Archive for November, 2010

Low-maintenance whole wheat bread

In early 2009, after the market tanked and lots of people started to lose jobs, frugality became the new  big thing. Or maybe it didn’t, but at the time that’s what all the newspapers were writing about. Thrifty was the new black.

So while I had the good fortune of having a stable job and good income, I started to think about tightening my own belt in ways that wouldn’t be too painful. What conveniences could I cut out of my spending and replace with making it myself? Not like doing my own dry cleaning, but something that would bring pleasure into my life. My grocery bill seemed an ideal place to start. 

Being someone who likes to eat good crusty whole-grain bread, I spend at least $5 a loaf, which usually adds up to $25 a month at my house. Not a huge cash savings, but nothing to sneeze at. I also had a new stand mixer,  recently received as a wedding gift (thanks, Mom!) and needed something to do with it that wouldn’t result in my house always being full of cake or cookies. So I decided, baking bread every week would be a good thing to try. I found a recipe for whole wheat bread from the Ace Bakery cookbook, and away I went.

Like most new habits, it went well for a while. I learned some new things about bread baking, chiefly that tasty, chewy, crusty bread comes from a dough that uses little (if any) sugar, not much yeast, and a long, slow rise. The catch with this particular recipe, although it yielded three loaves of tasty, chewy, crusty bread, is that it also came with a schedule. First, I had to mix a sponge and let it rise for half a day. Then I had to mix the bran part of the dough, mix the two together, and let it rise for another few hours. Then shape the loaves and let them rise, then bake, blah blah blah. A procedure that required that I map out the times for when mixing, kneading, shaping and baking would happen. Now, I’m a homebody, but I do like to get out the house on weekends. So the bread-making frugal ethos gradually died out.

And then a few months ago, I found this recipe for a no-knead bread in a Martha Stewart  magazine. A basic dough that requires a minimum of kneading and a long slow rise on the countertop for between 12 and 18 hours. This means very little working time. You can mix it up at dinnertime on a Friday or Saturday night, sleep in, and bake the bread the next afternoon. Or, mix the dough when you first get up in the morning and bake it before you go to bed that night.

In short, it’s a bread recipe that gives you a bit more freedom. It’s an easy way to save a bit of cash on storebought bread. Also, with very little work you can impress your friends when they come over for lunch.

One thing you must have for this recipe is an ovenproof pot with a lid – this helps keep the steam in and makes a good crispy crust. I sometimes use my heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven, but have found that a heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan works just as well.

Low-maintenance whole wheat bread
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, April 2010 issue

yields one round loaf

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast (not quick-rise)
1 1/3 cups water, room temperature

Mix the dough: In a large mixing bowl, stir the dry ingredients together. Add the water, mixing well until all the dry ingredients are incorporated and you have a wet sticky dough. This may require a bit of kneading, but that’s about all the kneading you’ll do for this bread.

First rise: Cover the dough with plastic wrap (not touching) and let stand at room temperature until it doubles in volume and has bubbles breaking the surface, about 12 to 18 hours.

Shaping and second rise:  Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. With lightly floured hands, fold the dough by lifting the edges into the centre and shaping it into a loose round. Generously dust a clean kitchen towel with flour and put the dough on it, seam side down. Dust the top with more flour and cover it with another clean dry kitchen towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in volume.

To test if your dough has risen enough, gently press your finger into the centre. If it’s risen enough, it won’t spring back when you take your finger away. 

Bake: When your dough is about 15-20 minutes away from being ready, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and have your rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the pot until the dough is ready.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the hot pot from the oven. Working quickly, unfold the towel and flip the dough into the pot, seam side down. Close the lid and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for about 20 minutes, until the top is a dark golden-brown.

Cool: Remove the bread from the pot right away. I usually do this by placing a wire rack over the pot, flipping it over, and right-siding the bread with my oven mitt.

I know this part is hard, but you really should wait until the bread is completely cool before you cut into it. If it’s still warm when you slice it, it will a) be harder to slice, and b) won’t be quite as crusty. But if you can live with that, hey, I can’t blame you.


Read Full Post »

Life list: the Royal Winter Fair

I have a confession to make. In the thirteen years I have lived in Toronto, I have never been to either the CNE  or the Royal Winter Fair. Gasp! I know.

Well, that’s not quite true. Years ago when I was in college, I spent the day volunteering with the media relations team at the Royal Winter Fair and I got to run around with Rick Mercer’s TV crew while they filmed him milking goats and calling square dances. Which was totally fun, but it didn’t really allow me to experience the fair on my own terms.

So, we went.

In the food court, there was a booth where they sold food and drink in bags.  Like a livestock feed bag, I suppose.  Only, German?

No one really got close to the booth, except to try and understand what they were selling. It was staffed by a couple of really bored teenagers. I felt bad for them.

Then, we saw some students making butter sculptures in a chilly room.

Then, cows!


Four-day-old piglets! Squee!

The piglets were heartbreakingly cute. And yet, when we passed by this booth, I couldn’t turn away.

I think Penny had fun, but she slept through most of it.

We only took in a fraction of what was there. We completely missed the section full of enormous vegetables, much to my chagrin. And I hardly took in many of the food offerings to be had. But we’ll go next year for sure.

On the way home we walked through the CNE grounds, which seemed kind of woebegone in the grey November afternoon.


Read Full Post »

Pumpkin ginger pound cake

I think it’s safe to say that my recent move has changed my relationship to my stuff. In the weeks leading up to the big day, we had a yard sale and purged a ton of stuff. We dropped off loads of goods at the Goodwill. I even opened up the Boxes in the Basement. You know, the boxes full of lifetime detritus that you only ever look at when you’re packing up to move — and I sorted through them, culled some things, and made albums with old photos. I’m turning over a new leaf in my relationship with all the stuff I carry around with me, folks. I’m determined that if I’m going to have stuff in my life, I’m going to use it and enjoy it, not just resent it when it’s time to move.

All of this, in a roundabout way, was my motivation for making this cake.  (Well, that and a desire for cake.) I have this really cute jack o’lantern muffin tin, which of course only gets used at a particular time of year. This past weekend I realized that  it was the end of October and I hadn’t used it yet. And if the darned thing was going to get used this year, Sunday was the day. 

This recipe is adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe that came into my life many years ago, and its appeal stretches far beyond Halloween.

I normally bake it as a Bundt cake, but in honour of the season, and the pumpkin-shaped tin, I made cupcakes and baked the leftover batter in a small loaf pan. The original recipe is very nice, but since I am a lover of all things ginger I boosted the fresh ginger content a fair bit, and added some ground white pepper for a spicy kick.  

Also, the original recipe tells you to separate the eggs, whip the whites and add them at the end for maximum volume. This has some merit, and will make a lighter cake. But what cake-baking mother of a three-month-old has time for that, I ask you? We all draw our lines in the sand.

This cake is delicious with vanilla ice cream or some custard. It is also excellent on its own. If you have the willpower, it even ages well over a couple of days as the flavours develop. Just keep it at room temperature and wrapped in plastic or foil.

Pumpkin ginger pound cake
(batter will make one Bundt pan, 24 small-ish cupcakes, or 2 small loaves.)

1 cup unsalted butter, completely softened at room temperature; more for the pan
2 1/2 cups cake flour; more for the pan (I used all-purpose flour, and it turned out just fine.)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground allspice 
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée ( I roasted my own pumpkin, but canned will work just fine, too.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your pans by brushing them with butter, then dusting with flour.

Combine the dry ingredients: in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices; whisk to combine.

Make the wet mixture: in a large stand mixer, mix the butter at medium speed until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the brown sugar. Bringing the mixer back up to medium, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffly. On low speed, add the eggs, mixing  just to combine. Add the vanilla, grated fresh ginger, pumpkin puree and vegetable oil, and mix until smooth.

Dry meets wet: With the mixer on low speed, mix in one-third of the flour mixture and stir just until the flour disappears. Repeat with the flour in two more passes, making sure to scrape down the sides of bowl thoroughly. Mix just until combined.

Bake: Spoon the batter into your prepared pan (or pans). Your baking time will vary: 40-50 minutes for a Bundt cake, 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, and 30-35 minutes for loaves. In any case, to test a cake for doneness, touch the top in the center with your fingertip. It should spring back when you take your hand away. Alternatively, you can insert a toothpick into the centre of the cake.  If it comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, it’s done.

Let cool about 10 minutes in the pan, then invert the cake pan onto a cooling rack to finish the job.  To serve, a light dusting of icing sugar will make it pretty. But really, you’ll already have impressed everyone just by making this cake.

Read Full Post »