Christmas Baking Season!

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Coconut Haystacks

I must confess that I haven’t been blogging much because I haven’t been baking much worth blogging about, just sticking to my tried and true recipes that have already been covered here.

The Christmas season is here, though, so I’ve been doing a little more fun baking/cooking lately.

For the writing group Christmas party, I went with my current flavor combination obsession, chocolate and coconut, and made coconut haystacks from Martha Stewart.  They were good, but I used bittersweet chocolate, and I think semi-sweet would have been a better choice.  And as a bonus it is a gluten-free recipe, so everyone could eat it.  Putting it in the mini cupcake liners looked cute and made it less messy.

I made small loaves of pumpkin bread for people at church. The recipe was a new one I had copied from my mother-in-law’s copy of Simply Delicious Amish Cooking by Sherry Gore.  It makes a big batch: two full-size loaves.  It calls for three cups of flour and an equal amount of sugar, which I reduced to two cups.  I found the recipe online here.  I think it is my new favorite pumpkin bread recipe.

I’ve also got a bunch of ingredients purchased for fudge and homemade caramels.  Those are my traditional Christmas candies.  You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten homemade caramels.  The storebought ones don’t even come close.

 

Coconut Brownies (Box mix add-in)

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Some may argue that brownies are nearly perfect as it is, even box mix brownies.  And I can’t argue with that.  But sometimes you want a little something different.

Awhile back I posted a recipe for Coconut Brownies. This is a variation on that theme, for use with a boxed brownie mix.  It’s very simple: stir in 1 teaspoon coconut extract with the liquid ingredients  (oil, egg, etc.) and after mixing the wet ingredients and the mix , fold in 3/4 c. shredded coconut.

Sprinkle another 1/8 to 1/4 cup coconut on top for fancy (and to warn non-coconut lovers), and bake as the package directs.

Mmmm.  Tastes like Mounds bars. A sprinkle of almonds on top and in the mix might make it Almond Joy.

Buttermilk English Muffins

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20130903_073359I’ve been sticking with a sourdough recipe for English muffins lately, because I really like the flavor, but I had some buttermilk to use up, so I decided to try a new recipe.

The buttermilk gives it a flavor very similar to sourdough, and there is the bonus of not having to set out an overnight sponge.

Sometimes I just don’t think ahead enough for sourdough.

The recipe came from The Kitchen Whisperer.  I did not get very impressive nooks and crannies, but then, I never have with any English muffin recipe.

Sourdough Suprises: Sourdough Gingerbread Waffles

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20130915_084231September’s challenge at Sourdough Surprises was pancakes or waffles, but also to try something different from your usual recipe.  I have one sourdough pancake recipe.  I fiddled with it until it works for me, and so I decided to try something completely different and make waffles.  I don’t own a waffle iron, so I borrowed my mother-in-law’s.

I love gingerbread, so when I saw a recipe for gingerbread sourdough waffles, I knew that was what I wanted to try.  After comparing several online I went with this one.  It didn’t call for making an overnight sponge, and I almost did anyway, but decided to follow the recipe as written at least once.

I should have gone ahead and made a sponge.  I couldn’t taste the sourdough at all.  They were very good, with lots of gingerbread flavor, but they didn’t have that special sourdough twist.

I had never used a waffle iron before.  There was a bit of a learning curve with the amount of batter to put in.  I made a pretty big mess overestimating how much batter was in a waffle.

Meditation: Hide and Seek

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Image courtesy of artur84 / freedigitalphotos.net

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.                                       —James 4:8

The teacher posed a question in Bible study last night: “How close are you to God?”  It’s an uncomfortable question, because one answer is always “Not close enough.”

He provided a different answer, though: “As close as I want to be”.

It was a surprising statement to me, though it made immediate sense.  Sometimes I don’t feel close to God, but I have a tendency to blame God for it, like He’s playing some cosmic game of hide and seek with me.

God doesn’t play hide and seek.  The sad truth is, my own flaws and sins blind me to Him.  The happy truth is, He’s where He has always been, “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:28), waiting for me to seek after Him, waiting to reciprocate any efforts I make to draw near to Him.

Psalm 63 wonderfully expresses both what it is to earnestly seek God, as well as the rewards of the search.

Verse 1 says “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You.”  Perhaps Jesus had this psalm in mind when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

David expresses that satisfaction in verse 5: “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips“.

In verses 6, 7, and 8, he continues:

When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.

These three verses are the most beautiful part of the psalm, to me. Quite honestly, marrow and fat don’t sound appetizing to my modern palate, but in a world where temptations, mundane distractions, and small evils constantly pelt me like hailstones, I long to feel safe in the shadow of God’s wings. I long to have someone to cling to, to depend on. And far from shrugging me off as needy, God will hold me up and support me.

All of that, though, depends on me being willing to seek the shelter of His wings, and on me being willing to cling, to admit my need.

Garden Pizza

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20130828_181230I’ve been impatiently waiting for my tomatoes to ripen, and last week a whole slug of them did.

I put this pizza together to use up some of the tomatoes, and a yellow squash (I’ve got plenty of those, too).  While I was picking tomatoes, I realized my one little bell pepper plant had some peppers, too, so I put some bell pepper on it too.

I have no problem with an all-veggie pizza, but Brandon likes to have some meat on his, so I chopped up a handful of pepperoni, too.

As long as you slice the squash very thin, it is surprisingly good on pizza.  All of the flavors combined well.  I hope to make this again before the season is over.

Campfire Baking, Part 2: Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

 

Unfortunately, this is the only picture I have of the cinnamon rolls - I forgot to take any more after they were out of the oven.

Unfortunately, this is the only picture I have of the cinnamon rolls – I forgot to take any more after they were out of the oven.

I have to admit that this baking was not truly “campfire baking”, since I used a small oven on top of the propane-fired camp stove.  There was a campfire in the vicinity, though.

As you may or may not recall from Part 1, I planned to make a loaf of bread on the second day of our camping trip.  I was a little more worried about the loaf of bread than about the pita bread, since pita bread doesn’t need to rise, and thus can’t overproof.

Overproofing was my main worry since I knew that I would have to mix up the dough and let it rise while we were gone riding horses during the day, shape it when we got back, then let it rise a second time and bake it for supper.  The timing of the ride we planned to take was very uncertain.  My dad couldn’t say exactly how long it would last.

I used a plain french-bread style recipe, halved, from the Baking with Sourdough booklet by Sara Pitzer.  Perhaps because she assumes a starter with greater than 50% hydration, I found that I used about a cup less flour than the recipe called for.

I mixed up the dough when it looked like everyone was getting around and we would leave soon.  Unfortunately, saddling and adjusting stirrups took way, way longer than it should have, and the morning was warmer than I’d anticipated, so the dough had doubled and needed shaped well before we left.

I shaped it into a boule and put it into the cooler with the ice and cold food, and hoped for the best.

Hours later, when we got back to camp, it had morphed into the dough that ate Manhattan.  I didn’t get a picture of it, because my first instinct when confronted by overproofed dough spilling out all over (I’d put it in a pie pan, in a gallon Ziploc storage bag, and it was completely filling the bag) is not to record the moment, but to do some damage control.

There wouldn’t be enough time before supper for the reshaped dough to rise and bake, so I gave up on fresh bread for supper and decided to make cinnamon rolls and warm them up for breakfast.

Cinnamon rolls were not on the menu when we left home, so I didn’t have any powdered sugar for the glaze.  Butter, regular sugar and cinnamon were in my parents’ regular camping supplies, though.  Instead of glaze I decided to brush them with melted butter and sprinkle them with a thick layer of sugar.

20130816_192318_1The small camp stove would only hold an eight inch pie pan, so I made two pans of rolls and started baking the first one.  I’m not sure how accurate the thermometer was, but about the time it read 300 degrees I put them in, with the rack in the middle position.

I had let the dough rise too long, and the first batch fell a little as I put them in the oven, but just a little.

Before the tops were done, the bottoms were burning.  I attribute this to the way the stove is built.  There are holes at three levels that the end of the baking rack snaps into, so a lot of the built up heat gets out before it reaches the top of the oven, or that is my theory.

The first pan ended up way too brown on the bottom, so for the second pan, I moved the rack to the top level.

At this point, we discovered that the second pie pan was a 9-inch pan, and wouldn’t fit in the oven, so I had to transfer the rolls to the first pan.   It was a dark pan, and to keep the rolls from browning so quickly, I lined it with buttered aluminum foil.  In the transfer from one pan to another, the rolls fell a bit.

Between changing the rack position and lining the pan with foil, the second batch of rolls cooked more evenly.

I had worried that because the dough had overproofed, it would really be too sour to make good cinnamon rolls, but they turned out tasting fine.  There was a pronounced sour tang to the dough, but it wasn’t too much.

They were best right out of the oven, of course, but not too bad the next morning, either.  Still, I consider the pita bread a bigger success all around.  I really prefer cinnamon rolls with powdered sugar glaze.

Sometime I would like to try making bread with coals and a dutch oven (the cast iron kind with a rimmed lid for putting coals on top), but I was not brave enough for that this time around.

Campfire Baking, Part 1: Sourdough Pitas

Last week we went camping in N20130815_183235_1ew Mexico.  I love camping and finding ways to eat well with the limited space and equipment that camping requires.  This year I decided to try baking bread.

I did an internet search as preliminary research, and found that people had mixed results with baking sourdough bread while camping.  I decided to take enough for two batches, in case the first didn’t turn out.

It was a short trip, though, only two and a half days, so I realized I couldn’t make two risen loaves, just due to the time constraints.  I settled on making one batch of pita bread for the first night’s supper, and one loaf of bread for the second night.

I used my sourdough pita bread recipe from the Sourdough Surprises challenge.  As soon as we got to the campsite the first day, around two in the afternoon, I mixed the starter, flour, and water together for the sponge.

I didn’t have a measuring 20130815_175517_1cup in the camping stuff, so I used a melamine mug that looked like it held approximately one cup, and a regular spoon to measure the salt.

The starter had been in the cooler, and was chilled, and the water I used was cool, though not cold.  I didn’t want to light a campfire or the propane camp stove in the middle of the afternoon just to heat a little water.

It was a pretty warm afternoon, I’d say high eighties.  After a little bit I decided that the bowl with the sponge, which had been sitting in a sunny spot, needed moved to the shade.

I left the sponge to get bubbly for about four hours or so, before mixing up the dough while my dad got the fire started.  The fire starting didn’t go entirely smoothly, so instead of resting 20 minutes as the recipe instructs, it rested at least 30 minutes.

I rolled out the first couple, but soon realized that I couldn’t watch the pitas cooking and roll them out at the same time because the difference between done and burned was just a few seconds, so my daughter took over rolling out the pita dough.

I cooked the pitas on a cast iron griddle.  There was a period of adjustment to this method of cooking as opposed to using the oven.  I badly scorched the first two or three pitas.  But the20130815_183249n, I burn a couple of tortillas at first every time I make those, too.

For awhile I tried putting a cast iron skillet over the cooking pitas to increase the chances that they would puff up, but it didn’t work and made it more likely that they would overcook because I couldn’t see what was going on under there, so I abandoned that idea.

None of the pitas puffed up to give a “pocket”, but they did rise and get light and fluffy, much more so than I expected.  We ate them with spaghetti, so the pocket wasn’t important.

Everyone enjoyed them, and I consider Part 1 of the campfire baking experiment a big success.20130815_183159

Recipe: Chocolate Cranberry Scones

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20130728_082259I love scones.  They taste good, they’re easy to make, and I especially like that they’re flexible.  Some use cream.  If you don’t have cream, find one that uses milk or buttermilk.  No butter?  Use margarine.  Some use an egg, some don’t.

Then there are all of the things you can add in.  Chocolate, raisins, apricots, nuts, coconut, white chocolate, cranberries, apples, and did I mention chocolate?

This particular recipe is a mash-up of the “basic British scones” recipe from Sharing Scones and More by Beverly Pogue and Rosalie Lewis, the “chocolate-chocolate scones” recipe from the same book, and some dried cranberries.

Chocolate Cranberry Scones

2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp. salt

1/3 c. cocoa powder

1/2 . margarine, chilled and diced

1/2 c. walnuts

1/2 c. dried cranberries

3/4 c. milk

1 egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Combine dry ingredients, including cocoa powder.  Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the margarine to make a coarse meal.

Stir in nuts and cranberries.

Beat egg and add to milk.  Stir in vanilla.  Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just blended.   Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly a few times.

Divide dough into two balls.  Flatten each slightly and cut into 6 or 8 wedges.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake 10-15 minutes (I forgot to set a timer so I can’t say exactly how long mine took).

Sourdough Surprises: Cinnamon Rolls

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20130713_074432I have been too busy this summer to do some of the recent Sourdough Surprises challenges, but I couldn’t pass up cinnamon rolls.  I love hot cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

After the recent sourdough strawberry shortcake flop, I was a little gun-shy about sweet sourdough things, but sourdough babka and sourdough raisin oatmeal cookies had turned out well, so I decided to chance it.

I was going to take the lazy way out and just use a recipe off of the internet, but then I realized I was short on sugar and time, and instead of searching madly for something that fit my narrow parameters of available sugar quantity and time allowed for rising, I took the lazy way out and converted my old standby cinnamon roll recipe to sourdough.

It is a recipe that was originally for the bread machine, but I keep using it even though I no longer own a bread machine.  It’s a smaller quantity than many of the recipes I’ve seen, plus it works, and I try not to fix what ain’t broken.  I was going to post the recipe, but decided against it for reasons that will become obvious.

I never bake cinnamon rolls start to finish in the morning.  They’re good and all, but delicately poached hummingbird eggs in unicorn sauce sprinkled with star dust wouldn’t be worth getting up that early for.

I make the dough and shape the cinnamon rolls the night before and then refrigerate them overnight.  In the morning, I put them in a warm oven to rise for 15 minutes, and then bake them.

Instead of making an overnight sponge as I do for most of my sourdough, I planned to make a sponge early in the morning and then make the dough that afternoon, 7 or 8 hours later.  I forgot about that plan until afternoon, however, so my sponge was a 4-hour sponge.

I didn’t have quite the full cup of starter that I had decided I would need to replace the commercial yeast.  So I figured there would be a little guesswork with the final flour amount.

Then while the sponge was sitting on the counter, covered by a towel, my toddler pushed a chair over to the cabinet and used some of it for  finger paint.  So I did a bit more guesswork.  Also, I learned flour/water glop isn’t easy to get out of upholstery.

As the mixer kneaded the dough I noticed a little piece of metal poking out.  I had a moment of panic, thinking my mixer was falling apart, before I stopped the machine and pulled it out and found it was a straight pin.  My pincushion was sitting on the counter, and for some reason my son has a fascination with straight pins, so he added them to the mix during his finger painting session.

I found two more pins in the dough.  I’m glad I didn’t decide to knead that batch by hand.

The filling contains with brown sugar, chopped pecans, and cinnamon.  My brown sugar was a hard little ball, so I whirled it in the blender, which gave me something like brown powdered sugar.  I shaped the rolls and put them in the fridge.

The next morning the sourdough took roughly half an hour to rise sufficiently, instead of 15 minutes.  After baking they looked delicious, and I wish I had taken a picture of them before I added the glaze.

For the glaze I used a mixture of part regular powdered sugar, which I only had about half a cup of, and part whirled brown sugar and part whirled white sugar.

The recipe called for two cups of powdered sugar.  I’m going to make a note to myself, one cup is sufficient.  I poured tons of glaze on the rolls, and I still had a lot leftover.

They were really good.  The sourdough flavor really came through, in a good way, I thought.  The Dearest Husband admitted that he preferred them made with commercial yeast.

We both agreed that even though I didn’t use the entire amount of glaze, I still put on way too much, and all the sugar overwhelmed the good cinnamon/pecan taste of the filling.  Lesson learned.  I have no idea why I didn’t make a note about that on the recipe before.

Check out other people’s sourdough creations at Sourdough Surprises.

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