Monday, June 30, 2008

Croissants Revisited and a meme

A few weeks ago, when I ventured into the world of croissants, I decided to put 4 into the freezer to see how well they'd freeze as well as any other complications that would arise from thawing and proofing them after freezing.

Yesterday after we got back from a late morning hike, I decided to pull them out and have a go at figuring out what would happen. When I worked at the bakery, we'd take out our IQF sandwich croissant dough out toss them on a parchment lined pan and thaw/proof them in a steam box. When they were 'jiggly' they were ready to go into the oven.

Keeping this knowledge in mind, I put the plug in my sink so that it would drain very slowly. I then put a rectangular cake pan in bottom side up, so that I had a platform in the middle of my sink I pulled the frozen criossants out of the freezer, plopped them onto a parchment lined pan and placed the pan on the 'platform.' I filled the sink with hot water about halfway up the side of the turned over pan and then covered the sink opening with a garbage bag that was pulled taut and anchored down at each corner.

After 20 minutes, I checked to see how the croissants were doing. They were definitely thawing and proofing, and the water was nearly gone, so I filled it up again, replaced the plastic and let them go another 20 minutes or so. When I pulled them out they looked like this:

I wasn't expecting so much better to weep out, but I wasn't overly concerned considering how much butter was actually in them. I imagine that the weeping was resultant from the 'heat' of the steam box, when I had somewhat limited control over. I washed them with an egg/cream mixture, and baked them for god knows how long as you can see here:

I blame WoW (world of warcraft for those of you lucky enough not to know).... I got distracted playing the game, but luckily caught the croissants before they were burnt to a crisp! Note to self.... (yes, I have a lot of these) - don't play WoW when doing any kind of cooking.

They weren't inedible, just extra dark, which I didn't mind. They had a yeastier smell than what I could remember of the original. Straight out of the oven they tasted okay, but as they cooled they definitely became the flavorful, light, buttery rolls of heavenly goodness their earlier siblings were:

My husband thought they were great, and considering how simple it was to take them from freezer to plate, whipping up a batch and freezing them is definitely on the list of must dos sometime in the next month of two.

Now to the meme - Ashley of Memoirs from My Kitchen graced me with a meme today! So first some rules:

#Link to the person who tagged you.
# Post the rules on the blog.
# Write six random things about yourself.
# Tag six people at the end of your post.
# Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
# Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Now that's out of the way - Six random things about me:

1. I play violin.
2. I have an Aussie named Kramer. He's probably smarter than me, but he can't cook nearly as well!
3. I love cheese, especially most varieties of blue cheese.
4. I have a secret obsession relating to all things macaron.
5. I gave the first boy who kissed me a black eye when we were in kindergarten.

Now for my victims! I tag fellow Daring Baker Freshmen:

Kelly from Another Baking Blog
Lauren from I'll Eat You
George from Culinary Travels of a Kitchen Goddess
Alexis from Baking to De-stress
Ruth at Adventures in Amateur Baking & Cooking
Temperance at High on the Hog

The meme is sent to y'all in good fun and I thought it would be cool to tag other newbies to the Daring Bakers ranks! Welcome guys and great job with the first challenge - hope we all can keep it up!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Daring Bakers June Challenge - Danish Braids!

My first month as a Daring Baker and I find “Danish Braid” staring back at me on my computer screen on June 1st courtesy of Kelly at Sass & Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking? I couldn’t believe it, I had been debating on buying one of the pastry textbooks from Friberg or the CIA just for this very dough recipe, but never pulled the trigger because there are other things that have higher priority (kitchen scale, in particular).

I have to admit, my first attempt at puff pastry (un-yeasted) nearly a year ago was a failure. The folded block resides in the door of my freezer, taunting me as a reminder of my previous, somewhat cavalier attitude toward pastry dough. I mean, how hard could it be to turn butter into a flour-dough to create flaky buttery layers??? After all, I mastered sourdough starters and choux the first time I attempted them? I was quickly humbled, but I kept my disaster of a first try so that it could keep motivating me each time I opened the freezer until I gathered the inspiration to master the technique, after which time I could pitch it in honor of success (unless anyone can tell me what to do with it!).

After the initial shock, then joy, then worry, I reviewed the ingredients. Three of the ingredients were something I would have had in my pantry (or access to) in Ohio, but haven’t had a reason to restock in Alaska until now. First, I normally use salted butter for everything, cutting down salt requirements in the recipes I use to account for this. However, puff pastry dough recipes I have come across don’t usually have added salt. This means a dedicated butter purchase. Secondly, two spices in particular were not cooperating. The cardamom I found was odorless and tasteless, and the vanilla beans were $6.50 each – yes for normal bourbon beans – at that price they should be guilded. The $15.99 I spent for the cardamom was a bust, so I wasn’t willing to throw away more money on beans that may be the odorless and tasteless as well. Thanks to Kelly and Gabi for recommending two great vendors for baking ingredients – read HERE for more!

So how did I do? Well before June ends tommorow, I will have made 10, yes – TEN, Danish braids. (There's several posts that lay testament to my freak compulsive cooking nature - please don't be surprised!) My first two attempts were completed prior to my spice order arriving, they were potato, egg, ham, and cheese x 2 and strawberry almond x 2 (one each per attempt). The second time I tried it, I cut back on the sugar so that the savory Danish wasn’t so sweet.

Here's how the dough looked (rolled out with the butter mixture spread over 2/3):

First fold:

Second fold (aka full turn!):

The dough was allowed to rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. The turn process was repeated for a total of 4 turns before the dough was put to rest in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours.

The egg, ham, and potato filling:

Cutting the dough at an angle will help the braid not open up like a rib-cage during baking because each dough cut is held down by the another braided on top:

Strawberry Almond and Blue Berry filled braids - unbaked:

Here's a side view of the the blueberry before baking:

I followed the proportion of fruit to sugar from the Danish Braid Recipe from Cooking with Julia for the strawberry blueberry, and apricot fillings. I used frozen berries and fresh apricots, respectively. The recipe can be found courtesy of Mean Chef's site here for those interested. For the almond part I made almond paste following the 1 cup nuts, 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, and one egg white, lightly beaten recipe I learned as a little girl. Literally any nut can be made into a sweet nut paste using the proportions above.

The remaining 3 attempts (2 braids each) included 3 blueberry, 1 strawberry almond, 1 apricot, and 1 cheese. I made the cheese filling using a block of cream cheese, a cup of sour cream, one egg, vanilla, and enough sugar to taste, depending on how sweet you want it to be. The difference in the flavor of the dough with the cardamom and vanilla bean were amazing. Part of the reason for making so many was due to my addiction to how this dough smelled!

A gallery of finished Danish Braids!


Top of a blueberry danish braid:


Close-up of the flaky-ness of a strawberry-almond:

A slice of egg, ham, and cheese:

A pair of braids! Blueberry and cheese:

A whole ham, egg, and cheese braid, great for lunch too:

One of the reasons I think my previous attempt at puff pastry failed was the butter oozed out and the turning never really came together. That method required wrapping the flour dough around the butter like an envelope then rolling out. This method put the butter on 2 thirds of the length of the rolled out dough and then called for folding it up like a business letter – I truly believe the difference facilitated success 100%! After three successful attempts at this recipe, I mustered up enough courage to go for broke and even try croissants! Maybe someday I will attempt the other turning method again, just to prove to myself that I can do it, but until that time, this recipe will be in my baking arsenal for years to come. The filling combinations are endless (check out the blogroll for what other fellow Daring Bakers did this month!).

Here's the recipe used (Danish Braid from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking):

DANISH DOUGH -- Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

Ingredients -- For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Ingredients --For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Instructions - Detrempe:
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

Instructions - Beurrage

Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

Instructions - Putting it all together

1. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

3. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Some suggestions to make things easier:

1. Don’t expect to be able to make this in one day, unless you are planning to make it for dessert after dinner.

2. Split the process into 2 days – make and turn the dough on Day 1 store in fridge for next day or freeze for several days later; roll, fill, braid, and bake on Day two (if you want it fresh from the oven in the morning, you’ll need to give yourself at least 3 hours, depending on the temperature available to proof.

3. We made our own fillings for this challenge, but you could save time by using pre-made fillings or mixing berry jams with ‘dry’ fruit like apples or pears. I even saw in the grocery store, pre-mixed cheesecake filling!

4. Don’t be afraid to make the braid the night before – warm Danishes are rarely available at a bakery (unless you are lucky enough to be the baker!) and are most often at warm room temperature when sold.

Thanks to this challenge, I can cross puff pastry off my ‘need to try’ list! I am totally sold on this recipe and truly believe if you take the time to read the recipe, break it into easy sections over several days, anyone can have success with it! Thank you Daring Bakers! THANK YOU!!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

CupCake Foolery - That's all you can call it!

This post is long, but the end makes it all worth while! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I planned to make cupcakes at the end of this week. My intention was to only do Devil’s Food, but the compulsive baker in me somehow decided that I needed to offer variety… Cupcakes are never a BAD idea, but by the time I was putting the 4th DOZEN out of the oven, I started thinking that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I had gone overboard….

I love chocolate cake; I am not talking Chocolate Death type cakes either, though they are good. I am talking about a good old fashioned chocolate cake that even by itself, unadulterated tastes amazing. I have tried many recipes for German Chocolate, Chocolate, Devil’s Food, and never found a recipe I liked – I preferred to use boxed cake mix because it produced just as good results as all those scratch recipes I tried, with a lot less hassle.

I stumbled upon Zoë, from “Artisan Baking in 5 Minutes” fame and her site this past January. Her site is amazing, the pictures are gorgeous and the recipes she posts about blow me away. When I saw her Devil’s Food cupcakes and knew I had to try that recipe some day. Well a few weeks ago, I needed to provide dessert for a dinner I was going to and chocolate cupcakes seemed like the perfect thing. I gave this recipe a try and I was HOOOKED – Thank you Zoë!!!
I followed her recipe exactly as she provided it, so I am not going to reproduce it here but you can find it on her site (link above), along with many other tempting ideas! I measured out and mixed the dry and wet ingredients:

As she indicates, the batter is ‘thinner’ than you’d expect:

I used a ¼ measuring cup to fill the lined cupcake pans. I didn’t take any pictures, because who doesn’t know what that looks like!

Her recipe makes three dozen cupcakes – I allowed them to cool then topped them with the icing recipe she provided. I did make one change – I added about ½ cup of chocolate ganache to her recipe.
While waiting for the chocolate cupcakes to bake (I only trust my oven to one pan at a time) is when I came up with the fabulous idea of making a different ‘flavor’ of cupcake. At the time I didn’t factor exactly HOW MANY cupcakes I was going to bring into this world. My husband claims my simple math skills are non-existent, and laughed at me as the number of cupcakes increased at an exponential rate.

I decided my second flavor would be red velvet. I was looking at some of the past Daring Bakers challenges a few days ago and came across this from Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice. WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO MAKE THOSE???? HELLLOOO???? So while dozen #2 and #3 of the Devil’s Food were baking, I googled the recipe she used (Magnolia Bakery’s) and started down the path to cupcake oblivion…

The batter is completely different than the Devil’s food – it’s based on butter instead of oil, making the batter more stable and thick, which also results in a more sponge like cupcake. I didn’t take any pictures – whipping up a recipe I never made before, on top of trying to remember that I have to not burn my other cupcakes was enough for my brain to handle at 7pm.

I made it though! After the last of the red velvet cupcake batter was in the oven, I went into high gear making Zoë’s icing as well as the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cream icing I found. The dog was apparently aware of the cupcake foolery that was in progress, and tried to persuade me to convince one of the cupcakes to commit suicide, but I steeled myself against the Power of Cute:

By 11pm, the cupcakes, ALL 72 OF THEM, were happily resting in the fridge (please disregard the mess – I had to shove things around to fit all the cupcakes):

This morning, to the extreme I brought them into work, to the appreciation of my fellow co-workers!

Cupcakes for breakfast? It's the new breakfast of champions!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Halibut Cerviche

One awesome thing about living here is access to wild, fresh caught seafood. Sockeye salmon are starting to run here, and halibut fishing is starting to become active. I was lucky enough to be one of the recipients of several pounds of fresh halibut.

Hmmm… what to make?? Cerviche of course!

I cut a hunk – yes very scientific (probably close to 6oz.) – of halibut off on of the fletches I received, and then cut it up into small cubes. I juiced 2 limes over it, mixed it up and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Yesterday, when I got home from work, it looked like this:

The acid from the lime juice chemically cooks the meat. Cutting the fish into small cubes enables this process to happen consistently and quickly.

I diced on tomato, chopped up some cilantro and a ¼ of a medium sized onion (prefer red, only had white), added it to the halibut and mixed with the juice of another half a lime – I normally add one jalapeno, but forgot I had it, no matter – I’ll probably make this again before the week is out! Salt the mixture to taste and serve with tortilla chips or fry up some corn tortillas and serve on top. Mmmm mmm good!

For dessert we had the bread pudding I made a few days ago. I had a left over whole grain baguette I had made so I cut it into cubes, dried them overnight in the oven and then mixed up a basic custard out of eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla which was poured over and allowed to soak for several hours before baking.

I topped the slices with a bourbon (the whiskey, not the vanilla!) glaze. It was kinda like french toast on steroids!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Catching up & some vendor reviews

It’s been a little while since my last post. Things here have been busy, as usual though it hasn’t kept me from cooking and baking. I just don’t usually connect with my camera in time to snap photos - sorry folks!

As a quick run down, I’ve been experimenting with bread formulas a bit, both for taste and crumb texture. I think that my active dry yeast may be on its last legs, its not nearly as punchy as it was when I first purchased it. It’s still well within the expiration date, but my cupboards do get warm, and perhaps the temperature got too toasty for it. I am going to spend some time this next weekend working my recipes through during the day without retarding to see if maybe I am not activating the yeast long enough.

I have also been going crazy with Zoe’s Devil’s Food recipe. I had been looking for something to satisfy the chocolate monster, and decided to try out the recipe I had bookmarked from her site. Many of you will recognize her from "Artisan Baking in Five Minutes." THESE CUPCAKES WERE FABULOUS!!!! They were also super easy to make. I made both the full recipe and a batch scaled back to a third of the original recipe and both turned out the same. There are only a few things that I make that I still want to devour after having spent several hours in the creation process, these cupcakes are on that list! I did make one change to Zoe’s frosting recipe – I whipped up some chocolate ganache and added it into the cream cheese mixture – the combination was a winner! I'll be making these again soon and promise to take some pictures.

I also wanted to send out some positive reviews to a few vendors that I have used this month. But first a short rant: living in Alaska does limit one’s access to ingredients that may be normally available in the Lower 48. With mail order and the internet, access has improved, but then we have to contend with vendors who charge an arm & leg for shipping. Yes, it is expensive to ship items to AK, and even more expensive to ship to where I live, as things come only via plane or ocean-going freighter.

--Quick Rant—

There are reasonable options available via USPS Flat-Rate boxes which now come in three sizes (two costing $9.60, the other $12.95) that provide Priority Mail service for an unlimited weight, so long as the shipment fits in one of their boxes. The USPS will even ship vendors these boxes free of charge and will pick up during their normal carrier service. These three boxes would take care of 95% of the items most people would ever mail order. Yet vendors, by their own choice, charge higher than normal rates/pound, then add another flat rate charge to boot OR charge for regular First Class Priority (which is based on weight and zip) and then put it in a flat rate box that costs 4-6 dollars less than what they charged. If vendors want to make money, they should inflate the value of their goods instead of trying to recover extra profit from shipping fees.

--End Rant--

Anyways, after being disappointed with the quality of spices available here, I took the suggestions of two fellow Daring Bakers and sent business to the Spice House (courtesy of Kelly @ Sass & Veracity) and the Organic Vanilla Company (courtesy of Gabi @ The Feast Within).

The Spice House offers a huge selection of whole & ground spices, extracts, flavorings, and cooking products. They do ship via USPS and charge actual shipping for Priority Mail. They answer questions quickly, and their order to shipping turnaround is very quick. I received the spices 5 days after I ordered them (2-3 PM shipping actually takes 4-5 if going to AK). The spices were very aromatic, and appeared to be ground fresh for shipping. I specifically went to the Spice House for cardamom, and ended up buying garam masala (for Chicken Makni), rose water and orange blossom water to restock dwindling supplies, and grains of paradise to try in some African dishes. Total cost of spices was $18.05, $26.10 after shipping. Considering the cardamom cost $15 dollars here, and there is no access to the other ingredients, the overall cost of the order was well worth it. I haven’t found any other outlet for spices who offer the variety and shipping, they’ll definitely get more of my business in the future!

The Organic Vanilla Company offers organic gourmet and extract grade vanilla bean varieties on eBay. I never had need to bulk order vanilla beans when living in Ohio, as I could get them reasonably priced (around a dollar). The cost of vanilla beans here was well over 6 bucks for one. The cheapskate in me was not willing to go down that road. I checked out OVC and was instantly convinced to “Buy it Now”. I purchased a ½ pound of gourmet Grade A Bourbon vanilla beans. The auction indicated I’d receive ~55 beans. I counted 76 when I received my package. The transaction was easy, the shipping turn around was fast and I received my beans 4 days after they shipped. The beans were aromatic, shiny, and plump. Total cost for the order was $18.95, $14.95 for the beans with $4 for First Class Mail shipping. Once I’ve found use for all 70+ beans, I’ll be sending repeat business their way!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Note to self...

Never, ever, EVER convince yourself to buy fat free half and half for your tea.... I should have read the label, but I was seduced by the cows on the label and the appeal of making a 'healthy choice'.

My favorite part.... "an ingredient not normally found in half and half".... umm, I naively thought half and half meant half cream, half milk.... apparently not.

If the quart I bought for work didn't cost close to 6 bucks, I have already blessed the drain with its contents.

Croissants - Day 2

Today continues the saga of croissant making. So far my comment on the croissant recipe in Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson is two thumbs up – the dough felt almost exactly like the dough we used at the bakery, except there wasn’t enough of it to make 100’s of croissants. Those interested in giving this a try, please head over to fellow Daring Baker Veronica’s site – Veronica’s Test Kitchen.

If you want fresh baked croissants for dinner, this recipe can be completed over one very long day. If you are looking for morning croissants, then I would suggest two days (more on this later).

Before I get started, please let me qualify the following information with a quick disclaimer. I’ve said this before, I will say it again, I suck at remembering to take pictures of the steps, especially when its 2 am. It takes 100% of my mental capacity just to remain upright and operating complicated machinery (aka oven) and sharp (knife) and blunt (rolling pin) objects.

With that said, I took the frozen dough out around 6 pm the night before – I knew that I was going to be up at 2 am to be sure I could get to work with croissants without being horribly late. The entire recipe of dough would have been too large for me to roll out in one shot, so I halved the dough along the width, put what I wasn’t going to use in the fridge, and rolled out the dough to 12 x 18 rectangle, cut the rectangle into thirds along the length and then into halves along the width – giving me a dozen triangles to roll.

Following the instruction in the recipe, I rolled the triangles from the base to the tip and placed them on parchment lined baking sheets. I had warmed the oven to 100ºF on my oven thermometer and then turned off. I put the baking sheet on a cooling rack that was sitting on my baking stone when the thermometer read 90ºF and slid a boiling pot of water into the bottom of the oven to create a steam box.

I repeated this with the second half of the dough but rather than putting it in the oven, I manufactured a ‘steam box’ out of my kitchen sink using a rectangular pan turned upside down, another cooling rack for the baking sheets of croissants to sit on, and a large garbage bag. I blocked the drain enough for the water to flow out slowly and filled the sink with hot water until halfway up the sides of the rectangular pan. I put in the baking sheet with the croissants on the cooling rack, and then anchored the garbage bag tautly on each side with canned goods, to slow the heat and steam as it escaped from the sink. This was around 3 am – and I wasn’t thinking ‘Ohh photo op!” at the time – I’m sure I’ll build this contraption again sometime and take pictures of it :).

Here’s what the croissants looked like after proofing and their egg wash:

Here’s what the finished product looked like:

I made it to work, only 45 minutes late, but I don’t think anyone cared, other than having to wait for me to show up :). The taste was spot on to the crispy-flaky croissants with the soft buttery insides. My only complaint is they were a little tough – i.e. hard to pull apart – probably from working the dough more than it needed. I will definitely make this recipe again, so that issue may eventually go away.

Like most laminated doughs, this recipe probably takes the home baker two days to complete from start to finish. Because not everyone is willing to wake up at inhumane times, like I am I did throw 4 just rolled croissants (non-proofed) into the freezer. They froze with little expansion, which I was worried about considering how active the dough felt. I did not bake them yet, but when I do I will post here. I don't see any reason why pulling the frozen croissants at 10pm, putting them on a parchment lined sheet and letting them thaw in the refrigerator wouldn't work. Another consideration would be to pull them out frozen and proof them longer in a steam box at a slightly higher temperature. We made croissants from scratch as well as made them from IQF (individually quick frozen) un-risen product when I worked at the bakery, with the latter used to make cafe sandwiches. The IQF took 45-60 minutes to go from frozen to ready to bake in a 114-120ºF rack proofer. Either way, I have 4 to test out and sometime in the next few weeks, when I am ready to look at a stick of butter again, I'll give both a try and post the findings!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Baking Frenzy

WARNING – this post is long.

I am a freak – that’s all that can really be said. I go through days of being so tired I can barely keep my eyes open, then flip-flop to days where I can’t sleep. I think my internal clock is broke – and the warranty was up a LONG time ago!

So why am I a freak? Well, I went on a baking frenzy last night. Don’t be fooled by how innocent that sounds – its not innocent at all hehe!

My evening started with dinner – chili dogs. I only mention this because it’s the first time in my 34 years of existence on this Earth that I had Hormel canned chili, or canned chili of any kind for that matter. Now, I prefer homemade chili – I am somewhat obsessive about how I make mine, I dice brisket and rump roast into small cubes, soak beans overnight, etc – yeah, I guess there are many reasons I am a freak, but I digress…. Hormel chili isn’t something I would eat on its own, however smothered on a hot dog sitting on a nice potato bun, topped with cheddar cheese, its pretty darn good!

Back to the topic, I recently joined the Daring Bakers, and looking back at past challenges, I thought it would be cool to make my dear hubby some hot buttered pretzels. At the same time I figured it would be nice to surprise one of my French co-workers with something other than Pain au Levain so I decided to try my hand at the recipe from the croissant challenge after getting seduced by the pictures from that challenge. So yeah, my hands were quite full. When my husband asked me what I was doing, and I told him what I planned to accomplish - he gave me the same type of look one gives a crazy person as they slowly back away from them...

I started with the pre-ferement for the croissants:

After mixing this up, it was time to throw together the ingredients for the pretzels. I like the fact that it all goes into the bowl at the same time, making it an easy surprise snack to fit into a multi-step/multi-day baking adventure like croissants! When the dough was ready to proof it looked like this:

While this was proofing away, I turned my attention to measuring out the ingredients for the croissant dough. I have made croissants before, but on an industrial scale, where we measured ingredients in pounds. Since I always had access to these crispy crusted-soft inside buttery pockets of heavenly delight, I never had a need to make my own. Since moving to AK, I tried to scale back the industrial recipe several ways, but couldn’t get it to work to my satisfaction. Seeing the results from this former challenge, I figured I would give it a try since the pictures of the completed challenge looked close to what we used to make at the bakery.

After 2.5 hours, I scraped the pre-ferment into the mixer bowl, added the yeast and mixed until combined, added half the milk slowly and mixed until it looked like something out of a bad science experiment. I mixed together the pre-measured dry ingredients, and added them slowly to the yeast mixture, alternating with the remainder of the milk. I had to resist the urge to add more milk, to incorporate the ‘cornmeal’ like bits at the bottom of the bowl, after the requisite mixing time had elapsed, but I let the dough rest for its 15-20 minutes and when I started up the mixer it quickly incorporated into the rest of the dough. I’d have pictures of this, except it was insanely late (or insanely early – I don’t remember). The finished dough proofed for an hour before getting pressed into a rectangle 2” thick, wrapped, and put in the fridge.

Meanwhile, back on the stove, the pretzel dough had finished its rise. I turned the dough out of the bowl, gently pressed it into a rectangle, then cut it into halves until I had 8 pieces. I rolled each piece, shaped, dipped (I used malt barley extract instead of sugar in the wash), and placed on the sheet pan.

They sat around basking in their pretzel glory for 15 minutes, waiting for the oven to reach 500º. I didn’t think until after I salted all of them about topping them with other tasty goodness – next time! After baking, each was lovingly brushed with melted butter and all but two were devoured by my husband. He didn’t even let the dog have a bite LOL! Here’s what I was able to grab pictures off before they met their fate.

Four pretzels wondering what happened to the 5th - do you think the one on the bottom right looks worried?:

The pretzels were soft, light, and had an airier texture than I had expected. The taste was pretty good, though it reminded me more of pizza dough than pretzel:

A close-up of the star snack of the evening (near morning - note the daylight still present at 11pm):

This morning (when I woke up 2 hours after I went to bed), I rolled out and turned the croissant dough – turning it 4 times. It now resides in my freezer, waiting for the 24 hours to pass, when they will reach the culmination of all their glory (hopefully). Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

AWED - Middle Eastern inspired Hummus!

In my surfing of food blogs, I came across this very cool event A Worldly Epicurean’s Delight (AWED) at Siri’s Corner, this month’s host. The event was started by Dhivya of Culinary Bazaar.

This month’s theme was Middle Easter cuisine. Where I live in AK, there is almost no access to Middle Eastern food. Occasionally, I’ll find hummus or baba ganoush in the grocery store, but experience has taught me that the ridiculous price buys you only disappointment and regret, so I usually hold back from buying them.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across this event that I found use for the 5 pounds of sesame seeds I brought back with me last January. One really doesn’t realize how much 5 pounds of sesame seeds is until they wonder how to get rid of it! The only reason I haven’t made my own hummus since moving here was because I could never find tahini. Well, what is tahini made of? Sesame seeds, of course!

So to participate in AWED this month, I decided to make tahini, and whip up some hummus. I must say, I have never really cooked the “vegetarian way” before, but none of the ingredients were produced from meat, or are by products of animals, so it is certainly vegetarian friendly.

To make the tahini and hummus I used recipes I learned from a friends mother, who is a great Lebanese cook. These quantities are merely guidelines, as she tended to look for consistency and texture more than meeting exact quantities:


3 cups of sesame seeds, roasted lightly

Light olive oil (not extra virgin) or other light oil of choice

In a food processor, grind sesame seeds, drizzle in enough oil so that the tahini is able to pour thickly. The quantity of oil will be dependent on how dry the sesame seeds are. PLEASE NOTE: My friends mom used A LOT of tahini; feel free to cut back on the amount of sesame seeds if you only need a little tahini.


3 cups of cooked (or canned) garbanzo beans, juice reserved for thinning

3 tbsp of tahini

Juice of half a lemon

2 tbsp raw diced or 3 tbsp roasted garlic

Salt & Pepper to taste

Put all ingredients but juice and S&P into the food processor bowl, process adding enough juice to bring the hummus to the desired consistency. I prefer mine a little thick, but still loose enough to pour.

I usually prefer to eat hummus topped with fresh tomatoes, garnished with a little paprika, some extra virgin olive oil and chopped tarragon.

It tasted absolutely wonderful, and was a refreshing dinner for my husband and myself. It had been over a year since I had hummus of any sort, so embarking to the Middle East courtesy of this event was definitely worth it!