Friday, February 26, 2010

Challah of a Mess

I probably I hadn’t baked a challah for well over a year. Before that I had been baking challah often and even became quite proficient at the fours strand braid, without having to refer back to the how-to diagrams in the Bread Bible. So having mixed up a bread machine recipe for challah in the morning I had a risen dough waiting for shaping.

Actually I thought I had it filed under memory and proceeded to braid the first challah without referring to the book. With four strands laid out before me, I began braiding that dough like it was nobody’s business, only to discover that as I was coming to the end, the whole thing wanted to lean over as if it wasn’t properly supported.

I tried straightening it out but that didn’t seem to help much, it just kept leaning over. I had done it all wrong – it didn’t look terrible but it wasn’t right. I wanted to take it apart and start over but by now the strands were sticking together and I would have made an even bigger mess of it all, so I left it as it was. There was one more challah to braid - I would redeem myself with this one - so I opened up the Bread Bible to the instructions for the four strand braid and sure enough I had completely forgotten that you had to bring the strands under instead of over as I had done. I had done this before so I thought I would get the hang of it again - this one would look like the challahs I had made in the past. Instead, the instructions were confusing me, and as I braided the strands I got a loose mess and not a tightly braided loaf. As though that wasn't enough, for some reason the dough seemed to be softer and it wasn’t holding its shape at all. Well now I was totally frustrated, and this time I just could not leave it as it was, so I tried to take the braid apart but the strands were sticking together even more than with the first challah because of the soft dough. What a mess! This one was worse than the first one so, exasperated, I bunched up the whole mass into a ball and divided it into three pieces, and rolled each piece out to braid the easier three strand braid. I began braiding from one end to the other, completely forgotting that you are suppose to start to braid from the center, braiding one end and then flipping it and braiding the other end. I hadn't shaped the strands very carefully either, so instead of having a nicely shaped loaf tapering at either end, it resembled a tornado.

Sometimes a loaf of bread just doesn’t turn out as well as we would like! The baked challah tasted good, it just didn’t look pretty. The next time I make challah I will practice on four pieces of strings like I used to before moving onto the dough.
As a comparison, I made this challah a while ago and is what I had hoped these challahs would have looked like.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Days Dinner

I had been thinking about making an extra special dinner for Valentine’s Day all week and I knew exactly what it would be. For special occasions I like to make Short Ribs with Polenta and vegetables and Beranbaum's Best Buns. I will often make this for a dinner party because the short ribs are that good. I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to make for dessert except that it had to be chocolate. The problem was this – I was intent on making a heart shaped cake but I could not find a heart shaped pan anywhere where I went shopping. I even went to the States on Saturday for a quick shopping trip and checked out three places including Target and I had no luck finding a heart shaped pan. I guess all the pans had been bought for Valentine’s Day and leaving it to the last minute didn’t help. The frustrating thing is that I will come across a heart shaped pan during the year and not pick it up because I figure I’ll get one closer to the occasion. Note to self: buy heart shaped pan when you see one.

At breakfast my husband Randy gave me a Valentine’s card and in it was a certificate for cooking lessons, privately or in a group, the choice was mine, with a chef. I looked at him and said “are you trying to tell me something?” In all honesty this is something I’ve always wanted to do so I was pretty happy. My gift to him was a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner, and I would bake a
chocolate cake (his favourite) for dessert.

For my birthday in September, my daughter gave me three Julie Child books; Mastering Vol. 1, My Life in France which I enjoyed very much and Julie & Julia by Julie Powell which I haven’t started yet. So I’ve been on a Julia Child kick lately - I even find myself thinking French phrases while making a JC recipe and I can’t speak French for beans, except that being Canadian you can’t but be exposed to some French. I had made a Reine de Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake) iced with a Gla├žages au Chocolate (Chocolate-butter icing) in the fall from Mastering Vol. 1 and it was quite good. So that's what I finally decided for dessert; it met the criteria for chocolate, and though it was baked in a round pan it was made from the heart.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Braised Short Ribs in Red Wine
by Bonnie Stern

· 6 lbs. short ribs, cut in thick chunks or strips
· 1 tbsp. each salt, pepper and smoked paprika or regular paprika
· 2 tbsp. olive oil
· 2 onions, chopped
· 3 cloves garlic, chopped
· 2 cups dry red wine
· 28 oz. plum tomatoes, crushed with juices
· 1 cup beef stock
· 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Heat oil in Dutch oven or roasting pan. Brown short ribs well on all sides. Remove from pan. Discard all but a few tablespoons of oil.
Add onions and garlic. Cook until tender. Add wine. Bring to a boil. Add tomatoes and stock. Heat. Place ribs in sauce; cover directly with parchment paper and then with lid or aluminum foil.
Place in a 350 F. oven for 2½ to 3 hours or longer, until meat is very tender. Remove to serving plate and keep warm. Skim fat from the sauce. Reduce sauce, if necessary, by cooking without a cover until slightly thickened.
Combine the sauce with the ribs and sprinkle with parsley.
Note: If you like you can add a sprig of rosemary tied in cheesecloth to the sauce.
Beranbaum's Best Buns

These delicious, preservative-free buns can be made in just 3½ to 4 hours with no more than about 45 minutes of actual work — less than 30 minutes if using a food processor (see TIP, below). The recipe can be doubled and the extra baked buns frozen to have on hand for a speedy summer supper. The added crunch of sesame seeds sprinkled on top of the buns is nice; a mixture of seeds and grains kneaded into the dough provides still more fiber and flavor.
· 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, plus more as necessary
· ¼ cup whole-wheat flour
· 1¼ teaspoons instant yeast, such as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast
· 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
· 1⅓ cups room-temperature water
· 1 teaspoon mild honey, such as clover
· ¼ cup olive oil
· ¾ cup toasted mixed seeds, such as cracked flax, sesame, poppy, sunflower and pumpkin, or 1 tablespoon sesame seeds for the topping (optional)
Milk or water, for brushing the tops of the buns (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, whole-wheat flour and yeast, then the salt. Add the water, honey and oil. Using a mixer with a dough hook on medium speed, or by hand, knead the dough for 7 minutes (10 minutes by hand) until smooth and springy. The dough should be soft and just sticky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. If it is still very sticky, knead in a little flour. If it is too stiff, spray it with a little water and knead it. Allow the dough to rest, covered, for 20 minutes and then knead in the seeds, if desired.
Set the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and lightly spray or oil the top of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot. Allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour or until it has doubled. (The indentation from a finger stuck into the center of the dough should remain.)
If you plan to bake the hamburger buns the next day, press down the dough and place it in a large, oiled resealable plastic food storage bag, leaving a tiny bit unzipped for the forming gas to escape, and refrigerate it. Take it out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before shaping.
When ready to shape the dough, set it on a very lightly floured work surface and form it into a log. With a sharp knife, divide it into 8 equal pieces. (If you prefer very large buns, you can divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.) Shape each piece into a ball by cupping your hand over the dough and rotating it. It works best if you use only as much flour as you need to keep the dough from sticking. A little resistance helps to form a round ball. Keep the balls of dough covered with damp paper towels to prevent drying; allow them to rest for 5 minutes.
Transfer the dough balls to a parchment-lined baking sheet or inverted sheet pan, leaving enough space between them to allow for a 4-inch bun. Flatten the balls to a height of about 1 inch. (If the dough is very elastic, you can flatten them again after 15 minutes of rising.) If using the sesame seeds, brush the dough lightly with milk or water and sprinkle with the seeds. Cover the balls with a large inverted plastic box or with plastic wrap lightly coated with baking spray, and allow them to rise for 1 to 1½ hours, or until almost doubled; when the dough is pressed gently with a finger, the depression should very slowly fill in.
While the dough is rising, set the oven rack toward the bottom of the oven and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it. Set a cast-iron skillet or heavy baking pan on the floor of the oven or on the lowest shelf. Preheat the oven to 425° degrees for 45 minutes or longer.
Mist the dough with water, quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet, and toss ½ cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath. Immediately shut the door and bake 15 minutes. Rotate the pan front to back and bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until the buns are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read 200 to 210 degrees.) Transfer the buns to wire racks until they are completely cool or barely warm.
The Carrots and Brussel Sprouts recipe is in Epicurious and the Reine de Saba is in Julia Child's Mastering Vol 1. and if you don't have the book you can google it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Duivekater - A Lazy Bakers Project

This is my first entry as a Lazy Baker and I must admit that in the past I secretly wished that I was part of the group so when Melinda invited me to participate, I was thrilled. The Duivekater, a sweet Dutch bread usually made between St. Nicholas, December 6, and Epiphany, January 6, was chosen by Melinda as a Lazy Bakers project and you cannot get much lazier than this.
Most breads are lazy projects, after all there are only a few minutes of actually prep time and then while the dough is rising you can go about your business or just continue to be lazy. The recipe is straightforward with no pre-ferment, no toasting or skinning of nuts (an exercise in futility especially with walnuts), no soaking of fruit, and no fancy shmanshy ingredients that you can’t find in your local supermarket.

I threw all the ingredients into the KitchenAid and using the dough hook mixed the dough. The dough was quite stiff I thought, and even though the recipe states that it should be on the stiffer side, I thought it could use a bit more milk. I carefully added a few drops of milk until the dough softened somewhat and continued kneading for a few minutes.

I placed it in my dough rising container. This large bread crumb container is the perfect size for many of the breads I make so rather than throw it out I converted it to a dough rising container. I measured and marked it with a permanent marker to accurately show when the dough doubles. I was quite pleased with myself and for my contribution to a greener earth.

After about two hours I removed it from the container and shaped it into a ten inch torpedo shaped loaf. I made a four inch cut in the middle of each end and pulled the pieces to elongate them. I looked at the cut dough and thought it looked like a huge deadly virus sent by aliens to invade our earth. It does look rather sinister doesn't it? I was surprised how easy it was to stretch out the cut pieces without them receding back especially since I hadn’t rested the dough. I coiled the ends inward as the picture showed and placed the dough in a plastic bag for the final rising. About an hour later it was ready for the egg wash and decorative slashes.
I wanted to be creative with the slashes but after some thought I combined a couple of designs I had seen on the internet. Slashing was pretty easy too – I thought I might have trouble with the intricate design but the stiff dough allowed the sharpened knife to slash the dough effortlessly. I placed the Duivekater into the preheated oven and set the timer for 35 minutes. As it was baking a lovely scent of bread baking and citrus wafted through the kitchen. Halfway through baking I looked in to see how it was doing and everything looked good except some of the deeper slashes had opened up a bit too much making the design not as sharp, otherwise I thought the bread was quite handsome and not alien at all.

I had a slice after dinner and thought it was quite nice with the flavour of citrus and cardamom coming through with just a hint of nutmeg and I thought it would be perfect with a cup of tea. My daughter said it reminded her of panettone and my son said he really liked it and went for a second slice. The next day I brought some over to my parent's for them to enjoy and by evening the entire loaf was gone. I enjoyed making this bread – I hope the Dutch approve.