Archive for March, 2010

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it’s about time

March 30, 2010

From practically the first moment I contemplated putting things in a hot oven and seeing what happens, mrslovey’s been up my butt to make her some cinnamon bread.  Somehow, I’ve managed to avoid this request for nearly a decade now.  At this point it’s a running joke between us.  It’s not that I didn’t want to make it for her.  Initially, I was simply terrified by yeast breads, and I didn’t want to risk messing up something she was so excited about.  Eventually I became more confident in this area, but still never seemed to produce a loaf.  Want to know why?  I’ll tell you why – there are quite possibly one zillion recipes for cinnamon swirl bread out there, and no two are the same.  How the heck was I supposed to know which one was the right one?

Once it was confirmed that this month was yeast bread month, I knew that there was no way I could possibly avoid this task any longer.  Not wanting to be solely responsible (really, not wanting the overwhelming task of picking a single recipe), I sent mrslovey to the cookbookcase and told her to come back with the winner.  All I heard from the kitchen for about 30 minutes was the turning of pages.  Finally she emerged with an orange coil-bound book that I don’t recall ever seeing before. Midwestern church cookbook, 1975, hoo daddy.  “This, this is the one you’ll make!”  Ok, if you say so!  I figure if it failed miserably, I can always blame Mrs. Magnusen.

The recipe is written as if you’re sitting at the kitchen table while she’s making the bread.  A couple of the ingredients are kind of vague on how much, or else lacking quantities completely.  When it gets to the loaf shaping part, she goes on a complete tangent.  You could do it this way, or that way, or make some of this other thing and put this in it…it went on forever, swear.  From start to finish the written recipe was almost two solid pages long.  Now, I know that I can be chatty, but that was a little ridiculous.  Plus, I’m lazy and don’t want to type all that out.  So I present to you my interpretation, with far fewer words, and a couple of tweaks.  And how did it turn out, you ask, this long-awaited loaf?  I’m afraid the words I’d use to describe it could be considered sacrilegious, so in deference to Mrs. Magnusen, I won’t type them out here.     Read the rest of this entry ?

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dinner roll dinner roll ding ding ding!

March 26, 2010

When I first started baking, one of the things that intimidated me most was dinner rolls.  Yes, dinner rolls, weird, whatever.  For reasons unknown, I could never get a consistent result.  Some days they’d come out perfect, other days they’d just sit there refusing to rise, like sullen little rocks.  It was awful not being able to commit for holidays, since I wouldn’t have any idea whether or not a particular batch would succeed or fail miserably.

Nowadays, I don’t have that problem.  In fact, not only am I making rolls for whichever meal I’m attending, I also have friends, coworkers, and family who are buying them (from me! with money!).  Last year I made something obnoxious like two hundred rolls for Thanksgiving, and nearly that again for Christmas.  And every single one came out a perfect cloud of tasty.

What made the difference, you ask?  I’m almost hesitant to tell, I’m afraid people won’t be nearly as impressed with them if they knew how easy these rolls are!  First, I finally found the right recipe.  Yes, I’m talking about King Arthur Flour AGAIN.  Their recipes are so consistently good, how could I not?  In this case, I discovered their Soft White Dinner Rolls.  The butter, potato flakes, and dried milk add a ton of flavor, while leaving the texture light, soft, and tender.  They’re delicious on the day they’re made, and they also make great little finger sandwich rolls with leftovers.  They freeze beautifully, so I tend to make a double batch – eat one now, freeze the second for super-easy homemade rolls later!

I do have one confession, however.  I’m *not* going to tell you the shortcut technique I figured out that shaves off more than half the total prep time.  Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to keep the customers calling!

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not sure who this Anna is, but she’s my new best friend

March 21, 2010

Anadama bread is delicious.  And it definitely originates in New England. Pretty much everyone agrees on these two things.  What isn’t as clear, however, is the exact source of the name.  Depending on who you talk to/what you read, it was either a farmer or a fisherman, exasperated with the constant diet of cornmeal and molasses his wife, Anna, was feeding him.  Apparently, the farmer just cursed his wife.  The fisherman craved bread, so he threw some yeast and flour into his daily mush, left it near the fire, and ate the resulting loaf.  Whichever is true (if either is), it’s an amusing story that reflects on how these two ingredients were a staple in the early New Englander’s daily diet.  I’ve been looking forward to making a loaf of anadama for several months, and finally got around to it today.

Holy cow, this is GOOD bread.  Possibly the best loaf so far this year.

The loaf itself feels substantial in the hand, but the bread is not overly heavy.  Does that make sense?  It’s like the tip on how to pick ripe fruit – find one that feels heavy for its size.  Anyway.  The cornmeal added a delicious flavor and texture, and was a nice departure from all-wheat breads.  I was worried that the molasses would be overwhelming, but it just lent a nice undertone.  This bread has great depth of flavor.  The crust is dark and chewy, with a sprinkling of cornmeal on top for added contrast.  The crumb is moist, dense, and amazingly flavorful.  It would lend itself well to toast or sandwiches.  Our first taste was with just a smear of butter.  For dessert, we spread a little jam.  I’m sure I’ll be making this again and again and again.  And again.  Damn you, Anna. Read the rest of this entry ?

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the loaf that dare not speak its name

March 17, 2010


In the past week we’ve had another wonderful visit from an old friend, doctor visits, and car troubles.  We’ve also had some delicious food, and a couple of opportunities to bake, both sweets and savory.  Before I get to the newer stuff, however, in my last post I promised that I’d share my sourdough rolls.  To be honest though, I don’t even know if that’s what they are, exactly.  Yes, I’m using sourdough starter, but I’m throwing it into a recipe that normally uses a very young (12-16 hours old) starter, and produces a more traditional Italian loaf.  The use of an older starter gives these a much more pronounced tang than they would normally have.  Plus, I’m shaping them as rolls instead of a loaf (although I’ve done that, too).   So what is it?  Sourdough?  Italian?  Soutalian?  Italerdough?  Rollitalisour?  I don’t know exactly what to call them, but they’re darn good.  I think I’ve decided to keep this highly mutated recipe for rolls, and continue working on a truer sourdough for loaves.

Truthfully, I can’t promise that this recipe will work for anyone else.  I think (in my very limited knowledge on the topic) that so much depends on your particular starter.  I had to do a lot of tweaking with volume and timing to figure out what worked consistently with my starter.  For me, the first key was feeding the starter about 10 hours before I planned on beginning.  In theory, this means that I’d feed it just before bedtime, and start actively working with it after breakfast.  What that really means is that frequently I would end up with no bread when I had hoped for bread, because I don’t have the kind of attention span that lets me plan that far in advance on a regular basis.  On the occasions that I did remember, though, after breakfast I’d pull out 12 ounces of starter from the bucket.  This seemed to be just the right amount to use  in order to get the rise and texture that I was looking for.  Your starter may vary.  I’d be surprised if it didn’t.   Read the rest of this entry ?

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invasion of the focaccia snatchers

March 11, 2010

Earlier this week we were at max capacity around our dining room table.  I’ve known B&S for just about all of my adult life, but due to geography we haven’t had a lot of face time in quite a while.  They were on what I call their “New England Victory Tour,” visiting family and friends now that S has returned home after several deployments.  You know in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, the car full of hunting dogs that’s just a giant blur of ears and legs and tails and noise as it drives by?  This is how I picture their van crisscrossing the countryside, loaded down with two adults, three kids, a college-aged niece, and two dogs.  In addition to B&S and their crew, we invited two locals, who are also good friends with the thundering herd.

Mrslovey made what was quite possibly the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.  Especially considering as of a month ago, when it was first requested for this dinner, she’d never made one before!  To go along with it we had a giant caesar salad, sourdough rolls (that’s another post), rosemary focaccia, and  dessert was a decadent trifle.  I felt a little silly making both rolls and focaccia, but it turned out to be a good decision – by the end of the evening there were two, maybe three small pieces left in the bottom of the bread basket.

The focaccia is one of the first yeast breads I ever made, and I still turn to it on a regular basis.  If you’re hesitant about yeast recipes, give this one a try.  It’s super easy, the honey pretty much guarantees a good rise, and the olive oil makes the dough a joy to handle.  The recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine.  I have the 2003 Annual Recipes cookbook, but I was also able to find it on their website, so I’ll just provide a link here rather than typing it all out.

Dinner was a complete success, even with all of the elbows in such close quarters.  There were many stories told that should probably never be repeated, good food, good friends, and an overload of laughter.  If I had to narrow it down to two words to describe B&S and their family, I know exactly what they’d be:  exuberant joy.  Everyone should be that happy after over 19 years together.

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must be something in the water

March 7, 2010


Over the course of my friendship with K, I’ve also become friends with her daughter, M.  Around two years ago, K came into work one day concerned about the result of M’s latest doctor visit.  M’s doctor had told her she was at risk for gestational diabetes, and that she needed to start eating better, with an emphasis on more whole grains and fiber.  I decided to make her some bread, to encourage tasty, healthy eating.  When M brought the bread home, her husband (who we’ve never actually met) asked where it was from.  Lovey and mrslovey, she advised.  H shrugged and walked away, apparently not interested.

This recipe gets made regularly here.  The blend of white and whole wheat flour give it a hearty flavor, without being too heavy.  The honey and molasses give it a hint of natural sweetness.  Over time, I’ve made some modifications.  The original recipe made four loaves, which constantly threatened to escape from the mixer.  It was just a bit excessive.  I added sunflower kernels for a little bit of texture.  I also found that the original recipe was far too wet and sticky, so I played around with the amount of flour until it was elastic and tacky, without being a velcro mess.  The revised recipe makes two beautiful loaves, perfect for sandwiches, or just drizzling with some honey or spreading with  a little bit of jam for a snack.

As for MrM, seems he finally did try the bread.  M was on the other side of the house when she hears him yell out, “Hey honey, this lesbian bread is really good!”  Yes indeed, it is.  And now he asks for it on a regular basis. Read the rest of this entry ?

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March – Yeast breads (part 1?)

March 1, 2010

March will be the first of hopefully several months throughout the year to feature yeast breads.  There are so many that I want to try, but unlike brownies or quick breads, it’s a lot harder to make 5 different things in one day.  Okay, so maybe *you* can do it, but I’m still new enough with them that I would rather just focus on one at a time.  Plus, they take a lot longer.  So be patient, stay tuned, and we’ll figure this out together.