Beer Pretzel Rolls

Beer is without a doubt one of God’s best creations and gifts to man. When Mr. Photographer was diagnosed with celiac, he embraced his new gluten-free way of life pretty quickly; we learned to bake decent gluten-free breads and found substitutes for most of his beloved foods. It’s been a couple of years, and I think the only thing he still truly misses is a good ol’ beer. There are gluten-free beers on the market, of course, but none of them is really on par with the real stuff. There is nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot summer day. It’s the ultimate fizzy treat, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and for that reason is often dubbed liquid bread. Beer and bread are actually closely related and originate from the same starting point: in their most basic form, they’re both made with same ingredients, just cereal and water. The yeast eats the sugars and multiplies, which in turn causes rising and produces alcohol. In contrast to beer fermenting process, most of the alcohol is unfortunately going to be burned off in baking, but even so, there are many reasons to experiment with beer in the kitchen: it adds a subtle malty sweetness to baked goods, and makes them lighter and crispier as well.

In all my years living in the States, I’ve never managed to develop the taste for the pillowy soft and squishy white bread sold in supermarkets. I need something hearty and substantial to sink my teeth into (not to mention all that sugar in commercially made breads makes my hair stand up on end). I make all gluten-free breads we eat, and 99 percent of gluten bread our men-sons consume. I like to know what’s in our food, and it does my mother’s heart (and I’ll be honest, my pride!) good to hear them saying “Could you bake something? We’re out of bread!”, even though there is store bought bread sitting in our freezer, and has been there for weeks – still wrapped up and untouched.

So as my first bake of 2017 I present to you bread the way we like it: crispy from the outside and chewy on the inside, pleasantly salty, with wonderfully crisp crust. These rolls are great dunk in a hot soup, even better as hot dog buns and make wicked good sandwiches with salami and cheese. Their secret ingredient? Beer. Don’t worry, it’s not at all overpowering – actually adds just a touch of sweetness and interesting taste you’re not sure where is coming from. The dough is easy to make and a dream to work with, and the scraps are great for pretzels: sprinkled with coarse salt and seeds and dipped in mustard, they’re the greatest little bites of beer to share with friends.

Turns out, you can have your beer and eat it too! How awesome is that?! Cheers to the new year – may we all continue to bake the world a better place!

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Beer Pretzel Rolls

(makes 8 rolls)

Dough:
  • 500 g (17.5 oz.) strong bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 40 g (about 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 200 ml (oz.) lager
  • scant 150 ml (5 oz.) full-fat milk
  • pinch sugar
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast

+ 1 ½ liters water with 3 tablespoons baking soda – for water bath
+ 1 large egg yolk, mixed with 1 tablespoon water – for egg wash
+ coarse salt & various seeds (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the dough: Combine lukewarm milk with pinch of sugar and yeast; let stand for 15 minutes to activate.
  2. Place all the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, add it to the flour and start mixing on a low speed. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple more tablespoons of milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in more flour. Continue kneading until the dough comes together in a ball, and it’s soft, smooth, and elastic, about 15 minutes. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, non-drafty place for about 1 hour, until it doubles in volume.
  3. Making the rolls: Divide the dough into 8 equal portions, each around 100 g (3.5 oz.) Form small balls and then roll each one into a sausage about 15 cm (6 inches) long. Place the rolls with enough space between them onto baking sheets lined with parchment. Cover and let them rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C).
  4. In a large enough pot, bring water and soda to a simmer. Working with one roll at a time, carefully lower it into the water, cook for 30 seconds, turn it over, and cook it for 30 seconds more. With a slotted spoon, remove the roll from the water and place it onto a parchment lined sheet. (Baking soda bath gives the rolls distinctive flavor and helps with browning as well.)
  5. Brush the rolls with egg wash, score with a sharp knife or baker’s lame, sprinkle with coarse salt and seeds, if using, and bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the rolls turn deep brown. Don’t try to rush the process and don’t take them out too soon – you want them dark; this way they will be crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
  6. To make pretzels, divide the dough into equal portions, each about 50 g (1.7 oz.). Roll each piece into a long rope and twist into pretzel form. Let the pretzels rise the second time on baking sheets, give them a coat of egg wash, sprinkle them with salt/seeds, and bake at 400 °F (200 °C) for 12 – 15 minutes.
  7. The rolls are best on the day they’re made, but can be frozen and reheated/freshen up in the oven.
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Yeast Crescents with Walnut Filling

I just came back from a month long trip to Europe to see the family. I must say there wasn’t much baking going on while I was there – the kitchen in the apartment I was renting was so tiny I wouldn’t’ve even been able to place two baking sheets side by side on the counter – but the less time I spent in the kitchen, the more I enjoyed visiting with friends and family. I’ve missed them all more than the words can say, and I treasured every moment: The hugs, chats, and laughs we’ve shared together will now have to carry me over for a whole year, at least.

Living an expat life is not easy. Sure, it is exciting to be able to travel new places and get to know new people, and it’s exhilarating to rise to the challenge to build a completely new life from scratch somewhere else. It binds you to the person you’re in this adventure with – after all, at least in the beginning there won’t be anyone else you could depend on for a while. But this life also comes with an inevitable sense of loneliness: there are birthdays you are going to miss, weddings you won’t be able to attend. Not to mention Christmas holidays when you try your hardest to replicate the magical atmosphere you used to know from home, but despite the traditions you try to keep alive and cookies you bake with your kids exactly the same way your mom used to, somehow it still doesn’t work: the cookies taste different, the Christmas tree doesn’t smell quite so fragrant, and deep down, you know it’s not the same. It can’t be – it’s about the people, and they’re not there with you.

But you keep keeping on, and after a while you learn to adapt. Little by little you put down roots. You start making the new place your home and just when you think you might’ve finally gotten it down, something happens: a conversation in the grocery store or chit-chat with your hairdresser perhaps, which will remind you again that even after all these years you’re still very much a foreigner. You think differently, and no matter how much you try, in many ways you are still unlike the people around you. At that moment you can’t wait to go back “home”, even if for a short while. You get up, fly across the globe and eagerly step off that plane… and within hours you realize the strangest thing: The life you’ve been building somewhere else has changed you, and now even here, in a place you grew up in and used to know so well, you’re different. There are things you don’t understand anymore, some that annoy you, or downright drive you crazy. You might be home, but you’ve become a stranger in your own land.

You’re now officially an expat: a person whose home is neither here nor there, or who has home in both places at the same time. I still haven’t quite figured out how to have two homes. It feels weird to fly out to go “home” and then to be returning “home” when the trip is over. But that’s exactly how it is and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. Home is where people you love are, and as long they will be here and over there, thousands miles apart, so will be my two homes.

I have to say I’ve missed my big kitchen while away. I’ve never appreciated it more than when I was bumping into Mr. Photographer when we randomly met in the teeny rental kitchen getting a glass of water in the middle of the night. As usual, I brought new cookbooks and tons of cooking magazines from the trip, and couldn’t wait to put them to good use. These little yeast croissants are a special dessert from the region I grew up in. The yeast dough they’re made from is very rich – traditionally, the weight of the butter should be about 30 % of the amount of flour used. The high amount of butter and no egg whites in the dough also make the pastries very soft. The croissants can be filled either with walnut or poppy seed filling. After they’re formed, they are given a coat of egg wash and quite unusually they’re left to rise not in a warm place, but in a draughty spot to make the egg dry up. When that happens, they’re brushed with egg yolk again – the double egg wash will give them their typical cracked glaze appearance. They should’ve had more of a horse-shoe shape; they were just right going into the oven, but still puffed up a little too much while baking. Oh well – they still disappeared in no time, and making them helped me to deal with the very fresh acute homesickness I’m feeling at the moment… so I guess they’ve accomplished what they were supposed to 🙂

(Note to self: When you’re scheduling to publish a post, it would be helpful not to forget to insert the pics! I’ll blame it on the jetlag… sorry about that.)

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Yeast Croissants with Walnut Filling

(recipe makes about 30 pastries)

Dough:
  • 390 g (about 13.5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 scant teaspoon dry yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup lukewarm milk, divided
Walnut Filling:
  • 2 cups walnuts, ground
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/8 cup hot milk
  • handful of raisins (optional; not in the traditional recipe, but I always add raisins to nut- and poppy seed filling to keep it moist)

+ 3 egg yolks, beaten – for egg wash; 1 egg white – for brushing the edges of the dough

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Method:
  1. To make the yeast dough, first combine 1/3 cup of lukewarm milk, pinch sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for couple of minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. In the meantime, place all the remaining ingredients for the dough except milk into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it in, and with the mixer on a low speed, begin kneading the dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, carefully adding the rest of milk if necessary to make a smooth and soft dough. Let the dough rise, covered in a warm spot, for 30 – 40 minutes.
  3. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by combining all the ingredients listed. The filling should be somewhat sticky and hold together enough so that you can make a small cylindrical “snake” out of it. If it’s too dry, add a splash more milk, if it’s too wet, add in some plain breadcrumbs/cookie crumbs. Cover the filling and set it aside.
  4. Turn the risen dough onto a floured surface and divide it into small balls (each portion should weigh about 25 g/0.8 oz.) Cover the dough balls with a dish towel and always take just the one you’re working with to keep them from drying out. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. To form the crescents, take a ball of dough and roll it gently into an oval. Roll about 10 g/0.3 oz. of filling into a small cylinder and place it in the middle. Brush the edges of the dough with a little egg white and enclose the filling into the dough. With a palm of your hand, gently roll the filled dough into a thin cylinder about 10 cm/ 4 inches long and place it seam side down on the baking sheet, giving it a horse-shoe shape. Continue making the pastries, giving them enough space on the sheet to rise.
  6. Brush the croissants with egg yolk and let them rest, uncovered, in a cold drafty place until the glaze dries up (I chilled mine for about 20 minutes in the fridge).
  7. When the egg wash dries up, take the pastries out of the refrigerator and give them a second layer of egg wash. Let them rise for about 20 minutes on the counter while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  8. When the oven is ready, prick each croissant twice with a fork to prevent it from bursting open while baking, place the baking sheets in the oven, and bake the pastries for about 12 – 14 minutes until they’re darker golden brown.

 

Sweet Easter Bread (Mazanec)

Spring is in the air now, I suppose; the flowers are in bloom, the sun is shining (occasionally – this is still the Pacific Northwest, after all), and everyone becomes marginally more cheerful as the dreariness of winter wears away. The weather is actually cooperating this Easter – the kids won’t have to put on rain boots and wade through the downpour looking for eggs, which already feels like a major Easter miracle to me! I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have small kids anymore, so the egg hunts and such are not on the agenda, but I can’t seem to get into the Easter mood this year. I think it was easier in a way while they were little munchkins, and Easter used to unfold in a very predictable fashion: Dress them in their very best outfits. Somehow, get to church on time and try to wrangle them through the service when all they think about is candy that will follow. Take them to an egg hunt; settle inevitable brotherly quarrels about who saw which chocolate egg first and help them to fairly divide the loot. Suffer in silence as you see their brand new white dress shirt (or your couch!) getting chocolate smears all over, and then try to keep them from climbing the walls and tearing the house down, when they get all crazy from the candy overdose. True Easter bliss 🙂 It wasn’t easy and I remember the relief I felt when it was all over and I was secretly munching on one of their Cadbury Eggs in the evening, but now I have to confess I kind of miss it.

I tried to make myself feel more Easter-y by making the house look somewhat more presentable and coloring some eggs, but that was kind of a debacle in itself – I wanted to ditch the chemical colorings and go with Mother Nature this year, but no matter if I colored with spinach juice, beet juice, cabbage juice or turmeric, the eggs all emerged the same murky hue, as if I bathed them in the muddy pond behind our house. (The only natural coloring that never disappoints are onion peels!) Next year, I’m back to acid green and Barbie pink from a box, I think.

At least the baking part was a success 😉 This sweet Easter bread is a classic Easter dessert baked back home on Easter Saturday. It is a buttery yeast bread, enriched with eggs and raisins. Traditionally it is slashed in the form of cross on top in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross, and sprinkled with sliced almonds. I wanted to play with it a bit more, so I added decorations made from simple dough made by mixing flour with some egg white and water. I also soaked the raisins in rum to plump them up, and added a spoonful of honey to the dough for better browning. With some butter and a touch of jam it’ll be a splendid breakfast tomorrow.

Happy Easter, everybody! Bake your heart out, soak up the sun if you’re lucky enough to have it, and eat all the chocolate you can!

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Sweet Easter bread (Mazanec)

 Dough:
  • 450 g (1 lb.) bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup (100 g, 3.5 oz.) white sugar; + 1 teaspoon to sweeten the milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 100 g (scant 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 cup (250 ml, 8 oz.) lukewarm milk
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast
  • ½ cup raisins, soaked in 1/2 cup rum + 1/2 cup water, and drained
  • sliced almonds (optional)
 Decorative white dough:
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) plain all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg white
  • milk as needed to make a pliable dough

+ 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water – for egg wash

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Method:
  1. To make the dough, combine milk, dry yeast, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Set aside for 10 – 15 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place the rest of the ingredients except raisins in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast is nice and foamy, add it to the bowl. Start kneading the dough, adding a bit of milk or flour if the dough seems to be too dry or too wet. You should aim for smooth and elastic dough, that’s somewhat firm, but not stiff. Add in the raisins and mix them in well.
  3. Transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 min. – 1 hour. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside for now.
  4. Make the decorations, if desired: In the food processor with an S-blade, mix the flour and the egg white. Add in as much milk until the dough forms a firm ball.
  5. On a floured surface, roll the decorative dough to about 1 – 2 mm thickness. With Easter cutters, cut out decorations as desired. Cover them and set aside.
  6. When the dough has risen, punch it down and form a nice round ball. Transfer the ball onto the lined baking sheet, cover, and let it rise the second time for about 20 – 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
  7. When ready to bake, coat the entire bread generously with egg wash. Gently place the decorations where you want them; but don’t press down too much. The egg wash should help to keep the decorations in place. You can coat the decorations with egg wash, or leave them dry for better contrast. If you’re not using the decorations, slash the dough in the form of cross and sprinkle sliced almonds on top.
  8. Bake the bread for about 35 – 40 minutes, until nicely risen and golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing. Serve with butter, jam, and honey.
Note:

I doubled the recipe and also made sweet yeast nests with colored eggs inside. To make those, form the dough into ropes about 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick and 14 inches (about 30 cm) long, and then braid two ropes together and join the ends to make a round “nest”. Let the nests rise a second time, and place a colored egg in the middle of each one, pressing down lightly. Brush the  nests with some egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar, and bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 20 – 25 min. (You don’t have to boil the eggs beforehand; they cook while the nests are baking in the oven.)

Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

Easter is coming really early this year. The spring is playing with us in our neck of the woods – it teases us with blooming trees and sun here and there, and just when I’m ready to let out a sigh of a relief that the winter is finally over, we get slammed with two major windstorms within three days. And let’s not even get into the subject of spring cleaning. I know it should be done, I heard it can be very cathartic… I may even find some things I’ve been looking for all around the house for months. But just when I muster up the courage to tackle those windows, I remember my poor back, and the courage dissipates within seconds. I wish at least one of my personalities would like to clean, but alas, I haven’t had that luck. I take some comfort in the fact that the Easter Bunny is a male, and judging by the three male specimens I’ve had the opportunity to observe, they don’t see dust until it’s a layer one inch thick. We haven’t reached that stage yet, so I don’t think the Easter Bunny will mind enough to refuse to visit. Quite the contrary, I’m convinced he’ll come hopping whether we’re ready or not, and will try his best to kill us by cholesterol overdose as he does every year.

Unlike many other Easter traditions from back home that I’m not too fond of (how would you like to get whipped, albeit lovingly, just *a little*, and with the promise of great health and outstanding beauty next year, just because it’s Easter and you were born with a wrong chromosome?!), I actually like egg decorating. The thing is I always end up with way too many eggs to know what to do with, and after five days of eating hard boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner my men are ready to start throwing them at me, or maybe even to become vegans if it means to never see eggs again.

But now we’re just starting out, and I see lots of deviled eggs, eggs on toast, and eggs in casseroles in our near future. Blue eggs, green eggs, red eggs; organic eggs, free-range eggs, omega-3 enriched eggs; whole eggs, sliced eggs, chopped eggs. So to start out the season right, and to make the Easter Bunny feel welcome, I made him these nice little carrots, filled with – wait for it – curried egg salad! I got the idea when I was making the sweet cream rolls some time ago. Those were made with puff pastry, and if you don’t feel like making yeast dough or simply don’t have the time, you could use puff pastry here too. I just wanted something a little more substantial and “bready” to accompany the salad, and I’m glad I went with yeast dough. The carrots emerged a little crunchy from the oven, but then softened some under the egg salad, and I liked the combo very much. It’s a wonderful finger food for lazy people who don’t want to bother with slicing bread for sandwiches 🙂 I think they turned out pretty cute, and would be a nice addition to your Easter table menu!

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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

 Yeast Dough Carrots:
  • 500 g (1 lb.) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 300 ml (10 oz.) lukewarm milk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 2 ½ teaspoons dry yeast

+ carrot juice mixed with tomato paste – for brushing the carrots; egg white for egg wash

Curried Egg Salad:
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • salt & pepper to taste

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Method:
  1. To make the dough, combine the milk with the sugar and yeast; set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place flour, salt, egg yolks, and oil in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, pour it to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. With a mixer on low speed, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic. (If the dough is too dry, add in couple of tablespoons milk/water; if it’s too wet, add in some additional flour to achieve the right consistency. The dough should be soft, but firm.) Let the dough rise in a warm spot, covered, until it doubles in volume, about 50 minutes.
  3. Mix ¼ cup freshly squeezed carrot juice with 2 tablespoons tomato paste (use more or less till you like the color). Set aside – this will be your glaze for the carrots. Lightly butter and flour the cream horn molds. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Roll the dough out quite thinly and then cut it into long thin strips, or roll them into thin ropes – mine were about 4 mm wide. Wrap the dough firmly around the molds. Place the mold upright and glaze the dough from all sides with the tomato – carrot mixture. You can add a coat off egg white to make the carrots shiny if you wish. Place the molds onto the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake the carrots for about 15 minutes until golden brown; let them cool for a while, take them off the molds, and let them cool completely.
  6. For the egg salad, mash up the eggs with a fork or chop them finely. Place them in a bowl with chopped pepper, celery, scallions, and garlic. Mix the rest of the ingredients into a dressing and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl. Chill.
  7. Fill the carrots with the salad; decorate with dill or fresh parsley leaves and serve.

Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

There are three things I can’t imagine my domestic goddess career without: Vitamix blender, a big enough food processor, and a strong stand mixer. In my book, they’re like the holy trinity of kitchen gadgets and I have an undying love for each one of them. Having said that, last Monday was a sad, sad day: My beloved KitchenAid, a trusty companion and mighty helper quite unexpectedly bit the dust. I put it on my Christmas list some ten years ago and it proved to be a true workhorse: it never let me down, managed to keep up with my crazy pace of one loaf plus some muffins (or rolls, or pasta) a day and did everything I asked for without a single glitch.

But then the fateful Monday came: out of the blue it breathed its last and left me to my destiny – with sticky hands, counters covered in flour and a sourdough starter bubbling away by the fireplace, ready to make some bread. Mr. Photographer took one glance at my sad puppy face and bless his heart, didn’t hesitate one second. He knows too well that a PMS-stricken woman that can’t calm her all-over-the-place emotions by much needed baking is nothing but bad news and presents a potential threat for the entire family, so he told me to promptly go order a new one and pay for express shipping. What can I say – I married a wise man 🙂

Thirty six hours later (not that I was counting!) my late KitchenAid’s red-colored cousin arrived to my doorstep and I’ve been a happy camper ever since. And this weekend the cheerful newcomer helped me to bring forth some homemade happiness: Slovak crescent rolls to accompany a traditional cod fish salad. Cod fish salad, with finely chopped onions, crunchy carrots, and loads of mayo, most often wolfed down with crispy crescents is a Slovak man’s food, and any guy back home could easily live on it for months on end, especially if he has some cold beer to wash it down with. The homemade version is million times better than the salad sold at delis and grocery stores, of course, and the crescents – crispy from the outside and soft and chewy on the inside – are a must; they round up the whole meal very nicely. The salad needs to be made a day before, so the flavors have time to marry… and the crescents are best fresh, straight from the oven 🙂 Please give this simple meal a try when you’ll be feeling adventurous and will want to branch out a little from the usual tuna salad sandwich!

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Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

(crescent recipe adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk; recipe makes about 1 kg (2 lbs.) cod salad and 8 big crescent rolls)

Cod Salad:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh cod fillet
  • 3 l (qt.) water
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) + 5 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 big carrots
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • approximately 250 g (1/2 lb) good quality mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
  • 3 tablespoons mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
Crispy Crescents:
  • 450 g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) milk, lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • coarse salt & caraway seeds, for sprinkling
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Method:
  1. For the cod salad: Place 3 l (qt.) water with 1 cup vinegar into a deeper saucepan; add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add in the cod fillets and continue to simmer for 10 additional minutes.
  2. While the fish is cooking, peel the carrots. Set aside.
  3. With a slotted spoon, take out the cooked fish from the water; set aside to cool. Place two whole carrots into the same vinegar water, and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until still crunchy.
  4. Grate/finely chop the carrots into a big bowl. With a fork, tear the cooled fish meat into small pieces and add it to the carrots together with finely chopped onion.
  5. The quantities of the remaining ingredients are approximate; add as much mayo as to make a moist salad, and salt/pepper/vinegar to taste. Cover and let the salad rest in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
  6. For the crescents, combine yeast with lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon sugar; set aside for 10 minutes to let the yeast “bloom”.  Place flour, oil, honey, and salt into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook.
  7. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix/knead the dough until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple tablespoons milk/water – 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in some additional flour. (Mine was a little dry and I added in about a tablespoon of sour cream that needed to be used up).
  8. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 50 – 60 minutes. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
  9. When the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a big wooden block (I didn’t even have to flour the board, the dough was very easy to work with.) Divide the dough into smaller balls, depending on how many/how big crescents you’d like to make – I  weighed it and divided it into 130 g (4.5 oz.) portions.
  10. Working with one portion at a time and keeping the rest of the dough balls covered, roll out each ball into an oval. Don’t roll out all the way, and keep one end of the oval thicker. Starting from the thicker end, start rolling the oval into a crescent, pulling the opposite end away to elongate the oval as much as possible without tearing it. Roll the crescents fairly thin (about 3 cm, a little over 1 inch and 15 cm, 6 inches long) – they will rise substantially during their second rise and while in the oven; making them longer and thinner is better. Place the crescent onto the parchment lined pan and continue making the crescents the same way.
  11. Cover the crescents with a clean dishtowel and let them rise the second time for about 15 minutes while preheating the oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Brush the crescents with egg wash and sprinkle them with coarse salt and seeds. Bake for about 15 – 17 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the crescents to a cooling rack to cool (and try not to eat them all while they’re still hot and crackly 🙂

 

Bi-colored Sweet Yeast Crescents

Mr. Photographer and I are about as opposite as they come. He’s a night owl; I have trouble to keep my eyes open after 11 pm. He’s very artsy; I’m anything but. He’s a math whiz; I hate math’s guts, and to this day suffer with occasional nightmares about derivations and descriptive geometry. He’s annoyingly level-headed; I way too often let my emotions get the best of me. I enjoy playing with words and stringing them together; he still sometimes struggles with grammar rules I don’t ever need to think about. He’s an extrovert who’d go out every night of the week if he could; I’m an introvert who’d rather snuggle up next to the fireplace with a good book. He loves knick-knacks that stir up memories and rakes up tons of little somethings from everywhere he goes; growing up with two sisters in one room has made me into a minimalist who prefers to have bare minimum on her shelves. I say that way the room can breathe (and I don’t have to dust more than necessary!); he says it lacks character and is devoid of life.

Yet by some twist of fate we somehow ended up together. They say opposites attract, and it might be true. It seemed we complemented each other so beautifully – I still remember him teaching me some crazy math concepts before a test I was dreading, and a couple years later me proofreading his thesis in computer science for him. The text might’ve just as well been in Chinese, as I had no clue what I was reading about, but I made sure all the hundred pages of it were grammatically flawless. Awesome, right? I have gaps, you have gaps, and together we’ll patch them and make it work. But from where I sit now I have to confess that over the years our many differences have repeatedly caused noticeable friction between us as well, and not just in matters pertaining to decorating style 🙂

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. After all, marriage is just an union of two imperfect people, and as such it takes a lot of tending and is a never-ending work in progress. The marriage experts have a lot to say about how to keep it alive and happy, and assert that the key to a happy relationship is to learn to live with the differences, and not just merely tolerate them, but to be able to enjoy them. We’re working on that 🙂 Without revealing too much, there are definitely differences we enjoy more than others!

Similarly, this week’s bi-colored crescents are a result of the unexpected union of polar opposites. I was kind of missing playing with yeast dough, plus we have about four jars of different jams in the fridge to use up. On the other hand I wanted to keep things simple this weekend, and that’s how these little yin-yang crescents were born! It’s just a simple yeast dough divided in half, with one part colored with cocoa. Thanks to the butter the dough is soft and very easy to work with, and after rising the crescents come together in a snap – you just roll light-colored and dark-colored dough, place them on top of each other, cut out a circle, which you then cut into eight small triangles. Working with one triangle at a time, stretch the dough to elongate it, sprinkle the triangle with some cinnamon sugar, and roll a crescent. Let the rolls rise a bit second time and bake. After baking I brushed the hot crescents with thick sugary syrup to make them nice and shiny, but you could also give them a coat of egg wash before baking, or brush them with melted butter when you take them out of the oven – the butter will keep them nice and soft. Like I said – nothing complicated, just tried and true soft yeast dough and some playing with contrasting colors. I can’t decide if I like the light ones or the dark ones better, and I love the contrasting color peeking out at the edges. The crescents will be awesome for breakfast with either jam or honey; I’m secretly hoping they’ll buy these yin- and yang parents some extra sleep on Sunday!

I’ll say it again: I don’t think there is such thing as a perfect marriage, but if there were, this would be it, at least in the culinary world: Opposites that coexist in a perfect harmony; surprisingly simple, and very delicious together!

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Bi-colored Sweet Yeast Crescents

(recipe makes 16 small crescents; 8 of each color)

Sweet Yeast Dough:
  • 175 ml (scant 6 oz.) whole milk, lukewarm
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • 375 g (13 oz.) bread flour
  • pinch salt
  • 100 ml (3.3 oz.) melted butter (or mild tasting oil)
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 leveled tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons milk
Filling:
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
Sugar Glaze:
  • 75 g (2.6 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 50 ml (1.5 oz.) water

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Method:
  1. First, make the yeast dough: Combine the 175 ml (scant 6 oz.) lukewarm milk with yeast and pinch of sugar; let stand for 10 – 15 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Meanwhile, place all the remaining ingredients for the dough into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast is nice and bubbly, add it to the bowl. Knead the dough on a low – medium speed until it’s soft, smooth, and elastic. If the dough seems too dry, add in couple of tablespoons milk one tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, gradually add some more flour. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, and then divide it in half. Put one half aside, covered; to the other half of the dough in the mixer bowl add 3 tablespoons cocoa and 3 tablespoons milk. Re-knead until the dough is soft, smooth, and elastic.
  3. Transfer both light and dark dough into two well-oiled bowls, cover, and let them rise in a warm spot until they double in volume – about 1 hour.
  4. Forming the crescents: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide each ball of dough in half (you’ll have two light and two dark doughs). Take one dough ball of each color and keep the remaining two covered. First roll out the light dough into a rough square about 3 mm thick. Do the same with the dark dough. Place the two squares on top of each other with the dark side facing up and using a plate cut out a circle; discard the rest of the dough.
  5. With a sharp knife cut the bi-colored circle into eight triangles. Stretch each triangle a bit to elongate it, sprinkle it with a little bit of cinnamon sugar and starting from the wide side roll it up into a crescent. Place the crescent on a baking sheet with the tip down. Continue making the crescents; when you’re done, you should have eight crescents on the sheet.
  6. Take the remaining light and dark balls of dough; roll them out, and place them on top of each other, this time with light side facing up. Again, trace a plate using a knife and discard the remainder of the dough.
  7. Cut the circle into eights; place a bit of cinnamon sugar on each triangle, and roll it up into a crescent. Place the crescent onto the second parchment lined sheet. When you’re finished, you should have eight light colored and eight dark crescents, eight pieces on each pan. (Leave them enough room to expand; they will get bigger during baking.) Cover the crescents with a clean dishtowel and let them rise the second time in a warm spot for about 20 minutes while preheating the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
  8. Bake the crescents for about 10 – 12 minutes until they are baked trough and are nice golden brown.
  9. While the crescents are baking, prepare the sugar syrup: In a small saucepan, combine sugar with water and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick syrup forms. (Watch the syrup closely, so that the water doesn’t evaporate and the sugar won’t turn into caramel.)
  10. Brush the hot crescents with sugar syrup upon taking them out of the oven and let them cool slightly before serving.

Braided Christmas Bread (Vianočka)

I just glanced at my calendar and realized that Christmas will be here in less than a week: five days to be exact. Yikes. Normally at this time I’d be running around like a mad woman, taking care of last minute shopping, wrapping gifts with one hand while stirring something on the stove with the other. Oh, and continuously removing dry needles from all around the house. I love to have live tree at Christmas, but I swear the amount of needles it always brings with itself is somehow far greater than the sum of needles on its branches. And they must have feet, too, because they are all over, from the living room through the bathtub to my bed even – like tiny green pointy soldiers trying to take over the world.

This year has been strangely different. I have almost no gifts to wrap, and I haven’t caught the bug that usually sends me into the pre-holiday cleaning frenzy. We don’t have the tree up yet, either – my men decided a small pre-lit tree will do just fine, but none of them is in a hurry to actually take it out and set it up. The way I see it – we might even have one of the big photo light stands that we use when photographing my food take place of the tree this year. It’s been towering in the middle of the living room for months, and if it’s still there on the 24th, I might just hang some ornaments on it and call it good.

But the surprising thing is that none of this bugs me too much – nor the dust bunnies, nor the dirty sinks, not even the lack of a tree. Yes, I’ve been baking for weeks now, but not because of the holidays approaching, or at least not because I need to have fifteen kinds of cookies by Christmas as it used to be the case not too long ago. I’ve been baking – procrastibaking you could say – because it allows me to connect with the traditions I grew up with or people that shared their cherished recipe with me, and that need to connect always grows stronger around the holidays in me. Baking is my Zen, and while I’m rolling out that dough and pressing the cookie cutter into it, I tune out the world around, all is well, and nothing can make me to lose my cool. Well, almost nothing 🙂

This braided egg-enriched bread is traditionally baked back home around Christmas time. It’s similar to brioche or Jewish Challah, and can be braided in many different ways. Unfortunately, I haven’t been gifted with any spatial skills whatsoever and the thought of having to braid nine or ten strands of dough makes my head hurt… so I leave the elaborate preparations for professionals and stick to simple three-braid bread. Vianočka is slightly sweet and mighty tasty with its buttery taste and poppy seed or almond crunch. If you’re lucky and still have some left after a day or two, it’s also said to make a great French toast and wonderful bread pudding. It never lasts more than a couple hours around here, though! This recipe makes two loaves, so I’m hoping to hide one away in the freezer for Christmas morning.

At the height of holiday stress I’d like to wish us all may our Christmas and the days leading to it be peaceful. After all those years of pre-holiday craziness I used to for the most part bring upon me myself, I’m finally starting to really *get* that Christmas isn’t about the spotless house nor the scrumptious goodies… and it’s not about what’s under the tree, either. It’s who’s around it that matters, and if you think about it that way, you probably already have all you need. Enjoy.

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Braided Christmas Bread (Vianočka)

(adapted from Nick Maglieri’s Bread)

 

Sponge:
  • 112g water, lekewarm
  • 14g (0.5 oz.) active dry yeast
  • 100g (3.5 oz.) unbleached bread flour
Dough:
  • 800 g (28 oz.) unbleached bread flour
  • pinch salt
  • 100g (3.5 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 65g (2.5 oz.) light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • all of the sponge
  • 225g milk, lukewarm or room temperature

+ 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in 1/2 cup water & 1/2 cup rum
– 2 egg yolks, mixed with 2 tablespoons water – for egg wash
– poppy seed, slivered almonds, and pearl sugar – for sprinkling the top of the loaves

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Method:
  1. To make the sponge, combine water, yeast and flour in a bowl, and stir with a whisk until no dry flour remains. Cover and set aside in a warm spot for 20 minutes until the sponge has doubled in size.
  2. Place flour, salt, butter, sugar, eggs, egg yolk, lemon zest, and vanilla in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. Add in all of the activated sponge, turn the machine on a low speed, and gradually pour in the milk. Knead the dough on a low-medium speed for about 8 minutes until the dough is fairly firm, smooth and elastic (If the dough seems to be too wet, add in a couple of tablespoons flour, one tablespoon at a time; if it is too dry, add in some more milk, one  tablespoon at a time). At the end mix in the rum-soaked raisins, making sure they are evenly distributed in the dough. Transfer the dough into a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until it doubles in volume, about 45 min. – 1 hour.
  3. Once the dough has doubled, turn it onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, cut off 1/3 of the dough, then cut that third into thirds again. Take the larger piece of dough (the remaining two-thirds) and cut that into thirds as well. Let the dough rounds rest under a dish towel for about 10 minutes.
  4. Assembling the breads: Start working with the three larger thirds – roll each portion into a rope about 14 – 15” (35 – 38 cm) long. Place the three strands together, pinch them at the top and braid them fairly loosely together, pinching the strands at the bottom end. Set the braid on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Take the three smaller dough balls and roll each into a strand that’s about 2″ (5 cm) longer than your braided loaf. Braid these three strands together, pinching the ends to seal. With rolling pin or your hand, make a small indentation in the center of the loaf on the baking sheet, and brush the indentation with a little water. Place the smaller braid on top, and tuck its ends underneath. Set aside.
  6. Make the second loaf in the same way, placing it on a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Cover both loaves and let them rise in a warm spot until they become puffy, about 30 – 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 °F ( 175 °C).
  8. Just before baking, brush the loaves with egg wash (I used two coats to achieve dark golden color), and sprinkle them liberally with poppy seeds/almonds/pearl sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake the breads for about 45 minutes, until they’re golden brown, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. (Check the loaves after 20 minutes, and if they seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil.)
  10. Cool the loaves on the baking sheets for couple of minutes, and then transfer them onto a wire rack to cool completely.