In Search of…

Today after work, I visited the Goodwill Store next to my office in search of a “cloche” bread baker. This particular bread baking item can be quite pricey so in hopes of finding one that had been discarded when its previous owner had lost interest, I hit the aisles.  Fortune did not shine on me for there were no cloches or baking stones in this particular store. Not to be defeated, I tried another Goodwill store on my way home but once again no luck. The price for finding your treasure at a cheap cost means many trips to the stores hoping that eventually you’ll be rewarded.

What is a clouche? An ingenious bread baking container with a domed lid that captures the moisture coming off of the dough as the bread begins to bake. This moisture simulates the steam within a commercial oven which produces a crisp, chewy crust. I am salivating for one of these bread baking miracle pots

I find it interesting that deciding to bake my way through a bread book can lead to not only new knowledge but also a desire to reorganize my kitchen into a more “cook friendly” one. I have vacillated many times in my life between wanting the clean, uncluttered counter look in my kitchen to desiring kitchen utensils surrounding me in a wabi sabi manner. I always wind up back in a wabi sabi mode because I love the look, the feel of having familiar items surrounding me…an easy reach to my favorite wooden spoon, my salt-cellar I dragged all the way home from Italy, the Boos butcher block that has become a familiar friend, different shapes and sizes of glass containers filled with a variety of flours and grains and of course the mixing bowls…including one that belonged to my Mother and I can almost feel her hands performing the same mixing rituals.  A memory is attached to all of my kitchen utensils and equipment and with their help, I have produced many, many successful meals as well as some monstrous mistakes. It is a learning process and learning new things, experiencing new textures, flavors, sensual, visual or auditory sensations is exuberating. Isn’t life grand!!!

Sassafras Superstone™ La Cloche Round Bread Cloche

Happy treasure hunting!!

 

 

Today’s Efforts

Today was to be a day of rest before I head back to work tomorrow but I am finding it increasingly difficult to NOT go into my kitchen and begin another baking adventure. I did manage to resist going the yeast route since that is very time-consuming and limited myself to turning out a pot of my infamous beans and a Tassajara Bread Book Three Layer Corn Bread recipe. And I am so glad that I did!!

The beans are a no brainer…follow the recipe and it is a sure success story. I usually serve these beans with my grandmother’s cornbread recipe, but decided to give this recipe a try. As the recipe is described in the book…”the cornmeal settles, the bran rises, and in the middle is an egg-custardy layer”. Turns out this was a very accurate description of the inner crumb consistency of this cornbread. It was wonderful and combined with the beans a very filling and satisfying meal.

Three Layer Corn Bread

Then I took some of those left-over-slightly-too-brown-on-the-bottom-first-batch cinnamon rolls combined with some bread scraps from a few loaves and managed to crank out a fairly decent chocolate cranberry bread pudding for dessert. In hindsight I should have chopped the raw cranberries before adding them to the bread pudding base. The recipe actually called for sour cherries but I substituted cranberries since I didn’t have a can of sour cherries hanging out in my pantry.

All in all a satisfying, restful day that leaves my larder full of delicious food for the week. Happy Baking!!!

 

Another Go at Cinnamon Rolls

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The perfect cinnamon roll – sweet dough, soft crumb, adequate amounts of butter, brown sugar and that special cinnamon

No bread making for the past 3 days because I was working. I was frustrated by this because I was anxious to get back into my kitchen to experiment some more! Baking my way through this cookbook has turned into a passion for me, but I am not sure if my physician will agree with my choice of extracurricular activities.

I know I have the bread baking bug because I went to the King Arthur Flour Website and ordered more flour, yeast, storage bags, a Harvest Grain Seed mixture and some Vietnamese cinnamon. All of this arrived yesterday evening, so this morning I set about making my second batch of cinnamon rolls. I followed the Tassajara cinnamon roll instructions but was heavy-handed with the new cinnamon I just received. I was determined that this effort would be successful, not slightly overcooked like the first batch. I lowered the oven temperature to 350 degrees instead of the book recommended 375 and baked them for only 15 minutes. I checked them at 15 minutes and decided they were ready so I yanked them from the ovens thinking they would probably continue to cook a little once removed. I was right!!! This batch is melt in your mouth scrumptious. I know this because of course I had to taste test one, then two, then, just for good measure, three. I will give some of these away to friends and take a few to Burton tomorrow when I head out to visit my sister again.

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While the cinnamon roll dough was proofing and rising, I started another batch of Tassajara yeast bread. To this batch I added one cup of the King Arthur Harvest Grain mixture and used more whole wheat flour.

First step:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2+ Tbsp yeast
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup instant potato flakes
  • 3/4 cup King Arthur Harvest Grain Mixture
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour – Mix together and let rise for 50-60 minutes

Second step:

  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup stone ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Fold ingredients into Sponge mixture, Dough will be stiff and heavy. Turn out of bowl onto floured surface and begin kneading the dough ball. The dough will eventually be smooth and somewhat shiny. Place into lightly oiled bowl and allow to rise for 50-60 minutes. It will double in size. Punch down with fist about 20 times, cover and allow to rise again for 40-50 minutes.
  • Preheat oven while shaping dough into loaves. Let rise for 20 minutes or so and then bake.

The first finishing yielded a very nice springy interesting dough chock full of different grains throughout. I also added 1 cup of stone ground cornmeal in place of one of the cups of flour. Hope springs eternal that this batch will rise appropriately and give me a couple of loaves to share with family and friends.

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These loaves of bread turned out spectacular. Great rise, excellent crust and a nice chewy, moist inner crumb. OMG bread baking is sooooo satisfying!!!

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I am ready to move on to another recipe in the Tassajara Bread book now. And…that bread pudding is still waiting to be made! And Pizza crust!!!

Happy Baking!!!

 

Cinnamon Rolls

My grandmother was a “waste not, want not” type of person. She was a remarkable woman, strong, principled,and smart. She traveled from Iowa to North Dakota on a train, taught school in a one-room schoolhouse in Dickenson, ND, lived long enough to see inventions like telephones, televisions, automobiles and to witness the unimagined feat of men walking on the moon. She would have been one of the many women marching in the streets today against social injustice and I think some of her genes flow strongly through my body.

Lulu Ward

I have many wonderful memories of my maternal grandmother. One of the strongest comes from my grade school years when on a cold blustery winter day I walked into our home after school and was greeted with a cup of hot chocolate and the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. My grandmother had anticipated my arrival home from school, the cold chill in my bones, and while I studied at school, she pushed, pulled and pummeled sweet bread dough into cinnamon rolls… one of the many expressions of love that are non-verbal in nature but speak volumes in the maternal instinct department.

Perhaps my inner desires to become more adept at bread making stems from this distant yet distinct memory from my childhood. I only know that today, I am turning to making some cinnamon rolls. I hope the end product will be close to the delicious ones in my memory.

Turns out making cinnamon rolls is not near as time-consuming as making yeast breads. The Yeasted Breakfast Bread dough recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book is simple to follow and turned out some pretty amazing looking and tasting cinnamon rolls.  Nothing stingy about the ingredients that make cinnamon rolls so delicious….brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins in abundance. Oven temperature per the recipe was 375 degrees for 20 minutes. I had two ovens going and the upper oven with the rolls on a baking stone should have come out of the oven at around 15-18 minutes max. Lower oven rolls on a metal cookie sheet got a little too brown on the bottom, so next time I would bake for only 13-15 minutes and check at 13 to make sure they were not getting too brown on the bottom or bake in a 350 degree oven. Live and learn, experiment and ultimately succeed.

Next up…We are a recycling nation and what better way to recycle old bread than to examine the multiple ways it can be turned into delicious desserts or an easy feast for the winged inhabitants in our world.

Happy Baking!!!!

 

 

 

 

Lunch and More Bread

Yesterday I had lunch with a girlfriend and spent a lovely four hours or so just reminiscing about past, present and future activities and dreams. We hadn’t seen each other in about one year which is way too long, for I enjoy her company immensely. She makes me laugh and we share similar views on so many things. Plus the camaraderie of nursing binds us together forever as soul sisters if nothing else. Nurses  have a weird sense of humor sometimes which can be difficult for non-nursing or non-medical people to understand so there is a comfortableness among us. I gave her one of the loaves of bread I made the day before and I hope she enjoys it with butter, jam and feels the love baked within its crusty exterior.

This morning I am making another batch of the Tassajara basic yeast bread but as usually will probably tweak the recipe a bit to see what the end result will be, forever in the search for “my” perfect loaf of bread. The recipe I tweaked for the “sponge” is:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 + Tbsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup instant potato flakes(my baker girlfriend’s secret ingredient)
  • 3 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur stone ground white whole wheat flour. Let rise for 45 minutes

I still want to incorporate about 1/2 cup of the 9 grain mixture into the second part of this recipe, but decided to cook it a little prior to folding it into the sponge later. I added 1 cup of water to the 1/2 cup 9 grain mix and cooked it on the stove until all the moisture was absorbed which didn’t take long. The 9 grain mixture sucked up the water like a camel refueling after a long trek across a desert. To the sponge I folded in:

  • 3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups King Arthur stone ground white wheat flour
  • ~1 cup of the 9-grain cooked mixture
  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil

The final stages completed and one loaf into the oven. This time I divided the dough in half and baked a round loaf (tried putting this loaf into the woven basket, but once again no luck with getting it to hold the shape of the woven basket, so another boule). The other half of the dough I left to rest in the bowl. I will divide this half in half once again and shape into french baguettes, bake and pray that it all turns out. Onward….

I am very pleased with the final results. A great crust on the outside and the inner crumb is moist, light and tasty. I ripped an end off of one of the baguettes and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. I am anxious to try some cinnamon rolls and perhaps some raisin bread tomorrow.

Bake On!!!

 

 

 

Bread Baking Experiment #2

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Boos Block and dough knife

Frustrated by my first bread making attempt and added to my Christmas dinner biscuit failure, I am having serious doubts about my baker skills. So…tossed the first batch and chalked it up as a total failure and started my second batch but this time resorted to using plain old all-purpose white flour in an attempt to give me a small success to encourage me to keep trying. My kitchen looks like a mega flour bomb exploded, but pushing aside any impediments, I began again…

Recipe: From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day;

  • 6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 3 cups warm water (100 degree temperature)

This second batch doubled and quickly tripled in size within the first hour after mixing. I then let my instincts kick in and tossed the book instructions. Flouring up my Boos butcher block table in my kitchen, I dumped the now risen second batch of dough onto it and dusting with flour as needed, I proceeded to knead, punch, and pull the bread dough until it “felt” right to me. Then I halved the mixture and took one half and placed it in the woven basket that is lined with a linen cloth that I heavily rubbed with flour. This (hopefully) will be my first successful round boule that will have a woven texture on the outside crust (see I am still optimistic even after a catastrophic failure!).

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Second batch, first loaf into the oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. When I turned it out of the basket form onto the pizza peel to put it in the oven on the preheated baking stone, it collapsed a little but undeterred, I let it bake. After 20 minutes I reduced the oven temp to 400 degrees for the last 20 minutes. When I removed it from the oven it had a great “thump” sound when I knocked on the bottom of the loaf. I waited until it had cooled for about 30-45 minutes and unable to hold myself back, I sliced a piece. This loaf had a very nice crust (even though I forgot to egg wash it!)  and a chewy moist crumb. I buttered it and tasted. I toasted a piece, buttered and tasted and then tried some sugar-plum jam on a piece. All in all a nice effort, but wish I had gotten a little more rise. The supposed “oven spring” hasn’t sprung for me yet.

The next loaf in was a baguette which I also forgot to egg wash or butter the crust. Trying to do it after second rising was disastrous as it deflated some but I baked it anyway. This time in a 400 degree oven for the entire 40 minutes. Still waiting for the “oven spring”! HA!!!

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The third loaf is now in the oven and I don’t have high expectations for the “oven spring”. Just hasn’t happened yet, but I am learning each time, so onward I go. So in summation, my loaves today will not win any awards for beauty, but they will pass the taste test.

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Boule and Baguette with my mixing container in the background. Do not wash it, just mix new batch in same container to jumpstart the fermentation process. Lots of yeast bubbling action left over.

Since I am making chili for my evening meal tonight, I am going to switch to a Broa or Portuguese Corn Bread to accompany it. Any learning process is sometimes slow, frustrating and painful. To produce a handsome loaf that tastes scrumptious is my ultimate goal.

I seem to be concentrating on texture and rise in my bread-making saga. The “pretty” can come later. To be continued….

 

 

So Much To Learn – Bread Baking Experiment #1

Woven baskets for the proofing step and a couple of my favorite books so far.

Back in the late 60’s and 70’s when I was a young woman and tackled the task of bread making, things were simplified. Find a recipe in a book, follow it, bake it, and enjoy the results of your labor. So when I decided to begin again my bread baking adventures in these winter years of my life, I began reading several books to refresh my memory on the whole process. Little did I realize how very different 40-50 years can make in the simple process of baking bread.

I was overwhelmed with new terminology that I either never knew when I was young or has come into popular use in the years since. Words like couche (French for couch or resting place), or baskets in which the dough can rest and ultimately take on the shape of the basket before being popped into the oven, pizza peel, brioche pans, panettone molds, dough scraper, poolish, oven spring, the crumb (inner portion of the loaf), crust (outer portion of the loaf) and a plethora of equipment like dough hooks, electric mixers, metal measuring cups, scales, oven thermometer, baking stone, loaf pans, bread knifes, cooling racks, silicone mats, measuring spoons and pastry brushes. And I am sure there are probably dozens more. All of this “new” knowledge for me made me glad that as a young woman I just blithely “made bread” without any special equipment and put homemade bread on the table for many years.

So today I purchased a few items at a restaurant supply store and with a trip to the grocery store I was ready to make my first batch of 21st century dough after a 40 year drought. I carefully checked the temperature of the water to make sure it wasn’t too hot for fear of killing the yeast. I measured my flour with dip, level pour precision. I carefully measured the salt and yeast. I followed the recipe for an artisan free-form Boule exactly (well almost!). Recipe used from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:

  • 6 1/2 cups flour (4 1/2 cups King Arthur 100% Whole Grain Whole Wheat Flour and 2 cups of King Arthur Stone Ground White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 pkgs of yeast,
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 3 cups of water, a quick mix and my dough was ready to begin brewing, growing…the yeast seeking, searching and gobbling up the sugar within the flour.

Two hours later, the dough has approximately doubled in size and there is a decisive yeast smell when I lift the lid. The recipe I am following tells me to refrigerator the dough overnight and whenever I am ready, to cut off a grapefruit size chunk to bake. It makes four one-pound loaves and I plan to continue the baking process manana. So now I wait….

Batch #1 – Lots of bubbles approximately 2 hours after mixing

Up late and putting my first loaf into the oven. Smells good, but when I removed it from the oven, it was heavy and definitely not my idea of success. I let it cool for about 15 minutes and sliced it for a taste. Very disappointed…flat taste, texture too dense which I attributed to the whole wheat flour.

80% whole grain, whole wheat with 20% stone ground white whole wheat -Little rise, coarse dense texture

Tomorrow I’ll try again!!

Fur Babies – Part 2

Bernie at 10 weeks

Maine Coon cats are regular cats on steroids. Enter my sweet, sweet Bernie. He has stolen my heart and each day fulfills my need for a cat I can pet, hold, cuddle and he apparently shares the enjoyment of these mutual interactions. He was so very small when I got him and the long drive home wasn’t without its own adventures.

An overnight stay in a hotel room that had an adjoining sitting room almost led to a catastrophic accident. There was a sofa bed in that sitting room and somehow this tiny kitten managed to get himself caught inside the sofa bed workings. My sister accompanied me on my kitten mission and between the two of us we managed to extricate him from his potential death trap without any injuries.

Bernie sleeping on top of a bed pillow

His daily antics make me smile and laugh. Our mornings usually begin with him walking and bouncing on and off my body accompanied by some very loud cries in an attempt to get me moving in the direction of the kitchen. He wants food!!  As I open the canned sliced beef, he stands on his hind legs and stretches his front feet up onto the counter top reaching for his food container. He means to hurry the process along. He is a big cat and can polish off a bowl of food faster than any cat I have ever had. After feeding time, he begins the patrol of his cat trees and toys rushing here and there with great speed and purpose attacking real and imaginary movements and shadows. He uses his paws and head to lift a coverlet off of my bed so he can crawl under it and then proceeds to wriggle around for what purpose only he knows. All I see is an undulating rise and fall of the coverlet as he progresses. Eventually he wears himself out and slips into kitty slumberland.

He loves his cat trees and only the highest perch or inside the tight box satisfies him. He has already destroyed one cat tree by aggressively scratching the jute posts to sharpen his big claws. Last week he jumped to the top-level of his new cat tree, stood on his hind legs and reached to the top of a bookcase and with the ease of a gazelle leaped up to explore this even higher perch. Silly me, I worried that he might not be able to get down!

There is no doubt that he has stolen my heart and I am always delighted by his antics. I think he is still growing and I hope that his personality continues to grow along with his beautiful furry self.

Bernie- 1 year

Fur Babies are the BEST!!!!

Best Buds

 

 

Fur Babies – Part 1

Buster & Bernie

A little over a year ago, I fulfilled a desire by traveling a ridiculous distance to pick up my new Maine Coon kitten. My heart was set on a “yellow tabby” color and I was driven by the desire to have a cat that would cuddle with me and allow me to be a hands-on pet owner. Let me explain the “hands on” part of that last sentence.

My other cat, a Turkish Van rescue from a shelter, must have suffered terribly at the hands of his previous owner, because it literally took two years before I was allowed to pet him. And forget trying to clip his nails or brush this hairy beast. It just isn’t happening. A trip to the vet is a traumatic event for both of us. This traumatic event consists of 3 parts…the trap, the catch and the delivery.

Buster

First the “trap”…This consists of cornering him in my walk-in closet and closing the door before advancing on him. Now this doesn’t sound so difficult, but let me tell you that this cat has superior, supercat ESP skills. Somehow, some way, he “knows” when this event is beginning. Perhaps he senses my anxiety or gets his cue from the appearance of the cat carrier even though it is secreted until the last moment, but when the jig is up and he confirms my intentions, he usually runs to hide in some vastly inaccessible place making it extremely difficult for me to catch him. Under the sofa is a favorite which requires a broom to coax him from beneath its dark recesses only to have him bolt to another place.

Next is the “catch”. Once Buster is cornered in the closet, it requires extreme courage for me to reach out and grab him. I am risking teeth and very sharp nails because if this cat doesn’t like to be touched, he certainly goes ballistic if I try to pick him up. Armed with a towel and oven mitts, I make the grab and stuff him quickly into the pet carrier, zipping the top as quickly as possible.

The “delivery” is next. Buster is not a small cat. Carrying him to my car is no easy feat and once there he assails me with pitiful wails all the way to the vet and back home. Back in the safe confines of our condo, he jumps from his mini prison and gives me the cold shoulder for a length of time that only his cat brain knows is considered adequate for the abuse I have inflicted on him.

Richard (the shelter’s name for him), AKA Mr. Big, AKA Big Dick (my grandchildren unanimously rejected this one which I found to be hilarious) and finally Buster (so hard finding the right name for him) has slowly grown to accept that maybe this human who feeds and shelters him and demands little else may be worthy of a little more affection. Now, 7 years later, he is glued to my side as I settle into my fetal position prior to sleeping. And there he stays the entire night. Slowly over time and moving at a snail’s pace, Buster and I have reached a mutual agreement. His close encounters with me are generally initiated by him. He actually climbs onto my chest for brief moments, allows me to pet him when he wants it and seems to have begun to accept me as a “tolerable” human.

His stand-offish temperament left me lacking the sweet connection that I craved from the many felines that have shared their lives with me over my lifetime. Which brings me back to my ridiculously long trip to bring my sweet Bernie home.

Stay tuned for Fur Babies Part 2 – my Maine Coon delight! To be continued…

A cluster of cats

Christmas Mania

This time of year can be emotional and stress provoking. The business of making our gift list, checking it twice, planning Christmas parties, baking cookies, purchasing food, making ornaments, buying and wrapping presents and, horror of horrors, going to the post office to mail packages far and wide to friends and relatives.

Each year the dreaded trip to the post office to mail cumbersome packages, evokes feelings of loathing. My recent encounters with the United States Postal Service were no different. I chose a post office that is usually not crowded, a unique phenomena at this time of year. I arrived promptly at 1:30 PM, opening time after the lunch break. Balancing three bulky packages, I struggled through the front door and was disappointed to see the postal windows closed with a sign saying it would reopen at 2:15PM. After mumbling a few choice cuss words, I made my way back to my car, reloaded the packages and headed to the next post office.

Total deja vu as I again gathered the packages and made my way through yet another front door to be greeted by an all too familiar scene…a long line of similarly afflicted humans waiting to be called forward to the one, yes only one clerk that was seemingly oblivious to the length of the waiting line and our mutually shared anxiety and stress.

So, I dutifully waited my turn and was pleasantly entertained by the young woman directly in front of me. She was the epitome of an efficient packaging artist in its purest form. I watched fascinated as she gathered mailing envelopes and proceeded to fill out all necessary forms, recycled mailing labels into graphic art with the names of the recipients beautifully arranged and decorated and then trimmed with her own personal pair of scissors that she fished from the depths of her voluminous purse. She inserted her gifts into the package, made several adjustments to her liking and was still working diligently on her project when I decided to bail from the line and take my chances using the self-service machine.

Machines are always a challenge for me. The pressure is on when you step up to that area of the post office. There were two people in front of me and before long there were others behind us. My anxiety level climbed as I moved closer to my turn at weighing and printing the postage labels for my packages. These machines intimidate me and I frequently seek a young person to assist me but today I was very lucky. Another post office person was circulating in the area assisting people as needed. And boy did I need it. It wasn’t difficult but it is time-consuming  because there is a lot of reading and selecting throughout the whole process. After completing the entry for three packages, the machine told me that my credit card would only allow two self-service transactions so the whole third package was not completed. I ended my session and began again to repeat the information for my third package and reentering my credit card. In essence I was fooling the machine and my bank card, but by this time I was determined to complete the task of getting those blasted packages out of my possession and into the post office delivery schedule so they could begin their journey to their respective destinations.

The entire time I was in mortal combat with the mailing/package machine, I could feel the many eyes of other frantic patrons behind me burning into my back urging me onward to a speedy conclusion of my encounter. With the third package successfully labeled with the appropriate postage tag, I tried to put it in the mail chute and it wouldn’t fit! I carried it to the circulating  clerk who assured me she would get it to the mail room for me. Each step was challenging.

My parting words to her as well as to my fellow postal patrons were ” I am totally exhausted and feel like I have just birthed a 10 pound baby!” I survived my post office mission, but unfortunately I have two more packages to mail so Monday I’ll be repeating the annual battle to send gifts to loved ones as an acknowledgement of how very thankful I am to have them in my life.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!!