I is for Imagination

Homemade while wheat baguette

I’m running low on Ideas at the moment, so use your Imagination and pretend this baguette looks like the letter I.

Or is it a lowercase l?

Damn sans-serif fonts.

(Whole-wheat baguette baked yesterday to go with potato and ham soup. Winter was trying to hang around again this weekend, but things should warm up this week.)


I’m participating in the A to Z Challenge for the month of April. The idea is to post every day, except Sundays, and end up with one post for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a good challenge to help me to blog every day.

A to Z Challenge badge

Things That Are Smooth: Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge

Rose petals

Here’s my entry for Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge: Things That Are Smooth. As a recent lucky recipient of some roses, I enjoyed their look, scent, and the soft smoothness of the petals.

Different colors of fiestaware

This image shows some of my everyday dishes, which are Fiestaware. Besides the beautiful range of available colors, I love the feel of these dishes–smooth and heavy, they are sturdy and don’t chip very easily. Plus, I love Fiestaware because it’s an American classic. It’s been around since the 1930s, it’s widely available today, and the manufacturer, Homer Laughlin China Company, started in 1871. I would love to visit them someday in Newell, West Virginia, for a factory tour and a look around the company museum and store.

With help from The Bread Kitchen's video, I did a 5-strand braid!

This was my first attempt at making my own challah. I love working with bread dough, and often find that “kneading until smooth” turns out to be quite a lot of work indeed.

golden delicious, pinata, granny smith, opal, pink lady, gala apples
From top left, Golden Delicious, Pinata, Granny Smith, Opal, Pink Lady, Gala apples

This collection of smooth apples was part of a tasting that we did at home, when it seemed that the grocery store had too many varieties to keep track of. They were all pretty yummy.

Photo Challenge: Colorful Carrot Circle

Different color carrots in a circle

I have been using these colorful carrots for several months now, but every time I get a big batch together like this I have to pause and just appreciate their beauty. It gets me every time.

Colorful carrots chopped up in a pot for soup
Chopped up circles

This circle of colorful carrots turned into a soup for tonight’s dinner.

 Creamy Carrot soup with sour cream swirl
Creamy carrot circle

For flavors, I added grated ginger, lemon zest, parsley, and thyme to the base of carrots, onions, garlic, and turkey stock. Finished the bowls with a little sour cream.

Pumpernickel onion loaf,

And I also spent a few hours making this bread. I’ve had this pumpernickel flour for a while but never attempted anything with it. What better place to start than the recipe on the back of the bag for Pumpernickle-Onion Loaf (from King Arthur Flour).

Despite having to substitute a couple ingredients and not having any caraway seeds to sprinkle on top, I think it turned out well. I think next time I’d like a recipe that produces a darker bread, but this was a nice intro to the flour. It called for 1 cup pumpernickel and 2 1/4 cups AP and 1/4 potato flour. I’d like to see some white whole wheat  added next time to make a heartier bread.

Notes on the recipe:
The one online varies slightly from what was on my bag of flour. The bag called for 2 1/4 c AP and 1/4 c potato, but I used 2.5 c AP. I also didn’t have non-diastatic malt powder, but the bag said to use 2TB brown sugar instead. Did not have the optional deli rye flavoring so I ignored that, and in place of the caramel powder coloring I used molasses. I also didn’t have dried minced onion lol but I used powdered. I pretty much only had the two flours, the yeast and the water haha. But it still turned out yummy. I’m sure the specialty powders that the recipe calls for gives it a darker color, but I prefer a more natural approach.

Before I got off track with the recipe stuff, this was originally posted for the photo challenge called Circle

Christmas Bakes!

Chocolate cheesecake, Pulla, canalés, rum cake, Christmas cookies

I was in charge of desserts for our family gathering, and I had a lot of fun this year. I made a chocolate cheesecake (inspired by this one from TheRobbylicious blog), two loaves of braided cardamom bread (this recipe is for Pulla from the Saveur website), canalés from the blog mamangerie, rum cake (from the King Arthur Flour site), and some cookies (sugar, oatmeal, and snickerdoodles).

It was my first time making canalés, and I was very happy with the result. The recipe is clear and easy to follow (thanks, Sabine!), and the silicone pan was well worth the $9 investment. I didn’t do beeswax, and I got this tip from the baker at a nearby coffee shop: do two coats of melted butter before baking, putting the pan in the fridge in between.

This sugary smorgasbord was partly inspired by my discovery of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix last week (the name was changed from The Great British Bake Off for American TV, for some reason). I fell in love with the show, its focus on the technical aspects of baking, and the overall niceness of the contestants, judges, setting, etc. I found it much more enjoyable to watch than most shows on the Food Network, with their emphasis on drama between contestants and swearwords being beeped every few seconds. It’s not that I have a problem with swearing–I’m from New Jersey, after all–it’s just that it can be (BEEP)ing distracting when I’m trying to (BEEP)ing learn something.

The show inspired me to try some fun decorations for the cheesecake–the idea to pipe the whipped cream and the chocolate shapes came from things I’d seen.

I’m happy that I came across the show when I did. It was just right right time to explore new desserts and learn new things. Watching something that is so dedicated to the techniques and joy of baking made my holiday baking a very enjoyable experience this year.

Photo Challenge: Now

A rainy December night with Christmas lights

It’s raining right now, and unseasonably warm. We’re expected to break a record tomorrow for the warmest Christmas Eve. Strange to be wearing T-shirts this time of year.

Paper snowflakes hanging

But it’s OK, because I have snowflakes inside.

Braided cardamom bread

And my place smells like warm braided cardamom bread.

Christmas ornaments, gingerbread man, Darth Vader
If you only knew the power of the Gingerbread Side.

And I can watch the drama unfold on the Christmas tree.

I’m trying to focus less on all the ways that Christmas is different this year. That approach quickly gets me dwelling on the negative and the sad.

Instead I’ll try to think more about the reasons why this Christmas is fun, and delicious, and joyous, and new.

In response to the photo challenge Now.

Bread Bowls

bread bowl, chicken soup
Smallish bread bowls

Cold weather leads to soup, which, the other day, led to bread bowls. I tried a recipe called Italian Bread Bowls, found on allrecipes.com, and modified it by adding garlic powder, basil, and oregano to the dough. I had not tried to make bread bowls before, but have enjoyed eating them many times.

So my first thought was that they turned out pretty small. I could just about fit one ladle of soup in each one.  I channeled Zoolander, demanding, “What is this, a bread bowl for ants??”

Kidding aside, it’s a nice recipe. I should admit that before I started baking, I did see comments saying the bowls turned out small. The recipe makes 8 bowls, and lots of people suggested making 6 instead. I had cut the 8-bowl recipe in half and made 4 so that I could see for myself how small was “too small.” Next time i will try baking 3 instead.

The bread tasted good. The crust and structure were strong enough to hold the soup, and the texture inside was soft.

The soup I threw together with some homemade stock, leftover roasted chicken, onion, carrots, and, in an attempt to infuse a little bit of summer flavor, some frozen greens and corn.

Nutella Brioche Snowflake Bread

Nutella Brioche Flower bread, snowflake shape
It’s a Christmas miracle!

This bread is soooo good that it’s simply impossible to take a good photo of it. Or, possibly, I had made this for Christmas brunch and was in a hurry and did an extra-poor job snapping a pic. So imagine this bread sprinkled with powdered sugar and given a proper photo shoot.

I mentioned in my post about challah that my new hero is Titli Nihaan of The Bread Kitchen site and videos. After learning about braiding techniques in October, I saw her recipe for a Nutella Brioche Flower and decided to try to make it at Christmas. She calls hers a “flower” but I went with “snowflake” to be a little more festive.

It’s delicious, and like she says, similar to a cinnamon roll in texture. The flavor and aroma of the nutella and the lemon zest are out of this world.

It looks impressive but isn’t very difficult. The hardest part for me was rolling out each of the four layers. I discovered two little glitches. One, that people with a lot of experience, such as Titli, can roll out a perfect circle if they desire, and I cannot. I ended up with wonky shapes, but figured I could trim them to make a circle at the end, so no big deal.

The only thing that seemed to be a problem was that my circles started to shrink a bit as they waited around for me to finish the flower/snowflake. I noticed when I was layering them that the bottom circle was getting smaller. I tried to roll out the remaining layers as quickly as possible, but I’m not that good with the rolling pin. So when it was time to make the 16 cuts and twist the pieces together, I struggled a little and tried to stretch the bottom layer to get it to do what I needed.

I don’t know why that happened. Perhaps I was taking too long to roll out the remaining layers. Or maybe the dough wasn’t quite ready to be worked with yet. I’ll do some research and hopefully won’t have that problem next time.

Because I will definitely make this again!

A Very Herby Pain de Provence

pain de provence, sliced loaf
Not the greatest photo, but it somewhat shows the loaf of Pain de Provence that I recently made.

I admit that I hadn’t heard of Pain de Provence before reading this recipe on The Fresh Loaf and deciding that I had to make this bread. I love Herbes de Provence and figured that bread containing them would be delicious. I also thought the addition of orange liqueur to the dough would be a nice complement to those flavors.

Sadly, I was a little disappointed in this recipe because of the overwhelming herb flavor. Maybe my expectations weren’t in line with what Pain de Provence is supposed to be, but it was too much. I read the recipe’s comments before baking and saw that a few other readers questioned the amount of herbs, but were reassured that the bread would turn out great. When I baked mine, I even halved the amount, using 1/4 cup instead of 1/2.

I had wanted to fall in love with the flavors of this bread but it just wasn’t meant to be. I felt like I was eating seasoned stuffing bread. It was simply too concentrated for me. Too many herbs, and I couldn’t taste or smell the orange flavor (which was 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier).

We had this bread with soup, and my guests thought it tasted much better when dipped in the broth. I agreed that it tasted better, but for me that only reinforced the idea that this bread was so packed full of flavor that it needed to be diluted with other foods (like stuffing bread).

The texture of the bread was fantastic. I’m looking forward to trying this again, and only using a couple tablespoons or so of the herbs. I may even add some orange zest to bring out that flavor a bit more.

For those having trouble opening the link, here’s the recipe for Pain de Provence from The Fresh Loaf, as posted by Floydm.

Pain De Provence

Makes 1 large loaf

1 cup bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

All of the poolish
2 cups bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup Herbes de Provence
1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup liqueur such as Beauchant, Grand Marnier, or orange Curaçao
1/4-1/2 cup water, as necessary

The night before baking, make the poolish by mixing together 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of water, and 1/2 teaspoon of yeast to make a batter. Cover the container with plastic wrap and set aside for 8 to 16 hours until you are ready to make the final dough.

To make the dough, combine the remaining flour with the remaining yeast, salt, and herbs. Add the poolish, the liqueur, and 1/4 cup of the additional water. Mix the ingredients, and, if necessary, add more water or flour until the proper consistency is reached (tacky but not so sticky that the dough sticks to your hands).

Knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes or in a mixer for 5 to 10 minutes. Place the dough in a well-greased bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise until doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes. Remove it from the bowl and gently degas it, then return it to the bowl, cover it, and allow it to double in size again.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a ball or long loaf. Cover the loaf with a damp towel and allow it to rise again until doubled in size, which takes between 60 and 90 more minutes.

While the loaf is in its final rise, preheat the oven and baking stone, if you are using one, to 450. I also preheat a brownie pan into which I pour a cup of hot water just after placing the loaf in the oven. This creates steam in the oven which increases the crunchiness of the crust.

Just prior to placing the loaf in the oven, score the top of it with a sharp knife or razor blade.

Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 450, then rotate it 180 degrees and reduce the oven temperature to 375 and baked it another 25 minutes. The internal temperature of the loaf should be in the ball park of 200 degrees when you remove it from the oven.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least a half an hour before serving, if you can resist.

My first challah

My first challah. Whole wheat flour and a 5-strand braid.
My first challah. Whole wheat flour and a 5-strand braid.

I’ve been getting into baking bread lately and a few days ago made my first challah. I thought it would be nice to try to make, since I love to eat it so much, but I figured the braiding might be too difficult so never mind. But that was just the laziness talking, and after overcoming the monumental task of typing “bread braiding techniques” into a search engine, I was well on my way to cracking the mystery of the 5-strand challah.

I was inspired by a video on braiding techniques made by The Bread Kitchen. Titli Nihaan’s tutorial was fascinating and helpful, and along with her charming accent and encouraging attitude, I felt ready to try it ASAP.

With help from The Bread Kitchen's video, I did a 5-strand braid!
With help from The Bread Kitchen’s video, I did a 5-strand braid!

I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour called Millie’s Whole Wheat Challah. I love the comments on this website, and the fact that the KAF staff writes comments back. I followed the advice of Rachel from Oberlin, OH (second comment from the top) to give it a rest before adding the salt and kneading. Like her, I also used a bit less flour than called for. I used all whole wheat flour, rather than the combination of whole wheat and unbleached bread flour that the recipe calls for.

whole wheat challah 5 strand braid
This loaf did not last long in my kitchen.

Overall it was fun, easy, and tasted great. It’s not as dense as I thought it would be after using all whole wheat flour. The challah flavor is definitely there, and it is still chewy and soft. It is thicker and a bit heavier than normal challah, but it didn’t turn out as the whole-wheat brick that I was slightly afraid of seeing at the end of the process. But then again, even a brick would taste half decent if you put enough butter on it 🙂

Asparagus season is here! Plus thoughts on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Fresh asparagus is a treat. I picked my own for the first time this week and loved it. I had never tasted asparagus raw. Such a tender texture and fresh notes of green bean and pea. It will be difficult to go back to dull, woody, out-of-season, grocery-store asparagus now.

It’s time to pick asparagus.

Last year I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Until then, I hadn’t considered how or when it grew, and I found the author’s description of it fascinating. I imagined the reddish buds poking out of the ground in early spring, the root systems and clusters of sprouts, or the fern-like bushes that the unpicked stalks will become. Last year I missed the pick-your-own (PYO) season, and this week, after many months, it did not disappoint. Continue reading “Asparagus season is here! Plus thoughts on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”