Christmas Baking or cooking. 2022

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We bought one of the very first bread machines made by Panasonic in the early 1990's. We had kids at home then and used it almost daily. They are indeed almost too easy and very versatile - they don't just make plain old loaves. On the timer cycle they make the best alarm clock ever! But Esther is correct, you tend to eat way too much if there is not a whole family to consume it, so it takes some self control. Now we are retired and rarely use it, but it still works fine. We were just reorganizing the kitchen and Corinne suggested shedding it, but I couldn't let go. It is really handy for making the dough for fresh dinner rolls for family gatherings when we are busy with other tasks. I now make sourdough regularly and frankly, you could probably use a bread machine to mix and knead that too - not the remaining steps though.

A word to the wise. Bead machines vary greatly in effectiveness. Some just don't work very well, but other do and famous name brands have little or nothing to do with that. You can't go wrong with Panasonic who invented them. The more basic the machine is better - avoid ones that supposedly do other things. I did a side by side comparison for a friend and he took his back for a refund!

Ref. the sourdough process. Waaay too much complexity and pontificating by the self-proclaimed "experts" - and a lot of it is contradictory! Mooo-ooooo! - that's the BS alert. Remember - the cowboy chuck wagon cooks and wagon train pioneers made sourdough bread all the time under who knows what conditions, no refrigeration and limited baking facilities. After some experimentation, I broke it down into a few simple essential steps and it doesn't make any difference - except for time and effort. I wake up and feed some starter, then throw all ingredients in the KitchenAid stand mixer. Use the dough hook. Mix it, turn up the speed a notch and knead for 10 to 15 minutes. (I don't use a timer so it varies - it don't matter, just somewhere between 10 - 15). It will be smooth and elastic and not sticky. Put it in a lightly greased bowl and do the universally agreed 30min rest and stretch four times. Again, no timer, just keep an eye on the clock - sometimes I overrun - no big deal. Then straight in the cast iron Dutch oven - lined with parchment paper in the bottom. Put the lid on and leave it the hell alone on the counter for 12 hours - or so - till it has risen enough. Fire up the oven to 450F. Slash the top with something sharp - VERY sharp so it doesn't start to deflate, like a razor blade - this stops it splitting and busting out in all the wrong place when it expands during baking. I found the secret to the slash is confidence and speed. I have a baker's lame (pronounced lahm) that my lovely wife bought me for Christmas and I highly recommend this inexpensive tool. 15 minutes, then remove the lid for another 10 -ish. Turn down to 415F for a further 20 - 25 minutes until done. Placing a baking sheet on the next rack down as a heat diffuser is good. Then it turns out clean and the Dutch oven doesn't even really need washing. So, if you have been paying attention, that's no more than 50 minutes total hands on time and a ton of leaving it the hell alone to do it's own thing while you do something else. Plus you can start it one afternoon or evening and bake it the next day. I also make sourdough bagels (adding some regular yeast as well) and focaccia. Once you get the hang of it, there is very little hands on time and plenty of time to do other things.

We don't actually eat that much bread either. Often some toast for breakfast and occasionally with dinner or lunch is all. Sourdough bread keeps very well if sealed in a plastic bag to stop is drying out - like Ziploc for example - and refrigerated if you like. It's because of the natural preservatives in it, like lactic acid and miscellaneous enzymes. And it's good for you.

OK, so more BS busting. You will notice there are no separate autolizing, proofing or multiple rising cycles - not necessary, just extra BS. For sourdough starter, make it yourself or better yet, get some surplus from someone else - or you can get some online from King Arthur Baking Co.'s decades old starter. Store it in a large Mason jar with the lid screwed on loosely in the fridge. You don't have to feed the beast every freakin' day and throw away perfectly good stuff!! You can even leave it for a couple of weeks while you go on vaca. Don't worry about the "mystery liquid" that separates on top - the yeasts just finished working and are taking rest. It's just water and lactic acid. As long as there are no pink slimes or green furry mold, it's good to go. When you want to use it, stir it up vigorously, remove about a cup and put in a bowl with 1/2 cup of bread flour and 1/2 cup of water, stir and wait for it to become foamy before using - don't try to "help" it by warming it. I fact, don't try to "help" any stages of the sourdough process, just let it do it's thing, it knows what its doing and doesn't like interference. Definitely do not use any oven "proofing" cycles - it will deflate. Similarly wake up the remaining starter in the jar and leave it out till it's working nicely before returning to the fridge. (I like to use a bit more flour than water or it eventually gets too thin.) You can also either dry some or freeze some as back up insurance in case you manage to kill your starter somehow.
 
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Actually - at least when I lived in the UK in my younger years - they only called harder crispy ones biscuits. The soft variety like we make a lot in the USA, they also call cookies - or did then.
 
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Have to be careful around here to NOT make homemade bread, cookies, cakes ect. to often. My skinny husband does to eat much of any of those items. So more than half are given as gifts to neighbors. Right now in the freezer are two of the apple walnut cranberry loafs, of which I can take out quickly and slice frozen, and put back, it keep a while like that. Or might take a loaf with me on vacation, if a car drive that is.
 
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The marmalade orange season is on us and the house has smelled of oranges cooking for days as a year's worth of marmalade has been produced, plus a few to give away.
 
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The marmalade orange season is on us and the house has smelled of oranges cooking for days as a year's worth of marmalade has been produced, plus a few to give away.
my favorite, marmalade. Have you ever used a scope of it when steaming up carrots. A spoon of marmalade and some butter on the carrots, yummy.
 
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The smell has deep associations for me. My father made jams and pickles, each year he would make 60 lbs of marmalade, or so. One a week for the house and a few extra to give away. I have bread, or toast, and marmalade most mornings, but I have never tried it with carrots.
 

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