Monday, October 3, 2016

Triple ginger yeast bread -- a reason to get up in the morning

I haven't blogged in ages. For the last couple of years I've been sporadic at best, and in the last six months or so I've just been too busy, schedule-wise, too spent, mental energy-wise, and too boring, life-wise, to have much to say. I debated officially ending my blog, whatever officially ending means, but because I'm lazy and I hate confrontation, I didn't officially break up with it. Also, when I travel I like blogging, so I wanted to keep it around. For those times when I needed it, y'know?

Basically, this blog is my side piece.

But a week ago, after making banana bread with candied ginger and 85% chocolate (really, the only kind of chocolate; no, I am not sharing, nor will I tell you how much of it is currently in my freezer), I thought about what else to do with the candied ginger that I frequently have in my freezer but infrequently use. And then I had a fall-inspired kitchen brain wave: triple ginger bread!

To be clear, this is yeast bread flavored with ginger, not the molasses-filled cookie or cake that I will definitely be eating come around December, which is why the name I settled on included "yeast" between the ginger and bread. Because yes, it's confusing; I confused my mom when I was telling her about it. To be perfectly honest, I confused myself when I was thinking it through, so yeah, the extra descriptor was necessary.

I love bread. Like, so, so much.

This has a lot of fresh ginger, but you only steep the ginger in the milk; your bread will not be studdied with chunks of fresh ginger, which sounds great for fried rice but less good for yeast bread. It will be studded with this stuff, though. 

This takes about four hours, but like all yeast bread, most of that is inactive. Just know when you're getting started that you need that much time.

1.5 cups milk
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 cup candied ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup warm water
5ish cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 egg

1. Scald milk and fresh ginger (about 8 minutes on medium heat). Turn to low, put the lid on and let it steep for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and let steep for another 15 or so minutes. Strain out the ginger.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine milk, sugar, salt, butter and dried ginger. Mix well. Make sure it's cool to the touch. (If it's too hot, it will kill your yeast. Don't ask how I know. Obviously I've done it.)
3. Dissolve the yeast into the hot water. Let it get foamy and soft, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the yeast to the milk mixture along with 2 1/2 cups of flour and the egg. Mix well. (Pro tip, from an actual pro, not me: Don't scoop the flour. Spoon it out into the measuring cup and level off. You'll get less flour and more air this way, which makes for lighter and better bread.)
5. When that's mixed, add 1 1/2 cups flour and mix.
6. Blend in the ginger with another 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups of flour. Add the flour half a cup at a time so you don't have too much flour, which will make the bread tough. You want it to be moderately stiff, which means not sticky when you touch it and it holds it shape.
7. Put in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until it's doubled in size, probably about an hour.
8. Punch down, turn dough onto a floured surface, divide in two, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. (Yes, it's annoying. No, you shouldn't skip it. You planned four hours. Just do it.)
9. Grease two 8x4 bread pans.
10. Shape each dough ball into a loaf and put into the pans. Cover and let rise until about double. Plan for an hour.

11. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
12. Bake for 35-40 minutes; the bread should be golden on top and sound hollow when you tap it. I went the full 40 minutes because I perennially undercook bread. A foodie friend with whom I shared it commented that it was a little dry (though nothing a nice slab of butter couldn't fix it), so if you like your bread, I don't want to say doughy, but a little softer in the middle, cook it for closer to 35 minutes. 
13. Turn bread out onto cooling racks. You can wait for it to cool completely, or dive into it as soon as it's cooled enough that you can hold it without burning your hands while you slice it. Guys, it's really good bread. I ate three slices, and the foodie friends I served it to both gave me a thumbs up as well. I have a suspicion that it would make excellent toast, though I haven't tried it, and I think it has great potential for a spicy, nontraditional French toast or bread pudding as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Having a Grand Time and a Grand adventure

 Guys, I have so much to tell you about the Grand Canyon. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

Oh, I guess that's all I had to tell you. So look at pictures instead. Even I couldn't screw these shots up.

See that big hole in the ground? It's the Grand Canyon.

The before picture, at about 8 a.m., and it was freakin' freezing.

I'm pregnant with excitement about being in the Grand Canyon!
We had some, let's call them adventures.

The after picture. We actually look a lot alive than we felt.

I was in charge of the menu. Most of it was pretty traditional -- s'mores, tin foil dinners, s'mores, trail mix, cereal, s'mores. However, I also wanted to try cooking bread on a stick over the foil, so while at Target we searched for Rhodes rolls.

We searched in vain, but it worked out in favor, because instead we bought garlic bread, stuck it on sticks and cooked it over the fire. It was amazing. I mean, we're talking about bread with melted butter and garlic, so it's basically impossible to not be delicious, but it still got all toasty plus we got the nice smoky flavor and it was just great. Do it next time you go camping.

Fact: Smelling like campfire is heaven when you're camping and basically the worst when you're not. yesterday I pulled out the sweatshirt I wore around the fire and it still smelled like campfire. Not OK.

We drove all along the rim and stopped for pictures. It's gorgeous. Obviously. I don't need to tell you that. I love the desert.

Genetically great legs

So we're on the trail and this woman comes up behind us and asks, "Are you two related?" We said yes, readying ourselves for the, "You look like twins!" "You look so much alike!" "Are you sure you're not twins!" Yes, we get it a LOT.

Instead she said, "You guys have great legs!" 

I mean, obviously it's true, and I always appreciate hearing it from strangers. I also appreciate hearing it from friends, so ...

Desert View Tower

Did you know that sometime in the 1950s two airplanes crashed into each other over the Grand Canyon? It was not at this tower, but it was at a butte near this tower.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

This is my Sistine Chapel, my Everest, my Super Bowl -- but with chocolate

You know how sometimes you just have a craving for buttercream frosting?

No? Just me? Well, me and Monica Geller. And all the rest of you. I am not keeping all these cupcake shops in business by myself.

Well, this week while at work writing about serious and important topics, the craving began. I staved it off with the mental promise to make something for Valentine's Day that had frosting -- a cupcake or a small batch of cookies. Something to take care of the craving and be done with it.

Then this happened.

What is that, you ask? It's a tree! After loggers came through and cut it down. :( I'm making a statement.

Here's what it actually is: nine layers of chocolate cake, separated by either chocolate ganache, chocolate hazelnut ganache with roasted hazelnuts or browned buttercream frosting, covered with chocolate frosting and cake crumbs and topped with a homemade caramel sauce.

Yes, in case you're wondering, your blood pressure did go up reading that paragraph. Possibly out of excitement, more likely because this is so full of ridiculous stuff that it's oozing through the computer. Hopefully the smell of the fresh caramel is coming with it. (I've never made real caramel sauce before, just did the whole brown sugar and butter thing. But this stuff is good.)

I envisioned this as a one person, two nights or two person, one night dessert. It is not. It is very rich (and let's be real, I liberally sampled all the layers as I went along) and I did not eat half of that tonight.

I'm calling it once-in-a-lifetime cake -- either because it's so involved that I'm only making it once, or that I will go into cardiac arrest sometime tonight because it's got so much cream, butter, sugar and chocolate. Should that happen, I'd like the inscription on my gravestone to read, "Worth it."

I was going to include directions for this in case anyone wants to spend several hours recreating it. However, the process was sort of a train wreck, so I'm not sure telling you how to repeat my mistakes is a good idea. I can, however, describe all the moving parts. 

1. Chocolate cake. Make your favorite recipe. You actually only need about half of it, so make two layers and then use the other layer for something else, or just make half of your favorite recipe.

The very helpful aspect of this cake -- you don't need the whole thing, so if it doesn't come out of the pan just right, you're probably OK. You can also avoid this hassle altogether and use parchment paper on the bottom. I use parchment paper for everything, except for things that require me to trace around the pan and cut it out. Somebody should sell 8-inch cake parchment sheets. Except I'm sure that's already a thing and I wouldn't buy them anyway because parchment paper is already pretty expensive, I'm not paying someone else to cut it for me.

When the cake is cooled, cut out three circles using a mug or glass as a measuring device. If you wanted to be super fancy, you could make different sizes. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. When they're pretty well frozen, cut them longwise. I cut each in half and later wished I'm made them thinner by cutting into thirds. I ended up cutting the larger half of each in half, so I got thirds, albeit uneven thirds. Wrap back up, put back in the freezer.

Crumble what's left of that layer and put it aside for later.

2. Ganache. At its most basic, this is cream and chocolate. The recipe I used called for 16 oz of cream and 13 ounces of chocolate. Use good chocolate, and not chocolate chips. They're engineered not to melt. Chop into small pieces. Heat the cream on the stove until it's very hot, pour into the bowl with the chocolate and whisk until it's smooth and mixed through. Stick it in the fridge.

3. Browned buttercream frosting. If you've never used browned butter, you are missing out. I love butter, and browning it manages to make butter even better. I used this recipe from The Tough Cookie but cut it in half. 

4. Toasted hazelnuts. Do not stick these in the oven with a baking potato and forget about them, occasionally wondering why you're smelling something other than potato, until they turn black. I toasted them whole for 3-4 minutes, then chopped them up finely and almost forgot about them, so don't stick them in the corner of the kitchen.

5. Back to the ganache. When  you're ready to put things together, pull your cold ganache out of the fridge, put it in the mixer with the whisk and put it on high.  Have your first few layers out and ready to frost before you do this. This is good to go in about 30 seconds. I got mine perfect, it sort of hardened while I was getting the cake ready so I put it back in the mixer and instantly regretted it. You see, cream, if you whip it for too long, becomes butter. How do I know? I've made butter by accident. So my ganache was not quite what I'd hoped, texture-wise. You can heat a little bit up, either in the microwave (10 seconds) or on the stove, and then mix cold ganache in with the melted part. You won't have the whipped texture, but you won't have the butter texture either. Let it solidify, add hazelnut flavoring if you want to and then spread it on the cakes. Stack carefully, refrigerating every few layers so you don't end up with a Leaning Tower of Pisa situation or, worse, a tumbling to the ground situation.

Do this with the browned buttercream as well. Come to terms with the fact that you will have chocolate ALL over you at multiple points in this process. It's a sacrifice you must be willing to make.

I corrected the Leaning Tower of Pisa situation before putting it back in the fridge. 

6. Frosting. When you've assembled the layers, stick back in the fridge and turn to the rest of it. I also stopped here for a cucumber, as I could fill all the rich ingredients settling in a way that my no-longer-teenage digestive system was super thrilled about. (Sorry, coworkers, I could have the mother of all sugar hangovers tomorrow.) You can make whatever kind of chocolate frosting you like. I usually make basic frosting: butter, powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla, milk as needed. For this one I turned to one of my seven cookbooks with chocolate in the title (fun fact: I used two cookbooks and two websites to put this together) and found a recipe that actually used butter and cream in the buttercream frosting. It also used melted chocolate instead of cocoa. And it required me to mix for 15 minutes. I wasn't going to, because that seems insane, but I did. I have no idea what would have happened had I not done it, but the frosting was good so I'm not complaining.

7. Caramel sauce. Again, first time I've ever made this. May never go back to the storebought stuff. You basically melt sugar. There's no milk, water, butter, any liquid. You stir for about 10 minutes, thinking there's no way this is going to work, and then it does. Then comes the butter and cream and it becomes a sauce. I used this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. It's actually very easy.

8. Frost the cake. I put a thin layer on the top first, then realized I needed to use the top to hold onto while I frosted the seven inches of cake I had in front of me. This was messy. It looked messy when I finished. I'm fine with that. Then stick your cake crumbs along the side. Also messy. Still don't care. Back in the fridge.

9. Spoon a little bit of the caramel on top. It should be mostly cooled but still able to be spooned. I tried to keep this mostly on the top but did really enjoy the artistry of a few of the drops dripping down the side. Sprinkle some sea salt on top. Put it back in the fridge. (I promise, all the fridge time is worth it in the end.

I gave it half an hour, then took it out and took one last picture before I cut it open. I actually took a picture of the cake at every single step of the process because I thought there was a 50-50 chance that at each step I would end up with an earthquake cake situation. Still tasty, yes, but not quite so pretty. 

Then this happened.

You guys. I am so proud of this. It's not quite as perfect-looking as I'd hoped, but, again, I do not care. It reminded me of the best cake I've ever had -- cake that I traveled halfway around to get. (Well, OK, I didn't go to Germany specifically for the cake. At least not the first time. ;)

Right before it tumbled over.
This is best enjoyed with a glass of cold milk and 911 on speed dial.

As I said -- Worth. It.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Non-starter: A tale of a Friday night

We are told to be grateful in the midst of our trials, even grateful for our trials.

Ergo, I am grateful:

  • My car died before I got to the freeway.
  • I work out enough that I can push my car by myself and keep it in a straight line. In a dress.
  • For the guy behind me who did not make me try to push the car by myself and make a 90-degree turn.
  • For the two guys who pushed me farther away from the intersection so my night didn't include a shattered rear end.
  • That my insurance company pre-approved me just two days ago for a very good interest rate on an auto loan.
  • The weather is nice enough that standing outside tonight (and walking around town tomorrow) will be pleasant.
  • I don't have any absolutely necessary plans this weekend that require me to drive.
  • The tow truck driver was very friendly.
  • There is a mechanic literally 100 feet from my front door and it's open on Saturday.
  • I was wearing a long enough skirt tonight that when I climbed through the hole in the fence I didn't flash anybody.

And finally, I'm grateful the debate has been had. Yes, Androg has been a good car and for the most part has not been super high-maintenance. But he's 14 years old. This is the second tow in four months. The breakup probably (fingers crossed) won't be tomorrow, but that interest rate won't hang around forever. It's time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Spring cleaning

In the midst of my rabid spring cleaning this weekend I discovered a letter I'd written to myself, age 15, to myself on my 18th birthday. Or, you know, almost 14 years later. It's a gem, so here it is word for word, though with updated punctuation because 15-year-old Heidi is a little too in love for commas for 33-year-old Heidi's taste.

Dear Heidi,
 This is a little strange; I've never written a letter to myself before. But my future plans. I want to graduate from seminary. I want to graduate as valedictorian from Roswell High. (You could have skied down that last line it was so crooked. This is why everything should be typed.) I want to attend UNC at Chapel Hill on a soccer scholarship, and I want to major in computer science and minor in engineering. I want to become a computer engineer or private programmer. I want to get married in the D.C. temple (I'd never seen it at the time. I think this was my I'm-going-to-marry-Prince-William phase and I liked the castle feel of the D.C. temple.) and have a family. I want to travel abroad a lot and try bungee-jumping, hang gliding, scuba diving, white water rafting and other stuff. I want to create something new, make the world a better place, live my life the best that I can and do SOMETHING with my life.
Sincerely, a worse signature than I currently sign on a computer screen with my finger

I giggled. Let's take a look at how disappointed 15-year-old Heidi would be.

  • Graduate from seminary: Check.
  • Graduate as valedictorian: Fail. I was No. 4. But my friend was valedictorian, so I wasn't too upset.
  • UNC on a soccer scholarship and major in engineering: Fail on all fronts. Where did that last bit come from, you ask? When I was in eighth grade I took a computer programming class. It was really fun. I sat next to the Tyrannosaurus rex, because the programming we were doing was basically from the dinosaur age. But it was fun, and I took an aptitude test that told me I would be a good engineer. To be fair, I do routinely engineer things. Well, food. I engineer food. I am an amateur food engineer.
  • Computer engineer or private programmer: Technically this is a fail, but I think we can all agree that actually being a computer engineer would not have gone well. Also, journalism was fun. So is PR. 
  • Get married in the D.C. temple: Fail. Also, this will never happen unless I'm actually living in D.C. this will not happen. It took 15-year-old Heidi a few years to realize that a good wedding is not perfect and in a castle, it is the shindig that involves the least hassle.
  • Family: Check. Pippi totally counts.
  • Travel abroad: Check.
  • A lot: Not fail. Still working on it. 
  • Bungee jumping, hang gliding, scuba diving, white water rafting, other stuff: Fail, fail, fail, check, check, I guess. However, 33-year-old Heidi has no interest in bungee jumping, and I have jumped out of an airplane, so I feel that is an acceptable replacement. I've gone snorkeling, which requires way less training than scuba diving but sort of works. 
  • Create something new: Check. Yes, spumoni pinwheel cookies absolutely count.
  • Make the world a better place: Check. See above.
  • Live my life, etc: I'm gonna call this a work in progress.
Maybe I should replace this letter with a note for 50-year-old Heidi. It would include: not hurting myself during marathon training; settle down on my own piece of land,grow peas and tomatoes, and somehow find a recipe that deliciously combines three of my favorite foods: chocolate, cheese and garlic. Here's to another random number of years of life!

Sincerely, an old woman who has got to go to bed already