Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Good Reason to Measure

I have a kitchen, I have an oven! What else is there to do now but join the Daring Bakers!

Ok, this may not be the first reaction of everyone, but I do really love baking, and having been without an oven for a year I now am ready to leap into a group that all bakes the same recipe in the same month (that usually is a bit more advanced than we're used to) and share the results (unfortunately only in electronic form).

So this month is a danish braid. What is a danish braid? Well just follow along.

First, preparation of the filling. It can be anything as long as it tastes good with bread. Yes, that is quite a lot of things.

For me, it is two kinds of pineapple. The white kind is sweet and soft and you even eat the core. The yellow kind, the kind we eat in the States, it tarter and has a woodier core. Nicaraguans won't eat it, they puree it, strain it, add sugar and have it as a juice.

This mixture also has freshly grated ginger (much easier to come by than the powder here).

Then, you make the dough, fill it and bake it. Ok, it's not quite that easy, but the directions are in the recipe below.

I also sprinkled sugar on top that I bought from workers who boiled it from cane juice in little shed in the cane fields. It's sweet, but has an additional molasses-y flavor as well.

It was definitely a challenge to make, my first attempt went to the dogs (literally, with pork inside too, going for a Hawaiian danish) and so I bought myself a liter measuring cup. I still have to estimate between the lines, but it's more exact than eyeing measurements as they go into the bown as I've been doing for everything up until now.

In the end, I was pretty happy with the result, but since I had to extend the refrigerator chilling time to 1 hour each turn, as well as work only early in the morning when it was cooler, I probably won't be making this again for awhile.

But I highly recommend it!

From The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard

Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.


Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see above)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Meet Susie the Bully! (Ok, Not Really)

This is Susie. She belongs to the house I rent.

This is Susie and Amelia playing. Ok, this is mostly Amelia playing and Susie nicely playing along. After all, Susie is an adult, and Amelia is only 3 months old (almost 4!).

They have matching collars (because Amelia got to big for her last one and she destroyed Susie's by chewing on it so much.)!

Things change a bit, however, when we head to the beach. Susie shows Amelia how it really is, in the nicest way possible of course!

Yes, dog blogging is what my life has come to. But having moved into a house my life is consumed by normal things... and I'm reveling in it. I'm just having a hard time feeling like it's interesting enough to post about.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shark Ceviche and Cooking with Acid

Okay, okay, it's not quite as dramatic as all that. The sharks are actually on the small side (look! two fit on my cutting board together!) and Roberto's mother gave them to us (what can be more innocent than groceries from a mother!).

As for the acid, well, that's a long known cooking method of curing meats with citrus juices and the classic ceviche way of rendering something scary (nicaraguan raw fish), a little less scary.

1 lb shark (or whatever fish you prefer), shrimp or crab
1 cp chopped peppers
1 cp chopped onion
1/2 cp chopped cilantro

Simply chop fish into small pieces and cover with lime juice for 24 hours. After the fish is done 'cooking' add finely chopped peppers and onion. Chop cilantro and mix all together with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on crackers, or some people simply eat it with a spoon!

And yes! It really is that simple!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An American Store in Rivas

Or at least it's MY kind of American store!

To give you an idea of how much I like shopping for new pants, the last pair I bought was almost a year and a half ago. But when one of the few pairs I have ripped a couple weeks ago, I couldn't really deny it any more.

On top of not really liking the process much in general, I had the challenge knowing that I was in no way shaped like the majority of Latin American women (I'm going to spare you the description, just believe me), so I had no idea how many stores and how many hot stuffy fitting rooms I was going to have to subject myself to.

We hit store #1, store #2, store #3 (where I bought a pair of shorts that are a US brand! But still not what I needed). And then miracle of miracles. Roberto casually mentions that up those stairs is a used clothing store, we could just go to see what they have.

Heaven! Well, at least relatively so!

The only thing missing was air conditioning!

Rack upon racks of cheap American used clothing! I've heard debates about how free clothes donations from the US can devastate local clothing manufacturers in developing countries (regular pants will cost around $15 to $20, shipping costs for free clothes from the US much less), but at the moment, I didn't care.

I just walked out on cloud nine with my $3 Old Navy cargo pants.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sunrise over Ometepe Island

One advantage of the new house is my view first thing in the morning. I'll admit I wish the temperature didn't jump 10 degrees the moment the sun hits the house, but on mornings like this, it's worth it. (Even at 5 AM).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Losing Money Every Moment

I have a little 401(k) from where I worked before I came to NPH. Like everyone else's in the last year, it hasn't done so hot. But, I have the advantage that I won't be using it for over thirty more years. So I can afford to let it sit and hopefully someday that compound interest magic that is so heavily touted will kick in.

"Inflacion llega al 5% en tres meses"
"Inflation reaches 5% in three months"

Here in Nicaragua, when you put your money in the bank, or keep it in your hand, or watch your salary on paper, it's buying power does something different. It goes down. And not just a little.

Granted Nicaragua isn't experiencing those soaring interest rates of 36,000% that it experienced during the war with the US during the 1980's. But they shouldn't be, Nicaragua isn't a war torn ravaged country, at the moment, and they've worked hard not to be.

So every month we watch prices of food, gasoline, rebar, concrete, all the same items citizens of the US are worried about tick up in price too, but at a rate about 4% faster annually than in the US (using the rate that the cordoba has fallen against the dollar).

As you can imagine, it's hitting us a little hard on the construction. Between that and the minimum wage hike of 20% in February by the government, it's not easy.

We've talked through several changes in the house plan that wouldn't affect functionality with the contractor who built the last four. But even with these changes, his hope is to not have to charge us any more on the next group than he did on the last. And unfortunately he's not the only contractor telling us so.

But we're not giving up. We're simplifying. Being creative. As the Nicaraguan people have done for a long long time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Laundry Day!

It's the little things, right?

Like enjoying laundry (or at least that it's finished!).

Laundry on Ometepe Island

On Ometepe Island, you can see the women gathered along the shore at permanent washing stands with little roofs for shade!

The beach in San Jorge

On the mainland side of the lake at the beach in San Jorge, the same story plays out with people coming to wash both their own clothes as well as clothes of others for pay.

And my version, where for health (allergies, to be general) and laziness (I think I have a few better things to do), I have a machine to wash the clothes (or at least spin them around in soapy water) and dry the clothes (or at least spin them around to lessen the amount of water).

Then I hang them to dry in the beautiful garden (and a room inside when it's raining) and there you have it, clean laundry (or at least more clean, the lack of hot water and real washing machine always makes me doubt)!

Then all you have to do is unplug the washing machine from its extension cord to the kitchen, drain it through a hose you got from the shed down the stairs outside, move the machine back to its place, mop up and make sure the laundry outside dries before it's rained on. Simple! More or less. But a whole lot better than washing by hand!