Saturday, July 25, 2009

KAF: Chocolate Stout Cake

For the Mr. Nomad Foodie's birthday, I thought I would try this Chocolate Stout Cake, described as "amazing marriage of flavors for grownup tastes." Mr. Nomad Foodie loves chocolate and is an avid home brewer, so it sounded perfect!

I did reduce the sugar by 20% and was dumb and used regular cocoa instead of dutch-process cocoa - so the cake rose unevenly. However, since I had baked it in a bundt pan, the uneven top wasn't obvious once I took the cake out of the pan. The cake did end up taking about 75 minutes in the oven.

The verdict? Meh. It was good, but not fabulous. Not something I feel compelled to bake again.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Easy 100% Whole Wheat Bread

My favorite store-bought bread is Great Harvest Bread Company's Honey Whole Wheat. I love a soft, dense loaf with wholesome texture. In college, I used to go to the Great Harvest store in Lexington, Massachusetts almost every weekend. How unfortunate to go from that fabulous bread to the breads in Taiwan, which generally are soft, spongy, and white - every time I have a bite, I can feel it coagulating into glue, clogging up my gut.

I love Great Harvest bread so much, I have been known to plan trips around a store - one time when I was back in the U.S., I visited my brother in Berkeley. Of course, I went straight from the airport to the Great Harvest store in Oakland, filled my then-empty carry-on with 6 loaves of bread, and walked 45 minutes to meet my brother. My precious bread lasted me for close to a year stored in my freezer in Taipei.

However, there are no Great Harvest bakeries within reasonable driving distance from my parents' home in L.A., and it's just not practical to lug loaves of bread across the ocean. When I saw this recipe from the fabulous folks at King Arthur Flour, I just had to try it.

I should mention that I am a lazy, impatient baker. I haven't baked much bread, mostly because the idea of waiting through multiple rises and kneading has just never sounded that appealing. Nor can I justify getting a bread machine - I guard my precious counter space jealously. So the whole no-knead bread concept is very appealing.

I've tried the No-Knead Bread recipe popularized by Mark Bittman. That produced a good loaf of bread, except that it was a pain in the !@#$% to get plop the dough into a hot heavy stoneware crock perched precariously on the oven rack with oven heat blazing out at me, and a huge pain to turn the bread out at the end of baking.

So King Arthur's No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread is the perfect recipe. No need to struggle with a hot oven, and it makes a great loaf of bread that's just perfect for PB&J sandwiches. Here's how I made it:

Easy No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

8 ounces lukewarm soy milk
2 ounces orange juice
2 ounces butter, melted; or 1 3/4 ounces vegetable oil
2 1/4 ounces maple syrup
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
12 3/4 ounces whole wheat flour (I used a 50-50 mix of King Arthur white whole wheat flour and Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour)

1. Heavily grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan (I used butter). This loaf tends to stick, so be sure to grease the pan thoroughly. I lined the pan with a parchment sling, and greased the parchment as well.
2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the mixture vigorously for about 3 minutes (I used an electric hand mixer set on high speed - the dough worked it's way all the way up the beaters and into notches that I had the clean out later, but it worked fine). You should have a very sticky dough. It won't be pourable, but neither will it be kneadable. Scoop it into the prepared pan.
3. Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap (or a shower cap), and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes; it should just about rise to the rim of the pan, perhaps just barely cresting over the rim (mine rose in a little over 40 minutes). While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
4. Uncover the bread, and bake it for about 40 to 45 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. The bread is done when it's golden brown on top, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers between 190°F and 195°F. Remove it from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out onto a rack. Brush with melted butter, if desired; this will keep the crust soft (I didn't bother). Cool the bread completely before cutting it.

How did it turn out? In texture and moistness, this loaf was exactly like my favorite. It was less sweet, so next time I think I'll try using honey, and perhaps using more honey. To develop the flavor more, I'm also going to try proofing it, or, plopping the whole thing in the refrigerator for a slower rise, since my dough rose so quickly compared to the recipe (the warmth and humidity of Taipei?). There are also many great comments and suggestions in a related King Arthur blog post that is highly informative.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Perfect Pancakes

I originally got this recipe from the New York Times in 2002 in a wonderful article by Lucian Truscott. At the request of his daughter for mid-week pancakes, he comes to the realization that they're not really that hard to make, and are the best pancakes he's ever tasted.

The pancakes are delicious, incredibly easy to make, and they seem to have a slightly higher proportion of oil and butter in them - enough so that greasing the pan isn't necessary. They're great served with Haydee's Microwave Bananas! One less thing to fuss with in the morning!

Mississippi Pancakes (aka Perfect Pancakes)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp butter -- melted
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1. Place a nonstick griddle or a skillet over medium heat. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and foamy. Add milk, oil and butter. In another bowl, sift together dry ingredients, then beat them into the liquid ingredients with a wire whisk.
2. When skillet is hot, pour in about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake, leaving space between. Flip when batter bubbles. Continue cooking for about a minute. Serve immediately.

Yield: About 20 medium pancakes.

Haydee's Microwave Bananas
2 very ripe soft bananas -- peeled and sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Place bananas in a ceramic bowl with all other ingredients. Do not mix.
2. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon on top of pancakes.

Yield: 4 servings.

Finding the original article was an adventure, as the NYTimes archives were only available to subscribers for the longest time, and I had only copied down the recipe without the title - I worried about what I'd do if I lost my precious clipped recipe. Thank goodness that Fabulous Girl put up the original (Imperial) recipe. It was reprinted in Australia's The Age, with the metric recipe and article here. The article is a sweet read.