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Almost Last Minute

Is it just me or does time speed up in December?  I always start off with grand plans and lists and intentions, but halfway through the month, it seems I have barely made a dent in all the things I would like to do.  I’m sure there are many of you who feel the same way.  This is the point in which we have to make peace with not getting everything done and buying some gift cards.  It’s the though that counts and I’m not just saying that.  I know I’m not the only one with a list of people to get gifts for and for half of them I can’t think of anything to get.  I spend a lot of time racking my brain over these people and, if nothing has come to mind by this time of the month, gift cards are a wonderful invention.  That leaves me some spare time to try to finish off my Christmas baking wish list, yay.

The last time we talked, my list was really long.  Unfortunately, it only got longer and now has reached the point where it has to be trimmed.  I can’t make everything I’ve made in previous years AND add a few new things I’ve been itching to try.  Mostly, I am now baking whatever I feel like baking, because I really believe that if one is going to bake during this crazy season, it better be something you REALLY want to make.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens when trying new things, the new stuff does not always work out the way we wish they would.  Like these Lebkuchen.

I had high hopes for this recipe since I love this cookie.  I made a recipe last year that was quite good and I  thought this one would be better and more authentic.  This year’s recipe is from Classic German Baking, which I mentioned last week.

There is no flour or leavening in this recipe and, as a result, what you you put into the oven is what you get when they come out.  They do not spread much or change really.  The dough was pretty sticky and hard to spread onto the papers, so that made for lumpy bumpy cookies.  I thought maybe the glaze would help its looks, but no.  The glaze was also a pain to apply evenly.  They taste ok, but I’ll just say that next I will go back to the recipe I made last year.  At least I got some good quality time with this cutie pie who helped me assemble them.

After that disappointment, I moved on to a new cookbook with some great Christmas recipes, Sweet by Helen Goh and Yotan Ottolenghi.  This is the book the husband used last week for me birthday cake.  I wanted to try the Soft Gingerbread tiles with Rum Butter glaze.

After I figured out how best to use the cookies stamps with this dough (coat them with a light film of oil for each cookie), these were fun to make, especially since I had some help from the husband.  The dough is easiest to handle when chilled and rolled between sheets of parchment.  I also found that the rum butter glaze was best applied by dipping the cookies into the glaze rather than brushing each cookie individually.  These might be our new favorite gingerbread cookie.  I love the look of the stamped ones, but I want to make another batch in some other shapes, too.  Maybe I’ll be able to get to that this weekend.

I’ve also got my sweet sourdough starter going to prep for pandoro and panettone baking next week.  On a whim yesterday, I decided to try out a sourdough kugelhopf recipe instead of discarding the unused portion of the starter.  I wasn’t sure if it would work because I have a stiff starter, whereas the recipe calls for a liquid one.  I just made up the difference in weight with water and a little extra flour.  The dough came together quite well.

However, it didn’t seem like it was very active for a long time, even after I transferred it to the pan for its last, long rise.  It seems, though, that a watched dough doesn’t rise.  I just had to ignore it for a few hours and it rose just fine.  It did take a couple extra hours, but our house is pretty cold, so that does not surprise me.  Once baked, it looked great.

What I was really impressed with, though, was the crumb structure.  It’s spongy, but firm, elastic, and yet sort of cakey, moist, and fine textured.  It was a little tangy from the sourdough and just a little sweet.  The bits of rum soaked fruit was a perfect complement.

It was so good, I decided to make another one today.  I love it when experiments work out like this!

Now that time is getting short, I don’t know how much more I will be able to get done before Christmas.  But, I’ve promised you a giveaway so I’m just going to keep it simple this year.  Leave me a comment on this post by midnight this Saturday, December 16, and I will randomly pick one winner to receive a box of goodies to be shipped on Monday, December 18th.  This giveaway is limited to United States addresses.  Only one comment per person, please!  Tell me what you’re doing to get ready for the holidays.  Are you baking a lot?  Shopping?  Making any gifts?  Trying to get over a cold (as some in our house are doing) or avoid illness (the others in our house are doing this)?  I’ve been tempted to go on a diet in preparation for the holiday week of treats, but it’s hard to do that with all the baking that is happening here!

 

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Country Bread, A Sourdough Version

I love a piece of good, hearty bread. Actually, I really love any kind of bread. And rice. And pasta. Ok, I just really love carbs! Today’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is for Country Bread. It’s supposed to be a non-sourdough version of another recipe in the book. The day I decided to make this was also a day that I needed to feed my sourdough starters, so I decided to alter the recipe a bit to include them. I know, I know. That’s kind of missing the point of the recipe, but I hate to throw away anything if I don’t have to, so here I am. Not only did I include sourdough in my bread, I also doubled the recipe because I am crazy like that. Um. I may not have done that had I realized ahead of time that each loaf was going to be over three pounds!

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The upside is that I now have a lot of bread and it is really good bread. One loaf I made plain, and the other loaf got some chocolate chips, toasted hazelnuts, and dried cherries mixed in.

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Of course, the one we decided to eat first was the one with chocolate. It was fabulous. The sourdough gave it a nice tang, but since it was all made and baked in the same day, it was not overwhelming.

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Before the final rise, the dough just about filled the nine inch bannetones that I have.

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After an hour, they were really well risen! They reminded me of that I Love Lucy episode when she makes so much bread that it started coming out of the oven when she tries to bake it. I wondered if it was over-proofed, but they turned out ok.

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They smelled heavenly while baking and when we took them out to cool, they crackled as they cooled, a sure sign of well-baked bread. Since these loaves weren’t finished until after dinner, we did not try any until the next morning.

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The texture of the bread was not as stretchy as a dough made with just white flour, but it had a pleasant wheatiness and kept well for several days. Which was good, because, for once, I made a loaf of bread that we couldn’t finish eating in a day! In fact, I took the plain loaf to a luncheon with 20 people and ended up bringing home a third of the loaf!

Challah and a New Kitchen Companion

I love challah, but you already knew that from this post and this post.  I was pretty happy when the Tuesdays with Dorie schedule was posted and challah showed up for today because it just gave me an excuse to make a bread that we all love.

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It always turns out beautifully.  It’s good warm, plain, toasted, or frenched.

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Over the years, I have developed some shortcuts in the mixing method. All of the ingredients stay the same, but with the availability of instant yeast, the proofing step of the recipe can be cut out, especially if you bake bread often and you are sure that your yeast is active. So, I heat up the milk in the microwave until it is bubbling around the edges. Then, I add the cold butter and stir it around until it’s all melted. Next, I add the sugar, honey, and water that would normally have been used to proof the yeast. All this goes into the mixer bowl and sits until it is below 110 degrees. Once that happens, I add the eggs, salt, yeast, and 2 pounds of flour.

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From there, the mixer does all the work. Oh, look! I have a new mixer!

My old 6 quart was really, really loud. So loud, that the husband bought ear protectors for me because he was worried about my hearing. It was true that standing next to that mixer while it was running usually resulted in some ear ringing. If it was on, no one could talk on the first floor of our house and be heard. After four years of this, we’d all had enough and that mixer was sent to mixer purgatory, while this shiny new one came home with us to stay.

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So far, it is working out. This challah dough was its first workout and it handled the dough with ease and near silence, except for a clicking noise. In fact, every time I use it now, I feel compelled to exclaim something about how quiet it is. Amazing. And, of course, the 7 quart size will get a workout in the coming weeks leading up to Christmas with all my holiday baking.

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Ok, back to the challah. This dough always looks great, feels nice and silky, and rises well, too.

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It’s easy to work with.

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It looks pretty, even while it is rising.

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Now, as I have said in a previous post, this is not a completely traditional challah with the butter and milk added, but it is worth re-arranging the diet, in my opinion, to have this once in awhile, if you have to do that. Other oil-based challahs are good, but this one does owe some of its yumminess to that buttery flavor.

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Best of all, it tastes great, has a wonderfully soft texture, and keeps well on the counter for a few days or indefinitely in the freezer, if you don’t eat it all up first.  So, what are you waiting for?  Go make some challah!

Pumpernickel, Finally!

This post is over a week late for Tuesdays with Dorie, but I could never let it be said that I skipped a bread recipe! In our house, most of us like rye bread and pumpernickel bread, though we are divided as to whether the breads should have seeds or not. The color of this pumpernickel bread is enough to make me love it.

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The ingredient list is quite daunting, but everything there contributes to the unique flavor of the dough. Of course, I could not find any prune butter, so I made the prune levkar recipe that is at the end of the book. I thought I halved it, but came up with a cup at the end, so I stowed the remainder in the freezer for the next time I want pumpernickel bread or maybe danishes.

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After the prune levkar, I worked on the hot water, coffee, and chocolate mixture. Then, it was really just a matter of dumping things in the mixer bowl. I made a couple of changes. First, I used coconut oil instead of shortening, mostly because I was out of shortening. Also, I ground 2.5 tablespoons of caraway seeds and left out the ones that were whole. I am not a fan of crunching on whole caraway seeds, though I do not mind their flavor.

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The dough came together quite well. It was nice and silky and cleaned the bowl nicely. The rise times were just right, which I attribute mostly to making sure all the liquids were still warm when I started mixing because the day I made these was a super cold day with occasional flurries in the forecast.

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Instead of making two giant loaves, I made two pans of rolls, one for our dinner that night, one to freeze for Thanksgiving dinner, and two small boules that I hope will be good for sandwiches in the future.

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Everyone loved them, except for me. I had one roll just warm out of the oven, and I think the flavors had not really had time to develop yet. I bet I will like them better when we have them with turkey or with a reuben sandwich. The bread had really great texture and moisture, even though there was not much oven spring to speak of. I am dreaming of combining this with a rye bread recipe to make a swirly loaf, just like they have at delis, but that will have to wait for some other day.

Here’s the recipe link!

Still Plugging

Would you believe that I am still working my way through all the apples we picked over a month ago? How have I made them last so long, you ask? Well, a few weeks ago, I put the last half bushel in the fridge, basket and all. Apples will keep well in the fridge for quite a long time, especially when you have picked them yourself and they don’t have to make a journey across the country to your local store that might take weeks. I usually still have apples in the fridge from our farm day during Thanksgiving week for my apple pie or tart dessert post turkey.

Well, after I stuck that basket in the fridge, we went into full production mode for cookie dough and they have been ignored until this past weekend when we were trying to fit a particularly large batch of groceries in the fridge. The husband grumbled about that blankety blank basket of apples in there and was I ever going to do anything with it? I sighed, very loudly, and yanked the basket out of the fridge and put it on the counter, where it sat for a day.

Yesterday, it was good to spend some time in the kitchen that had nothing to do with cookies or an obligatory dinner. I reacquainted myself with my sourdough starter and the apples and made a couple of apple treats for us to enjoy.

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First, there was an apple sourdough bread with dried cranberries. My inspiration was this King Arthur Flour recipe that I have made previously, but instead of making that bread dough, I made my usual Not Flatbread recipe. I added a little potato flour and oatmeal to my dough, which made it super dry. But, instead of waiting until the end of mixing to add the apples, I did it as soon as the dough began coming together. This allowed some moisture from the apples to permeate the dough and, after about 10 minutes of kneading, the dough was actually pretty sticky. Lastly, I added dried cranberries and let the dough mix for another few minutes. The cranberries evened out the moisture level of the dough a little by absorbing some and, at the end, I had a really silky dough.

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This is all highly experimental stuff. I tend to do this quite often, throwing stuff in a recipe that I think might be good and sometimes it works out. Sometimes, though, it does not, but I always learn something from it. Most of the time, it is edible, though there have been a few unfortunate results. This time, it worked out beautifully. The bread is tasty, especially when it is toasted, and the boys loved it today with bacon and cheddar.

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The best thing is that I got four average sized loaves from one batch, which means we can look forward to more yummy toast and sandwiches in the future.

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Secondly, I made this apple cake recipe, which fascinated me because of its mixing method. Mostly, it’s a dump and mix sort of thing. See?

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You put everything in a bowl except the apples and nuts.

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Then you mix it up until it’s sort of dry and pasty.

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Lastly, you add the apples and walnuts and look! It turns into a cake batter. This is another case of letting the excess moisture in apples work to your advantage in a recipe. Many apple cake recipes are yucky to me because they are too moist or the moisture from the apples makes the cake pasty, which, quite franky, is not the right texture for a cake.

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Seriously, this is one of the easiest apple cakes I have ever made.

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It’s been awhile since we have had cake in the house and it is a really nice change from cookies and Halloween candy, let me tell you. Plus, it’s just right for autumn with the brown sugar and maple frosting on top. I halved the frosting recipe because no one here is a fan of lots of frosting and i think this thin layer is just right. It lets the flavor the of cake take center stage. To add some maple flavor, I added a little maple oil to the frosting.

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Also, the cake is just as good the next day. The only thing that I would take issue with in the recipe is that it says it yields 24 servings. Maybe this would be true if it was mediocre, but I’d say with a cake this good, the serving count is closer to 15, less if you have growing boys in the house. I will certainly be making this recipe again and, if you like apple cake, I urge you to give this recipe a try.