What I learned from baking a loaf of bread in 2013

I baked this

I baked this

For me, the process begins very randomly. On any given day, the sudden urge to create will overwhelm me and I am instantly urged to search the pantries, bookcases, and the refrigerator for  baking opportunities. I have three cats that lay on my cookbooks, against their will, they are pushed away so that I can be in search of my next creation. They hate it.

I have never been a professional baker, but I HAVE dabbled into the bread making realm with many disastrous outcomes.  I try to look beyond the failures….. There will always be another loaf.

Baking demands a very high degree of patience. Without it, a magnificent loaf will instead become a hockey puck. With it, an otherwise plain loaf will radiate with flavor and a hearty texture. Patience, which I begin to notice applies to all things in life, is the very first ingredient needed to make bread.  It helps that I am now the proud mother – ahem – owner of a beautiful sky blue Le Cruset that is probably the best baking vessel that I have ever used for bread. I don’t like to admit that I love some things; My Le Cruset is one of them…..but I digress….

I usually make a starter for my bread. This is a spongy gray-like blob that sits on my counter for at least an entire day and bubbles and ferments. If you know what the fermentation process does to food, then you are probably pretty grossed out at the fact that this gooey blob sits in my Florida kitchen for a precariously long period of time. However, if you know anything about how amazing fermented food begins to taste the longer it sits there, then, like me, you are probably jumping with joy at the anticipation of a delicious loaf of tangy sourdoughy bread.

Time is key when baking bread. Time for the dough to rise, time for the flavor to develop, time to pre heat the oven. Without time, the final product suffers. Then, the greatest lesson to be learned from bread is that having the will to start is just the beginning. Investment in time and a big portion of love are two ingredients that will pay off when the aroma of freshly baked bread emerges from the oven.

In 2014, at the foot of a new year full of unknowns, maybes, ifs, and perhaps, only one thing is for sure; I’ve got to have the will, and invest the time, this I learned from baking bread in 2013.

Consider Beets

Moist, vegan, delightful

There aren’t many words that can describe the earthy sweet taste that beets have to offer. I am often reminded of rainy summer afternoons as I start to smell their caramelizing sugars emit a candy-like aroma into the air, just as they are ready to come out of the oven. And just like that, beets are ready to be enjoyed with pretty much anything that you can imagine.

While it’s easy to dismiss beets because they are too hard, too messy, or too healthy for some people, most condemn beets to a lifetime of juicing duty where they never have an opportunity to showcase their vibrant flavors.  Well, I give beets an opportunity to be anything they want to be in my kitchen, so long as the end result is delicious. I am up for any adventure.

It took a bit more than a few tantalizing adjectives to convince most to try this chocolate beet breakfast bread. For most, the fat-kid factor was just not there..”too healthy” , they dismissed….. And yet, less than a week after it was baked, the whole damn thing has been eaten. It is gone. Finito!

Baking this bread has taught me a couple things; that chocolate and beets are very good friends, and that perhaps they should just be married and live happily ever after in a far away land where they can be eaten by unsuspecting people who have no clue how delicious they will be but will then be blown away by their deliciousness. OK, enough, I’ll just share the recipe and let anyone interested in giving beets a chance judge for themselves.

CHOCOLATE + BEET BREAKFAST BREAD

  • 15 oz beets (roasted until soft, then pureed) Note: if you’re short on time, you may use canned beets (not pickled) However, roasting them in the oven caramelizes their natural sugars and creates a multidimensional sweetness that is hard to match with canned beets.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flavorless oil (canola, grapeseed, light olive oil)
  • 3 eggs
  • Zest from 1 lemon 
  • 1 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

PROCEDURE (Preheat oven to 325  degrees fahrenheit)

  1. Drain beets of all juice, puree beets and slowly add juice until a smooth consistency is reached. Similar to applesauce. ( My Ninja blender pureed my beets well but left them with a strange chunky consistency. This tricked my friend into thinking they were chocolate chips. Definite WIN!
  2. Using a stand mixer, mix beet puree, eggs, sugar, oil, and lemon zest on medium.  Mix for 5-10 minutes, this will allow air to incorporate into the eggs and will create a fluffier end result.
  3. In another mixing bowl, while wet ingredients are mixing, mix all dry ingredients.
  4. Incorporate dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Make sure dry ingredients are completely incorporated into wet ingredients. Careful not to over mix
  5. Pour batter into a 9 inch loaf pan that has been greased.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test, in which a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out with moist  crumbly-looking crumbs on it.) The center of the loaf should feel hard and slightly hollow when tapped.
  7. Enjoy with soft goat cheese, a nice spin on the ever so popular goat cheese and beets!! 

WHY YOU NEED TO BE EATING THIS NOW!!!

  1. Because beets are extremely healthy and they promote lots of constipation-free days =) 
  2. Because beets rock! Like applesauce tends to do with baked goods, beets will add a desirable moisture to the bread.

A simple lunch

There is no better act of love than to treat yourself to a beautiful and delicious meal, prepared by your own hands; a meal that comes from deep within the heart and nourishes your soul and spirit. There is nobody to impress with elaborate technique or ingredients. No picky eaters to cater to. Feeding yourself is all about you. Nothing else matters.

Lazy Saturday afternoons can elicit cravings for freshly baked dark rye bread, warmed just long enough to create a spongy middle and crispy outer crust. This dark canvas crates a perfect contrast to a soft grassy goat cheese that can be spread against the warm surface of the bread. A buttery sliced avocado adds a subtle richness and freshly picked sweet Thai basil leaves deliver an exotic punch of flavor that will elevate your senses.

Its the simple things in life…..

Happy 3 day weekend!!

Epic Baking Fail

What went wrong? That was the first thought that crossed my mind. Followed, of course, by a tsunami of details that could have caused my baking disaster. By the way, this is not the first baking disaster that I’ve had. I actually suck quite a bit at baking, yet my love for it and the relaxation that I get from it make me enjoy it so much that I just keep trying and trying in hopes of someday becoming a baking diva of some sort. That’s why I was so dissappointed to see the shapeless blob that was supposed to be a vibrantly flavored zucchini raisin bread loaf take a life of its own as the crumbs avalanched all over my counter top. Yep, disaster had stricken my kitchen. I would like to toss the damn blob into the trash and never see it again, but I am weird. I keep my baking disasters on the counter for three main reasons. 1, I hate seeing food and energy go to waste. 2, Maybe it will taste better the next day, or the hubby might eat it out of pity, I know I won’t eat it. And 3, as a constant reminder of my failure and a motivation to hit the books and find out what I did wrong. The third is exactly what I am going to do today, for I am getting tired of having this zuchinni blob take up counter space. Oh and for the record, I have made delicious zuchinni bread before.

I adapted this recipe from Wayne Gisslen’s Proffesional Baking 5th ed.

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I did not use bran, but added 120g pf extra pastry flour. I used raisins instead of the coconut or walnuts. I doubled the zuchinni since I was not using carrot. I used brown sugar instead of regular sugar.

The results:

I used a mini cupcake mold ( those 9 mini cupcakes came out great) and a 9inch loaf pan for the rest of the batter. I only made half the recipe. The resulting loaf of bread ( if it can be called bread), was extremely dense, which leads me to believe that I should have only filled the loaf pan half way up to give it room to rise. I filled it up 3/4 of the way. I inserted a toothpick into the loaf, when I saw that it was clean, I removed the loaf from the oven and let it cool only to find out the batter was still under cooked inside. I looked through the pages of ” The Pastry Chef’s Companion” for answers because it has a very informative section on ” What Went Wrong and Why”.

What is a quickbread?

A quickbread is a simple bread that is leavened with rapid rising chemicals. It contains very little fat so it should be eaten as soon as possible as it will get stale. Various nuts and vegetables can be added to the bread mix.

A main concern when baking quickbreads is the developement of glutten. Unlike yeast breads which have a chewy texture, quickbreads should have a tender crumbly texture. Because they are leavened with baking soda and or baking powder, these chemical leaveners do not have the strenght to hold up to any glutten that may develop in the bread. So the result of excessive glutten developement will be a dense and hard loaf that can probably knock someone out. Nope, not delicious. As I read through my baing books, I discovered the creaming method.

Creaming method
1: combine fat, sugar, salt spice, in a mixer bowl. Use paddle attachment.
2: cream ingredients until light
3: add egg product in 2 or three stages. Stir together liquid ingredients until done
4: in another mixing bowl sift four and dry ingredients
5: Add 1/4 of dry ingredients into wet ingedients, mix until just blended. Then add some more of dry into wet until all ingredients are used up. The final batter should not be smooth but just barely blended and moist.

This method is used when thie bread recipe calls for higher fat and sugar content. These two ingredients will inhibit the development of glutten.
It is also very important that the oven temperature is not too high as the outside of the bread will become crustyand the inside will be undercooked.

So, another attempt at zucchinni bread is in the near future. I will be adopting a lot of the tips listed here and hopefully I can take beautiful pictures and enjoy it with my morning coffee. Until then, I hope these quickbread mixing tips will help you avert baking disaster!

Peachy Scones: gluten free & sugar free

It’s peach season!!! Need I say anymore??? Just imagine all of the delicious things you can make with those sweet, juicy, plump, fuzzy peaches! I found a basket of fresh Georgia peaches at a little farmer’s market here in Winter Park, Fl the other day and I have been eating them like candy all day.  And just as I thought I had eaten peaches in every humanly way possible, I remember scones. I found my inspiration for these scones one tragic morning after discovering I had no milk for my much needed morning coffee. The hubby and I decided to go get our coffee at the closest coffee shop down the street. I usually don’t eat pastries when Im out and about because I like to watch my health and you never know what kinds of fats and sugars are hiding under those scrumptious delicacies, so I just stay away. However, this morning  the hubby ordered a scone. I picked at it (and actually guiltily ate about half of it), and as I sat there feeling guilty, I thought to myself, how can I create a delicious scone at home that I can eat without feeling guilty.  So, after coming back home I got to work. Now, I do not suffer from celiac disease, but being in the business of making people happy through food, I have to understand that everyday, more and more people are suffering from this disease and I must learn to cater to them as well. I also like the fact that  gluten free foods have low GI and more fiber, that makes anyone’s diet healthier. I used stevia on the raw ( zero calorie sweetener) to  help reduce the sugar content. So, following the tips I’ve learned in class, I decided to get to work.

Ingredients:

4 medium peaches ( peeled, cored, and diced into small raising size pieces)

pinch of cinnamon

400 g of gluten free flour mix ( I really like Bob’s Mill)

2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

1/2 cup of Stevia sweetener ( For this recipe I used Stevia On The Raw, but you may use regular sugar if calories are not of your concern)

100 g of Earth Balance vegan butter substitute or butter (again depending on your health concerns you may chose to use earth balance or regular butter, but this recipe is not entirely vegan) Ensure the fat is ice cold and cut into small 1/2 inch cubes.

1/2 c milk or any other kind of non dairy milk product

1/2 c greek yogurt (plain)

1 egg

1/4 c brown sugar

1 T vanilla extract

 

Procedure

(Heat oven to 350 degrees)

1. First combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and stevia, cinnamon) in a bowl and mix well. add in peach bits.

2. slowly add in the earth balance, a couple of cubes at a time. Using a fork, your hands, or a pastry cutter, mix into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like wet sand. Make sure you still allow some chunks of fat to be visible in the mixture.

3. Refrigerate for about 10  minutes so that the dough remains cold.

4.  In a separate bowl mix the egg, yogurt, milk, and a splash of vanilla. Remove mixture from refrigeration.

5.  slowly fold in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix only until you form a wet and sticky dough. DO NOT overmix or the scones will be very tough.

6.  Pour dough into a nonstick 10 inch springform pan. Top the dough with the brown sugar, simply sprinkle it over and pop it into the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color. Make sure its cooked all the way through by inserting a knife through the mid section of the bread, if it comes out clean remove from the oven and let it cool down before cutting into pieces.

Like I mentioned before, this is not a vegan recipe, however, I try using a bit of vegan ingredients wherever I can so that I can reduce the amount of calories and fat that I am adding to the final product. This can definitely be made vegan by substituting the egg with 1 T of ground flax seed mixed into 3 T of warm water. Instead of using yogurt, you can use silken tofu (soft). As long as the same ratios of flour to liquid are kept, all you need to do it plug in the vegan ingredient and walla, uou will have a delicious scone to enjoy with your morning coffee without feeling the “dessert-for-breakfast” guilt!!!!!

 

Enjoy

 

Rosemary & Thyme Focaccia

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
Robert Browning (1812-1889) English poet

 

Lately I have been thinking very hard about my future with food.  I don’t want to work for someone all my life; so I have dreams of one day having my own small business that will challenge me and at the same time provide me with the satisfaction of bringing something as enjoyable as amazing  food to people.  Meanwhile, as I start a new job at a  restaurant here in Winter Park, Fl next week, I plan to absorb every last bit of knowledge so that I can use it when the time comes for me.  All of this inspiration lately has come from baking bread.

Baking bread is a beautiful way of bringing lovely food to the table.  It is an art that requires commitment to the detail of scaling your ingredients, persistence when you knead your dough, and patience as you let it rise and do its thing. The most rewarding moment of course, comes when the freshly baked aromas fill the house. Try baking your own bread at least once and you will begin to realize that there is nothing wonderful about the shalky white bread we see at the local grocery stores.

I have a focaccia recipe from my baking textbook, but I decided to add the thyme and the rosemary from my herb garden.

Thyme

 

Rosemary

 

Ingredients

13.5 oz water

.5 oz yeast (dissolved in 1.5 oz water)

24 oz bread flour

.5 oz salt

1 oz olive oil

Rosemary, Thyme, and 1/2 cup grape tomatoes ( cut into halves)

Scale all the ingredients carefully and mix the yeast with 1.5 oz of warm water, allow to rest for 5 minutes in a warm area of the kitchen.

Turn oven on to preheat at 375 °F and oil a large square sheet pan (any size depending on how you like your focaccia)

Mix the salt & flour, then pour into the yeast mixture, add the oil. Mix with a spatula and slowly add the 13.5 oz of water. This is easier done in a mixer by slowly adding a pencil thin stream of water until the dough holds together, however, I love to play with dough and I prefer to knead it with my hands.

As soon as the dough begins to hold together, turn over onto a lightly dusted surface and knead by folding dough with the hands until you reach this firm dough consistency:

Allow to rise for about an hour or until it looks epic, like this:

When its reaches this size, pour dough onto dusted surface and take all edges and bring them to the center to form a ball. Take a rolling pin and roll out the dough to fit the sheet pan that you will be baking in. Brush with additional olive oil and sprinkle fresh herbs, then arrange grape tomato halves on the dough.

Bake until slightly golden.

When the focaccia is baked set it out to cool a bit. This bread has a crusty texture that will tasty amazing with soft goat cheese or grilled veggies.  The grape tomatoes will be so juicy that it reminds me of a mini pizza when I eat it all by itself.

 

Enjoy!!

 

A vegan zucchini bread loaf

In the spirit of stepping away from the commercial “veggie” patties and the “meatless” breakfast products that so many vegans have come to accept as part of their daily meals, I have baked a vegan bread loaf. I do not call myself a vegan, blame my obsession of cheese for that, however, I’ll be the first to admit that I will take any vegan dessert over its non-vegan counterpart anyday if it was made with natural and fresh ingredients. It cuts down on some of the saturated fat by eliminating eggs and butter. Of course, when baking a healthy vegan treat, you really need to be careful what the substitute for egg and butter will be. For example, don’t eliminate butter and then add shortening because chances are that it is a vegetable shortening that has been partially hydrogenated and thus contains trans-fats. This means that in your body these fats will lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels and increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

I wanted to use whole wheat bread and because I have worked with regular whole wheat flour in the past, I know that many times it can be too heavy for bread. So heavy that I end up with bread that can probably double up as a rock/weapon. Because of this I decided to use whole wheat pastry flour because it has less protein and will not create as much gluten that can make my bread turn into a heavy glob.

I also added raisins and pieces of walnuts that add a delicious bite to the finished loaf!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 ts baking powder
  • 1/2 ts salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground clove
  • 1 Tbs flax seed (ground) mixed with 3 Tbs water ( this is the egg replacer)
  • 1/2 c raw sugar
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1 ts lemon juice
  • 1 ts vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c zucchini (shredded)
  • 1/4 c walnuts
  • 1/4 c raisins
  • 1/4 c water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, clove, cinnamon and set aside in a large mixing bowl
  3. In a separate bowl, mix sugar, flax seed mixture, oil, lemon juice, vanilla,
  4. Add the zucchini, raisins, walnuts and water to the wet mixture.
  5. Incorporate the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix. Make sure you do not overmix. Stop mixing as soon as all of the dry ingredients become moistened.
  6. Pour mix into a 8.4″ x 4.4″ x 2.7″ baking loaf pan
  7. Bake about 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean after being inserted into the center of baking loaf.

You will notice that it is not as sweet as other breads (like banana bread), but this allows the zucchini to have a more assertive presence. The sweet punch will come when you bite into a raisin. Oh, and the walnuts will just make everything crunchy and nutty! Enjoy!