basic white bread

I’m the kind of girl who likes to make New Year’s Resolutions.

I know … you are probably wondering … why?

I like the feeling of starting the year with a bit of an action plan.  What can I do different?  Better?  How can I challenge myself?

Last year the Resolution was limiting my buying of books to 3 new ones per month – excluding anything I bought for book club reading.

The result?

I joined 3 more (virtual) book clubs … ones in which we normally read more than one book a month.  I didn’t really get the result I was aiming for – spending less money on books, and reading more from my already fully stocked bookcase … but I did sure read some good books!

This year my Resolution is all about making bread.

2014 - the year of bread

That’s right!  2014 IS GOING TO BE MY YEAR OF THE BREAD.  My goal is to finally get comfortable using yeast (oh how yeast has scared me away from recipes in the past), enjoy kneading the dough, and turn out a decent loaf.

So far … so good!

We’re three weeks into this New Year and I have been baking bread 2 to 3 times a week.  The same recipe mostly – but I’m finding myself encouraged that:

(1) each and every single loaf has turned out

(2) yeast isn’t as scary as I always assumed, and

(3) I’ve been able to bake a loaf first thing in the morning and slather a piece of warm bread in butter.

Life is pretty grand when you make your own bread.

My confidence is really all thanks James Morton, runner-up of BBC’s 2012 The Great British Bake Off (ps. my favourite show … tied with MasterChef Australia – both worthy of being downloaded & obsessed over).  James is actually a medical student at the University of Glasgow who loves to bake bread.  He competed on The Great British Bake Off, won hearts of viewers and then published a book: Brilliant Bread.

If you are considering bread making at home – go out and get this book.  Seriously.  James is able to make bread accessible to the home baker.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing crazy.  Just good bread.  The book is basically divided into three parts.

1.  No-knead bread.

2.  Kneaded bread.

3.  Fancy breads and things to impress.

I’m still enjoying section one.  I’m not kneading … I’m allowing the yeast to work in its own time.  Considering one of the things that has always scared me about bread making is the kneading aspect, this suits me just fine.

This recipe is the very first in his book.  I haven’t changed a single thing.  There’s no need to.  I can tell you that the first 2 times I used all-purpose flour, and have since switched to bread flour (or as the Brits say – “strong flour”)I like the texture that I get out of bread flour, but honestly, this recipe works just fine with all-purpose flour.

Bakers note:  The one thing I will recommend getting is a kitchen scale.  I have done my best to convert the amounts for you – however, the scale is more accurate. 

Join me in the mission of baking homemade bread.  Your kitchen will smell brilliant; you’ll impress the pants off your friends and family (and yourself!); and honestly … there’s nothing better than a fresh loaf of bread!

Basic White Bread

Ingredients:

500 g (3 cups less 3 tbsp) bread flour

10 g (1 ½ tsp) salt

7 g (1 packet or 1 ½ tsp) instant yeast

350 g (350 mL) tepid water

*tepid water = when you turn on the water to hot and cold, you shouldn’t be able to feel whether it’s hot or cold.

Grab a large glass bowl.  Add your flour.  Sprinkle the salt on one side of the bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast on the other side of the bowl.  You don’t want the salt and yeast to touch right off … since the salt can kill the yeast (thank you James for that bit of information)!

Rub the salt and yeast into the flour (on their respective sides).

Add the tepid water.  I used my hand to mix it into a ball of dough.  You might freak out slightly, thinking there isn’t enough water.  Don’t worry.  Keep mixing the dough together.  It’ll become a cohesive ball.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set in a warm place and allow it to sit for about 1 hour.  You’ll notice that the yeast starts to work – the dough should increase in size, and appear airier.  That’s good.

When ready, wet your hand slightly and use it to pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and fold the dough in half.  Turn the bowl and continue folding over the dough until it appears smooth and the air has been removed.

the first rise

dough ready for a second rise

Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place for another hour.  To be honest, I sometimes let it sit longer – my goal is to get the best rise out of it as possible.

 *baker notes: you can even place your bowl in the fridge and allow it to rise overnight between 10-12 hours – your bread will still bake beautifully! 

Once your dough has risen, use your hand to scrape the dough onto a floured surface.  This is the part where you do the most work: shape into a ball.

second rise & shaping

I’d explain the process of shaping into a ball… expect James’ book has such a wonderful visual.  I’ve included it.  All credit to Brilliant Bread and James Morton.

shaping & final prove

Once the dough is shaped, place it on your cookie sheet and set aside for another 40 to 60 minutes.  It’ll double in size and spring back to the touch.

With 20 minutes remaining in the final prove; turn your oven to 410 F (210 C).  You might think this is too high a heat.  It’s not.

When you’re just about ready to plop that loaf into the oven, grab a serrated knife and score the top of your bread.

Place your tray on a low rack in your oven and bake for 40 minutes.  This will create a beautiful golden crust that has a real crunch.  It’s pretty spectacular.

perfect basic white bread

You’ll know the bread is ready when you pull it out, turn it over, and knock on the base.  If it sounds hallow (or if your dog barks at the sound because he thinks someone’s knocking at the door), then you know – your bread is done!

Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack.  If you cut into it right away you might think it’s a little doughy … so just be patient and allow it to cool slightly.

perfect bread

This recipe has NEVER failed me.  It’s the kind of thing that is building my confidence in becoming a bread baker.  I can’t wait to get tucked into the tea loaf recipe this weekend.  But until then … I’m happy to slather a slice of this loaf with butter and honey. That combo is never a bad idea :0)

butter and honey

ottawa cookie jam 2013

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Wouldn’t it be GREAT if there was an event in Ottawa that celebrated the cookie?

A place where you could find a plethora of cookies … some thin and crunchy, others thick and chewy. Chalk full of chocolate-chips or intensely spiced. Cookies of every shape, size, texture. Basically … wouldn’t it be amazing if you could go to one place and find just about every kind of cookie you could dream of?

Each and every one of them would obviously ALSO be home baked.

Thanks to the organizers of Ottawa Cookie Jam, we are about to have just that … an event where cookies are the star.

Actually … that’s a lie.

Ottawa Cookie Jam is all about eating cookies AND helping a great cause: In From the Cold, a programme run by the Parkdale United Church.

It doesn’t get much better than eating cookies for a good cause does it?

This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill basement of a church cookie sale though. There’s also a commpetition going on … there will be judges, there will be categories to enter … and proceeds go to a great cause.

Here’s the thing. Whether you decide to participate as a baker or simply as a taster and supporter of a good cause, you NEED TO REGISTER. The organizers need to know how many people are baking and attending.

In case you’re wondering, Ottawa Cookie Jam takes place Saturday, October 5th between 1 pm and 4 pm at the Parkdale United Church.

Will I see you there?????

Now … since this is a baking blog … and I’m promoting a cookie event … I wanted to do my part. I decided to take the classic oatmeal raisin cookie and … well turn it upside down. I opted for chocolate chips, oats and coconut. The result: A thick and chewy cookie with a kick of cinnamon. It’s pretty awesome.

It’s kind of the perfect cookie for this time of year. Hint hint … I think you should make a batch. Seriously.

*bakers note: you might find the measurements slightly strange … the original base of this recipe is from Thomas Keller. He prefers to weigh his ingredients, so this is my attempt at converting the measurements.

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oatmeal, coconut, chocolate-chip cookies
ingredients:

1 c. flour
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. + 3 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 c. + 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
3/4 c. butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 1/4 tsp vanilla paste
2 c. oats
1/2 c. flaked coconut
1/2 c. chocolate-chips

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, using your paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed, until it is the consistency of mayonnaise (about 5 to 7 minutes). Add the sugars and mix for a further 3-4 minutes, until fluffy.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the egg and vanilla paste, mixing on low until combined, about 15-30 seconds. The mixture might look a little curdled – no big deal. You would rather that than over-mixing.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, whisking together.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture in 2 additions; mixing on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds each time. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate.

Add the oats, and count to ten with the mixer on medium – low speed.

Add in the flaked coconut and chocolate-chips. Again count to 10 with the mixer on medium-low speed.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

*bakers note: If you chill for 30 minutes, the result is a thin, crunchy cookie. If you chill for longer than 30 minutes – say overnight, then you end up with thicker, chewy cookies. It’s up to you.
Also – the original recipe actually makes 6 x 4-inch cookies (quite large). I actually opted to bake 16 2-inch cookies. Again, it’s up to you.

Heat the oven to 325 F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

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Whatever size of cookie you decide to bake, make sure you don’t allow the dough to touch while baking … especially if you are baking after only allowing the cookie dough to rest for 30 minutes – these spread.

If you are making the larger cookies, bake them fro 21 to 23 minutes, reversing the tray position halfway through the baking time.

If you opt for the smaller cookies, bake 18 minutes. Again … reversing the tray position halfway through the baking time.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then remove from the cookie sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.

Or you know … grab a glass of milk and dunk right it. They are so good freshly out of the oven.

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scones

The baking crew was back at it again.

This time we decided on scones.20130207-173908.jpg

I know … you're probably wondering … from bagels to brioche to pie to doughnuts to scones???

We usually pick an untested, untried recipe and aim for passable success. This time we stuck with a well known classic.

We decided to do this for a couple of reasons:

We were all a little yeasted out. We wanted needed a little break from having to use it.

Plus … we wanted to see how Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery scones would be like.

Our challenge was pretty simple: bake the Bouchon Bakery plain scone; and then make a second scone, each of us letting loose and picking *another* flavour.

Keller & Rouxel offer a few options in their book: chocolate cherry scones, cinnamon honey scones, and bacon cheddar scones.

After considerable deliberation, I opted to create my own scone flavour: grapefruit coconut scones.

Which worked out well since Meredith tried the cinnamon honey scones, Cory opted for the bacon cheddar scones, and Tom & Aimee presented us with chocolate orange scones.

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A nice little balance of flavours.

Now you might wonder … why the heck would all of us bake the plain scones? And using the exact same recipe?!

I’m glad you asked!

It turns out it was a great opportunity for us to talk about what worked well … and to see the different results we all ended up with… because we really did end up with very different scones.

Meredith and my scones didn’t seem to rise; whereas Cory, Tom & Aimee’s scones rose beautifully.

The recipe called for creme fraiche: Meredith used it, I replaced it with sour cream. Meredith also opted for an unsalted butter: I used salted butter. These scones are so plain and simple (honestly, this recipe is uber basic) you could taste the difference. The salty difference.

Tom & Aimee replaced the creme fraiche with a soy alternative and tossed in vanilla seeds: the vanilla wasn’t really very pronounced … but it sure did look pretty.

Cory completely disregarded the original recipe when making his scones; they reminded us all of a cross between a biscuit and a scone (they were absolutely delicious).

After sampling the plain scones we dug into the flavoured ones.

Meredith’s cinnamon honey scones were insanely delightful. They were buttery with a hint of sweetness. Totally worth the effort of making the cinnamon honey butter. I’ve also decided that I love these scones so much that I want to make them myself … and perhaps turn them into a bread pudding of sorts … don’t be surprised if you see a blog post in that vein soon :0)

Tom & Aimee’s chocolate orange scones were the perfect balance of both flavours. They used a bit of chocolate liqueur as well as enough orange juice to basically replace the cream in the recipe. They were then topped with more chocolate glaze. The perfect scone to sit down and enjoy over a cup of coffee.

Cory went big: bacon cheddar scones. Who doesn’t love that flavour combo? They were also dense enough that they would be the absolute perfect accompaniment to chili. Or butternut squash soup. Basically … these scones are perfect for this cold weather.

Are you wondering how my grapefruit coconut scones turned out?

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They were pretty nicely balanced … but unlike Tom & Aimee’s chocolate orange scones in which both flavours were really distinct, these scones needed a little pop of something extra. I think next time I’ll add more grapefruit juice to the batter and perhaps increase the sugar slightly so that there is more of a contrast of flavours. I’ll continue tweaking the recipe and get back to you … because I’m pretty determined to get it right.

All of us, except for Cory, followed the Bouchon Bakery plain scone recipe – and even based our *flavoured* scones on the original plain recipe. So perhaps you’d like to give it a try too! One thing to note … Keller wants you to let your dough rest and chill overnight.

Yeah … this is an overnight kind of recipe.

Do you really need to plan that far ahead? Well … as a collective group we discussed it, and none of us really think you really, absolutely must freeze the scone batter overnight. I would recommend refrigerating the dough a couple of hours; then shape out the scones and freeze them for a further 2 hours (basically you want the butter to be as cold as possible so that you end up with a flakey and tender scone).

Then I’d bake ‘em. For about 20 minutes.

They will be delicious: honestly … I actually preferred mine the following day. The plain scones were the perfect accompaniment to my creamy ginger-carrot beetroot soup.

Thomas Keller’s plain scone recipe
ingredients:
152 g / 1 c. + 1 1/2 tbsp flour
304 g / 2 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp cake flour
12.5 g / 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2.5 g / 1/2 tsp baking soda
91 g / 8 ounces sugar
227 g / 1/2 c. + 1 1/2 tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
135 g / 1/2 c. + 1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
135 g / 1/2 c. + 2 tbsp creme fraiche (I used sour cream instead)

*the recipe, as per Bouchon Bakery’s instructions, uses a stand-mixer. Feel free to use your hands instead.*

Place the flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using your paddle attachment, and setting your mixer on the “stir” setting, mix for 15 seconds. Basically you just want to combine all those ingredients.

Stop the mixer. Add all the butter, and starting on the lowest setting (this prevents the flour from flying all over your counter), mix the ingredients together. After about 45 seconds, increase the speed and mix for a further 3 minutes: breaking up the butter and incorporating into the dry mixture. If any large pieces of butter remain, stop the mixer, break them up by hand, and then mix again until incorporated.

While the mixer is running, slowly pour in the cream. Add the creme fraiche (sour cream) and mix for about 30 seconds, you’ll know it’s ready because all the dough will start to come together around the paddle.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. You’re done.

On a clean work surface (no flour required), mound the dough into a pile, and using your hand or a pastry scraper, push it together.

20130206-085301.jpgPlace the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, and using your hands, press it into a 6 – by – 9 – inch block (mine will look smaller since I divided the dough in half and added grapefruit zest, juice and flaked coconut to the remaining batter, thereby getting two different types of scones out of the original plain scone recipe). Straighten your block, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours, until firm.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a knife, cut the block of dough lengthwise into thirds (mine was cut in half), and then crosswise in half. Cut each rectangle in half, creating perfect little triangles. Arrange them on the cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid: at least 2 hours, but preferable overnight (I think 2 hours is fine).

20130206-085255.jpgHeat your oven to 350 F.

Line another, un-frozen cookie sheet, with parchment paper. Arrange the frozen scone triangles about 1 inch apart and brush the tops with heavy cream; then sprinkle the tops of each scone with sugar.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (depending on your oven). Basically you are looking for golden brown. In my case, I tend to pay attention more to the bottoms of the scones than the tops of the scones, so once those had a nice bake to them, I took them out of the oven to cool on a wire rack.

Done. Dead simple eh? And it’s a great basic recipe to play around with.

Now it’s your turn …