Monday, September 26, 2011

Salt 'N Pepper Soft Pretzels

We are slowly getting settled back into the groove of Bellingham. As I sit here, mid afternoon a storm is blowing in, the rain is doing what it does best here, raining. I always have loved this time of year. The leaves stating to change from green to gold, the sweet smell of precipitation soaking the dry summer earth, the fresh apples and autumn vegetables satisfy my deepest hungers for something comforting. The temperatures have not dropped and I am not bitterly cold, a walk in a windstorm is a novelty this time of year.

The sunsets this time of year stop me dead in my tracks and I dash for our porch to watch the sky light up in every shade imaginable.

As the weather tuns and winter blows in, I settle into the kitchen. I bake breads and make pots of soup. I crave big hearty red wines, candles and books. Seriously you would think it is December, not the last pieces September with this talk. I know what is about to happen to the next six months and I am just preparing my body.

I welcomed this challenge from the Bread Baking Babes for the month of September. Soft pretzels were a great treat and one that I would love to make for our next winter party.

Salt 'N Pepper Soft Pretzels

Elle’s recipe was originally found at MyRecipes
Yield: 12 pretzels
  • 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 
  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 110°) 
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 14 1/2 ounces) 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornmeal (I used semolina sprinkled on parchment paper)
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 large egg
  • Flaky salt 
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a large bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes. 
  • Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.
  • Add 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes). Add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).
  • Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray (or oil), turning to coat top.
  • Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 425°.
  • Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion into an 18-inch-long rope with tapered ends. 
  • Cross one end of rope over the other to form a circle, leaving about 4 inches at end of each rope. Twist the rope at the base of the circle.
  • Fold the ends over the circle and into a traditional pretzel shape, pinching gently to seal.
  • Place pretzels on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 10 minutes (pretzels will rise only slightly). 
  • Combine 6 cups water and baking soda in a non-aluminum Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer.
  • Gently lower 1 pretzel into simmering water mixture; cook 15 seconds. Turn pretzel with a slotted spatula; cook an additional 15 seconds. Transfer pretzel to a wire rack coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining pretzels.
  • Place pretzels on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. (I used parchment paper sprinkled with semolina.) Combine 1 teaspoon water and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Brush a thin layer of egg mixture over pretzels; sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
  • Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until pretzels are deep golden brown. 
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The art of caramel and world peace cookies

I bake for a living.

Or as J. jokes, brings home the dough.

Really? Pinch me.

Or at least I have hacked through a week of early mornings and just barely knowing enough about baking cookies to survive a week filling a pastry case meant for human consumption and not been told to take a hike instead. Seriously. I bake at least fifty little nibbles by six in the morning, people buy them. I only imagine that people eat the damn things or at least feed it to their dog or please just just let me know you compost for Pete's sake. Honestly, I think that I would eat anything that comes out of the oven so the shop is in pretty good shape because I am rather pickey.

Like with anything there are flops. Failures. Opportunities to learn.

The last two days I have been trying to make caramel sauce, a really large vat of camel sauce. It is not working. Just as the "boss lady" gently instructed me, I mixed two cups of brown sugar, two cups of granulated sugar, one cup of water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar in a pot with very clean hands. The mixture went on medium high heat, I watched for sugar crystallization around the edge of the bubbling sugar, brushed it down with a clean brush dipped in fresh water, carefully avoiding touching the liquid hot magma doing its canalization business with the bristles. I let it go. Heating. Bubbling. Smelling wonderfully. I prepped the the three cups of heavy cream and a few ounces of dark rum in another pot, letting it come to a full boil. Timing is key. When the sugar is at the appropriate temperature which is apparently gauged by smell, color, the ability to blow perfect bubbles with the caramel liquid through a slotted spoon and the final test of dropping a spoon full in a glass of water to make sure it forms a round ball by the time it reaches the bottom, the sugar has caramelized and can be removed from the heat, the boiling cream can be carefully added in small amounts while the other hand whisks.  Then it cools. Then you pour it over everything you see. Simple enough right?

Still learning!

Next week I promise I will understand caramel sauce and why it separates if done wrong, like this morning.

Did I mention that there is so much information out there. Like here and here. 

But I did make a cheese cake with marscapone, fromage blanc and cream cheese which is studded with orange zest and baked in a cinnamon graham cracker crust served with raspberry sauce to be served all weekend. BAM!

Dabbling with caramel sauce, learning to determine when cheese cakes are done without the aide of a thermometer, understanding the jiggle of creme brulee can be a wee bit intimidating for me at times. I second guess everything I do, every action, scrutinize every flavor. Then I turn to my favorite recipes, ones that work for me, things I like to nibble and the things that I love to share with friends. I made this cookie recipe, world peace cookies within the first few days in the kitchen, needing a boost of confidence.

Everyone loved them, of course.

World Peace/Korova Cookies
Paris Sweets, Dorie Greenspan
Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour mixture, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Packed airtight, cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months. They can also be frozen in log form for months, and can be sliced and baked directly from the freezer, adding a couple minutes to the baking time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I am baker

A moment. Moment after moment. Each tick of the clock is all we have, each second that passes is an opportunity.

Life is full of possibilities. Endless possibilities.

Just as I had imagined or created depending on how one views life, as soon as we move back to Bellingham life blossomed. Don't get me wrong for a second, I do miss the sun, bikinis, sagebrush, the Columbia River and a few very special people that call Eastern Washington home; my heart is at home in the trees.

As life unfolds I am in awe of the sheer abundance of opportunities that are at my fingertips.  Choosing between the opportunities is the crux of life. Weighing options, calculating risks, understanding the ramifications. A lot of thought needs to be given to some while other choices are as easy as a warm embrace.

I dove in, made a bold decision and holding on for the ride in which I am in full control.

I decided and was equally given the opportunity to be a baker at a unique little bistro in Bellingham. The decision was not an easy one, my heart went one way and my sensible side went the other. I didn't sleep or think about anything other than this decision, to accept the offer or not, for a good couple of days. Come last Monday I turned the key and warmed the ovens in the restaurant and went about my merry way, doing what comes absolutely naturally to me, baking up an array of delectables.

Flours, sugars, fruits, fillings, butter, cream, mixers, rolling pins and warm ovens.

I am a baker. 

I have a lot to learn, everyday I stumble but grasp my mistakes and move on. It has been a week and I can proudly sat that I am settling in, absorbing the vibe that is alive in the kitchen, understanding the personalities that create the atmosphere, getting to know the tools that I have to work with but most of all I look forward to creating products that have people come back time and time again.

I have had my nose buried deep in a few of my favorite cookbooks as soon as I get home and before bed each night, mining out recipes that I trust and others that I have been dreaming of making. Techniques and tips are hidden within the pages of each cookbook one just needs to be patient enough to read between the lines. There are books, thousands of books, millions of recipes, with the endless hours that I have poured over the inter webs and browsed countless books there is nothing that matches the confidence gained from on the job experience from some very talented people. I am blessed to share the kitchen with a woman that I am very excited to get to know and learn from.  She understands my passion and is eager to help fuel the flame. She pulls recipes out of her head for everything imaginable and is willing to share her techniques that she has honed for over 20 years. I look forward to collecting a pile of her hand written tried and true recipes. I look forward to creating new recipes for you and everyone who happens to come by and try something sweet or savory. These two hands will be busy producing in the wee hours of the morning and fill a case by the time people stumble to work in the name of creativity, passion and desire.

This is one hell of a possibility. I can't wait to see where it goes, where I will take it.

I promise many wonderful recipes next week!

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Birthday Land

Another year , another year makes twenty eight.

I spent my birthday riding bikes in the rain in Squamish with J. We loaded up the car and spent three days riding the amazing trails that Squamish holds. I have spent a few birthdays in British Columbia either biking or climbing, I learned to bike for a birthday a couple of years ago in Whistler.

This year it was simple, just J and I, trails, bikes, and a camp fire. It rained all day but we made the best of it and rode in the mud, finishing the day tired and stoked. He bought a hatchet to chop some wood so he could grill us up some dinner and then I went and bought super glue to glue shut a huge gaping hole that he hacked in his finger. That is how we celebrated, nothing fancy.

I must thank you all from the bottom of my heart that called me on my birthday, the ones that sent birthday cards, the sweet friend that mailed me a package full of fun from eastern Washington, all the lovely Facebook notes. I have some wonderful friends.

I love you all.

I really do.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Neck Deep

It ain't no thing really.

Just packing up all our shit and getting out of the desert and back to the rain forest. Why can't we have the best of both worlds? Sunshine and evergreen forests.

Wait I think we can, we just have to find it....

Where do you suggest?

As we swim in a sea of boxes I laugh as I pack multiple boxes of shoes. Wee bit of a shoe fetish LadyStiles?

I am not even going to admit to the magnitude that came out of the kitchen. WOW. Cake tins anyone?

Bellingham here we come! Back....

I must admit as soon as we put the perishables in the box we will point the things that matter north (bikes, climbing gear and loved ones) and explore old stomping grounds and explore new places. Sunshine Coast... Revelstoke.... The possibilities are kind of mind numbing. September is the best time to be in the Pacific Northwest.

Speaking of mind numbing experiences, Las Vegas was all the hype and a little more. I will post a few photos in a bit but you can also peek at them on Facebook. I let you in on the good deats and none of the garbage.

Right now I am swimming in boxes and creativity, stoked to dive back into the things I love with all the knowledge I have gained here on my sabbatical in the desert.

Back to the boxes for now.

Take care friends!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Jet Set - Las Vegas Style

Vegas bound baby!

Las Vegas, it is true. It may be the one and only time so we are doing it in style.

From my fave design read: DESIGN LOVE FEST

You best believe we will be looking good strolling down the strip.

Show Stoppers.

We plan on dancing until.......



Well, what happens in Vegas is going to stay there!

Have a great long weekend everyone.

Happy birthday to my momma. She is turning 50 and celebrating in style - if you see her give her a big hug!