Sunday, June 6, 2010

Treasures From a Pit Stop Bakery

Just take a look at the size of this cinnamon roll.

Yes, it was pretty much the size of my head. This bun, along with biscotti and a delicious sourdough baguette were our treats in hand in Freestone California's amazing Wild Flour Bread Bakery. Thanks for a nice Santa Rosan, we were directed to visit the bakery on our way to the Sonoma coastline. The setting of Wild Flour Bakery is idyllic, with its vineyard meets redwoods setting, charming garden, goats, and a pony -- it doesn't get much more appealing than this.

When you walk into Wild Flour, it seems you are instantly in a throng of people vying for tea, coffee, and/or delicious baked goods. After checking it out on Yelp, I'm certain this place is always busy. When we walked in, we could smell the "green goat" scone they were baking that day, featuring goat cheese, figs, and herbs. The inside of the bakery is almost like a big barn (maybe it was a barn once?), the ceilings and walls are adorned with paintings of birds, as if they're flying around the place. The most noticeable is a massive bird swarm above the bakery's famous wood burning oven. In the public area, there's a large communal picnic table, clean restroom and views of the huge open baking area, the front of which is filled with bustling staff and owners to take your order. The energy of the bakery is great, even though it's a very busy place.

As shown in the picture, I couldn't resist a cinnamon bun, especially after smelling it. The thing weighed nearly 3lbs (maybe more!). We went outside to a bench to eat our goods and sip tea, saving the delicious sourdough baguette for a snack later in the afternoon. After I consumed maybe a fifth of that yummy bun, we moseyed around the garden and appreciated the flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Here's a peak of what it's like!

Definitely one of the best "pit stops" ever. Makes me wonder, should one even refer to this place as a pit stop to somewhere else? I happen to think it's a destination in and of itself. The baked goods are expertly made, the service is awesome, and the setting is magical. Truly special. If you happen to be in the Sonoma wine country, be sure to put this place on your list to check out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mini Red Velvet Cakes

For my Dad's recent birthday, I was tasked with picking up a red velvet cake from Costco. My mind immediately thought, "pssssh! I can make a red velvet cake!" I started to plot and plan my execution, and then I consulted my beloved and well, the whole plan went into the extraordinary realm (as things do with professionals who care deeply about what they're doing). I walked away from the adventure still claiming dear Dad would have wound up with cute cupcakes if it weren't for J.

Since I hadn't made red velvet cake before, I decided to look for a tried and true recipe variety so as to not risk having to try to bake and then have to buy a replacement "I failed" cake anyway. I settled on this cake recipe, from Epicurious, minus the berries.

J convinced me that mini cakes would be an unexpected delight for our party attendees. He was certainly right. Check these little cakes out:

I must admit, I cannot take credit for their cuteness, as I did little more than bake the actual cake and spread the frosting. The design, cake cutting and chocolate and cocoa decor was all done by my better half.

So the how to?

Quite simply, I followed the instructions in the epicurious recipe, with the exception of two things. Upon researching red "velvetiquette" it was clear that cream cheese was the favored frosting variety but the recipes really varied in the amount of chocolate involved. We decided to enhance our particular red velvet chocolatey-ness by adding a ganache layer between the stacked cakes instead of more cream cheese frosting. Not to be too chocolatey in the actual cake itself (and thus less red), I reduced the amount of cocoa in the cake batter recipe by half.

I baked the batter in a 9X12 cake pan, then popped the cake into the freezer to cool it quickly. We chose about a 4" circle cutter as our method for creating the small cake layers. This was somewhat tricky, so I left it to J to handle! If you embark on this task, just be patient and be prepared to trim tops and edges with a sharp serrated knife so they're even. Remember also that frosting can hide any minor imperfections!

Once the cakes were evened out we stacked each, 2 layers per cake, with a thin layer of ganache between the small circles. The ganache was a fantastic surprise to our recipients, and I'm wishing now I had a picture of the inside of the cakes but...they were gone so fast that the photo journalistic thought slipped my mind!

We spread the cream cheese frosting on the tops, sides, and J blew a "dusting" of cocoa all over the cakes and shaved dark chocolate for the tops. Each half of the cakes served up a hearty portion -- definitely a crowd pleaser. If you ever take this route just keep in mind the extra time involved in cutting the cakes out and determining how to transport them! The mini cakes are definitely worth it for a lasting impression but not your everyday "I baked you a cake" choice!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tired of Waiting on that Cold Stick of Butter?

I once read a tips and tricks section in Cooks Illustrated magazine that gave advice on how to deal with butter straight out of the fridge that is too cold and hard for creaming. One of the tips was to whack the stick of butter (put in a plastic bag for less mess) until it begins to bend a bit. In light of that advisement, I recently found myself amidst an urgent cookie making episode, so I thought I'd test something out.

What happens if I just add the stick of butter and let the paddle in the stand mixer beat the stick of butter? Voila! (Covers hand over mouth in shock at how quickly this worked) This was almost too easy to believe. Why hasn't anyone mentioned this find to me before? I am certain I'm not the first to use this method, but I thought I'd share it here at any rate. Maybe I'm even some idiot home bakestress who thinks this is a pretty cool discovery but all other bakemasters know about this already. Nevermind that, this discovery hit me as so revolutionary, I risk looking dumb for the sake of passing it along to perhaps one other forlorn baker waiting needlessly for that darn stick of butter to soften.

  1. Do not add sugar until the butter is softened for a few minutes. ( Learned this one the hard way, let's just say there was sugar spewing out of the mixer into my face, onto the counter... forget about your careful measuring)
  2. Run on a slow speed until the butter gets mixed into a few pieces. (large flying chunks of butter may just pop out of your mixer bowl! Refer to the above re: flying sugar)
  3. Beware cookie making now takes even less forethought, so you may wind up making them more. No more waiting for that stick of butter to soften up could lead to more hasty cookie baking decisions.
Other uses for this method include making butter spreadable for all sorts of yummy applications!