Thursday, December 31, 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bread Baking Babes International Year

I've been baking bread with the Babes for a while now and it's always fun at the end of a year to look back and see what we've baked. In case you were wondering, we volunteer to choose the recipe for one or two months during the year and can really choose whatever we like. This year, 2020, our bakes have a distinctly international flavor. Travel has been severely curtailed most of this year, so it was fun to 'visit' abroad through the breads we baked.

In January Elizabeth had us make Arketena Bread, which hails from Cyprus.

In February I was Kitchen of the Month and we made Pain Tordu, an old French recipe.

In March Kelly had us make Potato, Thyme and Goat Cheese Pave', which is from France, too.

In April Aparna challenged us with Kurtoskalacs or Chimney Cakes, which are Hungarian.

In May Cathy took us to America for Early American Cottage Loaf.

In June Tanna took us to France again for Beekeepers' Pain de Mie.

July brought Birotes Salados from Mexico thanks to Karen.

August wasn't a recipe from a specific country, but we practiced our scoring thanks to Elizabeth.

In September Aparna had us make Matar or Chola Kulcha from India.

In October we made Bierocks/Runza an American version of a bread with German-Russian roots, brought to us by Kelly.

In November I was again Kitchen of the Month and we made Potato Focaccine, an Italian bread.

In December Judy had us make Lussekatter, a bread from Italy and Scandinavia honoring St. Lucia.

Another interesting aspect of this collection is that most of them are savory breads. Maybe next year, 2021, we will be feeling sweeter.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


This year had fewer posts than the previous year, but loads of recipes! It was also the year that we lost the Bread Baker's Dog, Xam, so I'm going to give a little more attention to the bread recipes as I go through the year's highlights. It's also the year I finished my first go at Cake Slice Bakers, even though I again joined the group later, having missed the bakers and baking cakes. One of my all-time favorite cakes was a group bake in February. If you like chocolate and coffee you'll probably love Coffee Heath Bar Crunch Cake. It's a bit like a New York Crumb Cake but with coffee and toffee and chocolate.

There were some fairly basic recipes on the blog in 2011, including fresh lemonade, Irish soda bread, Hello Dolly Bars, also known as 7-Layer Bars, French Toast, No-Knead Bread in a Pot, Royal Icing, Classic Peanut Butter Cookies, Spritz Cookies, and the recipe that has gotten the most views of any on my blog, Plain and Simple Bread.

At the other end of the scale, there are complicated recipes including Croissants, French Bread, Panettone with Dates and Walnuts, which has a loaf inside of dough with dates and walnuts hidden by another layer of dough...and it's Italian and a celebration bread.

In January you have a couple of posts with photos that include the hands of the bakers. Usually any photographed hands are mine, but in these cases I was baking with others and so first I captured my Mom's hands, making her famous Crescent Cookies for Christmas (now that she is gone I really treasure those photos!) and then various women's hands from a group bread baking day where seven or eight of us made two kinds of yeasted rolls. 

I am not a professional cook, baker, or teacher, so that day was a stretch for sure. I had to break down the steps ahead of time and make one of the doughs in advance, taking photos to illustrate how things should look, so that we could jump right in and start baking rolls with that dough once I arrived. My kitchen is small, but I was fortunate enough that a friend with a large kitchen was willing to be the hostess. The second batch of rolls was  made once the first batch were in the oven and they were and allowed to rise while we had lunch. Shaping, rising and baking happened after lunch...a full day! 

We made Braided Sesame Rolls and Shaped Rolls topped with either sea salt or seeds. Both recipes were from King Arthur Flour.

I also made one of my favorite breads in 2011 - Walnut Fougasse. Not only does the bread look a big leaf...but it has lots of crust because of the slashing and is delicious with the chopped walnuts.

Perhaps the recipe with the best backstory is the Galette des Roi , a celebration cake of puff pastry and almond filling that I made while visiting my Mom for New Years. One of the things that I didn't know was that my Mom had bought a new oven. The other thing was that the new oven had a timer that people used for other things, like timing when to put the laundry in the dryer. A hot oven is essential with this dessert so that the puff pastry puffs up. If the oven is turned off along with the timer when the laundry goes into the dryer, it might still be warm enough to burn something on the bottom, but won't be really hot, but who knew it had been turned off? In went the galette anyway, the filling seeped out and the bottom of the oven was still hot enough to burn the dripping filling, sending clouds of smoke into the kitchen. One of my siblings took a video as my niece and I tried to fan the smoke out the open window using cookie sheets! It was hilarious...but the galette was almost inedible once it finished cooking in the newly heated oven and it sure didn't puff up. The oven was also a mess and no longer shiny-new. I may have to try baking the Galette des Roi again with my own oven!

I'm going to leave you with a lovely recipe for an Herbed Potato Sourdough Bread. I combined two recipes and made this one up and it turned out fine. I baked it as a loaf and as a stunning braid. Give it a try if you have sourdough starter around (and I hear that many have become custodians of sourdough starters because of the pandemic), so here is an original recipe to enjoy and maybe play with too.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve Greetings

This will be an unforgettable Christmas, largely because the world is being ravaged by a pandemic that has disrupted lives, careers, businesses and so many familiar things. At a time of year that is usually joyful, hundreds of thousands of families instead mourn the loss of loved ones and many more than hundreds of thousands are gravely worried both about their future health and about their future, period. Will they continue to have a roof over their heads, will they have enough to eat, will they have health care when they need it and, if they do, will the bills from it swamp them?  Will their children be able to cover the year's learning when doing it from home and, if they return to school, will they become victims of the virus? I have no answers, but I sincerely wish everyone a peaceful Christmas...that they can put aside their worries even a little bit for the day and that the love that is at the center of Christmas celebrations can give solace to those who have already lost so much.

This will be a year to remember for many, Sweetie and I included, because the usual gathering together of family and friends over the holidays won't take place. We are hoping that our small effort, combined with many, many others, will flatten the curve enough that the medical system will get a breather, especially here in California where cases are rising at an unprecedented rate. Most traditions will have to wait until next year, including our Boxing Day Party. 2021 has a lot of expectations riding on it already!

Still, we are blessed. We are healthy at the moment, don't have the worries about jobs, homes, food, schooling and income that are stressing so many out. We have Pi dog to give us unconditional love and lots of attention. Dogs are amazing that way...great companions. We have wonderful neighbors and kind friends. 

We also have cookies. Usually I bake and bake and give lots of cookie plates away to neighbors, friends, the firemen, and library workers, to name a few, but this year I only bake three kinds and not a lot of any of them. There is controversy about sharing home baked goods, so it's safer to give commercial ones.  

I guess the ones I did bake are favorites...the Santa's Whiskers shortbread my daughter loves (she received the lion's share of them in a tin that was mailed with the rest of the gifts weeks ago), the saucepan fruit bars that I tweaked this year with fruitcake mix, and the Viennese Linzer bars made this year with farm made raspberry jam. Since the shortbread and Linzer bars are made just as the recipe calls for, I won't include the recipes in this post, just the links. 

But I will give you the Fruit Bars for Christmas recipe. You may even want to bake this one. It's mixed by hand in a saucepan and baked in a simple brownie pan. It's really delicious, too, besides being easy. Don't skip the glaze on top. The sweetness and then sharp lemon make a nice contrast to the soft cookie and fruit and the modulated spices. Great with a cup of tea. Think I'll go have some!

Wishing you, dear reader, and all you love, a most Happy Christmas, even if just for the day. XO, Elle

Fruit Bars For Christmas

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick) (I used margarine)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs (or use egg substitute)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon EACH cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg
1/4 cup buttermilk (I used soy creamer soured with 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
1 cup candied fruit cake mix (a diced mixture of red and green cherries, citron, pineapple, orange and lemon peel)
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup raisins

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add sugar and the eggs, beaten, stir well to blend.
3) Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk. Mix well.
4) Stir in fruit cake mix, currants and raisins. Mix well.
5) Spread in greased pan 15” x 10” x 1 “ or a 13"x9" brownie pan for thicker bars
6) Bake about 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Brush with glaze of a mixture of 1 cup confectioners sugar, 4 teaspoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon lemon rind.
7) Cool in pan. Cut into 2” x 1” bars. Makes about 45.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Ten Years Ago In Blogging

Many things remained the same in the 3rd and beginning of the 4th year of blogging. I still enjoyed doing some Daring Baker challenges, but I also joined a cake baking group, The Cake Slice Bakers. I continued to bake bread a few times a month at a minimum and often participated in Yeastspotting, a great group event, hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast, where bloggers sent in photos and links for breads they baked that week. Over the years Yeastspotting's archives have been a source of lots of inspiration and some recipes, too. I also was invited to join the Bread Baking Babes in July. I had made some of their challenges as a Buddy, like the Naan in January, but being a full fledged Babe is something I never expected. I'm still actively baking with the Babes. We post on the 16th of the month (or a little later in some gets in the way now and then) so you can click on almost any month in any year from July of 2010 to see what we baked. You might become inspired. 

My first bread with the Babes was not successful, but successive bakes were better.

Three of my favorite, often used, recipes were posted this year. In September I made cupcakes and iced them with Coffee Rum Buttercream. This buttercream recipe is the best! You can flavor it lots of other ways, and it really can make your cake or cupcake seem very it's delicious! The other recipe is for what I call Lemon Quick Chick...a fast lemon chicken recipe that uses cut-up chicken breasts and whole, sliced, all goes into the pan so you get strong lemon flavor and a bit of tang from the zest and pith. Some chicken broth, some seasonings, a bit of flour and oil and you too can make this quick entree. I serve it over a starch like rice or mashed potatoes, but it is also good over toasted toaster waffles from the freezer if you are really, really in a hurry. 

The last recipe is a Black Bean, Tomato and Corn Salad and here is what I wrote about it:  Even if you are a proficient cook, this is a great meal to have in your repertoire, especially if you keep some of the ingredients on hand. You can pull it together at a moment's notice when you have unexpected guests or are just too tired to do 'real' cooking. Just remember, the best reason to make this salad is that it tastes great! 

This is the year when Sweetie and I re-did the upstairs bathroom. It was not my favorite project to work on with him, but it did end up being a very nice bathroom and all these years later it still is a fine room to use. This link is also too a wonderful chocolate zucchini loaf recipe.

 We also took a trip in the fall to Utah and Arizona to visit both Bryce and Zion parks and the Grand Canyon north rim. The same link also included a recipe for a fruit and nut braided bread that would be a great item to have on hand for Christmas or to give as a gift. 

A much closer trip was to Berkeley for our anniversary. We were married in Berkeley so it was fun to hang out around town and see what was the same and what had changed. 

A trip where you meet up with wonderful bloggers is always a good one and in February I flew to Seattle. As part of the trip I met up with Peabody blogging at the time at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, but now at Sweet ReciPEAS and Cookie Baker Lynn. Wonderful women and great in the kitchen, plus lots of fun to hang out with.

One of the recipes that has become popular during the pandemic is for mug cakes; single serving cakes that you microwave in a mug. I made one all those years ago that had apple, plum and caramel. You might want to try it and now seems like a good time!

If you know anything about me I'll bet that you know that I love to cook and bake with young people. It's a bit about passing on skills and the love of kitchen craft, but young people also bring and enthusiasm to the tasks, and a wonder when it all works, which is enchanting. The summer of 2010 the teenaged Captain came to visit and we took in the sights, he scared me by climbing a very tall rock out in the water at Bodega Head (I had no idea that he is an excellent climber - and now a professional boat rigger), and decided to make Bear Claws and Burger Buns. Delicious and a fun bake.

Most things that are baked or cooked are not scary, but when I made grilled pizza in the summer I was really nervous. Sweetie usually mans the grill and getting all the toppings on and heated/melted before the bottom burned was challenging. In the end it all worked out and was delicious, but I prefer the way I do it now, with a baking stone.

Another area where I'm not as experienced as I might be is making savory dishes that include fruit. I tried a dish with chicken and fresh blueberries in late June that worked out well, the savory elements coming from lemon and thyme and the punch of cayenne pepper.

A third challenge that I set for myself was making fancy eggs benedict, using fresh asparagus instead of Canadian bacon. The real challenge was the timing and keeping the hollandaise sauce hot. Still, I did it and it was so delicious, and pretty. There's a great recipe for easy hollandaise sauce too.

Sometimes the thing that grabs me about a post is the photos. I'm particularly fond of one of the photos of the fresh strawberry tart I made in the spring. The background is blue check cloth, the berries are bright red and the cream filling in the tart is almost white...and then the tart crust and pan tie it all together.

One of my more creative breads was made this year - Soft Cheese Bread with Apricots and Brie. The inspiration was an apricot beer that Sweetie had me try. The next day I saw an artisan bread recipe that used beer so I figured out what would go in such a bread if the beer was flavored with apricot...and I ended up with this delicious, soft bread that doesn't even need butter.

Another bread that was a challenge was the BBB November bread - a bread cornucopia! I enjoyed the challenge of shaping it so that it could hold harvest items while still tasting good when we took it apart and ate it. Except for the tiny pumpkins, everything in the cornucopia is from our garden, trees and vines.

Recipes from the 50s and 60s of the last century often were full of things like canned soup and jello. Towards the beginning of the year my sister-in-law gave me a wonderful recipe from that era that had none of that, just good ingredients and a deep and delicious flavor. Pork and Black Bean Over Rice also has oranges and is a great braise for winter. I might have to make it again soon!

As a baker I'm always on the lookout for new techniques. I found one early in the year. When I was young we made 7-Minute Frosting for things like Coconut Cake by beating the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler with a hand held electric mixer, with lots of steam rising...and it took a long time. This new technique yields a frosting very much like the 7-Minute of my youth, but most of the work is done by the stand mixer...a vast improvement. The link also takes you to recipes for lemon curd and coconut cake.

Last, but not least, is a recipe that I made while growing up and continued to make most winters because it is hearty and delicious and warms you up plus fills you up. The Beef Barley Soup with Vegetables recipe came from the barley package. I think it's a Quaker product, but the nice thing is that it is rolled barley, not the roundish kind, so it cooks faster. You can, of course, substitute ground turkey or chicken and use chicken broth, but try it with beef. I think you'll like it.

Thanks for following me through the year. Hope that you found some interesting things to cook or bake and enjoy. If it seems like a long time between post on blogging years, it's because it takes a couple of days to find the things to talk about, do the links, and find the right photos and add them.

Stay safe and healthy!