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Not As Good As Pork Cracklins

misadventures in cooking

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dark Chocolate Crackles

I've hardly tried anything from the October/November issue, and now the December 2007 issue of Fine Cooking is here! I've been reading it and left it laying around. This afternoon, Gary brought it to me with "A Cookie for Every Occasion" left open, pointed to these and said, "Please???"

So, I whipped up a batch. They have the perfect hint of orange zest in them and I think that's what makes them so special. They are very, very good.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Today's bread is Pugliese, pronounced "pool-yee-AY-zee".

A lovely photograph of it graces the cover of The Bread Bible. It's described as a simple, crusty bread from Puglia, the Apulia region of Italy. It is made using part durum flour, the hardest of all varieties of wheat, low in gluten, and supposedly gives the bread "an especially delicious, nutty/sweet flavor, pale golden crumb, and exceptionally fine, chewy crust."

Except that durum flour was nowhere to be found in Austin, TX. I found semolina (which is the same wheat, but coarsely ground) everywhere. No durum. Rose says that it may be labeled "extra fancy pasta flour" or "patent durum flour" or "farina grade". So I kept my eyes peeled for any of those terms. Nada.

I resisted ordering it from King Arthur Flour. It just seems silly to pay $5.95 in shipping for $4.50 of flour. But after weeks of thinking about it and checking every local source I knew, I caved. I decided that in the grand scheme of things, $10 wasn't that much money, and I'd get lots of loaves of bread from it.

No sooner did I order it, than Central Market began carrying darling little two-pound bags of farina. I kid you not. I spent $10 for something I could have paid $1.89 for. This better be some darn good bread.

The dough was incredibly soft and silky. I just wanted to hold it. I did bake it, and the resulting bread is very good. In fact, I might even say "excellent", but for the fact that I've been hopelessly spoilt by the homemade sourdough.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Country White

Another loaf of sourdough. Considerably easier than the first time (last week), because my starter was active and I didn't have to feed it for 3 days before using it. And I kindasorta knew what I was doing.

First I worried that I didn't let it ferment long enough, then I worried that I didn't let it proof long enough. I worried because the doorbell rang right as I put it into the oven, and so it was 15 minutes before I turned the temperature down from 500 to 450 degrees, instead of 5 minutes as instructed. But now I'm wondering if maybe it is nearly foolproof and no matter what I do, it might turn out as wonderful as these first attempts.

Dang, I shouldn't even think that, much less say it out loud. I bet I just jinxed myself.

Tonight this becomes garlic bread to go with Mahogany Beef Stew. I can hardly wait. I better have a slice now to be sure it's ok...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cake Decorating 3

I missed Class 2, but since there are only 2 other students, the instructor sort of gave me some extra attention and got me caught up.

It's safe to say that I won't be putting roses on a cake. First, they just aren't "me". Second, they are a total PITA. Third, I suck at making them.

Borders are nice. I could learn lots and lots of borders. Plus they cover up a less than perfect icing job. BordersRGood:

I also think it's worthwhile to learn to write nice letters. I think I'll be practicing that:

All in all I am very glad I took the class. I got tips that I don't think I would have ever figured out for myself. I may even repeat the class at a different time, so I get a different instructor. In case that leads to more tips. I think I'd rather do that than take the next level. I could use more practice before moving on anyway. And I'm not sure I even want to move on. I like fairly simple decorations.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rosemary-Olive Oil Bread

I've had some issues with my starter exploding from its home. In the refrigerator. Creating big huge mess. Hopefully I've got that figured out now.

Very early yesterday morning, I gave half a feeding to 4.5 oz of starter. By 3:00 in the afternoon, it was perky and happy, so I began a half-recipe (one loaf) of Rosemary Olive Oil Bread. I used the KitchenAid for all the kneading, because it keeps me from adding too much extra flour, which I tend to do when I knead by hand. I did end up with a wet dough, which is what I was hoping for, so I was surprised when I cut the finished loaf in half (shown above) and didn't find especially large holes.

Of course I had to sample. It's fabulous. The rosemary is more subtle than I expected, probably because I've become accustomed to the "in your face" rosemary of my focaccia. I had another little sample, and maybe another. Really. This is scary. And I found the large holes that I looking for. See, there was a reason to keep cutting. All in the name of science.

Friday, October 12, 2007


My first experiment with my sourdough starter is complete. It's been a week-long process! I have tried to meticulously follow Nancy Silverton's directions for Country White in her book Breads From The La Brea Bakery:

Monday evening - starter comes out of the refrigerator for 2 hours, before feeding. I feed it before I go to bed.

Tuesday morning - Jess (who grew the starter from organic grapes 7 years ago!) asks me if it's bubbly. "Yes..."

Tuesday evening - the starter gets it's second meal. I hate throwing away the excess.

Wednesday morning - wow! It's gone bonkers! Grown like crazy. Apparently liked its second feeding. Jess says it's nickname is "the Beast".

Wednesday afternoon - Gary notices that it has shrunk. Emergency email to Jess who reassures me that it is "just doing its thing". I begin to regret not taking pictures of things as they go along.

Wednesday evening - it gets its third feeding. More excess starter goes into the compost pile. waaaa!!!!!

Thursday morning - Dough time! More emails to Jess: "I think I am lacking in self confidence today. So I'm just going to acknowledge that and move on. This may not be the best 2 loaves of bread, but I have to start somewhere. Things seemed ok until I sprinkled on the salt. The dough didn't "want" it. It acted like it was rejecting it. I was patient and it finally accepted it, but wasn't happy. So I keep kneading, kneading, kneading, and way more than 5 minutes go by. It's not "tacky", it's downright "sticky". I add tiny amounts of flour, wanting to err on the side of too wet, not too dry. But this goes on forEVER. I took it's temperature a few times; it was barely going up. Finally, I thought "screw this" and threw it in the KitchenAid. It kept climbing up the damn dough hook. *sigh* It's temperature finally got to 78, but it still seems like it's on the sticky side of tacky. Definitely no stretching to a window pane. I let it machine-knead a bit more and called it quits. Now it's in it's plastic container, fermenting. I don't have high hopes..." She sends reassuring and encouraging replies and reminds me to flour the heck out of my new bannetons. They came with a little note to spray them with Baker's Joy, Pam For Baking, or similar grease/flour spray and then to flour on top of that, so that is my plan. Then they go into the fridge to retard the fermentation process.

Friday morning - Baking day! The first banneton comes out of the fridge to proof at room temperature for about 3 hours. My oven isn't large enough to bake 2 loaves at once, so I'm giving the first one an hour headstart before I begin proofing the second one.

It's time to slash and I'm too timid with it. I've forgotten that the slashes turn out better when I just go for it. I spritz the oven and the first loaf goes in. Oh the waiting! Thank goodness I had permission ("DO IT!!!") to cut into it after only a short time...

It's fabulous!! The crust is crusty, crunchy yummy, the crumb is chewy but tender, the sourness is spot on. Thank you, Jess!! Couldn't have, wouldn't have done it without you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


A favorite treat from la Madeleine French Bakery and Restaurant are the lemon madeleines. I had toyed around with making them, and recently had an excuse to acquire the specially shaped pan. Then, as luck would have it, a madeleine recipe was included in a recent newletter from Cooks Illustrated! So I adapted it.

They're yummy! I think they could be a tiny bit more lemon-y, but too much extract has a funny "off" flavor, so I might not increase it by much. They're not too sweet; they're Goldilocks sweet.

Lemon Madeleines

1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 c. cake flour
pinch of kosher salt
zest of one lemon
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375. Coat a nonstick madeleine pan with Baker's Joy, Pam for Baking or similar flour/grease spray.

In a small bowl, stir together flours, salt and lemon zest. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the yolks and whole egg until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on high if using a hand mixer or about 3 minutes if using stand mixer. Add sugar and extracts and beat until a ribbon drops from the beaters, another 3-5 minutes.

Gently fold in the flour, then the melted butter.

Spoon the batter into the molds, just flush with the rim. Bake until tops are golden and spring back when pressed lightly, 9-10 minutes. Turn madeleines onto a clean, dry kitchen towel and cool.

Makes 12 yummy afternoon tea snacks or morning coffee treats.

Friday, October 05, 2007

7-Grain Bread

This is one of my favorite breads. It makes perfect toast, especially with nut butter and/or sliced bananas.

I think it turned out better this time than it ever has. Maybe practice makes perfect. It's a Cook's Illustrated recipe, but I have adapted it by adding 2 Tablespoons of vital wheat gluten. I've also found that the "right" sized pan helps, and that not all 9x5 loaf pans are 9x5. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cake Decorating 1

I'm taking a 3-part cake decorating class at All In One Bakeshop. Today's lesson went over how to make pastry bags from parchment paper, how to fit the coupler & icing tips both on those bags and also on disposable plastic pastry bags, as well as how to fill them with icing.

We learned to cut the cake horizontally into 2 layers and pipe an icing "dam" around the bottom layer so that we could put a filling on it without it gushing out the sides once the top went back on. Then we learned how to frost the cake and (mostly) get it smooth enough to decorate.

I was worried that I am generally not patient enough for things like this, but it went better than I expected. I think with some practice, I'll be able to make things that I won't be embarrassed of. Maybe.

I'm guessing that this would not be a design that my brother would choose. However it does happen to be his 37th birthday today, so I am going to dedicate it to him nevertheless. Happy Birthday, David.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Very Finely Diced

I've been sort of obsessed with restocking my deep freezer. In late June, I arrived home after being out of town for 2 weeks, only to be greeted by a freezer full of rotting food. It seems that while we were gone, Austin had a series of thunderstorms. One of them tripped a circuit breaker and apparently we were without power for a while. What a stinky mess to come home to.

Today I practiced my knife skills in anticipation of making Mario Batali's ragu bolognese tomorrow. The recipe was in the current issue of Wine Spectator that I read on the way home from Twinland last weekend.

Mario emphasizes that the onions, celery and carrots (is it still a mirepoix if it's for an Italian recipe?) should be very finely diced because they should melt into the ragu as it simmers. I'm not sure mine qualify as "very". They might be "finely diced".

While I was dicing and being grateful that Chef Batali wasn't standing over my shoulder, I kept thinking about poor Casey. I don't know if you're watching Season 3 of Top Chef, but in an episode several weeks ago, the teams raced each other in some basic prep work. Casey had to chop 5 pounds of onions. She was so terribly slow precise that not only was it painful to watch, she lost the race for her team.