Friday, February 29, 2008

Daring Bakers February 2008 Challenge

This month the challenge was French bread, and it really wasn't great.

I miss cooking with Robb, although we are enjoying- immensely enjoying!!- the class we are taking (see previous post). Also, I don't like making something that's not very good.

With many things we face in this world, experience is a big factor. I take for granted the experience I bring to most of my kitchen endeavors. How big is my ego- sheesh! But, I have been cooking a long time and I'm really decent at it. I enjoy being good at it, I like making things that dazzle people. I like experimenting and learning, but with cooking, and to a lesser extent baking, even when I am pushing myself to do new things I have a feel for what is going on. I can make observations and corrections in mid-stream. I have confidence and way more often than not, I make good stuff.

Well, not so with some recent endeavors with bread. How frustrating it is to be on the steep part of this learning curve. In baking bread I have almost zero experience. I don't (yet) have instincts to trust. That will come with time of course. But for now, I am a real rookie.

The recipe for the DB challenge this month was from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and Simone Beck. There is a link that is supposed to be live by the time this is published. The recipe is LONG so I will not reproduce it, but click here for it if you are interested.

Given my lack of instincts and experience, I think that where I went wrong- well at least one of the places I went wrong- was in the very beginning. I noticed the dough was really soft and wet and I thought that I had read about other DBers having a similar impression of the dough when first mixed, so I proceeded. I felt somewhat of a slave to the recipe (very unusual for me!) so I didn't add more flour. I don't know how I thought this soupy puddle of wet flour was going to "turn into" beautiful crusty bread. It remained wet and shapeless through the rising stages, shaping, and proofing.

These loaves proof on a piece of floured canvas (towel in my case) and then get flipped over onto the baking pan. The wetness and lack of form at this point in the process really hurt the chances of getting nice loaves. It was so sticky that in peeling the loaves off of the towel, they were really manhandled. The loaves ended up quite flat, not brown and crispy despite much steam making effort, and with a moist interior. I should be honest. The bread itself wasn't bad if you were hoping for a flat dense wet bread. You know, that kind of bread that is so good for dipping in olive oil. The problem with the loaves I made are that I was hoping for a crispy brown crust and a dry interior that was actually like French bread!

There is sooo much to learn about baking bread and I am eager to learn. In my latest book buying extravaganza I got Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and it is fantastic. It's thorough and there are lots of images. I am hopeful that as I continue to learn and gain more experience and have some successes that one day I will be able to make a good loaf.


Cooking Class: Part 1

Janet and I have the best husbands. They listen to us. They pay attention to what we like to do and support us in doing it. And, they get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

For Christmas, Kevin (with the help of Janet's Dad, John) and Michael gave us baking classes at La Tulipe Patisserie in Mt. Kisco. Our first class was Wednesday. We covered: Chocolate Hazlenut Biscotti, Orange Short Bread Cookies, Ginger Snaps with Lemon Fondant Filling and Gruyer Puffs.
This kitchen is amazing. A small space, that is efficiently organized. A chef who knows what he's doing and tells you how to do it correctly, without screaming or making you feel like a fool -- Gordon Ramsey could take a lesson from Maarten Steenman.
The classes are limited to 5 people, so he is able to spend time with each of us. All of us have some sort of cooking experience. By that I mean we've all tried to make cookies and cakes at home. None of us seem to be trained professionally, except our own Janet.

One of the things that I like are the tips. Chef Steenman tosses off hints/tips without realizing how important they are to those of us who are new to the cooking arts.
For example: If you are baking something round, stagger the m as you lay them out on the baking sheet. If what you are baking is square, lay them out in a straight lines.

Baking Soda makes the cookies spread; baking powder makes the cookies rise. I guess they are things you learn and get stuck in your brain.

The Orange Shortbread cookies are pictured here. Notice that the top surface is a little
smaller than the bottom surface, creating an angled side. This is very definitely on purpose. Chef Steenman explains that the crystalline structure of granulated sugar would cause the bottoms of the cookies to spread too much resulting in too severe an angle. He uses powdered sugar instead.

This cookie formula also calls for patent flour which Chef explains has a little more protein than pastry flour.
Janet and I both looked at each other and said, "What?" I thought I'd heard of all flours -- as I'd thought I purchased all of them working our way through the Cake Bible. Neither of us had heard of this one. We decided to do a little research, at I found the following.
All-Purpose Flour: Developed for the home baker. A general all-purpose flour useful for cookies, muffins, rolls and some breads. The flour is usually made out of hard red winter wheat and/or soft winter wheat. The flour is usually bleached, malted and enriched. Typically this flour contains a protein level between 9.0% to 11.0%.

Bread Flour: A flour that typically has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour capable of producing breads and rolls of excellent quality. The flour is usually made with a greater percentage of hard red winter or hard red spring wheat which have higher gluten content giving the bread dough the elastic quality necessary for greater product volume. Protein levels vary from 10.5%-12.0%. The flour is usually malted, enriched and can be unbleached or bleached. Common applications include breads, pizza crusts and specialty baked goods.

High Gluten Flour: The highest gluten content of all of the wheat flours used fo r baking. This flour comes from Hard Winter or Spring Wheat, and has a gluten content from 12-13%. This flour is used for dough needing extra strength and elasticity such as pizza, focaccia, mullet-grain breads and Kaiser rolls.

Whole Wheat Flour: Also called graham flour is flour milled form the whole grain, it contains all of the bran and germ from the wheat berry. Most whole wheat are made out a hard red wheat, but hard white wheat (a white wheat berry is "whiter in appearance" than a red wheat berry) is gaining in popularity due to its lighter appearance and naturally sweeter taste. It is used for breads, rolls and some pastries. Because it contains the germ and bran, it retains vital nutrients. It needs to be used fresh, and stored properly as it gets rancid quickly due t o the high fat content from the wheat germ. Typical protein levels range from 11.5%-14.0% and most whole wheat flours are enriched.

Self-Rising Flour: Self-rising flour is typically all-purpose flour (flour made from hard red winter or soft red winter wheat) blended with baking soda and salt. The flour is predominantly used for scratch biscuits, pancakes and cookies. Protein levels run from 9.5%-11.5% and the flour is enriched. This type of flour cannot have a very high protein level other wise baked end-products will not have a light and fluffy texture and will not "relax" during the baking or cooking process.

Cake Flour: Usually bleached, and of soft texture and smooth feel. It is milled from soft winter wheat. It has a low protein or gluten content, and produces cakes with a tender crumb. Protein content is typically 8.5%-10% and the flour is enriched.

Pastry Flour: This flour can be bleached or unbleached. Used for cookies and pastries. It too comes from soft winter wheat, and is very starchy. It has a low protein content, and produces pies and pastries with a flaky or tender consistency. Protein content is typically 8.5%-10% and the flour is enriched.

Vital Wheat Gluten: Flour milled from the pure gluten derived from washing the wheat flour to remove the starch. The gluten that remains is dried, ground into a powder and used to strengthen flours lacking in gluten, such as rye or other non-wheat flours.

Interestingly enough, they don't even list patent flour. I found this detailed note from
Patent flour is the purest and highest-quality commercial wheat flour available. Patent flour is made from the center portion of the endosperm. Patent flour is classified in five categories, depending on the amount of straight flour it obtains. Extra short or fancy and first patent flours are made from soft wheat and are used for cake flours. Extra short or fancy patent contains 40 to 60 percent straight flour. First patent flour contains 60 to 70 percent straight flour. Short patent flour made from hard wheat is the most highly recommended commercially milled flour for bread baking, it contains 70 to 80 percent straight flour. Medium patent flour contains 80 to 90 percent straight flour and is also excellent for bread baking, as is long patent flour, which is made with 90 to 95
percent straight flour. It is up to the baker to determine which of these flours best serves his or her purposes.

Maybe that's why it's not available in my Stop and Shop. Seems like you need a culinary degree to figure it out.

Our class ended at 10:30 pm and Chef Maarten was going to get up early the next day to begin cooking. He also taught a class the night before, and was teaching a class Thursday night after work. As he said, "I could bake all day and night." And, he is, almost.

Ok, if you don't want to stay up late, cooking all those cookies, cakes, etc. You can stop by La Tulipe in Mt. Kisco and pick up something sweet to eat like these wonderful gingersnaps. The recipes we are cooking are some of the ones that he's used in his own patisserie.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sick at home and feeling creative

Ok, y'all I've been sick at home for the last two days.  I ventured out to a framesi event in NJ, but only because every time they have one, I am away or sick or otherwise occupied.

This means that I've spent about 72 hours in my house.  I love my house.  Really.  But, there is a limit to how long I can stay on the couch catching up on my TiVo'd materials.  

I love the View too, but I can't watch more than two episodes in a row.  Sadly, I've tried to watch three in a sitting, but even I have to get up and do something before another episode of Hot Topics.

So, as is usual for us here on Washington St., we had date night.  This means that one of us cooks and we sit at the table and act all civilized until the bottle of Diet Pepsi comes out and I have a bit too much wine and then we really get to talking.  

There is a German word for it, that moment when you find yourself surrounded by your dirty dishes, drinking wine, smoking (if you do that sort of thing), and talking to your dinner companions.  I remember Ingrid talking about it in college -- I used to have a picture of her.  I can't find it anywhere.  She was a roommate in college, from Germany, duh!

For the life of me, I can't come up with the word., and neither can google.  If you know it, I'll make you the cupcakes described in this blog!

Like a lot of people out there, I love Food Network. I can't get enough of the food porn aspect. It sort of influences us here at Bake Through -- if you make a pretty picture of it, they'll want to bake it.

(True Confession: I love Everyday Italian and Giada DiLaurentiis' recipes. And, her cookbooks rock. I have to admit that I TiVo her show and speed through it. Yet, I've NEVER had a problem with any of her recipes. Easy to follow, fresh and full of flavor and each and every time they look like the picture or as I've pictured them in my head.)

Last night, Michael made dinner as I was preparing to go to that NJ thing.  Today, was my turn. I made a recipe I found in the magazine, Everyday with Rachel Ray.  For the record, Salon Topaz, where I work, gets a subscription.  I read it over the shoulder of one of my clients, and I had to try it.  I has gnocchi in it.  I love gnocchi.  Michael is sorta on the fence about it.

From Everyday with Rachel Ray

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
3 leeks, white and tender green parts split lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
5 ribs celery from the heart with leafy tops, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
One 32-ounce container (4 cups) chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into small chunks
2 packages fresh gnocchi (about 24 ounces)
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1. In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the leeks, celery, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cream, lower the heat and simmer until the soup bubbles at the edges. Add the chicken and gnocchi and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Stir in the parsley, sherry, if using, and paprika; serve hot.

This came together quite quickly and has a deep flavor that I wasn't expecting from only simmering 5 minutes or so.  Really, Michael wanted me to make it again.  HE even said that he liked the gnocchi.  Score one for me.

I ended up not having sherry, so I used marsala.  It worked quite nicely.  I'm always amazed at the benefit of alcohol in cooking.  Sadly, I didn't take pictures of it.  I was too busy trying to get dishes done from Michael's dinner last night. (It's our rule, he who cooks, doesn't clean.)  

But here is a picture of our dessert option:

I can't tell you how lovely this cupcake was.  I was expecting it to be so much tougher, heavier than it should be. (I divided the batter between the 12 cupcake tins and realized I'd forgotten the butter.  Really, how silly is that.  All the while I'm mixing it saying, "Well, that doesn't seem like enough liquid.  But I caught it, and that counts, right?)

It was light and airy and Michael and I both said, "Ohhh." When we tasted it.  I have to admit that it is from Everyday Food.  

I also have to admit that, after Gourmet, it is my favorite subscription.  

I don't know if Janet knows that.  This could be the end of our blogging relationship.  I hope she can forgive me.

When I'm reading cooking magazines, I turn down the pages on recipes that I like.  Michael said he'd seen this recipe turned down and wanted me to make it.  As I said before, it was devine.  

Here is the recipe:

Everyday Food
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 ripe bananas), plus 1 whole banana, for garnish (optional)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Honey-Cinnamon Frosting (follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Make a well in center of flour mixture. In well, mix together butter, mashed bananas, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate flour mixture (do not overmix). Dividing evenly, spoon batter into muffin cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Spread tops with Honey-Cinnamon Frosting. Just before serving, peel and slice banana into rounds, and place one on each cupcake, if desired.

Honey Cinnamon Frosting
1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat confectioners' sugar, unsalted butter, honey, and ground cinnamon until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes

The frosting took a bit more honey to come together than originally suggested.  But it was so good and luscious that I'd forgive an even more heinous sin.

Try these two recipes.  They made a sick guy feel productive.

And, I think I'll have another before bedtime.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Maida Heatter is the best!

Still no time with Robb...(frowny, pouty face)...

But, this morning Kevin made some noise about a cinnamon coffee cake. So we cracked open Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts and were easily persuaded by her description of the curiously named "Budapest Coffee Cake". She says that this is one of the most popular recipes in all of her books and that she has received letters and proposals of all sorts because of this cake. How could we resist? Especially since we had all the ingredients- lucky us!

3/4 c dark brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 T cocoa
3 T currants
1 c walnuts
Mix all together.

3 c sifted A.P. flour
1 1/2 t b. powder
1 1/2 t b. soda
1/2 t salt
6 oz. butter
2 t vanilla
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
2 c sour cream
Sift together all the dry stuff.
Beat butter, add vanilla and sugar, beat a minute or two. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat to very smooth. Alternately add dry ingredients in three additions and sour cream in two.

Butter a 12 or 14 cup bundt or (similar) pan. Start with batter making 4 layers of batter and 3 of filling. Drop it by the spoonful and spread it.

Bake for about hour. Test it. Cool 5 min., turn out to rack.

She says to put a glaze on it while hot.
2 c 10x with 1 t vanilla and 2-3 T hot milk, but I will try it without the next time.

I wonder how soon there will be a next time for this one. There are 4 others in this chapter entitled "coffee cakes, nut cakes, fruit cakes and cakes made with fruit" that we have our eyes on.

Really, I can't recommend this author highly enough.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sweets for my sweetie

My dear partner in baking crime is having a very busy time traveling for his job. Good for him! But, an hour on the phone just doesn't compare to our half day of together time in the kitchen.

Even so, we have stuff to share.

Those baguettes in the last entry were baked by my father. The recipe comes from Fine Cooking magazine, to which we all three subscribe. Robb and I were so inspired that we decided to make them, even if we had to do it separately... I took pictures of mine, they looked just like my Dad's and Robb reported similar results. Yea team! I doubled the recipe to make 9 of the prescribed size, and one giant one, it is getting ready to rise below.

I didn't like this bread that much. It was tasty enough, but it wasn't what I think of when I think "baguette". All this talk and thinking about bread got me interested in doing some learning. I started at Barnes & Noble thumbing through what I could find. I didn't find a lot on bread, but still managed to leave with an armful of books. One is an old favorite, Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts. So many fantastic recipes, what a treasure. I'm glad to have rediscovered this one. I highly recommend anything by her, she is wonderful. The cookies pictured at the top are her "Old-fashioned Walnut Ice Box Cookies" Call them a Valentine's Day treat for Kevin. He has really enjoyed them, too. Sorry neighborhood tasters- I didn't make the rounds with these.


Old-Fashioned Walnut Ice Box Cookies
1 3/4 c flour
2 t b. powder
1/8 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
Sift together.
4 oz. butter- Beat to soften
Add 1 t vanilla, 1 c sugar (granulated, light or dark brown- depending on the flavor you want)
Add 1 xl or jumbo egg and 3/4 c walnuts
Add the dry ingredients just till mixed and shape into a log 12 inches long. Chill. Slice into 48 rounds and bake on unbuttered sheets at 400 for 10 minutes.