Archive for February, 2012

Trader Joe’s

I have a love-hate relationship with Trader Joe’s. I love them because I can buy things like dark chocolate-covered edamame (yum!) and peruse their wide variety of inexpensive wine. I hate them because the stores are usually tiny and filled with hippies. Normally, I don’t really have a problem with hippies, but when I’m food shopping it’s a different story. Their attitudes are way too laid back for the crowded grocery store environment. For instance, I was slowly making my way around this fruit display. There was only one lane leading around it, and this group of three women had a cart parked right in the middle of the lane. Apparently they had just bumped into each other because they were hugging and chit-chatting, totally oblivious to the fact that they were blocking everybody’s way. I asked the first woman to please move her cart, which she did, but even as I made my way past her, she STILL had to snap her other two friends back into reality, because they were still talking, and still in my way.

Then, I made my way towards the trail mix. This young couple was, literally, cuddling, hugging, and kissing right in front of it! WHAT??!! How are you that unaware of the fact that you are in a crowded grocery store and a person with a shopping cart is standing behind you shooting death stares right at you? This went on for probably two minutes, which felt like an eternity. I considered asking them to move, but I knew my tone would have been less than friendly, so I just stood there and waited for them to move along.

To be fair, I did visit the Westfield Trader Joe’s at 5:30 on a Saturday evening. I was on my way home from work, and thought it would be quiet since people like to do fun things on Saturday night. But, apparently, visiting the specialty grocery store is a lot of people’s idea of fun. If I ever want more chocolate-covered edamame, I’ll have to try going early in the morning on a Tuesday or something. Or, maybe I’ll just stick with Whole Foods. It’s a little more corporate, but after spending time with those hippie boneheads, that’s totally fine with me. Plus, the aisles are much wider!

At the end of the day, I’m still not 100% sure if these people really are that clueless and inconsiderate, or if I’m kind of an A-hole. If anything, maybe it’s a 80-20 split. But seriously, hippies, stop making out in front of the trail mix.


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I bungled another bread. But it wasn’t my fault this time, I swear. I was excited about this bread and really gave it my all: I painstakingly sliced thin layers of orange peel and let it dry out overnight. I bought anise seeds AND fennel seeds (even though I later realized that we already had fennel seeds—rats!). Most importantly, I bought cardamom, a spice that I have actively avoided for years. Every once in a while, recipes here and there will call for 1/4 teaspoon or some other very small amount of cardamom, and I always omitted it because I didn’t think it warranted a purchase. Mostly because a jar of it costs $10. So, I decided to bite the bullet, and between my spices and a new bag of flour, I spent a grand total of $21 on this bread. You can imagine my frustration when it did not come out as planned.

The night before baking, I had to make a starter, which was very involved. I had to boil water and molasses, then add all of the spices, along with some barm and rye flour. Once that was mixed, I let it sit for four hours until it got nice and bubbly, then I put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, I combined the starter with some bread flour, salt, instant yeast, and vegetable oil…pictured below.

I let the mixer go to town on it for a couple of minutes, but the second I took it out and started to knead it, I knew something was terribly wrong. The dough was insanely dense. I have no idea why. I followed the instructions to a T, but it seemed like the second I combined the starter with the flour, there was a strange reaction that made the dough totally unworkable. It also felt like it weighed about eight pounds. I decided to press on anyway, so I oiled a bowl and let it rise. It was supposed to double in size in two hours. I had absolutely no rise in that amount of time, so I let it sit around for a total of five hours. There was a small rise, but I knew that it was still going to be a disaster.

After the rise, I divided it and shaped the dough into two “batards,” or torpedoes. I let those sit out for about two hours and then put them in the oven. As you might expect, the loaves looked and smelled nice, but the texture left much to be desired. It was very dense and gummy.

These rye breads sure have been challenging. Hopefully I’ll be able to redeem myself tomorrow with the Potato, Cheddar, & Chive Torpedoes.

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Unfortunately, in my last blog post, I miscounted the number of breads I had left. While I thought I had three, I actually had four. With the Sunflower Seed Rye under my belt, I NOW have three to go. The one I forgot about is Swedish Rye. Since I have the day off today, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bake another loaf, but when I read over the recipe last night, it turned out to be way more complex than I thought. It calls for things like dried orange peel (I already foresee problems procuring this item), anise, ground fennel, and cardamom. This bread sounds pretty aromatic and lovely, but definitely requires a trip to the store, which is why I’m sitting here today writing about it rather than baking it. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to it this weekend. Anyway, back to the bread at hand.

To make the Sunflower Seed Rye, I made a firm starter (barm + flower + water) and a soaker (pumpernickel flour + water) the night before. The next morning, I combined them with bread flour, salt, and instant yeast. Once everything was incorporated, I kneaded some sunflower seeds into the dough and then let it rise for 90 minutes.

After the rise, I divided the dough and shaped them into “couronnes.” I always get a little nervous when trying out new shaping methods, but I thought my loaves came out pretty similar to the ones in the book.

After letting them proof for another 90 minutes, they went into the oven. Here’s when I had a slight problem. The book instructed me to let the loaves proof on parchment paper that had been sprayed with oil. When it came to the baking part, it said to bake them directly on the sheet pan. Why it would have me go to the trouble to have them proof on parchment paper and then slide them—potentially screwing up their shape—onto another pan? It didn’t seem logical to me, so I just left them on the parchment to bake.

About 10 minutes in, Michael came into the kitchen and said, “Is something burning?” to which I replied, “Eh, it’s probably just something burning off of the oven.” A few minutes later, I noticed (thankfully I was alone at this point) that the kitchen seemed to be quickly filling with smoke. I opened the door to the oven, only to find smoke billowing out of it at an alarming rate. I pulled out the baking sheets to find the edges of the parchment paper black and smoldering. Luckily, there were no flames. I quickly disposed of the paper (while twice having to run to the doorway to fan the smoke detector, which kept going off) and slid the loaves back on to the pans. Lesson learned: do not oil parchment paper!!

Luckily, the breads were only minimally harmed. Because I was in such a rush to get them back into the oven (and avoid burning down my house), I didn’t sprinkle corn meal on the pans like I usually do. I believe this was what caused the bottoms of the loaves to become very dark and crispy…but not quite burned. Phew!

This bread tastes pretty good. It has a mild rye flavor and is nice and spongy. The sunflower seeds are a nice touch, and this is coming from a person who hates chunks of grain in bread. The shape of the loaf is a bit odd, so the bread can’t really be used for sandwiches. But, it’s still great toasted with PB & J…like so many breads that have come before it.

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I ONLY HAVE THREE MORE BREADS TO GO! This is getting exciting! The best thing is that I’ll have time to bake another bread next weekend, and then we will be down to the last two, which seem like they are going to be fun and delicious (Potato, Cheddar, & Chive Torpedos and Roasted Onion & Asiago Miche). Anyway, this past weekend I made Pumpernickel bread.

I really didn’t want to cut any corners on my last two sourdough rye breads, but I sort of had to. The recipe calls for pumpernickel flour, but I could not find it anywhere. Even after calling the local Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I still came up with nothing. I wound up ordering some on Amazon the night before mkaing the bread, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bake on a weekend where I actually had a decent amount of free time. So, next week’s Sunflower Seed Rye will contain its required amount of pumpernickel flour…but the actual pumpernickel bread, not so much. Anyway:

This bread called for a rye starter (barm + rye flour + water) to be made the night before. The next day, I combined the starter with bread flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, instant yeast, and vegetable oil. After kneading, I let it rise for two hours. I didn’t get a huge rise, but I had to leave the house by 3:30 that day. Since I was in something of a time crunch, I didn’t give it any extra time. In the first photo, you will see the ingredients used to make homemade oreos, which I worked on as the dough was doing its thing.

After the first rise, I divided the dough into two boules. I was a little surprised by how small they were, especially since there was supposed to be enough to fill two loaf pans, which I would have never been able to do. Maybe they would have been a little bigger if I had let them rise a bit more. Either way, this is how they looked after proofing for an additional hour and a half. I then baked them at 400° for about 30 minutes.

Hooray! Not burned!

The crust is nice and soft, and the bread smelled great when it came out of the oven—I’m thinking it had to do with the small addition of cocoa. Obviously, it doesn’t have the strongest pumpernickel flavor, but it definitely tastes like it belongs in the rye family.

In other news, HOMEMADE OREOS. These things are great. I got the recipe from smitten kitchen. They were relatively easy to make, albeit a bit time consuming. The recipe yields approximately 25-30 sandwiches, which means I had to bake about 60 individual cookies. It would have been a lot easier if I baked two cookie sheets at a time, but one of my pans is too big for that, so I stuck with one at a time. That said, I still had them completed in roughly two hours—right in that chunk of time that the pumpernickel needed for the first rise.

The recipe for the cream calls for vegetable shortening, which I usually never use, but I made an exception this time. If I had substituted it with additional butter, I would have essentially made buttercream icing. I have to say, the shortening gives the cream that certain…je ne sais quoi. You know how the cream in a professional Oreo sort of lingers on the roof of your mouth for a few seconds? I guess that’s the shortening.

Onward and upward to Sunflower Seed Rye.

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