Monday, August 31, 2015

Flaky Cream Cheese Scones

My go-to recipe for scones is generally the one from my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, which is easy and delicious, and can easily be doubled, so I can make a ton of scones for my January coffee hours.  But I knew that any scone recipe that Rose had devised would be a worthy adversary of my standard ATK scone.

I sometimes put lemon peel in the ATK scones too.  It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that you only need a basic scone recipe, and you can make any kind of scone you want.  In the past, I would spend a lot of time looking for, say, a recipe for raspberry scones.  Then one day I realized that I could make plain scones--and add raspberries!  And I would then have raspberry scones.  (I have to say that raspberry scones are a huge disappointment because the berries don't stay intact and they're just generally a mess).   Hmmm.  So maybe you do have to adjust some things when you're using fresh fruit.

Well, never mind.  These scones, in addition to lemon, have cranberries and honey.  You definitely can add cranberries to any standard scone recipe and it will work just fine.

But wait!  This is my pastry blender.  I hate pastry blenders!  I looked at the recipe, and looked again, searching for the food processor instructions.  If I can use my food processor for pastry, why can't I use it for scones?  ATK lets me use my food processor. I turned the page, thinking maybe there would be food processor instructions on the next page.  But no.  If I used a food processor, it would really be cheating, and I couldn't bring myself to do it.  But I wasn't in a good mood.  You know how you hear sometimes that food tastes better if it's made with love?  I never have believed that, and I hoped it wasn't true, because I had hate in my heart toward my pastry blender.

Well, here's the dough, after I've struggled with the hateful utensil that shall no longer be named.  It looks a lot like I've just done about 5 pulses with the food processor.

Stirring cream and honey into the flour mixture.  I don't hate my silicone spatula.

I did veer from Rose's recipe here, but I wouldn't call it cheating.  I wanted to make 10 scones instead of 8, and I thought they'd look better with a slightly bigger circle than I'd get if I pressed them into a cake pan.  (I love the cake pan idea--you'll see that my scones end up with ragged edges, whereas if I'd pressed the dough in a cake pan, they wouldn't (at least theoretically.))

Sometimes I think of Rose as Little Miss Tidy.  (And Woody as Little Mr. Tidy).  I am Little Ms. Messy.

I like to put a little cream and some sparkling sugar on my scones before they bake.

The scones are a bit skew-whiff, but I don't blame any utensil for that.  In fact, to me, there's no cause for blame because I like them that way, but then I'm the messy one.

The cream-cheese scones are, not surprisingly, delicious.  They are a wee bit tangier, and a wee bit more tender than the average scone.  Or, more accurately, tangier and more tender than a very good scone, because the average scone is not good.  If I were giving a State of the Scone speech, I would have to begin by announcing that the state of the scone is not good.  Even in England.  But these are excellent.  Only, couldn't I get permission to use a food processor next time?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "These Brownies Are Killer!"

Photo by Aimee
Food Geekette Blog

Here is what I learned from reading the Alpha Bakers' blogs this week:  people have very definite, very particular ideas about what makes a perfect brownie.  And sometimes it doesn't include all the things that Woody included in his brownie.  But sometimes it does.

Aimee had her doubts about whether any brownie could be "good enough to be worth all this trouble."  But then she decided that, although making them was "a pain," it was "totally worth it for these brownies."  In fact, she decided this might be her first recipe "for fair baking next year."  I love the idea of Woody's brownies gathering up ribbons all over the country.

Faithy, our sweets lover who doesn't like sweets that are too sweet, is on to Woody.  She said that as soon as she saw his name in the title, she figured it would be "a super rich brownie....just like that lemon cake [Woody's Luxury Lemon Cake] in HCB."  So rich that she cut the squares into triangles because "a little goes a long way."  She liked the buttercream, but still thought she'd omit it next time because she "likes [her] brownies less sweet."

Jeniffer, not satisfied with the black and white color scheme, made hers an Art-Decoish black, white, and aqua--composed with the help of Peppermint Crisp Bars and her young friend Stuart, who has been patiently waiting to help the chef when she got to a chocolate recipe.  Stuart did not want the bourbon, but he did want the chocolate.  Jeniffer's review was a bit more refined: "Great tasting brownie.  Great tasting white chocolate custard frosting.  Just not the two together."

Vicki did another version of that equation:  brownies + buttercream + ganache = "But wait, there's more!"  Vicki was longing for a Q&E recipe, and when she saw "brownies" on the list, her heart soared.  Then she realized they were not Q&E brownies, and her heart sank.  Fortunately, she has a freezer stocked with things like leftover Dreamy, Creamy etc. frosting, and it relaxes her to make ganache, so she was all set.  Even though she was missing her grandchildren, at least she had brownies.

Kim was one of the aforementioned brownie perfectionists.  For her, a brownie is "plain."  Something that's dense, shiny, crackly, and heroic."  Yet she had to admit that for most people, Woody's fancied-up brownie "could do no wrong."  She gave them to unexpected guests and to the people in her husband's office--"everyone loved them."  What to conclude?  Maybe just that a lot of people like brownies that are "gooey and melty."  

Maybe "gooey and melty" was what Joan had in mind when she quoted Billy Crystal saying, "You look marvelous."    And they tasted marvelous too, if the contented look on the face of Joan's colleague is any indication of brownie satisfaction.

Hanaa, being Hanaa, made several changes.  She is always given a free pass to eliminate any nuts but almonds in a recipe since we don't want her to end up in an emergency room with brownies in hand.  But she made some non-allergy related changes too:  bread flour to give the brownies more structure (would love to see a side-by-side test with bread and AP flour), melted caramel candy instead of buttercream for a black-and-tan effect.  (I just read that it's no longer considered polite to order the traditional black and tan beer cocktail by that name because it brings up reminders of "the troubles.")  I made a mental note of that.  She also cut the recipe in half, but after she tasted them, wondered what she had been thinking.

Earlier in the week, Kim posed a scientific question on Facebook:  what was the purpose of the cream cheese in the brownie?  Rachel gave a non-scientific answer:  "Putting cream cheese actually IN the brownie is genius.  The result is a brownie that tastes cheesecake-like."  In other words, because it makes them taste so good.  So good, in fact, that Rachel probably wouldn't use the buttercream and ganache next time:  she'd just enjoy the pure, unadulterated brownies.

Katya too.  In fact, I was a little worried that Katya was going to cause physical damage to whomever it was that suggested putting frosting on the brownies.  Um, I guess that'd be you, Woody.  As she said, "Brownies need frosting like this country needs Donald Trump.  In.  No.  Way."  The only way Katya could bring herself to put frosting on the brownies was to convince herself that she was frosting cake, not brownies.  A twelve-year-old contingent pronounced "the white stuff" "good," but the ganache was "gross."  Well, what does a 12-year-old know?

Catherine was more worried about "sullying" her chocolate with nuts than with frosting, but decided that if they had to be sullied, it might as well be with hazelnuts.  But do you know what doesn't sully chocolate?  Bourbon.  Catherine had never used bourbon before joining the Alpha Bakers (we really are an educational group), but she's grown quite fond of it.  In fact, she might call it her "breakfast whisky" if she weren't opposed to the recent trend of trying "to legitimise any item for breakfast by putting the word 'breakfast' in front of it."  Like "breakfast brownie" or "breakfast galette."  Although she does approve of eating brownies and galettes for breakfast.  Even if she has to "walk to Utah" after such breakfasts.

Back to someone who likes Woody's Brownies in all their glory.  Patricia described them as "divine!"  She said, "The brownies would be fine on their own, but the added white chocolate buttercream and chocolate ganache take them over the top."  And this is a case where "over the top" is a good thing.  She added that allowing them to chill is "essential," and the only nit she had to pick was that she didn't like that you could still see bits of cream cheese in the finished brownie.  (Patricia, meet Hanaa, who was also bothered by that possibility).

Jen might reserve them for special occasions--like when you "need a fancy pants dessert for a dinner party or a potluck or just for a lazy Sunday, this brownie would fill the bill.  Woody took his mother's traditional bourbon brownies and swapped in Rose components to make something special."  Jen used cherries instead of pecans in the brownies (because their household just doesn't hold with nut-filled brownies), and Jen thought they might have been even better with kirsch instead of bourbon, to echo the cherry flavors.  But she also joined the group that thought these brownies might be even better without the white chocolate buttercream, or maybe with a sturdier buttercream.

Kristina could tell you whether the brownies with frostings are better than those without because she made both kinds.  But the "plain" ones she got rid of on the street, in a drug-deal-like transaction with a cop looking on, trying to decide whether he should be suspicious or just jealous.  The second batch, with all the extras, reminded her of Canada's national bar:  the Nanaimo Bar.  But which version is better?  Kristina "can confidently say that I prefer this over a chocolate brownie with chocolate frosting.  Or do I?  Gah!  Too many yummy slightly different things.  Can't compare."

So that's what we end up with.  Don't compare.  Just enjoy.

Nicola also made these, and posted a photo to Facebook, but as of two minutes ago, has not posted on her blog.

Next week:  Wonderful scones!  Quick and easy!  Who could ask for anything more?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Woody's Black and White Brownies: A Baking Adventure with Woody

These are possibly the most delicious, and definitely the most sophisticated, brownies I've ever had.  And I'm very impressed that Woody's mother used to cook with bourbon.  Mine would have been shocked at such a notion.  I know that bourbon balls were part of some people's holiday traditions, but not ours.

While chopping the pecans, I began to think of the limitations of being a locavore.  I'm behind the concept, and during the summer, I buy as much as I can from my neighborhood farmer's market.  But I looked at the ingredients in these brownies, and realized that neither chocolate nor pecans grow in Minnesota.  Nor do we distill bourbon.  We could survive without Woody's Black and White Brownies, I suppose, but I would feel the loss.

Melting chocolate and butter.  Nothing easier, and nothing richer looking than this combination.

Criss-crossing the sheets of parchment is obviously Woody's work.  He does it exactly as Rose instructs, and doesn't even look at the instructions.  He certainly doesn't read the instructions and ask petulantly why he has to go to all this extra trouble.  Even I could tell that it's a good idea when I saw how easy it was to take the brownies out of the pan.

"Beat in the cream cheese...."

"until only small bits remain."

And this is what they look like when done.  I should add that these are excellent brownies as is.  I think they're a close relative to the Barcelona Brownie Bars that are in Rose's Heavenly Cakes.

How many people do you know who travel with big chunks of Valrhona white chocolate?  Before I knew Woody, my answer would have been, as yours likely is, "none."  But Woody travels with multitudes of peculiar things, and frequently has interesting conversations with the TSA people, who have not yet arrested him.

Making the white chocolate buttercream is more fun than making the brownies.  I think it's because the white chocolate melts so quickly and beautifully that I just enjoy watching it.

My thermometer gets a workout when Woody is here.  I sometimes don't bother, but he always does.  He also yells at me if I don't fold it up right away.  "You're wasting battery power!"  I have no idea if this is true or not, but he's trained me on this so well that he doesn't even have to yell at me any more.  (At least not about the thermometer).

This is the finished buttercream.  So creamy-looking.

Now, as I read the directions, it is OPTIONAL to do this step:  "If desired, lift the brownie out of the pan, use a long serrated knife to level the top, then return the brownie to the pan."  Since it's optional, and since I've never in my life felt the need to cut off the tops of brownies, which are actually my favorite part, I wouldn't do it.  But it's being done, so if you guess that it's Woody who's wielding this knife, you'd guess correctly.  He pretty much did it in one fell swoop too, which was impressive.

Woody says that when Rose frosts a cake, she likes to have swirls and curves, whereas he likes the frosting to be completely smooth.  It's a midwestern thing.

For the second time in this recipe, I tell Woody that I don't think we really need a strainer because there are no visible bits of cooked eggs, and it already looks very smooth.  Guess who lost those arguments.

This is Woody's extra step--he likes to make an aluminum foil ring so that the ganache doesn't drip down the sides of the brownies.  By this time, I've stopped helping, and I'm just admiring his work.  I'm also sulking just a bit because I've realized that he's going to take the whole uncut pan of brownies to his Broomball Retreat and Beerfest, and I'm just going to have to hope that he returns with some leftover brownies.  Fat chance.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Luscious and summery"

Photo by Mendy
Greenstein's Bakery

We're really on a roll here.  Everyone loved the peach galette, the kourambiethes, and the whole wheat walnut bread.  It's been a while--maybe the molasses cakelets--since we've had mixed reviews.  But this galette--if you can do the various transferring steps without mishap--is just plain wonderful.

Not only is it woonderful, but as Mendy says, it's just "so satisfying" to make.  "You don't have to worry about the shape," "the pie dough comes together easily," and "blanching is fun!"  With some "ice cream for full effect," it's just "delicious--what more is there to say?"

Vicki didn't have a lot more to say either--or a lot more to show, since in her zeal "to clean out photos," she eliminated all but one of her pictures of the galette.  Just that it was best on the first day, when the flavors were "amazing."  She found they "waned" a bit after Day 1, and she added a little cinnamon sugar to perk it up.  (Mine mostly disappeared immediately, so I didn't compare Day 1 to Day 2).

The mixture of flavors was great, but it was really all about the peaches.  As Kim said, "Beautiful peaches.  Juicy peaches.  Soft and warm peaches.  Summer sweet peaches laced with lemon and butter.  How lucky I am to have such easy access to this delicacy and how privileged too that I have the opportunity and skill to 'whip up' this Perfect Peach Galette, and then go dancing.  La vie est belle."  Indeed.  Even if you skip the dancing.

It looks like Jill hasn't posted on her blog yet (maybe the post will be there by the time you click on her name--hurry, Jill!), but she has a picture on Facebook and she said it was "fabulous!"

Also on Facebook, Michele and Patricia say that their galette posts are "late--but coming!"

Rachel introduced her post with a little essay about the difference between French galettes and Italian crostata (not much) and then concluded it didn't matter anyway because "it all tastes good."  She also noted that "it was the perfect time of year for peaches."  I've been off on calendaring so many fruit desserts that it's a pleasure to get one right.  And Rachel said the best thing about the galette/crostata is that you can make some mistakes in the shaping and it will still be "homely--in a good way."  As long as we're talking about words, I think that the word "homely" was initially positive, like "cozy" or "comfortable," and then in America, we changed it to mean, well, homely--plain and rather ugly.  I say we take back the word "homely" as a good thing!

Although some people noted that their galette was not exactly perfect, Catherine said hers was--"almost."  And I have to add that, of course, even though peaches are in season in the U.S., they are not in Australia, so some of our bakers had the additional challenge of working with expensive, out-of-season fruit or canned or frozen varieties.  Still, even though she's not a big fan of cooked peaches, and even though her peaches were less than perfect, she concluded  that "if you really have to cook it, one of the best ways is to sandwich it between two thin flaky bits of pastry.  It made a relatively light but luscious dessert (or a naughty breakfast if you want to take some early morning photos) served with cream.  It's a sad day when you realize that "naughty bits" just mean pieces of peach galette for breakfast.

And an even sadder day for Jeniffer!  Not only did she have to buy American peaches that might be in season in the U.S., but are probably the worse for wear after being shipped across the Pacific.  Not only that, (and maybe you should plant a peach tree, Jeniffer--apparently they do grow in Australia), but also, and worse, the "splat disaster."  "The galette flew off the cooling rack and hit the edge of the storage container on the way down.  It flipped.  It broke.  It went splat!!!!"  So sorry, but the pieces still look pretty.  

Kristina used gorgeous-looking Niagara peaches, also "perfectly in season," and, although her pie didn't splat, it "kind of exploded."  No mess was made during the exploding of these peaches, thanks to the wonders of parchment paper, and it still tasted good.  In fact, her husband liked it better than the standard pie because it was more crust than fruit, but Kristina admitted to a slight preference for a standard pie shape.  She got a nice compliment from her dinner guests, who figuratively waved away her attempt to explain what a galette was and just said, "I don't care.  Is it dessert?  Did Kristina make it?  I'll have some."  That's a nice reputation to have.

Are we sometimes hypercritical of our own work?  Joan made a galette that looked (from my vantage point anyway) perfectly beautiful, but she said it would never "make the cover of Larousse Gastronomique" and "of course it wasn't flaky," even though the crust looked lovely and flaky (and I'm pretty sure Joan doesn't do photoshop).  She did allow as how "it was so good we got some vanilla ice cream for it" and she didn't take any to work.  

Faithy had to make do with frozen peaches, but even frozen peaches turn into a very pretty galette, especially decorated with little hearts cut out from some leftover pie crust from the elderblueberry pie.  Next time she makes this pie, Faithy said she'd use 3 packages of peaches instead of two, so she must not have been put off by the frozen peaches.  Actually, peaches freeze really well--I remember my mother got a crate of Alberta peaches every summer and sliced and froze them.  I don't think I knew who/where/what Alberta was, but I loved those peaches.  But I digress.  I liked Faithy's description of wrapping the dough up around the peaches "like a big dumpling."  A big peach dumpling.  Yum.

Aimee has a picture of the sliced peaches ready to go, but is waiting for a break in the hot and humid weather to try the pastry dough.  It is "too darn hot."

Orin gave it a try, although she "could see how [she] could make it go wrong," so she almost passed up this week's adventure, but she hated to miss out on the fresh peaches.  But as it turned out, even thought she didn't make the pie crust ultra-thin, she and her friends decided it was even better than perfect:  it was the "Ultimate Peach Galette"!  She served hers with cardamom ice cream, something I've never seen in a store, but it sounds like a brilliant flavor match.

Next week:  We haven't done chocolate for a while, but coming up is a layered chocolate treat:  Woody's Black and White Brownies.  Michele wondered about the chemical properties of cream cheese, and how it interacted with the other ingredients.  I don't think I have a scientific explanation, Michele, but I can tell you that the cream cheese makes them good!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Perfect Peach Galette

This is a theoretically perfect peach galette.  In practice, it hasn't quite reached perfection, but it's awfully good.  "The Awfully Good Peach Galette" doesn't have the same come-hither sound as "The Perfect Peach Galette."  No doubt I say this, or something similar, every time we bake pastry, but there are many, many things that can go wrong when baking a pie.

The first problem was that I didn't have cream.  More accurately, I had cream, and I even had cream with a sell-by date in September.  But I didn't have cream that I'd smelled until I was at the last step of mixing the pie dough.  Then I smelled it.  Then I thought, "this won't do."  Then I remembered that Rose used to make her cream cheese pie crust with water instead of cream, so I decided that I would too.  I got the water (ice-cold) out of the refrigerator, and mixed it in, along with the vinegar.

If anything, it was even easier to handle than the regular dough, so that wasn't really a problem.  I made it last night, so it would be all ready to bring out of the refrigerator at the proper time.  This makes me feel like I'm on a TV cooking show and can just reach in my refrigerator and get whatever I need since it's all prepared.  Except my refrigerator looks quite a bit junkier than television refrigerators.

I was not having trouble, exactly, but the recipe kept throwing in phrases that troubled me deeply:  words to the effect that if you're a super-expert pie maker, you can just roll this thin, the way it's supposed to be.  You can even use a smaller amount of dough--if you know what you're doing.  Unspoken was the possibility that if you didn't know what you were doing, you might run into difficulties.

I can see my problem looking at this rolled-out piece of pie crust.  It's thinnest where it should be thickest, and vice versa.  If I were to do this again, and I hope I'll do it many times because it's quite delicious, even when not perfect, I'd stop rolling out the middle section after I got it to be around 9 inches in diameter, and I'd only roll the edges out thinner.  If I had done this, I would have had a pastry base that would be sturdy enough to lift out of the pan without making little whimpering noises, and the flap-over pieces would be paper thin.  (Well, maybe not that thin, but thinner).

Not that I'm entirely dissatisfied with the way it turned out.  But when it got to this stage, I was feeling pleased with myself.  When I started to move it on the baking pan, however, I thought I was going to lose the whole thing.  I went straight from the genteel whimpering noises to swearing like a sailor.  Jim rushed in the kitchen (I'm never sure if he intends to help or if he just enjoys my pain.  But he did offer to help).  With a couple of spatulas, we nudged the delicate galette on the pan.

You can see that it looks more deflated and flattened out than it did before it made its trek from the counter to the pan.  You'd think it had endured more than a six-inch move.  I was very grateful that it didn't break.

When I look at this picture, I say to myself, for someone who was so worried that the whole galette was going to fall apart, you'd think you'd move it to a cutting board.  You may be wondering the same thing.  But my knife is sharp, and the trauma of moving it was greater than cutting it on the rack.  I'm sure it was the wrong choice, but it seemed to work.  At least it didn't fall apart.

I have no idea why I'm sounding so morose about this galette.  It was more that I kept waiting for things to go amiss than that they actually did go amiss.  The crust was flaky and tender; the peaches were perfectly done; the few drops of almond flavoring were just what were needed to intensify the peach flavors, and it was a perfect summer dessert on this hot, humid August day.

So here's my advice:  enjoy this beautiful summer dessert, and don't fret if it's not 100% perfect.  The "Awfully Good Peach Galette" may be as close to perfection as you need to get.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Catch-Up Week: "A Marvelous Way to Celebrate the Strawberry"

Photo by Jen Knowles
Evil Cake Lady Blog

Not too many people felt the need to catch up this week, so unless there's a wellspring of demand for more catch-up weeks, I'll probably skip them.  However, Jen's catch-up week was enough for three: she made the Strawberry Shortcake Genoise, the Kourambiethes, AND the 100% Whole Wheat Walnut Bread.

Jen, living in Berryland as she does, was not happy with the timing of the originally scheduled strawberry shortcake, so she waited until the berries were perfectly ripe.  (In addition to the picture-of-the-week, Jen also has a great picture of the kazillions of various berries that all came in season at the very same time.)  The strawberries were the star of her shortcake show, whereas those of us who made do with California strawberries may have ooh-ed and aah-ed more about the cake itself, or the strawberry-jam-flavored whipped cream.

Like everyone else, Jen was a big fan of the kourambiethes (I think this cookie is one of the few things that there was complete unanimity about).  Her husband said they were one of the best Baking Bible assignments so far.  Jen herself didn't think they were spectacular until "about the third day.  Then all of a sudden, the orange flavor woke up and the nuts and butter became friends."  After this Friendship Society was formed, "it was all I could do to keep from eating the rest of the cookies in one sitting."

As for the Whole Wheat bread, Jen had two things to say:  1) it was very easy and 2) her husband loved it.  In fact, he said he'd like it if Jen made it every week.  She did not think that was likely.  Their son didn't love the walnuts, but he loved the bread, sans nuts and avec butter.

Orin also opted to catch up with the Whole Wheat Walnut loaf.  In the course of reading her blog, we discovered that Orin had a job in the bread department of a local bakery, where they made hundreds of different loaves of bread every day, and that one of her favorite childhood memories was waking up to the smell of her mother baking challah every Friday morning.  She loved the bread and loves The Bread Bible!

Catherine did a Red Velvet catch-up, although she didn't use the Rose pan (she used a "more staid but still shapely pan"), so it wasn't, strictly speaking, the Red Velvet Rose.  Catherine chickened out when it came to the red food coloring, so her cake was more accurately called the Pink Velvet.  (We were all terrible wimps with the red food coloring, weren't we?  And yet, with all the bad press sugar has been getting, we should probably be more worried about the sugar we're downing).  As of press time, there was no word about how the cake actually tasted because she took it to her office to celebrate her manager's birthday. 

Although not exactly a catch-up because he's made it before, Tony made another Chocolate Oblivion Cake for someone named Erica (and the cake was topped with Erica's initials--Tony's signature method for decorating this cake).  If you had any trouble at all baking this cake, you might want to check out Tony's blog the next time you make it; he has a good step-by-step tutorial, as well as explanations about why certain steps are necessary.  It's also worth checking out his blog just for the pictures of the face of The Woman Who Doesn't Like Dark Chocolate as she tastes a bite and, you guessed it, discovered that yes, she does.

Next week:  a pie I'm actually excited about making, the Perfect Peach Galette.  I think I finally got the timing right on a fruit dessert.  I saw the first crates of Colorado peaches in my grocery store, and I can't wait to try them in this galette, even though I'm a little apprehensive about rolling the pie dough so thin.  I also realize that what's in season in the northern hemisphere is not going to work so well in the southern hemisphere, so I know that some of you face an additional challenge just in locating peaches.  But you're all smart and inventive bakers, so I'm eager to see what everyone comes up with.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Catch-up Week: Brioche Hamburger Buns

The best restaurants in the country have started to try to outdo each other on specialty hamburgers.  Each restaurant claims to have the most fabulous burger in the world, and often the claim to fame rests on the carefully constructed bun.  Often it's a brioche bun.  So, of course, it was inevitable that someone would start the counter-bun movement.  Anthony Bourdain, for example, tweeted that "No hamburger has ever been improved by a brioche bun."  Wow.  No hamburger.  Ever.  In the history of the universe.

So apparently I was too late with these buns because the brioche backlash has already begun.  Luckily, Anthony Bourdain will never come to my house for Sunday grilled hamburgers.  Juicy beef, thick slices of farmer's market tomatoes and frilly lettuce, melted smoked gouda, and, ta-da, the infamous brioche bun!

I've made this brioche often enough that I can almost do it without checking the recipe.  But I always forget what a small amount of flour is in this bread, so it was good I didn't actually follow through on my internal boast about not needing the recipe.

I do know it takes me three days to make this brioche, whether as buns or bread, so I started on Friday, making the sponge and flour mixture, and letting it slowly bubble in the refrigerator overnight.  After various steps on Saturday, Sunday was finally the day to shape the buns.  No, they don't look promising at this point.

But after being slashed and brushed with egg yolk and cream wash and baked, they look quite presentable.  I did cut the total amount of sugar in half because I didn't want the buns to be too sweet.  I wanted a bun that was soft but crusty, flavorful but not overpowering, and I think I got it.

The inside of the bun is soft, but it's crusty enough to encounter meet juices without dissolving.

 I've never bought a hamburger bun that was as good as this one.  I don't suppose I'll ordinarily plan three days ahead to start making hamburger buns, but it's not a crazy thing to do.  The hamburger would have been good on any bread-ish vehicle, but I do believe that I just met a hamburger that was improved by a brioche bun.  Take that, Anthony Bourdain!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Midweek Roundup: A "Fabulously Versatile" Loaf

Photo by Jeniffer
The Lone Baker Blog

I was surprised to see that, as of Tuesday morning, fewer than ten of us got out our yeast and our rising buckets to bake this lovely loaf of bread, but maybe a few more will get to it later this week.  (They did).  Or maybe those of us facing the smoke from forest fires just don't have the heart to turn on their ovens.  Whatever the reason, I encourage you to try this bread, whether you make it for the cheese tray or for breakfast toast.

And, lest you think that I just have some crazy attachment to this bread and nobody else liked it, let me tell you that is far from the truth.  Here is how Kim described it:  "It's beautifully earthy and honest in its flavours.  The slightly bitter nuts with the whole wheat, and the ferment of the yeast make a bread that is satisfying alone or as a sandwich or dress it up with cheese."   In fact, as luck would have it, Kim is taking the bread on a trek up a mountain with her husband when, according to their tradition, they will tear off pieces of bread for each other and ponder life's meaning.  (That's a heavy assignment for mere bread, but I'm sure that this bread will be up to the challenge).

Katya used the vital wheat gluten and a farmer's market flour that was not whole wheat, so her loaf is higher and less dense than some of the other photos.  The first sentence in her blog says it all:  "Bread is so wonderful."

Faithy had a love/hate relationship with this bread.  She described it as "feeling like a cross between a door-stop and a brick," and "so heavy and hard" that you could do serious harm to someone if you flung it at them.  (Not that Faithy is a bread-throwing kind of person).  On the other hand, she couldn't stop eating it.  It was "chewy and fun to eat" and she "quite enjoyed it."  Even after four days, she was still "addicted" to it.  Now if only all the rest of us would put down our weapons and eat them (admittedly easier to do if the missile is a loaf of bread).

Lovely to see Alice blogging again--she's been on a bit of a hiatus.  She first made this bread last winter, and it's quickly become a favorite.  She has now tweaked it by adding raisins and using part white flour instead of 100% whole wheat.  Her favorite way to eat it?  With butter and honey.  In fact, she likes it so much that she makes a bigger recipe (1.5 times) so she gets two small loaves.

Michele decided to increase the recipe by 2.44 times (you'll have to go to her blog to see why she made that decision), and, not surprisingly, ended up with a super-crusty sky-high loaf of bread.  She liked it served "thinly sliced, lightly toasted and served with shaved Gruyere and crumbled blue cheese."  "Delicious!"

Jeniffer, in the depths of winter in Australia, found this bread to be the perfect antidote to her area's threatened snowfall:  the base for a hearty grilled cheese sandwich served with warming pumpkin soup.  It even sounds good to those of us who think August means sweat, not snow.  Jenniffer also suggested that a small loaf, along with a "chunk of blue or a bottle of red" would make a "unique and welcome hostess gift."

Rachel was a little worried about the outcome of this project since her yeast was past its expiration date.  But, when she returned home after leaving the dough to do its second rise, she was surprised to see that the yeast still had plenty of oomph, and had risen enthusiastically past its marker.  The only problem she had was the helping hand of her 14-year-old daughter, who discovered that toasted walnuts make an excellent snack.

It took Tony a whole day of reflection to decide what cheese to pair with this "wonderful walnut loaf."  He finally stopped by his local farmer's market and "decided on a local goat's milk cheese called 'Fresh Chevre Plain Capra Gla.'  The taste is very acidic, tart and tangy, smooth and creamy," and it proved to be a "perfect match" for the bread.

Milagritos described her bread as a near failure, all "slumpy and slouchy" looking.  She attributed the lack of good looks to the bread's resentment at being stared at--even though the stare was "loving."  Still, what the bread lacked in looks, in made up for in flavor, especially when pan-fried in olive oil and served with fresh-from-the-hen eggs, also fried in olive oil.  I think that's going to be my breakfast tomorrow.

Although Hanaa hasn't posted her bread yet, I saw a picture of it on Facebook and know she made it. In fact, she divided the dough and made both the walnut bread and some Moroccan-style rolls, without the nuts.  Her bread is lighter in color than most because she used white whole wheat flour and lighter in texture because she used part white flour and oiled her hands (rather than using extra flour) to handle the sticky dough.

Kristina's version was unique because she, like the Little Red Hen, ground the flour herself with the handy-dandy flour mill her husband got her for her birthday.  She took the resulting bread, along with some blue cheese, on a holiday weekend with friends--the bread (but not the cheese) got unanimous rave reviews.  Kristina also announced that she's going to see Rose next week where Rose, as part of her visit to Toronto to see their granddaughter swim in the Parapan American Games, will visit Golda's Kitchen.  Give Rose a hug from all of us who can't be there!

Aimee, a self-admitted whole wheat bread-hater, tried this recipe with a pretty open mind, although she did use white whole wheat flour instead of the regular version.  And she admitted that it was kind of a "clean out the pantry" bread, with toasted sesame seeds filling in for part of the walnuts, and sesame oil substituting for part of the canola oil.  "Even my household white-bread eaters liked it!" Wish Aimee luck this weekend, as she bakes up a storm with her fair baking entries!

Next up:  This Monday is one of our quarterly "Catch-Up Weeks."  This is the week to make that (fill in the blank) you never got around to making, or even to post that (fill in the blank) that you baked but never got around to posting about.  Or to make a variation of something you liked.  The newer bakers especially have lots of choices, but most of us have at least a few things we haven't made yet, and we're already almost a third of the way through the book!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

100% Whole Wheat Walnut Bread

This is a great bread to have in your repertoire:  easy to make, healthy (whole grains and walnuts, rich in omega-3 and antioxidants), and delicious.  Unlike the cheesecake, which my daughter refused a second piece of because she wasn't ready to die, this bread could be on anyone's list of foods that are good for you.  True, if you eat it with slabs of cheese or slathered with sweet butter and jam, it might lose its place on the list, but I'm not responsible for that.

You start out with a thin mixture that doesn't look much like bread, and instead of the dough hook, you use the whisk.  This is water, honey, whole wheat flour and yeast.

You make another flour mixture and strew it on top of the batter.  This flour mixture is supposed to contain vital wheat gluten, which I used to have on hand when I made at least one loaf of bread a week, but don't any more.  Fortunately, I guessed that the gluten, while nice, wasn't necessary.  I added an equal amount of durum flour, which is nothing at all like vital wheat gluten, so it wasn't a substitute at all.  I just like its flavor.  (So I guess technically, my bread is only about 98.7% whole wheat bread, which admittedly doesn't have the same ring to it).

The toasting, skinning, and chopping of the nuts.  I always remove a lot of walnut skin, but never fuss with them enough for all-white walnuts.  I admire you if you do.

You can see that this bread dough is very wet and sticky.  Honestly, at this point, it doesn't look too promising.  Even after 10 minutes of kneading, it doesn't cling to the dough hook or form a ball.  But Rose warns you that this is the case, so it's nothing to worry about.

This is what it looks like when it's ready to go into the oven, after three separate risings.  One of the risings took place in the refrigerator because I was called on babysitting duty.  Obviously, this is one of the advantages of bread dough--you couldn't just cover cake batter with plastic wrap, shove it in the refrigerator, and come back to it four hours later.  All I did was let it come to room temperature while I preheated the oven.

It's a pretty homely loaf of bread on the outside.  But I had hopes for inner beauty.

Which I got.

I took the bread out of the oven around 10:00.  Jim asked when I was going to cut a slice.  "Tomorrow morning," I said.  He wasn't happy with that answer, but he waited, and we both had some for breakfast.  I had mine toasted; his was untoasted.  Either way, it's good with butter and jam.  And it's probably good with cheese, too, but I didn't want blue cheese before 7:00 a.m.  I didn't know that was a rule of mine, but I guess it is.  At 10:00, I'd eat it with cheese and fruity jam.

Rose says you can make it without nuts if you want a basic loaf of whole wheat bread, and that would be fine, but I think it's the crunchiness and flavor of the walnuts that make this bread special.  I didn't have walnut oil on hand and forgot to buy more; I think it would be even more flavorful if I'd done that.