Down Time

Some days are busier than others. This is true for Uriel's Bake Shop, as well as my full-time job as a SAHD (stay-at-home dad). 

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My 3 year-old. She says that she's a dragon here. The box also has served as an ice cream truck.

Without this hilarity, I'm not sure how I would survive in this role. Baking accomplishes this too and allows me to experiment with a variety of flavors and doughs. This week, I played with sourdough danish pastry. My previous laminated doughs didn't incorporate any sourdough starter but I was intrigued and decided to try it out.

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This is how the dough looked before layering with butter but after quite a bit of fermenting time. Notice the bubbles all over!

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The laminated sourdough danish pastry before being rolled, shaped, and filled. SO many layers. SO much butter. SO much deliciousness!

I thought that the sourdough croissants turned out well, so these may turn up on my menu soon. I played around with a smores filling, although my favorites are still marzipan, Nutella, and praline. Let me know if you have other suggestions for filling my pastries. I'm always up for trying new flavors.


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I love to bake pita! It is fairly simple and fresh out of the oven with some hummus, Israeli salad, pickles, falafel, and fries is so scrumptious! During my last trip to New York City, my wife and I ate quite a bit of Middle Eastern fare. After scoping out Chelsea Market, we finally found Dizengoff, where I sat mesmerized (and jealous) watching the pita being rolled out and baked. If only I had that large, commercial oven in my house! I can dream.


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Holy mouth! This little man lost teeth on 3 consecutive days. Poor tooth fairy!

I frequently get requests from my children for their favorite baked goods. It's not that they don't get to taste my goodies every week, especially when I'm trying out something new. As kids do, I get to hear their unbiased opinions about my old and new bakes. This week, I had some extra dough so I made a babka with the requested filling.


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Smores

This coming week, my oldest returns home from camp after 3 weeks away. I'm only offering baked goods on Monday and Friday so he and I can have extra catch-up time. I'm sure I'll get an earful, not that I'm complaining. We do miss the big guy!
Bread

As promised, here's my assessment of amaranth flour:
In moderation, it works for me. When I first opened the package and took a whiff, I caught a strong grass smell. While I do like the smell of grass, especially right after mowing it, I wasn't certain how that would alter my bread, both in structure and taste. 

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Out of the 1000 grams of bread flour I use for two loaves, I replaced 80 grams of it with amaranth flour. As it turned out, it tasted pretty darn good. The earthy flavor was more of a background note while the sourness of the rest of the dough came through nicely. It seems that when substituting 10% or less of the flour with an alternative, it will turn out well with a slight note of something different. I've been admiring other baker's artisan loaves on Instagram and enjoy reading about their experimentation. I saw a beautiful purple loaf that included ground butterfly pea flowers. I like the idea of natural coloring in baked goods, so there may be some interesting bakes coming up.

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My menu this coming week is going to be chock-full of bread. Only bread. Fougasse is back, along with brioche, a cinnamon/raisin loaf and in addition to my regular challah, I'm offering the eggless cardamom challah that I grew up on. It's really delicious!! 
Birthday Week Bakes!

One of my favorite things to do is try out new recipes. My growing collection of cookbooks keeps me busy, plus I frequently check out new ones from the library before making a purchase. I decided to find a new recipe to play with in honor of my upcoming birthday, and if it turned out well, I would add it to my menu. My children certainly didn't mind being guinea pigs for this project!

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The fingers (bun)

I was really drawn to an iced fingers recipe I observed being baked during a technical challenge on "The Great British Baking Show." These apparently can be found in many British bakeries. I will have to research that some day and will happily report back. In case you're wondering, aside from my great-grandmother being born in Wales on her family's journey to the US, I don't have British roots. I just get excited to try new things that aren't "American" recipes. I also really enjoy learning their vocabulary, such as aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), and plait (braid).

Even though the above bun looks like it's ready for a hot dog, that is not where this is going. The dough is enriched with sugar, milk, flour, and eggs. Very different from a hot dog bun. Once baked and cooled, the top is bathed in icing.


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The icing

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Happy fingers

Once the icing was set, I sliced open the buns and added whipped cream and raspberry jam. It's a pretty easy recipe but takes time between each step. When it came time to taste these, I was pretty blown away. My initial concern was that it would be way too sweet. There's sugar in the bun, the icing, the cream, and the jam. Despite that, it works because the bun itself isn't overly sweet and neither is the cream. I really try to tame my whipped cream so it isn't cloyingly sweet. I was being really good by cutting the iced finger in half but once I got through the first half, the other piece was calling my name. I couldn't resist. 


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The final, delicious product!

If you're so inclined, feel free to order some for this Monday. They're $2.50 a pop and I don't think you'll regret it! You can always balance out your snack with some savory sourdough bread that is also available on Monday. That's probably what I will do.

For my next blog post, I plan to share my experience with a new ingredient for me, amaranth flour. It's gluten free, although I added it to glutenful flour, and it has a very earthy, grassy smell. I'm skeptical but curious enough to give it a whirl!
Alaskan Adventure - Family, Food, and Exploring

Vacations are nice. My vacation was very nice! I traveled to Alaska via a cruise ship with my extended family. We ate a lot. A whole lot! We went for a long walk in Ice Straight Point. Then we ate. We went whale watching in Juneau. We ate some more. We saw a lumberjack show in Ketchikan. Any idea what we did upon returning to the ship? Yep, dinner was served. My favorite meal was breakfast. After some trial and error, I found some favorite items to eat each morning at the Asian buffet. Curries, korma, dal, and hard-boiled eggs in sweet and sour sauce. Bread was also available at every meal, often times a multitude of bread choices. Did it taste fresh and delicious? Not particularly. Did I eat it anyways? Heck yeah! I was tempted to offer my baking services on board but decided against it since it was my vacation and I didn't want to stay up all night in the kitchen. Besides, I needed plenty of rest before my daily routine of 3 enormous 2+ hour meals and the mandatory snacks in between.

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This was an eggplant dish that I thoroughly enjoyed. The bread was a great vessel. I had to take a picture as it appears this "animal" had an eye gouged out!

Looking back at this trip, we all had some laughs about our kids' reactions to eating aboard the ship. The 2 youngest (1.5 years old) did quite well in general, eating just about anything offered by their parents. The 3 year-old (mine) was probably the hardest to feed. Her diet consisted mostly of french fries, cucumbers, cantaloupe, bread, and vanilla ice cream. Luckily, she was distracted by her cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My boys (10 and 8) lived off of red meat. I don't serve red meat super often at home so they had at it. Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks. Repeat. It was vacation so I didn't interfere with their meat-fest. At least they balanced it out with plenty of ice cream and gelato.


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Rachel balanced out her diet with a candied apple

One of the biggest lessons that I learned during this extraordinary trip was how much I missed my own cooking and baking. While it's really nice to have others preparing and serving you food, they can't always make it meet your needs. Some foods we ate were under seasoned and bland. Some fish and meats were overcooked and dry. Some dishes arrived differently than they were advertised. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed indulging for a week in lots of scrumptious meals, desserts, snacks and treats. The adult drinks were flowing (sometimes overflowing) and it was SO fun experiencing all of it with our close family. But every time I sat at the table, I kept thinking about how I would make the dish differently or simply bake better breads. I didn't waste any time when I arrived at home, baking some fabulous sourdough baguettes and experimenting with some new pastry flavors.

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Praline pastry

Here are a few highlights from Alaska:

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Hubbard Glacier

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A beautiful view of Juneau after a tram ride

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All 19 of us!

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Yep, we got close to humpback whales
Behind the Scenes

Roasting garlic, mixing sourdough, bashing butter, boiling pretzels, and on and on. What do all of these have in common? Messes!! Flour everywhere. Dough bits stuck to the toaster oven. Baking soda splashing on my stove as it hits the hot water. These are all part of my daily routine as I bake up a storm. It can feel like a hurricane plowed through the kitchen after a busy day. The worst part is that as a one-man show, clean-up always falls on me. My 3 year-old isn't too keen on assisting, unless she's making a bigger mess.
 

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The good news is that the clean up doesn't bother me very much. While it's not my favorite part of the day, it gives me some time to reflect on what I accomplished that day and honestly, I enjoy seeing the big mess turn into a sparkly clean kitchen. Okay, not really sparkly but much cleaner.  

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Dough. It's so fun to work with! As I've mentioned before, I am pretty obsessed with sourdough. One of my favorite things about it is preparing the dough completely by hand, which means larger messes and more involved clean-up. It's so fun for me to feel the difference in the dough between each step of the process, which is lengthy to allow the dough time to ferment and develop the flavor it is known for. 


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Bashed butter. Stress relief for a baker.

Butter. Such a key ingredient for many bakers! I always used to use butter sparingly, not understanding how important of a tool it is in so many baked goods. Not only that, but I'm also learning about the different types of butter. All of my French pastry mentors (via cookbooks, recipes, and some TV shows) talk about using the right type of butter, especially for laminated doughs, like danish pastry dough. Unless you're looking for it, the European style butters, which have a higher fat content, can be hard to find. Not only is the flavor boosted with this special butter, it also allows the pastry to bake properly. If the water content of the butter is too high, too much steam will escape and cause some issues with the final product.  


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At the end of the day, this is often where I end up, chilaxing in the cool basement with my bread and una cerveza, reveling in the yumminess of both and thinking about my customers enjoying their baked goods. That's really what it's all about. Creating delicious bites to make other people happy and satiated.