Breadmaker

Yesterday was a hot one, and today is predicted to be much akin to it, with the addition of thunderstorms. That’s par for the course in the summer in Ottawa: first we get a stiflingly hot, humid day, followed by an impressive deluge and light show, often in the evening of the same day.

Of course, I had run out of bread, but I didn’t want to fire up the oven on such a hot day. I would like to continue making my own throughout the summer, so I dug out my breadmaker, which I’d never used before. Over the winter I purchased a Black & Decker All-In-One Deluxe Horizontal Breadmaker at Value Village for $9.99. There were (and always are) a few on the shelf, so I picked the one that showed the least wear and tear. I also Googled to make sure I could get a user manual.


100% Whole Wheat Bread in the breadmaker.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was growing up, and one of the best lessons that my parents taught me was to keep the house cool, cook outside whenever possible. The most obvious example of this is barbecuing or grilling, but most countertop appliances work perfectly well outdoors. Breadmakers, toaster ovens, even toasters or kettles fit the bill, and it’s especially convenient to use them if you have a deck/patio or a balcony. They’re not intended for outdoor use, so you have to be very sure that they never get wet and are set on a surface that can’t be damaged by heat, like a concrete step or a glass-top table. If you’re uncomfortable leaving them out in the open, they can be left under a parking shelter or in a garage. Also, you have to make sure that any plugs or extension cords are up to the challenge (I recommend heavy-duty appliance extension cords just in case, you don’t want to start a fire).

So I made a loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread (page 24 in the user manual) in the breadmaker, and it turned out deliciously! It was really easy, and although I kind of missed kneading the bread and I don’t like the inflexibility of the recipes that go along with mechanization. But the results were delicious, and I can see why people will set breadmakers on timers so they have fresh bread first thing in the morning. Since I’m used to oven loaves, the bread looked kind of misshapen to me, much too tall and thin. The looks didn’t mar the flavour at all, though. My family devoured the entire loaf in a day (granted, we had grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner). I will have to make another loaf asap.

Microwave Oatmeal Wheat Bread

My parents bought their first microwave when I was eight or nine years old, I believe. Possibly later. It was a big investment at the time; microwaves at the time were huge, noisy, and expensive. I know it was probably at least ten years after that that my grandmother finally got one. These days, you can get a serviceable one for under a hundred dollars; back then it was a purchase nearly equivalent of a new stove. But microwaves were being touted as the appliance of the future, and as the time-saving device that every family should have.

To that effect, many microwave cookbooks were published at the time, proclaiming that anything and everything was better made in the microwave; now that they have become ubiquitous, most of us now know that this isn’t the case. My parents had one microwave cookbook when I was growing up, namely Basic Microwaving from the Microwave Cooking library (by Barbara Methven, 1978). I think it may even have come with the purchase of the microwave oven. It is definitely aimed at people who have never used a microwave before, and offers such great tips as:

– A microwave oven is a cooking appliance. It may be faster and easier to use than a conventional appliance, but it still needs a cook to control it. (page 5)
– Room temperature foods cook faster than refrigerated or frozen ones. (page 9)
– Use small strips of foil on thin areas to prevent overcooking. (page 15)

As an aside, do not use metal in a microwave. It could start a fire or damage the appliance. Mental Floss has a great write-up as to why this happens.


Microwave oatmeal wheat bread.

As self-evident or outright wrong some of the advice offered by this book may now seem (it is almost 40 years old after all), some of the recipes are still good, so when I snapped up a copy of this book when I found it at a thrift shop. A staple of my diet in my early teenage years was the Open-Face Bacon, Tomato & Cheese Sandwich (page 100), and I have added just about every technique from their vegetable section (page 106 to 121) to my repertoire, except for those that use tinfoil. But I had never tried to bake anything in the microwave. Well, with summer heat coming on soon, I thought I’d give microwave bread a try with the Oatmeal Wheat Bread on page 128-129.

It didn’t turn out too badly, but I still don’t think I’ll be making this recipe again. As a positive, while it still took standard times to rise, I only had to use the microwave for about 12 minutes, which generated a lot less heat (and took a lot less power) than standard bread baking times in a conventional oven. The flavour of the bread was definitely worth making again. The texture, though, was where baking in the microwave failed me. Have you ever reheated a piece of leftover pizza in the microwave, and had the crust go hard and chewy without ever being crunchy? That was what the texture of this bread was like — although in a few spots where it was thickest it was soft and properly fresh-bread-like. It wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t great. I don’t know how much of this is because of the appliance and how much is the recipe, so I think next time I bake bread I’ll make a loaf of this in the oven as a comparison. Then I’ll know the cause for certain.

Simple Suppers

With ComicCon deadlines looming, I’ve been spending every spare moment working on costumes. That means that I have been making meals that can be thrown together out of what is in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. There just isn’t time to run back and forth to different grocery stores and specialty shops! I’ve also been picking meals with a short prep/cook time.


Thing 1 and Thing 2 showing off the mini loaves that they helped me make.

On Saturday I ran out of bread, so I had to make more. Now that I have the hang of the basics, I don’t find that baking bread takes much time at all. I mean, it takes time to proof, but that’s time I can spend on other things. This bread was supposed to be loaves of Nan’s pan rolls, but after I started mixing I discovered that I was at the very end of my all-purpose white flour. No problem, I’ll use half whole wheat, I thought! No luck, I was down to the last dregs of that as well. So I just combined what I had left of both of those flours with some multigrain flour, and promised myself that I’d make a grocery run soon.

I’m happy to say that they bread turned out quite nicely despite my improvisations; it was nice and fluffy, but also quite healthy due to being predominantly whole wheat and multigrain flour. The kids were very pleased with the mini loaves that they shaped in tiny pans that I found at the dollar store. Of course, those were the first bits of bread from this batch that were eaten.

Saturday dinner incorporated that fresh-made bread into a breakfast for dinner kind of meal. Eggs over hard (they were supposed to be over easy, but the cook usually ends up eating the mistakes), pork breakfast sausages, navel orange pieces, and a strawberry banana smoothie.

Last night’s dinner also used the bread, which by this time was a couple of days old, but still toasted up well. I made plain grilled cheese and served it with some quickly-thrown-together soup of turkey broth, carrots, and rice, all served with a side of (slightly-massacred) orange.

Looking back at these dishes, I realize that I need to find an additional go-to fruit or veggie to pair with quick dinners, or my family will soon become heartily sick of oranges.

Hot Cross Buns

I find myself extremely happy that it’s not my responsibility to cook the formal Easter dinner this year, since my whole household, myself included, is still sick with a nasty cold. I did manage to haul my butt out of bed on to prepare hot cross buns in time for Good Friday. I think that’s the limit of my abilities at the moment.

For those not familiar with the hot cross bun, they’re basically a slightly sweet, spiced bun that studded with black currants and topped with an “X” or “+”, depending on which way you look at it. The Good Friday holiday for Christians is the commemoration of the death of Jesus upon the cross; the cross on the bun is said to represent the crucifixion, which is why hot cross buns are traditionally served on that day.

I used the “Hot Cross Buns” recipe on page 37 of Baking Bread: Recipes From Around the World for the Complete Home Baker by Audrey Ellison (1995). Unfortunately, I was not terribly impressed by the recipe. First of all, it calls for “shortcrust pastry leftovers for crosses”, without explaining the quantities or techniques necessary. Since I hadn’t made any pastry recently, I went with the second option of “a simple paste [made] from 2 tablespoonfuls each of flour and water”. That ended up being much too runny. I increased the flour to 3 Tbsp, and even then I had to pipe on the crosses because the mixture was so loose.

Additionally, either the cooking time was too long or the temperature was too high, since my first batch was burned by the time I went to check up on it by the minimum recommended time. I double-checked that the temperature on the oven was as instructed after the burned ones came out, and it was correct. So I’m not sure what went on there.

Maybe it’s because I’m sick and have no patience, but this particular recipe ended up being a huge pain in the neck. But at least I have homemade hot cross buns for breakfast, which I think makes it worth it.

Maple Bacon Cornbread

Continuing this week’s theme of maple dishes, last night I tried out the Buttermilk Maple Cornbread with Flax recipe on page 43 of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008). A number of the recipes I have used lately have come from this book, which I am greatly enjoying. I need to return it to the library shortly, so I have to optimize my use! Now that I’ve baked this cornbread, I have used every maple-based recipe in the book, with the sole exception of the crepe recipe on page 17. Between the buckwheat pancakes and the crepes I’ve made lately, I just didn’t feel the need to make yet another style of pancake.

The cornbread is only lightly sweetened with maple syrup, so the flavour is much more subtle than something like a pouding chômeur. Despite the syrup content, it is not a dessert quick bread; it would actually be a great accompaniment to roasted or barbecued meats, especially saucy ones. The top is sprinkled with chopped crispy bacon pieces, adding little bursts of extra flavour, although I think this bread would be great without the topping as well.

I almost burned the cornbread while baking it; I was warned by the smell, and I got it out of the oven just in time. My timer for the minimum recommended time hadn’t even gone off yet! I think that the blame for that can be placed upon my oven, which, as I’ve complained before, has been giving me issues when it comes to even, predictable heating. A new oven may be required sooner rather than later, although I shudder at the expense. I hope that I can make it last at least until the end of the summer at least, since I don’t use it much at all once the weather gets scorching.

I also cooked my corn bread in a glass dish instead of the cast-iron skillet specified by the recipe. Why? Because I’ve only got the one cast-iron pan, and it was too small. I think it turned out fine, considering. I believe that the use of cast iron is more tradition than anything else. However, using a preheated cast iron pan may create a crispy bottom crust on the cornbread that I was unable to achieve with a glass baking dish.

Whole Wheat Sesame Seed Bagels

Last night I decided to try to make bagels for the first time. I followed the “Bagels” recipe on page 26 of Baking Bread: Recipes From Around the World for the Complete Home Baker by Audrey Ellison (1995). The book itself is over twenty years old, but it is new to me — a thrift store find. I believe that this is the first recipe I’ve followed from it.


Whole wheat sesame seed bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese.

All in all, I was quite satisfied with how my bagels turned out. They are slightly chewy on the outside and soft on the inside, which is exactly how I like them. They’re also smaller than their store-bought counterparts, perfect to serve my kids, and hey, an adult can always have two. My mother and I both liked them and thought they were worth making again, but my husband is more reticent. He prefers the chewier, denser, Montreal-style bagels. Oh well, more for me!


Bagels before the last proof.

I learned a few things when making these bagels. First of all, if I’m going to shape the dough rings by hand (as opposed to extruding them or cutting them, like how they may be done in a factory), I’m going to need to do a better job of pinching together the ends. The instructions even warned that they would need to be firmly attached so that the rings would keep their shape. I thought I’d done it well enough, but apparently not. A number of my bagels were more U-shaped than O-shaped.


Bagels boiling.

Also, I found out that bagels are boiled before they’re baked. I had no idea. I quickly learned that this is the part where my rings were going to fall apart, though. I’m pretty sure they would have stayed intact if I’d just baked them on a sheet. The reason for boiling before baking is, according to TheKitchn.com:

Boiling breads like bagels and pretzels effectively sets the crust before it goes in the oven. The water doesn’t actually penetrate very far into the bread because the starch on the exterior quickly gels and forms a barrier. Bagels are typically boiled for 30-60 seconds on each side. The longer the boil, the thicker and chewier crust.

In the oven, the fact that the crust is already set means that the bagels don’t rise nearly as much. This is partly what gives bagels their signature dense, chewy interiors. (The other part is using high-protein flour.)


Bagels ready to be baked.

The last thing I learned is that there is an error in the recipe I used. In the first step of the instructions, it says “dissolve the yeast in the water…” However, the only time there’s water in the recipe is to boil the bagels in. I actually measured out the water and added the yeast before I realized that the proportions were all wrong. I checked and double-checked the recipe; nope, I hadn’t read it wrong. It should read, “dissolve the yeast in the warm milk“. I started again with this correction, and everything else went according to plan.

Would I make this recipe again? Definitely! I’d like to try different flavours; I’m partial to all-dressed bagels, and roasted garlic, and onion. It would be interesting to experiment with length of boiling time and protein level in the flour. Perhaps I could learn how to make the chewier, denser bagels that my husband likes best. I’m not too worried if I don’t accomplish that, though. There are some lovely Montreal-style delis and bakeries in this city that I’m perfectly happy to have an excuse to visit.

Guinness Yeast Bread Recipe

March 17th is Saint Patrick’s Day, which to be honest isn’t observed very seriously in this neck of the woods. However, since I do have some Irish blood in me, I thought it might be nice to cook up a dinner that reflects (some of) my roots. Irish stew sounded great, since it’s more or less my default stew anyway. To go along with dinner, I wanted to make some Guinness bread. I searched my recipe books and online to find a recipe, and what I found was leavened with baking soda. Although I know that this is traditional, I’m not a big fan of the flavour of baking soda, so I turned my hand to creating my own, yeast-leavened recipe.

This is a very dark bread, more akin to what Maritimers call brown bread (coloured by molasses) than what is called brown bread on the Prairies (whole wheat bread). The Guinness adds a natural yeasty flavour and a rich colour. The recipe includes oatmeal, so these loaves are very dense and filling. This bread is delicious served with cheese, sausages, sliced lunch meats, and hearty stews.

Guinness Yeast Bread
Yields 2 loaves

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 cup (125g) large-flake oatmeal
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
Cover and leave to soak for 4 hours in the fridge.
Add to the bowl:
one 500mL can of Guinness beer, warmed to between 120ºF to 130ºF (49ºC to 54ºC)
2 Tbsp cooking molasses
In a second bowl, stir together:
4.5 cups (600g) all purpose whole wheat flour
10g quick-rise instant yeast
1 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Stir together until well combined.
Gradually incorporate:
4 1/2 cups (500g) bread flour

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for about 8 minutes. When kneaded, the dough should be smooth and elastic, but not sticky. If dough is sticky, add bread flour 1 Tbsp at a time until stickiness abates.

Oil a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough. Grease two 9.5″x5.5″ loaf tins. Divide the dough into two equal-sized portions. Cover the pans with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 hour.

Lightly spritz the loaves with:
water
Dust the loaves with:
1 Tbsp large-flake oatmeal

Preheat oven to 450ºF (232ºC). Bake loaves for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 350ºF (177ºC) and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes more. Check to see if the bread is done by removing a loaf from the pan and tapping it on the bottom. When cooked through, it should make a hollow sound. Remove both loaves from the pans immediately and place them on a wire cooling rack.

Guinness yeast bread can be eaten immediately, but it keeps well for up to a week if wrapped in a clean plastic bag. Make sure they are wrapped up only after totally cool, or they will go soggy.