Saturday, August 25, 2012


Here is a quick little post to share more of one of my little obsessions: bread baking.

I love making my own bread. It's more than just the health benefits of homemade bread over store-bought bread, though there are many, not the least of which is ensuring only real ingredients are in each loaf. I just love the feel of the dough, the chemistry of it all, the smell of bread baking in the oven, and of course the taste! It still amazes me to see flour, yeast, and water come together into something so delicious.

Here are my latest loaves - honey whole wheat.

I've been reading The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. it is amazing and I am learning a lot. I've been reading about starters, which are basically preparation of part of the dough ahead of time to develop more flavor. It is working really well so far and has the added benefit of making my bread last longer before going stale.

I'm still playing around with my recipe, but I will share the version I have been using lately. It is really good! It does require a bit more work, but not much. And you need to plan ahead a little to make sure the timing works for you. Let me tell you, it is very much worth all of the effort!


Honey Whole Wheat Bread

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour

Starter (above)
2 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoon melted butter
1-1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups (13-1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour
3 cups (13-1/2 ounces) bread flour

Put together the starter one day before you want to bake your bread. To make the starter, first whisk together the warm water and yeast. Whisk in honey. Allow to sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour. The mixture should look and feel like a sticky bread dough. Cover loosely and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight.

To make the bread, bring the starter to room temperature. Place it in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a small bowl, whisk together the warm milk and yeast. Add the yeast and milk to the starter. Add the melted butter and honey. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours and the salt. Add to the mixer bowl and mix with the paddle attachment until everything is combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes. The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky. If the dough feels too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time while kneading, being careful not to add too much.

Lightly oil a large bowl, then place the dough in it, turning so that the top of the dough is also coated with oil. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour.

After the dough has risen, turn it out gently onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place into lightly oiled or sprayed (with non-stick baking spray) loaf pans and let rise for about an hour or until each loaf is nicely domed.

Just before the time is up, dip a sharp paring knife into water and gently score the top of each loaf. You score the loaf by gently scratching the surface, with a paper cut motion, rather than plunging the knife into the loaf. The water will keep the knife from sticking and dragging in the dough. You can skip this step if you like, but scoring the loaf will give you a better rise in the oven and keep the loaf from splitting.

Twenty minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place a metal pan in the bottom of the oven and allow it to heat with the oven. Use a heavy metal pan with 1-2 inch sides to do this. Do NOT use glass, which will shatter when you add the hot water later. Start 1-2 cups of water on the stove and bring it to a boil (I use a tea kettle). Have a spray bottle filled with water handy (room temperature).

When the loaves are ready, put them in the preheated oven so that the loaves themselves are in the center of the oven and directly over the preheated pan. Carefully pour the boiling water into the pan at the bottom of the oven, being careful not to touch the hot steam and not to pour water onto the loaves. Quickly close the oven. After 30 seconds, crack open the door and lightly spray water from the bottle onto the walls of the oven. Do NOT spray any glass, any lights, or the loaves. Repeat the misting two more times at 30 second intervals.

This all creates steam that will allow your loaves to rise higher in the oven and have a better crust. You can skip all of this if it seems like too much trouble, but I have found that it is worth the small effort.

After the third misting, turn the temperature on the oven down to 350 degrees F. and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the pans immediately and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

These loaves freeze really well. After they are completely cool, wrap each loaf tightly in plastic wrap and then tightly in aluminum foil before putting in the freezer. Otherwise, you can store the loaves at room temperature in an airtight container and they will keep for about a week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Surfing Hello Kitty


Last week I had the chance to make a cake for a lovely little girl turning 8 years old. Her lovely mother is a friend of mine and she is so sweet. I was happy to make this cake!

The birthday girl requested Hello Kitty. On a surfboard. With a palm tree and a red crab.

I said "sure" but when the time came to make all of that and get it to work, it had me trembling! In the end it all worked out, though. Don't you think?

Here is a slightly closer look.

I assembled this cake on site, so I don't have a lot of pictures. I was afraid that if I put Hello Kitty on the top ahead of time, she would fall and break during transit. I do wish I had gotten a close-up of HK, the tree (my personal favorite element) and the little red crab.

The cake itself was chocolate (you can find the recipe in this post) with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream (recipe here).

I was really proud of how I did covering and smoothing the buttercream. My corners actually turned out pretty sharp! That is not easy! For those of you who are interested, the method I use for frosting my cakes is very similar to that demonstrated by John Russel in his new Craftsy class. This class is free, so check it out! I also cut and trim my cakes in pretty much the same way as he does, except that I don't trim the cake board. Instead, I keep it about 1/4 inch bigger than my cake and use it as a guide to hold the smoother steady and keep the buttercream even all the way around. Maybe someday I'll do a video....

Here is a picture of the cake chilling in the refrigerator. You can see that I've already smoothed and stacked the tiers, and I've put on a few "waves" and the tree. Please ignore the food in the background and how messy my frig is! :)

The "sand" is also in place in this picture. I love, love, love the way this sand turned out! I was just going to use brown sugar. Then I was just going to use crushed graham crackers. I went to make it and I decided to use both together. I chose the graham crackers for the bulk of the sand because they didn't seem as likely to melt into the buttercream. I added some brown sugar for some depth of color and for the slight sparkle of the sugar crystals. Then, and this is the brilliant part if I do say so myself, I added a handful of white chocolate chips. I pulsed it all in my food processor - first the crackers and sugar until very finely ground, then the white chocolate chips until they were in fairly small pieces but not evenly ground. The chips ended up looking like little bits and pieces of shells scattered in the sand. It was perfect! And tasty!

(Please don't tell me if people have done this before! I'm sure I'm not the pioneer of this technique, but I like to think I am!)

Hello Kitty, the tree and the waves are all gumpaste. I had to make HK out of gumpaste so that she would be firm enough to stand up. Same with the tree. I made the trunk and the leaves several days ahead of time and left them to dry. The leaves were on wires and then inserted into the top of the trunk. There was a toothpick in the bottom of the trunk to hold it in place. I really like how the tree turned out. I do wish I had dusted the leaves with petal dust, though, to bring out the details and give them more depth. Sadly, I didn't think of it until after the tree was all assembled and I was afraid that if I took the leaves back out to dust them, they would break. I couldn't afford any breakage because I didn't have time to make more. My extras had already broken!

Handy tip: when working with gumpaste, always make extra! Some pieces always end up breaking.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed surfing Hello Kitty! Thanks for stopping by!