Wednesday, April 29, 2009

bread baking day #19, spring country bread

if you recall, last month i decided to join in on the bread baking day fun with mansi at the fun and food blog for a quick bread bake-off.  this month, the festivities are being hosted by cindystar and she has chosen spring country breads in honor of the arrival of spring.  that seemed like such an easy challenge until i began to think about it.  i can think of breads baked for specific holidays but not something baked specifically for spring.  the search was on!  if there was a special spring bread out there, i was going to bake it.  

knowing that i had a few weeks to do this, i took my time.  i leafed through my bread books and searched the internet, repeatedly and nothing came to me.  there just wasn't one single bread that screamed "spring" out to me.  let's be honest, beside some hot cross buns, nothing even whispered the word to me.  time was running out and i still didn't know what to do.  and then, the weather changed; it got unseasonably hot in nashville and the answer jumped out at me.  flatbread and salad for dinner.  one of our favorite meals would save the day!  after working in the garden, what could be better than a nice and refreshing green salad with some warm flatbread?
the book flatbreads & flavors, a baker's atlas has lived on my bookshelf for quite some time.  many times i have sat down with it and read about the various places and the intriguing breads.  there must be one i could make, right?  after flipping through half of the book, i came upon pizza bianca.  how funny,  here i am with a book of exotic breads from places i will most likely never see and i pick a pizza recipe from italy.  with that in mind, i decide to change it up a bit to make it my own and help with the goal of using up stuff in the closet that my husband and i started on last week.

first i made a sponge using some semolina, whole wheat flour, yeast and water.

after letting it develop for an hour or so, i added some sun dried tomato pesto, some salt and  enough bread flour to make a soft dough.  using a tray to contain the flour, i kneaded the dough until it was smooth and elastic and then i let it rise until doubled.

i divided the dough into 6 pieces and flattened them out with my fingertips.  the dough rounds then went on a floured tray and were brushed with olive oil.  they went immediately into the preheated oven  and baked for about 10 minutes.

our dinner, salad with avocados, tomatoes, kalamata olives, garbanzo beans and cucumbers on a bed of mixed greens and served with caesar salad dressing and feta cheese and warm sun dried tomato flatbreads.  perfect on a warm evening.

sundried tomato flatbreads

preheat the oven to 450F, makes 6 rounds

1/2cup sundried tomato pesto
1-1/2cup water
1teaspoon yeast
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4teaspoon coarse salt, plus additional for sprinkling on top of the breads
1-2 cups bread flour
olive oil for brushing the dough

make the sponge by mixing the pesto, water, yeast, semolina and whole wheat flours in a bowl.  cover it with plastic and allow to rest for several hours.  to make the bread, add the salt and 1 cup of the bread flour and stir it together.  place the additional cup of flour on a clean surface and dump the dough on top of it.  begin kneading the dough while incorporating the additional flour into the dough.  add more flour if the dough is sticky and if it is getting stiff, brush away the excess.  knead for about 8 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.  divide it into 6 even pieces.  sprinkle flour onto baking sheets and press each round of dough into a flat disk.  brush with olive oil, dimple the surface with your finger tips and sprinkle with the salt.  place the pans in the oven and bake it for about 10 minutes, the dough will be lightly golden around the edges and on the bottom. 

see you next time!  be sure to check out the bread baking day round up when cindystar posts it on may 5

Sunday, April 26, 2009

cheese louise, it's time for another daring bakers challenge

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes.  She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

that thud was the sound of my head hitting the keyboard.  for a person who used to bake and sell cheesecakes for a wholesale business, this was not going to be a challenge.  or was it... over the last 15 years or so, i have baked many, many cheesecakes in many, many styles and flavors.  i have even done a wedding cake that was cheesecakes.  so for me to participate in this months challenge, i needed to find something that i haven't done before.  i thought of many things, ricotta or goat cheese instead of cream cheese.  so many chocolates to choose from.  fruits of all colors, a quick trip to the liquor store or a search for hazelnut paste...what was i going to do?  how could i make this a little different from every other one i have done before?

when all else fails and your imagination is at a standstill, just clean out the fridge.  or at least stand there while your husband does and you can grab things as he decides to pitch them or you can let that be your inspiration.  we had so many little tubs and bowls of stuff piled behind so many half full containers that we could not find anything in there.   it was time for all of those lazy squatters to go!  first stop was the pantry, i needed a crumb crust.  i was in luck, there was a bag of biscotti crumbs left over from something and a partial bag of hazelnut pieces, a little black sugar, some melted butter and voila! a crust is born.   in to the cheesecake went some sour cream since we had two open tubs and we were out of heavy cream.  in the freezer i found some bananas that were over ripe and saved for just such an occasion.  back into the pantry and my search yielded a little colombian chocolate from  the valentino challenge.  i flavored the batter with the banana and poured 2/3 of it into pans.  the remaining third was mixed with the chocolate which i had melted and this batter was swirled into the batter in the pans to make a marbled cheesecake.  when it was all said and done, the cakes were cold and ready to come out of their pans, i headed back to the freezer and used some frozen strawberries to make a nice sauce.  there you have it, banana split cheesecake!  it was simple to do and my pantry as well as the fridge and freezer are a little less cluttered!  thanks for the challenge Jenny, it was fun! 

the crust;  biscotti crumbs, black sugar and hazelnut pieces, they beat graham crackers every day of the week!

my favorite way to make a cheesecake-in the food processor.  the cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla and banana will be mixed first with the eggs added slowly last.

i decided to share, one 6" cake for us, one 6" cake for a friend and one 4" cake for my neighbors.
this is what they looked like before going into the oven.

on the counter to cool while i made the sauce...

a slice for me and a slice for my husband, a wonderful way to end the evening.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

flying time

wow, how the time has flown.  days go by so fast that i seem to struggle just to stay in place.  it is that time of the year when everything is in need of attention.  gardens to be planted, pots to be filled, weeds to pull and so much more.  and that is just in my yard, there is also the demo garden to tend to.  school is almost out; just where did the year go and have i blinked and missed it?  hopefully, there will be a book to work on and if not, the business is booming and i am longing for the slower days of january already...funny how that works, in january i can almost taste spring and i can't wait for it.  while i do not wish for a lack of things to do, i do wish for less to accomplish all in one day.  i suppose what i really want is time.  time to think, time to sleep, time to enjoy the little things; mostly just time for my own family in our little corner of the world.  many say it is better to be busy, no time to worry.  personally, i like time to think, it prevents the worry that something is being neglected or overlooked.  now, it's time to go, time to sleep, time to dream...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

pie time again

once again, it is time to post for you want pies with that.  this month's challenge found all of us creating pies that reflect the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  i was stumped, completely.  honestly, i may read the gossip columns on occasion but i really don't pay all that much attention to celebrities or their antics.  what's a girl to do in a situation like that?  ask a teenager?  search on line?  better yet, why not call on your good friend bernie madoff and ask him what you should bake.  and that's just what i did, through his lawyer of course, and this is what he told me to do;  bake an apple pie, bernie madoff's best ever apple pie...

one thing bernie couldn't do was give me a good pie crust recipe.  so, i decided to make one from scratch using a combination of corn masa and flour.  it made a nice flaky crust and i will definitely use masa in pie crust again.

what a beautiful apple pie, so easy to make and it went together perfectly.  bernie has the best apple pie recipe, ever!!!

when i pulled it out of the oven, it smelled so good.  we could hardly wait to cut into it.

here is a slice of the pie, so perfect and amazingly delicious.  and about as authentic as a $3 bill or one of bernies investments!  beware of perfect apple pies, especially if they are really made from crackers.  

if you have ever seen the recipe for ritz's mock apple pie, then you know what i did here.  that recipe has always intrigued me but never enough to actually make one, until now.  what better way to pay homage to a con man.  i actually made this pie twice, just because i was so unsure if i got it right the first time.  the first one, i actually grated half of a granny smith apple and added it along with some additional spices.  we were shocked, it actually tasted a lot like apples, not because of the apple i added but because of the combination of spices, cream of tartar and lemon juice and zest.  for the second one, i used a mashed up over-ripened pear instead of the apple and it too was somewhat convincing.  for both pies, i followed the recipe completely but substituted brown sugar instead of white sugar, added the fruit and the additional spices.

be sure to visit the you want pies with that?  site and check out what all the other members baked.  look for us to be at it again this time next month with a new and exciting theme!!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

first in line

if you've read this blog before, then you know that i am a member of the daring bakers and you want pies with that. when the members of these blog forums post about the latest baking endeavor, everyone makes an effort to read the blogs of other members.  since i have also done this, i have found a few other forums i would like to join and with this post, i am participating in the bread baking day #18 which is hosted by mansi at the fun and food blog this month.  the theme this time around was quick breads and i immediately knew what i wanted to bake, irish soda bread.  every year at this time, i look forward to a fresh loaf of irish soda bread.  thick slabs of bread, chock full of currants and warm from the oven.  butter isn't necessary if you remember to plump the currants first.  but this bread also comes with memories and a story and every time i pull out the recipe, it all comes back to me, somewhat bittersweet but welcomed every year.

our mothers were sisters and they both had their first child within a few months of each other. since their mother had died when they were young, the two sisters spent a lot of time together which also meant that my cousin dennis and i spent a lot of time together too.  when my parents finally split up, my brother and i spent even more time with all of our cousins.  so many of my childhood memories are of time spent with them at their house or on group outings.

mom and joan were a lot a like but so different at the same time.  neither tolerated a whole lot of nonsense and we all learned the hard way.   and while mom could cook, pretty well if i must say, she did not do much baking.  if there was a cake to be baked, most likely joan was the one to do it.  this side of the family didn't have a whole lot of ethnic family recipes  handed down from the elders.  all things considered,  for an irish family, there wasn't much in the way of irish culinary specialties that we were familiar with except, irish soda bread.

my first memories of irish soda bread are those of an elderly irish neighbor, mrs. mulvahil.   every year as saint patrick's day approached, she would bake a loaf for my mother.  i am not sure that i truly enjoyed it then but as i became an adult, i learned to appreciate a loaf of good irish soda bread.

when my husband and i opened our bakery and saint patrick's day approached, i mentioned wanting a recipe for the bread to my mother and she told me that joan had a good recipe and that she made it every year.  being the sentimental person that i am, i asked mom to find out if joan would part with the recipe; i would make it and sell it at the bakery giving full credit to joan for the recipe.

not long after that conversation, i received an email from my cousin mary and in it was the recipe along with some helpful hints.  while it wasn't the same as getting a hand written copy, it still meant a lot to me.  i printed out a copy of the recipe and took it to work.  i made notes on the copy for a much larger batch and some minor changes.

somehow, i have managed to save that copy of the recipe and 9 years later, i still have it and i still use it.  we closed our bakery almost 5 years ago and this year i pulled out that recipe and prepared it for the country market which is part of the restaurant i work in.  it sold well, very well and i didn't get to eat any of it.  while i was home on my grand staycation last week, i pulled out the recipe again and made a loaf for me and in the process, i spent a little time with joan.

the loaf, warm from the oven

a thick slab for me

dennis in the pool and me on joan's lap in the back yard at joan's house.

we lost dennis to a drunk driver in 1997.  thankfully, mary, who was also in the car at the time, was not seriously hurt.  it was a tough blow to all and while time may have lessened the pain, none of us have forgotten.  joan passed away a few years ago and having the recipe is like having a special gift that i can make and share  each year.  i can hear her dictating the recipe to mary as i make the bread...

joan's irish soda bread

4 cups all purpose flour
1/4cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/4cup (4 tablespoons) butter
2 cups light or dark raisins or currants, soak them in hot water after measuring or they will dry       out the bread-drain out the excess water before adding them to the dough
1 egg
1-1/3cup buttermilk

preheat the oven to 375F.  combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda and the caraway seeds in a large bowl.  whisk them to combine them.  with a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.  stir in the raisins.  whisk the egg and buttermilk and stir it into the flour mix and until just moistened.  turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth.  shape into a ball and make a 4 inch cross, 1/4" deep in the center with a knife.  place the loaf on a baking sheet that is lined with paper or in a greased 9" cake pan.  brush the top of the loaf  with additional egg or some cream and bake for 1 hour and about 10 minutes.  to test for doneness, tap it on top and it should sound hollow or insert a cake tester and it should come out clean.  allow to cool completely before cutting.

special thanks to mansi at fun and food blog for letting me join in on the fun even if it is a little late!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

my grand staycation

with the blink of an eye, my big staycation adventure came to an end.  i've been back to work for 2 days now and it is as if i never took any time off.  i could easily adjust to a life of leisure.  going to the gym, taking walks, shopping; indulging every whim.  all i need is the money, i already have everything else.

so, you ask, what did you do with all of those days?  i went to class, beekeeping class to be precise.  i now know way more than i ever thought i could about bees and what it takes to keep a successful hive.  it is a huge commitment, kind of like adopting babies, only you get 60,000 of them at once.  darry is sold on the idea and i am too, kind of.  it truly is intimidating.  after all, they can get nasty if they are not properly respected.  we spoke to one beekeeper that told a tale of being stung 60 times in his arm.  we were reminded again of the reality of playing with bees.  then he told us of the time he was stung 300 times.  that was enough to make me think twice.  stinging aside, bees can be plagued by any number of things.  tracheal mites, varroa mites, nosema, small hive beetles, foulbrood or wax moths.  it is a daunting task.  

one wild and crazy gal out for a good time.  if this is my plan for time off, just wait till you see what i do for fun next time.  as they say in the south, ain't no tellin...