March 9, 2020

Pretzel Focaccia

I swear, there's nothing quite like homemade bread. There's something about the process of making it as much as the the devouring of it that is comforting. Perhaps it's just the ability to create something so delicious with relatively minimal effort for a bread like this from How Sweet Eats.

I made this bread within a week of seeing the recipe posted. It's delicious straight from the oven, still warm with chewy crust. It definitely diminishes in quality the following day, although I think a quick pop in the oven (or using it for grilled cheese) would likely give it new life.

Now I really want to make this honey oatmeal bread again ... it was the first bread I remember baking.

Pretzel Focaccia
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
3 cups warm water
6 Tbsp. melted butter (I used about 4)
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. baking soda
1/2 cup boiling water
Flaky sea salt, for topping
Sesame seeds, for topping

Stir together the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Slowly add in the warm water while stirring constantly until a sticky dough forms. Once the lumps are gone, cover it, and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled.

Brush an 18 x 13 pan with 2 Tbsp. of the melted butter. Drizzle on the oil, and spread evenly around the pan. Turn the dough out onto the pan, and press it out with oiled hands until it covers the pan completely.

Place the baking soda in a large bowl, and add the boiling water. (It will bubble, hence the larger bowl.) Brush the mixture on top of the dough, reserving some for later. Then place the pan in a warm place, and let it rise again for an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475°F. Brush the dough again with the baking soda mixture. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan, and brush the dough with the remaining melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until the top is golden and edges are a bit crisp. Let the bread cool slightly before slicing it. Makes 1 large focaccia loaf.

March 5, 2020

Italian Bread

I truly love baking. Some breads require so many steps and so much futzing that they don't often get made, but this Italian bread from Brown Eyed Baker is extremely simple to throw together and takes less time than many other loaves.

Italian Bread
2 cups lukewarm water, about 110°F
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
5 cups bread flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Optional Topping
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Mix yeast into 1/2 cup water. Set aside for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, oil and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add in the yeast mixture and remaining water. Mix on the lowest setting using the dough hook, using up to 3/4 additional cup of flour if needed, for 7 minutes. Dough should be lightly sticky and smooth. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, and need by hand 1 to 2 minutes until a smooth, firm, elastic dough is formed.

Transfer the dough to an oiled container or bowl. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Let rise 1 1/2 hours until doubled. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F. If you have a baking stone, preheat that in the oven as well. If you don't, use the inverted baking sheet in the next step.

Shape the dough into an oven loaf with lightly floured hands. Place the dough on a bakers peel heavily dusted with flour (or an inverted baking sheet). Allow the dough to proof, covered loosely with a floured dish towel, for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

If using the topping, brush the dough with the egg white, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Use a razor blade or sharp knife to slash the dough lengthwise about 1/4-inch deep, keeping the blade at a 45° angle.

Just prior to placing the bread in the oven, pour 1 cup of water into a metal pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Carefully transfer the loaf from the peel to a baking stone in the oven.  If you don't have a baking stone, just place the inverted cookie sheet into the oven with the bread on it.

Bake until golden brown and bread is at least 195° internally. It should sound hollow when you tap the bottom of the bread. This will take 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the bread to cool (at least mostly) before slicing. Makes 1 large loaf.

Cauliflower Risotto

If it weren't Lent, with the need to avoid meat on Fridays, I'm not certain I would have tried this cauliflower risotto recipe from How Sweet Eats. I'm so glad I did because it was a perfect meal for me to enjoy with a glass of wine left over from the recipe. I'm also glad I enjoyed it as much as I did because the rest of my family turned up their noses. In fact, AJ walked into the house after school, gagged and asked what that smell was.

This reheats wonderfully for lunches and feels at least a bit healthy because of all the cauliflower. I adapted the recipe slightly, knowing that the Brie in the original recipe wouldn't fly with my family. This is worth repeating, Lent or not.

Cauliflower Risotto
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 sweet onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary or 1/2 Tbsp. dried rosemary
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup hot water
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350­°F. Heat a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Melt the butter, and add the onions. Cook 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic, and cook 2 more minutes. Add the cauliflower, and cook until the florets are golden and toasty, about 8 minutes. Stir in the rice and rosemary. Cook 1 to 2 minutes until the rice is translucent. Add in the stock, wine, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Place in the oven, and cook 35 to 40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. If the rice is too chewy, add another 1/2 cup of liquid and cook another 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven, stir in the hot water and the cheese. Sprinkle with extra cheese, and serve, preferably with a glass of the leftover wine. Makes 4 to 6 servings as an entree.

January 28, 2020

Our New Favorite Granola

I've made homemade granola for years, finding quite a few varieties that we enjoy. I wanted to try something different and tried a recipe from Gimme Some Oven with a few variations. Dave has been devouring this by the handful, as well as topping vanilla yogurt for dessert. It's solid for breakfast, snacks or dessert. It's not overly sweet or spiced, just right, as long as you don't mind picking chia seeds out of your teeth.

We're on our second batch in two weeks, and I'm still not sure it'll last long enough to photograph it in the light of day.

4 cups whole oats
1 cup salted pecan pieces
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine dry ingredients through salt together. Melt coconut oil, and combine with maple syrup and vanilla. Stir into oat mixture until thoroughly coated. Spread evenly on a lined baking sheet.

Bake 20 minutes. Stir, and bake another 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let them melt into the granola, and then cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 6-7 cups.

December 29, 2019

Black Forest Bouche de Noel

I wanted to make a traditional Buche de Noel last year, inspired by this incredible cake by Sprinkle Bakes, and I used her recipe for the Swiss roll. I never got to it last year, but I made my first yule log this year with black forest flavors. I think it turned out wonderfully, with a perfect tight spiral and fantastic meringue mushrooms. I want to improve upon the cherry flavor, which I think would have been amplified had I used kirsch. I opted not to use kirsch because of children wanting to eat the cake.

It was impressive enough that my son has now requested this as his birthday cake for next year ... we'll see. He said the same thing about the pumpkin churro cake I made, so I'm on a roll.

There's lots of steps, but the meringues can be made and stored for several days, which helps a lot.

Black Forest Bouche de Noel
Swiss Roll
4 eggs
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup (90 grams) flour
1/4 cup (25 grams) cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup (30 grams) powdered sugar
Whipped Cream
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1 cup salted butter
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3-5 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla
Meringue Mushrooms
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
75 grams sugar
Cocoa powder for sprinkling

To Make the Cake
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan, and line with parchment paper.

Place eggs in a large bowl, and beat 5 minutes. With mixer running slowly, add sugar and oil, followed by buttermilk and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the liquid ingredients. Mix until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and smooth it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back when pressed with fingers.

Sprinkle a tea towel with powdered sugar, and rub sugar into the towel with your hands. Immediately turn cake onto the sugar-covered towel. Peel off the parchment paper, and roll cake into the tea towel, beginning at the narrow end. Place rolled cake on a wire rack, seam-side down, and cool completely before filling it.

To Make the Whipped Cream
To prepare the whipped cream, place the sugar and cornstarch in a small pan. While stirring constantly, pour in 1/4 cup cream. Place pan over medium heat, and bring it to a boil while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and cool completely. Meanwhile, place remaining cream in mixer bowl, and refrigerate.

Once the cornstarch and cream mixture has cooled, whisk the pure heavy cream on medium until tracks begin to show in the cream. With mixer still on, slowly add the cornstarch mixture, and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to assemble cake.

To Make the Cherries and Syrup
Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup. Simmer the syrup over medium heat until it is reduced to 1/3 cup. Remove from heat, and stir in kirsch and lemon juice.

Cut cherries in half, and set aside on paper towels to soak up some of the extra moisture.

To Make the Frosting
Beat the butter on high speed 3 to 5 minutes to incorporate plenty of air. Gradually add powdered sugar and cocoa ,and beat until smooth. Continue beating, while adding vanilla and then heavy cream until desired consistency is reached.

To Make the Meringue Mushrooms
Preheat oven to 225°F. Whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Then whisk in the sugar one tablespoon at a time until meringue is stiff and glossy. Transfer to a large piping bag with a large nozzle. Pipe 8 mounds 5 centimeters wide. Dip your finger in cold water, and gently smooth any peaks as these are the mushroom caps. Then pipe cones about 2 centimeters high for the stems. Sprinkle with cocoa powder to create a mushroom effect.

Bake 70 minutes, and then turn off the oven without opening the door. Cool completely in the oven, even overnight.

To assemble mushrooms, melt a small amount of chocolate in the microwave. Use that chocolate to adhere the stems to the caps. (I like to place mine in the refrigerator to set quickly.) You may need to shave off part of the stems to get them to fit well.

To Assemble Cake
Gently unroll cake. Use a pastry brush to spread the cherry syrup evenly across the cake, allowing it to absorb into the cake. Gently spread the whipped cream evenly on top of the cake, leaving about 1 inch on the far end of the cake roll, where it will be be last rolled (so all the filling doesn't ooze out). Sprinkle evenly with cherries. Carefully roll cake tightly, and place seam side down. Frost, and use a knife to create texture the long way to replicate a log. Decorate with mushrooms, and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Keep refrigerated until one hour before serving. Slice carefully with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife between cuts for beautiful spiral slices. Serves approximately 16.