Friday, February 29, 2008

Bitchin' in the Kitchin' - Julia Child's French Bread

Whew! 'Tis the last day of February, which I am glad of for lots of reasons. One of those reasons is now I can share with you what's been simmering in the Daring Bakers virtual kitchen this month.

February was Mary's month to host the challenge for the Daring Bakers, but she graciously offered to co-host with me so I too could know the hell of hosting could have a go at choosing a recipe for all the Daring Bakers to try and enjoy.

We decided that we would pick a recipe from a cook that both of us admire greatly: Julia Child. We chose her 18 page long recipe for French Bread. Yep, eighteen pages.

It's not actually as bad as you may think. Yes, it's a lot of reading, and yes you have to read it more than once to make sure you understand it. It's a lot of technique, but in 7 or so hours (hey, good bread takes time!) you have one or more loaves of the most luscious, close to authentic Pain Francais, brought to you by one of the most beloved cooks to ever grace the Earth. And once you have your first taste of this bread? You'll be making plans to get started on the next batch. It's just that good.

I've made this recipe twice so far. The first time I made the bread I made 3 batards. The second time I got all crazy and made 1 batard and 8 buns. I've been having computer/blogger issues the past week and blogger has eaten my bread post 3 times, which has resulted in the permanent loss of some of my bread pictures. But check out my buns:

Hey Sara! Nice buns!

Why thanks; yes they are. And they are as delicious as they are pretty to look at.

Thanks for coming by to look at my buns! And thanks to all the Daring Bakers who took part in our challenge. And an extra special, huge, gigantic Thank You to Mary. This month really was all her. She was a real champ, providing hints, tips, help, advice; hell - she even held an online baking class for the Daring Bakers! Mary, you are not nicknamed Breadwench Breadchick for nothing. Thanks for taking such good care of all of us this month.

Pain Francais (French Bread)
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck)
Extra tips from Mary
Daring Bakers Challenge #16: February 2008

Recipe Quantity:
3 - baguettes (24” x 2”) or batards (16” x 3”) or
6 – short loaves, ficelles, 12 – 16” x 2” or
3 – round loaves, boules, 7 – 8” in diameter or
12 – round or oval rolls, petits pains or
1 – large round or oval loaf, pain de menage or miche; pain boulot

Recipe Time: 7 – 9 hours

Equipment Needed: Unless you plan to go into the more elaborate simulation of a baker’s oven, you need no unusual equipment for the following recipe. Here are the requirements, some of which may sound odd but will explain themselves when you read the recipe.

4 to 5 quart mixing bowl with fairly vertical rather than outward slanting sides
a kneading surface of some sort, 1 1/2 to 2 square feet
a rubber spatula or either a metal scraper or a stiff wide metal spatula
1 to 2 unwrinkled canvas pastry cloths or stiff linen towels upon which the dough may rise
a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood 18 – 20 inches long and 6 – 8 inches wide, for unmolding dough from canvas to baking sheet
finely ground cornmeal or pasta pulverized in an electric blender to sprinkle on unmolding board so as to prevent dough from sticking
the largest baking sheet that will fit in your oven
a razor blade or extremely sharp knife for slashing the top of the dough
a soft pastry brush or fine spray atomizer for moistening dough before and during baking
a room thermometer to verify rising temperature
Mary and Sara also recommend the use of an oven thermometer

Making French Bread:Step 1: The Dough Mixture – le fraisage

1 cake (0.6 ounce) (20grams) fresh yeast or 1 package dry active yeast
1/3 cup (75ml) warm water, not over 100 degrees F/38C in a glass measure
3 1/2 cup (about 1 lb) (490 gr) all purpose flour, measured by scooping
dry measure cups into flour and sweeping off excess
2 1/4 tsp (12 gr) salt
1 1/4 cups (280 - 300ml) tepid water @ 70 – 74 degrees/21 - 23C

Both Methods: Stir the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.

Hand Method: Stir and cut the liquids into the flour with a rubber spatula, pressing firmly to form a dough and making sure that all the bits of flour and unmassed pieces are gathered in. Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky.

Stand Mixer: Using the dough hook attachment on the speed the mixer manufacturer recommends for dough hook use or the lowest setting if there is no recommendation, slowly work all the ingredients together until a dough ball is formed, stopping the mixer and scrapping the bits of flour and chunks of dough off the bottom of the bowl and pressing them into the dough ball. Continue to mix the dough on a low speed until all the bits of flour and loose chunks of dough have formed a solid dough ball.

Both Methods: Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky. Let the dough rest for 2 – 3 minutes while you wash and dry the bowl (and the dough hook if using a stand mixer).

Step 2: Kneading – petrissage
The flour will have absorbed the liquid during this short rest, and the dough will have a little more cohesion for the kneading that is about to begin. Use one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scrapper, to dip out extra flour, to answer the telephone, and so forth. Your object in kneading is to render the dough perfectly smooth and to work it sufficiently so that all the gluten molecules are moistened and joined together into an interlocking web. You cannot see this happen, of course, but you can feel it because the dough will become elastic and will retract into shape when you push it out.

Hand Method: Start kneading by lifting the near edge of the dough, using a pastry scraper or stiff wide spatula to help you if necessary, and flipping the dough over onto itself. Scrape dough off the surface and slap it down; lift edge and flip it over again, repeating the movement rapidly.

In 2 -3 minutes the dough should have enough body so that you can give it a quick forward push with the heel of your hand as you flip it over. Continue to knead rapidly and vigorously in this way. If the dough remains too sticky, knead in a sprinkling of flour. The whole kneading process will take 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how expert you become.

Shortly after this point, the dough should have developed enough elasticity so it draws back into shape when pushed, indicating the gluten molecules have united and are under tension like a thin web of rubber; the dough should also begin to clean itself off the kneading surface, although it will stick to your fingers if you hold a pinch of dough for more than a second or two.

Stand Mixer: Place dough back into the bowl and using the dough hook attachment at the recommended speed (low), knead the dough for about 5 – 7 minutes. At about the 5 minute mark, stop the mixer and push at the dough with your fingertips. If it springs back quickly, you have kneaded the dough enough. If it doesn’t spring back continue to knead, stopping the mixer and retesting every 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to your fingers, toss a sprinkling of flour onto the dough and continue to knead. The dough should be light and springy when it is ready. Mary also recommends always finishing with about 1 – 2 minutes of hand kneading just to get a good feel for how the gluten is formed.

Both Methods: Let dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes. Knead by hand for a minute. The surface should now look smooth; the dough will be less sticky but will still remain soft. It is now ready for its first rise.

(Mary and Sara note: From here out in the recipe, there is no difference for the hand vs. stand method)

Step 3: First Rising – pointage premier temps (3-5 hours at around 70 degrees)
You now have approximately 3 cups of dough that is to rise to 3 1/2 times its original volume, or to about 10 1/2 cups. Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Note, that the bowl should have fairly upright sides; if they are too outward slanting, the dough will have difficulty in rising. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it (Mary and Sara Note: Very lightly grease the bowl with butter or kitchen spray as well to prevent the risen dough from sticking to the bowl).

Slip the bowl into a large plastic bag or cover with plastic, and top with a folded bath towel. Set on a wooden surface, marble or stone are too cold. Or on a folded towel or pillow, and let rise free from drafts anyplace where the temperature is around 70 degrees. If the room is too hot, set bowl in water and keep renewing water to maintain around 70 degrees. Dough should take at least 3 – 4 hours to rise to 10 1/2 cups. If temperature is lower than 70 degrees, it will simply take longer.

(Mary and Sara Note: If your oven has an oven light, turn on the oven light when you start making the dough. By the time you are ready for the first rise, the temperature in your oven will be around 70 degrees. You can check with your oven thermometer. If you don’t have an oven light, like Mary, you can turn the oven on to its lowest setting about 5 minutes before you begin your rise. Leave on for 1 – 5 minutes until the temperature is around 75- 80 degrees. Turn off oven, when you open the door to put the dough in to rise, your oven will be around 70 degrees. Another trick is to put your dough on top of your hot water heater. Place a folded towel on top of the hot water heater and let rise. Also a heating pad works well. Mary also has used those give away shower caps from hotels to cover her bowls and the bowl covers for the metal mixing bowls work well too. Always lightly grease the plastic wrap or bowl cover so if the risen dough touches it, the dough won’t stick.)

When fully risen, the dough will be humped into a slight dome, showing that the yeast is still active; it will be light and spongy when pressed. There will usually be some big bubbly blisters on the surface, and if you are using a glass bowl you will see bubbles through the glass.

Step 4: Deflating and Second Rising – rupture; pointage deuxieme temps (1 1/2 to 2 hours at around 70 degrees)
The dough is now ready to be deflated, which will release the yeast engendered gases and redistribute the yeast cells so that the dough will rise again and continue the fermentation process.

With a rubber spatula, dislodge dough from inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping bowl clean. If dough seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour.

Lightly flour the palms of your hands and flatten the dough firmly but not too roughly into a circle, deflating any gas bubbles by pinching them.

Lift a corner of the near side and flip it down on the far side. Do the same with the left side, then the right side. Finally, lift the near side and tuck it just under the edge of the far side. The mass of dough will look like a rounded cushion.

Slip the sides of your hands under the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let rise again, this time to not quite triple, but again until it is dome shaped and light and spongy when touched.

(Mary and Sara Note: You may need to lightly re-grease your bowl and plastic wrap for the second rise to prevent sticking)

Step 5: Cutting and resting dough before forming loaves
Loosen dough all around inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Because of its two long rises, the dough will have much more body. If it seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle lightly with flour.

Making clean, sure cuts with a large knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into:
3 equal pieces for long loaves (baguettes or batards) or small round loaves (boules only)
5 – 6 equal pieces for long thin loaves (ficelles)
10 – 12 equal pieces for small oval rolls (petits pains, tire-bouchons) or small round rolls (petits pains, champignons)
2 equal pieces for medium round loaves (pain de menage or miche only)
If you making one large round loaf (pain de menage, miche, or pain boulot), you will not cut the dough at all and just need to follow the directions below.
After you have cut each piece, lift one end and flip it over onto the opposite end to fold the dough into two; place dough at far side of kneading surface. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic and let rest for 5 minutes before forming. This relaxes the gluten enough for shaping but not long enough for dough to begin rising again.

While the dough is resting, prepare the rising surface; smooth the canvas or linen towelling on a large tray or baking sheet, and rub flour thoroughly into the entire surface of the cloth to prevent the dough from sticking

Step 6: Forming the loaves – la tourne; la mise en forme des patons

Because French bread stands free in the oven and is not baked in a pan, it has to be formed in such a way that the tension of the coagulated gluten cloak on the surface will hold the dough in shape.

For Long Loaves - The Batard: (Baguettes are typically much too long for home ovens but the shaping method is the same)

After the 3 pieces of dough have rested 5 minutes, form one piece at a time, keeping the remaining ones covered.

Working rapidly, turn the dough upside down on a lightly floured kneading surface and pat it firmly but not too roughly into an 8 to 10 inch oval with the lightly floured palms of your hands. Deflate any gas bubbles in the dough by pinching them.

Fold the dough in half lengthwise by bringing the far edge down over the near edge.

Being sure that the working surface is always lightly floured so the dough will not stick and tear, which would break the lightly coagulated gluten cloak that is being formed, seal the edges of the dough together, your hands extended, thumbs out at right angles and touching.

Roll the dough a quarter turn forward so the seal is on top.

Flatten the dough again into an oval with the palms of your hands.

Press a trench along the central length of the oval with the side of one hand.

Fold in half again lengthwise.

This time seal the edges together with the heel of one hand, and roll the dough a quarter of a turn toward you so the seal is on the bottom.

Now, by rolling the dough back and forth with the palms of your hands, you will lengthen it into a sausage shape. Start in the middle, placing your right palm on the dough, and your left palm on top of your right hand.

Roll the dough forward and backward rapidly, gradually sliding your hands towards the two ends as the dough lengthens.

Deflate any gas blisters on the surface by pinching them. Repeat the rolling movement rapidly several times until the dough is 16 inches long, or whatever length will fit on your baking sheet. During the extension rolls, keep circumference of dough as even as possible and try to start each roll with the sealed side of the dough down, twisting the rope of dough to straighten the line of seal as necessary. If seal disappears, as it sometimes does with all purpose flour, do not worry.

Place the shaped piece of dough, sealed side up, at one end of the flour rubbed canvas, leaving a free end of canvas 3 to 4 inches wide. The top will crust slightly as the dough rises; it is turned over for baking so the soft, smooth underside will be uppermost.

Pinch a ridge 2 1/2 to 3 inches high in the canvas to make a trough, and a place for the next piece. Cover dough with plastic while you are forming the rest of the loaves.

After all the pieces of dough are in place, brace the two sides of the canvas with long rolling pins, baking sheets or books, if the dough seems very soft and wants to spread out. Cover the dough loosely with flour rubbed dish towel or canvas, and a sheet of plastic. Proceed immediately to the final rising, next step.

(Mary and Sara Note: Empty paper towel tubes and/or bottles of spices work well as braces as well)

For Long Thin Loaves – Ficelles: Follow the steps above but making thinner sausage shapes about 1/2 inch in diameter. When they have risen, slash as with the Batard.

For Oval Rolls – Petits Pains, Tire-Bouchons: Form like batards, but you will probably not have to lengthen them at all after the two foldings and sealings. Place rolls on a floured canvas about 2 – 4” apart and cover with plastic to rise. When they have risen, make either 2 parallel slashes or a single slash going from one end to the other.

For Small, Medium, or Large Round Loaves – Pain de Menage, Miches, Boules: The object here is to force the cloak of coagulated gluten to hold the ball of dough in shape: the first movement will make cushion; the second will seal and round the ball, establishing surface tension.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.

Lift the left side of the dough with the side of your left hand and bring it down almost to the right side.

Scoop up the right side and push it back almost to the left side. Turn the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat the movement 8 – 10 times. The movement gradually smooths the bottom of the dough and establishes the necessary surface tension; think of the surface of the dough as if it were a fine sheet of rubber you were stretching in every direction.

Turn the dough smooth side up and begin rotating it between the palms of your hands, tucking a bit of the dough under the ball as you rotate it. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped ball with a little pucker of dough, le cle, underneath where all the edges have joined together.

Place the dough pucker side up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the pucker by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with either a long central slash, two long central slashes that cross at right angles, or a semi-circular slash around half the circumference.

For Small Round Rolls – Petits Pains, Champignons: The principles are the same here as for the preceding round loaves, but make the cushion shape with your fingers rather than the palms of your hands.

For the second stage, during which the ball of dough is rotated smooth side up, roll it under the palm of one hand, using your thumb and little finger to push the edges of the dough underneath and to form the pucker, where the edges join together.

Place the formed ball of dough pucker side up on the flour rubbed canvas and cover loosely while forming the rest. Space the balls 2 inches apart. When risen to almost triple its size, lift gently with lightly floured fingers and place pucker side down on baking sheet. Rolls are usually too small for a cross so make either one central slash or the semi-circular cut.

For Large Oval Loaf – Pain Boulot: Follow the directions for the round loaves except instead of rotating between the balms of your hands and tucking to form a round loaf, continue to turn the dough from the right to the left, tucking a bit of each end under the oblong loaf. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped oval with tow little puckers of dough, le cles, underneath where all the edges of have joined together.

Place the dough pucker sides up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the puckers by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with parallel slashes going diagonally across the top starting from the upper left and going to the lower right.

Step 7: Final Rise – l’appret - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours at around 70 degrees

The covered dough is now to rise until almost triple in volume; look carefully at its pre-risen size so that you will be able to judge correctly. It will be light and swollen when risen, but will still feel a little springy when pressed.

It is important that the final rise take place where it is dry; if your kitchen is damp, hot, and steamy, let the bread rise in another room or dough will stick to the canvas and you will have difficulty getting it off and onto another baking sheet. It will turn into bread in the oven whatever happens, but you will have an easier time and a better loaf if you aim for ideal conditions.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees about 30 minutes before estimated baking time.

Step 8: Unmolding risen dough onto baking sheet – le demoulage.
(Mary and Sara note: we are only going to describe the unmolding of The Batard but the unmolding process is the same no matter the shape of your loaf or loaves. The key to unmolding without deflating your bread is slow and gentle!)

The 3 pieces of risen dough are now to be unmolded from the canvas and arranged upside down on the baking sheet. The reason for this reversal is that the present top of the dough has crusted over during its rise; the smooth, soft underside should be uppermost in the oven so that the dough can expand and allow the loaf its final puff of volume. For the unmolding you will need a non-sticking intermediate surface such as a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood sprinkled with cornmeal or pulverized pasta.

Remove rolling pins or braces. Place the long side of the board at one side of the dough; pull the edge of the canvas to flatten it; then raise and flip the dough softly upside down onto the board.

Dough is now lying along one edge of the unmolding board: rest this edge on the right side of a lightly buttered baking sheet. Gently dislodge dough onto baking sheet, keeping same side of the dough uppermost: this is the soft smooth side, which was underneath while dough rose on canvas. If necessary run sides of hands lightly down the length of the dough to straighten it. Unmold the next piece of dough the same way, placing it to the left of the first, leaving a 3 inch space. Unmold the final piece near the left side of the sheet.

Step 9: Slashing top of the dough – la coupe.
(Mary and Sara Note: We will only describe the slashing for the Batard here. All other slashes for the other shapes are described in Step 6: Forming the Loaves)

The top of each piece of dough is now to be slashed in several places. This opens the covering cloak of gluten and allows a bulge of dough underneath to swell up through the cuts during the first 10 minutes of baking, making decorative patterns in the crust. These are done with a blade that cuts almost horizontally into the dough to a depth of less than half an inch. Start the cut at the middle of the blade, drawing toward you in a swift clean sweep. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, and you will probably make ragged cuts at first; never mind, you will improve with practice. Use an ordinary razor blade and slide one side of it into a cork for safety; or buy a barbers straight razor at a cutlery store. (Or very sharp knife.)

For a 16 to 18 inch loaf make 3 slashes. Note that those at the two ends go straight down the loaf but are slightly off centre, while the middle slash is at a slight angle between the two. Make the first cut at the far end, then the middle cut, and finally the third. Remember that the blade should lie almost parallel to the surface of the dough.

Step 10: Baking – about 25 minutes; oven preheated to 450 degrees (230 degrees C).

As soon as the dough has been slashed, moisten the surface either by painting with a soft brush dipped in cold water, or with a fine spray atomizer, and slide the baking sheet onto rack in upper third of preheated oven. Rapidly paint or spray dough with cold water after 3 minutes, again in 3 minutes, and a final time 3 minutes later. Moistening the dough at this point helps the crust to brown and allows the yeast action to continue in the dough a little longer. The bread should be done in about 25 minutes; the crust will be crisp, and the bread will make a hollow sound when thumped.

If you want the crust to shine, paint lightly with a brush dipped in cold water as soon as you slide the baking sheet out of oven.

Step 11: Cooling – 2 to 3 hours.
(Mary and Sara Note: We know this will be the hardest thing to do for this challenge. But, if you do not let the French bread cool, the bread will be doughy and the crust will be soft. If you want to have warm French bread, re-heat the bread after it has cooled in a 400 degree oven, uncovered and directly on the oven rack for 10 – 12 minutes if it is unfrozen. If it has been frozen see the directions below)

Cool the bread on a rack or set it upright in a basket or large bowl so that air can circulate freely around each piece. Although bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself.

Step 12: Storing French bread
Because it contains no fats or preservatives of any kind, French bread is at its best when eaten the day it is baked. It will keep for a day or two longer, wrapped airtight and refrigerated, but it will keep best if you freeze it – let the loaves cool first, then wrap airtight. To thaw, unwrap and place on a baking sheet in a cold oven; heat the oven to 400 degrees. In about 20 minutes the crust will be hot and crisp, and the bread thawed. The French, of course, never heat French bread except possibly on Monday, the baker’s holiday, when the bread is a day old.

Step 13: Canvas housekeeping
After each bread session, if you have used canvas, brush it thoroughly to remove all traces of flour and hang it out to dry before putting away. Otherwise the canvas could become mouldy and ruin your next batch of dough.

The Simulated Bakers’ Oven
Baking in the ordinary way, as described in the preceding recipe, produces an acceptable loaf of bread but does not nearly approach the glory you can achieve when you turn your home oven into a baker’s oven. Merely providing yourself with the proper amount of steam, if you can do nothing else, will vastly improve the crust, the color, the slash patterns, and the volume of your bread; steam is only a matter of plopping a heated brick or stone into a pan of water in the bottom of the oven. The second provision is a hot surface upon which the naked dough can bake; this gives that added push of volume that improves both the appearance and the slash patterns. When you have the hot baking surface, you will then also need a paddle or board upon which you can transfer dough from canvas to hot baking surface. For the complete set up here is you should have, and any building-supply store stocks these items.
For the hot baking surface: Metal will not do as a hot baking surface because it burns the bottom of the dough. The most practical and easily obtainable substance is ordinary red floor tiles 1/4” thick. They come in various sizes such as 6 x 6, 6 x 3, and you only need enough to line the surface of an oven rack. Look them up under Tiles in your Directory, and ask for “quarry tiles” their official name.

(Mary and Sara Note: When this book was written, quarry tiles had a fair amount of asbestos in them. Today, in North America and Europe, they normally are made of clay. Make sure if you decide to go purchase some quarry tiles you only purchase unglazed quarry tiles because most of the glazes used contain lead or some other nasty substance that could get transferred. A large pizza stone will also work but make sure it is at least 1/4 inch thick because the thinner ones can break when used at the high heats that baking bread requires. Make sure you never put wet tiles in the oven because they can shatter or worse as the oven heats up.)

For unmolding the risen dough from its canvas: A piece of 3/16 inch plywood about 20 inches wide.

For sliding the dough onto the hot tiles: When you are doing 3 long loaves, you must slide them together onto the hot tiles; to do so you unmold them one at a time with one board and arrange them side by side on the second board, which takes place on the baker’s paddle, la pelle. Buy a piece of plywood slightly longer but 2 inches narrower than your oven rack.

(Mary and Sara note: Today, you can buy a real baker’s paddle easily online or at a restaurant supply store for about the same money as a piece of plywood and it will have a bevelled edge that will make sliding loaves in and out of the oven easier)

To prevent dough from sticking to unmolding and sliding boards: White cornmeal or small dried pasta pulverized in the electric blender until it is the consistency of table salt. This is called fleurage.

The steam contraption: Something that you can heat to sizzling hot on top of the stove and then slide into a pan of water in the oven to make a great burst of steam: a brick, a solid 10lb rock, piece of cast iron or other metal. A 9 x 12 inch roasting pan 2 inches deep to hold an inch of water and the hot brick.
(Mary and Sara note: Other ways to get steam in the oven is pre-heat the oven and then to fill a pan with ice cubes put it on the lower rack and then pour warm water into the pan. The temperature difference between the ice cubes and the warm water will create steam. Also you can toss ice cubes on the bottom of the oven. Put a metal baking sheet on the bottom rack, pre-heat the oven with the baking sheet in the oven and right before you put your loaves in, spritz water onto the pan.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dammit! Just when I'm getting good at making bread!

Flour power sends bread prices rising
Higher wheat costs will take larger slice out of wallets
Michelle Lang, Calgary Herald; with files from Reuters
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Calgarians will soon fork over more dough to buy a loaf of bread as several local bakeries prepare to boost their prices in the face of punishing cost increases.

With soaring global grain prices, bakers have seen their flour expenses grow significantly in the past year.

Wheat contracts hit an all-time high of $25 a bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, while futures hit $12.15 on the Chicago Board of Trade on Monday.
Lakeview Bakery general manager Daren Hinton says previous price increases haven't hurt sales, but "there's only so much" prices can rise before customers stop buying.View Larger Image View Larger Image
Lakeview Bakery general manager Daren Hinton says previous price increases haven't hurt sales, but "there's only so much" prices can rise before customers stop buying.

The situation has led some bakeries to boost the price for their baked goods and stores like Rustic Sour Dough Bakery said Monday they will charge more for bread beginning in late March.

The 17th Avenue bakery's flour costs have more than doubled since last summer, from about $8.60 for a 20-kilogram bag of unbleached white flour to $17.40 per bag today.

"It looks like I will have to bring in an increase," said Jos Rehli, owner of Rustic Sour Dough, who said the increase in white flour alone is costing his business about $2,000 a month. "I can't carry it anymore."

Customers at the Calgary store can expect to pay about 25 cents more for a loaf of $4 bread come late March.

For those who feed a large family, the prospect of rising bread prices can be daunting.

Janet Woods, who buys two loaves of bread a day for a household of five people, said she is worried.

"This is crazy," she said. "Between gas and bread . . . it's going to hurt."

Baking Association of Canada representatives said retail bakers around the country have had to increase bread prices because of flour costs and other rising expenses including energy, cooking oil and even eggs.

"Bread is a staple of the diet," said Paul Hetherington, the president and the chief executive of the association. "There's a concern about the ability of low-income Canadians to accept and accommodate these increases."

The comments come as tight supplies of wheat around the world push the commodity's price to new heights.

Contracts in spring wheat, which is used to make flour, hit a new peak of $25 US a bushel Monday on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange before closing at $24 per bushel -- up $4.75.

Experts say the price increases are the result of a 30-year low of global wheat stocks. The world's five major wheat exporting nations have had production problems, with Australia experiencing near crop failure after a severe drought.

Demand, meanwhile, has been increasing, driven in part by countries such as India and China.

"The prices are very, very high, all around the globe," said Maureen Fitzhenry, a spokesperson with the Canadian Wheat Board.

The board's asking price on the Canadian market Monday was $20.73 a bushel for top quality wheat, compared to about $6 a bushel for the same product one year ago.

The growing wheat and flour costs have led Calgary stores like Lakeview Bakery to consider introducing another price increase for some products next month.

Daren Hinton, general manager of the bakery, said previous price increases haven't hurt sales, noting Calgarians have come to expect growing costs given the city's booming economy. But Hinton said there is a limit to what the market will bear.

On Monday, some shoppers at a northeast grocery store seemed resigned to the rising cost of bread.

"You have no choice, so I'm not going to fret about it," said Ted Noddin, who was leaving the store with a loaf of bread.

Grain prices that are tough on consumers, however, are a boon to farmers, who have struggled with low commodity prices for years.

Edmonton-based Wild Rose Agricultural Producers said grain and oilseed farmers are finally getting a return on their investment after years of "subsistence farming."

© The Calgary Herald 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chinese New Years Dinner - Roasted Grains of Paradise and Salt, and Deep Fried Tofu

Here's two more recipes from our Chinese New Years Dinner from earlier this month.

First off, a condiment that was included (by Kylie) with two of the dishes we made. It was so great that in addition to using with those dishes, we just put the bowl on the table so it could be added to anything or everything.

Roasted Grains of Paradise and Salt.

This is actually supposed to be Sichuan pepper and salt. I had some sichuan peppercorns last year, but I used them all up, and couldn't find any to buy in Kamloops. We have been using Grains of Paradise instead of pepper, so we used that instead.

1 tb Grains of Paradise
3 tb sea salt

Place the grains of paradise (or peppercorns) and the salt in a small, heavy pan over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the grains and salt become fragrant, and the grains begin to pop. Remove from heat and let cool. Grind in a food processor or clean coffee grinder, or by hand with a mortar and pestle.

It's hard to come up with words to describe how good this is. Grains of Paradise is very similar to pepper, maybe a bit more spicy. The roasting amplifies the spiciness slightly and adds a great smokiness. Really, really good.

This next recipe was my very favorite of the night. But before I show you, let me share two things about the planning of the dinner.
Scott was off work when we planned this dinner. So one day before I left for work I gave him the Kylie book and some paper and said, pick some recipes you want to try. When I came home that night he had chosen the perfect menu. One dish he chose really surprised me - Deep Fried Tofu. Scott is pretty easygoing, and rarely turns up his nose at what I cook or want to cook. And while he will eat and enjoy dishes I make that have tofu in them, he has never chosen a tofu dish on his own before. Progress people!
The second thing - we bought a small deep fryer right before this dinner. So I think he was just looking for another dish that could be fried.

My GOD was this good. I used a soft tofu, and once you crunched through the thin crispy coating the tofu just melted in your mouth. It was served as Kylie suggested with the salt and pepper, lemon and cilantro, but we also dipped it in the 4 sauces out on the table - light peanut, hoisin, soy sauce, and kejap manis which is a sweet, slightly thick soy sauce. The tofu with a bit of peanut sauce was awesome, dude.

Deep Fried Tofu with Roasted Grains of Paradise and Salt and Lemon
altered slightly from Kylie Kwong

1 package soft tofu
1/3 cup flour
handful cilantro leaves
1 tsp roasted grains of paradise and salt
1 lemon cut in wedges
oil for deep frying

Cut around the edges of the cellophane on the tofu package and gently invert the tofu in one piece onto a plate or cutting board.
Carefully and gently cut the tofu in half vertically, then cut the tofu lenghtwise and widthwise into smallish cubes.
When the oil is hot (250 to 375') place the flour on a plate and toss the tofu squares gently in the flour.
Carefully fry the tofu until golden brown and crispy 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
Serve tofu with cilantro, lemon and salt and pepper on the side.

Other dishes from the dinner:
Stir Fried Snow Peas with Garlic

Ceeelebrate Good Times, Come On!

In my house this month we have things to observe.

The first and most recent is that one year ago today, we left for Maui. Sometimes it seems like we just got back, sometimes it seems like the trip was 20 years ago. We ate plate lunches and visited a goat dairy, we went to a luau, we celebrated my parents 40th wedding anniversary, we saw whales and swam with turtles. We ate cheese in a can, too many potato chips, and I found my favorite restaurant in the entire world. We got tattoos (real and fake), Scott spent entire days in the ocean and we had the most fun ever. I hope we get to go back one day.

Our next observation - this month is the 10th anniversary of my and Scott's first date. I know! I can't believe it either. 10 YEARS. Our first date was a movie date - Titanic. Our second date was a movie and then off to play pool. Our third date was dinner out. And I wondered if perhaps I liked the wrong guy. I can't remember what he ordered, but I remember what I had - only because he hated everything on my plate. And I loved it all! What is up with that?

 We've had a nice birthday weekend. There were presents, tasty food, more presents, more food, more presents, grocery shopping for more food, more presents, and a trip to Costco. No wonder I'm tired tonight. I made my world famous Carrot Cake for the birthday cake this year. It was as fabulous as always. Instead of making one big cake, this year I made two little ones and six cupcakes.

In the words of my beloved Ina, how gorgeous do those look?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chinese New Year Dinner part one - Stir Fried Snow Peas with Garlic

Ok, let's move yesterday's post off the top of the blog, shall we? Thanks to all of you for your kind comments. You guys are so sweet.

So a couple of weeks ago was Chinese New Year. It's the Year of the Rat! We had my parents over for dinner that weekend and cooked a feast, an actual FEAST, people. It would just be too much deliciousness for you to take in one post, so I'll stretch it out over a few.

Most of our dishes came from Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking.

I got it for my birthday last year and this is the first time I'd cooked from it. I have always enjoyed her shows, although I don't think they are being shown on the food channel here anymore, which is a real shame.

Anyhoo, from Kylie's book we cooked up Stir Fried Snow Peas with Garlic.

Y'all should run out now and pick up some snow peas and make this dish. Lordy it was good. It takes five minutes to make which is a huge plus.

I made two changes to the original recipe - I used vegetable broth instead of chicken stock, and I omitted the sesame oil, which I am not very fond of.

Stir Fried Snow Peas with Garlic
adapted from Kylie Kwong

2 tb vegetable oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
250 g snow peas, trimmed
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup vegetable stock

Heat oil in a wok (or frying pan) until the oil begins to shimmer. Add salt and snow peas and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and stir fry 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar, then pour in stock and simmer for 2 more minutes, until the peas are tender.
Serve straight away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm a babe! Of the bread making variety.

Once upon a time (earlier this month) some lovely ladies asked me to join them on an adventure. To boldly go where none of us (or most of us, or maybe just me) had gone before; to become babes. Babes who bake bread. Bread Baking Babes!

I said yes of course and there are 12 babes, all listed below. Together we will teach, learn, support and share with each other. And eat lots and lots of bread!

A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn), I Like to Cook (Sara), Living on Bread and Water (Monique), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Nami-Nami (Pille), Notitie van Lien (Lien), The Sour Dough (Mary aka Breadchick), Thyme of Cooking (Katie), and What Did You Eat (Sher)

Our first bread was picked by Karen. She chose the Royal Crown Tortano, which I had never heard of before. It was a two day process which would produce a large round loaf of bread with huge air holes (the recipe says air cells, which sounds nicer).

The dough is an extremely soft dough, and had that not been drilled into my head - in a nice way, of course - I would have thought I'd ruined it.

Although my slashes didn't come out very clearly, I was beyond pleased with how the bread turned out. It was beautiful, and rustic looking and tasted incredible. I don't think the loaf of bread lasted 2 days.

Below are all the BBB's who took part this month. You should go read more about this bread, and then get started to make your own.

A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn), I Like to Cook (Sara), Living on Bread and Water (Monique), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Nami-Nami (Pille), Notitie van Lien (Lien), The Sour Dough (Mary aka Breadchick), and What Did You Eat (Sher)

Thanks to my beautiful Bread Baking Babes! My apologies for not posting on Sunday with the rest of you.

Royal Crown’s Tortano
(from Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glazer)

Recipe Quantity: One 2 1/4lb (1200 gram) Tortano

Time Required for Recipe: About 19 hours, with about 20 minutes of active work

Note about recipe: You will need to start this recipe the night BEFORE you want to bake the bread.

This is the most beautiful bread Royal Crown makes, a huge round loaf filled with radish size air cells, tanks to careful handling and lots of water in the dough. Joe adds potato for flavor and moistness and honey for color to this very wet, squishy dough. For extra flavor, the bread is leavened solely by its starter, so it rises very slowly and develops a nice but not aggressive acidity. To get authentic Italian flavor, you will need to bake this bread to a deep, dark brown so don’t skimp on the baking time - the bread will not burn.

Recipe Synopsis

The Evening Before Baking: Make the starter and if you like the mashed potato.

The Next Morning: Mix the dough and let it ferment for about 4 hours. Shape it, proof it for about 1 1/2 hours, and then bake the bread for about 45 minutes.

The Evening Before Baking: Making the Pre-Ferment:

1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
100 grams unbleached bread flour
85 grams small potato

Stir the yeast into the water in a glass measure and let it stand for 5 - 10 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of this yeasted water (discard the rest) to the flour and beat this very sticky starter until it is well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment until it is full of huge bubbles and sharp tasting, about 12 hours. If your kitchen is very warm and the pre-ferment is fermenting very quickly, place it in the refrigerator after 3 hours of fermenting. In the morning, remove it and allow it to come to room temperature 30 minutes to an hour before beginning the final dough

Preparing the Potato: For efficiency, you may want to prepare the potato the night before. Quarter it, then boil it in water to cover until it can be easily pierced with a knife tip, about 20 minutes. Drain; if desired, reserve the water for the dough. Press the potato through a ricer or sieve to puree it and remove the skin. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator. You will need only 1/4 cup puree.

Bake Day: Mixing the Dough

575 grams unbleached bread flour
420 grams Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
14 grams honey
60 grams Potato puree
15 grams salt

By Hand: Use your hands to mix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in a large bowl. Cover the dough and let rest for 10 - 20 minutes.

Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato, and salt, and knead the dough until it is smooth, 5 - 10 minutes. It will start off feeling rubbery, then break down into goo; if you persist, eventually it will come together into a smooth, shiny dough. If you do not have the skill or time to knead it to smoothness, the bread will not suffer. This is a tremendously wet and sticky dough, so use a dough scraper to help you but do not add more flour, for it will ruin the texture of the bread.

By Stand Mixer: With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in the work bowl of your mixer. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 - 20 minutes.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato and salt and the mix the dough on medium speed for 15 - 20 minutes, or until very silky and wraps around the hook and cleans the bowl before splatering back around the bowl. This dough is almost pourably wet.

Fermenting and Turning the Dough:

Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in flour. Place it in a container at least 3 times its size and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until doubled in bulk and filled with large air bubbles, about 4 hours. Using plenty of dusting flour, turn the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals, that is, after 20, 40, 60, and 80 minutes of fermenting, the leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time. Do not allow this dough to over ferment or ferment to the point of collapse, for the flavor and structure of your bread will suffer.

Shaping and Proofing the Dough:

Turn the fermented dough out onto a well floured work surface, round it and let it rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle a couche or wooden board generously with flour. Slip a baking sheet under the couche if you are using one for support.

Sprinkle a generous amount of flour over the center of the ball. Push your fingers into the center to make a hole, the rotate your hand around the hole to widen it, making a large 4 inch opening. The bread should have about 12 inch diameter.

Place the dough smooth side down on the floured couche or board and dust the surface with more flour. Drape it with plastic wrap and let it proof until it is light and slowly springs back when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheating the Oven:

Immediately after shaping the bread, arrange a rack on the oven’s second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all the racks above the one being used. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (230 C)

Baking the Bread:

Unwrap the bread and flip it onto a floured peel or a sheet of parchment paper. Do not worry about damaging the bread as you handle it; it will recover int eh oven as long as it is not over proofed. Slash it with 4 radial cuts in the shape of a cross. Slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and bake until it is very dark brown, 40 -50 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake. Let the bread cool on a rack.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Roasted Vegetable Soup for No Croutons Required.

At the beginning of the month I received an email kindly asking me to take part in a new food event in the blogosphere, No Croutons Required, created and hosted by Lisa's Kitchen and Tinned Tomatos.

The theme for February is simply Vegetarian Soups.

I thought and thought about what to make. Should I make one of my standby veggie soups, or maybe put the vegetarian spin on a non-veggie soup in my repertoire? None of the above, as I decided it was the perfect time to pull out an as-yet-unused cookbook that my lovely Mary sent me after Scott and I moved to Kamloops last year. That sneaky girl tricked me into telling her which cookbook I was currently lusting after, and then sent me a copy of it - Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. It's become one of my most read cookbooks, and I visit Heidi's website, 101 Cookbooks, weekly. If you haven't checked it out (there might be 3 or 4 of you out there who haven't), you should. It's lovely.

I had marked her Roasted Vegetable Soup to try the first time I opened the book. Tomatos, red peppers, onions (I used red) and garlic are drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and then roasted in the oven until everything is tender and beginning to brown. Then the veggies are whizzed to a puree with vegetable broth and smoked paprika, and you are ready to eat.

What a great soup, and roasting winter tomatos pulls out the teeny bit of flavor they have. The smoked paprika is brilliant and really makes the soup what it is. I only had two problems - one, my garlic cloves were a little on the small side, and because I wasn't watching them closely, most of them burned and I wasn't able to use them in the soup. I can only imagine how much better the soup would have been with that extra roasted garlic. And my second problem - we ate the whole batch of soup in two days. What a delicious problem to have!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge 25 - Nigella Lawson

Ani from Foodie Chickie is hosting her second Weekend Cookbook Challenge and her brilliant theme for February is Nigella Lawson.

I love Nigella. I love her books, her show, the fact that she is not a twig sized person.

I love the way she talks about food, how passionate she is. I love the sounds on her show - did you know she wears a microphone in her hair to pick up the cooking sounds?

It was pretty easy to pick a recipe to make this month. I've spent a few hours flipping through her newest book, Feast, and the first recipe that caught my eye was the Chicken Caesar Cornets, chicken Caesar salad wrapped in a corn tortilla. I couldn't find corn tortillas, so I stole from my second Nigella pick, Green Eggs and Ham (ham wrapped in pesto crepes), and made the chicken Caesar wrap with a sundried tomato pesto crepe instead.

Other than fiddling with finicky crepes, something I haven't made since last April, this was easy and delicious. The crepes were a beautiful color and the pesto added a flavor that went nicely with the chicken. The crepes could be made in advance and then filled up with yummy chickeny goodness when you're ready to eat.

And then since I'd mastered crepes once again, the next day I made Green Eggs and Ham for lunch. I had more trouble with this batch of crepes, but a slightly mangled crepe tastes just as good as a prettier one.

We found this one a bit boring, frankly, and even after we'd added some cheese it still left something to be desired. But the recipe is not a bust; it just needs more tweaking. Maybe a nicer cheese, and more of it?

Want to join in the Nigella fest this month? Send your Weekend Cookbook Challenge post to Ani by February 28. Her email is foodiechickie at yahoo dot com.
Chicken Caesar Crepes
adapted from Nigella Express

6 to 8 Sundried Tomato Pesto Crepes (see below)
200 g cold cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
60 g mayonnaise
1 large garlic clove, very finely minced
50 g shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup finely shredded iceberg lettuce
2-3 dashes (or more) Worcestershire
salt and pepper.

Make the crepes and set aside.

Mix the chicken, mayo, garlic, cheese and Worcestershire together. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the lettuce.

Divide the filing evenly between the crepes. Roll or fold the crepes around the filling, and eat!

Orange Eggs and Ham and Cheese
Adapeted from Nigella Express

75 g sundried tomato pesto
1 egg
75 g flour
150 ml milk

thinly sliced ham
thinly sliced or shredded cheese

Place all the crepe ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth. **I usually add 1 or 2 tb of water to the batter to make it a bit thinner**
Lightly oil a pan heating over medium heat, and pour in enough batter to thinly coat the bottom, swirling the pan to cover.
Cook the crepe until lightly browning on the bottom. Flip over and briefly cook the other side. Remove from the pan, cover, and repeat, to use up all the batter.
To assemble, place as much or as little ham and cheese on each crepe as you want. Fold in to a triangle, or roll up, and enjoy.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Campbells Gardennay Soup

It's always fun to be offered products to try, but it's really, really great when you like the product so much that it becomes something that you purchase on a regular basis.

In December I received samples of two of Campbell's new soups from their Gardennay line; the Santa Fe Sweet Corn with Chipotle, and the Field Potato with Spring Leek.

First, let's talk about Campbell's Gardennay line in general - there are currently 11 varieties of Gardennay soups. They are all ready to serve (meaning you don't add water), and all 11 soups are vegetarian, which I love. Pretty much all the soups I eat lately are vegetarian, and it's super to have more options in vegetarian store bought soup than just minestrone or vegetable. The soups have no artificial colors or flavors, and 10 of the soups are low fat. (But I can tell you, they sure don't taste low fat!)

When I opened the package and saw the corn soup, I had to try that one first. I like to think I made a pretty good corn soup. Well, I do, but it really is nowhere as good as this Santa Fe Sweet Corn with Chipotle.

This is everything a corn soup should be. It's thick and rich, with tons and tons of whole corn kernels, and the kick of chipotle? Wow! It doesn't blow your head off, but it is definitely there, and most welcome. Another thing to love about the corn soup is the nutritional information. The container (and all the containers in the Gardennay line) contains 2 - 250 ml (about a cup) servings. Each serving has a full serving of vegetables, 160 calories, and 3 grams of fat. Not too shabby at all. It also carries the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check Symbol, which means it's a healthy food choice based on Canada's Food Guide. Looks like I have a new favorite corn soup.

Next up was the Field Potato with Spring Leek. This one also has a full serving of vegetables and the Health Check Symbol, and does even better in the calorie and fat department - 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per serving. Unfortunately Blogger ate my picture - sorry! But it was a good looking and good tasting soup. The potato soup is another thick chowder soup. The smell of it was heavenly, like potatos and cream. The taste - very nice, although I have to admit the corn soup was still fresh in my mind and beat this one as the best tasting soup.

The Santa Fe soup has become a regular on my grocery list. I keep meaning to branch out and try more of the line, but the corn and calls to me!

My verdict? These are two really, really great soups that you should try.
They are good and good for you - what more do you need?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bites v 4.0

I was going to do a post on the dinner that I made for New Years Eve, but then, meh. Do you need to see pictures of (extremely delicious) steaks that we did nothing to, other than salt and pepper? Or (really yummy) carrots that I have no recipe for? Especially at the beginning of February? No, I didn't think so either. But, I do want to share the recipe for the potatos that we had. Oh my, were they good.

Since the original recipe was for 8 servings I halved it. Scott is a big eater and we both like potatos, so I knew there wouldn't be any leftovers. I was wrong. Cut in half, this recipe still made a ton. Look at this:

That is 6 HUGE servings. Had I known how enormous they'd be I would have made them smaller. And more of them. On another baking sheet. Between what you see here and the leftovers I ate from the "piping bag" (what? there was no more room on the tray!) I easily could have made 8 servings. They were delicious though, and the leftovers were gone within a couple of days.

I made these in the afternoon and left them to chill until we were ready to eat. Very easy and very good.

Duchess Potatos
adapted from Vegetarian Times magazine

serves 6-8

1 1/2 lb potatos, peeled and cut into chunks
3 tb butter
4 tb non fat sour cream
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup finely chopped chives

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the potatos until very tender. Drain, return to the pot and add the butter and sour cream. Mash until smooth. Add the egg yolk and stir to combine. Add the chives and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the potatos into a pastry bag or zip bag (that's what I used, just fill it, squeeze out the air, cut off one of the corners and go to town) and pipe into 8 servings on a parchment lined sheet. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
Preheat oven to 400' and cook the potatos for 2-25 minutes, or until hot and starting to brown. If you so desire, pop the tray under the broiler for a few minutes to brown. Carefully remove to plates and serve right away.


I am still madly in love with my juicer and my new hobby is going to the discount table at the local grocery shop and buying big bags of apples and oranges for 99 cents, and then making delicious juices, as seen below:


I've shared the recipe for my favorite potato pancakes before, but I forgot, and last time I made them I took this picture that I thought came out rather well.


I found an article on the internet a couple of weeks ago written by Peter Kelly on his appearance on Iron Chef America, and beating Bobby Flay. I found it quite fascinating. Read it here.


Speaking of Iron Chefs, looks like Rob Feenie is recovering from losing his restaurants last year (well, as much as you could, I suppose); he's going to work for Cactus Club Cafe.


I've heard via email from a few people on what they are forsaking for Lent. Even though I am not a follower of the faith, here's my decision for Lent: working harder to stick to my
dietlifestyle change, cheating on it less, excersizing more, less alcohol. For 40 days, baby!

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laissez les bon temps rouler!* King Cake for Mardi Gras.

It's Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday today! Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. And Lent is the 40 day period (excluding Sundays) before Easter, and is a time (for those who follow) of prayer and self denial. Meaning you would abstain from something (drinking, eating chocolate, whatever) for 40 days. Which I guess is why Fat Tuesday would be a big deal; the last hurrah before you must go without your chosen vice for 40 days.

To be honest, I've never paid much attention to Mardi Gras. There are no huge Mardi Gras celebrations around here, and we do not practice Lent, choosing to keep our vices close to us all year round.

Last month Mary and I baked together through the magic of instant messaging, and we had so much fun we decided to make it a monthly occasion. Last week Mary emailed me to see if I would be interested in getting together to try our hands at King Cake. Great! I said. And then Googled King Cake to see exactly what it is.

There are tons and tons of different King Cake recipes, but basically it's a sweet bread dough. Some have fillings, some don't. Mary chose a recipe from Emeril Lagasse that had a sweetened cream cheese filling. So this past Sunday Mary and I met online at 8:00 my time and got cooking.

Emeril's recipe - here it is for you - makes a huge cake of 20 to 22 servings. Mary - who is my baking guru; my go-to-girl for anything flour and yeast related - said I could halve the recipe.

So I did. I ended up having to make the dough twice. The first time I halved everything BUT the butter and had to throw out the dough. The second time around I was still having trouble with the dough coming together, but added some extra milk. It was pretty iffy looking, but my patience was running thin, and it wasn't even 9 AM yet. I proofed the dough in the oven with the light on, as Mary has taught me to do, and after a bit of extra time the dough still looked funny, but it had risen.

I rolled out the dough and spread the filling along one side, then rolled and formed the log into a ring. It was tough to pinch the seam closed, but throughout the second rising of the dough I kept pinching.

While the dough was having its second rising I got my sugars ready. The two stores I checked out had a crappy selection of colored sugar - red and green only. So I made my own gold, green and purple sugars with regular sugar, food coloring and my mini chopper. The purple represents justice, green represents faith and the gold represents power.

Normally a small plastic baby (representing baby Jesus) or a pecan half are inserted in the cake. Whomever find the baby or nut in their piece is the Queen or King of the party, and must prepare the King Cake next Mardi Gras. Because I am sharing this with lots of people at various places I didn't put one in.

My cake baked for about 35 minutes, and then I left it to cool.

My middle closed up, though. I should have made the center larger.

Then I made the frosting - icing sugar, lemon juice and milk. After icing, it was time for the sugar.

Decorating with the sugar was really awkward, and I didn't do a super job. But I think that for a first effort, it looks pretty ok:

Luckily we didn't eat lunch that day, so I had no guilt about eating a piece.

This is really, really good! The dough isn't overly sweet, so the sugar and the frosting don't push this over the top. The bread is tender, and the cream cheese filling is very cheesecake-like. I do have some gaps between the filling and dough, and that's my fault for not being more careful during the rolling. It doesn't affect the taste, of course.

If you're up for a day in the kitchen, give this a try! But remember - King Cake can NOT be made before Twelfth Night or after Mardi Gras day! But don't ask me why.

Thanks to Mary - can't wait to see what next month brings!

*Let the good times roll!