Sunday, January 27, 2013

Psomi - My Big Fat Greek Bread

Lately I have been reading a lot about the latest diet craze - Mediterranean food. I have to tell you, it seems like a no-brainer to me. I love olive oil, and red wine. I eat little meat, and almost no red meat at all. I eat fish a couple times a week. Lots of fresh veggies, and fruit all the time. So when I found this bread, Psomi bread (pronounced 'sew me') from Greece I was thrilled. After looking over the recipe, I realized, it is actually quite similar to the American Anadama bread, but with some important differences. For instance, this bread does not use molasses, and so stays whitish rather than brown. Actually, light brown, like a 'harvest wheat', as Frasier used to say. And it uses toasted sesame seeds instead of the cornmeal found in Anadama. What it is, is delicious, with a soft but chewy crust and a close, tight crumb. It makes great sandwiches, and also, just in case you were curious, the toast is superb.

Here's What You'll Need: (for 2 loaves)
(for the sponge)
1/2 cup warm water
1Tbs instant yeast
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or sour milk), at room temperature
3 cups whole wheat flour

(for the dough)
4 Tbs honey
2 Tbs butter (or margarine)
2 to 3 cups AP flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

flour for dusting
oil for greasing the bowl

Here's What You'll Need to Do:

1. To make the sponge: Mix the warm water and the yeast to dissolve. Then mix in the buttermilk and the whole wheat flour to form a shaggy dough. Cover and set aside until double in volume (about 45 minutes).
add to the sponge, then mix...

2. Add the honey, salt, butter, sesame seeds and 2 cups of the flour and mix to form a dough that cleans the bowl. Remove the dough to a floured surface and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes) adding small amounts of dough as needed.

3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover to rise until doubled in volume (about 2 hours).

4. Remove the dough, cut in two, and shape either into a boule, or as pan loaves. If using loaf pans, oil them generously. Cover and let rise until doubled.

5. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Just before baking. slash the loaves with 3 horizontal slashes. Bake with steam for about 35-40 minutes or until they sound hollow when 'thumped' on the bottom.

6. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nostalgia Time - Rye Rolls

What a week (a month really) it's been. Starting from mid-December right up until last Thursday, my wife and I have been working almost non-stop setting up and making all kinds of last minute arrangements for my daughter's wedding! Now that it's over, I'm sitting here, a few days after, in a state of shock, not really comprehending that it's over and the guests have gone home. That the party's over. That it's time to get back to work. So pardon me, please, if I have not been posting as much as usual. Truth be told, I have also not been baking as much as usual! But, like I said, it's time to buckle down, and get back to work.

Arranging a wedding made me very nostalgic. Of course, I think of my daughter as a little girl. But it also makes me think about my hometown when I was a little boy. A small one industry town in northeastern Canada. Literally in the middle of nowhere and filled with immigrants from all over Europe. Poles, Irish, Ukranians, Jews and, of course, many, many Scots.

Food from northern Europe is simple fare but no matter where you are from, there are certain things in common. For instance: since it is so cold there and winters are long, a lot of foods are based around root vegetables easily stored for the winter. Also, lots of animal fat (chicken, goose, pig). And preserved foods like pickles of all kinds, hard cheeses, and smoked and pickled meats, fish  and cheese. Bread is very heavy and hearty using whole grains and especially the heavy, dark flour from rye.

In keeping with my current nostalgia, I am posting a recipe for rolls, for any time of day, using rye flour. They are the kind of rolls I used to eat as a child, but lighter. The rye flavor is unmistakeable, and the texture, soft and just a little chewy, makes them perfect for anything from a nice sharp cheddar to a good pastrami with mustard. Enjoy them while reminiscing.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp. dry yeast
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbs. sugar
1 cup rye flour
about 2 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. caraway seed (optional)

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

1. Add all the ingredients, except the salt, and mix to form a shaggy dough. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes, then sprinkle the salt over and mix it in.

2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes until smooth and just barely sticky.

3. Form into a ball, them place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

4. Shape the dough into 2 equal boules or about 12 rolls. (I made rolls.) Place the shaped dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, covered, and let it rest/rise a second time, about 45 minutes.

5. Just before baking, slash the rolls/boules with a sharp serrated knife or a razor blade.

6. About 20 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Bake with steam (a small metal tray filled with boiling water on the bottom of the oven does the trick), for about 17-20 minutes (for rolls) or about 30-35 minutes (for loaves), until the crust is fairly hard and the bottoms are well browned. Cool on a rack.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Artisan Bread (in only 48 hours!) - Sun-Dried Tomato Boule*

My kids sometimes tease me and say that actually I'm Amish. I'm not, but they sometimes think I am because I have this tendency to try and make everything by myself, from scratch. I have made homemade peanut butter which was great and really not so difficult. I'm just not sure it's worth the effort when you can get good peanut butter without the preservatives, emulsifiers and all the rest for only slightly more than it costs me to make, and without the fuss. I have made jams, and jellies and, yes, even some soft cheeses. My latest foray into that department was paneer, the soft, white Indian cheese that goes so great with curried spinach, and, of course, chapattis.

This bread is no different. It starts with a poolish of flour, water and only a small pinch of yeast. After 48 hours at room temperature, when it is good and strong, you build the rest. The 'Amish' part in this bread comes from the homemade sun-dried tomatoes, made actually in the oven and stored in olive oil. The result is an artisan loaf, with a thick chewy crust and a close, dense crumb. The flavor has a definite tanginess that comes from the poolish and from the tomatoes. What can I say. Last night I made a salami sandwich with sharp Dijon mustard that couldn't be beat. No sogginess, no falling apart. Just great flavor and texture from beginning to end. Definitely a keeper.

Here's What You'll Need:
(the the poolish)

100g (3 1/2oz) AP flour
100ml warm water
a pinch of instant yeast

For the bread:
the poolish
350g (about 12oz) bread flour
100g (3 1/2oz) whole wheat flour
50g (1 1/2oz) rye flour
7g (1/2Tbs) instant yeast
225-250ml (7 1/2-8oz) warm water
12g (1/2Tbs) salt
50g (1 1/2oz) sun-dried tomatoes, well drained
50g (1 1/2oz) green or black olives coarsley chopped (optional)

Here's What You'll Need to Do:

1. Mix together the flour, water and yeast for the poolish in a large bowl until you get a very loose slurry. Like thick cake batter. Cover with plastic, and let it ferment at room temperature overnight or even, if you're busy, for 2 days.

2. Mix all the remaining ingredients into the poolish, except the tomatoes and olives, and knead to form a smooth, only slightly sticky dough. Let the dough rise in a covered, lightly-oiled bowl until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl, and deflate. Add in the tomatoes and olives (if using) then knead until evenly distributed. Form into a tight boule, and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

4. In the meantime, place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 220C (425F).

5. Just before baking, slash the loaf, then place a pan of boiling water under the stone, and spray the loaf well.

6. Bake with the paper, right on the stone for about 35-40 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cook on a rack completely before slicing.

* This is a variation of a recipe in an Israeli cookbook that features recipes from the outdoor farmer's market in Jerusalem. The artisan bakery there, Teller's Bakery, specializes in artisan loaves.