Tag Archive 'baking'

Oct 26 2009

Apple bread.

Published by under Friends,Recipes

Mackers called me up a few weeks back and wanted me to come over and bake a whole bunch of apple bread.  I’d never done such a thing before, and I am all for baking with my girlfriends, so I agreed.  We spent HOURS upon HOURS baking this bread, and I don’t think either of us were pleased with the results.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that there ended up being big chunks of apple in the bread.  Maybe it was because we had to cook the bread for twice as long as specified so that it wasn’t gooey in the middle.  Maybe it was because the second round of baking resulted in Mystery Smoking coming from her oven.  Maybe it was because neither one of us knew what we were doing.

I think the last one is the right one.

Anyway, it was fun, and I came away with several ideas of different things to try when next I made apple bread, if I ever did.  The Man was not fond of the idea of apple bread.  He thought it sounded “gross”.  But, the Northern Spys were picked at my local orchard, and I thought NOW is the time to try it again.

Mackers had said that she thought that the next time she made apple bread, she’d just adapt her zucchini bread recipe, so I went to my cookbooks and found a zucchini bread recipe of my very own.  It’s from Betty Crocker, so you know it’s good!  And now, I know it’s good because I made a loaf and had many different people eat some of it.  And they all loved it.  So, I am fairly confident that you will love it, too.

You will need:

  • 5-6 medium baking apples (enough to end up with 3 cups of shredded apple).  As I said, I used Northern Spys, but those are not available all the year round, so just find something that’s good to bake with.  I would stay away from the very tart kinds, like Granny Smiths.
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all purpose (or whole wheat) flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder

You can also add

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins

if you want to.  I left them out because I do not like nuts in my baked goods, and The Man is not a raisin fan.

Put your oven rack toward the bottom of your oven – y0u want to position it so the top of your loaf pan will be in the center of your oven.  Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Grease the BOTTOM ONLY of a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Shred the apples.  I used a grater.  It was messy.  I would recommend shredding into something that has a lip on it, like a baking sheet, to prevent juice from running all over the counter.  I also kind of wrung out the shredded apple a little just to get rid of most of the juice before mixing it into the batter.  I was worried about it being too wet.  The apple oxidizes (turns brown) pretty quickly after it’s shredded, but this doesn’t affect the flavor.  You also won’t be able to see brown apples in the finished product, so don’t fret over it.

Mix the apples, sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients in another bowl.  When you’re ready, dump the dry ingredients into the wet and combine.  Don’t overmix it.  Just stir until it comes together, then let it sit for five minutes, like you would with muffins.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen the sides and remove to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Once cooled, wrap it up tightly.  It stores well-wrapped at room temperature for four days or in the fridge for ten days.

Share and enjoy!

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May 21 2008

Quick and Dirty: Rhubarb Pie

Published by under Recipes

Rhubarb is in season, and that means if you go into your local supermarket (or to your local sister’s house), you’re probably going to see it featured front and center in the produce section. Rhubarb is not to everyone’s taste, but it has enough of a following that if you are on the hook for a dessert or something for your Memorial Day Shenanigans, a rhubarb pie is a low-fuss option. Especially if you don’t make your own pie crust. Like me. Because I suck at pie crust.

So, you’re going to need:

  • 5-6 good sized stalks of rhubarb. You’re going to want to end up with 6 cups of rhubarb pieces, and I find that this number of stalks will get you there. Look for stalks that are relatively thick, and don’t have too many crusty spots on them. Ideally, the outside should be smooth and have a nice sheen to it.
  • 2 pre-made pie crusts. They’re in the refrigerated section, near the canned biscuits.
  • 2 – 2 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 9-inch pie pan
  • Preheat your oven to 425°F (218°C).

Begin by washing your rhubarb and trimming off the ends. Then cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces – yeah, they look big and thick, but they’ll cook down. You’re going to need to have 6 cups of chopped rhubarb. Set aside your rhubarb pieces and get out a big mixing bowl. Put your sugar and flour in the bowl and mix it together.

Now, put one of your pie crusts into your pan and work it down so it’s snug. Put half of the rhubarb in it, then sprinkle half of the flour/sugar mix on top.  Add in the rest of the rhubarb, and then the rest of the flour/sugar. Don’t be worried if the filling is above the edge of your pan a bit, remember, it will cook down. Dot the top of the filling with the butter.

Once you’ve got all your filling settled and your butter dotted, put your top crust on and pinch the edges of the two crusts closed. If you’re the lady in my Betty Crocker cookbook, this is where you embellish the edge with twee little cutouts of leaves or a nice braid of dough, but if you’re me, this is where you press the edges with the tines of a fork and call it good. You also need to cut a few slits in your top crust so steam can escape. No need to make these huge, just a few little cuts will do the job.

You probably also want to cover the edges of your pie with tin foil (pain in the ass) or a nifty pie crust shield (usually costs only about $4.00). You’ll remove your foil or shield in the last 5 minutes of cooking so your edges can brown up. I neglected to cover my edges because I am Frazzle Brained Sally today, so mine are all dark. The pie’s still good, though!

Before you stick your pie in the oven, you could also give the top crust a LIGHT dusting of sugar. This will not only sweeten the crust, but make attractive sparkles. I normally do this, but see above re: Frazzle Brain Sally.

OK, time to bake. Stick your pie in the oven and bake it for about 55 minutes, or until the filling is oozing up out of the slits in the top crust. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Don’t cut into it while it’s warm! Let it cool and give the filling time to set up and do it’s filling best.

Once cool, you can wrap the pie in aluminum foil and freeze it, if you’re someone who likes to hoard pies against the threat of cold winter nights. Once you’re ready to eat, pop the frozen pie (minus the foil wrapping) in a 400°F (204°C) oven for 20 minutes. Let the pie cool for 30 minutes to 1 hour before eating.

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May 17 2008

Did someone say chocolate cake?

Published by under Recipes

I’ve tried to make chocolate cake from scratch only once before. It was a total flop – literally. There was a deep, uncooked valley in the middle of the cake, and the edges were pretty ugly to look at. Pockmarked would be the best way to describe the appearance. I decided that chocolate cake is meant to come out of a box and said “never again!”

That is, until today, when I wanted something chocolately and good, but had almost nothing in the house to work with. No baker’s chocolate, no cake mix, no candy bars, no chocolate chips. I did, however, have baking cocoa, so I dug out my recipe books to see what I could find.

This recipe actually comes off the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa box, with one exception: I used buttermilk instead of regular milk. I’d like to tell you it’s because of flavor, or acidity, or some pastry chef kind of reasoning, but the truth is that I had buttermilk and I didn’t have regular milk. I know! What kind of house is this?

Anyway, this cake is pretty easy. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Preheat your oven to 350°F (about 176°C) and find your favorite baking pan. I used a 13x9x2 because I no longer have two usable round pans (one was commandeered to catch leaks during an ill-fated plumbing project). I also am not terribly fond of making layer cakes. I sprayed my pan with Baker’s Joy, which is much easier than greasing and flouring, but if you are out of Baker’s Joy, then you must grease and flour your pans. I’m sorry.

Get your sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and combine them in a large mixing bowl. I just mixed it up with a spoon until it looked consistent, but if you wanted to sift it together, I’m not going to stop you. I just didn’t feel like being that fussy. I mixed the dry ingredients in the bowl for my stand mixer, because I don’t do hand mixing unless I have no choice.

Once your dry ingredients are blended, add in all the wet ingredients EXCEPT for the boiling water. Mix everything on medium speed for two minutes. Now would be a good time to boil some water, if you haven’t already. You know what would be good for that? An electric kettle. You know what I don’t have? An electric kettle. Someday.

Once the stuff in your mixing bowl is done, turn the speed down to low (or Stir, if your mixer has that setting) and slowly stir in the boiling water. This will make your batter pretty runny, but that’s what is supposed to happen, so have no fear. Keep it mixing until the consistency is. . . consistent. Then pour the batter into your pan(s). Make sure you scrape the bowl to get it all out!

Bake your rounds for 30-35 minutes, or bake a 13x9x2 pan for 40-45 minutes. Use the toothpick test to check for doneness (toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Remove from the oven and cool on racks. If you’re using rounds, cool on the racks for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans to cool completely on the racks. For the one-panners out there, just cool it in the pan on the rack.

Once the cake is completely cool, you can frost it with your favorite frosting. Sure, you COULD go out and buy pre-made frosting, but if you made the cake from scratch you might as well make the frosting from scratch as well, right?

Usually, I frost my cakes with some variation of buttercream, but as I mentioned, I didn’t have any milk. Or confectioner’s sugar, for that matter. That led me BACK to my cookbooks for a frosting recipe that only needed things I had on hand. I found a recipe for Seven-Minute Frosting, which fit the bill. I’d never heard of Seven-Minute Frosting before, and it needed to be cooked, but I figured what the hey. You only live once.

Do you know what Seven-Minute Frosting is? Marshmallow. Why does no one tell me these things? Not that marshmallow is bad, it’s just a little disconcerting to see the ingredients in your mixing bowl turn into a confection that you were not expecting. If I had made a yellow cake, this might have been a disaster, but chocolate and marshmallow? Sign me up.

To make Seven-Minute Frosting (aka marshmallow), you will need:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (or, 2 tsps. light colored corn syrup)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • a hand mixer
  • a double-boiler, or a pot and mixing bowl that fit together well enough that the bottom of the bowl will not touch the water in the pot when placed on top.

Start by putting your egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar (or corn syrup) in the mixing bowl (or top of your double-boiler). Mix on high speed with a hand mixer for 30 seconds. Then, place over boiling water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). Cook, beating constantly on high speed, for seven minutes or until stiff peaks form. Remember, stiff peaks wobble but they don’t fall down.

Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Beat for another 2 or 3 minutes or until it is think enough to spread. You’ll notice the mix getting nice and shiny, almost like satin. That’s when I got suspicious and stuck my finger in for a taste. Marshmallow!


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Apr 25 2008

Outback Bread.

Published by under Recipes

When The Man and I eat out, we usually go to Outback Steakhouse, because he has a jones for their bleu cheese dressing, and I have a jones for their Bushman Bread. The other day I went looking for a way to reproduce the bread at home and The Secret Recipe Archive showed me two different recipes. I tried one of them today. What I ended up with was a loaf that was similar to the ones served at Outback, but still a very good loaf of bread. If you’d like to play along at home, you’ll need:

  • 3 packets dry yeast (not quick rising, just plain old dry yeast)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 1 tbsp. salt (I use kosher salt)
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups all purpose flour
  • Some cornmeal, for dusting the loaves

To start, you’re going to “bloom” the yeast. Take 1/2 cup of warm (not hot, warm) water and put it into a small bowl. Slowly stir in all the yeast. I dumped it all in at once and ended up with a big yeast clump. Don’t be like me – go slowly. Once all the yeast is dissolved, add 1 tbsp. of sugar and let it sit for around five minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when it has a head on it like a glass of beer. This means the yeast is chowing down on the sugar and farting out gas. Yum! If your yeast isn’t farting, it’s possible your water temperature was not right. You’re aiming for around 90-100ºF (37ºC) for that water. Too hot, and you kill the yeast. Too cold, and they don’t wake up.

While the yeast is blooming, get a large bowl (or the bowl for your mixer, if you’re using a mixer) and put in the rye flour, molasses, salt, and oil. When the yeast/water mixture is ready, add that as well and stir to combine. Begin adding the AP flour slowly. Keep adding the AP flour until the dough is smooth and pliable, and not VERY sticky. I don’t think it’s possible to get this dough to be totally unsticky because of the major molasses content, but you want it as close as possible. I used around 2 3/4 cup flour.

At this point, I took the paddle attachment off my KitchenAid stand mixer and switched over to my bread hook for the kneading. If you’re doing this by hand, you’re going to knead for 4 minutes. If you’re using your mixer, you’re going to let that go on Low (with the hook attachment) for 4 minutes.

Once you’re done kneading, oil a large bowl, place the dough inside and flip it over so the oiled side is up. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put in a warm place (my oven has a Bread Rise setting, so I used that). Let it rise until it’s double. And just so you know, this dough is THICK and HEAVY, which means if you test it as you usually would (i.e. poke it with a finger to see if the mark stays), you’re going to notice that it feels as though you’re trying to get cement to rise. Don’t worry – that just means you have to eyeball it. Does it look like it’s doubled? If so, take it out. If not, give it another 1/2 hour and check it again. I let mine rise for 1 1/2 hours.

Once the first rise is done, punch the dough down. Don’t you love punching down dough? It’s almost as satisfying as popping bubble wrap. For those of you who have made bread before, the punch down may also feel a little weird. Not a soft collapsing of dough, per se, but more like giving the Heimlich maneuver. I got a very audible THBPT! when I did the first punch, which was pretty funny and made me laugh.

Now you need to decide what form your bread is going to take – you can put it in mini-loaf pans, or in a normal loaf pan, or freeform it, or whatever. I chose to form it into two round loaves, so that’s the instructions you’re getting. If you chose the smaller loaves, you’re probably going to want to shorten up the cooking time by 10 minutes or so. Someone who is wise in the ways of recipe adaptation can comment if they have a better idea.

OK – second rise time. Get your bread into your chosen receptacle, or form it up how you want. I divided mine and formed two roundish loaves, placed them on a greased cookie sheet, lightly dusted them with cornmeal, and popped them in my oven for a proofing. Which means: I placed a cookie sheet on the lowest rack and fill it with boiling water. Then I put my dough on the middle rack and shut the door. The recipes always say to cover your dough with a damp cloth for the second rise. I tried that once. Have you ever gotten raw bread dough on a cloth? It doesn’t unstick real easily. This way, you get the humidity and don’t have to tear a cloth off your dough. Anyway, let it rise again until it’s double. This time it shouldn’t take as long.

Once your dough is doubled, heat your oven to 375º (or 190.5ºC). Put your bread in and bake for 30 minutes (if you’re doing round loaves like I did) or until it sounds hollow when it’s tapped on.

I ate the bread with plain butter for the first serving, and I noticed a strong molasses undertone. Not unpleasant, but not exactly what I was going for. In order to attempt to cut the molasses taste, I made up a batch of sweet butter, like what you get at Outback. I just guessed on this, although it came out pretty darn good-tastin’:

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • about 1 tsp. of honey (or one squeeze, if your honey comes in a squeeze bottle)
  • about 1 tsp. of light brown sugar

Put it all in a small bowl and mix with your hand mixer. Or if you can’t find the machine part to your hand mixer (like I can’t), use your stand mixer. Sure it’s like using a steamroller where a hammer will do, but meh. Whipped sweet butter is worth it.

I think the bread is MUCH better with sweet butter. It is hearty, dense, a little crunchy on the outside, and filling. I recommend serving with stew, ribs, steak, or anything that has enough of its own flavor to stand up to the bread. Of course, eating it on its own is perfectly acceptable.

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Mar 10 2008

Essential equipment.

Published by under Equipment

Everyone knows that pots and pans are necessary if you’re going to do any cooking outside of the microwave or toaster oven, but what else should a kitchen have to make cooking easier and less of a chore?

Here are the things I need to run my kitchen the way I want: with a minimum of fuss.

Silicone cutting boards: I used to use a wooden chopping block. It couldn’t go in the dishwasher and was a haven for germs. Then it broke when I dropped it on the floor. My mother told me to buy these, and she was so right. They are inexpensive, durable, and can go in the dishwasher. Four for $10 US at Amazon.

Wüsthof Come Apart kitchen shears: I use them to trim meat, “chop” herbs (much easier than using a knife), open packages, and subdue unwary intruders. The blades come apart for washing so nasty bacteria can’t hide up in the joint. And there’s a built-in jar opener. $19.95 US at Amazon.

KitchenAid stand mixer: Do not mess with the KitchenAid stand mixer. It’s pricey, but if you bake with any regularity, it’s a great help. There are a ton of attachments you can buy, from a juicer to a grain mill or a sausage linker, but so far I’ve stuck with my whisk, paddle, and bread hook. The prices vary depending on what model and capacity you’re looking for, but it’s worth it to save and get one. Amazon sells some refurbished models if you’re looking for a deal.

Good knives: I have a Wüsthof paring knife that is great to work with. It beats my other paring knives all to pieces and calls them sissies. It’s so much easier doing prep if you have knives that work with you, not against you. At the very least, invest in a good quality 8 – 10″ chef’s knife. You can use it for all kinds of things. Wüsthof makes good knives, but they’re expensive. If you’re looking for something more affordable, check out OXO or KitchenAid.

Slow cooker: If you really hate to cook, or are no good at traditional cooking, get a slow cooker. You can buy a decent one for $20.00 US. Add your ingredients in the morning, turn it on, come back 8-10 hours later and eat. There are many recipes on the internet for slow cookers, and many books you can buy dedicated just to making meals using this appliance. It’s great for cooking tough (cheap) cuts of meat and turning them into a moist, juicy entree. I own a 5 quart Crock Pot with a removable, dishwasher-safe stoneware inside, which makes it easy for washing up. Pick up some slow-cooker liners at the grocery store and clean up is even easier – just pull out the bag and toss it.

And, of course, no kitchen is complete without a cat (or animal of your choice) who can sneak up while you’re at the stove, park directly behind your foot, and then yowl when you step on her tail as you’re taking a boiling pot of spaghetti to the sink for draining. Fate serves this function in our house. She is very interested in everything that goes on in the kitchen.

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