Monday, December 22, 2008
Well, this one will be short and sweet. I recently had the opportunity at a friend's birthday party, to gather a couple of suggestions for what I termed "alternative" Holiday cookies. Just a little change, variations on the usual stars and reindeer. Not many people at the party were into the idea, but the ones who were came up with some drawings that were just what I was looking for. I traced their drawings onto a thin piece of plastic sheet, and cut them out, making both a form to cut the cookie, and a template drawing from which to copy the details in icing later. This is how I do a lot of my designs.
There were four designs that made it into finished cookie form-- three are represented here, one was a little too naughty for me to feel comfortable posting on this Family Friendly blog. Not really dirty, but I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea about the tone of Strange Cookies. It was funny though, and made us giggle.
The first cookie was designed by the Birthday Girl's three year old daughter, Maggie Sage. Maggie draws excellently, and is crazy about kitties.
The next was designed by our friend Bill, who first met me way back in my bakery days. We've cooked together a few times, and I loved his idea for the Asian pear.
I did my best to represent the spots and squiggles from his Sharpie-marker-drawn cartoon. This was a strange cookie after my own heart.
The last cookie was designed by my sweetie, Ken. It is a Holiday Rocket, or, as Ken suggests, a Christmas Bomb. Either way, I like it. I've been known to hang little monsters and spaceships on a Christmas tree now and then, so again, right up my alley.
The icing on this one exhibits some bloom as a result of being transported in the car when it was 7 degrees outside. (Yes, I said 7 degrees. Yes, Fahrenheit. It was COOOOLD.)
It was fun interpreting these drawings into cookie form! I have lots of ideas of my own to explore in the New Year, but this seemed like a good way to enter into the holiday baking season. By the way, Maggie and I also cut out stars and reindeer and Christmas trees from the yummy Lemon Cookie dough (I made it with white whole wheat flour). It was a great party.
I've had a lot of exposure to bread baking in my life, and over he last year or so have worked it into my regular routine. Frankly, it is better to do the work and have the good stuff around than to be without it. Ken and I have jokingly termed store bread as "bread substitute". Our morning toast routine revolves around, and is enhanced greatly by Professional Strength whole grain ciabatta style rolls, toasted, split, and toasted again. We keep them in the freezer and pull them out as needed. I do my best to not overbake them for the most perfect toast or sandwich experience. (Twice toasting helps both to thaw for slicing and to prepare the crust for a lovely crunchiness.) I also press the dough out thinly enough to make rolls that fit in a wide slot toaster without first slicing. I have used many different methods, some more elaborate than others to prepare the dough for my House Rolls (wedges), but the same basic core of ingredients. I would like to begin with the basic formula and method. This incorporates some basic techniques which do a lot to further the skills of anyone with an interest in bread baking.
Kate's Multigrain Ciabatta Wedges
1 packet dry yeast (not the rapid rise kind)
1 T honey
3c. warm water (temperature should not exceed what feels comfortable on your wrist)
proof until foamy
add 3 c. high gluten bread flour (try to get an unbromated kind. I like King Arthur flour)
Beat vigorously until gluten begins to develop. I beat it about 400+ strokes with a wide wooden spoon. (Allow yourself to take breaks, if you need to. Remember: this is worth it.) Then beat in:
1 c. of rye flour, cover, and let rise at least 30 min. (The longer the better. This stage can extend from 30-40 minutes in a warm place, to overnight in a moderately warm to cool spot.) It's best to get it nice and bubbly, and doubled in size.
add to sponge:
2 c. ground oats (rolled oats ground in food processor)
2 c. buttermilk
If there's time, let it rise more. Otherwise proceed:
1 1/2 T salt (sea salt)
1/2 c. wheat germ
3 c. rye flour
approx. 4-5 c. whole wheat flour
mix, and then knead together. (Add the flour a little bit at a time, at first a cup at a time, then less as the dough gets stiffer.) Eventually just stick your hand in there.
It's going to be messy. You will be scrubbing the dough off later. Just get in there. This dough is a bit sticky with whole grain starchy goodness held together in a web of gluten developed in our sponge. Beating with the paddle earlier saves on kneading time later, I've found. It's important to allow a nice whole grain dough to be a bit wetter than perhaps one's instincts might dictate to allow the freshly added flour to swell slightly during the next resting period, and to give a moister freshness to the baked product.
At this point, you will be adding a little flour at a time to the dough, and folding and pushing the dough itself to knead the flour in. I find that one hand helps to keep the dough in place, while the other does the bulk of the folding and pushing. I switch off sides, and sometimes use both at the same time. Again, the dough will still be a bit sticky when done, but you will notice more and more the tendency of the dough on your hand to want to reattach itself to the rest of the ball as it reaches its finished stage. Sometimes I take a scrub break if my hand is too sticky. (Having a nail brush around the sink is really helpful!)
When the dough has received its full quantity of flour, it's time to let it rest again before shaping and baking. This time, I sprinkle flour on a tray or one of the baking pans, plop the dough on it, and cover it with plastic, either commercial plastic wrap, or a plastic shopping bag. (I use plastic shopping bags for a lot of stuff. I'll slit the side with a pair of scissors to make more of a flat sheet.) The point is to keep the outside of the dough moist. Before plastic wrap, thin moistened cotton towels were used for this purpose. Professional bakeries were (and are) equipped with a room or a small cupboard with a high humidity and warm temperature to proof (raise) the dough. The act of letting the dough rest and swell is referred to as "proofing". At this stage, we want the dough to proof in ball form until it fails to bounce back when poked with a finger. When you get a pronounced belly- button looking dimple that just sits there, your dough is ready for the next step.
When the dough has proofed to your satisfaction, divide it into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on how much you feel comfortable dealing with at once. For this size batch of dough, I usually cut it in thirds, and after flattening one of those pieces with my hands or a rolling pin to about a 1/2 inch thickness, cut that piece into 12- 15 individual pieces. (My picture may be a larger piece of dough, stretched to fill the entire tray. I've taken a lot of pictures of different batches of dough. Those are also some pretty big pieces I've cut it into!)
It really is up to you to choose how large to cut your wedges. I've cut them different sizes for various needs. Make little bitty wedges for a dinner party, or bigger ones for breakfast toast or sandwiches.
After cutting the wedges, it's time for the final proofing before baking. This time the baking pans get sprinkled generously with flour (no greasing). Also, sprinkle the tops of your dough wedges, and then transfer them to the baking pan, spaced at least an inch apart. Now you're going to cover with plastic again, and let them rise until they once again fail fail to spring back when poked with a finger. When they've risen to that point, put them in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, switching the pans around about halfway through. My system is to start working the next ball of dough when the first one goes into the oven. Brown lightly on the bottom (turn one over and check.) Cool on a rack, and wrap it up in plastic ONLY after it's cooled completely. If you don't have time to cool it completely, (before, say, going to work, or to bed), put in a papr bag, and wrap it up later. Warm bread in a plastic bag tends to get soggy from residual steam and condensation.
click here for slideshow documenting above process
The part of this process that I want to highlight in Strange Cookie Form is the initial Proofing Of The Yeast.
This is where it all begins. If there's no action here, nothing will happen later, no matter how hard you try. Use live yeast, warm water, nice honey or some other sugar food to give the yeast incentive, and you're in business.
I won't sat that there is no work at all involved in making bread. There is. I've had the opportunity lately to use some commercial mixers in the process as well, which helps, but needs a little adapting to. My experience is that with a little practice, and knowledge of the science of breadmaking, as well as just having experience with the nature of the beast, making decisions about what to do at various stages of the process can be the easy part. However, just in case my Dear Readers might need it, I've included a video to illustrate what might happen if things go wrong................
I haven't forgotten the other recipes I've promised. I'm feeling a new batch of homemade pasta coming on. (Mmmmm, ravioli!)