Christmas gifts

What are my parents trying to tell me with this combination of presents? I got the Global chef's knife I've been lusting after for the past few months and a box of bandaids. I mean, they are cool bandaids, and I did mention liking them, though I rarely cut myself. Perhaps all that will change now that I have this knife. The prospect of wearing what looks like a strip of raw bacon on my skin almost makes me wish I would cut myself!

Sourdough pretzels

You (probably) have no idea how difficult it is to find a recipe online for real sourdough pretzels. I looked through quite a few, but most of them called for commercial yeast. How is that sourdough? I did find two that were made with a base of sourdough starter. The one I ended up using came from the recipe FAQ.

Pain à l'ancienne

So the picture is not fantastic, but this pain à l'ancienne is my favourite of the breads I've made. It has gorgeous, giant air bubbles that I haven't yet achieved in my other breads, a perfect, crisp crust, soft, buttery insides, and a great taste. It's easy too, so I'm afraid I won't find much to say about it. I made it for the same Japanese visitors who enjoyed my mille crêpes, making our meal a French-American feast of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, honeyed carrots, pain à l'ancienne, and mille crêpes.


Crumpets are sort of Important to my mom's side of the family. See, they owned a successfull salvage company based out of Toronto and Kingston, Ontario, but my great-grandfather was sort-of disowned when he went to America to try out to be pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He only made relief pitcher and ended up getting another job to support his family. (My grandfather was about five at the time.) So we have relatives in Canada, who used to come visit my mother's family, bringing fresh crumpets they'd bought early that morning. So, when my family used to go to Canada over summer vacations, we would buy fresh crumpets every year from the same bakery, and became friendly (as much as you can be, when you only see a person once a year) with the old man who owned the bakery. One year we got there and found out he had died just a few days before.


In my last entry I celebrated (?) my English heritage with crumpets, and now I can flaunt my more significant German heritage with Stollen. (Plus I live in Wisconsin, where every meal is a bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer.)(Not really, but we can dream.) Unfortunately, my own German grandma doesn't really cook or bake (and is technically of Dutch descent, but I'm told her mother was amazing) so I have no family recipes for this sort of thing, and have to steal them from other German-Americans. Or books, as was the case this time. Specifically, my recent favourite, The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Mille Crêpes

We had guests over for dinner this evening, so I was allowed to make a fancy dessert. The guests were from Japan, so I thought of the mille crêpes cakes I had often had during my stay in Tokyo. The first time I'd seen the cakes was after a particularly bad day at school when I hadn't felt like going straight home and stopped in a chain cafe not far from the subway station. I got my usual iced latte and saw the cake in the display. In Japanese it was ミルクレープ, which I had not identified as French, and assumed the first three characters spelled out "milk", leaving the rest to be "rape". Despite the odd name, it looked really good, so I went ahead and ordered a slice. This misreading affected the intonation with which I ordered the cake, but hey, I'm white, so no one really expects my intonation to be right anyway. I loved my "milk rape" -- light, fluffy crêpes with layers of even lighter, even fluffier vanilla cream inbetween them -- and ended up ordering a slice after a lot of bad days. The strawberry version was delicious too.

Hawaiian/Portugese Bread

I always knew this as Hawaiian bread, but its introduction in Bread Baker's Apprentice informs me that it is actually of Portugese origin. Either way, it is pretty fantastic stuff. I first tried it when I was in high school and baby-sitting some neighbours with my sister. The kids (who are now frighteningly grown-up) were surprised we'd never tried it, and insisted we do so because it was so good. This was King's packaged, store-bought Hawaiian bread too, nothing fancy. But we tried it, and it was like crack for us -- it's soft, sweet, and slightly fruity, what's not to love? Plus it was way too unhealthy to be allowed in our house, so it was a bit of a forbidden pleasure. The closest thing we ever had to white bread was country oat. Still, mom's work paid off, and now my favourite breads have more whole grains, more seeds, and fewer unhealthy ingredients even than anything she had us eat. My mom and sister still really like oat breads though, so I'll probably be making some one of these days.

Experimental Pumpkin Pies

I am very, very responsible and task-oriented, which is why I spent seven hours on Halloween baking pies when I had a big translation deadline coming up later that week. Just so you don't get it into your head that I'm easily distracted or anything. This post is a little out-of-season, since I didn't bother starting this blog until well after both Halloween and Thanksgiving, the only two acceptable days for eating pumpkin pie, had passed. I am just trying to catch up on some of my past accomplishments to make my blog look more established. I'd back-date entries if only I could figure out how. Anyway, on to the pies!

Pain d'Épi

The next best thing after making bread that tastes fantastic is making bread that looks really cool. While I have more than a healthy appreciation for a perfectly browned, thick crust with little crust bubbles showing a long, slow rise, I also enjoy the fun and showy shapes that people just don't make much in America. I made these on a whim one night after someone had posted a question to a baking community I read asking how to shape the epi loaf. I found this PDF that explains it (with pictures!) much better than I could do here.

Pane Siciliano

So this is the last 'back post' I'm going to do before moving on to current baking projects. This isn't even that old; I made it on Tuesday and there's still half a roll left in the kitchen (though it's too stale for anything but toast.)

Recently, I've been trying making up my own bread recipes, with moderate success. Last week I made two loaves, one a sourdough made with rice and wheat flour, and the other an attempt at some pain au maïs I had in France. I forgot to add any salt to the sourdough rice bread, but it was still edible, despite being made with only flour and water. The bread made with cornmeal was also good, especially with berry jam, but it wasn't as flavourful as what I'd had in France. My improvised sourdough sauerkraut red onion bread was also good, but not what I had been hoping for. Still, I am impressed it's possible to improvise with bread recipes at all, and I am pleased with my progress.

Very Vanilla Scones

I ended up making scones tonight because my sister wanted a dessert after dinner. She commented I hadn't made scones for a while (I used to make them about once a week) so we decided on that, since they're quick and easy. They sort of look like an invading army in the photo though. My original name for them included an expletive, but I decided to settle for alliteration in the final version. Woe.

I used the scone recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook (Classy, I know.) as a base, as I almost always do. I substituted margarine for butter and soy milk for half and half because we hate ourselves my sister can't eat dairy products. Even so, there is only one place in town I know that makes better scones, and I'm sure they're not dairy-free.