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All posts for the month January, 2014

Bread that’s not a challenge

Published January 30, 2014 by livinggraciously

The BBA breads are pretty awesome, but they are time consuming. Most of them require starting the evening before baking, and a number of steps along the way. But when Ferrett and I were snowed in last week, and out of bread to just make a sandwich, I decided to try the Easy Sandwich Bread recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. It promised bread in two hours, and by gum if it didn’t deliver. It also suggested that the loaf was really best if eaten that day, and I have to say that we managed to accomplish that task rather nicely. It’s not a bread that is going to wow you with its flavor profile, because the quick rise doesn’t give a chance for much flavor development. But it makes great toast and is terrific for sandwiches.

So, for everyone who is intimidated by bread, I am going to give you the step-by-step of making this quick and simple bread. The recipe does require a stand mixer with a paddle attachment; I don’t know if it would hold up to an old-fashioned, beater style mixer. I checked into the copyright rules, and I am allowed to reprint the list of ingredients, but must write the instructions myself. So here we go:

Easy Sandwich Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (11 ounces) bread flour
  • 6 tablespoons (2 ounces) whole-wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water (120 degrees)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (the original calls for melted, unsalted butter)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water and pinch salt

Whisk the flours and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer, then add the 1 1/4 cup warm water, olive oil, and honey. Using the paddle – not dough hook – attachment on your mixer, beat this on low for a minute.The dough should be pretty wet, so if it’s balling up nicely, add another couple ounces of water. Then continue beating on medium for two full minutes. It should look like this when you are done:

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Remove the paddle attachment from the mixer so that you don’t have to try and get dough off of it. Leaving the paddle in the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and set it someplace warm to rise for 20-25 minutes, or until doubled:

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Turn your oven on at 375F, and make sure your rack is in the middle. Reattach the paddle to the mixer and the bowl to the stand (probably the trickiest part of the whole operation). Dissolve the salt into two tablespoons of warm water, then add to the bowl. Mix for 40 seconds to partially incorporate the salt water (adding fluid at this point in any bread is going to look gloppy and soupy), then on medium for another minute. This is going to look more like a batter than a bread dough, which is why it can’t be hand kneaded:

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Use cooking spray to coat a 4×8″ loaf pan (you really should use 4×8 rather than 5×9 as the dough isn’t enough to rise well in a 5×9), then pour the batter into the pan.Image

(Yes, it’s a little out-of-focus. You know how hard it is to manipulate the bowl AND the camera?!)

Use a greased rubber spatula to scrape the last of the dough from the bowl and to smooth the dough evenly in the pan.

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Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking spray and allow to rise for 15 minutes or to half an inch below the lip of the pan. Then uncover and allow to rise another 5-10 minutes, or until the center is level with the lip of the pan.

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Slash down the center of the dough, then bake for 40-50 minutes or until just past golden golden brown. Image

(As you can see, mine sprang rather more on one end than the other. This happens sometimes. Slash better than I did.)
Let cool for 45 minutes before slicing. Or at least 30. The pleading looks from your family will be hard to resist. When you do slice, do so with a light hand as this is a very airy bread and will squish easily if not handled gently.
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The crust is delicious, and the crumb nice and airy. Toasting makes is a crispy treat.
So there you have it: bread in two hours that doesn’t require bicep strength. I have made it twice, and may whip some up today, it’s that easy.
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BBA #14: French bread

Published January 27, 2014 by livinggraciously

I have to admit that I spent far too much time stuck in the face of French bread. I’d read that it was really hard, and it never seemed to be the right time to make it. But I finally got to it last week.

Once again, this is a bread that needs to be started the night before. the pane fermente must be put together, given a good kneading, and then refrigerated overnight. The effect of this overnight refrigeration is to let the yeast beasties eat up the sugars surrounding them and then offgas alcohols and other byproducts, and then for those to just sit there in the quiet of your cold bread and stew a bit.

Yes, the rich taste of good breads is pretty much reliant on yeast farts.

ANYway, in the morning, about an hour before your ready to begin throwing the bread around, you must remove the pane fermente from the fridge, chop it into about 10 pieces, then cover it and leave it to warm up a bit:

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After an hour, measure out the rest of the ingredients, plop in the fermented dough, and begin kneading. This is a 10 minute process if done by hand, and I love the way the dough transforms under my hands from a sloppy, ragged mess to something smooth and elastic.

Into an oiled bowl to rise for two hours. If it rises too high in that time, degass it done to a small ball and continue the rising time. Then turn it out on a well-floured counter:

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Divide it into two or three even segments. I chose two, because my French bread pan has two segments.

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Shape the clumps into loaves.

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There are fussy instructions about stretching and curving around and pinching to stretch the outer skin of the bread. I did that with one, didn’t with the other, and couldn’t tell them apart.

Move them onto your loaf pan or do the whole couche method of heavily floured cloth pinched up between the loaves to separate them. I chose the pan because then I don’t have to be touching them again and risk deflation.

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Cover and let rise again.

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And when they are all nice and puffy give them a slash to help with oven spring, then into the 500 degree oven with a cup of water poured into a pan before them to create steam.

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There are no pictures of me pouring boiling water into a 500 degree jelly roll pan. Because good grief. Most of the steam escaped by the time I was able to close the oven. I think the next time I might try to figure out some kind of Mythbusters trick wherein I use a metal cup and a string, and pull the cup over just as I’m closing the oven. I would be able to rescue it in a very short time, because 30 seconds after the initial steaming, you need to crack the oven door and mist the inside of the oven. You do this three times.

After that, the baking time is about 25 minutes. And they do spring nicely in the oven.

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I have conjoined bread.

They weren’t hard to separate, and when they cooled and we cut them, this is what we got:

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The crumb was a little denser than I would have liked, and I think that next time I will give them an extra 10 minutes in the final rise. But the flavor was delicious. The crust was thin and crisp, and the crumb creamy. Dipped in olive oil, it was out of this world. Definitely a keeper.

BBA #13 – Focaccia

Published January 22, 2014 by livinggraciously

My friends will all be surprised to see this post, because I have made focaccia for two years now. It’s the bread I kept making when I didn’t make bread. It’s the bread that was not just expected but *demanded* for events. It’s the bread that people refer to as “a tradition” for our friends’ Bread and Soup party, even though this year was only the second year that I’ve brought it.

It’s that good.

But I never wrote it up back when I first made it. Which, from the dates on the pictures, was November of 2012. I’ve probably made it a dozen times now. But writing it up is standing in the way of moving forward, so let’s do this thing.

First, focaccia requires some planning. You make it the day before you bake it, so you have to have room in your fridge for a large pan of dough to rest overnight. Secondly, you need to make the topping oil the day before, so that it can soak up all the flavors overnight. So plan it for an evening you’re going to be around.

Second, the dough for focaccia is very soft, bordering on wet. This isn’t a dough you knead, it is a dough you fold onto itself. The ingredients get measured into a mixing bowl, then you spend about 5 minutes just slopping them around in the bowl. Honestly, this would be a good job for the stand mixer, but I’ve done it all be hand up until now, so I just wear out my arm scooping dough in a clockwise pattern for a minute, then counterclockwise for as long as I can take it, then clockwise again.

Once this is done, you can let it rest for a short time while you dust the heck out of your countertop with flour. The instructions say a surface about 6 inches across. I say, “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!” This dough sticks like crazy, so be ready for that.

Then you pour it out onto the counter. At this point it has the consistency of oobleck. Maybe a little thicker. You pat it down a bit, then lift one side up, let it slump away from you, then fold it over the rest of the dough. It’s a lot like the ciabatta, but not quite as goopy:

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You do this a few times, let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes, do it again, repeating 3 times. After this, stretch the dough out onto a jelly roll pan that you’ve placed parchment paper into. The dough will be very elastic and not the least bit interested in stretching to the corners of the pan. Give it some time, coax it along, but resign yourself to never actually reaching a square.  Cover it with plastic wrap and slide it into the fridge.

Now it’s time to make the topping oil. I make it with rosemary, garlic, and coarse sea salt. A lot of garlic. Like, I chop an entire head of garlic. Strip fresh rosemary off the stems and chop both pretty fine. Pour about a cup of high-quality olive oil into a saucepan and add the finely chopped rosemary and garlic. Set this to simmering slowly–don’t burn the garlic; you want it to just get a little color. Then turn it down low.

Taste it now, and it will probably be a little bitter. Add the sea salt and taste again. It’s like magic! Let this all warm for the rest of the evening and fill your house with delicious aromas.

(If you don’t like rosemary and garlic? You can try other combinations of flavors. But you’re on your own; for me, this is perfection.)

About 3 hours before baking, the bread needs to come out of the fridge. You will look at it and think, “well, that didn’t amount to much” because it will not have risen much, if at all. Fear not; the night was not wasted because the yeast beasties were doing their slow thing. Be sure to pull the plastic wrap away and resettle it on the bread, because things are gonna start moving now.

This is the place where I really depart from the instructions in the BBA book. They say to put the oil on the bread at the beginning of this rise. The one time I did that, the bread was too high and didn’t taste like focaccia. So I say, wait until you’re just about ready to put it in the oven.

2 and a half hours after you’ve taken the bread out, turn your oven up to 500. Yes, really. Once it’s nice and hot, take your saucepan of flavored oil and start scooping it over the bread. You need to scoop because you want to distribute all the rosemary and garlic goodness all over the bread. You will appear to have way too much oil. Set it aside about halfway done.

Then comes the fun part. Pounce the fingertips of both hands all over the bread, pushing holes into it that the oil and goodies will enter. Do this over the whole bread. Don’t be alarmed that you are deflating it terribly. Pop the giant air bubbles that will appear. Then pour on the rest of the oil and do it some more. Slide that baby into the oven, lower the heat to 450, and keep the door closed for 10 minutes. Your bread will spring in the oven and suck up all that oil. After 10 minutes, rotate it and cook for 5-10 more. When you pull it out, let it sit for 5 minutes, then slide it off the pan and onto a wire rack so the bottom doesn’t get mushy. It will look like this:

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At least it will for about 5 minutes. Minutes after you cut into it, it will look like this:

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The philosophy of an unmade bed

Published January 21, 2014 by livinggraciously

Every “clean up your home” book tells you to make your bed every day. And for a long time I thought that was silly. In fact, I started this post almost a year ago from the presumption that it was silly.

Notice that “a year ago” thing. That’s important. Because two years is about how long this journal has lain fallow, gathering cobwebs.

It’s not that a lot hasn’t happened. 2013 was one of the most eventful years of my life. Some of it good, much of it bad.

I ran a bunch of 5ks. I completed 2 triathlons. We went to Hawaii. We got a dog.

Ferrett had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. A number of family members died. Our 5-year-old goddaughter was diagnosed with brain cancer.

And I had pretty much stopped journaling. Some of these events are recorded in my almost-equally-neglected Live Journal, but most of my internet interaction had moved over to the quicker but less permanent annals of Facebook and Spark People.I felt sort of bad about not following through here, but it was too much work, and took too much concentration. I was spending way too much time on the computer, and not really getting much constructive out of it. It was casually addicting, letting the hours slip by.

I wasn’t baking bread. I wasn’t quilting. I wasn’t reading books. I wasn’t gardening or doing as much cooking as I’d wish. I was, honestly, in the face of many crises, sort of just holding on. Getting enough work done to keep getting paid, but letting a lot else that made my life a good place just slide.

Then sometime in November, I started making the bed. Every morning. If I was out of the house before Ferrett was up, when I got home I would go and make the bed. It was suddenly, after many, many years, important to me. On the morning after my stepdad died, I made the bed. On Christmas morning, when we were all in crisis because my 6-year-old niece had seized the evening before and was lying unconscious in a hospital, I made the bed. On the morning when we got the good word that she was going to recover, I made the bed.

And then other things started happening in life. I began putting together menus again so that I can actually do the cooking I want to do to keep Ferrett and me healthy. I started quilting again. My workouts got more consistent. I have the next bread in the BBA Challenge, French bread, rising in the kitchen right now.

I can’t say for certain that it isn’t me kind of recovering from a tough year and regaining the energy to do all these things, but I know that starting the day with that one small ritual of making the bed causes me to then pick up any laundry or detritus in the bedroom, and I come out of it with a feeling that I’m starting out on the right foot. Now excuse me, I have French bread to make.

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