Why Trying New Recipes Is Important

As you guys know, I love working in the kitchen. A group of my friends and I have been planning a “baking day” where some of the men can learn some new skills and us girls can drink some wine and teach them. We can’t do it right away but I’m hoping in a few months we’ll be able to get together to do it.

I think sharing skills and taking the time to help others learn is incredibly important. Though in this day and age we don’t often have canning days, I think getting together to help each other and to enjoy food and drink is essential. I would encourage everyone to try this whether you are the host, the teacher or the student. Please let me know if you have or will be doing this in the comments!

I’ve been thinking of how to teach when I realized that teaching how to make a recipe is not the issue. Teaching how to change a recipe to better suit you or the environment you are cooking in is. I thought about how most of the recipes I have written in my book aren’t actually how I make the food. As I work with a recipe I adjust it to better suit my taste, my kitchen ware and how I want the final product to come out.

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Minor changes are cook times and temperatures, but changing the process for Babka dough to make it fluffier or how to make a chunky chocolate spread into a smooth and creamy one can change the entire product.

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So I started asking myself how I learned to manipulate recipes to suit me better and I realized it came from trying new recipes so often. With each new meal, new cultural dish, new process comes more knowledge to draw upon. To be the best home cook requires stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new dishes. Experience also helps. You learn from your mistakes and most recipes don’t include a “absolutely don’t do this” section.

One of the simplest lessons I learned was not to fold warm chocolate into whipped cream as it ruins the texture. You have to let the chocolate cool before folding it in! My first time trying it the whipped cream became a soupy mixture that just wasn’t visually appealing. Lesson learned. Also learned that day that id you sprinkle a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa powder over a complete chocolate failure, it hides it pretty well even though it can’t fix the texture problem.

The first time I made Babka, a chocolate bread dessert, I just couldn’t figure out why the bread was so dense and chewy. I saw the yeast bloom, I kneaded it for 15 minutes by hand, I did a twelve hour cool rest and I rolled it out evenly. The second time I made it I increased the temperature in the oven from 375 to 415 and the difference was incredible. I didn’t change anything else, just the temperature, but the bread was risen with a better crust and it both tasted and felt better.

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I think being able to trouble shoot your own cooking is important. Being able to look at what you don’t like in your finished product and be able to fix it makes you a better cook. Google can often help if you can figure out the specific issue, but it can be tedious to try and find the right answer online, whereas experience and dedication to bettering your skills can lead you down new roads.

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I don’t claim to be the best home cook. I still have a lot to learn and I look forward to a lifetime of experimenting and expanding my wheelhouse. This year I have focused more strongly on desserts. I learned how to Deep Fry Oreos, make a Cadbury Egg Cheesecake and how to make a selection of chocolate breads and dessert buns. Last year I focused on broths, steaks and perfecting roasted vegetables. I don’t know what will catch my eye this upcoming year, but I look forward to seeing what will catch my fancy.

Going back to the baking day we have planned I figured out what I’m going to do. I ‘m going to teach a N0-Knead bread recipe that can be customized to each persons preference that relies on the maker being attentive to humidity and dough moisture. I think this bread is a good starting point as it doesn’t require hand kneading (none of us own stand mixers) but does require adjustment which teaches flexibility in baking. I also want to teach how to make Babka, a more finicky dough that will render your wrists into angry stumps by the time you’re done kneading. This one will be to teach technique as well as how to roll out doughs nicely and how to seal the dough as not to let out the filling. The last items will be standard cup cakes with buttercream and whipped cream frosting. We’ll go over how to make the cup cakes, mix and colour the icing, how to load the icing bag and how to use different tips to create different effects. I would also like to show how to bake, stack and decorate a cake that we can all share. In the end, everyone will get two loaves of bread and a dozen cupcakes to take home (and possibly left over cake). For some of my friends this will be more instructive than for others, but it gives those who know more about baking the opportunity to help the others as we all work together to create a small feast.

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I hope it will be a good day for everyone and while I am a little more experienced than most of my friends, I think they’ll have their own cultural ways of preparing basic foods. As our group is culturally diverse it’s likely most of us grew up with different methods of doing things so we’ll all get to learn new techniques. Personally I have a French background which shows in my food.

I’ll write about it once we get to have our baking day and I hope it will go well. I would love if you would tell me about your own stories in the kitchen.

What Flour Should You Be Baking Bread With?

I’ve been baking as far back as I can remember, and over the decades I’ve picked up a thing or two. It started with chocolate chip cookies and has lead me here, a bread baking, cake decorating, banana muffin enthusiast. Today we are going to talk about flours commonly used in the home kitchen in regards to bread.

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Bleached Flour

This name covers all flours that have been artificially lightened during processing. The four common agents used are potassium bromate, a maturing agent that increases gluten development but it isn’t the bleaching agent in the flour. Benzoyl peroxide is a bleaching agent that doesn’t affect gluten. Ascorbic acid is a maturing agent that also strengthens gluten but again, isn’t a bleaching agent. Chlorine gas is used to weaken gluten and oxidize starches, allowing it to absorb water well leading to thicker batters and firmer doughs. Flours treated with chlorine gas are the worst for bread but the best for cookies and cakes. As a general rule, using bleached flour for bread isn’t the best choice, but if you don’t have anything aside from ascorbic acid and benzoyl peroxide treated flour, it can work for breads. Cake flour is almost always chlorinated and very low in gluten.

Enriched Flour

Enriched flour is simply flour that is enriched with extra nutrients. During the processing of flours it often looses nutrients, so by adding them back your flour has more nutrients in it.

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Pastry Flour

This flour is low gluten to allow for flaky crusts instead of crunchy and bread-y. The gluten protein percentage is generally around 7.5%-9.5%, slightly higher than cake flour.

All Purpose Flour

All purpose flour is medium in gluten, sitting around 9.5%-11.5%. It works well for most breads, pizzas, cookies and cakes. Though it does have a higher gluten percentage, if you need a more structured cake, this is the flour for you. All purpose flours do not generally have any additives or rising agents.

Bread Flour

This is the highest gluten flour that’s easy to find. Sitting from 11.5%-13.5% gluten it makes for great chewy bread with a lot of carbon dioxide, really rising the dough.


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Hard Flour

This is a much more difficult to find flour as it sits at 13.5%-16% gluten. This flour is used when you need very structured bread. It doesn’t yield as much chew, but your bread will be very strong. Mixing hard with lighter gluten flours to yield better bread is a common use for it. For example, having a massive bag of all purpose flour to make all sorts of treats and then a bag of hard flour, you can make better bread without having to buy bread flour as well as all purpose. A 1:3 hard to all purpose mix is the best for French and Italian breads when mixing.

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Gluten Flour

If you can find this stuff, let me know! Though the bags claim to be 100% gluten, this is not technically possible, but when doing the math, use 100% as your safe number. If you want to mix flours without needing much mass, this is the one. I don’t know of a single purpose of using this flour straight, as it is always mixed into lower gluten flours to make better bread.

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Self-Raising Flour

Self raising flour is a fancy name for all purpose flour with baking powder in it, pre mixed. For the average home baker, I wouldn’t bother with purchasing it. If you want to make self rising flour, mix 1 cup of all purpose with 1 tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Whole / Wheat Flour

Whole wheat flour is a fairly dense flour with a gluten percentage of around 9%. It is generally unbleached and good for sturdy bread and loaves of potato and fruit dense breads.

There are flours made of plenty of different grains, and I hope to get into them soon. If you have any advice for new bakers or experiences with different flours, please let me know!

Reeses Peanut Butter Cake

This past week was Ryans birthday, and while we couldn’t have a party, there was no way he wasn’t going to have a cake. We talked about what he wanted and he was adamant he wanted peanut butter in his cake so I set out to make him the best cake I could.

This cake serves 12 – 15 people. It should be refrigerated after assembly until 3 hours before serving for ideal texture.

Eva Blakeman – Peanut Butter Cake

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar

Icing

  • 1 1/4 cups natural peanut butter
  • 2 cups salted butter (room temperature)
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 8 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 12 – 15 Reeses cups
Eva Blakeman – Peanut Buter Cake

If you make this cake, please tag me on instagram @evablakeman so that I can see how amazing your cake looks!

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Baking Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease either one 9 inch spring pan or three 8 inch round cake pans. Lay down parchment on the bottom of the pan.
  2. Mix all dry cake ingredients together well. In a separate bowl mix eggs, milk, vanilla and vegetable oil together until combined.
  3. Pour the wet ingredient bowl into the dry ingredient bowl until well combined then slowly add the hot water while mixing batter at a slow pace.
  4. If you are using three cake pans, divide the batter equally between the three of them. If you are using a spring pan, pour one and a half inches of batter into the pan. (For spring pan this will be repeated two more times to bake all three layers of the cake.)
  5. Bake for 22-25 minutes. (In order to check if your cake is done baking, stick a toothpick in the centre and all four corners, if it comes out clean the cake is done baking.)
  6. Let cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and moving to a cooling rack. (For easiest icing, refrigerate your cake layers once they have reached room temperature.)
  7. Onto icing. Mix all wet ingredients until smooth. Add one cup of icing sugar at a time, fully mixing it in before adding the next cup.
  8. Chop your Reeses into small pieces (save 5 Reeses for the top of the cake).
  9. Pack your icing into icing bags, one with a open tip, the other with a star tip. (This icing is easiest to work with when kept warm, I let my bags sit beside the warm oven).
  10. To stack and layer the cake, ensue your cakes are level (if they are not, use a serrated knife to level them off).
  11. Put down your first cake and use your open tipped bag to evenly distribute 3/4 inch to an inch of icing over the entire top of the cake.
  12. Place half of the chopped Reeses on the icing layer, spread out.
  13. Repeat step 11.
  14. Put down your final layer of cake, use the open tipped bag to distribute icing over the top and side of the top layer of cake. (Even out with a spatula).
  15. Use your star tipped bag around the bottom icing layer to add texture and place flowers evenly around the layer.
  16. Add 8 flowers on the top layer of the cake evenly around the circumference. Add a large flower in the centre. Place half Reeses cups in between each flower on the top.
  17. Refrigerate until 3 hours previous to serving.
Eva Blakeman – Reeses Peanut Butter Cake

I had a lot of fun making this cake and I look forward to making more like it in the future. It’s by no means a perfect cake (I plastic wrapped it in the fridge so some of the flowers got smushed) but it was absolutely delicious and we got to drop off cake for other people (zero interaction do drop offs) to share it with people we love for Ryans birthday. It is a very dense and rich cake due to the peanut butter icing, so when cutting, cut smaller than you think you need. I think this cake would be a good one to use if you wanted to make a boozy cake. The rich chocolate and peanut butter would pair really well with coffee liqueurs soaked into the. layers.


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it was fortunate that I went over board with the cake, as Ryans birthday gift still isn’t here (a week after his birthday) even though I ordered it months ago. As much as I like purchasing from individuals, the shipping times are sometimes ridiculously long. Thankfully Ryan didn’t seem to notice his gift was missing when I put this plate of delight in-front of him. I did tell him that his gif is late after cake time, and he didn’t seem too disappointed so all is well.

Eva Blakeman – Peanut Butter Cake

Baking Bread – Learn From My Mistakes

Bake With Me – Bread Video

This past week I decided to finally try something I’ve been too intimidated to do. The whole process of kneading the dough felt too complex and easily ruined but I had a spur of confidence in my abilities and I decided to try.

I do think I will continue trying new recipes and adding different flavours to breads in the future. Once I began the process it wasn’t nearly as intimidating and it was in fact quite fun to make. I did film the whole experience, which shows the mistakes I made during the process and really shows the end results quite well.

I made two different recipes in my experiment, to see which method I preferred. I made a no-knead dough, which took about 28 hours from start to cool down. I also made a kneaded dough which took less than 6 hours from start to cool down. I can tell you I preferred the kneaded method for making the dough, as it was so much faster and the bread it yielded was a little sweet and dense. But cooking method also had a lot to do with my preference.

The kneaded dough called to be baked at a lower temperature, 350 degrees, for 45 minutes. It came out a light golden brown and there was no issues with its baking method. As I don’t own a bread pan, I gently pushed out the dough into a 8 inch square cake pan which I oiled liberally. It rose roughly twice as much in the centre, but yielded a nice, every cooked loaf. This dough has a little sweetness to it, and both my man and I agreed it would be the perfect loaf to make into garlic bread. I did butter the loaf directly after removing it from the oven to give the crust a nice soft texture. It is shown below.

Kneaded Dough

The no-knead dough was to be cooked in a maxed out oven (mine goes to 500 degrees) and was supposed to be cooked in a cast iron dutch oven which had been pre-heated with the oven. The recipe called to have it cook on a floured piece of parchment paper, which may have worked in a dutch oven, but I don’t own one so I improvised. I used my cast iron skillet and added multiple cups of water into the oven in another baking tool to add moisture. This moisture did help the dough keep some humidity, but the parchment paper burned onto the dough which left some interesting patched I had to scrape off. I will say that the dough was actually quite nice, even with the charred marks on the bottom. I did do an egg wash on the dough before baking it and buttered it after it was removed from the oven. We paired this bread with an anti-pasto board and it paired beautifully with sweet, spicy, sharp and smooth flavours. Though it was not as pretty, it was admittedly a better flavoured bread. I need to adjust the baking method to avoid burning the bottom again. I think the next time I make it I will oil the cast iron liberally and let it bake directly on the skillet. I would still pre-heat the skillet, as it takes a good amount of time for it to build up heat and I feel not pre-heating it would cause the crust on the bottom to be raw while the top would be hard. It is shown below.


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No Knead Dough

It took me two days to make the two loaves and I enjoyed the process. I also did a cost analysis on the dough and I estimate it costs $1.50 to $1.65 to make loaves like these. The closest comparison I can make to commonly available breads in grocery stores of this style come in at around $4.00 a loaf. So it is cheaper to make a loaf, but it is very time consuming and makes a considerable mess in the kitchen and creates a lot of dishes to clean. If you have the time to make your own, I would recommend it. There is a feeling of pride and joy when you can make your own food with your own two hands, but if you don’t have the time or having an entire sink full of somewhat difficult to clean dishes, perhaps it’s better to go out and buy a loaf.

All Occasion Sugar Cookies

Every time I make these cookies they disappear before my eyes. A simple, enjoyable treat that goes over well at parties. Unfortunately this means people will try to steal cookies before they even hit the table, you’ve been warned.

Our “Festive” Sugar Cookies

The best thing about sugar cookies is that they can be customized to any occasion. You can cut them into any shape and colour your glaze and sprinkles! Above is our New Years Eve cookies, so I didn’t colour the glaze because I wanted the gold sprinkles to steal the show.

Ingredients (Dough) :

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/4 cup white flour

Ingredients (Glaze) :

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar (depending on thickness you want)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Any sprinkles you want!
Our “Festive Sugar Cookies

Instructions :

  1. Mix wet ingredients then add sugar. Mix until no large clumps of butter remain. Mix in dry ingredients. Finish by hand to completely mix in flour.
  2. Roll out dough on a very liberally floured surface to a 1/4 inch. Punch out your cookies. Don’t worry about introducing more flour as you re-role your dough out, it won’t change the flavour or texture if there is a little more flour. ** Alternatively you can make small balls and press them down for rough circular cookies.
  3. Set your oven rack to the centre of the oven. Pre-heat to 350 degrees.
  4. Set cookies a minimum of 1/2 inch apart on the sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
  5. Let cookies cool completely before glazing.
  6. Apply a thin layer of glaze (I used the back of a spoon to avoid glaze running down off the cookies).
  7. Shake on your sprinkles and let dry before stacking for display.

Other Recipes You May Like:

If you loved this recipe let me know in the comments! No need to put in your email, just let me know how you customized your cookies!

Scrumptious Rum Balls From Scratch

Seems like my healthy diet has taken a hit these last two weeks. With Deep Fried Oreos, bowling alley pizza and admittedly, a late night McDonalds trip it has been a heavy cheat week. Thankfully most meals are still chicken or beef with a load of veggies or protein shakes/bars. So we haven’t been completely terrible to ourselves. Anyways, moving on, we have a going away party that we are attending this weekend and it is a potluck style so I thought of something that can travel well with a little boozy kick to it, and I landed on rum balls. When I was a child my mother made a batch of rum balls (with artificial non alcoholic rum) that I remember with fondness. Hers was made with chocolate graham crackers to make it a “no bake” rum ball, but I prefer make it with a chocolate cake base, as I feel they are more stable and travel better.

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 2/3 cup softened butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups milk ( I used 3.25%)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • a dash of salt
  • 300 ml (1 can) condensed milk
  • 4 oz semi sweet chocolate
  • 4 oz white chocolate
  • dark or spiced rum
  • chocolate sprinkles

Let’s Get Baking

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Mix butter, sugar and eggs together.
  3. Add milk, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and lastly flour. Mix until smooth.
  4. Pour your mix into a greased cake pan
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes (check with a toothpick, you should be able to poke and pull out a clean tooth pick if it is cooked through)
  6. Let the cake cool enough to handle, and crumble it all into a large bowl.
  7. Pour condensed milk, semi sweet and white chocolate into a microwave safe bowl. Melt in increments of 25 seconds.
  8. The rum amount is up to you. I used 8 oz of rum in my recipe, which is favourful enough that you know there’s rum, but you could use as little as 4 oz and as much as 12 oz. Pour your rum into the crumbled cake along with the melted chocolate mix. Fold and mix all ingredients together.
  9. Store in the freezer at least 20 minutes or until 30 minutes before serving