Monthly Archives: July 2015

Memories of Meals Past: Homemade Soft Pretzels

Pretzels! Nummy, nummy pretzels!

Pretzels! Nummy, nummy pretzels!

Every now and then some recipe comes across my facebook feed that I really want try. In this case, it was a post by The Artful Parent that talked about the soft pretzels that she made with her daughter. They used Alton Brown’s pretzel recipe and raved about it so much that I had to try it myself. So I did!

I’m calling it a Memory of Meals Past post, as I’m posting it on a Thursday, and it’s not an original recipe from me, nor a bake-a-long recipe. Not strictly a Memory of Meals Past, given that I made it today, but…hey, it’s a Thursday, and I’m linking to a recipe as opposed to writing up a new one, so good enough!

The traditional brown colour of the baked pretzel is achieved by doing a number of things: once the dough is made and you’ve twisted it into a pretzel shape, you boil the unbaked pretzels in a baking soda and water bath for half a minute. Then you place them on a baking sheet and brush them with an egg yolk and water mixture, then bake until they’ve achieved that deep golden brown colour.

Baking soda bath!

Baking soda bath!

The baking soda and water bath sort of blanches the dough, if you will, so that when it bakes up, the outer (blanched) crust has to crack to let the dough expand. This creates those cracks in the deep brown texture that you often see in the professionally made pretzels.

How many whisks up would I give this recipe? Three and a half. Maaaaybe four. (I’m a tough critic, I think. Especially given that I’m criticizing a recipe from that famous, professional chef, Alton Brown! But I promised myself when I started this blog, that I’d always be honest, so this is what I truly think. Even if I’m wrong.)

Here’s why:

  • I had to add at least half a cup of water to the dough in order to get it to be as pliable as Alton says it should be.
  • Also, the baking soda bath should have been longer that the recommended 30 seconds, in order to get those traditional and professional-style cracks that I mentioned above.
Post boiling, and pre baking.

Post boiling, and pre baking.

What I did wrong and what I’ll change next time:

  • I admit it, I under-baked the dough by 2-4 minutes, according to Alton’s recipe. I generally under-bake, because I find most recipes call for a crustier whatever-it-is than I like. In this case, I probably should have at least baked the pretzels for 12 minutes as opposed to 10. Mea culpa!
  • Next time I make this recipe, I plan to boil the pretzels for at LEAST a minute, to see if that makes any difference to the crust. Will it make it browner? Or just more crack-y? (What? It’s a word!)
  • I’ll also use official pretzel salt. I only used standard size sea salt this time, and I think pretzel salt would definitely add a nice bit of texture.

The recipe makes for an easy and tasty dough, but if you make it, I recommend making the changes I outlined above. Or don’t, and let me know whether it was just me! I’ve packed some for the DH and I for lunches tomorrow. Now to figure out some delicious dipping sauces! Hmm…any ideas?

Next Post: Probably a salad post. Because IBS.

Kiwi-Mango Vanilla Pannacotta & Stomachaches ‘R’ Us

Kiwi, Mango, and Vanilla Bean Pannacotta

Kiwi, Mango, and Vanilla Bean Pannacotta

This week my bake-a-long group is making Mango Vanilla Pannacotta, from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi cookbook. For a few days before I made it and wrote this post, I was trying to think of a ‘hook’ for the post, something to make it funny, or tell a bit of a story, but nothing came to mind, and the recipe went (relatively) smoothly. Dorie writes delicious recipes, and this one is no exception. (I think. I didn’t actually eat it myself. But I’ll get to that in a moment!)

I think the only unique thing about this post (besides the fact that the mango I saved for the recipe went bad and I had to replace most of it with the only other tropical fruit in my fruit bowl, kiwis), is that this post is a day late. Possibly even two days late, by the time I finish writing it up. I’ve mentioned before that I have IBS and I had another lovely episode at work yesterday, so I came home all trembly and weak, ignored the dishes on the counter that were looking at me reproachfully, and lay down on the sofa with a blanket, a pillow, and Netflix. I didn’t move until the wee hours of the morning when I flopped myself into bed.

I felt better today, but the nasty, horrible IBS symptoms came back at work again. (Probably means I haven’t been sticking to my lettuce-for-lunch-five-days-a-week diet recently. Yay, lettuce.)

However…I persevered! Pain or no pain, I was going to make the pannacotta after work! Even if I couldn’t eat it myself. The pannacotta contains gelatin, and being a vegetarian, I gave eating this one a miss, and passed it on to the DH. I knew he would appreciate my sacrifice. My delicious, tasty, sacrifice.

Shot o' pannacotta! (playing around with presentation)

Shot o’ pannacotta! (playing around with presentation)

The recipe itself is pretty easy to make. Just make the fruit puree and spoon it into some pretty glasses. Boil up the cream/milk with a vanilla bean, add in the gelatin, let cool, and pour over the chilled fruit puree. Let sit in the fridge until set. Serve! Easy, yes? Even with a stomachache I could manage it.

The DH thoroughly enjoyed the pannacotta, and I will say, the puree itself was delish! I’d love to try making this recipe with some agar agar, or another vegetarian gelatin alternative. I wonder if any of the other bloggers did? Want to see what everyone else made? Check it out here!

Next Post: Something that won’t make my stomach hurt. Maybe time for another Salads I Have Known and Loved post!

Baby, It’s Hot Outside: Double Layer Ice Cream Brownie Bars

Cut and plated and ready to be devoured!

Cut and plated and ready to be devoured!

Last weekend, there was a bit of a heat wave in Toronto, and temperatures hit the 40’s (Celsius) with the humidex. When you stepped outside, you were hit with a wall of humid heat, and you progressively wilted the longer you were outside. I was running errands and luckily remembered to pack that old-fashioned thing, a handkerchief, with which I mopped my face until I could practically wring out the fabric.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, let me clear something up for you: I am not a super-duper heat lover. What I do love, however (aside from chocolate. Or snacking at midnight. Or, you know, the DH) is…my A/C. I come home on those horribly humid and sweaty hot days and stand in front of the vent pumping out that lovely, icy, air-conditioned air. I’ve also been known to walk to work and then promptly stick my head in the staff room freezer when I arrive, just to try and cool off a bit before starting the day. (A walk-in fridge would come in handy!)

All of which is a preface my latest Memories of Meals Past post, which is Double Layer Ice Cream Brownie Bars! A/C is all well and good (and oh boy, it’s soooo good!) but sometimes you have to regulate your temperature from the inside out! Also, brownies. And ice cream.

Layer it up!

Layer it up!

I’ve been seeing a lot of ice cream recipe posts on pinterest and twitter lately, and they inspired me to make my own dish! I started with a brownie based layer (this one, if I remember correctly, although I added in chopped walnuts), baked in a parchment paper lined springform pan. Once cooled, I spread a layer of softened mint chocolate chip ice cream on it and stuck it back in the freezer. While that was setting/refreezing, I mixed up a half-batch of homemade vanilla ice cream, using this recipe. I spread that over the top of the now set mint chocolate chip ice cream layer, and stuck it back in the freezer for several hours. And voila, Ice Cream Brownie Bars!

What’s great about this recipe is that it’s SO flexible! Choose any ice cream flavour you like! I think the brownie base, with a strawberry ice cream layer, topped with the homemade vanilla ice cream, would be just fabulous — a Neopolitan ice cream bar! Mix up your own ice cream brownie bar (it’s SO easy!) and impress your friends, families, and those ever-important taste buds. Summer has arrived!

Next Post: Parisian Pannacotta, or my Twisted Spinach & Feta Pie. Or maybe something else, depending on what I’m craving!  

Apricot Raspberry Tart or, Shopping on Sweltering Days & Other Things To Do After Work

(This week’s bake-a-long recipe, Dorie Greenspan’s Apricot Raspberry Tart from her Baking Chez Moi cookbook.)

It's all about the French bake, baby! Also about the tart. Mmm...tart!

It’s all about the French bake, baby! Also about the tart. Mmm…tart!


Texted the DH to see if he was going shopping, as we were out of apricots (no stone fruit in the fruit bowl? Seriously unheard of in our house.) DH working late, so shopping was up to me. Walked to a local fruit store in Toronto’s muggy heat, while smelling of damp dog (a very damp dog slobbered all over me today, cute little drooly creature). Bought a bag of apricots and two pints of raspberries. (Only one pint made it home. I was hungry.)

Blind bake that tart shell, sunshine!

Blind bake that tart shell, sunshine!

Came home, flopped on the bed and waited for the A/C to kick in. Reviewed Dorie’s recipe. Mixed up and blind-baked the sweet dough crust. Considered making a batch of ladyfingers to put in the base of the tart. Discarded that idea, because tired, and mixed up a batch of almond cream. Realized that I only had 1/2 c. of ground almonds. Tried to grind some walnuts in my spice grinder. Didn’t work. Ate the walnuts. Figured, what the hey, and only used 1/2 c. ground almonds in the almond cream. Add some vanilla extract to the almond cream. Decided I’d rather have a rum flavour, so added some rum. Wondered whether that would make it too runny, but again, what the hey.

Add fresh fruits and almond cream. Taste testing is key.

Add fresh fruits and almond cream. Taste testing is key.

Spread the almond cream in the partially baked crust. Topped with halved apricots and raspberries. Popped into oven. Peered into oven periodically to make sure crust and almond cream not burning. Worried that almond cream was awfully liquidy and baking only around the edges. Covered edges in tinfoil crown. Hovered around oven door some more. Removed tinfoil crown. Worried that entire tart too brown but almond cream still too liquidy. Put tin foil cover across entire tart. Hovered some more. Removed tin foil. Worried some more. Reassured self that Dorie is all about the “French bake”.

Before baking. So pretty!

Before baking. So pretty!

Forced self to leave kitchen and logged onto computer. Checked out what other bake-a-long members did for their versions of the recipe. Noted different possibilities for future variations. Went back to kitchen. Checked on progress of tart. Made lunches for tomorrow. Checked on tart again. Did the dishes. Got dishpan hands.

Took tart out of oven and let cool. Considered taking tart into work tomorrow for coworkers. Considered sending in tart with the DH to his work tomorrow. Discarded both ideas and promptly cut myself a slice. Enjoyed the tart. Ate another sliver. Packed a slice for lunch tomorrow. Wrote this blog post. Going to bed now. Sweet dreams, peeps!

Next Post: Ice Cream Brownie Squares! Ice cream. And brownies. That is all.

Waste Not, Want Not: Schoolhouse-Style Dinner Rolls

Yummy in my tummy! Easy-peasy dinner rolls.

Yummy in my tummy! Easy-peasy dinner rolls.

I’m currently in the middle of making a three-layer brownie and ice cream dessert (post to come!) but had to take some time out to talk about my new favourite dinner roll recipe. Have you heard of Schoolhouse Rolls? Or Schoolroom Buns? Until recently, I hadn’t. But I was googling ways to use up milk powder, and  came across very similar recipes for said rolls/buns.

Apparently in the U.S. a few decades ago (readers of a certain age will remember, I’m sure), school cafeterias used to make fresh rolls for the school lunches. There are many recipes out there claiming to be the one definitive schoolhouse roll recipe, but what they have in common is the use of milk powder as an ingredient.

Roll 'em up and set 'em to rise!

Roll ’em up and set ’em to rise!

And milk powder is something I have lots of! My mother-in-law made some delicious hand-made milk candies for our wedding a year and a half ago (Time! It doth fly!), and we still have TONS of milk powder leftover. I never use milk powder, but I hate wasting food, so I had to find a way to use it all up. And this recipe is the best way ever!

I started out with some of the recipes found online but modified them to what I had in the house. I ran out of white sugar and shortening, so I subbed in icing sugar and butter. And while the buns were great, it made for a verrrry light and squooshy dough, so I added in an additional cup of flour.

I made them and told the DH that I had made some changes. His reaction, verbatim: “I don’t know what you did, but they are SOOOOO good!” Further evidence of deliciousness. I had made a pan of these and left them out one evening to cool. The next morning I got up and half the pan had disappeared.

Pan o' freshly baked buns!

Pan o’ freshly baked buns!

Want to make some easy rolls yourself? Let’s!

Schoolhouse-Style Dinner Rolls (makes one dozen buns)

  • 2 1/2 tsp. (traditional) yeast
  • 1 c. warm water
  • 2 tbsp. icing sugar
  • 1/4 c. milk powder
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 3 c. flour
  • 3/4  tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt

Butter pan. Mix yeast with warm water and wait 10 minutes until foamy. Mix in rest of ingredients with a dough hook (because it’s easier than by hand). Form into 12 equal rounds. Place in buttered pan and let rise in warm place until double in size. Bake in a 425 degree oven until tops are golden and crusty (about 20 min, give or take). Enjoy!

Served for lunch with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam!

Served for lunch with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam!

The buns freeze and defrost well, and have a lovely light crumb despite being nice and dense. You can do an egg wash on top, although usually I don’t bother. If you modify the recipe, let me know what you come up with!

Next Post: More French Foodie Fun with Fruits!