Just My Size

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I am not a large human and have found that kitchen gifts once given to my kids are quite useful. Here’s an inventory of my mini-utensil stash, which lives on my counter year round.

Artichoke pitcher: Made by me, in pottery class, while studying landscape architecture a few centuries ago.

Hedgehog: Hangs on for dear life, and appreciates being part of the kitchen gang.

Mini-whisks, mini-ladels: Three of them. Two of them.

Mini metal spatula (hiding behind one of the wooden spoons): Used to be for play, now for cookies and fish sticks, and most everything that comes out of our counter-top oven.

Mini-wooden spoons: These are used often, often, often. Especially for mixing fresh flour into my sourdough starter.

And did I mention the hedgehog?! I do like these little creatures and I just had to write them into The Hidden Garden, where they get to play inside the gate of the Old Man’s heart…

There’s nothing childish about being small. If you haven’t yet raided your little one’s toy kitchen, you can always write to Saint Nicholas come Christmas. 🙂

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Trick :: Long First Rise–What Then?

Photo by Matt Roberts, who made that fun movie about my bread giving..

Photo of rosemary rolls by Matt Roberts, who made that fun movie about my bread giving..

Once you’ve baked for a bit and know what dough should look like at the various phases then it’s fairly easy to begin fudging here and there with ingredients, proofing times, and oven temperatures.

Today, I will be away from the house for more than a first rise. I’ve been away from the house almost all week, which is why I haven’t been blogging or baking, because I’m spending this week in first grade.

After the first day of school back in first grade I came straight home, flung off my boots, and took a two-hour nap. OH MY!

But we have no bread in the house and children are begging.

So, I’m mixing up some dough for rosemary rolls and here’s what I’ll do.

Reduce the amount of yeast in my mix, add some sourdough starter, use cold water (I always use cold, filtered water) and make sure the dough isn’t sitting in a sunny place. Mix it all up and let it rise, rise, rise.

When I come home, after about five hours of rising, the dough will have spent much of its energy. So… I’ll get the pots into the oven, heat it all up, and when the oven is close-ish to its 450 degrees I’ll shape the rolls and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes–maybe less–I’ll keep those eyes of mine wide open and decide then. If I let them have a long second rise then I’ll end up with flatbread. Not that I have anything against flatbread, but that’s not today’s mission!

I’ve done this before, and it works. A long first rise means a very short second one. A short first rise means a longer first one–or maybe even two additional rises. We shouldn’t be slaves to our recipes and it’s pretty fun experimenting with yeasties to see just how they can be manipulated and stretched so that we’re not anxious and fretting about being in the kitchen when we really should be sitting in a desk learning first grade goodness!

Two and a half more days to go and then I’m back to being a grown up. Cheer me on, would you?!

Advent Bread Bags

There are several dimensions to this giving thing.

  1. First you have to be inspired.
  2. Then you have to carve out some time.
  3. Next you have to actually do the work–you mix, and mold, and patiently wait, then bake.
  4. And then you consider the recipient.
  5. Next to last you wrap up your goodies.
  6. And finally you walk, or drive or hop over to do the giving.

Phew. It’s a wonder what the human being can do in a single day! By far, I struggle most with the whole “wrap up your goodies” part. My beautiful bread usually ends up in a paper bag, sometimes an already used one that I saved from before.

Well, this season I am spending some extra effort on phase five! I do love fabric, and though I’m a horrible seamstress, I’m also a gutsy happenmaker, so mistakes don’t really deter me. Here’s my Advent bread giving bag, folks. What do you think? (I know, it looks like there’s a lump of coal in there, but really, in person it’s kind of cute!)

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I first thought of this idea after studying a fabric knapsack-style lunch sack I bought in Japantown a few years ago. Japanese are known for their amazing wrappings, and this simple fabric lunch sack was something that one could use again and again. And wash! Here’s a webpage that gives lots of information on different styles and ideas of furoshiki

I sort of thought about trying to take photos and help you sew one yourself. But!!! I am certain I would forget a step, or steer you wrong in some way. I once sewed the sweetest skirt for my daughter and the fabric on the back was upside down. And I left it that way. That explains a lot, I think.

In words, this is what I did. I cut a piece of rectangular fabric–about 11×33 inches. Hemmed all the edges with the machine. Did a bit of fancy folding, and just the right-side sewing, and then there are there these triangles to sew in the corners. Flip things around a bit and do it again, then it’s done! See, I’d be a bad pattern maker. Here is a pattern site that has a bag just like mine…

Anyway, what I love most about these Advent giving bags are the little cards I had made at Tiny Prints. I used one of my bread photos, and included a Celtic blessing on the back.

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So let the giving begin! I’ve sent out three wrapped loaves already–two molasses (one to a mama with a sad heart, one as a thank you, and one to someone under the weather). Here are my supplies:

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And here is the end result, in the hands of a little one, ready to go out the door.

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Tips :: Rice Flour

Rosemary rolls. One of my very favorite breads to make. Not only do I love the jaunt out into the garden, where I choose the best few branches to snip, but I inhale deeply over and over the smell of the chopped rosemary, which lingers in my kitchen.

I mix the dough, let it rise, then dump it onto the green granite counter for shaping. One roll at a time I spin them across the surface and shape them into the sweetest little balls. I open the pantry, pull out the mason jar filled with rice flour and douse it all over that giant Finnish bread board my brothers gave me.

What a gift, all of this is! The miracle of the yeast, the simple ingredients mixed and melding.

I use rice flour in much of my baking. It’s the best dusting flour that I’ve found, to provide a barrier for non-sticking. Some people use corn meal, and others wheat flour, but rice flour has virtually no taste and bakes away beautifully.

And I know this is a good tip–because my amazing baker brothers told me so! They’re right about everything when it comes to bread…

So I dust the board with rice flour–and I dust the tops of the rolls, too, to hold in moisture. I cover them with a towel and let them rise until the oven is hot, hot, hot.

And when I’m done, I scrape the extra rice flour back into the mason jar to be used again.

I found another use for rice flour a long while ago. This recipe for Dutch Crunch is amazing. Wonderful winter treats, full of flavor and good cheer.

How do you use rice flour in your kitchen? I’d love to know.

Measuring

Most bread baking books will tell you how important it is to get your measurements right. They will recommend weighing your ingredients, instead of using measuring cups. Here’s what Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik say in their book Bread Alone:

A scale is vital. I like the ultra-precise Pelouze Balance Beam, but home bakers will do fine with a small spring scale. Bakers are incredibly precise about their ingredients. They weigh everything. It’s more reliable and specific than a measuring cup…

Well, I have to admit that I have yet to invest in a Pelouze Balance Beam scale. 🙂 It’s true, though, with so many environmental variables surrounding the baking of bread in a home kitchen, it helps to have consistency at least in your ingredients and measurements. One trick I’ve developed comes with the measuring of salt and yeast.

I’ve converted old baking powder containers into spice and salt containers.

This allows me to get fairly accurate measurements from one batch of bread to the next so that I know how to better make adjustments. I’ve converted some other spices to these containers, too. Spices that are potent and whose quantities need to be monitored carefully.

Plus, the wide mouths allow little bakers easy access to the ingredients.

And there’s no way to measure my delight when little–or big helpers–join me when I’m baking.

Nope, no scale, Pelouze or not,

that measures delight…

Rolls-in-the-Round

Like grown up play, baking allows me to be creative with my hands, and see the flour and water and yeast and salt take on they mysterious shape and life of its own. Plus, I get to fiddle with fire in the oven, and use knives as I score the bread. Tremendously satisfying and fun is the baking of bread!

Lately I’ve been baking most of my bread in pots. I find that the environment in those pre-heated, cast iron pans brings about results so much like my brothers’ million dollar French ovens… 🙂

And here is a super fun way to put bread on the table, using my typical French dough mix for these rolls, adding a bit of rosemary for umph.

Just love rosemary.

Shape the dough into rolls, then place them in the heated pots and allow them to bake together, forming rolls-in-the-round.

Yum.

Run for Cover

Not much baking this week. After making an amazing batch of sourdough, which you witnessed in the last post, I made a too-moist, horrendous next batch, which zapped my zeal (the dough had way too much moisture–and I pretended not to notice). I didn’t dare share–and we still have one uneaten half loaf that will end up in the trash bin soon. It was pretty icky.

I then turned to rye crackers. Lots of success there. Cut them into little hearts and they all got eaten up in a minute. And it being Cheesefare, my husband made a delicious souffle! But enough about the end product, I’d like to give you a few hints that might help you during your baking efforts.

I have a small drawer in our kitchen island where I keep all the cloths I use when baking. Four of these cloths are thickish white napkins that I use especially for making no-knead bread, and two of them are cotton tea towels that I use for covering my rising dough. I do not wash them after every use, I allow them to dry, then remove any dough or flour with my scraper, shake them over the trash to get whatever loose flour is there, then put them back in the drawer for next time. Sometimes… they do need to be washed, but not often. Here I am using my cloths to cover a large batch of bread I was making. (I took everything outside into the cool air to try to slow the rise since I needed to run carpool.)

But whenever I can–I try not to use my cloths. They can be messy, and take time and effort to clean for the next use. I have found lids and plates from various cupboards that fit tightly over the rims of my two big bowls. They help keep the dough moist during its first rise in the bowl,

and if I’m making a round loaf, which is often the case, then I simply rinse out the bowl and use it again (but now upside down) to cover the dough during the second round of proofing.

The whole purpose of covering your dough when it rises is to maintain moisture and heat so the yeast can have its heyday and expand your dough. If you were to leave the dough uncovered, a dry crust would develop and it would be an Ugly Loaf of bread once baked. The crust would inhibit oven spring, making the bread more dense, and carmelization would most likely not occur. I know. I’ve done it!

If you have any tips that help you in the rising of dough, please share 🙂

Keeping Track

Someday I won’t be in charge of so many people and where they need to be, and what they want to eat, and whether or not they’ve cleaned up their rooms. Some day. But that day is not now.

If you don’t know yet–I’ll let you in on a big secret. I’m a horrible cook. Chopping, searing, braising, creating with beets and goat cheese? Eek.

My husband, on the other hand, learned to cook early on in our marriage when I was going to school full time (landscape architecture) and working full time (waitress, gymnastics coach, draftsperson.) I was busy, and he likes to eat tasty vittles.

Fast forward many years and Douglas is the Mediterranean Master. He can whip up anything from Moroccan to a first class risotto. My mom even gave him a full chef’s uniform for his birthday a few years ago. Super fun.

I bake. And I nag my kids about their rooms, and I tend to burn things when I’m off helping with homework and telling kids to STOP playing those video games.

(Sorry.) This is a Long Story!

When I bake I have to keep track of the process or else I lose track of the process. I’m a list maker; if I can just get something written on paper, all anxiety seems to ease. So these little scraps of paper follow me from mixing, to molding, to baking. And sometimes they get a comment or two added to them; it’s satisfying to write your baking emotions in black and white.

Do you use lists to help you stay sane? Or maybe I’m insane–look at all of these lists that are around our home…

Knowing that most of my friends are easily as busy as I am, I hope this idea helps. Or maybe it just helps confirm to you that I am slightly crazed and desperate not to let the industry of paper and ink entirely disappear…

Cheers–and happy giving!