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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Black Pepper Sour Cream Rolls

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I was walking down the street around lunch time the other day and passed by a bakery/cafe– suddenly I was hit by the wonderful, buttery, unmistakable aroma of freshly-baked croissants. I had just eaten lunch so was able to resist buying one to devour right then and there, but the memory stayed with me and I was moved instead to bake something to satisfy the craving at dinner that night.

I decided to go with some soft, buttery dinner rolls– there was no time for croissants, but there were enough similarities between the overall flavor profiles (butter, yeast, golden outer crust) to make them a decent substitution. And when I found a recipe that promised to have pillowy rolls ready with zero kneading and minimal rising, I knew I had to try it. The added interest of black pepper just sealed the deal.

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Fluffy Scones

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Did you know that heavy cream lasts basically forever in the refrigerator? I know there’s an expiration date on there, but in my experience it almost never actually goes bad– rather, it just thickens up. And if you’re like me and accidentally leave a pint of cream in the back of the fridge for *way* too long, it keeps thickening and basically turns into clotted cream. Really. It does. At least, that’s what I discovered last night when I got out the cream to make Penne with Vodka Sauce and found lush billows of thick, decadent cream instead of my expected liquid.

I promise I’ll do a post on how to make clotted cream intentionally at some point, but for now let’s stick to the story of what I did with the unexpected bounty in my refrigerator. What goes best with clotted cream? Scones, of course.

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Fast and Easy No-Knead Bread

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Due to a recent blizzard I had an unexpected day home from work. As I watched the snow fly outside my window, I was seized with the irresistible impulse to bake bread. But what kind? I thought about trying my Cinnamon Babka again so I could actually eat more than one slice, but it needed an overnight rise and I wasn’t feeling patient. My Hokkaido Milk Bread was okay, but it was never perfect and I was really in the mood for something more savory. As always, I turned to the internet, searching for a bread recipe (preferably no-knead) that could be out of the oven in a few hours.

I found this one. It’s fabulous. It’s so easy. It takes about 4.5 hours, start to finish, and my husband and I ate almost the whole loaf in one sitting. I actually like the flavor just as much as the famous no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times, probably because it’s essentially the same recipe only with hot water and a fraction of the rising time. And it still has a great interior structure, a nice crispy crust, and that fresh-from-the-oven texture that you just can’t replicate with storebought bread. I’ll be making it a lot this winter, I know.

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Planet Cookies

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I recently co-hosted a baby shower for a friend of mine, who was expecting a baby boy. Seeing as she and her husband are huge Star Wars fans, we decided to make the shower space-themed. Of course I was in charge of desserts, and one of my contributions was this batch of planet cookies.

I started off with my favorite chocolate cutout cookie recipe, which I cut into circles of varying sizes and baked. Then I made a batch of my cream cheese fondant and tinted it yellow, blue, green, and red.

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Almond Puff Loaf

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I’m a sucker for pastry, especially at breakfast, so when I came across this recipe for King Arthur Flour’s Almond Puff Loaf, which promised a delicious, multi-layered pastry in only a few simple steps, I knew I’d have to try it out. It starts with a base that’s halfway between a biscuit and a pie crust, and it’s topped with choux paste to provide some serious puff. The process reminded me a little of the Gateau St. Honoré, but the finished product was very different– probably because of the different ingredient proportions.

I also decided to add a layer of almond paste between the two doughs, to really amp up the almond flavor– I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to try this recipe, along with using apricot jam, which pairs perfectly with the almond.

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