Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bet You Can't Eat Just One - Onion Crackers

I have a weakness, and I may as well come clean. I love to snack, and I can't help myself. And in the great debate over sweet or salty snacks... I definitely come down on the side of salty. I especially love (but really love!) potato chips, pretzels, etc. And crackers. And when I can top off a crispy, salty cracker with a slice of a good sharp cheese, say some aged cheddar then there's no stopping me. That's why, I rarely make crackers and why there are so few cracker recipes on BreadmanTalking. I'd probably eat them all before I could take the pictures. That said, last week I was tempted once again, and gave in ... These onion crackers are adapted from a recipe I found in Bernard Clayton's incredible book Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. The book is sooo comprehensive. It has literally everything you could ever want. If you're looking for a single bread cookbook, easy to read and use, this is it! It is also at least loosely based on a memory I have of a kind of cracker I used to eat many years ago when growing up in Cape Breton.With a thick slab of a nice sharp cheddar. In previous posts I have mentioned the bakery from my childhood home. Bernie's Bakery. The name practically makes me salivate all by itself!. Bernie was a Polish immigrant who specialized in all the East European breads and crackers. I can still see the Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and Jews lined up out the door on Sunday morning for dark and light rye, along with North American specialties like, cinnamon buns. And crackers like these.

Here's What You'll Need:
2 Cups  (280g) AP flour (or substitute 2/3 C (160g) whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbs poppy seeds
1 egg at room temperature
1/3 Cup oil
1 Cup chopped onions
2 Tbs water (if needed)
Here's What You'll Need To Do:

For this recipe, you will need two bowls, just like for a cake, one for wet and one for dry. Mix all the dry ingredients together in one bowl,

and in the second bowl mix the egg, oil and onions. The onions will likely be 'weeping' and so the amount of liquid will determine if you need the water. Obviously, it's better to leave the onion juice in so you get more flavor. If you drain them and add water instead the onion flavor will be less intense. Why would you do that?

Slowly pour the onion mixture into the flour mixture, stirring vigorously. This dough will be quite stiff, but should not be crumbly. If it is, add a little water, one teaspoon at a time. In the unlikely event that the dough is too wet, add a little flour, one teaspoon at a time. Remember, this is a cracker, not a loaf of fluffy bread. Knead for a few minutes to make it smooth and evenly distributed, then place in an oiled bowl, covered, to relax in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

Roll the dough out on parchment paper until very thin, about 1/8in (2mm). Using a pizza cutter, or a fluted pasta cutter, cut the dough into cracker sized pieces, then, with a fork, poke holes in each cracker. This prevents them from puffing up during baking (a definite no no!).

Bake for about 10 minutes (it will be longer if the dough is wetter) until crisp and golden. They will be less crisp, but just as tasty, if you used whole wheat flour. Cool on a rack, and then, try and control yourself! I couldn't.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Something simple and delicious - soft dinner rolls

Sometimes the simplest breads are the ones that give you the greatest pleasure. It's a fact. Sometimes, when your supper consists of nothing more than a nice, thick bowl of soup, or maybe a green, crisp salad filled with all kinds of goodies, the only thing you need to go along with it is a soft, dinner roll. To sop up the soup, maybe. Or the juices from the salad. Not only are rolls like this ideal for simple meals, they are also very easy to make! This recipe is loosely based on two other recipes I found online, from Chef John at and Laura Vitali at and includes a few of my own touches. About 2 hours from start to finish they will surely become part of your repertoire!

Here's what you'll need:
Start with 2 1/4 tsp. of instant yeast dissolved in 1/4 C of warm water. Put it on the side until it starts to bubble (about 10 minutes).

In the meantime, take 1 C of milk and add 3 Tbs of butter to it. Heat this on the stovetop or in the microwave until the butter melts. Put it on the side to cool. If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast when we add it in.

Mix together, 1 beaten egg, 2 Tbs sugar, 3/4 tsp salt and 1 C flour. Add this to the yeast mixture along with the milk and melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Then add another cup of flour, and mix it, now using a spatula as it gets thicker. Finally, add another cup of flour (3 in total) to get a soft, sticky dough. Place this dough on a floured board and knead it gently, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking, for 6 or 7 minutes. When it is smooth and elastic, place it in an oiled bowl, and cover, to rise until doubled. This will take maybe an hour and a half or even two hours.

Finally, divide the dough into about 12 equal-sized pieces, and shape them into balls. Place them in a baking pan about 3mm (1/2 in) apart, and cover for the final proofing, about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350F (180C). Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. To add extra richness, you could brush the rolls with melted butter, when they emerge from the oven and while still hot.
I guarantee you will never buy store bought dinner rolls again after you try these rolls!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ciabatta - An Old Slipper for Steak Sandwiches

I don't know about you, but when I make a steak sandwich, I need the bread to be chewy and just slightly sour. I have tried all different kinds of bread, everything from white sandwich bread ( a mistake!!) to baguette (better but not there yet) to ciabatta. Hands down the best bread for a steak sandwich (or for that matter any grilled meat) is the Italian 'peasant' bread, which has become extremely popular in the last few years. The word means 'old slipper', the kind of old familiar, comfortable friend you have worn for years, that has lost it's shape a little but cannot be replaced. These breads, are really without a defined shape, and must be treated very delicately up until they are baked. Then, after they have cooled, they are soooo chewy, and filled with holes (for mustard, olive oil etc.) they are truly second to none. This recipe is adapted from the wonderful cookbook by Ciril Hitz, Baking Artisan Breads, 10 Expert Formulas for Baking Better Bread at Home. It is a cookbook intended for those who want to bake incredible bread at home, using regular ingredients, and without the intent of turning you into a professional baker. Just someone who appreciates good, but really good, bread.

When you mix this dough, it is so wet, you might think you have made a mistake. You have not!!! After mixing you literally pour the dough into a greased bowl to rise and ferment. Be gentle, adding only as much flour as necessary to fold or manipulate the dough. Finally, bake in a hot oven, on a stone if you have one, and you won't be sorry. BTW, Jamie Oliver, in one of his early episodes , makes a steak sandwich that is to die for. No doubt, he used these ciabattas!

Here's what you'll need:
for the poolish (starter);
330g (11 oz) bread flour
330 ml (11 oz) water at room temperature
a pinch of instant yeast

Mix these ingredients together until it is all incorporated. At 100% hydration it will be VERY wet. Not to worry. Pour it into a bowl, cover, and leave it to ferment at room temperature for 16 hours (or overnight).

the next day...

Add these ingredients: (to the starter)
613g (21.5 oz) bread flour
405 ml (14 oz) water at room temperature
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
18g (1Tbs) salt

Mix it all together, until completely incorporated then mix (beat!) vigorously for about 10 minutes. The dough will be very soft. Place it in an oiled bowl and cover to rise, about 2 hours. At 45 minute intervals, stretch and fold the dough over itself and return to the bowl. It is easier to wet you hands, to keep it from sticking.

At the end of the rise, pre-heat the oven to 480 F (240C).

Place the dough on a heavily-floured cloth or baker's peel, and cut it, using a dough scraper into fairly even pieces. Let the cut pieces rest, and proof for an additional 30 minutes or so before baking. Be careful not to degas the pieces of dough. Handle with care!

Bake for 35 minutes or until dark golden brown and the surface is blistery. Cool on a rack.