Saturday, September 24, 2011

I'm going away for a while . . .

. . . because I'll be teaching at a writer's conference, so I doubt I'll be doing any baking.  But before I go, I have to tell you about this recently-released cookbook.  In fact, I wrote an Amazon review about it:

I've been on a baking binge lately, and I've gathered all the best cookbooks: FLOUR, SARABETH'S BAKERY, THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING, MIETTE . . . and I thought I was done until I saw this. I hesitated--even at a reduced price, the book is expensive, and I didn't want to spend money on recipes I already had. But after looking through this book, I'm convinced my money was well-spent. Lisa Yockelson presents a new approach and delightfully different ways to bake: bread in a bundt, cheesecake in teacups, whatever works. Can't wait to bake my way through this book, too. 

Amazon has activated the "look inside this book" feature, so you can browse for a while online.  The author has included great sections on baking craft and baking terms and equipment, so it's another great teach-while-you-create book.  And it's heavy!  About as heavy and thick as the awesome THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING.

SO . . . until I see you again, have a great week.  And happy baking!

~~Angie, who needs to bake up a plot before she gets home!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Baking Gadget of the Week

The Lame. 

Used for slashing the top of a bread loaf (before baking) so the dough has room to expand. 

Could also use a scalpel or the tip of a very sharp knife.  

Do you use a lame?  Do you know how to pronounce it?  (I don't.) 

What's the prettiest pattern you've ever seen slashed into a loaf of bread? 

And I must confess:  I got a beautiful new pie plate this week and was dying to try it--so I skipped ahead to the pie section of THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING and made a butterscotch pie.  Yum!  


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Rustic Olive Thyme Bread

The finished loaf. 
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was tempted to skip this recipe--or engage in some creative substitutions--but I discovered that my neighbor's family loves olives and my hubby does, too.  So despite the fact that the sight and smell of olives makes my nose hairs curl, I went down to the grocery and picked up a jar.

And continued to make the Rustic Olive Thyme Bread.

But let me back up.  Many breads actually begin the day before--in fact, the most flavorful breads begin hours before and begin to ferment, bubble, and percolate long before you roll them out.  Sometimes you inherit a "mother" or "starter" or "sponge" from your great aunt Lizzy, sometimes you can grow you own from the bacteria on grapes (but you'd better be prepared to feed it every four hours around the clock. Demanding little babies, they are).

But if you have access to that great invention called "packaged yeast" (I use active dry yeast), you can start your own starter the night before in one of two forms:  a biga or a poolish (and boy, my auto-correct is going crazy).  A biga, when put together, will look like a soft dough, while a poolish will look more like batter--IOW, it's thinner.  You usually let these sit out for a few hours or cover and put them in the refrigerator.  A poolish will keep longer than a biga, but check your recipe for directions.

The first rise in the bucket. It more than doubled. 
Now--yeast needs to activate in water between 105 and 115 degrees, no hotter, no cooler.  This will seem only slightly warmer than your body temperature, but I prefer to actually nail it with a thermometer.  When I began my first poolish last night, the temp was 115-116, and when the yeast didn't look like it was doing anything after ten minutes, I poured it out and started again.  (Better to loose a little than to loose a lot later because you have dead yeast.)  On my second attempt, I made sure the water was more like 108 degrees, and the yeast did fine, though it still didn't look like much in that watery mix.

Next day, let the poolish sit out on the counter to adjust to room temperature while you gather all the ingredients for your bread.  (I actually had to run out for those olives).  When I came back, I tossed all the ingredients PLUS the poolish into the bowl of my stand mixer.

My mixer story:  Sixteen years ago I bought a Kitchenaid stand mixer.  Loved it.  Used it.  And the other day I was using it to make a HUGE batch of bread dough, and the poor thing struggled.  And I smelled something burning.  So I turned it off, let it cool, and finished my kneading by hand.

Bannetons. (Look on eBay). 
Later that night, I tried to take the machine apart to see if I saw any burnt wires, etc.  Saw nothing, so I called the Kitchenaid help line.  The gal there said to take the phone into the kitchen and turn on the machine so she could hear the motor.  I attempted this, but when I turned it on . . . nothing.  Dead as a doornail.

Bummer.  I had already decided to order another mixer and give the old one to my daughter, but I couldn't give her a dead machine.  So I looked around online and found a nice refurbished model on  Ordered that one and set my old one out with the trash.

And then, while I was nosing around e-Bay, I found these little thingamajigs--and I recognized them because I'd pulled them out of my machine when I took it apart.  Seems they have to be put back in a VERY particular way, using tiny little markers.  So I pulled mine out, put them in properly, and the machine worked.
Place dough in basket, coat with oil. 

What to do?  I went from having no mixers to having three.  I could send my daughter's mixer back and revert to plan A, but I didn't want to give her an old mixer when I'd already ordered a new one.  So I decided to keep the old workhorse.  Who knows?  Some day I may have a bake off in my kitchen, or I might be letting my granddaughter make something in one corner while I make something in another.  In any case, such a reliable machine deserves to be treated with a little respect.  I'm so glad I pulled it back out of the trash heap, and I thank the Lord that our trash man hadn't come yet.

Anyway--once you've put together the dough and the olives, you let it rise for two hours.  You can see pictures of the beginning and ending of that process.

After the dough has risen, you shape it into two loaves and place in a banneton--a basket for proofing bread. You place it in seam-side-up, because you want those lovely ridges in your finished bread.  After it has risen again, you carefully turn the basket over onto a baking sheet.

I think I "deflated" my round loaf because I flipped it over with too much gusto.  I flipped the oval basket more gently, and that dough did fine.

And so--ta da!  Olive bread.  I promptly walked one loaf to my neighbor, and will have to get my hubby to eat the other.  Give me pecans and fruit any day.  :-)

Would you like olive bread? Did you try this recipe?


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The World's Best Cinnamon Rolls

This is for Suzanne, who said she wanted to make luscious cinnamon rolls.  I stumbled across a recipe the other day, made the rolls, and ohmigoodness.  They are to die for, and best of all, I didn't have to deal with all that sticky syrupy mess that so often accompanies cinnamon rolls.

You can find the recipe here, at King Arthur Flours.  King Arthur flours are just about the best you can get in this country, and you can find the unbleached all-purpose in your grocery store.

I made this recipe and opted for the ordinary thing every time--vanilla instead of the butter flavoring, the homemade cinnamon spread instead of the fancy pre- made mixture, plus I skipped the grape seed whatever the recipe called for.  Plus, I was so excited to roll those things up that I didn't bother with making them look like little mountains--I simply rolled it all into a huge log, cut it into 12 pieces, and then dropped each piece into a muffin tin.

And boy, were they delicious!  I took some across the street and my neighbors loved them, too.  Really easy and absolutely delicious.  (And I should have taken pictures!)

And the only "pastry work" is simply rolling out the dough and then smearing it with the cinnamon/sugar mix that you mix up yourself.  And nuts!  I adore pecans.  (What southerner doesn't?)

So here's a delicious something to start your day--or weekend--off right.

BTW, the next recipe in The Art and Soul of Baking is an olive bread . . . and I despise olives.  I'm going to see if I can find a reasonable substitution (cherries?), but if I can't, I might skip that one.  Ewww.  Can't think of anything that sounds worse, except maybe lima bean bread. :-P

Have a great day!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Recipe in The Art and Soul of Baking

Ta da! One beautiful finished loaf. 
Old Fashioned White Loaf.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?

And it was.  Honestly.

I pretty much followed the directions as written, except that I chose to sprinkle the top of my loaf with some "artisan bread topping" I found at King Arthur flour.   (And they have GREAT free recipes!)  It adds a touch of unexpected flavor.

The first rise took a full hour, and I used one of those handy six quart buckets (purchased at Amazon after I bought Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day. More on that book later.)

After an hour, the dough had doubled in size.

Ready for the oven. 
So I shaped it (very simple!) and put it in my bread dish.  It had risen beautifully even before the 45 minutes was up, so I applied the test explained in THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING (hereafter known as TASB).  To wit:  I pushed my thumb into the side of the expanded loaf.  If it filled back in rapidly, the rise wasn't done.  If it didn't fill in at all, the bread was almost over proofed.  If it filled back in slowly, the bread was perfect.

My thumb indentation barely filled in at all, so I knew I had to get that puppy in the oven.  So I brushed on the egg wash, sprinkled it with the seeds and whatnot in the artisan bread topping, and settled in to watch the end of SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION as the bread baked.

Took it out after about 45 minutes, and it looked beautiful.  BUT--I've taken out beautiful loaves before, only to have them collapse a few minutes later because they weren't done.  So I used another tip I learned from TASB, and that was to stab it with an instant read thermometer. If the bread is 200 degrees or better in the center, it's done.

So I did, and it was.  Done.

I let it cool overnight, then this morning I wrapped it in plastic, put it in a large storage bag, sucked the air out with a straw, and put it in the freezer.  We'll either eat it later or I'll give it to someone with a pretty bow tied around it.  :-)

Babe oversees my projects. 

Shaped and in the pan. 
So--that first recipe is easy.  And if you want to try it, go to the Amazon link, click on "look inside this book" and search for "old fashioned white loaf."   You should be able to get a good look at the instructions--and maybe enough of a look to try the recipe before you buy the book.

And a note to Pamela, whose baked goods taste good but don't always LOOK good--I've been in that boat, too, and I've realized that sometimes it takes practice to make the thing look good.  The "failure" can come from some little thing like not having eggs at room temperature, not having butter at room temp, or one of those other little details that the typical recipe doesn't tell you.  :-/   But it's practice that makes perfect, so give it another go!  :-)


P.S.  Sorry that my pictures seem to come out in reverse order.  I'll have to work on that.

P.S.S.  I've found a way you can post photos (videos, even) of YOUR creations!  There's now a Lovin' Oven Bakery page on Facebook, and you can upload your media there.  Be sure to tell us what you made and if you were happy with it.  :-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

How could you miss the Sweet and Salty Cake?

So last week I took a risk and baked a three-layer cake I actually wasn't sure I'd like.  I mean, the top of the chocolate cake is sprinkled with SALT.  Yep, you read that right.

But Oprah loves this cake (she's not my usual standard for value judgments), and the guys at the BAKED bakery said it was their best-seller.  So I bought their cookbook, BAKED, and found it delightfully different from most of the usual recipe books.

And then I baked their cake.  All three layers, one carmel topping, and one chocolate ganache topping later, I had created a beautiful cake that didn't crack and didn't lean.  Best of all, it tasted . . . amazing.  So good there wasn't a crumb left.

And to be fair, there's not that much salt.  (There's a lot of BUTTER.)   Some of the salt goes into the caramel topping that gets painted on between layers, and some of it is sprinkled on the top (I sprinkled it lightly, but I used rough sea salt, which tends to clump, so occasionally I did get a crunchy mouthful.)

But it was still delicious.

So--if you want to try this great cake, you can get the cookbook BAKED (I'm dying to try the Root Beer Bundt next), or you can simply go here.  Be forewarned--the online recipe differs slightly from the one in the book, so I can't swear to its accuracy.  You might want to read the comments and watch your cake carefully in the oven.

Yes, I know I said I'd be cooking through THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING, but on days when I don't have TIME to bake, I'll fill in with something else I've tried . . . for better or for worse. ;-)


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Welcome to the Lovin' Oven!

So . . . I don't know why I think the world needs yet another blog, but here goes.  THE LOVIN OVEN is meant to be a chronicle of my baking ventures--most of which will arise as I bake my way through THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING by Sur la table and Cindy Mushet.

No, no, I'm not going to cook my way through a Julia Child book--that's cooking, and I'm into baking.  Huge difference.

After a few great pages of baking basics, the authors begin with the staff of life: BREAD.  Everybody ready?

I began baking some months ago with cupcakes--I thought it'd be fun to bake theme cupcakes for my monthly book club.  Then that transferred to pies and cakes, then to bread, then I took a bread class and a pastry class.  and all the while I've been getting cookbooks and making things--some turned out great, some we'd rather not talk about.

And last night, as I looked at a loaf of chocolate bread that didn't quite smell or look as luscious as I wanted it to, I decided that I needed a more disciplined approach.  It's the only way I'll be able to tell if it's ME that's at fault, or if it's just not a good recipe.

So--as I have time, I'm going to be baking my way through THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING.  Why this book instead of AMY'S BREAD, or FLOUR, or Sarabeth's, or any of the other wonderful cookbooks out there?

Because THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING is as close to a baking textbook as I've seen.  It lists all the common ingredients, tools, and terms, and patiently explains what they mean and why they're important in the baking business.

Since I've invested a lot of time (and money, now--I go through a LOT of flour) in baking, I decided to set my next book in a bakery--The Lovin' Oven Bakery, to be precise.  So don't be surprised if some of my characters decide to pop in.

One note:  because I want to be respectful of copyright, I won't be posting word-for-word recipes, though I will share the source on this blog.  (Or, if I find it online, I'll post a link).  Along with lots of photos--I do hope you'll join me in this baking adventure! It'll be fun, I promise!

I'd love to see photos of your victories and your oopsies.  :-)   I'll share mine!

So:  if you want to join us, you'll need a copy of THE ART AND SOUL OF BAKING.   (Buy it used--much cheaper).  By the way, Sur la Table is a very reasonable site for bakeware, etc.  :-)   Even if you don't want to "bake along" with us, I hope you'll check in a couple of times a week to see what we're up to.  I know it's going to take me several months to get this book up, going, and gone, so we'll be here a while.

Sort of what a brioche should look like. 
What my brioche looked like. 

And now, for comic relief, I'll leave you with some pictures of my brioche--which are supposed to look like a muffin with a little ball on top.  LOL!  I learn best by trial and error.

So--what is the thing (or two things) that you've always wanted to bake but never thought you could? Pastry swans? Eclairs? Multi-story cakes?  Do tell!