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Parchment Paper, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Staying up late the other night, I finished "52 Loaves" and in doing so, it left me with an intense desire to bake bread. Not, of course, going to the extremes he went to, as in, growing his own wheat, threshing it, and if that weren't enough, a week long bread baking course at The Ritz in Paris. Did I mention he baked bread in a Normandy monastery? Yes he did that, as well as, making a clay oven in his backyard! So, no, all of that is too much for me, unless of course I am getting paid to write a book about those experiences, a far fetched idea if ever there were one.

What it did do, however, is get me thinking about my cooking and baking skills, or lack thereof. Although I have cooked a lot in my lifetime, there's always room for improvement. Because I was wanting to get it on, I did not use a sponge for my baguettes, instead opting for a recipe from Bon Appetit, using the usual ingredients as well as 1 T of white vinegar, which now that I've been reading the Cook's Illustrated with explanations for every ingredient, I sure wish I knew what that vinegar was supposed to do. Anyway, the dough was gloppy as all get out, partly because I stopped in the middle of adding the flour to weigh it on my digital scale. That too, is something "real" bakers do. I measured my flour in two ways, one using a scoop and leveling it off, followed by simply scooping the measuring cup in the flour. While Tom was baking during one of their visits, he told me he always used the later method. Turns out that's the way they do it at CI. Anyway, then I wondered just what does a cup of flour weigh, 8 ounces? Nope, the answer is anywhere, according to who you believe, between 4.4 and 4.6 ounces, all of which sounds perhaps a little silly, but when baking it helps to be accurate. Nonetheless, I did not hold out much hope for the bread.

While it was in the first rise phase, I decided to make some granola, and here's where the parchment paper really shone. My goodness, I love the stuff. No more sticking to the pan for me! First though, when I measured the 3 T of brown sugar, I thought it looked so cute, I had to take a photo.
Adorable, right? Here's what the finished product looked like on the parchment, which I later used to make a cone to pour it into my container.
Pecans, coconut and dried cherries! Yum, yum.

While in the kitchen I snuck in a batch of pickles which now I know is easy as can be. Mix a cup of water, and white vinegar, along with salt, a fair amount, and bring to a boil while you are stuffing the pickling cucumbers into the jar. Chop up a bunch of garlic and put it, along with a tablespoon or so of red pepper flakes into the jar, pour the vinegar mix over, and refrigerate. If you can, wait for about a week before eating although sometimes that is just not possible.

Back to the bread, I did my best to shape the baguettes but I'm just not very good at it. Because I'd read somewhere about a french bread pan, and I had a gift certificate to William Sonoma, I bought one last year, however, I'm not all that impressed. In any case, the bread came out looking not too terrible.
Another thing I can't do is make the slashes-impossible! Not long after they came out of the oven, Angela arrived wanting to know what smelled so good, so that was promising. When she saw the bread on the cooling rack, she immediately wanted to try it, thus the cut loaf. Her response? "There's nothing wrong with this bread, it is fantastic!" She is my friend though so what else could she say?

Because I wanted to try the bread myself, for dinner I had some leftover spaghetti and meat sauce that I'd made a day or so before. Following the recipe to a tee, when browning the onion and garlic, I added the spices to enrich the flavor. Bruce was in heaven as he LOVES pasta. Another little trick I've learned, and it makes so much sense, is to freeze the leftovers in a zip-loc bag so it doesn't take up much room in the freezer, as well as there is very little room for air which inevitably ruins frozen food.
Pretty neat, huh? Oh yeah, the bread wasn't half bad.

The week has been gloomy as can be so instead of moping around like I want to, I head into the kitchen. Yesterday afternoon I made a recipe for Apple Pandowdy. Never heard of it? Neither had I. More accurately it is an apple pie in a skillet. Obviously no bottom crust. Now, I've made a lot of pie crusts in my day, but never with butter. Every technique I've ever used to mix the crust went out the window. Maybe all this will be good for my old mind, keeping me engaged and learning? After mashing the shortening into the flour with a fork, I grated 6 T of butter into the mix.
I wish the photo had turned out better because those little curls were so cute. Instead of my pastry blender, I used two knives to cut it all in, learning in the process that I'm not so great using both hands at once! After an hour in the fridge, I rolled it out and it STUCK to the pastry sheet. Well, I just scooped it all back into a disc, and started over. Good thing the pandowdy got it's name from looking rather dowdy. While the dough was chilling, I prepared the apples, another revelation which I'll explain further.
To the left you can see all the peels, eight apples in all! Here's the thing, I always used to guess when the recipe called for 2 1/2 pounds. No more, I am a convert to the digital scale! Instead of dotting with butter and sugar, following the recipe I reduced a cup of apple juice down to 1/2 cup, mixing it with maple syrup, lemon juice, and a bit of cinnamon. Oh, I nearly forgot--I sauteed the apples for about ten minutes as well, covering them with the syrup mix, followed by the crust. Finally it was ready to go into the oven.
The logic behind sautéing the apples is not having to cook the "pie" as long. Hot dog it worked like a charm, especially when the oven is set to 500 degrees, a temperature I have NEVER used before. 20 minutes later it came out of the oven looking like this:
The recipe called for an ovenproof 12" skillet which I do not own. The best I could do is this 11'' cast iron skillet that belong to my Mother. How old it is I can't say. What I can say is no kitchen should be without one in my humble opinion.

Bruce loves apple pie so I was making it for him, and lo and behold, not long after it came out of the oven he called telling me he was at the airport. Silly me, I thought he was coming home today! I am happy to report that he deemed it wonderful, worth every bit of effort! My only quibble is that there is a lot of juice on the bottom of the pan; perhaps my apples were juicier than theirs? In any case, the crust is delicious! The apples, nicely cooked.

Parchment paper, that's what I should have used to roll the crust on. Plastic wrap works well but it is not nearly wide enough unless you put two pieces together which is what I eventually did. It was parchment paper that would have saved the day! Where have you been all my life?
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