Oct 22, 2009

Processing Concord Grape Jelly and a Pom Wonderful Jelly

Just when I thought canning season was over.......My hubby was picking up his 5 gallons each of freshly pressed Riesling and Concord grape juice from our local winery, preparing for his next wine making adventure.  He was generously given an extra (free) gallon of Concord grape juice.  So I thought, hey, why not make some grape jelly? Can you imagine? Freshly pressed grape juice, no preservatives, no additives, not watered down, and someone else did ALL the work for you??? I think I'm on to something here and why didn't I think of this before?!?!?!?!?

While I was at it, I still had some of the Pom Wonderful juice leftover that I was wanting to do something with also. A friend and fellow blogger of mine Margarite, had made some beautiful Pom Wonderful jelly not to long ago. You can check out her freezer version here on her blog, Spryte's Place. So I told her I'd do some experimenting of my own. While I'm not a fan of freezer jellies and jams, simply because I do not have the storage space, I would try processing and canning some so we could compare notes.

So, because some of my foodie friends haven't canned anything before, I thought I'd make this blog post serve double duty and document the whole "water bath method" process for them. I did the grape jelly first, completing all of the steps, then I did the pomegranate jelly using the exact recipe and steps. As luck would have it, it worked out and set up beautifully. I will caution you however, if you use any other type of juice, you may want to look for recipes on the Ball canning site or consult the USDA guidelines because different fruits have different acidic and pectin levels, so not all recipes or fruit/sugar/pectin ratios are the same. In fact, if you haven't canned anything before, I strongly suggest you do some homework and give both a good thorough read first.

That said, here we go. Now, probably the most important step to canning jelly (or jam) is to be extremely organized. Really, it takes more time to sanitize and set everything up than it does to do the deed. Once you start cooking the jelly you cannot stop in midstream. Wash and sanitize all jars and handling equipment. You can do this in the dishwasher, or by hand, just be sure to rinse well with the hottest water and avoid touching the insides or rims of the jars once they’ve been sanitized. Set your jars on a large tray or cookie sheet that has been lined with a clean, old dish towel.   I also have a funnel, a magnetic wand (for fishing out lids) and jar tongs. You can get these in a small inexpensive kit, but really, I use my metal tongs when working with small jars. So the only extra piece of equipment (besides the canner & rack) that you'll probably need is the wide mouth funnel. (I'm just sayin')

Getting the jars, lids and rings ready:

Put lids and rings into a saucepan and bring to a boil, remove with tongs and lay out on the tray with the jars. Leave the hot water from that pan on the stove and set to simmer. (you’ll use this later) Put the jar rack in your canner and fill canner about 2/3 way with water. Bring to a boil, then lower back down to simmer and put the lid on to hold in the heat while you get the jelly ready. Also, go ahead and measure and pour your juice (only) into a stock pot.

Concord Grape Jelly Recipe

Yield: 8 cups (8 half-pint sized, 8oz jelly jars)

1 box (1.75 oz) Sure-Jel pectin
5 C fresh Concord grape juice
7 C white granulated sugar

Making the jelly:
Make sure all of your measurements are exact. Measure and level each cup up of sugar and pour into a large bowl and set to the side. Pour your juice into a stock pot and set the heat to medium. Stir in all of the pectin all at once. Stirring constantly (I use a heat-proof silicone spatula)the pectin mixture will start to thicken. Continue to stir and heat juice to a hard boil, one that cannot be stirred down. Add in the sugar all at once and stir constantly, until mixture comes back to a boil, again, one that cannot be stirred down. Boil and stir for one minute more. Remove pan from heat and skim off any excess foam with a spoon.

Quickly, while mixture is hot, fill jars using a ladle and a funnel fitted into jars. Fill to about 1/8 inch head space. (You need at least 1/8 inch in order for the vacuuming process to take place) Wipe off an drips on jar edges with a clean damp towel or damp paper towel. This is to insure a tight seal. Immediately place on all of the lids. Next, add all of the rings, but do not tighten fully, only “hand tighten” until just snug. (you'll tighten them again after processing)

Processing jars:
Place jars into the canning rack, be sure all are standing up right. Gently lower jars down into canner. Check again to make sure they are all upright and not tipping. The jars should be covered with at least 1 or 2 inches of water, while boiling. If necessary, use the hot water in the saucepan to add to the water in the canner so that the jars are completely covered. Put the lid on the canner and  bring water to a full boil, then set timer for 5 minutes. When done, raise rack with handles and rest on edges of canner. Using tongs or a jar handler, carefully place hot jars back onto towel lined tray.

Move tray to an out of the way spot, and leave undisturbed for 24 hours. You will soon hear “popping” sounds as the jars cool that indicate the vacuum process was a success. (this can happen immediately, or it may take awhile) After 24 hours, check all of the seals by pushing in onto the middle of each lid, it should be sunken down solid and not popping up and down. Now tighten the rings, or you can store jars without rings. You can reuse jars and rings, but not the seals. You have to use new seals only once because of the adhesive on them that helps create the seal.

If you have a jar(s) that didn’t seal, do not try to process it again using the same lid/seal, instead, just store that one in the fridge and use within 3 weeks. If you have more than one or two jars that did not seal, it's better that you reprocess them with new lids. Your jelly is ready to use after the 24 hours, however, some jelly may take up to a week to set. If it doesn't set up and gel, read the insert in the pectin box, there is a method for re-cooking and reprocessing. Properly sealed and processed jelly will store up to a year in a cool dry place.

The grape jelly is on the left and the pomegranate on the right. Isn't it beautiful? I have to admit, I was a bit nervous for the pomegranate to set up, but it ended up with the same texture as the grape even though the grape actually took just a few days longer to set up.

As I was going through this whole process I was thinking....what was I thinking? Why go through all of this trouble? Until we tasted it. I can assure you, the taste of both types of jelly is out of this world. Certainly better than any store bought brand. When my hubby slathered his biscuit and took the first bite, he turned to me and said, "it tastes just like my grandma used to make". I almost cried, I knew then, it was truly a success!

Oh, and FYI.....hubby has been busy getting the wine well on it's way. It's happily bubbling along in the primary phase. I'll be documenting the whole process, from fresh juice to bottle, for your viewing pleasure. It will take some time, maybe 2 or 3 months before bottling so I'll wait until after the holidays to blog it.

Meanwhile, I'm working like mad on a Halloween cake project that I'll be entering into a couple of online contests that I'll be (shamefully) asking begging for your online votes....so please check back!

Oct 15, 2009

Pumpkin Roll with Vanilla Bean Cream Filling

One can never have enough pumpkin recipes (at least this "one" can't). I love me some pumpkin! This is a spicy pumpkin cake roll, filled with a vanilla bean filling. (think hostess cupcakes gone Thanksgiving) My dear friend and fellow foodie blogger Danielle first turned me onto this little jewel last year. If memory serves me correctly, she got the original recipe from a food network show and kindly spread the word. The original roll contains a cream cheese type mousse, which is absolutely wonderful as is. In fact, the very first time I made it, the fam went crazy for more. I've had to double the recipe ever since. You can check out Danielle's original recipe for "Pumpkin Mousse Roll" over on bakespace.com.

You may be wondering then, if so wonderful, why did I change it? Well, for one, some discussion came about not to long ago about filling cupcakes with a cream filling. I immediately thought of a recipe for a vanilla cream filling that I had tucked away. But before I shared it with my beeps (bakespace peeps) I thought I'd revisit it and make sure it was worthy. Because it was "pumpkin season" I thought what better way to test it out than on Dani's pumpkin roll. so the pumpkin cake roll I haven't changed at all, I just used a different filling.

Now let me preface this vanilla cream filling recipe by saying, when you read through the ingredients and directions, it's gonna sound a bit scary, maybe even gross. But just trust me, I've tried a LOT of different recipes for "cream filling"; not custard, not cream cheese, not ganache, not icing, but CREAM FILLING. This one is light, fluffy and not too overly sweet. You can use it to fill cakes, cupcakes and well, pumpKin rolls! One more thing, you can substitute the vanilla bean with vanilla extract (*sigh* if you must) by adding in 1 tsp vanilla with the milk/flour mixture after it has thickened. Now, let's get on with it....

Vanilla Bean Cream Filling

5 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/2 vanilla bean
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt

You'll only need half a bean, but I used a whole one because I was doubling this recipe. First, split the vanilla bean and scrape seeds (also known as the vanilla bean "caviar") with the back of a pairing knife or butter knife. See that dull point on the middle back of my pairing knife? Thats the side I actually use in order not to shred parts of the pod. I scrape my seeds into a little ingredient dish and set them to the side.  Now at this point, some may suggest you throw the pod into your liquid to get the most flavor, but with this recipe that's not necessary. The seeds will be enough flavor. But what you can do, is throw both the scraped side (and the (un)scraped side if you have no other use for it) into your sugar bowl or dish and have wonderful vanilla sugar with your next cup of coffee or tea ;)

In a medium sized sauce pan, whisk together the flour and milk. I usually put my flour in first, then add only enough milk at first to create a paste.Then I continue whisking in the rest of the milk, a little at a time, until  all is combined. (look Ma, no lumps) Now, set your heat to medium and add in the vanilla seeds.

Cook in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking continuously to prevent the mixture from scorching and clumping on the bottom. (you're basically making a vanilla gravy or sauce) It will take some time at first, but don't walk away, because as soon as the liquid starts to heats up, it will thicken pretty rapidly. If you are not whisking it, you'll have lumps. It will take a good 10-15 minutes to get it to the right consistency, which will be like a thick custard.

When thickened (consistency will be that of a thin pudding or custard), pour into a medium sized bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressing onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool completely to room temperature. Do NOT put this in the fridge to cool. It will solidify!  Just go get busy baking your pumpkin roll (or cupcakes, cake, or whatever you're filling). It will be cooled down by the time you're ready for it.

Once you have your baked items cooled and ready to be filled, and the flour/milk mixture is completely cool, use a stand mixer on high or hand mixer with a medium sized bowl to cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until light and creamy. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then add in the milk/flour mixture and salt. Beat at high speed again for about 7 minutes, until light and fluffy. It will be the consistency of thick whipped cream. Again, do NOT put this into the fridge. Just let it set out until it's time to fill.

Now for the pumpkin cake roll.

Pumpkin Roll

3 Eggs
1 cup Sugar
2/3 cup Pumpkin
1 teaspoon Lemon juice
3/4 cup All-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Baking powder
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beating well with a paddle attachment on a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer). Add pumpkin and lemon juice, mixing until blended. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Add to egg mixture, mixing well. Spread batter into greased 10-by-15-inch jelly-roll pan AND lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool for 15 minutes only. If I wait any longer it's a bit cumbersome getting it out of the pan, or peeling the paper off. In fact, when I'm doing two of these, I leave one sitting on top of the warm oven with a towel over it so when I'm ready to remove it, it's not too cooled down.

Take a large clean tea towel (flour sack towel) and liberally sprinkle it with powdered sugar. I usually just use a small strainer for this, shaking it over the whole towel. Holding the pan in one hand and on it's long side, gently tip the pan up and the cake over onto the towel (while using the other hand on the cake to support it as it goes over) Sounds scarier than it really is, honest. Immediately but gently, pull off the parchment paper. If you're doing two cakes at once, now is the time to flip out the other. From the 10- inch side (short side), gently roll cake up in towel (yes, towel and all). Set aside to cool.

When log is completely cool, it's time to fill! Gently unroll cake. Evenly spread filling over cake. Starting on the "curled" end (which was the middle when you rolled it up) gently roll the cake back up (hehe, this time without the towel). I usually use the towel to help by lifting it up on the end I'm rolling, then I use my other hand to guide it. Don't worry if your log cracks a little when you first start to roll. By the time you get to the other end, it's all good.

Lightly brush off any excessive powdered sugar with a dry pastry brush or a towel, but don't drive yourself nuts over it, it will "melt" into your log once it chills out in the fridge. Now roll the log onto a piece of doubled up plastic wrap, aiming for that seam side to end up on the bottom.

Cover well with the plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour, this will firm up the cream filling. It's easier to slice the log with a serrated knife while the cream filling is firm, then let it come to room temp before serving. Or, you can go ahead and leave it in a log shape and just do a few slices to drive them crazy. LOL  Sprinkle that bad boy with a little powdered sugar, just to give it that "professional" look. Your guests will be impressed!

So the fam taste tested this and I have to admit, a little part of me wanted them to like this one better than the cream cheese filling, only because the vanilla filling IS a bit more trouble. But ya know what? We ALL liked both recipes. I guess it depends on what mood you're in. I can say that the cream cheese mousse will make the cake more moist,  like the cake soaks up the cream cheese mousse more and it is VERY rich. Whereas the vanilla filling seems lighter, not as heavy rich, and doesn't soak in, leaving the cake more cake like (but it's still moist) like as in a filled hostess cupcake. (ha, did that make sense?) Guess you'll just have to try them both and see which one you like best!

For more of my Cali-Gal Danielle's recipes, head on over to her blog, "Cooking for My Peace of Mind". If you're feeling low and need a laugh, check out her other blog too, "Public Transportation- Cheap Entertainment"  The chick is hysterical. Dani, thanks for yet another great recipe, the late night chats, and all the laughs. I love you man!

Oct 14, 2009

A Pom Wonderful Experience

More and more recently I've been hearing about the health benefits of pomegranates. This so called "super fruit" hero has been sweeping it's way across the internet and is seemingly gaining popularity amongst chefs, foodies, and the like for the last several years. Chocked full of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and other supposedly super powers, it seems it would be known as the "heal all of what ails you" fruit. (didn't they used to say that about the apple? then the orange? then I remember even more recently, the tomato?)

Of course, I'm sure pomegranates have been around since the dawn of time (certain of it in fact), but here in the Midwest, I'd never even so much as laid eyes upon a pomegranate until about 3 years or so ago. In fact, the only three things I really knew about pomegranates were;
a) they are used in the making of grenadine, a sweet syrup, commonly used in cocktails (of course I would know that!)
b) Martha Stewart talked about the health benefits and even showed how to extract the seeds one time on her show by cutting it in half then beating tapping it with a wooden spoon ....and......
c) Oprah had used a pomegranate juice to create a "pomtini" on one of her "favorite things" shows.

Of course I was intrigued and wanted to at least get an idea of what one tasted like. While I wasn't into Martha's method of extraction, ultimately putting forth waaaay more effort than I knew I ever would, I did like the sound of a "pomtini". So I bought some pomegranate juice, brought out the ol' cocktail shaker, and had myself an "Oprah pomtini". The so called juice (I can't remember the brand) was horrible, it was sour and tasteless, like watered down-not-enough-sugar Koolaid. Frankly, I didn't think much of pomegranates at this point, let alone understand all the hype in the media.

So, as you may have guessed, I was a bit skeptical when a representative from Pom Wonderful contacted me through my blog asking if I would be interested in trying some of their product, specifically, their pomegranate juice. I was curious though, and I absolutely love trying new products and experimenting with them, so this was a good time to give pomegranate juice a second chance. Thinking of course I would receive a (very small) "sample" sized bottle, imagine my surprise when a full "case" arrived. Their "case", consisted of 8, 8oz sized bottles.

The bottles were all sexy and cute with their hourglass shape and actually made me think I could have a sexy figure just by drinking it. (marketing genius I say) So of course, I couldn't wait to try it, and I have to tell ya, I didn't even wait until it was chilled. I immediately opened a bottle, but because of my past experience with pomegranate juice, I proceeded with caution. I did what any one of my girls would have done when they were little, which is, take an "itty bitty" sip. Then smacking my lips, I realized mmmmmm, this is pretty good. So I poured the rest into a glass. I took another (grownup sized) drink and found it to be full of flavor, not at all watered down, which to be honest, wasn't what I was expecting for a freebie. It was reminiscent of cranberry juice (only much better) but without being too tart and it was just naturally sweet enough that it didn't taste like sugared up flavored water. (the label says pure juice, no additives whatsoever) It was so good in fact that I stood there and drank the whole glass.

Ok, so now I had to decide what/how to experiment with it. Of course, the very first thing that came to mind, was a cocktail. I'm calling this one a.....

"Pom Paradise"

4 oz. Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice
2 oz. Unsweetened Pineapple juice
2 oz. Malibu Coconut Rum
1 oz. Amaretto

Place all in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake vigorously until chilled. Pour into a cosmo style glass. (Ok, I'd fancy it all up with a garnish, a skewered pineapple and cherry perhaps, but I was totally into just getting 'er done)

O-M-G it was indeed awesome! Not at all what I remembered with the "Oprah pomtini". But hey, maybe this was the juice she was using? If not, she should....I'm just sayin'. In fact, after a few glasses, this cocktail was almost too sweet for me. I found myself wishing I had some vodka in the house, for this would make thee perfect "pomtini".

I'm not a huge juice drinker on a daily basis, but I could be with this stuff. So now, I'm refraining from drinking all of my juice, straight up, because I'd really like to do some more experimenting. My friend Margarite, over at Spryte's Place, recently received some Pom Wonderful too. She made some awesome looking Pomegranate Jelly that I'm just dying to try out. So I suppose that will be my next venture. I think I'd also like to try out a glaze of sorts, perhaps ham? or chicken? or pork? I'll let you know when I do.

To sum things up, I really, really liked the product. (I'd tell you if I didn't, even though it was a freebie) I would like to thank Molly and for giving me the opportunity to try out one of their many products. I can't attest to all of the health claims or benefits, I'll let the folks over on the Pom Wonderful site do that, but I can attest to the fact that I found it pretty darn tasty. However, my only suggestion for the company would be the price point. To be quite honest, it IS a bit pricey in the stores. I might be more apt to buy and try the other products if the prices were a bit more reasonable. One thing is for certain, this experience has changed my attitude towards pomegranates in general.

Oct 12, 2009

Focaccia....A different way

Isn't that a beautiful thing? Savory sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, Italian spices, and rich olive oil drizzled on top of a flat yeast bread that's pillow soft in the middle and yet wonderfully crispy underneath. A perfect accompaniment to any Italian dish, oooooh, especially lasagna (eyes rolling in the back of my head). Normally, I'd supply a pic of the tasty dish that inspired this style of bread, but in this case, the Focaccia was definitely the "star" du jour.

Focaccia is an Italian yeast flat bread that is easy, quick, and the great thing is, like a homemade pizza, you get to choose the toppings of your liking. The dough doesn't need much kneading, very little really, and only requires a quick rise time compared to yeast loaf bread and is followed by a short resting time before baking. Traditionally, the dough is then shaped into a flat rectangle and then "dimpled" with your fingers, creating these deep dips and crevices that hold the yummy olive oil. Then it is baked in a very hot oven, either on a baking sheet or transfered via pizza peel directly onto a baking stone.

What makes this focaccia different, is that I experimented and used my (well seasoned) iron skillet instead of the usual methods. Basically, I used the same method that I use for corn bread, by liberally oiling the skillet and getting it pipping hot just before transferring the dough to it. So essentially, the dough "fries" on the bottom creating a crispy but moist crust, similar also to a deep dish pan pizza.

Unfortunately, I don't have pics of each step. (hey, I was busy making lasagna) But here is the recipe and I'll do my best to describe each of the steps.


2 1/2 -2 3/4 C Bread flour
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Garlic Salt
1 pkg Fast Rise Yeast
1 C Warm Water (110-115F)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive oil (you'll need more for drizzling)

Olive oil for drizzling on top....or, you can do it DD's way:
4 Tbsp salted butter (not margarine)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)

Italian Seasoning Blend (oregano, basil, thyme or any combination)

Some suggestions:
Slices of sun-dried tomatoes (or sliced roma tomatoes), caramelized onions, roasted green and/or red peppers if desired
½ C Shredded Mozzarella or grated Parmesan cheese, if desired (however, I tend to skip the mozzarella because to me, that just makes for a sauceless pizza)

Liberally oil a glass bowl with olive oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, the sugar, then sprinkle in the yeast. Stir to mix. Normally, I use regular granulated yeast, but in this case, I use the fast-rise type. For this reason, I do not dissolve the yeast in water first, I just throw it in with the flour. Also, you can use all purpose flour, but really, if you want the very best texture, use bread flour. It contains more gluten and will give you that "stretchy pull apart" bread.

Heat water and 2 tablespoons of the oil until very warm (110-115 F); Quickly stir into flour mixture until well incorporated. You can do this by using a strong wooden spoon or rubber spatula, or use a KA stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and set on speed 2.

Next, add in the garlic salt and then the rest of the flour, only 1/2 cup at a time, and only as much as needed to make a soft but not sticky dough. (It will take at least 2 ½ cups total, but not more than 2 3/4 cups). If using a KA stand mixer, use a dough hook and set the speed to 2. Add the flour only until the dough completely pulls away and "cleans" the sides of the bowl. (it will wrap itself up around the dough hook) You should be able to touch the dough with your finger and it not stick. If mixing by hand, you may need to dump the dough out onto a counter top and knead in the last addition of the flour with your hands. The hardest part is judging how much flour. Honestly, in my kitchen, sometimes it takes 2 1/2, sometimes it takes 2 3/4 it just depends on the humidity present.

When all is incorporated, knead the dough either by hand, or with mixer (on speed 2). It should only take a few minutes, until the ball of dough is smooth and elastic.

Lightly oil or grease a bowl. Put the dough ball in, move it around to cover all sides with the oil, then turn over and cover with a lightweight tea towel. Let rise in a warm place until it is double in size. This will vary depending on the type of yeast you used. About 30 min- if using fast rise yeast. About 45 min if using regular active yeast.

The important thing here is to make sure you set the bowl out of drafts and someplace warm....but not in your oven! I know that some people will turn their oven on, let it cool down and place the dough in to have a warm environment. But the problem here is, you are going to have to bake your focaccia in a very HOT oven, and shortly after you shape it. So for this reason, rising the dough in your oven is NOT recommended.

Instead, what I do, especially if my kitchen is cold, I heat up a large glass 4 C measuring cup filled with water in the microwave by itself for about 6-8 minutes. I move that to the corner of the microwave and quickly put my covered bowl of dough in there with it and close the door. This makes for a nice warm moist environment for the dough to safely rise. It works like a charm!

While your dough is rising, this is a good time to get all of your toppings ready. Also, especially if you are using fast rise yeast, go ahead and preheat your oven to 425F.

Most focaccia recipes call for drizzling olive oil on the dough, but I like a bit more flavor, so I take  ½ tsp garlic, 4 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil in a small dish in the microwave, only enough to melt the butter. Stir and set aside to cool.

Next, to caramelize the onion, add slices of onion in a drizzle of olive oil in a small sauté pan and cook on medium to low until onion becomes soft and develops a bit of color. I will also slice my tomatoes and/or roasted peppers at this point.

Next, heavily oil your skillet with more olive oil. Or you could generously grease in with shortening. Set that into the hot oven, at least for about 15 minutes before you're ready to bake, getting it pipping hot.

When the dough is ready, gently stick your fist in the center and push down to let the air out. No need to "punch it" hard, just let the air out gently.  Now, while the dough is still in the bowl, I just shape it into a flatter shape so that it comes up the sides of the bowl using my fist and then fingers. Of course, you could do this on the counter, but why make a mess somewhere else?  I use my fingers to make the deep "dimples".  Keep in mind of your pan size. I used an 8" skillet, which was almost perfect, I probably would have preferred using a 9", but it ended up baking beautifully.

Ok, take your skillet out of the oven, place the dough into the skillet and "dimple" the dough again if necessary, move the dough up the sides of the skillet also.  (uhm, do I have to tell you to be careful because the skillet is hot?) Now brush or drizzle on the garlic butter mixture be generous, but you might have some left over. Sprinkle on your Italian seasonings, and then quickly add your toppings.  You don't want to loose the heat of your skillet.

Bake for 15- 20 min for deep dish skillet style. If you've opted to go the traditional rectangle shape on a cookie sheet, you'll only need to bake it for 12-15 min.

When it comes out of the oven, I like to brush around the edges one more time with the garlic butter mixture.

Let it cool somewhat, then remove the focaccia with a large spatula and set on a flat cutting board. Slice using a pizza cutter into wedges. Never, never, EVER, slice your bread (or anything for that matter) while in your iron skillet. My grandma, god rest her soul, would turn over in her grave!

So there you have it. Easy peasy great tasting focaccia. I gotta tell ya, it was the best darn focaccia I've ever made...and I've made a lot of different versions over the years. I don't know what took me so long to figure this out, but I'm so glad I did!

One more thing...as you may have guessed, this basic dough recipe makes for some great pizza crust too. I've used it for both thick chewy crust as well as thin crust, each are equally awesome!


Oct 7, 2009

Perfect for Fall Pumpkin Bread

Ah yes, fall has arrived! I can't think of a better way to kick off my favorite "baking season" than pumpkin, somethin', anything...pumpkin. This particular recipe is known as a "quick" bread. A "quick bread" is called such because unlike a bread where yeast is used as the leavening agent, this type of bread uses either baking powder, baking soda, or as in this case, a combination of both for the leavening agent. Most are made from a batter, or a soft dough that is quickly mixed together, rather than a kneaded (yeast) dough, and it does not require a rising time before baking as yeast breads do. You just mix it up, pour it into a pan (or in some cases quickly shape it), throw it into the oven, and you're minutes (ok, in this case, an hour) away from heaven. Hence the term "quick bread".

Because most quick bread types are associated with a sweet, fruit, vegetable, and/or nut bread, like banana nut, date nut, cranberry, zucchini, apple raisin, etc., they are often referred to as "sweet bread" or "fruit bread".  However, a quick bread isn't always necessarily sweet. Other types of bread that fit into this category are biscuits, corn bread, muffins, scones, skillet bread (pancakes) etc. The other major difference in a quick bread is the texture. Because you generally use an all purpose flour and very minimal manipulation, it has less gluten developed, therefore, the crumb is more moist and tender (almost cake like) but much more dense, almost "heavy", if you will.

Let me just say one more thing before starting and before you go all "Martha Stewart" on my ass...Yessssss I use canned pumpkin! (shock, gasp) Seriously, do I really want to hunt down and buy a sugar pumpkin (you can't use a regular Halloween pumpkin),  clean out the gooey inners, peel it, carve it up, boil it, cool it, smash it....which is gonna take me for freakin' EVER, or do I rely on ol' "Libby" to help a sista out? Nope, as much as I love from-scratch stuff, in this case, I vote for Libby canned pumpkin puree....after all...it IS quick bread, right? Just be sure you are using "puree" and NOT pumpkin pie mix, there's a huge difference in the two. So here's the recipe, if your on bakespace, you can find it here in my kitchen.

Pumpkin Bread 

1 (15oz) (scant 2 cups) Can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 C White sugar
1 C Brown sugar
1 C Vegetable oil
4 large Eggs slightly beaten
2/3 C Water
3 ½ C All purpose flour
2 tsp Baking soda
1 tsp Baking powder
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Ground ginger
1 tsp Ground nutmeg
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
½ tsp Ground cloves


Preheat your oven to 350F. You'll also need to lightly spray or grease two standard sized (9x4) loaf pans.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and ground cloves. Give it a little stir with a whisk or spoon. I know what you're thinking, that's a LOT of spices. Just trust me, this is the best combination I've tried....the flavor, as well as the heavenly scent wafting from the oven just screams fall. BTW, if at all possible, use freshly grated nutmeg, because that will be well worth the trouble, I assure you.

In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer or whisk, blend sugars oil and eggs. Next, with the mixer on low, stir in the (uh-hem) canned pumpkin puree. Make sure to get it mixed well.

Next, pour half of the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and mix on low, at this point, you don't have to make sure it's all mixed in, just slightly. Next, blend in half the water. Now repeat until all of the water and flour mixture is thoroughly combined. You don't want to over mix it, only enough to get things incorporated.

Pour batter equally into 2 prepared loaf pans. Is that not a beautiful thing? What can I say, the foodie pic gods were with me that day!

Immediately place your pans on a middle to lower/middle rack and set your timer for 60 minutes. Now, here's the hard part....you cannot continuelly open the oven door to check on them. Did you know that you loose between 25-50 degrees of your heat EVERY time you open that oven door? (yes, I've tested this theory) And that it takes approximately 10 minutes for your oven temperature to recover? So....if you have a window and an oven light, use them now. If not, just close your eyes and pray. LOL  Nah, just kidding! But seriously, they are going to take at least 60 min, so no need to check them until then. More than likely though, they'll take about 70 minutes (assuming of course your oven temp is calibrated and correct, only you know your oven)

When they look like this,

and a toothpick inserted deep into the center comes out with only a few moist clinging crumbs, they're done. Let them cool in the pans only for about 10 minutes. Next, while they are still warm, gently roll them out onto a double layer of plastic wrap and wrap them up and sit them upright. This will capture the steam and help to make the now crunchy tops soften up and become moist.

While you'll be ever so tempted to slice into a loaf and devour it now.....they do tend to improve in flavor and texture if left overnight.  This bread also freezes extremely well, just wrap the loaf again in heavy duty aluminum foil, or, you can place them in a large zip lock baggy. Use within 2-3 months. (as if they even last that long around here, so really, I have no idea! HA!)

So there you have it, perfect for fall pumpkin bread. Oh, and BTW, my perfect and your perfect may not be the same thing. Feel free to throw in any one or two of the following variations (about a cup); walnuts, pecans, raisins, dried cranberries, or yes, even chocolate chips. Whatever you'd like really, in order to make YOUR pumpkin bread perfect!

Lastly, I've also used this recipe as a layered cake. I just bake in 9 or 10" cake rounds. I wrap the layers in plastic and let them sit overnight. This will allow the "crust" to soften up so that it makes for easier trimming.  The next day, level the tops, fill and stack the layers (trim edges if they're still a bit stiff) and frost. A maple flavored butter cream or a cream cheese frosting sets this cake over the top!


Oct 3, 2009

Haunted Gingerbread House

This gingerbread house centerpiece happens to be one of my favorite edible projects to date. The house is constructed out of a more durable gingerbread and "glued" together with a basic royal icing. I used fondant and gumpaste, along with other edible items for the figurines, decorations, and spoooooky graveyard.

Although I constructed this decorative piece a few years ago, I continually receive emails asking questions on the execution of the details. I regret that at the time of the making, I didn't have a blog, so I didn't take step by step pics. However, I thought I could at least give you a closer look at how the individual details were accomplished. I also wanted to share some helpful recipes along the way, that can be adapted to suit any gingerbread project that you may have in the works. (ya know, Christmas is right around the corner, YIKES)

As for the actual baking of the gingerbread, I have the recipe posted here, Gingerbread Construction Dough. I've also included the rolling, cutting out, and baking instructions. For the windows, I baked the pieces with the windows cut out, then used crushed suckers in the holes and re-baked just until the sugar had melted.

To assemble the house, it's helpful if you use soup cans to hold the walls up while you "glue" them together with royal icing. If you find that difficult, let it dry overnight before attaching the roof pieces. You can also use soup cans to hold the edges of the roof up while they dry. The mummy, pumpkins, and skull and bones were made with a gumpaste and/or MMF mixture, allowed to fully dry, then hand painted with food coloring mixed with a bit of vodka. The mummy was dusted with powdered food coloring to give him that "dirty boy" look after he had dried.

For the shutters and shingles on the house, I rolled out tinted fondant, cut into even strips, then cut out individual pieces. I let them dry just a bit then layered them on the house, using a dab of water (not royal icing) to secure them. Part of the charm is that I made the roof look ragged and some of the shingles appearing to be "hanging off", it is an old house after all. LOL It doesn't show up in the pic, but I brushed on an edible "glitter" dust to add a bit of sparkle to the roof, indicating the glow of the moon. The pebbles/stones on the chimney and in the walkway were made out of scraps of fondant after completing all of the other pieces. Then I spread out a tinted royal icing, that served as the "mortar" for setting the stones in place.

For the bushes and ivy on the roof and sides of the house, I modified a rice krispie treat recipe and used wheaties for a more realistic leafy look. You can find the recipe and directions here for the Cereal Treat Structures

The tree proved to be a bit more difficult than the other pieces. Plus, it was my first time making a "tree", so I kind of learned through trial and error. Basically, I made a wire sculpture out of floral wires. I twisted a bunch of wires together and made three large loops at the base for the "roots" of the tree and also so it would stand on it's own. I covered the trunk and each branch with floral tape, and bent (shaped) the branches. Then I applied strips of fondant in layers, shaping and tapering the branches as I went along. I used a fondant tool to further sculpt the trunk and add details in the branches. Then I painted highlights and lowlights giving the tree more dimension and depth. The noose and bat were an after thought, and I sculpted them on floral wires also in order to just hang them on the tree.

As for the ghosts...well, they didn't turn out quite as originally planned, but good enough. I knew that I wanted them to appear "floating" above the ground. So I used a floral wire with a hook on the end and shaped a small ball for the head, stuck that in styrofoam to dry while I worked on the sheets. Next, I rolled out a piece of fondant and cut out a circle with a cookie cutter. Once cut, I feathered the edges somewhat by rolling the edges even thinner, while keeping the middle thicker. I covered the ghost heads with the sheets then used a fondant tool to fluff out and shape the bottoms of the sheets. This helped give them the illusion of "floating". Once completely dry, I lightly brushed on pearl luster dust to give them a bit of sheen. I used the wires to stick them down into the styrofoam.

The coffin was easy...just fondant tinted black, rolled out and the panels cut. Once they were dry I assembled them, using a dab of water for the "glue" to hold them together. I made some-somewhat-recognizable-bones and threw them in there.

For the entire base, I used a large piece of 2" thick styrofoam, cut to fit into a breakfast serving tray that I had. Since it was a centerpiece for my dinning room table, this allowed me to move it out of the way when necessary. I had a basic layout for the house and graveyard before I began, then I carved out where I wanted the graves to go. Once the house, bushes, walkway, and tree were in place, I coated the exposed base areas with buttercream icing and pressed in a mixture of graham cracker and cookie crumbs for the "dirt". I also piled some dirt beside some of the graves. Then I positioned all of the other "do-dads" (as I call them) and the finishing touches.

I had a lot of fun with this project, especially since I hadn't done a gingerbread house since I was a kid. I'm itching to do one for Christmas, but I always seem to get caught up in other projects as well as the usual holiday baking and never get around to it. Maybe this year? Anyway, I hope that you find this information helpful and useful for your own gingerbread project!