Archive for December, 2011

Ho! Ho! Ho!  Hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  I think I missed it in the craziness of the past two weeks.  Been a busy baker indeed.

The baking challenge this month over at the Daring Kitchen was to make sourdough using a sourdough starter.  I had never even heard of a starter before.  And I must admit, I was initially disappointed because I was hoping it’d be a more holiday themed challenge.  But nonetheless, turned out to be quite the learning experience.

I got started on my starter pretty early in the month.  I knew I’d be busy and seeing as how the starter takes 4+ days to create, I didn’t have time to waste.  Basically, a sourdough starter is a natural leaven “grown” by mixing a high content wheat flour with an equal weight of water.  It gets its kicks in a bit warmer temperatures and needs to “eat” every day until it matures (about 4 days), after which it needs to eat only once a week if kept at room temperature, less in the fridge.

My starter was three days developed when I decided to spontaneously go to Tampa to see the Script.  My mom was coming over to feed my bird twice a day, so she also looked after my starter.  When I returned three days later, it smelled really sour (my starter, not my bird), like it had gone rancid, and had a layer of liquid on top.  I thought for sure my mom had killed it, or at least that the bacteria had won the war against the yeast.  I looked at other Daring Bakers comments to see if they had the same results.  In the end, I decided to see if I could revive it, since everything I found said that starters are easy to nurse back to health.  Just in case, I started a new starter as well.

Back to wortk for a week, I had to keep discarding part of the starter so I could feed it more flour and water.  I work ten hour days, so I don’t have time during the week to make a yeast bread.  When the next weekend came around, it was time to put my yeastie beasties to work.  I also, after reading other bakers comments, lovingly named my starters.  They are living things, afterall.  Yeastie number one was named Paddy, since he was the one I revived after leaving town to see an IRISH band.  Yeastie number two was named Krusty because he would have a hard crust on top 24 hours after feeding.

The dough for sourdough is extremely sticky.  I had so much trouble with it.  I let my bread machine knead it because it stuck to my hands too much when I tried to.  I used Paddy in one loaf and threw in some chopped cheddar cheese, and Krusty was used in the other loaf and left plain.

Unfortunately, my end results fell flat, literally.  Sourdough Paddy had some holes in it when sliced, but was tough and didn’t rise.  Sourdough Krusty was just flat and seemed kind of wet, not at all like the dryness you expect with sourdough.

I still have the leftover starters in my fridge, waiting for another feeding and another chance to rise like a star.  I just didn’t have time this month to give it a second try.  But it ended up being an interesting challenge and my initial disappointment was dispelled by the creation of life, the creation of Paddy and Krusty.  They will probably soon be joined, as I don’t need two sourdough starters, to become super Paddy.  And I will try to feed him every two or three weeks since he’s in the fridge so I can attempt sourdough again.

In other yeastie news, I decided to make French pastries for Christmas breakfast.  We had a croissant challenge at the Daring Kitchen a few months ago but I was unable to participate.  So I pulled up that recipe and got to work.  I used good old fashion dry active yeast and cut all of the rising times in about half.  I started it at 5pm on Christmas Eve and when you have a dough that needs to rise 3 hours, fold and rise two more hours, then incorporate butter and rise another two hours between “turns,” it gets to be quite the lengthy project.  And cutting corners didn’t seem to affect the end result.  The croissants were plenty flaky and the pain au chocolat, pain au raisin with pastry cream, and galette suisse with pastry cream were equally delicious.  With my sister living in France, I think my parents appreciated the taste of France on Christmas morning.

So what else did I make this month, you ask?  When I say I was a busy baker, I mean it.  I made seven different types of cookies one weekend to give to friends and coworkers.  I also made my coworkers a gingerbread house in the shape of our office.  Funny enough, the gingerbread house was a previous Daring Bakers Challenge that I half-assed a couple years ago.  So I was glad to be able to finally see that one through.  Though it didn’t get all the details I wanted it to have, it wasn’t bad for the nine hours I put into it.

I am putting away my oven mitts and stepping away from the kitchen for the rest of the year.  That’s not saying much since there’s only four days left in 2011.  And actually, I might have lied.  I bought fruit to candy peel and want to make a stollen next weekend.  But that’s it, seriously.  I need to catch up on sleep.  Did I mention that December was crazy?  See you in 2012!



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So, I’m a bit behind on my blogging.  Shocker, I know!  In my defense, I spent most of November on vacation, visiting family and friends in the US, Portugal, and France.  But fear ye not, I have been baking.

With winter finally hitting Phoenix (as much as winter does here), the lovely aromatic spices start to fill the air.  To kickstart the season, last month I made Bobby Flay’s pumpkin bread pudding.  There are quite a few components that go into it, but after reading reviews of its sweetness, I omitted the caramel sauce and opted for vanilla ice cream rather than creme anglaise.  I was excited to finally use that can of pumpkin that’s been sitting in my pantry for a year.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was a can of pumpkin pie mix.  Not the same.  I reduced the sugar in the pumpkin bread and the custard since the mix contains added sugar, and I also reduced the liquids since it contains water.

The end result wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t phenomenal like I was expecting.  If it gets made again, I will use my own pumpkin bread recipe that doesn’t contain vegetable oil.  I always can taste that in breads.  And I’ll mix in normal bread cubes as well seeing as how the pumpkin bread soaks up the custard so much, it’s really just a pumpkin mush.

Then came Thanksgiving.  I have decided that when I turn 30, I am going to take over cooking the meal for my family.  That gives my mom one more year of doing it.  Yikes!  I’ve only got a year and 4 months left of my 20’s!  Anyways, I did help her this year by taking on some of the dishes.

My hatred of pie dough is starting to dimish.  I’m finding it’s getting easier and a bit more manageable to make.  I made two pies this year, the normal derby pie, and Alton Brown’s pecan pie with a pecan crust.

The pecan pie gave me no problems at all, thanks to the incredible Alton Brown.  It used golden syrup (which I had in my pantry) rather than corn syrup.  Gives the pie a bit more complex, nuttier taste.  Thanks Alton!

I didn’t have many liberties with the derby pie because my family can’t stand change.  But I used three different kinds of chocolate for the bottom layer since the recipe we have “floats” the egg custard on top.  I discovered that using good quality ghiradelli chocolate chopped may taste good, but doesn’t look quite as good.  The pieces weren’t heavy enough so they floated to the top of the custard.  The only other change I made was to substitute half of the corn syrup with golden syrup.

My other Thanksgiving duties included making corn bread muffins, rolls (which ended up being a loaf of bread thanks to my bread machine), cranberry sauce, and a garlic cauliflower side dish.  What I’m realizing is that I’m really bad at timing multiple dishes.  I thought it would all just come together at the same time, but then the pies didn’t get done quick enough so I had to wait to put the corn bread in, which delayed the cauliflower.  Good thing I didn’t make the whole meal this year because dinner would have ended up being 4 hours late and dishes would have had to be reheated.  I’ve got just under 2 years to sort out my timing issues before I take over the reins.

Speaking of reins, Christmas is just around the corner.  Last weekend I went to Tampa to see the Script (with cookies, of course) so I haven’t done any Christmas shopping yet.  And I always bake for my coworkers and that hasn’t even started.  Ooh, so much to do!  This year for my coworkers, I’m not going to make tons of different cookies.  I’m cooking up a great idea, but you’ll have to wait and see so it doesn’t leak out to the masses.  With that project, shopping, and baking other little treats, I’ve got my hands full until Christmas.  We shall see if I can pull it all off.  Until then, I hope you, my readers, have a very lovely and happy holiday.


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