What is the difference in flours?

One of the most important choices in your baking decisions is what kind of flour to use. I have had a few baking disasters using what I thought was the right flour, but left me with a sagging, lumpy loaf of bread, which I named Mr. Sadsack. (I thought I was getting a good deal at a restaurant supply store, getting a big bag of Gold Medal Better for Bread flour for only $15 a 50# bag! Apparently it was a lower protein than I was used to and it took 3 terrible loaves to figure out it was the flour. I changed the flour, problem solved.) Let me share with you what I have learned.

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Wheat flours

There are a variety of wheat flours to choose from. Some are made from a soft (lower protein) wheat berry. Some from a hard (higher protein) wheat berry. Some are made from winter wheat, some from spring. Some are red, some are white.

Without getting into too much detail about when it is grown or how, it is the protein in the wheat that ultimately makes the difference for you. Lower protein wheat makes flour with less gluten and is good for tender baked goods that do not need to raise much such as cookies, pie crust, biscuits and cakes.

Higher protein wheat makes flour with a higher amount of gluten and is good for breads, pizzas, bagels and pretzels.

There are hundreds of kinds of wheat grown around the world. Mills mix a variety of wheat to achieve the protein level they are looking for. King Arthur flour, one of the gold standards of wheat, use an old type of wheat called “Turkey Red” in their all-purpose flour. Theirs was the first brand of flour that actually caught my attention. Back when it was sold at Trader Joes, I purchased a bag and for some reason, instead of throwing out the bag, I took a closer look at it.  They had a catalog! What? I sent for it and have been a happy camper ever since. I had no idea until then, that all these tools, tips, and tricks were available to the general baking public. Getting one of their catalogs in the mail is usually the highlight of that day. And they all have recipes in them to boot.

One of the things that make King Arthur flour special is that the flours, with the exception of their cake flour, is unbleached and unbromated. I will explain this in a minute. Continue reading “What is the difference in flours?”

Bavarian Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing

Have any of you watched “Stranger Than Fiction”?

If so, you may remember these. Only I added sprinkles for no particular reason. There is actually no recipe for Bavarian Sugar Cookies. I think the script writer made them up.

So when I went online recently, after having watched the movie for the umpteenth time, to see about that particular cookie recipe, guess what I found instead?

Other bloggers doing the same thing. People having seen the movie,  tried to find a recipe, couldn’t and wrote about it on their blogs, like me. They also included recipes adapted for the Bavarian Sugar Cookie. So have I.

First, here is an excerpt from an earlier post about my favorite part in the movie:

While we are talking about flours, have you seen the movie “Stranger than Fiction”? It is one of my favorite movies by virtue of having a baker as one of its main characters. Well, main supporting characters anyway. In the movie  Harold Crick, the main character, wants to announce his intentions to a woman he was auditing (yes, he is an IRS agent), by bringing her a bouquet of “flours”. He brings her a box full of little 1 lb. bags of assorted flours, wheat, rye, buckwheat, etc. For being a boring, methodical, most unromantic guy, this is a huge leap and it melted my heart, (and hers). He indeed won his lady fair.

Okay, I would say that Maggie Gyllenhaal wasn’t exactly fair in this movie. More like her arms were covered in big tattoos and she wore less than glamorous work clothes, cause she was a baker, see, and a tough cookie to boot. Anyway, where was I…

Here is my version of Stranger than Fiction Bavarian Sugar Cookies:

(If I had “Fiori di Sicilia” from King Arthur flour co., I would use that as the flavoring, absolutely. A friend of mine gave me some cookies she made with these, ricotta cookies, and they sent me into cookie heaven. But I don’t have it yet, so improvised).

2 cups flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 tsp baking soda

3 egg yolks

few drops of lemon extract

1/2 tsp. Bakers Sweet Dough flavoring (from King Arthur, or use vanilla)

Mix butter and sugars with standing or hand mixer until thoroughly blended. Add in the egg yolks and blend well. Then the flavorings.

Whisk together  flour, baking soda and cream of tartar, then add to batter.

I chilled for a while, took some out and rolled it out onto a floured board. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, I cut out the cookies and carefully laid them on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Here’s the kicker. After carefully cutting out the hearts, I baked them, at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. They ballooned out of shape! No more hearts, so sad. Just big blobs. So, while they were still warm, I re-cut them. They came out perfect!  I just cut them and lefty them to cool. When they cooled off, I broke off the extra cookie bits and got to eat them and pass them around.

While the hearts cooled, I made some icing. This was just about a half brick of cream cheese (4 oz), about 1 Tbsp. corn syrup, 2 Tbsp. milk (you could use cream, if you have it) and powdered sugar, enough to make a thickish icing. If you want, add vanilla or flavoring of choice as well.  don’t make it too thick or it’s frosting. Not too thin, or it runs off. You need to please Goldilocks (“this icing is too thin, this icing is too thick, this icing is juuuuust right.”)

Then using a knife, you frost the cookie and sprinkle if you want. Or why not add food coloring to the icing? Or skip all that and just eat them now!

the evolution of Pear Raisin Mince pie

My friend Rita sent me a wonderful looking recipe that she claims to make every year with great success. At the same time, a neighbor of mine gave me a box of organic pearss she picked up at the farmers market-gratis. Seems at the end of the day they want to get rid of some things and she has been going there for, um, forever. So, pears and a pear raisin mince pie recipe, whatever it means by mince. But I was excited to try it.

And so it began.

2 1/2 lbs. of firm pears. First, I bit into one of the pears. Wha? I tried another. I knew they were misshapen. I knew they were a little green. But these had no flavor. It was like biting into crispy water. I would either have to go to the store and replace some pears or use some of the apples we had just bought bags of. So I used 3 pears, peeled and diced, then added 2 honeycrisp apples and 1 granny smith, all peeled and diced too.

6 Tbsp orange marmalade. Dang, I forgot to put that on my grocery list. When I was at my mom’s house the  night before I was to bake the pies, she whipped out this bag of tiny jams and jellies a friend had given her. They were little hotel size jars with about 1 Tbsp of jam in them. She dug and dug and found 1 jar or orange marmalade! I was impressed. No, it wasn’t enough, but the fact that she had any was kind of surprising. So I took my little eeny-weeny pot of marmalade home with me. I was against going back to any store at this point and was just going to use what I had. Back at home I took out my homemade peach jam, about 5 Tbsp, added the orange marmalade, and mixed it in. Then I took an orange, took about half of it and chopped the dickens out of it in a bowl with my food chopper. Then grated some orange zest into it, picked out the big fiber chunks and added it to the “marmalade”. I put this in a saucepan and simmered it down a few minutes., then tasted. Ohhh, wonderful. I had to taste some more. And some more.

1/4 cup packed  raisins What if I don’t like raisins in a pie? I don’t wanna! But I do love Craisins. How about substituting? Oh wait. Didn’t I just buy some fresh cranberries. What would happen if I used those? Lets find out.

2 Tbsp sugar Now that I was using all those apples and tart cranberries, I decided to up the sugar just a bit. I put in about 1/4 cup of brown sugar and oh, about 1/3 cup of white. (I just scooped, didn’t really measure).

2 Tbsp. Brandy My dear hubby, when I asked if we had brandy, said “sure, yeah.” …Can you guess what happened then? When I actually went to look for the brandy, he changed his tune to “Well, if we don’t have brandy, we have lots of port, which is almost the same thing.” Sure enough, there were several lovely bottles of unopened port which I was not about to open for 2 Tbsp. So I went to my fallback liquor of choice, Tuaca. It’s an Italian liquor that is my secret ingredient in the apple crisps I make. (sure, don’t tell anyone). So I poured in a couple Tbsp. of that instead, so worries. At least I knew that was a tried and true liquor.

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. No problem

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. cloves or how about a heaping tsp. of pumpkin pie spice? I have 2 bottles, one from our Holiday Boutique at church and one from TJ.s. Both are wonderful blends of cinnamon, nutmeg and other aromatic spices. I put them in just about everything that calls for cinnamon these days, even french toast.

1 Tbsp. cornstarch Luckily I had just bought some. If not though, I could have used tapioca flour, which I also had on hand.

So I tossed the fruit mixture with the cornstarch. In a medium bowl I mixed all the other ingredients and added it to the apples. I had already made the pie crust and had the pie pan lined with it. I gently poured it all in and smoothed it out with my spoon. Then I carefully took the top crust, on which I had used a pie crust press thingy that cut out leaf shapes from the dough for me, and carefully lay that down on the pie. The original recipe called for a lattice top, but I wanted to use my press. It looked lovely. I took the leaf cut-outs and , wetting them with egg whites, lay them around the pie. I brushed the top with egg whites and raw sugar and popped into a 400 degree oven until done. It took a little over an hour and I did have to put a pie crust shield on it when it started browning too much.

I would say the only problem I had with it, in the end, was it was a bit too juicy. I should have used more cornstarch. Perhaps I used more fruit than called for or it was the combination of fresh cranberries and all those apples. But the flavor! How wonderful. And I had a chance to use some of that peach jam. Just earlier this week I used some to make a barbecue sauce that was out of this world. Only 4 ingredients too. But is it cheating if you started with a bottle of barbecue sauce? Then add scoops of peach jam, some garlic mustard and a dribble of wine vinegar. Oh, where was I? Pie.

So I ended up with a completely different pie than I started out with. I had every intention of making the pear-raisin mince pie, really I did. Now I ended up with…what? Apple, pear, cranberry pie? Apple-pear mince pie? Holiday mish-mash pie? Whatever you call it, I am having some for breakfast in a minute. Yum.

Not much left...must be good.

Baking Bacon, what a concept!

I feel like I have just discovered a new source of atomic energy or something! Its amazing, easy and frees me up from the drudgery of flipping bacon. Where has this been all my life!

Okay, I get carried away. But we like our bacon around here. When I fry it,  I usually burn some, or get the boingy ends undercooked. I have to make batch after batch because I can only fit so many in my pan. Now, I just pop a sheet of them in the oven and it does all the work for me, so I am free to.. to.. make the pancakes, or scramble eggs, or watch “Flapjack” with Paul, whatever. I can’t say I exactly invented this idea, but I did find it and come next fall, when we are not suffering from the heat, you will all thank me for this.

 

Its soo easy. Turn your oven on to 400 degrees.

Take a cookie sheet and a piece of aluminum foil a tad bigger than the cookie sheet you are using. Crumple the foil up a little, then pull it out to lay on the cookie sheet. The crinkles keep the bacon out of its own fat a little bit. Now lay as much bacon as you want, as long as it is on one layer, not overlapping.

Put it into the oven and thats about it. It takes about 12-17 minutes depending on how thick your bacon is and how crunchy you like it. (I had a picture of Paul eating a piece, but it turned out blurry. Next time!)