Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread: It’s no Sour Dough but…

Quite some time ago I decided it would be a good idea for me to learn to bake bread. I certainly wasn’t a baker back then so can’t say I know why. Seems to me, the last time I looked there was plenty of the stuff on the shelves of my local grocer. Besides, nothing compares to walking into your local patisserie and getting accosted by the heavenly aromas of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. Hearty whole wheats, delectable sourdoughs, crusty baguettes and chewy ryes. The biggest problem is choosing which one to take home. Knowing all of this didn’t prevent me however, from enrolling in a “how to bake bread” course offered through my very favourite kitchen shop. It wasn’t a long course. Just three hours. So I was in no way under the misconception that I would become proficient at the task. What I did figure is that I would come home with enough enthusiasm to put together a loaf or two. Which, somehow, I never did. No fault of the course. It was fine and dandy. But I had a fear.

Yeast. I don’t know about you but there’s something about yeast that scares me. I’ve thought lots about this but it’s kinda hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that yeast needs to come alive in my kitchen. Not that I have never eaten anything that was once alive. The thing is, typically by the time I have to deal with it, it’s not. Yeast is a totally different story. Apparently it becomes my responsibility to activate it, at which point it will “start eating the sugar and fermenting into alcohol and carbon dioxide”*. I don’t know. It just seems a little creepy to have an organism that does that right before my very eyes. Which is why I hesitated to add bread to my baking repertoire. That is, until I discovered an alternative. And not such a bad one at that. 

As I often do, I’ll digress for a moment. If you’ve been reading my blog(s) for some time, you already know quite a bit about me. What you may not know is, I don’t drink. Well perhaps I should be more precise. I don’t drink alcohol. No reason in particular. Certainly no moral imperative. I just don’t. Not that I never did. But I don’t now. Can’t say whether that’s good or bad but I do know one thing. The fact that I no longer imbibe has pretty much left me in the dark about spirits in general. Ask me to pick you up a good scotch at your own peril. I readily admit that I can’t tell the difference between whiskey and rye and as far as I’m concerned vodka and gin might as well be one in the same as they are both just clear liquids to me. Southern Comfort? Well I do know a little something about that but, from what I can recall, most of you don’t care. Nor, quite frankly, should you. When asked if I prefer white, red or rose I can confidently say all have caused me to have monumental headaches in the past so it’s all the same to me. And the last beer I had cost two bits and was delivered in a glass with a “fill line”. 

But back to the issue at hand. I was pretty excited to find this recipe for Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread. For some reason it was remarkably comforting for me to know that whatever needed to happen to the yeast had already been accomplished in the making of the beer.  My problem? Finding a Guinness. Now I’m guessing you know this, but the world of beer has expanded exponentially since the last time I found myself picking up a two-four (linked provided for my American friends). To say I was taken aback during my first foray into my local purveyor of spirits would be an understatement! Who knew? Well you did but I did not and so it was that I found myself back on the sidewalk empty handed having been utterly confused by the enormous selection of ales. Pale, IPA, Stouts, Crafts, Canadian, German, Irish. How the heck was I supposed to find a Guinness amongst all of those bottles and cans? To make what is already a long story shorter, suffice to say I enlisted my trusty partner to go in and find me a Guinness. Any Guinness. After all. I wasn’t going to drink it. I was finally going to make bread.

Bottom line. I know.  It’s no sour dough, but it is a bread. And for a non-baker like me, a pretty good one at that. No kneading. No proofing. No waiting. Just throw everything in a bowl, mix it up and toss it (carefully) in the oven. With very little effort it can be on your table, in all it’s cheesy glory, in a little over an hour.  Best of all, you don’t have to make anything come alive. 

Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread

The Recipe: Prep time undisclosed
Me: Prep time: 31 minutes; Cook time: 41 minutes
Favourite thing about the recipe: No yeast!
Least favourite thing: Finding a Guinness
Lesson Learned: Even someone like me, who is definitely not a baker, can bake bread

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*https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-proof-yeast-1388313

Banana Sour Cream Loaf: Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

It’s just the way it is. There are times, no matter how hard you try, or think you might like to try, when you really have very little choice about what you can do. Like now. How many of us would like to be doing whatever it was we were doing around the beginning of March? I mean who doesn’t want to go outside? Or have a little dinner party with a few close friends. Or never again have to hear “it’s the new normal” when you weren’t aware there was an “old normal”? But right now for the sake of all of us, we simply have no choice but to stay in, eat on our own, and resign ourselves to the distinct possibility that the next time we Zoom, someone will inevitably utter that dastardly phrase and you will resolve, when this whole thing is over, and all of the commercials tell me that one day it will be, that you will never, not ever, allow anyone to tell you what’s normal, be it old or new. Yes, I digress, but I felt I needed to illustrate why it was that I made this Banana Sour Cream loaf. It was, simply, because I had no other choice. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like a decent slice of banana bread every once in a while. But that’s not why I chose this specific recipe. It wasn’t even the two overripe bananas sitting on my counter that were quickly reaching the point of no return. Nope. What motivated me to search out this particular treat was the approximately half cup of sour cream left over from some other baking exploit of the past few weeks which was more quickly than I realized, approaching its best before date. Which might not be a problem in some homes but it certainly is in ours. I suppose I should explain.

A long, long time ago in a land so far away there was a young lad that worked in a cheese factory. And while it was a good job with the added benefit of all the free cheese one could reasonably eat, as the sun set on each day this lad found himself smack dab in the middle of a very large vat that earlier in the day had held, you guessed it, sour cream. Unfortunately, it was the job of this Cinderfella to ensure that not a speck of cream lingered, lest some tiny critters find their way in to feast on the remains. And so it was that he toiled away at this rather distasteful, yet very important task, with nary a thought of the consequence. At least not at the time. 

Now you might only be able to imagine what it would be like to find yourself in this situation, but since I know this fella quite well I can tell you, from countless hours of hearing about it, that this experience can lead to a distinct dislike of sour cream. Just the smell of it seems to be enough to set off an endless stream of stories recounting those days in the vat. And so it is, when sour cream comes into this house, and let me say it very rarely does, the only way for it to exit is in disguise. It must find a way to leave the premises with not even the tiniest hint of its heretofore existence. And there you have it. As you can plainly see I had no choice but to make this Banana Sour Cream loaf. Luckily for all of us, no one was the wiser.

Ok. I know exactly what you real bakers are thinking. You’re thinking, “why the heck doesn’t she just use plain yogurt instead of sour cream? That way she can avoid the problem altogether!” This is a new blog and many of you have just joined so I get that you might not yet completely understand where I’m coming from. Let me just say this once again. Even though you know, and deep down in my heart I know, that yogurt makes perfectly good sense, I am not a baker. And because of that, I make no substitutions. Yeah. You probably noticed, or soon enough will, that I added nuts to the recipe. Technically that’s an addition not a substitution but nonetheless deserves an explanation. So Mel, this is Mel’s recipe, kind of left a door open when she mentioned there’s a banana bread controversy which has divided aficionados into two camps. Those who add nuts and those who don’t. Far be it from me to take sides. I had some so I threw them in. 

BTW…If I do say so myself, it was delish!

Sour Cream Banana Bread (from Mel)
The Recipe: Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 1 hour; Total: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Me: Prep time: 37 minutes; Cook time: 1 hour; Total: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: In the comments someone actually explained that the darker brown colour (as opposed to light) was a result of the Maillard reaction. It was heartwarming to learn there are actually people who know all about that!  Not to mention you can make the whole thing in one bowl.
Least favourite thing: The instructions could have been a little more precise.
Lesson learned: There’s a video! I suggest you watch it before putting the loaf in the oven. Would have helped with the instructions for sure. 

 

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Morning Glory Muffins: What the heck is Red Fife flour?

This was never meant to be an ordinary baking blog. I don’t have any nostalgic stories about how I spent my childhood learning the “ins and outs” of baking from my dear, departed Grandmother, or recalling the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen as I came through the door, tired and hungry, looking for just a little respite after a difficult and busy day at school. Real bakers have stories like that. I don’t. I come from a long line of non-bakers which doesn’t mean I didn’t have cookies. I did. They just came from the store. And I have stories too. They’re just a little different. So here goes nothing. I am not a baker and this is my story.  

I was pretty excited when Jed from “Cook Culture, one of my fav shops in downtown Victoria, sent me (well not only me) a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins with no coconut bits included. I can’t tell you why or when, but at some point I decided I really don’t like coconut bits and since many MG muffins seem to include them, I have given most a pass, opting instead for blueberry, apple, banana, rhubarb, nuts, well just about anything else. This no coconut recipe originated with “Flourist”(formerly known as Grains), a Vancouver shop that specializes in fresh milled grains. I suppose that should have been my first clue when I noticed the recipe required something called Sifted Red Fife flour. Not only that, it also listed just plain old Red Fife flour. So there I was. Desperately wanting to try my hand at these muffins all the while wondering, what the heck was Red Fife flour? Sifted or not. 

As a non-baker my familiarity with flour comes primarily from that well-known fella who lives in the forest and robs the rich to give to the poor. Varieties, as far as I was concerned, included white, whole wheat, pastry, and bread although, truth be told,  my pantry most frequently housed “all-purpose” because after all, how can you go wrong with something that works for everything? Little did I know there was a whole new world of grains out there just waiting for me to discover. My search for Red Fife started on the internet. I soon found out that Red Fife is a heritage flour, arriving in Canada in 1842, and considered to be the oldest wheat variety in this country of ours. Unbeknownst to me, and I’m guessing many of you, Red Fife has enjoyed a resurgence in Canada when, in 1988, Sharon Rempel planted half a pound of the seed and by 2007 over 500 tons a year were being harvested. Trust me. There’s nothing you can’t learn from the world wide web, or from this blog.

Ok. So now that I knew what it was I had to figure out where to get it. I started with my new friend Jed who kindly responded to my rather frantic email with some possible local suppliers and next thing I know I found myself at a tiny little sustainable grocers where the lovely store owner explained that I had to mill the little bag of grain I found on their shelves into the flour I was seeking. Really? I’m not even a baker and now I’m grinding wheat into flour? Suffice to say I left that store with a rather small but pricey bag of freshly ground, Red Fife flour which, my kind shopkeeper explained, was definitely not sifted. Which means I’m only halfway there. 

Sure seems it never rains but it pours. So I’m COVID-19 shopping online at my local bulk store and what do you think I find as I scroll down their very comprehensive list of stuff I need to order by the gram? That’s right. Red Fife flour. Now I know deep down in my heart that this is likely not the sifted variety but since I have pretty much otherwise exhausted my search I decide to add a few hundred grams to my list, sight unseen. Picking up my order I’m not too surprised, but perhaps slightly dismayed to discover my new bag of flour looks exactly the same as my old one. And since I was assured that my old bag was not sifted the only plausible conclusion was neither was this.

Now you and I both know I am not in the habit of making any recipe substitutions but I really wanted to make these muffins and without a “Plan B” finally came to the conclusion that for better or worse, I was going to have to make due with only one kind of Red Fife flour. Then, just when I’m ready to throw caution to the wind, this happens. Not at the specialty health food store. Not at the bulk store and not at the “grind my own grain” store but at my very ordinary grocery store where I quite unexpectedly stumbled upon a small, but as you can imagine, expensive bag of sifted, Red Fife flour. I could hardly contain my excitement and without even a moment’s pause added my new found treasure to what was very quickly becoming a rather ample, and costly supply of Red Fife. No matter. As Mr. Cruise would say, mission accomplished.

Morning Glory Muffins. Worth the trouble and expense? You better believe it!
My suggestion? Give yourself lots of extra time.

Here’s how it went for me. With a fancy schmancy slide show. 

Morning Glory Muffins
The Recipe: Prep time 15 minutes; Cook time 23 minutes; Total 38 minutes
Me: Prep time 60 minutes; Cook time 25 minutes; Total 1 hour 25 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: When you set the quantity you are making, the recipe automatically adjusts the ingredients. No math required!
Least Favourite thing: Zesting
Lesson Learned: Never store coconut oil in the fridge!

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Let’s Get this Bun in the Oven

Here’s how I see it. There are real bakers who love to bake. If you are lucky, one of them is your friend. These people know everything there is to know about baking. It’s like they were born in a kitchen, however unlikely that might be. Recipes? Who needs one! Measure? Not in these kitchens. They simply know what to do. For real bakers, baking is an art and a science. The most beautiful and delectable creations emerge from their ovens. They are masters of their craft. And just so you don’t underestimate them, you should also know they understand the chemistry of baking. Their vocabulary includes terms like “protein bonding” and “maillard reactions”. The “magic of leavening agents” is no mystery to them. They are aware of the difference between baking soda and baking powder and have a firm grasp on how yeast, when added to dough, “feeds on starches producing sugars, alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts”*. Ask them, on the spur of the moment, to whip up a Mille-Feuille and they’ll reach into that fridge of theirs and pull out the citrusy yuzu cream they keep on hand in anticipation of this very request. Most of us are not these people but if you are, this new blog of mine probably won’t cut into your baking time. 

Then there are those who are not bakers and don’t have even the teeniest desire to be one. I freely acknowledge that used to be me so on this one, I know from where I speak. Non-bakers, as I have chosen to call them, have the local patisserie on speed dial for that dreaded moment when the neighbor, in her most neighbourly way says, “Let’s all get together on Monday for a chit chat. And hey! Bring a little something for us to nosh on”. They know that on “muffin day” they will make a valiant, but alas failed attempt to provide homemade goodies, ultimately requiring a late night trip to the grocers in the vain hope of finding a couple dozen muffins, with no trace of peanuts, that can be pawned off on a bunch of 6 year olds as something that has recently emerged from the oven. They are the first to sign up for crackers and cheese at the office potluck. Non-bakers have mastered the art of disguise with their stockpile of fancy cake plates and heritage (looking) cookie tins all at the ready to replace those nasty aluminum pans in which oh so many store bought goodies are packaged. Not wanting to outright lie, they simply smile and politely nod when complimented on their treats, deflecting any requests for recipes with some long winded story about promises to a great great grandmother, and all subsequent women in the family, to safeguard these most treasured of family secrets. I can’t tell you what non-bakers do with all the spare time they must have, but I’m guessing they won’t be interrupting whatever it is to read this blog. 

Finally there are people like me, and hopefully at least a few of you. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I transitioned from not baking to baking but I can tell you that when I bought my first KitchenAid stand mixer in a lovely cerulean blue primarily to add a pop of colour to my kitchen, I had no idea it was the quintessential baker’s tool. I mean I had a lovely new kitchen with tons of counter space so, why not? Little did I know how soon my life would change. Was it the first batch of rugelach? The banana nut bread with dates? Can’t say but somewhere along the line my life turned upside down, (although not like COVID-19 upside down). Except for one thing. Even though I bake, I am not a baker. And if that confuses you, let me explain. I know nothing about baking. Shall I repeat? Nothing. I don’t know why I add baking soda rather than baking powder or what will happen if my eggs are not at room temperature when I add them to the mix. I can never figure out why dry and wet ingredients have to be mixed in separate bowls even though, in the end, they end up together. And yeast, quite frankly, scares the heck out of me. As a result, I just do what I am told. Recipes are my bible. Measuring spoons and cups my trusty companions. If there’s a baking pan or cookie sheet that self-proclaims “best in its class” and promises I will never again be faced with an unevenly baked loaf, you’ll find it in my baking drawer. Yes, I have a baking drawer. 

You might be asking yourself at this stage of the game, why would someone like me decide to write a baking blog?  Well there are a couple of good reasons the least of which is that even I, the self-professed “shallow gal”, have to admit it’s a tad difficult to come up with ideas for “Shallow Be My Name” these days. Don’t worry. For my small but loyal following I’ll keep writing that blog too, just not quite as frequently. Although I can’t really blame that on the new normal as my old normal was pretty sporadic too. More importantly however, I thought it might be useful for me to share what I like to call the “truth about baking”. You see, for real bakers everything goes pretty much the way it should. For me, and maybe for you, not so much. Let’s face it. We both know that a recipe suggesting a prep time of 15 minutes means setting aside a good hour, perhaps and a half, to get oven-ready. And speaking of ovens, if I were to preheat when told I’d likely be able to roast a chicken as I work on mixing and stirring my little loaf. And you have to know when my recipe calls for Red Fife flour I will scour the city to find it because in my kitchen, there are no substitutes allowed. And that’s the difference between me and a real baker. They know what I don’t. 

This blog is about that. What really happens when we bake. The good, the bad and the ugly. Edible and inedible. With pics. So, without further ado and, as they say in the biz, let’s get this bun in the oven!

Almost forgot. If you are so inclined, feel free to follow/subscribe to the blog. I’d love to have you along for the ride. 

*https://sciencing.com/chemical-reactions-that-occur-during-baking-12731635.html