Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Clear out the Fridge" Roasted Vegetable Focaccica

This month's Avid Baker's Challenge is the Roasted Vegetable Focaccia recipe by King Arthur Flour.  The recipe calls for a dough that uses a starter.

I call this focaccia "Clear out the Fridge"  because it uses up a lot of things I had in the fridge.  I made this recipe on a Monday, the day before we go grocery shopping so we would have room for fresh foods. 

Tuesday is senior discount day at Kroger.  They give seniors 60+ (hubby is over 60, LOL) a 5% discount on groceries.  Needless to say, there isn't a handicapped parking space available, and the store is packed!  I know a lot of people who avoid the store on Tuesdays, but we love the discount.  Since there is tax on food here, it helps to pay the sales tax.  It's actually a party atmosphere, with people running into each other.

Here's my version of the recipe:

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia

Hands-on time:
Baking time:

Yield:two quarter sheets or one large sheet of focaccia, about 8 to 10 servings


  • 1/2 cup cool water
  • 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour


  • all of the starter (above)
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm lowfat milk; amount depends on humidity
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • 1-2 zucchini
  • 1/2 yellow squash
  • 1/2 sweet onion
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomato, softened in 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2 Japanese eggplant (from farmers market)
  •  olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 seeded jalapeno
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • kosher salt
  • garlic

Recent purchase from farmer's market.  The leftover was used as foccaccia toppings.

Japanese eggplant is much milder than regular eggplant.  Also, it is much easier to slice!  You slice it just like you would zucchini.  In fact, I was quoted in the Charlotte WFAE blog on how easy it is to use it. .

Quarter sheet pans--half the size of my baking sheet!

I got 2 quarter sheet pans over a year ago.  I had planned to use them for making holiday fudge.  Unfortunately, I broke my ankle and didn't do any holiday baking.

I thought focaccia would be a great way to use the pans.  Instead of making one big one, I could make two smaller ones and freeze one!  My hubby is on soft foods due to dental surgery, so I would freeze one for when he could enjoy it.

I made the focaccia over 2 days, because the starter needed 14 hours before adding it to the dough.  It would have been a lot easier if I had done it over 3 days.
Making the starter, late afternoon

Nice rise.  I think this was the starter

The focaccia, shaped and ready to rise.  It's getting late for dinner, though.  I put them in the oven, with the light on, to hasten the rise.

Out of the oven!  Time for dinner!!!

I put vegetable oil on the pans, instead of spray, because I didn't want them to stain!

I enjoyed the first pan, although I baked it a little long.  It was crispy.  Still, it was delicous!

Be sure to check out the full recipe, and directions, on the King Arthur Flour Site:

and enjoy the other focaccia postings from the Avid Baker's Challenge at

Thanks for stopping by!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Angel Food Cake Test

Our Avid Bakers Group baked Strawberry-Filled Angel Food Cake for this month's challenge.

The recipe is found on the King Arthur Flour site, King Arthur Flour's Strawberry Filled Angelfood Cake .

I decided that I didn't want to separate twelve (!) eggs and eat that much cake.  It sounded like a good time to go into test kitchen mode.  I had wanted to experiment with making layer cakes from a batter such as this one.


The funny thing is that I forgot to write out the half batch recipe.  I figured I would remember that I was doing a half batch.  Did I remember? Noooooo!  So I have all the dry ingredients in a ziplock labeled for baking a whole angelfood cake.  Just need to get 12 egg whites together.

With fresh refrigerator jam, chocolate pudding, and whippped cream 

I wanted to do a half batch, and test it in a cake pan

I decided to use my heating core in this direction; the heating core will mimic the angelfood cake pan

Egg whites are almost whipped

How the batter looks in the pan;
A half recipe is just enough!

What will I do with 6 yolks?
When I turned the cake over, the middle core fell out.  Good.

Fully baked.  Except that I forgot that I need to grease the bottom of this kind of pan
You can remove the cake from an angelfood cake pan and slide a knife under!
Doodling with cupcakes while it cooled, LOL

Problems getting the cake out
Next time, I grease the bottom of the pan, put parchment paper on top, then grease and flour the parchment.
I learned my lesson!

It doesn't look so bad upside down!
It was really tasty!

If you want to know more about the monthly Avid Baker's Challenge, click on this link:  Avid Baker's Challenge

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cheddar and Onion Bread

The Bread of the Month for the Facebook Artisan Bread Group is Cheddar Bread.  It's from Peter Reinhart's "Artisan Breads Every Day" book.  It's a sourdough bread, full of onion and cheese.
It's one of the first breads I've made since I switched to a firm mother starter.

I made half a batch, because we don't want to eat 2 of the two-pound loaves.  I'm glad another group member suggested that.  I used sharp cheddar cheese and chopped up half an onion.
This dough is great because there's a 4 day window from when you make the dough or starter to when you have to bake it.

Rolling out the dough, putting sharp cheddar and onion on top.

I rolled it up and cut it into two loaves.
The loaves might be more evenly shaped if I had rolled out 2 rectangles separately, but I wanted to do other things today.

Loaves were sprayed with oil spray and covered with plastic for about 2 hours

Scoring the loaves

I baked for the minimum time and went to the computer room. 

I think the loaves baked really brown because of my long preheat.  I was thinking of baking a cake first.  I was preheating for that and saw the breads really needed to get into the oven soon.  The oven bakes much hotter for an hour preheat than a half hour.

The house smells wonderful--a great onion aroma.  The only problem is, I had planned to bake that cake today for my cake decorating class.  I don't want the cake to smell like onion!!!

One loaf is for me, because my hubby needs to eat soft foods after dental surgery.  I didn't want to miss out baking this bread with the group.  The other bread will go in the freezer for both of us to enjoy in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

English Digestive Biscuits--ABC Bakers

Fresh from the oven!
This is my first "bake-along" with the Avid Baker's Challenge group.  I've seen what they have baked, and I like the variety.  The different items should get me out of my comfort zone to try new recipes.

It's a plus that I already have "met" many of the members of the group over the years in other baking groups!  We have all helped each other.  What a wonderful feeling of support.  My baking skills have definitely grown over the years with their help.

I am also excited to be baking some of the King Arthur Flour recipes.  Their flour is great, and I love the friendly baking help I get from their bakers' hotline.

But "digestive biscuits?"  What are they?  "Biscuit" is the English name for American "cookies."  Actually, as this video states, they were invented to help reduce flatulence!!!

Armed with this information, I set up all my ingredients --mise en place (my mice are all in place, LOL).  This helps avoid running all over the kitchen while I assemble the ingredients.
Ready to bake.  I won't have to run all over the kitchen now
 I made some changes to the recipe: 
  • White Whole Wheat flour, because that's what I had on hand
  • Mostly margarine, to use it up, part butter.
The margarine required me to add more flour, since it has more water content than butter.  Also, I refrigerated the dough for awhile to firm it up more.  I knew this before I began, so I wasn't surprised when the dough felt too soft.  Adding too much flour would make the cookies biscuits dry.

I used a round cutter that was easy to reach on the shelf.  Here's why I didn't go into my cupboard that holds my cookie/quick bread baking supplies for other shaped cutters:
Is there ever enough room in a kitchen?
My friend, Donna Nave ( her blog is ) has introduced me to cake baking, and I am hooked!  I never saw a hobby with so many accessories!!!  Thus, the full cabinet; and an addiction to cake baking, LOL.

Note, this does not include the large tart and mini tart pans I bought after our group member, Karen Kerr, posted the cheddar mini tarts she made for this group.  They are in the pie materials cabinet.  And it doesn't include the double cabinet for my bread supplies. 

Back to the recipe--
Making this dough is very much like pie dough.  You crumble in the butter/margarine until it's the size of small peas.  The dough is kneaded, then rolled out thinly.  The biscuits are cut and placed on a cookie sheet.  Holes are pricked in them so they stay flat.  They were baked at 350 degrees for 16 minutes.

We think they are yummy!!!

The dough looks crumbly until the dough is kneaded for a minute

Rolling the dough until it's 1/8th inch thick

Using parchment paper so my pans don't get greasy!

Enjoying some biscuits with tea and my date spread

Some of the group members have heard about my yummy date spread.  It's very versatile--you can spread it on toast, form it into balls to serve with cheese, or even cover those shaped balls with chocolate!  It's a recipe I modified by a gourmet cook, Judy Zeidler.:

Date Spread

  • 8 ounces ( 1 Cup) pitted dates, chopped
  • 1.5 ounces (1/4 Cup)  raisins, chopped
  • 1/4 cup very sweet wine
  • 2 ounces walnuts, ground (1/8 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (you can vary this amount)

Place dates and raisins in a bowl.  Mix in the wine, then walnuts and ginger.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

This video made the job of pitting dates super easy.  Be sure to cut the dates with either a wet knife or a knife coated with vegetable spray.

Since this is a "digestive biscuit," a way for Victorian English to get more fiber in their diets, I thought I'd run this recipe through my recipe software.  I made 28 biscuits from this recipe.  The nutritional data is:

Per Serving: 102 Cal (58% from Fat, 5% from Protein, 37% from Carb); 1 g Protein; 7 g Tot Fat; 4 g Sat Fat; 2 g Mono Fat; 10 g Carb; 1 g Fiber; 3 g Sugar; 17 mg Calcium; 0 mg Iron; 20 mg Sodium; 18 mg Cholesterol

That's 3 Point Plus on Weight Watchers.  That's pretty high for a snack, in my opinion.

Of course, many things are better with chocolate:
Biscuits and date balls with ganache

I had some ganache left over from a chocolate torte.  I asked the woman on the King Arthur Baker's Hotline if ganache would work for covering the biscuits and date balls.  She said that it wouldn't get hard enough; I should try just melted chocolate.  My husband's reply was, "Who cares, it's chocolate!!!" 

Of course, the nutritional information of the chocolate covered treats would differ from that stated above.  :)

If you want more information about this recipe, check out:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Bit of Brioche--Small Batch Bread Baking

A Bit of Brioche--Small Batch Bread Baking

Yield, 8 - 9 ounces of brioche dough

3 large muffin size rolls


6 cupcake size rolls

Why bake bread in small batches?

  • The fun of baking bread, without a lot of leftovers to tempt you and your waistline.  
  • Great for two-person households. 
  • Less fuss than making a whole batch.  Some recipes can be hand-mixed in a bowl.  Faster measuring.
  • You can start this recipe in the morning, and have fresh bread for dinner.
  • It's possible to bake these in your oven either before, during or after using the oven for something else to save energy. If your toaster oven is large enough, you can probably bake a small batch there (would suggest rotating the pan, as toaster ovens don't have good air circulation).
  • Your kitchen will smell great!

Although many brioche recipes were researched, this recipe was adapted from Peter Reinhart's wonderful book, "The Bread Baker's Apprentice."  There's a larger proportion of egg yolk in my version of this recipe, which makes it much richer.  The final rolls are light, sweet, and buttery.

RECIPE (Step by Step pictures following recipe)


2 TBSP                  Unbleached Bread Flour
1/2 tsp                    instant yeast
2TBSP                   whole milk, lukewarm (90-100 degrees)                   


1 egg + 1 yolk        slightly beaten
13 TBSP                 unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp                  granulated sugar
1/4 tsp                     salt
1/4 Cup                   unsalted butter, room temperature

EGG WASH (Optional)--1 egg + 1 TBSP whisked together

Start by making the sponge:
The sponge for this size recipe is quite small.  You can even mix the sponge in a 2 cup glass measuring cup.  Stir together the flour and the yeast, then add the milk.  Be sure to mix well, so all the flour is added.  Cover the sponge with plastic wrap, and place it in a warm spot for 30 minutes.  I put it in my microwave, with a hot cup of water.  After 30 minutes, the sponge will rise slightly.  It will be bubbly and very sticky.

Make the dough:
Place the egg, yolk, and sponge in the mixing bowl of your stand mixture.  Mix on medium speed for a minute until it's smooth.  I tried using a  hand mixer, but the dough gets very stiff after adding the flour later on.  It was too much for a hand mixer; it began smoking!

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes.   The dough will be very stiff.  If you are stronger than I am, you can mix the ingredients by hand to lessen cleanup.  You won't need to knead the dough!

Cover the dough  with plastic wrap, so it doesn't dry out, and let it rest for 5 minutes to let the gluten start to develop.

After 5 minutes, add the butter 1/3 at a time, making sure it gets well incorporated after each addition. The dough will soften up considerably when you add the butter.  You'll probably want to scape down the dough from time to time to make sure everything gets mixed.  Continue mixing for a few minutes more to make sure the dough is very well mixed.  The dough will be soft and sticky.

Place the dough into a wide oiled bowl or onto an greased cookie sheet, turning it to coat the dough. The dough is easier to handle when it is cold, so flatten the dough to help it get colder easily.  Place plastic wrap right onto the dough so that it doesn't develop a skin.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight to firm up. It was much easier removing the dough from the pan that had been refrigerated overnight.  It was less sticky.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and put it on a lightly floured work surface.

For smaller rolls, shape the dough into 6 pieces, about 1 1/2 ounces each. Place them in a cupcake-sized muffin pan (1/2 cup size).  For larger rolls, cut the dough into 3 pieces, and place in larger muffin pans (2/3 cup size).  You will want to fill the cups only half full, to allow for rising.  If you have the petites brioches fluted pans, you can probably make one or two less of the cupcake size to make a tete on each remaining roll.

Let the dough rise for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, about a half hour before baking.  Put a rack in the middle of the oven.

The egg wash is optional.  I did 3 test batches for this recipe.  I didn't use egg wash on the first two batches.  I got a soft crust on top.  When I added egg wash on the third test, I got a crisp crust on the outside.  Both are good; it depends on your preference.  I was going to do a fourth test of turning down to temperature to 375 degrees (the higher temperature to encourage more rise).  However, now we have a lot of tempting bread around the house; it's no longer a small batch!  :)

If you brush with egg wash, cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayefor 15 minutes more.

When you bake the larger rolls, 3 cups will be empty.  Fill the empty cups halfway with water to prevent warping of the pan.

Bake 10-12 minutes, in the center of the oven, until thermometer in center registers 180 degrees.

Remove the rolls as soon as they are done.  Let them cool on a rack for about 20 minutes (if you can wait, LOL)

I hope you enjoy making your rolls, and eating them!  I decided to place all the pictures after the recipe so you can copy the recipe easier.  I'd love to hear your comments!!!



Mixing up the sponge--easy to do in small bowl or measuring cup


A quick way of softening butter--place in bowl of hot water


The sponge gets bubbly and rises some after 30 minutes in a warm spot.


The sponge is very sticky!

The dough is a bit shaggy and sticky after all the mixing is done



1 1/2 ounces looks like this!  Filling the cups halfway full for small rolls
They rise beautifully in 2 hours


Large rolls--makes 3 rolls, three ounces each

The one on the left is baked without egg wash, and longer.  The right one has egg wash

The finished rolls, these are with egg wash
The inside of a roll, egg wash used here--YUM!!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Conquering Bread and Cake Fears

Donna with her first breads, and my first cake!

Conquering Bread and Cake Fears

Bakers usually seem to fit into one of the two baking categories.  Either you gravitate toward bread baking, or you prefer cake and pastry baking. 

Bread baking means working with yeast and developing gluten.  You can get rough with the dough, especially when kneading it.

On the other hand, when a cake or pie crust is being made, baking powder or baking soda are used.  The goal of making a cake or pie crust is to limit the amount of gluten created to create a more tender finished product

There's a difference in approaches, also.  My favorite example of the difference is of being a parent of a small child.  One way of raising the child is to tell it precisely what it needs.  In cake baking, it's extremely precise in ingredients and methods.  When and how you do something is as important as an ingredient of the recipe. Extremely detailed.

The other way of raising a child seems to be to see what it needs and then provide that for them.  That's like bread baking.  Humidity and many other factors can affect the dough.  Most of the time, you start with your recipe, see what it needs, and then see what the dough needs.  You might need to add more liquid or more flour until it feels right.  You wait for the dough to rise and may have to help it along.  Lots of patience.

I consider myself a bread baker.  Oh, I have made muffins, a few cupcakes and some cakes in 9" x 13" pans. I don't remember ever making a layer cake.

My baking buddy, Donna, is a cake baker.  She's a very good cake baker, in my opinion. She posts pictures of her cakes on her blog, "The Sweet, The Sassy, and The Blur."  Check out pictures of her cakes at the following link (but please come back here for the rest of the story...)  

Donna wanted to learn to finally use yeast and bake breads that don't contain preservatives.  I got a free Wilton beginning cake making class on Craftsy.  I'm healing from a broken ankle, so I figured it was time to try cakes.  We recently go together at my house to bake.  

We started off shaping bread dough: 

I remember how hard it was for me to remember the "right" texture of the dough.  I started baking with a bread machine in 2007.  I couldn't understand why the dough texture was dry when I followed the recipe exactly.  It got so that Carol, at Red Star Yeast Customer Service, knew who I was by my voice.  I didn't even have to say my name, I called so much for help. 

Donna said that she saw a bread baking demonstration with a mixer.  It may have been intimidating, because she didn't follow up with baking on her own.   No knead dough was probably the easiest way for Donna to venture into yeast baking. in my opinion.  I had baked the no knead recipes from "Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day" in the past. They have a lot of leeway and are very forgiving for a beginner, and makes good breads.  

All the ingredients are in place to make bread dough!
We used a scale to weigh out the ingredients for the dough.  This method is much easier than using cups and tablespoons.  The newest version of the book includes these measurements.

I showed Donna how the Olive Oil Dough should look after mixing

The Olive Oil dough is very much like the Master Dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day."   It's a versatile dough, and is great for pizza crust.

Donna mixed up the wet dough (she took the picture, LOL)

Donna was surprised how easily the dough mixed up by hand.  We mixed it in a large pot, so we didn't need any special equipment.  A mixer wasn't needed!  Rather than wait for the new batch to rise for a few hours, we used a batch of the dough I had prepared a few days earlier.  The "Master Dough" recipe can be stored in the fridge for up to 14 days!   The earlier batch had been stored overnight in the fridge. This dough is very wet, and easier to shape when cold.  

We set aside the newly mixed batch of dough to rise for several hours.  It more than doubled in size!  I showed Donna how to shape the breads.  She's a natural for the special shaping, having shaped fondant in her cake making.

Here's a quick video of the baking and shaping process:
The shaped breads, before rising

Don't they look great after baking?

Donna loved her breads, and so did her family.  She has added the recently released "The New Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day" book to her wish list!

Let's make a Cake!

While we waited for the breads to rise before baking, Donna showed me how to make a layer cake. We made a 9" two layer yellow cake with white buttercream (all white) frosting.

Baking a cake is very exacting.  You don't add all the eggs at once, you alternate adding certain ingredients, and placement of the pans in the oven--this has an impact on the finished cake!  Donna watched the whole process, all the while holding onto the recipe.  We used the yellow cake recipe from the Wilton online Craftsy class.  Here's a link to the recipe:

I'm just relieved that the batter is mixed and ready for the pan!!!
I was very glad when the cakes came out of the pan.  I'm so glad Donna showed me how to grease and flour the pans properly.  After the layers were baked Donna suggested that I trim off any "crust" from the sides of the layers.  That way, people will always be biting into a soft part of the cake.  It was difficult, because I could easily chop off a larger piece of cake.

Details, Details!

I'm hoping the Wilton cake strips I purchased later on will help eliminate this step.

The cake, with the crust removed.  Not too bad, huh?

We used Donna's buttercream frosting recipe. LOTS of butter and confectioners sugar!!!  I got to see how the yellow frosting actually became white and texture became fluffy when it was mixed for awhile! 

Donna showed me how to do a crumb layer, and then the final layer of icing.

Taste testing, always the best part


My hubby loved his taste test!
Donna inspired me so much in cake baking, that I decided to challenge myself to another cake.  I decided to bake my own birthday cake, and I succeeded.  Donna gave me the pink pearls and flower for the top of the cake, but I did everything else myself.  The whole cake was an adventure in parts and slight mishaps, but icing covers many secrets, LOL.  It was a yellow cake with chocolate custard filling and vanilla buttercream icing.

Donna came over on my birthday to share the cake with my husband and I.  It was like an afternoon tea party!


Donna inspired me further with a nice birthday surprise--the Wilton Course 1 kit!  It has lots of wonderful icing tips, bags, and other cake-making goodies.  I look forward to using them really soon.  What a creative journey!!!

And.... we conquered our baking fears!  YAAAY!

Have you conquered any baking or cooking fears?  I hope you will leave me some comments about your journey.
Photos by Donna Nave Smith