Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My favorite home baking resources

Hearth bread dough from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook
We eat a lot of bread in our house.  Yes, I bake some of it, but not nearly all of it.  I'm still buying bagels and sandwich bread nearly every week.  The problem is, I haven't gotten into a good bread baking routine.  The adults like crusty European style bread; the kids like softer American style, at least for their lunchbox sandwiches.  I am a convert to no-knead bread, thanks to my cousin Betsy's recommendation of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I can't say enough good things about this book, and the lovely authors who maintain their own blog and are willing to answer all your questions!  I have not nearly baked my way through the book yet, but I hope to.  Keep the dough in your fridge, and you can have fresh bread or pizza every day.

Hearth bread, sliced and ready for the freezer
An oversized boule from the Artisan Bread master recipe
My other go-to baking book is the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. Thank you, Steve and Elaine, for giving us this book however many years ago!  It has several master recipes, and then spends several pages explaining how each ingredient works and how you can vary them.  My book falls open to the buttermilk pancake recipe, which I make almost once a week, and the kids often eat the leftovers (which are great reheated, unlike pancake mix pancakes) during the week.  I also love their muffin recipes.  Did you know that if you preheat your oven really high (500), and then turn it down to 400-ish when you put in the muffins, you will get muffins with big domed tops?  (That is, if you follow the other Cardinal Rule of Muffins: Thou shalt not mix the batter for more than 20 seconds.)  I promise to share the banana chocolate chip muffin recipe that I've perfected using the King Arthur basic recipe.  It's pretty healthy (whole wheat flour, not much sugar, lots of fiber), but if you drop some chocolate chips in it, the kids will eat it!

For cakes, I go everywhere.  I first started baking wedding cakes from The Wedding Cake Book by Dede Wilson.  I also use Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible and The Gourmet Cookbook.  I can usually find a cake recipe for any special occasion from one of those books.  For cupcakes, I keep returning to a great recipe for vanilla cupcakes from the magazine Cook's Country.  It makes two dozen moist and buttery cupcakes--perfect for a birthday party.  And lately, as I've mentioned before, the first place I search for new recipes (or better versions of old favorites) is Smitten Kitchen.  I'm thinking about making this cake for a birthday gathering for a very special aunt next month.

What's your favorite baking book or resource?  Please share in the comments!  The best recipes always come from personal recommendations!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Olive oil granola

I'm not going to bother you with my regular old, everyday granola recipe.  Just make this.  It's sweet, salty and fruity all at the same time. And if, for whatever strange reason, you run out of olive oil in your pantry, you can substitute vegetable oil or melted butter, and you will still have very good granola.  But it won't be this.

A quick Google search will reveal that every other food blog in the universe has already made a version of this granola, most of them based on the recipe given by Melissa Clark in The New York Times.  I had a perfectly yummy granola recipe, developed from several sources, so it took me a while to try this one.  So many wasted months....

My biggest change was to reduce the sweetness.  I thought about reducing the oil as well (my usual recipe only has 1/4 cup), but I was afraid to lose the fruitiness of the olive oil, so I left it alone.  Also, I like my granola in big clumps, so I'll share my method, which has the added benefit of reducing the baking time.  As always, granola is forgiving, so substitute your favorite combination of nuts and seeds.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups nuts (the original calls for raw pistachios, which I forgot to get, so I subbed almonds)
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas), hulled (mine were already roasted and salted, so I skipped the salt later in the recipe)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp kosher or sea salt (skip if your nuts or pepitas are already salted)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/3 cup maple syrup (or try honey)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix the syrup and olive oil together in the measuring cup and pour into the bowl.  Mix well.  Spread mixture on two rimmed baking sheets lined with Silpats (parchment would probably work, too).  Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once halfway through. baking.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the baking sheets.  Break granola into large clumps and store in an airtight container.  Serve with yogurt (Greek yogurt is my favorite) and fresh or dried fruit.  Or just eat it straight out of the container at random times during the day.

Get every last bit coated with oil and syrup.

I think I got the tip about the Silpat from my friend Sara--no more scrubbing the pans, and it's easy to fold the mat and pour the last few bits of granola into your container.

Fresh out of the oven--but wait until it cools!

Yes, that is my empty bowl.

Friday, September 24, 2010


One of the kids' favorite non-chocolate cookies is the snickerdoodle.  It's one of my favorites, too.  I've used several recipes, as long as it's made with butter.  Today I enlisted the help of three kindergarteners.  I mixed up the dough while they were at school, which gave it enough time to chill.  (The chilling time is especially important when hot little hands are going to roll the dough, otherwise it's too sticky to work with.  But if you're in a hurry and don't have "help," you can skip it.)   I scooped the cookies with my mini ice cream scoop (the best tool ever for making cookies-it goes faster and your cookies are beautifully uniform) and the girls rolled them in cinnamon sugar.  They ran off to play while I baked the cookies, and then, of course, it was time for a tea party.  :)

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Granola bars

That giant Costco box of Quaker mini granola bars in my pantry (nearly empty after a few short weeks) has been mocking me.  Look at all the packaging!  Couldn't they have less sugar?  Even my son said we ought to be able to make homemade granola bars.  So I loosely followed the Smitten Kitchen recipe.  (I'm not going to copy the recipe here--just go there yourself, as you should whenever you're looking for a well-tested recipe for anything.)  I stuck to the proportions as written, but freely substituted vegetable oil for butter, maple syrup for corn syrup, whole wheat flour for oat flour, soy nut butter for almond butter--basically, I went with what was in my pantry.  For the 2-3 cups of fruits and nuts, I used a mixture of sliced almonds, coconut, wheat germ, flax seeds, crispy rice cereal, dried cranberries and chocolate chips.  It would be really easy to make these gluten and dairy free.  Next time I may increase the wet ingredients just a little to reduce the crumble factor, increase the proportion of rice cereal, and skip the cranberries.  (I like the cranberries, but a certain daughter does not.  The boys happily accepted the homemade version as a worthy replacement for the shiny foil packets.)  Next time I'll double the recipe and let the kids help.  This is one recipe that won't suffer if someone is a little too enthusiastic in adding ingredients!

Coming up next:  Olive oil granola vs. my "regular" granola

ETA:  I have since made these bars with the changes mentioned above, and they were perfect. More rice cereal lightens the texture a smidge (and more closely resembles the Quaker bars).  The recipe also doubles easily in a 9"x13" pan--if you have more than one child in your house, just double it, or you won't have enough for lunches the next day.  And finally, you really should chill these briefly (30 minutes worked for me) before cutting them so they don't crumble on you.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is this introduction half-baked, or what?

A slightly belated introductory post, and confession of sorts.  For months (maybe over a year), I've been waffling over whether to start a blog, what it could be about, blah, blah, bitty blah.  I'm not sure what pushed me over the edge (maybe it was the new batteries in my digital camera), but I finally decided that my rusty writing skills were only getting rustier, and that journalism diploma (circa 1994) somewhere in the basement was only getting dustier. Look at that, a baking pun and a rhyme all in the first paragraph. Don't get too excited.

Since my regular job description includes mother of three, weekday chef, lunch packer, homework helper, chauffeur, dishwasher unloader and laundry folder, I need a side job that allows me to work at home with Yo Gabba Gabba! in the background.  It would be great if I could sell a cake or two, but at least I can start learning more about this internet thing and put something on my resume more recent than 2003.

So, generally, I intend to focus on baking at home.  Maybe I'll share a recipe once in a while.  Maybe I'll veer off on unknown tangents.  But I'm looking forward to the conversation, which is the best part about blogging, I think.  Comment away, people!  I'm already thrilled to have four followers, even if two of them are family and one is my best friend.  Gotta start somewhere.

And now, I need to go to toddler story time at the library.  I'll be back as soon as I've baked something yummy.  (Suggestions are welcome.  Someone mentioned pie, so I'll definitely get around to that soon.  Thanksgiving is just around the corner!)

Coming soon: Granola, granola bars, crunchy granola...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Special occasion cakes

A Martha Stewart recipe for Lemon Pound Cake--a spring-like finish to Easter dinner.

A fun and fresh option for a large sheet cake. This was for a birthday party, but I've also made one for an anniversary celebration.  Initials would work as well as numbers. Vanilla cake, whipped cream and fresh fruit.

New Year's Eve: The Golden Cage cake from Rose Levy Berenbaum's Cake Bible.
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Doll cakes

My first attempt at a doll cake for my daughter's 4th birthday. The proportions are a little off, but the girls didn't care!

A princess cake for a princess party! This one was fun to make and went pretty quickly! The cake is vanilla with vanilla buttercream, filled with strawberry jam buttercream.
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Wedding cakes

My wedding cake: Lemon cake, raspberry buttercream filling, frosted with lemon curd buttercream and topped with edible sugared pansies.

My favorite wedding cake!

Chocolate cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.
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Chocolate cream pie...homemade chocolate pudding & whipped cream
Mmm...pie. I admit, I don't make pie often enough, usually waiting until holiday time. It's a shame, because I'd rather eat pie than almost anything else!

Rhubarb pie

 What's your favorite kind of pie? Mine might be pumpkin...but I wouldn't say no to any others!
Peach lattice pie
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Birthday cakes

The ducky cake was for my son's second birthday. He was in a little bit of a duck phase, so we thought he'd enjoy them on his cake. Chocolate cake, lightly sweetened whipped cream.
My theory on birthday cakes: Taste comes first. I don't like to clutter up my cakes with a bunch of decorations that don't actually taste good. Sometimes, a cake should just look like a cake! That said, I'm working on my decorating skills. One of these days I'll find a picture of my very favorite cake. It was a wedding cake for some friends, and though I don't remember the cake flavor (I think it was chocolate), it was covered in swirls of white Italian meringue buttercream and topped with real, unsprayed red roses. Simple, pretty and really tasty. 

 The chocolate tiered cake was for a good friend's 40th birthday (obviously!). He's a chocoholic, so it was dark chocolate cake with whipped ganache frosting
This cake was for a big 3rd birthday party. Vanilla cake with chocolate chips and vanilla buttercream.

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After school brownie muffins

Whole wheat flour. Applesauce. Crunchy sugar and melty chocolate chips. They keep well for a few days, if they last that long. Good for a snack, dessert, a party or a playdate. Don't forget the milk!

After School Brownie Muffins

1/2 cup butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup applesauce (unsweetened is fine)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 12 standard muffin cups and set aside.

In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Stir until completely smooth. Add the sugar, eggs, applesauce and vanilla and mix well. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Pour the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture and stir just until combined, about 20 seconds.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Mix the sugar and chocolate chips together and sprinkle over the muffin batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden pick comes out clean.  Cool muffins for a few minutes in the pan, and then remove them with a small knife or spatula and place them on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

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