King Arthur Flour March Bakealong: Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves

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Here is King Arthur Flour’s March bakealong — Gruyère-stuffed mini loaves! As is often the case with many of their monthly bakealongs, the recipe is fairly simple to put together but the results are visually stunning (and tasty too!).

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It’s a simple bread dough, patted out after proofing and filled with a small fortune’s worth of cheese, then rolled up Swiss roll style, and cut into mini loaves before being popped in the oven. I opted to use Gruyère this time, but if I were to make this again, I will likely try the suggested alternatives, sharp cheddar or a blend of mozzarella and provolone, as the Gruyère was rather pricey. Many reviewers said that the Gruyère baked up rather greasy so instead of spreading the patted-out dough with the optional garlic oil, I applied a thin coating of crushed (raw) garlic. I only used a couple of cloves because I was concerned the garlic wouldn’t cook or would be too strong but it was barely perceptible. I’ll double it next time.

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Reviewers also suggested using the dental floss trick to cut the loaves. As I only had mint floss in the house, I decided to use a serrated knife as instructed and I think doing so deflated the loaves more than was desirable.

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The smell of the loaves baking was pretty wondrous — and pungent! But it turns out that gruyère smells a lot stronger than it tastes. We devoured 2 of the 4 loaves the first night, straight out of the oven and reheated the leftovers (wrapped in foil and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes) a couple days later for lunch. They weren’t as crusty but were every bit as tasty!

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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!

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!

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 June Bakealong: Classic Baguettes

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Yes, I’m a little behind. I fully intended to complete this bakealong during the designated month but I had a lot of “obstacles.” First, I decided that after years of successfully making baguettes without one, now was the time that I absolutely needed a couche to tackle the recipe. And even though I could have easily ordered one online, it somehow was completely logical to make the trip to the King Arthur Flour store in Norwich, Vermont, a hypothetical 3 hours away (really closer to 4 hours each way with real life Boston traffic), to purchase one instead. Which I did. (A big thank you to my darling sons for accompanying me!)

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And then almost as soon as we were back, we were away on vacation for a week. And suddenly it was no longer June. All very much #firstworldproblems.

Several years ago, when my bread baking prowess consisted entirely of firing up a bread machine, I first ventured into baguette baking using recipes from the King Arthur Flour site and cookbook. The resulting baguettes were okay — not stellar, but decent enough. Much to my surprise, I was quite pleased with this newer Classic Baguette recipe. Then again, my success this time may also have a little to do with the fact that I have about 9 years of bread baking and a baking and pastry degree under my belt since those novice baking days.

Remarkably, I gave myself to the spirit of the bakealong and actually followed the instructions to the letter instead of doing what I typically do, which is ignore any instruction which conflicts with my previous training. I mixed and kneaded the dough by hand instead of using my stand mixer, as I was demoing the recipe for Cormac who doesn’t have access to such equipment in his apartment. I found that the shaping instructions actually produced nicer shaped baguettes with less effort (i.e. they’re idiot-proof!) than my usual technique. And the couche worked fabulously.

The crust was a bit less crisp than my usual baguettes but Cormac said he actually preferred the softer crust of the King Arthur Flour version. All in all, a worthwhile experience. Now to complete July’s bakealong before August! 😉

A July Tradition: Grilled Asiago Rounds and Zucchini Caponata

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This pairing is a family favorite for us, especially on the Fourth of July, as my blog will attest (I’ve previously blogged about them here, and again here.) The caponata is a breeze but making the grilled breads in particular is a bit of a production. Over of the years, I’ve gotten better at the managing the process and my lovely husband has taken over most of the grilling part (although it’s still much easier with two of us working together on that part as well!).

The recipes are from the King Arthur Flour site — bread recipe is here, caponata recipe is here, and the detailed play-by-play is here. These days, I like to stretch the portions of dough as thin as they will go, about 7″ across, but KAF suggests 4″ rounds which result in plumper flatbreads. I just like how the resulting texture from my version varies from doughy to cracker-like in a single flatbread. I do have to shorten my grilling time accordingly and keep a close eye on each to ensure that they aren’t burning.

Here are all my flatbreads, stretched and queued up to go on the gas grill.

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Love, love, love this zucchini caponata! It can be a great way to enjoy local produce depending on where you live. Unfortunately, most of my ingredients were store-bought this time — it’s too early here in my part of New England for local tomatoes, onions and garlic, and while I could’ve used local zucchini, I had already used up all that was in my CSA share. The basil was fresh from the farm though!

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Friday Night Is Pizza Night

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Way back in the day, my boys took karate on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and every Friday their Shihan would ask if everyone was having pizza for dinner that night. In the beginning, we usually weren’t, but over time, more and more families began adopting the tradition, in part because it was easy and made sense, but also to avoid discussions as to why we weren’t when Shihan clearly felt we should.

It’s been many years since my guys have spent their Friday evenings in the dojo but I still think of Friday night as Pizza Night. The other night, I made my new favorite pizza dough recipe: King Arthur Flour’s The Easiest Pizza You’ll Ever Make (recipe at link). In about 3 hours, you end up with lovely to handle, chewy, elastic dough. The photo below is the dough after rising for 2 hours.

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The instructions say to roll out the dough, but I find it’s much easier to stretch the dough using the backs of my knuckles, letting its weight and gravity do the work. My longtime bread mentor Peter Reinhart demonstrates the technique here. This dough is elastic enough to stretch without tearing, a quality I’ve never really experienced with any other recipe. It almost makes me believe I can do the hand toss like a professional pizza maker!

I made three varieties of pizza. The first was a classic cheese pizza with mozzarella and a touch of parmesan – romano. I made another (pictured at the top of the post) which was inspired by an ingredient combo we’ve had at a number of local places. First the pizza was topped with tomato sauce,  mozzarella and parmesan – romano cheeses, and prosciutto. When the pizza was almost done I threw on a couple handfuls of baby arugula and put it back in the oven for a minute to wilt. I finished the pie off with a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze. I love the flavor of the balsamic glaze but I haven’t been able to come up with very many applications for it aside from pizzas and wraps.

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Finally I made one last experimental pie. Instead of tomato sauce, the base was a mixture of French dressing and Sriracha Sauce. I wanted the flavor of Sriracha without all the edge, and French dressing, in addition to being something I already had on hand in the fridge, seemed like it would be pretty compatible and not compete with the strong chile and garlic flavors. My sous chef, AKA my lovely husband, shredded some leftover Thai-style grilled chicken which had been marinated in cilantro pesto (called Gai Yang in Thai) to go on top of the bed of mozzarella (no parmesan – romano cheese on this one), along with chopped fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts. We were pretty pleased with the results but initially I thought it was lacking something I couldn’t quite identify. Maybe some sweetness? It was a fun experiment nevertheless and was awesome as cold leftovers.

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