My perfect crusty loaf

April 6, 2013 § 24 Comments

sourdough baked in pot

Hello dear people!  We’re just back from Denver.  Did I even mention we were going to Denver?  I don’t think I did.  There were more important things to talk about!  But, in spite of the lack of public acknowledgment, that is, in fact, where we were for the last week.  We were at a distilling conference, which, as you may suspect, is a whole lot cooler than many of the conferences one could find oneself attending.

Craft distillers are a pretty good bunch, as far as I could tell from my observations of the 600 or 700 or so that were at the conference with us.  Quirky, driven, creative, Jacks and Jills of all trades, and quite friendly besides the occasional curmudgeon – there always has to be at least one curmudgeon in any bunch.

I didn’t make a ton of connections.  I’m an absolutely terrible networker!  I clam up and get shy and awkward and can’t think of a thing to say to anybody, so I float off around the edges and watch people talk.  But, there were some smaller, more intimate gatherings where I could actually connect with people and those people I found to be stellar ones!  Also, the sessions were generally useful and fascinating.  We learned about variables in aging spirits, how to work with wholesalers, innovations in packaging, women in distilling, surviving an audit, how to “nose” (that is to say, smell) unwanted compounds in your spirits.  Good stuff.

Now we’re back and the refrigerator is starkly empty.  I need to do a major restock.  And I need to bake some bread.

As much as possible, I’ve been trying to bake all of our bread at home.  Which sounds like some sort of half super-hero, half Ma on the prairie type of domestic prowess.  But, I’ve found that there are so many recipes for low maintenance loaves out there, that baking one a week isn’t all that great of a commitment.  And the payoff is huge.  (Mostly.  Sometimes my loaves totally flop.  Those are sad days.)  Plus, it means we deeply savor every bite of bread.  (I usually only have one slice a day so the bread lasts through the week.  Joel always accuses me of bread rationing.)

sourdough dough

I adore good bread.  I can completely understand how civilizations could be built on bread and why it is a metaphor for life, for spirit, for giving, for abundance.  So, it makes me terribly sad to know that more and more people can’t eat bread, and that bread in the way it’s commercially produced these days is not very good for us at all.  It’s a tragedy really.  What are we if bread no longer makes sense in the context of “the bread of life” or “our daily bread?”

I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read, I suspect the reasons for this change in bread are complex and many.  Part of it, I am quite convinced, comes from the changes in the grain supply with the industrialization of agriculture.  The wheat available today is not the wheat people ate for hundreds of years.  The wheat available to us now has been bred to be durable, shippable, highly storable, easy to harvest, and high-yield, but not to be nutritious or flavorful.  The potential goodness of the grain has been bred right out of it, leaving instead a highly gluten-filled, hard to digest, inflammatory commodity. « Read the rest of this entry »

Bouchon Bakery chocolate chip cookies

March 10, 2013 § 17 Comments

Bouchon_cc_cookies_milk_1

I never was much of a chocolate chip cookie person.  In our house growing up, a chocolate chip cookie never emerged from the oven.  Not a single time.  We were given fresh baked bread or rye flatbreads with cheese after school, not cookies.  And, while I know I whined about it, I secretly thought it was kind of awesome (and on the whole, I’ll still take fresh baked bread over a cookie, or very nearly anything else, any day).

My friends had chocolate chip cookies that they would sometimes share with me, of course, or as we got older we would go to their houses and bake them (we did try to bake cookies at my house one time, and they turned out terribly, a melted puddle of disaster instead of cookies.  Thus it was that our oven truly never made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, at least not successfully).  And I’d eat them.  I was a kid, they were sweet, it was cool.  But, I never really got to like them.

Bouchon_cc_cookies_milk_above

In college, my sophomore year roommate was a champion cookie baker.  She baked cookies whenever she wanted to avoid anything, which meant a heck of a lot of cookie baking.  From her, I learned that age-old teenage rite of eating half the cookie dough as we baked (it’s a wonder we never got salmonella, given she wasn’t exactly using the highest quality eggs), resulting in batches of only about a dozen cookies that would actually get baked.  And the baked cookies, again, were fine and whatever, but I never started to crave the cookies.

Nor did the signature chocolate chip cookies made by the boy I started dating that year change that.  Of course, these ones were odd cookies that didn’t taste particularly good unbaked, or warm, or at room temperature, but were at their best refrigerated and then soaked in milk.  Maybe he had accidentally switched to copying a biscotti recipe halfway through writing the cookie recipe down, or something.  Either way, I never saw what others seemed to see in chocolate chip cookies.  I know so many people who will get excited about a chocolate chip cookie of any quality.  But, I never found any cookie good enough to write home about.

Until, that is, my 5th year living in Boston when we moved to an apartment in Jamaica Plain near a hole in the wall little bakery named Canto 6.  A bakery with which we promptly fell in love.  They make excellent sandwiches with fresh bread and homemade ingredients as well as soups and vegetable quiches and the occasional thin slice of pizza with chevre and olives.  They make croissants that would hold their own in Paris, as well as meltingly tender scones, buttery Brioche topped with cheeses and honeys and fruits and other goodies, yogurt cakes, and olive rolls, and berry galettes, and sour cherry crumble pies.  All of which are ridiculously high quality and delicious. « Read the rest of this entry »

Vanilla bean scones and lemon-tangerine curd

February 1, 2013 § 19 Comments

lemon tangerine curd scone overhead

So, a couple of weeks ago I had this whole plan in my mind wherein I was not going to make or eat any sweets until Valentine’s Day.  Not because of any January, ascetic, resolution-y type of reason.  I steer clear of food resolutions in general, and cleanses peeve me.  They rub me the wrong way, I guess because I feel like they’re a reflection of our national dysfunctional relationship with food.  I know they’re not trying to, but to me they send the message, “you can shove whatever you want into your body without paying attention all year long as long as you spend 2 weeks in January consuming nothing but juiced vegetables and wheatgrass,” or whatever.  Which you can’t.  You should eat cleanly all the time, and it should and can be incredibly enjoyable, and then also leave room for some good clean fun here and there (like nachos, hehe).

citrus curd whisk

Anyhow, pardon the brief tirade, that’s neither here nor there because the real reason that I was going to forego all sweets for any number of weeks was to create a giant buildup to a Valentine’s Day treat to end all Valentine’s Day treats. In spite of my usual relaxed attitude toward the holiday of love, this year, for whatever reason, it struck me as a fun idea to use it as an excuse to make something billowing, and chocolatey, and gooey, and basically hopelessly, ridiculously rich.

And, I suppose I still may, but a couple of things conspired against me in the last few days to send my plans into a tailspin.  First, my dear husband told me that he was going to be out of town on Valentine’s and the surrounding days for a consulting project he’s working on.  Insert sad face, but that hitch could be overcome by postponing our Valentine’s celebration until he returned.  But the second problem is, I lost my taste for chocolate.

I know:  What???!!!  Right?  It’s completely ridiculous.  Who goes from being a devotee of chocolate in all its most intense forms, mousse, sorbet, midnight dark bars, dense flourless cakes, to being slightly put off by the very thought of it?  Who????  Sadly, me.

citrus peels from curd « Read the rest of this entry »

Molasses spice cookies (grain free)

December 17, 2012 § 13 Comments

molassess cookie and milk

Life is really crazy right now, friends.  I honestly can’t quite keep up.  There’s holiday hustle, and major, major work bustle, and there are current events and insanity and life, really.  It just is crazy.

But in the midst of so much action, so much feeling, so much, I keep having these moments where my breath catches in my throat and I almost suffocate from the enormity of the sense that I am so blessed.  So, so blessed.  These stresses and worries are privileges, each a reminder.

The packages to be mailed, the gifts to be made, the notes to be sent show that I have people I love and who love me, wonderful, meaningful relationships to attend to.

The work to be done, the daunting decisions to be made, the worried conversations about scenario after scenario at all hours of the day mean that we have work, we are taking risks, we’re in a position to take risks, we have each other to talk to about it, and so much enthusiastic support from others that it’s almost absurd.

The emotions, oh the emotions, the tears of sadness and fury at the state of the world remind me that I care, that I’m able to care, and that I don’t have to be complacent.

molasses cookies

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Orange cardamom yogurt cake

November 9, 2012 § 90 Comments

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a pastry chef.

In general, I like to think of myself as more of a cook.  I find some self-satisfaction in my inaccurate – or more appropriately, unprecise –  stirring together of a pinch of this and a handful of that until I’ve made a meal of it.  I don’t think of myself as precise enough for baking and pastries.

And yet…And yet, at the end of a very long week, a week  where – let’s just say hypothetically – the workdays have been 12 hours long and the brain has taken the spirit captive, I find that precision is what I want.  The precision is a respite.

Structurelessness can be a tyrant, and precision and strict guidelines can actually offer solace.  In those moments, I take comfort in measuring an exact teaspoon and a half or creaming for exactly three minutes.

I also love pastries for their sheer un-utilitarian-ness.  Sometimes when there’s a lot to do, the wise decision is to make those calls or do that laundry, to stop avoiding and cross some things off your list.  But sometimes the wise decision is instead to do something that delights you, that has nothing to do with the list.

You don’t need sweets in your life, to be sure, but I think sometimes you do need little things that are “just because,” that aren’t necessities for the body, but may be for the soul.  Life needs to contain both basics and beauty, both bread and roses, or perhaps both stews and pâte feuilletée. « Read the rest of this entry »

Black pepper shortbread with chevre, pine nuts, and marinated summer squash

August 15, 2012 § 9 Comments

As we get ready to leave Boston, people keep asking me if I have a Boston bucket list, the things I want to do – or do one last time – before we skip town for colder, more birch tree and lake filled climes.  I don’t for the most part.  My bucket list is really seeing people, the close friends or just the daily faces that are so familiar.

It’s entirely expected that I’ll miss our dear, wonderful friends, our neighbors, my fellow doctoral students.  I’ll miss them like the dickens.  What is less expected, but is a realization creeping up on me is how much I will probably wind up missing the UPS man, the hip barristas at the local coffee shop, the sandwich crafting artistes at the cafe, the goofy kids at the cash register at the dog bakery (yes, there’s a dog bakery in our neighborhood), the fellow dog owners I wave at every day when I’m out with Squid, the old guy in the short shorts and helmet from the early ’80s who rides his bike everywhere all year round.

These are the personalities, colors, faces, voices that make up what we have of community here.

Also on my bucket list is simply keeping my eyes open to appreciate the daily sights here.  We have a wonderful view from our apartment of lush tree tops and just the hints of skyscraper tops (Boston has all of 4 or 5 skyscrapers).  It’s Boston, so there are truly historic sites tucked in here and there and everywhere amidst daily life.  The trees and vines, flowers and bushes of the arboretum look like fairyscapes right now, so I’m trying to remember to breathe them in amidst the frenzy of everything else going on.

And, no surprise, there is a bit of a food bucket list.  We’re making quick runs to our favorite farm stands, an unhealthy number of stops at our favorite bakeries and ice cream shop, and by the end of next week, we’ll probably be floating away on a river of really excellent iced coffee.

Most exciting of all (well, maybe not of all, but it was definitely exciting), we finally went on a hot date to a rather fancy restaurant that we’ve been daydreaming about trying for a while.  For all my interest in food and reading of restaurant reviews in the Times, I have been to very few seriously fine dining establishments (approximately zero, before this).  I’ve been a grad student for a while, and all!  So, though I love the idea of it, I’m completely intimidated by fancy restaurants, and we probably would not have wound up going in the end had Joel’s aunt and uncle not brilliantly and generously given us a gift certificate as a birthday present.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Goat cheese popovers with blueberry sauce

August 6, 2012 § 15 Comments

First off, foremost, and before anything else, thank you!  Seriously, thank you.  Jumping up and down clapping my hands thank you.  I’m 8 and I just got the Playmobile Victorian dollhouse set I’ve been coveting all year, thank you.  Your enthusiasm, and support, and encouragement for Joel’s and my thoughts and plans mean so very, very much to me, and you will definitely be hearing stories as we get going with our new adventures!

And now, because when I’m overwhelmed with gratitude transitions go completely out the window, without further ado let’s go ahead and talk about breakfast.  Or snack.  Or breakfast standing in as dinner.  Or however you want to serve these popovers.  (The first, followed by the second, followed by the third works quite well.  I can say from experience.)

Though in the end they became the sauce rather than the apparent centerpiece, it was actually the blueberries that started the wheels turning and rolled me down the path that led eventually to popovers.

I saw them (the blueberries, that is), majestically portly and dusty midnight blue, piled high in their cardboard pints at our tiny neighborhood farmer’s market, and I simply couldn’t resist.  The word that comes to mind is peak.  Blueberries are at their peak, and they looked it.

The blueberry acquisition was followed, in short order, by a creamy white round of chevre, and I began to form a plan.  It was only the vaguest of plans though.  It went something like:  blueberries and chevre…together.  The question of how I most wished to eat them together remained unanswered for a couple of days. « Read the rest of this entry »

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