Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BBA Challenge #6: Challah Bread

I'm lagging a bit on my baking. (Surprise, surprise! I'm very good at starting things and slowing down to a standstill long before they're finished. I think I can, I think I can.... ) Didn't bake at all last week, so am going to try to get two breads in this week. While I'm enjoying the baking and the eating of all this bread, I must say it's way too much white flour for my liking. So, this week, I decided I would do the challah, but only half the recipe. Challah is traditionally made and enjoyed by Jewish families in preparation for the Sabbath. I've never made this recipe before, and it was a very simple and straightforward bread. Enriched by eggs and oil, it has a nice soft texture, and Peregrine appreciated the softer crust. Shaping loaves is not one of my skilz, and I usually just make either sandwich bread or slack-dough bread like ciabatta, so this was a bit of a challenge for me! I started with half the recipe, but needed some hamburger buns as well, so I made a very small braided loaf and six "flat" hamburger buns. (Just enough to hold it all together is the way we like them!) Because I was working with such small ropes for braiding I wasn't able to quite follow the instructions in the book and I didn't pinch the ends enough so they didn't all stay stuck together. In spite of that, it's a lovely golden little loaf. We haven't eaten it yet, but the hamburger buns were delicious.
Coming up next, ciabatta, one of my favorite breads to make and to eat.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


You know you live in a house with an unusually large number of speakers when Peregrine, instead of asking Poppy to be quiet, asks her to "turn down that speaker in your throat"!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

BBA Challenge #5: Casatiello

This week's Bread Baker's Apprentice recipe was an Italian version of Brioche, Casatiello. (You can click here for the recipe as it appears in the book.) It is typically baked around Easter in Italy, and while the recipe in our book called for butter, the authentic way to make it is with lard! This was the fifth recipe in the challenge, and probably the most straightforward; from start to delicious finish in about 5 hours. It was a simple dough enriched with eggs and butter and studded with bit of meat and cheese. The recipe called for salami, but I had bacon on hand, so I fried some up and chopped it coarsely. I substituted a third of the butter with some of the leftover bacon grease. (I know, I know...) That was probably partly what made this bread so good. For cheese, I chose swiss, and grated it. If, no, when I make this bread again I'll cut the cheese into little cubes instead of grating it, as I think the melty pockets left by the cheese would be nice. We thought this one was delicious, and am so glad for this challenge, as I likely wouldn't have tried this one on my own.
Do you like the "staging" of the photo? I asked Erik if he could photograph the casatiello before I put it away, so he rushed over with the camera. I was going to move it, or clear the counter at least, but he said to leave it as it would add to the character of the picture. So there you have my kitchen in a very natural state. The wooden surface is the top of a table my Dad made me; it's decorative iron on the bottom, with a shelf for my small appliances and room underneath for food-grade buckets of bulk items. The table sits a few inches lower than my countertops which is easier on the back for rolling tortillas! The vintage rolling pin is something that belonged to Erik's grandmother, BeBe. When we were newly married we were invited to go through some things they had in storage. This was one of a few items we ended up with, and I love it. In the far left of the picture you can just see the crust of Poppy's gluten free "everyday" bread that I use for sandwiches, toast, etc. And at the top is the base of my Vita-Mix, a hard working appliance that serves us very well. I'm so thankful that cooking is something I enjoy, as it's something I have to do an awful lot of!
Coming up next week in the challenge: Challah Bread.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

For the Love of Vanilla

Mise en place... everything ready.


It's going to be yummy one day!

The next morning, already turning a lovely amber.
I have some sort of a love affair with vanilla. And in my mind, vanilla is tied forever with Mexico. For as long as I can remember, my family has always brought back big bottles of Mexican vanilla whenever we go there. It brings back memories of shopping on First Street in Ensenada, of dusty and cluttered shops where the overly friendly shopkeeper wants to make a "special deal for you today". Of course, if you want the really special deal you leave the tourist area and go to the big supermarket where the Mexicans shop. In more recent years, my vanilla memories take me to Zihuatanejo, and Puerto Morelos, to stifling hot days and only slightly cooler nights, geckos clicking and running across the walls, much to the delight of my children and myself, beaches and sand castles and waves, mysterious Mayan ruins rising from steaming jungles, cool clear cenotes, and more dusty shops with rows and rows of shiny bottles of vanilla.
Yes, in my familia Mexico and vanilla go hand in hand. Whenever anyone goes south of the border, they take orders for vanilla. So when I recently ran out of my big bottle of Mexican vanilla I was tempted to load up the van and head south. Seriously, it would be almost criminal to run a kitchen with no vanilla on hand! And sure, I know I can buy vanilla here; I can even go to the latin markets and buy Mexican vanilla, but it just wouldn't be the same. Instead, I began looking into making my own vanilla extract and lo and behold, it's a very, very simple thing to do. So, not one to do things in moderation, I decide I might as well just make a gallon or more so that I can have some to share as well.
The basic "recipe" for making vanilla is simply to soak vanilla beans in alcohol for at least 8 weeks, and presto change-o... vanilla extract! So, after reading up on the various origins and their properties, I ordered from The Arizona Vanilla Company a half pound of beans from Madagascar and another half pound from Mexico. The vanilla orchid originated in Mexico and Mexican beans are still considered the finest. But I was curious to see if I could tell any difference in the extract made from the two different origins.
Next stop, the liquor store. Now I was raised in a home where alcohol consumption was strictly taboo. I've relaxed a bit on this point, but still, between Erik and I, we consume maybe 1 or 2 drinks a month. (I guess this is one area where I do exercise moderation.) So when I traipsed into the liquor store, baby on my hip and two children in tow, I felt a bit out of place. A friendly employee pointed me in the direction of the vodka, and, at my request, pointed out the cheap stuff, as I'd read it doesn't really matter for making an extract. At this point Peregrine piped up, asking the man, "Isn't alcohol bad for you?" We assured him it's only bad in excess. (Like if mama went home and downed a whole lot of that vodka.) I, of course, felt compelled to explain to whoever might care that the reason I was buying two huge bottles of cheap vodkaand a bottle of rum was that I was using it to make vanilla, and that I'd be making a lot of it. As if the liquor store employees regularly pass judgement on people buying cheap alcohol. Yeah. They probably only think it's funny when people like myself seem nervous and make excuses. Yeah right, lady, we believe you're going home to make vanilla. Likely story.
So, I survived my liquor store experience and have been just waiting to put it all together. I've enjoyed the scent of vanilla that has greeted me when I walk into my kitchen and have politely ignored the brown paper bag full of cheap vodka that cluttered up my countertop. Last night I ran a knife down the length of each vanilla bean to expose the wonderfully fragrant little seeds. I dropped the beans into the jars, about 3-4 beans per 8oz of alcohol. Already this morning the clear liquid is turning a beautiful amber as the alcohol begins to extract the vanilla essence. And now, we wait. I'm excited to see how my vanilla experiment turns out. But that doesn't mean I don't want to get on a plane for more Mexican adventures!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

One Year Flashback

I was curious to go back a year in my picture folder and see what photo I came up with. Here it is, from June 10th, 2008, a little two month old Raphael sucking his thumb. The rest of us haven't changed a lot in a year, but he sure has. He was my little baldy baby, well, bald compared to Peregrine and Alethea, but people still commented on how much hair he had! He sucked his thumb from the time he was about 2 months until maybe 8 or 9 months, but only when he was tired and falling asleep. I thought it was a perfect habit. But apparently he'd had enough of it. Sweet little baby; where did you go? They grow too fast. (And I still need to write his birthday letter.)
Does anyone else want to share a One Year Flashback?

BBA Challenge #4: Brioche

Last week's recipe was Brioche, a rich, buttery bread that I'd never have made if not for taking part in the challenge. Since I don't own any brioche molds I made do with a muffin pan, which worked well enough even. There were three different options for making this bread; Rich Man's Brioche, Middle Class Brioche, and Poor Man's Brioche. The difference in the three recipes was the amount of butter. I chose the middle ground which still sounded pretty decadent with five eggs and a half pound of butter. Working with such a buttery dough was different; even straight out of the fridge the heat from my hands made it sticky. I did the traditional brioche a' tete shaping; the whole thing had a high learning curve for me. I think I could do better next time, although I'm not terribly inclined to make such a rich bread typically. That said, they are yummy, a bit reminiscent of a croissant. And spread with a little chocolate ganache they make a very nice snack.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


A few random picture of the blessings I spend my days with! (Yes, I actually do other things besides baking bread!)
There's an awful lot of reading going on with this boy these days. I think we're going to have to get used to seeing Peregrine with his nose in a book. It's so very fun watching him catch the reading spark. He reads alone, reads to his brother and sister, and reads to Erik and me. I love it!

We got a new batch of 7 laying hens this spring. I can't wait until they start giving us eggs. Here is Poppy holding hers, a Rhode Island Red named Marigold.

You just never know what you may find in the potty!
(And I daresay this is more pleasant than some things one finds.)

And this little boy is an absolute delight! I can hardly believe he's fourteen months. He's discovered that walking is a pretty decent way to get around, and get around he does!

BBA Challenge #3: Bagels

The third recipe in the BBA Challenge is bagels. I'm not much of a bagel connoisseur; I enjoy one once in a while but I could take them or leave them. I have not spent my adult life attempting to recapture the perfect bagel of my childhood; in fact, I don't remember bagels as being part of my childhood at all. So I really can't say if this was an "authentic" bagel or not, but I did think it was pretty yummy. Chewy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. They're not as much work as they seem and were a nice treat. I only made half the recipe, which still made 8 decent size bagels. And, I had some awfully sweet helpers.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sunrise Muffins

    We eat a mostly gluten and grain free diet, although we have some rice now and then. These muffins are a nice change from grain free and from the usual almond flour. The coconut flour and carrots make them moist and they hold together really well. Coconut flour also adds a lot of fiber to baked goods. These are a hit with everyone in the family. I don’t have a picture, because we ate them all, but they are a lovely orange-y "sunrise" color. Next time I’ll double the recipe because I’ve noticed that the coconut flour really helps them to stay moist. Enjoy!

Sunrise Muffins

1 C Brown Rice (whole, uncooked)
3/4 C Orange Juice 

3 Eggs
Finely Grated Orange Rind from 1 Orange
1/4 C Melted Butter or Coconut Oil
1 t Vanilla
1/3 C Honey

3 Small or 2 Large Carrots 

1/3 C Coconut Flour
1/2 t Salt
2 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Baking Soda

Grease or line 12 Muffin Cups and preheat oven to 350. Combine Rice and Orange Juice a blender and blend on high until the rice is finely ground. (You can do this the night before and let it "soak" in order to neutralize the phytic acid present in whole grain rice.) Add Eggs, Orange Rind, Butter or Oil, Vanilla, and Honey. Roughly chop carrots and blend until they are as finely grated as you like. (You can even completely puree them so these aren't "Carrot" muffins.) 
In a small bowl sift together the Coconut Flour, Salt, Baking Powder, and Baking Soda. Add to blender and blend on low until just combined. The batter may seem thin at first, but the Coconut Flour, which is very high in fiber, will absorb some of the liquid. Pour or spoon into prepared muffin cups. Bake in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter.