Cheesy Pesto Blitz Bread

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This is a great, super speedy recipe for when you want a focaccia type accompaniment but forgot to plan ahead. King Arthur Flour’s Blitz Bread takes a little over 90 minutes from start to finish. It’s also very easily adaptable. In this version, I mixed about 3/4 cup of cubed Fontina and 1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan into the dough after the initial 60 second mixing. Before baking the bread, I dolloped the surface with homemade pesto (made earlier in the season with basil from our CSA) and then dimpled the dough.

The texture of the Blitz Bread isn’t as chewy or toothsome as a traditional focaccia but considering it took comparatively little time to make, it’s quite tasty and worth making!

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Oatmeal – Toffee – Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_9097Here’s another variation on my favorite oatmeal cookie. This time, I added a mixture of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips, and chopped up Trader Joe’s Toffee Chips, which aren’t chips at all but little pieces of toffee (about 2″ by 1″) enrobed in milk or dark chocolate.

The surprise of this variation is the toffee melts in the oven (and spreads, making the cookies a little homely), but then when the cookies cool, the toffee hardens up again, producing something that’s part cookie, part candy. They are really decadent! But because they are oatmeal, they are, ya know, totally guilt-free!

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King Arthur Flour September Bakealong: Cinnamon-Apple Twist Bread

IMG_9025There are so many things I love about fall in New England. For example, I love the changing colors of the foliage, and the cooler nights and shorter days. The spices that seem to go hand and hand with fall baking such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg have always appealed to me more than, say, chocolate. And I love local fall produce such as winter squashes, pumpkins and especially apples.

So I was predictably giddy with excitement when I saw this recipe. Loaves made of enriched yeast dough filled with cinnamon-y apples and pecans? Yes, please!

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This bakealong recipe came together really easily. The results far exceed the effort! Instead of purchasing potato flour or instant mashed potatoes, I substituted 3/4 cup of unseasoned mashed potato (and reduced the milk to 2/3 cup), as suggested in King Arthur Flour’s accompanying blog post. And I opted for cornstarch rather than Instant ClearJel to make my apple-pecan filling.

I cannot stop raving about how much I love this recipe: the mixing, the aromas, the assembly, the baking, the appearance of the finished results, the flavor. This one is a keeper! I do have to work on my glazing though. Apparently I’m not very good at making it look random or rustic, opting instead for the super anal-retentive grid pattern. Not terribly attractive to my eye, but somehow I find it difficult to just let loose. I’ll keep working on it though.

King Arthur Flour August Bakealong: Golden Focaccia

IMG_8790Focaccia is a bread that I make fairly often. Making focaccia is typically pretty hands off, although one does have to remember to make the starter the night before. Aside from that, there’s not too much fiddling or futzing. Shaping is uncomplicated, and the finishes are endlessly adaptable. You can even use the leftovers as flatbread for sandwiches or pizzas, although we’ve never had any lingering around so I really can’t speak to that.

This month’s King Arthur Flour’s Bakealong is this Golden Focaccia. This recipe used a lot less olive oil than many others that I’ve made in the past, which I like; I hate feeling as though I’m drowning my bread in oil. This recipe was pretty solid (figuratively speaking) and is definitely worth making again. I was a little wary that it didn’t suggest lining the pan with parchment but fortunately there were no real issues with sticking (although I did a little loosening with a spatula). This is the first time I’ve topped focaccia with black pepper, in addition to the usual sea salt and herbs. Surprisingly, it didn’t add as much flavor as I would have expected. Next time, I will try the focaccia with roasted garlic or kalamata olives, and maybe some feta as well.

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Alton Brown’s Soft Pretzels

IMG_8777.JPGThis is another selection in the summer baking tour of 2017. My darling younger son Cormac had a list of goodies he wanted us to bake this summer so that he’d be better able to do them on his own while back at school; soft pretzels is one that we hadn’t attempted yet.

I’ve long considered homemade soft pretzels to be my achilles heel. I’ve attempted to make them many times, including three loathsome tries in the winter of 2009 when I was testing recipes for a well-regarded chef’s bread cookbook (see them here, here, and here). Looking at the pictures now, yikes. I have to admit, I was pretty scarred after that experience.

Fortunately, my equally darling elder son, Liam, has grown into a very accomplished cook. He discovered this Alton Brown recipe and has had great success with it so I thought Cormac and I would give it a go. They turned out puffier than in Alton’s picture, but were still quite gorgeous and deliciously chewy. Definitely a keeper, this recipe.

A note: we used coarse sea salt, as I thought our kosher salt was a bit too fine. And a little tip: in order to prevent the pretzels from sticking to the oiled parchment in the oven, it’s important to blot any excess liquid from the slotted spatula after lifting the pretzel from the baking soda/water bath (before transferring it to the parchment-lined sheet pan). Trust me, you do not want to have to peel the parchment off the pretzel bottoms. I’ve done it, and it’s no fun!

Liam made whole grain mustard to accompany the pretzels, including a honeyed variation — perfection!

Four-Strand Braided Challah

IMG_8775.jpgThis was a really fun bake. I was a little apprehensive about making a challah, given the promised stickiness of the dough and because I was planning on hand kneading it, to demo for my son who doesn’t have a stand mixer at his apartment. It turns out the mixing was quite manageable and straightforward.

I used King Arthur Flour’s Four-Strand Braided Challah recipe (see it here). I had initially considered the Challah recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day which I had made with success in the past. I balked, though, when I realized that the recipe called for 8 – 10 egg yolks. The comparative frugality of the King Arthur Flour recipe was appealing, especially for my budget-observing college student.

Cormac coached me through the four braid, as he had mastered it when he made his challah when he was at school. King Arthur Flour has a great blog post which describes the braiding technique. My strands weren’t very even, resulting in an oddly shaped braided loaf, but all in all, I was delighted with the results. The braid is delicious — moist and very faintly sweet. I see many more challah breads in our future!

Strawberry Cream Cake

IMG_8710It will probably come as no surprise that I am a devoted viewer of The Great British Bake-Off (or The Great British Baking Show, as it is inexplicably renamed in the United States). From time to time, a contestant will break down weeping over a catastrophic bake and  one of the hosts will need to come give him or her a pep talk. If I were on GBBO, this bake would be the one that broke me. I should be grateful to add that it is not too often that I am driven to such despair.

I made this one by request for my son Liam’s 23rd birthday. We typically do a lot of chocolate cakes for our summer of birthdays so it was very refreshing to be asked to do something fruity.

The recipe is from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (the recipe is here.). In short, it’s a genoise sponge cake baked in one pan, then divided into 3 even layers, and filled with strawberry halves, strawberry puree and a cream cheese flavored whipped cream. With the exception of the dreaded genoise, it’s a pretty straightforward cake.

I am not certain whether I just psyched myself out or what, but the genoise totally kicked my ass. I ended up baking 2; the first, a failure, was a flat rubbery disc. The second was considerably better but I wasn’t optimistic when I put it in the oven as I was still finding unmixed pockets of flour in the batter, despite my best efforts. The finished genoise had decent height but dipped a bit in the center, resulting in an uneven layer — about 3/4″ tall on the outside edges but less (to nonexistent) in the center. That top third ended up becoming the middle layer when I assembled the cake, and the center wound up with double thick strawberry puree and whipped cream mixture where the center layer was absent, but it didn’t seem too cloying to eat.

IMG_8712The cake ended up looking quite pretty and was quite tasty but I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorite cakes. Fortunately, no one was counting on me to pitch in eating it; my guys devoured it in 3 nights — kind of a record for speed. In hindsight, I think the results would have been just as pleasing with any white or yellow cake. And there would’ve been less wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth for the baker!

Chicago Red Hot Poppy Seed Buns

IMG_8677There’s nothing like a great hot dog in the summer. I was thrilled to recently discover that Ball Park Franks makes uncured dogs (as do many other companies, but I love the flavor of Ball Park more than many of those others) since I don’t love the idea of eating lots of unnecessary chemicals (although apparently I’m totally OK with eating unknown parts of cow), so we’ve been having our share of hot dogs this year.

We first fell in love with Chicago Dogs 5 years ago during a family trip to the Windy City, when we enjoyed a hotel room takeout lunch that my guys picked up at Portillo’s. For the uninitiated, a Chicago-style hot dog is a Vienna Beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onions, tomato wedges, a kosher dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. Here in New England, short of ordering a kit online from Vienna Beef (or paying exorbitant prices at Amazon) it’s hard to get one’s hands on the required shade of relish or the sport peppers, but I can make poppy seed  buns. I found my recipe on the King Arthur Flour site.

My hot dog buns didn’t become the golden brown I was hoping for. I didn’t want them to dry out so I decided to choose taste over looks and pulled the pan out after baking them for an additional minute or so. They were beautifully tender inside, but just didn’t look as picture perfect as I would’ve preferred.

I substituted conventionally colored (let’s call it “blah green”) sweet relish for the Chicago lime green variety, and pickled pepperoncini for the sport peppers (I tried to select a jar with smaller pepperoncini to mimic the size of the sport peppers). They weren’t authentic Chicago dogs but they were close enough for us!

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There’s a hot dog somewhere under all that!

King Arthur Flour July Bakealong: Blueberry Hand Pies

IMG_8678My second King Arthur Flour bakealong! And performed in the appropriate month too. This month’s challenge is Blueberry Hand Pies (recipe here).

I made these on one of those hot and humid summer days during which I’m pretty sure you’re never supposed to make pastry. My cold butter went from rock hard to a melting mess pretty quickly; I’m sure my hot hands didn’t help either. My dough made many more trips and spent a lot more time in the fridge than the recipe suggested. I spent all afternoon just popping it in and out of the refrigerator before I even got around to rolling and cutting the little pie squares.

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The results were totally worth it though. I really loved the way these turned out. The pastry was super flaky and had a nice crispness to it. If you love pie crust, and I do, there’s lots of crust. The blueberry filling is just a little sweet and pairs very nicely with pastry. I’m eagerly anticipating having the leftovers with coffee tomorrow morning!

The Oreo Experiment

IMG_8653I’ve been meaning to attempt baking Oreos for years. Like since my Oreo-loving younger son was in middle school (he’s a junior in college now). I had three possible recipes to choose from, but just kept putting it off, seriously, like I said, for years. In fact, I can’t quite even believe I have actually gotten around to doing it.

The three possible recipes in my collection that I was choosing from were Faux-Reos from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, Homemade Oreos from Joanne Chang’s Flour and this one, America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book’s Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Paige at Lorrabeth.com does an amazing job blogging her gluten free version, complete with original recipe here). The primary difference among the versions was the filling. King Arthur Flour’s filling contained shortening and Joanne Chang’s was more of a traditional American buttercream. America Test Kitchen’s was the simplest of the three and what I imagined might taste closest to actual Oreo filling; the ingredients were confectioner’s sugar, water, and vanilla extract.

IMG_8655The cookie dough and the filling are each rolled into a log and then chilled and sliced 1/8″ thick. Do you know how thin 1/8″ is? It’s quite thin, and I found it difficult to slice straight down so that each slice had the same thickness from top to bottom. I had even more trouble getting the cookies to be round, as you can see from my pictures.

IMG_8657The actual cookie base is America’s Test Kitchen’s Chocolate Butter Cookie recipe, and as you might imagine, are quite tender and fragile. Mine didn’t turn out particularly crisp, although that maybe due the humidity (and possibly underbaking) as much as anything. And while they are tasty (and super sweet), they really don’t taste at all like Oreos to me. As my husband put it, they are too chocolatey to be Oreos. They are terrific with a hot cup of tea but they’ll never replace my store-bought Oreos. Yes, I said it; I actually love the store-bought cookie better than homemade in this case. 🙊