Sunday, January 22, 2017

One morning - two apple cakes

The overnight cake going to the refrigerator last night

The overnight cake fresh out of the oven

I noticed I had some apples that needed to be used in my refrigerator last week, so I decided to try one of the recipes on my Baking Project list - Apfelkuchen - this weekend.  Apfelkuchen is a German dessert; the word translates to apple cake.  Normally, this is a yeasted cake that contains - yes, you guessed it - apples.  I have not worked with yeast as a component of cakes before, so I was entering new territory.

I decided last night to give myself an easy start by trying a non-yeasted apple cake that uses buttermilk and both baking powder and soda combined with an overnight proofing time to replicate the traditional yeast method.  You can find the recipe here. I mixed it up and put it in the refrigerator yesterday evening.  This morning, I pulled it out and, after a "warming" period, it went in the oven and started to smell glorious.  This recipe was a big success for my personal tastes.  If I was staying at someone's house and they offered this for breakfast, I would definitely be a happy guest!  However, the apples are not a big part of the overall dish.  The recipe specifies an overall volume to add, but not the size to chop the apples.  I roughly diced them which used 1 1/2 medium sized apples, and a small piece of the cake only contains one or two pieces.  So, not a recipe to use if you are looking for something that tastes strongly of apples.
Adding my homemade vanilla to the yeasted cake

Apples spread over the yeast dough

The first piece out of the yeasted cake

The second cake was a traditional Apfelkuchen - recipe here - I chose this particular recipe because of the comments that it had the same taste as Apfelkuchen that the reviewers had eaten in Germany.  The apples are definitely more of a star in this cake.  I thought the flavor combination was a little faint though - perhaps a bit more cinnamon or lemon peel might have punched it up a bit or even a switch to honey as the sweetener.  It definitely tasted better cooler than fresh out of the oven; most cakes are the opposite in my experience.  The yeast action seemed to work correctly - I had a good rise during the proofing time - but I was left a little unsure of the purpose of choosing yeast over other rising agents in this dessert.  I'll need to do a little more research on this later to satisfy my curiosity.  So, a bit of a mixed review on this one - the recipe worked great, but my personal taste reaction was "meh".

I am hoping to get at least one more cake (possibly two) made this weekend in an effort to push myself forward with my baking project.  So ... off to the kitchen!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

#57 - German Pretzels and my Baking Challenge

Waiting for the water to boil with the German Pretzels
 I've tried a new baking recipe each of the first two weekends this year, and plan to do at least one this weekend as well.  It seemed perfect to start the first recipe for my baking project with German Soft Pretzels since they were already on my DayZero list.  I had decided to make pretzels that used a baking soda bath rather than the strictly traditional lye.  After some searching on the internet, I found a good recipe candidate here.

Pretzels just out of the oven
I had made bagels in the past, so I did have some idea of how to approach the boil, then bake method.  However, I decided to stick strictly with the proofing times provided in the recipe instead of following my instincts.  This was probably a mistake as my kitchen (and house in general) is normally cooler than many people prefer.  I didn't get the best rise, but I did get a lesson in trusting your gut when deciding when something is ready.  Shaping the pretzels was more difficult than I expected; the dough did not want to cooperate with being rolled into ropes (probably due to the too-short proof) and my lengths were on the short side - less material to turn into the traditional knots.  I was VERY happy that I did follow the recipe's advice to stand back as I added the baking soda to the boiling water - I had a mini volcano for a short time that did make me worry if I would have anything left in the stockpot to boil the pretzels.

I thought the taste of the finished product was good; however, this is a recipe that I want to revisit and try to work out some of the kinks in the future.
Starting the soda bread

My second new baked good was Irish Soda Bread.  I've made soda bread before in my bread machine but never from scratch.  I choose a plain recipe from a cookbook that I generally have good results on new recipes.  This was a fairly straight-forward bake; the only wobble was that I didn't have quite enough all-purpose flour in my container when I started.  I did have more all-purpose in the freezer, but didn't want to add it in since (as referenced above) my kitchen tends to be cold already.  So, I changed proportions slightly to include more bread flour.  The end result had a bit more fiber, tasted fine, and smelled lovely as I took it from the oven.
I have heard that deeply scoring soda bread helps the bake

Warm soda bread dusted with flour

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A New Year and a New Project

Though I haven't been keeping up with posting, I have completed 3 more tasks on my DayZero list since I last blogged.  And, I've also set myself a new open-ended challenge to work on that may earn some posts as well.

The first batches of vanilla - started in early June
The same bottles two weeks later

One of the on-going items that I decided was complete was my experiments with making my own vanilla extract.  I started the process in early June with 3 bottles.  I started 12 more smaller bottles in late June to give as gifts and try some different flavor combinations.  I tried using vanilla beans from three different regions - Mexico, Madagascar, and Tahiti - some bottles had a single source of beans and a few had blends from different regions.  I also used a variety of spirits - vodka, bourbon, rum, and even tequila - for the extract agents.  I used a little of the Mexican beans in vodka formula for the last of my Christmas baking, and it seemed to work quite well.  I also gave about half of my bottles away as Christmas gifts.  Though the process does take some time, it is incredibly easy and doesn't require much attention.

I also reorganized all of my recipe clippings before I started my holiday baking.  I went from three 1" binders with lots of loose bits of paper sliding out to six binders - 3 of which are 3" size.  It is SO much easier for me to find the recipes that I am looking for now.  I even separated the cookie recipes - since I have so many - into a binder of things that I have tried (with my notes on how they turned out) and another binder of ideas to try at a future time.

My last completed goal was to keep a gratitude list for a month.  I did this through the month of November in the daily journal that I've kept for years.  It was an interesting task; I did find at least one thing to be thankful for every day (although there were some stressful days in that period).  My conclusion at the end was that I am most grateful for small things in my life - my silly and affectionate cat, my family, small kind gestures from friends and co-workers, etc. - it seems that our culture promotes the big things in life as those to aspire to (winning the lottery, etc.), but I found it is the little day to day moments that really add up to make your life better.  So, I am trying harder to make time for myself and things that make me happy as well as being mindful of those moments when I can add something to someone else's life.

All of these goals are sort of combined into my new big side project - being a better baker!  I love to bake but have resisted watching any sort of food shows until recently when I started using them as a distraction while I exercise.  And, I have succumbed to the charms of the Great British Baking Show; I love how each baker seems to be concentrating on doing their personal best rather than the all out competition aspect, and I learned lots about areas of baking where I don't have personal experience.  I thought "well, maybe I haven't been giving other baking shows a fair chance."  So, I watched some others and was appalled on several levels - so much competition, lots of gimmicks, and the bakers don't seem to be all that knowledgeable about multiple areas of baking.  So, I decided that personal knowledge is a good thing and have made myself a list (which quickly became huge) of skills and recipes that I want to gain to become a better baker.  If I manage to complete a recipe a week, it will take me two years to get through it all ... I actually think it will take even longer than that because some of the things listed are probably going to need multiple attempts and there will certainly be weeks when I don't have time to make something.  Let me be clear - I'm not prepping to be a baking contestant, I just want to be better at something that brings me (and hopefully the individuals who help eat my experiments) joy.  So, expect to see a few baking posts mixed into my Day Zero adventures in the upcoming months.