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.
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.
I may not have mentioned it before, but my husband brews his own beer as a hobby. One of the byproducts of the brewing process is large quantities of spent grain– wheat, barley, or other grains that have been boiled for a while and which would otherwise be thrown away afterwards. We usually end up with several pounds of the stuff for each batch of beer, and it seems like such a waste to discard it, so I went looking for recipes to make something out of it. Bread seemed the obvious choice.
It turns out there are dozens of recipes out there for spent grain bread. My husband tried one on his own but it turned out dense and crumbly– I don’t think he kneaded it enough, or maybe he added too much flour to combat the stickiness– so I tried my own version based on a recipe online.
It turned out pretty well– the grain provided a sweet, nutty flavor and a nice texture to the finished bread, though I think I could’ve kneaded it a bit more and also baked it somewhat longer– my loaf was a little crumbly when sliced and slightly gummy when eaten. But I think that this recipe is a good starting point– I just need better bread instincts!
I first had stroopwafels in Amsterdam– I wish I could say that I bought them from a street vendor and savored them, still warm, as I strolled the moonlit streets taking in the sights and sounds of the city… but in reality I bought a pre-packaged stroopwafel and ate it on the train as I went back to my hostel for the night. It was still really, really good, though.
Sadly, packaged stroopwafels in the US aren’t quite as good as the ones in Amsterdam, and are much more expensive. I hadn’t quite given up on the dream of having one fresh from the waffle iron, so I decided to enlist the help of my trusty pizzelle iron to try and make my own!
I saw a few different types of recipes– some with melted butter, some with only softened butter; some with yeast and some with baking powder; some with more eggs and some with fewer. And there were a bunch of different recipes for the “stroop” (syrup) filling, involving brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, and “pancake syrup” in various proportions. Eventually I settled on a recipe and went full steam ahead!
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.
So I’ve said before that I have a beloved family recipe for yeasted waffles– it’s my gold standard for waffles, and I’ve never found a restaurant waffle or alternate homemade recipe to outshine it. It’s the main reason that my search for the perfect plate of fried chicken and waffles has been unsuccessful– other people’s waffles never measure up to my own, and it ruins the dish for me. I guess I’ve just been spoiled by my dad’s waffles, which I never fail to ask for on visits home and only relatively recently learned to make for myself.
I’m sharing the recipe with you now so that you can all enjoy the feathery-light, crispy, slightly malty-tasting waffles that I grew up with. The batter is simple– no whipped egg whites or weird flours– and calls for a basic overnight rise on the countertop, so you just stir the starter together the night before and you’ll be ready to waffle in the morning. (I love using “waffle” as a verb, don’t you?) The batter cooks up impossibly light and airy, with a crisp exterior that will make you vow never to go back to the thick, heavy, Belgian-style waffles you see everywhere else. With a little salted butter and a drizzle of maple syrup, you need to eat these immediately or they’ll get cold and soggy and you’ll lose the magic.
Instead of hosting a Christmas party this year, we decided that it would be simpler and therefore more fun to host a post-Christmas brunch. For some reason a brunch just seems less stressful than a full evening party– maybe it’s the fact that the foods are easier to prepare, maybe it just seems more casual… in any case, that’s what we decided to do. Of course, “casual” doesn’t mean “starving,” so of course I had to come up with an appropriate selection of sweet and savory goodies. And one of the first things I knew I’d be making was monkey bread.