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Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

I make everything from scratch, to avoid ingesting hormones, additives, and preservatives that I consdier pernicious, or at least whose beneficial or pernicious qualities are an open question. Dinners, desserts, soda, sauces and jams, breakfast cereal, trail mix, all sorts of bread. (Still haven’t made my own noodles, because I can’t seem to run out of the ones I have. I’ll get there Susy Morris, I swear.)

At almost 60, I’m a remnant of the last generation that routinely learned to cook at home. While I never stopped making dinner- the stews and soups and roasted chickens- I had largely abandoned baking, picking it back up a few years ago. I started with crackers, then scones, and moved on to pie (yes the crust too, thanks for asking).

It turns out to be like language– while I do rely on recipes, I found baking intuitive for the most part; call it “touch memory” from my childhood. Like smells, it turns out the texture of a proper pie crust, and the correct amount of cookie dough to scoop up, and the shape of a pita are learned skills that lurk in the interstices of your brain until you need them again.

But I didn’t trust myself with bread.

I’ve been through many recipes- the Browneyed Baker, and Mark Bittman and my favorite legacy cookbook. I’ve watched the complex terror that is America’s Test Kitchen’s minute description of how to fail at breadbaking. I followed every step to the letter. I asked my pro-baker buddy for tips. But it wouldn’t rise, and it didn’t look right, and the crumb was too loose or too dense.

The only expert I didn’t consult was that lizard brain of mine, which kept telling me that none of my breads felt right.

A month ago I went to a bread baking demonstration, expecting to find That One Weird Trick That Will Make Your Bread Turn Out Correctly Every Time!

And I did.

The presenter started throwing ingredients into a bowl– warm water, melted butter, yeast, sugar, coffee, salt. He dismissed experts and recipes– “two cups of liquid, some kind of shortening, yeast, flavoring like salt, 4-5 cups of flour. That’s bread. Any kind of bread– flat bread, loaf bread, fancy bread.” Now this sounded more like cooking, and less like that scary, scientific, chemical-reactions, cautiously weighed ingredients mystery that is baking. And I remembered baking bread with my mother; she used to have a cookbook out, but I seldom remember her looking at it. She would just make the bread, and tell me “this is what the dough should feel like when it’s ready to rise, and this is what it feels like when it’s ready to bake.” Here’s how it looks and here’s how it smells.

So I started making bread, instead of reading recipes. The first time I ignored the recipe, I forgot the shortening in a loaf bread. Bread without shortening gives you flat bread, like pita, so you can imagine how nice and dense that loaf was.

But it freed me from the tyranny of perfection– I made edible bread armed only with ingredients and my knowledge. So I made another loaf (and forgot to punch it down– this results in a bread “balloon” in case you’re wondering), but it looked and tasted like bread. I’m on my fifth loaf now, and third successful loaf. Easy, in fact, as pie turned out to be.

Standing at the counter kneeding bread feels not just like, hey, I’m going to have some delicious bread in a few hours. It feels like I’m Eve, or Miriam, or Mrs. Ingalls, or my mother, doing what women do, and have always done.

Making bread.

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I confess. I didn’t clean my floors.

I spent the weekend shoveling. Which is underfoot, so that sort of counts?

It’s strange being housebound by yourself. The last time this happened I was 21 years old, it was 1977, and even though I had a roommate, she was never there. Eventually in that epic winter storm (60 inches of snow over the course of about a week, air temps lower than -20 (that’s Fahrenheit folks), I had to dig my way out and spent the week squatting in a university art studio.

I got to the end of the internet. I watched Netflix. I watched the season premier of Downton Abbey, reminding myself of the fact that I stopped watching it because of the telegraphed plot and sluggish writing and direction, despite the absurd number of simultaneous storylines. (Downton hate mail in 3…2…1…)

I made rugelach.

But a large part of the day I pulled a chair up to my back window and just watched the storm. Here in Chicago we got twelve inches on top of the twelve already on the ground. It snowed last year, too,  but this “was not the same snow. This snow came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss….”

I felt like I was living inside the story, which I know by heart, because I have read it aloud to someone every year for decades, and when I didn’t have someone to read it to, I read it aloud to myself.

I left the house dark except for the last of the holiday lights, draped with greenery in the bow window. Snow like this muffles the sound of the city, with just the occasional rattle of the wind chimes next door– they rattle instead of ringing because they are filled with snow.

I sat because I was sad; it’s no fun being housebound alone when you’re used to having someone with you, to share the thoughts, and the boredom and the rugelach. But after a few minutes, the view becomes hypnotic and your mind empties. It’s not so much that you’re not sad, or not thinking, but that you’re just a vessel, filling up like the garden with the beautiful, blowing, soft and drifting snow.

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Time is a funny thing. It stands still. It flies by. Yet when it is gone… it is gone. 006I had to dust off the keyboard since I haven’t been on the computer in a while. Geez. I know I missed a letter in the alphabet this past Sunday. I will try to make it up to you all, ’cause I know you all sitting on pins and needles just wondering what I will come up with H. Ha (oooooh, that is an “H”)

I am enjoying the cooler weather that winter has brought to South Texas. I am just so much more comfortable right now, and it feels better when I turn up the stove to bake or cook something too. Rosemary-Lemon cookiesOn Wednesday, I did just that. I made some Rosemary Lemon Cookies for the Annual Cookie Exchange with the culinary group I am in. I have posted about these cookies before, but I forget how wonderful they are until I make them again, and drool.

Unfortunately, I was only able to sample one. ONE! The batch made up exactly what I needed for the exchange plus 2 extra (one for me, one for my husband!)

I returned home with six different types of cookies and that will make my husband happy for a while. Once the sugar buzz has worn off, I will make some more of the Rosemary Lemon Cookies for us.

There are a few things that I love about these cookies; I can walk right outside and pick fresh rosemary to use, they don’t have a lot of sugar in them, they are crispy, and they remind me of shortbread.

What are you baking right now?

Sincerely, Emily

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This past Sunday our Sunday Photo post focused on “Flour Power.” Well, flour has definitely taken on power, and new meaning for me in the past five years.

On my journey to rid our kitchen of processed and pre-packaged food, I have also taken some detours and now local food plays a very important part of this journey as well.  Granola Bars 1

Flour, also gives me freedom. The freedom and power to make things like bread and pizza dough. Crackers and muffins. Sour dough starter and white sauce. I know where my flour came from and I know what the ingredients are in the things I make. Not only do I know the ingredients, but making these things is also frugal. I know it costs a lot less then buying a loaf of bread at the market.bread dough

In Sunday’s post Alexandra talked about finding local flour in Wisconsin a few hours from where she lives. I finally found a source for wheat in Texas that is about 500 miles away. YIKES. Texas is fifth in the nation in wheat production, and it is hard to find wheat or flour locally. Hmmm. Fran talked about flour and its connection to communities.KPMF on toast with asaragusOn any given day, I usually eat something that I eat that has flour in it. Toast made from homemade bread to go with my morning eggs. Maybe a granola bar in the car on the go. Last week for dinner I made a mushrooms in a white sauce using flour, served if over toast and topped that off with steamed asparagus.

Flour is one of the staples that I would never want to be without in my cupboards because it plays an important part in our meals. I am grateful that I have the time to make these things at home.

What part does flour play in our kitchen and life?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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3 Cheers for flour!

Hi All from narf7 from Serendipity Farm

Today’s post was brought to you by the concept of flour through the ages. I have a very sketchy ability to recall my own history let alone the history of the rest of the world but somewhere in the back of my mind I remember a history lesson regarding how important the growing of cereal crops was to the history of mankind. It meant that we would no longer need to be nomadic and that there would be a degree of surety regarding our food supply that was previously reliant on the hunting of large and dangerous creatures to feed us. Maybe that’s where vegans started as well…who knows! All I know is that it meant that people tended fields of grain while others went out to catch the mammoths and that’s where humanity started to really appreciate the concept of community. Everyone had a job, and the cereal became the backbone of the community.

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Sourdough rye starter after being fed, ready for use

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A sourdough loaf

Very early on we humans learned that a loaf of bread (albeit unleavened and most probably somewhat tasteless) was a valuable thing when the mammoths went on their annual sabbatical to wherever they went (most probably the La Brea Tar Pits) and being able to harvest perennial grasses allowed communities to grow and prosper. The production of flour allowed a community to store food and once food was stored it could be bartered for other food and goods and services, and over a period of time commerce was born. Flour, and that tasteless loaf of unleavened bread was incredibly vital to how big a community could grow and how far it could travel to meet up with other small communities.

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Homemade spinach pasta dough made with eggs and spinach produced on the property

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A Roly Poly Tiger Stromboli created from a savoury Stromboli recipe after wondering if a sweet version might be nice…it was!

Fast forwards to today and flour is just as important to our economies as it was back then but we have refined (pun intended) our flour to within an inch of its life and it isn’t the life sustaining product that it once was. Fortunately for us there are healthy alternatives and we can all have a go at creating customised baked goods suitable for everyone in our family. There is a groundswell of interest in cooking and especially baking and a subsequent rise in food blogs enabling us all to customise our diets to suit our requirements. It also allows us to share what we learn with our friends and family and spread the food love around

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Delicious and healthy, a cake baked using dates as an alternative to refined sugar

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These muffins were baked using kefir and sourdough starter a great way to use up excesses in a most tasty way

Where our communities were once reliant on spreading the grain love for survival, we now share recipes to rebuild a sense of community…we have almost come full circle. I shared how to make a wonderful pizza, calzone and Stromboli dough with a wonderful friend who was staying with us recently. She can now take the recipe back home with her and share it with her friends and family to make their lives richer. Humble flour still enriches our lives even though our lives are a whole lot easier than they once were. Where would we be without bread, birthday cakes and pizza?

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No, not Flower Power from the 60’s and 70’s, we’ll save that for another post. I’m talking about Flour Power!

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Flour takes on a whole new meaning for me (Sincerely, Emily) in the past 5 years.

mixing up granola bars

mixing up granola bars

foodsaver play 3

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Flour just taught my high school best friend how to create her own pizzas, Stromboli’s and calzones (narf7 from theroadtoserendipity.wordpress.com )

Simple flour is what memories and prospective feasts are made of…

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Flour, yeast, salt, oil and water

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Kym learning how to manipulate the dough to make a Stromboli

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“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”

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I never thought much about flour before trying to go all-local several years ago. It is really hard to find flour milled within a 4-hour drive, even when you live in a farm state. I finally found a Wisconsin farm called Great River which ironically mills flour just a couple of hours away, but sells it through a jobber in Arkansas, so it travels there, then back to me. So I buy $2.20 a pound flour, grown and milled in Southern Wisconsin, as opposed to 70c a pound flour, grown and milled god knows where– you can’t tell from the packaging. India for all I know. I worked out the cost– if I make all my own bread, the expensive flour makes each loaf about the same price as the store brand. If you count my time as having no monetary value.

Flour- counter Flour- hand***

Here at Tanglewood, flour has also taken on new meaning. After discovering that I am gluten intolerant (No, it’s not a fad I’m going through. Yes, it really does make me sick…) I had to switch from two main flours to… well… a gajillion.

I now keep more than twenty different flours in my kitchen, from teff to tapioca to millet – whatever it takes to add variety of texture and taste to the things I make. Early this spring I devised this shelving and storage system and I have to say – I’m intensely happy with it! Now I just have to get some snazzy labels to replace the dry erase marker on the jars.

(P.s. Can you tell I’m a huge Doctor Who geek from my shelves? My geekiness has gotten out of hand…)

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What are you doing with flour these days??

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This is a post I had started over on my personal blog a few years ago, but it just kept getting pushed further down the posting list until it was out of sight. Alexandra commented on my post last week about getting the recipe…. just the push I needed I guess.

I found this recipe back in 2010 over at Living on a Dime and I have been making them ever since then. This is what my husband has for breakfast every day. They make a great snack and they freeze well.  I always grab a few to take with me when I head out to run errands for the day. Having them with me keeps me from making a bad decision (fast food drive-thru) when I start to get really hungry.

I stack them in a pint canning jars to take in the truck.

I stack them in a pint canning jars to take in the truck.

The base of the recipe is great and then you go off in the direction you want to with your special ingredients. I substitute honey for the granulated sugar in this recipe. I know honey still has calories just like granulated sugar, but I am not focusing on calories here, I am focusing on my ingredients and where they come from along with the benefits of the things I add to them. Also, I think I am getting a healthier granola bar then the ones in the store that are full of additives and preservatives that I am working so hard to stay away from.

mixing up granola bars

Homemade Granola Bars           Adapted from website Living on a Dime

Cream together (I use my stand mixer or hand-held mixer)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

Add to mix (use electric mixer)
2 Tbsp. honey or corn syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

Peanut butter (optional)

Add to mix (I still use that mixer)
1 cup flour
1 T cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Stir into mix

Add dried fruit, nuts, coconut, etc.

Stir in remaining ingredients.

Add to mix
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal (I use an organic puffed rice or puffed millet)

Press firmly into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. (I use the back of a spoon to press the mixture into pan.)

Bake at 350° for 30 – 35 minutes. (looking for golden brown – but not crispy

The bars will firm up as they cool.
Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting.
Makes 24 bars.

Here is what I add to mine:
Ground flax seed
Sunflower seeds
Peanuts
Coconut
Raisins or died cranberries or dried apricots

Granola Bars - done

A few of my notes:

  • I don’t tend to measure the ingredients when I am making these up, other than there is always a 1 cup measure in each jar of flour that I have and 1/4 cup measuring cup in both my oatmeal and my puffed millet. I have found when using honey in place of the granulated sugar that I need to add more flour to the mixture. Since I am not measuring, my granola bars can come out either quite chewy gooey or quite firm and crunchy.
  • Another thing to keep in mind when using more honey in these bars, is that if you bake them at 350F like the original recipe calls for, they will brown and burn more quickly and the bars won’t be completely cooked, so I turn down the oven to 300F to bake them slower and a lower heat setting. They still brown up more, but they don’t burn as quickly.

I cannot count how many times that I have passed on this recipe and everyone that has made them has been thrilled with the results.

I make two batches at a time and always keep them in the freezer.

Do you make your own granola or granola bars? Feel free the share your recipe or a link to it in the comments.

Sincerely, Emily

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LemonI am starting to see posts around blog-land about lemons coming into season. Lemon is a favorite fruit  and used in so many different ways for many people for so many reasons. Lemonade on a hot summer day. Lemon cakes. Candied lemon peels. I could go on and on and on.

For a recent cookie exchange with an herbal culinary group that I am involved in I thought long and hard about what I was going to make. Last year I had the brilliant idea to make cardamon peanut brittle, which didn’t work and it forced me to regroup and come up with something else. The day before I needed to have 12 dozen herbal cookies I fell back on a basic Mexican Wedding cookie and added the cardamon to it. They turned out great.

This year I made rosemary lemon cookies. Man-o-man were they good.

RosemaryRosemary-Lemon Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter – soft

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp snipped fresh rosemary

2 tsp finely grated lemon peel

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

Rosemary-Lemon cookies

Line cookie sheet with parchment.
Beat butter, sugar, rosemary, lemon, baking powder, salt and vanilla in electric mixer until completely combined.
Beat in flour, one cup at a time until it is all combined.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls.
Flatten balls with the bottom of a glass that is buttered and dipped in sugar.
Bake at 400F for approx. 8 min, or until lightly browning on edges.
Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute.
Transfer to cooling rack

Makes approx 40 cookies

You will taste the lemon right away and after a few seconds have gone by the rosemary flavor will come through ever so slightly. I loved that.

I also loved the thinness and crunch that these cookies had, and I can see myself using this cookie base for other herbs and spices like ginger and cinnamon.

Do you prefer a crunchy, crispy cookie or one that is soft?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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You have an official pass to eat goodies– it’s Christmastime! But in January, you have to be good. Here are some of the yummies, we’re making:

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I (Xan) really just starting baking a few years ago. Baking is one of those things that one does with one’s mother, and since mine died right at the brink of my adulthood, I didn’t really feel confident in doing it. Plus, it made me sad. But when I changed my food buying habits and diet a few years ago, I had to learn to bake, or no bread. And I really did kinda figure it out. I’m slowly figuring out bread, am something of an expert now, or at least fairly fearless, at scones, and last year I taught myself to make pies (including the crust). Here is one them, and it fits in with last Tuesday’s post about baking with my mother.Pineapple apricot pie

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Well, I (Sincerely, Emily) had wonderful intentions of making some cookies over the past few days….   ahhhh, that just didn’t happen.

Pecan Pie Bars 2

So, the only sweet treat you are going to see from me is in the post I did yesterday about the Pecan Pie Bars that I made. Oh, and there is the batch after batch of zucchini muffins and bread that I have been making over the past few montsh (and stashing in the freezer – and other people’s freezers too).

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What sweet treats have you been baking? Comment and add a link if you posted about them.

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Baking disasters are a gift to a blogger. Instant content. But it’s a sad sad consolation prize compared to the cookies or pie or cake that never was.

I bake a lot, but I’m pretty new at it*. (See some of my more successful efforts here and here.) Although my mother was an excellent baker, and I baked with her a lot as a child, as an adult I barely baked at all until about 4 years ago (yes, during one of the employment downsizings).  There have been a lot of, um, learning experiences. The time I used polenta thinking it was cornmeal. The brittle pie crust (we’re talking before I baked it).  The non-rising baking powder. The eggplant bread. (It wasn’t bad, actually.)

On Thursday night I decided to take advantage of my uncle-in-law’s gift of homemade (from his own orchard) apricot compote and make some apricot newtons.

I’ve made fruit newtons before; they were delicious. Sadly, I did not mark or copy the recipe I used, because the one I found this time did not work. This is one of the problems with learning to bake on your own, and relying on the internet for recipes. (I couldn’t find a newton recipe in any of my books, or on any of the more reliable sites.) So if you don’t really know what you’re doing, you don’t really know when, or how, you’ve gone wrong.

The dough was supposed to be rollable, but it wasn’t. It was just cookie texture.

An experienced baker would be able to say– this is a drop cookie. An experienced baker would recognize the combination of ingredients and know what kind of dough that is likely to create. An experienced baker would know better than to try a one-off recipe found on the intarwebs. An experienced baker wouldn’t smash the *&$#(*%^ dough onto the floor and then have to clean it up.  (I deny that I did this. My floor is now very clean.) She would have said, hmmm I can turn these into apricot thumbprint cookies, before she consigned the whole mess into the trash.

The goal is to get excellent at this by the time any as-yet-mythical grandchildren are old enough to bake with me. Meantime, I’ll continue to see how well baking disasters can be used as floor polish.

And by the way, if you’ve got a good recipe for fruit newtons, I’ve still got tons of apricot compote left.

*I am a very good cook. It’s the baking thing that stumps me. ;)

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