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!!

 

 

Pizza Time!!

I love pizza!! I’ve lived in Austin for twelve years and I spent many years searching for a pizza to rival my favorite Houston pie purveyor… Star Pizza. Star turned out a whole wheat Vegetarian Starburst pizza second to none. Gooey cheese, caramelized onions, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini squash, green peppers and a light splash of a tangy tomato sauce. I craved this pizza on a regular basis and went into pizza withdrawal when I moved to Austin. My BFF Kathleen regularly takes pity on me and brings me one when she comes to visit.

No worries though…I kept trying different Austin pizzerias and discovered Via 313 Pizza. They offer Chicago style crunchy yet chewy pizza crust in several combinations that satisfy my cravings. My favorite at this pizza parlour is “The Cadillac”…Gorgonzola cheese, fig preserves, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan drizzled with a Balsamic Glaze. A Melt in your mouth-watering experience! My second favorite at Via 313 is “The Rocket”…Hot Soppresatta, spicy arugula and shaved Parmesan. These pies aren’t cheap but so worth it since these guys use the highest quality ingredients which probably helps them create such gastronomical delights.

Through the years I have experimented with making my own pizza. My pizza stone gets quite a workout with pizzas, cookies, and bread. I usually use a whole wheat crust purchased from HEB or Trader Joe’s. My “go to” favorite at home pizza consists of cheese, cheese and more cheese (who doesn’t like bread and cheese!), caramelized onions, Medjool date pieces, cooked bacon bits, cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, Parmesan Reggiano cheese and a splash of Con Olio pungent, peppery olive oil followed by a drizzle of Fig Balsamic Vinegar and a dash of coarse kosher salt. But I’ve decided that the time has come for me to master my own pizza dough since I have a definite preference for my toppings.

Prepped pizza toppings

Yesterday I tackled making pizza dough for the first time. Just plain old pizza dough. Using my Kitchen Aide, mixing the dough was easy and it doubled in size in about two hours. While it was rising, I prepped the toppings for my pizza. Next I gathered the dough into a ball and pressed it out on my pizza peel that was lightly dusted with flour. I was even able to pick the dough up and stretch it by moving my fists around and around like you see in the movies. With practice I might be able to send the dough flying. It stretched quickly to the size I wanted and after topping it, baked in a 475 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

My Pizza

For a first effort at making my own pizza dough, it wasn’t half bad. Was it perfect? Hardly and I will keep trying to find the one that satisfies my palette. I know I prefer a whole wheat crust so will try that next and perhaps bake in a square or rectangular pan to try to get that crisp buttery crust that Via 313 has made famous. Too bad I can’t take a lesson from their expert pizza makers.

Happy Baking!!!

 

 

Sour Dough Beginnings

Left – Tassajara Bread Book, Right – Bread Alone rye starter

I have a scientific experiment happening in my kitchen right now. I am trying to “grow” yeast or “chef” from which (if I am successful) I will create my sour dough starter that I will be able to “feed” weekly and maintain a constant supply of “starter” to make sour dough breads. Whew!! Sounds complicated, but this isn’t my first rodeo with using a starter to create sourdough bread. Back in the 60’s I was a hippie chick and we hugged trees, recycled, reused and cooked a lot from scratch which included making my own bread. But throughout the ensuing 40 years or so, I discarded my starter so I am beginning anew. Some sour dough starters have been maintained for 100 years, passed down through generations. I myself shared portions of my starter with friends and family way back when…

I have two different concoctions growing right now from two different book recipes. One was simple to mix and only requires that I stir it once daily for five days. This recipe came from the Tassajara Bread Book…1 tablespoon dry yeast, 2 1/2 cups warm water, 2 teaspoons honey, 2 1/2 cups flour mixed together, covered and left to brew for five days.

Active yeast development

The second comes from the Bread Alone book by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik. This starter recipe is slightly more labor intensive but still easy. 1/2 cup spring water, 2/3 cups stone ground rye flour and less than 1/16 teaspoon yeast (pinch). Combine, scrape down sides and cover with tightly fitting lid. This process is repeated (minus the yeast ingredient) for 4 days. I am on day 3 as I write this. From this rye “chef” I should be able to make a rye sourdough starter. Both of these recipes are not labor intensive but do require a small amount of time daily to continue the growth or fermentation.

My quest is to make bread from each of these two starters and thus determine which one I want to continue to use and which one will be unceremoniously dumped down the drain.

Each day and with each feed it gains strength and vitality

More of this experiment later…

 

Styx and Seeds

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Flax seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seed kernels and pepitas

My three work days are behind me and this morning I eagerly anticipated getting into my kitchen to begin my baking challenges. I was pretty much whipped from my work week, but somehow that exhaustion dissipates when I begin another baking adventure.

My sister has been sending me a few tried and true recipes that she has baked throughout the years and as they arrive I put them into my Tassajara Bread Book to be added to my bread baking experiments. The first one I decided to make this morning was entitled Cook’s Country Multigrain Dakota Bread. My preference in bread is for it to have multigrains dispersed throughout and more adhered to the outside crust and this recipe is chocked full of seeds…sesame, poppy sunflower, pepitas, flax seeds and a seven grain hot cereal mix as well. I love the crunch of those styx and seeds.

It was easy to make and for the first time I decided to press my Kitchen Aide mixer and dough hook into service. All of my previous loaves have all been hand mixed and kneaded. My mixer performed admirably and made the whole process quick and easy. After a couple of risings, it went into the oven for about 40 minutes and out came one of the most beautiful loaves I have produced to date. And perhaps the best tasting thus far. Firm, crusty crust and a multigrain infused soft, chewy moist crumb.

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Cook’s Country Multigrain Dakota Bread

The next recipe I tackled was from the Tassajara Bread Book…Oatmeal Bread. Once again I used the bread hook and the dough came together nicely. After several rises, I divided the dough in half and used a loaf pan for one and gave another try to the woven willow basket for the other loaf. This time when I removed the loaf from the woven willow basket to place on the pizza peel to be transferred to the preheated baking stone, I could at least see the woven pattern so at least I am making progress. The Oatmeal Bread turned out quite delicious…nice firm crust and a soft, chewy, nutty crumb. It was delicious with bread and sour cherry jam!!

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Tassajara Bread Book Oatmeal Bread recipe
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Multigrain Dakota Bread Boule on right and two Tassajara Oatmeal Bread loaves, left

These two different types of loaves I made today are definitely “WOW” keeper bread recipes. The Multigrain Dakota Boule was quite large and I would probably make two loaves out of this in the future. I’ll keep trying new recipes but these two may end up being my “go to bread” for daily use because they ticked all the boxes of what I desire in a loaf of bread.

Next up…soft pretzels!! Or pizza!! Yum, yum!!!

The Jewel of the Country

This past Saturday, I got up early, loaded my car with cinnamon rolls and homemade bread (my latest efforts) and headed to my sister’s home in Burton. On this trip we  planned on attending a concert at the Festival Institute located in Round Top, Texas. IMG_2679

Festival Hill Institute is well-known by classical music lovers, many of whom travel frequently from Houston, Austin or San Antonio to attend masterpiece performances by world-renowned musicians for little or no cost. But it may be little known to many people who have no knowledge of this gem of the countryside for unless you know it is there you wouldn’t expect to find the quality of music and a magnificent concert hall tucked into the lush landscape off a small country road. It is located on a campus that has been slowly developed piece by piece over thirty years or so. There are residences that house students that vie for summer scholarships to work and study under music masters of all kinds. There is a chapel, beautiful gardens, a magnificent terrace and of course the music hall itself which is a testament to the skilled workmanship of the creators and builders of the whole campus.

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All of the exquisite patterns of wood were honed by the hands of master craftsmen. The building itself is a work of art. The music that fills the concert hall and floats outward to fill our souls with the sweet notes of beautiful music is a gift made possible by many dedicated workers, sponsors, and aspiring musicians who have spent a lifetime studying and practicing to become the best of the best in the musical world.

I highly recommend a visit to this special place. Better yet, give them a call (979-249-3129) and ask to be placed on their mailing list and then you will have a complete schedule of upcoming concerts and events. I am lucky, for my sister works for this organization and has been fortunate to be a part of this, her second family, for many music filled years.

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No one would guess or imagine that life in a small town could be so filled with such riches. Festival Institute is definitely one of these gems. But for me, my sister and the time we spend together making memories, is my most beloved treasure.

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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!!!