Anyway, back to the topic of this post: I made more cinnamon swirl bread from Baking Illustrated (this is a big favorite with my husband and now little E–I can’t believe how fast they go through it). It was heavily hinted to me that I need to make a double batch of this stuff every weekend. Of course I had to use my proofing box trick to get the dough to actually rise!
I also made some ciabatta out of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a wonderful, (and also very technically detailed) book. I love reading all the details and technique behind how bread works: how the gluten creates a network of “strands” which allow the bread to expand to accomodate the airiness generated by the yeast, how the slowness of the rise brings out more complex flavor… I suppose this could make the book look intimidating–but the instructions are very clear and you could always skip the discussion at the beginning if you just want to get down to baking. I think I overmixed the bread (overkneading it in the machine) as it was very hard to shape into that slipper shape for which “ciabatta” is named. The way you get ciabatta to have the texture of the large holes throughout it is by folding it over itself several times (like folding a letter to put in the envelope). When I was battling with the dough to do this (I could barely stretch it out enough to begin to even fold it) I realized I had probably let the kitchenaid mixer go a bit too long. (My mixing bowl also went off kilter again while it was kneading–hopefully if I tighten the screw on the bowl clamp (what you snap the bowl into) it will be OK. (I had this problem when I first bought it and they sent me a new clamp). Anyway the ciabatta is still fine, it’s just not ciabatta, really.
I also got around to baking the Christmas Speculaas that I never got around to back in December. These are basically butter, flour, and a ton of spices. The reason I really wanted to make these is we have a Springerle rolling pin from Munich and I figured, why not use it? I had some problems with the recipe at first–the amount of water called for was not sufficient to hold the dough together. You are supposed to pat the dough into three rounds and refrigerate for an hour. Not listening to my instincts I went ahead and did that hoping that the refrigeration would do the trick. Then rather than sitting in there an hour they sat in there overnight. Unsurprisingly, the lack of water did not resolve itself overnight, but I figured, to try to salvage it, I could just crumble up the dough (to the extent it needed any help, which it really didn’t) and add some water. It did the trick. Also, when the recipe says to refrigerate for an hour, you really shouldn’t go longer than that because the dough will be too chilled to roll out. I think an hour is just right to get the dough firm enough to take the shape of the mold but not so hard you can’t even get it thin enough. It was a bit hard to get the hang of the rolling pin–you want to press the mold in hard enough to get the image stamped in, yet, it’s just a rolling pin so there’s only so much you can do, as rolling it back and forth too much to make an impression blurs the design, but it got easier. Dusting the pin with powdered sugar to prevent sticking really helped. And it turned out this was the perfect recipe if you want to keep your oven on–the cookies bake for an hour and you need about three baking sheets worth–and they all have to bake separately–i.e. that oven is on the entire afternoon!
These cookies were a bit of work to make–really, the hard work is getting the images stamped in–but it makes a lot and they are an interesting cookie–all the spices are an interesting taste and they are not overly sweet. I’m not someone who likes spice cake, for example, but here the spices seem to meld together nicely rather than say, competing with each other. I had to stock up: cardamom, cinnamon, ground cloves, mace, allspice, even white pepper! I think it would be more fun to make with someone. I understand they are a traditional Dutch recipe (and Belgian too–one of my old Flemish co-workers brought them in so let’s not leave anyone out) but I guess there are German and Swedish versions too (most recently, the giant box of pepparkakor I bought at Ikea!). Well, and to be fair I guess I have to admit: I got the recipe from the Martha Stewart magazine. Don’t judge me!