Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Lazy Bakers Project: Bara Brith

Just before I moved up to Portland to start acupuncture school, my family took a vacation to England. During our trip we made a quick two-day detour into Wales, mainly to see a couple of the ruined castles. I was pretty disappointed when I found out that the castles weren't from old Welsh families but built by the English to keep an eye on the locals. Ah, colonization.

We stayed in a hotel in Caernarfon with a large group of very jovial Irish tourists. I thought they were great. I kind of wanted to stow away with them back to Ireland, which I couldn't believe we were so close to and weren't going to visit.

The next day we drove to Harlech, where it was so rainy and windy that I was the only one who got out of the car to walk around the ruined castle. We had lunch at the pub across the street, and then we drove back to England.

My reason for bringing up this trip is that we never had any Bara Brith while in Wales, and that was a darn shame. This bread is good!

March 22, 2009
Name of bread: Bara Brith
Occasion: Lazy Baker's project
Constituents: golden raisins, currants, candied zest, and spices folded into a rich bread dough

There is a Russian proverb that says, "Первый блин всегда комом" which means "the first pancake is always a lump."

That proverb held true for me as this bread baking experience sailed along smoothly as compared to my first attempt. Hooray!

Jeanette sent the Lazy Bakers the recipe, but later sent a follow up email letting us know she didn't like the recipe. When Marie baked the bread, she found in one of her cookbooks a recipe by Nick Malgieri, which worked well for her. I decided that I would use Malgieri's recipe, too.

Bara Brith calls for mixed peel, which is basically candied zest. Seeing as candied zest is generally only sold during the holidays around here, I decided to make my own. Why not?

candied peel

It takes a bit of time and a good sharp knife to cut away all the pith from the peel, but the candying part takes about half an hour and is fairly hands-off. RLB has a recipe in The Cake Bible, but she calls for a bit of corn syrup to prevent crystallization. Several recipes online simply called for equal parts water and sugar, so I omitted the corn syrup with no problems. I chose to use one lemon, one orange, and one grapefruit. I think you could use just about any combination of citrus peel.

I saved the bread baking for a day when I wasn't going anywhere, so that I didn't get myself or the bread confused by refrigeration. The sponge came together quickly and by the end of the half hour, I had a neat spongy product.

bara brith: the sponge after 30 min

This dough was much looser than the Whole Wheat dough; my KitchenAid didn't groan and the motor didn't burn as I mixed the dough together. (Which was nice.) The fruit is supposed to be mixed in by hand after letting the dough rise for an hour. Marie had trouble evenly distributing the fruit by hand and wished she had thrown it in when she mixed the dough, which I decided to do. I figured that part of the usefulness of waiting to mix in the fruit after the first rise was to degas the dough; so after an hour rise when I should have mixed in the fruit I folded the dough as per Jeffrey Hammelman's instructions (I still had his book, Bread). I felt pretty cool about that.

To shape the dough for the loaf pans, I again pulled out Bread and followed his instructions. Seriously, without that book I would have done no shaping of the dough for the pans. I would have taken my blob of risen dough, cut it in half, and plopped each half in a loaf pan.

bara brith

This dough was a lot of fun to work with, as it was all fluffy and risen and doughy. As a tactile person, I can see how bread baking could quickly become an addiction. You just can't get your hands in cake batter as you can with bread dough, and I really like to get my hands in things!

After a second rise the bread was ready to go into the oven. Like Marie, my bread was finished baking after only 30 min, and was even heading towards burnt in one place! The bara brith smelled so good; like cinnamon and cloves, like butter and fruit. I couldn't wait very long to try the bread. It was soft and moist; the citrus played off the spices and the fruit gave a nice burst of sweetness and texture.

I shared some with Cookie and her husband, and we ate it as a dessert at room temperature with lots of butter. I can see why it could be treated as a dessert, but it is also good toasted and buttered with a fried (or poached) egg for breakfast, and of course, it is great with tea!

bara brith

Jeanette, I anxiously await your review of my Bara Brith. I have no idea how authentic this looks or tastes, but I can tell you it is one tasty bread. Thank you for sharing this Welsh treat with us!

For the recipe, and to see Marie's Bara Brith, please visit Breadbasketcase: Bara Brith
To see Melinda and Jeanette's Bara Brith, please visit Melinda's Kitchen Diary: Bara Brith

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread with Golden Raisins and Pecans

Back in January, the Lazy Bakers took on the challenge of baking Jeffrey Hammelman's Whole Wheat Bread with Pecans and Golden Raisins (say that five times fast). I was excited about the prospect of baking bread but also nervous. I have baked a total of two breads in my lifetime. Both were a basic flour-yeast-water-salt kind of deal with a rise after kneading and a second rise after shaping before putting in the oven. There was no talk of proper bread temperature or oven spring or steam. So when I cracked open Bread I realised that this was going to be a completely different ballgame.

So I put off baking the bread for a few months.

Bread Attempt
I've never used my dough hook before!

March 15, 2009
Name of bread: Whole Wheat with Pecans and Golden Raisins
Occasion: Catching up with the Lazy Bakers
Constituents: Half whole wheat, half white bread flour, toasted pecans, golden raisins

My bread sort of came out as a bust. I would have labeled this a complete fail but it still is fairly tasty and my roommate and I have already eaten over half of it since Sunday. If I have to be completely honest I would have to admit that my roommate and I are partial to carbs in almost any form, bread being one of our favorites. This is why neither of us bake bread, and why I keep hippie bread in the house. I have no control around good bread.

Jeffrey Hammelman's book is as chock full of information and tips as this bread is of nuts and raisins. However I found it hard to find all his information when I needed it. Perhaps if I had sat down and read the book like a novel instead of a recipe book I would have been more confident to bake. As it was, I spent time re-reading his introduction and discussions on ingredients and the proper steps of baking bread, but didn't find the information on proper water temperature until the bread was already in the oven. His step-by-step instructions on shaping bread were really helpful and easy to follow (especially for making an oblong loaf) for which I am grateful.

I also need to plan better when I want to bake bread. I had to leave for several hours right around the time the bread's first rise should have been done, so I decided to let the bread rise in the refrigerator. In hindsight I think I could have left it on the counter all day to rise, as the kitchen never really gets above 60°. When I came back home five hours later, I decided to pull the bread out and let it finish its first rise at room temperature.

I kept looking in Bread for Jeffrey Hammelman's advice on what to do with bread dough that you've retarded in the refrigerator--should I let it come back to room temperature before using? Does it matter? What about before I bake it? At what point in a bread dough's life cycle is a good time to retard dough--the first rise? The second rise? Is it okay to retard it for both rises? How long should bread be left to retard in the refrigerator? Can I pull it out after only a few hours and finish rising on the counter?

I never found any information in his book answering my questions, so I just decided to guess.

I guessed that the dough should come back up to room temperature, but it never really made it back up to the 76°F Hammelman stipulates the dough should be at. By 1 am the bread was at about 70° and just about doubled in bulk. But I was tired and exercising poor judgment, so I stuck it back in the refrigerator so that I could go to bed. I should have shaped the loaves before putting them back in the refrigerator, but I didn't figure that out until after the bread was in the oven the next day.

Bread Attempt
Beginning of the first rise

The next morning when I pulled it out of refrigerator, the dough had shrunk down to about the size it was after first mixing. After hours sitting in my bedroom with the heat cranked to 70° (the only place in the apartment where you can sort of control the ambient temperature) I finally gave up and shaped the bread and let it sit out on the counter for the second rise. I only have one loaf pan so I decided to make rolls out of the rest of the dough. After shaping three rolls I decided to shape the rest of the dough into an oblong loaf. Shaping dough is fun!

The second rise didn't give much spring to the dough; I think at this point it was mad at me for changing its temperature so much in the last 36 hours.

After about two or three hours, I popped my bread into the oven, almost gave myself a steam burn, and waited nervously for the bread to bake. I was pretty convinced I was going to bake a bunch of little rocks studded with raisins and nuts, but what came out were nice looking little rolls and two little oblong loaves. The bread didn't rise much in the oven, either, but it had a nice crackly crust and smelled tangy and bready. The inside was dense and chewy, much like a bagel.

Bread Attempt
One of those oblong loaves came out of the loaf pan!

A bagel, huh. I can eat that.

And I have, as did my roommate. It was good with hunks of mild cheddar, or lots of salted butter.

Bread Attempt

Oh well; not quite a bust, but not quite a success either! Let's see how I do with the Bara Brith.

To see what this bread ought to have looked like, please visit
Breadbasketcase: Whole Wheat Bread with Pecans and Raisins
Melinda (and Jeanette): Whole Wheat Bread with Sultanas and Pecans

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

A dear friend of mine asked me to bake up a batch of red velvet cupcakes for her baby shower last month. How could I say no?

The first time I baked red velvet cupcakes, I brought them into work and my naturopath co-worker asked me if I used beets to color the batter red.

I looked at him in confusion, "what? Beets?"

He looked at me just as shocked and asked, "what? Chemicals?"

Interestingly, the week before I was to bake these cupcakes Martha featured a pastry chef who made a beet-chocolate cake on the show, and a few days later Raiuchka left me a comment telling me she and her son made beet-velvet cupcakes for Valentines Day.

Okay Universe, I get it. I'LL TRY THE BEETS.

But not just yet.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

February 15, 2009
Name of cupcake: Red Velvet Cupcakes
Occasion: Baby shower!
Constituents: Red Velvet Cupcakes (chemically colored) with (chemically colored) cream cheese frosting and (chemically colored) sprinkles

The recipe I use for red velvet cupcakes comes from someplace on the internet. I heard that RLB's new cake book will have a red velvet recipe and I am pretty curious to see if she calls for beets or chemicals. Either way, I'm sure it will be delicious.

This recipe is pretty darn good, too. The cake is light and springy, moist and faintly chocolate, just like a red velvet cake ought to be. There are a few extra steps when making red velvet cake but all in all the mixing and baking are fairly smooth and quick. And tasty.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The colors for the baby shower were pink and green, so I tinted the cream cheese frosting pink and green to match. I also decided to try and fancy up the cupcakes by piping on the frosting. Now, unlike smart people who would practice piping before actually doing it on the real cupcakes, of which there was only one to spare, I dove right in and taught myself how to pipe icing on the actual cupcakes I would be serving. I think I have a sort of naive arrogance about my ability to learn new skills, but don't tell anyone I said that.

Of course, the piping job was passable--maybe even a little comical--but nobody pointed and laughed or shamed me for my frosting problems, so everything came out all right in the end.

Everything also came out quite red--fingers, mouths, you name it. Gotta love those chemicals.

Red Velvet Cake, pilfered from somewhere on the Internet

From Catperson:
I have a wonderful recipe from my Aunt Mildred in Florida... I have not thought much about this cake that I just ADORED as a child!*
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 TBSP (heaping) cocoa
  • 2 1/4 c of cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TBSP white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 ounces (1/4 c) red food coloring
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs. Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa and add to the creamed mixture. Add alternate buttermilk with flour and salt, then add the vanilla. Add soda to the vinegar.
HOLD OVER THE BOWL, AS IT FOAMS! Then add the soda and vinegar to the mixture, blending instead of beating. Bake 25 to 30 mins. at 350 degrees in two 8-inch greased and floured round cake pans. Cool on racks. Using very sharp knife, or dental floss (yes, dental floss!) split each layer into 2 layers.

*From ECL: Thanks Catperson and Aunt Mildred!

PS--the baby has since been born and mom and babe are doing well!