Pretzel Bites

Memorial Day Weekend – BBQ’s, summer, pool, sunshine, all sorts of things come to mind. For me, spending the weekend upstate means baking! Baking in my uncle’s kitchen is the best place – it has tons of work space, a nice big oven, and during a family vacation weekend, there are always enough people to sample my goods.

I’ve wanted to make pretzels for a long time. I always thought that to make big fluffy pretzels, one needed lye. What I discovered though, is a) lye is very dangerous for the home cook and b) a simple mixture of baking soda and water is the perfect replacement for lye, which makes the salt stick to the pretzels. After realizing I didn’t need to use lye, my plans of making pretzels seems much more in grasp than I had imagined.

If you like warm fluffy dough, these are for you. In all honesty, are not all that interesting, but with a sprinkle of salt and a bowl of mustard to accompany, these are a perfect afternoon snack. I made two full plates of these, and they were all finished long before dinner. If you wanted to make actual big fluffy pretzels, like the ones you buy from a street vendor, as opposed to just bites, this recipe could easily still be used, just increasing the bake time a few minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on these little guys once they get in the oven, because they’ll burn quickly if left in too long.

PRETZEL BITES

(Adapted from Let’s Dish)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant (or rapid rise) yeast
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • Coarse salt (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

DIRECTIONS:

1) In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, place the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and 2 1/4 cups flour. Mix to just combine. Add the water and mix well, adding remaining flour, as needed, a bit at a time to form a soft, smooth dough that clears the sides and bottom of the bowl.

2) Knead the dough, by hand or machine, for about 5 minutes, until it is soft, smooth and quite slack. Lightly oil the dough and place it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap.  Let it rise for 40-60 minutes.

3) Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

4) Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or lightly greasing them.

5) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into about four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope, about 1 inch in diameter.  Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

6) While the dough is resting, combine the 1/2 cup warm water and the baking soda in a liquid measuring cup (deep enough to dip the pretzel bites into). Stir until the baking soda is dissolved.

7) Cut each strip of dough into pieces, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in long.  Dip each pretzel bite in the baking soda solution and place them on the baking sheets. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

8 ) Bake one sheet at a time for 5-7 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown. Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. If desired, sprinkle with coarse salt.  Pretzels can be reheated in the oven or microwave on low heat.

Snow Day Bread

Okay, it’s officially a snow day as school was cancelled! It’s only the first week of class and I’m already getting a 4-day weekend. Pretty crazy. What started as a steady stream of snow yesterday morning as I walked to class, continued just about all night and by the time I woke up this morning, they said that there were about 19 inches on the ground. I’m really starting to think the snow God’s just have it out against us, I mean, there has been snow on the ground since December! My first reaction upon hearing the good news of class being cancelled was to go straight back to sleep, but upon failing to get out of school wake-up mode, I decided to get up and start my day by making, you guessed it, bread!!

As I’ve said before, I have really been wanting to make bread for ages and given that the chances of going anywhere in the next 24 hours seemed slim to nill, this seemed like the the perfect opportunity. This basic bread load was incredibly easy to make and actually took so little hands on attention that I was almost a tad disappointed. It didn’t need that much kneading by hand and only stayed in the mixer for about 7 minutes. Once it came out of the loaf pan, it was ready to be sliced. Needless to say, given the weather and the bread, we turned the occasion into a lovely feast of bread, cheeses, soup, and grapes. It was a wonderful dinner on a cold winter evening.

SNOW DAY HONEY OAT BREAD

(Adapted from Pictures and Pancakes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pkg active dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 tbs honey
  • 4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted & cooled
  • 1 tbs kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:

1) Combine 2 cups warm water, yeast and honey to the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir, allowing yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes, until it begins to bubble. Add flour, oats and butter to the yeast mixture. Stir together with a wooden spoon, cover with a towel and let sit for 30 minutes.
2) Attach the bowl and the bread hook to the mixer. add salt and mix on medium for about 6 minutes or until the dough slaps around the sides of the bowl without sticking. If the dough is sticking at any time, add one or two tablespoons of flour. The dough will be soft, supple and slightly tacky.
3) Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times. put the dough into a greased bowl and cover with a towel. Let it rise for about 1 hour or until it’s doubled in size.
4) To shape the dough, scrape onto a lightly floured work surface. press down, working into a square shape and depressing any air bubbles. Fold the dough down from the top to the middle, then up from the bottom to the middle. Next, bring the newly formed top and bottom edges together and pinch the seam in the middle, sealing the seam with your fingers.
5) Pinch the sides together and roll the shaped dough back and forth, plumping it so that it’s evenly formed and about the size of your loaf pan. Place the dough in a greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and press it gently into the corners of the pan. Cover and let it rest for about 1 hour or until dough rises to half it’s size or puffs up over the edge of the pan.
6) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating halfway through. The loaf is ready when the top crust is dark as molasses and the bottom crust is dark brown. Give the top of the loaf a thump to see if it sounds hollow. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool for at least 2 hours on a baking rack. (Or enjoy straight out of the over ;-))
7) Enjoy!!

Honey Cake

Shana Tova to all! I know it’s already passed, but honey bread is the essential dessert for any Rosh Hashanah dinner, so I just had to share my experience making it last week. I spent the first evening of the New Year at my mom’s new apartment in Brooklyn. Going there reminds me that there is a world outside of Manahattan – only 20 minutes away mind you – that feels like a completely different city. Small brownstones on every street, a main road with small shops and so much less noise than outside my window. It’s quite amazing.

Honey cake is incredibly simple to make, but care must taken after it’s put in the oven so as not to over-bake and becoming dry, which it tends to do. I used a pretty generic store brand honey, but I’m sure it would be very tasty to test out some more interesting farmers market honeys to see if there is any difference. I doubled the batch, as we were having multiple meals and had to juggle the ingredients in many different bowls as my mother does not yet have a proper set of mixing bowls. This is certainly a true holiday cake that fits at any Rosh Hashanah table.

HONEY CAKE

(Adapted from epicurous.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup honey (preferably buckwheat)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon (I left this out, since my mom didn’t have any)

DIRECTIONS:

1) Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F. Oil loaf pan well and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

2) Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and ginger in a small bowl.

3) Whisk together honey, oil, and coffee in another bowl until well combined.

4) Beat together eggs and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add honey mixture and whiskey and mix until blended, about 1 minute.

5) Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Finish mixing batter with a rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl.

6) Pour batter into loaf pan (batter will be thin) and bake 30 minutes. Cover top loosely with foil and continue to bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes more. Cool on a rack 1 hour.

7) Run a knife around side of cake, then invert rack over pan and invert cake onto rack. Turn cake right side up and cool completely.

Banana Bread

It’s been a rainy and dreary week here in New York City. I was almost blown over yesterday on my way to class by the wind and my jeans were soaked through by the time I got home in the evening. I keep looking at the sandals in my closet, wishing I could wear them instead of my rain-boots and sneakers everyday of the week. I think it might be just about time to break out the Birkenstocks and socks, but I know I’ll receive the wrath of my roommate who says I look ridiculous when I do that. I’d say it’s time that spring break get here ASAP!

I love banana bread. It’s the perfect breakfast accompaniment, but is also sweet enough to add to a dessert. I had the chance to sample this recipe a few weeks ago when I was babysitting and it was delicious – perfectly moist and sweet. I’ve been hoarding bananas from the dining hall and they finally turned the perfect shade of black and brown. I was able to use them the other night and the banana bread  was gobbled up by my suite-mates by the time I woke up the next morning. I always use the lesser amount of sugar, as the natural sugars in the banana compensate for additional sweetness. It’s quite simply and is easily mixed all by hand. I split my batch into two baking tins, but it could have easily all gone into one classic loaf pan. Keep an eye on the oven – I almost over-baked mine because I didn’t hear the timer go off. This is going to be my go to banana bread recipe from now on 🙂

BANANA BREAD

(Adapted from smittenkitchen.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted salted butter
  • 3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cup of flour

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2) With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.

3) Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices.

4) Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix.

5) Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan.

6) Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean.

7) Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Pumpkin Bread

As I think I’ve said before, I love love love pumpkin. When my dad came up a few weeks ago, we bought about 5 cans of it, and I have slowly but surely using them. In my pursuit to continue making pumpkin things, I decided to make pumpkin bread yesterday. As I’ve complained countless times before, I was worried about make a bread in our very shady oven, but continued anyway. It was actually an incredibly simple recipe to make. I almost cracked open the mix-master, but decided to do it by hand because it’s less of a hassle and there is less to clean up. Don’t get me wrong – I love my mix-master – but sometimes, since I have to drag the table closer to the outlet, and have to clean the big bowl and wisk, it’s just a little easier to do it by hand.

DSC04149

The batter looked amazing. A very rich orange color that in some ways does not seem very natural, but still looked beautiful. From the moment I put it in the oven, the aroma that filled the house was amazing. I honestly think its worth making anything with some pumpkin just to get the smell. So after leaving it in for about 45 minutes, I checked it and of course it was not done yet. I let it stay in the oven for another 10 minutes and even though it could have lasted maybe another 5, I took it out because I was worried it would get to dry.

DSC04145

Needless to say, it was not to dry at all, in fact the bottom was completely cooked, but I blame this all on our oven. When I took it out of the oven it smelled so so good and I almost didn’t let it cool. Against my desire to eat it right away, I did let it cool, which turned out to be a very good idea because it popped right out of the tin after I let it cool for about half an hour. I went out for the evening and by the time I got back, only about 1/4 of the bread was left. I think it was a hit 🙂 I will definitely be making it again and many other pumpkin baked goods too.

PUMPKIN BREAD

(Adapted from My Kitchen Snippets)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups of pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

DIRECTIONS:

1) Pre-heat the oven to 350 degree F and grease a loaf pan.

2)  Mix pumpkin, oil, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla together. Mix well.

3) In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix thoroughly.

4) Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until well combined.

5) Pour into the loaf pan and sprinkle the top with some brown sugar and pumpkin seeds.

6) Bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until golden brown.

Ciabatta Bread

So one of my dads’ good friends from Oregon came to visit us and decided to make some bread. David loves to bake exotic foods and he told me who easy it was to make this bread, so we decided to do it.


DAVID!

He didn’t really have a recipe that he was following at first, so he mostly eyedballed it with out amounts. When he left, I still had to let is rise a few more times and cut it into the loaves. I was so nervous that after David left I wasn’t going to be able to complete it by myself, but somehow I did. The dough was very very sticky, but after enough flour covering our counter, I was able to handle it quite easily. Given our eyeballing of the ingredients, we ended up getting 6 loaves, so I had to split up the baking into to different loads. A few were a bit smaller than the other, but they all turned out excellent.

The first batch I took out a little too early, but the next batch had the perfect blend of doneness/burnt crust. My dad as usual said it needed to be baked a little more, but after having a few pieces, he said it was very good. I gave a loaf to our cleaning lady/hair dresser and she called me raving saying was the best bread she had had since she moved to Raleigh. That was so nice to hear. I will certainly have to try bread again soon.

What follows is the exact recipe from e-rcps.com, but here are the ingredients that we used.

Night Before

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4-5 cups warm water

Baking Day

  • 2 lbs bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tblsp yeast + a little bit

BEST CIABATTA

Ciabatta
Prep:24 hrs plus 4 1/2 hrs, Cook: 40 and worth it!
Preparation – Challenging
Makes 2 medium-sized loaves.

This is perfect dough for those who like their crusts crisp and their bread chewy and full of flavor. Makes killer pizza, arabic bread, pita, ciabatta and focaccia.

Biga (the morning of the day before baking)

  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS whole-wheat flour, preferably coarsely ground
  • 2 TBS whole-grain rye flour, preferably coarsely ground
  • 3/4 cup water

SPRINKLE the yeast into warm water, stir and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

MIX the bread flour, all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour and rye flour in a bowl. Stir yeasted water again, then measure one-half teaspoon into the flour mixture. (Throw the rest away; the point of this step is not to proof the yeast but to measure 1/384 teaspoon yeast.)

ADD the three-fourths cup water, using ice water in the summer and warm water in the winter. Thoroughly mix the biga; it will be stiff, but it has a very long fermentation and will soften considerably. Knead in a tablespoon or two of water if you absolutely must.

COVER tightly with plastic wrap and let the biga ferment for 24 hours in a cool spot in the summer or a warm one in the winter. Don’t be alarmed if it does nothing for at least 10 hours; this is correct. The biga is ready when it doubles or triples in volume and smells aromatic.

Bread (baking day)

  • 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional 1/3 cup for flouring dough, board and towels
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

COMBINE the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer or bread machine.

STIR in the water and biga by hand to form a rough dough.

USING a paddle attachment, beat the dough on medium speed until it is fairly smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add water. This should be a very soft dough. If your dough is not really gloppy, add extra water until the dough is soft enough to spread (your flour might be old or absorbing more water for a variety of reasons).

SCRAPE the dough into a bowl at least three times its size and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until light and doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning the dough every 20 minutes for a total of four times. To turn the dough, sprinkle the top of the dough (while still in the bowl) and the work surface with flour; scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with flour again, then gently spread the dough out, trying not to deflate the bubbles. Fold it up into a tight bundle by folding the left side into the center, followed by the top, the right side and the bottom. Turn the dough over so that the smooth side is up, and fold it in half again, only if it still feels loose. Place it, smooth side up, into the bowl and cover tightly.

AFTER the fourth turn, at 80 minutes, leave the dough undisturbed for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until well expanded and doubled.

THOROUGHLY flour a baker’s couche or two tea towels. Flour the top of the dough and the work surface, then turn the dough out. With a dough scraper, cut the dough in half. Gently stretch the pieces out (approximately 12 by 8 inches) and fold them loosely into thirds, like a business letter, arranging the folds so the last seam is slightly off center. Try to handle the dough as little as possible to avoid deflating it.

PLACE the dough seam side down on the floured cloth and sprinkle more flour over the top. Cover the loaves with folds of the couche or more tea towels. Let them proof until they are very soft and well expanded and barely spring back when gently pressed, about 45 minutes.

IMMEDIATELY after shaping the dough, arrange a rack on the oven’s second-to-top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all racks above the one being used. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

WHEN the dough is ready to bake, place a sheet of parchment paper on a peel. Gently flip the loaves onto it so they are seam side up and stretch them very slightly to make them vaguely rectangular. Don’t be afraid to handle the dough; the breads will recover in the oven as long as you are gentle.

DIMPLE the dough all over with your fingertips, pressing down to the paper without breaking through the dough. Slide the breads on the parchment paper onto the baking stone. Bake the breads until very dark brown all around, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating them halfway during baking. Let cool on a rack before slicing. Bread is best eaten the same day.