

for the dough:
1/2 cup (120 ml) lukewarm milk (~110° F)
7 g (1/4 ounce / 2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar (golden or dark)
410 g (3-1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour + more for work surface
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temp
1/2 cup (120 ml) cold pilsner-style beer

for the butter block:
340 g (12 ounces / 24 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

to finish:
60 grams (1/4 cup) baked (see notes) baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
coarse salt
sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds, optional

making the dough:
Stir the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar into the lukewarm milk and allow to sit  until foamy, 5 minutes or so.

Whisk the flour, remaining brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour mixture, breaking it up into tiny flour-coated pieces the size of breadcrumbs. Stir in the yeast mixture and the beer using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to form a shaggy mass.

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead eight to ten times, until all of the flour is just incorporated. You don't want to over work it, because you don't want the butter to melt too much. The dough will not be a smooth mass; you will see some flecks of butter. It should be soft and tacky, but not sticky. Adjust as needed with flour or water.

Lightly oil a large bowl  and set the dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours (24 will give you the best flavor).

making the butter block:
Beat the butter and flour together in the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment until it forms a smooth mass (or by hand, using a lot of elbow grease). This should take about a minute. You want the butter to be pliable without beating air into it or melting it.

Spread the butter between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap (or parchment or wax paper), and use a rolling pin to shape into a rectangle that is about 8"x9". Use a straight edge to form corners, but work quickly as you want the butter to stay cool. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until you're ready to roll out the dough.

1st turn:
Scatter a little bit of flour on your work surface, then turn the dough out onto it. Roll it out into a rectangle that is 10"x15" and about 1/4" thick. Using your hands, gently pull and stretch the dough to form straight edges and sharp corners. Brush excess flour off of the dough. Set the dough with a long edge facing you.

Mentally divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Place the butter block over the right 2/3 of the dough, leaving a 1" border on the outer edges. Fold the empty left portion of the dough over the middle third. Now, lift and fold the right section of dough over that. You should have 3 layers of dough that encase 2 layers of butter. Pinch the outsides and the seams together and lightly press the layers together using a rolling pin. This completes the first turn. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2nd turn:
Remove the dough from the fridge and set it on your lightly floured work surface. Roll dough out into a 10"x20" rectangle, pulling and stretching to form straight edges and sharp corners. Brush off any excess flour. Set the dough with a long edge facing you. Fold both of the short ends in to the center, leaving a 1/4" gap where they meet (think of a book jacket). Fold one side of the dough over the other. Lightly press the layers together using a rolling pin, and square and sharpen the edges and corners. This completes the second turn. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3rd (and final) turn: 
Lightly dust your work surface and the top of the dough with flour. Roll dough out into a 10" by 15" rectangle. Do another trifold, as done in the first turn (mentally divide into thirds, then fold one third over the center, followed by the last third). Square the edges and sharpen the sides; wipe off excess flour. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but up to another 24 hours.

(At this point, you can wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap, slide it into a freezer baggie, and freeze for up to 1 week. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding to final shaping.)

final shaping:
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Lightly dust your work surface and top of your dough with flour. Roll out into a 15"x18" rectangle that is ~1/4" thick. Pull and stretch to form straight edges and sharp corners. Patch any holes where butter may have popped through by dusting them with flour.  Brush any excess flour off the dough.

Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, creating two 15"x9" sheets of dough. Using a pizza cutter or bench scraper, cut each piece of dough into three equal strips, the short way. Then cut each strip in half diagonally, so that you left with 6 triangles. Repeat with other piece of dough.

Beginning at the base, roll the triangles up, tugging on the tip to elongate it slightly, then gently pressing it into the dough. Place on the prepared baking sheets with the tips tucked under, and curve the ends to form crescent shapes.

Cover the croissants with damp, clean kitchen towels and allow to rise at cool room temperature until they have almost doubled in size and feel spongy, ~2 hours.

At this point, slide the croissants into the refrigerator for 20 minutes while you prepare the dipping solution. Preheat oven to 425° F, positioning one rack in the upper third of the oven, and one in the lower third.

Prepare the dipping solution:
Add the baked baking soda in 8 cups of cold water and stir until completely dissolved. One by one, dip the croissant dough into the dipping solution, allow the excess to drip off, then set back on the lined trays.

Finish them off (finally):
Brush the tops with the egg wash, then sprinkle with coarse salt and sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if using.

Slide into preheated oven immediately and bake for 14-18 minutes (rotating pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through), until they are deeply browned, crispy, and flaky. They should feel light and airy if you pick them up.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving. They are best enjoyed the day they are made, ideally warm from the oven. Store any extras in a paper bag for a day. You can reheat them by placing them in a 350° F oven for ~5 minutes.

Baked baking soda is an alternative to working with lye that still lends pretzels their dark, burnished crust. To make the baked baking soda, spread 1/4 cup (~70 grams) of baking soda out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or foil (or in a pie pan). It will decrease in weight, but shouldn't decrease in volume. Slide it into an oven that has been preheated to 250° F/120° C and bake for 1 hour. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature. If you see lots of pretzels in your future, make a large batch to store since it keeps indefinitely.

-slightly adapted from Pretzel Making at Home by Andrea Slonecker

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Playing Around With Apricots And Pecan

One of the many things I love about Dorie Greenspan's recipes is that she often includes a sidebar with suggestions for changes one can make to the recipe. My favorites are the ones she calls 'Playing Around' because it resembles what I often do with recipes, which is to substitute out ingredients to give a whole new flavor blend to the recipe.

I recently baked up one of her quick breads, the Date-Nut Loaf found in Baking: from my home to yours. In the Playing Around section she suggests that the dates can be exchanged for other dried fruits, including apricots. Sweetie loves apricots, plus the dates I thought I could use turned out to be too old, so I used a cup of diced dried apricots (which are actually moist and sticky, so they were also dusted with some flour before being added to the batter) instead of the dates. Because I like apricots and pecans, the nuts used were pecans instead of walnuts. I also left out the almond extract so that the apricot and pecan flavors would shine. They did! The crumb on this is moist and fairly light. Some quick breads have a dense texture, but not this one. This was one of four recipes I made for a meeting of our regional scholarship group. The others might show up here later: Bran Muffins with Walnuts and Raisins baked in mini-muffin pans, Cranberry Orange Yeast Braid, and Rosemary Focaccia Bread, which I've made before, but this time I baked it in a 9 x 13-inch pan instead of two cake pans. Still very yummy!

Did I mention that I also baked the Apricot Pecan batter in four mini-loaves? So cute and perfect for the meeting where I was serving them! The only difficult thing about these is remembering to set out the butter and cream cheese to allow them to come to room temperature and then to let the loaves cool before slicing. They smell so good that it is cruel to have to wait, but they need the time to be firm enough to slice. Give this a try with apricots and pecans, or go with the original combo of dates and walnuts. Both are sure to put a smile on your face.

Apricot Pecan Loaf
a variation of a recipe in Dorie Greenspan's marvelous Baking: From my home to yours

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup dried apricots, diced and dusted with a bit of flour
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or two regular sheets stacked on on top of the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Working with a stand mixer and paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes.You can do the same thing using a hand mixer and a large bowl.

Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, another 3 minutes or so. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. The batter may look curdled (mine did), but don't worry, it will come together after you add the flour mixture.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the flour mixture, mixing only until they are incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the apricots and pecans. (This step is important. Folding in the fruit and nuts makes for a lighter loaf than adding them with the mixer would.) Turn the batter into the pan.

Bake for 40 minutes. Cover the top of the loaf loosely with a foil tent and bake for another 40 minutes or so (total baking time about 1 hour, 20 minutes), until the top is honey brown, bumpy and cracked and a thin knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. (Since I used the four small pans, it took about 40 minutes total.) Transfer the pan to a rack and cool about 10 minutes before turning the loaf out of the pan, then cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.

Monday, April 07, 2014

One For Sweetie

The tulips are blooming, the apple trees are in bloom, and Sweetie did a lot of grass mowing today. It had gotten remarkably long. He deserved something good to eat! As you may have guessed if you've read this blog for a while, I'm blessed with a wonderful partner, Sweetie, and he enjoys eating what I cook and bake. One of his favorite breads to bring home from Berkeley when he visits Acme Bread there is the Cranberry Walnut loaf.

I decided to try my hand at that kind of bread. My version is not as dense or dark, so I probably should have added more rye flour, but he loves it and I enjoyed making it.

I looked at quite a few recipes before throwing this one together. The cocoa and molasses add color and flavor and go well with the rye and whole wheat flours. I added the cooked mixed grains because I love the texture that they add, as well as nutrition. The walnut oil is a luxury and can be replaced with regular veggie oil or olive oil, but it goes so well with the walnuts.

I made this in a heavy duty stand mixer, using the dough hook, but ended up kneading it for about 5 additional minutes on a board to make sure there was plenty of gluten development. I kneaded in the walnuts and cranberries after the first rise. I shaped the nut and cranberry laden dough into two football shaped loaves, but they would bake up nice in loaf pans, too.

Cranberry Walnut Bread Elle's Way
makes 2 smallish loaves

1 packet (2.xx oz.) dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup mixed whole grains (rye berries, barley, wheat berries, rolled oats, etc.), cooked in 1 cup water, drained and cooled
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 cup rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus another 1/2 cup for kneading
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts per loaf (2/3 - 1 cup total)
1/3 - 1/2 cup dried cranberries per loaf (2/3 - 1 cup total)

In a small bowl re-hydrate the yeast in the 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Let sit at least 5 minutes until yeast is foamy.

After yeast is ready, add to the cooled cooked grains in a stand mixer bowl and stir. Let sit 5 minutes.
While yeast mixture is sitting, in a large bowl whisk together the cocoa powder, rye flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour and the salt. Set aside.

To the yeast mixture, add the 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, molasses and walnut oil. Stir to combine. Set the stand mixer bowl with the yeast mixture on the stand mixer. Using the dough hook, on low speed, add the flour mixture, one cup at a time, to create a shaggy dough. With the mixer running still, add the remaining 1/2 cup all purpose flour a tablespoon at a time. Continue kneading with the machine about 5 minutes, then transfer to a floured board. Using the final 1/2 cup flour, if needed, knead an additional 5 minutes until dough is relatively smooth and silky.

Turn dough in an oiled bowl to coat with oil, then cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour.

Turn out onto lightly floured board, knock down, and divide in half. Return half the dough to the bowl.

Knead the walnuts and cranberries into the dough and form into a loaf. Repeat with the other half the dough.
Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Slash top and bake in preheated 375 degree F oven until loaf is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 45 minutes.

Let loaf cool before slicing. Will keep on counter, wrapped in a tea towel, a couple of days.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Ta-DA! Bundles of Bread Baking Babes Buddies

Trepidation does not begin to describe how I was feeling when I submitted the Water Proofed Bread recipe to be the one we would bake in March. Who ever heard of proofing dough in water, wrapped in a towel? Would it work? Usually I try the recipe out first, but this time I wanted to experience the newness along with my bread baking sisters. I always like to try new things and I was pretty sure that the Babes would, too. Any group that is willing to take on everything from the Asparagus Bread to Sprouted Bricks, er Bread, to Rewena Paraoa (Maori Bread) and more is an adventuresome group for sure. What has surprised and delighted me is how many wonderful, talented bakers we have as Buddies for this unusual proofing technique...and they all seemed to have fun with it.

Our March Buddies, listed, pretty much, in the order that they e-mailed me are:

Kelly from A Messy Kitchen baked awesome (as attested to by her daughter) golden loaves and had a "stellar outcome from a rather unique method."

Paola from Le Mi e Ricette Con e Senza baked a lovely loaf. "The result is a delicate and very soft bread, great for breakfast. I loved it with jam and a hot coffee."

Carola of Sweet and That's It liked this bread so much she baked it more than once. After her initial reluctance, too. She listened to that little voice: “Bake it! You won’t be disappointed! You’ve always loved the Babes’ recipes! You’ll learn something new (to add to your curriculum..ahahah)."

Sandie of Crumbs of Love read on into James Beard's book and found the Egg Twists next, and they used the same water proofing technique. Her twists look awesome. I want some for breakfast.

Louise posts on the Bread Baking Babes Face book page since she doesn't have a blog. It was not an epic fail, but a beautiful round loaf with a lovely crumb.

Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories had beautiful golden loaves with excellent oven spring and she noted that the water proofing made for a fast rising time.

Gabi of The Feast Within had the best post title; "Water-Proofed Bread, Who Knew?" which was why I chose this recipe. It was an adventure, but the results were great. "This bread is delicious and light yet rich and buttery like a brioche. I think it’s brilliant and is a keeper."

Claire of Claire's Baking Journey baked it, too, and liked the results; "The end result was beyond expectation! A very soft, open crumb, slightly sweet but not too sweet to have with cheese."

Thank you Buddies for baking with the Babes. Please check out all of these fine posts and blogs. Be sure to check in with us mid-April for the next bread. It is unusual, too.  XO, Elle