Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Post About Bread

You know, I try to keep the cookbook acquisition to a minimum. Partly because most cookbooks these days are lovely to look at but not much more, but also because it's a slippery slope, the cookbook collecting, and I made up my mind a long time ago that I was going to limit myself to one cabinets' worth.
But when it comes to bread baking books, all bets are off. I think most bread baking books fall into the not very good trap just like any other cookbook genre--most are mediocre at best--but there are a few greats out there and every so often another potential great comes under my radar.
And I am helpless.
Especially so if they are sourdough-centric, because as you may know, I am a sourdough baking fanatic, and I'm always interested in a new technique or method.

Enter "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson. Tartine is a bakery of esteem in San Francisco, and although I have never been, I understand it to be among the best as far as artisan baking goes.
So I bought the book very shortly after it first came out which, unfortunately, was right before the pre-holiday crazy got going, and thus I haven't really had a chance to dig in.

But then the other day I finally found a minute, so I fed my starter and planned a bake.
Best yet from the indoor oven!
Technically, it wasn't really "a bake" because it was only two loaves vs. my usual six or eight, but I'm thrilled with how they came out. These are the basic white country boule which is the recipe upon which a lot of the other Tartine bread recipes are based.
Gorgeous and perfect. Perhaps the most gorgeous ever to have come from my indoor oven and with a taste and texture that is everything I love about a well-crafted sourdough.

So the biggest revelation of "Tartine Bread" isn't the recipes and there's not any 100% new ideas or methods, but you will find a rather HUGE improvement on a couple of existing techniques. Rather than use the traditional method of baking on a stone or in a terra cotta bakers cloche, or the new-ish technique of cocooning the loaf in a LeCreuset-type stock pot ala Lahey's No-Knead recipe, Chad advises the use of a cast iron combo cooker, a skillet plus pot, two-pans-in-one kind of thing, as a baking vessel.
Similar to the no-knead wonder, only better. Much, much better.

The proofed loaf gets turned out into the shallow, skillet side of the cooker (so much easier and tidier and burn-free than that deep pot!!) and then covered with the pot side. Both have been preheated, and since the two are made to fit together, it's a fairly tight seal that keeps all of the steam in--the better to spring and rip and make crust with.

And suddenly, I find myself with a cast iron cookware storage problem in my never-gonna-outgrow kitchen. The link above is for the smaller 3 qt. version of the combo cooker, but there's also a 5 qt. which is the one I chose. And because I happened to be at Cabelas the other day (on a date! don't ask) and noticed they sell an OVAL combo cooker, I must have that as well. The better to bake my batards in, you know.
On the bright side, cast iron anything is such a workhorse in my kitchen--especially since the wood-fired oven came into being--that they'll definitely earn their keep, even if I have to build a storage shelf for them in the garage.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bright Beats the Winter Blues

How about a little colorful cuteness for a gray winter day?

I do do things in neutrals, really, but on a day like today or a week like this week or a month like this month, I crave the pop and freshness and attitude that bright color provides. I just can't imagine working on anything subdued when it's cold and windy and bleak outside. And just when I need it the most, inspiration arrives in the form of some new, gorgeously colored leathers that I couldn't wait to play with.

Check out these two new cuties, freshly installed in my shop:

two new flap bags

Just what the handbag doctor ordered! You may recognize the style as that of my original Flap Bag. I've tweaked just a bit to work in leather and given it a couple of variations. The perfectly handy size and hands-free, cross body styling remains unchanged.
That yellow has made a few appearances before and is one of my perennial favorites, but the purpley-lavender? Hello luscious! I've been waiting for you!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Year, New Swag

If you've been paying attention to my Flickr stream or made it to any of my holiday show or boutique events, you've already gotten a sneak peek at these. If not, allow me to introduce another super fun new addition to the Splatgirl Creates accessory lineup:

The Perfect Little Clutch!

group of mini clutches
Perfect Little Clutch in brown
Perfect Little Clutch in bright green

I've just listed a few of these, along with a new batch of Embellished Gadget Cases in my Etsy shop, so go have a look! And as always, I'm happy to custom make the perfect something. If you're interested in particular color, fabric or design for any of my items or have an idea for something fabulous, just give me a holler!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy 2011!

I spent a bunch of last week engaged in the arts.
The pastry arts, that is.
Perhaps you already know that I am a croissant and pastry whore, and that homemade croissants aux amande are one of the specialties of the house here at Splatgirl Creates. I know I've carried on before about how a fresh croissant is one of my favorite things, and whined that the only way that ever happens around here is if I make them myself...which I do with regularity, because having a bag of shaped, unbaked croissants in my freezer makes me feel like a total smartypants.
Anyway, my obsession with sourdough baking naturally led me to wanting to take the leap from my always reliable, stand-by croissant recipe to a sourdough one, and I figured the need for a whole bunch of croissants for my annual new years' brunch was the perfect opportunity for a little R&D
I took the plunge with the Tartine bread baking book's version of sourdough croissants. If you' haven't seen this fairly recent addition to the bread-baking book lineup, know that it's gorgeous and useful in equal measure, and that I've had great results with the boule recipe. But sadly, the croissant recipe was a huge disappointment. Like HUGE. And if I didn't have a fairly high level of experience with croissants and laminated doughs and a great recipe for comparison that I know works, I would probably blame myself for the failure. But it's so bad and so wrong, well, I just think it must be wrong.
Good thing I planned ahead for a trial-run.
On the bright side, the not-buttery-enough-to-be-a-croissant-things I ended up with made a pretty decent ham and cheese biscuit, so all was not lost. And also on the bright side, it was all the nudge I needed to convert my stand-by, yeast leavened croissant formula to sourdough...with fabulous results.
Here's the finshed pastry bonanza on my brunch buffet:
the "pastry cart" new years brunch, 2011
Those are the ham and cheddar biscuits on the left, with banana muffins, assorted danish (my first foray into this genre), and the house specialty almond croissants completing the lineup.
When I composed the basket and set it out, I said to Boy "doesn't this look like we are someplace really special?"
and he said "we ARE!"
Gotta love that Boy.
Here's the rest of the spread we and our guests enjoyed on 1-1-11:
brunch bonanza 2011
Here's to a delicious new year! And as my sourdough pal Jay says, "bake on!"

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