Sunday, September 25, 2011

BBB twists up some Soft Pretzels

I liked that this month's BBB challenge was something completely new for me and yet still pretty easy.  And of course I chose the cinnamon sugar version of these quick little twisties.  (Though I imagine they would be great with garlic in the dough and Parmesan on top).  I think I have had a sample of those mall pretzels once in my life.  Maybe.  But I figure they are supposed to be similar in bite and texture on the outside, to a bagel.  Though softer overall.  I think these turned out absolutely perfect as far as taste and texture were concerned - soft and chewy with a tight crumb.  I think if I had made the ropes larger, they would be fluffier but I like them this way.  The only trouble I had was that I didn't grease the parchment I laid the pretzels on after forming them.  So after boiling the first one, I found that the rest wanted to stick!  Ack!  After nearly mangling one of my only six pretzels trying to get it off, (I made a half batch), I finally figured it out.  Cut the parchment around the pretzels and plop them in the water, paper side up.  Not only do they hold their shape perfectly that way, but the paper is willing to come off quite nicely after about 10 seconds.  Just in time to flip.  Yay!  I've been on a spelt kick recently so I made mine with all light spelt flour.  Very pleased.  Give these a try and top them however you choose for your favorite pretzel flavor.  Check out the original post link for nice step by step photos on how to shape.  Oh, and I didn't bother with the eggwash since I was going to cover them up with butter and sugar anyway.  They still came out pretty shiny.  (Before sugaring.)  ☺

Soft Pretzels
from Cooking Light OCTOBER 2005
Makes: 12 servings (serving size: 1 pretzel)

1 package dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons) (I used 1 tsp Instant Yeast for a half batch)
1½ teaspoons sugar (I used coconut sugar for flavor)
1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
3¼ cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 14½ ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
6 cups water
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cornmeal (Didn't bother - baked mine on parchment)
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a large bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes. (Not necessary for instant yeast.)  Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes). Add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion into an 18-inch-long rope with tapered ends.

Cross one end of rope over the other to form a circle, leaving about 4 inches at end of each rope. Twist the rope at the base of the circle.

Fold the ends over the circle and into a traditional pretzel shape, pinching gently to seal.

Place pretzels on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 10 minutes (pretzels will rise only slightly).

Combine 6 cups water and baking soda in a nonaluminum Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer.

Gently lower 1 pretzel into simmering water mixture; cook 15 seconds. Turn pretzel with a slotted spatula; cook an additional 15 seconds. Transfer pretzel to a wire rack coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining pretzels.

Place pretzels on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Combine 1 teaspoon water and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Brush a thin layer of egg mixture over pretzels; sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until pretzels are deep golden brown.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To make Cinnamon Sugar Soft Pretzels: (see photo at top of post)
When you put on the egg glaze in the above recipe, don't add any toppings. When the pretzels are baked and still a little warm, dip or brush them in melted butter and then dredge in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. I used ¼ stick of melted butter (and there was plenty left over), plus ½ cup sugar and about 1 teaspoon cinnamon but use the cinnamon amount that suits your taste.

 We'll put this up for yeastspotting

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sourdough brownies

I decided to give these a try because I had neglected my starter, yet again, and needed to refresh it.  Wow, I am really impressed.  Almost akin to a flourless chocolate cake, these are dark, rich and yes, melt in your mouth chocolatey brownies.  I first saw the recipe on Wild Yeast; I do love her recipes.  I tweaked just a little bit and of course my starter was old and hoochy.  They might have more tooth to them with properly fed starter.  These are not as sweet as most brownies, but super rich and satisfying.  I'll see after school if they appeal to kids or just adults.   

Oh yes, they definitely appealed to my 2nd grader. ☺  "Mom, will you send one of those brownies in my lunch today?  And bring one after school for my snack..."

Sourdough Brownies
make one 9x13" pan (Adapted from Wild Yeast)

300g 72% cocoa bittersweet chocolate (I used a 90g bar of 65% chocolate and 210g semisweet chocolate chips)
226g unsalted butter (1 cup)  (I used salted butter so I cut the salt to ½ tsp)
200g sugar
1 tsp salt (less if using salted butter)
2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey (optional)
3 eggs, room temp
30g dark cocoa powder
10g malted milk powder
pinch of cinnamon
220g mature sourdough starter 100% hydration (I used unfed starter with hooch, straight from the fridge)
a couple extra handfuls of chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 325ºF.  Prepare a 9x13" baking dish by buttering, lining bottom with parchment and buttering the parchment.  In a saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring constantly.  It shouldn't heat up too much to the touch, just enough to melt and come together.  Stir in the sugar, salt and vanilla and cook and stir over low medium heat for about two minutes, just until the sugar starts to dissolve a bit.  (That will give the shiny top.)  Stir in the honey if using.  Add eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition.  In a bowl, stir together the cocoa powder, malted milk powder and cinnamon.  Sift over chocolate mixture, stirring in as you go.  The mix should change viscosity now and really come together.  Gently stir in the sourdough starter until completely combined.  Stir in some extra chocolate chips if desired.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean from near the middle.  Cool for about 20-30 minutes before removing from pan - it should firm up quite a bit.  Carefully lift the whole slab out with the overhanging edges of the parchment paper.  Finish cooling completely on a wire rack.  For clean edges, wait to cut until completely cool!  Cut these into small squares, they are very rich and densely chocolatey.
Break out a glass of milk and enjoy!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A quick frozen treat

*sigh* I stopped buying popsicles because of the high fructose corn syrup and switched to sugar free.  I stopped buying sugar free popsicles because all the artificial flavors, sweeteners and colors were creating a reaction that was just as bad.  There are a very few brands of fruit juice bars that do not have corn syrup in them.  And the girls do love them.  The only trouble is, they have 18g of sugar per bar compared to the 8g in a popsicle!  So I prefer to make our own juice pops as often as I can.  I must say, since I got it over a year ago, it is my firm opinion that the Zoku quick pop maker is one of the best inventions ever.  You know how those freezer bowls work for ice cream makers?  This is the same concept.  The mold stays in the freezer and then you can have finished, hard frozen popsicles in 12-14 minutes.  It also teaches the girls how to be patient.  They don't even watch the mold anymore, they just wait for the timer to go off.  ☺  But it also means I don't have to plan ahead 8 hours to have a frozen treat!  Another nice thing about the zoku is that the pops look pretty big but actually only hold about ¼ cup of liquid.  So each pop turns out to have about 6.5g sugar.  (In this case.)  Now that, I can live with.  (One caveat: you cannot make sugar free pops - they will not release.) 

Well, after walking home from school today in the 88ºF heat (which is warm for the pacific northwest), it was definitely time to make some frozen pops.  I recently made a trip to Costco and picked up some things I don't usually have on hand and had never tried before.  Some really tasty Odwalla strawberry lemonade - no corn syrup, yippee!  They were demoing it as a starred item - once it's gone, it's gone.  It has a thicker consistency because it's made with strawberry puree.  Pretty good stuff, has a nice pucker to it.  I also got some nice organic raspberry kefir with which I am pleased as well.  So I figured I could add a hint of probiotics to the pops and slow down the absorption of that sugar by adding a little dairy/fat into the mix.  I'm sure you could use coconut milk kefir for a dairy free option.  I just used a 3:1 ratio of juice to kefir and the girls loved it.  Maybe I'll try half and half and see if they still release well.  They should, there is almost as much sugar in the kefir as the juice!

Frozen Strawberry Lemonade Kefir Pops
makes 4 zoku pops 

¾ cup strawberry lemonade
¼ cup raspberry kefir

Mix in a liquid measuring cup and pour into the molds.  Since the zoku only makes three at a time, you can either drink up the fourth portion or wait to freeze it in a second batch.  (Yes, you can get two batches out of the zoku, the second just takes a few minutes longer.)  Or you can freeze in your favorite frozen pop mold or dixie cups for 6-8 hours or overnight.  

(Personally the time savings and versatility of the zoku has been so very worth the $50 price tag for me; I would be willing to get a second one if I had the need and the freezer space!)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grandma's Zucchini Bread

Mmmmmm.  I love zucchini bread.  I'm snacking on a piece slathered in butter as I type.  The girls like it plain.  This recipe was my great grandmother's and I've seen popular versions that only differ by ¼ cup and ½ tsp here or there.  So I'm sure it's one of those old original goodies that gets passed down.  This zucchini bread has converted many people who said they didn't like zucchini.  I have tried other different recipes, even one with chocolate chunks in it.  Meh.  This is my recipe for the generations.  Now, that being said, I have done some very minor changes on occasion to "healthify" it just a little wee bit.  (A tad less oil, less sugar, part whole grains.)  I am including the original, which is totally awesome, along with the changes I made this time I baked it up.  This slightly more healthful version is what we are all chowing down on right now and what is pictured.  It is still moist, flavorful, sweet and delicious.  Good with butter or without.  Good toasted too, though that's my mom's preference for aging quick bread.  I like it soft.  You don't have to use nuts though they really add a lot.  I used walnuts this time though generally speaking, my nut of preference is pecan.  You can make this however you want, see how it compares to your favorite.  The whole grain emmer flour I used was a new thing for me, from a local company and mill.  I am very pleased with the results.  I think Grandma would approve, she was a phenomenal woman who lived to be 101.  And somewhere, either my mom or me has the original recipe card written in my grandma's fine cursive.  I can picture it, so it might be in my house...  Good memories every time I bake it.

Great Grandma's Zucchini Bread
makes 2 loaves

3 eggs
1 cup oil (I used ¼ cup melted coconut oil, ½ cup sunflower oil and ¼ cup applesauce)
½ cup brown sugar (muscovado)
1½ cups white sugar (¾ cup evaporated cane sugar and ½ cup coconut sugar)
2 cups grated zucchini (one medium garden zucchini, little more than 2 cups)
3 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour (used up the last of the spelt ~½ cup, 1 cup ap flour, 1½ cups emmer flour)
1 tsp salt (celtic sea salt)
1 tsp soda
3 tsp cinnamon (love Penzey's cinnamon blend!)
½ tsp baking powder (listed on Grandma's card as B.P )
1 cup nuts, chopped (walnuts this time, pecans are great too)

Grease and flour two 8x4" loaf pans.  Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Beat eggs until very light and foamy, about 2-3 minutes with a hand mixer.  Add oil, vanilla and sugars, mix until combined.  Sift together flour, salt, soda, cinnamon and baking powder in a bowl.  Add to egg mixture and beat on low speed until well combined.  Stir in nuts and zucchini.
Divide batter equally into the prepared pans.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until bread is golden brown and feels firm on top.  A cake tester inserted in the center will come out clean.  (If the bread is not perfectly moist, reduce bake time by 5 minutes next time.  Everyone has a feel for their own oven.)  Cool in pan for 10-15 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around edges to loosen if necessary and turn out.  Finish cooling on a wire rack.  Serve sliced and slathered with butter or plain, as desired.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homemade Maple Cream/Maple Butter

 Disclaimer: Do not make this stuff if you have a big sweet tooth, seriously love maple, and think you could sit down with a spoon and a jar and do serious damage to your waistline.  Because I gotta say it is taking all my will power not to do just that.  

I have shoved it to the back of the fridge, happy that I only made half a batch.  I will not allow myself to make this more than once every few months.  For one thing, good maple syrup is spendy!  For another, well I just don't have enough gumption to stay out of it.  This is one exceptionally decadent, (and sweet), condiment.  You may have seen it on the shelf of some specialty stores or very well stocked grocery stores at an exorbitant price.  That kind is lighter in color than mine because it is made from Grade A fancy maple syrup.  I made mine with Grade B because that was all I had on hand.  We just used up the last of the A for sourdough pancakes this week.  ☺  So you will notice that the maple cream pictured has not only the consistency, but also the color of peanut butter.  It's still awesome, but I will use the Grade A in future for color and authenticity.  Also, the Grade A has the total sugar solids that will work the best for creaming as the recipe is written.  I did have to cook the B a bit more and stir longer to get it to cream properly.  All things considered though, I have made the maple sugar candy before and while it is really tasty, this delicious spread is a much easier undertaking, B or A.  More forgiving on timing.  And it still has that super creamy melt in mouth consistency of the commercial maple butters I have tried.

So if you are unfamiliar with maple butter or maple cream, it is basically a confection/spread.  Pure, 100% maple syrup is what you get in the stores though I add a wee bit of butter to prevent too much foaming.  This is optional or replaceable with coconut oil or another vegetable oil if you need it to be dairy free.  All it takes is a saucepan, a candy thermometer (calibrated), and a little time.  And of course the syrup.  So what do we use it for?  A spread for toast, bagels, muffins, pancakes, waffles, doughnuts, cupcakes and crepes; eaten straight out of the jar; a topping for sweet potatoes or baked squash; an inclusion in fruit pies; sweetener for coffee and tea; whatever other uses you can imagine!  If you love maple bars from the bakery, you will love this stuff.  I also understand there is a cinnamon maple cream - just add cinnamon - which I imagine would yield a phenomenal cinnamon toast!  Remember if you try this out that hot sugar syrup of any kind has the potential to cause serious burns.  Please be careful and keep the kids out of the kitchen for this one.

Homemade Maple Cream
makes about 1 lb

2 cups Grade A Light or Medium Amber pure maple syrup (for best, most consistent results, stick with Grade A)
¼ tsp butter (or cream or milk or oil)

Before you start, fill the sink or a large pan with cold water and a few ice cubes.  Next fill a 2 Qt saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil to determine the boiling point for your candy thermometer.  Empty out the water and put in the syrup and butter.  Boil over medium high heat without stirring, until the temperature reaches 24º over your water boiling point.  Watch closely at the end, the temperature can move fast then.  Immediately remove from heat and place in the pan or sink of cold water.  Leave the thermometer in.  Do not stir or disturb the syrup while it is cooling or cystals may form prematurely.  When the syrup is nearly at room temperature, remove from the water bath.  Stir slowly with a wooden spoon until the syrup loses its gloss and starts to turn opaque.  This can take up to 15 minutes.  Go slowly, you don't want to whip air into it.  The consistency of peanut butter is the aim here.  When it is nice and thick and your arm is ready to fall off, spoon it into clean glass jars and store in the refrigerator.