Author Archives: Aspiringsymmetry

The first boule


The avid admirer has become the artist! As an outspoken fan of bread and all things full of carbohydrates, I have taken my first attempt at the boule: I baked my first loaf of bread yesterday! It was a small, no-knead crusty white bread boule with many thanks to the people of King Arthur Flour.

According to Peter Reinhart of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the first stage (out of twelve) to bread baking is establishing mise en place. This concept translates to “everything in its place” in French and captures everything under the organization umbrella: Have you read — and more so, visualized — the recipe? Do you have all of your ingredients at hand? Is your baking area clean, clear and organized?

I have so often rushed into a project, bright-eyed and unprepared. The exhibits are so many: My first attempt a dulce de leche cake in 8th grade led to a soggy messy of dairy tribbling down my pants when I brought it to school, and my first mature attempt at a ceramic creation at one of those places where you get to paint your own plates and vases led to the tackiest rendition of polka dots on dinnerware man has ever seen. And most recently, I injured my knee as a too eager half marathon runner. But for this bread baking mission, I honed in on this idea of mise en place and did my research and did complete all twelve stages as Reinhart suggested (resisting my impatience every step along the way).

Both Reinhart and the numerous bakers of King Arthur Flour suggested the use of instant yeast as opposed to active dry yeast. I think that there is the same amount of effort between using active dry yeast versus instant yeast: While active dry yeast is much more commonly found in grocery stores, it requires an extra 10 minutes of proofing in a warm bowl of water to re-awaken the yeast before you mix it into your dough. On the other hand, instant yeast requires a bit more of a commercial hunt, but is ready to go without any proofing or waiting when you’re ready to prepare your bread dough. I went with some SAF Instant Yeast. This label was straightforward, but don’t be fooled by the various commercialized names for yeast: Yeast advertised as “bread machine” yeast is the same as instant yeast.

My bread took two days to create. On the first evening, I mixed the four of the ingredients together (unbleached bread flour, yeast, salt and water — how much simpler does it get?) and allowed the dough to rest at room temperature for slightly over two hours. By the end of this initial room temperature fermentation, the dough almost doubled in size! Good work, instant yeast! Then, I covered the dough bulk with some saran wrap and left it in the refrigerator over night to cool. The dough shrunk a bit, but still maintained the majority of its bulk.

On the second day, I dusted some flour on the top of the dough and pulled out what would eventually be the first boule!

The unbaked first boule!

To form a boule, a ball-shaped loaf of bread, I created surface tension on the top of the piece of dough by stretching and pulling opposite ends of the dough to a seal on the bottom of the ball. I didn’t test this out too much as I was wary of degassing the dough. Then I left the boule to proof for a final 45 minutes before baking.

A beautiful, yeasty matrix of carbohydrates!
A beautiful, yeasty matrix of carbohydrates!

Mise en place.
My mise en place.

In the final moments before this boule saw in the inside of the oven, I put a small metal tray on a rack about an inch below my bread rack. I cut four half-inch deep slits into my boule, slid it into the oven and carefully added some hot water to the metal tray in the lower rack. Steam ensued! I closed the oven door and waited 25 minutes.

Unbaked boule with slits.

And voila! The first boule!

The first boule!

Take a look at its insides!

The boule was a tad tangy, a bit like a mild sourdough. The crust was thick and neither crumbly nor rubbery. The insides, warm and the perfect base for some homemade apricot jam. Delicious. Even Gizmo, the dog I’ve been dog-sitting for the past two weeks, eyed me as I ate a slice. You can tell he was just waiting to dart after any stray, fallen crumbs. All in all, I’m very happy with my first attempt at bread baking.


With this blog post, I do not attempt to re-create the wheel. To bake your own simple, no-knead boule, heed to the trustworthy guidance of the fine people at King Arthur Flour and their recipe here. And now off to bake the second, third and fourth boules (or boule? Whatever the plural is!)!

Wintry weekend in Vancouver, BC

During my last visit home in December, Geoff and I took a short trip within a trip to Vancouver, BC. It was gray when we left Seattle and unsurprisingly, it was similarly cloudy in Vancouver when we arrived. But as Pacific Northwest-weathered individuals, overcast skies did nothing to deter our weekend!

I open with a couple of photos of downtown Vancouver from Stanley Park. This little lagoon was so calm, Vancouver’s skyline — glassy skyscraper after glassy skyscraper — mirrored symmetrically off the water’s surface.



A slight detour to the Vancouver Aquarium brought us to Prospect Park, on the northern tip of Stanley Park. Lions Gate Bridge to the east, West Vancouver (Geoff’s hometown!) to the west.



We spent the weekend eating (highlights: Savary Island Pie Co., Banana Leaf and a fantastic sushi place in West Vancouver that would make any land-locked Midwesterner salivate), seeing Geoff’s friends and perusing cookbooks authored by our favorite Canadian chef (despite his American birth, he remains elusive in the United States!). Happy times!

However, our first destination upon arriving was the Vancouver Aquarium. By the looks of this blog, it would appear that I’ve become a burgeoning aquarium enthusiast!




This little sea otter made for quite blurry series of portraits, but I was determined to capture this guy in a very Pokemon Snap! fashion.



And of course, an obligatory visit to a Tim Hortons. Fittingly sweet for a sweet weekend.


Easing a bad day with buttery pecan pralines


Happy new year, everyone! Sorry it’s been awhile. I went home to Seattle at the end of December to celebrate the holidays and have been settling back into the swing of things here in Illinois since I arrived back in early January. While at home, I spent a wonderful weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia and will have pictures to share very shortly!

The new year should bring positive tidings, no? The prospect of renewal and a promising blank slate certainly breeds optimism among many. But 2013, so far, has felt a bit trying, mostly thanks to my silly right knee. It was just my luck that the week after I registered for a half marathon in mid-December that my right knee began acting up, grinding and preventing me from going up and downstairs with normal ease. And unfortunately, my knee hasn’t seemed to improve since it originally began snapping, crackling and popping. Last night, my right knee popped more loudly than it ever had before and this morning, I woke up to my knee aching, swollen and warm. Needless to say, I’m incredibly frustrated today.

First thing tomorrow morning, I’m calling an orthopedic doctor to get my knee properly checked out for some peace of mind. But to alleviate my feeling of helplessness and frustration today, I turned to Joy the Baker‘s Cookbook and sought out the most sweet dessert I could find in the book. This cookbook, in the past, has been unfailingly curing on bad days (protip: her molten chocolate cakes stamp out homesickness like nothing else). Today feels like a bad day, but it’s certainly nothing that a ridiculous amount of sugar cannot turn around.

These pecan pralines are not only incredibly buttery and sweet, but also incredibly easy to make. When first sampled, approximately an hour after the pecan praline mix was taken off the stove, these pralines were still soft. No teeth clenching or aching jaws from eating these here (and you can trust that many have already been “sampled”)! I’m thinking that these would hold up well in the mail and make for good birthday or holiday dessert packages.


Pecan pralines from Joy the Baker Cookbook

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups pecans, halved
3 tbsps unsalted butter

Prepare a cooling surface for the pralines by lining two or three baking sheets with parchment paper. Set these aside. In a saucepan on the stove set at medium heat, mix together brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and heavy cream. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring frequently. Once boiling, lower the heat to a low-medium setting and stir until mixture is bubbling slightly and thoroughly mixed. Add butter and pecans and stir until butter has completely melted. Leave mixture to simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, take your saucepan off the heat and let the mixture to cool for 15 minutes before spooning tablespoon-sized pralines onto your baking sheets. Allow pralines to cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from baking sheets. Makes approximately 30 pecan pralines.

May your 2013 be off to a wonderful start!

A rainy morning apple tart


It’s terribly dark and rainy outside, good fodder for a morning of All Songs Considered and baking something deliciously sweet.

This morning, I turned to the simplest apple tart on Smitten Kitchen. From my narrow perspective on the internet, Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen is my gold standard for what food blogging is. Not only are her photos beautiful, but more significantly, her recipes are sturdy for a novice baker (like myself). Baking is an exercise in precision, so when I find a recipe that allows me to fudge tablespoons or substitute ingredients without consequences of the bland flavor or concerning texture varieties, I’m hooked. And on several occasions, Smitten Kitchen’s recipes have successfully allowed such freedom with tasty results. (Though I would never repeat lemon bars with whole wheat flour, not that it tasted bad at all, it just throws the whole vision of luscious lemon curd on a pale pastry out the window.)

I closely followed Smitten Kitchen’s apple tart recipe today, though I decided to not refrigerate my dough as this was my pending breakfast. It was absolutely delicious and light: I ate a quarter of the tart for breakfast!


Simplest apple tart, from Smitten Kitchen

For the pate brisee
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut up
3 1/2 tbsp cold water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. When well combined, add in butter and mix until butter chunks are pea-sized. Slowly add water until the dough can hold itself in a ball. At this point, you should shape the dough into a thick disc and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, until cool. Afterward, roll out dough until very thin — about 1/8 inches thick, according to Smitten Kitchen. Lay sheet of dough out in your dish of choice (I went with my favorite porcelain tart dish, but you could probably use a conventional 9-inch pie dish or on a baking sheet and carefully seal the filling in your galette). Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set pate brisee aside.

For the filling
2 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar

Peel, core and thinly-cut apples. Save these scraps for a glaze. Keep slices close together and place and fan out slices in the pate brisee. My strategy here was to first populate the perimeter of the tart and then move inside. I also cut up some oddly shaped slices to fill in gaps of previously misshaped slices. Fold over extra dough hanging off the outside of the dish towards the inside of the tart. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake tart for 45-50 minutes, making sure to turn the tart around in the oven every 15 minutes or so. The tart will be done when the crust has darkened to a golden brown and apples have softened. When done, take out to cool for 15 minutes.

For the apple glaze
1/2 cup sugar
Remaining apple peels and cores

In a pot, combine sugar, remaining apple peels and cores and enough water to barely cover apple scraps. Simmer for 25 minutes and check back regularly to make sure the liquid has just turned into a syrup and is not burning. Either strain apple pieces out of syrup or carefully spoon just syrup out of the pot. After the tart has cooled for at least 15 minutes, brush apple glaze on tart.

Ending fall on a few pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

We’re seeing an atypically warm weekend for December, here in Chicago. According to my weather widget, the current temperature is 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and trust me when I say that I thought I wouldn’t experience any day this warm until next March at the earliest. During a walk with a friend today, I set my peacoat aside in favor of a lighter vest to keep myself warm outside and even that felt a bit too heavy! So in honor of the prototypically autumnal — and certainly not wintry — weather today, I squeezed the very last of fall out of my kitchen and baked something pumpkin.


Pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, very slightly adapted from a cup of mascarpone

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 can of pumpkin (15 oz.)
1 3/4 rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, white sugar, brown sugar and salt. Once well-mixed, add butter, and once that is well-mixed, add the pumpkin and egg. Fold in oats and chocolate chips. Press plastic wrap such that it tightly covers the dough and cool mixture in refrigerator for an hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon dough onto baking sheet and make sure to leave at least an inch and half between cookies. Bake for 15-16 minutes. Recipe produces approximately 32 cookies.



Sweet, light and fluffy. A bit like my vest. I do have to note that these do not need to be covered to stay good. They are extremely moist, on account of all of the pumpkin, and make for a great breakfast cookie!