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.
So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!
After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.
I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!
Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone, but I promise I had a good reason– I was attending casting interviews/tasting sessions for the latest season of The Great American Baking Show!
I submitted an online application near the end of May, not really expecting to get any response, but a few days later I got a call from a producer saying that they’d loved my application (and accompanying personal video) and wanted to ask me more questions! The following interview was basically me talking about my baking background, what my experience was in certain types of baking, and then a 12-question quiz on some baking techniques to make sure I knew my stuff. Turns out I did, because after sending in more photos of my bakes (most of which have been featured on this blog!) I got invited to New York to bring some treats for a tasting!
Okay, so I admit that candied nuts are something I’ve long associated with the winter holidays– they’re so great for eating by the handful along with all of those rich, cheesy, sugary holiday foods– but there’s no reason to restrict one’s intake of these deliciously crunchy, sweet-savory snacks to the winter months! They go just as well with bright, crispy salads as they do with melty brie (mmm, brie…). Brown sugar gives them depth, while cinnamon gives them a hint of spice. I’ve been known to add 1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper for an extra kick, but you don’t have to if you want something a bit milder.
I will note that I’ve tried different methods of getting a nice, crunchy coating on the pecans, and the egg white method is the only way to go. Works every time, and no hassle with trying to caramelize sugar!
I admit to being skeptical about “healthy” desserts using alternative ingredients– they never taste quite right, and you end up eating more of them anyway because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the “healthy” moniker. So it took me a while before trying this brownie recipe, which uses black beans as a base and which is also gluten-free. But since I was trying to avoid flour this month (my usual diet is way too starchy) I thought this might be a tasty dessert option.
Reviews of similar recipes have been mixed– some people rave over them, others claim that the texture is off-putting and the bean flavor is too obvious. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. These brownies are nice and chocolate-y, with no hint of bean flavor, even as an aftertaste. However, the texture is definitely not that of a regular brownie– they’re not chewy at all, nor are they gooey enough to be considered fudge-y. They’re soft, but not cakey– they’re kind of like a dry soufflé, in that they melt away easily in the mouth. And they’re not dense but I wouldn’t call them light either. In short, the texture is difficult to define, but not unpleasant.
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!
During a recent visit to the King Arthur Flour bakery in Vermont I purchased a loaf of challah, fully intending to pull pieces off of it for the next several hours and devour most of the loaf that way. Isn’t that the best way to eat fresh bread? Sadly, I ended up getting distracted and by the time I got back to my loaf it was partly stale and didn’t lend itself well to nibbling on.
However, stale bread is still good for plenty of things– not least of which is bread pudding. Not just any bread pudding– chocolate bread pudding. DARK chocolate bread pudding, which makes it that much more decadent. I pulled this recipe from King Arthur Flour’s own website and have been eating the results for breakfast for the past week. Superb.