Monday, April 23, 2012

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread is one of those foods that is called a "slow food." REALLY slow, in fact. First you need to make a starter, then tend it for about two weeks before it is ready to use (although it will get better the older it is). See instructions below on making your own starter. Finally, when you are ready to actually make the bread, it can take the better part of a day to make it (3-4 hours with the rising times). Many recipes even call for you to make a "sponge" the night before you intend to bake the bread. So there is a lot of planning ahead.

If I haven't scared you away yet, you will find that Sourdough Bread really is worth all the trouble! There is something exhilarating about taking on the challenge and coming out at the end with a loaf of real sourdough bread that you made yourself. Below you will find an easy recipe for Sourdough bread that does not have to be prepped the night before you bake it. This recipe is a great one to start with, then you can move up to more complex recipes after you have the basics down.

A great resource for Sourdough is Heartland Renaissance's Definitive Guide to Sourdough. Another great resource for Sourdough (and bread in general) is The King Arthur Flour Baking Book. I recommend buying it or checking it out at your local library.

My favorite basic sourdough recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour website, and you can find it here: King Arthur Rustic Sourdough Bread

Here is my own recipe for a slightly healthier version of the basic Rustic Sourdough Bread:

1 Cup Starter
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 1/2 Cups lukewarm water
3 1/2 Cups White Flour
1 1/2 Cups Wheat Flour
2 tsp Instant Yeast
1 Tablespoon salt

Mix the flour, yeast, and salt together. Stir in the starter, water, and honey, and mix well. Knead with your hands until the dough becomes smooth. Put it in a lightly greased large bowl and cover loosely. Allow to rise for about  1 1/2 hours or until doubled. Cut the dough into two parts and shape into loaves or place into proofing baskets or bowls:

Cover and let rise about another hour or until nice and puffy.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees for a good half hour before you put the loaves in the oven. Put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to make it a little steamy in there (Sourdough seems to like a little moistness while baking). Brush the loaves with butter or lightly beaten egg. You can sprinkle the loaves with a touch of kosher salt or sea salt if desired. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until done. To check for doneness you can insert a cake tester in the center, or just tap the bread lightly like a drum - it should sound dense but "hollow" and it will not feel squishy.

Baked without any butter or egg wash, so it has a more rustic appearance.
(The photo at the top of the page has an egg wash so the bread looks kind of shiny)
This one was baked in a cast iron skillet for extra crustiness.

To make your own Starter:
Note that the more complex your starter ingredients are, the better your bread will eventually be. BUT for those of you like me who just want a basic recipe to get started in learning how to make sourdough, here is a very simple starter recipe:

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, mix 2 cups flour with 2 tsp instant yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before mixing in 2 Cups warm (not hot) water. Allow this mixture to ferment, covered loosely, on your countertop at room temperature for 48 hours. Then begin the process of feeding the starter daily for seven days before using it to bake: Each day, pour off half of your starter and replace with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. Let sit at room temp, loosely covered, until the next day's feeding. If you'd like to give away what you pour off (say, to a friend who likes to bake), that is much better than just pouring it down the drain. After a minimum of seven days of doing this, the starter should be sufficiently sour. It will get better the longer you keep it. If you do not plan to use it right away, you can either keep feeding it daily at room temperature, or store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. Before baking with it, feed it the day before and let it come to room temp again. You can increase the volume of your starter by not pouring off half of it when you feed it. Do this gradually until you reach the amount you need.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pina Colada Cake

Preheat Oven to 325 degrees.

2 1/3 Cups All-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
1 Cup drained crushed pineapple (about 1 1/2 large cans - Drain it really well through a sieve)
1 1/2 Cups sugar
4 Eggs
1 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 Tablespoons Dark Rum -OR- 1 1/2 teaspoons artificial Rum extract (this has no alcohol)

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl, stirring well to combine. In the mixing bowl of your electric mixer, beat eggs lightly. Add sugar, oil, and Rum and mix on low speed to combine. Add dry ingredients, then add pineapple last, stirring it in by hand.

Pour batter into two greased 9" pans or three 6" pans (I use parchment paper). Bake at 325. I usually start to check for doneness after 35 minutes, but sometimes this cake takes 40-50 minutes. You want to bake it at the lower temperature and watch it carefully because, similar to banana bread, this cake has a high sugar content with the crushed fruit in it, so it will brown more quickly than other cakes.

1 lb. Confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
2 Tbsp coconut milk* (see note below)
1/2 tsp coconut extract (this is optional for a stronger coconut flavor)

Beat with an electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add more coconut milk to thin it if necessary.

*Note about canned coconut milk: it generally has quite a bit of solidified milk on top when you open it. Use the solids for the 2 Tbsp in the recipe and then find the liquid in the can to use as your thinner. If you open the can and there is a lot of liquid, adjust the recipe accordingly, adding a little at a time.

Let the cake cool completely before filling and frosting it. After frosting it, gently press flaked coconut onto the sides and top of the cake.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Basket Cake w/stripes inside

This cake is a festive and fun way to celebrate Easter:

1) Make a round layer cake three layers tall (6", 8", or 9" size)
2) Make a standard American Buttercream frosting.
3) Do a Basket Weave pattern in two colors all around the cake.
4) Finish off the top with a rope twist
5) Color some coconut green
6) Place the coconut and various Easter candies inside the top

If you want it to look interesting on the inside as well, you can dye your cake batter three different colors when you separate it into pans. Bake the layers as you normally would. Cut each layer in half horizontally so that you have 6 layers total. Stack them with frosting or just a thin layer of Jam in between (I used a thin layer of lemon curd - you can't really see it) 
And then on the inside...


Old-Fashioned Rolled Sugar Cookies

These cookies are what my great-grandmother used to make and the recipe has been passed down in my mother's family ever since. It is less sweet than modern recipes for sugar cookies. Today's sugar cookies are really what we used to call a "butter cookie," using butter instead of shortening. As much as I enjoy modern buttery sugar cookies, sometimes I choose to make these ones instead, just because they make me nostalgic for my childhood. You may raise your eyebrows at some of the ingredients, which were common place decades ago but are rarely seen in sugar cookies nowadays (soured milk?)

This recipe makes A LOT of cookies, and it is very forgiving of adding flour during the rolling stage.

2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Shortening
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Eggs
1 Cup Soured Milk (put 1 Tablespoon vinegar in a cup measure and then add milk to make one cup. Stir well and let sit five minutes)
2 tsp Baking Soda
5 1/2 Cups Flour (you can add 1/4 Cup more if you find the dough too sticky)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Salt

Cream together the shortening, sugar, and vanilla, beating until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Add the baking soda into the soured milk and stir until frothy. Then add the milk/baking soda mixture to the creamed sugar mixture and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt and stir well. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients gradually, adding about 1/3 of the mixture each time and beating until combined. When the dough is well-mixed, wrap in plastic wrap and chill 2 hours to overnight (or just stick it in the freezer for an hour).

Roll about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and cut out the cookies. Bake at 350 until edges are starting to turn brown, about 6-8 minutes (depending on thickness of cookies). Important note: Since these cookies are made with Crisco not butter, they do not brown as quickly and will still be very pale when they are done. I like them crunchy, so I let the edges get brown, but you may not want them that crunchy. After baking one batch, you can adjust the baking time and thickness of cookies according to your own taste.