Bread, Part 1: Basic Loaf

So after my adventure with the Great American Baking Show where my loaf of bread was deemed not quite up to par, I decided that I wanted to learn more about bread baking. I really haven’t done all that much of it before, though I have some general knowledge and have made several different kinds of bread with varying levels of success (and of course spent that fabulous week in Paris watching a professional at work), and I think it would be worthwhile to acquire some extra knowledge and perhaps make some tasty things along the way.

I’m going to do a series of posts about my bread-baking experience and make specific note of the things I’ve learned. Hopefully by the end I’ll be a better bread-baker!

My first attempt was a basic loaf– no special shaping, no special ingredients, with the only deviation from standard procedure being the use of a poolish (a mixture of yeast, flour, and water that you start the night before to give it time to develop some flavor). I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website and opted to use the full sixteen hours of fermentation for the poolish to see what would happen.

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Flour Tortillas

I know what you’re thinking– tortillas? Why make tortillas at home when you can buy a package at the store for a few dollars? I was thinking the same thing myself, right before I decided to do it anyway because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of leaving the house just to buy mediocre, mass-produced tortillas when I could experience the joy of making my own for the first time.

Okay, perhaps “joy” is a bit strong of an adjective– let’s just say it was interesting, and the tortillas came out reasonably well, and I’m glad I at least gave it a try. I definitely think there’s something about the pillowy chewiness of a handmade tortilla that beats out the flat, soulless ones you find at the store– even if it’s not perfectly round or evenly rolled.

Ordinarily tortillas are made with lard, or perhaps shortening, which is cut into the flour before warm water is added to make the dough. Unfortunately I didn’t have lard or shortening, or even regular vegetable oil, so I ended up using olive oil, figuring that a little extra flavor never hurt anyone. I had a little trouble rolling out the dough into a roughly circular shape (mine were more freeform), and probably should’ve used my cast iron skillet instead of a nonstick pan to get better browning on the outside, but overall I think they were pretty good!

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Pineapple-Coconut Muffins

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With the recent spate of wintry weather here at home, I decided to try to warm things up by invoking tropical flavors– pineapple and coconut! Since I make a batch of muffins roughly every two weeks and it was about time to make one, I started with my standard muffin recipe and loaded it up with crushed pineapple and coconut flakes, using the pineapple juice for good measure.

The finished muffins were light and tender, with nice bursts of flavor from the pineapple and a subtle coconut background. They’re not overly sweet, which I actually liked since coconut baked goods can often be too sugary. They also go well with tea, if you want to enjoy warm-weather flavors with a cold-weather beverage.

I will note that if I weren’t making these for my kid, I might have considered adding some rum to the batter, or making a rum/brown sugar glaze. Maybe you’d like to consider it if you try these yourself!

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Baked No-Knead Yeasted Donuts… Okay but not great

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The other day I was reading my daughter a bedtime story that had a particularly tasty-sounding description of brunch, featuring fluffy omelettes and sugar-dusted donuts. For some reason the latter caught her attention, and before I knew it I was promising to make sugar-dusted donuts of our very own!

Of course, I really don’t like the hassle of deep-frying, but I find baked cake-style donuts to be not particularly donut-y, so I searched the internet for a recipe for yeast-raised baked donuts. Preferably with a minimum of kneading, because I didn’t want to have to break out the stand mixer. Eventually I found one that looked pretty good— it had a two-stage rise, one at room temp and one overnight in the fridge, and could be baked up in the morning. Reviews were decent. So I gave it a shot.

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Spiced Pear-Oat Bars

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So it’s definitely fall, and to me that means desserts full of spices, oatmeal, and fruit. These bars have all of those things– the finely-diced pears form little pockets of sweetness, the walnuts give some crunch, and the oats and cinnamon provide a nice, warm background for everything. They’re more breakfast-y than dessert-y, in my opinion, mostly due to the oatmeal, but that doesn’t make them bad. I’d classify them as a good fall snack, though they fall apart a little too easily for just carrying around and munching. They’d be fabulous with a nice cup of hot apple cider… I may try that myself tonight!

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Pumpkin Pancakes

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I recently had half a can of pumpkin left over from making a batch of my favorite pumpkin chip muffins, so I mixed up a batch of seasonally-appropriate pumpkin pancakes over the weekend. They’re easy to make and smell amazing as they cook, and the spice and sweetness level is perfect when paired with maple syrup. I added a sprinkling of toasted, salted pecans for extra crunch and it was a great addition.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

oatmeal-muffins-done

Our freezer always contains a stash of homemade muffins– it’s just the way things are. The vast majority are used for my daughter’s daily school snacks, but I admit to sneaking a few to nibble on now and then. I most often go with pumpkin or banana muffins, but this time my daughter asked for oatmeal muffins with cinnamon and chocolate. It sounded like a tasty combination to me, so off I went to the internet in search of a recipe.

I ended up modifying this recipe, adding cinnamon and omitting the pecans. Also halving the baking powder, per the recommendations of many reviewers. The finished muffins turned out quite well, extremely moist and almost reminiscent of a chocolate chip cookie in flavor.

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