Saturday, July 31, 2010

Two Way Bread - Lavash

OK. So you're probably asking yourselves what does he mean by two-way bread? So... this is a special bread that is just as tasty after it's been dried out as when it's fresh. When it's fresh, use it to wrap just about anything you want. Leave it uncovered, and like all flat breads, lavash dries out very quickly and becomes crispy. Then you can break off pieces at your discretion, and you have free-form crackers. Perfect for dips, etc. It is equally delicious either way. This bread is originally Armenian but has many variations all over the Middle East. Add seeds, brush with olive oil and bake, it can't be simpler.

Here's what you'll need:

about 3 1/2 cups AP flour
30 g. fresh yeast (15 g. active dry yeast)
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup tepid water
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. melted butter

Here's what you'll need to do:

Place the flour, sugar and yeast in a bowl. Then, form a well in the middle and gradually add the water while mixing by hand until you have a soft, elastic dough. Make a ball out of the dough, coat it well with melted butter, then place in a bowl, covered to rise about 2 hours.

De-gas the dough, then divide it into 6 equal sized pieces form those pieces into balls and let them rise, covered for another 1/2 hour.

Roll out each dough ball into a flat disc (maybe 1/8 inch - 3 mm thick). Place each one on the outer surface of a taboon and bake for two minutes on each side. If you don't have a taboon, and I suspect you don't heat an un-greased frying pan and cook each lavash for two or three minutes per side. If you want them to stay fairly soft for wraps, then cover them with a clean towel. Otherwise leave them uncovered. They will dry out, becoming like crispy crackers. As a variation, you can mix 1/4 cup of sesame seeds into the dough when you first mix it. Yum! 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Puran Poli - Stuffed Chapattis from Southern India

Puran Poli - Stuffed Chapatti - is a flat bread native to Southern India that involves a sweet dough that is later stuffed with a chick pea paste. It is served as a celebration bread during the Hindu festival of Holi. Indian Jews, known as Bene Israel, also serve this bread during their Spring holiday, Purim, which, coincidentally, falls on the same day as the Hindu festival. There is no connection between the two holidays except this - puran poli are served at both. Go figure! Some of you may be tempted to adjust the sugar in the dough. Locals in Southern India, however, prefer their puran poli sweet!

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
 ¼ to½ cup sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 cups white flour
½ cup water, about
Melted margarine, oil or ghee

Here's what you'll need to do:

1. Cover the chickpeas with water again and cook over moderate heat until soft, about ½ hour. Drain and cool. Remove as much of the loose skins as possible. Whirl  the chickpeas until fairly smooth in a food processor or a blender.
2. Heat the margarine in a skillet, add the mashed chickpeas, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the sugar, salt, cinnamon and cardamom and stir-fry over low heat until the mixture is dry. This will take about 10 minutes, then set aside.
3. Mix the flour and water together into a firm, not sticky, dough. Knead well, then cover and set aside for 1½ hours. This is to let the dough rest. It will not rise, since there is no yeast. However the dough will relax and be easier to roll out later.
4. Roll a heaping tablespoon of the dough into a ball then, roll the ball out into a pancake 5 inches (12½ cm) in diameter. Put  1 tablespoon of the filling into the center, then roll the pancake into a ball again. Finally, roll it out again into a pancake 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.
5. The puran poli are cooked like many flat breads world-wide, in a dry skillet much like a tortilla. Heat a large dry skillet over moderate heat. Put the outer side of the pancake, the side that you have rolled, face down into the skillet. After 10 seconds turn it over and cook for 2 minutes. When you flip it over, add about 1/2 teaspoon butter or ghee to the pan to make it crispy.

Server warm with a nice, warm vegetable curry. Makes 12 pancakes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Down the Silk Road - Bucharian Bread

The Silk Road was first described to Europeans by Marco Polo in the 13th century. Yes, that's right, the 13th century about 800 years ago. It was a road that led from the bazaars of the Middle East, all the way across Asia and ended, finally, in China. It was named after one of the most precious commodities traded at the time - silk. The Europeans wanted it badly and were willing to pay a high price. China had it and was only too willing to oblige (with the high price, I mean). And so, nomadic traders, often on camels trekked across the deserts of Central Asia with gold and silver from Europe, and returned with silk and spices from China and other places in the Far East.

One of the places they passed on the way was Bucharia, today in the Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia. There today, as in the days of Marco Polo, bakers used outside stone ovens called a taboon. Probably few of you have a taboon in your back yard. Still, a very good approximation can be baked in a modern home oven using a baking stone. This is a simple bread, using simple ingredients. And most important, it is extremely delicious. This recipe came to me by way of a very old Bucharian woman who looks like she, herself accompanied Marco Polo on his trek across Asia. Probably didn't, but her ingredient measurements and timing are inexact in the way of experienced bakers who work by feel taste and touch. A handful of this, and two pinches of that. She uses a taboon! I have reconstructed the recipe for a modern kitchen.

Here is what you'll need:
1 kg (2.2 lbs.) AP flour
50g (1/4 cup) active dry yeast
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
about 3 1/2 cups water 

Here is what you'll need to do:
Mix all the ingredients together, add ing the water slowly, until you have a not too sticky dough. It should be tacky, but not sticky. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about an hour.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, then form them into rough squares (like in the photo) using oiled hands. After forming let the squares rise about another 20 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 180C (350 F). Brush the squares with egg then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top. Place the squares gently on the baking stone. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. You could use a baking sheet but, honestly, they are so much better when baked on the stone!  I added a little cheese in the middle which is optional. Yum!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

O Danny Boy, The Pipes Are Callin' (to Eat Some Scones)

I grew up on Cape Breton Island, a smallish island in the north Atlantic in Eastern Canada, which is part of the province of Nova Scotia. Although there were/are many ethnic groups represented there, the dominant groups are the Scots, English and French, all representing competing histories that were often in conflict. That is mostly in the past today. Cape Breton, recognized as one of the most beautiful islands in the world by the UN, is a peaceful place, with long, cold winters and short, cool summers. It rains a lot - except in the winter when it snows a lot. I mean a lot. There are seals in the harbors and puffins on the cliffs. And some of the world's best fishing grounds are just off shore. Needless to say, the food is simple, satisfying and hearty - stews, and fish baked with potatoes, carrots and onions. Lot's of fish. The bread is crusty and used to sop up gravies and sauces. Desserts and breakfast breads are a bit of a treat but very traditional.

The largest ethnic group on Cape Breton today are the Scots (Nova Scotia means 'New Scotland' in Latin), and their presence is felt everywhere. I remember in high school, where we sat alphabetically, that during a particularly harsh winter and a bad flu season that the class was divided in two as all the 'MacDonalds' were out sick! So, in deference to those memories, I am posting a recipe, with several variations, for scones. I know that some people think scones come from England and not Scotland. The truth seems to be that they are native to both places with some differences. They are practically identical, actually. Anyway, for the record, English scones use milk or cream whereas Scottish scones use buttermilk. English scones are also more likely to have some kind of glaze - sugary and delicious. Also English scones are round, cut with a cookie-cutter, and Scottish scones are wedge-shaped. Or is it the opposite. Oh well, nothing left to do but eat these scones and worry about all that later.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cold butter
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons raisins or dried currants
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Here's what you'll need to do:
In a small bowl, combine the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and baking powder.
 Cut in butter
until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Stir in the buttermilk, raisins and lemon peel until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead gently only 5-6 times or
until no longer sticky. Do not over knead! That develops gluten which means structure which means bread! We want crumbs, remember? On a lightly greased baking sheet, pat dough
into a 5-in. circle about 3/4 in. thick. Score the top, making twelve
( English scones are cut into circles with a cookie cutter).
Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over the top. Then glaze with beaten egg white.

Bake at 375° for 23-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan to a wire rack. Break into wedges. Serve warm. Yield: 12 scones.

Variations: If you use milk, the scones will be lighter but not quite as rich. To make them super-rich use sour cream. To make them super-light, use yoghurt.
You can use all different kinds of fruit, apricots, peaches, blueberries (or any kind of berries). 
Substitute 1/3 cup oatmeal for an equivalent amount of flour.
Use nutmeg instead of cinnamon.
Mostly just enjoy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sourdough - The Lazy Person's Guide

OK. So you think that making sourdough bread has to be difficult? Or time consuming? Or require special skills?  Well, you're right! But it doesn't have to be. And this post is going to show you how to make a very decent loaf of sourdough bread while at the same time not dedicating your entire life to making a loaf of bread. There are ways, you know!

The traditional way to create sourdough is a two stage process: first make a starter, then add the starter to the rest of the dough ingredients. And we're still going to do that. The difference lies in the preparation of the starter. There are natural, wild yeast cells floating in the air. Truly dedicated 'sourdoughists' make their starter by mixing flour and water (nothing else) and then exposing the slurry to the air for sometimes days at a time. The result, if they are lucky, is a starter that if properly maintained, will produce truly spectacular sourdough bread. We can get around that by giving the starter a little boost by mixing a bare minimum of active dry yeast into the water/flour mixture. The result is not inferior to any sourdough made the other way, just much less intensive in the preparation. I am not alone, BTW, in looking for shortcuts, as it were, to make this wonderful bread. Peter  Reinhardt in his wonderful book The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, deals extensively precisely with this topic. He demonstrates ways to make sourdough breads not only with the traditional starters, but also with the faster 'yeast-assisted' starters. In any event, if you want the sour flavor, you must let the dough ferment. So start the process today, but actually only bake the bread tomorrow. There are other books that deal with various kinds of artisan breads, like the very popular Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. Notice that the way to get the '5 minutes a day' is by reducing the time required to make the starter. You really should try this bread, if for no other reason, than to prove to yourself that you can. It requires some patience and caring for details. The results are well worth it.

Here's What You'll Need:
for the starter
1 cup flour (bread flour recommended)
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup room temperature water

and for the dough:
2 2/3 cups (380g) flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
the starter
1/2 cup room temperature water
2 tsp. salt
flour for decoration

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. The night before you intend to bake the bread, mix the starter ingredients in a large bowl for 2-3 minutes until you have a smooth slurry. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let it stand overnight (at least 6 hours) at room temperature.

2. The next day, mix the flour with the yeast in a large bowl, with a mixer, then add the starter mixture. Mix at low speed for a few minutes. Finally add the salt. Gradually add the water until a dough is formed and continue to mix for a total of about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat then cover and let it rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Let the dough be your guide. In other words, if you see it has doubled in less than 2 hours then  go on to the next step. It might also take longer. All of this depends on how well developed the starter was overnight, something you don't have complete control over. So let your eyes determine when the dough is ready.
4. Punch down the dough, them form into a ball shape and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Alternatively, you could place the dough in a cloth-lined basket. Just make sure the cloth is well-floured or the dough will stick to it.Let the dough rise again until doubled in volume.
5. Preheat the oven to 450 F (220 C).
6. If you 'proofed' the dough in a basket, gently turn it over onto the baking sheet with the parchment paper. In any event, once the dough is on the baking sheet, sprinkle a little flour over the top, then using a sharp knife, make two or three slashes in the dough about 1/4 inch (3 mm) deep. This helps the gas escape during baking and prevent s the bread from splitting when the gas escapes. It, of course, makes the bread look great.
7. Place a small pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven for the first 10 minutes of baking. Then remove the pan and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until the bread is a deep brown.The bread should also feel 'light'. (This is because the gas and the water have left and 'lightened' the bread).

1. You could make the same bread using whole wheat flour. Just substitute 1/3 of the regular flour for the same amount of whole wheat in the starter. In the dough ingredients substitute 1 cup of whole wheat for 1 cup regular flour.

2. This bread can also be made using cheese. Towards the end of the kneading, add about 1/2 cup grated cheese (the sharper the better - cheddar, kaskkeval, romano, jack). You won't regret it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just like old times - Pletzel

A few postings ago, when I reminisced about raisin bread, I mentioned a local family-owned bakery, from my hometown in northeastern Canada, Bernie's Bakery. No doubt it no longer exists. Be that as it may, I have very fond memories of going around the corner from my grandfather's house on Sunday mornings, the wonderful aroma of fresh baked bread filling the whole neighborhood, and buying bread with grandpa. Bernie was an immigrant from Poland, and as such he baked the kinds of bread typical of Eastern Europe along with a few North American breads almost as a reluctant concession to the reality that he was no longer in Poland. Dark and light rye breads. Pumpernickel. Black Russian bread. Also, cinnamon rolls and a plain white sandwich bread that was strong and yet had an almost creamy interior all at the same time. And a Pletzel. What is a pletzel, you say? Well, it's not quite a bagel, and not quite an onion roll. It falls somewhere in between. It is a flatbread with a slight depression in the middle holding onions and maybe poppy seeds or other yummy things. In New York it has a close cousin called a bialy.  The important thing is it's delicious, and relatively easy to make. Slice one open while still warm, apply a good strong mustard then pile up corned /roast beef or pastrami and you're in business. OMG, I'm drooling on my keyboard!!

Here's what you'll need:
for the dough

1 1/2 cups warm water
5 teaspoons yeast
5 tsp. sugar
5 - 5 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
for the onion topping

1/2 cup dehydrated minced onion (*)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp. poppy seeds
1 tbsp. coarse sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
Here's what you'll need to do:

Mix the water yeast and sugar. Add one cup of the flour and some of the salt. Add most of remaining flour and stir with a wooden spoon to make a soft dough. You can mix in a stand up mixer using the dough hook or hand knead eight to ten minutes, whichever you prefer. Cover and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes. While the dough is rising, you can line two baking sheets with parchment paper andthen sprinkle them with a little cornmeal. Preheat the oven to 450 F (220 C). Prepare topping by covering onions with hot water and allow to soak 15 minutes. After the onion is re-hydrated, drain and then toss with oil and poppy seeds and set aside. Degas the dough and divide in two roughly equal pieces. Then, divide each half into six pieces, 12 pieces in all. Allow dough to rest ten minutes. Roll or stretch each portion into a four to five inch oval or circle. Place the pletzel on prepared baking sheets. Brush each pletzel lightly with the egg glaze. Finally, spoon on about two teaspoons of prepared onion topping and a little bit of coarse salt (optional). Cover with a floured towel and allow to rise 30-40 minutes.
Bake until golden brown (25-30 minutes). If bialys brown too fast, reduce heat to 425 F. Theoretically, these freeze well, but honestly they have never made it to the freezer. They are usually gone in a few hours, gone,but not forgotten. If you prefer, you can make a thicker pletzel simply by letting them rise longer. If you prefer them thinner (and therefore crispier) just bake them after less rising time. Yum!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Psomi Horiatiko - Greek Country Bread

My wife and I just spent a few days in Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands, and I wanted to share with you this recipe for bread I found there. This is a bread from Greece, called Horiatiko Psomi (literally 'Country Bread') that is regularly baked in rural Greece. In previous postings, I talked about open stone ovens commonly found all over the Middle East and Asia.  In rural Greece this bread is still baked outdoors in an oven of this type. It is a heavy bread with a dense texture that is perfect for mopping up gravy, olive oil dressings etc., in fact anything typically served at a Greek meal. In Greece they use a type of 'yellow' flour not available elsewhere. As far as I can determine, the closest combination is a blend or regular bread flour and semolina flour. Aside from this, the recipe is authentic. This definitely makes the bread heavier

and gives it a very slightly grainy texture. In other words, it is perfect as an accompaniment to a hearty soup and salad type meal.  In any event, the bread produced is wonderful. It has a nice thick crust, and a soft interior. If you have your own sourdough starter, use 3/8 pound, about 170g,  (slightly less than 1/2 cup for most starters) in place of the yeast in the recipe.The taste is just slightly sour (if you use sourdough leavening). Kalo Orexi, as they say,  - Bon Appetit!

This is what you'll need:


1/2 tablespoon yeast
225g ground semolina
425g white bread flour
1 teaspoon bread improver
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon milk
3/4 tablespoon sugar

Here's what you'll need to do:

Mix all the ingredients together by hand and then knead for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface until you get a smooth but slightly tacky dough. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, covered, for a little more than an hour until it has doubled in volume. If you want, you can simply place all the ingredients in a bread machine pan and use the 'dough' cycle. It is easier but less fun.

After the first rise, knead the dough to degas it on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes, and then form into a 'torpedo' shape loaf. Place on an oiled (olive oil, of course) baking sheet, slash the loaf 3 or 4 times no more than 1/4 inch (3 mm) deep diagonally. Cover the dough and let it rise again, this time for about 45 minutes until doubled.

About 15 minutes before the bread finishes the second rise, pre-heat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Bake the
bread for about 20 minutes then lower the temperature to 400 F (200 C) and bake an additional 5 minutes or so until golden brown. Your house will smell heavenly, just as an aside.

Cool on a rack. Kali Orexi!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Raisin Bread - Goin' On a Sentimental Journey ...kind of

When I think back to 'food memories' from my childhood, several kinds of bread stand out. One is a dark, crusty rye bread baked at 'Bernie's Bakery' around the corner from my grandfather's house. We would go there, on Sunday mornings and load up with all the fresh baked breads hot and fresh. Right out of the oven. I grew up in rural northeastern Canada, in Nova Scotia. This is a place of long, cold winters and short, not too warm summers. This is a place of comfort foods specially made for the cold climate we lived in. Where many of the locals were first, or at most, second generation Canadians, coming from immigrant European backgrounds. Bernie, himself was Polish and many others were from Russia, the Ukraine, Germany Italy and lots of other places. One of my fondest childhood memories is of sitting in our family kitchen eating freshly toasted raisin bread slathered with butter and/or peanut butter (I admit it, I'm hooked on PB!) and my mother's homemade strawberry jam. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, of course, but my mother still makes the jam, and I make raisin bread to put under it. It shouldn't take more than a few hours from start to finish.

Here's what you'll need for 2 loaves:

1 cup milk or water (milk makes softer richer bread)
6 tbsp shortening or butter (butter makes softer richer bread)
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
2-1/2 tsp salt
6 cups bread flour, about
1-1/2 cup raisins, add after 1st rise
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional but great)

Here's what you'll need to do:

1. Warm the milk/water and the shortening/butter in asaucepan over low heat until it all melts and combines. Do not let it come to a boil. Then let it cool to barely warm.
2. Add the water, sugar, yeast, salt and half the flour (about 3 cups) to the milk mixture and mix well. Slowly add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft dough that is not sticky.
3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 8 minutes.
4. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat, and cover. Let it rise until doubled, about an hour.
5. De-gas the dough then roll it out into a rough rectangle, spread on the raisins and the walnuts (if using) and then knead them into the dough until they are evenly distributed. Continue kneading for another 5 minutes or so.
6. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a loaf shape the length of your loaf pans. Place each loaf in a lightly greased loaf pan, cover and let them rise until doubled, about 1/2 hour.

7. Bake at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Make sure to remove the bread from the pans, and let the loaves cool on a rack. If you leave them in the pans, they will get soggy. Enjoy!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crusty Hard Sandwich Rolls

The simplest of breads are often the tastiest and most satisfying. Sometimes they are also the most difficult to get exactly right. It's true that we all love the rich, soft breads like brioche and its cousin the challah. The addition of eggs, sugar and some type of fat (oil, butter, margarine, shortening, even lard) enriches and softens the bread. But sometimes what we really want, what will really satisfy us, is a good hard roll. I mean the kind with an extra crunchy crust and a soft interior just perfect for meat or cheese sandwiches especially those with condiments slathered all over. Those sandwiches with lots of mayo, ketchup, mustard etc. and fresh, juicy veggies like tomatoes that just cry out for a roll that will soak up the liquid, hold it without getting soggy and then transfer all that goodness, intact to our hungry mouths. Yum!

For that kind of goodness, challah just won't do. Brioche is just too soft. Pile up some excellent thin-sliced roast beef with a nice sharp mustard, and they become mushy and just fall apart. Sometimes the simplest is exactly what we need. Classic French bread, also used for baguettes, is as simple as it comes, almost. When divided into small roll-sized portions it is unbeatable for snack time. The following recipe for hard crusty rolls is an adaptation of a classic recipe for French bread but adapted to make rolls. Note there is no sugar or eggs. Like the ciabatta from the previous posting, it uses a starter (called a poolish) that is allowed to ferment overnight. The actual baking takes place the next day. A word of warning that may be irrelevant... Because there is no sugar or eggs they dry out quickly and rarely last more than two days. I say this is irrelevant because they will almost certainly be gone in one sitting. If you need to store them, use a paper bag, it will keep the crust nice and crunchy (but they dry out more quickly). Enjoy!!

Here what you'll need:

For the starter (poolish)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp active dry yeast
Mix all these ingredients together until smooth and then let it sit, at room temperature overnight.

For the dough you'll need:
the poolish
3 1/2 cups (approx.) bread flour
1 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Mix the poolish with the dough ingredients and knead until you have a cohesive dough. It should not be completely smooth. Then, cover and let it rise for about 3 hours. De-gas the rising dough about once every hour.

After three hours or so, divide the dough into 12 about equal pieces then roll them on a flat, un-floured surface, cupped in your hand into a round smooth ball. Place the rolls onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or use parchment paper) and let them rise for another 1 to 2 hours until double. If you want (and this really improves the flavor) you can let them rise very slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, if you do this they must be covered. Also, if you refrigerate them, then let them come to room temperature before baking (about 45 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Brush egg white and water mixed over the rolls just before placing them in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown. If you want an extra crunchy crust, you can let them cool in the oven (just like the ciabatta). Now, load them up with lots of goodies! Bon Appetit!

Monday, July 5, 2010

As Promised - Ciabatta

Yesterday I talked to you about these super personal rolls I made, with the raisins and the sugar syrup. Needless to say, they're all gone, in case you wanted some. Instead you'e going to have to try my latest bread - ciabatta. I have to admit, I have tried this before and it was OK. But something was certainly missing. Something was just not right. You know how it is. You can't put your finger on it but you know... this isn't it! Well, I figured it all out yesterday and I want to share the results with you. Ciabatta!

For the uninitiated, ciabatta is a classic Italian peasant bread that requires a pre-fermentation and careful handling. When done right, it emerges from the oven with a hard crust (that softens as it cools) and a soft, slightly chewy, slightly sour, totally yummy interior. It is perfectly suited for sandwiches and in fact, if you were looking for a perfect bread for, say, a steak sandwich, this would be it. Jamie Oliver, in his first book The Naked Chef, has a recipe for maybe the best steak sandwich ever. I mean it! You should have this book just for this recipe! OK, maybe I'm getting over excited because it actually has lots of great recipes. But his choice of bread for the sandwich is none other than the ciabatta.

The word loosely translates from the Italian as 'slipper'. You know the broken-in old house slippers that are so comfortable. Ciabatta originates in the north of Italy, in the Lake Como region. The recipe I am posting today is actually a combination of two recipes. The methods I used mostly followed those given in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. I've mentioned this book before because it is so comprehensive. These guys really know their stuff! However, I felt their pre-ferment (called a biga) was too dry. And so I adopted and adapted the formula given by Peter Reinhard in The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, which uses a much wetter dough. This recipe will take you all day or overnight but don't worry, most of the time the dough is sitting and going through the fermenting and rising process.

Here's what You'll Need
for the biga (starter)

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

For the starter, just mix all these ingredients together, cover, and let it sit at room temperature for about 12 hours or overnight.

The next day... add this to the fermented biga. By now it should be bubbly and have slightly sour smell. Also, when you pull at it, it is very stringy (that's our friend the gluten) and very sticky.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cups water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cups all purpose flour

Mix it all together for 3 or 4 minutes in a stand up mixer. The dough is too sticky and stringy to mix by hand, and we want it to stay very 'slack', i.e. wet. After mixing, place it in a lightly oiled bowl turn to coat with the oil, and cover. It should now rise for 2 or 3 hours.
and 45 minutes later...
and again...
About every 45 minutes, very gently fold the dough to develop the gluten but not to release all the gas. We want the CO2  because it will form those wonderful bubbles when we bake the bread. About 45 minutes before baking, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and divide the dough in half. Gently, pushing with your fingers, form each half into a rough rectangle shape (the slipper) and leave indentations with your fingers on each loaf. Let it now rise, covered, until bake time.

After folding and relaxing the soft dough for a few hours it is ready to bake. About half an hour before it finishes 'proofing', preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Ten minutes before baking, spray the inside of the oven with water to create a steamy oven. You should also spray a few times during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake the loaves for a total of 25 minutes. They will be golden brown and have a hard crust.

Turn off the oven. Take the loaves off the tray and place on the oven rack. Then open the door slightly and let the bread cool in the oven. You won't be sorry.

OMG, it's so good! Time for a steak sandwich! Bye for now.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A recent discovery - Great Cooks Blogroll

Hello again it's been a few days since my latest post and, as usual things have been quite hectic. Lot's of new discoveries and additions to the blog! Also a few new developments on the personal level, all leading me inexorably away from my day job (ending Sept. 30) and towards my new profession - baking bread. First the new discovery - Great Cooks Blogroll. This is a website providing code that places a new widget on my home page that is really fantastic. This new widget gathers together links to lots of the very best and most popular food related blogs all in one place. The best part is that you can scroll through the list of blogs and on the spot choose which one/s you want to visit all in one place. This is a great advantage for you,, my readers and I sincerely hope you all enjoy the new feature. You can find it easily in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. BTW, if any of you have your own food-related blogs let me strongly recommend it to you. You can easily get the widget at: Pay them a visit, you won't be sorry!

Another development happened yesterday. I had been asked to bake a few rolls for a gathering and I made about 3 dozen personal sweet rolls. I was feeling adventurous and so not only did I add a few raisins to the base recipe, I also brushed a light sugar syrup over the tops when they first came out of the oven. Yum! The rolls were so successful, that afterwards I was approached by one of attendees, a woman I know who is a local caterer, and a tremendous cook in her own right, about the possibility of perhaps working together in her catering business. All I can say is it really made my day - I mean I'm just getting started and here I'm being 'courted' for a catering job. How cool is that? If you want to make the sweet rolls yourself, here is the recipe.

for about 12 rolls
For the dough:
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 tbs. active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar for the dough
about 4 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raisins

For the syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

For the glaze:
1 large egg mixed lightly beaten with a little water to brush over

1. Dissolve the sugar in the water then the yeast in a large bowl. Let the mixture stand on the counter for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It will be bubbly and frothy and smell 'yeasty'.
2. Add 1 cup of the flour and combine to make a smooth batter. Then add the egg, oil and salt. Finally, add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time until you have a smooth dough that is not too sticky. Be careful not to make the dough too dry by adding too much flour. The dough should still be a little tacky.
3. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the texture is silky smooth.
4. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat, then cover and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours or until it about doubles in size.
5. Remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured surface, then gently squeeze to remove the gas. Roll it out, or simply spread it with your fingers to form a rough rectangle about 1 inch thick.
6. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup raisins over the surface of the dough. Then roll it up, jelly-roll style. Finally, knead the dough again for a few minutes to evenly spread the raisins throughout the dough.
7. Shape the dough into a 'log', and cut it into three roughly equal pieces. Cut each third into four pieces so that in the end you have 12 pieces of roughly equal size.
8. These pieces can be rolled up into small round rolls, or rolled into a 'snake' and then knotted. Whatever you decide I promise you they will be delicious. Place the shaped rolls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or lightly oiled. Cover and let them rise again, this time for about 45 minutes.
9. About 15 minutes before the rise is finished pre-heat the oven to 350F (180C).
10. Brush the egg wash over the rolls, then sprinkle with a little sesame seed just before placing in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. (The house will smell incredible just about now!!!).
11. While the rolls are baking, heat the water and the sugar for the syrup in a small saucepan just until it boils and all the sugar is dissolved. You may have to stir a bit. Then let it cool just a bit.
12. When you remove the rolls form the oven, brush the sugar syrup over them while they are still hot. The syrup will sizzle, and then soak into the rolls making them pretty much heavenly. Bon Appetit!

BTW, I'm in the middle of a two day project, as I write these lines, I have biga at home, slowly fermenting. Later on, hopefully, it will become an awesome ciabatta! Stay posted to find out how it came out.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Something Else for the Holidays - Tortillas and other Wraps

Back in the day, before history even happened, when the first humans were subsisting on little more than what could be found or caught they happened to also invent (discover?) the first breads. In various places and times the first people discovered that crushed grains, mixed with water and then baked made something that was not only tastier than plain, wheat, but also kept fresh longer. And it was easier to store. In this way, or some scenario like this the first breads, one of the oldest of foods were discovered. Quite likely it was all an accident. Some wet grains were in a pouch or something near a campfire and 'baked'. Invariably, these breads were/are all flat breads. The discovery of fermentation and 'proofing' or rising came later. And so, we have chapattis in India, and pita bread (probably a little later because of the yeast) in the Middle East. And tortillas. And injeera (Ethiopia) and even malawach (Yemen). And roti (Indian fried flat bread). Today flat breads are still very popular not only because they are easy to make, using very few, simple ingredients, but because they are so useful. I mean can you think of anything better for wrapping a burrito than a soft wheat tortilla? In the Middle East a flat bread called a laffa is used to wrap grilled spicy meats and salads, called a shawarma. This is much like the pita but without the pocket. Of course we shouldn't  forget the various wraps from Asia for egg rolls, spring rolls etc. They are of a different sort, thinner and usually fried, but they are still flat breads.

So to continue in the same vein as my last couple of postings, I bring you the wheat flour tortilla. However, I would like to suggest that you expand your horizons and think about eating them wrapped around just about anything. And with the first summer holidays upon us, now is a great time to grill some steak, or chicken breast, with a sassy marinade and lots of smoky flavor and then, with maybe a grilled pepper, or some grilled eggplant, wrap the whole thing up and chow down. With an excessively cold beer.
IMHO, the very best cookbook for flat breads is Pizza, Focaccia, Flat and Filled Breads For Your Bread Machine: Perfect Every Time. The lots and lots of great that you can roll flat for making great wraps etc. Another comprehensive collection of flat breads can also be found in Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas which also includes some incredible recipes for all those tasty treats you want to wrap the bread around, or dip it into. You won't go wrong with either one. Bye for now.

Traditionally, tortillas were/are made using lard for the fat. These days, many of us are cholesterol conscious, and/or vegetarians. I use regular vegetable oil and get great results.

Here's What You'll Need:
for about 20  8 inch round (20 cm) tortillas
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons shortening or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
Note how simple and basic the ingredient list is...

Here's What You'll Need to do:

1. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder by hand.
2. Cut the shortening (if you use shortening) or vegetable oil  into the flour mixture. You should have a rough mixture. If you used shortening it should have the consistency of coarse cornmeal with lumps that are roughly pea-sized. Obviously, the oil mixture will still be coarse but not quite as lumpy.
3. Add the water a little at a time, mixing by hand until you have a fairly smooth but not sticky dough. You may not need all the water. Careful not to add too much flour or to knead too much. This makes for tough, heavy tortillas. Mix until the dough comes together, no more.
4. Place the dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to cover. Let the dough rest, covered for about 20 minutes. Then...
5. Divide the dough ball into golf ball sized pieces (or is it walnut-sized?) then roll them out to the size and thickness you prefer.
6. Cook the tortillas on a hot frying pan or griddle for a minute or two. The tortilla will start to bubble a bit on top and maybe smoke, too. Not to worry. Flip it over and cook on the other side for another minute. Then when it's done, place on a plate, and cover with a dry kitchen towel to keep from drying out.

7. Now the best part, fill it with whatever you like, fold over the bottom, and then the sides to wrap it up. Yum!!