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How to Make Vanilla Extract September 25, 2014 No Comments

“Real vanilla extract shows up in at least 75 percent of my baking projects,” writes Marisa McClellan in Food in Jars. “How is it that I’m so free with such a precious commodity? Simple. I make it myself, using bottles of inexpensive vodka and masses of vanilla beans that I buy by the pound online.”

Shauna Sever, author of Pure Vanilla, agrees that it’s worth the trouble. “Homemade vanilla extract is one of those glorious things that cause people to marvel at your Martha-esque domestic skills,” she says. “It’s both terrific party-conversation fodder and an economical way to enjoy copious amounts of pure vanilla extract.”

For the recipe below, along with beans and vodka, you’ll need a Mason jar with a tight-fitting lid. Vanilla beans can be purchased in bulk from ShopOrganic or other online sources.

How to Make Vanilla Extract

Ingredients:

3 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka

Directions:

Using a chef’s knife, split each vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Tuck the beans into your glass jar, then pour in the vodka, making sure the beans are completely covered.

Fasten the lid tightly, and store the jar in a cool, dark place for at least two months, giving it a good shake every so often.

You can top off the vanilla extract with vodka as you use it, but just make sure the beans remain submerged.

Makes 1 cup.

Related Books:

Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round

Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan

Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques

Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques by Shauna Sever

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid by Tim Ecott

How to Make Your Own English Muffins June 10, 2014 No Comments

In The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, the authors reminisce about what they consider to be the perfect English muffin, at Foster’s coffee shops in San Francisco. “It would be chewy, with big holes everywhere, toasted and dripping with butter,” they write. “The flavor was a little sour, but not too sour, and very rich. It was everything you could want if you were really into English muffins.”

Featuring flour, salt, sugar, yeast, butter, water, and milk, and prepared on a griddle, the muffins below are a cinch to prepare and keep nicely in the freezer.

How to Make Your Own English Muffins

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons (1 package) yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
Cornmeal
Vegetable oil

Directions:

Mix the sugar, yeast, and water in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand for 10 minutes. Add the milk, butter, and salt and 3 cups of the flour and beat until smooth. Add the remaining flour and stir until a sticky ball of dough forms.

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for up to 2 hours until doubled in size.

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on your counter and sprinkle it with cornmeal. On a floured surface, punch down the dough, then divide it into 16 equal pieces (two, then four, then eight, then 16).

Shape each piece into a ball, set it on the parchment, and press down lightly with the palm of your hand to flatten. Sprinkle again with cornmeal. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about an hour.

Preheat a lightly oiled griddle or skillet over medium heat. Cook the muffins for about 10 minutes on each side until brown. Set on a cooling rack to cool.

Makes 16 English muffins.

Related Books:

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins by Caleb Warnock and Melissa Richardson

The Big Book of Breakfast: Serious Comfort Food for Any Time of the Day

The Big Book of Breakfast: Serious Comfort Food for Any Time of the Day by Maryana Vollstedt

The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking

The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking by Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey

How to Make Your Own Yogurt June 4, 2014 No Comments

“For me, yogurt was the beginning,” says Alana Chernila about learning to cook more from scratch. “I had never thought about the power of making basic, everyday foods at home.”

Alana began preparing yogurt in earnest when she received an electric yogurt machine for Christmas. “As the cultures worked on the milk in the yogurt maker, I watched the counter suspiciously, praying that I wouldn’t poison my children with my selfish cooking experiments,” she says. “But at the end of the day, I had creamy, perfect yogurt, and I never looked back.”

Inspired by Alana’s cookbook The Homemade Pantry, the recipe below eschews a yogurt maker in favor of a simple 32-ounce Mason jar.

How to Make Your Own Yogurt

Ingredients:

4 cups whole milk
3 Tablespoons plain yogurt with live and active cultures

Directions:

Attach a candy thermometer to the inside of a medium saucepan. Heat the milk in the saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it reaches 185 degrees F. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, place it in an ice bath, and stir the milk frequently until it cools to 110 degrees F (no lower).

Place the yogurt in a liquid measuring cup. Using a ladle, add a cup or so of milk to the yogurt, and whisk until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back to the pot of milk and stir.

Using your ladle again, fill a 32-ounce Mason jar with the milk mixture and screw on the lid. Wrap the jar in a towel to keep it warm and place it in an insulated camping cooler. Let it sit for approximately 5 hours, then check the yogurt to make sure it is firm. If it isn’t, let it sit another 1 to 2 hours.

Remove the yogurt from the cooler and refrigerate until completely chilled. Reserve 1/4 cup or so of the yogurt to use as the starter for your next batch.

Makes 4 cups.

Related Books:

The Home Creamery: Make Your Own Fresh Dairy Products

The Home Creamery: Make Your Own Fresh Dairy Products by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley

Home Dairy with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More

Home Dairy with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More by Ashley English

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila

How to Make Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread March 12, 2014 2 Comments

How to Make Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread“It’s so easy to have freshly baked bread when you want it, with only five minutes a day of active effort,” write Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. “Your house will smell like a bakery and your family and friends will love you for it.”

Indeed, according to Peter Reinhart, there’s nothing quite like freshly baked bread. “Flavors slowly come into focus … eliciting an ‘ahhh, this is nice,’ reaction,” he says. “Then the salty zone kicks in, an ‘oohhh,’ followed by another level of either sweetness or sourness … calling forth a ‘hmnnn, whoa.’”

The recipe below uses a no-knead method and takes virtually no time or effort to prepare. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, set aside for half a day or more, shape into a loaf, and bake. That’s basically it. I’ve achieved good results using all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour or a combination of the two.

When using whole wheat, though, freshness is critical, I think. Thankfully, through our CSA service, Terra Organics, I’m able to procure locally produced whole wheat flour from an outfit called Bluebird Grain Farms, based in Winthrop, Washington. (The flour comes in tiny two-pound bags, which makes me think of it as a rare, precious commodity.) The result is whole wheat bread with a nutty, delicious flavor, rather than a bitter one.

Bread making is a bit of an art, however, and may require some trial and error before you get the hang of it. “Traditional, intuitive bread making does not lend itself naturally to a written recipe,” says bread Zen master Chad Robertson. “As you gain an understanding of how bread ‘works,’ you will be able to make adjustments in timing and technique to achieve a broad range of results.”

As with other endeavors, patience is rewarded.

How to Make Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Ingredients:

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/2 cups lukewarm water

Note:

The water should be just warm to your fingertips, about 100 degrees F—no warmer. As Hertzberg and François remind us, “Hot water kills yeast.”

Directions:

Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the water and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on your kitchen counter for, say, 12 to 18 hours.

(I like to use a glass mixing bowl for this, so that the plastic wrap clings securely to the bowl without slipping loose. Since I’m an early bird, I typically prepare the dough during the day, then let it sit overnight and bake the following morning.)

Uncover the bowl and pour the dough onto a heavily floured counter. Knead the dough a couple of times to incorporate some flour, shape it into a loaf, and place it in a greased loaf pan measuring 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches. (Use a bench scraper if the dough sticks to the counter.)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Let the loaf rise for 20 minutes or so, uncovered, while the oven is preheating.

Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s lightly browned and the internal temperature has reached 190 degrees F. Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a cooling rack to cool.

Makes one loaf.

Related Books:

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

Tartine Bread

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

How to Make Your Own Brown Sugar February 11, 2014 2 Comments

How to Make Your Own Brown SugarSharon Tyler Herbst says that “the uses for sugar are countless,” while Bo Friberg calls sugar “a truly amazing commodity and [one] that is indispensable to the baker.” I agree—and I love the rich flavor and moistness of brown sugar in particular.

I first made my own brown sugar in a panic. I was halfway through preparing chocolate chip cookies when I discovered that my store-bought stash—which I’d put in what I thought was an airtight container—had become rock-hard.

I could have tried to salvage the sugar by adding drops of water and grinding it in a food processor. Instead, I just produced my own by mashing together granulated sugar and molasses with a fork in a small bowl. The result was much more flavorful than anything I’ve found in a grocery aisle, and I haven’t gone back to store-bought varieties since.

Of course, we’re all supposed to reduce our sugar intake—but I figure a spoonful or two of this in my oatmeal is worth the risk. As the authors of The New Laurel’s Kitchen explain, “Since most of the sugar in the American diet is added in processing, the simplest way to cut back on sugar is to stop buying processed foods.”

How to Make Your Own Brown Sugar

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons molasses

Directions:

Using a fork, mix sugar and molasses in a small mixing bowl until incorporated. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 1 cup.

Related Books:

Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections

Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections by Susie Norris and Susan Heeger

The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry

The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry by Bo Friberg

The Sweet Book of Candy Making

The Sweet Book of Candy Making by Elizabeth LaBau