Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Birthday Greetings


If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I like to celebrate birthdays. It is the day that the world welcomed a new person. Today, many years ago, the world welcomed my Mom as that new person. This is the first birthday where she won't be in the world to celebrate with us, cards lined up on the mantle, strawberry shortcake with candles, smiles all around.

Still, there is another tradition for celebrating those who have passed into the next life. A toast is raised (often with Irish Mist or Irish whiskey) to the person. Since her family and friends are spread out over a long distance, the toast follows the sun across the sky. I'll be toasting Mom at 5 pm my time, probably gazing over her favorite view from the back deck. Since at least some of you know her and some of you have read about her here, you are welcome to join the celebration.



I had hoped to write a tribute to go along with the invitation, but I'm finding it hard to keep from sobbing. Too little time has passed since she died to make it easy to write about her.

Know that she was an amazing woman, she brought amazing people into the world as a mother, she loved them and their partners and children and grandchildren well, and loved her own Dad, Mom, brother and sisters and cousins well, she contributed to her community and church, and loved my Dad most of all. Guess that isn't too bad of a tribute after all.


Happy Birthday Mom!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pizza In A Hurry Without It Being Takeout


Facebook can really be interesting. One of the unsolicited things I found there recently was a link to a site (Chef's Toolbox) that showed how to make pizza on the stove top. Since my sound wasn't turned on I probably missed some vital information and definitely missed what pan they were using, but I still decided to try the recipe the other day for lunch.

One of the things I noticed was that the pan had a lid which sealed the contents, but could also be vented. I happen to have a wide and shallow waterless cookware pan which I've had for over 40 years. It no longer has a handle, nor a handle on the lid, but it still works well for a sealed environment. Since it is not non-stick, I sprayed olive oil spray on the bottom and sides. Good thing, too, because I had to un-stick some of the cheese topping in order to get it out of the pan for cutting.

Because I was having to use oil spray, I couldn't mix up the crust in the pan as they did on the video. I mixed it in a bowl, then plopped it in the pan and spread it. Poor idea. Next time I'll turn it out onto a floured board, knead it enough to roll it, then roll it thin. The part I liked the least was the thick crust.

Because I always have baking ingredients on hand, it was easy to throw together the crust ingredients. I did have to search my pantry for a bottle of pasta sauce before I began, but I did have some. The fridge yielded fresh mushrooms (which I sliced), shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and sliced turkey pepperoni. The spice cupboard had dried basil and oregano. OK, ready to go.


Into a medium bowl I put the following ingredients, then stirred them together:
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 rounded teaspoon dry yeast (use the rapid rising kind if possible)
pinch salt
1 teaspoon honey
2/3 cup warm water

Then I put that mixture into the oiled and heated pan. Burned my finger trying to spread out the dough. As mentioned above, next time I'll have a rolled thin dough to put into the oiled pan.

The dough was quickly topped with about 1/4 cup pasta sauce, 10 or so slices pepperoni, all the mushrooms, a small handful of mozzarella and a little less Parmesan. About 1/4 teaspoon each of the dried basil and oregano finished it off. I put on the lid, increased the heat for a minute to create the seal, reduced the heat to low and let it cook 5 minutes.

Then I removed the seal, set the lid, slightly ajar, over the pan and cooked it for another 5 minutes. The recipe called for 10 minutes, but I was worried about a burned crust. Turns out I should have left it cooking another 2-3 minutes because the crust was still a bit uncooked. Still the flavors were delicious and it was nice and hot with melty cheese!


Used a large spatula to remove the whole thing to a cutting board, then cut it into 6 pieces. That was lunch for Sweetie and I, along with some fruit and salad. Very tasty for something that took less than 1/2 hour.


You can top it with anything you desire, just like any pizza. This is a fine thing for those days when it is too hot to use the oven, although I suspect that using the grill and a pizza stone would be even better and still not heat up the kitchen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Short and Sweet Orange Cranberry Shortbread



There are cookbooks that are on my shelf which go unused for a long time and then I suddenly notice them and decide to make a recipe from them. That happened this week with a great little book Short and Sweet, by Melanie Barnard. I was looking for something else and spotted it, then fell in love with the shortbread cookie recipe.

The recipes are all pretty quick and many also have limited ingredients. The one I chose, Cranberry Orange Shortbread, met both of those criteria. Because you met the butter you can decide to make this at a moments notice...no softened, room temperature butter needed.  I melted the butter in a large microwave safe bowl and finished making the batter in that bowl, but the recipe actually calls for melting the butter in a saucepan and finishing the batter in that. Either way you have quick clean up as well as the quick recipe.

Freshly grated orange zest is aromatic so these cookies smelled nice even before they baked. I was worried that it would be difficult to remove them from the pan because it's un-greased and the cookies are fairly thin, but they came out in one piece and I used a long bread knife to cut them into squares.

These cookies are not too sweet, perfect by themselves, with coffee or tea, or even on the side of a dish of ice cream. The texture is crisp and a bit sandy as a shortbread should be. The total time from start to finish is less than an hour. Hard to do better than that for a nice fruity cookie, right?


Cranberry Orange Shortbread Bars
Makes 16 cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large microwave safe bowl (or in a medium sauce pan over medium heat if you prefer) melt the butter. Remove pan from microwave (or heat) and stir in the orange peel, cranberries, and powdered sugar. Then stir in the flour to make a stiff dough.

Spread and pat the dough into an uncreased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake unti the bars are golden and firm at the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool the pan on a rack for 2 minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut into 16 squares. (After cookie had cooled 10 minutes with pan on a cooling rack, I used a small sharp knife run around the outer edge to loosen the whole mass of cookie, then turned it out, turned it right side up on a cutting board and then cut the bars with a long knife.) Let the bars cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing them with a small spatula.

The bars can be stored, tightly covered, for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pink, Rich And Oh So Strawberry...What a Cake!


The traditional Mother's Day dessert when I was growing up was strawberry shortcake. There was yellow cake, fresh sliced strawberries and plenty of whipped cream. If we didn't have it for Mother's Day...sometimes the berries ripened a little late...we would have it for Mom's birthday toward the end of May. That combination of cake, strawberries and cream has always reminded me of my Mom.

This May the Cake Slice Bakers, baking from the wonderful The Southern Cake Book by Southern Living, had a number of choices but the immediate choice for me was the decadent Strawberry Mousse Cake. It has all of the features of the traditional strawberry shortcake, but in form that is more layered and more sophisticated. I baked it in a heart shaped pan to honor my Mom, who used to bake my birthday cake in a heart pan. The strawberry mousse filling was new to me and was really a key part of the recipe.  I know that I'm going to use it again, maybe with a blackberry puree instead of the strawberries. That would make a great filling for a spice cake when blackberries are in season.

The cake if a butter cake made from scratch and because you leave out the yolks of the eggs, it is a white cake. In the photo in the book it looked a bit dry, but I tried half the recipe out early as a coffee flavored cake and it was very moist. When I made a half recipe for the layer cake it was just a bit dryer, but that may have been because it was made in thin layers instead of a thicker loaf cake. It was still delicious and went really well with the soft and just sweet enough creamy mousse filling. For the icing I went with a traditional buttercream instead of the icing given in the recipe. Once you have had the silky smooth, rich wonderfulness of true buttercream, an icing of butter and confectioners sugar just doesn't cut it unless you are in a hurry. My daughter was here, too, so she was able to see how easy it is to make real buttercream as long as you have enough time.


I loved this cake. It was very rich, so slices were thin. Half a recipe (which is what I have given below) worked perfectly. There were even left overs for later. The pink mousse matched the pink buttercream and it looked just perfect on my grandmother's fluted glass cake plate. This recipe is going into the keeper file for sure!

Be sure to check out the other Cake Slice Bakers posts (see below recipe for links) to see which cake they made and how they made it their own. Hope you had as happy a Mother's Day as I did.


Strawberry Mousse Cake 
based on a cake in The Southern Cake Book
Serves 5-6

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 egg whites
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or butter two  8" diameter cake pans. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with a stand mixer, until mixture is fluffy. Gradually add egg whites, on-third at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, smooth the top with a spatula and rap the pans against the counter top twice, sharply, to dislodge any air bubbles.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes, turning the pans half way around about half way through the baking time. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean when cake is done. Remove to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes, then run a knife around the pans to loosen the cake and turn the cake out, cooling cakes right side up.

When completely cool, split cake in half horizontally, then fill with Strawberry Mousse (recipe below). Chill cake for 1 hour to firm up filling.
Frost top, then sides with Strawberry Buttercream, then chill cake at least an hour to firm up buttercream. Let cake sit at room temperature for about 1/2 hour before serving for best flavor. Garnish with fresh strawberries, flowers, or your choice of decor.
Strawberry Mousse
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes to hydrate gelatin.
Process strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor until smooth. Scrape down sides as needed. Transfer strawberry mixture to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add gelatin to strawberry mixture, stirring constantly until gelatin dissolves. Cover mixture and chill about 20 minutes, until mixture is consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Stir occasionally to chill mixture evenly.
Beat whipping cream at low speed until foamy, then increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into strawberry mixture until well blended. Chill, covered, for 20 minutes, or just until mixture is thick enough to hold its shape when mounded. Use as filling for the cake above. Any leftovers can be enjoyed as a dessert. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
Strawberry Buttercream

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
12 tablespoons (1 ½  sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup fresh strawberries, cap removed and finely chopped

1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water (but don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 3 minutes.

2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddles and beat in the softened butter a few small pieces at a time, and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth, about 6 – 10 minutes. Once the buttercream is smooth, add the finely chopped fresh strawberries, beating until everything is smooth again. It may take 5-10 minutes of beating.

3. Put half the buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Use an offset spatula frost the top of the cake, then pipe rosettes of buttercream on the sides of the cake and decorate as you like. Any leftover buttercream can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

This is a half recipe. If you prefer to skip the mousse, double the buttercream recipe and use to both fill and frost the cake.

Here are the other Cake Slice Bakers posts to view:


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Slipper Bread for May Bread Baking Babes


As soon as I saw the recipe for the May Bread Baking Babes, brought to us by our Kitchen of the Month, Cathy of Bread Experience blog, I knew that Sweetie would love this bread. Although I usually change lots of things to suit myself when I bake from a recipe, even a new one, for this one I stayed really close to what was given, changing only one of the flours from rye to a 9-grain blend and changing the prunes to dried cranberries because he loves a bread he gets in Berkeley that has dried cranberries in it. I did use parchment as the base for baking them on preheated pizza stones, but otherwise stay close to directions, including a pan of ice cubes for steam on the top rack.

The bread in question is Flaxseed and Cranberry Ciabatti-Style Loaves (I think ciabatta means 'slipper' in Italian) and I had fun with it because baking a ciabatta bread was on my bucket list of breads to bake. Check out Lien's beautiful badge!:




I measured the ingredients on my scale since amounts were given in grams. I let the flax seeds soak (longer than required but that didn't seem to harm anything), had the poolish sit out even longer than required for even more flavor and I chilled the dough while I went to the gym and brought it back to room temperature before doing the next fold because I did have to leave it for a while and didn't want the dough to stay warm too long without the folding. All of this, plus the ice cubes in a pan to give steam during the first part of the baking, worked really well. 

I made three loaves and they looked fine and tasted even better. Would have been even better with the rye flour (which I discovered I was out of) but I really liked the dried cranberries. Sweetie ate half of the first loaf he liked it so much.




Thanks Cathy for an excellent recipe and one I might not have tried on my own. That is one of the joys of belonging to this bread baking group...we get to try new breads and techniques and are encouraged by our fellow Babes to stretch our skills...and to have fun. Cathy has a really wonderful set of photos and tips, along with the original recipe on her blog, to help you make the best ciabatta ever!


Do visit the other Babes and see what they did this month with this bread. Also, if you want to be a Buddy, bake the bread, take a photo and send Cathy and e-mail with the photo, a URL to your blog post and a short description of your experience baking the bread. Her email address is breadexperience (at) gmail (dot) com. You have until the May 29th and she'll post a round up soon after that. Come bake with us!



Flaxseed and Cranberry Ciabatti-Style Loaves 

Flaxseed soaker:
48 grams flax seeds
72 grams water

Mix all ingredients until well incorporated, cover and set aside.
Let it sit for at least one hour. 

Poolish:

125 grams bread flour
125 grams water
pinch of instant yeast

Mix all ingredients until well incorporated with D.D.T. of 70°F.
Allow to ferment 12 – 14 hours at room temperature (65 -70°F)

Final Dough:

300 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
50 grams coarsely milled whole wheat flour
25 grams coarsely milled whole rye flour
278 grams water
10 grams salt
84 grams dried cranberries
2 grams instant yeast

Mixing: Hand Mix 

  1. Mix together all the ingredients except the flax seeds, and plums.
  2. Once everything is thoroughly incorporated, mix in flax soaker and dried cranberries.
  3. Transfer the dough into an oiled container.
Dough Temperature: 76-78°F

First Fermentation: a total of 3 hours with 3 folds
45 minutes at room temperature; fold
45 minutes at room temperature; fold
45 minutes at room temperature; fold

Divide: Dough is not scaled. It is divided by measurement. Place loaves on a floured couche, or do as I did and put the dough from the bucket on a heavily floured board, use a bench scraper to cut into three loaves, then transfer the loaves with a very thin, large spatula to parchment paper. You can use a pizza peel to move the parchment paper with loaves onto the preheated pizza stone. I then used the edges of the parchment to turn the loaves 180 degrees in the oven about half way through baking.

Rest : 20 minutes at room temperature
Bake: Deck oven 
450°F with 2 seconds of steam. Bake for 20 minutes. Vent an additional 10 minutes then remove from oven and cool on wire racks.


The Bread Baking Babes are:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

May Is For Moms Today

May is one of those months that gets to celebrate a lot of great things...Graduations and (in my family) a birthday or two, Memorial Day and May Day and May 5th and of course Mother's Day.

I'm celebrating being a Mom, celebrating my awesome Mom who is rockin' heaven if there is any justice,


my daughter who began my motherhood journey with me,

and all the women who are moms, including those whose 'kids' belong in the animal kingdom. Come to think of it, some of the human kids sometimes seem to belong more to the animal kingdom.

Anyhoo, Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Sweet Mocha Buttercream on a Fine Cake


I've been doing very little baking, well, little if you are me. It was a good idea while I was getting my digestion processes back on track. It would probably still be a good idea for my waistline, but the urge to bake is very strong now that I have a dedicated place to do it.

On Sunday I baked a half recipe of a very fine coffee flavored butter cake. I baked it in a loaf tin, which meant that for Sunday evening dessert Sweetie and I could have a slice of cake. It was moist and delicious and I think Sweetie would have loved to finish it off. I knew that I wanted to try it with Mocha Buttercream, so we restrained ourselves so that there would be cake to frost once the frosting was made. He assured me that it was better un-frosted. That might have been because I used a bit of bourbon to dissolve the espresso powder I used in the cake, plus I used strong cold coffee instead of water in the recipe, so there were some interesting flavors going on.


On Monday I made a half recipe of Mocha Buttercream, using some more espresso dissolved in bourbon, plus a nice rich cocoa powder for the chocolate part. I love this recipe, even though it is a bit more work than a butter and confectioners sugar buttercream. You start by whisking egg whites and sugar over simmering water. After 3-4 minutes the mixture has gotten white and very much like soft marshmallow cream. You transfer the mixture to a stand mixer and whisk it with the mixer until cool, about 5 minutes or so. Then you add small blobs of soft butter while the machine whisks. It takes a little while for the butter to be absorbed, but that also thickens up the mixture. Then you add the chocolate-coffee-bourbon mixture and beat it until it becomes the perfect, thick, creamy buttercream. I used an offset spatula to frost a layer in the middle of the split cake, then a layer on top. Switching to a pastry bag with star tip, I put rosettes all over the sides and as decoration on the top. It goes more quickly than you might imagine as long as you don't insist on the rosettes being perfect. Since the buttercream goes on pretty soft, I always follow up with letting the cake sit in the fridge for a while before serving.


Sweetie had to admit, the cake was even better with this decadent frosting.  He isn't usually a cake loving person, bu this one may have changed his mind.

Cake With Bourbon and Coffee Flavor 
based on a cake in The Southern Cake Book

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 egg whites
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or butter a 9"x5" loaf pan. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with a stand mixer, until mixture is fluffy. Gradually add egg whites, on-third at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, mix together the bourbon and espresso powder, letting the espresso powder dissolve. Then add the brewed coffee and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the coffee mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smooth the top with a spatula and rap the pan against the counter top twice, sharply, to dislodge any air bubbles.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30-35 minutes, turning the loaf pan half way around about half way through the baking time. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean when cake is done. Remove to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes, then run a knife around the pan to loosen the cake and turn the cake out, cooling cake right side up.

When completely cool, split cake in half horizontally, then fill and frost with Mocha Buttercream (recipe below). Serves 5-6.


Mocha Bourbon Buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons espresso powder
4 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon best quality cocoa

1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water (but don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 3 minutes.

2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddles and beat in the softened butter a few small pieces at a time, and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth, about 6 – 10 minutes. While the buttercream is becoming smooth, dissolve the espresso powder in the bourbon in a small bowl, then stir in the cocoa until mixture is smooth. Once the buttercream is smooth, add the espresso-cocoa mixture, a little at a time and beat until everything is smooth again. It may take 5-10 minutes of beating.

3. Put half the buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Use an offset spatula to fill and frost the top of the cake, then pipe rosettes of buttercream on the sides of the cake and decorate as you like. Any leftover buttercream can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

Friday, May 01, 2015

A Different Green Salad


Recently I was looking at a lot of restaurant menus online, trying to find a good place for Sweetie and I to have an anniversary dinner out. One of the things I noticed is that if you love kale you can always find a salad on contemporary menus. Arugula is also popular, and so are beets. The standard, at least around here, for salad greens seems to be field greens or spring mix. While I love all of those salad ingredients, they are all off the list of things that I can eat, along with spinach, Swiss chard and the like.

While I know that having salads more interesting than chopped iceberg with shredded carrots and maybe a few coins of radish is a good thing, I do know that there are lots of other kinds of salads that could be on the menus and maybe they will be once we all get tired of kale.

Years ago in Berkeley I came across a salad in a deli case that has been a favorite ever since. It's a pretty simple one, so it didn't take much effort to figure out how to make it at home. It is green, has some very healthy ingredients, goes together fairly quickly and uses an ingredient that seems to be available almost year round these days...broccoli.


Now I know there are folks who don't care for broccoli. To those folks I say...give it a chance! In this salad it gets dressed up in a nice creamy dressing, is complemented by sweet red bell pepper, salty feta cheese and nutty pecans.

The florets of the broccoli are cut into bite sized pieces. If you are frugal, and if you like the stems, include some of them, sliced. Put them in a microwave safe steamer, or in a steamer basket in a pot with a little water in the bottom. Before you start cooking them, dump a couple cups of ice cubes into a large bowl and add a few cups of water. That way the water will get icy while you deal with steaming the broccoli.

Steam the broccoli only long enough for it to become tender enough to bite in two. For my microwave that's 2 minutes on high. The color will be a fairly bright green. Immediately drain off any hot water and dump all the broccoli into the bowl with the ice water. Stir it around with a spoon or your clean fingers. The idea is to cool down the broccoli quickly. Then drain the broccoli completely.

While the broccoli drains, slice a half the fleshy part of a sweet red bell pepper in strips and cut the strips into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

In a small jar place 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, the juice and zest of one small or 1/2 large lemon, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, some garlic powder or minced garlic (amount varies depending on how much you like garlic). Put a lid on the jar and shake briskly for a minute. Take off the lid, add 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, put the lid back on and shake again. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. You now have a creamy dressing.


Now you're ready to put together the salad. Place the broccoli, red pepper strips, a couple tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, and 2 tablespoons toasted, chopped pecans. Gently mix these ingredients together. Add the dressing and gently mix to coat the ingredients with the dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours.


It's a good idea to serve this salad with a slotted spoon to keep your plate from having a pool of dressing, but if you forget, it's really delicious dressing. The salad is even better and has lots of vitamins and minerals and fiber and all those 'healthy' things, but mostly it's a nice green salad that is absolutely delicious...and different than kale.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Happy Buddies Made Beautiful Filled Breads


When choosing a bread to bake as Kitchen of the Month, it's almost always a balancing act of finding something that presents a bit of a challenge, but not making it something that will not seem worth trying. On top of that, it's Spring! At this time of year when holidays, the garden, the end of school and similar things make it tougher to find time for baking, it's a wonder if anyone bakes the bread of the month, so I thank each of the Buddies who took the time to make these beautiful breads.

The main challenge of the Romanian Easter bread was to fill the braid strands. Those filled strands make lovely swirls in the finished bread, help keep the bread fresh longer, and taste so good, too.

All in all, it sounds like the Babes who baked the bread liked it and the Buddies did too. There were some great fillings and even some different shapes. One of the things I think we all found out is that this bread has tremendous oven spring!

So, in alpha order, our April Buddies!:

Carola of Sweet and That's It made a beautiful, long braid with a nice drizzle of icing on top and she used some spelt flour and flaxseeds in the bread and made an almond filling that included raisins. Look at those swirls of filling!



Judy of Judy's Gross Eats baked a picture perfect braid using organic coconut sugar, two rises, and an almond filling that made lovely swirls in the slices.



Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories baked Cozonac! She is a bread geek and loves that a Romanian likes her Romanian braid. I would love that kind of comment, too. She had awesome gluten strands in her braid, partly from the oven spring, and she used hazelnuts for a very European filling.



Kelly of A Messy Kitchen created a group of coiled buns instead of a braid, similar to shaping of ensemaidas. Changes included using some spelt flour, some sourdough starter, some olive oil for part of the fat and pecans for the nuts! Beautiful buns with the filling peeping out.



Sandie of Crumbs of Love made her own poppy seed filling which included milk, honey, sugar and butter. Short braid strands made a beautiful compact loaf with luscious ribbons of poppy seed filling running through. Very much the kind of filling that is typical for Easter breads in Europe.


Again, thanks for Baking with the Bread Baking Babes Carola, Judy, Karen, Kelly and Sandie! Look forward to baking again with you next month.  XO, Elle

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pizza or Calzone...or Both


One of the great things about having pizza dough in the freezer is that you can make a quick and creative meal without a whole lot of trouble. Well, quick once the dough has had a chance to thaw and warm up a bit. Yesterday I knew that I would want pizza for dinner, so I too a couple of portions out of the freezer and they thawed while I did some weeding and stained glass work and read a little more of a book I'm enjoying. The author? Louise Penny, a Canadian writer. If you haven't read any of her work yet, start with Still Life. You can blame me when you fall in love with a little village and want to move there, even though an amazing number of murders happen there for such a small population. Perhaps just visiting is fine.


I made the pizza dough last week when I decided to make calzone, mostly to use up some pasta sauce I'd made a couple of days before. When there are only two of you dining and you were raised to cook for at least eight people, leftovers are a way of life. A calzone is really just a pizza folded over on itself before baking. I like mine with ricotta cheese on the bottom, layers of sauce and meat or veggies, and plenty of cheese.


I made two kinds. One had a filling of the ricotta, some roasted butternut squash,a little bacon, some Italian parsley, and garlic, plus shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan. The second one had less ricotta, the tomato rich pasta sauce, slices of pepperoni, more mozzarella and Parmesan. Both were delicious in their own way.

For yesterday's pizza I was using up some leftover chicken thigh meat. That's the photo at the top of the post. On went the ricotta, the chicken, some local bacon, crumbled, some caramelized onion, Italian parsley, mozzarella and Parmesan. It was tastiest when cooled just a bit and was a mellow flavor combo, smokey with the bacon, but if you like more flavor, add some hot sauce.

The nice thing about both these is that you hand form the dough, stretching it gently to get a nice thin crust, thicker around the edges. If the dough fights you when you are stretching it. Just let it sit a few minutes and try again. Sometimes the gluten needs a brief rest before it cooperates.

In loading the pizza or calzone, keep the toppings light in weight. When I knew I was going to use fairly heavy pasta sauce, I went very light on the ricotta for the second calzone. When I made the chicken pizzas, I went light on the chicken. One thigh was more than enough for two four-slice pizzas.

The final tip is to use a pizza stone, if at all possible, in the oven and to preheat the oven so that it is really hot when you put the pizza in. I found for my oven that baking each one on the stone, then transferring it to the rack to finish baking was just the thing so that the crust was crispy and the fillings fully heated through.

I still have two more bags of dough in the freezer. Looking forward to the next great pizza/calzone meal.


BASIC PIZZA DOUGH ~ To Use for Calzone or Pizza
Original recipe for the dough taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.
Makes six pizza (8-10 inch) crusts or six 4-slice calzone

Ingredients: 4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

 DAY ONE Method: 1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water. NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 pieces. NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball. NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap. 7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days. NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make calzone or pizzas, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator, or you can thaw the dough on the counter for about 3-4 hours before you bake.

DAY TWO
8. On the day you plan to eat calzone, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan. Note: In case you would be having trouble rolling the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.

On a lightly floured surface roll each dough ball into a circle about 8 or 9 inches in diameter. Place on a sheet of baking parchment paper.
Fill as desired. To assemble the calzone, roll out as described above and place on pieces of baking parchment.

If making as I described at the top of post, spread about 1 - 2 tablespoons of ricotta on half of the dough circle. Top with other ingredients, remembering to keep filling light.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Fold the plain half of the dough over the filled half. Run a finger that you have dipped in water around the edge of the filled section and press the top dough to seal. Use the tines of a fork to press all around the edge to seal further. If desired, glaze the dough with some of the beaten egg and sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese.

Set aside and make the other five calzone. If there are dough balls left, save for pizza or more calzone. They can be frozen to be used later, too.

Once all the calzone have been filled, check to make sure that the pre-heated oven is hot. If you are using a baking stone, slide the calzone, still on its parchment onto the stone and bake until the dough is golden brown. Repeat with each of the other calzone. Let cool a couple of minutes, then remove from the paper to a cutting board and cut each into four pieces. Serve at once.

For pizza, follow the same steps, but fill the whole shell and don't fold over or seal.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Is It Called Coffee Cake?


April keeps flying along. Having reached the 20th we have landed on the magical day of the Cake Slice Bakers reveal. This month the Cake Slice Bakers had an awesome choice of cakes to bake from the book we are baking from the Southern Cake Book.

From many delicious choices, including cheesecake bars, a decadent carrot cake, a different green tea cake and a brown sugar and pecan coffee cake, I went for the one for which I had the ingredients on hand...the coffee cake. Very glad I did. I was questioned by a friend however. Since there is no coffee in this cake, why is it called a coffee cake. All that I could figure out is that it goes very well with a hot cup of coffee.

This is a simple cake to make. You don't need a mixer, but a pastry tool to cut the butter into the dry ingredients is essential. I know they say you can do it with a couple of knives, but I've tried that and trust me, a pastry blender is a much better tool. Sur la Table has a nice OXO one for $12, but you can ususally find one anywhere that kitchen gear is sold.


Sweet brown sugar, a touch of cinnamon, and chopped pecans are the obvious flavors here, but there is plenty of butter and sour cream in the recipe to add richness. I made a little extra of the crumb mixture and combined it with the pecan mixture for the topping to make it more like the New York Crumb Cake they have at my local eatery. I baked the bottom crust for just a few minutes, too, which made the bottom crust more solid than it might have been otherwise. 

Both of these changes made for an interesting textural contrast. The bottom layer had snap, the middle one with the sour cream was soft and almost pillowy, and the top layer combined both crunch and crumb. I really liked this dessert and so did Sweetie. Surprisingly it kept quite well for a week. I kept it on the counter, wrapped in foil. It makes a big pan of cinnamon sugar goodness, so we gave about half of it away to friends. Probably should have given away more, but it was too delicious to not eat ourselves.

Be sure to check out the other Cake Slice Bakers this month to see which of the selection they chose to bake. You'll be glad you did!


Here is my variation of the Brown Sugar Pecan Coffee Cake from
The Southern Cake Book

This coffee cake has crumbs in the crust, filling and topping. Makes for a quick and delicious cake.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, cubed
Shortening
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together the flour and brown sugar in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until crumbly and butter is is very small pieces. This mixture will be divided into three parts:

Press 2 3/4 cups crumb mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch pan (that's where the shortening gets used), spreading evenly and packing down. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While crust is baking, remove 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture remaining and put it in a small bowl. Set aside.

Add the baking soda to the main crumb mixture and stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg and vanilla. Add to the crumb mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour sour cream mixture over the crumb crust in the baking pan.

In the small bowl that has the 1/2 cup crumb mixture, mix together that crumb mixture, the granulated sugar, cinnamon and nuts. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the batter in the baking pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into portions and serve.
Makes 12 servings


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Romania Spring Braid with the Babes


Welcome to my Kitchen! This month it's the Kitchen of the Month for the Bread Baking Babes. After spending some very delightful time looking at various bread recipes, I decided that since Easter and spring were going to be here during the bread baking time for April that I would invite all of the Babes around the kitchen table to have fun with a Romanian Easter Braid. Even if Easter isn't your thing, this braid is delicious with its nut filling and spring time flavors of butter, egg, and lemon. I like the idea of filling the braid ropes. Wasn't sure how it would actually go, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?

The description of the recipe in The Festive Bread Book, by Kathy Cutler talks about "The delicious walnut filling" but the recipe calls for ground almonds. I suspect that you could use any ground nut you desire...walnut, almond, pecan, hazelnut...and you will get a nice filling. The full description is, " the delicious walnut filling of this bread helps make it a Romanian classic. Serve it as a snack or with Easter dinner." It doesn't have any icing, so it may be a bread that is somewhat unsweetened. You can always add a sweet glaze and/or nuts once the baked bread has cooled if you prefer it a bit sweeter.

The Wiki information is interesting: " In Romania, the recipes differ rather significantly between regions in what concerns the trimmings. The dough is essentially similar throughout the country: a plain sweet bread made with flour, eggs, milk, butter, sugar and salt. Depending on the region, one may add to it any of the following: raisins,... grated orange or lemon rind, walnuts or hazelnuts, vanilla or rum flavour.

Cozonac, (the Romanian bread for Easter similar to Italian pannettone), may be sprinkled with poppy seeds on top. Other styles dictate the use of a filling, usually a ground walnut mix, ground poppy seeds mixture, cocoa powder, rum essence and raisins. The dough is rolled flat with a pin, the filling is spread and the whole is rolled back into a shape vaguely resembling a pinwheel. In the baked product the filling forms a swirl adding to the character of the bread."  Apparently there is also a Christmas version with dried and/or candied fruit included.

It sounds like this version is the braid that uses lemon rind and a nut filling. Maybe the author prefers almonds to walnuts or poppy seed. I know that we Babes are a creative bunch, so this recipe leaves plenty of room for creativity and should yield a nice loaf for any spring celebration.


Be sure to check out what the other Babes have done with this recipe, then make it yourself. To become a Buddy and get a badge for your blog, just e-mail me by April 29th at elle dot lachman at gmail dot com. Include a photo of your bread and a short description of your baking experience and I'll include you in the round-up. I know Easter has come and gone, but it's still spring and this bread is one your family will love...and pretty. Come join the fun...I know you want to.


This braid has a fairly rich dough, including both butter and eggs, and it has a nut-based filling. After making it and eating a slice the morning I made it, I think the next time I make it that I will spread a thin layer of softened butter on the dough before putting on the filling and I will increase the filling by half as much again to allow for a thicker layer of filling and a bit more flavor. In addition I'm going to increase the citrus zest (I used orange) to twice the amount called for in both the dough and the filling. I might also increase the salt by a 1/4 teaspoon to 3/4 teaspoon...the dough was just a tiny bit flat tasting and I think that will take care of that. The crumb was great and so was the crust. I made a quick glaze of a small amount of hot milk, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and a few drops almond extract to be drizzled over the top, then scattered on a few sliced almonds. Made for a pretty loaf and went well with the other flavors in the braid.

After reading over the recipe I just couldn't add yeast to a mixture that was going to be heated to such a high heat, so I put the yeast in 1/4 cup tepid water to proof, then added it to the milk/butter/egg mixture when the mixture had cooled to 100 degrees F before adding all of it to the dry mixture as the recipe calls for. I did mix everything by hand (no stand mixture) and it really is a lovely dough to knead for a while. I let mine sit in the fridge for a day before rolling out and shaping, then again overnight so that I could bake it this morning (it warmed up and did the final proofing this morning) which worked well. Nice oven spring, too. Because I used a little additional liquid in proofing the yeast, I decreased the milk by the same amount. As a result the flour called for was just about right.


Really yummy still slightly warm and taken with a nice hot cup of coffee! Love the swirls of filling...but I wanted more filling. My original plans to bake it again with friends was ruined by my coming down with a case of the flu.



Here are the links for the other Babes:

BakeMy Day  -  Karen
Blog from OUR Kitchen -  Elizabeth
Bread Experience -  Cathy
Girlichef -  Heather
Life's a Feast -  Jaime
Lucullian Delights -  Ilva
My Diverse Kitchen - Aparna
My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna
Notitie van Lien - Lien


Romanian Easter Braid
makes one loaf
from The Festive Bread Book, by Kathy Cutler
 
3 1/2 - 4 cups flour, divided
1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or use orange zest)
2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Filling:
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup finely ground almonds (or walnuts, poppy seeds, etc)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or use orange zest)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze:
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk


Preparation:
Combine 2 cups flour , the yeast, and lemon zest in mixing bowl.

Heat milk, butter, sugar and salt until butter melts; remove from heat and let cool until it reaches 105 - 115 degrees F.

Add milk mixture and eggs to dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth - about 10 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover; let rise in warm place until double - about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each into a 7 x 16-inch rectangle.

Use 1/3 of filling one each rectangle, spreading filling, but leaving a margin around edges; roll up jelly-roll style. Seal seam and ends. You will have three filled and sealed ropes.

Braid ropes; place on greased baking sheet.

Cover; let rise in warm place until double - about 30 minutes.

Make glaze and brush on loaf.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack.

(Optional: Make a sweet glaze with 1 tablespoon warm milk and enough powdered sugar to make a drizzle glaze. Drizzle cooled bread and then sprinkle with sliced almonds, for decoration, while glaze is still wet. Let dry.)