Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Italian Artistry - Ciabatta Stuffed with Onions and Herbs

I don't know if anyone has noticed, but in the bread baking world I have a few heroes. Jeffrey Hamelman, the Master Baker and Instructor from King Arthur Flour is one. His book, simply titled Bread is a classic and when first released in 2004, was instantly hailed as the bread book. It is now into its 2nd edition and this time it is even better. 

Another baking hero of mine is Peter Reinhart, without doubt one of the greatest bread bakers of our time. He has written numerous cookbooks from Brother Juniper's Bread Book through Crust and Crumb and The Bread Baker's Apprentice and all the way to Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. Every one a gem. And if you follow the recipes they will no doubt lead you to better baking. I can almost guarantee it. 

This recipe is a variation on Reinhart's Ciabatta recipe, filling it with caramelized onion and fresh herbs from my garden. You can use just about any herbs but the taste family of oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme or rosemary works best in my opinion. I also varied the shape of the loaves. Instead of the smallish rolls we usually make with this dough, I shaped it into a largish loaf and later sliced it to make incredible sandwiches. Toasted with a little sharp mustard, it is incredible. Like most recipes from Reinhart, this one includes a starter - in this case a poolish, which ferments for a few hours or even overnight. Make the effort with this one, it is definitely worth it.

Here's What You'll Need:
for the starter (poolish):
2 1/2 cups/11.25 oz/320 g bread flour (or AP flour)
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups/12 oz/340 ml water
1/4 tsp instant dry yeast

Mix the flour, water and yeast together to make a very thick slurry. It will have the consistency of thick pancake batter. Cover and let it stand, at room temperature for at least 3 or 4 hours, or even overnight. If leaving overnight, after 3 hours place the bowl in the refrigerator.

The next day...

For the dough:
all of the poolish
3 cups/13.5 oz/385 g bread flour (or AP flour)
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast
1/3 to 3/4 cup water at room temperature

for the filling:
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped fresh herbs
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. brown sugar

Using olive oil, saute the onions on a low heat until very soft. Add the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar and continue stirring until it thickens slightly. Cool completely before using.

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

* If you refrigerated the poolish, remove it at least 1 hour before using it so it comes to room temperature.

1. Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl. Then add the poolish and 1/3 cup of water. Mix by hand until it comes together. You may need to add a bit more water up to 3/4 cups. When it forms into a rough ball of dough, remove to a lightly floured surface.

2. Knead the dough, which will be quite sticky and slack using the stretch and fold technique. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle. Stretch the far side away from you and then on top of the remaining dough. Do the same with the dough closest to you so it is folded like a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat.

3. Lightly spray the dough with oil, cover and let it rest for 30 minutes. Repeat this process 3 times, at 30 minute intervals, each time folding and stretching.

*The last time you stretch and fold the dough, shape it into a rough rectangle then spread the onion mixture over the surface. Stretch and fold the dough with the onions now incorporated into the dough.

4. Finally cut the dough into loaf size pieces (or rolls) and roll gently in flour. Try not to deflate the dough. Place the shaped dough (either rolls or loaves) on a lined baking sheet, cover and let it rest and rise. The dough will puff up but probably not double.

5. Preheat the oven to 450 F/220 C. Bake the bread, with steam*, for about 20 minutes (rolls) or 30-35 minutes for loaves. 

6. Cool completely on a rack before slicing. If you can.

*Place a small tray in the oven while you preheat. Just before placing the dough in the oven, pour about 1 cup boiling water into the tray and close the door quickly. This will create a steamy atmosphere and help make the crust crunchy and chewy (and delicious, of course).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Down at the Pub - English Beer Bread

Bread is one of the main players in the food game I call Controlled Fermentation. By that I mean that there certain classes of foods that we all enjoy, everywhere in the world, that are the result of manipulating the conditions of fermenting the basic ingredients. Beer is another. So is cheese. So when you combine beer (made with brewer's yeast) and bread (made with baker's yeast) you know it's got to be great!

Across Europe, especially Northern and Eastern Europe, where beer is king, there are many variations of this bread. The beer adds a wonderful earthy flavor (but no alcohol since it evaporates in the oven), and combined with the whole wheat flour makes for a bread that is both healthy and delicious. This recipe is an English variety, but, there are many, many more from Ireland east all the way to Russia. Enjoy!

Here's What You'll Need:
9 oz/250 g whole wheat flour
9 oz/250 g AP or bread flour
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. dry yeast
2 Tbs. butter
10 oz/300 ml good beer

Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1. Mix all the ingredients into a large bowl and combine by hand until all the flour is absorbed.

2. Remove the still rough dough to a lightly-floured surface and knead vigorously for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and only very slightly tacky. Place the dough back into the bowl, covered, and let it rest for about and hour.

3. Form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly by hand. After placing the dough on a lined baking tray, slash the dough diagonally. Cover it loosely with plastic and let it rise for about 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes until it is a deep golden brown. Cool on a rack.

5. Serve this bread with a good sharp cheddar or other sharp cheese, fresh veggies, and, of course, cold beer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Maneesh - Middle Eastern Flatbread with Seeds and Herbs

Over the years, I have written a lot about breads from different parts of the world. And in different areas there  are 'styles' which are typical for that place. Many times the kind of bread is pretty much determined by geography and climate. So, for instance, in Eastern Europe, with its long. cold winters and short, hot summers, the breads include lots of rye flour, since it grows in that relatively harsh climate. The breads tend to be heavier, denser affairs, sometimes with dried fruit or imported spiced to 'liven' them up a bit.

Another example might be the breads of Asia. I know, Asia is huge. In fact it is the hugest. But in terms of bread, almost all breads from this massive continent are flat breads. Even breads using yeast tend to be fairly flat. In fact, the first breads are likely Asian, baked on a hot stone or in a stone oven. Maneesh is no exception. Originating in the Middle East, and super popular in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, this bread is typically baked in a stone oven slathered with olive oil and covered with sesame seeds and za'atar (hyssop). You can find it in any open market and it is definitely street food. For very little money, you can buy one and gobble it up while doing your weekly market shopping! The za'atar, btw, is a native herb closely related to the oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary, marjoram family of herbs in terms of flavor. If you can't find it, at a Middle Eastern or Greek grocery, any or all of the these can easily substitute.

Here's What You'll Need:
  • 500g/1lb 2oz AP flour or bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 10g/¼oz salt
  • 25g/1oz powdered sugar
  • 10g/¼oz instant yeast
  • 20ml/4 tsp olive oil, plus extra for kneading
  • 360ml/12fl oz tepid water

    Also for the topping:
    about 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
    about 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs or 3-4 Tbs. dry herbs (za'atar or other Mediterranean herbs)
    olive oil

    Here's What You'll Need To Do:
    1. Mix together the flour, yeast salt and sugar. Then add in the olive oil. Gradually add the water (you may not need all of it) mixing by hand to form a soft, not sticky, dough.

    2. Spread a little olive oil on the tabletop, then remove the dough and knead it on the oiled surface. It will be shaggy at first, but after 5 to 10 minutes will become very smooth and supple. Place the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl, covered, to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

    3. Remove the dough from the bowl, punch down to remove the air, then divide into 3 fairly equal pieces. Stretch the dough, using your fingers, into a rough circle, then cover with plastic to rest about 25 minutes. The dough will puff up but not double.

    4. Preheat the oven to 450 F (220 C). 'Dimple' the dough with your fingers carefully so as not to deflate too much, then brush the top with a paste made from the remaining oil and herbs. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a deep golden brown and the bread sounds hollow. The bottom should be deep brown and crispy as well. B'tayavon - Bon Appetit (in Hebrew)!