The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: French Bread

I’ve finally made another recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice! Although it’s not yet the sourdough I’ve been dying to bake…soon though, soon…

This wasn’t even on my list of recipes to try but I was flicking through another of my favorite cookbooks and spotted the French Onion Soup and thought wouldn’t it be amazing to make French Onion Soup and to have even made the bread for it?! So it moved to the top of the list.

The French bread recipe is a bit similar to the Italian bread recipe in so far as you do an overnight starter that you then turn into a proper dough. But in this recipe it’s called a pate fermentee and its proportions and rise time are different before refrigerating overnight. The dough itself is different too..there’s no call for strange ingredients and there wasn’t even any oil added to this dough. Pretty straightforward really.

My microwave proofing method is showing great success. The dough doubled in only 1 1/2 hours when it was to be left for 2. Reinhart says if that happens to knock it back and leave it until it doubles from its original size. Mine easily doubled. We got back from school pick ups and it had spilled out of its container. Oops.

You split the dough in thirds from here and shape it into baguettes before leaving them out to grow to 1 1/2 times their size. This took about an hour but could have only been 45 minutes so I straight away started preheating the oven since it needed to be so hot and set the dough on a footstool in front of the oven for the ambient heat (we really lack in a good warm spot in our house to leave dough to rise – sometimes we actually resort to putting it in our car!) – I had Aaron slash the dough before putting the baguettes in the oven.

Our baking method had to be slightly different than the one suggested because heat dissipates so quickly since our oven is on the fritz. I imagine we could’ve gotten more color if our oven would heat up enough for the initial baking, and we only opened it once to turn the baking tray around and insert the thermometer to monitor the temperature. I didn’t use the spray bottle method either, but instead put a pan of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to let off steam.

I’m pretty pleased with the result of these. They smell amazing and if I’d had these out of the oven sooner we would’ve been eating them with dinner. Didn’t stop us from sampling later on!

Hopefully Friday I’ll be back with a full report of my sourdough “project”.

Throwback Thursday: Shortbread from Tartine

Throwback again to September 2017 when Food52 Baking Club was baking from the Tartine Bakery cookbook. I found out my daughter loves shortbread recently and so happily obliged by making the simple 5 ingredients recipe from this book that I saw many in the Facebook group had tried.

I liked how this recipe called for cornflour as a means to softer shortbread because I like my cookies melt in your mouth texture. I also like how this recipe is cut into little logs rather than big wedges like traditional Scottish shortbread. I was concerned though that I didn’t have the right size baking pan, so I just used a standard Australian brownie/slice pan and it seemed to work fine. But there was no way this was going to cut into 60.  The picture in the book did not show bite size pieces. I cut mine into 3 rows of 11 and they were still quite small.

The recipe was so easy to put together. Cream the butter until it is super soft, then add salt, then the combined flour and cornflour, then lastly the sugar. Press it into the lined baking tin and bang it in the low temperature preheated oven (mine is 125C but it cooks hot – most would need 150C). Bake until lightly browned then sprinkle some sugar over the top to give it a nice coating. Cut into bars while still warm to the touch.

If you line the baking tin like I did then you avoid the hassle of removing and destroying the first piece of shortbread because you can lift the whole thing out on the baking paper.

My young girl was so impressed that Mommy made her shortbread and quickly sampled a piece, then another, and another. I read some complaints that the cornflour altered the taste of the shortbread but I didn’t find that at all. However I didn’t shake off the excess sugar on top so that may have masked the flavor in the end result. I am so glad to have a shortbread recipe and will be making these whenever I need a quick cookie for dessert.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Italian Bread

And just like that it’s May and it’s time for new cookbooks to cook from. Food52 Baking Club is spending the month with Peter Reinhart and his well known bread baking book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. For my first bake I made some Italian bread to accompany Spaghetti Bolognaise for dinner.

If you’re familiar with bread baking, this isn’t all that hard but it does take time to get to the finished product. You make a starter called a biga from flour, water and yeast and let it proof for a few hours before knocking it back and refrigerating it overnight. The next day you use this biga and make the dough proper with more flour, yeast and water plus some sugar and salt and olive oil. You proof it again until doubled, divide it in half and shape it into batards on a baking sheet. Leave it to rise again (mine was slightly overproofed thanks to school pickups) and then cut in some slashes with a sharp knife and bake in the oven until golden brown and cooked in the center (I use a thermometer to check). Then you torture yourself for an hour before you can slice it up and devour.

This was a really nice bread. I think it would’ve been better not overproofed and it would look prettier if I’d had the optional diastatic barley malt powder for the added color as this looks pretty pale rather than golden brown. I plan to make it again after I try a few different breads as we’re teaching our eldest to cook and he’ll be cooking Spaghetti Bolognaise weekly for the next little while. Quite convenient that this has landed during Bread Baker’s Apprentice month.

Throwback Thursday: ANZAC Biscuits from Dorie’s Cookies

Last minute on Tuesday night I realized I had no golden syrup in the house and so we hopped in the car with a mission to find some. And would you believe we had to go to more than one place before we found some?!? Why did we need it so desperately? To make ANZAC Biscuits of course!

But then comes the age old question: which recipe do I use? I’m not a huge ANZAC biscuit fan, mainly because my oatmeal cookies are to die for (note the not so humble brag) and most of the ANZAC bikkies that I’ve had are way too crunchy (I’m a soft cookie girl). I came to find out a few years back that the crunchy or soft thing is all about what sugar you use and to my surprise the white sugar yields the softer cookie and not the brown sugar. So to find the recipe that seemed most suitable to me I started flipping through several cookbooks until I noticed that Dorie’s Cookies (the book Food52 Baking Club did in its inaugural month) happens to have an ANZAC biscuit recipe, and lo and behold it uses white sugar! So that’s the recipe we went with.

ANZAC biscuits are very basic to put together, no mixer required. You melt some butter and golden syrup and stir in some bicarb that’s been dissolved in water. That’s added to the rest of your ingredients: flour, oats, coconut (Dorie uses sweetened shredded stuff), sugar and salt. Roll the dough into balls and flatten a bit onto lined cookie sheets and bake them. And Bob’s your uncle, as they say.

Dorie notes that she found her biscuits too sweet when she first made them and halved the amount of sugar. The sweetness in these were perfect but I didn’t like the texture of the sweetened shredded coconut. I will try these again with the desiccated variety and use the normal amount of sugar to see which I prefer. I hazard a guess that it’ll be the more traditional version, but I’m happy to base my forever recipe on this version with a few personal adaptations, given these by far have been my favorite ANZAC biscuit to date.

Bravetart: Homemade Lofthouse-Style Cookies

These have surpassed my famously popular chocolate chip cookies to become my daughter’s favorite cookie. If she’s particularly upset about school, the thought of coming home to one of these cookies freshly baked for her will snap her out of it every time.

The recipe comes from Bravetart’s cookbook, which Food52 Baking Club went through in November last year, but it’s also been published on the Serious Eats website if you don’t have access to the book. They remind me of my childhood and since we can’t get the store bought packaged Lofthouse cookies here, these were a must bake.

I won’t go into the details of the process of making them at all, but I will point out two interesting things that make this cookie recipe different from others. First, it uses egg whites rather than whole eggs – but you don’t have to whip them or anything before incorporating into the dough – instead, you whisk them with some cream and vanilla. That’s the second thing, cream – I’ve used buttermilk in cookie recipes before, but never cream. It only uses 2 Tablespoons which is kind of inconvenient if you don’t normally have cream in your fridge, but it also uses 1/3 cup in the icing so I suppose it isn’t too bad. I try to plan it that I’ll have something in mind to use the remainder so it doesn’t go to waste (the egg yolks can be a problem in that regard too).

I use a cookie scoop to portion them out, they bake perfectly every time and I always use a bit of blue food coloring in the icing because that’s what I used the first time I made them and now that’s what my darling daughter expects! I put whatever sprinkles I have on hand on top of the icing – it’s been a great way to finish off leftovers from various projects but it’s quickly run down my supplies because I make these so often. (I’m trying to make my own sprinkles next week!) These cookies are definitely going to be handed down from generation to generation because they will forever be associated with cheering my girl up on a bad day.

Sweet: Blackberry and star anise friands

I’m so excited to report I’ve finally acquired Sweet on Kindle. I’ve been waiting for it to be on sale as it’s a hot commodity at the library and you are literally on the waiting list for months between borrows. And while we have made something new this week from the book, I thought I’d finally get around to posting about the blackberry and star anise friands we made a while back.

The blackberries we used were foraged…our first time foraging for blackberries that grow like a weed here in Canberra…and they were really worth the time as they were super cute and juicy and delicious. That being said, I’m a bit disappointed with the result of these friands. =(

I loved the flavor of the star anise, which I ground using my mortar and pestle, and it paired nicely with the blackberries. It’s just that the glaze is too dark and it doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as the picture in the book which has a beautiful light pink glaze. How did they do that?!! I followed the directions exactly, but I got this dark purple glaze which I think makes them look not nearly as appetizing. I tried to cover it up by sprinkling on some icing sugar, but that hasn’t helped. Seriously, disappointing.

I won’t go over the process – the recipe can be found on Ottolenghi’s website – it’s a typical friand where you brown the butter and whisk the egg whites and mix in the dry ingredients which is made up of flour and almond meal. I don’t know if it would be worth trying this recipe again to see if I can get a lighter glaze – as I said, the flavor was good, it’s just the appearance that’s disappointing – there are a lot of other recipes I think I’d like to try first. Am I still glad I made them?! Sure, but this is my least favorite of the recipes I’ve made from Sweet thus far. Guess you can’t win them all.

Throwback Thursday: Sour Cherry Streusel Cake from Classic German Baking

Throwback to June 2017 when Food52 Baking Club was going through Luisa Weiss’s book Classic German Baking. Sooo many delicious looking desserts that just had to be baked ASAP.

Her Sour Cherry Streusel Cake or Kirschstreuselkuchen very quickly became one of my favourite recipes and I’ve probably made it half a dozen times over the last 9 months. The recipe can be found online, so there’s no excuse not to try it for yourself. And as long as you keep a jar of tart cherries in your cupboard and have basic baking ingredients on hand, this is a cake you can whip up in a jiffy if you suddenly find yourself in need of a cake.

There’s 3 basic components in this recipe: the streusel, the cherries and the batter. The streusel you mix by hand and is made of flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt. The cherries are really interesting as you drain the juice and bring it to a boil with a bit set aside to create a slurry with some cornflour and then whisked in to make it get thick and syrupy. Then you reincorporate the cherries and set it aside to cool while you make the batter. And the batter is a dead simple basic butter cake – where you cream butter and sugar and some eggs and vanilla then add your dry ingredients and a little milk (I usually use buttermilk). Then you layer it up in a 9×13 inch pan and bake in a moderate oven for 45-50 minutes.

It turns out great every time, and while I’m actually a little disappointed with the lack of color in the streusel this time around, it still tasted fabulous. I used a new type of gluten free flour and it behaved a little differently. This is another thing of interest, how adaptable this recipe is to gluten free. We regularly bake for a gluten free guest and so this is an easy recipe for me to make for her by simply replacing the plain flour with gluten free and everything else remains the same. The cake is not overly sweet making it easy to eat more than one slice and the red color on the cherries is so elegant that it would sit very nicely on a high tea platter.

I’m really surprised this is the first time I’ve posted about this book because it is one of my absolute favorites. I look forward to sharing more from this book soon!

The Fearless Baker: Bourbon-Rosemary Peach Pie

Happy first birthday to Food52 Baking Club! This month, all my Baking Club posts will be throwbacks, and to start us off, I’m finally posting about that amazing peach pie I made for Pi Day several weeks ago now.

The recipe came from last month’s book, The Fearless Baker and I’ll say straight off the bat, the all-buttah pie dough was a knock out. Best pastry ever! I chucked all the ingredients in the food processor (flour, salt, butter, water) and then portioned it in half and refrigerated it as recommended. Then I rolled out the bottom half and popped it in the fridge until it was ready for filling and attempted a fake lattice for the top. I used a simple egg and water and salt egg wash on top and I was just so impressed with the recipe. It’s a bit dark around the edges but I wouldn’t change a thing.

The pie filling on the other hand, I’m not really too sure how to write about. I followed the directions to the letter and it still ended up liquidy. Fabulous tasting, but liquidy all the same. In it was peaches, bourbon, rosemary, brown sugar, butter, salt and cornflour, and the oddest thing is how much bourbon you start out with for what you end up with – you basically cook it down to a syrup, letting it reduce like crazy, but I think it sort of lost the bourbon taste in the process. And I didn’t really get smacked with a rosemary taste either, so overall the pie I wanted, I didn’t really get. I kinda think if I were to make it again I’d just use the amount the recipe wanted to end up with at the end rather than a whole cup of bourbon. And more rosemary, I can’t seem to get enough of it lately.

Of course we served it warm with ice cream – is there any other way to eat peach pie?!!

Throwback Thursday: Golden Brioche Loaves from Baking: From My Home to Yours

It didn’t take me long to return to  Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, the book that we went through in the Food52 Baking Club last month. I searched through our Facebook group for brioche because I wanted to make the Mushrooms on Brioche from Simple and thought I should just make it from scratch. What I quickly found out was that Dorie’s recipe was super popular. And now I can see why!

Dorie describes it as “elegant” and it really is that. And again another example of how bread isn’t hard to make – it just takes time and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a good stand mixer that will do the hard labor for you. First, you mix yeast into some water and milk and then add flour and salt and mix to just moisten the flour before adding eggs and sugar. Then you incorporate butter in small chunks and you beat the dough until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and put it into a greased container at room temperature until it’s nearly doubled. Then you deflate the dough and refrigerate it overnight, deflating again every half hour until it stops rising.

The next day you shape the dough by dividing it in half then each half into four. You shape the smaller portions into 4 logs that you lay crosswise in 2 bread tins and you leave at room temperature until the dough almost fills the pans. Here is where I came unstuck. I used the wrong pan size. And so my brioche doesn’t really have much height. Next time I will definitely use smaller tins.

You brush on an egg wash and bake it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. And the result: golden and deliciously buttery crumb that takes everything up a notch flavour and comfort wise. I cannot wait to make this again!

The Fearless Baker: Drop Biscuits and book review

Today we created something perfect. I was torn with what to bake today for my third and final recipe from The Fearless Baker for the month, should I make the Lemon Buttermilk Glazed Loaf or some scones?! Then I looked in the fridge and noticed we had no cream but didn’t want to commit to an hour of oven baking, so I flicked through some more and came across Erin McDowell’s Drop Biscuit recipe. And ding, ding, ding – we have a winner!

My favourite scone recipe is Date and Lemon Scones that Gary Mehigan made on MasterChef Australia in its first year. The addition of lemon zest just does something to the date flavour that makes it so much richer and I love cracking one open hot out of the oven and slathering it in butter before devouring. So when I saw in the headnote that Erin’s mom would add dried fruit, nuts or chocolate chips to the biscuits, I straight away declared we’re going to try these with dates and lemon zest.

The process was so simple. We chucked the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, bicarb soda and salt into the food processor and pulsed it, then added the cubed butter and mixed until it resembled breadcrumbs. At this stage we added some lemon zest and the dates, the blades chopped them up for us, while the dry mix insured they wouldn’t puree. Lastly we added the wet ingredients that had been mixed together, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and mixed until the dough just came together.

Scoop them out with 1/4 cup measure onto a lined baking sheet and sprinkle them with raw sugar and ours baked in a moderate oven in 15 minutes.

Don’t they look gloriously golden and crunchy on the outside?! Inside they were soft and warm and flecked with bits of dates. I am so happy with this recipe that I don’t think I’ll go back to my Masterchef scone recipe ever again, especially since I ALWAYS have buttermilk on hand, but rarely have cream.

This book has been so fun to bake from and there are still many recipes I’d love to try – especially her pies and her cakes (including the lemon buttermilk loaf I mentioned above). There are also some raspberry ripple bars that have been calling to me and the peanut butter and jelly whoopie pies. Oh and the butterscotch blondies! Really the list could go on.

Erin’s flourless cocoa cookies I declared as the best naturally gluten free cookie I’ve had. These biscuits are incredible, and the madeleines were my first successful attempt! There’s also a peach pie that I will post about soon that was absolutely stunning.

I did have an incident in December where I *tried* to make the salted caramel swirl meringues and they failed miserably. The caramel sauce itself was good, but I think the weather was too temperamental to be baking meringues successfully and it just ended up one big flat swirly disc – there’s no photo because it was that bad. I turned it into a trifle with some stone fruit and whipped cream, but by the end of that dish, I didn’t want to look at another meringue for a long time. So I doubt I’ll try it again.

This is definitely a book worth picking up, it’s very approachable for the novice baker, but also has some recipes that look more challenging. I love Erin’s sense of humor, especially in her description of the different pastry decorating techniques. This is definitely not the end for this book on my blog – but from here on it’ll be relegated to Throwback Thursday.

To see the other two recipes I’ve tried from this book click on the links below: