I get a lot of questions from friends and family about bread baking, and lately there has been quite an uptick in questions. There must be some bread baking bug in the air? I hope so! Because bread baking is a really beautiful way to connect with food. There is something soul satisfying in partaking in a process that has been practiced around the world for thousands of years.
With the move toward mass food production bread baking is no longer a necessary part of life for many people; which is sad. There have been times where I have sat with a thick cut piece of toasted challah dripping with butter and honey and thought, ” So many people will never know the glory that toast can be.”
Along with losing the experience of great bread, we’ve lost the knowledge of great bread. The average person doesn’t know where to begin with yeast, flour, and water.
What should it look like? Did I do this right? Why did it deflate? It’s sticking! GAH! NOW IT’S FALLING APART!
Gone are the days of knowledgeable minds and skillful hands in everyday kitchens with children alongside of them covered in flour; learning skills they will pass on to their children.
I’m going to walk you through some common bread making mistakes and hopefully help get those interested out of their mediocre bread baking struggles and moved onto better bread.
And for those of you who have no interest: get interested. You may find a new love.
So let’s get into it…
Problem #1 ” My bread is too dense, did I knead it too long?”
You did not knead it too long.
This is something I hear all. The. Time. ” Did I knead it too long?”
Nope, you didn’t. People are afraid of over kneading, but really it is very difficult to over knead bread. It’s not like making pancake batter, biscuits or pie crust where you are trying to keep the gluten as relaxed as possible. With bread you want a strong network of gluten to help your bread hold it’s shape during baking and give the interior the strength it needs to hold in steam. Your bread dough can easily be left to turn in your kitchen aid with a dough hook for 30 minutes or longer without being over worked. If you are kneading by hand it is nearly impossible to over work it.
So take that idea and throw it out. It’s not happening.
The reason your bread is too dense is you are not kneading the dough enough, and you are adding too much flour.
I use to do this, and I’ve seen other people do it. They add flour until their dough comes together and isn’t sticky at all, then they begin kneading.
This is WRONG.
You need to leave the dough pretty sticky before you begin kneading, or mixing with a dough hook in a mixer. It will feel kind of wrong.
A good rule of thumb is to add flour until your dough looks like a very very thick batter and just pulls away from the sides of the bowl, but still pretty loose.
( These video clips were filmed in my home with my cell phone… where 6 children 10 and under live… so the quality is sub-par and there is noise in the background… and clutter. Alright then, moving on…)
Then knead the sticky mass for about 10-15 minutes until the dough starts to come together. You may need to add some extra flour- that’s okay, just add it a little at a time.
Your dough should look like this when it is ready for the first rise :
If you’re using a machine this is much easier because you can set a timer for 15 minutes and walk away, and not have worry about dealing with sticky dough all over your fingers.
At this stage drizzle a little oil over the dough and your hands, then turn the dough out into an oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap to let it rise.
If you are doing this by hand turn your wet sticky dough out onto a floured surface and using a bench scraper, scoop up the dough and smack it down hard onto the counter. Do this over and over, adding as little extra flour as possible. Do this until the dough comes together from gluten formation, NOT BECAUSE YOU’VE ADDED FLOUR.
Here is a video I made of my daughter a few years ago demonstrating this kneading technique. I decided to use it here because she is actually doing a really good job- and demonstrates perfectly how it should look.
I noticed that I’ve been pretty pessimistic in my posts lately; beginning a piece with, ” I hate…” seems to be a common theme. In reality I’m a super positive-lighthearted-always happy-bubbly kind of lady…
That’s an exaggeration. In general I find myself swinging between emotional turmoil over my laundry and the political landscape, to being filled with peace and joy over the blessing of having an amazing sexy husband and a gaggle of beautiful children to love.
In any case, I wanted to take a moment to shout out to the world that, I LOVE THANKSGIVING!
It is hands down my favorite holiday.
First of all, it’s universal. Who doesn’t want to spend a day feasting and being Thankful? How often do you hear about people getting bent outta shape over a Happy Thanksgiving? I can’t recall a time when a popular coffee chain has chosen to forgo pumpkin spice latte’s in an effort to be sensitive to the masses. Because there is simply nothing offensive about pumpkin!
(Okay, so there are probably people disgruntled about the settlement of North America by Europeans, but one could argue that Thanksgiving is an example of people coming together in unity during a tumultuous time in history, it’s complex…we won’t tackle that right now.)
Secondly it’s a holiday all about enjoying good food with people you love! And the people you don’t love all that much, or don’t like, are reasonably tolerable in this situation. Because you get to have multiple desserts, and there is no judgment! I mean, your worst enemy could be at the table and you’d not be bothered because you’re too busy taking a slice of every kind of pie. It’s unifying. Peace on earth can be achieved, or at least eclipsed over good coffee and pie.
So, having said all of that here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. They are all from the classic lineup of traditional turkey day fare.
We deep fry our turkey every year, because we’re American. It also takes less time than conventional roasting, frees up the oven, and is really good. The link is for the recipe we use. Even if you are not frying your turkey, do give the brine a try. It’s simple, not very expensive, takes minimal prep work and is excellent.
Turkey is not known for being all that amazing, but that’s because frankly most people cook their turkey ridiculously. Like, there should be a eulogy when it makes it to the table rather than a blessing.
Here is my main piece of advice for avoiding funeral worthy bird.
Avoid overcooking it. Turkey needs to be cooked to the proper internal temperature. There is a window of delicious juicy done-ness. PLEASE STOP COOKING YOUR TURKEY FOR A MILLION HOURS THINKING THAT IT WILL EVENTUALLY BE TENDER AND JUICY! YOU ARE WRONG! (It’s not a stinking pork shoulder people!)
You are just wrong. ( Unless it’s a low temp and you are removing to from your cooking device at the proper internal temp, then you’re good. )
If you don’t have an instant read meat thermometer get one. They are not that expensive and will revolutionize your meat cookery.
However you choose to cook your bird, remove it from the cooking apparatus once the breast reaches 151 degrees F. Let it rest before serving ( say 20 minutes?). As it rests the meat will relax and the temperature will rise an addition 10 degrees at least. It also allows the juices to disperse throughout the meat. ( Have you ever cut into a turkey and had all the juices come pouring out in a puddle on the platter? You didn’t rest it.)
All the basting in the world is not going to save an over cooked bird. Actually all the basting in the world isn’t really doing you any good anyway, but I’ll let you google that.
So if you get anything right this holiday season, do not overcook the turkey.
The next big thing would be using a brine. I already mentioned the brine recipe in this link, which is amazing, but if you’d like an even simpler method with good results just get yourself some good kosher salt, and the day before you plan to cook the turkey give it a good sprinkling all over. I mean a good liberal salting inside and out, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in a cooler or fridge until cook time. The salt will bring the juices of the bird to the surface, and then be reabsorbed into the meat bringing the salt with it. This helps flavor as well as breaking down the flesh of the turkey resulting in tender more flavorful meat. However, if you overcook it, it won’t matter one stinking bit. So the first tip is still the most important, but a good brine or dry salt cure will take it to the next level.
I never liked green bean casserole growing up, and I still don’t like the canned and packaged variation that graces most tables this time of year. I’m telling you, once you ditch canned cream of whatever soup it will revolutionize every casserole you make. ( I’ll have to do a future post on that) If you want to make your life a tad easier, use frozen green beans instead of blanching fresh.
This is my husbands favorite pie! He usually makes it himself every year, just because it’s his thing. It does involve some caramel making, which if you ask my husband was a complete disaster for him the first time he made this. Caramel is one of those things that involves rules, follow the rules and you’ll be just fine. Here are some pointers:
1.Dissolve the sugar on medium heat stirring with a wooden spoon or heat resistant rubber/silicone spatula. ( do not use metal)
2. Once the sugar has mostly dissolved take a piece of parchment paper and lay it over your sauce pan and then place a lid firmly over top, leave it for about 1 minute. This will trap steam inside the pot and force any remaining sugar crystals to dissolve. THIS IS MAJORLY IMPORTANT! Any sugar crystals left un-dissolved will be rebels and cause the rest of the sugar to seize up and turn into a hard lump. Which leads me to the final piece of advice…
3. DO NOT STIR! Once you have thoroughly dissolved the sugar take off the lid, turn the heat down to just simmering, and leave it ALONE. If you stir it you majorly run the risk of the sugar seizing up. Trust me and leave it be. Do not stir. Fight the compulsion.
Please try pie crust. There just isn’t a store bought crust that can compare, and it’s really not too hard. I know many people are intimidated by pie crust, but just like with caramel, follow the directions and you will be okay. This is my own recipe, tried many many times.
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cold lard cut into pieces ( you can substitute butter if you wish, but lard adds some great texture)
1/2 cup cold butter cut into piece
Step 1. Fill up a glass with ice water and set aside.
Step 2. Measure dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and give it a whisk to break up any clumps.
Step 3. Cut the cold fats into the flour mixture. You can do this with a pair of butter knives or a pastry blender. You don’t want to over blend here. The fats should still be in visible clumps dispersed throughout the dough. The point is not to thoroughly combine the ingredients here like bread dough, but rather to have it coarse and clumpy. Every clump of fat is going to melt, release steam, and leave empty space as your crust bakes creating flaky layers. Got it?
Step 4. Add about 1/3 cup of very cold water from your ice water glass and stir gently with a fork. Now that a liquid is coming into play you want to be careful. More mixing = more gluten development = tough crust = ew. Add water a tablespoon at a time until a very shaggy mass of dough forms. Resist the urge to mix until it’s cohesive. Trust me on this.
Step 5. Take your messy dough and divide it in half, scooping half out and placing it in a zip lock bag. Now very gently press dough into a cohesive flat disk. Do the same with the other half of the dough in a separate zip lock. Place your dough disks in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour and up to 24 hours before using. While it rests the gluten will relax and I promise when you go to take it out of those bags it will roll out beautifully and stay together.
Use in your favorite recipe. * I do recommend brushing it with an egg glaze before baking. It will give your crust a beautiful color and crunch. With a fork beat 1 egg with 1 Tb milk and brush over crust just before baking.
# 6. Cranberry Sauce
Here is a very basic recipe for cranberry sauce. I know buying a can is a lot easier, it is, but this is really delicious, still fairly simple, and you get the added pleasure of having a sweet whole cranberry burst in your mouth as you eat it. Yum.
Basic Cranberry Sauce here!
# 7. Stuffing
I love bread stuffing! Here is a basic easy to follow recipe for classic bread stuffing. I do like to throw bits and pieces into mine, such as: diced apple, dried cranberries and some chopped toasted pecans. So good.
Let the record show that I am all for gluten, but when entertaining it’s nice to have some alternatives on hand for those who are not able to eat it for whatever reason. This is a stuffing variation made with wild rice. I really do like it just as much as classic stuffing. It’s nutty and chewy and comes with all the lovely flavors of it’s glutenful counterpart.
Wild Rice Dressing
3 cups prepared wild rice ( follow package instructions) or prepared brown rice to keep your budget lean
1 large onion diced
2 celery ribs diced
1 cup peeled diced apple – whatever your fave is
1 roll of bulk breakfast sausage- browned ( usually 12-16oz)
2 TB fresh chopped sage or 1 tsp dry
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional* 1 cup chopped toasted pecans, 1 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins or both!
1.In a large saute pan saute onion, celery, and apple in a little butter until soft.
2. Add in browned sausage, prepared rice, herb, and extras. Toss together in saute pan until heated through and well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.
And that’s it ! The rice and sausage can be prepped a day or two ahead of time. For a meat free version obviously skip the meat.
This collection of recipes could go on for a while, I just love Thanksgiving food! But I’ll cut this list short and add to it next year 🙂
Aside from food here are a few tips for hosting an enjoyable holiday:
Play festive background music
Don’t be so busy you can’t connect
Leave your cell phone alone, be with the people you are with
Don’t ask for anything. Be thankful for breath in your body, food on your table, warmth and safety
This is my introduction to the foodie section of this blog. This portion of the blog is going to be focused on recipes and comprehensive directions on understanding the how and why in the food making world.
I personally can’t stand it when I am looking for information on a certain cooking technique or recipe and find myself on a food blog where I have to scroll through a mountain of warm gushy sentiments on someone’s journey to making angel food cake before finding the recipe buried somewhere on the page.
This is not that kind of food blog. This is serious business ladies. What I hope to do is share the basics of food prep in the cooking and baking world so that women can feel confident in reading and preparing any recipe they come across because they have developed some knowledge and skill in the kitchen. Do not feel intimidated. The basics truly are basic, and understanding just a few aspects of culinary science can help make your life easier and build your confidence. It is science yes, but it is not rocket science.
Here is my one emotional mushy gushy moment…
I believe that food heritage matters. When we do not pass on culinary knowledge we lose something important in our culture. Preparing food with and for your family creates traditions that span generations, brings people together, and helps to define who we are and where we are going. Too intense? I don’t think so. When we eat together we commune with one another, and taking the time to make food with your own two hands speaks a different kind of love into those moments.
Even if you think you can’t cook, do it anyway. Find the three things that you can master and make and share them often! Your children, husband, friends, and loved ones will remember it and appreciate the effort you spent in connecting with them in that way.
So here we go. Put up your hair. Put on our apron. Sharpen your knives. Preheat your oven. Let’s cook.
Thinking Outside The Box
This series will focus on learning how to make foods that many people buy prepared or packaged. I want to show you how much more delicious it is to master these basic foods that people can feel intimidated to try at home with ingredients from their pantry. Many times people feel that if something comes in a box it must be difficult to make homemade. Why else would they need to create a convenience food version? In reality they take very little skill and only a small understanding of a few food rules to guide them.
In the comings weeks I will be walking you through making : Biscuits Pie Crust Mac N Cheese Salad Dressing Croutons Pizza Crust Spaghetti Sauce Alfredo Sauce Pancakes and Waffles Brownies
If there is something you do not see on this list that is a classic don’t-make-it-yourself food please feel free to let us know and I will include it in our line up!
Part 1 :Biscuits in a tube Recipe: Classic Baking Powder Biscuits
The Rules Rule # 1. Respect the Gluten
One of the most important aspects of any kind of bread baking (biscuits are a quick bread) is to understand what gluten is, what it does, and how to work it. Gluten is the protein contained in wheat – thus it is in your flour. Gluten provides structure to baked goods containing wheat. If gluten didn’t exist your muffins, scones, sandwich bread etc would collapse into hard lumps of non-edible grossness. Some baked goods need more structure than others. Quick breads, like biscuits, need very little structure. The moment you get your flour wet and begin to stir, knead or whatever, the gluten in your flour will begin to form – getting more stiff as you work it. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Do I want what I’m making to be chewy, or soft and cake like?” If the answer is chewy, then work it girl. There is no need to worry about how much you are stirring or kneading your batter/dough. If the answer is the latter, then you need to work the dough or batter as little as possible. Biscuits as well as pie crust, muffins, pancakes, and most other goods in the quick bread family should be treated with gentle respect for the gluten and the power it wields. DO NOT OVER MIX. EVER. Just stop.
#2. Keep it Cold
The fat in your biscuit recipe, in this case butter, needs to be kept cold. You will be cutting this cold butter into the flour until little lumps of butter are dispersed throughout the flour. These cold little lumps of fat need to stay intact throughout the rolling and cutting process. When you put your biscuits into the oven those little pieces of fat will melt leaving an empty space where it was. This is what will create flakiness in your biscuits. If you read of any other way to get flakey biscuits just remind yourself that this is science, cold fat = flakey biscuits and walk away from any other funky advice.
And that’s it! It’s simple. It takes a little practice, but the rules are few and easy to follow. Let’s begin.
Assemble 2 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour 1 TB baking powder 1 tsp salt 1 tsp sugar ( optional) 8 TB COLD butter cut into pieces ( for the love of all that is holy do not substitute shortening or margarine, good quality lard is acceptable if you want an even more savory biscuit ) About 1 ¼ cup Cold Whole Milk ( yes you can use a different kind of milk…. but why would you want to?)
Glaze 1 egg 1 Tb milk
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven. ( If you are using a baking stone or a silicone baking mat bake in the lower third of the oven. )
Line standard cookie sheets with parchment paper ( or use a silicone baking mat, or baking stone)
Measure your dry ingredients into a good size mixing bowl and whisk them well to break up clumps.
Using a pastry blender cut the cold butter into the flour just until the butter is in coarse clumps throughout the flour.
Using a fork gently stir in cold milk just until a dough forms, about 1 ¼ cup. ( more or less, have some confidence and eye ball it, if you get it too wet just sprinkle in a little more flour, if it seems too dry drizzle a little more in.)
Dust some flour over your rolling surface. Your dough will be quite shaggy,that’s good. Dump the dough out onto the floured surface. With floured hands gently, ever so gently work the dough JUST ENOUGH to make a cohesive mass that can be rolled out. It is okay if it looks a little lumpy or shaggy.
Roll the dough with a floured rolling pin, or press out with floured hands until the dough it about ½ inch thick.
Using a biscuit cutter ( I highly reccomend ) or an overturned cup or glass dipped in flour, cut out the biscuits. Transfer to prepared baking sheets.
Very gently gather up the scraps and repeat. If your scrap dough becomes too stiff, put it into a zip-lock bag and let it rest in the fridge for like 10 minutes or so. The gluten will relax and make it easier to continue without ruining the rest of your biscuits.
Optional Glaze* Before baking brush the tops of the biscuits with a glaze made from one egg beaten with 1 tb milk. This will give them a lovely golden color, shiny surface, and a bit of crunch on top. I recommend this step, but it is not essential.
Bake the biscuits for about 8-10 minutes. They will rise and be lightly golden when done. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack or line a dish with paper towel or a lint free hand towel and place biscuits in the dish to stay warm until serving.
Best eaten right out of the oven. Best eaten any time of day. Best eaten alongside anything or alone. Best eaten.