Monday, July 27, 2009

Root Beer Bundt Cake

I don't have a lot to say about this one, to be honest. It's super easy. Could be the easiest recipe in that book over there ---> (though I won't know for sure until I've made every recipe, which I WILL DO). Probably the easiest frosting I've ever made. And the result is delicious. Fudgy. Rich. The root beer flavor is there, but subtle and unexpected (even though I knew it was in there) because it looks like a run-of-the-mill chocolate bundt cake. Yummy with vanilla ice cream. The Baked guys=WIN. Every time.

So this week (especially since I have a new camera), you get a photo essay.

TGIP Rating--Root Beer Bundt Cake--KEEPER (and try with Root Beer Schnapps to see how THAT tastes-I can only imagine it's delicious)

Next up: Gingerbread Bran Muffins. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 18: I'm NOT 18 (don't act so surprised)

#1 I didn't bake anything last week. That is to say, I didn't bake what I planned on. And I didn't bake anything that I'm ready to blog about yet. I'm conducting ongoing experiments with bran muffins.

Exciting, eh? The nice thing about these experiments is that I'm working with something relatively healthy that mr. and I can eat for breakfast each morning as I work out the details. More on that later. And hopefully the Root Beer Bundt Cake will happen by the end of this week.

#2 I turned 40 on Monday. I don't lie about my age anymore. I used to. Before I turned 21.

#3 No matter how good I become with food or food photography, I will never match the real artist in the family--my nephew.

He sculpted this Bilbo Baggins for me for my birthday. All the details are so perfect. He even had a teeny tiny ring of power in his pouch. Yes, :( I said HAD. After I took these pictures, I turned him over to check if his feet were dirty, forgetting about the precious in his pocket, and the ring fell out into the grass. I searched on hands and knees and couldn't find it. I think it's just the right size to slip over one of our dog's claws. If he becomes invisible, we'll know why.

At any rate, if I owned a bakery right now, I would hire PK to do all of our modeling work for cakes. I know his skills would translate very well to fondant, gum paste and modeling chocolate.

#4 Mr. spoiled me on my birthday. He is entirely too good to me. But, this year, perhaps, you will be the recipient of some of the joy in the form of better pictures. He gave me this glorious setup: fancy new camera with tripod that can transform a bazillion ways and even be wrapped around things.


#5 I don't like peach-flavored things. And sometimes that dislike seeps over into not liking the actual fruit. Nevertheless, this is on the docket for sometime before the end of summer. A pie with crème fraîche?! Honestly.

#6 I made a list the other day of "old-fashioned" foods I'd like to try to bake. On the top of the list is Apple Pandowdy. The list sits right next to my computer monitor. So, whenever I sit at my desk (which, honestly, is A LOT of the time) I have this song in my head.

And now you do too!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 17: How I Measure...

...wealth--by the ability to go to the grocery store and buy whatever I want. Without looking at the price.

I am thankful, in these times, that I have a hardworking husband who earns enough money for us to pay our bills and feed and clothe our bodies. I look forward to the time in the future (I know it will come) when I can decide to try a recipe without concern over the affordability of the ingredients. That will be a luxury.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Whole Wheat Loaves

BEST WHOLE WHEAT BREAD I'VE EVER MADE. Without question. We used to make whole wheat bread a couple of times a week with our breadmaker. Used it for sandwiches and whatnot. It was a thrilling novelty to set the timer for early morning so that we would wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread. This is FAR superior to that experience in every way. And easy enough that I would consider making it a couple of times a week to have on hand for sandwiches.

Whole Wheat Loaves-from Baking with Julia *click here for printable version*
Makes two 1-3/4 pound loaves

There's just enough honey and malt in this recipe to bring out the natural sweetness of the loaf's whole wheat flour. A tall crowned loaf with some chew and stretch in the crumb, this bread has the flavor and heft to stand up to strong cheeses and spicy cold cuts, making it first-class sandwich fare. Like the White Loaves, these are good loaves for bread-baking tyros: The techniques are basic, the rewards m

2-1/4 cups warm water (105 to 115 F)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
3-1/2 to 3-2/3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon malt extract
1 tablespoon salt

Mixing and Kneading
Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the yeast and honey. Whisk to blend and allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is creamy, about 5 minutes.

Combine 3-1/2 cups of the bread flour and the whole wheat flour and keep close at hand.

Working in the mixer with the dough hook in place, add the remaining 1-3/4 cups water, the oil, malt extract, and about half of the flour mixture to the yeast. Turn the mixer on and off a few times just to get the dough going without having the flour fly all over the counter and then, mixing on low speed, add the rest of the combined flours. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. (If the dough does not come together, add up to 2 tablespoons more white flour.) Add the salt and continue to beat and knead at medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

If you prefer, you can mix the dough in the machine for half that time and knead it by hand on a lightly floured surface for 8 to 10 minutes. As with many whole wheat doughs, this one will be a tad sticky even after proper and sufficient kneading.

First Rise
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a large buttered or oiled bowl (one big enough to hold double the amount of dough). Turn the dough around to cover its entire surface with butter or oil, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.

Shaping the Dough
Butter two 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch loaf pans and set them aside.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half and, using the palms of your hands and fingertips, or a rolling pin, pat each half into a large rectangle about 9 inches wide and 12 inches long, with a short side facing you. Starting at the top, fold the dough about two thirds of the way down the rectangle, then fold again so that the top edge meets the bottom edge; seal the seam by pinching it. Turn each roll so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of each roll in just enough so that the rolls fit in the loaf pans. Pinch these seams to seal, turn the loaves over so that the seams are on the bottom, and plump the loaves with your palms to get an even shape.

Second Rise
Drop the loaves into the buttered pans, seam side down, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise at room temperature until they double in size again, growing over the tops of the pans, about 1 hour.

While the breads rise, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F.

Baking the Bread
When the breads are fully risen (poke your finger into a bread; the impression should remain), bake for about 35 minutes, or until they are golden and an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread (turn a loaf out and plunge the thermometer through the bottom of the bread) measure 200 F. (If you like, 10 minutes or so before you think the loaves should come out, you can turn the loaves out of their pans and let them bake on the oven rack so they brown on the sides.) Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come from the oven and cool the breads on racks. These should not be cut until they are almost completely cool.

Once completely cool, the breads can be kept in a brown paper bag for a day for two. Once a loaf is sliced, turn it cut side down on the counter or a cutting board and cover with a kitchen towel. For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.
Contributing Baker Craig Kominiak

Here are some things that I think contribute to the extreme hearty deliciousness of this bread:
  • I used spun honey. I know, it probably doesn't actually affect the taste, but when I lick the spoon after adding the honey to the recipe, it tastes more like the fresh honey we had from our bees when I was a kid than most storebought conventional honey tastes. Thanks to Miriam for turning me on to the stuff.
  • My cousin gave me a bag of home-ground whole wheat flour, some of which I used for this recipe. If this bread is any indication of the difference in taste and texture that home grinding makes, I'm asking Santa for a wheat grinder this year.
  • Malt extract. Okay, so I couldn't actually find that exact thing. But I looked around (on the internet) and the consensus seemed to be that in this recipe it's being used as a sweetener. And since there's only 1 tablespoon of it, it's okay to substitute with some other sweetener. I chose molasses. But the bread doesn't taste molasses-y. Not in the least. It just has a lot more depth to the flavor than any other whole wheat bread I've ever tasted. However, next time (just because I'm curious about the taste), I'm special ordering malt extract. Or hitting a beer brewing supply store.
  • I followed the advice to bake the last 10 minutes out of the pans (I cooked for a total of 45 minutes). This made the crust all the way around crispy and chewy. One of the problems I've always had with homemade bread (particularly whole wheat), is that it ends up so soft it's difficult to cut into thin, sandwich-bread type slices. This recipe, though, is perfect. The bread is dense enough to hold up to thin slicing, and even with a little chewiness, it has a wonderful texture. It's a little toothy. If you know what I mean.

My problems:
  • I think my pans are the wrong size. The recipe calls for 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch loaf pans. Mine are 9 x 5. I wouldn't think a half inch would make much difference, but then, if that's not the problem, I can't explain my bread's reluctance to rise over the top of the pans (see pix above)--on this attempt, or my other whole wheat bread attempt (looked for the link and realized that was when I was only blogging about pies-here's the link to that recipe).
  • I have no idea what "bread baking tyros" means. But I do like the use of the term "breads" as opposed to loaves.
  • My camera. Is not meant for this kind of work. BUT, I found some ways to cheat the system and "enhance" my photos until I win the lottery and can afford a real camera. Please, please, click on the pictures above and look at them full-size. Okay, some of them are still a little blurry, but some of them...may inspire you to eat bread. Stay tuned as (hopefully) my pictures continue to improve.

I laugh at these recipe writers and their "let cool completely before slicing" advice. Bahahahaha! Don't they know who they're dealing with here?! Having dismissed that advice, I can tell you that the bread slices very nicely, even when hot. I can also tell you, having eaten this bread with each of the last four meals at my house, the taste and texture hold up very well to butter (when the bread is either hot or cold), toasting, BLT and A, and egg salad.

TGIP Rating--Whole Wheat Loaves--KEEPER! And possibly make every WEEK-ER! I might even try the White Loaves. Just 'cause.

Next up: A different twist on the bundt cake. I love me a root beer float. Reminds me of Grandma Fitz and M*A*S*H (and if you understand that, you could only be one of my siblings). I'm making the BAKED Root Beer Bundt Cake.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 16: Sometimes...

...I experiment in the kitchen with foods that don't involve baking:

My first attempt at meatballs. Turned out pretty good. They held together, which from what I understand, is a good part of the battle.

I am also very adept at making this:

A mess. Poor mr. Always cleaning up after me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ginger Snaps

At a magical place called Trader Joe's...a place that doesn't exist here in Utah (hello, Joe? you need to get on that)...they have a little treat like this:

(apologies, Flickr user corpse_of_taloy, yours is the only photo internet-wide of this phenomenon)

They are delicious (as are many things at TJ's). Aaannddd, bite me Joe, I'm never buying them again. Not even in Las Vegas (which is my closest TJ's). Because I can MAKE them. HA! I didn't realize that's what I would be making this week, but Alton Brown's ginger snap recipe turned out to be remarkably like these little gems.

My favorite wizard-chef strikes again with a very easy recipe that turns out to be so delicious. I cursed him for writing this recipe by weight rather than volume. You see, Alton, not all of us have your fancy-pants digital kitchen scale. Some of us merely have these

to work with. Not trustworthy, these ones. So, I was skeptical. Not of Alton's recipe. Of my scale's ability to measure accurately. I should have had faith. All turned out well, in spite of the antiquity you see above. I experimented a little with cooking time because I didn't want them to be purely crispy. I wanted them to be crispy when you first bite into them and then just a little bit chewy as you eat them. 10 minutes ended up being the magic cooking time for me. Your favorite cooking time may be different depending on how crispy you like your cookies and how close to sea level you are. Regardless of crispy vs. chewy, these are so ginger-y and yummy. Three different kinds of ginger: ground, fresh, and crystallized make for different levels of ginger taste and for a cookie that is a far cry from what you'll find at the grocery store (unless your store is TJ's).

I know, it's not really a ginger snap time of year. Having tested these cookies now, though, I am well-prepared to make them in the Fall (and potentially make them crispier so I can crush them and use them as a crust for a pumpkin cheesecake--just sayin').

One thing I learned while baking these: I need a real camera. I took quite a few pictures of the process and only the ones you see in this post turned out clear enough to post. It's discouraging.

But there's nothing prettier (or yummier) to me than butter and sugar creamed together.

TGIP Rating--Ginger Snaps--KEEPER

Next up: My cousin gave me a bag of freshly home-ground whole wheat flour yesterday. I think I will put it to good use and make a couple of loaves of whole wheat bread. If you have a favorite (and fool-proof) recipe to share, message me.