Toast talk

May 6, 2009

transparenttoasterI was hanging out on Rona Maynard’s blog recently – it’s a favourite indulgence of mine to make a cup of milky, sweet Earl Grey tea, kick off my shoes, tuck my feet under me on the couch and read a few of her posts in one gluttonous, soul-nourishing sitting. As my last sentence suggests, Rona’s writing is wonderful and her subject matter is often thought-provoking and touching. In fact, even when she writes about making a piece of toast, there’s poetry in every sentence.

I’ve always been a big fan of toast (I’m a second generation addict, to be truthful; in fact, my mother has turned eating toast into a lifestyle of sorts), so I pay close attention to all toast-related news. But somehow I’d missed the news that toasters are celebrating their 100th birthday this year. Shouldn’t this anniversary be headline news?

How often do you make toast? Is your toaster part of your daily routine or is it an occasionally-used appliance that helps you to salvage staling bread?

The goodness of sprouted grains

January 7, 2009

sprouted20grainsYou’ve likely resolved to choose some healthier eating options in the new year. I can imagine that omega 3, probiotic and vitamin D rich foods are on your list but what about sprouted grains?

For several months, sprouted grain bread recipes and products have been easing onto my trend tracker’s radar screen. To be honest, I haven’t tried bread made with sprouted grains and, until I read this article, I wasn’t entirely sure why I should.

According to the reporter’s research, people who have trouble digesting traditional breads find sprouted grains easier to digest. Likewise, these breads contain more protein and fibre than a usual loaf.

I’m still learning about how sprouted grains are used as ingredients and found this material on the Silver Hills Bakery website interesting.

Have you tried sprouted grain bread? If so, how did it taste? If not, will you try it now that it is becoming more widely available?

Daring Bakers

June 29, 2008

It would have been so easy to take a pass on the June Daring Baker’s Challenge. I’ve been baking at work for weeks to complete a big fall recipe project that will appear in the October issue of Homemakers so my sweet tooth was more than satisfied. In fact, as the calendar changed from May to June, I was leaning toward making this a DB-free month.

Then everything changed. I saw that the challenge was to make a Danish Braid and I was in! I’ve made puff pastry millions of times and when I was 14 or 15 I perfected my recipe for a quick bread version of Danish Braid that became the cornerstone of my brother’s hockey team’s bake sale fundraisers. But, after more than 30 years of baking, I had never attempted the true Danish pastry that combines bread making and puff pastry techniques.

The recipe we were to use was selected and presented by Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking. Please visit their sites to get this terrific recipe. This is a large dough recipe so I froze half (I plan to use my left over pastry later in the season to make custard and Niagara peach filled Danishes.) but you can simply cut the ingredients in half and make less. Once I finish this dough, I likely will make another batch. It’s really that good!

As you can see from the picture above, my Danish Braid turned out a bit dark; however, the texture and flavour were excellent. I found the Danish to be a little under-sweetened, so after this picture was taken I added a drizzle made by blending icing sugar, a gob of butter, and whipping cream together to make a fluid consistency. (This mixture is just a slightly thicker version of the glaze I use for my homemade doughnuts, btw). I transferred this glaze mixture to a plastic bag, nipped off one corner and then drizzled the gooey goodness over the pastry in a zigzag pattern.

High altitude bread baking

March 14, 2008

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the interaction I have with my readers (In fact, it was a craving for more contact with the outside world that led me to begin this blog in the first place, so feel free to comment and ask questions as often as you like!)

As you may have noted, there’s a ‘?’ icon on the right hand side of each page of this blog. If you’ve never clicked on it, you might not know that it opens up an email form so that you can ask me a question. While some people have used this feature to ask for clarification or more info about something I’ve posted, every once in a while I get a question that I think deserves to be shared with more people. A question recently posed by Joyce from Saskatchewan fell into this category.

Joyce wrote:
I live in southwest Saskatchewan on the prairies. One of my sons moved to Calgary. When we visit I take my bread-making machine, as they love fresh bread. They live in the southwest part of the city up by the top of the Olympic ski jump. The bread that I make here is twice the size of what turns out there. Could the altitude – I think they are about 1500 feet higher there than we are here – make a difference? If so do you have any suggestions? Thanks.

The answer is that yes, altitude can greatly affect your kitchen activities. According to Susan Purdy, an expert on high altitude cooking:

“As the elevation rises, three major factors may cause a recipe to need adjustment in ingredients, cooking times, and/or temperatures. The higher in elevation you go:
1. The lower the boiling point of water
2. The faster liquids (and moisture in general) evaporate
3. The more quickly leavening gases expand”

Needless to say, moisture and leavening are both important when baking bread so elevation is certainly causing havoc with Joyce’s baking. Since the yeast is acting more quickly at a higher elevation, it sounds like the bread machine is allowing the bread to over-expand and then it is falling before the machine starts to bake. So, Joyce and other high altitude bakers, if your bread machine won’t allow you to cut back on the rising time, you may need to pull your dough out and shape by hand and bake the bread in the oven before it has a chance to over proof and fall.

The best source I’ve found for overall advice on high altitude cooking is Susan Purdy’s book called Pie in the Sky. She also has excellent info posted in an article at Epicurious. For advice specific to cake and cookie baking you can also check out the Crisco website for free.

Thanks again for your question Joyce!

Warm the house: Bake!

January 14, 2008

1_mocha-pound-cakehmblog.jpgAlthough research shows that many people deem cooking a chore, baking falls into another category entirely. Since it isn’t a necessary day-to-day task, it’s viewed as a hobby. Canadians report that baking is a favourite wintertime activity (I once read that flour sales spike in January — J is your mystery letter for today). While January days are often too harshly cold to enjoy outdoor activities, the bulky sweaters you wear at this time of year hide excess cookie pounds well.

I learned to bake from my grandmother, Mary Badiuk. She was a self-taught, wonderful baker. She didn’t use written recipes and her tools were humble — a faded flower-patterned teacup with a broken lug for measuring flour, a worn silver teaspoon for measuring pretty much everything else. Because Mary knew what the dough or batter was supposed to look and feel like, it wasn’t important for her to use proper baking cups and spoons or even written recipes.

Hers was a large prairie farm family so, daily, she baked bread for sandwiches, pies and cakes for lunch and dinner, dessert, and then cookies or squares for evening snack time.

Today, very few of us scratch bake everyday so we don’t develop my grandmother’s intuitive baking skills. In fact, after telling her story, I feel like I should add the proviso: Don’t try this at home!

For most of us, taking the time to measure exactly is essential to guarantee good results both when cooking and baking. So, to help you to get the best out of your baking efforts, check out my test kitchen tips:

Read the recipe all the way through before beginning to ensure you have everything you’ll need. Baked goods depend on specific chemical reactions to succeed so you need to use the exact amounts and the specific ingredients called for in the recipe.

Measure dry ingredients such as flour and sugar into spoutless measuring cups by scooping the ingredient into the cup and then levelling it off with the flat edge of a knife. Don’t shake or tap the measure on the counter to even out the ingredients.

-Always preheat the oven until it reaches the required temperature before adding filled pans.

-Make sure your oven temperature is accurate — it’s a good idea to invest in an inexpensive oven thermometer to double check even if your oven is new.

Don’t sift flour or cocoa unless specified in the recipe. Also, do not substitute an equal amount of one type of flour for another. Every type of flour has a unique gluten (protein) content, which will affect the texture of the finished baked goods.

Pack brown sugar lightly into a dry measuring cup.

-Remember when reading recipes that a baking pan is metal while a baking dish is glass. Substitutions in baking pans can affect results and change baking times.