15 Dec

The Year in Sugar and Gluten

Time for the ritualistic year-end baking review!

I’ve been doing keto on and off this year, so the volume of new and exciting baked goods is less than it could have been. (For the record, nothing “substituted” for baked goods traditionally prepared with wheat flour and cane sugar is in any way an adequate substitute. If you’re really desperate, you might be able to find a half-assed brownie, but it’s less depressing, ultimately, to either accept bread and dessert are off limits or have an occasional dietary indiscretion and eat something that actually tastes good.)

I already mentioned the croissants here and English muffins here, both from The Model Bakery Cookbook. After making croissants, I am fearless in the kitchen. People were stunned when I made bagels. Dude, I have made CROISSANTS. Bagels are child’s play.

The povitica (swirly bread with, in this case, apple filling) was delicious but more cakey in texture than I think it should have been. (Not that I’ve had it from another source, but when I’ve seen it on TV, it looks like a glutinous, stretchy bread dough, which this recipe didn’t produce.) Next time, I’ll try it with the doughnut dough I use for cinnamon rolls and see if I can get closer to what I imagine.

I got a picture of only one beignet (that trusty doughnut dough again) because people will repeatedly burn their fingers snatching up dough fresh from the fryer. I’m not wasting any more time making round doughnuts with holes in the middle, which get squished and misshapen with handling (say, for instance, getting them into the oil). Squares are much lower maintenance, and people think they’re super exotic because they’re French. Anything that’s better received when it’s easier is a win-win.

I keep meaning to make the cheese coffee cake with doughnut dough, too. (I should just use that dough for everything. It’s amazing.) I suppose then it would be more of a danish? Whatever you want to call it, tender, chewy dough stuffed with sweet cream cheese and covered with sweet, buttery crumble can’t be bad. The coffee cake is pretty boss as it is, but coffee cake tends to be on the dry side, and how is that not a design flaw begging for improvement?

Although rye flour technically makes it rye bread, the taste is all caraway. I bought a coffee grinder solely for caraway seeds so I can get my fix. (The smell never goes away, so don’t try grinding coffee or cinnamon after it unless you’re going for a… unique flavor experience.) While I’m used to dense commercial rye bread, my homemade loaves are soft and fluffy, so it doesn’t seem “right” to me, but man, is it tasty with salami and cheap yellow mustard, or lightly toasted and heavily buttered.

The jasmine green tea ice cream was the biggest failure (other than the no-wheat-no-sugar-cane desserts, which were universally crappy and don’t bear mentioning). I love jasmine green tea and can imagine how it should taste in ice cream, but that particular recipe was overwhelmingly strong and abused the tea with too-hot liquid that gave it a sour note. (I had reservations on both counts before I followed the directions, but I have this dumb habit of saying, “No, no, I’m sure this person knows what they’re doing. I should just follow their recipe.” One day, I will learn to trust my own experience, knowledge, and instincts.) If I make it again, I’ll use half the tea leaves and let the boiled cream cool to the correct green tea temperature before steeping.

I bought The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes when it was on sale earlier this month. That’s right, THREE HUNDRED BREADS. I can make a different bread six days a week for almost an entire year if it pleases me (and it would, but consuming that much bread on a daily basis would be problematic). The Cinnamon Raisin Bagels and Orange Swirl Bread (which deserves to be made six times a week for a year all by itself because OH. MY. GOD—it will be reshaped into rolls and smothered with cream cheese icing soon in order to evolve into its final form) came from there. I’m reading it like it’s a novel because bread is my love language.

I don’t want to dwell on anything else that happened in 2017 (put a stake in its heart, chop off its head, set it on fire, and salt the ashes), but the baking retrospective makes me feel good for a few minutes. Even the disappointments are learning experiences, and failures are never of sufficient magnitude to be discouraging. Life would be magical if every experience was so forgiving.


03 Dec

My New Baby

Ordinarily, I would bore social media with this, but… ha!

While I was losing hair over that fustercluck yesterday (which is ongoing, I see by the absence of the Facebook feed in my widgets…), I received a timely gift from myself.

A pasta roller! Blue to match my stand mixer! (I use “match” loosely. My KitchenAid is in storage because I’m displaced, so I can’t compare. If they clash, I’ll separate them when I get my own kitchen.)

To soothe my nerves, I meditated on pasta late into the night. Since my previous attempt at pasta (I tried rolling it with a rolling pin, which I don’t recommend — you think it’s thin enough, but you’re wrong) was plain, I stepped up my game with spinach this time.

Improvised recipe: 100 g all-purpose flour, 100 g “premium pasta blend” (“golden semolina and extra fancy durum” — don’t I feel posh), 100 g of fresh spinach (wilt it in a pan with a tablespoon of water, cool, and wring as dry as possible), and 2 eggs. Whiz the drained spinach and eggs in a blender or food processor. Mix the liquid into the flour. (I did it by hand, but you can probably do it in a food processor.) I had to add a few drops of water to bring everything together because I took wringing out my spinach VERY SERIOUSLY. Knead it until smooth and nonsticky (as the pasta roller manual says, “Good pasta dough never sticks!”). Divide it in two, wrap, and rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Roll, cut, cook, and use as desired.

These little noodles (“tagliolini,” according to the blade manufacturer) are straight up ramen. Thin and tangly and springy. This was half the dough (100 g of flour and 1 egg, for those keeping track) and made what I consider four main-dish servings after adding some mushrooms, frozen spinach, cream, parm, and chicken. Every other recipe I looked at was like “500 g of flour, 5 eggs, serves 6” (five times the noodles in that picture serves six?!), so I’m mentally calculating what other people consider a serving and getting peeved that I’m chubby. Maybe I’ll try the Trough of Pasta Diet for the New Year.

The fettucine is… well, fettucine. I bagged that up and put it in the freezer because even the tiny batch of dough I made resulted in an enormous amount of pasta. As in, I was STARTLED to find the second lump of dough still on the counter after I rolled out the ramen.

While I was doing my pasta meditation, I was thinking about how inconsistent my level of fussiness is. Someone gave me a teapot — not a kettle that you heat the water in, but a pot you pour already-hot water into and let the tea steep, and then pour the finished tea into a cup. It’s adorable, but I will never use it because that whole middle step seems like such a huge waste of time and effort when I can just steep tea right my cup. But I have no problem winging a pasta recipe, making dough, spending an hour cranking it out, and making a huge mess of the kitchen that I then have to clean while dried and even “fresh” pastas are readily available at the store, mess-free, simply dump in the pot and go. I was trying to pin down my tolerance, and every example of I WILL DO ALL OF THE FUSS seemed to be dough-related.

The only logical conclusion is that I am the secret shame of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

14 Jun


I’m working on the revision of the first chapter of New Book. Chapter One being the root of all evil/virtue makes it a particularly challenging puzzle, and staring at the words while debating overlong whether I’ve said too much or too little or skimped on setting or misplaced a hook or done some other disastrous thing that will cause the rest of the book to dissolve into a puddle of bubbling slime can be just a teensy bit demoralizing.

Bread always helps. Bread is always the answer. Bread is a steadfast friend in the darkest hour.

Today’s bread buddy takes the form of a dozen chewy homemade English muffins from The Model Bakery Cookbook (which also brought us Croissants, Y’all!) Mine aren’t anywhere near as pretty as theirs, but all dough fried in clarified butter is beautiful in its own special way. And now that I’m familiar with biga, I whipped up another batch to add to pizza dough for tonight’s dinner.

Morning-After Update: These make amazing English muffin pizzas (especially the bottoms, which soaked up most of the frying butter and subsequently emerge from a 10-minute pizza bake crunchy and sizzling as a pan pizza). They’re also bigger than the feeble little bagged version in the bread aisle at the grocer, so you get a meal instead of a snack.

Faith in my basic life skills competence restored, I brazenly return to the task that scares the everloving crap out of me…

11 Feb


Ah, screw being humble. I made croissants, y’all!

Baby croissants!

All grown up!

Flakier than the before model in a Head & Shoulders commercial!

I gave the KitchenAid the day off and got my hands in the dough, since it doesn’t need kneading. I didn’t even use the fancy European butter called for in the recipe, and they came out pretty freaking spectacular—tender-chewy on the inside and crispy-flaky on the outside.

(UPDATE: The day after, they’re soft enough to slice neatly for sandwiches, fancy French toast, or a shortcake/napoleon substitute. I put half a dozen in the freezer for later and will let you know what they’re like upon reheat.)

(UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: After two weeks in the freezer, they’re good as new with 15 minutes in the oven, so no need to worry about what you’re going to do with 16 croissants before they get stale. Simply plop the extras in the freezer to enjoy at a later date. Even super lazy slow-cooker stew becomes elevated when served with a warm, flaky [nobody needs to know it’s leftovers] croissant on the side.)

It took seven hours start to finish, but that’s mostly down time while the dough rests rather than hard labor (as in the case of the eight-hour meringue-mousse torte…).

The recipe is from The Model Bakery Cookbook. I picked it up the other day when the Kindle Daily Deals were all cookbooks, but I have since realized I detest digital cookbooks, so I’ll be ordering the hardcover, too.

If you have a jumbo tablet so every recipe isn’t 10 screens long (because it’s super uncool to have to swipe while your hands are coated with flour and butter) and you don’t like to make notes in the margins of your cookbooks, the ebook is fine (and cheaper).