Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cookbook Baking and a Trip to the Ritz

Christmas changes as we age. I have grown into a young lady of almost 21 and unfortunately I do not derive as much joy from things I enjoyed as a child. For instance, empty boxes, sugary candy, Sarah Specialties (a meaty, cheesy, carb-y sandwich that I created and named after myself over ten years ago), and dolls such as Suzy Stretch (if you don’t know what I am talking about, please watch the linked video!) don’t make give me the simple happiness that they used to. Now, I really don’t want a lot of stuff for Christmas; instead, I have come to cherish experiential gifts, books, cooking/baking equipment, and everyday things like warm slippers the most.

This year, my sister and I picked out what we wanted from each other. This seemed easier than trying to figure out what to get each other and she doesn’t like surprises anyway. I asked for Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. It teaches techniques for evoking flavor form whole grains to create nutritious breads with a sweet, not too dense crumb. I read through the book completely and have tried three recipes. So far my consensus is this, I want to meet Peter Reinhart! Based on this book and other things I have read about him, I have so much respect for him as a person and as a baker that makes use of science and a little bit of creativity. Below are the three recipes I have tried so far, they are all healthy but span the range of taste and technique. Next on the list to try: pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, and bagels. Needless to say, the book was an excellent gift.


Transitional Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread: this was the first recipe I tried and it was perfect for just that. I kept thinking that I was going to burn the bread, but trusted the book’s guidance about cooking it until it was a rich brown because it was perfectly baked inside. This bread was great for sandwiches, mopping up egg yolks, or just eating plain.


Seeded Crackers- I still have to master rolling dough out to an even thickness, so my crackers were not uniform. However, these are great spread with peanut butter or  hummus (homemade curry hummus pictured).


Steamed Boston Brown Bread- This bread is one of the most unique in the whole book. It requires no yeast, but depends on baking powder and soda for leavening. Also, it is steamed in a tin can (in a pot of water) on the stove rather than baked in an oven. The bread itself is sweet because of the addition of molasses and raisins; the denseness of the bread comes from a combination of whole wheat flour, rye flour, and cornmeal. I found this bread best eaten for breakfast toasted with butter.


Below are some pictures from a recent visit to Bar Cocoa in the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte. My mom, grandmother, and I had the chocolate tea as my early 21st birthday present. There was recently an article in Our State about Bar Cocoa (although I have wanted to do this for a year, I am no follower).  Needless to say, we had excellent service. We were able to try as many teas as we liked and I especially enjoyed learning about each one before making my selection. The food was delicious, from the finger sandwiches to the plethora of desserts. I couldn’t choose a favorite dessert but I especially enjoyed the layers of flavor in the Bar Cocoa, the creaminess of the tiramisu (my first time), and the playfulness of the s’mores macaron. Also, at the end I was given a box of truffles to take home since it was my birthday. Although it took me a few days to want chocolate again, the truffles were delicious; the flavors included white chocolate strawberry, dark chocolate mint, milk chocolate, cinnamon roll, and caramel (my favorite).


Earl Grey Tea, left, and Hot Chocolate, right


Madame Cocoa- elegant and fashionable, she is completely made out of chocolate


Vegetarian finger sandwiches, clockwise from front: salmon and dill; roasted red pepper hummus; cucumber; mozzarella with roasted tomato and olive tapenade; ratatouille (center)


Dessert tray: top: Opera Torte, Bar Cocoa; middle: peanut chocolate tart with caramel (reminiscent of a Snickers), s’ mores macaron, tiramisu; bottom: white chocolate and orange scone (served warm with lemon curd, Devonshire cream, and raspberry jam)


The three lucky ladies- my grandmother, me, and my mother


Peering in the display cases with my grandmother after our tea

I would highly recommend this tea for anyone who wants a decadent meal to treat themselves. I am off to pack! Enjoy!

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