Friday, January 21, 2011

Ree-diculous Cooking!

Apparently I have way, way too much time on my hands these days.  That plus the fact that when I get obsessed with something, it can sort of take over-  has turned me into a baking/cooking freak lately.
My last adventure with sourdough was making a Cranberry Walnut Multi-Grain loaf of bread.  That was one week ago.  It was quite a long process and I kept saying to myself (after the 4th time of letting it rise) that it had better be worth it.  Well, it actually was.  I have been slicing myself a piece of this every morning for breakfast - with some butter and honey on it, it's quite tasty and is pretty healthy to boot.

I have put the sourdough starters into the fridge for now because I made a grave mistake.  I began browsing Ree Drummond's (aka The Pioneer Woman) cooking pages and her Tasty Kitchen website.  If you want my advice: don't go there!  You will begin copying down recipes that sound good, then running to the grocery store to buy what you need and the next thing you know, you will have cooked this Blueberry Crumb Cake.  (I split the recipe in two and shared it with my neighbors)

And when the weather turns bad, all icy and snowy, you will want to fix her Beef Stew with Paprika and Beer.  Need I say it goes divinely with sourdough bread?  This was some of THE best stew I've ever eaten.  Seriously.

And for desert that night  (because I was stuck in the house all day thanks to this winter storm) I fixed her Cherry Cake Pudding.  Heaven help my waistline.  I didn't even make the whipped cream.  It was wonderful just as it is.  

So consider yourself warned.  If you are hungry and/or a cooking freak like I've become, stay away from recipe websites like this!  Or just keep giving stuff to your neighbors like I do.  They love me  :o)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More Bread....

This past week I have made somewhere around 8 or 9 loaves of bread, using different starters, recipes and methods.  There are a LOT of variations and techniques out there and it just comes down to trial and error.  Fortunately I only had to actually throw away these two loaves:

While they weren't totally inedible, the crust was too hard and the taste just wasn't that good.  I would have fed it to the birds but the squirrels would have gotten it instead and judging by the over-population of them in our neighborhood, they don't need any extra food.  

I made these two loaves yesterday.  The recipe said they would be good size and texture for sandwiches and toast and it was right!  Good stuff.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

First Authentic Sourdough Loaf

This was my attempt at making a real, honest to goodness loaf of bread using no commercial yeast, no sugar, only starter, water, flour and salt.  It was a longer process than I anticipated. I somehow missed the part where it said to let it rise for 7 hours and stupidly began making the dough in the afternoon.  Honestly I think this was due in part to my following the steps on my iPad in the kitchen; yeah, I'll blame it on that!
So I ended up actually baking this at 11:00 pm.  And here is the final loaf:

To see the crumb (that's bakery lingo for the texture) I sliced off an end piece and voila:

No, it's doesn't have the large holes associated with some sourdough's but it tastes like sourdough! 
I think it's a nice loaf for a first time authentic go of it. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cake Pan Comparison

Last week Pioneer Woman posted a recipe,  mysteriously called Pig Cake.  It looked wonderful and I wanted to make it right away.  Since there are only two of us here at home I decided to make the cake in two 9x9 pans, so I could share one with my neighbors.   
I'm a huge fan of the Nordic Ware commercial grade pans and I have at least one of every size.  But, not two of the 9x9's.  My other one was a cheaper one and I figured this was a great time to compare how the two performed.  Was the Nordic Ware as good as I thought?  Worth twice the money?

The contenders- Nordic Ware on the left:

When placed in the oven, the one in the cheaper pan cooked a lot faster.  I had to take it out earlier. It also came out lopsided (click on photos to enlarge):

After cooling a bit, I turned them out to finish cooling.  You can see how much more "well done" one is. I believe the verdict was clear: the commercial grade performed perfectly (and you can buy it at Wal Mart, too!)  

The cake, however, was FABULOUS!  It truly is a "stand alone" cake that doesn't need the wonderful icing in the recipe.  But, of course, I made it anyway and it was also fabulous.  Here is a little insight into the origin of this cake:

It is usually called Pig Pickin' Cake.  A Pig Pickin' is a ritual in the south, particularly the Carolinas and in Georgia where a whole pig is roasted over wood coals (or in a barrel) for hours until done, when the meat falls off the bones and folks gather around and "pick off the meat"- hence the name.  Hush puppies, corn sticks, coleslaw and the usual barbecue fair are all served too.  This cake is a staple at most of them, as are some other cakes.  In reality, this cake should be called a Pig Pickin' Cake!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sourdough Bread- First Loaves

I baked the first loaves of bread using my "sure-fire" starter (the one with added yeast) and they came out wonderfully.  I used the recipe (below) which makes 2 loaves.  Before going in the oven:

Needless to say, the bread smelled wonderful as it baked (what bread doesn't?) and came out looking as good as it smelled:

I like the texture of it, being easy to slice.  And of course, it tasted great too!  

My next challenge will be making some sourdough English Muffins, hopefully using the white "wild yeast" starter.

SOURDOUGH BREAD (makes 2 loaves)

4 3/4 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1 extra large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup chopped onion

1. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt, and dry yeast. Add milk and softened butter or margarine. Stir in starter. Mix in up to 3 3/4 cups flour gradually, you may need more depending on your climate.
2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to oil surface, and cover. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.
3. Punch down, and let rest 15 minutes. Shape into loaves. Place on a greased baking pan. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.
4. Brush egg wash over tops of loaves.
5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 30 minutes, or till done.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Homemade Pretzels

I just love the pretzels you can buy at the mall, in particular the cinnamon/sugar ones!  Sam's little snack shop also has a decent one although the "butter" they paint on it before adding the topping leaves a strange aftertaste on my lips..... but overall it's very good and the price is right ($1.00+tax).  I wanted to try making my own and found a very good recipe to use.  The first time wasn't a disaster but it wasn't a good experience.  It was the first time I'd used my new mixer and the first time in a long time I'd dealt with making a yeast dough.  That being said, the pretzels (although misshapen and odd-sized) tasted wonderful and I knew I could make 'em right the next time and I thought I would share with you.

The first step is dissolving the sugar in the warm water, then sprinkling the dry yeast on top and let it disintegrate.  Eventually it will foam a little, then stir it until it's creamy.

Next you mix the flour, salt and sugar together; then make a well in it and add the oil and yeast mixture.

Mix with dough hook on low until dough pulls away from sides; if it's a little dry, add 1-2 T water a little at a time.  Then turn out onto floured surface and knead for 7-8 minutes (or you can do this in the mixer however I like kneading by hand).  Place dough in an oiled bowl and turn to cover with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and rise in a warm place about an hour.  I like to use the oven for this part.  I turn it on to 400 for 1 minute, then shut it off and leave the light on.  

When it has risen, turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal parts.  I found that using a pizza cutter worked nicely for this.  

Roll each piece into a long 22-24" rope.

Shape into a U, then take the ends (called "toes") and twist 2 times.

Finally, bring the toes down and press into the bottom part.  Place on cookie sheet and shape.

Once you have prepared all 12 pretzels, you then dissolve 1/2 C of baking soda into hot water. You are going to give them each a soda bath!  Back in 1839 a German baker accidentally coated the pretzels with a soda-lye solution and, much to his surprise, it gave the pretzels that deep caramel color.  Not being a fan of LYE the soda water solution can closely achieve this too.   Have a towel ready in front of the bowl, dip each pretzel in and out quickly, then onto the towel and back onto the sheet.

The pretzels are now ready to go into a preheated 450 oven.  I'm going to make one pan of them salted and the other unsalted.  So I sprinkled a little kosher salt onto the first pan.

The aroma of these cooking is just so awesome!  And they look pretty, don't they?

*So, I'm going to "finish" them with some margarine spray:

How yummy do these look???    Let me tell you: they ARE!

The second batch got the cinnamon/sugar treatment after being sprayed.

Again, TO DIE FOR!

So there you have it.  These freeze quite well if you can keep them around long enough.....


4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp white sugar
1 1/4 C warm water (110 F)
4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C sugar 
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 T vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 C baking soda
4 C hot water

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in warm water.  Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 C sugar and salt.  Make a well in the center of it and add the oil and yeast mixture.  Mix and form into a dough.  If mixture is a little dry, add 1-2 T water.  Knead dough until smooth, about 7-8 minutes, then place in an oiled bowl.  Turn dough to cover with oil, then place in warm area, covered, and let rise for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl, dissolve soda in hot water.

When risen, turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a 24" rope and twist into a pretzel shape.  Once each piece is shaped, dip each pretzel into soda water, then onto a towel, then onto a greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt.  Bake in oven for 8 minutes then brush with butter.   For cinnamon/sugar topping, omit salt and, after baking, brush with butter then dip into sugar mixture.
*The margarine spray is easier but using real butter definitely tastes better!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sourdough Starter - Update

My sourdough starters are almost ready!  Well, the one with added yeast probably is ready, but I want to make sure, so I think I will wait until tomorrow to begin cooking with it.  And my "wild" yeast starter is coming along, too!  This is very exciting because many of these fail to "catch" any of the yeast in the air.  I figured that setting it near my sure-fire starter (with added yeast) would ensure success and I do believe it has.  I am continuing to research and read about sourdough starters and, not surprisingly, they can be made with all sorts of different ingredients all of which give a unique taste.
The recipe for the reliable starter I made is from Barbara O'Neal's book:

2 C potato water (water in which potatoes have been boiled until soft) lukewarm
1/2 C rye flour
1/2 C whole-wheat flour
1 C unbleached white flour
2 tsp dry yeast

Mix water, flours and yeast until smooth.  Cover loosely with cheesecloth and let stand in a warm, draft-free spot, stirring every 24 hours, until bubbly and agreeably sour, usually 4-10 days.  Taste every day to know how it is progressing.  When it is ready, store loosely covered in the fridge, refreshing it once a week by throwing away (or using) half of the starter and adding 1 C water and 1 C white flour.

The other, more traditional starter is the easy (and yet hard) one:  1 C flour + 1 C water.   This one takes much longer to get going but if it does, it should be worth the effort.  Here is what both of them look like right now:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Sourdough Experiments

I love bread.  I once worked at the university bakery while in college and discovered I loved just about all aspects of baking.  A cumulation of recent events has led me back to baking bread and in particular, experimenting with sourdough bread.  

The first thing that happened was I got this for Christmas:

No more having to enter those drawings on Pioneer Woman's web pages anymore!!  I just LOVE Santa!!

The next thing that happened coincidently at the same time was that I began reading this book:

This is another of Barbara O'Neal's lighthearted books. She educates you as well as shares recipes in a great little fictional book.

I worked with yeast dough recipes while writing my cookbook 2 years ago.  That was, however, before I had my kitchen remodeled and let me say this: having granite countertops to work dough on makes a LOT of difference.  Oh yeah, that was the third "event": my new kitchen.  

If you are like many (most?) people who have no idea what yeast "starter" is THIS website has lots of information.  It's a fascinating science that has been around for centuries.  I have begun 2 different starters: one with packaged, active yeast added (which will be ready quicker) and the other is the old-world way (as described in the above webpage) "wild" yeast starter.  I'll be sharing and comparing different things I make with these including English Muffins, pretzels and of course bread!