Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Tartine Polenta Bread for the Babes

Seems like a long time since I've posted, but until the day before yesterday I've not been cooking or baking anything that warrants posting...boring! That has changed!!

Fortunately, Elizabeth of 'blog from OUR  Kitchen', the Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month, chose a Tartine bread for our enjoyment. Tartine is an artisan bakery in San Francisco. They make slow-rise natural yeast breads with attention being paid to the crust and to a soft, moist, somewhat holey interior (think Swiss cheese). The extra holes are created by both using a high-hydration dough (lots of water) and careful handling so that air from the expanding yeasts is retained in the dough during shaping.

I was fortunate to find a copy of the Tartine Bread book at the library. It has many, many photos to help with understanding the methods described so well by Chad Robertson. The polenta version, which is what we made, adds toasted pumpkin seeds, soaked polenta, oil, and fresh rosemary to the basic recipe. It is a wonderful bread and smells delicious, but the taste is what takes it over the top. I highly recommend that you get a copy of the book and make this bread.

The thing to know is that this is a bread that takes time. Time to create the leaven, time to let the dough sit after water and flour and salt are mixed, time to combine the additions of the seeds, polenta, oil and herb, time to do the bulk fermentation, time to let the slightly shaped dough sit, time to let the shaped dough sit in the basket or brotform, and, finally, time to bake it, both with and without the cover. The good news is that most of the steps don't take much time on their own. You go to the dough, wet your hand, do the turns in a minute or less, and you are good to go on with other things for a half hour...this is during bulk fermentation.

I started with my own sourdough starter to make the leavener. I also used the recipe directly from the Tartine Bread book, not the one below, although they are almost identical. It makes two large loaves. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the leavener sat in the fridge for a few days until I had a day free to take the time needed to finish the dough. Even so, I only baked one bread loaf and finished that at 10 pm. Mostly that was poor planning. If I had done everything up to the brotform stage and then put it all in the fridge overnight, I could have baked two loaves the next day. Of course part of the reason I did it the way I did was because even in the rising stage, the rosemary called my name and I wanted to bake it right away. The good news is that because I baked it late at night, by the morning it was very slicable and I made an outstanding avocado toast with smoked salmon tartine for breakfast. (A tartine is an open faced sandwich on toasted artisan bread.)

I didn't read the instructions at first and made the basic dough with only 600 gm water instead of 750 gm, so it was a tight, dry dough (remember, this is the full two-loaf recipe). While Sweetie and I took the dog for a walk, that dough sat in the fridge and the polenta sat in it's boiling water and soaked. Since I shorted the water at the beginning, I kept all of the water used to soak the polenta (200 gm) and added 1/4 cup additional whole wheat flour when I added the polenta, seeds, oil and rosemary to the original dough. Once it was all squeezed together, it made a dough that felt right and, indeed, it turned out right, too.

For the first loaf I used a basket with a tea towel liberally spread with a mixture of flour and rice flour. That ended up on the top of the bread, which gives it the craters of the moon appearance. The top of the dough also had some whopper air bubbles, which expanded and those are the blackened bits. I baked the first loaf in a cast iron skillet with a large round and tall cake pan over it in my very large toaster oven. It gets hotter than my regular oven and browns nicely.

The second loaf is slightly smaller. I let it rise on a sheet of parchment and then slide all of it into the preheated oval Dutch Oven that was in the regular oven. Less flour and different environment gave it a different look. It has a thinner top crust, too, than loaf number one.

Be sure to check out the other Bread Baking Babes to see their versions and to become a Buddy, by baking it yourself and then posting about it. Send Elizabeth the posting URL and a photo by January 29th and she will send you a Buddy Badge. Her email is on her website.

Thanks for continuing to join me on my cooking and baking journey. I'm hoping to put a little more of my thoughts about non-cooking/baking things in posts this year, but this one is long enough!

Elizabeth's recipe, based on the recipe for 'Polenta Bread' in "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson

makes one round loaf:


  • dessert spoonful of bubbling wheat starter from the fridge
  • 75gm (~2/3 c) 100% whole wheat flour
  • 75gm (75ml) water at body temperature
Polenta mixture

  • 70gm (.5 c) raw pepitas (shelled dried pumpkin seeds)
  • 61gm (.5 c) grains for polenta (coarse grind) - I used medium-grind  cornmeal  millet
  • 240gm (1 c) boiling water
  • pinch salt
  • 21gm (1.5 Tbsp) sunflower oil (Robertson calls for unfiltered corn oil)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

  • 100gm floating leavener (stir the rest into the jar in the fridge)
  • 500gm flour:
       » 375gm (~3 c) unbleached all purpose (no additives) flour
       » 125gm (~1 c) 100% whole wheat (no additives) flour, sifted (reserve the bran - should be approximately 4gm)
       » 4gm (~1.5 tsp) wheat germ
  • 350gm (350ml) water, at body temperature
Adding the Salt

  • all of the Dough mixture
  • 10gm salt (approx 1.5 tsp table salt - but please see Salt is salt, right?)
  • 25gm (25 ml) water at body temperature

  • rice flour
  • brot-form (or bowl)
  • reserved bran from sifting whole wheat flour

  • parchment paper
  • cast iron frying pan
  • large stainless steel mixing bowl

  1. Leavener and refreshing the starter: On the evening before baking the bread, put the leavener ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Using your dough whisk (use a wooden spoon if you don't have a whisk), mix the leavener ingredients until all the flour is incorporated. Leave 100gm in the bowl. Mix the extra into the jar in the fridge. Cover the bowl containing the 100gm with a plate and leave in the oven with only the light turned on overnight - until it becomes bubbly and frothy like mousse.
  2. polenta mixture:Spread pumpkin seeds evenly in one layer into a dry cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon, until the seeds begin to pop, changing from light green to brown (Robertson says this takes about 10 minutes but for me, it took about 5 minutes). Set aside and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.
      1. Pour boiling water into a bowl and stir in cornmeal (or whatever grain you are using). Set aside for about 10 minutes. Put the raw grains into a pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until they are turning gold and smell toasty (not more than 5 minutes). Add the water and a pinch of salt. Turn up the heat, stir and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot and allow the grains to simmer for about 15 minutes. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid. When the water has absorbed, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
      2. Add oil, rosemary and pumpkin seeds.
    dough: When a small spoonful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the dough. (If the leavener does not float, stir in a little more whole wheat flour and water - even amounts by weight - cover with a plate and leave for about 30 minutes more. Chances are that it will now float.) Put all the dough ingredients into a large mixing bowl along with the now bubbling leavener. Mix as well as you can with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter to rest for about 40 minutes. Chad Robertson says Do not skip the resting period. Working with the nature of the dough, the resting perod allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.adding the salt: Pour the 25gm water over-top of the mass of dough. Sprinkle on the salt, making sure that it goes onto the water. (Alternatively Chad Robertson recommends adding the salt to the Dough Mixture for Polenta Bread, rather than waiting until this step)
  3. kneading:Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl - this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy. But persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
    stretching and folding (part 1): About 30 minutes after adding the salt, run your dough-working hand under water. Reach down along the side of the bowl and lift and stretch the dough straight up and almost out of the bowl. Fold it over itself to the other side of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until it's a little difficult to stretch the dough up any more. You'll notice that the dough feels significantly smoother. Cover with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter, in the oven with only the light turned on) for about 30 minutes.
    Repeat the above step
    adding the polenta mixture: Add the polenta mixture to the dough. Run your dough-working hand under water and use it to squoosh the polenta, pepitas and rosemary into the dough. Allow to rest for 30 minutes
  4. stretching and folding (part 2): Repeat the stretching and folding step 1 or 2 more times (Robertson says it should be done 4 times in all). Robertson writes [N]otice how the dough starts to get billowy, soft, and aerated with gas. At this later stage, you should turn the dough more gently to avoid pressing gas out of the dough. [...] A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be [...] shaped
  5. prepare the brot-form: Put rice flour into a brotform and distribute it as evenly as possible. (If you don't have a brot-form, you can line a bowl, basket or sieve with parchment paper. You can also use a liberally rice floured tea towel (but then you have to deal with a floured tea towel once the bread is baked). If you do not have rice flour, you can use wheat flour. However, it makes it significantly more difficult for the bread to be released from the basket....
  6. shaping: Scatter a dusting of wheat flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Using wet hands, stretch the dough into a longish rectangle, then fold it like a letter, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Continue folding until the dough is shaped in a ball. Place it seam side UP in the well floured (rice) brot-form. Evenly spread the reserved bran on and around the seam. Loosely wrap the basket and bread with a clean tea towel and enclose the whole thing inside a plastic bag and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on for 2 or 3 hours (until it has about doubled). You can also refrigerate the shaped bread overnight. Just be sure that it is in a large enough container.
  7. baking: To know when it's time to bake, run your index finger under water and gently but firmly press it on the side of the bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover the bread with the plastic bag and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, put the cast-iron frying pan and stainless steel bowl into the oven and preheat all to 425F.
  8. About fifteen minutes later, put a square of parchment paper on the counter (the paper should be large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the frying pan). Overturn the shaped bread onto the parchment paper. Using a lame (or scissors, or serrated knife), score the bread. Take the pan and bowl out of the oven (wear oven mitts!!) and place the frying pan on the stove (to prevent burning your countertop...). Transfer the bread to the middle of the frying pan and immediately put the stainless steel bowl overtop like a hat. Put everything into the oven and immediately turn it down to 400F. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the hat and bake for a further 30 minutes or so, until the crust is a nice dark brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  9. cooling: When the bread is done, remove it from the pan and allow it to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still baking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
  10. Notes::: salt I urge you to weigh the salt. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?

    Leavener- The leavener is a 100% hydration and takes about 5 days to make. (Please see our take on Jane Mason's Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)

    If you're too afraid (or don't have time) to take five days to make a natural starter and still want to bake this by using commercial yeast, I think what I'd do is create a poolish - say 50gm water, 50gm flour and a few grains (not more than 1/8 tsp) yeast stirred together, covered, and left overnight. And then proceed as written. I confess I haven't tried it but don't see why it won't work. If you're really worried, you could probably add few more grains of yeast into the dough itself as well.

Friday, January 05, 2018

A Milestone

Dear Readers,

When I looked at my stats today I discovered that sometime in the last couple of days this blog passed the 1 million mark of pageviews. Glad that over the 12+ years I've been blogging that so many pages were viewed by you , dear readers, in aggregate. Thank you.

Here's to more cooking and baking fun in the next million pageviews years!

Love, Elle

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Here's to Mixed Up Blondies

Over the years I've tried a number of different combinations when I bake blondies, the brownie like bar cookie that has butterscotch instead of chocolate as the dominate flavor. I've done Big Blondes, Irish Blondes, Dumpy Blondes and California Blondes. This time I decided to go with Mixed-up Blondes. Mixed-up because I combined the basic blondie recipe with some of the aspects of the Dumpy Blondes, particular the sweet-salty combo you get by adding in potato chips and pretzels, with the Irish wholemeal flour that I used for the Irish Blondes, the fruit I added made them almost like California Blondes.  I added a few macadamia nuts, but not very many since I was almost out of them, some pecans, some dried cranberries, toasted coconut, and, of course, chocolate chips. At the end I added about 2 tablespoons golden raisins, to. Truly a mixed-up bowl of add-ins.

The resulting cookie is moist, sweet, and has some salty elements, some fruity elements and some nutty elements. I'll be taking them to a party tomorrow to honor a friend, Jean Anderson, who died last year. We're celebrating her birthday and I know she would have enjoyed these cookies.

Mixed-up Blondes
A variation of a recipe by Jill O’Connor in Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.

1 cup (2 sticks) non-dairy margarine
3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup Irish wholemeal flour (or whole-wheat flour)

¾ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup sweetened toasted coconut
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup pretzel pieces (I used small ones and broke them up)
1/2 cup sea salt potato chips, lightly crushed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons golden raisins

Use cooking spray to lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugar are blended and completely melted and starting to bubble gently. Remove the pan from heat and let the mixture cool slightly. Mixture should be room temperature before you proceed.

Preheat to 350 degrees F. Position oven rack in the middle of the oven.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk the cooled butter and sugar mixture into the eggs just until combined. Whisk in the flours and baking powder to form a loose batter. (Make sure the batter is cool before stirring in the remaining ingredients, otherwise the chocolate will start to melt before the bars are baked.)

Stir the nuts, coconut, dried cranberries, pretzel pieces, potato chip pieces, chocolate chips and golden raisins into the cooled batter. (I usually mix together all the Add-ins in a bowl before adding to the batter...it prevents a clump of one ingredient here, another ingredient there...you get a better distribution by mixing before adding.) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until the top is shiny and slightly crackled and feels firm to the touch, 30 – 35 minutes. A wooden skewer inserting into the batter should come out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then turn out onto a board and cut into bars and serve.
Makes 15 large or 30 small bars.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ending the Year


This has not been my favorite year.

Too many people I care about dying, having terrible illnesses, the October wildfires here and all of the other fires and floods and hurricanes in other parts of the state and nation, and don't get me started on our national scene with the wholesale devolvement of government; removing funding and regulations for the things that help people, making it harder for those who already have it hard, and enriching and empowering those who are already blessed with wealth and power, without a commensurate requirement that they do anything useful with that additional power and riches. The amount of increased alienation is powerful as is the answering renewal of interest in making a difference at a political level amount the less powerful, including women and minorities. It will probably all work out in the end, but it has been disheartening to see so much hatred and finger pointing and scary to see how far we, as a nation, are from working with other nations to solve mutual problems. Well, I guess I got started anyway. Sorry.

On a personal level, there were a number of positives this year, including finishing up my tenure as chairperson of the California State P.E.O. Ethel O. Gardner Scholarship Committee after having awarded over 60 scholarships, finishing up my year as the Recording Secretary for the regional P.E.O. group, and beginning my year as President of my local P.E.O. chapter where we awarded seven scholarships. Made a new friend through the regional group, too. I also purchased two items that I have been wanting for quite a while; a new couch for the living room and an expanded toaster oven for the kitchen. Both have been getting plenty of use the last couple of months!  My garden flowers this year were a joy for such a long time, beginning with wildflowers in the spring and continuing on until now, although there are only a few primroses at the moment. The most abundant were the morning glories and I collected seeds, so there will be more in 2018! I've done some painting in my newly refurbished art studio and am currently working on a large piece for K, although it has taken a back seat since Beth died in late November.

Bread baking has slowed down at Sweetie's request. He has no willpower to resist warm freshly baked bread and our waistlines don't actually need any bread, so about once a month I bake bread...seems a reasonable compromise to me. My sourdough starter gets fed in between and when I bake and that seems to be working out, too.

Sweetie continues to be the most important person in my life and I feel very blessed that we can share each day with one another, still find plenty to talk about, still enjoy our walks together with Pi dog, and still enjoy watching the news together at dinner time, although lately we have watched local stuff for half the time, then switch to PBS. We are both slowing down a bit, but keep up our gym habit so the slowdown is slowed, too. Ha!

I find that at the Christmas holidays that I miss those who have died more than I do the rest of the year. My Dad was a kid at heart and he just loved Christmas, so I think of him when I decorate the tree and hang the stockings. My Mom made the best Christmas cookies, so I think of her while I'm baking cookies and making the special meals of the holidays. That is often when I think of Max, too, because he enjoyed decorating the cookies...and eating them too! Beth came to mind often this Christmas since she has been gone for such a short time. As I write this tears come to my eyes because she should still be with us. My dear friend Jean (the middle photo in the three at the top) is missed, too. I always took her a cookie plate and she gave me an amaryllis plant. Today I'll be visiting her daughter to meet the new puppy, so I'll take her the cookies. Not the same, but heartening nonetheless.

Wishing all of us a better, brighter New Year. More caring for first ourselves, then others. More good food and drink, more baking and painting, and all kinds of creativity. More gardens and birds and bees and walks. More time with friends and family and fewer funerals. Maybe even a train ride or two.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Turkey A La King and Memories

Christmas is past, and so is our Boxing Day party. Tonight I had some left over turkey a la king over two pieces of toasted Irish wholemeal flour sourdough with sunflower seeds that I made today. First time I've baked fresh bread in weeks! It was nice. I want to thank my daughter for the Christmas gift of the King Arthur Flour Irish Wholemeal flour. It is such a pleasure to work with and imparts a great texture and nutty flavor to the bread.

The turkey recipe sure does bring back memories. It was one of my Mom's favorites for using up leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. She usually served it over toast, but sometimes we had it over waffles, which I loved. Rarely it was served over steamed rice, which my Dad loved, but then he loved rice and would have eaten it at every meal. Another favorite was to serve it over buttermilk biscuits. She also made something called Turkey Tetrazzini which had turkey and pasta, but I never cared for it (and it uses a lot of Parmesan cheese), turkey soup, and lots of grilled turkey sandwiches. Once I learned how to cook, I learned how to make all of them. I do miss my Mom at this time of year, and my Dad, too, so I guess making this dish is comfort food in a very real way.

I love turkey. Anyone who knows me knows that. So, of course, when I didn't get to make a full, roasted, big turkey for Thanksgiving since we purchased a pre-cooked one when we were in LA, I had to make one in December. Because Sweetie and K are not nearly as fond of turkey as I am, we didn't have it for Christmas dinner. A few days before K came I roasted it and then enjoyed grilled turkey sandwiches for a few days at lunchtime. Still, there was some cubed turkey left after we cleaned up the leftovers. I decided to make a variation of one of my Mom's Turkey a la King. This recipe is a kind of gravy and turkey sauce which can be served over rice, toast, or biscuits. I decided to make biscuits to serve it over and we had some hot peas on the side.

You start with peppers. Mom used green peppers, but I really don't like green pepper, so I used red. There are also mushrooms. I found some nice whole small criminis and sliced them. The mustard and capers I added were my own variation and I think they really added some zest to the dish. I had leftover turkey stock, so I used that in the gravy, which really added a full on turkey flavor to the dish. Great if you love turkey like I do! You could also make this with cooked cubed chicken and chicken stock and it would still be delicious. It is the kind of dish that improves with a little age, so it was even tastier tonight.

Turkey a la Elle
serves 4

1/3 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup green or red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
1 cup cream, evaporated skim milk, or soy creamer
1 cup cooked turkey, diced
1 tablespoon capers (or fewer if you are not a big fan of capers)

Saute' mushrooms and bell pepper in margarine. Removed from heat and add flour, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the mustard, broth, and cream or milk or creamer. Slowly stir the broth mixture into the mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Add cooked turkey and capers and continue cooking at same heat until poultry is heated through. Serve over toast, rice, biscuits, or waffles.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas Y'all!

Hope that your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were as delightful as mine was. On Christmas Eve a dear friend of our daughters, R, came and joined us for tree decorations, warm spiced apple cider with Irish whiskey, Christmas carols, snuggles with Pi dog, Christmas Eve dinner of ham, roasted butternut squash, delicata squash and lentils, kale salad, and fougasse. Somewhere in there we had Christmas cookies and tea, some Sees candy was sampled, stockings were hung and stories told.

On Christmas morning we lounged around and talked, read the paper, sipped coffee and tea and eventually had eggs, bacon, kringle, and fruit salad. After all that lounging we needed a walk, so we went into town and checked out the cows and the geese and the birds at the Laguna. Once home there were naps, phone calls and texts, and in time gift exchanging with more laughter and stories and good times.

All that gifting helped us work up an appetite so I had grilled turkey sandwich and some soup and many had pizza and leftover squash and lentils. R heard some of Sweetie's Micronesia stories, too.

After R left we geared up for the movies where we went to see the latest Star Wars epic. Very fun and visually stunning. Max would have loved it! Now we are home again and ready to call it a day.

Hope that you got what you wished for and felt the love that is in the air all around us. Tomorrow we will host 30 to 60 people...you never know how many will show up for Boxing Day...and more fun will ensue. Better get some rest now. Goodnight!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December Fun with the Cake Slice Bakers

We have finished baking with our chosen book for the year, so December is an opportunity to bake from any of the past cookbooks used by the Cake Slice Bakers. Next month we will start a new one and it will be unlike any others we've used in the past, so check back here in a month, too.

After paging through three of the cookbooks used in the past (since I haven't been active for all the years that this wonderful group has been together), I decided that I needed to bake something chocolate and something Bundt since I was going to bring it to a group dinner an hour away and Bundt cakes usually travel well. Since it was a December gathering, I used by Circle of Trees pan. A light dusting of powdered sugar looked somewhat like snow on evergreens...and the fellow guests were enchanted by that. I think that I got the pan at a yard sale and I've not seen one like it. It even has a tiny train going around the rim, although that detail is usually lost. This time the cake overflowed the pan, so we did get most of the train, too. No photos showing that...life has been to hectic. Even the photos I have are not top quality. Will see if I can do better in January.

Happy Holidays to each of you and to all the Cake Slice Bakers. It really is a delightful group!

Edit on December 22...I completely forgot to tell you what cake in what book and what I changed...as you know if you have been reading this blog for long, I almost always change something!

I baked Big Daddy's Cake in the Maidia Heatter Cake Book. I left out the pecans so the outside didn't have a pecan coating. I exchanged margarine for butter. I think that is all.

XO, Elle

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Baba For Christmas

Days seem to pass so swiftly in December. Hard to believe that there is only a week until the tree will be lit and decorated, with brightly wrapped packages under it and stockings hung by the fireplace.

The Bread Baking Babes were invited by our Kitchen of the Month Lien of Notitie van Lien to bake an elegant festive dessert, a Champagne Baba. Yes, it does have yeast. No, you don't knead it or even shape it because the dough is like a batter. Yes, it goes together fairly quickly and easily compared to some of our past December breads, like this Snowflake Bread, the Lardy Cake made with real lard (fresh rendered pork fat...not easy to find), or a tray bake Kuchen with apricots, or a traditional German Stollen, or the snackable but time consuming Taralli Pugliesi to name a few. 

Yes, this Baba does rise both in the pan and in the oven. Yes, you do need to cover the top with foil if it seems to be browning quickly as mine did. Yes, it is delicious. Yes, I encourage you to make it for Christmas...or even before...and be a Buddy by emailing Lien with a photo and a short bit on how it was making it and a URL if you blogged about it...by December 29th, so you have time after Christmas to actually do the email.

So, as usual, I did make a few changes. Because of my dairy allergy, I used melted margarine. Because I was tired after a full day of baking things like Christmas cookies, as well as this delightful dessert, I didn't top it with anything other than the syrup. It didn't really need anything else, being like a nice combination of a pound cake and bread with some moisture from the syrup and a faint champagne flavor.

In case you have been following the Babes all these years, you would know that Lien has baked every single bread. That's 12 months times 10 years (minus January the first year since our anniversary is the month of February)...a lot of bread and a lot of dedication. Not sure that anyone else can make that claim.  She has certainly been a guiding light for our group and she creates those gorgeous badges each month, too (except for this month). The sad news is that she will be going on hiatus now and will join a wonderful group of women who have been active Babes and are now busy with other things in their lives, but still Bread Baking Babes in our Hall of Fame! When you send that Buddy email, consider thanking her for all that she has done to make our group a shining one.

Don't forget to visit the other Babes to see how they handled this challenge. I think you'll be inspired!

Happy Holidays dear reader. I know some of you are in the background, but I also know how loyal you are and it gives me great pleasure and joy to know that you sometimes find a recipe to try while keeping up with my enthusiasms. There will be a few more posts in 2017, but those of you who know what a year I have had will join me in being anxious for 2018 to start. It has to be an improvement on this year!

Champagne Baba
Makes on large or 12 small babas

100 g water
1 tsp instant dry yeast
1 TBsp sugar
100 g bread flour

180 g bread flour
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp instant dry yeast
1,5 tsp vanilla sugar
3 large eggs
90 g melted butter (I used margarine, melted and cooled)

soaking syrup:
150 g sugar
150 g water
120 g champagne (or Asti Spumante or fruitjuice)

200 g apricot jam (or use a sugar glaze) (I skipped this step)

Mix all the ingredients for the sponge together in a large bowl (the one you’ll be kneading the dough in). Now sprinkle 180 g bread flour over the sponge, so it is covered and leave to rest for about 1 hour.

Now add the salt, ¼ tsp dry yeast, vanilla sugar and eggs. Start to mix this. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. When it comes together after a few minutes, add the melted (and slightly cooled) butter and keep working it. The dough is a bit batterlike, but be sure to get some gluten developed.

For one large Baba:
Place it in the moulds. You can use a loaf tin or a round baking form (Lien used a paper Panettone mould  - and I used a 6-inch diameter springform pan), filled about half way up. Cover with plastic and leave to rise until 2-3 cm under the rim of the mould.

In the meantime don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180ºC (350-360ºF).

Bake for about 45-55 minutes, until golden brown on top. If the bread gets too dark too soon, protect the top with a sheet of tin foil. Check the temperature in the bread with a thermometer, it should be about 93ºC (200 degrees F).

Take out of the oven and the tin and place on a deep dish. Poke the bread with a long wooden skewer from top to bottom. Brush the syrup all over it, and get as much as possible inside the bread, so take your time. Collect the syrup from the plate and keep pouring and brushing it, until all in absorbed in the bread.

For 12 small baba’s:
Grease a tray with 12 little moulds (containing about 75 ml each) and divide the dough in them. The dough shouldn’t be filling more than half of the shapes. Cover with plastic and let rise until almost to the rim.
In the meantime don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180ºC (350-360ºF).

Place in the oven and bake for about 18 minutes, The Baba’s should be golden on top. Check the temperature in the bread with a thermometer, it should be about 93ºC. Take them out of the oven and out of the mould. Place them in a wide shallow dish in one layer. Pour the champagne syrup over the baba’s. Now keep turning the baba’s one by one on all sides, including top and bottom, until all the syrup is absorbed.

Topping and serving:
Now heat the apricot jam in a small pan and let it boil, add a little water if it is too thick. Brush or pour it over the top. You can also opt for a simple sugar glaze. This topping keeps the moisture in. If you eat the baba’s on the baking day, you can also skip the topping
For an extra festive feel, serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit or jam.
The baba is best eaten on the day that it’s baked. But if not, keep in the fridge.

For the syrup
In a small pot combine the water, sugar, and champagne. Bring to a simmer and simmer until syrup thickens a bit, about 5 minutes. Let cool before brushing on the baba.

(inspired by a Beth Hensperger recipe)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Proper Pouring Custard

My friend Anne Marie has been binge watching the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I didn't even know this until we went to dinner at her house and found that we were on the same wavelength. I had brought baked apples, but also a pouring custard using a recipe of Mary Berry, one of the hosts of the show. It was called a Proper Pouring Custard, which in British-speak means it's the one to make and use to embellish the 'pudding' course, also know as dessert time. Since it was a Mary Berry recipe it was surely authentic.

A little over a year ago we were dining with our Irish cousins. The pudding was a lovely plum tart and it was served with an amazing custard sauce. Barbara said that it was a mixture of a pouring custard and whipped up heavy cream. Since the Irish have some of the best dairy products to be had, you can imagine how delicious that sauce was. I have to imagine, too, since I can no longer tolerate dairy. I'm going by the exclamations of delight, especially by Sweetie, as the sauce was devoured.

This time I made four baked apples using the recipe HERE. I used Jonagold apples because they have enough tartness to stand up to the filling and the sauce, but also because they hold their shape after being cooked. For the sauce to go with the baked apples, I used non-dairy soy creamer instead of whole milk and cream. I suspect that it meant a thinner sauce, but it was still delicious. Of course the thinner sauce might have been created by whisking in about 3 tablespoons of good bourbon. Hard to say.

I had wanted to add whipped cream for the sauce for the other diners, but I made the sauce too late in the day and it was still pretty hot when we left the house. Any whipped cream I added then would have just melted. Might try it again some other day to see if it in any way comes close to the Irish standard. Even without the whipped cream, it was smooth, delicious and took the baked apples to another level...a higher one. There will likely be leftover sauce, but it is fine over brownies, pound cake, gingerbread, fruit compote...you get the idea. Would probably also be a great sauce over pancakes or waffles, especially if you included some fruit in or over the baked breakfast goodies.

Proper Pouring Custard
Mary Berry's with some substitutions of mine
makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 pint (2 cups, 570 ml) milk (I used plain soy creamer) 
2 oz heavy cream ( 55 ml) (I just used more of the soy creamer) 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons cornstarch / cornflour
1 oz (30 grams) granulated sugar / caster sugar

In a small pot, over very low heat, heat the milk, cream and vanilla until it just starts to simmer.

While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks and the cornstarch together in a small bowl. Add the egg yolks and whisk until well blended.

When milk has just started to simmer, scoop about a half cup of it out of the pot and whisk it into the egg mixture, then pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking all the while. Once the two mixtures are thoroughly blended, stir with a wooden spoon, constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Don't let the mixture boil.

Once thickened, pour into a bowl or serving jug and cover the top surface with plastic wrap / clingfilm to keep a skin from forming as the sauce cools.

Optional: after sauce has cooled a bit, remove the plastic wrap and whisk in 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup bourbon or Irish whiskey until blended. Replace the plastic wrap and continue to let the sauce cool.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

December Tea Party

It's already December 6th. I'm glad that 2017 is almost at an end. It has been a difficult year with too many wonderful people lost to death or saddled with illnesses, along with the October fires which have changed things so much in our community.

The good news is that I was able to have a nice Tea Party yesterday with Natashya, my Sacramento area sister. Sweetie spent some time with us and enjoyed one of the Pecan Tarts with a little whipped cream. He made a cute face when we told him that he had cream on his mustache.

We started with savories, including a store bought quiche for N and hummus and carrots for me. All three of us enjoyed the Avocado Toasts with Smoked Salmon and the fruit mixture of strawberries and kiwi fruit.

Next there were Currant Scones, accompanied by raspberry jam and whipped cream. Lots of Earl Gray tea was poured during all of this and the conversation ranged over many areas as good conversation does.

Then we got to the really sweet part with Pecan Tarts. More whipped cream was available to top them if you chose to do that. More tea was poured. More conversation.

Last we had the birthday cake...Natashya's birthday was in late November, so we only had to move the feast a short ways. It was a purchased Chocolate Rum loaf. Since that had butter, I had a couple of tiny vegan chocolate tarts instead...more tea...more conversation.

It really was a lovely afternoon. Happy Birthday Natashya!

We'll start with the recipe for the Avocado Toasts with Smoked Salmon:
Makes six toasts

Six slices baguette, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, toasted
1 avocado, ripe
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste (I only used pepper since the salmon is salty)
enough thinly sliced smoked salmon to cover the slices (not sure of the weight)
Optional- a few Italian parsley leaves.

Place the toasted baguette slices on a clean work surface.

Cut the avocado in half. Peel and remove the seed. Mash both halves in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and mash it into the avocados. I used a fork, which worked well. Make it as chunky or smooth as you prefer.

Spoon the avocado mixture evenly dividing it between the toast slices. Spread out to cover the slices. Sprinkle with salt and/or pepper. Top each slice with one layer of smoked salmon.

If desired, garnish with a single Italian parsley leaf

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Home Again and Baking Multigrain Pecan Bread

It is quite a shock to suddenly lose the youngest sibling, so it's not surprising that the time following it is a bit surreal. Sweetie and I flew to be with her husband and stayed with him for a while to help by listening (which is really the best thing you can do for someone after a shocking loss like this), helping with getting him to professional health folks, helping with the funeral arrangements and obituary, and with day to day stuff like grocery shopping. Being in shock myself I found I had no appetite to speak of and no desire to cook (which is really strange for me) but there were dogs to love on and cats to scritch and a lot of love going around. Beautiful Taos scenery, too.

Ron went to Denver for Thanksgiving to be with his family and Sweetie and I flew to LA to be with ours. We had a fine morning at Manhattan Beach with Sweetie's extended family, then six for dinner on Thanksgiving at our place. A meal from Whole Foods made it all easy. Good times with our daughter and nephew and friends.

Rented the 'Beach House' in Redondo Beach/Torrance on VRBO and I highly recommend it, especially for nice weather. The backyard has a big grassy area, two seating areas, one of those gas elements that heat one of the seating areas, and the furniture is comfy. We spent a lot of time out there! If you have dogs, there is also a dog door in the kitchen and the yard is fully fenced with a pretty high fence. There are three bedrooms and comfy beds. Only one bathroom, but I grew up with a large family and one bathroom, so no problem. Nice kitchen with lots and lots of amenities. Big washer and dryer. Dining table for six. Lots of games under the big TV in the livingroom. It's about 4 miles from any beach, but truly a delightful place.

Once we were back home, my sourdough starter really needed feeding, so I did that and made bread with the 'toss off' after feeding it, too. It was the perfect way to ease back into cooking and baking. I created the recipe as I went along. Using my new 'toaster' oven meant that the crust was browned.

Truly delicious bread with multi-grains, sourdough, pecans and love. I made a braid loaf and then eight rolls, but you can shape this any way that pleases you.

Multigrain Sourdough Pecan Bread

1 cup sourdough starter, fed with a mixture of 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup mixed rolled grains and flax seed (Bob's Red Mill is the brand I used)
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon dry yeast (I used RapidRise)
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup graham flour
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Let the sourdough starter and the feeding mixture, mixed, sit on the counter for 2 hours to ripen.

In a medium to large microwave safe bowl or measuring cup, place the mixed rolled grains and the water. Cook on high one minute. Stir, cook on high another minute. Stir, cook on high another minute, then let cook to lukewarm, stirring occasionally to even the cooling. Water will be completely absorbed by the cooked grain.

In a large mixing bowl for a stand mixer, place the ripe sourdough mixture, 1/2 cup flour, cooled grain mixture, mashed potatoes and 1/2 cup graham flour. Stir well to combine. Add the molasses and salt and stir again.

Mix the rest of the graham flour, the rest of the all purpose flour, and the dry yeast in a bowl or measuring cup. Put the dough hook onto the mixer, then mix, gradually adding the rest of the flour and graham flour mixture until dough is soft and dough starts cleaning the sides of the bowl, about 8 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Push the dough down to create roughly a rectangle about 10" by 12". Scatter half the pecans over the dough, then roll up like a jelly roll and fold the ends in. Again push the dough down to create roughly a rectangle about 10" by 12". Scatter the remaining pecans over the dough and roll up as before. Knead for a few minutes to distribute the nuts evenly through the dough.

Place the dough in a greased rising container, turning the dough over to coat with the grease/oil. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough in half. Shape as desired. I made one braided loaf and eight rolls, but you can make two loaves in loaf pans, two boules, a mixture, etc.

Lightly cover shaped bread and let rise while preheating the oven. Brush lightly with oil or egg or milk wash if desired, then bake until crust is browned and loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 45 minutes for a loaf and 25 minutes for rolls.

Try to let bread cool a bit before devouring.