Baking - Breads

Rye Bread

I get confused sometimes about rye bread. Some have caraway seeds, some don’t; some have a sour dough base, some don’t; some loaves are round, some are long; some are dark, some are light, some are marble; and some I like, some I don’t. There’s a farm market bakery I get a lot of bread from and they sometimes make a dark rye bread that I really like. It’s got a nice chewy texture, no seeds, and no sour taste. That’s my kind of rye. Unfortunately it hasn’t been a very popular product, so they will only make it if someone specially orders it.

I have been rather lazy in my bread baking lately, so I have been getting a lot of my bread at the market; but the rye is also more of a specialty bread, so it is more expensive. I decided to take the plunge and try to make some myself.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago I made one attempt that failed. Well, it failed in the sense that the bread totally sank into a couple very flat loaves, but the taste and texture were quite good. We were still able to use it for sandwiches.

I didn’t give up. A couple weeks later I tried a different recipe, and it came out very well. It used a mix of unbleached all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and rye flour (equal parts of each), and it used dark beer. The beer gave the bread a richer flavour, and the texture was nice and chewy. I was very happy with how it turned out, and will be making it one of my regular bread recipes!


Baking - Breads

Pizza Dough Experiment

I have been using the same pizza dough recipe for years. It is easy to throw together, using instant yeast so it only needs a short time for rising, which makes it easy to make a pizza at relatively short notice. It also makes a nice thin crust, which I like. But lately I’ve been craving a chewy pizzeria crust, and the recipe I use just doesn’t offer that.

Inspired by the artisan-type no-knead bread from several months ago, I thought to myself “I bet that would make a good crust!” So I cut the no-knead bread recipe by about a third, mixed it up the night before, and at suppertime the next day it was ready to spread in a pan for toppings.

The dough was pretty sticky, so it couldn’t be rolled out with a rolling pin, but it didn’t take much to spread it out over the pan with floured fingers. I let it rest for about 15 minutes (instead of the half hour it is for a batch of bread) while the oven preheated and before adding the toppings. I baked the pizza at the same temperature as the bread – 450F – for about 15 minutes. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to bake, since the dough was quite a bit thinner than a loaf of bread, but it also was covered in toppings. I actually took it out after 12 minutes, but it looked like it wasn’t quite done, so I put it back in. If you try this at home you might need to experiment a bit with baking times, depending on your oven and how many toppings are covering the dough.

I was very happy with how the crust turned out, golden and crispy-chewy. I will definitely be using this recipe again, as long as I remember to plan ahead to mix the dough the night before!

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Perfect Cinnamon Buns

I think I’ve mentioned before about how much I love cinnamon buns. But they have to be good. A lot of cinnamon buns I buy from bakeries have a very thick dough, which is often a bit dry, so it’s basically like eating a big hunk of day-old bread with a touch of cinnamon. That is not for me. My definition of a good cinnamon bun is one that is somewhat dense, moist and chewy, with a thin spiral of dough surrounding the delicious sticky sweet cinnamon filling. And a nice glaze of icing on the top really hits the spot.

So I set out to try and make myself my ideal cinnamon bun. I used a recipe from my favourite bread cookbook, and without even trying it first, I made some modifications that I thought would improve my chances for success, and decrease the chances of disappointment.

First, the sweet dough recipe. It called for sugar, so I used brown instead of white, because I find that brown sugar adds more moisture. It called for one egg, so I used two, in the hope that it would also add more moisture and some extra chewiness. And because I used these added ‘moisturizers,’ I had to add a bit more flour to keep the dough from being extra sticky and difficult to roll out.

For the filling, I followed all the directions as they were, except I omitted the raisins, because although I like raisins in general, I don’t like them in my cinnamon buns.

Then when it came time to bake, the recipe said to bake them for 25-30 minutes. I baked them for 22, and was not disappointed. I was indeed successful at making a cinnamon bun I really loved, and spread on some leftover buttermilk frosting I had which made them all the better!

Baking - Breads, Recipe

Tortillas with Pronounceable Ingredients

Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on a bag of tortillas at the grocery store? From the ones I’ve seen there are a lot of things listed that I don’t recognize, and some I’m not sure I can even pronounce. This is another product I took for granted. A simple flatbread; one would think it would be pretty straightforward. But like so many mass-produced products, it’s more important to make it more cheaply (even though they don’t seem cheaper in the store!) by throwing in a  few chemicals than to provide a natural product and readable label.

This tortilla recipe didn’t actually come out of reading a label and deciding to make a change, but out of necessity one night when we wanted tortillas but didn’t want to go back out to the store. It was only after I found the recipe and saw how simple it was that I decided to look at a package. (On a somewhat related note, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most pita bread packages had very common, pronounceable ingredients.)

These are pretty easy to make, though they take a bit of time and elbow grease (unless you have a tortilla press). I find it easiest to roll out the tortillas in stages. Dough likes to have time to rest before it can relax and stretch. Much like we need time to cool off when we’re angry and tense, give your dough a minute to rest and it will cooperate much better. I usually start rolling one out to about a four inch diameter, then set it aside and start another and repeat until I have four done. Then I go back to number one and roll it out a little bit more, and then do the others again. I usually do three sets of rolling per tortilla to get them nice and thin. I also find it helpful to have all the tortillas rolled out before I start to cook them, stacking them with wax paper in between, to avoid overheating the pan.

When cooking them on the pan, don’t leave them too long, unless you want a more crispy tortilla. 20-30 seconds is usually plenty of time per side, even if it doesn’t look ‘cooked’. I left a few of them too long this time and it was hard to roll them without splitting. But if you leave them just the right amount of time you end up with a lovely soft and pliable tortilla. I made black bean and sweet potato burritos with this batch, and they were very tasty! You can find the tortilla recipe below the photos.

Flour Tortillas

In a mixing bowl, stir together well 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder. Rub into flour mixture 1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces. Mix in to form a soft dough that is not sticky 1/2 cup, more or less, very warm tap water.

Cover dough in bowl and let rest 5 minutes. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, toss lightly in flour, and return to the bowl. Cover and let rest 15-30 minutes. Working with one ball at a time, roll out very thin (should reach about 8″ diameter). Turn dough over repeatedly while rolling, dusting with flour only when necessary to prevent sticking. Brush off and flour that may remain on the surface of the tortilla. Cook on a dry, medium-hot, heavy skillet until blistered. Flip over and cook the other side, just until very lightly browned. Cool on rack. When completely cooled they can be stacked and stored in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer.

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights, Recipe

Banana Bread Muffins

I have discovered that my favourite banana muffin recipe isn’t a muffin recipe at all. Well, I guess I didn’t discover it, because I always knew, but it was a bit of an experiment when I tried it.

The recipe I had been using was a very basic muffin recipe that had various adaptations, to make them into, say, blueberry muffins, oatmeal, cranberry etc., and banana. They were great fresh from the oven, but the next day they always seemed to be dried out. I would try freezing them as soon as they were cool to try and preserve the freshness, but I was never satisfied.

Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.
Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.

I decided to try a new approach. I found a banana bread recipe, and because I didn’t want to wait around for an hour for it to bake, I chose to make it in muffin tins, thereby decreasing the time needed to bake. They were very moist fresh from the oven, and stayed moist for several days! I was so happy! I even tried using whole wheat flour, and they still stayed moist.

So what’s the difference? They’re both quick breads, with basically the same ingredients. Why would one come out more moist than the other? I would say it’s because of the amount of each ingredient. I think because a loaf of banana bread is a larger mass and requires more time to bake, it has a higher quantity of ingredients that add more moisture; so as it bakes and the moisture evaporates away it will still come out moist. By putting the bread recipe into muffin tins, they have the same amount of moisture but aren’t baked as long, so not as much moisture is evaporated away, leaving a lovely moist crumb for the muffins. The banana bread recipe I now use calls for slightly less flour than the muffin recipe, more banana, and two eggs instead of one. It also calls for more sugar, and brown instead of white, which adds to the texture. I experimented with one batch by decreasing the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and they came out just as nice.

Here’s the banana bread recipe, with directions for bread or muffins:

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together 1 1/2 cups unbleached or whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt; set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, blend together in this order: 1/3 cup oil, 3/4 (or 1/2) cup brown sugar, 1 cup mashed ripe bananas, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla.
  • Stir dry ingredients into banana mixture until just blended.
  • For banana bread: turn batter into greased and floured 9″x5″ loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • For muffins: scoop into greased muffin tins. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 1 dozen.
  • You can also add anything to make them more interesting: nuts, seeds, chocolate chips, raisins; or my favourite combo right now, dried cranberries and dark chocolate pieces! Yummy!
Baking - Breads

Smokin’ Cheese Buns

I had originally planned to write something about hot cross buns this week, with Good Friday coming up at the end of the week. But quite frankly, I don’t like hot cross buns; and I wasn’t even going to make any, I was just going to give a bit of history about them in honour of the occasion. (If you’re interested, you can click here.)

I did, however, make some smokin’ smoked cheese buns to go with soup last night for dinner, and thought that would be worthy of sharing instead! My husband and I recently visited one of our few Nova Scotian cheese producers and discovered a new favourite cheese. Most smoked cheeses we’ve tried are produced by adding liquid smoke, but the fine folks at That Dutchman’s Farm, who specialize in different types of gouda, actually smoke their cheeses in a smoker after the cheese is made. What a difference!

I usually make biscuits to go with soup because they are much quicker to make, but it’s been a while since I made buns, and I had the time so I thought that would be nice. I made a half whole wheat, half all-purpose flour roll recipe, and simply added about a cup of grated smoked old gouda cheese while mixing. The smoky flavour was noticeable in the buns but not overwhelming. They ended up being the perfect accompaniment to our creamy squash-beet soup!

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Waffles: Yeast vs. Baking Powder

With my waffle maker came a small collection of waffle recipes, and I was surprised to see that they all used yeast for leavening. Growing up we just used a box of pancake mix, which contains baking powder (somehow they always tasted different from pancakes, even from the same box!), so I thought that waffles were always a quick-bread.

I also noticed in the small recipe booklet that most of the recipes called for separated eggs, where you had to beat the whites to stiff peaks and fold them in to the rest of the batter at the end. This sounded like a lot of work, so the first few times I used my waffle iron, I followed a recipe that you let sit overnight. The yeast would work its magic overnight (kind of like the no-knead bread), and then it was ready to cook when I got up in the morning. That recipe makes nice, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside waffles, that I must say were more like what I’d get in a restaurant than the pancake mix ones we made at home.

I made some waffles on the weekend, but followed a recipe from my favourite bread cookbook, which used baking powder, and also called for separated eggs. I was curious to see what the difference would be. These waffles came out much more dense, and reminded me more of a soft muffin. They were still good, but a very different texture from the lighter yeast ones with which I’m now familiar.

I was also more inclined to try a recipe with separated eggs because I could just toss the egg whites into my mixer and let them whip up while I got all the other ingredients together. It was a breeze! So now I will also have to try one of the yeast recipes that uses separated eggs and see how that goes. What a sacrifice, to have to eat more waffles!