Whole Wheat Ciabatta

Hello, Reader! Long time, no talk (read? write? what is the appropriate verb here?). Did you have a good Thanksgiving? Has your holiday season gotten off to a pleasant start?

I apologize for the lack of blogging recently. While I enjoy writing, cooking, baking, and photography, sometimes it’s hard to roll all my interests into one neat little blog post.

I wanted to share things with you, Reader, like about how I roasted a 20-lb. turkey for Thanksgiving this year, and made two kinds of stuffing, and red cabbage, and generally helped my grandpa host 28 people for dinner.

Or about how my friends and I tried to make gingerbread houses, which maybe would’ve been a blog post, had they turned out acceptable. In the end, we decided they were actually gingerbread house ruins, which is sort of more appropriate since we’re into historic preservation and things like that.

I even did the baking and photographing of today’s recipe a while ago, but never got around to looking at the pictures and writing the post. (Speaking of photos, the light in my apartment is pretty awful especially with the short days, and I’m still trying to figure out how to work with it.)

I’ll be honest, this ciabatta didn’t turn out perfectly. Ciabatta is known for it’s randomly sized and randomly spaced air pockets, and mine were way too uniform. Even so, I’m sharing this recipe because I was really happy with the results even if they weren’t perfect ciabatta loaves. I also love recipes that already use whole wheat or white whole wheat flour, and wanted to share the whole wheat love. Enjoy!

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Whole Wheat Ciabatta

Makes 16 rolls or 4 small or 2 large loaves

Slightly adapted from Cooking A La Mel

Ingredients

For the biga (pre-ferment)

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour

For the ciabatta dough

  • 1 biga recipe
  • 2 cups + 2 T warm water
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

To make the biga: Mix warm water and yeast, let sit for about five minutes to allow the yeast to activate. Mix in flour to form a shaggy dough. Cover and let sit overnight or for about eight hours. It should rise and be visibly bubbly.

To make the dough: Combine 1 cup warm water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer to activate, about five minutes. Add remaining water, flour, salt, and biga. Stir to form a wet dough, then let sit for twenty minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water.

After resting, knead the dough with the dough hook for about fifteen minutes, until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl. It should be smooth and elastic. Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl (this can be the bowl of your stand mixer) and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise for 2-3 hours, until tripled in size.

Once the dough has risen, turn the dough gently onto a clean, heavily floured surface. Divide the dough into however many pieces you want for large or small loaves or rolls. Place the shaped dough onto parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets–this part is tricky! Be very gentle, as you want to keep all the air bubbles. Let the dough rise again for another thirty minutes. During this rise, preheat the oven to 475ºF.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your rolls or loaves. The exterior should be golden brown, and the loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when baking is complete.

These freeze well, just wrap tightly (I wrapped mine in aluminum foil then in a sealed plastic bag)! They should keep for up to two months, but mine did not last longer than two weeks. The loaves were just too good for garlic bread, sandwiches, and general consumption.

M&M Cookies

Thick and chewy cookies packed with chocolate chips and crispy M&M candies!

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Reader, do you remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that I secretly (or not so secretly) love post-holiday clearance candy? Particularly M&Ms for making M&M cookies?

Well, I found a 99¢ bag of M&Ms at CVS, so today you get an M&M cookie recipe!

This recipe is from Yammie’s Noshery–which is one of those blogs I have a huge blog-crush on. I remember the first time I stumbled across her blog. It was one of those really exciting Friday nights last year when I was just chilling in my apartment looking at FoodGawker. I came across one of her recipes and then BOOM down the rabbit hole. Read the whole blog.

Despite my love of Yammie’s Noshery–the gorgeous photos, the witty comments, the funny stories–this was the first recipe I made from her blog. And it did not disappoint.

I don’t know what it is about M&M cookies, but in some ways they are so much better than regular chocolate chip cookies. I think it’s the crispiness from the candy shells of the M&Ms, which is funny because I don’t actually like M&Ms by themselves all that much.

Besides the fortuitous discovery of clearance M&Ms at the drugstore, I also made these to take on a dig that was supposed to take place in 30º weather. It actually got snowed out (oh, West Virginia), but I made the cookies anyway. While I intended these to be a (literally) freezing cold weather pick-me-up snack, I can also assure you that they are a great snack while photographing artifacts or just, you know, sitting in your apartment reading.

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M&M Cookies

slightly adapted from Yammie’s Noshery

(I forgot to count how many cookies this made)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 12-oz package M&Ms
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and cream together.

Add flour, corn starch, baking soda, and salt, and beat to combine. Stir in M&Ms and chocolate chips. Chill overnight or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Scoop dough to desired size (I used heaping tablespoons), roll into balls, and press gently onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake about 8-10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking if needed.

Posted to the Virtual Cookie Exchange!

Chocolate Biscotti

These chocolate biscotti with almonds and chocolate chips are perfect for dunking into your favorite hot beverage!

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Remember how I mentioned last week that the weather needed to make up its mind? Well, it has. It chose winter. Daily temperatures are now around 30-35ºF, and the forecast for Tuesday is a high of 18.

I knew this time would come, but I was hoping it would be after Thanksgiving. However, I have been preparing myself. I’ve got fleece-lined waterproof boots with thick treads for possible trekking through the snow, I’ve got a down vest (awesome $5 thrift shop find), I’ve got many pairs of gloves and mittens, and I’ve got tea in my cabinet.

For now, too, I’ve got these biscotti for dunking. These are dark and chocolate-y, super crispy, and taste fantastic dipped into black or mint tea. I like them with breakfast (shhh, don’t tell), or as a snack or dessert. Really, whenever I have a cup of tea. And I’ve been drinking a lot of tea.

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Chocolate Biscotti

makes about 4 dozen cookies

adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 1/2 all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup almond, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a medium bowl, sift together almond meal, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract. Stir in dry ingredients, then work in almonds and chocolate chips. It will be very stiff.

Divide dough in two and form two logs, one on each baking sheet. Wet your hands to help avoid major stickage. You will slice the logs later, to make sure each log is as wide as you want your cookies to be long. Aim for almost the length of the cookie sheet.

Bake 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool about 15 minutes before cutting into half-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the cookies cut-side down on the baking sheet and return to the oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes. Turn and rotate baking sheets halfway through.

Remove from oven and cool completely before serving.

Posted to Sweet & Savoury Sunday and the Virtual Cookie Exchange!!

Skillet Vegetable Pot Pie

Biscuits, veggies, and a creamy sauce all in one pan!

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Last Sunday we had snow flurries, and then a major frost on Monday…followed by a few gorgeous almost 60 degree days, then more snow flurries. It’s the time of year when I just want to weather to make up its mind. I would love an Indian Summer, but I can do a chilly fall or early winter if the weather just stays the same.

There are some things I cook year-round, but those cold days–especially the first few–call for their own culinary style. Warming, hearty foods are a must.

This vegetable pot pie is so easy to make, and you prepare it and cook it in the same dish. What could be easier than that? A creamy sauce, perfectly cooked vegetables, and fluffy biscuits all in one dish! Not up to making your biscuits from scratch (I highly encourage everyone to do this)? Sub in your favorite pre-made store-bought biscuits dough. Want a vegan version? Sub in unsweetened, unflavored almond milk and vegan biscuits.

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Skillet Vegetable Pot Pie

Serves 4

Filling and instructions adapted from The Minimalist Baker, biscuit recipe from good ol’ Joy of Cooking

Ingredients

For the filling

  • butter or oil for the pan
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (I used peas, green beans, carrots, and corn), or use fresh
  • salt and pepper

For the biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or use white whole wheat or half white half whole wheat)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 T cold butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup milk

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425ºF

In an oven-proof skillet, saute onions and celery until golden brown and soft. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in flour, letting it toast for a minute before continuing. Slowly add vegetable broth and milk. Let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. If it does not seem to be thickening, scoop out some of the broth and mix with a spoonful of flour, then return to pan. Add vegetables, salt, and pepper, and cook for 4-5 minutes.

While the filling cooks, work on the biscuits. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the cold butter, using whatever your favorite method is (mine is clean hands), and work until most of the mixture resembles coarse corn meal–some larger pieces of butter are OK. Stir in milk until the dough holds together, adding another small splash if needed. Turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface and fold the dough a few times before flattening into a rectangle that is about 1/2″ thick. Cut out biscuits–I needed 6 to cover my pan and had a few left over. Don’t have a biscuit cutter? Use the rim of a wine glass.

Place biscuits on top of filling. Set skillet on a cooking sheet to catch any drips, and bake until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown, about 14-16 minutes.

Apple Cider Muffins

Easy to make muffins with apple cider and spices to fill you up on fall mornings!

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Happy November! Did you have a good Halloween, Reader? Halloween is not one of my favorite holidays, but it can be fun. Making the costume was an important part of my childhood–or perhaps directing my mom to make the costume. She made me some awesome costumes, sewing a prairie girl dress and bonnet to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, a dress and jacket to be Beatrix Potter, a dark purple shift dress to be Kiki…she sewed me a lot of dresses. Thanks, Ma!

My favorite part of Halloween, though–not going to lie–is the candy that goes on sale after Halloween is over. I can’t wait for deeply discounted Reese’s peanut butter cups (for snacking) and M&Ms (for baking)! I love M&M cookies, and I don’t think I’ve shared a recipe for them yet.

While we wait for the prices on M&Ms to drop, I’ve got a muffin recipe to share! These are so easy to make and are a simple variation of the same muffin recipe I’ve been using since, oh, elementary school. They’re packed with warm spices and are perfect for a fall breakfast or brunch.

Apple Cider Muffins

adapted from my whole wheat muffin recipe

make 12

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour (or use all-purpose, or a combination of AP and whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup grated or finely diced apple or pear

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers or grease the tin.

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, mix the liquid ingredients and grated fruit.  Pour the liquid mix on top of the dry mix, and stir just until incorporated.  Do not over mix!

Divide the batter between the muffin tins, filling each about 2/3-3/4 of the way full.

Bake 20-25 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  To store, place in an airtight container or zip-top bag, or wrap individually in plastic wrap.

Posted to Happiness is Homemade!

Something like Sachertorte, and Thoughts on Moving from Austria to Appalachia

Between June and September, I packed up all my things (in June, one giant suitcaseful, and in September, one hatchback-sized-carful) and moved from Austria to Appalachia, with stops in Croatia and New Jersey in between. Austria, a place of skiiers and singing nuns, the sophisticated Viennese and Mozart…to Appalachia, which is seen as backwards by most of the U.S.

As I was riding my bike on one of the few sunny days we’ve had recently, I was struck by the similarities between Austria and Appalachia. A fellow history major once mentioned her fascination with Appalachian coal culture when we were discussing research interests, and said “Mountains breed such interesting things.” And it’s so true.

Austria has the Alps, and many smaller mountain ranges, which divide up the countryside into so many different dialects you almost don’t know what the person from the next village over is saying. Appalachia, too, has it’s own distinct dialect–a lilting or twangy speech that cannot be found anywhere else in the U.S.

And both have strong folk culture traditions. Those same little villages in Austria whose speech is discernible to the Viennese each have their own way of celebrating the holidays, based in pagan traditions and isolation from outsiders. In Appalachia, or at least in West Virginia, every town has at least one unique festival.

And speaking of festivals, lots of West Virginia towns celebrate ramp season big time. Now, I had never had ramps until this past spring in Austria, when everyone went crazy for Bärlauch (ramps). For the most part in both places, you don’t have many eating out options. In Austria it’s Austrian, Italian, or Turkish (if you’re in a city), and in rural West Virginia it’s “American” or plain ol’ fast food.

There’s the history, too. When I told some friends I was moving to West Virginia, one of them commented on how I always end up in places with complicated histories of ownership–Washington D.C. (north or south, Maryland or Virginia?), Berlin (communist or free?), Austria (also divided post-WWII), and now West Virginia (the Union or Confederate thing still thrives). Huh.

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Moving on to this month’s semi-appropriate Daring Bakers challenge: Sachertorte. Sachertorte is an Austrian cake invented by Franz Sacher, who later went on to open the Hotel Sacher. The cake itself is a dense, dark chocolate cake topped with apricot jam and chocolate glaze. Sound familiar? My favorite gelato flavor is Sachertorte.

Because the Sachertorte is so unique and such a specific dessert, we were asked to make no variations in the recipe. I may have slightly broken this rule. While I kept the ingredients and proportions exactly as those that were given, I scaled back the recipe to make Sachertorte cupcakes. Austrians, while a rather traditional bunch, aren’t against innovating their beloved sweets (see again, Sachertorte gelato).

I was, however, a bit disappointed with this bake. It didn’t scream SACHERTORTE to me. Also, the cupcake thing didn’t totally work out. More on that in a minute. The flavors were trending in the direction of Sachertorte–chocolate, with a bright, slightly sour flavor from the apricot jam. The chocolate glaze was more like a doughnut glaze, thin and sweet, rather than the rich, thick, dark chocolate frosting I was expecting. Overall, I found the cake a bit too sweet, which I have never found with an Austrian dessert. I suppose I could’ve used chocolate that wasn’t dark enough, as I used a combination of 72% and 56%. Next time, if there is one, I will be using all 72% for sure.

Now, the cupcake thing. I chose to make cupcakes because it would 1. make a finite number of servings and 2. be cuter. It probably would be really cute if you took a lot of time and were extremely neat. I have been wanting to learn more about cake decorating and plating to make my food look prettier, but at the moment I’m still bumbling along and learning as I go. Turns out you need a lot of glaze to pour over eight cupcakes, and I did not have enough, or enough chocolate to make more. Oops.

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Daring Bakers is about challenging yourself in the kitchen, maybe trying some things you wouldn’t have made otherwise. It’s always interesting to see the results, even if they don’t turn out quite how you wanted!

Sachertorte Cupcakes

makes 8 cupcakes

from epicurious

The October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 T butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 T + 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch salt

For the apricot glaze

  • heaping 1/3 cup apricot preserves or jam
  • about 2/3 T water

For the chocolate glaze*

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Instructions

For the cake: Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and flour a muffin tin–it should make 8.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and creamy. Add in egg yolks, one at a time, and continue beating. Beat in chocolate and vanilla, until the color of the mixture lightens and full incorporated.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to the soft peak stage. Begin by beating the egg whites, and once they begin to foam, gradually add the granulated sugar. The soft peak stage is reached when the egg whites hold their shape but the tips curl. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture vigorously, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. Sift flour and salt together over the batter, and gently fold in.

Gently spoon into the tin, dividing it evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove and invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Once cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cupcakes in half along the equator.

For the apricot glaze: Place the cooling rack with cakes still on it over a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Boil jam and water in a small saucepan. Let cook 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens slightly. Strain (for the smoothest effect). Brush over the top of the bottom half of each cupcake and let sit for a few minutes, then replace the top. Spread remaining glaze on the top of each cupcake. Let cool completely before covering with chocolate. *If you want to cover your cupcakes fully in glaze, you will need more than the amount suggested above.

For the chocolate glaze: Boil water and sugar until the mixture reaches 234ºF, about 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Use a candy thermometer, or familiarize yourself with how to test the stages of boiled sugar using a glass of cold water. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. If it thickens, add a few drops of water and return to low heat until the mixture thins. It should be very runny. Pour over the cakes, using an offset spatula to smooth as needed. Let the glaze set before serving. Leftover glaze can be stored in the fridge and mixed with hot milk to make hot chocolate. *In the above instructions, I’ve included the original amount since I was seriously short on glaze. You can 1/3 this amount, as I did, if you don’t want to coat the cakes completely.

Traditionally, Sachertorte (and most Austrian cakes) are served with whipped cream, either unsweetened or only very lightly sweetened, and a small cup of strong coffee, at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Posted to Show & Share Wednesday!