Bonus Post – It’s the insomnia version

I can’t sleep so I might as well write a bonus post. Why do I keep hearing “it’s the insomnia, stupid” in my head? I know it’s “economy” and I know it was Clinton’s campaign (James Carville, strategist) but I hear it as George Bush junior. Weird.

I wanted to tell you guys about some additional things I baked the past couple of weeks.

Banana bread! If you’ve got bananas and fresh roasted pumpkin what can you make? Banana and pumpkin bread! Yum. I found a recipe online and followed it here and there. I added a little more moisture and out came a delicious loaf. My daughter was having her first sleepover and I wanted to bring a token of gratitude before I just dropped my lil pistol into their arms for an overnight. It was well received and thankfully moist though a bit underdone because I ran out of time. I’d make it again. Once I remember where I found that recipe, I’ll update this post in the comments section.

Oh. I also made some baked cinnamon sugar donuts. Whuuut?! Baked donuts? Shut the front door. I told my daughter they were churros donuts because she loves churros. Predictably she thought she had the incredible idea of me making them for her, but when they were done she refused to eat any. Not even a full bite. Just a lick or two. Truthfully I made these donuts because after seeing them on Facebook, I wanted to know what they tasted like. Good job, Sally of Sally’s Baking Addiction page that I follow. They are wonderfully moist and light. The sugar cinnamon flavor is such a great pairing. I think they taste better the second day! can’t wait to make them again with different glazes. Maybe even sprinkles.

Until next time I can’t sleep ….Ciao.

Recipes 5 and 6: Soft Roll Dough and Parker House Rolls

Well, it’s been a while since my last post. Life and a bit of laziness got in the way. But, I’m back to tell you all about the latest recipes from The Book I have completed – soft roll dough (Recipe 4) and Parker House rolls (Recipe 5). I decided they were best blogged about at the same time since the soft roll dough is the basis of the Parker House rolls. Soft dough roll is, from what I can ascertain, the basis of dinner rolls. It’s the first recipe that contains more than the basic water, flour, salt, and yeast. It also contains butter, milk, and egg. It’s springy, light, and delicious though I didn’t really know that until I made them. With soft roll dough I could guess – Parker House rolls I had know idea except they use the soft dough roll in the recipe. The only difference between the two? The soft dough roll recipe had an eggwash; the Parker House rolls were coated in clarified butter. I’d never made clarified butter either, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

First up, the soft dough recipe. To the stand mixer you add melted butter, egg, and milk, sugar, and salt, and then you add in the flour and instant yeast and let the mixer do it’s thing. The dough goes through the first rise (bulk fermentation) until it doubles roughly. Then there’s a preshaping stage where you mold the dough into a couple of rounds. They rest for about 20 minutes (essentially rise a little more) before you roll the next shape – small rounds which will rest again. See the video for how I did that. It may not be the right way, but it was the way I did it after reading the instructions and watching several videos online.

Finally, they are shaped into knots and do their final rise (proof) for about an hour. Sounds easy enough, right? I’d say the final shaping into knots was the hardest part. If I had to knead the dough by hand, then probably I’d say that but the mixer does all the work. Hard to explain on the shaping. Here are some shots of that process.

img_8650
First attempt at knots

For these, you do an egg wash on the tops of the knots after shaping and then after proofing to ensure they are nice and glossy after baking.

I took the rolls to the ballet class again and they were a huge hit. I’m starting to think those moms and dads are getting tired of me and my baked goods, like a love/hate thing. Time will tell. I don’t think Tommy the food critic was there for these. Soft. Buttery. Crisp. Light. Pretty awesome rolls that I would make again.

Now on to Parker House rolls. Honestly, I had no idea what these things were so I had to google. (Doesn’t take much to make me stop what I’m doing and jump on Google. I’m addicted. Remember encyclopedias? Dewey Decimal? These phones are the devil.) Anyway, Parker house rolls are soft, buttery dinner rolls with a crispy outside. Well, that’s how I interpreted the things after researching them for days. And I mean days. They originate from New England (Boston) in the 1870s. Apparently there was a hotel called the Parker House where it’s said that a chef/baker got into it with a hotel guest and upon returning to the kitchen was pissed and just threw rolls together and baked them hurriedly before he was quite done. They were a hit. (Don’t you just love happy accidents?)

Same recipe with a couple of changes in the preparation. 1. Shaping is different and includes rolling pin. 2. Clarified butter instead of egg wash. Did you know clarified butter is also known as ghee? I had no idea how to make it. Always seemed daunting but it’s really not. You boil butter on low (ok the word is simmer but you know what I mean) for about 45 minutes and let the milk solids float to the top. When times up, you then strain the boiled mixture through multiple cheesecloth layers. Believe it or not I had cheesecloth (beer maker husband) and butter. Easy peasy. I brushed the rolls with clarified butter before final rise and then again after baking for a delicious extra buttery taste. I don’t think they’re as pretty as they should be, but having never seen or made them from scratch, I’m ok with how they turned out. More than ok. Parker House rolls before baking

Before
Parker House rolls after baking
After

My stepmom is here for a visit and hung out with me while I made them. She seemed to like them. Oh yeah. She took a video, too. Here I am.

Alas, Tommy, my harshest food critic, was there for these. He did not like them. Honestly if I had to guess he didn’t like the butter flavor. Crazy, right? But hey, you’re talking to someone with a kid who doesn’t like cake or ice cream. I understand crazy. But yeah. Who doesn’t like butter? Tommy, that’s who. Meanwhile his dad ate both rolls. He didn’t seem to mind. The young, teen assistant dancer/teacher ate several. The others enjoyed them. I also enjoyed them for days after. Stale but if you cut and toast them? Omg. I’d say it wasn’t a total hit. Must do better for Tommy. I’ll try next time. White bread. For real. Sliced, white bread loaves. I’m a little freaked. Ever hear of a Pullman loaf pan? I’ll make sure to bring the toaster (not really).

Recipe 4. Durum Rosemary Bread

Finally, something different – an unfamiliar flour and herbs to mix up the bread making. I wasn’t sure what durum was so I did several internet searches until I had a better understanding – plus I had to search pretty hard to find exactly what I was looking for to order. Durum flour was tricky to find. What is durum flour? The word “durum” is from the Latin durus which means hard, hardship, harsh, stern. It’s the hardest of all wheats and is typically used in making pasta (durum semolina) and in some breads like this one. There’s a lot more to know about wheat variants and how wheat is processed, but this post is already delayed longer than I intended so I’ll save that for another post.

After tons of online searching, I settled on an online store called Breadtopia to purchase the durum flour I needed. The prices were reasonable and they mill the flour for you fresh when you order. I also bought a proofing basket (aka brotform) and a bread lame for scoring. I also bought a couche which is a linen canvas fabric used when making baguettes; you place the loaves on the couche while proofing to help hold the shape of the bread and to develop a nice skin (think crunch). I haven’t used it yet, but I’m sure it will come in handy at some point. (I laugh at the word couche though. I’m sure I’m not pronouncing it correctly.)

I opened the flour not quite sure what to expect. The flour was light yellow in color. I could see why it’s used in pasta. I weighed each ingredient and prepared my space. I prefer to have everything ready to go before I start doing anything especially with baking because often timing is critical in many baked goods. I used fresh rosemary from my garden plus some dried rosemary to make the required weight. Just a recommendation — get a scale and weigh ingredients. It’s just more precise. I’m not sure what took me so long to start weighing ingredients, but I’m sold now. Plus in my day job as a data analyst/report writer, I have to be pretty thorough. I’m just used to it. Baking is like writing SELECT queries. Methodical. Exact language is required or else your query fails. I swear it’s similar.

After my prepping the dough (KitchenAid stand mixer for the win), I let the dough do its first rise. It doubled nicely. After that, I followed the usual steps – preshape, rest, final shape, final rise, score, and bake. Pictures below.

Durum flour
Dough after dough hook kneading
Proofing basket (brotform) and shaped for final rise
Bread lame (without blade)
Scored and placed in oven
After the bake
Look at the inside! Perfect

The bread was hearty and lovely fresh from the oven and was awesome with butter and also dipped in olive oil, balsamic glaze, salt, and pepper. I had a friend over while I made the bread and she actually loved it. She wasn’t so sure because it’s not the type of bread she’d normally eat but after trying it she was impressed. I was able to get four loaves (my friend and I ate half of one). I experimented with the scoring and I think they came out pretty nice. A solid B effort which was not bad seeing as how I’m a novice to the whole thing.

I brought a loaf plus half of another one to my daughter’s dance class and the little boy from last week was there. He walked right up to me and asked me if I had bread. His dad, who was not there the week before and whom I’d never met, looked embarrassed. No need! Tommy is great. I just adore him and not because he loves my bread. I really admire how open he is, not afraid to try things. Honestly I didn’t think he’d like it because rosemary is such a strong flavor but he kept coming back for more (dad still mortified). All the other parents told me it was great, including the dance instructor, so as you can imagine I was floating on cloud nine. I felt like a baking super hero! Next time I’m wearing a cape and an apron! Tommy told me he decided after much thought that instead of a chef that he wanted to be a food critic because he was so good at it. I heart him. I sent him home with the rest of the loaf but told him he had to share with his mom and sister.

I gave a loaf to a neighbor and saved a loaf for my husband to try the next day. I decided to slice the remaining bread and make bruschetta. I toasted the bread and then cut up cherry tomatoes and avocados which I tossed with avocado oil, salt, garlic powder, pepper, dried and basil. I then drizzled a balsamic glaze on top.

Tomato and avocado bruschetta

Totally yummy and a great use of the day old bread. This recipe is a keeper. So easy. Next time I’ll use a mixture of herbs and see what happens.

Next recipe – soft roll dough. This will be a recipe that actually uses fats and egg wash. I’m looking forward to soft, delicious dinner rolls.

Recipe 3. Whole Wheat Lean Bread

Admittedly I wasn’t as excited about this week’s recipe – not sure why. Essentially this recipe is the same as the first lean bread recipe, but you add in whole wheat flour to the bread flour. It’s still the same basics with water, yeast, and salt. I decided though that I would use it more as an opportunity to practice shaping. I still have a lot to learn about that.

Everything went well but again, I made some minor mistakes. I left the dough sitting for over an hour and I was supposed to fold it after 30 minutes and then again after another 30 minutes with some additional time after that. It’s like I have selective reading skills sometimes. Not sure where I read that. Oops. I decided to keep going because I wanted to bring freshly baked bread to my daughter’s dance class and I didn’t have time to do it again. The dough had doubled in size and when I took the plastic wrap off, it looked like this:

Pretty cool, eh? I thought so. (Sorry for the choppy video quality.)

Then came the preshaping. For the life of me I can’t seem to get the shape right (must practice) so I just did the best I could. I decided to make two loaves. Here’s what that looked like and then again after the proofing stage.

You can see where I pinched the edges.

They look similar enough.

Given my time crunch and lack of shaping skills, everything looked ok so I went ahead to the scoring stage. You want to score the dough not just for decoration but to allow for expansion as the bread bakes. The tool of choice for bakers is called a lame pronounced “lahm.” It means “blade” in French apparently. It kind of looks like a razor on a stick. I don’t have one. Yet. I’m ordering one soon. You can use a very sharp knife and though the knife I used was sharp, I think maybe I shouldn’t have use the serrated one. Live and learn. I tried to get all fancy with alternating slits and cross crosses, but it looked a mess. Ok. Maybe that’s extreme, but I’m still learning so I give myself a pass. See for yourself.

You can see the serrated bumps in the dough.

I placed the loaves onto my pizza stone, added some water to an aluminum pan I have at the bottom of the stove to create steam, then let the oven and bread do its thing.

Just placed in oven

Success! And I finished just in time to take a loaf with me to my daughter’s dance class. I brought butter, too. Imagine their surprise when I brought in a freshly baked loaf of bread! It was a total hit. I felt so proud, especially when the six-year-old boy in the room (sibling of a girl in my kids dance class) asked me for several slices much to his mother’s embarrassment. She had no need to feel that way. I took it as a compliment. She said he was picky usually, but he sure did devour that bread. It was good. Not overly “wheaty” or dense. Perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I’d definitely make it again.

Finished product

Now I need to find durum flour for the next recipe – Durum rosemary bread. Now we’re talking! Even more unchartered territory.

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts. -James Beard

Recipe 2. Bagels

img_8406Bagels. Who doesn’t love a good bagel? Chewy. Toasted. Slathered in cream cheese. I was pleased to find out that bagels were the second recipe in the book. I never thought in a million years I’d ever make bagels. I’d seen tutorials online and in books and thought it looked too involved… especially that water bath. For those of you who don’t know, bagels are a type of yeast bread that not only requires a rise and proofing, but also a “retarding” of the rise (slowing it down really) in the fridge for a time before dropping them into a pot of boiling water. It was that part that scared me – what if they fell apart in the water? What if I left them in there too long?

I ordered the high protein flour (bread flour) and the diastatic malt syrup (I settled on barley malt syrup) from a big online retailer who I shall not name and was ready to go. The recipe calls for high protein flour, instant yeast, water, and salt – much like the lean bread did – but it also needed the syrup. That is what helps with the color and fermentation – it provides sugar to feed the yeast and help with the rise. I ended up getting a non-diastatic malt syrup which simply means it did not contain active enzymes. Diastase: Any one of a group of enzymes that catalyses the breakdown of starch into maltose. (Source: Diastase page on Wikipedia.) I assumed the barley malt syrup would work given a quick search of online recipes. (As an interesting aside – at least I think so – the Hubs made beer over the weekend and he bought huge cans of barley malt syrup and amber malt syrup. Note to self: Beer supply stores may be where to get some of my supplies. Just saying.)

I had the day off last Friday so I had plenty of time to get started on my project. What a great day – I just did stuff around the house and took my time. I was asked a few times what was taking so long, but after reading the recipe I knew I had time plus I had figured out my measurements and weights.  While it wasn’t difficult per se, it was just involved and I imagine if you were kneading it by hand it would get tiresome. The cool thing about having a stand mixer though is you don’t have to do all that kneading. The mixer and the dough hook is a wonderful invention. Anyway, I got my ingredients together (mise en place or “everything in its place”) and went to work around 3pm. You combine the flour and the yeast in one bowl. You add the salt, water, and a little syrup to the mixer with the dough hook attachment. Then you add in the flour/yeast mixture until combined. Mix on low for four minutes and then medium for five minutes. That was it to get the dough. Super easy.

I think I read the lean dough recipe page by mistake because I put the dough in a lightly oiled glass bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and walked away for half an hour so I could continue to watch Cable Girls. (If you haven’t seen this show on Netflix and you like mindless telenovela type stuff, this one is for you. It was a bit weird to get into at first since the version I have is dubbed but I got over that pretty quick. It takes place in 1929 so there are pretty people and costumes and scenery to look at which I feel makes it even easier to watch – even with the mouths not following the voices completely.) Anyhoo, I wasn’t supposed to do that. Oops. No matter. I then proceeded to weigh dough bits in 5 oz chunks. Uniformity is key. I let them sit for 10 minutes and then I rolled them as described in the book – roughly ten inches long and uniform and then you attach the ends to make a circle like this:

After shaping them, I covered them, put them in the fridge, and let them do their thing overnight. The recipe said a minimum of eight hours or overnight so I just figured we’d have fresh bagels Saturday morning. What a treat that would be!

Here they are after weighing and final shaping.

 

 

In the morning, I got up early because … well, if you have a four-year old you totally get why. They don’t sleep in unless it’s a school day. (Why is that,  hmmm?). I looked at my bagels and they had kept rising even in the fridge. The holes I made weren’t as big and in some cases, a few bagels looked like donuts. Note to self – next time I must leave more space.

After boiling some water with additional barley malt syrup, I placed the first bagel in the water and after 10 seconds, flipped it for 10 seconds more. I used a strainer to pull it out and shake off the excess water before putting it back on my cookie sheet. I followed suit with the others, though in a few cases I dipped the bagels in an ice water bath after the boil. That was supposed to produce a chewier bagel, but I was too lazy to separate them so I had no idea which ones had the ice bath or not. I then placed them into a 500 degree oven on top of a heated pizza stone. They sizzled when I placed them down – and stuck promptly. I got five of the six in the oven, deciding to leave the last one when I had some more room on the stone. I baked them for 25-30 minutes until they had some color. Some could have stayed in longer for more color but I was afraid of burning them.

In the end, it didn’t matter. I may have made a few missteps, but they were perfect. I was so elated. We sampled one while still warm with some butter – heavenly. I was giddy all day. Really feeling myself. I DID THIS. I MADE THESE. I CAN do what I set my mind to. Yay me. Join me next time for wheat lean bread. Definitely not as exciting as bagels, but hey, gotta learn to make wheat rolls and loaves, too.

 

“A bagel is a doughnut with the sin removed.” – George Rosenbaum

Recipe 1 – Lean Bread

I was excited and fearful all at once. It was time to get this project started and produce some lean bread, the first recipe in the textbook herein called The Book. Lean bread is basically crusty French bread. It contains only four ingredients – flour, water, yeast, and salt.

The Book lists large batch recipes. This one called for five pounds of flour. My mixer could never handle that. Plus, do I really need eight loaves of bread? The entire book is this way so I have an added challenge of having to shrink down all of the recipes. I decided to make two loaves. I must have spent an hour on my calculations. I had to look up conversions – pounds to ounces (1 lb equals 16 Oz), ounces to grams (1 ounce to 28.35 grams), etc. Sadly, I did not calculate correctly. The first batch did not rise and the finished product was a mess, undone and entirely too salty. Oops. The bread was under dome and just plain awful. Second batch was worse because I was trying to hurry it along but no rise and too salty. That figures because I didn’t adjust or taste the dough. Lesson learned. I was hoping I would have wonderful, fresh out of the oven bread to bring to the neighbor’s dinner party but alas, no. I was brave and let everyone try it. Hey, it’s ok. I expected failure because I’ve never made bread before, but it still stung.

I regret not taking a photo of the inside, but here are some from those batches.

On Sunday, I tried again. I admit I was starting to doubt my abilities after that second batch failed. I told my husband and he encouraged me not to give up and look at different recipes like I was thinking to do. But, my husband reminded me that I could do this and he sat with me and helped me recalculate the measurements. He also brought out a scale he had that performed exactly as I needed – .1875 ounces, really? I am so appreciative of the support because this is a big project and undertaking and I need a cheerleader. I decided then and there I would make it as many times as it took to produce something edible. And guess what? Third time’s a charm. Yay me!

Was it perfect? No it wasn’t perfect – I had trouble with the preshaping and final shaping of the loaves. I opted to freestyle and thankfully it worked. I got the rise I was expecting and it was just… fun. I was so proud. Giddy. I felt like I just climbed a mountain. Well I imagine that’s how I would feel if I ever climbed a mountain which I have not but hey, I did it. Here are some pics from my third attempt.

I’m ready to make bagels on Friday. I ordered the ingredients on Amazon and got them on the weekend. I will spend that day making the dough and watching Cable Girls on Netflix, my new favorite binge. Hopefully we will have yummy delicious bagel treats on Saturday morning. It’s also possible that I’ll have another fail or three and have to redo it but this time I’m ready. This is an adventure after all and I need to enjoy the journey.

“Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all.” Nelson Mandela

Let’s Do This!

I haven’t always been someone who bakes. I can’t even remember when I started getting interested in baking – maybe it was in my 20s. I don’t even recall making cakes or cookies when I was younger though I know my mom used to make bundt cakes – the kind you got from a box. I think it was Pillsbury. Anyway, I dabbled as I got older – making Toll House cookies, a cake from a mix, things like that. One day I decided I would try and make something from scratch. Couldn’t tell you what it was but I’m guessing it came out ok. I started realizing that baking was something I could do. You just follow the steps and voila – sugary treats await. Of course, it’s not that simple but I learned from my missteps. NOT failures – missteps. I make the distinction because every time I screwed something up, I learned from it and moved on. I started challenging myself to do things that I had never done before, like yeast breads or pie crusts. I made cinnamon rolls one day from scratch which took all day long. It was a Paula Deen recipe I found on the web and it was a hit. My neighbor and I ate the entire pan. I made lots of things like that, but mostly easy stuff – cookies, brownies, banana bread, muffins, cupcakes. There was the occasional challenge and fail – lemon meringue soup, anyone? I also had a particular friend who shared my love of baking – she’d done a lot more than me and I was so impressed with her “goods.” I wanted to be like her. (Jill S., you rock.)

I went to Paris in 2008 with my father, step-mother, and brother. It was my first time going to Europe. I was 38 years old. It was awesome. I fell in love with French pastry then – mainly eating it. I told my dad that if I ate nothing but pastry and bread for each meal while in Paris with some occasional cheese, I didn’t want a lecture. It was Paris! Weight be damned!

When I was dating my husband (2011), we stopped in a kitchen gadget store one day and I saw a book on classic French pastry – sweet and savory – written by a French pastry chef (Pastry by Michael Roux). It not only had detailed recipes, but it had lots of photos of how things should look along the way which I found extremely helpful. I bought the book and started challenging myself to make things in the book. I decided I would take one type of pastry dough and make it each winter. First up was pie dough – pâte brisée and the like. Essentially pâte brisée is a butter crust that’s more delicate and crumbly than other types. There are variations depending on how much butter is used with additional fancy french names that I won’t go into here. I didn’t get through the book as planned because having a baby and being sleep deprived will do that to you, but I did attempt other recipes including choux dough – think cream puffs and eclairs – but I failed at getting through the book.

Things kept going and spinning in different directions from there. Having a child made me more interested in cakes – I wanted to make all her birthday cakes and so it started picking up from there. My creativity started to increase and I realized I just love decorating cakes, too. I honestly discovered I LOVE all aspects of baking. I adore the television baking competition shows too, though I have no desire to go on them because I hate being rushed. I made the Sofia the First cake with fondant cutouts. It turned out better than I had hoped for. I made unicorn strawberry cupcakes for her last birthday, and just this past weekend I made my best cake yet. Was it perfect? No. Was it really good though? Hell yeah! At least I think so and that’s all that matters (though awesomely I got great feedback – yay me).

Eric_cake

I got the crazy idea over the summer that I wanted to teach myself pastry arts and write a blog about my experience. Not just any blog. I wanted to do something different. Sure, writing about new learning experiences isn’t anything new, but maybe I could make it more interactive – invite people to join me on this journey and have them learn/entertain me while I do my thing. I’ll fail. I’ll succeed. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. We’ll eat. I’ll work on that. Anyway… I decided that if I wanted to be a pastry chef without going to school, maybe I should get a textbook that would be used by those learning the craft. So, I purchased Mastering the Art and Craft of Baking and Pastry by the Culinary Institute of America. This book is HEAVY – a whopping 1,116 pages of heavy. I originally thought I would just try every recipe in the book and just see how it goes. I may veer from that initial idea since there are entire chapters on topics. For example, the chapter on icings, glazes, and sauces has almost two hundred listings alone. I might just pick and choose at some point, but I think it’s a good starting point for my blog. I hope you check in now and again to see what I’m up to. I’ll create an Instagram account at some point. Maybe even a Youtube channel. Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by.  -Dina

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton