Category Archives: Baking

When in doubt, go with a classic

I would offer my humble opinion that this is good advice for many things in life- whether choosing a book or a recipe or a coat: go with a classic.

Back in college, a good friend of mine commented on how she loved the smell of freshly baked bread because it reminded her of her father, who made the family’s bread every Saturday morning. That image has inspired me for years… and I have a great desire to give that same sort of memory to my kids.

20130113-183347.jpgA few years ago, my darling husband bought me a really top-notch dream gift: a Kitchen-Aid mixer. When I saw the bread dough blade that came in the box, that past conversation came to mind and I began trying out recipes to make bread so that I, too, could become the family bread baker.

That was a few years ago.

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I’ve tried, really, I have. Somehow, my husband and kids have just never been very satisfied with any of the loafs I have turned out. I have searched the internet and cookbooks, trying out variations on a theme: the basic white loaf. I’ve tested out different flours, differents yeasts. How frustrating to seemingly (honestly, I never found anything wrong with the bread) not be able to bake a decent loaf of bread for my family! I really almost gave up on it until the ladies at Farm Chick Chit Chat decided to do a bread bake-off. That gave me new inspiration to try again. I began searching again for a recipe that would make just a simple, fluffy, moist white loaf…. and I found it. A classic recipe from Julia Child. I should have just started there to begin with. I found the recipe posted on food. com and you can see it here: http://www.food.com/recipe/Julia-Childs-White-Bread-9032

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The ingredients are simple:

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This recipe made 2 really nice, fluffy loaves of basic white bread. I think the butter is what made the difference here, none of the other recipes I have ever made ever called for butter. Also, adding the sugar to the yeast and water to mix and letting it rest was different. Usually, I add the sugar later in the recipe. The final result: a very tasty bread that my family truly LOVED. It sliced nicely for making toast (which we then SMOTHERED in butter and homemade strawberry jam).

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cookie swap

Traditionally, my absolute favorite cookie of the Christmas season are the “Butterballs” my mother has always made (and only makes at Christmas). It’s a yearly race to get to my parents house the day she announces she has baked them to see if I can get a few before my father eats them all (they are also HIS absolute favorite).

Mom always scolds us both for eating them up as soon as they are done, and we always just reply that she should not make us wait for one single day each year! These cookies also go by the moniker “Russian Tea Cakes” or “Mexican Wedding Cakes” and normally feature either walnuts or pecans. My kids, however, have not yet acquired the taste for walnuts or pecans, so I was pretty excited to find this version of the classic cookie using orange zest in place of nuts. They smell wonderful and got a thumbs-up rating from my kids.

Orange Snowballs

2 tsp finely grated orange zest

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup Confectionary sugar + 3/4 cup sifted for rolling

2 sticks (1 cup) butter

2 cups Flour

1/8 tsp salt

Blend together the butter, orange zest, salt, vanilla and 1/2 cup confectionary sugar until creamy. Blend in the flour. Take small amounts of dough and roll between your palms to create 1” balls. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are golden. Remove from oven, let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, but while still warm remove and coat each thoroughly with confectionary sugar. I do this by filling a bowl with the sugar then dropping a few cookies in at a time and using a spoon to roll them around and cover them with the powdered sugar.

* adapted from A Very Merry Cookie Party http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0811866750

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Baker, baker… bake me a pie

It’s apple month over at Farm Chick Chit Chat, and to get everyone excited about the new blog we are having an “apple pie recipe-off” to gather everyone’s favorite apple pie recipes.

Confession: I hate making pie. I mean, I LOVE to bake…, just not pie. I think it has something to do with the fact that both my mother and mother-in-law are amazing pie bakers….I have pie- envy. Generally, I won’t even make more than one apple pie a year because, honestly, everyone would rather eat one of theirs

So, with that I give you the best recipe I have… which is mostly just a copy of my mom’s. But to start a good pie, one must have a great crust- and here I have a dilemma. Do I use my mother-in-law’s or my own dear sweet momma’s??? See what I’m saying?? I honestly can’t say which is tastier. My hubby will of course vote for his mom’s (and in a dimwitted moment once actually said that to my mom!!!), so I naturally usually make my mom’s

How about this- I will give you both and you decide. Settle the matter for me, please!

Mom’s Recipe for pie crust
1 stick softened butter
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
Dash of nutmeg
3 tbsp cold water

In a large bowl use a pastry cutter to blend the flour, butter, salt and nutmeg. When crumbly, add cold water slowly and mix until a doughy ball forms. Divide the dough in 1/2 and roll out on a floured surface. Makes 2 crusts.

His mom’s pie crust recipe
3 cups flour
1-1/2 cup Crisco
1 tbsp cider vinegar
5 tbsp water
1 egg

Blend flour and Crisco together in a bowl with a pastry cutter until crumbly.
In a small bowl, mix together egg, vinegar, and water. Mix all together lightly to create a very sticky dough. Divide into 3. Roll dough out on floured surface. (makes 3 crusts)

Okay, so on to the filling:
6-8 peeled chopped apples (Macs or Galas are our preference)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl stir together apples, sugar, and cinnamon and transfer to pie dish onto bottom crust. Add top crust and pinch together in whatever manner suits you ( I usually use a fork). Sprinkle crust liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce temp to 350 and continue baking for 30-40 minutes until crust is golden.

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Making the best of the weather

Somehow, somewhere, winter got lost on its way here this year.  Normally by early February we are fairly buried in snow, frozen and cold.  Snow-days are declared and I wait impatiently for the plow-guy to arrive and create a path for me to get through to the icy roads and head to work.  Not this year.  This week  I spotted daffodils sprouting along the sidewalk at the office.  The kids are bemoaning the injustice of nature at having been deprived their winter sledding and snow play.  It’s jarring to look out the window at the sunshine and green lawns, and suddenly realize that it’s February- not April.  Instead of heading out to the annual ice-castle festival this year to visit the awesome structure built from ice blocks carved from Chautauqua Lake and enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride around the snowy park this weekend (no ice= no festival), the kids played in the woods and built a fort.  Not bad for a weekend’s worth of work when you are 8.  They started with the important part- a log couch and coffee table….

The chickens at my folks’ farm were certainly not complaining as they roamed around enjoying the sunshine, grass, and mud everywhere. 

I’m just going to pretend it’s winter out there and bake up some warm, fresh bread.


Sunday Blues and Berries…

“The blue’s but a mist from the breath of the wind, a tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand…”- from “Blueberries” by Robert Frost

Today I am spending Sunday in one of my favorite ways: listening to the blues and dealing with the 20+ lbs. of blueberries we picked this weekend. Bessie Smith and Lightnin Hopkins keep me company in the kitchen while I package berries for the freezer, and wait for a batch of lavender Blueberry Muffins

http://www.hobbyfarms.com/food-and-kitchen/lavender-blueberry-muffins.aspx

to come out of the oven (the heady scent of lavender fills the room and is delicious). I flip through the recipe box and pull out cards tabbed “Blueberry Crumble,” “Blueberry Salsa” (haven’t been brave enough to try that one yet, but maybe this year), and “Grandmother’s Blueberry Pie,” which I discovered is the same as the one on the box of tapioca, but it certainly sounds tastier than if labeled “Blueberry Pie off box of tapioca.”

We pick at a local blueberry farm and I set aside a vacation day each summer just to spend filling bucket after bucket with the sweet blue marvels. We joke that they should weigh my daughter before she heads into the field to pick, as it’s one fruit that everyone in my family solidly agrees upon and I never ever have to ask them twice to eat them.

“Nine below zero” by Sonny Boy Williamson comes on, and I laugh and tell my kids about the pet fish I had named Sonny Boy Williamson. They think that’s pretty weird. “Yeah, so are you,” I tell them, “Have a muffin.”


When Irish eyes are smiling…

In honor of it being March and all things Irish (which actually, I don’t need a single month to honor, since we honor it most all the time around here), I’ve just finished a loaf of Irish Whole Wheat Soda Bread.  The recipe is courtesy of my dear friend Katie, who probably bakes this while wearing her clogging shoes:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt (yes, it’s a lot)
1 level teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon double-acting baking soda
1-1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk

combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough (similar to biscuit dough but firm enough to hold it’s shape). Knead on a lightly floured surface for 2 minutes. form into a ball. Place in a well-buttered 8 inch cake pan or on a cookie sheet. Cut a CROSS on the top w/ a very sharp knife. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes until loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you rap w/ knuckles. The cross with spread open.

Amazing topped with some of the strawberry jam I put up last summer!


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