Wonder of wonders! A snow day that came complete with prior notice. I don't believe that's ever happened around here before. Days like that are such a nice respite, dropping into our laps like found money, no strings attached. They quiet the world down.
No school for anyone, not even me! So, instead of fretting over the construction of a sugary delicacy in my Plated Desserts class yesterday, I relished the luxury of slicing, dicing, stirring, and whirring a big pot of winter vegetable soup in my own little kitchen. Served up with a generous slice of the moist, chive-speckled potato bread that I'd baked up on Tuesday night, and all was right with the snow-blanketed world.
Whatever our age, snow days release us from our most cumbersome daily responsibilities, if only briefly. It did my heart good to know that my 17-year old son, Charlie, spent much of the day outside, sledding with a pack of his friends. He's on the swim team at his high school, so he doesn't get to do all that much these days aside from schoolwork and swimming. Often he's out the door and on his way to the pool by 5:30 in the morning to swim before classes start, then the team swims again after school until about dinner time. A long night's sleep is a pretty rare commodity for him, let alone the time to spend almost an entire day outside. He reveled in the break from routine.
Meanwhile, Nathan, my 14-year old, spent a few hours of his own on another local slope with a couple of his pals. Dropping them all off at the neighborhood park, it was cute to witness these man-sized boys ultra-bundled and pulling plastic sleds behind them. When Nathan finally walked in the door last night around 7pm, his cheeks were as pink as a four year old's and he looked just as carefree. (He'll chastise me if he ever reads that, but I'll take the chance.) I hope my kids never conclude that they're too grown-up to play in the snow.
About these recipes . . .
This bread recipe is adapted from one I found on The Fresh Loaf, which is one of the most useful blogs around for amateur bread bakers. If you have a bread question of any kind, chances are the answer lurks within that site.
Really good, this loaf gets its moistness from a small amount of baked, and then mashed, russet potato, along with a dollop of sour cream and a handful of chopped fresh chives. The original recipe called for use of an unpeeled red potato, but I used a peeled russet potato instead. The original also indicated adding in chopped cooked bacon along with some of the bacon fat, but I left that out entirely. I revised the instructions to reflect what I actually did.
The soup's secret flavor-weapon is the addition of a semi-sweet Riesling; a cup of the white wine is poured in after chopped shallots and garlic have softened in a smidgen of butter in the pot, and before all of the vegetables and broth are added in and brought to an intense and lengthy simmer.
Once all the veggies are tender, the soup is almost fully pureed with an immersion blender, with as many chunky bits left in there as you please. Season the soup to suit your taste, and you're all set. (My adaptation of the soup is based upon a recipe that can be found at this link. I revised the instructions to reflect what I actually did when making my version of the soup.)
This recipe made one large round loaf, which I baked on a baking stone.
Bake one medium-sized russet potato. When it's cool enough, scoop out the insides and set aside. You can discard the skin. Mash 1/2 cup of the cooled potato.
Ingredients for the bread:
1/2 cup mashed russet potato
3 to 4 cups All Purpose flour
3/4 cup water, lukewarm
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp. instant yeast (I buy mine from King Arthur Flour or from a health food store. I've come to really prefer it over active dry yeast. I love that you don't have to proof it first.)
1 tsp. salt (I used 1 and 1/4 tsp. coarse kosher salt)
1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped small
In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the mashed potato, 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt. Add in the water, sour cream, and chopped chives. Mixing on low speed, add in the remaining flour a little at a time over a couple of minutes. The dough will be sticky. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and knead it with your hands until it forms a fairly smooth mass. If your dough is extremely sticky, work in more flour; if it's a drier dough, minimize the amount of flour you use for kneading.
Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning it over so it's oiled on all sides. Cover it with plastic wrap that's also been oiled or sprayed with vegetable spray, so the dough won't stick to it. Cover that with a dish towel and place the bowl in a relatively warm spot to rise. Let it rise until it's about doubled. That may take up to 90 minutes.
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press it firmly with your knuckles to remove the gas. Pick up the dough and round it, gently pulling downward on the sides to create surface tension. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes on the work surface, lightly covered with the plastic wrap from your bowl.
Prepare a basket/bowl for the final proofing. I used a shallow metal mixing bowl, in which I placed a couche (a piece of heavy linen fabric, specially designed for proofing dough; you can approximate this with a big, non-fuzzy, cotton/linen dish towel) that had been very heavily dusted with flour.
Once the dough is done resting and it feels relaxed and no longer resistant to shaping, shape it into a smooth round mass and seal the bottom seam by pinching it closed tightly with your fingertips. Place the dough seam side down into the flour-lined couche in the bowl/basket.
Cover the dough lightly with the oiled plastic wrap and gently lay the side flaps of the cloche over that. Let the dough proof until it's doubled in size, perhaps 45 minutes to 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 and, if you're using a baking stone, place it in the oven now so it has plenty of time to preheat.
If you're not using a baking stone, you'll need a parchment lined baking sheet.
When the dough has doubled, lift it very carefully out of the couche, and place it onto a flour dusted baker's peel (use the peel if you're going to be putting it on a hot baking stone), or directly onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Spritz the top of the dough lightly with water (this will help prevent it from bursting while it bakes). Slide it onto the heated stone, if you're using one. Spritz water into the oven very quickly from a spray bottle to create moisture--just a few brief squeezes, then shut the door gently.
Let the bread bake at 425 for only 5 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 for the remainder of the bake time. The bread may take about half an hour to bake. It should be golden and its internal temperature, in the center of the loaf, should reach about 195 on an instant-read thermometer. Let the finished loaf cool on a rack.
1/2 of one medium size green cabbage, shredded or chopped
1 medium size turnip, peeled and chopped into small pieces
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
4 stalks of celery, cleaned and cut into small pieces
1 medium size potato (I used an unpeeled russet)
1 small handful of chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 extra large shallot or 2 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and minced
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup Riesling or other semi-sweet white wine
2 quarts of vegetable stock (I made some using water mixed with Better Than Bouillon vegetable base; another nice choice is Kitchen Basics vegetable stock, especially if you're concerned about the sodium aspect.)
1/2 cup half & half (optional)
kosher salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Dijon mustard to taste
Melt the butter in a large stock pot. Add in the shallots and garlic and simmer until they're translucent. Pour in the wine and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add in all the chopped veggies, and the parsley, along with the broth. Let the soup simmer on medium heat until all the vegetables are tender; it could be at least an hour. Turn off the fire. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in its pot until it's got a minimal amount of chunks left. Add in, if you prefer, about 1/2 a cup of half and half to make a richer soup. Add in salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with your fresh bread and enjoy!
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like to know a bit about me please click here, or look for the tiny photo of a pink cupcake topped by a strawberry, further down, in the "About me"section. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . . .
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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I Pledge . . .
. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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