25 December, 2013

Focaccia Bread

Bread is my Achilles' heel...  I have a slight gluten sensitivity but I just canNOT lay off a good slice or LOAF of bread.  I'm sure I'm not the only one in history, and thank the Lord I am not the only one in this house.  The Sprout is totally in love with bread.  "Momma bread" (my homemade plain ol' sandwich bread with oats), "Square bread" (even though it is round, this is what he calls my Focaccia bread), and "Toast bread" (every other bread on the planet that isn't Momma bread or Square bread.  He will eat any or ALL of it ANY time of the day.  If we let him, he would eat nothing BUT bread.  A little bit of a parenting fail there...

My Momma has been baking Focaccia bread for decades now which is where I first tried it.  Every baker seems to have their own formula for the perfect chew on the dough, but NO one ever has the same spice combination for the top.  I can safely say this recipe seasoning is MY recipe lol...and no one elses'.  I spent quite a long time in my kitchen figuring out the old school way the Italians do this bread, then reading articles from well known places like King Arthur Flour and America's Test Kitchen, and I also tried to couple it with MY reality of time in the kitchen.  I will tell you now, the "sponge" (or base) for this dough has to be made at least 8 hours to a WHOLE DAY before you make the bread, and the rising and kneading process is a bit drawn out.  But the resting that the dough gets and the fermenting of the sponge are ALL super important parts to making this bread SING!

Another very important component to this is a baking stone.  I have a round one from my bridal shower that sort of LIVES in my oven.  I free form my loaves on parchment paper and transfer the whole sheet of parchment onto the stone.  Putting the dough almost directly on the stone kind of FRIES the bottom of the loaf, giving it a beautifully crispy exterior and a SUPER soft inside

Focaccia Bread

1/2 c. flour
1/3 c. warm water
1/4 tsp. rapid rise yeast

24 hour sponge
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/4 c. warm water
1 tsp. rapid rise yeast

sea salt
6 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

To make the sponge, start it the DAY before you need the bread.  Combine flour, water, and yeast in large bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon until a sort of ball of dough forms and no dry flour remains. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight (or at least 8- 24 hours.) Use the sponge  immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 days.  

**IF you refrigerate the sponge before using it you need to let it come to room temperature, this can take about 30 minutes.**

Sponge after 24 hour rest

To make the dough stir your flour, water, and yeast into the sponge with wooden spoon until uniform mass is formed and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt over dough; stir into dough until totally incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 30 minutes. Spray rubber spatula with nonstick cooking spray; fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times for a total of 8 turns of the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.

**DO NOT skip any of these rising periods.  These rests for the dough are just as important as the folding of the dough.  This is what makes the difference between AWESOME focaccia bread and...crap you could have bought at the grocery store.**

Transfer your dough to lightly floured counter. Lightly dust top of dough with flour and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into 5-inch round by gently tucking under edges. Get yourself a sheet of parchment paper large enough to have both the free form loaves on it and cover the WHOLE baking stone.  Brush two circular areas on the parchment paper with 1 T of olive oil in each spot.  Then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of sea salt on each place that was wet with olive oil. 

Place round of dough on salted oil, top side down; slide dough around in oil to coat, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rest for 5 more minutes.

While this is resting take your paprika, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper, rosemary, and remaining 4 T. of olive oil and stir it all together in a small ramekin.  Give the spices a chance to hydrate with some of the olive oil.  Letting them sit in the olive oil for a while will prevent the herbs and spices from burning and turning black during the baking process.  

Using just your fingertips, press dough out toward edges of the rounds.  Using a fork, poke surface of dough 25 to 30 times, popping any large bubbles. Brush seasoning evenly over top of dough with a silicone brush.  Let dough rest again until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Place parchment paper directly on the baking stone and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until tops are golden brown, 25 to 28 minutes, turning the loaves halfway through baking. Transfer loaves to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan and return to wire rack. Brush tops with any oil remaining in pan. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.

Focaccia Loaf

Do I have to tell you that this bread doesn't last a day?  Even though we are just a family of 3 (if you only count those on solids...) we blow through a loaf of this like a pack of starving wolves.  I'm not even sure why I serve other food with it anymore.  The bread is always the star of whatever meal it is served in.  A healthy, thick slice...a gob of salted butter and down the hatch!  That is what the Sprout and the Mister do with it...  I, well...I like my focaccia naked.  It really doesn't need a single thing.  If I feel like I want it warm, then I toss it under the broiler on low with a drizzle of olive oil...just the way the Italian Gods meant for it to be.

Try this recipe at least ONCE...and even though it is a total snooze fest of rising and folding, you won't want focaccia any other way ever again.  Play around with your spice combinations, sure.  But the texture of this bread just can't be beat.  Buon appetito!!

18 December, 2013

Triple Layer Strawberry Sponge

The Sprout has decided, out of no where, that he simply can't live without cake.  Not just any cake...either plain yellow cake or plain chocolate cake.  NO frosting allowed!  What a let down...  But, since I spend at least two or three sessions of baking making him one of these, I decided to try a couple of different things with it.  The traditional way that Queen Victoria had it..simply two thin layers of sponge cake with raspberry jam between and powdered sugar dusted on top (she favored that for a tea snack, who wouldn't?).  Then there was the time that I made it into a Cherry Upside Down cake...that was so yummly.  

The cake itself is quite dense, so it plays like more of a meal to me.  Even when I made it with sifted cake flour rather than sifted all purpose, it was quite hefty as a cake.  I usually bake with myself in mind, but I figured that I should throw the Mister a bone every once in a while and make something I am sure HE would like.  His favorite fruit is strawberries, while I have nothing against them they just seem to be the fruit that the world has the least amount of imagination with.  So much so that it almost can't stand on its own, it has to be paired with other things to tempt people.  Strawberry-Kiwi, Strawberry-Banana...Strawberry-Rhubarb....  When someone asks me if I want strawberry anything I usually decline, but if it is mixed with a spot of rhubarb, I accept the offer.  I know I can't be the only person that has this problem with the strawberry.  So, with this recipe I tried to not only make the strawberry the star of the show but give it a sound/sturdy, piece of cake to play off of. 

Triple Layer Strawberry Sponge Cake
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. caster sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. cake flour
2 c. strawberry jam (homemade is best!)
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
5-7 c. powdered sugar
fresh strawberries to garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350 F

Grease and flour 3 eight inch cake pans or...use Bake Easy and 3 eight inch rounds of parchment paper.  Set the pans aside.

Whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt and set it aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy, scraping down your bowl when needed.  About 5 minutes is good.  Then add your eggs in, one at a time.  Completely incorporating each one after each addition until all 3 eggs are into the sugar mixture.  On the lowest setting on your mixer or by hand gently stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients being careful to not over mix.  

Divide your batter evenly between the 3 cake pans and give them a light shake back and forth to make sure the cake settled evenly into the pan.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes OR until a toothpick inserted into each cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven to cooling racks and allow them to sit until completely cool before attempting to assemble the cake.

Warm 1 1/2 c. of the jam either in the microwave or on the stove top (stove top gives you more control).  When it is warm set it aside with the cooled cakes while you make the icing.

Start your icing by creaming the butter, 3 c. of the powdered sugar, and the vanilla together.   When it is well incorporated add in the remaining 1/2 c. of strawberry jam to the frosting.  This portion of the jam should have remained at room temperature.  Depending on the consistency of the icing after adding the jam you may need to add anywhere between 2-4 c. more of powdered sugar.  This depends on your personal preference for consistency.  Some people like their icings very soft, some like their icings so stiff they can feel the sugar crunch on their teeth (like my Mister...blech....).  Now, you can either load this icing into a piping bag with a plain round tip or use a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off.  Both accomplish the same thing.

Place a tiny smear of icing in the middle of a round piece of parchment paper that is slightly larger than the size of the cake itself.  I used a 9 inch round piece of parchment.  Then, place your first cake round on the parchment paper, pressing a bit to make sure the icing adheres to the cake.  Now, pipe a healthy thickness of an icing ring around the outside edge of your bottom layer of cake.  When you have the icing ring on, add 3/4 c. of strawberry jam to the inside of the ring and spread it evenly over the cake, keeping the jam inside the ring.

Now add the second cake to the top of this one, repeat the thick icing ring and place the other 3/4 c. of jam inside that ring.  Place the third round of cake on top and then give the cake a light "crumb coat" (basically...cover the edges and top with a thin...not necessarily "neat" layer of icing) and set it aside to cure a while.  Perhaps an hour or so.  After that has set completely, finish icing the cake and garnish as you will.  For whatever reason, I decided not to garnish mine.

Because of the lack of garnish to give your eye something else to focus on, I have to say that this is one of the ugliest cakes I've ever made!  It looks so plain...like a canvas waiting for paint.  But the good news is, all anyone in our home is ever interested in is how things TASTE!

The great news is that the cake did taste quite fabulous.  The first person to get a slice was the Mister.  He ate it with all due haste.  The next day I brought the rest of it to church to share with whomever was willing to give it a go.  When I left there was 1/4 of a slice left.  Now, that is what I call a successful recipe! (Unless everyone was just super hungry after church. *shrug*)

Now, there is NO reason why you can't make this cake with other fruits of course.  Cherry, raspberry, apricot, blueberry; you could even make this out of chocolate really.  Just make a great chocolate ganache out of either dark or semi-sweet chocolate with some heavy cream in place of the jam and when you make the icing, add cocoa powder to the butter before adding in the powdered sugar.  Yumm!!  There really is no end to what you can do with this cake recipe, play around with it and let me know what you do.  I'm sure you're going to enjoy this cake as much as we all did.  Happy baking!

12 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Bonus Recipe 3: Jól

I decided the bonus recipes just had to include obscure, possibly undiscovered or mentally passed over gems of destination.  Iceland definitely fits that description!

An island that is quite the distance from its neighbors in every single direction, Iceland has quite a food history.  Albeit heavily influenced by other countries like Denmark or any of the Scandinavian countries, but they had to put their own twist on everything for the sake of preservation.  Literally.  They had to learn how to preserve with either salt or sugar nearly every dish that someone brought with them to the island.  Especially if they were planning on setting sail again and not starving to death.  They had to have food that would last their long westward or eastward journey.  They became fond of portable foods.  

Times have sure changed.  Now the local chefs try to work with local, sustainable foods that are produced ONLY on the island to avoid issues of running out of things like, quark for instance.  They came up with their own version of cheese much like quark, but made in Iceland and called skyr.  Skyr is a bit more smooth than quark and comes in a variety of flavors but...skyr is just one example of how Iceland was trying (and succeeded) to make imported foods irrelevant to their survival.  But, no matter how far off the beaten path they refuse to go for certain things they won't deny themselves certain treats at Christmas!

One treat that every móðir makes for Christmas is a fabulous ginger cookie they call piparkökur.  Literally translated piparkökur means "gingerbread".  Simple right?  NOT!  This cookie isn't merely gingerbread, this cookie has black pepper AND paprika.  !!!  I KNOW!  What?!  "What?!" is RIGHT!  I spent 3 or 4 days deciding if I should make this recipe or not.  I love a great gingerbread cookie, it is something I absolutely expect to have at least once between December 1st and Christmas Day and if I don't, I feel like Christmas didn't happen.  

Extreme...I know.  I spent most of my day today flip flopping back and forth between piparkökur and spesiur (basically a butter cookie).  I've been down the butter cookie road before.  I know spesiur are made every Christmas as well and they may appeal to a large audience because they are fairly benign in flavor, but I'd rather shake things up in the kitchen.  I made these this evening and the final confirmation that I went in the right direction was the Sprout begging for one and saying "Mmmmm!!" after his first bite.  When he will eat it, I know I've found a winning recipe.  Please take a chance on this recipe and I promise your heart will be shouting "Gleðileg Jól!!" and your tummy will thank you profusely.  

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.

2 sticks + 2 T. (18 T.) unsalted butter (250g)
2 1/4 c. + 1 1/2 T. + 1/4 tsp. brown sugar (500g)
2 eggs
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3 1/4 c. + 1 tsp. flour (500g)
sugar for tops of cookies, optional

Preheat oven to 390 F (200 C)

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugar.  Add in eggs one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated.  In a medium sized bowl sift together flour, soda, powder, and spices.  Add the flour mixture to the large bowl with the creamed mixture.

Making 1 T. size balls of dough, dip the tops of each ball of dough into sugar and when the whole pan has been dipped in sugar, mash the balls down slightly with a flat object.  I used a large drinking glass.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until they seem to start to "fall" in the oven.  Remove from the oven to cooling rack.  If they got too brown in the oven, remove from the pan after 1 minute.  If they were just right, allow them to cool on the pan until they are cool enough to move off of the pan with your bare hands; 2-3 minutes.  (Remember that the cookies sitting on the pan are still cooking, so if you've over baked them allowing them ANY standing time is awful risky unless you enjoy very crispy cookies!)

I used my medium sized Pampered Chef scoop and got just under 4 dozen cookies.  If you used the small sized PC scoop, you would like have gotten nearer to 8 dozen very tiny (ginger snap sized) cookies.  Plan accordingly.

Trying not to eat all of these in one sitting was quite the challenge.  The original recipe called for refrigerating these cookies in a tube like shape and then cutting 2mm thick slices and baking them.  But, when I finished my dough it seemed quite sturdy.  To me refrigerating something means your fats are most likely not stable enough to bake without causing your cookie to be a flat pancake mess on your tray.  So, I took a leap and did a whole pan with my PC scoop, the tops dipped in sugar, and flattened slightly with a glass and VOILA!  Perfection.  NO refrigeration required.  The black pepper gives them an extra little kick with the sharp nip of ginger.  I am not sure that the paprika really affects this cookie one way or the other...perhaps it enhanced the color??  All in all, who cares?!  The cookie is a masterpiece and I'm begging you to try it just once.  I guarantee you this recipe will most likely replace your old favorite from the gingerbread category and hey...be quite the conversation starter at any cookie exchange!

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 12: Weihnachten

Everyone on the planet that knows me well knows that my parents are on a mission for our church in Germany right now for 18 months.  So, you had to know that I was going to include a recipe from Germany...right?  Of course right!

Lebkuchen, also known as Honigkuchen (honey cake) and Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake), is a traditional Christmastime cookie served in most homes in Germany.   Just the history of this cookie alone is quite interesting, let alone the recipe and techniques used to make these.  This is definitely a cookie that is made with love, talent, and patience.  The cookies seemed to, by all accounts save one, have originated with the Franconian Monks clear back in 1296 in a city called Ulm and were first seen in Nürnberg in 1395....this is also back when Germany was "Prussia".  But Nürnberg is by far the more popular place to find these cookies these days.  In fact, they have their own special name there...can you guess it?  Nürnberg Lebkuchen.  What a stretch eh?

I must tell you right away, I spent more time studying out, translating, fact finding, and ingredient searching for this cookie than I have on ANYthing...and I mean ANYthing...else I have ever done on my flog site.  You can take that one to the bank!  I've never come across so many variations, titles, and misconceptions in all of my life!  For every 15 recipes I found at first, I had 15 different lists of ingredients.  I couldn't STAND it.  After all of this searching I came to find out that from region to region, these days, the recipe can and will differ.  Certain ingredients might have been more readily available in say...the state of Bavaria...than they were in the state of Hamburg.  

I enlisted help of German friends far and wide...German nationals living in Ottawa, my parents asking the German people they are serving their mission around, my American friends stationed in Germany, and Germans I know living outside of Germany but still in Europe that might have had an old family recipe laying around.  It wasn't until I did a Google search in German ("Weihnachten Lebkuchen rezepte") that I finally stumbled upon a recipe that included at least ONE thing that the recipe has to have in it to make it "true" lebkuchen.  Candied citron.  That's right folks...it has to be in there or it isn't real lebkuchen.  That candied citron is what gives the dough its peppery flavor.  One other item that it seems must be in there is honey.  It makes sense because the city to the east of  Nürnberg was surrounded by forest lands, wherein many different kinds of flowers and blooms resided.  The best place to find a bumble bee, no?  Yes!  

Two problems may arise with this recipe right out of the gate.  One being that you are most definitely supposed to make these at least 2 weeks to a whole MONTH before you plan on serving them, during which the storage time they experience causes the flavor of them to evolve and the softness of the cookie itself increases.  Or at least, that is the theory.  I've heard tell that the cookies never last long enough to get stored away or...if they do make it into the tin with the slice of orange or apple, they don't end up getting to age longer than...whenever the Germans in the house find the tin.  Now, that I believe!  The second problem is finding the specialty ingredients...and hopefully withOUT having to get them off of the internet.

The 3 things you are going to have to find before you can even think about doing this recipe are back oblaten, lebkuchen spice, and the candied citron.  In Ottawa, I had a devil of a time finding these things even at the German delis in town.  Where I finally found the back oblaten and lebkuchen spice packets was at a place called Swiss Pastries in the Carlingwood area of the city.  They had the 70mm oblaten as well.  Fabulous!  Technically people tell you that you can "make your own lebkuchen spice" but...there is going to be one essential item missing in your own spice mix if you follow lebkuchen spice recipes you find online instead of using the pre-made packet.  Fennel powder/seed.  Apparently it has to be in the mix or both pre-made, store bought spice packets wouldn't have it in there.  But no one that offers a "lebkuchen spice mix" recipe ever includes fennel in it.   I'm not sure why...  It is the only mystery that I have NOT solved about this recipe to date.

Tools & Specialty Items Needed for Lebkuchen

Now that you have half fallen asleep from reading this lengthly novel, we'll get on to the real reason you're here...authentic, traditional Lebkuchen.  My recipe is an adaptation of 3 separate recipes that I used the best ingredients from to create the recipe below.  I hope that you enjoy this recipe and use it for years to come like I know I will!  Frohe Weihnachten!!

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.  

Weihnachten Lebkuchen (Christmas Lebkuchen)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 T. rum
3 T. candied orange peel, very finely minced (40g)
1/8 c. candied citron, very finely minced (30g)
1 c. + 4 tsp. almond meal (150g)
1/4 c. + 2 tsp. chopped almonts (50g)
1/4 c. 2 tsp. ground hazelnuts (50g)
1 c. + 6.5 T. flour
1 whole packet of lebkuchen spice mix
4 egg whites
1 c. caster sugar
1/.2 c. honey
1/4 c. + 2 T. raw marzipan (130g)
60-180 whole blanched almonds (3 per cookie around the middle)
30-60 round oblaten, 70mm diameter

Dissolve baking soda in rum and set it aside; putting soda in any liquid activates the soda.

Mix all of the dry ingredients (orange peel, citron, almond meal, almonds, hazelnuts, flour, lebkuchen spice) together and set aside.

In a separate bowl begin to beat the egg white with the mixer on high speed. Slowly add all the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until firm and creamy (about 10 min.).

In a large bowl, mix marzipan with honey on high to smooth it out then add the rum/soda mixture, beating until smooth.  Then fold in 2 T. of the beaten egg/sugar mixture.  Fold until smooth.  Then, alternating, add nut/flour mixture and egg/sugar mixture to the marzipan, mixing thoroughly as you go.

Using a medium pampered chef scoop, top the oblaten and using a flat metal spatula or an offset spatula (a smooth piece of metal), dip the spatula in water then smooth down and outward towards edges of oblaten.  Press 1 or 3 whole blanched almonds into middle of cookie…..or skip them altogether.  Leave in fridge to cool and rest for 24 hours.  This will help develop the flavors.

Click HERE for a video of the technique...  It is spoken in German but I want you to see the technique of portioning the dough and spreading it onto the oblaten properly.  It isn't hard, but you need to see it to truly understand my directions up there.

After 24 hour refrigeration

If you touch these before you bake them they will feel rock hard (thanks to the egg whites being whipped up so well) but rest assured.  This dough turns into a wonderfully soft cookie after baking!

Preheat the oven to 340 F (171 C)

Bake the cookies for about 30 minutes (checking at 20 minutes, and adjusting if necessary to ensure even cookies are cooked to a light golden brown, but mine actually took 30 minutes).  Remove cookies from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Once cookies have cooled completely, glaze if desired with powdered sugar glaze or chocolate glaze.  The 3 ways that are considered traditional ways of serving them are plain glaze, chocolate glaze, and no glaze at all.

Plain Glaze
1 egg, white only
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 T. lemon juice

Combine egg white, 3/4 c. powdered sugar, and lemon juice in a small bowl. With a brush or a spoon apply a thin, even layer of glaze over the tops of the cookies.  You may need to double this if you decide you want it on all of your cookies.  If you only plan on doing half with plain, one recipe should be sufficient.

Chocolate Glaze
200g of semisweet chocolate
1 tsp. shortening

Melt the chocolate in a small pot over med-low heat. Once chocolate has fully melted, let cool slightly and dip cookie tops in chocolate, brushing off the excess, and then placing them on cookie racks to dry for a minimum of 12 hours. **The fat added keeps the chocolate from turning white or being too hard once it dries/solidifies again.  You can leave the fat out if you wish.**

Once dry, store in an air-tight container.  Three days before opening to serve stick a section of orange or a slice of apple (to keep the cookies moist) in the tin to soften them up.  Serve at Christmas.

I actually slapped a couple of slices of bread on top of those cookies as well.  That was only partially a great idea...even though it served its purpose.

So!....the cookies that I covered in chocolate were decidedly DRY in my opinion whereas, the ones that were covered in plain glaze were beautifully soft and moist; quite the joy to bit into.  I won't lie...when I go to eat one of these, the first thing I do is tear the oblaten off of the back of the cookie.  Sure, they are a part of the cookie but I think by the time I am about to eat one the oblaten has already served its true purpose which was only to keep the cookies from sticking to whatever they were baking on.  As such, I don't feel the need to eat it. 

I was worried when I made these that a WHOLE packet of lebkuchen gewurz would make these WAY too spicy, but the Germans know better than I do!  They were perfect!  They actually help distract your tongue away from how peppery the candied citron is.  This recipe is a perfect balance of sweet and spice, if I do say so myself.  I hope that you try them out because they are certainly worth the time and effort!

I have SO thoroughly enjoyed doing this Christmas series for you!  It was a suggestion from readers that threw me off guard at first but supplied JUST the kind of challenge I love.  Stretching my base of technique and my knowledge of tradition from around the world...  This is a Christmas series I will always treasure!