Battle Strawberry: Life is Delicious

Strawberry Shortcake


What comes to mind when you hear the word childhood? Thanks be to that wee ol’ hippocampus (or maybe photography), a number of distinct memories comes to my mind. A favorite: riding shotgun with my daddy to the beach, top down in the Triumph, blonde hair blowing carelessly in the salty wind. Let’s not forget organizing the treehouse-building club (which now, knowing a treehouse was never built, I realize this was my parents’ way of “keeping us busy and outta their hair”), or making a music video with my bro using our first family camcorder (in the dinosaur 80’s when they weighed 50 lbs) that was an adaptation of “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” with a pair of boots moving, step by endless step, across the green shaggy carpet of our living room.


Last night was the third installment of the Iron Chef pot-luck party, and the reigning IC, Terri, had chosen ‘strawberries’ as the theme ingredient. Having quite an affinity to the juicy red ‘berry’, I considered it an excellent choice. And while thinking of things to make, a number of other childhood memories came into mind. In addition to my Strawberry Shortcake sheet set, complete with Custard, I also remembered those damned strawberry fields my parents made us visit every summer, and countless times. You see, strawberry pickin’ was a family event – the five of us would head over to the Cottle Farms location on Airport Road for a sweat-inducing, dirt-in-all-crevices-producing, hour of loading up those wooden gallon-sized baskets with tasty juicy, fresh-off-the-vine strawberries. They made their way into our fridge, our freezer, and of course, our bellies. And boy were they good. My favorite version of strawberries is simple – macerated in sugar, eaten plain or perhaps on top of vanilla ice cream or on those cake things you buy in packs of 6, topped with strawberries & whipped cream. We always had sugar-soaked strawberries in our fridge – and if we didn’t, gramma did. And hers were great on gramma’s pound cake.


Battle Strawberry Competitors

While I toyed with the idea of bringing a bowl of macerated strawberries to the Battle (I would have classed it up a bit with some Meyer lemon juice), I knew it wouldn’t win back the title of Reigning Iron Chef. Knowing that creativity was part of the scoring, I went for something out of the box completely and then went for another, more basic dish.


baked brie with strawberry preserves


This time we had a more intimate gathering, with 7 competitors and 14 dishes in the running. Just as before, each dish was awesome, and we had a balanced selection of savories vs sweets. My favorite this time was Lindsay’s baked brie w/ homemade strawberry preserves. mmmmmmm….. And my favorite for the theme was Terri’s strawberry soup. I tell ya, for a group of girls who (some) claimed intimidation in cooking with a chef-in-training, you’d never know it by the look and taste of everyones’ creations. I feel lucky to get to hang out with such a lovely group of girls, and the fact that they are all great cooks is just the icing on the cake!

mini strawberry shortcakes


Without further adieu, I’m proud to say I was able to win back my title as the Reigning Iron Chef, but Terri said the numbers were close! Everyone continues to bring their A-game, so the competition is definitely fierce! I already can’t wait for the next get-together – although having now been on both sides, I must say I enjoy the anticipation of finding out the theme ingredient more than doing the choosing. and so, the Countdown begins! (More photos)


strawberry mascarpone tart


The Top Three:
1st Place: Heather’s Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
2nd Place: Heather’s Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
3rd Place: Rachel’s Mini Strawberry Shortcakes


strawberry pizza


The Winning Recipe:

Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
adapted from Cooking Light magazine – measurements are definitely estimated, and although the original recipe called for store-bought pizza crust, I made my own and will include those instructions as well.


printable recipe

ingredients
One batch pizza dough (recipe below; can also used store-bought 12oz crust)
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
1/2 t EVOO
1 t lemon juice (I used Meyer, can use regular)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 T shelled, toasted pistachios, chopped


Basic pizza dough:
3/4 c warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
2 cups (or more) AP flour
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
3 T olive oil


instructions
Basic pizza dough
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes.


By hand or w/ stand mixer (paddle attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes. Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape.


pizza
Preheat oven to 425 F


Place crust on baking sheet or stone. Bake for ~8-12 minutes. Remove and sprinkle goat cheese on crust.


Mix strawberries through s&p in bowl and arrange over pizza. Top with nuts and shaved cheese. Top with additional fresh grated pepper if desired.


Notes: you can store dough after deflated in an airtight container to use later. You could even make extra and freeze it. Also, pizza dough is super glutenous and might be hard to work with at times. If so, let it sit and “rest” before rolling out.

Totally Smitten w/ Pumpernickel

pumpernickel ingredients
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.

more ingredients



I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!


My teachings in school had led me to believe that baking bread would be a day-long (or two day-long) process. This is not necessarily true. It is time consuming, and tedious. And this bread, this bread has a lot of ingredients (17 by my count without the optionals) – each just as important as the other. I was surprised to find that I already had 15 of those ingredients, just waiting to be brought together for the first time. I only needed the rye flour and bran and I was set. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, they are all fairly easy to locate minus the rye flour. Whole Foods carries it, but most regular grocery stores probably don’t. If you aren’t near a WF or other specialty store, like Trader Joes or Fresh Market, you can buy it online.


the yeast works!


Pumpernickel is definitely my favorite samich bread. It’s not the same as rye bread, which I don’t love so much. I’m not certain that I’ve actually eaten true German pumpkernickel bread, and this version is definitely not true German pumpernickel, but rather the Americanized version. Traditional pumpernickel has a looooong baking time (meaning a whole day in a steamed oven – by no means a “green” practice) and use of a Sourdough starter, which is also used in rye breads. The long baking time brings out that coffee/dark chocolate flavor, while the starter contributes to rising.


dough rising


We Americans cheat a little in the making of pumpernickel by baking it less and instead, adding the flavors lost by such faux pas. Hence the addition of molasses (as if adding molasses to anything deems explanation), espresso, cocoa powder. Hell – none of those require explanation, but I had a feeling if I didn’t tell you, you’d unnecessarily burn kilocalories by furrowing your brow, frowning, and quite possibly, turning your nose up at the thought of adding such ingredients to bread. Save yourself the trouble – please – they are necessary! And in absence of the starter, as preferred by die Deutsch, we add wheat flour and yeast to facilitate gluten formation and the rise.


rounded and ready to bake


You’ll also notice the choice of using a loaf pan or rounding your dough. It doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the difference here, people. [Think: if you put your dough in a pan, how does that affect the baking? And conversely, how about letting it bake openly in the comfort of a parchment-lined baking pan?]. Er… the answer is… you get a loaf that is very dense or a round that is a bit ‘airier’. All about your preference – I like the less dense version, personally. But suit yourself.


I bet by now you are doing one of two things: cursing yourself for reading a blog entry about something you could care less about or performing a mental checklist of your pantry to see what you’re gonna have to buy to make the best bread on earth. I hope it’s the latter, but if not – your loss. I have another round in my freezer so I won’t be missing out any time soon.


cut wonkily


Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves


printable recipe

ingredients
2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)


Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you’ve got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)


instructions
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive 🙂


2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.


3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.


4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).


5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be sticky but firm, and you’ll probably have leftover flour.


6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.


7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you’re topping the bread before baking, and set aside.


8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don’t want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.


9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.


10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.


p.s. – I’m aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I’ve found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread – rounding and scoring are not my good points – not yet! So, if you’re scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I’ll find you something more basic to start with. Promise 🙂

Challah If You Like Hot Buns!

gorgeous challah bread


I’m afeard that I may have started a trend. A trend of me showing off our baking successes (and failures, as you remember from the first episode). I’m really sorry – but when you’re in school 3 nights a week it doesn’t leave much time to prepare bloggable recipes from home.


You may think that Chris is upset about this – having been spoiled for a few weeks while school was out by having fresh dinner AND lunch leftovers practically every day. He isn’t. He may even be happier – happier because he wins brownie points by sharing his treasures with coworkers instead of eating home-made meals in front of everyone while they scarf down a Leany Cuisiney or something less healthy like McDonalds. Now, invite him to Chicken Planet for lunch and my food gets tossed back in the fridge for tomorrow. But at least while Baking&Pastry 101 is in session, he can bring some fresh baked goodies for everyone to gnaw on. And who needs lunch when you have bread anyway?

soon to be english muffinsgrilling muffinsyummy english muffins

Last week, week 2 of the quarter, was two long nights full of yeast, proofing, and scoring. Bread that is. Lean bread. We made baguettes two different ways (with and without fermenting overnight), and I got the pleasure of kneading dough for about an hour for a huge football-shaped loaf of 4 grain bread. Felt like even longer. Needless to say, I had some pain in my right palm for a couple of days. But that bread was lookin’ mighty fine. The tastiest treat of all last week was the focaccia bread with rosemary. De-lish. And I almost forgot – English muffins! My friend Emily blogged about english muffins recently. I’m not sure how she made them without coming to our class but hers looked yummy too! English muffins provide instant gratification – you cook them in a skillet rather than bake them, so you don’t have to stare at the oven and count down the minutes until its ready. If I remember correctly, everything last week came out pretty good. I have a freezer full of bread as proof. 🙂


4 grain breadbaked 4 grainrosemary foccacia


Monday night we finished up our bread-making extravaganza. Instead of lean breads, we kicked it into high gear and made enriched breads. Basically, it means good ol’ fatty bread that have eggs, milk, butter in any combination. We made milk bread, hot cross buns, and challah. Challah is by far my favorite bread. {And no – it is not pronounced challah. The c is silent as any good Jewish person will tell you.} Since we were braiding the bread, we each made our own loaf and did 4 strand braids. I think, one day, I might try to fancy it up a bit and do some more strands. And I’m going to knead with my stand mixer at home – because I can. And because I’m a wimp and I just can’t knead for an hour. The braids look mighty fancy don’t they? And every morsel is a mouthfull of chewy goodness. Take my word for it. If you’re super nice (and live nearby) – you might one day be lucky enough to receive a batch (minus a bite or two…. just to make sure it’s good). OR – maybe I’ll make you some french toast a la Wetzel. Which is essentially – french toast, with challah.


braiding challahready to bakepretty challah


While not the superstar that is challah bread, we did make some other tasty treats. I find it odd that my only memory of hot cross buns is that song. And of that, all I remember is “hot cross buns, hot cross buns” and then something about a penny. But apparently it’s a bread that is made with currants and raisins (sometimes candied citrus) and traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Although ours didn’t, they generally have a cross across the top. And when you serve them hot, you get Hot – Cross – Buns. Voila! Have you ever heard of milk bread? Me neither – but we made that too. The buns were made by rolling three balls and putting them in muffin tins. As you can see, we had big balls. Done & done.


dinner rollshot cross buns


For recipes, I’ll post my two favorites: focaccia & challah and will try to post the recipes in the “at home” style. If you’re interested in the other bread recipes, just challah!!



Challah

Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th EditionAdapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition


Ingredients
Water – 8 oz
Yeast, fresh – 0.75 oz
Bread flour – 1 lb, 4 oz
Egg Yolks – 4 oz
Sugar – 1.5 oz
Malt syrup – 0.13 oz
Salt – 0.4 oz (2 tsp)
Vegetable oil – 2 oz


Instructions

Mixing: begin with water and add yeast. Add yolks, oil, and syrup. Add some bread flour, then add sugar, then more bread flour, then salt. Continue mixing and kneading (either by hand or in stand mixer) until dough springs back. (If using stand mixer, mix ~10 minutes on second speed). You may need less or more flour, but do not mix to overdry.


Fermentation: 1 1/2 hours at 80 degrees (an oven that is barely on)


Makeup: Refer to any google site. Here is a good youtube video for braiding a challah loaf with six strands. For class, we did four strands.


Baking: 400 degrees (~30 minutes; but check often with oven light)


Herb Focaccia
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition



Ingredients
Sponge: water, 6 oz; yeast (fresh) 0.12 oz; flour 8 oz
Flour – 1lb, 4oz
Water 14 oz
Yeast – 0.12 oz
Salt – 0.5 oz
Olive oil – 1 oz
Rosemary & sea salt (to liking)


Instructions
Mixing: Sponge method – combine water, then yeast, then flour. Do not knead.


1st ferment: sponge for 8-16 hours at 70 degrees


2nd mixing: mix water, yeast, flour, salt (salt last) and combine with sponge. Knead until dough springs back quickly.


2nd ferment: all dough for 30 minutes at 80 degrees


Makeup: Scale at 3 lb for each half-size sheet pan. oil pans with olive oil. roll and stretch dough into pan to fit. if dough does not give, let it rest for a few minutes. proof again in oven until doubled in thickness. Top each with olive oil. with fingertips, poke holes heavily at regular intervals into dough. spring with fresh chopped rosemary and sea salt.


Baking: 400 degrees for ~30 minutes