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Archive for March, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: How To Keep Bread Fresh Longer

In the old days, bread was baked without preservatives and Grandma kept the leftover bread in a metal or wood “bread box” on the kitchen counter (our grandmother’s looked like this).

Did it help the bread stay fresh? Not really, although historically, it did help to keep mice away in homes that had critters (not Nana’s home, of course).

While there are some airtight plastic bread boxes today, the box is still full of air, a staunch enemy of baked goods.

Fresh-baked bread begins to lose moisture in a continuous process known as starch retrogradation, a hardening of the starch molecules as the water that was absorbed during baking begins to dry out. Without preservatives, a loaf of bakery bread will harden to the point of staleness in 24 to 48 hours.

Toasting, microwaving or otherwise reheating bread brings back some moisture—briefly—because the hot bread reabsorbs some moisture.

If you buy branded supermarket breads, they typically contain preservatives that retard starch retrogradation and mold growth for three weeks or more.

For all-natural bakery breads, made without preservatives, we rely on bread storage bags.

 

It’s moist and delicious today, but what about two days from now? Photo courtesy KingArthurFlour.com.

 

  • We’ve had great success with Bread Armor Debbie Meyer bread bags.
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    MORE TIPS FOR KEEPING BREAD FRESH LONGER

    Short-Term Solution: Airtight Plastic Bags

    If you’ll eat the bread within two or three days, keep it in an airtight plastic bag on the counter. By day three it may need some freshening in the microwave (5-10 seconds), or you can toast it.

  • If you have an unsliced loaf, keep it that way and cut slices as needed.
  • Some breads, like baguettes, go stale very quickly and won’t last until the third day. If you have excess bread, secure it in plastic bags (cut into shorter lengths as necessary) and toss it in the freezer.
  • Or, you can let it go stale and use it to make bread crumbs. Pulverize chunks of bread in the food processor.
  • Or make bread pudding, bread salad, French toast or fondue—recipes that were invented to use up stale bread.
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    Breads that are enriched with dairy, eggs or sugar stay fresh longer, as those ingredients both trap moisture and interfere with starch retrogradation.

    Longer-Term Solution: Freeze It (In Airtight Plastic Bags)

    Freezing prevents the growth of mold and stops starch retrogradation. You can store bread, bagels, baguettes—almost any bread—in the freezer for a couple of months.

    While bread will keep frozen longer than that, it’s one of the first foods to pick up unwanted flavors from a less-than-pristine environment.

  • Sliced frozen bread can be quickly restored to room temperature in the microwave—one of the advantages of freezing bread in slices.
  • Half or whole loaves can be thawed in the microwave to the point where you can slice off what you need. Then, reheat it, toast it or allow it to come to room temperature.
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    How Many Different Types Of Bread Have You Had?

    Check out our photo-filled Bread Glossary.

      

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    VIDEO: Alton Brown’s Secret Ham Crust

     

    Contemplating how to cook the Easter ham? Consider Alton Brown’s favorite way, with his grandmother’s “secret” ham crust recipe.

    The secret is now out of the bag: brown sugar, mustard, bourbon and pulverized ginger snap cookies.

  • Brush on a layer of mustard (we prefer deli-style or Dijon)
  • Pat on a layer of brown sugar
  • Spritz bourbon in a spray bottle (we repurposed a small pump spray, instead of the large one Alton uses in the video)
  • Pat on a layer of ginger snap cookie crumbs
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    Watch Alton do it!

       

       

  • Want a different ham crust? Take a look at these ham glaze recipes.
  • How much do you know about ham? Here are the different types and cuts.
  • Take our Ham Trivia Quiz.
  • After tasting 20 “gourmet” hams, our favorite hams.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Adjust Your Oven Racks

    Ever wonder why recipes specify that you bake your item on the top, bottom or middle rack?

    Most items bake evenly in the middle of the oven.

    When it’s important to brown the bottom of the food—like a fruit pie where the crust can get soggy—the lower rack is required. It puts the pan or baking sheet closer to the heat source, on the bottom of the oven.

    Conversely, if you want more browning on the top—a meringue topping, for example—place the pan on the top rack. The meringue will brown without heating the fruit curd underneath.

    If you want to bake two cake pans at once, advises Lauren Chattman, author of The Baking Answer Book, two nine-inch pans can be placed side by side. But for even baking, you’ll need to rotate them after the cakes begin to set.

    With cookie sheets, you can place one on the bottom and one on the top, rotating them midway. Advises Lauren, “I recommend this only for items like cookies that require a relatively short baking time. With longer-baking items, the risk of burning is greater and not worth the savings on time.”

     

    A meringue-topped pie needs to be baked on
    the top rack of the oven. H.D. Connelly | Dreamstime.

     

    These directions don’t apply to convection ovens, which have an even circulation of air that avoids hot spots and cold spots of traditional ovens.

    Find our favorite cake and cookie recipes.

      

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    PRODUCT: Biscoff Spread, Now In Crunchy

    Biscoff spread sweetens a bagel. Photo
    courtesy Lotus Bakeries.

     

    One of our favorite products of 2011 was Biscoff Spread, a creamy, all-natural bread spread that looks like peanut butter but is actually made of ground Biscoff cookies and is nut-free. (Read our review.)

    Now, a crunchy version is rolling out across the U.S., at Central Market, Cost Plus World Market, The Fresh Market, Market Basket, Schnucks, Shop Rite, Walmart, Wegmans and Winn-Dixie. We even saw a private label brand at Trader Joe’s, called “Cookie Spread.”

    Crunchy Biscoff Spread takes the original creamy caramel spread delight and adds chunks of caramelized Biscoff cookies. The combination of creamy and crunchy is even better than the original. Imagine the possibilities:

  • Crunchy Biscoff Spread on toast or on pancakes and waffles
  • Luscious frosting layers or fillings in cakes and cupcakes
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  • A filling for cookie sandwiches—and of course, regular sandwiches and tea sandwiches, with or without some apple slices
  • Just licked off the spoon
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    Biscoff Spread Creamy is available at Central Market, Cost Plus World Market, The Fresh Market, Giant Carlisle, Giant Landover, Hannaford, Kroger, Market Basket, Safeway, Schnucks, Shop Rite, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Wegmans, and Winn-Dixie and others, as well as through Biscoff’s website.

    A complete list of retail locations is available at www.biscoff.com.

    Or, you can buy it online now.

    Find more of our favorite bread spreads: product reviews, recipes and more.

     

    Find it on your grocer’s shelf or online.

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Dessert Tea

    Have some dessert tea: with dessert or
    instead of it. Photo courtesy TeaForte.com.

     

    Many people enjoy a cup of tea with dessert. But what exactly is dessert tea?

    Dessert tea is a relatively new addition to the tea repertoire. It sprouted up with the green tea and white tea push a decade ago. Many non-tea drinkers wanted the antioxidant benefits of tea but didn’t like the taste of plain green and white tea (which don’t taste great with milk and sugar).

    So tea blenders started blending green tea, and then white tea, with any number of ingredients that provided flavor and a hint of sweetness: fruits and nuts; butterscotch, caramel and chocolate extracts; flowers (hibiscus, jasmine, rose, saffron); plus cinnamon, mint, vanilla and other flavorings.

    At a certain point, one producer saw these nearly-calorie-free flavored teas as appropriate for dessert or as a guilt-free sweet beverage; and “dessert teas” were born.

     

    Dessert teas are made with black, green, oolong, puer and white teas, and rooibos (herbal “red” tea). You can drink them with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time of day, plain or with milk and/or sugar.

    Flavored Teas Are As Old As “Tea”

    Dessert teas are seen as expanding the tea-buying market by appealing to the non-tea-drinker with mass-appeal flavors common in soft drinks and flavored lattes. The concept is not new—only the name and the marketing of the tea for “dessert.”

    Since the dawn of man-made fire and vessels, teas were steeped from many barks, berries, leaves and roots. Before tea arrived in Europe in the 17th century (coffee also arrived then, in 1615, along with hot chocolate), this is what was drunk.

    Today, “tea” refers specifically to brewed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, or tea bush. “Herbal tea” is called a tisane in the industry (the word originated with the Greek word ptisane, a drink made from pearl barley).

    More about tea.

      

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