Monday, February 28, 2011

Something Comforting to Chew On...Sesame Sandwich Rolls

Sometimes only simple breads will do. It's true! There is a time for everything under the sun and sometimes, just sometimes, all that will satisfy your craving is a simple bread. A roll that is soft yet strong enough to hold your sandwich without crumbling into pieces, or becoming mushy with sauces or other condiments. A roll with a crunchy crust and a soft, but slightly chewy interior. Oh, and it should be moist, but not too... I mean, that's a roll, right? What else will do for your roast beef or veggies? Only this sandwich roll, I promise. To achieve the slightly tangy flavor, this roll uses a 'starter' dough called 'pate fermentee', which I have highlighted in previous recipes. Literally it means old or fermented dough and refers to the Old World custom of using a piece of dough from today's batch as a starter for tomorrow's batch. A very similar flavor is achieved by mixing a kind of dough and letting it sit for several hours at room temperature before continuing the recipe. That's what I do here and the result... Well you tell me!

Here's What You'll Need:
for the starter dough
2 cups (280g) AP flour
1/2 tsp. yeast
1 1/4 cups (300ml) warm water

Mix it all together to make a sticky dough and then cover with plastic wrap. Leave it to ferment at room temperature for about 4 or 5 hours (or even overnight). Then...

for the dough:
2 1/3 cups (320g) AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. yeast
2/3 cups (160ml) warm water

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
After the starter has fermented, mix the flour, salt and yeast together, then add the pate fermentee and the extra water. Combine and knead to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. The dough will be very smooth and elastic. You may need to adjust the water by adding (1 tablespoon at a time) to achieve the right level of stickiness. The dough should be tacky but not at all sloppy, sticking to your fingers.

Place the dough in a covered, slightly oiled bowl to rise for 45 minutes. After it has risen, turn it over in the bowl, only slightly deflating it, then cover and let it rise a second time for another 45 minutes.

Finally, remove the dough, carefully so as not to totally deflate it, to a lightly oiled surface, and stretch it out to a rough rectangular shape. Cut the dough into 6 or 9 equal-sized pieces,

 then roll each piece into a 'roll shape. Dip each piece in milk (or water) then roll it around in a bowl filled with sesame seeds. Lastly, place each roll, seam side down on parchment paper. Cover and let the rolls rise for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 F (190 C). Bake the rolls for 15 to 20 minutes until they are nicely browned and the crust is hardened. Cool on a rack. These rolls are crunchy at first, but because of the large amount of water, they soften as they cool. Yum!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not at All Fancy - Just Old-fashioned Tasty Beer Bread

If you're expecting a rich bread like challah or brioche, this is not it. This bread is somewhat dense and heavy and therein lies its magic. It's quick and very simple to make. It goes great smothered with butter. Basically, the technique is this: you mix equal parts self-rising flour and beer to make a batter, not unlike the method used for muffins or a batter cake. It's OK if there are a few small lumps! It's OK if there are a few small patches of dry flour. Mix it together, spoon it into a prepared pan and let it rise at room temperature for an hour or so before baking. Then bake.

This bread, alas, does not keep well so it's best to eat it all the first day. Like that's a problem. If any is left over, btw, it makes great toast. The other thing is that, by itself, this bread is actually a little bland. So... you are invited to use your imagination to liven it up a bit. Here's the basic recipe, followed by some suggestions for variations. Believe me, you love it.

Here's What You'll Need:
3 1/2 cups (about 500g) self-rising flour
1 large can (500ml) beer (don't bother buying fancy expensive beer, plain is just fine)
1/2 Tbs. salt

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
2. Mix the flour, and salt until evenly distributed, then add the beer slowly until you achieve a fairly smooth batter. It is important that the beer be at room temperature so it does not delay the baking time, or, if you use yeast (see below) it will slow the action of the yeast.
3. Pour/spoon the batter to a loaf pan that has been greased and floured lightly.
4. Bake for about an hour (the long baking time is to let the beer evaporate) or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
5. Let the bread cool on a rack for a few minutes before removing from the pan to cool. This bread can be served warm or at room temperature.

* OK, that's the basic beer bread. Like I said a little plain. The great thing is the way it can be varied. Here are a few ideas.

a) Add a teaspoon of yeast to the batter, in which case, let the bread rise in the pan for about an hour before baking. It will be more 'bready' and less 'cakey'.

b) Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped olives and 1/2 cup kashkeval  cheese to the batter and mix evenly before placing in the baking pan.

c) Add 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts to the batter.

d) Add 1/2 cup carmelized onions (sauteed lightly until they release their natural sugar and brown) to the batter.

e) Add 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes and some rosemary.

f) Add a handful of coarsely chopped basil and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

g) Add 1/2 cup oven-roasted eggplant and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

and on and on... you get the idea!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Whole Wheat and Cracked Wheat Dinner Rolls

The best thing about these rolls is how soft they are with just a hint of 'cruinch' from the toasted sesame seeds. These are perfect for dinner or just for a quick sandwich. I have been piling them with tomatoes, cheese and lettuce and gobbling them up all week. You won't be disappointed, believe me.

Here's What You'll Need:
1/2 cup cracked wheat (sometimes called bulghur wheat), softened
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110°F)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup mashed potatoes, room temperature
1 cup warm potato water (110°F)
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups AP f0..0
2 1/2 cups  whole wheat flour
slightly beaten egg white
sesame seeds

Here's What You'll Need To Do:
To soften cracked wheat: Cover with hot water in a small bowl and allow to stand until softened, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Drain if necessary.

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine butter or margarine, honey, salt, mashed potatoes, potato water (water in which potato has cooked) and eggs. Stir in yeast and cracked wheat. Mix in unbleached all-purpose flour and beat for 2 to 3 minutes by machine, about 150 strokes by hand. Add whole wheat flour to form a dough stiff enough to knead.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead till smooth and elastic. Shape and bake rolls immediately, or refrigerate the dough up to 6 days, covered with plastic wrap, punching down as necessary.

To shape and bake: If the dough has been refrigerated, let it come to room temperature. If it hasn't, let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down.

I found at this stage, that the dough was still too sticky to work easily, probably because of the whole wheat flour. Whatever. The easy solution, but you have to be careful, is to add more flour, a little at a time until you get a workable dough. In my case I ended up adding about 2/3 of a cup a regular AP flour in order to 'dry' out the dough. BE CAREFUL!! If you add to much the rolls will be dense, and simply will not rise very well. In the end, you'll have a tray of baseballs, not dinner rolls.

Cut off about 3oz (almost 100g) of dough and roll into a ball. Place then, seam side down, on a lightly-greased tray leaving some (but not a lot) of space between them. We want them to grow together, so we can pull them apart (still warm and very yummy)!

Cover lightly and let them rise again about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Brush the risen rolls with egg then sprinkle them with sesame seeds. Bake for about 20 minutes until brown. Cool on a rack.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Back to the Source, sort of...Vienna Bread

It is interesting that when you think of European breads, you invariably think of French or Italian breads and yet, long before either became famous, the best breads in Europe came from Vienna. It is here, in the days of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (not last week, mind you) that French and Italian bakers came to learn the tricks of the trade. Both went on to greatness, of course but Vienna bread is the source of it all. It is here that bakers learned the advantages of wet pre-ferments and long, overnight, cold fermentations. Mostly the bakers were from Poland, and hence the term poolish (a very wet pre-ferment using equal quantities of water and flour) which was employed by them.

This bread uses the overnight pre-ferment called pate fermentee as well as a long fermentation the next day. The bread goes through two rises. When it finally comes out of the oven, it has a slightly chewy crust and a fairly dense crumb, denser than the open crumb we are used to from French and Italian breads. It can be baked as a loaf, perfect for sandwiches, or rolls, or even, as I have done here, in the more traditional batard shape. Sort of like a torpedo. The slight tanginess in the flavor makes it a perfect bread for both cheese or cold cuts. You won't be sorry, believe me. This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Vienna bread in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, a truly extraordinary baking book, and a must for anyone serious about baking bread!

Here's What You'll Need:
for the pate fermentee:
1 1/8 cups (140g) AP flour
1 1/8 cups (140g) bread flour  or
2 1/4 cups (280g) AP flour or bread flour
3/4 tsp (5g) salt
1/2 tsp (1.5g) yeast
3/4 cup to 3/4cup + 2 Tbs (170-200ml) warm water

Mix together the flours with the salt and yeast. Then add the water while stirring until you have a rather 'shaggy' dough. You may need to add the extra water to bring it all together.

Remove the dough to a floured surface then knead it for a few minuted until the dough is smooth and slightly, not sticky. Place this dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let it ferment for at least 4 hours at room temperature. At the end of this period, you can proceed directly to making the bread. Or, as I did, you can 'punch down' the dough, place it back in the bowl, covered and place it in the refrigerator overnight. I really believe it makes for better tasting bread.

the next day...
to make the bread:
2 1/3 cups (370g) pate fermentee
2 2/3 cups (340g) AP flour
1 Tbs (14g) sugar
1 tsp (7g) salt
1 tsp (3g) yeast
1 large egg
1 Tbs butter or margarine at room temperature or melted
3/4 cup + 2 Tbs (170-200ml) warm water

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
If you refrigerated the pate fermentee, remove it from the refrigerator, cut it into about 10 pieces then let it come to room temperature, covered, for about an hour before using it. Then...

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Then add the pate fermentee, egg, butter or margarine and 3/4 cups (170ml) of the water. Add extra water if needed, then continue mixing until you have a smooth dough. Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is very smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover. Let it rise until doubled in bulk for 2 hours. If it doubles before this, de-gas the dough and let it keep fermenting for the full two hours.

Shape the dough into rolls (about 12) or loaves (2) or as I have done here, into the traditional batard shape. Cover and let it rise for an additional 30 minutes.

Just before placing the bread in the oven, score the loaves and spray them with water. Sprinkle them with flour.

At the end of the 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 450F (220C). Just before placing the bread in the oven, place an empty pan in the oven and pour a cup of boiling water into it closing the door quickly. Then spray the oven walls with water to create a very steamy environment.

Place the bread in the oven, reduce the heat to 400F (200C) then bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate the baking sheet to ensure even baking. Bake an additional 18-20 minutes at this temperature.

Cool on a rack to room temperature.