French Toast & Maple Syrup

It’s getting near the end of maple syrup season here in Ontario. The sap didn’t run for very long this year, what with the late thaw and the fact that it’s supposed to get up to nearly twenty degrees Celsius by the end of this week. The rising temperatures mean that it’ll be a warm Easter weekend, but it will definitely cut off the sap flow!

I hadn’t really taken advantage of the season to make any of the traditional dishes like pouding chômeur, since I’ve been too busy for much baking lately. But I wanted to make something seasonal, so I settled on French toast with maple syrup.

I whipped up the bread earlier in the day; it’s simply my bread machine fluffy herb bread without the herbs. This creates a light, airy loaf, which is what I prefer for French toast. I added a little bit of vanilla to the whipped eggs, but I didn’t use cinnamon like I normally would so that the syrup was the ingredient that really shone. And it was delicious!

Lactose-Free Grilled Cheese

I’ve felt 1000% better since cutting lactose out of my diet, but cheese is the thing that I miss the most. I can do with vegan milk substitutes most of the time, and there are a number of recipes where dairy really isn’t necessary at all, but cheese is one place that I haven’t found a good substitute. To that end, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of lactose-free versions, and surprisingly the store and bargain brands seem to be catering most to my needs, which I didn’t expect because they’re also some of the cheapest.

Since the lactose-free pizza turned out so well, I thought that I should try another dish with the new-to-me PC Lactose Free cheese. This time I chose the Lactose-Free Triple Cheddar Shredded Cheese Blend, which I figured would be tangier than the mozzarella. And I have to say that it turned out perfectly. I don’t know what this brand is doing differently than the other lactose-free cheeses I have tried, but this cheese melts well and stays properly gooey as it cools (I find a lot of them end up with a plastic-like consistency unless they’ve melted just moments before). It was a real pleasure to eat and I know I’ll be back for more. And now I really want to try the triple cheddar in Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese — also using lactose-free milk and margarine instead of butter, of course.

Of course, a good grilled cheese isn’t all about the cheese, although I’d say that it’s more than 50% of the quality of the final product. This grilled cheese was also made on fresh homemade bread — well, bread machine bread, but that still counts! Thing 1 made us some white bread (page 66, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)). We’ve really had to keep close tabs on the bread machine lately because the cold, dry weather has meant that we generally need up to a quarter cup more liquid per loaf. Basically, when the machine sounds like it’s struggling to knead, it’s time to add more liquid! This has meant that we’ve had to pay attention (and not go out) instead of the usual set-it-and-forget-it, but it’s worth it for easy, fresh bread.

Lactose-Free Pizza

A friend of mine who also has to avoid lactose told me that she’d found a great new product from President’s Choice: Lactose-Free Pizza Mozzarella Shredded Cheese (and they also have a cheddar blend). I was able to find it at a nearby store, too! Then the other day a different friend reminded me that I could use my bread machine to make pizza dough, so I figured that the world was conspiring to have me make some pizza.

Since I’d already tried the Betty Crocker pizza dough recipe, I thought I’d try something different to compare it to. This time I went with the dough from Tomato and Prosciutto Pizza on page 108 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), and I think I like this one better. It’s more of a thick crust and it definitely makes a greater quantity. I’d run out of homemade sauce, so I picked up a jar of Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce, which I had also never tried before and ended up quite liking. Not only did it taste much better than the canned kinds, it also was enough for two pizzas with some left over. I topped the pizza with bacon and ground beef, at Thing 1’s request. And I really liked how it all turned out! I was especially impressed with the lactose-free mozzarella, which remained gooey and stringy even as it cooled. I find that a lot of lactose-free cheeses melt just fine, but they start turning a disturbing plastic-like consistency very quickly. But not this one! This is definitely a dish I’m going to be making again, especially since my pizza dough tossing technique needs a lot of practice.

Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon

Yesterday I decided I wanted to try to make something a bit more complicated with my new Instant Pot (or, as my husband puts it, I wanted to play with my new toys). Since I had some red wine left over from Christmas that needed to be used up, and nobody in our household drinks wine, I Googled and found a nice recipe for Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon from Instant Pot Eats. I dug a couple of large chunks of beef out of the freezer the night before to thaw, and I had most of the other ingredients already at home. I did have to send the hubby out for tinned tomatoes and fresh carrots, and somehow we had run out of tomatoes.

I’d never made this dish before, but for all that I’ve heard that beef bourguignon is a complicated dish, I discovered that it’s really just a fancy kind of stew — and I’ve made many stews over the years. Making it in the Instant Pot really sped things up, but I could have done something very similar in the slow cooker, so long as I planned ahead. I really appreciated that I could saute the ingredients and pressure cook them all in the same device, though, since that saved me quite a bit of effort and clean-up time. Actually, I overestimated how long it would all take me, so I took advantage of the “keep warm” function as well.

I don’t exactly have a base for comparison, but I would deem it a definite success! The recipe’s serving suggestions are either with mashed potatoes, fresh bread, pasta, parsley dumplings, steamed vegetables, cauliflower rice, or cabbage with butter and pepper. I took advantage of my bread machine and served it with slices of freshly-baked white bread (page 66, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter, 2002). While this combination was lovely, I think I’d like to try it over mashed potatoes next time, in the same style Beef and Guinness Stew. And yes, there will be a next time, judging by the family appreciation of this dish! The meat was tender, the sauce flavourful, and it was nice and filling on a cold winter’s day. My husband ate so much that he was groaning afterwards about how full his stomach was, and yet he regretted nothing.

Bread Experiments

Today we found Candy Cane trying to fit in with the Christmas nesting dolls:

Last week I picked up a “new” (thrifted) bread machine for $7.99 at Value Village. It was exactly the same as my old Black & Decker All-In-One Horizontal Breadmaker, which I had loved so much that I wore it out. I’ve had a couple of second-hand replacements since then, some of which I’ve also worn out and some that I simply haven’t liked. However, none of them had the preheat function, which I didn’t realize I’d miss so much.

You see, the preheat function warms up your ingredients before it begins kneading the dough, which means the bread ends up being lighter and fluffier. The reason for this is that yeast is much more active at warmer temperatures (but not actual hot temperatures, which actually kills it off). Since “yeast farts” (the carbon dioxide emitted when the yeast eats sugar) are what causes bread to rise, warmer temperatures mean fluffier bread. I find that this is especially important when baking in the winter.

I tested out my new-to-me machine with a loaf of pumpernickel bread (page 21, Better Homes and Gardens: The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking, 1999). I’d forgotten that this particular recipe usually requires a little extra water (I really should read my own notes), so at first I thought that the motor was struggling. Nope, the dough was just too thick! About an extra 1/3 of a cup of water, added in a drizzle at a time, and it was right as rain.

Another recipe I’ve been trying to perfect is a hard apple cider bread. There are a lot of great ciders around here, and although I’m not a fan of them to drink, I thought they would make for an interesting flavour in a bread. (That’s more or less how I feel about beer, too.) My first attempt in my old bread machine didn’t rise much at all, but tasted quite nice. I put the lack of rising down to the ingredients being too cold, since the yeast is obviously still alive since it’s from the same package as the pumpernickel bread. The second time, I pre-warmed the liquids and used the “new” bread machine with the preheat option, which did help a lot. As you can see from the pulling apart of the crust in the above photo, it definitely did rise. But it’s still not as light and fluffy as I would like, especially in comparison to my beer bread recipe. Perhaps I just need more yeast? I generally only use 2tsp in a loaf this size, but it’s possible that the higher alcohol content of the cider is killing some of my yeast off.

It kneaded together well, though, which makes me think the wet-to-dry ingredient ratio is correct. Also, the crust is a little too brown in spots, which makes me think that there is too much sugar. Cider by its very nature has natural sugars in it, so I may not need any added sugar at all. So this recipe definitely isn’t ready to post yet, but I will do so as soon as I have a satisfactory, repeatable result. Stay tuned!

Reader Submission: Beer Bread

Sometimes when I write this blog, I get the impression that I’m the only one who ever reads it. I started writing in order to record recipes and record our family’s traditions of food, and later branched out a bit more into some of my other interests, so I honestly didn’t expect too many people to read. At the very least, my kids can look up how to cook their favourite childhood dishes when they’re grown. But still, somtimes it feels a bit like shouting into the void — until I get a bit of positive reinforcement.

So I have a regular reader, although it’d be too much of a stretch to call her “a fan”, since I’ve literally known her my entire life. I mean, my parents named my middle name after her. She is my brother’s godmother. Even so, I’m thrilled that she’s actually reading my blog — and not only that, she’s trying my recipes! She sent me this picture the other day with a note, “I love your beer bread recipe…” (That’s my Bread Machine Beer Bread Recipe, by the way.) As you can see, her machine makes different-shaped loaves than mine — her pan is kind of tall and skinny — but it turned out great! I couldn’t be more pleased.

So if anyone else cooks a recipe that I’ve shared, please feel free to send me pictures of the end results, ask questions, leave comments, what have you. Let me know what you liked or what you’d change. The more feedback I get, the better I can customize my content, and that helps everyone in the long run.

Happy cooking!

Bread Machine Malt Bread Recipe

A while ago, when I first started baking bread, I ran across a recipe that called for malt. It’s not a common ingredient around here, and in my search I learned a lot. The first thing you have to know is that “malt” can mean a number of different things:

Barley Malt Syrup: a thick syrup that greatly resembles molasses in appearance, which is extracted from sprouted (malted) barley. (Pictured above.) In Canada, this can be found in specialty or high end food stores like Whole Foods. In England, I’m told that it’s as common as molasses is here, and that children will often sneak spoonfuls of the stuff from the pantry.

Malt Extract Powder: An ingredient often used in home brewing, malt extract powder can be derived from sprouted (malted) barley or wheat. (Light dried wheat malt extract pictured.) This can be procured quite cheaply from home brewery supply stores and brew-your-own small breweries.

Malted Milk: A combination of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated whole milk, this is the main ingredient that differentiates a “malted” from a “milkshake”. (Not pictured.)

While all of these are all derived, at least in part, from the same process, they are all distinct ingredients in their own right and it will greatly change the outcome of a recipe if you use the wrong one. The problem is that a number of recipes I’ve come across (and ingredient lists on packaging, for that matter) sometimes use the blanket term “malt” for any of the three. This becomes increasingly concerning in the case of allergies/food intolerances or trying to eat strictly vegetarian/vegan.

So I learned all of this but still wasn’t able to find a local source for barley malt syrup. Not long later (but after I’d pretty much given up), a friend of mine came across some at a specialty grocery store and picked it up for me. Sadly, I had moved on to non-malt-based recipes by then, and the malt sat in my fridge for quite some time. Skip ahead to last week, when I cleaned out my fridge and realized that my malt was still there — and still good! (I believe it’s like maple syrup in that it’ll last years under ideal conditions.) I put together a bread machine recipe and tested it out a few times, to my family’s happiness. The malt creates a slightly darker loaf and adds a hint of sweetness (but not so much so it’d be called a truly sweet bread).

Side note: This bread can be made vegan, if you use a vegan margarine instead of butter, and use the correct style of malt, which is the barley malt syrup kind, in this case.

Bread Machine Malt Bread
Yields one 2lb loaf

A note about bread machines:
Every bread machine comes with an instruction booklet (most of which are also generally available online) that will specify the order that ingredients should be added. Mine says that liquids should be added first, then flour, then yeast. When preparing this recipe, the instructions for your specific bread machine should take first priority, so if your manual says to add the ingredients in a different order, do so.

Into the bread machine pan, pour:
1 ½ cups water
2 Tbsp barley malt syrup
Over the liquids, pour evenly:
4 cups flour
Into one corner of the pan spoon:
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
Into the other corner of the pan, spoon:
2 tsp salt
Make a divot at the center of the flour. Into the divot, put:
2 tsp yeast

Set the bread machine to the basic/normal/white setting, with a light or medium crust to your preference. Press start. Running this cycle should take about three to four hours, depending on your machine.

Enjoy!