Sunday, May 29, 2011

Back to the basics

Ok, I'm interrupting my two-week nap to post the oft-promised basic bread recipe I use with my Zo. It's very simple in terms of ingredients and methodology. I'm actually deviating from the basics today to experiment with all-purpose flour. I thought of playing it safe and using a half-and-half mix of bread flour and all-purpose, but what kind of half-a$$ed experiment would that be? Naah. I'm going all the way. Hopefully the bread will too... Meanwhile here is the tried-and-true basic recipe:

  • 1-1/3 cups (minus) ---Water
  • 1 --------------------Egg (room temp.)
  • 4-1/4 cups-----------Bread flour
  • 4 Tbsp.---------------Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp.---------------Dry milk
  • 1 tsp.-----------------Salt
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp.-----------Unsalted butter (room temp.)
  • 2 tsp.-----------------Active dry yeast

Measure the flour by spooning it into the measuring cup so it's light and fluffy. Note: be accurate in all measurements. This is important. For the unsalted butter, the equivalent is 1/8 of a cup PLUS half of that, for a total of 3/16 ths. :) All ingredients must be at room temperature.

Crack egg into 2-C measuring cup. Add a bit of water and mix it so it's runny - do NOT beat it. Add more water until it reaches the 1-1/3 mark. Mix well. Do not beat the egg. Poor thing needs a delicate touch.. Pour into machine basket.

Carefully add the flour onto the liquid in the basket. Cover well, so there will be no liquid showing. Add butter, sugar and dry milk to the SIDES of the basket, on top of the flour. Then add the salt, placing it in an isolated corner so as NOT TO TOUCH the other ingredients (well, except the flour, bien sûr :). Make a groove in the middle of the flour mound and add the yeast on top... yeast must NOT TOUCH any other ingredients.

Turn machine on, set it on the basic bread program and good luck!


As I previously mentioned, I'm using all-purpose flour today. I will post the results, although I still recommend bread flour, which has more protein and gluten. If you make bread often, like I do, and the flour starts getting expensive, you can always cut the bread flour with the all-purpose... or can you? Your answer later ... (I've been watching way too many season enders on TV...)

Speaking of TV... there seems to be much whining and groaning about Dr. Who's distinct (and judicious) departure from the (gooey) romantic story lines that permeated much of David Tennant's tenure. My two cents: suck it up, people! This is a simple, basic, family friendly sci-fi show, not a prime-time soap. And now that I've announced to the civilized world I'm an unrepentant Dr. Who fan... see you soon with a trenchant outcome analysis of the great bread experiment.

-Results Analysis and Future Research-

Hmm... Hubby and I have our mouths full of bread right now ... and neither one of us can tell the difference between the breads! Seems that the all-purpose flour yields exactly the same results as the bread flour... This may be due to the egg we add to the recipe. I'm not about to experiment with that, but next time I will mix the flours in equal proportion.


Follow the original recipe with bread flour first, to give yourself the best possible chance of getting good results and working out the kinks, and then, once you're confident with your (inevitable) recipe adjustments, go wild! :))

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day

Of Moms and Breadmakers

Mother’s day today. I’m very lucky to have a truly wonderful mom. A strong woman and remarkably talented cook who has tirelessly tried to nurture my occasionally faltering love of cooking and baking. En passant, she also taught me that I should always clean up my mess and that whining about it is not a cost-effective strategy. A life lesson, to be sure :)

Perhaps this is why I think baking is a wonderfully cathartic experience. Even writing about it is comforting. It certainly beats the stuffing out of vomiting your inner demons onto the messy floor of your public blog. Ok, I’m being (really) judgmental. If writing poetry about your shredded heart, tetric soul and vanishing prospects helps you cope, may you get all the online validation you need. Me, I’ll tell you about baking bread. In my Zojirushi. Which I love.

I’m a late-comer to the bread-machine crowd, but like many converts I’ve become more papist than the pope. Within its obvious limits, the thing is a true godsend (must… knock off… the religious… references…). Based on informal polling and admittedly anecdotal information extracted from online forums and often-harassed friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that most machines currently on the market do a decent job of baking bread.

Besides my Zojirushi (which I love) I’ve tried mom’s Cuisinart. It’s bigger than my Zo (actually quite a bit bigger, although the basket is paradoxically smaller), has only one paddle, a vertical basket and limited but adequate programming options. It is also harder to handle… It took quite a bit of physical strength and ultimately a screwdriver to adjust the basket and make it more easily removable. I’ve also seen some online complaints about the opposite, namely the basket not being tight enough and coming loose during the kneading process. I’m happy to report that after the adjustments, my mom’s Cuisinart is working beautifully. Friends with Black and Decker machines also report very satisfactory outcomes and much happiness with their bread. So, did my better-half waste his money buying me the Lamborghini of bread machines? Most emphatically no… :))

For a nice review and some comparison testing check out this rather ambitious posting in the Bread Machine Digest.

The Zo is compact, virtually noiseless, very, very easy to handle and remarkably versatile. And the bread! So good! It is also very consistent, once you “master” the operational steps… The machine itself is functionally simple and user-friendly. A nice HCI job! The manual is a bit stingy with the recipes and programming information, but at least it is clear and actually helpful. The Zo comes with a DVD that takes you through the process of baking a basic loaf step by step. It reminded me a bit of those robotic Dharma project videos in Lost (how I miss Lost), but it was very helpful. Follow the instructions – you’ll be sorry if you don’t.

Their basic process works for all machines and is a sine qua non of consistently successful bread making. Make no mistake, there is a process. I don’t claim it’s the only one, but it works and yields consistent results. Good, mouth-watering, yummy results. So by now you’re wondering: when will the blah blah come to a merciful end and the recipe begin? Hmm. Next Sunday. Sorry. But at least now you will have an excuse to do a bit of wailing and curse a false idol or two in your blog…

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and most especially to mine, who is, of course, the Best Mom. Ever.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sad Monday

My kitty Meow.. miss her.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pecan cinnabun Easter Sunday

After much searching, I've finally happened upon the quasi-perfect pecan cinnamon bun recipe. I say "quasi" because I want to account for the possibility that somewhere out there lurks a truly ideal recipe that will make you cry with happiness.. This may not be your nirvana, but I'm happy to report that these buns have elicited a few tears of joy (mine actually, when I realized that all that bloody work had indeed paid off).

But I'll let you judge for yourself.

Note: This recipe is taken from a contribution (Cinnamon Rolls III) to I'm transcribing it here with a few notes, because I found it really confusing to go through all their different versions and comments. So all you have to do is TRUST ME and start baking. I make the dough in my bread machine (more later on my obsessive and rather unnatural love for my Zojirushi) and then let it rise and finish off the recipe.

If you use a bread machine you have to make the dough with all the caveats proper to it: liquids first, flour on top of liquids, none of the other ingredients touching the liquids OR the yeast. Each dry ingredient placed on the sides. I added a tiny tiny pinch more yeast, but just a bit. I used the kind for bread machines.

Pecanbuns (16 rolls)

  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons milk


  1. In the pan of your bread machine, combine water, melted butter, vanilla pudding, warm milk, egg, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, bread flour and yeast. (ok, order matters as I said above… incorporate butter in the milk, make sure it’s not too hot).
  2. Set machine to Dough cycle; press Start. When Dough cycle has finished… HERE I let it rise for two hours or so… turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 17x10 inch rectangle. Spread with softened butter. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over dough.
  3. Roll up dough, beginning with long side. Slice into 16 one inch slices and place in 9x13 buttered pan. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes (Note: I found it works better if you just let it rise until it doubles, typically three hours, depending on your kitchen.)
  4. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. While rolls bake, stir together cream cheese, softened butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and milk. Remove rolls from oven and top with frosting. I found 18 minutes was perfect, but my oven tends to run hot.

Caramel sauce for caramel pecan topping

I make my own, but you can find a good one here. I strongly advise you to use white sugar for caramel. Brown sugar has too many impurities and will not give you that "authentic" caramel taste :)

Enjoy. I have a batch rising right now... :)))

Friday, April 22, 2011

Another year, another blog...

Hmm.. It seems I've missed a couple of years. It's been a while. I think the problem is that I'm not vain or deluded enough to think anyone cares about my clever musings / philosophical meanderings / rapturous insights (were that I had any). Can't share my reno/decorating tips because in spite of spending an inordinate amount of time watching House Hunters and Sarah's House I don't have anything worth noting that could realistically be of any use to anyone. I'm mildly embarrassed by my artistic efforts and sadly devoid of amusingly clever observations on human nature and/or pet behaviour. I suppose I could find rich fodder for commentary at work, but that would be SO inappropriate. Ahem.

I would let this blog die a merciless death, but alas, I'm quite fond of the title. So, I'll find something to imprint on the Internet, whether it likes it or not. I'll start with fulfilling my long-standing promise of posting the recipe for lemon icebox squares (with thanks to Dianne H., who kindly passed along the original recipe). To anyone grappling with diabetes, diets and/or citrus allergies, please move on... nothing to see here.

Note: I've renamed the recipe to be more descriptive of the finished product. I'd add my name to it, but even my narcissism has limits.

Lemon Mousse Squares


2 Cups Graham Cracker crumbs

(or 20 Graham crackers firmly crushed)

1/2 Cup Brown sugar

1/3 Cup Melted butter

Mix together and press in a 9x9 pan or 13x8 (save a few crumbs for the top).


1 Large can of evaporated milk (Carnation)

1 Pkg. x8 servings (or 2x4) lemon Jello dissolved in ½ cup boiling water

1 Lemon: juice and rind

1 Orange: juice and rind

1/2 Cup White sugar

** Have all ingredients ready at the point of beating milk

Beat milk until thick. Note, this may take a while -- do not despair. It has to thicken, not just "foam." Fold in sugar, juice, rind and Jello. Spread evenly on first mixture and sprinkle the top with crumbs.

Leave in fridge for at least 1 hour to chill. Cut into squares once set. I like putting them in the freezer for a bit. They're light, but tasty. Truly addictive, if you like lemon. Yum. If you do make it, let me know how it turns out.

Well, this well has run dry for now. Sad, I know. Perhaps if you tell me your problems I can offer you terribly useful suggestions on how to run your life. Nothing that actually requires professional help please -- although I'm an undeservedly happy person, any felicitous developments and outcomes in my life are almost exclusively due to blind luck and other people's infinite patience with my idiosyncrasies. Ok, fine, I won't try to run your life. Just a gratuitous hint: if you're just starting to get your pennies together check out Rob Carrick, either in the Globe or on his eponymous FB site for some really good basic financial advice. I wish I had received some sort of financial education in my younger and more impressionable years. Parents, take heed. I'm actually not joking on this one.

"Next," the caramel pecan cinnamon bun recipe that *I swear* tastes identical to a certain well-known commercial brand that I love but will not mention here for fear of swift legal/economic reprisal. Such is life. The week after that I will tackle the unified field theory and offer some suggestions on how to actually achieve cold fusion. Stay tuned.

Till Sunday,