Tag Archives: America’s Test Kitchen

Bread Illustrated or Bread Porn from America’s Test Kitchen

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Japanese Milk Bread that came out a little wonky. My bad!

Nothing beckons like the aroma of bread. Remember the aroma fingers in cartoons? I spent the past week filling the apartment with enticing bread aroma fingers as I began to cook my way through Bread Illustrated, a must-have from the ATK Empire. Subtitled, “A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home,” Bread Illustrated is the perfect book for the beginner as well as a great reference book for the advanced home bread-baker.  I have been a bit leery of ATK publications since the departure of Christopher Kimball, but this is a winner.  All the recipes I tried work, but are they bakery quality.”?  Well, no. But they work beautifully in a home kitchen with no special equipment.

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Whole-wheat quinoa bread.

Furthermore, in every case, the recipe from Bread Illustrated produced a better loaf than I’ve ever made in the past.  Japanese Milk Bread (Hokkaido), for example, which appears at the top of the page, misshapen, is a great favorite of mine. (Think Challah without the braid.) The fact that it doesn’t have its usual baby-bottom shape here is not a failure of the recipe, but of my having been distracted. The taste and texture are marvelous.

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Japanese Milk (Hokkaido) Bread

Bread Illustrated is a volume in the very best of the ATK tradition:  sober and no-nonsense, and chock full of essential information presented in a straightforward manner with lots and lots of food science background.  And, of course, “Why this recipe works,” is the introduction to each and every recipe.

I began with breads in the chapter entitled,“Starting from scratch: 12 foolproof breads that teach the basics.”  I was impressed by the approach, and found the recipes are interesting, useful, and, in every case, very easy to make successfully.  If you are just starting to bake bread, you will encounter no discouragement, no brick loaf that will send you back to the store never to touch salt, flour and yeast again.

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Brown Soda Bread

Brown Soda Bread was a revelation. This is a bread that I have rarely ever cared for, at least not without mounds of butter and jam. It is normally dry and grainy and lacking any inherent interest. NOT! This one is absolutely delicious.

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Quick Cheese Bread lasted a single afternoon with Mr. Darcy!

I deliberately tried another bread that has never particularly called to me: Quick Cheese Bread. “Quick” and “cheese” as applied to bread will normally turn me off, because quick breads (breads without yeast) are usually too much like cake, and because I like cheese on top of bread, not in it. But this was a very good loaf, and Mr. Darcy loved it. So that’s that!

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New sandwich bread recipes are always welcome, and I tried four of them:

EasySandwich Bread

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Easy Sandwich Bread

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Easy sandwich bread

American Sandwich Bread

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American Sandwich Bread

Whole-Wheat Quinoa Bread

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Whole-Wheat Quinoa Bread

and my personal favorite, Pain de Mie.  “Mie” means “crumb” in French, so Pain de Mie is literally “crumb bread,” and means “soft bread” or “sandwich loaf.” It is named for its soft crumb, and baked in a lidded Pain de Mie or Pullman pan, which creates the shape and all-over crust. Pain de Mie is Wonder Bread perfected. It has both flavor and texture; it doesn’t tear when you spread peanut butter on it. It can be sliced thin or thick, and eaten toasted or un-.  It is one of the most tasty and versatile loaves on the plant, and did I mention easy?

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Pain de Mie, cooling.

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Pain de Mie, so perfect for sandwiches.

And for those of you who have been waiting for Christopher Kimball to reappear in his new incarnation, here he is at last and it was worth the wait:

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From Christopher Kimball, the inaugural issue of Milk Street Magazine.

I’m happy to report that the magazine is exactly what you’d expect from Christopher Kimball, and even carries his signature bow-tie on the cover. There is no advertising, of course. But don’t give up your ATK subscription; there is no danger of overlap.  Milk Street’s mission is to reach around the world for foods, spices, cooking techniques, and culinary traditions that we have always associated with “ethnic” restaurants, not our own homes, and to make them accessible for us in our own homes, using our existing batterie de cuisine.  In fact, I was amused by the article in this charter issue revealing something that I learned in Spain many years ago — that scrambled eggs (and I would add fried eggs as well) taste better cooked in olive oil than in butter.  So there you go! For those of us who don’t live near Boston and can’t go to the brick and mortar Milk Street Kitchen, Milk Street Magazine is about to change all of our home cooking preconceptions:  fasten your seat belts!

Less Sugar: Dipping into ATK’s “Naturally Sweet”

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Honey Buns are a lower sugar form of sticky buns. From Naturally Sweet.

America’sTest Kitchen has been publishing a lot of  new cookbooks lately. In fact, there seems to be a new one every week.  Naturally Sweet:  Bake all your Favorites with 30% to 50% Less Sugar is one of the most recent, and it is chock full of sweet and tasty desserts.  As the editors of Naturally Sweet acknowledge, sugar may be bad for you, but would life be worth living without birthday cake?

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Pistachio Spice Biscotti. A big winner. Wonderful flavor and texture.

But let’s be perfectly clear: In Naturally Sweet, less sugar does not mean fewer calories, less fat, or that these desserts are healthier. It means less sugar. Period. In fact the word “calories” does not appear in the book except in a nutritional information chart in the back. Naturally Sweet makes no medical claims and offers no medical advice. They leave that to the M.D.s and the R.D.s. If you want to cut down on sugar, the recipes work well and taste good.   The results are definitely less tooth-achingly sweet than standard recipes with tons of sugar. As a general rule, Mr. Darcy found them sweet enough to his sweet-tooth taste, and I found them less sugary and more flavorful.

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Chocolate Pudding Cake. No sugar at all; just chocolate!

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The Chocolate Pudding Cake before the pudding is scooped up looks like a moon landing!

There are many good reasons to be concerned about the consumption of sugar — tooth decay, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes come to mind. There is also the addictive nature of sugar. It’s a thing. The more sugar you eat, the more you crave. Unlike fat and sodium consumption, which, experts agree, should be monitored for general good health, or, which, in some cases, must be restricted for medical reasons, there is no modern-day existential need for sugar. (Unless you count the existential emotional need for chocolate!) But humans like sugar, and, there are adaptive and evolutionary reason for that: for one thing, sweetness signaled to our ancestors that a strange substance was not poison, and, therefore, was safe to eat.

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How dangerous are Chocolate Chip Cookies anyway?

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is 4 times more than what the World Health Organization recommends.  What is most worrisome to nutritionists is that most of that sugar is consumed passively.  If you want to reduce sugar, it’s obvious:  eat fewer cookies,  less ice cream and candy, and drink less soda pop.  But, have you ever taken a close look at your box of breakfast cereal, your milk carton, your yogurt container, or your bread wrapper?  If you want or need to reduce your sugar intake, the first thing you should do is start reading and comparing labels. Talk about sticker shock!

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Chai-Spiced Pound Cake. I learned from Mary Berry that is not only OK for that rift to be there, it is supposed to be there. Whew!

To make matters worse, whenever a food product is advertised as low-fat or non-fat, what is not advertised is how much sugar has been added to boost flavor.  “Fat carries the flavor,” as they say, so reduced-fat products have to find another vehicle to carry the flavor load — and that’s where sugar comes in.

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Chocolate Pound Cake

You’d think that, if sugar is added when fat is reduced, then fat would be added when sugar is reduced.  Not necessarily. In Naturally Sweet, most recipes call for more liquid and more leaveners rather than more fat.  The book discusses the science of sugar, the various processes of sugar production,  and exlains why the ATK staff chose certain sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, sucanat, coconut sugar, for example) and not others (artificial sweeteners, agave nectar) . Happily, each recipe carries ATK’s signature “Why this recipe works” introduction, which is usually the most interesting portion of the recipe.

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Chai-Spiced Pound Cake, sliced.

I like these recipes, because I don’t like American-style “sugar cake.”  But that’s just me.  I’m not a sugar person. Except for sticky buns. Sticky buns are my annual birthday gift to myself, and these are exceptional. Light as a feather, sweet but not too sweet, and with a hint of orange.

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More sticky bun porn!

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Not being someone who craves sweets, I found that there was very little in Naturally Sweet that really tempted me.  It seemed that there were tons of muffins and quick breads, which I find very uninteresting, and a lot of fruit crumbles that don’t necessarily have all that much sugar anyway.  There is a significant variety of treats, but, surprisingly, there are no recipes for either a simple birthday cake or a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. So, harrumph, you really can’t “bake all your favorites with 30% to 50% less sugar.”Maybe this cookbook is for people who routinely eat dessert? Maybe ATK is overextending itself without the Bow Tie at the helm to reign in overweening ambition? Maybe the answer is that we shouldn’t be eating so many baked desserts?  I don’t know, America; you decide. I’m going to polish off my sticky buns!

Looking Ahead

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Irish Soda Bread from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Bread Illustrated: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home.”

DishnDat will be taking a hiatus for a couple of weeks.

America’s Test Kitchen has just published two new cookbooks, and I will be reporting in full as time goes by.  This week’s post is just a preview in photos of what’s to come.

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Monkey Bread from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Naturally Sweet: Bake all your Favorites with 30% – 50% Less Sugar.”

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Chocolate Chip Cookie from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Naturally Sweet:  Bake all your Favorites with 30% – 50% Less Sugar.”

Also planned this fall is a test of some of the “we deliver the ingredients and you sweat over a hot stove” services. Are they good? Are they worth it? Are they economical? Fear not. DishnDat is on the case!

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Peach and Blackberry Galette from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Naturally Sweet: Bake all your Favorites with 30% – 50% Less Sugar.”

Down Bread Memory Lane

Mr. Darcy is back at home, and learning how to walk all over again. In order for his spine to fuse, he must be constantly mindful of the spinal precautions:  BLT, or Bend, Lift, and Twist. Of course it would have to be one of his favorite sandwiches to remind him of all the things he may not do! I am trying to put some meat on his bones with food, food, food and lots of it.

During the past five months, I’ve just been focused on holding it all together.  Now, I can relax and indulge in hope and in memories. Nothing like a catastrophic illness to fire all the emotional burners. I have so many memories of Mr. Darcy over our 47 y pico years together:  years he pretended to enjoy one culinary disaster after another; years he ate the same meal night after night until I got it right, or at least edible. “Very nice,” he would always say when he meant “aargh.”

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Remember the ’70s when we all started baking bread? When we were young and we proudly and callously rejected the undeservedly but universally maligned Wonder Bread in favor of our door-stopper whole wheat loaves? Remember The Tassajara Bread Book? Beard on Bread? Remember how we were told to “punch down” the dough after each rise? Remember Anadama bread — our standard first foray into bread-baking? I remember Mr. Darcy valiantly choking down one “wholesome” loaf after another without complaint.

And yes, it was Anadama bread that called to me during this sentimental weekend. Anadama is an uncomplicated simple and hearty loaf with New England origins.  Flour, cornmeal, molasses yeast, and salt — you can’t get simpler than that. With its hint of licorice, it’s perfect for bread pudding.  The molasses flavor is a natural to accompany a bowl of Boston baked beans. In sandwiches, it goes well with the standard Wonder Bread fillings (PB&J, et al.). Toasted or un.

The dough.

Love is a simple dough.

There is a reason why Anadama was one of our first homemade bread experiments:  it is very easy. The dough comes together without hesitation, whether kneaded by hand or in the stand mixer. I just tried the recipe for Anadama included in the Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Bread Recipes. It has a perfect texture and is not at all too sweet — the usual failings of Anadama.

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The dough also rises.

We no longer “punch”! Gently press down the dough and form into loaves.  Mr. Darcy ate it Sunday morning — after a 30-some year hiatus — with an avocado omelet — toasted with cream cheese — and he kept asking for more.  By mid-day, he had polished off half a loaf with no memory of those early days of dense and gritty homemade bread. And that’s OK with me. As long as he sticks to his BLT and sticks around to make more memories, I’m good.

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Cookie Monster Returns — is Greeted by Cookies!

Cakes and cookies greet Mr. Darcy’s return, temporary though it may be!  Nothing but photos this week.

Blondies

Blondies with pecans and toffee bits (ATK)

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Cream Cheese Brownies (ATK)

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Madeleines (KAF)

Arancinicake

Arancini Cake with Prosciutto and Mozzarella (Saveur)

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Angel Food Cake (Betty Crocker. Yes, Betty Crocker!)