The Middle Sister is Made of Meh – CannonballRead #8 – Review #1

 

Read – Review – Fight Cancer

The Songbird’s Call by Rachael Herron Book 2 in the Songbird Trilogy

Romance – Contemporary – Smut level: Pretty hot.

Why this book? I have been following Rachael Herron since before she was a published author and was just a somewhat random knitting blogger. I had the opportunity to join her review team and got a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for posting a review (full disclosure).

This is the second book in the Songbird Trilogy series. The Darling Songbirds are a fictional musical trio of sisters –think Dixie Chicks from Bolinas. When we start our story, the band has been broken up for the better part of a decade and the sisters are slowly making their way back to Darling Bay. This book focuses on Molly, the middle sister.

Molly is chunky. Is she actually fat or is she just not super Hollywood thin? I couldn’t really get a picture of her in my head. A lot of Molly’s character is wrapped up in her weight, controlling her weight, people commenting on it, etc. It’s the chain that other people use to yank her around – regardless of their intentions. It’s very definitional for her and I understand that for a lot of women in the US weight is a huge _thing_ in their lives and identity. It’s not in mine. I have a really hard time connecting to contemporary female characters who are weight focused. I hate the propensity in “light” women’s fiction for female characters who are presented as psychologically normal to think about food in a pathological way. Molly knows that she doesn’t have the healthiest relationship with food and her self awareness helps to mitigate how much I was put off by her food talk.

So Molly has come home for Christmas after having been away from Darling Bay for more than ten years. The sisters have inherited a bar with attached hotel and cafe from their uncle. Adele, the eldest sister (and subject of the first book) is running the bar. Molly returns home from working on a cruise ship for six years and decides to re-open the café.

While poking around the abandoned café in the middle of the night she meets Sheriff Colin McMurty when he tries to arrest her and she throws her phone and hits his head.

This almost killed the book for me. It seems like every week I hear about another black person being gunned down by police while doing absolutely nothing wrong and this little bitch (the character) can fucking assault a sheriff and get a date out of it? The fucking privilege of even being able to conceive of this scene in this day and age literally made me nauseous.

To be honest, if I was not committed to writing a review, I would have stopped reading right there.

Now, knowing the author’s background helped me back up a step. She was a 911 dispatcher for more than a decade. Her perception of and relationship to law enforcement as a whole and individual members of LEOs is much different than mine. She was illustrating a side of law enforcement that she has seen and values.

Colin’s big issue is that he is bossy. It’s sort of his job to tell people what to do but it gets in the way of his ability to have functional relationships. His father was also the sheriff and for a guy who doesn’t want to be like his father he sure doesn’t seem to have tried to steer himself very far from the tree. There is a lot of fatalism in Colin that reflects a fatalism in Darling Bay. People from certain families end up in one way or another. It’s part of the small town trope that Herron uses but it’s depressing as fuck to think of all these poor people trapped by destiny.

Not the fun kind either

Molly and Colin feel instant attraction and that’s all very well and good. Because I don’t have a lot in common emotionally with either of them I had a hard time connection with their conflict. Colin’s bossiness, which is a deal breaker for Molly, wouldn’t be for me. Molly’s internal journey felt very jerky. They dance around each other. Or really, Colin sort of boils in his own skin and Molly weebles until they come together.

The lead up to the climax felt like it was tacked on, or maybe it was the start that was tacked on to the climax. Everything is moving along with Molly and the café and then BAM! She decides to start a second, far larger, far more ambitious project and it was jarring. I thought “Where the fuck did that come from? You can’t do both of these things!”

Spoiler: You are not going to start and run a national domestic abuse assistance hotline and website within six months of starting your own restaurant business.

It really felt as though Herron was trying to fulfill her theme of each sister running part of the old family business and at the same time create huge stakes for Molly and Colin to come together over. It didn’t work for me. Either Molly is a small town woman who had some time being larger than life but was fine going back to where she started or she is fully embracing that she is a world renowned music star and goddamnit she’s going to use her powers for good.

I think she might have used this while writing…

Wrap Up: There are one of two laugh out loud moments but this was not Herron’s best effort.

Grade: C

Bake On! 8 – Focaccia

The story so far…

Bake 8 – Focaccia – Season 2 Episode 3

Ingredients

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Queen of Salt and those other, lesser, ingredients.

You will know you’re reaching culinary heights when you have multiple forms of salt in one recipe. Yes, it makes a difference.  Finer, iodized salt (pictured above receiving the blessing of the baking princess) mixes in better.  Sea salt or Kosher salt, with larger flakes, provide a nicer aesthetic and a pleasing crunch sprinkled on top of a loaf.

Method

-Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and most of the water into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.img_20160327_135059

Oh so messy!! A big hurdle for me has been getting my hands dirty while cooking. When I was a teenager I had very bad eczema on my hands. Washing my hands hurt. So I kept my hands as clean as I could. I didn’t mix things by hand, I didn’t touch food while I was cooking.

Then I started watching Gordon Ramsay cook. That dude is all about touching food, especially meat, in the pan! Won’t he get burnt??? I’ve watched Paul Hollywood make cake frosting with just his hand.

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Get stuck right in!

I’m getting to the point where getting messy is part of the game not something to be avoided at all costs. You make bread – take off your rings and get sticky. The more I accept that there will be a mess, the less messy the mess seems. Clean up goes quicker when I accept that it’s just another step in the recipe. (You do clean up as you go, right?)

 


-Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre, turn the bowl 80 degrees and repeat the process for about five minutes.

gears

It really grinds my gears when the recipe and the how-to video differ. I default to the video. If Mary Berry tells me to do it, her recipe editor can go hang.

This dough is very wet, so it’s best to keep it in the bowl until you have some of the gluten developed. But if you pull it out earlier – it’s no biggie. And your loaf won’t fail if you turn the bowl 82 degrees :P.

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That gluten though…

-Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size.

Oil, oil, more oil. I’ve experienced two kinds of bread so far: flour for kneading and oil for kneading. I certainly didn’t need any moisturizer after I finished this. If it sticks – more oil. Don’t bother with the high quality stuff for the mixing and the kneading. Use decent stuff tho.

-Line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Tip the dough out of the bowl and divide into two portions. Flatten each portion onto a baking sheet, pushing to the corners, then leave to prove for one hour.img_20160327_161806

I used one half sheet pan because I didn’t have jelly roll sized pans – which is what they ask for. One big one worked great. Less crust overall, if that’s important to you.

Getting the dough stretched all the way out was a challenge. There was a lot of gluten going on here and it kept springing back. Foccacia is very close to pizza dough, so keep that in mind and you wrestle it out to the corners – be rough! The video instructs you to stab the dough with your fingers to push some air out and to make divots for the oil, don’t skip that step.

-Drizzle the loaves with oil, sprinkle with fine sea salt then bake. When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve hot or warm.

This is the time for the good oil and the crunchy salt. Don’t be shy, oil that bad boy up and whack it in the oven. I still use a thermometer every time I bake. My oven is inconsistent in how inaccurate it is and how long it takes to pre-heat.

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Pre-baking with tons of oil

I actually put the how to video up to the oven to check the color of the bread before I pulled it out.

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Baked. Such a lovely color.

We are it while it was still warm. It was good but very plain. I ended up discussing this bake with my sister in law’s mother, who is from Sardinia. I got grilled on my Focaccia by an Italian mama. It was nerve wracking! She asked me if it was Northern or Southern. I told it was from an English guy. She approved of the color and the crumb and suggested I add herbs next time.

Verdict: A – would bake again. Easy, satisfying, very simple to convert to a pizza by adding toppings. You should definitely learn to bake this. I can see this as an easy weekend lunch with plenty of leftovers, especially if you do have two pans or just hold half back for later in the week.

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Bonus: It’s not all sunshine and tiaras when I bake with a four year old. We both learn – she learns to bake and I learn to calm down and enjoy the time we spend together.

Bake on 7 – Tarte Au Citron

Bake 7 – Tarte Au Citron – Season 2 – Episode 2

Special Guest Kitchen – My father in law’s house and his hard to understand oven controls and long unused appliances.

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Get your shit together

  • plain flour
  • cold butter  – butter temperature is a crucial thing. Too hot or too cold and your bake will not come out.
  • powdered sugar
  • egg yolk
  • cold water

Method

This was my first sweet pastry. I was poking right along, using the food processor that father in law has probably not used in a decade. I got it all pulsed and looking like breadcrumb, pulled it out, kneaded it and realized I had forgotten the powdered sugar.

I threw it all back in the processor, added in the powdered sugar and hoped like hell I wasn’t overworking it.

Could be a disaster, could be delicious.

Could be a disaster, could be delicious.

Given that I had that cock up, I chilled the pastry before rolling it out as an appeasement to the pastry gods. I think if you can you should probably always chill if you have time. If you’re smart, you should plan it so you do always have time.

I got a shiny, new proper tart tin for this, using the old employee discount. The edges are quite sharp, like, you could use it as a very large cookie cutter, sharp.

When I watched the masterclass video, Mary had a particular way of rolling out the pastry.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on the work surface. Remove the base from the tart tin and lay it on the paper. Using a pencil, draw a circle onto the paper 4cm/1½in bigger than the tin base.

Dust the base of the tin with flour. Place the pastry ball in the centre of the tin base and flatten it out slightly. Roll out the pastry, still on the base, until it meets the circle mark. As you are rolling out, turn the pastry by turning the paper. Gently fold the pastry surrounding the tin base in towards the centre.”

 

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Into the tin…

-When I watched this part on the masterclass video I was so impressed with Mary’s cleverness. She is all about getting you there as quickly and easily as possible while getting “a result.” This even goes to making sure you have as few dishes to wash as possible. When I watch her cooking videos, her care for home bakers, among which she places herself, really comes across. This technique was perfect for this pastry, which was frighteningly delicate.

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… and up the sides with minimal touching and no major cracking.

This is when you can grab a little extra piece of the pastry to press pastry on pastry to avoid over heating it with your fingers. The pastry felt fragile and I was petrified of it cracking as I placed it in the tin. Didn’t though, went in a charm using Mary’s method.

 

 

 

Time to blind bake (that’s baking a pie shell with weights but no filling so the bottom doesn’t puff or or become…soggy!). I used lentils, that’s what was in the guest kitchen. (How does it feel, Niel?)

IMG_20160312_211238I didn’t blind bake long enough. I will give it a minute or two longer in the future. From this bake and others I have learned that I don’t get good results when I have a time pressure – like getting a tart done in time for the kid to go to bed. You can see below how pale the pastry was. Needed just a bit more color.IMG_20160312_215009

The Filling

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  • eggs
  • double cream
  • sugar
  • lemons, juice and zest
  • powdered sugar, for dusting (nope. I hold no truck with putting bloody powdered sugar on every damn thing) (See, I’m getting opinionated – that means I’m growing as a baker)

 

I prepped everything while the pastry case was chilling and baking. I filled the pastry case as it sat on the rack, partially in the oven. It was nerve wracking. Getting it as full as I dared and then holding my breath as I slid it in the oven. I want a fancy oven with the racks on rollers so they glide in and out. Failing that I think I might take care to clean and lube my rack edges.

One bakes until there is just a wobble. This is one of those things that is just based on experience. My brother in law, who is a professor of theoretical physics, and I stared at the center of the tart. We shook the rack a bit and agreed that it had stopped being jiggly and had moved to a wobble. I’ve got science on my side for this one.

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Or was that a wibble?

(I had never seen the technique of putting the tart pan on a large jar to get it out before I watched Bake Off. Genius.)

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I wanted, per Paul’s criticism of Norman in Season 5, perfectly straight, clean, shiny custard. It was straight. The shine wasn’t perfect. Some of the fat in my heavy cream had separated and I shook it to redistribute it. The shaking made bubbles that carried through the custard making and the bake. The pastry could have used a minute or two more in the blind bake but there was no soggy bottom. We also ate it too early (a common flaw in my bakes is that we don’t wait very long before we eat them) so the custard wasn’t completely set.

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It was completely delicious with a wonderful texture and a light flaky pastry. When my lemon tree recovers from the ill timed pruning I gave it last year this tart will definitely appear again. It would also be wonderful with other citrus flavors. I’m partial to lime.

You should make it, it’s not difficult and you’ll feel like a boss. Just get a consult on the wobble and you’ll be fine.

-fh

 

Bake On 6 – Coffee & Almond Battenberg

Bake 6 – Coffee and Walnut Battenberg  – Season 2 – Episode 1

(All the bakes, all the time)

The Season 1 technical bakes were really quite easy, if you had the recipe in front of you. The first season of GBBO that I watched was season five. When I went back to watch season 1 I thought “are they joking?” The standard was so much lower. I think that a lot of people watched the first season and thought “Well, I bake a lot better than that, I’ll have a go!”

Thus, the Season 2 Technical Bakes are no joke. Even with the recipe and the masterclass videos – wherein Mary and Paul show you exactly how to make the recipes – the recipes have been difficult to execute. (Yeah, I’ve almost finished the Season 2 bakes and am well behind on blogging – much content to follow!)

So, the Battenberg. You may have noticed that the title and the assignment differ. My brother, who judges the bakes, is allergic to walnuts. I adapted this so he could eat it. Yep, it’s not the same, nope, I’m not sorry.

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Mooom, no pictures, the ingredients are shy!

Instant Coffee was the weirdest ingredient I had to get for this, that and margarine (or “baking spread”). The instant coffee adds a full cup worth of coffee flavour without the excess moisture that would mess up the sponge texture.

From here we moved on to a fairly standard sponge mix (that’s cake, America) and a craft project.

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Greezy! (You can’t see but it’s a Sur La Table pan, don’t tell my boss!)

I am now confident in my ability to make sure the cake comes out of the pan. Thoroughness is the key. Grease, maybe some flour and  parchment paper. Don’t skimp (my mom was a skimper because her mom – who taught her – was raised in the Depression when skrimping was really just being. I’m learning better ways now. And that has been a short lesson on how poverty interacts with multiple generations of a family long after members of that family are actually poor. /sjwrant) and your cakes will come out!

You can go out and buy a special Battenberg pan. I was not about that.  I am completely willing to buy equipment as I go about my quest, but I am pretty sure I’m not going to be popping out Battenbergs again (spoiler?). Mary Berry, being crafty like ice is cold (I put on my records, she knew all the grooves) shows one how to  use foil backed parchment to separate your pan into two baking chambers.

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Fold and cut, so that it will go into the cake pan nicely.

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There is the peak that will separate the two sponges.

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Making sure that the fold in in the middle.

My pan was 8*8 instead of 7*7, so my Battenbergs were more rectangular than square. No biggie.

Beat up the sponge, then, split it in half and add flavor to each half. Instead of walnuts, I used almonds.  Next time I would toast them to add even more flavour.

I tried to be exact on this part, to get identical sponges.

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And yet, my sponges were quite different sizes.  That was frustrating. I tried very hard to make them even before baking and it just didn’t happen.  I don’t know if it was the nuts. I got the sponges out, separated them and then went for a run.

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Break time.

Coming back it was time to assemble!

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Umm, yeah! Just like this!

 

I mixed up a truly miniscule bit of frosting. It was not enough!! You are meant to use it to stick the pieces of Battenberg together and then coat the outside so the marzipan sticks. There was just not enough of it to do all of that.  The sponge was crumbling when I tried to get the icing layer thinner and by the time I got to trying to stick on the marzipan there was none left.

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Uneven sponges, meet knife.

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All evened up and ready for slicing.

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Should have sliced my almonds thinner. There were big gouges when I cut the stack of cake down the middle

 

Marzipan! or Almond Paste? Marzipan! The recipe called for 8 oz of marzipan. The package had seven. I didn’t buy a second package so I would have the right amount and then have six ounces of marzipan left over. It didn’t make a difference.  I had enough to roll out and cover the cake.

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Marzipan is suspicious…..

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Bash it and roll it out. Board is covered in powdered sugar instead of flour.

 

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Engage child to cover the sponges in the marzipan. Rent child if necessary, this step cannot be skipped.

Rolling the marzipan and wrapping up the sponges was much easier than I had been anticipating. As a material, marzipan was fun and easy to work with. Paul likes to crimp, so I crimped and added almonds on top.

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Voila!

 

 

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Super Cute!

It looked good! The marzipan was separating from the sides due to the lack of frosting to stick it on.

We sliced it, ate it and… it was really gross. The commercial marzipan was disgustingly sweet. You couldn’t taste much coffee or almond, just sugar. For all that work it was not delicious. I would not make this again, unless I made my own marzipan (which I have done in the mean time and it came out great). If you make this, be selective about your marzipan and I think you will be much happier than I was.

-fh

Next Time:  Tart au Citron!

 

Bake On! 5 – Cornish Pasties

GBBO Season 1, Episode five

I must say, the husbeast and I were really looking forward to this bake…

pasty reference

Cornish Pasties!!

When I lived in the UK I loved these things. Whenever I went into town I would go to the Cornish Pasty Shop and grab one of these guys. A pasty (pronounced pass-tee) is basically thick stew in a handy carrying case. Eating the pastry case is somewhat optional. Like fajitas, when originally devised the pastry was not meant to be eaten but was effectively the equivalent of a Tupperware. I’m not a coal miner or a cowboy so my food stays cleaner and thus the pastry should be tasty _and_ functional.

 

This recipe is a bog standard, traditional pasty with beef, swede (rutabaga), potato, and onion filling.

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The baking equivalent of this.

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Ready, Steady…

 

Some things that we use are just tools. Some things have more meaning. Growing up, in my mom’s kitchen we had a bowl that looked a lot like this one.

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This is not that bowl. This was my mother’s mother’s bowl. I got a fair amount of kitchen equipment when my grandmother died and all of it is special to me. This is my go-to mixing bowl for all applications. Five generations of my family have probably used this bowl. This is part of what I mean when I say that when I bake, I feel connected to the old magic. This is an artifact of the crone and I adore that about it.

 

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Rough, ready for action

 

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Post kneading

Kneading is standard at this point. No worries about overworking this one. Got it smooth and popped it in the frig. While the dough chills out in the frig, get the meat and veg chopped up

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You can’t see it but I’m making a mistake in this picture

This was the right size of dice for this bake. It’s not a particularly refined dish so no need to worry too much about perfect little cubes.

It’s in the nature of this project that I have little bits of things left because I’m sticking exactly to the recipes. A tiny bit of swede here, a tiny bit of potato there. The next time I bake these I’ll just use the whole veg rather than leaving 14 grams of onion unused (the horror).

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Kitchen Equipment you need – Measuring Tape. Seriously, don’t try to eyeball stuff, measure it. In thirty years, I’m sure I’ll be able to roll something out without measuring but for now I’m keeping one of these in my kitchen drawer.

Cornish Pasties traditionally have 17 to 21 crimps. Did I count? What do you think?

Pre and Post Crimping

Pre and Post Crimping

Of course I did, and I did 17! 18 if you count the fold under at the end. I gave them a hug, as this baker recommends.

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Seriously large pasties

Baking was sort of tricky. You need to make sure the meat is fully cooked and that the pastry isn’t overcooked. I didn’t want to stab them with a thermometer because they might lose their precious bodily fluids. My oven is slow, so time is the starting guideline and from there I go by the color I see in the masterclass videos. Egg wash is key!

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No soggy bottoms, yo! There was leakage, that seems to be normal.

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Golden! Delicious?

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Looks like the picture up above.

I ate them with a fork – picking out the filling and eating bits of the pastry. The case worked very well. It was easy to hold onto as I munched its guts.

Verdict – Delicious and pleasing!  I will totally bake more pasties. There were some dry spots. When I made my filling I got it together, added the seasoning and then let it sit for a while. When I put the filling on to the dough there was a lot of liquid left in the bowl, liquid that would have been better off in my pasty.

What will I change?

-If I was going to make it for Mary and Paul I would be more mindful of making them as close to the same size as possible. I would measure and roll the pastry more carefully and weigh out my filling as well.

-Not let my filling sit and lose juice, I have a feeling this was a problem that led to some of the dryness I got.

-Smaller Pasties. These were huuuuuge. I couldn’t finish a whole pasty including the pastry case as my dinner. Little Pip could eat about half a pasty worth of filling. More, smaller pasties would be easier to manage.

-Different fillings. You can go buck wild with pasty fillings. I’m looking forward to changing it up.

Bake On!

-fh

Next week, the first technical of Season 2 – the Coffee and Walnut Battenberg

Bake On! – 4 – Hot Lemon Soufflé

Hot times!!

Week 4 – Hot Lemon Soufflé

(Series Rundown)

Soufflés are sort of notorious little bastards. They belong to the category of foods I’ve never eaten so I have no idea if what I do is “right” so I’ll judge it based on if I like it and it looks right (which is actually most of the bakes).

The reputation of these very light, baked egg dishes is that they are finicky and will fail if you look at them wrong.

Mise en Place, not too complicated.

Mise en Place, not too complicated.

With Mary Berry’s how-to video and my intrepid companions by my side, I set out to conquer the wild soufflé beast.

Liz, mashing the yolks and the sugar.

Liz, mashing the yolks and the sugar. Me, whisking something with hot cream.

 

What struck me most about this recipe is how many times I took the mixture on and off the stove.  There were lots of tiny things to do.

Like make sure your egg whites are beaten enough to not fall out of the bowl

Like make sure your egg whites are beaten enough to not fall out of the bowl

I love to dwell on the history of recipes like this. The millenia of trail and error and the “well damn, I don’t have any more ingredients so I need make do with what I’ve got” attitude that led to making sure you brush the butter into the ramekins in the correct direction.

Liz actually beat some air back out of the egg whites, they were a bit too stiff, and then they got folded in to the egg yolk, flour, cream, mix.  I didn’t do it like Mary (gasp!) I used the whisk and lifted and let it drop through.  What I did do, vary carefully, is match the visual texture of Mary’s mix. Her’s was very smooth and I went for that.

with a capital, smoooooo....

with a capital, smoooooo….

Into the ramekins, and into the oven. Liz and I introduced my little girl to the fine art of watching for the perfect moment to pull something out of our hat.

Onward, to fluffy, well risen glory!

Onward, to fluffy, well risen glory!

Wait for it...

Wait for it…

I don’t know if my oven is really slow, I use a thermometer every time I bake, or recipes tell you too little time so you start checking early and don’t burn stuff.  Either way, the souffles took about 17 minutes, not the 14 on the recipe.  They would have been taller, except my ramekins were bigger than the recipe called for, so the mix didn’t fill them as full. But…

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Yaaassssss!

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Just the perfect little bit of golden brown-ness

How did they taste? Well for one, hot! You need to eat them right out of the oven. We skipped the powdered sugar.

They were light and lemony. Very delicious and we knocked them back as quickly as we could, given that we were burning our tongues!

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Yum! Ow! Yum! Ow!

Tasty and not actually that hard to do. Would bake again!

Next time: Cornish Pasties!

-fh

-fh

 

 

Bake On 3 – Cob Loaf

This is quite late because I was hella sick!

Onward to Week 3 – The Cob Loaf.

(Series Rundown)

This is plain, simple, white bread, shaped into a round loaf.

bread

Easy, right?

 

Once again, I read through the complete recipe, watched the episode that included the Cob, and watched a walk through video. If you’ve never watched Paul Hollywood knead dough, you’re missing out on life. It’s, well, it’s amazing (He always does it with one hand. So intense).

Step 1 – Wash the dishes. I like a clean kitchen to cook in, I also like a happy husbeast, so I always keep it clean.

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Mise en place – not a lot to it.

 

Pre-Kneading

Pre-Kneading

I love the process of kneading dough. It feels like old magic. Well before we had the science of baking down, a long lineage of people applied trial and error to figure out what did and didn’t work. They didn’t know they were developing gluten, they just knew if you beat the crap out of it, it got better. When I do this, I feel like I’m reaching for the Crone. It’s a connection, an awareness of history.

 

 

I didn’t expect herself to be that good at kneading but she was a natural! We gave it a good working over and got it nice and smooth, with a capital smooooo……

 

Post kneading, pre-rise

Post kneading, pre-rise. 

 

The most interesting thing I learned during this bake was how to shape a loaf. Unlike quick breads, it’s important to shape yeasted breads so they rise in a particular direction.

 

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This guy has risen, been beaten back, and shaped. Now for the second rising.

 

For this loaf I folded it inwards, in a circle, to make sure it rose up and didn’t flatten out as it bakes. The shaping aligns the gluten and thus the structure of the loaf. It’s more important for a “free form” loaf than one in a tin.

 

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The slicing on the top looks pretty and prevents cracking.

 

After the second rise (another hour to mess around/clean the kitchen) the loaf is coated in flour and then cut on top. Then it’s baking time.

 

Look at that bake!

Look at that bake!

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It looks so good, right???

This is waaaay underbaked.

This is waaaay underbaked.

 

While the outside looked great, the inside was not done.  I was baking and cooking dinner, so I had pulled my loaf and thrown in porkchops.  The moral of the story is that time pressures don’t go well with baking, especially when it’s your first time with a recipe.

 

Paul knows what I did, and he does not approve.

Paul knows what I did, and he does not approve.

 

So it didn’t go well.  I baked it a bit more, and it was fine as toast. But I knew that I had not met this technical challenge.

So I baked it again the next day. The whole thing, the kneading, the rising, the flouring, the cutting, the folding. All of it. I baked it ten minutes longer and I got…

 

This guy. Pretty on the outside....

This guy. Pretty on the outside….

 

...Pretty on the inside!

…Pretty on the inside!

 

The moral of this week’s baking? It’s gonna suck sometimes. I’m gonna screw up. Then I’m gonna learn and go right back after it.

The bread was delicious, by the way.

-FH

Next time on the Great Bake On – Cornish Pasties!

Bake On! – Scones

Great British Bake Off Series 1, Episode Two

Technical Challenge – Paul Hollywood’s Scones

All right! After last week’s good to eat but definitely totally wrong Victoria Sponge, it’s on to Scones. In the spirit of getting better at this, I actually watched the instruction videos on how to make these _before_ I tried the recipe! A huge problem with this project is  that for most of these bakes, I have never tasted a “proper” one. I can judge if I think something is good, but I can’t really speak to whether it is up to Mary Berry’s standards. But I’m not letting that stop me.

I'm sorry TV Grandma!

I know you’re judging me and I don’t care!

British Scones are different than US Scones. The ones in the States tend to be triangular and very sweet. The British ones are round, having been rolled and cut, and are not as sweet.

Can you see what's missing?

Can you see what’s missing? I’ll bake for the first person who sends me the correct answer.

 

I got the ball rolling (ha!), greased and papered a pan. I could have used silicone but I went with parchment. I don’t think it makes a difference. Sonic and the Outlaw came over to play Berry and Hollywood for the day.

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Do you trust these people with your dough?

I knew that the handling was key. You don’t knead this dough, as you want it to stay very soft and fluffy. You “chaff” the dough, which is a gentle folding that incorporates the rest of the flour and smooths the dough without developing too much gluten.  Hollywood has you use bread flour (strong flour for the Brits) (if you follow this path you will need to research both terms and unit conversions, teaspoons are NOT the same in the US and the UK). This _could_ develop a lot of gluten, so you need to be on guard! It is not kneading.

His other super pro move is to keep back 50 grams of the flour from the mix for the chaffing, to dust hands, board and dough.  This ensures that you don’t screw up your ratios by adding flour during the chaffing, you have just enough.

So soft and fluffy!

So soft and fluffy!

Once the dough is chaffed and smooth, it is gently rolled out to about 1″ thick (the width of my thumb) by the enthusiastic three year old you keep in your kitchen.

Kitchen Gremlin, hard at work.

Kitchen Gremlin, hard at work.

(Don’t worry, to cute keeps coming next week as well). Then it is cut with a biscuit cutter. You can roll the dough a second time to cut more out without too much worry but the third roll is a bad situation. The three scones in the middle of the pan were from the third rolling of the dough. They tasted fine but they lacked height.

Martha Stewart advises (and I agree, so that’s weird) that you should just cut them out of the dough to avoid any wastage if you aren’t worried about looks.  I’ll do that next time. They were very pretty, but I’d rather have more sconces than pretty scones.

Seriously, the best part of this is that my kid is super excited to do it with me.

Seriously, the best part of this is that my kid is super excited to do it with me.

I then put the egg wash over the top, taking care to keep it off the sides, as it can arrest the rise.  I think when I do these again I might wait until after the rest to add the egg wash. It’s not a biggie, but I think the shape of the tops was a bit small and wonder if waiting on the egg wash would allow the tops to expand in line with the bodies.

After the rest, during which they puffed up a bit, into the oven. And…

Golden, fluffy, split in the middle perfection.

Golden, fluffy, split in the middle perfection.

How do they taste? They are what we in the US would call a baking powder biscuit with a hint of sweetness.  They make an excellent vehicle for butter and jam and the fun sorts of cream that one can get in the UK.

Butter and Jam, you say?

Butter and Jam, you say?

This week was a victory. I feel very good about scones. We demolished most of the batch over a couple of pots of tea. A+ would bake again.

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Carnage

Next week, the Cob!

-fh

Bake On – Victoria Sponge

Great British Bake Off Series 1, Episode One

Technical Challenge – Mary Berry’s Perfect Victoria Sandwich

Mary-Berrys-Victoria-sandwich

Yum!



So, Victoria Sponge or Victoria Sandwich, a quintessentially British cake, closely tied to High Tea. Not a cake many US people would have made or eaten. It looks simple, and tasty!!

Pretty easy to set up, small ingredient list. Self rising flour? Weird. It’s just all purpose flour with salt and baking powder added. I looked up a recipe and knocked it up really quick.

Let's bake!

Let’s bake!

I knew from the get go I had a problem.  My butter was not room temperature and it needed to be creamed with the butter. Bonus – I go to the gym on Saturday mornings and my arms were wrecked.

(Sonic – You had T Rex arms! You can’t cream butter with T Rex arms!)

I can't make caaaaake!

I can’t make caaaaake!

I should have just used my mixer but the recipe was an all in one (throw everything together) rather than a cream then add flour recipe.  I would have been better served to diverge from the recipe to fix what I knew would be a big problem than to stick to a recipe that would be problematic.

My mix was not good. I was so worried about over mixing, that I didn’t get it anywhere near smooth enough.

I did remember to deploy my oven thermometer and actually get my oven fully preheated and to the correct temperature.

When my oven beeps to say it's pre-heated...

When my oven beeps to say it’s pre-heated…

I got the sponges into the oven. My tins are 9 inches across and the recipe calls for 8 inch tins.  I didn’t adjust my baking time. I was also cautious about opening the oven early as cakes _will_ fall if they get a cold draft too soon during baking.

Done? Done!

Done? Done!

They were golden! But unevenly so. The outside edges of each sponge were darker. I need to spin and adjust bakes to keep them browning evenly (look how much I’ve learned already). I let them cool and then applied jam. It seemed like a lot but next time I would use more.

Golden orbs.

Golden orbs.

I didn’t have caster sugar. Sometimes this is ok and granulated will work.  This is not the case for decorating the top of this cake. It was grainy and weird. When we cut into the cake it was crunchy. Eeek. It should be soft! The crumb was large and very irregular.

There you have it!

There you have it!

Now, it tasted fine but it was really not correct. I guess I’ll have to make it again!

Vile, overbaked, badly mixed garbage! Still tasty tho!

Vile, overbaked, badly mixed garbage! Still tasty tho!

-fh

 

 

Struck by Lightning – The Great Bake On!

Art is like gambling. The thrill of gambling is the uncertain return. We keep trying because we never know what we are going to get. Media is like that, we keep consuming, reading, playing, watching, listening because we never know when something will hit us in such a way that our lives will be made richer, stranger, or more nuanced by the perspective provided.

I watched a season of The Great British Baking Show (in the UK it’s The Great British Bake Off) and I am hooked. I have watched one of the series all the way through four times. I make my family watch it, I make my kid watch it and pick out dishes to make for her. I remembered that I love to cook. Spending a Saturday picking a recipe or two, shopping for ingredients, and making something is a damn fine way to spend time with my kid who is three and a half now and well into scooping, mixing, patting, and holding the top of the new KitchenAid Mixer.

My Grand Idea is to go back to the beginning and bake my way through the entire run of the show. Each episode has a technical challenge and I’m going to work my way through them posting a review of the episode and my attempt at the bake on a weekly basis.

Why?

Well, it’ll be fun. But also, I wonder, what does it take to be a Great British Baker? I’m one of those people who isn’t super creative as a cook but I can follow a recipe with no problem. I turn out reliably good food. The winners on this show? They turn out magnificent bakes. They innovate with shape and flavour. They step off the line and kick ass. Can baking a lot give me the confidence to try? Failure is just a lesson, will I find the courage to fail? The courage to think that I have something to contribute? At the very least, if I don’t become a great baker, will I at least become a better one?

Let’s find out!

-fh