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

Red & White 2014

R&W2014

It’s that time of year again.

It’s time for one of my absolute FAVOURITE events.

The Red & White.

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 is going to be an evening of great food, wonderful entertainment, some wine, locally brewed beer, and all for a good cause: Harmony House.

This year Chef Michael Blackie is back (two years ago he made this event one of my favourite food events of the year). Joined by Chef Norm Aitken (Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar), I’m already anticipating what dishes they are going to have on offer.  Seriously – these men can cook.

And guess what?!

I’ll also be on hand with CUPCAKES.

That’s right!  This year I’ve been asked to make some cupcakes in support of a great cause.

Doesn’t that sound like the icing on the (cup)cake?

Ok.  Now for the important stuff.

This is what I need from you.  I need YOU to go to eventbrite and buy a ticket.

They’re $65 each.  You get food, alcohol AND entertainment.  Not bad eh?

Then I need YOU to get a friend to join you.

I mean … although there will already be loads of awesome people attending … you might want to have a partner in crime while you watch the cooking demos, eat your food and then wander over and snag a cupcake or two… right?

Come join me next Wednesday evening as we help raise some money for Harmony House.  With your help, countless staff and volunteers will be able to provide safe, affordable, transitional housing for women and children who are survivors of violence.

apple rum-raisin spice cake

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Isn’t this cake pretty?

Heck … I think it’s gorgeous.

It looks so simple and elegant … but it’s flavourful, moist and simply delicious.

It wasn’t always that way.

The first time I made it … I found it a little bit dry.  The taste deepened and the cake actually got better as it sat overnight, but it still wasn’t exactly what I had hoped.

That got me thinking … how can I tweak this recipe to make it moist straight out of the oven?

The second attempt included increased raisins (the original recipe called for ½ cup raisins).  It helped a bit.

The following week I decided to try it out in a larger rectangular pan rather than the original 9-inch round pan.  It was ok … but it certainly didn’t help with the dryness level.  I also decided to add my own baking powder and salt rather than using self-rising flour.  I liked the result in the texture of the cake more.

Since my goal was to add moistness to the cake … I thought why not add another apple?  Only rather than slicing it, I would dice it and incorporate it into the batter.  With that addition my problems were solved.

I got exactly what I was looking for in the recipe … an excellent cake that I will happily eat morning, noon and night (believe me, I had a lot of test cake to go through).

Now for the part of the blog post were I sell you on this recipe.

1.  It’s delicious

2.  It’s easy to make

3.  It looks gorgeous

4.  It would be a great thing to bring as a holiday hostess gift.  Especially since it gets better overnight.

5.  Did I mention that it’s gosh darn delicious and easy to make?  Plus it sure is pretty!

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apple rum-raisin spice cake

Ingredients:

1 c. butter, room temperature

1 c. brown sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ c. flour

1 tbsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

½ tsp cloves

1 c. rum-soaked raisins

1 apple, peeled, cored & diced

3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 tbsp brown sugar cinnamon sugar

Heat your oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9-inch round pan with non-stick spray.  Then line the base and sides with parchment paper (I know … it sounds like an unnecessary step – but it honestly does make a difference in your cake).  Spray the parchment paper with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar, at medium-high speed, until light and fluffy – about 3 to 5 minutes.  Gradually add the beaten eggs to the mixture, lowering the speed of the mixer and then increasing it to fully incorporate the batter.  Remember to take the time to scrap the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  You want all of that butter, sugar, egg mixture well combined.

Bakers tip: to ensure that the rum-soaked raisins don’t sink to the bottom of your cake (and stay on the bottom of the pan), sprinkle them with about 2 tbsp of the flour (take it from the 1 ½ cup flour needed for this recipe) and coat them.  Sinking problem is resolved.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.

Using a large spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter.  Add the diced apple and raisins.  Gently combine them into the batter.

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Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan and level the surface.

Place half the apple slices over the batter, layering them.

Add the remainder of the batter on top of the apple slices.

Place the left over apple slices on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes – it depends on your oven and the thickness of your cake.  Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove the cake from the pan (having it lined with parchment paper makes a huge difference – nothing sticks and the cake is easily removed!) and allow it to cool completely on the wire rack.

Don’t put this cake in the fridge.  It’ll dry out.   Keep it in a Tupperware container; air tight, for up to 5 days.  This is the cake that keeps on giving!