Christmas cookies, omg!

I got sucked into an internet rabbit hole of Christmas cookies. It is for the best that I don’t love making cookies, and only got sucked into a vortex of looking at them.

How cute are these Korean flower cookies? I guess they’re not traditionally Christmas-y, I think that’s good. A little surprise is a good thing, right? I want them, bad.

I’m a really lazy cookie decorator, which increases my admiration for people who put together cute things like gingerbread heads. Also, her ‘draw the faces in advance strategy’ is killer.

My go-to Christmas cookie for the last half decade or so has been this Ginger Orange Star from Bon Appetit. I love them enough to make the icing, and that’s saying something.

If I do get it together to make some cookies this year, it may be Dan Savage’s Ma’s Christmas Snowballs. They’re an entirely different cookie than I have generally made, and I like that. I think I would use walnuts, though, because pecans are lame.

Are you making Christmas cookies? Do you try new recipes, or stick to known winners?

Accompishment Unlocked: Cinnamon Pull-apart Bread!

Over the weekend I woke up with a serious desire for cinnamon rolls. Saturday morning is made for cinnamon rolls and cleaning the house. Bonus for me: I get up earlier than the rest of the house, especially on Saturday, so nobody is playing Skyrim, and I get a little quiet time to myself and the dog. I can even play video games, if I want, but I almost never do. Usually, what I do is pick up the house and make some breakfast.

I didn’t take any pictures of the dough-in-progress. I have been really enjoying using the bread machine to do the sticky/mixy/hands-on part of bread making. A tiny part of me feels bad about it, but really, it’s kind of the best. There’s a reason I have the bread machine, after all – I like homemade bread, and I like that the machine makes it easy and efficient. I’ll try to be better about taking pictures of that part of the process.

Aaaaanyway… my quiet toodling around Saturday morning was interrupted right at the point when I had rolled out the dough and covered it in a lake of melted butter and cinnamon-sugar. And honey.

A delicious lake of butter, cinnamon and honey

Me: I’m making cinnamon rolls!
Joe: I stumbled upon this thing the other day that was like a loaf of cinnamon bread, but all in layers.
Me: THAT! I’m going to make that!

So instead of rolling that bad boy into a tube and making rolls, I used the bench knife to cut it into quarters, then cut each quarter into 8 or 10 rectangular pieces. I didn’t take a picture of that, because fail. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped that I wasn’t going to cover my counter in butter-honey-cinnamon-sugar-goo, and started stacking the rectangles.

I stacked them pretty haphazardly, doing my best to keep them approximately upright. At no point in this process did I refer to an actual recipe; I’m sure there’s a better technique for accomplishing pull-apart bread, but this one did just fine.

This is literally immediately after it came out of the pan:

Yes, that’s a big chunk of the end missing, because people were eating it faster than I could photograph it. Except for the part where I wanted a picture of it, that’s not a problem.

Mmm, pretty, pretty cinnamon bread.

I’ll definitely be making this again. The layers mean that there’s no specific portion size, unlike a cinnamon roll. I may have eaten an unreasonable amount of this, but it’s impossible to know. I ate some layers, that’s all! Also, my utter seat-of-the-pants no-plan approach didn’t do it a bit of harm. I could’ve made some icing, but the lack of it was not a problem. And, thanks to the bread machine, the active time on this was probably 10 minutes, total. Not bad for a lazy Saturday morning.

Some things I love this week

Hi!

I’ve been thinking about some of the things that are kind of awesome right now, and that might be of use to you. Has something been totally making you smile lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

This is the best vegetable corer in the world. I have destroyed multiple melon ballers. They are not a particularly well-made kitchen product to begin with (that teeny, tiny weld! So fragile!), and they just can’t stand up to the task of taking the cores out of multiple fruits. Tragic! Not this one, though – This one has been going strong for WEEKS! Maybe longer. It has cored a lot of pears, and shows no signs of slowing down. I think the secret is that the open back means that there’s not a lot of pressure on the little weld, but that’s pure speculation.

Serrated vegetable peeler! It looks gimmicky, and I was, frankly, super skeptical when one was gifted to me. But it’s awesome! It’s particularly awesome if you’re peeling something with a delicate skin. Like, for example, pears. Also does a great job on sweet potatoes and carrots. I feel like it doesn’t get stuck, and despite the fact that I frequently hit my thumb with it, it doesn’t tear up my skin.

Customized tours! Seattle is full of awesome things, how will you choose which ones to do? Nell at Localist Seattle runs an awesome little company that will build a customized tour to suit your interests. I have often been in a new city and felt overwhelmed by the task of choosing what to do. I don’t want to do the tourist things! If you’re coming to visit Seattle (or have family coming!), book a tour with Nell, see the city like a local!

Hot chocolate! I shouldn’t have caffeine late in the afternoon. But I am cold, and I love coffee. Compromise? Victrola’s barely-sweetened, just-hot-enough hot chocolate. Good gravy, a good hot chocolate is a thing of beauty.

Making you pie! Yeah, OK, I haven’t actually started making these pies yet (it’s too soon!) but even the planning stages are awesome. And yes, I do think I’m awesome. Do you not think you’re awesome? You totally should.

Doughvember Disaster!

OK, let’s be honest – none of my Doughvember baking can be called a strong success. Flat pizza dough? Too-much-rye hockey puck of a loaf? I didn’t even take pictures of that one, I just ate it grumpily, and slowly. I didn’t even bring my sourdough biscuits to fruition, I just thought about them (that was because of a lack of fat in the house, though, I swear!).

I did have some success using the bread machine to mix the pizza dough. For a unitasker, I do love the bread machine. Usually.

After the pumpkin incident last week, I knew that I needed to make some bread, and some pie cookies, and I knew that my hands and elbows were not going to be up for rolling pie dough and kneading bread. Enter my friend the bread machine.

As I mentioned, the pizza dough was my first experiment using the bread machine with my sourdough starter. Even though the dough didn’t rise as much as I would’ve liked, I attributed that to my impatience/not feeding the starter sufficiently before trying to use it. And as far as the dough itself went, I had no complaints. It came out a little wetter than I would’ve liked, but that was acceptable, considering that it was my first experiment. And it was easily solved by a little actual kneading.

mmm, butter

The second-hand bread machine cookbook that has been my go-to guide does have a sourdough section. I chose the most basic recipe from there and went forth. My past experience with less-than-stellar yeast has been better when I used the “whole wheat” setting on the machine, because it preheats the machine, and gives slightly longer rise times. Since my starter has been a little slow, and my kitchen is chronically cold, this seemed like the way to go.

At first, everything seemed to be going just fine. The dough came together like it should have, it seemed to be rising, all was right with the world (relatively). I forgot about it for a while (I think I took a nap. It’s hazy.), and came back to find that it had under 20 minutes left on the bake time. And that it was both small and misshappen.

yes, it really is a loaf of bread

Oops.

Based on how this loaf came out, I think I’m going to continue with the system of mixing the dough in the machine, and do the shaping and second rise manually. Beyond being under-proofed, this loaf was also undercooked. I ended up putting it in the oven for maybe 20 minutes? I baked it until the interior was over 200 degrees. It was all I could do. As you can see up at the top of the crumb, there’s still a little dark band of undercooked dough, even after a second baking. Luckily, someone in the house loves bread, even bread that has FAILED ME, so the loaf is gone, and not into the compost.

Sourdough Crust Pizza

Over the weekend I decided to apply my doughvember mojo to the challenge of feeding and entertaining a house guest. I may have been a little lax on the bread-making front this week.

After feeding my starter, I cheated a little bit and used my bread maker to make and proof the dough. Despite having had this breadmaker through my grand sourdough adventures, I had never combined the two before. It definitely felt like cheating, but I’ll be doing it again, since it entirely solved the problem of keeping dough warm enough to rise in my really cold kitchen. (I didn’t take any pictures of that process. Next time!)

I used this recipe for sourdough pizza crust as my starting point. I liked that it was adjustable. Based on my experience of how much dough the breadmaker produces, I adjusted the recipe for 3 12-inch pizzas, and actually made 2 that were somewhat larger than that.

After the first rise (in the machine), I divided the dough into two balls. It did not rise very vigorously; I may be pushing it a little harder than it would like. Then rolled/squished/shaped each ball into a round, and placed them on parchment paper dusted with cornmeal (because I have a stone but no peel, and parchment paper is the best).

At this point they got about 45 minutes for a second rise, though it was cold in the kitchen and they didn’t rise much. Luckily that’s less of a problem with pizza than bread. Our house guest was vegetarian, with a preference for pesto pizza, so Mr. Pie made a Thai basil chimichurri/pesto hybrid for one of the pies, and a fresh tomato sauce for the other. He declared it the ‘most homemade’ pizza he’d ever made.

the carnivore's pizza
Mr. Pie’s meat pizza, complete with face-melting home pickled jalapenos.


Vegetabletastic pizza. I particularly enjoyed the way the kale got crispy, and the cheese-on-top-of-toppings strategy. Mmm, cheese.

I may have fallen victim to some flying by the seat of my pants while cooking these. I did not have the oven hot enough, and the crust could have cooked a little longer. It has been a really long time since I’ve made pizza, apparently. Still, despite the imperfections, there was none left at the end of the night, and I would have eaten several more slices. While it didn’t rise particularly well, the dough tasted fine and held up to the shaping pretty well. We will definitely be doing this again!

No baking without patience

Yesterday I wrote a post about my love of sourdough, to kick of Doughvember. Today, I am eating the loaf of bread that was baking yesterday, and I feel I should tell you about it.

Here’s my single biggest lesson about baking in general, and yeasted breads specifically: patience is your most important tool.

I can already hear you groaning, as I am also groaning quietly to myself. “Patience? Really?” Unfortunately, yes. The best flour, the most perfectly temperate kitchen, the most magical yeasts (either from the wild or from a package), they’re all worth nothing if you don’t give them time to do their work.

My case in point: Someone *coughmecough* didn’t give her dough a sufficient second rise yesterday, and instead leaned on the superlong, low temperature (because my kitchen is freezing) first rise. And then made the opposite mistake once the bread was in the oven: did not set a timer, lost track of time, over-baked.

Sheesh.

Of course, the other mistake I made was one that no amount of patience could have prevented: I remembered that rye flour is the key to a healthy and vigorous starter, but forgot that I don’t like a bread with lots of rye in it (at least, not all the time).

Luckily, the taste isn’t bad, just a little heavy on the rye, and the crumb is, ahem, sturdy enough to stand up to cold butter, and there’s something very satisfying about sour bread and sweet butter. We’ll call that the positive.

I fed my starter yesterday to make this somewhat disappointing loaf of bread, and I’m not planning another loaf today. Reminder to myself for Friday: take a deep breath, give the bread some time.

Much love for the sourdough

Back at the beginning of this blog, I talked about confirmation bias, the tendency to notice things that support your existing expectations. Earlier, we were talking about pie being everywhere (also, shrimp plates, but that’s not relevant). Lately, I have been noticing something else.

When I made arrangements to make bread with Wendy, we also discussed making sourdough starters. At one time, I had about half a dozen active starters, because I went to Evergreen and it was a legitimate part of my educational trajectory. Because, you know, Science! Or whatever. But after I finished school, I didn’t have any interest in maintaining that many starters, so I chose the best one, and then failed to keep it alive properly. Of course, it was really the second-best one, since my housemate had already killed the best-best one. Good times.

I did love the sourdough, though, really. It is delicious, versatile, and satisfies my inner pioneer. What’s not to love? Wendy had attempted to start a culture, to no avail, so I sent her to the store for rye flour. Rye flour is the answer! Her new starter is bubbling happily away, getting ready to be put to use with her newly-honed bread skills. I started one of my own, as well, which is now making its first loaf of bread in the oven. Hurray!

I was also delighted to see a tweet this morning about a challenge that a couple bloggers are doing, right up my alley. Doughvember! The general gist is to be in the practice of using your sourdough starter, and thereby improve your skills. I am down!

I think it’s particularly cool that Linda of Salty Seattle is giving away some of her starter. I hope you’ll follow along!