Month: April 2014

Kitchen 101: (Almost) Everything you knead to know about flour

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii there. I took a three day weekend from work and it feels like I’ve been on another planet or something. I’m back on planet cubicle and wishing I could blast off again, but duty calls. Or something. I realized that we were overdue for a Kitchen 101 around here, and seeing as the Blogger Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry is this weekend and I’m about to be knee deep in it, I thought I’d give you a little lesson on flour.

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For those of us who didn’t grow up around/with prolific bakers, our first introduction to flour was probably good old All Purpose. My mom wasn’t a baker at all. In fact, I was more familiar with the yellow box of Bisquick and the Duncan Hines box than I was real flour, but we did occasionally make a batch of cookies. Sometimes, she would attempt my Granny Bea’s biscuit recipe, too. Generally speaking, though, I would have never known there was more than one kind of flour if I hadn’t spent time in my Granny’s kitchen. She introduced me to Self Rising flour, which is one of two ingredients in her “The Easy Way” biscuits.

Nowadays, even the regular grocery store will probably have a pretty overwhelming list of flours available. Not only will you see all the flours made from wheat, you’ll also find flours made from a variety of other grains and nuts. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to stick to the wheat flours for now. If you are  using alternate flours because of gluten sensitivity or other dietary concerns, my guess is that you probably know more than I do (almost nothing) about how to use them. If you have any specific questions about them that you’d like me to research for another post, feel free to leave them in the comments.  The Bob’s Red Mill website has a ton of good information, though, and they say it a lot better than I could.

Let’s do a quick review of wheat anatomy before we get started. We’ll use this handy dandy little graphic from breadpastry.blogspot.com.

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A wheat kernel, the part we eat, is made of three components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Processed flour comes from the endosperm. If you see a flour labeled “whole grain,” this means that the bran and the germ are included.

All Purpose (AP) Flour is the most commonly used flour. As its name implies, this flour can be used in just about anything, from breads to pastries. Nearly all the AP flour sold in the US has been enriched, to add back the vitamins and minerals lost by removing the bran and the germ.

Self Rising (SR) Flour is literally just regular flour with baking powder and salt added to it. It’s great for biscuits (I promise to share my Granny’s recipe with you someday soon!), but because it already has a leavening agent in it, it gives everything bake with it a little bit of a lift. Take note that 11% protein Self Rising flours is the SR equivalent to AP flour, and the ones with 8% protein are the SR match for Cake flour. If you are using a recipe that calls for SR flour and you don’t have any on hand, just add  1 teaspoon baking powder and  1/4 teaspoon salt to each cup of AP flour and combine well before adding to the rest of your dry ingredients.

Whole Wheat Flour, or whole grain wheat flour, is made from the entire wheat kernel. Because bran is included, the gluten development is restricted. Baked goods made with this kind of flour will be denser and heavier than those made with AP flour, so many bakers use a combination of AP and Whole Wheat flour to get the texture they want.

Bread Flour is very similar to AP flour, but it has a higher gluten content. This makes it a better choice for making yeast breads. Why? The gluten helps the dough develop the elasticity it needs to hold on to the gas produced as the dough rises and the bread bakes.

Cake Flour is a much softer, more finely textured flour with low protein and higher starch than regular flour, making it ideal for pastries and cakes because it helps keep the final product tender.

Semolina Flour is the coarsely milled endosperm of durum wheat, a very hard wheat. It has a very high protein content, which makes it the perfect flour for making great pasta. It’s very rarely  used for pastries or breads all by itself, but it can be blended with AP or cake flour. This recipe from MarthaStewart.com is a great example of how to utilize semolina flour in a dessert. I’ve used it (with a few minor edits) and can vouch for it’s deliciousness. It’s still tender because of the cake flour in the recipe, but the semolina flour adds an interesting texture and flavor.

Those are the facts, kids. I hoped that helped sort things out! As I’ve mentioned in a previous Kitchen 101 post, if you have to make a choice about what flour to keep around as a staple, AP flour is the way to go. Any other kind you have on hand really just depends on the kind of baking you do.  If you keep some type of flour around for no other reason, you should have some handy to smear on your face and sprinkle in your hair when people come over for dinner so it looks like you’ve been slaving away all day, even if there isn’t a speck of flour in anything you’ve cooked. 🙂

P.S. I’ll probably remind you again on Thursday, but if you’re interested in learning more about the Blogger Bake Sale or the No Kid Hungry campaign, head on over here for the details.

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I’ll take my bread on the rocks, please.

You guys… this baking thing is going to be the death of me. I’ve actually pondered doing a separate baking blog, just to chronicle all my baking related… disasters? tragedies? debacles? Whatever you call them, they make me just frustrated enough that I’m compelled to keep at it until I get better.

Case in point, the sourdough. My starter is lovely and bubbly and alive and I thought, “That went ok. Maybe this bread thing will work out, too?”

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This is the recipe I used. As you can see, it’s meant to produce a lovely, light, airy loaf of sandwich bread.

I followed the instructions for mixing… combined the water and the yeast…

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Added the flour and salt…Kneaded until my fingers and wrists and elbows got crampy…

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And then…… then the whole let it rise thing got me. Did the first rise, then split the dough and put half in a loaf pan and let it rise again.

It looked weird when I put it into the oven, but I thought… maybe it’ll still be ok.
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But….. well……. *insert big, dramatic, Oscar worthy sigh here*

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I went back and re-read the directions and determined that I need to do this whole thing during the day. I put the dough in the fridge overnight to have its last rise before going into the oven, but I’m pretty sure I’d already jacked it up at that point. It was dense, and REALLY hard on the outside. Like, if someone broke into my apartment and tried to steal me, I could fling this loaf of bread at them and probably cause some serious harm to their head area (assuming my aim is that good, which it never is). I will probably just make breadcrumbs out of it and try again on Saturday, when I have a whole day to really pay attention to the timing like I should.

I will say this… it does taste good. If I can duplicate the flavor it has now, AND get it to be all beautiful and light like sammich bread, I’ll do the happiest of happy dances. That starter is the bomb, and I hate the idea of not being able to use it to make something worthy of all that awesome flavor it’s bringing to the party.

So, this probably isn’t the last you’ve heard of my adventures with sourdough. If things go better on Saturday, I’ll post a quick update.

Is there a recipe you’ve tried and tried and tried again before you finally got it right? When did your persistence finally pay off? Tell me in the comments!

I seem to be leeking…

At first, I couldn’t think of any soup puns, but then I remembered there were leeks involved in this recipe and, well, there ya go. The Universe intervened so you didn’t have to feel the deep void that comes from missing out on one of my clever little puns.

Anyhoots, it’s Spring for real. The sun is shining (mostly), and the little buds on the trees are opening. There’s asparagus bigger around than a chopstick in the grocery store. And there are leeks. I love leeks. I love that they’re kinda oniony, but milder, and they’re just so pretty and so many shades of green. I find myself throwing them into everything, because to me they just taste like Spring. So, I was delighted to find vichyssoise on the menu for class last week. It’s such an old school thing to serve, but so easy to pull together. Technically, warm potato-leek soup is called something else, while it’s the cold version that bears the name vichyssoise, but that’s the only difference. I actually prefer the warm version, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s tasty, and light, and a snap to throw together. All the ingredients are easily obtained this time of year, and none of them are terribly expensive, so despite the fancy French sounding name this soup does not require a special occasion. Because it also doesn’t need strict temperature control, it travels well. Pack up a container or a thermos of it for a picnic. Half a sammich and a piece of fruit and you’ve got a pretty delicious little lunch on your hands.

Just one note on leeks. They’re grown deep in very sandy soil. The bottom part is white because it doesn’t see sunlight. It can get pretty dirty in between all those layers, which means you need to wash your leeks really well before you use them in anything. This leek cleaning tutorial from Simply Recipes is great.

Equipment:

Medium soup pot
Knife and cutting board
Potato peeler
Spoon
Blender

Ingredients:
3 C (12 oz) leeks, white part only, sliced
1/4 C unsalted butter
1/2 C white onions, 1/2 in. dice
2 C potatoes, peeled, 1/2 in. dice
3 C (24 oz) chicken stock
3/4 C milk
1 C heavy cream
1/3 C snipped/finely diced chives (for garnish)

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Split the leeks lengthwise, wash well to remove all sand and grit, then slice them.

Heat the butter over medium heat and add the leeks and onions. Cook slowly, browning them very lightly.

Add the potatoes and chicken stock, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the leeks and potatoes are very tender, approximately 45 minutes.

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Puree the soup in a food processor, blender, or food mill, then run through a fine strainer. Note: I actually skipped the straining step. Most really good blenders can puree this well enough on the first pass that straining becomes pretty unnecessary. You will probably want to puree it in a couple of batches to make sure you can get it completely smooth, and to avoid the inevitable volcanic eruption that happens when you overfill a blender with hot liquid.

Return puree to the heat and add the milk and ½ cup of cream. Season to taste and return to a boil.

Let cool, then add remaining cream. Chill thoroughly before serving, garnished with snipped chives.

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Easy, right? The 45 minutes of simmering gives you time to pull the rest of the meal together. Or clean up a little. Or mix yourself a beverage. Or maybe even take a nap.  I support you, however you choose to utilize your simmer time. Do you consider the “inactive” cooking time in recipes an opportunity to relax, or do you stay in the kitchen the whole time? Let me know in the comments!

“You owe me one.”

That’s what chef said to me last night as he was assigning out recipes for the evening. I was ready to volunteer to make anything else on the menu other than dessert, even the pain in the ass crab soup,  after last week’s gingerbread debacle. He had other things in mind.

“I think we all know who is in charge of dessert tonight, ” he said as he looked me right in the eye. “You owe me one.” And just like that, I was making Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze.

So off I went to the bake shop to get the pans, then back to the kitchen to get something into the oven as quickly as possible and start working on the back-up just in case the first one failed again. Why did the gingerbread collapse last week? Because I didn’t mix it long enough. At home, I don’t have a stand mixer. I do everything by hand, so I mix and mix and mix those cake batters to death. I assumed that the mixing time would be shorter with the stand mixer, but as it turns out, that’s not the case. My batter was under mixed and my cupcakes fell. Simple as that.

So, this week, I took that lesson to heart and built in plenty of time for mixing. Also, instead of doubling the recipe up front, I simply made the recipe twice (well, one and a half times). I’m not the best at math and while doubling a recipe sounds pretty simple, it’s actually really easy to screw one up if your math isn’t spot on.

This recipe as it’s written is meant for a bundt cake pan, but feel free to just make two 8 inch layers instead. I ended up doing a full bundt cake, plus half the recipe for another single layer cake.

Equipment:
2 Mixing bowls and a spoon and your stand mixer with the paddle attachment if you have one
measuring cups and spoons
sifter
medium sized pot
pastry brush (a cheap 25 cent paint brush from Home Depot is fine)
small bowl
bundt pan, tube pan, or two 8 inch cake pans

Ingredients:
For the cake:
1 C unsalted butter at room temperature
2 C packed brown sugar
1 egg
3 C All Purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
2 C unsweetened applesauce
1 C raisins
1 C coarsley chopped walnuts

For the glaze:
1 C brown sugar
1/4 C unsalted butter
1/4 C evaporated milk

Preheat your oven to 350°. Grease and flour your cake pan(s).

Sift together the 10 oz (about 2 and 1/3 cups) flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl. Set aside. Dredge the nuts and the raisins in the remaining flour so they’re well coated. This will help keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and mix in well.

Alternate adding the applesauce and the sifted ingredients a bit at a time, mixing each addition in very well before adding the next, until all of it is incorporated and the batter is well mixed. (see? now i’m obsessed with mixing until my arm falls off!)

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Fold the raisins and nuts into the batter. Pour into your prepared pan(s), making sure the batter is evenly distributed.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester or skewer or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. My bundt cake took about an hour and ten minutes.

Allow to cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes, then carefully loosen the sides and invert onto a rack to continue cooling for another 30 minutes or so. This is a pretty moist cake, so it’s important to let it cool completely so it doesn’t fall apart on you when you try to cut into it.

While the cake is cooling, you can make the glaze.

Put at least a cup or so of cold water in the small bowl.

Combine the evaporated milk, the brown sugar, and the butter together in a pot over medium low heat and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Keep stirring (not too vigorously) as the mixture starts to cook. You want it to reach soft ball stage, or about 220° – 235° on a candy thermometer.

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Wash down the sides of the pot with your cold water and the pastry brush if you start to see the sugar crystallize on the sides.  You want to re-dissolve those crystals into the caramel before they have a chance to fall off in a big chunk into your mixture. Once that happens you have to start all over because just one little seed crystal can set the whole she-bang to solidifying. On top of having ruined the caramel, it becomes a giant pain in the tookus to clean the pan because it all seizes up into brown concrete.

When the caramel reaches the right temperature and consistency (drizzle-able? is that word? i think i just made it one), remove the pot from the heat and beat it with a whisk or a spoon until it thickens. If your cake isn’t ready to come out of the oven yet, leave the pot on the warm stove top while you wait so it doesn’t get too cool. You’ll probably have to give it another quick stir before you glaze your cake with it.

Once your cake is cool, it’s time to serve!

This is the bundt cake…

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annnd here’s the other single layer cake…

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As you can see, both are pretty delicious looking, so go with whatever works for the way you want to serve it.

I feel pretty vindicated this week… so vindicated, in fact, that I’m thinking I’m going to use this recipe for cupcakes to sell at our Blogger Bake Sale in a few weeks. Just a reminder, if you’re in the Denver area on May 2nd and want to stop by, feel free! If you are out of state and would like to hold your own bake sale, just join the team! Orrr… if you just want to contribute some cash to the cause, I won’t turn down your money!

Click here for all the details.

Let’s Get Funky!

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with the thing I’m so not very good at, but here I go again, starting another baking project.

Did I tell you guys I made gingerbread cupcakes in class last week, and when they sunk in the middle I cried? Yeah, I know that school is for learning and learning means messing up, but this is something I’ve made at home before a few times and never had an issue and I was just so upset about it I made a big ole fool of myself. Snotty and red faced and the whole nine. But then three different chefs came over and gave me pep talks, really good ones, and I’m over it now. Mostly.

And now headlong I’ve gone into this thing… a sourdough starter. But not just any sourdough starter… one made with bottle dregs from this beer:

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If you’re not familiar with bottle dregs, here’s the scoop. Sometimes, you’ll drink a beer that has “stuff” floating in it. Usually, unless you shake up the liquid, the stuff sinks to the bottom of the bottle and never makes it to your glass. Contained within that stuff, the dregs, are bacteria and yeast that were used in the beer making process. Those dregs still have live “bugs” in them, and can be reused to make more beer, or, in this case, give a sourdough starter a big ole kick start.

To make mine, I used the basic process laid out here, at thekitchn.com. They do a great job of explaining what a starter is, and why you’d want to make one, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

When you make bread, you need a leavening agent to make it rise. Most of the time, you’re going to go to the store and buy the yeast that has been grown and cultivated specifically for the purpose of baking. You don’t have to corral all those little yeasties yourself because someone has done it for you. Essentially, by growing your own starter, you’re creating a medium in which you can cultivate and grow all the wild yeast that’s already in the flour to use as your leavening agent, versus using the stuff from the store.

I started with a 1:1 ratio of flour to liquid– 4 oz. flour, and 4 oz of a combination of the bottle dregs and water. The moment I put the two together, I already started to see bubbles. That’s a good sign.

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Every day for the past five days, I’ve been feeding the starter with fresh water and more flour. Here it is on day two:

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And day four:
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It’s a little hard to tell, but it’s starting to get frothier and just generally gooey. It also smells kinda sour at this stage (duh), and at day five, closer to being ready to use, I can also smell that lovely yeasty smell. What you don’t want to smell is acetone. If you smell that, it means things have gone a little sideways and you probably need to start over. But, as long as you feed it every day, and store it in a spot with a consistent temperature of around 70°F, in about 5 days you should have a healthy starter that you can use to make everything from bread to pizza dough.

I’m in school for the next three days, so the first opportunity I’ll have to test out my starter in a loaf of bread will be late Friday evening. Of course, I’ll take pictures and tell you how it goes.

Have you ever made your own starter? How do you use it? Leave a comment and let me know!