Monday, December 31, 2012

End grain cutting boards

This is a project I found great satisfaction with.

First, a word about end grain boards.  What makes an end grain board so desirable?  Well, it's fairly simple.  They are far more durable, more impervious to bacteria penetration, do not show cut marks, and they last (dare I say it?) almost a lifetime.  They are very expensive, but for anyone who enjoys working in the kitchen, it's a must have.

Imagine a paint brush laying on it's side, and your knife coming down and across the bristles.  This is a hard surface on your knives, and in no time the wood will show cut marks, and even possibly knicks where small pieces of wood become dislodged.  This is what happens when you use an edge or flat grain board.

Now, take that same brush, and hold it upright, bristles pointing to the sky.  Imagine your blade coming down into the fibers, making a nice, soft landing for your knives.  As you extract your knife, the fibers (or bristles) immediately close up and seal the cut.  Knife marks just do not show on an end grain board, and as a result, they last much, much longer.

It's really that simple.  The process of making an end grain board is not complex, though some of the designs can be *quite* impressive and intricate, and, of course, one must have the right tools.  How many times have I heard my husband say, "if I only had (insert power tool here), I could make (insert project here)."  Too many to count, I'm afraid.  And, now, I'm a power tool junkie, myself.  How the heck did *that* happen?

At first I thought I would post this as a tutorial, but then realized there are so many tutorials online, written by woodworkers with many, many years of experience.  Those folks are far more qualified than I, so I will just share my results.

We started with oak, as I wasn't sure where this project would go, nor if we would even be successful with it.  I didn't want to invest in a more expensive wood until I knew we could do this.  The oak was found at our local lumber yard.  We had everything else we would need, including a few tools.

The oak board turned out so pretty, with it's distinctive and dramatic grain pattern.  These shots were taken after the final sanding, and edge finish, but before we oiled it for the first time.



 

Then after it was oiled...so pretty!


 

Then it was time for the cherry/maple board.  Because the woods had more of a color variance from one another, a 'pattern' was calling my name.  Not a particularly impressive, nor inspired design, but I'm really proud of this one, too.

Before oiling.



 

And after oiling.


 

This was such a fun project.  If I thought I could earn a bit of money making these boards, I fear I would do nothing else.  Working with wood is such an 'earth connecting' experience for me.  I think I must surely have a woodworkers' heart.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Icing ease...

 

Yesterday I posted my cookie trials, and, of course, those cookies ended up iced.  I thought I would share a couple little icing tricks I came up with that worked well, and might make for ease of use for kids, too.

I've always used icing bags for decorating cakes, and when I decided to make royal icing for my cookies, they were my first thought, but icing bags can be messy.  Given that I used to make icing bags with parchment triangles, the 'already made' icing bags are a dream, but surely I could make them a little less messy.

 

I filled my bags with icing (these would be my runny, or 'flood' icing bags, so needed no tips, just a snip off the bottom with a pair of scissors).  To keep the icing in the bag, and reduce spillage out the top, I filled each bag, twisted the top, and affixed a zip tie.  As the icing was used the zip tie could be pushed down to keep the bag 'full'.  Worked like a charm.

 

To keep icing from oozing out the tip while you work, just place each bag into a glass, tip up.

For piping icing that would be a little more stiff, I was going to use bags with icing tips, then had a brain flash.  What about condiment bottles?  As it turned out, it would be a terrific idea.

 

The only caveat was that the bottles needed to remain inverted between uses, or it would be one 'shake down' after another.  That was easily solved by putting the inverted bottles into glasses.  Any drippings would catch in the glass vs. all over the work surface.

I found the bottles at Walmart for $.97/each.  A great buy.  I only picked up two, but I think I will get a few more the next time I'm there.  We don't have children, but as I used these bottles of icing, I was struck with how easily a child could decorate cookies with these bottles, and wanted to share.

We iced our cookies, then used toothpicks to pull through the icing to make interesting designs.



Royal icing takes a while to dry, but if you let it dry completely, the icing is fairly hard, and impervious to nicks.  It also dries with a nice, matte finish.  I love the look.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas cookie trials...

Seems I'm always building a better mouse trap, and this year's Christmas cookies were no exception.


Tired of flat cookies that lose their shape, I did some cookie trials.  Of course, prior to experimentation, I spent plenty of time reading up on as much about Christmas cookies as I could.  Some recipes suggested shortening vs. butter.  Around here, that's a big, fat "no!"  We don't like that white, gooey, greasy, blob of questionable origin.  We feel the same way about margarine.  If it's not real, we don't use it.  Butter had to be on the list.

First trial included the removal of baking powder from my sugar cookie recipe.  This proved to be a good step, and while the cookies did a better job of holding their shape, the results were far from the goal, still spreading to about double their cut size.

Clearly I would need more trials, and perhaps experiment with a few recipes that were not my own.

Second trial included a recipe touted as a 'no spread' recipe.  Results weren't measurably better, so that recipe quickly found the round file.

Any cookie that included too much sugar was out.  Truth be told, with a layer of royal icing on top, and all the sweetness that brings, a sugar cookie underneath wasn't all that appealing, so my mind started spinning. I wanted some texture, and crumble, but without too much sweetness.  The sugar cookies didn't provide it, not my own recipe, nor the recipes of others.  Hum, what to do?

How about shortbread?  This would prove to be an excellent choice for this year's Christmas cookies.  Hearty, crumbly, good texture, and not too sweet, so as to keep from pushing the cookies off the 'sugar scale'.

As to the type of shortbread recipe?  It really doesn't matter, any shortbread cookie recipe will do, provided the ingredients are butter, powdered sugar and flour, and nothing else, which is the case for most shortbread I'm aware of.

What did I learn about cookies holding shape?  A lot, as it turned out...

The type of cookie matters:
Shortbread was far superior at holding shape than sugar cookies, and it didn't matter which sugar cookie recipe I tried, they all flattened out and spread far past the point I found acceptable.

Get it super cold:
Once the dough is made, chill it overnight.  It will be very hard the next morning.  This is good.  It will soften up very fast as you work it.

Once cookies are cut, another good chill is in order prior to baking.  At least an hour, preferably two.

Heat plays a starring role:
Once the oven is to temperature, keep it there for at least half an hour before you put your well chilled cookies inside.  The chill will keep the cookies together longer as the heat works to create a 'crust' to provide further holding power.

The surface:
Obviously you don't want your cookies to stick to your pan, and with butter in shortbread cookie dough, that's not likely, but lay your cookies out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and you will increase the chances of a nice 'release' of the cookies, as well as less spread.  The parchment paper will absorb some of the butter, which reduces the chances of spread...the bare baking sheet will not absorb butter, it will pool, and increase the chances of spread.

The trials:

Sugar cookie, minus baking powder, on the left.  Shortbread on the right.

Different view, same two cookies.  Both were rolled to 1/4" thickness.

Cookie spread with the sugar cookie, as compared to the cutter used.

Cookie spread with the shortbread cookie, as compared to the cutter size.

Lesson learned...shortbread for iced cookies.  Perfect level of 'sweet', and they hold their shape well.

Merry, merry Christmas!

Tis the season...for joy, love, laughter.  Enjoy, friends...



And last, but never least, and never forgotten.  We love you and miss you...


Monday, December 24, 2012

Gorgonzola and bacon pizza

Simple really is best.  This one could not be easier.  Any pizza dough recipe will do.


Lightly coat the top of the dough with olive oil, then add crumbled gorgonzola, bacon pieces, and halved cherry tomatoes.  Basil is added after baking.  Add as much of each ingredient as you like.  Great flavor, and a set of ingredients that play very well together.  Enjoy...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The perfect cinnamon rolls, part two

Carried on from part one...

Before you proceed with this recipe, I strongly suggest you read through part one.  Why?  Because I detail things in part one that will make a significant difference in your cinnamon roll results.  While this recipe is very detailed, there is a bit of art involved, too.  Making a perfect cinnamon roll is more about understanding and implementing the process than it is about the ingredients and a standard set of directions.  Part one covers things that will help you achieve a great result.  I would go so far as to say, had I understood many of the things I cover in part one, before I undertook this process, I might have found success much sooner than I did.

Read enough cinnamon roll recipe reviews, and the mixed results of the reviewers, you will soon understand there is more involved than most recipes cover.  I've tried to fill in those holes for you in part one and part two.

Ingredients:

Rolls
1/4 cup water (110 degrees)
Healthy pinch of sugar
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups bread flour

Filling
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup whole milk

Directions:

To a 2 cup measure, add the 1/4 cup of 110 degree water, pinch of sugar and the yeast, and whisk.  If the yeast does not become frothy and active within a few minutes, it's dead, or your water wasn't the correct temperature, and you will need to start again.  If it begins to foam, proceed.

In a small saucepan, combine kosher salt and butter, and heat over medium until butter melts.  Remove from heat, and set aside.

To the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk, add the eggs and sugar, and whisk on speed 6 until smooth and creamy.  Reduce speed to 2, and add the buttermilk and vanilla.  While mixing, add the melted butter and and proofed yeast, and mix until your liquids are smooth and well combined, about a minute.

Switch to your dough hook, attach your mixer shield, and one cup at a time, add your flour, and continue mixing until well combined.  Your dough should remain extremely tacky, and stick slightly to the bottom of your bowl as the mixer works.

After the dough comes together, allow it to mix (knead) for 3-4 minutes on speed two.

Remove mixer bowl from stand, place in your proofing box, and let rise until nearly doubled.  At my elevation and humidity level, this takes about an hour, but this is an extremely variable process, and it may take more or less time in your own kitchen.

When dough has risen as directed, remove from your proofing box, turn out onto a lightly floured, smooth surface, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic, and let rest.


While dough is resting, prepare the filling:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Remove from heat, and allow to cool to lukewarm.  When cooled, add brown sugar and cinnamon, and whisk to combine.  Set aside.

Return to your dough, and proceed to roll it into a 24" x 15" rectangle, stretching slightly as you roll to achieve your rectangle.  If the dough is too elastic, let it rest a few more minutes.  It should not spring back excessively as you roll it.

 

The filling should have started to set up just slightly.  If not, allow it more time to do so.  If it has set too much, you can warm it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it slightly, but you do not want it runny.  It should be fairly thick.

With a pastry brush working quickly, spread the filling over your dough leaving a 1" margin on the long side furthest from you.

 

Sprinkle the filling with raisins.

 

With the long edge of the rectangle closest to you, begin rolling your dough.  Do not roll too tightly.  When you get to the end, moisten the furthest edge (where you left the 1" margin) with water, and finish rolling, lightly pressing to achieve a seal where the dough was moistened.

You can gently re-shape the ends, if they rolled unevely.

 

With a sharp knife, score the rolled dough every 2".

 

Take a length of dental floss, and slide it under your roll, where the first score mark is, and bring the ends up and over, tightening to cleanly slice your cinnamon rolls.


 

At this point, you have a 'fresh or frozen' decision to make.  If you wish to eat them fresh, proceed.  If you wish to freeze them, lay them out, cut side down, on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, cover well (but not tightly) with plastic wrap, and set in your freezer for 4-5 hours.  Transfer to a gallon sized resealable bag, and store in the freezer (up to a month) until ready to bake.

Generously butter a 9" x 12" baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the rolls into your prepared baking dish, set in your proofing box, and allow to rise until nearly doubled in size.  In my climate, this is anywhere from 40-60 minutes.

While rolls are rising, prepare your frosting:

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, butter and extracts, and mix until smooth.  Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix after each addition until smooth.  Add milk, and mix until smooth, and slightly runny.  If frosting isn't slightly runny, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the correct consistency is achieved. Cover frosting, and set aside.

When rolls are risen, cover with aluminum foil, and place into the pre-heated oven.  Bake rolls, covered, for 10 minutes.  Remove foil, and continue baking the rolls an additional 12-18 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven, and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Pour frosting over rolls, and serve.

A final note in closing: if you do not achieve an extremely light, 'melt in your mouth' dough, and subtle sweet, cinnamon flavor with your rolls, you have done something wrong, and I encourage you to go back and re-read part one again.  If you follow my detailed instructions, you should end up with the perfect cinnamon roll...or at least my own idea of the perfect cinnamon roll.

The development of this recipe was a labor of love, in honor of my grandmother.  I hope it brings some joy to your own friends and family.  Enjoy.




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The perfect cinnamon roll, part one

 

All my life, as far back as I can remember, my father used to talk about his mother's cinnamon rolls.  When she came out west to live with my parents, I asked her to make them.  With pen and paper in hand, I set out to capture the recipe, but it was quickly apparent that her method was an art form, and there would be no measurements to capture on paper, so instead I sat and watched, and tried to absorb as much as possible.  It would prove of little value.

"A little of this", or "add enough until it looks right" were common utterances.  No measuring cups or spoons were used, yet her cinnamon rolls were perfection. I remember thinking, as I watched her, that she was so haphazard with her yeast, yet it yielded to her direction, aiding in the production of beautiful, light and fluffy cinnamon rolls.

I was impressed with her 'no fear' approach to yeast.  Frankly, yeast scares the crap out of me.  I look at it, and I swear it's heaving up and down, taunting me, challenging me to make it work in my recipes.  I have had great success using yeast, but only through tenacious efforts to conquer the yeast beast.


 

Sadly, it wouldn't be long before my grandmother would pass on, and with her, her well loved cinnamon roll recipe.  It was then I decided I would make the perfect cinnamon roll.  Someday.

 

A few years ago I set out on my quest.  How difficult could it be?  Well, apparently, pretty difficult.  Batch after batch I made, and while some were good, I was never completely satisfied.  A little dry.  A little heavy.  Dough not proofed well enough, or dough proofed too much.  I got close so many times.  I tried one variation or tweak after another, yet I still came up just shy of my goal of perfection.

What was I going to do?  Well, keep on keeping on.

I wanted the lightly sweet cinnamon rolls my grandmother made, not the ones I kept finding recipes for, that were so overwhelmed with sugar, you couldn't appreciate the beautiful dough, nor the feature ingredient, which, of course, is cinnamon.


 

It was clear I would have to develop my own recipe, and develop I did.

My grandmother had set a bar I would soon realize was very high, and very nearly out of my reach, but my perseverance would prevail.

A few things of note...

Ingredients:
A word about ingredients.  Do yourself a favor, accept the fact you are making a rich, buttery, sugary dish.  Don't attempt to substitute your ingredients.  If you truly want top shelf results, stick with the ingredients, as they are called out.  In most every case, when someone takes a recipe I have given them, and makes substitutions, I'm often met with, "it didn't turn out like it does when you make it".

Yeast:
Don't *ever* work with yeast and pass over the yeast proofing step.  It's a simple step, and if you proof your yeast, and find out it's no good, you will have saved the remaining ingredients in your recipe, not to mention a heck of a lot of time.

In this recipe, I use active dry yeast.  I do not use instant, or 'bread machine' yeast, and there is a reason.  I find active dry yeast has better rising duration.  Instant, or 'bread machine' yeast is more forgiving of inaccurate water temperatures, but it races fast, and stops short, meaning it doesn't seem to have the rising duration of the dry active yeast.

When proofing yeast, I recommend measuring the temperature of your water.  You can't accurately determine a failure if you aren't sure what your water temperature is.  An instant read thermometer can be found for a few dollars at most grocery stores.  In my opinion, it's a great little kitchen tool, and when you proof yeast, you increase your chances of success when you work with the correct temperature.

Proofing dough:
Cinnamon rolls don't like to be over-proofed.  They like to grow to about 2/3 their original size in the first rise, then fully in the second, just before baking.  And, under no uncertain terms will they be happy to rise more than double the first time, and then be expected to do a repeat performance for the second rise.  Like a mile horse in a two mile race.  They might finish the race, but they will have nothing left for the second race, or rise as it were.

Frozen vs. fresh:
Contrary to popular belief, cinnamon rolls really don't like to be frozen after they have been rolled and cut.  They will adapt, but they don't love it, and special consideration needs to be taken to help them rise as they thaw.

A frozen cinnamon roll needs 8-12 hours on a kitchen counter to thaw and rise, then another 30-40 minutes in a proofing box prior to baking.  They are very good, and while I prefer fresh, because I do find a very slight difference between fresh and frozen, the convenience of frozen balances the scales.  There's no questioning the convenience of buttering a loaf pan, adding two frozen cinnamon rolls before you head to bed, covering it with plastic wrap, and waking up to a ready to bake treat, following a short time in your proofing box.

Moisture and elevation:
I live at 3200', and our climate is extremely dry.  These two things would have a dramatic impact on my results, as I would learn, and your own elevation should not be weighed too lightly, either.  If, like me, you live at 3200', and your climate is dry, you likely have fewer adjustments to make for my recipe than if you live at sea level, in an extremely humid climate.  Just remember these two principles: dough likes to be wet, and the higher your elevation, the quicker your dough will rise.

Do not rise by time.  Rise by eye.  When it's ready, it's ready, whether it's 2 hours or 20 minutes.

Kneading:
Purists will tell you that hand kneading is the best, and on the one hand, I agree, but when you need to maintain a moist, sticky dough, there is an underlying challenge with hand kneading; you must fight the urge to over flour as you knead, else your moist, sticky dough will turn into an easy to handle, but horribly dry, tough and dead mound of useless goo.  For me, the solution is a stand mixer.  I realize not everyone has a stand mixer, and for the serious cook/baker, there is no question it's a major convenience.  In the absence of a stand mixer, hand kneading is fine, provided you do not over flour your dough as you work it, and be prepared for it to stick to your hands quite effectively.

The pan:
There is truth to the old adage that different pans produce different results.  I use a straight sided baking pan that measures 6" x 6", and is 3" high.  I bought it specifically for this recipe.

I freeze what I don't bake immediately after I make the rolls, and I always use this pan. I have also used a 9" straight sided round cake pan, as well as the full sized 9" x 12" baking dish called out in the recipe.

The only type of pan I would avoid is a dark baking pan, and certainly do not use a non-stick pan.

Rising warm or cold:
Some say you can rise cinnamon rolls overnight, in the refrigerator.  I have never known this to work all that well.  If there is a trick, I haven't found it.  In my experience, yeast wakes up when it's warm and moist.  When it's cold, it will simply continue to sleep.  I suspect, with enough time, the 'rise in the refrigerator' method will work, but I haven't found it to work overnight, even when following recipes entitled "overnight cinnamon rolls".  Perhaps my refrigerator is just too cold.  That could certainly be possible.

A proofing box:
There is much discussion among bread makers regarding proofing, which is a fancy word for rising.  Unless you live where it's 80 degrees, and 80% humidity, you will need to make some adjustment for proofing.  A proofing box is nice, but I find the cavity of my microwave oven makes for an effective proofing box.  I simply place my dough (first rise), or the cut rolls (second rise) into the microwave.  I add a small bowl of boiling water in with the rolls, and close the door, creating a mini sauna for my dough/rolls.  It cuts proofing time, and I get a much nicer rise.

A word of caution:  do not boil liquids in a microwave.  Not even water.  Water can explode in a microwave, and cause severe burns.  Boil your water in a small pan on your stove top, then transfer the boiling water to a glass bowl.  Just place the bowl of boiling water into the microwave, along with your dough/rolls.

Ingredients vs. the baker:
A set of ingredients is really only as good as the baker who will work with them.  There is some skill required in working with yeast dough, whether a loaf of bread, or a pan of cinnamon rolls, so if you don't get the results you desire in your first attempt, don't automatically blame the recipe.  It's most likely the implementation of the process, or a missing ingredient.

Not too high, not too low:
When it comes to baking cinnamon rolls, the best place is smack in the middle of your oven, with the pan centered on a rack set to mid height.  You don't want to burn the bottom, and you don't want to burn the top.

Cover or not to cover?
For me, this was an interesting question.  It never occurred to me that covering my rolls for the first several minutes of baking might actually be a benefit, until I started my artisanal bread journey, where steaming the bread for the first several minutes of baking time, gives beautiful oven spring to the finished loaf.  Why not my cinnamon rolls?  After all, dough is dough, right?

For a while, the 'cover or not to cover' question would remain unanswered, but in time I would feel the tickle to test that out, and the results were pleasing.  I now cover my rolls with foil for the first ten minutes of baking, at which time I remove the foil, and let the rolls finish, uncovered.  The oven spring was impressive when the rolls baked under cover for those few minutes.

Frosting or glaze?
This was a difficult question for me to answer for myself.  I love frosting on a cinnamon roll, but often find the rolls overwhelmed by their frosting cap.  By the same token, a glaze is so runny and light, I didn't feel it would be quite substantial enough.  I settled on a thinned frosting.  Not as thick as regular frosting, not as thin as glaze.  Thick enough to set on top, and thin enough to fill any seams within the rolls.  As it turned out, it was the perfect solution.

Ready to bake?  If you remain confident, ready to attempt my idea of the perfect cinnamon roll, take a look at the perfect cinnamon roll, part two.

Monday, December 17, 2012

...and more bread

Yes, yes, yes...more about bread!  When I set out to learn something, I don't stop until I feel that I have a deep understanding of what I set out to learn in the first place.  My bread journey is no different.

Until today, I hadn't yet hit the bread grand slam I was hoping for.  Now, however, I think I've finally got it.  Big, airy holes, and a crust to put a smile on the face of any bread lover.  A quick preview...

 

Now that I've started your mouth to watering, let me take a turn and share a few revelations, and the steps that led me to the wonderful, and much desired result I achieved today...

Up to now, I can't say that I was disappointed in my bread results, but making crusty bread in a traditional oven is not the 'slam dunk' one might think.  The biggest issue for me had been capturing/producing steam in the first 10-15 minutes of baking, which, from everything I had read, is really the way to take a boule from good to exceptional.

I kept reading about the 'song' of the crust, which, to my understanding, is a crackling that takes place after the bread is removed from the oven.

I don't have a professional deck oven, and one is not going to be built into my kitchen any time soon.  I have baking tiles, which I love, and that work beautifully for the bottom of the bread, but what about the rest?  Well, there is something called a 'cloche', which is a clay bell that sets over the bread right after it's put into the oven.  The bell shape of the cloche captures the steam produced by the moisture in the bread in the first several minutes of baking.  Once removed, the bread continues to bake, and the crust browns up as it should.

This steaming is what I had been missing.

Not one to spend money on something unless I know it's going to work well, I decided to do a cloche test.  I took my large clay baker (which I haven't used in many, many years - I think it was a wedding gift, and I've been married to my husband for almost 20 years!), I inverted the bottom, and I used it as a make-shift cloche.  I heated it in the oven, with the baking tiles.  Once the oven was to temperature, and my bread had rested sufficiently, I slid it onto the tiles, and covered it with the inverted clay baker bottom.

After about 10 minutes, I removed the lid.  The loaf was beautifully risen, with a steamy sheen.  Perfect!  I left the bread to continue baking, uncovered.  When I removed it, the crust started to crackle!  This is what I had been missing.  This, I think, is the 'song' I have heard so much about.

But what about the texture of the crust and the inside?  The crust looked and felt extremely promising, but was the inside going to be full of those big holes I was so hoping for?  Well, it was close, but still not quite what I imagined in my mind's eye, and knew was possible.

There's no question the bread, which is the same recipe I have been making lately, was better.  More moist on the inside, crustier on the outside, but still not the home run I was hoping for.  I really wanted a grand slam, and I had enough dough to try one more time.

What was I missing?

I decided to take a look at Chad Robertson's suggestion of baking in a cast iron dutch oven, or combo cooker.  Chad Robertson appears to be the God father of bread making, and his Tartine Bread cookbook has an almost narcotic affect on me!  If he says the best way to duplicate the results of a professional deck oven is with a cast iron dutch oven or combo cooker, I trust he knows what he's talking about.  I have a cast iron dutch oven, but I needed something as a base.

I ran out to my local market, which also happens to carry many non-food items, including kitchen appliances, clothing, furniture, etc.  I quickly located the cast iron section, and found a griddle that would make a great base for my make-shift combo cooker.  With the low edge, it would make it far easier to slide the bread onto the hot griddle without burning myself.  As luck would have it, it was on sale - $16.49.

 

I already had the dutch oven.  I just removed the lid, which I wouldn't need for baking my bread, and it was ready to serve as a lid over my griddle.

 

I simply turned it upside down, placed it on top of the griddle, and instant 'combo cooker'!

 

It's my humble opinion that this little cast iron 'cooker' made all the difference in the world, and I finally achieved the bread I'd been imagining.  It was crusty, chewy, airy perfection!


Not just a beautiful, crackling crust, but big, beautiful holes on the inside.  I'm very pleased, and feeling like I hit this nail squarely on the head.  Bakery quality?  In texture, I think so.

 

I think the flavor could use just a little more work, but it's damn good, and anything I lose in flavor, I more than make up for when I slice into a warm loaf.  =)

Finally, the grand slam.  What I had imagined was now sitting in front of me.  I'm so very proud of this loaf of bread.  I'm so glad I didn't give up trying.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Peppermint ice cream

 

This is a fun, flavor packed ice cream, and it's a perfect fit for my love of peppermint.  Peppermint bark is the star of this ice cream show.  As a stand alone, peppermint bark is one of my favorite holiday treats, but paired with this subtle flavored peppermint ice cream, it stands on a pedestal all its own.

 

The link to our own peppermint bark can be found in the ingredient list below.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Peppermint bark

Directions:

While you can get it already made, peppermint bark is so easy to make yourself, there really is no reason to buy it.

 

Chop bark into coarse chunks.  I generally will add 3/4 to 1 cup of chopped bark to my ice cream, but feel free to add more or less, depending upon your preference.  Once chopped, set aside.

 

In your stand mixer, whip eggs and sugar on high speed until thick and creamy.  Turn off mixer, and add whipping cream, milk and extracts.  On low speed, mix until well blended, about a minute.

Pour mixture into prepared ice cream maker, along with chopped peppermint bark, and continue according to your machine's user's manual.

When ice cream is soft set, transfer to an air tight container, and freeze for several hours, or overnight.

Serve it alone, or with your favorite cookie, cake or other accompaniment.

(If you are concerned about the raw eggs in this recipe, please adapt it to a cooked ice cream base, which you can find in most any homemade ice cream machine recipe book).

Peppermint bark

 

One of my favorite holiday time treats.  For starters, I love the flavor of mint.  Anything mint really works for me, so this is an obvious choice as a favorite.  And I would be lying if I didn't admit that the ease of preparation of this candy didn't play a role in securing its place on the 'favorite list', as well.

This is a terrific kitchen project for youngsters (with supervision for the wee ones).  It packages up nicely for a holiday gift for friends, teachers, co-workers...anyone you'd like to remember.

Ingredients:

12 ounces Baker's white chocolate (or any white chocolate with cocoa butter listed as an ingredient)
1/2 cup crushed starlight mints (or candy canes)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Directions:

Layer a cookie sheet with wax paper, and set aside.

To the bottom of a double boiler, add water, and bring it to a very low simmer.  Affix top over bottom, and add the white chocolate to the top.  Keeping the water at a very low simmer, stir occasionally, until the chocolate is melted.

Remove top of double boiler from the bottom, add crushed mints and peppermint extract, and stir to combine.  Once well incorporated, pour candy onto your wax paper lined cookie sheet, and with a rubber spatula, spread to an even, thin layer.  Set in a very cool spot to set up.  If you have room in your refrigerator, that works well.  If not, any cool spot will work.

When candy is set up, break into roughly 2" pieces.  Store in the refrigerator, until ready to eat/use.  We use this bark in our peppermint ice cream.