Baking along

I’m a sucker for internet challenges, so when a friend told me about King Arthur Flour’s bakealong, I decided to give things a go, for this month anyway. They promise a recipe a month, and encourage bakers to Facebook, pin or tweet the results. I don’t use Pinterest, my Facebook account is as private as I can make it and I save Twitter for work and bikes. But I can always blog.

And besides the August recipe, for a cheese-tomato pane bianco, called for slow roasted tomatoes in the filling to a yummy sounding twisted yeast loaf. What better use for my first effort to rein in that magnificent heirloom tomato glut?

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The good news first, and it was an easy recipe, although my dough seemed to take longer to rise than the people over at King Arthur said it would, and it didn’t really double in size, either in the first rise or in the second one, after the slicing and twisting that the recipe told me to do. But the bread is far denser than I thought it ought to be, probably because I didn’t have enough bread flour in the pantry, so used a mix of bread flour, all-purpose flour and wholewheat. The dough just wasn’t light enough — I felt as though it needed far more liquid — and that made the bread heavy.

But it tastes so good that I might just have to try it again, just to see how it works when I do use the right flour.

King Arthur Flour promises something with pumpkin for next month. I’m not a great fan of pumpkin, so no promises on that one. Let’s see how it all goes.

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What is to be done?

We’ve had a serious tomato glut this year, despite the best efforts of spouse and self to gorge on tomato sandwiches, tomato salad and various types of gazpacho. A sandwich of home made bread, home made pesto, home grown tomato and artisan cheese has been my perfect lunch. But it only uses a couple of slices of our heirloom giants.

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So this morning I turned the oven on very low — still a bold undertaking given Toronto’s prolonged heatwave — halved some of our cherry tomatoes, added salt, pepper and olive oil, put the tomatoes in the oven and retreated to my air conditioned office until mid afternoon.

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And the result is pretty damn good, like essence of heirloom tomato. It’s so simple that it hardly seems worth posting the recipe, but here it is anyway.

Slow roasted tomatoes

Slice or halve the tomatoes (depending on size), put on a baking sheet and brush generously with good quality olive oil. Grind on a little salt and pepper, and add a few garlic cloves, unpeeled.

Roast for 4-8 hours, depending on your mood and how chewy you think the tomatoes ought to be. Mine are still pretty moist. Store in the fridge.

You can cover them with olive oil for a longer shelf life, but I don’t think they are going to last that long.

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Next up. Using some of the spoils in King Arthur Flour’s #bakealong challenge, which this month offers a yummy sounding bread that I might eat in a single sitting.

Something that combines gardening, preserving (of sorts) and baking bread? How can I go wrong.

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Pickle power

CukesI spent many years experimenting with things in jars before I actually pickled cukes. True, I’ve played with bread and butter pickles for the last few years, halving the sugar and varying the herbs and spices from a super-simple New York Times recipe. But somehow until last year I never pickled cucumbers to keep. Big mistake

The recipe came a slim volume from Australian Woman’s Weekly, and makes cucumber spears with a good crunch and some serious attitude from the large quantities of pepper, mustard seeds (both brown and yellow) and chilli pepper. One batch of brine seems to do two batches of pickles, and it’s quick. The most time-consuming bit is cramming the pickle spears into sterilized jars. I eat them in a sandwich, or with a large block of cheddar cheese.

But either we squished too many cukes into the jars, or the brine levels sank overnight, and while there’s a good seal on the jars, the top layer of cucumbers is no longer covered in brine. From all my pickling reading, this is not a good thing, because the air will soften (or even rot) the pickles. We will store these jars in the fridge rather than in the cold room, and eat them fast. It may not be too difficult.

Pickled cucumbers

3-4 kg pickling cucumbers (ours were mostly about 5 inches long)
1/3 cup kosher salt
5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
3 Thai chillies
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dill seeds
8 cloves

Wash the cucumbers and slice off both ends and discard the ends (I read somewhere that the enzymes in the blossom end is one reason pickles go soft, and life is too short to figure out which end is the blossom end as you chop your way through a few dozen cucumbers). Slice them in quarters lengthwise, put in a large container with the salt and let them sit overnight in the fridge.

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The next day sterilize your jars (we used the dishwasher) and rinse the cucumbers under cold water and let them drain. Put all the other ingredients in a large saucepan, bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the flavour. Add a couple of pounds of the cucumbers and bring the liquid back to the boil.

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Now pack the cucumbers into the jars, squeezing in as many as you can, while still leaving at least half an inch of headroom. Add enough of the hot vinegar mix to cover the cucumbers completely, and seal the jars while they are still hot. Repeat, as needed, until the cucumbers are gone. Store the jars in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate them after you open them.

The recipe, like most of those from this particular book, makes no mention of waterbathing the pickles, and I suspect this much vinegar doesn’t leave much chance for bacteria to grow. But I’m also sure USDA recommends 10-15 minutes of waterbathing, depending on the size of the jars. It’s up to you.

 

 

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Blueberry cake

Sometimes there is such a thing as serendipity. A few years back, when I first played around with blueberry jam, I had such a glut of the berries that I used some of them for a rather awesome blueberry cake. It was moist, it wasn’t sweet, it oozed blueberries and it tasted really tasted good.

But then I lost the recipe, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember who gave it to me, so I couldn’t ask for a repeat.

So imagine my surprise when I noticed that I’d saved that recipe in a blog post that I never got around to posting. Baking time.

cakeBlueberry yogurt cake

1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond essence
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups fresh blueberries

Grease and flour a 9x13x2 baking pan (or do as I did and use a 10-inch circular pan).

Cream butter & sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and almond essence and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together; add gradually to the egg mixture, alternating w/sour cream (or yogurt), ending with flour mixture. Fold in 1 c. of the blueberries. Pour 1/2 the batter into the pan and spread it out carefully. Scatter the remaining blueberries on top, and then spoon on the remaining batter, trying not to disturb your berry layer too much. Bake at 350F for 45-50 min (mine took just over an hour, but then the pan was smaller). Cool in pan 10 min, then turn onto a rack to finish cooling.

The friend who gave me the recipe suggests leaving the cake in the pan until it’s completely cool, but I managed to get mine out of the pan without major mishap.And then I struggled to wait for it to cool before cutting myself a sample.

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Blue magic

One minute I had blueberries. Next minute, or so it seemed, I had jam. Perhaps the easiest jam on the planet.berries

It started with a visit to the pick-your-own farm on the way back from a bike trip this weekend, and we scooped up $10 worth of blueberries in very short order — a surprisingly large quantity.

I did look up a couple of recipes, because blueberry jam is not one of those that I make every year. But I ignored both of them in favour of a modified 6:4:2 ratio — six cups fruit, four (scant) cups sugar and the juice of two lemons. One of the recipes suggested simmering the berries in a half cup of water for 10-20 minutes, so I simmered for five minutes, and I added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, because I thought the blueberries could use a little extra tang.

And it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of set. First I had a blue liquid, with a few floating berries, and I thought I’d be pouring blueberry syrup on my ice cream all year. Then it boiled up, to double the starting volume, and then quite suddenly the volume went down, the liquid thickened up, and I started scraping seriously jelled jam off the sides of the preserving pan. How easy can things get?

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Blueberry balsamic jam
(makes 5 250mm jars)

6 cups blueberries
1/2 cup water
4 (scant) cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Wash the berries, and put them in a heavy preserving pan with a half cup of water, and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the berries start to break down a little. Add the lemon juice, and then the sugar, a little at a time, and then bring to a rolling boil. Boil hard until it sets, which took less than 5 minutes. Add balsamic, and boil for another minute or so, just for good luck.

Bottle in sterilized jars. You should then waterbath for 10 minutes (according to USDA guidelines), but I skipped that stage. The lemon juice and the balsamic should make this jam plenty acidic enough to store, and it’s only a few jars. There’s room in the fridge for that.

Eat on toast, on bagels, on muffins, on yogurt, or spoon it out of the jar. It’s good.

 

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Just chillin’

I picked up an almost-new ice cream maker in a yard sale last year, and it sat in the kitchen cabinet all year, which is exactly what the spouse said would happen when I brought it home.

True, some friends and I made one batch of peach ice cream with straight-from-the-farmers market Ontario peaches, and I liked the alchemy of churning a thick liquid into an even thicker ice cream in a supercooled metal drum. But that peach ice cream wasn’t “must make this again” delicious, and I wasn’t a fan of the two-day process of making, cooling and churning. First you make a custard with eggs, milk and cream, with all the angst that that entails (will it curdle, will it set?) and a fruit puree, and then you chill everything thoroughly before the churn.

The final product had little ice crystals, was too hard to scoop from the freezer (it lacks the emulsifiers and other gunk they add to commercial ice cream) and I also admit that cutting corners by not peeling peaches was possibly a mistake. The bits of peel were sort of crunchy.

So that was it until this summer, when I got two ice cream books out of the library and tried again.

Let’s just say that churning so-called no-churn ice cream in an ice-cream maker makes something that’s seriously good. There’s no eggs, no custard and not even any sugar, although you do add a can of sweet, gooey condensed milk.

Amazingly easy vanilla ice cream
(Adapted from No-churn ice cream, by Leslie Bilderbeck)

1 300g can of sweetened condensed milk
3 cups cream (I used one of whipping cream, which has 35 percent fat, and two of table cream, which is a mere 18 percent)
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice of half a lemon
Pinch of salt (to lower the freezing temperature)
Splash of white rum (also to lower the freezing temperature)

I put the condensed milk in the fridge the night before, so I started with cold ingredients. Then you mix everything together and pour the (very runny) liquid into the ice cream maker. Let it churn for 20-30 minutes until it thickens up. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze.

To my surprise, this ice cream is actually scoopable from the freezer, unlike last year’s peach experiment. It’s smooth, and it tastes particularly good with fresh fruit, or even with a runny jam slathered over the top. I will make again, perhaps as early as this weekend. I will not think about the calories.

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Playing with pectin

This is the week when canning buddy and I hit the pick-your-own farm and come back in a car that smells like summer. Then we race to turn the soft fruit (usually strawberries and raspberries, sometimes currants and cherries as well) into countless jars of jam in the hope that it will remind us of summer right through a Canadian winter.

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But I’ve written about the summer can-o-rama before, and there’s a limit to how many times you I can brag about how many jars of jam we made (44 this year). I want to opine instead on the pectin problem, given that strawberries don’t have enough of it for a jam to set, and strawberry jam is up there on the list of must-have jars.

I am not a fan of how regular commercial pectin gives my jam a gelatinous feel, so I’m always in the market for a workaround. The addition of a kiwi fruit, recommended by the New York Times a few years back, produces a nice, soft strawberry jam, although you have to be careful to remove all the kiwi’s woody core, and the black seeds are mildly disconcerting, a gentle reminder that it’s not all strawberry. Other recipes suggest adding an apple (I tried that with a cherry jam one year and it ended up like cherry jam with apple sauce), and last month I hit the jackpot by adding home-made crabapple pectin to a strawberry jam, which produced a genuinely “wow” jam, which might be one of the best I’ve ever made.

But I’m out of crabapple pectin. In the course of a mad canning afternoon, we tried out four alternatives, all of which seem to work around the strawberry-set problem. I’ll add the ratings when I get round to opening the jars.

1. Strawberry jam with Pomona pectin.

I’ve read a lot about Pomona pectin on the interwebz, and fans say it offers the set without the sour, so you don’t need as much sugar and you don’t cook your jam as long. It’s a U.S. product, so I was sort of surprised to see it at the local health food store. Expensive, yes, but worth a go.

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Because it was the first time, we followed the recipe pretty slavishly for this one, mixing one of the two packets in the box to produce a calcium water, and then stirring the recommended volume of the pectin packet into the sugar before adding sugar/pectin to hot strawberries and boiling for another 1-2 minutes. It all seemed pretty vague — between 3/4 of a cup and two cups of sugar to four cups of mashed up strawberries — and Pomona said firmly that strawberries didn’t need the addition of lemon juice. But it was definitely worth a try.

It’s early days, but while the set was firm (too firm, perhaps?) I do admit the first taste was not as truly yummy as I thought it ought to be. Maybe strawberry jam needs the bitterness of lemon to bring out the strawberries? Or maybe 2-1/2 cups of sugar to 8 cups of fruit just wasn’t quite enough? We have eight jars. It’s still strawberry jam.

Second workaround was one we’ve used many times before, mixing strawberries with pectin-rich raspberries (and lemons) for glorious burst of flavour. The first taste is raspberry, but then the strawberry creeps through, and it’s always a lovely set. We make this jam each year. No reason to stop now.

Recipe number 3 swapped out raspberries for gooseberries, which have even more pectin than raspberries do. And while the strawberry-raspberry jam used 3 cups each of strawberries and raspberries, the strawberry-gooseberry one was a ratio of 5:1, with a little extra sugar to cut the gooseberry bite. Nice set. Taste rating to come.

imageThen things got a little more experimental, and if the crabapple pectin worked so well, what about making a gooseberry pectin, which meant boiling the berries up with a little water, and then straining the juice out in a jelly bag. In an ideal world I’d have left the goop to drip overnight, but we wanted now. So we added two tablespoons of gooseberry pectin to 6 generous cups of strawberries, and jammed them up with 4 scant cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. The taste is good. The gooseberry elixir adds a bitterness which I rather like, and you don’t have to top or tail the gooseberries, a sticky, frustrating and time-consuming task.

Plus there are 10 little ice cube trays of gooseberry pectin waiting for the next jam.

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We got five jars of that jam, but one jar had an accident in the waterbath. It’s only the second time that’s ever happened. Too many jars in the canner? A flaw in the jar?

Who knows. It was almost the end of the session, so we abandoned the idea of waterbathing the last 7 jars of pure raspberry jam and retired to the Ribfest up the street.

Despite that broken jar, it was a seriously successful day.

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