Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I had no hope at all for this very simple recipe for baguettes. I don't even know what possessed me to try it, except that my daughter Elizabeth had asked me for a bread recipe that used a food processor, and my daughter Sarah had asked me for Bittman's How to Cook Everything as a Christmas present. When I was leafing through the new, improved version of the cookbook, I ran across the recipe for "Easiest and Best French Bread." Oh, right, I thought. Toss four simple ingredients into a food processor, and then, when you think of it, give them a little shaping and bake. I'm sure that's going to make a good baguette.
I don't know why, but this easy-as-pie recipe turned out a better baguette than the Peter Reinhart version I made a few weeks ago where I laboriously sieved whole wheat flour to try to approximate "clear flour." It's not at all fair that something this easy should turn out so good, but there you are. It's a recipe that you should try anytime you feel like turning out a flavorful baguette but you don't want to start the process three days ahead of time.
The recipe consists of flour, water, salt, and yeast. Everything goes in a food processor for about 30 seconds. You gather up the dough--it's pretty wet--put it in a bowl and let it rise for a few hours.
Shape it into three loaves and put them into a French bread pan.
Let them rise again, slash them, and put them in the oven.
Take them out a half-hour later.
That's it! I don't know why one of the loaves looks so much more decorous than the other two--I guess the slashes weren't as deep.
I liked the way they looked when they came out of the oven. I liked the way they smelled. But I'd liked the way the poolish baguettes of a few weeks ago looked and smelled too, and then I was disappointed when I tasted them. But these tasted really good--so much better than I expected. I've considered the possibility that it was just my low expectations that made me so impressed with the way these loaves turned out. Since I expected nothing, any result above nothing would be good. But I don't think so. The outside is crusty but not hard, the inside is chewy and full of rich flavor. If I bought it at a bakery, I'd go back for more.
Everyone knows Mark Bittman is the one who popularized no-knead bread, the craze of a few years ago. But maybe it's this food processor baguette that really deserves the popularity.
Easiest and Best French Bread
--from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
3 1/2 cups (546 grams) bread flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 cups water (or more)
1. Process flour, salt, and yeast for a few seconds in food processor, using the metal blade. With the machine running, pour most of the water through the feed tube. Process about 30 seconds, or until dough becomes a sticky, shaggy ball. If it doesn't feel sticky, add more water.
2. Turn dough into large bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for two to three hours at room temperature.
3. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter, and cut dough into three equal pieces. Shape each into long roll, and place in a lightly floured baguette pan. Cover with a towel, and let rise for another one to two hours. (On a cold day, you'll need the full rising time).
4. About a half-hour before baking, put baking stone in oven, and skillet or pan on lowest shelf. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. When ready to bake, slash loaves with sharp knife and sprinkle lightly with flour. Put about 1/2 cup of ice cubes on pan on lowest shelf of the oven, and quickly put baguette pan on top of baking stone.
5. Spray sides of oven after five minutes and again after ten minutes.
6. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Friday, December 25, 2009
I usually make a big Christmas breakfast that tides us over until dinner, but today's dinner was going to be early, so I wanted to make something less hearty, but still festive. I decided on Greek yogurt, lightly sugared berries, and granola, but that menu seemed lacking in the festivity category. Suddenly, I thought of popovers. I haven't made them since the year I baked all the breads in The Bread Bible. 2006? Time sure flies when you're eating carbs. Fresh out-of-the-oven popovers with cherry preserves, orange marmalade, and some apricot filling left over from making Polish apricot Christmas cookies. Now that seems festive.
One of the great things about Rose's recipe for popovers is that they can be made ahead of time. I made them Christmas eve and put them in a little pitcher. I don't know why people (including me) are afraid of popovers. They couldn't be much easier. I'm going to have to make it my mission in life to convince people to make them. My former mission was to convince people to weigh ingredients when baking, but it seems that I got rather tiresome about that, or so I gathered when people started leaving the room when I merely mentioned how I loved my scale.
The trick is using Wondra flour. This is Rose's trick, not mine, but I will adopt it for my mission. Mix up Wondra flour, milk, eggs, a few tablespoons of melted butter, a bit of salt and a bit of sugar, and hey presto!
The other trick is in having a popover pan. I'm sure you can use muffin pans, but they are squatter and don't have the nearly straight sides of a specialized popover pan, which is worth buying even if you only use it twice in four years.
Of course, you could also use a full-sized popover pan, but I like to use the smaller ones, because they seem so tiny and harmless that you don't mind eating a second, or even, possibly, a third.
And a new Christmas tradition is born.
Monday, December 14, 2009
When I was trying to think of a new bread to make this weekend, it occurred to me that I hadn't made a baguette in a very long time. I found this recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and it looked like I'd be able to bake it on Saturday while I was writing a brief. It worked out very well--I sat at the counter and typed away on my laptop (about what the burglary statute means by a "person in lawful possession") while occasionally checking the progress of this slow-rising dough.
All I had to do on Friday was mix up the poolish until it started its bubbling action, and then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
I made a whole recipe of poolish, and didn't realize until Saturday that I only needed a cup of it. The poolish was so lively and gluteny that I couldn't bear to throw it away, so I googled "freezing poolish." According to a source, whether reliable or unreliable I have yet to find out, poolish can be frozen for up to three months and used successfully if it's brought back to room temperature. We'll see.
The real fun started when I tried to approximate something called "clear flour." Reinhart says that you get this by sifting whole wheat flour and leaving behind the bran. He also says, not particularly helpfully, that most home sifters don't have fine enough holes to separate the flour from the bran. (Is this anything like separating the wheat from the chaff?) If there is not a sizeable amount of bran left behind in the sifter, he says, you'll know it's not working.
I sifted out only two pieces of bran from over a cup of flour, so I could see that this wasn't going to work. I searched my kitchen for something with finer mesh than a sifter, and came up with an ancient tea caddy. This actually worked pretty well.
However, since I could sift only about a tablespoon at a time, I got tired of it before I sifted through the entire 8 ounces, so I filled in with extra bread flour. (This is what Reinhart suggests if you can't sift away the bran, so I felt I had permission to do it that way). I did get a nice mountain of very finely sifted flour.
The dough came together nicely, and went into a bowl for a two-hour rise.
It looks a little like an angry mask, doesn't it? But after the first rising, and a little hand-kneading, it loses its angry appearance and just looks like bread dough.
Another few hours, and the dough is ready to divide and shape.
The dough scraper is one of those little gadgets that, once you have it, you don't see how you ever did without it.
The dough almost shaped itself into three baguettes.
I loved the way these baguettes looked when they came out of the oven--just the right deep brown color, and the kitchen smelled exactly the way your house is supposed to smell if you're trying to sell your house: warm, homey, yeasty, delicious.
Because it looked so beautiful, it was a bit of a letdown to taste the bread. It was good. It had a very nice wheaty flavor, but it didn't have the open, chewy texture that I was hoping for.
It wasn't bad at all, but I would have to say that it wasn't worth the time spent sifting flour through a tea caddy. I'd like to try something made with authentic "clear flour" sometime to see what this bread is supposed to taste like. Meanwhile, I'll look for other recipes to use up my frozen poolish, and hope I remember to do it sometime in the next three months.
--adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
1 cup (7 ounces) poolish*
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, sifted (or use all bread flour except for about 2 tablespoons of unsifted whole wheat flour)
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. (.37 ounce) salt
3/4 tsp. (.08 ounce) instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups (9 to 10 ounces) water
1. Stir together the flours, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the poolish pieces and the water, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. Add more water or flour as needed, to create a dough that is soft but not sticky.
2. Knead on medium speed with dough hook about six minutes, until dough is soft and pliable. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, coating all over with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Let rise about 2 hours, or until dough is nearly doubled in size. Remove dough from bowl and knead about a minute. Return to bowl and cover again.
4. Let rise another 2 hours until dough is doubled in size.
5. Divide dough in 3 pieces on a floured counter. Shape into baguettes. Putting them in a three-baguette pan works perfectly. Let rise another hour.
6. Preheat oven to 500. Place baking stone on lower third of oven. Slash baguettes with knife or razor blade, and put in oven. Create steam in oven by putting either about 1/2 cup ice cubes or 1 cup hot water in preheated pan on rack below the rack with the baking stone.
7. Spray additional water twice on oven walls at 30-second intervals, if desired, and then lower heat to 450. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate pan, and bake for another 8 to 12 minutes, until bread is golden brown.
8. Remove bread from oven and let cool on a rack.
*Poolish (Makes about 23 ounces)
Stir together 2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour, 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water, and 1/4 tsp. instant yeast. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temp. for 3 to 4 hours, or until bubbly and foamy. Refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigerator an hour or two before using.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
This recipe is from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking, but, luckily for me, Rose put the recipe on her website just a month or so ago, and I don't have to type it out. Also, it got the RLB Seal of Approval, so you know it's good.
Tortano and casatiello seem to be used interchangeably, and they refer to a round-shaped Italian holiday loaf which, in its full glory, contains lard, salami, and cheese and also has four raw eggs, still in their shells, which are placed atop the unbaked bread and cook while the bread bakes. This version looks like a full-meal bread and then some, but the version I made has no lard, no salami, no cheese, and no eggs, raw or otherwise. It takes a long time to make, but is otherwise not particularly difficult. In fact, although Glezer lists it as a bread requiring "intermeditate," rather than "beginning" skills, I think the only reason for the upgrade is that the dough is wet and sticky. Don't let that deter you from making this delicious bread--if you soldier through, you'll be impressed with yourself when you realized you turned out this artisan bread from your own kitchen.
It takes just a wisp of yeast to make this bread--a quarter-teaspoon dissolved in a cup of water; only 1/3 cup of this yeast water is used, making a total amount of about 1 1/2 teaspoon of yeast. I was doubtful that this would work and was tempted to cheat by adding a little more, but I didn't. I mixed this pre-ferment up on Tuesday at about 5:00 in the afternoon. When I got up on Wednesday morning, it had bubbled up and grown enough that it was clear that it was working. (I had a chance to bake on Wednesday because it was Veterans' Day, and government workers get that day off).
The dough is made with the pre-ferment, more flour and water, some honey, and about a quarter-cup of potato puree. I used half a leftover baked potato, but you could also use a boiled potato. It takes about 10 minutes to turn this mixture into a smooth, silky dough--very moist and sticky, but not a problem to handle if you flour your hands.
It needs another four or five hours to rise, and you can't just walk away and leave it. For the first 80 minutes, it requires tending every 20 minutes, when you take it out of the bowl, flatten it, and fold it.
The dough scraper is a fine invention. If you didn't have it, you'd really fight with the dough when you were folding it because it would want to stick to the counter.
Finally, after about five hours, you get to punch a hole in the center of the round loaf that you've shaped. (This is the shape that makes it a tortano). With your hands, you enlarge the hole. You should enlarge it more than I did, because when you bake it, the loaf gets quite a bit bigger, and you can end up losing most of the doughnut shape.
Here is the bread just as I'm about to make four slashes in the top and put it in the oven.
Below is as it comes out of the oven, 40 minutes later.
The bread is supposed to bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it is a "very dark brown." After a half-hour, it seemed brown enough, but I let it go another 10 minutes, by which time it was indeed very dark.
It had taken so long for the two risings that the bread didn't come out of the oven until after 6:00, so there was no time to sample it before we went to Gigi's for our usual Wednesday pizza and bottle of wine. When we came home, we had to have bread for dessert. Seriously. If you live in fear of carbs, the idea of bread after pizza should make you tremble.
This is probably not the ideal way to appreciate this bread, but I'm glad we had some the same day it was baked. The only down side to this tortano, aside from its taking its sweet old time to get ready, is that its life span of perfect freshness is not that long. 24 hours later, it was still good, but not as spectacular. Its crust is crusty, the holes are, as promised, as big as radishes. The bread itself demands savoring--with every bite you can taste the earthiness of the potato and the slight sweetness of the honey.
Every ingredient counts in this wonderful bread, and you are again reminded that the simplest, homiest ingredients can result in something spectacular.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
I didn't think I'd have time to bake bread this weekend, but we were having guests over for appetizers in the afternoon and I wanted to serve something I'd baked. When I ran across this recipe, it seemed perfect: it looked pretty fast and easy, and so full of flavor that it wouldn't much much matter that it hadn't had a long, slow rise for subtle flavor development. With 2 teaspoons black pepper and 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, this was not, I predicted, going to be a subtle bread! Nor was it. But it was very good in it unsubtle, but tasty, way.
Even after being kneaded by machine for five minutes, the dough was still too sticky, so I kneaded in more flour by hand,
and then flattened it out and sprinkled half the cheese on top.
This cheese is so orange it looks like grated carrots, but it's not.
More kneading, more flattening, more cheese.
You can see the little bits of cheese that have already been mixed in. It takes only about 45 minutes for the dough to double in size--ready to be shaped into a ball.
Another 45 minutes for it to be nice and puffy,
And ready for the slash-and-brush treatment.
I'm crazy about the shine you get with an egg glaze. Sometimes I wish I could brush an egg glaze on everything I make, but I don't because I'm a conformist at heart. Also, I suppose it would get a little monotonous.
I was just a bit worried about serving this bread to our friends because I just wasn't sure how the three teaspoons of pepper were going to play out in a loaf of bread. I pictured Bill and MaryAnn taking a bite of bread and spitting it out. Then I pictured myself getting angry because they spit out my bread, and pictured Jim trying to make peace. Fortunately, none of that picturing actually happened. The bread had a lovely peppery bite, but it wasn't at all overpowering and went very well with the tangy bits of cheddar.
I tried it the next day, toasted, as the base for a fried egg sandwich, and that was an inspired combination. All you have to do is have the courage to toss in a full tablespoon of peppers into a standard white bread dough, and you end up with a nice accompaniment to appetizers, a way to upgrade a plain dinner, or a surprisingly good piece of toast.
PEPPERED CHEESE BREAD
--from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
1 1/3 cups milk
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 beaten egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1. Mix milk, yeast, salt, peppers, flour, and all but one tablespoon of the beaten egg into the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Knead on medium speed for about five minutes. If it is still sticky, turn the dough out onto a floured counter and finish kneading until dough is smooth and workable.
3. Flatten dough and scatter half the cheese over it. Knead dough until cheese is mixed in, then flatten again, and add the rest of the cheese. Knead until all cheese is incorporated. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn once, then cover and set aside until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to an hour.
4. Push the dough down, then turn it out onto the counter. Shape it into a tight ball. Cover and set aside until doubled in bulk again, about 45 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 375. (Optional: put baking stone on shelf in lower third of oven and let the stone preheat as well).
6. Slash an X in the top of the bread and brush with the reserved beaten egg.
7. Bake about 45 minutes, and turn onto a rack to cool.
Monday, October 19, 2009
This bread is three-for-three. It's easy to make, despite the braided shape which looks harder than it is, it's stunning to look at, and it's absolutely delicious. The recipe makes two loaves. I took one of them to work, and my co-worker Teddie told me that it was so good she could happily eat the whole loaf. (Although she didn't).
The recipe is from an article in the November edition of Food & Wine called "Inside Hot Bread Kitchen," about - what else? - the bakers at New York's Hot Bread Kitchen, a bakery in Queens. A woman named Jessamyn Waldman founded the bakery as a way to help women immigrants acclimate to the United States, learn English, and provide job opportunities. The article includes recipes for tortillas, gorditas, and Palestinian Spinach pies, but it was the challah that caught my eye. This is Sephardic, not the better-known Ashkenazic challah. I never knew that regular challah was Ashkenazic, but it's worth knowing if only because it gives you a reason for saying Ashkenazic, which is so much fun to say.
This bread uses the direct method, which means more yeast, less time, and, usually, less flavor, but I figured that the caraway and sesame seeds would give it enough flavor to make up for it, and indeed they did. It was supposed to have anise seeds too. I usually like to make a recipe the first time with no additions, subtractions, or substitutions. But there are only a few things I like anise seeds in, and bread isn't one of them. I remember the first time I made Swedish limpa bread, and I had a big argument with myself about whether to use aniseed. My follow-the-directions self won the argument, but my real self wished that she hadn't, so I decided to dump the anise seeds and the devil take the hindmost. If you use "Ashkenazic" and "the devil take the hindmost" in one sentence today, you might (or might not) win a fabulous prize.
Back to bread--you will want to have a heavy-duty mixer for this recipe, since you must knead it by mixer about ten minutes. If you mixed it by hand, I hate to think how long it might take. But after ten minutes, it's an elastic but not sticky mass.
It rises nicely and after just an hour or so, it's ready to stretch into a 30-inch rope.
The rope gets shaped into a coil, with one end of the rope forming the center of the coil. This is much easier than braiding.
Brush the coils with a beaten egg, let sit uncovered for 30 minutes, brush again, and sprinkle more seeds on top.
The double egg glaze gives the bread such shine that it's hard to get a bad picture of it.
But you can make anything look pretty. (Actually, this is so not true!) The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. The bread tasted great fresh from the oven, but most any bread does.
But it also tasted delicious several hours later, as an accompaniment to a pureed root vegetable soup, as toast on Monday morning, and as day-old bread brought into the office, where people were so enthusiastic about the bread that it was finished before the chocolate cake that Jessica brought in from her mother's birthday party. It's just a fine bread to have in your repertoire.
3 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
5 cups (780 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 Tblsp. (50 grams) olive oil
2 Tblsp. (40 grams) honey
1 Tblsp. (16 grams) kosher salt
(One egg, for glaze)