Sunday, April 28, 2013

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread - The First Kind

As you all must know by now, I like to experiment with bread recipes. I also like to attempt vintage recipes and to bake breads that are standards from all over the world. And so, I approached this bread from England with an expectation of something special, since it is so well-known there. In reading about oatmeal bread I soon discovered that there are two distinct types. In this version, I will use rolled oats mixed directly into the dough. In another version, which takes about 2 days to make, the oats are cooked first, literally made into oatmeal breakfast cereal, then the next day added in to the dough. I will make the other version at another time. This version, however, produced a loaf with a close crumb and a very crunchy (and satisfying) crust. I have been eating it for the last 3 days (it keeps well!) with pastrami and Dijon mustard. Also, just plain toasted with peanut butter spread all over. It is delicious, and especially so, if you like crispy exteriors with soft interiors. A keeper.

Here's What You'll Need:
2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups medium oatmeal
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
rolled oats for decoration

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Mix the yeast into 1/2 cup of the water and let it stand to activate for about 5 minutes.

2. Mix the flours, the oatmeal and the salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Pour about half the remaining water into the bowl and start to mix, adding just enough water to make a smooth and slightly sticky dough. This dough will be stiff!

3. Remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.

4. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

5. Deflate the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then, form it into a loaf and place it in a 8 1/2 in X 4 1/2 in (22 cm X 11 cm) loaf pan. Cover and let it rise until it just goes over the lip of the pan.

6. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Brush the loaf lightly with water and sprinkle oats over the top.

7. Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

8. Cool on a rack.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pane Con Pomodori e Cipolle Rosse - Tomato and Red Onion Bread

I love Italian bread. It's a fact. I think what I love the most is the simplicity that leads to sophistication that I find in the best Italian breads. For example, the most popular breads have only four ingredients: flour, water yeast and salt. There are some Tuscan breads that even leave out the salt, depending on the thick stew served with the bread to provide the flavor when you sop it up. How simple is that? So... where does the flavor come from? From the rise, which, if you do it right, should be slow and at cool temperatures. Like in the fridge.

This bread is a variation of a peasant loaf that comes from Calabria in Southern Italy. There, they like food spicy and the tomatoes are firm and packed with flavor. The combination of a slow-rising dough, with tomatoes and red onions and just a pinch of red pepper flakes makes for a bread that is strong on character and perfect for smoked meats and cheeses. Or just toasted with butter or some other spread like humus, mustard (under the toppings) or a good quality mayonnaise (ditto).

Here's What You'll Need: (for 1 large loaf)
3 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
2/3 (167 ml)cups warm water
4 cups (560 g) bread flour
2 tsp. salt
1 lb (450 g) ripe tomatoes
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
3 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside to activate, about 10 minutes.

2. Mix the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, make a well in the center and add in the dissolved yeast. Mix in just enough flour from the sides to make a slurry, then cover and let it rest to create a 'sponge' for about an hour.

3. In the meantime, peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Chop just the flesh of the tomatoes roughly and set aside. Peel and finely slice the onions.

4. Heat the olive oil in a pan then add the onions and oregano and pepper flakes. Finally, add the tomatoes and saute gently, covered for about 10 minutes. This will allow the juices to come out of the tomatoes and create a thick sauce. Cool this mixture completely before continuing.

5. Stir the tomato mixture into the sponge, and mix thoroughly to make a soft slightly sticky dough. The tomatoes are wet, and you may need to add a little flour to keep the dough manageable, i.e., only slightly sticky.

6. Knead for a few minutes to bring it together and evenly distribute the tomato mixture, then form it into a ball and place it in a lightly-oiled bowl (turn to coat) and cover to let it rise. Let it double in volume. This will take about 2 hours. If you want to greatly improve the flavor, you can place the dough in the refrigerator overnight like I did. Amazing!

7. If you placed to dough in the refrigerator, remove it, and, leaving it covered, let it come to room temperature, about 2 hours. 'Knock down' the dough, and form it into a tight boule. Place it on a baking sheet covered with baking paper, covered with a kitchen towel to rise again, about 1 hour.

8. Bake in a pre-heated oven (350 F; 180 C) for about 45 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack completely before slicing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Absolute Easiest Bread Ever - No-Knead White Bread That Fits Your Schedule

Back in 2006, Mark Bittman, the food editor at the NY Times,  published an article
describing a clever method developed by Jim Lahey for baking incredible tasting French bread in a Dutch oven pot that didn't require any kneading at all. None. He later went on to publish a whole series of cookbooks, all wonderfully comprehensive and very modestly titled. Here are a few examples: The Food Matters Cookbook, How To Cook Everything, How To Cook Everything Vegetarian and more.You get the idea.  Every one a delight to read, clear and simple. The idea was so simple and yet produced the most incredible bread! Not only that, it seemed to go in the face of everything we had learned about bread making. Long, slow rises, wet dough and NO KNEADING at all. The reaction was instantaneous. Luminaries in the bread world started experimenting with this method and publishing their own variations. For instance, Peter Reinhart, in his now classic, The Bread Baker's Apprentice champions this method extensively. And again in his later book Whole Grains Breads. Nancy Baggett has produced a whole cookbook dedicated to baking using this method (or rather, her variation of the original) in her great book Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads. This recipe is my take on a recipe from her book. It is so simple, and the best part, is that you can delay the baking with the looong rises, so that it fits your schedule. Try it. I am sure you'll love it.

Here's What You'll Need:
6 1/2 cups AP flour (or bread flour)
3 1/2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs salt
1 tsp dry yeast
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 3/4 cups ice water (yes, that's right - ice water)

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Use a very large bowl because the dough will have to practically quadruple its volume. In this bowl combine the dry ingredients - the flour, salt, sugar and yeast. In a separate bowl (or measuring cup) mix the oil and water together as much as possible. Then place ice cubes in the cup to chill the water.

2. Finally, make a well in the dry ingredients, and add 2 3/4 cups ice water to the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a dough that is evenly mixed. DO NOT KNEAD.

3. Form the dough into a rough boule, then spray lightly with spray oil. Cover with plastic (I placed mine in a plastic bag) and let it stand, at room temperature, for 3-10 hours (not a typo).

4. Place the still-covered dough in the refrigerator to rise slowly for 10-15 hours (overnight, basically).

5. The next day, divide the dough into 2 equal parts, and place it into two 9 in (23 cm) loaf pans. Let the dough rise, at room temperature and covered, until it reaches about 1/2 in (3 mm) above the rim of the pan.

6. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425 F (210 C). Place the bread in the oven, and reduce the temperature to 400 F (200 C). Bake for about 45 minutes until the bread is browned nicely and crisp. Cool on a rack completely before slicing.