Monday, June 27, 2011

Msemmen - North African (Algerian) Flat Bread

You may have noticed that I jump around a lot from place to place. Like last week I wrote about a to-die-for cinnamon loaf, and the week before that it was cornbread. Now I am in North Africa, specifically Algeria with a bread the locals call msemmen that is sort of like a laffa, but soooo different. This one is rolled flat, then fried (like naan) with the oil and spice mixture INSIDE! This is 'peasant' bread and is popular with lamb dishes and all of those luscious dips from the Mediterranean like humus, and tehina and the roasted eggplant dips.It's a keeper believe me.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/8 Tbs. yeast  (1 full teaspoon)
1/4 Tbs.(a little less than 1 tsp.) kosher salt
1 Tbs. gluten
7/8 cup warm water
2 Tbs. olive oil

for the spice mixture:
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp.paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt for sprinkling on top
2 Tbs. olive oil for the skillet

Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1. Mix together the flour, yeast, gluten and salt.
Then, mix in the olive oil and enough of the water to make a soft dough. Knead vigorously for about 7 or 8 minutes to make the dough very smooth and only a little sticky.

2. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface, and form it into a ball. Then roll it out into a circle about 20cm (8 inches) in diameter and only a few millimeters thick (1/8 in).

3. Mix the oil and spice mixture then spread the oil and spice mixture over the surface of the dough almost to the edge.  Then roll it up into a log. Form the log into a spiral, and cover with a towel to rest, about 20 minutes.

4. Working with one spiral at a time, roll the spiral out into another disk, again only a few millimeters this (1/8 in).

5. Spread a little olive oil in a skillet, place this dough disk in the skillet when it is quite hot and cover, on low heat for about 3 or 4 minutes. Then flip the bread to cook the other side.

6. Store the 'cooked' breadson a plate covered with a towel.

7. These breads, called msemmen are delicious served still warm, and dipped in something hot and spicy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sweet Tooth Comfort - 90 minute Cinnamon Loaf

I really like healthy bread - I mean the whole wheat breads laden with seeds and various spices and herbs. Or the artisan-type loaves with the thick chewy crust that 'sings' when it comes out of the oven. But sometimes what I really crave is good old-fashioned comfort food, that is, well, just a little decadent. I mean the rich doughs made with lots of sugar, with eggs and milk instead of plain water for liquid. What Peter Reinhart in The Bread Baker's Apprentice calls 'enriched' dough.

This bread is just that. It is actually a variation of a recipe I have for cinnamon rolls (Cinnabuns in America) but instead shaped into a loaf. The great thing about it is that it is quick, and very satisfying. Oh, and it fills your whole house with the most incredible aroma ever. Really!

Here's What You'll Need:
about 3 2/3 cups AP flour
1 Tbs. yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar firmly packed
1 Tbs. cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

1. Set aside 1 cup of the flour, in case you need to add more.

2. Mix the remaining flour, yeast sugar and salt in a large bowl.

3. In a smallish saucepan, heat the water, milk and 1/4 cup butter or margarine until hot to touch (but not boiling). Remove from the heat and stir the hot liquid into the dry ingredients. Only at the end should you mix in the egg. Finally mix in enough of the reserved flour to make a soft (but not sticky) dough. Knead for about 5 minutes, then place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover. Let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured tabletop, and roll it out into a rectangle. Mix together the softened butter or margarine, with the cinnamon. Then spread this paste fairly evenly over the surface of your rectangle of dough.

5. Roll up the dough, jelly-roll fashion, and pinch the seams and ends to seal.

 Form into a the length and shape of a loaf and place it into a greased loaf pan. Cover and let it rose for about 20 minutes. (Or, you can split the roll in two, like in the photos, and twist them together for a really impressive cinnamon loaf!).

and form into a loaf

6. Bake at 375 F (190 C) for about 20 minutes or until deeply browned. Cool on a rack, removing from the loaf pan after 10 minutes of resting. Amazing!!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sentimental Journey With a Twist - Old-fashioned Raisin Bread

I have written about Bernie's Bakery before. Somehow, when all is said and done, I keep coming back. And usually, it's at this time of year. When winter is finally over, and the weather stabilizes into summer warmth, I like to bake things that are a little decadent. Not fattening mind you. But definitely designed for your comfort zone. So that brings me to this post - old-fashioned raisin bread. I remember the raisin bread from Bernie's we would eat on Sunday's still warm from the oven. The bakery was right around the corner, after all. Still, this was a concession of sorts to New World sensibilities, by someone who was very decidedly Old World. Raisin bread is North American. Especially soft, white raisin bread like this one. This bread is wonderful still slightly warn (but wait to slice it so it can 'rest'). It is even better toasted with butter melted all over. Or strawberry jam. This is my modern adaptation of a very old-fashioned bread. With dollops of nostalgia thrown in for good measure!

Here's What You'll Need:
 1 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 Tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 large egg
about 3 cups AP flour
3/4 cup raisins, plumped in hot water then drained

for the glaze:
1/2 Tablespoon molasses
1 Tablespoon hot water

Here' What You'll Need To Do:
1. Place the yeast in a small bowl with 1/2 cup warm water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Mix to dissolve then set aside for about 10 minutes until nice and foamy.

2. In the meantime, mix the flour with the rest of the sugar, the salt and the yeast mixture. Add the butter and water and mix to form a rough dough. Knead (either by hand on a lightly-floured surface, or with an electric mixer) for about 5 minutes, until smooth and soft. The dough should be slightly tacky, but not stick to the tabletop.

3. Mix in the raisins only at the end so they don't get overly mangled by the mixer. Then place the kneaded dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

4. Deflate the dough then roll into a loaf shape and place in a lightly-oiled loaf pan (9 by 5 inches or 23 by13 cm) and cover with a damp kitchen cloth to rise again. It is probably a good idea to slash the bread at this stage so it doesn't 'explode' while baking. This time it will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Depends on the heat in your kitchen.

5. About 20 minutes before baking time, heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Brush the loaf with the molasses diluted in hot water,

then bake for about 30 minuted until golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. If you like, you could give the bread an additional brush with molasses halfway through the baking.

6. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movin' South - Good Ol' Southern Cornbread

There is a debate in some circles about whether cornbread is even bread. If you can believe it! The truth is, of course, nobody knows for sure. Good cornbread, despite the name, is really one of those wonderful creations that falls in the middle. Like a good brioche, for example. Or any quick bread like banana bread. The rule according to Rose Levy Beranbaum  in The Bread Bible (one of the greatest bread cookbooks ever, BTW) seems to be in how the bread is eaten. So cornbread, is usually eaten with a meat meal to sop up gravy, therefore, it's bread. Either way, good cornbread is wonderful. It is soft and crumbly, and just a little sweet from the cornmeal.

The version I bring you here is the basic cornbread which is both versatile and delicious. You can, of course, make it with some of the many variations. Add whole kernels for instance. Or, for the more adventurous, add 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. The combination of sweet and heat is compelling. And very popular in Texas and places like Texas. Cornbread hales from the South but is now served just about everywhere. The milder versions are better known up North, the sweeter versions in the South, and the fiery versions in the Southwest. Anyway you serve it you are bound to get compliments. Cornbread is truly 'people' food, not gourmet. And maybe more delicious for it.

This recipe is a variation of one I found in Beth Hensberger's The Bread Bible. Not the same book, even though it has the same name. It is simply excellent. A must have for any serious bread baker.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 cup AP flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
4 Tbs. (60g) unsalted butter or margarine, melted

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F (190 C). Then place all the dry ingredients (the two flours, salt, baking powder and sugar) in a large bowl and whisk together.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter (or margarine).

3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix or whisk until just mixed. Don't worry if there are still a few dry patches or even lumps. The mixture will continue to hydrate as it bakes. The important thing is not to overwork it since that develops the gluten. In this case we want the cornbread to be crumbly, not chewy.

4. Place the mixture in a generously oiled pie pan and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes, or until lightly browned and 'springy'.

5. Cool in the pan and serve as wedges.