Cook’s Illustrated Rustic Country Bread

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In the spirit of using up lingering baking supplies, I offer you Cook’s Illustrated Rustic Country Bread. I printed the recipe way back when I had a membership to their site. They offer a 14-day free trial, and from time to time they offer heavily discounted memberships as well. I find Cook’s Illustrated and their related enterprises (Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen) endlessly helpful and highly recommend their magazines and various books. In the meantime, you can also see the recipe on Ruth’s Kitchen‘s site here.

This is my second time making this recipe in recent weeks. The first time, I made one huge boule with all the dough. This time I opted to make two smaller boules. I didn’t end up using all the flour that was called for, and didn’t use any extra flour when kneading the dough either (I just used some of the initial flour that I hadn’t incorporated). The recipe says that the dough should be very wet and sticky and I did not find this to be true at all, either time I made it. I scaled my ingredients so I’m confident that it was not a flour measuring error. Upon further investigation, I discovered others in the blogosphere who have had the same experience. Rather than force the rest of the bread flour into the dough and risk a dry, dense loaf, I left it out. Even with reduction in flour, it was not at all what I’d consider a wet dough.

The first time I made this recipe, I followed the shaping instructions to the letter, including performing the final proof in a basket to help the loaf keep its shape. However, since the dough was not at all wet or slack, I decided this was unnecessary and simply proofed the two boules on a parchment-lined sheet pan this time and it was fine. I also proofed the dough quite a bit longer than stated, choosing to go with my eyes rather than the clock.

One of the things I love about this bread is its complexity. It’s mostly (white) bread flour, but includes a small amount of whole wheat flour and even less rye flour, which adds interest to the flavor while keeping it from being heavy like wheat breads can be. My favorite way to enjoy it is toasted with a nice schmear of peanut butter. Yummy.

A postscript: after I posted this, I saw a link to a 2008 post when I baked this bread. So it appears that I have made this three times, and not just twice! Honestly, I think I maintain this blog more as a record for myself than anything else!

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A Birthday Cake For A Special Man

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My darling man turned 50 the other day.

When we were on vacation last week, I sat on the beach watching him and contemplating the upcoming celebration of the half-century birthday of this man who was just 21 (the same age our eldest will turn next month) when we first became a couple. I was suddenly awestruck by the person that he’s grown into, my beautiful husband, who is good and kind, and unfailingly supportive and patient, and is always the voice of reason when I start to lose it (which is often).

By the birthday boy’s request, I combined the components from my two most recent cakes — the Ina Garten chocolate cake from my birthday last month and the Philadelphia cream cheese frosting that we most recently enjoyed on the graduation cake a few weeks ago. This was my second time making this chocolate cake recipe and the results were consistent with the first go-round: chocolatey and moist, but not too heavy. Again, it was fully baked before the suggested time, so I’ll continue to check the doneness early. The cream cheese frosting recipe I’ve used more times than I can remember — it continues to be my go-to cream cheese frosting recipe.  It doesn’t make a ton — I just squeak by when I ice an 8-inch two-layer cake and have enough for some decorative piping if I’m not too generous with the icing when covering the cake. On a 9-inch two-layer cake like the grad cake, I really don’t have enough for anything more than just filling and covering the cake. The purple buttercream was leftover from the grad cake as well; I had stored it in the freezer and it defrosted just fine although I felt like it was a little looser than before it was frozen. It’s worth mentioning that my kitchen was super hot the afternoon I iced and decorated the cake, which always has an impact on the stiffness of the icing, especially with cream cheese.

Once again, happy 50th, PJ. xo

Happy Graduation Cake!

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Bonus cake this month! My baby boy (well, the younger of my two baby boys) graduated from high school this evening. I made a devil’s food cake with cream cheese icing to celebrate his wonderful achievement. Plus as it’s been a whole week since my birthday, we were out of cake and in dire need of more. The mortarboard and stars were made from fondant. I’m not super confident freehanding templates so I used this one for the mortarboard. Predictably, we picked the fondant off our respective slices before eating the cake; it’s pretty to look at, but not nice to eat.

Congratulations, CMac!

Chocolate Cake Time!

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It’s a tradition in our family that we launch Birthday Season (four birthdays, one per month from May – August, not including our schnauzer whose special day also falls within that span), with “Mama’s Choice” — chocolate on chocolate. It’s not because I’m such a chocoholic (I’m far from it) but because it was the one combination no one else would request. We had lots of yellow cake/chocolate icing, chocolate cake/vanilla or cream cheese icing, red velvet cake/cream cheese icing, and so on. So in the interest of variety, I sacrifice my choice to all chocolate each year.

This year I was looking for chocolate icing that wasn’t the typical chocolate buttercream that I have been making of late. I found  this recipe for Beatty’s Chocolate Cake by Ina Garten. For the cake, it employs buttermilk rather than the sour cream or greek yogurt used in many of the chocolate cakes I’ve make. I took care to check the cake for doneness before the time indicated so that it wouldn’t overbake. I’ve learned, at least in our oven, waiting to check cakes even at the minimum time suggested more often than not results in a dry, overdone cake. My vigilance paid off, as my husband said it was perhaps the moistest cake I’ve ever made.

The frosting is unlike any I’ve attempted in the past, as it includes a raw egg yolk. I had some concerns about salmonella but decided to go with it. It was a really hot and muggy day when I made the frosting so the butter was near liquid at room temperature, and the finished frosting wasn’t much thicker. I opted to do an informal spoon swirled design and plopped the iced cake in the fridge in the hopes that the frosting would firm up quickly and not slide right off the cake.

To finish, I dug out my old Wilton books and made some purple primroses and yellow violets out of royal icing, and bright green leaves (clearly I was a tad too generous with the leaf green icing color) from Wilton Class Buttercream (not super tasty, but good for decorating and easy to whip up in a pinch). I’m a little rusty on composing realistic flower groupings but all in all I was pretty happy!