Friday, February 29, 2008

Going to New Heights

I am not comfortable with heights. I don't like standing near the edge of a gorge, tall building, or bridge. I really didn't like the Grand Canyon. So why, a reasonable person might ask, did I choose to go sky-diving? For two reasons. One, so my fear wouldn't control me, and, two, so that I could say I did it. No matter what else I chickened out on in life, I could hold my head high and say I'd jumped out of an airplane on purpose.

Joining the Daring Bakers is kind of like that. It pushes me beyond my comfort zone, makes me do things I might be ordinarily too cowed to try, and I only have to do it once and then the rest of my life I can say I did it.

This month's challenge was quite a high altitude jump. Breadchick Mary (The Sour Dough) & Sara (I Like to Cook) gave the recipe of the month - French bread from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It took 15 pages to print out. Yikes! I read it over and over as I baked, my brain straining, hoping that I was doing it all OK.

It took all day, but that's because of the long rise times that develop the flavor in the dough. There were some tricky steps, the most tricky for me being transferring my risen loaves to the hot oven onto the hot baking stone. When I was approaching that step I shrieked, "Ah, how am I supposed to get these into the oven without a baker's peel?"

My adorable and handy husband dashed down to his workshop in the garage, took a piece of wood, shaped it, planed the edge and had it up to me in about 5 minutes. What a guy!

Transferring the bread to the oven worked out well as a two person job. I then used a squirt bottle to spray mist into the oven and tossed a couple of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven. Thankfully they avoided the heating element (angel watching over me), but I think next time I'll put a shallow metal pan on the bottom rack to toss the ice cubes into.

I was so excited to watch the bread rise and crust up nicely. Honestly, it's better than TV, watching a happy loaf of bread bake!

Definitely the hardest part of the recipe was letting the baked loaves cool for 2 hours. I want them now! But it was worth the wait. I got to hear the crust crackling (which is bread's way of saying, "I'm yummy. You will love me!") as it cooled and then we all got to saw off slices, slather them with butter, and slide into bread heaven.

Now you might think I've put that gold star on my chart and moved on, but my husband said a few days later, "Do you think you could make that bread again? It was really good." Well how could I refuse my sweet, woodworking husband? So I made it again, only this time trying the longer loaves. Still fun, still good. And easier, now that I had more of an idea what I was doing and which part of the directions applied. I know I'll make this recipe again and again, because, like skydiving, the scariest part is just before you jump. Once you jump, it's a rush!

Since I'm too lazy to type in all 15 pages (do you blame me?), you can go here to find and print out the whole recipe. If you're up for a great challenge, take it on. I think you won't be disappointed! Plus, you can always say you've done it.

Check out what other Daring Bakers have done with this challenge at the Daring Baker's Blogroll.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Double Dog Dare

One of my favorite movies, A Christmas Story, has a scene on the playground in winter where an escalating series of dares leads to a boy touching his tongue to the metal flagpole. It stuck and the fire department had to come rescue him.

I'd never have fallen for that dare. I knew the outcome of sticking your tongue to cold metal because I'd already succumbed to a dare by one of my sisters to stick my tongue to the lid of a can of frozen orange juice concentrate. Yup, it sticks. I didn't need the fire department to rescue me, just a bit of warm water, but it was a wee bitty bit uncomfortable, all the same.

Since then, I've stayed away from dares. Dares are for suckers. Dares are for losers. Except when the challenge involves food. Not the "dare you to eat that" kind, but the "dare you to make that" variety.

Recently I was out with my lady friends for our monthly get together. This one was at a Tex-Mex type restaurant. One of my friends said we just had to try the chocolate chili pie. We all tried bites, savoring the flavors, rolling our eyes in enjoyment. Then my friend flung down the gauntlet, the double dog dare. "I bet you could make this." Ha, I will take that dare!

I changed the crust. We all agreed a regular pie crust didn't go well with the oozy chocolate. and I played around with a recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie, adding ancho chili. The result? Really good. I used a very dark chocolate so it's flavor is intensely chocolate. The amount of chili I used doesn't flavor it as much as add a bit of heat lingering on the tongue. When served warm or at room temperature it's oozy and gooey, but when you chill it it firms up to a more cheesecake-like texture. I recommend trying it both ways. With whipped cream. Maybe a couple of times, so you can nail down that elusive chili flavor.

Texissippi Mud Pie
adapted from The Great American Cookbook

Crumb crust:

4 oz chocolate wafer cookies, crushed
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 Tbsp butter, melted


1 cup unsalted butter
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup corn syrup
1-1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
whipped cream, for serving

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan. (You can use a 9-inch, but the pie will be thinner, and you'll need to decrease the cooking time.)

2- To make the filling, put the butter, chocolate, and corn syrup into a pan over low heat and stir until melted and blended. Let cool, then beat in the chili powder, eggs, and pecans.

3-While the chocolate mixture is cooling, put the chocolate wafers, pecans, sugar, and cinnamon into a food processor and process until fine crumbs form - do not overprocess to a powder. Add the melted butter and process again until moistened.

4- Tip the crumb mixture into the springform pan and press over the bottom and about 1-1/2 inches up the side of the pan. Cover the pan and chill until the filling is cooled.

5- Pour the filling into the chilled crumb crust and smooth the surface. Place the sprinform pan on a baking sheet and place that in the center of your pre-heated oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until just set but still soft in the center. Let cool on a cooling rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Top with generous blobs of whipped cream, plain or lightly sweetened.

Note- If you prefer sweeter desserts, you can use semisweet instead of bittersweet chocolate. Just be sure it's a good quality chocolate, since it's the premier flavor of this dessert. Plus, if you love the heat, you can increase the amount of chili powder.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Happy Blogday to Me

I recall one birthday party I had when I was about 5. The table was lined with little girls in their frilly dresses and I was at the head of the table, the seat of honor. My mother came in the door from the kitchen bearing the birthday cake with lighted candles. Everyone began to sing the birthday song. Including me. I probably sang the loudest - Happy Birthday to MEEEEEEEE. Well, it was my birthday, right?

My sister pulled me aside after the party and gave me a manners lesson. It wasn't polite for the birthday girl to sing, she said. The birthday girl should just smile politely while others wished her a happy birthday.

I'm a big girl now and I should know better, but I just don't care. I'm singing really loudly because today is my blog's first birthday. A year ago my family talked me into this and it's been so much fun, it's hard to believe a whole year has passed!

I was thinking of some of the ways having this blog has changed my life and here are some of them, in no particular order.

1- I no longer keep margarine in my house. Reading lots of cookbooks and other peoples food blogs has made me much more aware of what we eat. If I'm going to go to the trouble of making it from scratch, why not use the best ingredients possible? And if we're going to splurge the calories on something decadent, it had better be worth it!

2 - I know wonderful people from around the globe. I get to peek in the kitchens and the lives of kind, funny, extravagantly talented people from across the United States and around the world. What a network of baking buddies!

3- I've had an excuse to try new and challenging recipes. My first post, marshmallows, was something I'd wanted to make for years. The blog finally gave me a reason to try. Now I make marshmallows whenever my family wants. My food repertoire has grown so that what once seemed daunting is now no big deal.

4- My cookbook collection has expanded beyond reasonable boundaries. Time to enlarge the boundaries!

5- I'm learning (very slowly) a bit about photography. My daughter is patiently trying to help me take lovely pictures. She's so good at what she does that I feel entirely inadequate behind a camera, but she's a great encourager.

6- I seem to spend a lot of time and money hunting for ingredients. Demera sugar, Durum flour, and sea salt are thing you definitely would not have found in my kitchen pre-blogging days.

7- My husband spends a lot more time moaning about his weight.

Thanks for visiting and leaving comments. That's one of the best parts of the blog!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Life Pull-Aparts

My sister and I were recently talking, commiserating over the trials of life, and agreed that this wasn't the life we'd signed up for. In browsing through the catalog of life, I definitely don't remember circling this page! But, as stressed as I get at times, I wouldn't trade my life for the "perfect" one I thought I'd ordered. I love my family and the messy chaos that accompanies us. And if I could get into that glossy, picture perfect life, I suspect I'd find it...boring.

Somedays baking mirrors life. I start out to make one delicious thing, hit a frustrating brick wall, take a turn, and end up with something totally different, but also delicious.

When Peabody and Helen announced their doughnut challenge, I immediately thought of raspberry filled doughnuts. They are my all-time favorite doughnut and I'd never made them before. I looked at recipe after recipe and found the perfect one in In The Sweet Kitchen. Strawberry-Filled Brioche Doughnuts. Mmmmm. Substitute raspberry for strawberry and it sounded like doughnut perfection. Since Peabody had earlier helped me overcome my fear of brioche, I plunged into this recipe confidently.

It yielded a silky-smooth dough and I was salivating as I cut out round of brioche, spooned jam onto the rounds, and pinched them closed to form perfect little brioche jam balls, ready to rise and fry.

I covered my tray of rising dough with a towel, placed it in a gently warm oven to rise, eagerly anticipating the wonderful doughnuts they'd make. At the end of the rising time, I pulled out the tray, expecting to see puffy balls of doughnut goodness.
Heavens! What had happened? Instead of seeing contented doughnuts, ready to take a dip in the fryer, I was looking at a crime scene! CSI Kitchen, with the little dough corpses sprawled all over the pan, spewing their raspberry guts all over each other.

I may not be the sharpest knife in the block, but even I knew that to try and fry these massacre victims could only mean black smoke and curses. So I scraped the whole thing into a buttered 9x13 pan, sprinkled it with vanilla sugar, and baked it. When I took it out of the oven, the top was browned and inside was all moist, buttery, jammy goodness. I don't think frying would have improved these a bit. I was embarrassed at how quickly we gobbled up the whole pan. Since the brioche dough is made the night before, you can easily put this together for a breakfast or brunch.

It might not be what I signed up for, and I did have to make more doughnuts for the challenge (oh, darn), but these were even better than what I'd hoped for.

Raspberry Brioche Pull-Aparts
adapted from In The Sweet Kitchen

Brioche dough - makes 2 loaves or 2 pans of pull-aparts, or 1 of each

2 pkgs (about 5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 cup warm (105 to 115 deg. F) whole milk
1-1/2 tsp granulated sugar, to activate yeast
5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt, preferably sea salt or kosher salt
6 Tbsp granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups fresh unsalted butter, never frozen, at room temperature but not overly soft (this is a good time to pull out the really good butter!)
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 Tbsp milk, for glaze on loaves
Raspberry jam
Vanilla sugar or plain granulated sugar for dusting the pull-aparts

1- In a large bowl with a mixer sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk. Stir in the 1-1/2 tsp of sugar and let the yeast proof for 5 to 7 minutes, until foamy and bubbling. Add 1 cup flour and the salt, beating with the paddle attachment (or with a wooden spoon, if working by hand) to make a soft, smooth batter, about 5 minutes.

2- Beat in the remaining 4-1/2 cups flour and the 6 Tbps sugar in three additions, beating in 2 eggs after each addition of flour. Mix well between additions, making sure you scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat until a smooth, soft and elastic dough is formed, about 10 minutes with the dough hook attachment, or 20 to 25 minutes by hand. Doing it by hand is great stress therapy. Slap the dough onto the counter, then with the heel of one hand push it through the middle into the counter. With the other hand, fold the far side of the blob towards you, over onto itself, and rotate the dough about 90 degrees. Repeat this pushing, folding and rotating cycle several times, then give the dough another good hard slap onto the counter. (Don't add an extra flour at this point, even if the dough feels sticky; just use a dough scraper to gather the dough off the work surface. As the dough becomes more elastic, it will lose its gumminess and become smooth.) Do a stretch test: pinch some of the dough and pull it upwards. When the dough is ready, it should feel springy and elastic.

3- If you have removed your dough from the stand mixer, return it to a clean mixer bowl. If you're preparing the dough entirely by hand, you may find the next step easier in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Knead or beat the butter into the dough in small portions, fully incorporating each addition before adding the next. This process is definitely easier with a dough hook, but it is not impossible by hand. Squeeze the first few additions of butter through the dough, kneading until it is absorbed, then use a wooden spoon to beat in the remaining additions to prevent the dough from getting greasy and slippery, a sign that the butter is melting and not getting properly incorporated. The butter should be malleable, but not overly soft, and the dough should not get too warm during this process.

4- When the last of the butter has been beatin in, continue beating the dough until it is very smooth, glossy, and elastic, about 5 minutes with the dough hook, or 10 minutes by hand. The dough should now have reached the stage where it comes aaway from the sides of the bowl in a smooth entity, or should neatly rool on the counter, no longer sticky or tacky. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly buttered bowl and cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap. Leave to rise at warm room temperature, away from any drafts (75 deg. F is perfect), until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/4 to 2 hours.

5 - Punch the dough down and lip it over, deflating it completely. The buttery side should now be facing up. Cover again with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Punch the dough down, flip it once more, cover the bowl with plastic and weigh it down with a plate (I had 3 plates on mine, to be on the safe side). You don't want the dough to escape and try to take over your refrigerator. It's a pain to clean up and a waste of good butter!

Return the bowl to the coldest part of your refrigerator and leave there overnight. If the dough is left longer than 8 hours, check periodically to make sure it has not risen above the bowl; gently punch it down as necessary. The broche dough may be frozen at this point, wrapped very securely. Allow the dough to thaw in the refrigerator for 4 to 7 hours, then proceed with the shaping, final rising and baking.

6- Several hours before you plan to bake the brioche, remove the dough from the refrigerator, punch it down and turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface. Invert the bowl over the dough and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

7 - Divide the dough in half, setting aside one half and covering it loosely with plastic wrap. This will either be a loaf or another pan of pull-aparts. Gently roll out the dough 1/2 to a rough rectangle, 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Be kind to the dough, and patient. If it seems to be resisting the rolling, don't force or stretch it, but cover it with a piece of plastic wrap and let it relax for a few minutes.

8- Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside. Using a 3 to 4 -inch round biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut the dough into rounds. Place a teaspoonful of the jam into the center of each round. Dip your finger into a little water and moisten the rim of dough around the filling, then pinch the edges together like a dumpling or a turnover to form a good seal. Place the dough rolls into the baking pan and cover it with plastic wrap and let them rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 minutes.

9- Repeat the process with the other 1/2 of the dough, or make a loaf.

10 - Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. Take the plastic off the pan and sprinkle vanilla sugar over the top of the dough rolls. Bake for about 30 minutes, or till the top is golden brown.

11- Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Warm, they are moist, gooshy, and heavenly. As they cool they will become firmer and less delicate, but still wonderful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Baking League Of My Own

I come from the land of deep powder and I don't ski. I learned as a child, but I never enjoyed it. All of my skiing memories are ones of discomfort and fear, so when I reached the age when it was my choice rather than my parents', I said no. And no it stayed until I was a senior in high school.

My best friend persuaded me to go skiing with her. This was a bad idea on several counts. One being that I'm a really bad, cowardly skier. Two being that, despite her protests to the contrary, I was fairly certain that she was quite a good skier. And three being that she was drop dead gorgeous. It was difficult going anywhere in public with her.

Despite my huge misgivings, we went skiing. She promised me a super simple run. I should have known it was trouble when it was a chair lift with a transfer. When we unloaded I was in deep trouble. If not for my friend, I would have stayed on the chair lift and ridden it back down the mountain.

She stayed with me for a few easy, gentle runs, waiting for me at the bottom of each slope. Each time I caught up with her, there would be at least one handsome man trying to make her acquaintance. I think the idea was dawning in her mind that I had not exaggerated my lack of skiing ability and this was going to be a very tedious day. So on the next slope she skied merrily away and disappeared over the edge.

If I had a soundtrack to my life, this would be the part where the ominous music played. I cautiously approached the edge, looked over, and saw, Holy Freaking Cow!, moguls! Big moguls! Guess what, bunny slope snow plow turns don't work well on moguls. I did my best for the top quarter of the slope, then fell and slid to the middle of the slope, one ski off and my poles completely beyond reach. I sat crying, inching my way over to get my ski and poles, doing my best to avoid flying mogul pounders, and I looked around to find my friend.

I saw her. At the bottom of the run, surrounded by tall handsome men. They'd all gone flying by me as I sat snow-covered and distressed, but surrounded my friend because she looked worried. Hmmmph. Sometimes that's the way life is when you're out of your league.

Recently I got a note from the fabulous Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups. She asked me if I'd be interested to join a group of bakers exploring bread making. Letmethink-yes! But I was worried that I was out of my league. All the other bakers are fabulous! But sometimes, to improve, you've got to run with the big dogs. Or bake with the Babes. The Bread Baking Babes that is. So I joined and am trying to keep up as we boldly explore the world of bread and, specifically this month, the Royal Crown Tortano.

This is a very different bread from the kind I normally make. It has barely any yeast, has a dough as wet as glue and a really slow rise time, bakes to almost black in the oven, and is supposed to have pockety holes in the bread. I felt good about the pre-ferment. In the morning it was all bubbly, just like it was supposed to be, but after the folding stage I kept waiting for the dough to expand and it just sat there.

Having never made this dough before I had no idea of what it was supposed to feel like. Bread making is very tactile and written instructions are helpful, but not as good as experience. I formed my ring, set it to rise, did the complicated transfer to the oven, and watched it get darker and darker, but never much taller at all.

It had quite a crust, but was a tad on the gummy side inside. Fortunately for me, my family loves dipping bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and didn't complain a bit about the texture.

Now, I was out of my comfort zone (and out of my league) making this bread. But the other bakers didn't sit on the sidelines and fire snide comments about my oddly flat bread. They had helpful suggestions about what might have caused the problem and gave me enough confidence to try making the bread again. I think, in the main, my kitchen is too chilly to make the yeasties happy, and when I made the rising dough a little warmer, it performed better.

I never went skiing with my friend again, but I will definitely be baking with this great group again!

BBB logo feb 2008

Check out their successes with the Crown here:

A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn), I Like to Cook (Sara), Living on Bread and Water (Monique), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Nami-Nami (Pille), Notitie van Lien (Lien), The Sour Dough (Mary aka Breadchick), and What Did You Eat (Sher)

If you'd like to be a Bread Baking Fan and try your hand at this fun and challenging bread, make it, blog it, and send a link to There will be a roundup of all the Bake-Alongs next week.

Royal Crown's Tortano
(from Artisan Baking Across Americao by Maggie Glazer)

Recipe Quantity: One (1) 2 1/4lb (1200 gram) tortano

Time Required for Recipe: About 19 hours, with about 20 minutes of active work

Note about recipe: You will need to start this recipe the night BEFORE you want to bake the bread.

This is the most beautiful bread Royal Crown makes, a huge round loaf filled with radish size air cells, tanks to careful handling and lots of water in teh dough. Joe adds potato for flavor and moistness and honey for color to this very wet, squichy dough. For extra flavor, the bread is leavened solely by its starter, so it rises very slowly and develops a nice but not aggressive acidity. To get authentic Italian flavor, you will need to bake this bread to a deep, dark brown so don't skimp on the baking time - the bread will not burn.

Recipe Synopsis

The Evening Before Baking: Make the starter and if you like the mashed potato.

The Next Morning: Mix the dough and let it ferment for about 4 hours. Shape it, proof it for about 1 1/2 hours, and then bake the bread for about 45 minutes.

The Evening Before Baking: Making the Pre-Ferment:

Ingredients Volume (English units)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
2/3 cup unbleached bread flour
1 small potato

Ingredients Weight
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
3.5 ounces unbleached bread flour
3 ounce small potato

Ingredients Metric
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
100 grams unbleached bread flour
85 grams small potato

Ingredients Baker's Percentages
eventually 0.3% instant yeast
eventually 73% water 105 - 115 degrees F
100% unbleached bread flour
1 small potato

Stir the yeast into the water in a glass measure and let it stand for 5 - 10 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of this yeasted water (discard the rest) to the flour and beat this very sticky starter until it is well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment until it is full of huge bubbles and sharp tasting, about 12 hours. If your kitchen is very warm and the pre-ferment is fermenting very quickly, place it in the refrigerator after 3 hours of fermenting. In the morning, remove it and allow it to come to room temperature 30 minutes to an hour before beginning the final dough

Preparing the Potato: For efficiency, you may want to prepare the potato the night before. Quarter it, then boil it in water to cover until it can be easily pierced with a knife tip, about 20 minutes. Drain; if desired, reserve the water for the dough. Press the potato through a ricer or sieve to puree it and remove the skin. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator. You will need only 1/4 cup puree.

Bake Day: Mixing the Dough

Ingredients Volume (English units)
3 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 cups plus 3 Tbsp Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
2 tsp honey
1/4 cup packed Potato puree
1 Tbsp salt

Ingredients Weight
20 ounces unbleached bread flour
14.6 ounces Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
0.4 ounces honey
2 ounces Potato puree
0.5 ounces salt

Ingredients Metric
575 grams unbleached bread flour
420 grams Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
14 grams honey
60 grams Potato puree
15 grams salt

Ingredients Baker's Percentages
100% unbleached bread flour
73% Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
30% Pre-ferment
2% honey
10% Potato puree
2.4% salt

By Hand: Use your hands to mnix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in a large bowl. Cover the dough and let rest (autolyse) for 10 - 20 minutes.

Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato, and salt, and knead the dough until it is smooth, 5 - 10 minutes. It will start off feeling rubbery, then break down into goo; if you persist, eventually it will come together into a smooth, shiny dough. If you do not have the skill or time to knead it to smoothness, the bread will not suffer. This is a tremendously wet and sticky dough, so use a dough scraper to help you but do not add more flour, for it will ruin the texture of the bread.

By Stand Mixer: With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in the work bowl of your mixer. Cover the dough and let it rest (autolyse) for 10 - 20 minutes.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato and salt and the mix the dough on medium speed for 15 - 20 minutes, or until very silky and wraps around the hook and cleans the bowl before splaterring back around the bowl. This dough is almost pourably wet.

Fermenting and Turning the Dough:

Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in flour. Place it in a container at least 3 times its size and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until doubled in bulk and filled with large air bubbles, about 4 hours. Using plenty of dusting flour, turn the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals, that is, after 20, 40, 60, and 80 minutes of fermenting, the leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time. Do not allow this dough to over ferment or forment to the point of collapse, for the flavor and structure of your bread will suffer.

Shaping and Proofing the Dough:

Turn the fermented dough out onto a well floured work surface, round it and let it rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle a couche or wooden board generously with flour. Slip a baking sheet under the couche if you are using one for support.

Sprinkle a generous amount of flour over the center of the ball. Push your fingers into the center to make a hole, the rotate your hand around the hole to widen it, making a large 4 inch opening. The bread should have about 12 inch diameter.

Place the dough smooth side down on the floured couche or board and dust the surface with more flour. Drape it with plastic wrap and let it proof until it is light and slowly springs back when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheating the Oven:

Immediately after shaping the bread, arrange a rack on the oven's second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all the racks above the one being used. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (230 C)

Baking the Bread:

Unwrap the bread and flip it onto a floured peel or a sheet of parchment paper. Do not worry about damaging the bread as you handle it; it will recover int eh oven as long as it is not overproofed. Slash it with 4 radial cuts in the shape of a cross. Slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and bake until it is very dark brown, 40 -50 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake. Let the bread cool on a rack.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Letters

My daughter and her fiancee have survived a long distance relationship via technology. For four years he's been at a college on the other side of the state, a 5 hour drive. They've had summer's together and been able to visit each other for the occasional long weekend, but mainly it's been romance by IM and cell phone. Hooray for unlimited mobile to mobile minutes!

Daily chatting on the cell phone keeps them connected, but I worry that she won't have a stack of love letters. Sadly, love letters seem to be a fatality of the information super-highway. A stack of fragile, crackly letters, tied with a satin ribbon, smelling faintly of an old perfume, stored in the lingerie drawer. So old fashioned, but so romantic.

This cocktail came from Demolition Desserts. It is Elizabeth Faulkner's love letter to Pierre Herme. It's delightfully different, heady with the fragrance of roses, and a perfect way to show your romantic side to your someone special.

Love Letter
adapted from Demolition Desserts by Elizabeth Faulkner

1/4 cup (2 oz) raspberry juice
1 Tbsp (1/2 oz) Cointreau
1/4 cup (2 oz) white rum, such as 10 Cane brand
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp rose water
Ice cubes
2 to 4 organic rose petals, preferably red

(You can use bottled raspberry juice or make it from concentrate.)

Chill 2 cocktail glasses in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the raspberry juice, Cointreau, rum, lime, juice, and rose water. Fill the shaker with ice, cover, and shake.

Half fill the chilled glasses with ice and strain the cocktail into the glasses. Float 1 or 2 rose petals on top of each drink and serve immediately.

(Sarah reassures me that she has a whole box full of love letters from her sweetie. Yeah!)

*You might have come here looking for a decadent, chocolate Valentine's special. In the words of Ogden Nash, candy's dandy, but liquor's quicker! Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Hole in One

I first made these doughnuts many years ago when my Taste of Home magazine arrived in the mail. Having never made doughnuts before I had no idea how many doughnuts the recipe made, or how difficult it is to cut, fry, and glaze doughnuts all by yourself. What started as my idea of fun quickly turned into a full family affair, everyone with their own job. The doughnuts kept coming, like a Homer Price story come to life. Faced with a table overflowing with doughnuts, we called in reinforcements. My teenaged son's friend from down the block came to help us eat them. Nothing's better for tackling a mountain of doughnuts than teenaged boy appetites!

That experience put me off doughnut making for quite a while, but when Peabody and Helen announced their Time to Make Doughnuts event, I pulled out my trusty Spudnut recipe and went to work. This time I halved the recipe for a much more manageable amount and my husband was on cut and glaze duty while I fried.

I've had a fear of frying in the past because of trouble controlling the temperature. This time I used an electric skillet my mother-in-law gave me and it worked beautifully. Each of the doughnuts turned out light, fluffy, and moist. They were so good it was hard not to snork the whole batch!

adapted from Taste of Home

1/2 lb russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 pkg active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm milk (110 to 115 deg. F)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Oil for deep-fat frying
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook until tender. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid; cool to 110 - 115 deg. F. Discard remaining cooking liquid (or save it to make bread). Mash potatoes without milk or butter.

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in reserved cooking liquid. Add mashed potatoes, milk, oil, sugar, eggs, and salt. Add enough flour to form a soft dough. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down; let rise again until doubled, about 20 minutes. Roll out on a floured surface to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 3-inch doughnut cutter.

In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 375 deg. Fry doughnuts, a few at a time, until golden brown. For glaze, combine confectioners' sugar, water and vanilla in a bowl. Dip warm doughnuts in glaze. Cool on wire racks.

Yield: 2 dozen, but feel free to double the recipe to feed a crowd

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Secret Kiss

You always remember your first kiss. Good, bad, or embarrassing, you always remember it.

My first kiss was arranged. By my sister. When I was in jr. high, she was dating a guy who had a younger brother my age. Together they thought up the brilliant plan of setting us up. I was amenable to the plan. The guy was cute, I'd never been on a date, and since I'd be with my sister, my mother OK'd the plan.

After the date was all set, my sister informed me that I was supposed to kiss the guy at the door. This prospect was both exciting and terrifying. I'd never kissed anyone outside of my family. What if I did it wrong? What if my mother found out?

The four of us went out for pizza. I said hardly a word, the prospect of the big "K" looming like a giant cloud over the dinner table. Walking home, I could barely think of a thing to say, sneaking sideways glances at his lips. My sister and her date contrived to lag a bit behind us to give us time alone. We got to the doorstep and I said goodnight, waited a few beats, and then he made his move and planted a slightly moist kiss on me, milliseconds before the front door was jerked open by my mother.

I hurried inside, heart pumping. My first kiss! Had my mother seen? Had she been watching for us? Would he ask me out again?

Like a rose without water my hopes of romance curled up and died. Oh, he came around again. To see my sister. He spent the whole rest of the summer following her around like a puppy dog. Sigh. So much for true love at first kiss.

If there's someone in your life you've been wanting to give a kiss to, you could test the waters with a secret kiss. In a cookie, that is. Bake something sweet for your sweetie and see where it leads. Hopefully to something beautiful. Just don't ask your sister to drop off the cookies.

Secret Kiss Cookies
adapted from a Hershey recipe

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-3/34 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 6-oz bag Hershey Kisses, unwrapped
Powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flour and walnuts; beat on low speed of electric mixer until well blended. Cover; refrigerate dough 1 to 2 hours or until firm enough to handle.

Heat oven to 375 deg. F. Using approximately 1 Tbsp of dough for each cookie, shape dough around each Kiss; roll to make ball. Be sure to cover the chocolate completely. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set but not brown. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

While still slightly warm, roll in powdered sugar. Cool completely. Store in tightly covered container. You can roll them again in powdered sugar again just before serving.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

This Post is Brought to You By the Letter "S"

When my husband and I were blessed with our first child we did not have an easy time coming up with a name. We didn't know if it was going to be a boy or girl, so we had to be prepared in either case. We had no problem coming up with girl names. The hard part there was whittling down the list to the one we liked the best. But we just couldn't come up with a boy name. Every name I put forth my husband would shoot down with a "No, I knew a boy named that who was a huge bully." Every name he picked I'd dismiss with a "Oh, no, I grew up with a boy named that who picked his nose and ate the boogers." Or something along those lines.

I went into labor two weeks before my due date so we were caught off guard, still unprepared with a boy's name. So between contractions we discussed possibilities. My husband tossed out a name. "Fine," I said, breathing slowly and evenly. I was in no mood to have an argument about names. So, when my son was born we were ready with a name. Which happened to start with an "S".

When child #2 came along I was sure it was a girl. So sure, in fact, that I didn't even pick out a boy's name. I wanted to name her after one of my childhood best friends. Thankfully, yes, she's a girl (it would have been an awkward name for a boy), and she, too has an "S" name.

Several years later, bundle of joy #3 was on the way. I was happily compiling a list of beautiful girl names (I knew this time) when my kids said, "No, you can't name her that. She's got to have an "S" name, too, or she'll feel like she doesn't belong!" I think pregnancy hormones damage the brain because this seemed like sound logic to me, so we picked out a lovely "S" name for her.

And when the youngest came, it was a foregone conclusion that this one, too had to be an "S".

What was I thinking? When I am irritated about a chore left undone or a pile toys in the middle of the floor, I start to holler for the child responsible, my brain pulls out the mental file labelled "Annoying child, alphabetized" and I have to run through all their names, sometimes combining the names, sounding like an epileptic snake. When I'm really enraged (library book 2 years overdue that I swore to the librarian I'd returned, found under the bed in a treasure trove of dust bunnies, single socks and missing toy parts) all that comes out is a hiss, like a teakettle about to pop it's top.

But on the plus side, for the beginning reader, "S" is easy to recognize, doesn't get confused with any other letter, has only one possible sound, and is simple to make out of playdough. My youngest thinks anything with an "S" is for him. That's his name letter, after all.

I've had a recipe for Lucia buns bookmarked for years. They are a traditional Swedish bun, made for the Queen of Light Festival (December 13th), marking the beginning of the Christmas festivities. And the traditional shape for these buns is an "S". My son named them "S" cookies and thought the whole batch was for him.

I've never baked with cardamom before and had no idea what it was like. I opened a brand new jar and sniffed. Whew! It smells like a pine forest. Was I going to be making pine needle buns? But I was pleased with how the spice mellowed in the buns into a subtle, unique taste. They were delicious and didn't last long. My husband particularly liked them with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Swedish Lucia Buns
- adapted from Betty Crocker's International Cookbook

2 pkgs active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 deg F)
2/3 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
1 tsp grated orange peel
5 to 5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
Softened butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp sugar

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 2 eggs, the cardamom, salt, orange peel and 3 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The dough is ready if you poke your finger in to the first knuckle and the indentation remains.

If your raisins are not plump and soft, place them in a bowl and cover them with very hot water. Soak for about 10 minutes, then drain them set on a towel to dry off. This will prevent them from scorching in the oven.

Punch dough down; divide into 4 equal parts. Cut each part into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth rope, 10 to 12 inches long. Shape each rope into a "S"; curve both ends into a coil. Place a raisin in the center of each coil. Place on greased baking sheets. Brush tops lightly with softened butter (I forgot this step); let rise until doubled, 35 to 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 deg. F. Mix 1 egg and 1 Tbsp water; brush buns lightly with egg mixture. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Monday, February 4, 2008


I've figured out how to make my fortune. It's a simple product with a broad base of people that need it. I haven't figured out all the fiddly details yet, but you will see my face on the cover of Fortune magazine as the inventor of The Cookbook Patch. Actually, I'm not the inventor. The lovely and brilliant Melinda thought it up, but I will shamelessly rip off her idea, make a fortune and then take her and her husband with us to Tahiti.

What is The Cookbook Patch, you might ask? Simple. It's a pocket-sized cookbook that you can strap onto your forearm. When you are in a bookstore and you reach out to pick up a new cookbook, the patch is there to remind you that you have far more cookbooks than you already need. In fact, you can personalize your patch cookbook to include all the recipes you have bookmarked in your cookbooks at home that you have never made. You could even include a speech module that has a recording of yourself or family member saying, "For heaven's sake- what do you need another one for? We don't even have room for all the cookbooks you already own!"

As you can see, this is sheer genius. I will provide a link at the end of the post to order your own copy. Think of it as an investment.

I mention the cookbook patch because I recently came home from the library with yet another armload of cookbooks. I like to tell myself that borrowing them from the library is better because then I will return them and they won't live in my home, fighting for shelf space with the other cookbooks. But then I fall in love with them, the title sneaks onto my Amazon wish list, and then Poof!, somehow they seem to magically appear in my house at birthday, Christmas, anniversary, and other notable times.

Included in my recent stack is Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts. It's a truly fun cookbook. Filled with seriously good information, it's presented in such a playful way (including anime drawings) that I can tell this woman is a kick in the pants. She takes favorite desserts, deconstructs them, and puts the flavors and ingredients together again in unexpected ways.

Although there are a ton of dessert recipes, one of the first I made from this cookbook was just hot chocolate. But not just hot chocolate. This is a chocoholic's hot chocolate. I wish my pictures could show you how delicious it is. Deep, chocolatey, rich, with vanilla bean and cream. I swoon just thinking about it! This is a hot chocolate to sip and savor with someone special. And if you want it to be a little more adult, you can put a shot of brandy or whiskey in it.

Strong Hot Chocolate

adapted from Demolition Desserts

1-1/2 cups (12 oz) whole milk
1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
2 Tbsp (about 1/4 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dagoba Organic)
2 Tbsp (1 oz) firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, preferably 70% cacao, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
a few grains of fleur de sel
8 homemade marshmallows or whipped cream

Combine the milk and cream in a 1-quart saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and, with the tip of the knife, scrape the seeds into the saucepan and then add the pod. Whisk in the cocoa powder and brown sugar, place over medium heat, and whisk the mixture for 5 to 7 minutes, or until it is frothy and simmering.

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Remove the vanilla pod from the hot milk mixture (it can be rinsed and saved to make vanilla sugar). Pour the mixture over the chocolate. Add the salt (not more than 3 grains) and whisk until the hot chocolate is smooth.

Divide the hot chocolate among 4 cups, top each cup with 2 marshmallows or a dollop of whipped cream, and serve. Or, allow the chocolate to cool completely; then cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat gently just before serving.