Quick Christmas Gifts

It’s coming fast! Christmas is not my favourite time of the year, to be honest. There are so many expectations, disappointments, and frustrations and it drives me crazy every year. This year, I’ve decided not to allow anything to get to me. I have no expectations for a perfect Christmas. If I don’t get any gifts, oh well. I really don’t need anything. If recipients of the gifts I give don’t like my choice? Oh well, at least  they’ve received something. Dinner’s not perfect? Oh well, at least there’s food on the table.

One thing always makes me happy, though. I really enjoy giving friends and co-workers hand made, or home cooked gifts. Now that my daughter has food issues, I’ve been even more aware that there are more and more people “out there” with similar issues. One of my co-workers is gluten intolerant. I have a family member with diabetes, and others in my family have other food allergies or sensitivities. It makes food gift-giving a little more challenging but I’m up for it.

This week, our work place is having an informal get together at a local restaurant. I was trying to find something I could give each co-worker that all of them could enjoy when I came across a post about finishing salt. So, just what is finishing salt?

One website I came across described it this way: “Finishing salts add a healthy and delicious burst of color, flavor and texture to any dish including cocktails and desserts. Just a simple sprinkle can take your culinary creation from drab to fab!” That pretty much sums it up. I went hunting and, oh my, talk about a rabbit hole!

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So far, I’ve made Sriracha Lime salt, Smoky Maple Bacon salt, Bloody Mary salt, and Umami Mushroom salt. How do you use finishing salts? Well, a sprinkle of Smoky Maple Bacon salt on a cracker with goat cheese is amazing. Sriracha Lime salt sprinkled over my scrambled eggs? Oh yeah! Bloody Mary salt on a steak? Why not? Sprinkle some Umami Mushroom salt on your popcorn. Mix and match. Sprinkle some finishing salt over vegetables or potatoes or … or… instead of flaky salt on your hand crafted chocolates, why not sprinkle a flavoured finishing salt. Can you imagine a bit of Bacon salt on chocolate? I’m making my mouth water.

For gift giving, I’ll be putting the salt into small mason jars (125 ml), with a label outlining how to use finishing salts. I’ve also made a couple of batches of Rum Spiced Pecans; each co-worker will be getting a jar of finishing salt and a gift bag of the pecans. Unfortunately, our work get together is the same evening as my grandson’s Christmas program. I think my grandson is more important, don’t you?

Want to try making your own finishing salt? Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. I’ll be over here, thinking about other flavour combinations.

Sriracha Lime Salt

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Sriracha Sauce
  • Lime zest to taste

Make sure the lime zest is dried before adding it to the salt. Mix all ingredients. The mixture will be moist so allow it to dry for a day or two, stirring occasionally to break up any chunks.

Bloody Mary Salt

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup tomato powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. Celery seed, crushed

Mix all ingredients well. Mixture may be somewhat moist so allow it to dry for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally to break up any chunks.

Umami Mushroom Salt

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. soy sauce (I used Tamari as it’s gluten free)
  • 2-3 dashes liquid smoke
  • dried mushrooms of your choice (I used a blend of dried morels, porcini, and portobello)

Pulverize the dried mushrooms, either in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Blend all ingredients and stir until well mixed. If necessary, allow the salt to dry overnight.

Smoky Maple Bacon Salt

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 3 strips of bacon, well cooked and well drained (they need to be crispy)
  • 2-3 dashes liquid smoke
  • 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

Cook or bake the bacon until well cooked. Allow to cool on paper towels after squeezing as much of the fat out of it as possible. Once cooled, pulverize the bacon using a spice grinder.

Mix all the ingredients and stir until well mixed. Allow the salt to dry as it will be moist. This one is best stored in the refrigerator and used with a couple of weeks… if it lasts that long.

 

Gluten Free French Bread

According to the write up of this recipe, “This french bread is amazing!! It tastes so similar to the wheat containing french bread. Plus it freezes wonderfully !!! It’s crusty on the outside, and soft and tender within…. You can make it from start to finish in about one hour!!”

Wow, apart from grammatical errors, that’s quite the endorsement. Is it true, though? Let’s find out, shall we?

The recipe is a Food.com recipe and can be found here: Gluten Free French Bread by Gluten Free Girl. I’ve been pretty impressed with her recipes and have used her recipe for making pie pastry (see here).

The gluten free blend of flours used in the recipe is a mix of white rice flour, tapioca flour and xanthan gum. The recipe also calls for egg substitute as an optional ingredient, which I don’t have. I’m not interested in making this bread vegan, so I’ll opt for not using it. The recipe calls for egg whites anyway.

And away we go…

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All of the ingredients assembled and ready to go. From the left to the right… Flour mix, sugar, yeast, vinegar, and egg whites. Butter, ready to be melted, is at the front. The empty bowl is there for the warm water for the yeast and sugar.

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This is really quite simple. All of the ingredients are added to the mixing bowl and then you beat it. Seriously, that’s it. If this is any good at all, it’s the simplest bread I’ve ever made.

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This is not your mother’s bread dough. No kneading involved. This looks more like buttercream frosting than bread dough! At this point, after 3 minutes of beating (yes, 3 minutes!), it’s ready to spoon onto the baking sheet.

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The loaves, now ready for rising. I used wet hands to shape them into the shape of French bread loaves; without doing that, they were just a little too rustic and ragged looking for my sense of aesthetic. Both have been brushed with melted butter and slashed to give them that classic French bread look. Now, we wash the dishes and wait for the dough to rise.

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After about 20-25 minutes, the dough has pretty much doubled, now ready for baking.

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Out of the oven, this definitely isn’t the prettiest bread in the world but, oh does it smell good. That lovely yeasty bread smell is certainly there, enough to make my mouth water. But what about taste? And what about texture?

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I don’t know about you but this doesn’t look bad at all. The crust is definitely crispy, as a good French loaf crust should be. The texture is a little different than a classic French loaf, a little moister…. not sure if that’s the right word… but it’s just out of the oven. It’s a little different than wheat based bread but not objectionable.

As for flavour…. well, I think this speaks for itself.

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It hasn’t yet passed the “John” test but I’ve left the loaves out on the kitchen counter and I’m about to head out the door for a little while. It will be interesting to see how much of the cut loaf is left when I get home (he’s out at the moment but I expect him home before I get home). I’ll let you know.

Well, it didn’t pass the John test. He had one slice, declared it bland (it’s white bread.. it’s usually bland) and that he didn’t like the texture and “it’s gluten free, isn’t it?”. He was disappointed.  I’m not. For anyone who can’t tolerate gluten and still wants French bread, I think it’s a great option.

It did, however, pass the Kristen test. She and the kids came to pick up the loaves late in the afternoon and her eyes lit up at the first bite. I’d call that a success!

Day Three – Let’s Get Baking

Today is baking day. Actually, to be honest, by the time I got around to writing this post, all of the croissants we baked?…. Well, they’ve been devoured. So… it WAS baking day.

Let’s take it back to this morning, shall we?

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This is how the dough looked when I took it out of my refrigerator this morning. See those splotches? That’s butter. And there are layers of butter all the way through that lump of dough. What we need to do now is to roll it out. That lump will be rolled out to about 48″. I had to cut it in half because my table’s not very big.

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Once it’s rolled out to length (and that’s important.. length, not width… only roll it out to lengthen it), notch it according to the recipe, every 5″.

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See what’s happening? Once you notch it, cut it so you have a bunch of triangles. Then, start rolling them up.

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These have been rising for a little while. And, yes, there’s something different going on here. I’ve added some Emmental and Rosemary ham to five of these (one for each of us and one for my daughter and her two kids, who just happened to be here today). Once they’ve risen to about double, it’s time to bake them.

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My oven bakes hot. The recipe calls for the oven to be set to 450ºF. I set mine for 400º and the bottoms were still on the dark side. But, I have to tell you, they were amazing! I ended up with sixteen croissants; I baked nine. The remainder? I froze them.

Next weekend, when I want them for brunch on Sunday, I’ll take them out of the freezer on Saturday afternoon/evening, leave them in the fridge to thaw and rise and bake them on Sunday morning. Yes, you can do that.

So….. croissants aren’t difficult to make, just time-consuming. Will YOU try them? Will you let me know? Have I inspired you?