Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm on the move ...

Flour Girl is proud to be the newest member of the Chicago Now family, a growing collection of blogs brought together by the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Now project aims to create a community among bloggers and readers. I'm tickled to be a part of it.

Readers of this site will automatically be re-directed to my new site at Chicago Now. And soon, all of my archived posts will make their way there, too. (In the meantime, though, if you're having trouble finding a recipe or something, please ask me for help.)

Don't worry -- I'm only changing addresses. I'll still be serving up the same tasty recipes and cooking-school adventures as before.

Since I don't have to bribe any of you to come over and schlep my couch or heft boxes for this move, here's what I need from you:

1. Re-direct your bookmarks, readers, brain-chip implants, etc. to the new, Chicago Now home of Flour Girl here.

2. Comment. Comment. Comment. The whole idea of this thing is to generate community, so don't be shy. I promise I'll write back, too.

3. I love my loyal readers from all over the country and the world. It warms my heart to see clicks from Malaysia and Sweden and Singapore. So, please keep reading. But under my new contract with Chicago Now, I do get a few pennies for Chicago-area eyeballs. So, if you live here or have friends or family here, please tell them to check me out so I can keep buying sacks of flour.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fancy-hotel breakfast, at home

One of the most-read stories I wrote as a reporter in Spokane, Wash. had absolutely nothing to do with corruption or a love triangle or a grisly double homicide.

But it has everything to do with a family secret.

There was (and still is) this fancy hotel in Spokane called the Davenport. Throughout the early- to mid-20th Century it was the place to be and be seen at social events. But as the 1900s wore on, the Davenport fell into disrepair. By the time I moved to town in the late '90s, it was a boarded up old eyesore in the heart of downtown.

But then real-estate magnate Walt Worthy stepped in, bought the Davenport and restored it to its original glory. Now, it's really something to see. And when Worthy bought the hotel, he insisted that his family's coffee cake, a recipe handed down through the generations, would be served there.

People line up through the lobby for a slice of this thin, light and super-moist cake.

I was grateful to the Worthy family for sharing it. And now you don't have to make a trip half-way across the country to try a slice.

Davenport Hotel Coffee Cake
From the Davenport Hotel, Spokane, Wash.
Makes two cakes, each serving 6-8

1 cup salted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line two 9-inch round cake pans with foil.

In bowl of a standing mixer (or with a hand blender), cream together the butter and sugar for several minutes until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, stopping often to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend in the sour cream and vanilla. Add the cake flour, baking powder and salt. The batter will be quite loose.

Divide the batter evenly between the two lined cake pans.

Combine all topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle on top of the two cakes.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Immediately lift cakes out of pans by pulling up the foil and let them cool completely on wire racks before carefully peeling back the foil. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Laminated dough doesn't come from Kinko's, Part 2

BREAKING NEWS: Our puff pastry puffed! I repeat: Our puff pastry puffed!

All of that folding and rolling and resting and repeating paid off in the form of rich, buttery goodness.

After giving our puff pastry dough a night's rest, we got to put it to work today.

Witness Exhibit A, above: The Cheese Straw. Butter. Cheese. Flaky dough. A little cayenne. How can it be wrong when it feels so right?

You just take a sheet of cold puff-pastry dough (the frozen, pre-made kind would be perfectly fine here), brush one half with a little water and sprinkle it with cheese, spices or whatever you like. Then, you fold the dough over and cut it into thin strips. Take each strip, give it a little twist and bake it at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until nicely golden.

If only we'd had a nice, dry martini at school today with which to enjoy these. But that didn't stop me from eating a couple of them.

Then we made some fall-spiced apple compote to fill little puff-pastry squares. Before baking, we brushed them with milk and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar. We forgot to cut steam vents in the top and may have over-filled them a bit, so they weren't the prettiest, but they were plenty tasty.

When we weren't stuffing ourselves silly with puff pastry, we whipped up some danish dough for tomorrow. Unlike puff pastry, danish dough has yeast, eggs and a little sugar. Wowza. And I think it will make a delightful nest for some of that leftover apple compote.

It's probably a good thing I've got a 20-mile marathon-training run this Sunday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Laminated dough doesn't come from Kinko's, Part 1

Unless you're a baker, you're probably not familiar with the term "laminated dough."

But if you're an eater, you most certainly know what it is.

Think puff pastry. And croissants. And danish.

After today's puff-pastry session at culinary school, I might tell you that "laminated dough" roughly translates to "pain in the tush." But it actually describes the process of layering dough with butter to create the light, flaky and wonderfully buttery products listed above.

Think of that croissant you had for breakfast. You know all of those delightfully rich, flaky layers? Well, somebody's got to create those. And, today, that somebody was me. Sort of.

I've never worked with laminated dough before. And I was a little intimidated before we got into the kitchen today. Last spring, when I visited Washburne before registering, the class was working on croissant dough. I watched as many groups of students struggled with messy, gloppy blobs of dough that dripped butter like giant ears of corn on the cob at the fair.

I vowed to do better. But I'm not sure I succeeded.

So, we started in on puff pastry. It's the "easiest" of the three laminated doughs because it requires no yeast -- just flour, butter, salt, water and more butter. First you make a basic dough and let it chill for about 30 minutes while you make the butter layer.

We whipped softened butter with a little flour (to soak up extra moisture), spread it on plastic and left it to chill.

The trick to this whole mess is working with butter and dough that are equally chilled and pliable.

You roll out the dough, keeping it as perfectly rectangular as possible. Then, you roll out the butter layer to two-thirds the size of the dough. You put the putter layer on top of the dough and enclose it with three folds, like you're putting a letter in an envelope. Here's the chef helping me and my partner straighten out our edges and enclose our butter:

Chill again. Then you roll out this butter-filled "letter" back to the original size of your dough, taking care to keep the edges straight, avoid tearing it and keep it cold enough (but not too cold!) so butter doesn't seep out. The this dough gets folded, each side to the middle and in half again, like a book. Chill again. And repeat three more times for puff pastry.

It was toasty in the kitchen, so we had to put our dough back in the cooler several times so we could roll it out without making a total mess.

And rolling out a perfect rectangle and getting the edges to line up will take practice. Lots of practice. Our dough started to tear a bit where it had become too thin.

With so many steps and so much chilling time, we'll have to wait 'til tomorrow to see whether our pastry puffs.

I can say this with certainty after today, though. I don't think the folks from Pepperidge Farm have to worry about going out of business. I'm all for from-scratch cooking, but I think I'd stick with the puff pastry in my grocer's freezer section next time I get a hankering for a cheese straw or a Napolean.

Check back tomorrow, though. Maybe I will have changed my mind.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why I'm running a marathon

Flour Girl is taking a break from baking-related posts for the day to bring you ...

One month from today (yikes!), I'll be joining thousands of other crazy people to run 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago.

I've been training for the marathon with long runs every Saturday at 6 a.m. with a great group and, while I don't at all feel ready, I feel loads more confident than I did during that first, 6-mile training run in June when I thought I might puke.

So, at least I've got that going for me.

The question I get asked every time I tell somebody I'm running the Chicago Marathon is the same one you're probably thinking:

Why, in the name of all that's good and holy, are you running a marathon?

I usually tell them I need to work off some of the excessive eating and drinking I did over the long Chicago winter. Or that I ran one seven years ago (pre-baby and pre-30s) and want to see if I can do it again.

But I'll tell you all the real reason I'm logging so many miles each week and waking up before dawn every Saturday to slog along the lakefront trail:

Rachel Raviv Hoffer.

That's her, up at the top.

She was my best friend and she died of cancer two years ago tomorrow.

I hate those sappy cliches about people with cancer "who fought bravely" or "who put up a valiant battle against the disease." We journalists are plenty guilty of committing those sins to print. Blech.

But Rachel, who was diagnosed with widespread cancer just 10 weeks after giving birth to a baby girl, fought like hell. She tried every treatment she could find, endured terrible side effects and procedures and even underwent a hip replacement in the last months of her life so she'd be able to tote her baby up and down the stairs.

Every time I told her how amazing I thought she was, she'd look at me as if I'd sprouted a second head. "What choice do I have?" she'd say. She had me there.

To build up her strength, Rachel walked around and around the blocks near her home. When I visited, we'd walk together, just like we did around the lakes in Minneapolis when we were in high school.

On one of those last walks together, she decided we should run a marathon once she was healthy again. Neither of us are great athletes or anything, but it seemed like a good goal. Maybe we'd do it someplace fun, she suggested, like Hawaii, and make a vacation out of it. The cross-my-fingers-and-hope-with-every-morsel-of-my-being part of my brain thought that sounded like a fabulous idea. The realistic part of my brain knew that would probably never happen.

Several weeks ago, I started out with the training group on a 14- or 15-mile long run. It was already hot. And humid. I think I made it about 10 miles, maybe less, before I started lagging behind the pack. With the sun beating down, I gave up and started walking, watching most of my pace group chug down the trail.

After walking/jogging on my own for a while, I came across another struggling straggler. I asked if she wanted to make it to the finish line with me. So, we plodded along, stopping at every available drinking fountain, walking some and running a little.

"I'm Heather," I told her.

"I'm Rachel," she said.

When we finally, finally made it to the end of that rather crappy run, I told her about my friend. Rachel. And I thanked her for running those last miles with me.

So, on October 11 and on all of the runs before that, I'll be thinking of my good friend.

That's why I'm running the Chicago Marathon.

Thanks for running it with me, Rachie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Messes and successes

You know those cheesy yet entertaining columns in some cooking magazines, labeled something like "Messes and Successes?"

They're all like, "My pot roast exploded in the oven just as I was about to serve my new in-laws." Or, "Look at me, I'm so cool, I baked my own six-tier wedding cake while hemming my own gown."

Well, allow me to present some Flour Girl "Messes and Successes" from the past couple days of culinary school:

Let's start with some messes 'cause those are more entertaining, right?

Leading the pack would be our epic baguette failure. Really, I'm not quite sure what happened here. And I would like to apologize to the entire country of France and all of its people. We sullied your National Bread today. And for that I'm sorry. Deeply sorry.

I knew we had some problems when I started looking around the room early this morning. Here are all my classmates trying to work this very sticky, very wet dough into something resembling baguettes. My partner and I? We portioned our dough and could've made super balls out of it. It had the consistency of Silly Putty and I think we could've picked up imprints of the Sunday comics with it.

Resting and proofing didn't help much either. We were still left with these wobbly, blobby dough chunks that we forced into long tube-like shapes. The Chef walked by while we formed them and I tried to throw my body over the sheet pan for cover, but she saw what was up. Baking didn't make them any prettier. (I was helping clean the kitchen when they came out of the oven, missing my photo opportunity. But I'm hoping you've got a good image of the sad, mis-shapen creations in your mind.)

Speaking of cleaning, I got up close and personal with The Pulper today. I'd put this one in the "mess" category. Not familiar with The Pulper? It's like your garbage disposal, on steroids. You can stick cardboard boxes in it, milk cartons, all manner of food waste. Basically everything but plastic and metal. It gets flushed with water and munched up in this pulverizer. And, everyday, somebody gets to put on rubber gloves and clean it out. Today, that somebody was me. Fun.

So, how 'bout some successes?

We started today with our Baking Techniques written mid-term and (bang a wooden spoon on a pot, please ...) I got an "A." The 50-question test asked things like name the three main mix methods for yeast breads, list a type of pre-ferment, describe the physical processes that happen during baking in the oven. My shaky math skills mostly saw me through the questions about conversion factors and equivalent measures (except for one bone-headed mathematical error.)

After the test we got to make Peter Reinhart's sticky buns. And we all know how wonderful those are. Total success there.

And we formed our brioche dough that we made yesterday into little Brioche a Tete (picture a cute little muffin with a small -- but very cute -- tumor growing from the top.) Took a while to get the hang of forming them, but they ended up looking OK. A relief, since my first tries looked like dog poo.

We'll still be making some rolls for the school's restaurants, but next week we'll begin focusing on pastries. First up, puff pastry -- layer upon layer upon layer of butter and dough. It'll be my first time working with a laminated dough and I'm a little nervous.

Here's hoping it's a success. And not, well, you know ...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The need to knead

OK. A coupla updates and then, as it should always be, some bread.

For the first time all summer, I won't have a "Cooking Away My CSA" this week. We spent the weekend in Disney World and weren't around to pick up our latest box. The trip was great, but I'm now enduring a veggie drought. Just a few more days, though.

I returned to school after the long weekend today a couple of hours late, after dropping The Kid at his first day of kindergarten. My partner had already made our challah dough and I dove in on dough for Soft Roll Knots. In the first batch, I wasn't thinking and added active-dry yeast (which must be reconstituted in liquid) directly into the flour. (Maybe I was still dreaming of Mickey Mouse. Or pre-occupied with my little guy's first day of kindergarten.) We realized the mistake after kneading the dough and had to start over. Not sure what happened with the second batch, but it turned out much too stiff. We beat it into submission, though, and have a pan of knotted rolls and another pan of cloverleafs ready to bake tomorrow.

A smoother day tomorrow, right?

Anyway, I'm working on a newspaper piece about no-knead bread books. There are a whole bunch of them that have either come out recently or are being released this fall.

I never quite understood the whole "no-knead" phenomenon. I rather enjoy the act of kneading and have been underwhelmed by some of the no-knead breads I've tried.

But I'm loving the breads in Nancy Baggett's "Kneadlessly Simple." Sure, there's no kneading. But the real trick of these breads is the long, slow rise under cool temperature. (She even calls for super-cold ice water in every recipe.) And do you know what you get from bread that's been allowed to rise a day or more? Flavor. And lots of it. And whether you love to knead or are petrified of it, everybody likes flavor, right?

I just pulled a couple loaves of this All-Purpose Light Wheat Bread out of the oven. I'm impressed by the depth of flavor and the great rise:

And we all loved this Easy Oat Bread (pictured at the top of this post). Perfect for those kindergarten PB&Js.

Easy Oat Bread
From "Kneadlessly Simple" by Nancy Baggett
Makes 2 loaves

5 1/2 cups (27.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour or unbleached white bread flour, plus more as needed
1 cup old-fashioned oats or quick-cooking (not instant) oats, plus 4 tablespoons for garnish
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Scant 2 3/4 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon instant, fast-rising or bread-machine yeast
1/4 cup clover honey or light molasses
1/4 cup corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil, plus extra for coating dough top and pans
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed

In a very large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, oats, sugar, salt and yeast. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, thoroughly whisk the honey (or molasses) and oil into the water. Thoroughly stir the water mixture into the larger bowl, scraping down the sides until the ingredients are
thoroughly blended. If the mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, a bit at a time, stir in just enough more water to blend in ingredients; don't over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff. Brush or spray the top with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. For best flavor, refrigerator the dough for 3 to 10 hours.

Let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours. If possible, vigorously stir once during the rise.

For the second rise, vigorously stir the dough. If necessary, stir in enough more flour to yield a hard-to-stir dough. Generously oil two 8 1/2 X 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Sprinkle a tablespoon of oats in each. Tip the pans back and forth to spread the oats over the bottom and sides. Use well-oiled kitchen shears or a serrated knife to cut the dough into two equal portions.
Put the portions in the pan. Brush or spray the tops with oil. Press and smooth the dough evenly into the pans with an oiled rubber spatula or fingertips. Sprinkle a tablespoon of oats over each loaf; press down to imbed. Make a 1/2-inch deep slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf using oiled kitchen shears or a serrated knife. Tightly cover the pans with nonstick spray-coated plastic wrap.

Let stand covered with plastic at warm room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, until the dough nears the plastic. Remove the plastic and let rise 1/2 inch above the pans.

Fifteen minutes before baking, place rack in lower third of oven and heat to 375 degrees.

Bake on lower rack for 50 to 60 minutes, until the tops are well browned. If necessary, cover tops with foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few crumbs. (Or until a thermometer in the center registers 208 to 210 degrees.) Bake for 5 minutes longer to be sure the centers are done. Cool in pans for 15 minutes. Turn out the loaves onto racks and cool thoroughly.

Cool well before slicing or storing. Best served toasted. Store airtight in plastic or aluminum foil.

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