Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Braided Bread to End the Year

It is only recently, with the blessing of starter awaiting my creativity in the fridge, that I've really spent much time or thought on bread baking. The more I know, the more I realize that I don't know...always a promising start to a new hobby.

One of the breads that I have always admired and often thought that I would make, but never did, is a simple braided bread. This Christmas the Third Sister Down gave me a great new baking book called, plainly enough, Baking, by Martha Day.

It has over 400 recipes and more than 1800 photographs so it is my kind of book. There are recipes for breads, muffins, cakes, pies, tarts, and cookies.

One of the bread recipes is exactly what I was looking for. The dough is enriched with some butter and an egg, honey and milk, and it worked up into a slightly sticky dough with nice long gluten strands. I thought it might be difficult to braid since it was so soft, but those strands helped. It easily braided and make a spectacular looking loaf. The best part was that it tastes really, really good. I especially enjoy it toasted with a little butter and jam.

The only change I made was that I substituted a cup of my sourdough starter for the yeast, but then added 1/4 teaspoon of dry yeast to the milk mixture, just in case. I added the flour slowly and let it knead a long time in the KA mixer. Because my starter is on the wet side, I added about another 5 or 6 oz. of flour.

Braided Bread
based on Plaited Loaf recipe in Baking , by Martha Day

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (¼ teaspoon active dry yeast if using starter, too)
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup lukewarm milk (not over 100 degrees F) – I used a combination of condensed milk and low fat milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
(1 cup sourdough starter, if using)
1 egg, slightly beaten
15 oz. bread flour, plus about another 1 cup if using starter
Note: Flour amounts vary depending on moisture of the flour and of the kitchen
1 teaspoon salt
Glaze: 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

Combine the yeast, honey, milk and butter. Stir and let sit for 15 minutes.

Stir the egg (and the starter if you are using it) into the milk mixture and put in a mixer bowl. If you have a large stand mixer use it.

Stir together the flour and the salt. Pour about half into the mixer bowl with the milk mixture and mix with the paddle attachment or stir with a spoon. Switch to a dough hook, if using. Add the rest of the flour, about a 1/3 cup at a time, until the dough is soft but holds together well. At the end you may need to add the flour a tablespoon at a time. If not using a stand mixer, turn out on a floured surface when it is too hard to stir the flour in. Knead the rest of the flour in. Knead with mixer or by hand until dough is smooth and elastic.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn over to oil both sides. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 ½ hours.

Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment or a silicone mat. Set aside.

Turn risen dough out onto a floured board. Knead for a minute to release trapped gas. Divide into three even pieces of dough. Shape each piece into a long ‘snake’, about 18 inches long. Place the three strands side by side on the prepared pan. Starting at the middle, braid the three strands, then turn it and braid the other side. Tuck the ends under. Cover loosely and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaf with the glaze using a pastry brush. Bake until golden, for about 40-45 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Childhood and Cocoa

My earliest memories of having hot cocoa are from the days when we walked to and from school...I was in kindergarten. It took about forty five minutes to walk home on our little legs. My companion most days was Kevin who lived a block further on past my house. Kevin later became a priest. I guess I was a good influence, or at least not a distraction from his vocation. I think sometimes he stopped by our house and had some cocoa, too. After first grade my Mom started driving us to school, so I didn't see him much. Looking back it seems kind of amazing that little kids just walked by themselves all those miles, but times were different.

In late fall and for much of the winter, my Mom would make hot cocoa for the school kids and for the little ones who were old enough to drink hot drinks. She usually used canned milk because regular milk was expensive and there were a lot of kids. She would often join us at the dining room table, sipping on her cup of tea, perhaps with a piece of toast or a cookie if we were having cookies. It was a time when we could tell her how things were at school. In later years I would have tea, too, and we would talk politics. We still talk politics and I can not tell you how excited my Mom is that we will be having such a grand new president in a few weeks! As a life-long Democrat, she is thrilled.

Getting back to my childhood, I remember that I loved to have hot cocoa when we came home in the winter after sledding. I would stay out in the snow until I was totally chilled, so warm, dry clothes and hot cocoa were just the best thing going.

Later, when I was in high school but my sister had graduated and gone to nursing school a few hours away, I made the cocoa to welcome my parents home after their long drive to take her back to school when she had visited home. It was always a relief to see their car's headlights turning into the driveway.

Home made cocoa is so simple to make. I usually still make it with Hersheys cocoa powder, but now I often use low fat sweet milk. A special trick is to add the vanilla just before you serve can really smell it during your first sip! If you like marshmallows, by all means add some to your cup.

Hot Cocoa from My Childhood
For each serving:

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
¼ cup hot water
1 cup milk (I used a combination of evaporated and fresh)
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a saucepan, mix together the cocoa, sugar and salt. Make a paste with some of the hot water, then add the rest, stirring constantly, to make a smooth liquid.

Heat over high heat just until it begins to simmer, then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add the milk and stir to incorporate, then turn heat to high again and heat to the desired temperature to drink (some people like their hotter than others), stirring occasionally. When at the desired temperature, turn off the heat and add the vanilla. Stir.

Serve right away in a large coffee cup or mug.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Elegant French Buche de Noel

December challenge absolutely required daring and on.

Frozen French Yule Log

Once again the Daring Bakers have gone to the brink with an over the top dessert for the holidays. Last year it was the cake and buttercream Yule Log, this year it is the very elegant frozen French Yule Log or Buche de Noel.

A frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert. This also means that this recipe is not holiday-specific, it is also just a scrumptious dessert recipe. I suspect, after making this dessert, that most French women purchase their frozen Yule Logs for the holidays, but I am very glad that Hilda and Marion chose it for the December challenge and that I made the time to create my own version, full of chocolate and coffee flavors.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. If you find that you enjoy these type of desserts, check out Florilege Gourmand for many more gorgeous entremets.

These Daring Baker challenges each month are usually each a learning experience.

With six required parts, many flavor choices to make, and the amount of organization required a lot was indeed learned making this Yule Log!

I also learned that Sweetie doesn’t know not to interrupt my concentration as I’m piping chocolate mousse over the coffee crème brulee’ just before piping more mousse and laying in the white chocolate buttercrunch crisp layer. Then I learned that sincere apologies are needed after I yelled at him for interrupting me, followed by a great deal of thought about the relative importance of doing the challenge. Even though it turned out to be his all time favorite of the Daring Baker challenges, making it with all of the other stressed of Christmas time might not have been wise.

The good news is that I kept the learning experience going by identifying more stressors and dealing with some of them. So it was actually a good thing that the challenge was made and the mousse was interrupted. Ha hah! Still, sorry Sweetie!

The photo above shows all of the layers and how my slices looked for serving.

Chocolate was the main flavor of my buche, with (first element) dark chocolate icing (I used the milk chocolate recipe but used dark chocolate…don’t care for the cocoa version), (second element) dark chocolate ganache, (third element) almond dacquoise and extra almond dacquoise for décor (photo below shows dacquoise being spread before being baked),

(fourth element) a luscious coffee crème brulee’ (simmered some coffee in the heavy cream, then used a fine tea strainer to strain out the coffee grounds. This was my favortie part of the challenge. Photo below.

The next layer was (fifth element) a crisp made using crush cereal,

white chocolate and pulverized buttercrunch candy. If I were to make this again, I would break up the crisp layer because it was too hard to cut…maybe not enough cereal?

The dark chocolate mousse (sixth element) was the most difficult element for me but it was fun to see what the syrup did with the whisk on my KA…almost like cotton candy.

That worried me, but it ended up blending in fine and the mousse was quite delicious.

I decorated the top with dacquoise stars and chocolate covered coffee beans. It made a great dessert for a holiday dinner with friends.

Thank you Hilda & Marion and Flore, too. Happy Holidays all you Daring Baker type people!

Check out the hundreds and hundreds of variations of this gorgeous dessert through the
Daring Baker Blogroll.

You can go to Hilda’s blog, Saffron and Blueberries for the full recipe. Marion will be posting closer to the New Year.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Roasted Beets Rev Up a Salad

Start with freshly washed, crisp mixed salad greens.

Don't they look wonderful?

Make a dressing with the juice of 1 lemon, a teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, about /34 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Whisk it all together. The blue cheese gets crumbled on top...about 1/4 cup.

The beets were washed well, the root and top removed, put in heavy foil with a little olive oil, then roasted at 400 degrees F until tender, about 1/2 hour. Then I peeled them...a messy job. Next time will probably peel them first. Chill the beets (unless you like cool salad and warm beets), then slice in thin slices.
Toss the chilled greens in the dressing, place on plates. Top with the blue cheese, the beet slices, and toss on a few candied or plain walnuts if you have them. Voila'...beet salad.

The dressing will dress enough greens to serve 2 - 4. The other ingredients are to taste. Extra salt and pepper should be available, too, for those who like more.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mid-winter Wishes

In many cultures this time of year is celebrated as the time when we pass the longest night of the year and the light of longer days begins to return to the world. As a Christian I celebrate the birth of Christ and Christmas and the light that He brought to the world.

Wishing you the comfort and joy of the season. Hoping that you will gather with friends and family to celebrate the delight of loving and living. Especially hoping that there will be cooking and baking and feasting as part of the celebrations.

Here is my baking angel to wish you the happiest of holidays! Elle

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oats Whole Wheat and Barley Rolls

If this posts gets a nursery rhyme stuck in your head, that’s OK if that motivates you to bake these rolls. Of course if you forget to add the oats, like I did, it is a more pedestrian Whole Wheat and Barley Rolls.

There is nothing like fresh, warm from the oven dinner rolls at a potluck, especially when you know that the hostess is providing slices of ham and roast turkey. It may not seem as seasonal as candy cane cookies or fudge, but pot lucks are so typical of entertaining during the busy holiday season…the work is shared and we get to make something wonderful to bring. I'm submitting this as an entry for Bread Baking Day # 15, hosted by Annarasa, with the theme of celebrations.

This recipe is based on one of Marion Cunningham’s from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. In case you have not read this book, it is a wonderful compendium of basic baking recipes, plus riffs on those. I especially like the front and back endpapers which have measurement equivalents, a basic pie dough formula, how to make a piece of parchment into a piping bag, how to soften gelatin and other tips.

Twenty-four to thirty soft, crusty, warm, yeasty dinner rolls are hard to beat. I made mine as pull-apart pan rolls, leaving about 2/3 of them plain on top and adding seeds to the rest. I replaced some of the all-purpose flour with barley flour and whole wheat flour and used my whole wheat starter.

NOTE: To use regular yeast instead of starter, when I add the starter to the other ingredients, leave that out and sprinkle 1 package dry yeast on top of the ingredients, stir, and let stand to dissolve.

A bonus is that your house smells yeasty and wonderful for hours. These would also be great for Christmas dinner, with roast beef or turkey or goose.

Whole Wheat and Barley Rolls
1 ¼ cups milk, warmed
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or ¼ cup0 butter, softened (plus another 2 tablespoons if making pan rolls)
1 cup whole wheat starter – if using dry yeast, see Note above
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup barley flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/13 – 3 cups all-purpose flour

Stir the warm milk, sugar, salt, and butter together in large mixing bowl. Make sure that the liquid is no warmer than 115 degrees F dry yeast, ten degrees less for cake yeast and starter.

Stir in the starter, then beat in the barley flour, whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour.

Switch to the dough hook if you are using one. Beat in the rest of the flour on low speed. Continue to knead with the mixer 5-6 minutes or turn out onto a flour surface and knead for 6 – 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Put into a large, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap,a nd let rise until dougle in buld, Punch down and form into rolls.

Pan pull-apart rolls: Melt 2 – 3 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish in the microwave, making sure to cover the dish with waxed paper to keep spatters down.

Take the dough ball and divide it in half. Roll each half into a roughly 12 inch rope. Cut each rope into one inch pieces.

Roll each piece between the palms of your hands into a ball. Continue until all balls are made. Dip each ball in butter, coating all sides, then place in an 8 or 9 inch cake pan, leaving a little room between balls. If desired, sprinkle with seeds.

Cover loosely and let rise until double in bulk.

Bake in a preheated 425 degree F oven for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are a ddp golden brown. Remove from the oven, ease the rolls out of the pan and onto a rack to cool for a moment. Serve while warm with butter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cookie for Our Daughter

Every year, for longer than I care to remember, I’ve baked a buttery, nut and cherry flecked cookie for Christmas. The original recipe called for the dough log to be rolled in coconut before wrapping it up for it’s stay in the fridge. After making it that way for a few years, I decided that the coconut was messy and often burned before the cookies finished cooking. Soooo, goodbye Santa’s Whiskers and hello Shaven Santa cookies. Call ‘em what you like, they are yummy!

These have become a holiday tradition; it just isn’t Christmas without them. When we traveled to Monterey after our son died, I brought a tin of these cookies along. When we visited my Mom on Christmas a few years ago, brought some to eat on the plane. When we went to Seattle for Christmas, our very own Shaven Santa cookies kept the Macrina cookie selection company.

This year our daughter will be in the Nashville area for Christmas so I’m mailing a box to JM’s mom and asking her to put the package with these same cookies under their tree…a bit of home and tradition to meld with the new experience.

So you can bake these and start your own tradition…and you can add back the ‘whiskers’ of coconut if you like. They taste great either way. If you make them with both red and green candied cherries as we do, they also look very festive. They are tender and have both an almond and a pecan flavor. Best of all they go together quickly and are easy refrigerator cookies….just slice and bake.

Shaven Santas/Santa’s Whiskers

1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup mixed red and green candied cherries
1/2 cup pecans

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add almond extract and beat until creamy.

Mix in the flour until well blended. Dough will be stiff.

Coarsely chop cherries and pecans.

Stir in fruit and nuts. Mix well. Form dough into two logs on pieces of plastic wrap.

Wrap well and refrigerate at least an hour and up to one week (or freeze up to one month).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough logs from fridge or freezer. If frozen let thaw a bit.
With a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick discs.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets about 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on rack.

Makes 4 or 5 dozen.
Note: To make as Santa's Whiskers roll logs in coconut before wrapping to refrigerate or freeze. Proceed as written with rest of recipe. Make sure not to burn coconut when baking.

I’m submitting this to Food Blogga Susan’s great cookie event, Eat Christmas Cookies, now in it's second year. She has a wonderful assortment of cookies already showcased for this year. If you need inspiration, or a virtual cookie fix, head on over to the round up!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Package Time

You'd think it was the North Pole or something. Packages have been coming and going like crazy!
Although there has been cooking and baking going on here on the hill, there has been no time to blog about it...because of packages.

Some of the goodies were gifts and some have been mailed, others will go today. Since they are Christmas gifts, no blogging allowed...some of the recipients read these posts...wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.

Some will be given today to Doublepeas here at home and some on Friday to Natasha and her hubby in Davis at our favorite goulash restaruant.

Some will be mailed (hopefully this morning) to Tennessee where our daughter will be for the holidays. First year not home for Christmas, but finding a good guy and spending Christmas with his family are wonderful reasons, although I'm barely keeping a stiff upper lip, happy for her though I am.

Packages are arriving, too.

One came from Tanna at My Kitchen In Half Cups. It was a winner! She sent it as part of the Pay It Forward event. Three totally yummy baked goods, plus...RECIPES!! I can make them myself. THANK YOU Tanna!

One has yet to be blogged about by Tanna herself, and another one (the lovely filled one in the photo above) can be found by using the link in the above paragraph, so today I can only share one of the recipes with you. It is a good one...Lemon Tea Bread. This one has a sweet lemon glaze that soaks into the loaf and forms almost a sugary crust on top, too. It was the favorite of the three for my nephew. I made a loaf as a gift because it's the best lemon tea loaf ever!

The recipe was given to her by an elderly neighbor years ago. One of the gifts of the season is passing on good recipes. These can be baked in little loaf pans, too. That's what Tanna did...makes 'em very cute! Here is her recipe with notes:


When we lived on Eager Road above the Watsons, there was a delightful 90 year old lady named FiFi in the building next to ours. One morning FiFi couldn’t get her car started. Good neighbor Sue came out to help and they got FiFi’s car started. To say "Thank You", FiFi baked Sue a loaf of Lemon Tea Cake Bread using an old family recipe. After considerable enticements to get the recipe, FiFi finally relented and Sue of course shared it with me. This is one of those things people really do remember and ask for again and again. Many years I have used this for Christmas gifts.

1/3 c melted butter 1 t salt
1 c sugar 1/2 c milk
2 eggs grated rind of lemon
1 1/2 c flour 3 T lemon juice
1 t baking powder 1/2 c ground almonds

Mix sugar with melted butter, beat in eggs. Add sifted ingredients alternately with milk, beating just enough to blend. Fold in grated lemon rind and ground almonds. Using pound cake size pan, bake in 350° oven for 50 min. While still hot drip lemon juice in 1/2 c sugar over top. Wrap in foil when cool.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Warm and Savory and Flat Bread

I love good focaccia bread. There is something about the dimples in the dough, or maybe it's the olive oil and salt and other goodies that fill the dimples. That' s probably it. Still having a lot of fun playing with the sourdough.

I used a simple topping of good olive oil, sea salt, and some rosemary. You can serve this with soup, or slice it in half and use it to make sandwiches, or even just snack on it...the latter is what happened to a lot of this pan of focaccia. It goes together easily. I boosted the yeastiness with a little active dry yeast, but next time I think I'll skip that.

Sourdough Focaccia with Rosemary

1 cup sourdough starter
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup water, divided
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 - 4 cups unbleached all purpose or bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
about 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

In the bowl of a stand mixer place the sourdough starter. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix briefly with the paddle attachment just until the oil is mixed in.

Make sure the water is lukewarm. Take 1/4 cup of it and add the dry yeast. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.

Add the yeast, the rest of the warm water, and about half the flour. Mix with the paddle.

Switch to the dough hook. On slow speed add the flour, a half cup or so at a time, adding only a few tablespoons at a time toward the end. The dough will be soft. Add the salt and then knead with the dough hook on low to medium low speed for about 6 minutes, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and is smooth. Turn out on a lightly floured board or counter and knead in most of the rosemary, leaving about a teaspoon for the top.

Form the dough into a ball. Oil a large bowl (not metal) and turn the dough ball in the oil to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place and let rise until doubled in bulk. It took mine four hours, but even my 'warm' place wasn't as warm as it should have been.

Punch dough down, turn out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface, knead a few time to get rid of the extra trapped gas. (I should had done a little more of this...I had some whopper air bubbles in the finished focaccia.) Oil a large baking sheet and spread the dough out in the pan. I pushed it with my fingers, pushing it into one corner, then another, then the other side of the pan. Dimple all over with your finger tips. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the dough, sprinkle with the remaining rosemary, and sprinkle liberally with more sea taste.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, until top is golden. Cool slightly on a rack, then turn out onto a cutting board and cut into serving sized pieces. Can be eaten warm or cold.

I'm submitting this focaccia to Susan at Wild Yeast for the latest YeastSpotting event. Do check out the roundups...they always have yummy recipes using yeast or yeasted dough.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Baking Christmas Cookies - Crescent Cookies

Every year for the last little while my Mom has baked dozens and dozens of her famous Crescent Cookies and shipped a tin to each of her children's families at Christmas. These rich morsels contain lots of butter, finely chopped pecans, and are rolled in confectioner's (icing) sugar. Each one sits in a muffin paper. Only a few break during shipping, so there are plenty for the cookie tray and some to go with a restorative cup of tea.

This year Thanksgiving was too late. Crescent Cookies will have to be baked at home. Mom is gearing up for Christmas visitors and for making the Lane Cake, so she really doesn't have the time or energy this year for baking so many Crescent Cookies.

Even if you are not an official member of my family, you can start your own holiday tradition by baking a batch (or more...they make great gifts!) of these delicious cookies. They are simplicity itself to make.The recipe may have come from somewhere else originally, but I got my copy from my Mom and reprinted it in Family Food, 1994.

Crescent Cookies

1 ½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 cups flour
1 ½ - 2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cream butter, add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly. Chill. Shape into 1 inch by 3 inch crescents on a buttered baking sheet. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes in a preheated 300 degree F oven. Cool. Roll in confectioners’ sugar and store airtight. Makes 4 dozen.

To prepare in a food processor: Put the butter, cut into chunks in the bowl of the processor. With metal blade, cream butter on high about half a minute. Add rest of ingredients and process until a ball of dough forms. Chill. Continue as described above.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Merlin On the Table

King of the hill is the perfect description for Merlin, our fluffy gray cat. He knows he isn't supposed to get on the table, but he just ignores that when it suits him. Perhaps he knows that he is irresistible.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oatmeal Bread Makes Great Toast

An amazing thing happens when you start a wild yeast sourdough just want to bake bread all the time. Yesterday evening I decided we needed some good sandwich bread, so I looked through some cookbooks for ideas and chose Oatmeal Bread.

This recipe is based on Oat Bread in Monday Night at Narsai's by Narsai M. David, although I took liberties with it since is doesn't use a sourdough starter.

That's the other thing about having a sourdough sort of start with a normal yeast recipe and then take off on your own into sourdough territory. I use a little additional dry yeast with something heavy like the oats.

This bread makes absolutely wonderful toast! The dough did it's first rise after dinner and then I shaped it about 10 PM, put it in a bread pan, put a clean kitchen towel over it and set it in a slightly warm place overnight. Noises at the fire station next store woke me at 5:30 am, so I came downstairs and heated up the oven for the bread.

The overnight slow rise seemed to work really well...the dough had risen in a nice dome over the top of the pan. I baked it for 55 minutes, the whole house smelling of fresh baked bread by the end, then let it cool a bit while I showered and dressed. As you can see by the tight crumb, it is a wonderful texture. The rolled oats gives it some body and nutrition, plus great flavor. The crust was better than my earlier attempts, too.

Oatmeal Bread
makes 1 loaf

1 cup sourdough starter - I used Sukey this time
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to tepid
1 cup half and half or whole milk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
1 cup rolled oats - I used quick cook (not instant), but regular would work, too. Don't use steel-cut...that requires a lot more liquid
about 3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons sea salt

In bowl of stand mixer, with paddle attached, mix together on low speed the starter and butter. Warm the milk slightly in a glass measuring cup in the microwave and add the brown sugar, then stir. Stir in the dry yeast and let stand for a couple of minutes. Add the milk mixture to the starter mixture and combine briefly.

Switch to the dough hook. Add the oats and about 1 1/2 cups flour, letting the dough hook form some dough on itself. I usually use the lowest or next to the lowest speed. Add the salt, then keep adding additional flour until the dough ball cleans the sides of the mixing bowl.

Knead using the mixer or by hand for about 6 - 10 minutes, until dough is satiny and smooth. Form into a ball and place in an oiled large bowl (not metal), turning the ball so that both sides are coated with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 2 hours.

Turn out of bowl onto a lightly floured board. Flatten out to about twice as wide as the loaf pan and about 2 inches longer. Roll up on the long side, fold the ends under to fit the pan. Place in buttered bread pan. Cover and let rise until it is over the top of the bread pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a baking stone if you have one (pizza stone is same idea) on the bottom rack. When oven is hot, place bread pan holding bread onto the stone. Bake 35 - 60 minutes, until crust is deep golden brown and, when you turn the loaf out of the pan, tapping on the bottom produces a hollow sound.

Let loaf cool at least 1/2 hour before slicing. Slice with a bread or serrated knife for best results.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting Ready For December

While we were in Seattle, I was reading an advice book written by various women. One wrote about a Weight Loss Soup that seemed very similar to the Weight Watchers One Point Soup that forms the basis for my basic go-to soup. Water or broth based soup can be a great aid for a weight loss program, one to promote good health, or one for comfort. A warm, steaming bowl of fragrant soup is so comforting on a cold December day. It can revive you after a stint in the stores finding that perfect, illusive gift. Best of all, it can be inexpensive and full of good nutrition AND be made ahead, so all you do is reheat it. A quick blast in the microwave and you have a bowl of goodness.

To start off with, you need a good sized pot. A little pot will be OK for a small batch, but then you have to do it all over again. Something that will hold between 8 and 12 cups of liquid is great. Just make sure it fits in your fridge. One with a lid is nice, too.

Next you'll need some ordinary yellow onions. Medium to large ones are great. Avoid ones with obvious mold or bruises. If you have room, get a half dozen. They keep for months in a cool, dark place and are essential in lots of great cold weather dishes.

To use in soup, peel off the papery skin, cut off the root end, cut in half. Use a sharp knife to cut through about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, then slice the same distance apart. This pretty much dices the onion. A few extra bits of chopping can dice any large pieces.
The illustration below shows how to do the first cuts. After that you just slice down perpendicular to those cuts.

Next you need some celery. Celery is an essential ingredient not only in many soups, but in my stuffing and in most Creole dishes, too. If you don't cook that way or snack on it (celery sticks with low fat peanut butter makes a quick snack), see if you can find a small (or half) version of a head of celery in the store.

To use in soup, wash a few ribs well, cut off the bottom where it attached to the head of celery, then run a knife down the middle of the rib. You can include the feathery leaves, well chopped, or's a matter of taste. Slice the celery about 1/4 inch thick all down the rib. Repeat for the other rib (or two if you like celery).

Garlic can be optional, but I find it a great addition to most soups. You can keep a head of garlic, which looks like a flower bulb with papery white skin, in your cupboard. If you are a "if I have to mince garlic I'll never make soup" kind of person, buy some minced garlic in a jar to keep on hand in the fridge.

To use in soup, if you have a head of garlic, pull off one or two of the cloves - more if you really like garlic - remove the skin, and mince. To remove the skin, lay the garlic clove on a cutting board and smash down with the flat of a large knife (like a chef's knife). This will loosen the skin, so you can peel it right off. To mince the peeled garlic clove, lay it flay and run the knife through it in rows. Keep the knife slashed pretty close together. Turn is a bit and slash againat a 45 degree angle. Then make thin sliced across those slashes to make little squares. If there are any odd large bits, cut them to fine chop.

Broth is the real basis of a good soup. The best is the kind you make yourself. You can simmer a chicken or other poultry and use the liquid you simmered it in as broth (although usually a trip through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer is good to remove unwanted stuff once the simmmering is done), but I usually opt for ease by purchasing canned chicken broth. Plain water is also fine, but comes with no flavor, so you need to make sure to add plenty of flavor by carmelizing the veggies and adding enough herbs and spices.

Soup can take on lots of personalities, depending on what you include in the pot. Just like the kids story of Stone Soup, the character of the soup is improved by the addition of vegetables and legumes, herbs, spices, flavored oils, pieces of meat, fish, or poultry, pasta and/or tofu.

To start out, take you soup pot, add a few tablespoons of grapeseed oil, canola oil, olive oil, or butter. Grapeseed oil can be heated to a high heat level and not create carcinogens the way very hot olive oil can and it doesn't seem to burn like butter will. It's slower but, as an alternate to grapeseed oil, fine to use butter or the other oils and cook the first ingredients over a lower heat.

I like to saute' the onions, celery and garlic over medium-high heat for about 5 - 8 minutes, until the onion is slightly browned, especially on the edges, and transluscent. Often I'll put the onions in first, cook a couple of minutes, then add the celery and garlic, stir, then cook the rest of the way as slightly lower heat. If I'm using just water, I'll use olive oil, turn the heat to medium or medium-low, cook just the onions, stirring often, until they start to brown, then add the celery and garlic and cook another five minutes or so, still at the lower heat. This gets everything a nice medium brown color and that adds lots of flavor to the finished soup.

Once the onions, celery and garlic have cooked, add the broth or water - about 4 - 8 cups, depending on how much soup you want. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pot...again for added flavor.

This is the basic soup base. From here you can go wild.

My usual veggie soup starts with the basic soup base, then I add a can of diced tomatoes in juice, or the equivalent in fresh, seeded and peeled tomatoes. I also add a cup of thinly sliced carrots, 5 or 6 red potatoes, cut in bite sized chunks, and a frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast. Cover the pot and turn low to simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and keep simmering the soup until the potatoes are cooked. Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning, salt to taste. Dice up the simmered chicken and put it back in the pot. Throw in some (about 1/2 cup to 1 cup each) green beans, peas, corn, and/or spinach. Some zucchini whihc has been sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced is a nice addition, too. Simmer a few minutes, then taste for seasoning.

This soup will keep for 3 -4 days in the fridge. Just reheat and enjoy. A grating of good Parmesan cheese over the top just before serving is a wonderful addition.

There are tons of variations. Here are a few variations:

Ministrone: Take the basic soup and add a can of diced tomatoes. Add at least a cup of pasta. Add a can of cannelli or white beans, some Italian seasonings, and at least a cup of chopped chard, plus some green beans ands some sliced zucchini squash. This one really needs the Parmesan cheese. You can even add a Parmesan cheese rind when you add the broth or water. Tiny meatballs can also be added or some cooked, sliced Italian sausage. Italian flat beans instead of regular green beans is a nice change, too. Be sure to simmer this one until the pasta is cooked.

Chicken Noodle: Take the basic soup, using chicken broth for the liquid. Add 1/2 pound of egg noodles, the thin kind are usual, but fatter will work, too. Add 1/2 cup chopped parsley, a cup or so of diced, cooked chicken, 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Heat until the noodles are cooked. Taste for salt and pepper. Sliced mushrooms can be added when you add the noodles for a different take on this classic soup.

Spinach Soup: Remove the long stems from a 10 oz bag of fresh baby spinach, or similar amount of large leaf spinach. If needed, wash thoroughly. Chop the spinach and add to the basic soup, along with 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook briefly, about 4 minutes, just to cook the spinach quickly. Taste for salt and pepper. Process half of the soup at a time in a food processor, blender, or with a hand blender if you like a smoother soup. If you like a thicker soup, while the basic soup is cooking, in a separate pot, boil a couple large Idaho potatoes (russets) that you have cut into bite sized pieced. When potatoes are fork tender, drain, mash with potato masher or fork, then stir into the finished soup. Stir to mix. The mashed potatoes will thicken the Spinach Soup like a charm.

More variations will be coming later...imagine what you can do with rice, chicken and black beans; or with chilis, tomato, chicken and tortilla strips, etc.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Cake For Daring Bakers to Make

Sorry this post is so late, but we were flying back from Seattle and, as we entered the hallway to the plane, they said that instead of taking us to N. CA as scheduled, they might have to fly us to Redding due to foggy conditions! Luckily, about a half hour before we were scheduled to land they decided that the fog had cleared enough, so we flew toward home. Not the end of the story! I noticed that when we were pretty close to the airport (a small, regional one) that they kept flying in circles. Now we could see the airport and all the area fog to speak of and no other planes getting in the way. Around we went again...what on earth??? Finally, the third time around they shared that they couldn't be sure that the landing gear were engaged...the fly bys gave them visual that it all looked OK, but, just in case, there would be a firetruck ready when we landed. So now we felt safe....sure we did!....but around we went again, and landed. The good news was that everything worked work for the firemen. The bad news for the folks waiting to fly to LA was that their flight would be delayed...THREE hours, whiled they fixed our plane. Isn't it fun to fly! Course it beats two days in the car. And, yes, my daughter is wonderful and her guy is great and we ate too much and laughed and talked and had a great time. If you need a great place to stay in Wallingford and like staying in part of a house in a very quiet, pretty neighborhood for a reasonable rate, e-mail me and I'll give you the details...oh, and the bed is SUPER comfy.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Not as much drama, but very pretty.

This month the Daring Bakers baked a cake. It's a lovely caramel cake from Poulet in Berkeley, CA. The recipe is by Shuna Fish Lydon, who writes the excellent blog Eggbeaters. Shuna is a professional pastry chef, but this cake isn't like the Gateau St. Honore', or the fancy one with chocolate ganache and nut praline. It is simplicity itself, which is what makes it so difficult. The caramel syrup is the key, so be sure to not follow my lead. Make sure that you cook it enough to get a good deep amber color, for the flavor it gives. Also, be prepared for a fairly dense cake, (even if all ingredients are at room temperature and you beat the heck out of each ingredient and graaaaaaddduuuuallly add the milk, etc., although I goofed, so mine was probably a bit denser than it would be otherwise - see below) and one with super sweet icing. I liked the browned butter flavor with the caramel flavor in the icing, but it really was very sweet with all the confectioners sugar. This cake also tasted better when served at room temperature. I made the mistake of serving it straight from the fridge. It cut well, but the flavors were not as pronounced. The last piece I ate at room temp. and it was much better. I confess that there was a bit of mis-communication with my baking buddy Hil when it was time to add the flour. More than 1/3 was added at the beginning of the wet-dry-wet-dry cycle, so the cycle was shortened a bit. Otherwise we followed the recipe to the letter! The batter sure looked light!

For fun and a seasonal kick, I also sliced my cake in half

and filled it with a Granny Smith apple filling. Threw on some toasted walnuts, too.

Glad I did because those additional flavors were very complementary to the caramel and added some texture. Did not try the candies that were the extra challenge...there was barely time to do the challenge...where DID November go?
Thanks go to Alex, the Brownie of Blondie and Brownie duo and Jenny of Foray into Food, to Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go for all the gluten-free instructions and especially to Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity(for choosing this recipe) who all hosted this challenge. Great choice for November y'all!! It sure made for a pretty cake and it was appreciated by the guests at our pre-Thanksgiving feast last Sunday.

by Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeaters blog

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Notes from Natalie for those of you baking gluten-free:

So the GF changes to the cake would be:

2 cups of gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 - 1 tsp baking powder (this would be the recipe amount to the amount it might need to be raised to & I'm going to check)

I'll let you when I get the cake finished, how it turns out and if the baking powder amount needs to be raised.

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert)