My Baking Month in Review

It’s been a little while since I showed what I’ve been baking.  April was a pretty busy baking month for me.

In March, I picked up a copy of Bread Illustrated (BI) by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.  It had gotten good reviews as a good book for bread baking techniques.  I really like this book because it tries to make bread making easy for the novice.  They have tested all of the recipes and found the best way to get bakery quality breads from your home oven.  (I briefly mentioned my March bread baking from this book in a recent post.)  I think each recipe merits a review, so I’m going to go over them again in depth here.

One of the major highlights of April was our trip to King Arthur Flour’s Vermont Campus.   Not only do they have a cafe and bakery there, but you can take classes, watch the bakers work and shop at their huge baking store.  My husband and I went a little crazy in the store and bought a bunch of cool supplies for my baking station.  My favorite purchases were my Gnome apron, a bread stone, a baguette pan, a bread softener (similar to a brown sugar softener), plastic bread storage bags and pre-cut parchment paper.

Brown Soda Bread (BI p. 48)

I picked this recipe as a fun thing to bake for St. Patrick’s Day.  I really liked that it was made with whole grains (whole wheat flour and toasted wheat germ).  It was nutty and coarse and pretty great with cream cheese or butter.  Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t care for the flavor of soda bread and the kids weren’t fond of the texture, so this is unlikely to be a weekly staple.  I will definitely make it again for St. Pat’s though, because I really loved it.

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Brown Soda Bread

No-Knead Brioche (BI p. 98)

I like to think of this as a Brioche Lite recipe.  Instead of kneading butter in by increments, America’s Test Kitchen has developed this recipe that uses melted butter,  The end result is a fluffy, buttery, faintly sweet bread that my son loves.  It is a bit fiddly because you need to do a series of 4 short rises and kneads, and then the dough has to rest overnight in the refrigerator.  But the end result is worth the trouble.  Also, you don’t need a traditional Brioche pan for this recipe.  You make it in a regular loaf pan, which is great.  I’ve now made this three times (much to my son’s joy) and it turned out great every time.  It’s definitely a recipe I will do frequently.

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No-Knead Brioche

Classic Italian Bread (BI p.55)

We like to have bread and butter on the table for most of our meals.  I was buying a loaf of Italian bread from the grocery store bakery for that.  When I got the Bread Illustrated book, I saw that there was a recipe for Italian bread so I thought I would try it.  It is such a simple recipe, just bread flour, yeast, salt, mild lager, water and olive oil.  I use cans of plain old Budweiser for the mild lager (I keep a six pack in the basement fridge just for my Italian bread).  It only has to be kneaded once, then you do a long rise, knead to shape it into the classic “torpedo” shape, and do a second rise before baking.  It recommends a baking stone, so I get to use my fancy new stone for this one.

The results have been perfect every time.  It has a crispy crust, but the crumb is chewy and tender and basically perfect as a table bread for our dinner.  It is so popular with my family that I bake a loaf every few days and they all get anxious when the loaf is nearly finished in case we run out!

Individual Italian Easter Bread Rings (from Christina’s Cucina)

This recipe was suggested by co-blogger Diane, who had made it for Easter dinner with her family in the past.  After my successful Brown Soda Bread (well, I loved it even if no one else did), I was eager to bake an Easter-themed dish and this really fit the bill.  It is a mildly sweet bread with a dyed hardboiled egg in the center, drizzled with icing and decorated with colored sprinkles.

This recipe did not go as smoothly as I would have wanted.  You start by putting the yeast in lukewarm milk with a pinch of sugar.  Then you incorporate melted butter and begin to form the dough.  The recipe warns that if the butter is too hot it can kill the yeast.  I’m not sure if putting the yeast in the milk with sugar was really necessary, since I use instant yeast.  Another time I might try adding the yeast with the dry ingredients like I usually do and see if it makes a difference.  Anyway, for some reason, the dough did not rise as it should have.  I don’t know if my milk wasn’t lukewarm enough, or if the butter was too warm, or if my kitchen was just unusually cold, but after the allotted time for the rise, the dough had barely changed.  As a result, this bread took WAY longer to make than I planned.  Fortunately, my husband had to use the oven for something else during the process, and after the oven cooled a bit, I was able to pop the rising bread into a warm oven, where it finally rose properly.

The only other small snafu was the sprinkles.  I asked my husband if we had rainbow sprinkles and he said “multiple colors?”  This should have been a warning sign to me, but I thought maybe he didn’t understand what rainbow sprinkles were, so I said yes.  He assured me that we had some so I didn’t buy any before making the bread.  Sadly, it turns out he meant “red, white and two shades of green” by multiple colors — a Christmas blend!  Not what I wanted at all!  Fortunately, we had plain white sprinkles, so I just used those.

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Italian Easter Bread

Of note:  you dye uncooked eggs for this, and then the egg gets hardboiled as the bread bakes!  I was a bit skeptical about how the egg would turn out, but they were just like the hardboiled eggs I make in the instant pot, so these were a big win!  They are quite large, though, and the recipe makes 6, so we didn’t quite finish them all.  I will definitely make these again for Easter.  There are a ton of different recipes on the internet for these, so I think next time I might try a different recipe just to see if it goes more smoothly.  The nice thing about this recipe is that the author gives instructions for both a standing mixer and a bread machine.  So if you have a bread machine, you can totally do these using it (I only have a standing mixer, sadly).

Morning Glory Muffins, Whole Grain Snickerdoodles and Tollhouse Cookies

I’ve blogged about the first two recipes from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book (WGBB) before, and Tollhouse cookies are an old standby, so I won’t go into detail about those recipes here, but these are all something I’ve been making regularly.

The Morning Glory muffins are hugely popular with my family, so I try to make them at least once a week.  My husband and kids like to grab one to take on the walk to school or the commute to work.  I’ve started adding wheat germ (optional ingredient) because I had to buy some for the Brown Soda Bread, and everyone really likes that.  I continue to substitute dried cranberries for the raisins, but one time I only had dried cherries, and everyone really liked those as well!  Good to know for future cranberry shortages.  I love this recipe because it is so easy to make (now that I know to use the food processor to grate the carrots and apples!) and it has a lot of healthy ingredients that make it so much better as an on the go breakfast than a breakfast bar.  I’ve also started using my large size cookie scoop to serve the batter into the muffin tin and this makes it so much faster and neater.  You have to fill the tins to the top (this muffin does not rise much during baking), and I’ve found two scoops pretty much work for that.  (Have I mentioned my deep love of the cookie scoops before?  They are SO worth the minimal purchase price and have really changed my cookie and muffin game!)

My son and I also baked the multigrain snickerdoodles again.  These cookies are so delicious — it’s a combo of the barley flour and the rolled oats, I think.  They disappear from the cookie jar in record time.  Sadly, I am having a lot of trouble finding barley flour!  I originally purchased it from Whole Foods, and then I special ordered it when I went back and they didn’t have it any more.  It was supposed to come in the next day.  Two weeks later and I still haven’t gotten a call that it’s in.  I popped by the store last week in case I missed the message and they haven’t gotten any.  So if anyone knows of a reasonably priced place I can order barley flour, please let me know in the comments!

Finally, we have started making Tollhouse cookies once or twice a week.  My whole family loves a chocolate chip cookie.  Even though we all liked the whole grain versions of chocolate chip cookies from WGBB, those recipes are just too darn labor intensive because they require resting the dough in the fridge overnight.  Sometimes, you just want to bang out a few dozen cookies on the fly, right?  So we’ve gone back to the old standby – Nestle’s Tollhouse cookies (from the recipe on the chocolate chip package).  My son always CLAIMS to be excited to help me make these, but he inevitably disappears after licking the mixing paddle clean, so I know he’s only in it for raw cookie dough.

One thing I do differently with these now is using the small (teaspoon sized) cookie scoop.  The recipe calls for dropping the dough by teaspoon full to form the cookies.  We used to use a regular tableware teaspoon, and I never got the number of cookies stated in the recipe.  With the scoop, I get way more cookies.  Yes, the resulting cookies are smaller, and this did cause a little consternation from the family at first, but now that they’re used to the smaller size, there are no complaint.  I like it because I’d rather have my son eat three small cookies than three of the monster sized cookies we made before, and he really doesn’t notice the difference.  Win win!  Also, I can eat one of the smaller sized cookies as a dessert — the larger ones were a bit too much after a meal.  So I get to enjoy them too.  My second little trick is filling up the cookie jar and then putting the remainder of the cookies that don’t fit into the freezer.  That way I can stretch out a batch for more than a couple of days because the kids slow down when they see the cookie supply dwindling. Growing kids eat like locusts, don’t they?  I know these aren’t as nutritious as the whole grain cookies, but I’m okay with that.  They are meant to be an after-meal treat, and I like that I control all of the ingredients and there are no preservatives.  At any rate, they are way better than processed, prepackaged desserts from the store!

Anyway, that’s the skinny on my recent baking adventures!  I’m going to do a post soon about how I reorganized my new baking station, so bakers stay tuned for that.  Let’s just say I went a little Pinterest crazy….

 

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