Having a long vacation is nice, to say the least. Being able to look forward to as well as look back on so many first time experiences, one can take comfort in a flexible itinerary. Another aspect in marathon travel is the fact that of all the cities and places you visit, there are bound to be some duds. I won't name them, but some of the towns we've visited on this trip have downright sucked. For whatever reason: the people were rude, everything was closed (which happens a lot in Europe), food options were lacking, a general underwhelming vibe, or maybe one or both parties was suffering from travel fatigue; it's to be expected that there will be relatively low points in the midst of a highlight of one's life.
One such dip struck me before Thanksgiving. My instagram feed was blowing up with everybody making pies, yet I was staying in budget accommodation with no oven (or heating). I was also feeling guilty that I had finally had the chance to spend time back home with my family for Thanksgiving, but I chose to travel in the opposite direction. Oh well, whatever. Don't feel too sorry for me, cuz I'm still on vacay!
With Thanksgiving recently passed and Christmas quickly nearing, my urge to get back into the kitchen has never been so strong. Not a professional kitchen, per se, but just the itch to make something sweet and comforting was starting to overwhelm me. Luckily, when we got to Burgundy, we scored big time with the most amazing AirBnB with basically the most perfect and functional country kitchen ever. With a long wood countertop underneath a sunny window, I knew this would be my chance to get my hands moving again. On one of our afternoons out, I purchased an inexpensive digital scale to help me get the job done.
As soon as I could, I knew my first bake would have to be a pie to ease the pain from missing Turkey Day.
With the cold weather settling in, apple pie was all I wanted.
Having just a couple more days in this lovely kitchen, I got to work again on some soft white dinner rolls. You'd think I'd be happy eating baguettes and tasty French bread everyday, and I certainly was, but the kid in me wanted something more familiar. My grandmother would often bring home a pack of those sweet and airy Hawaiian rolls, and I'd end up easily munching half a pack after school and ruining my dinner as a consequence. Check out the slideshow below and the recipe at the bottom of this post.
Since we went out for dinner that night, we didn't actually eat our dinner rolls until the next day, where they made great little ham and cheese sandwiches!
Since I still hadn't gotten the baking bug out my system yet, and was loving working with any kind of dough again, I made another batch of the soft white bread and "babka-d" it. Yeah, I know everyone is making babka these days, and why not? They're delicious and you can make them as personal as you want. To fill mine, I remembered I bought a bag of pralines roses from Lyon a few days back, so they got crushed and rolled up into the babka along with more butter and some fall spices I had from making the apple pie. I was in love the color of the babka before and after the baking!
We sadly had to leave that incredible farmhouse kitchen (and the adorable cat) to move onto our next home in Alsace. The kitchen here is much more modern in feel, brand new and a cook's dream! Since our main focus for this area was to visit as many Christmas markets as I could handle, there wasn't much time left for baking. I did, however, come across something interesting in the local supermarket.
Cake batter in a bag! On the shelf (not refrigerated) and ready to bake cake batter... genius! Being a professional, I'm not normally one for packet mixes and ready made frostings, but this I had to try! The ingredients on the back label were standard cake components, with only a couple things I couldn't pronounce. I literally just emptied the bag into a baking dish and let it go in the oven. Out came a very decent, and pretty moist chocolate cake... expectations exceeded. I can't say for certain, but I don't think this kind of thing has hit the US market yet. Somebody get on this!
As promised, here's a recipe for those rolls from above. Please don't feel you need to use a mixer for this, because I certainly didn't.
SOFT WHITE ROLLS
makes 12 rolls or enough dough for one babka loaf
130 g warm milk
3 g dry yeast
1 medium egg
18 g sugar
6 g sea salt
30 g butter, cubed
250 g bread flour
more flour for kneading
melted, salted butter for brushing
In the bottom of a medium bowl, mix the milk and yeast with a fork. Stir in the sugar and salt, then add the butter. The butter will stay in cubes, but that's okay. Now dump the flour on top of the liquids and get the mix going a little with the fork. Once a shaggy dough forms, I get rid of the fork and start bringing everything together with my hands. Flour a board or bench and continue kneading dough until the butter is incorporated and the dough is smooth and not too sticky... I did this for about 3 or 4 minutes. Lightly oil the bowl you used to initially mix the dough (that should be fairly clean) and place in the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap or towel and allow to rest at room temp 1 hour.
Put this covered bowl in the fridge and chill overnight. Next morning, punch down and portion dough into twelve 30g pieces. Pre-shape, rest with towel covering them about 10 minutes, then shape again before putting in a buttered baking dish (I used a 10" pie plate). Cover again and allow to almost double in volume in a warm-ish place. Brush with butter before baking in a 375F oven for about 16 minutes. Brush again with buter and allow to cool. Great to eat the day of or the next day!