Sunday, July 30, 2006


Sunday, July 30, 2006
I'm about running out of non-oven breads to make, so I hope the weather gets a little more moderate soon. 85 would seem downright temperate. I remember buying a package of crumpets once and wondering what all the excitement was about. And I noticed that Rose described crumpets as having a "distinctive" taste that you either love or hate, so I wasn't so sure I was going to be a crumpet-lover. Fortunately, I've discovered that I am on the "love" side. Jim wouldn't commit to either strong emotion, but he did say he liked them. Eating his second crumpet, he even went so far as to say that he liked it a lot. Jim is a Minnesotan born and bred, and that's about as close to enthusiasm as he's willing to go. Anyway, I wish I'd doubled the recipe. These crumpets are so easy to make, and the rise up quickly into a bubbly batter. I thought that the crumpets might stick to the crumpet rings when I turned them over, but they didn't. In fact, nothing bad happened at all, except that I temporarily lost one box of crumpet rings, causing me to accuse Jim of putting in some hidden spot where I'd never find it. But he located it (where I'd put it), which made for a happy ending, along with the crumpets and cappuccino.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Grilled Focaccia

Saturday, July 29, 2006
I don't even want to count how many days we are into this heat wave, but it was definitely too hot to turn on the oven; hence, the grilled focaccia. Even though I didn't use the oven, making it was not exactly like sitting by a pool drinking an iced gin and tonic. I still had to put the bread in a 500-degree Weber and take the bread off the baking pan and put it next to a bank of white-hot coals. But taking it back into the air conditioned dining room and eating it was easily the most satisfying thing I'd done all day. (Well, not much of a contest since the other things I did today were buy a tree, do some laundry, and read 150 pages of the transcript of a trial in which my unfortunate client was being pursued by a deputy sheriff while he (the client) was captured on videotape throwing baggies out the window of his truck. By a weird coincidence, the sheriff found some baggies containing methamphetamine by the side of the same road).
This bread was actually one of the most attractive breads I've ever made. Unfortunately, we forgot to take pictures of it when it was fresh off the grill looking browned and crisp and quite glorious, and before I hacked it into pieces. But even the hacked-up pieces look pretty good. We had chicken and a mix of what was left of last Sunday's Farmers Market vegetables, and a cruet of olive oil for the bread, and some crisp white wine. Not a bad way to end the day.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Carrot Bread

Sunday, July 23, 2006
After fussing all day yesterday with that temperamental baguette, I decided it was time for something simple. Except for grating a big pile of carrots, this carrot bread was no more complicated than a mix: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, sugar, eggs, oil, walnuts, and raisins. And the carrots, of course.
I saw some neighbors at our local Farmers' Market today, and invited them over for a mid-afternoon tea, assuring me of two good things: 1) that I would go ahead and make the bread, even though it was getting hot enough to make me doubt the wisdom of turning the oven on and 2) that enough of the bread would be eaten by hungry neighbors that I wouldn't eat more than I should. And both good things came to pass.
The bread quickly disappeared (I put out both butter and mascarpone as spreads, and the mascarpone was so delicious that I never tried the butter), and I ate two pieces, which, I'm sorry to admit, is less than I would have eaten if I'd been facing the whole thing at 4:30.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Saturday, July 22, 2006
I said earlier that there were four breads in the cookbook that really caused me trepidation: bagels, sourdough, the baguette, and croissants. I've done sourdough, and now I've done baguettes. More accurately, I've made my first baguette. The disadvantage of my "All 82 breads" project, with no repeats, is clear to me now--it leaves me no chance to perfect a particular bread. (Jim tells me that can be next year's project).
I'm not totally happy with the looks of this baguette. It's too flat and unbeautiful. I'm very happy with the taste, though.
To tell the truth, I was a little irritated when I realized that I was going to have to bake a baguette. As Rose says in her introduction, they're very difficult to make in a home oven and you can get a good baguette in any good bakery. But she says that people who didn't live five minutes away from a good bakery were pleading with her to show them how to make baguettes at home. I suspect some exageration here--I seriously doubt that hordes of people were at her door, begging her for baguette instructions.
However, I bought a baguette pan, as well as the specified King Arthur artisan flour, and I even got myself in a good frame of mind. The dough required many steps (Make a poolish! Make a pate fermentee!) and a lot of tending, but it was kind of fun. Everything went swimmingly, but when I took it out of the refrigerator for its last rise, it didn't want to rise any more; nor did it rise much in the oven, giving me a loaf that was the proper length and width, but only about an inch high. And it wasn't the lovely golden brown that I was expecting--more of a cafe au lait brown.
Still....if you've never tasted a baguette 10 minutes out of the oven, you are a lucky person because you have a great pleasure waiting to be experienced for the first time.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Quintessential Corn Muffins

Sunday, July 16, 2006
These muffins were made by the sweat of my brow. Although we're doing Minnesota tropical right now, and although I was going to do only non-oven breads until the temperature went down, I decided to make corn muffins. Our friends Doug and Mary brought us some beautiful wild blueberries from their summer house on Rainy Lake, so the idea of adding them to the corn muffins sounded too good to pass up. I thought briefly about opening the kitchen door and letting the air conditioning reach the kitchen, but we saw An Inconvenient Truth yesterday, so I couldn't quite bring myself to be that irresponsible. The recipe calls for only a 20-minute pre-heat and 15 minutes of baking, so I figured I could tough that out. And I did, but the sweat was pouring into my eyes. (Back in the day, we girls were told that we didn't sweat, we "glowed." This was sweat).
After my experience with the stone-ground extra-coarse cornmeal (which I decided to give to the birds, by the way, and they wouldn't touch it), I ordered some organic cornmeal from The Baker's Catalogue. This organic stuff was the opposite of extra-coarse; it was so fine it was almost like flour, with just a little texture and bite. It made fabulous muffins. Rose says she usually makes these muffins without blueberries because she likes the taste of corn so much, but I find it difficult to believe that they would have been improved by leaving out the wonderful Rainy Lake blueberries. They are so good that I had to promptly put them in the freezer so I wouldn't be tempted to sit down with the basket of muffins and polish them off. I really am not usually so greedy, but there are certain foods that just cry out, "Eat me." This is one of them.
We served the muffins with grilled spicy shrimp, new potatoes, peas, and baby onions from the Farmer's Market, and a cucumber, yogurt, and fresh mint salad, also from the Farmer's Market. We're lucky to be able to buy fresh vegetables all year round, but the locally grown, fresh from the farm, stuff that's available only in season is spectacularly good.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

English Muffins

Saturday, July 15, 2006
We're having a heat wave here in the far northland, so I'm moving to my list of "July breads"--breads that don't involve turning on the oven. These don't require an oven because they're "baked" on the griddle (my new electric griddle, yet another bread purchase, worked wonderfully). Homemade English muffins--I had to ask myself whether these were worth the bother since you can buy perfectly good English muffins. I discovered it's little like asking yourself if it's worth buying a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano when you can buy perfectly good Parmesan in a green shaker or whether it's worth buying expensive French or Greek olives when you can buy perfectly good California ones in a can.
These English muffins don't really taste much like the ones you buy in a package. Although mine didn't have as many holes and valleys as the packaged ones do, they made up for it by tasting more like bread than cardboard. The dough is easy to make, although it calls for several long periods of refrigeration. If you read the recipe ahead of time, it's easy enough to accommodate this. I made the sponge on Thursday night, put it in the refrigerator, mixed it up and let it rise last night, put it in the refrigerator again, and rolled the dough out and let it sit for its final rise this morning. I finished them at a reasonable breakfast time. Although Jim had already had his first breakfast, which he eats by 6:00 a.m. without fail, he was willing to have a second one. (His record is, I believe, three breakfasts--a happy day for him!). Someday, when I'm feeling really decadent, I could have made some kind of eggs mcmuffin with these--maybe using Nueske bacon and sharp cheddar, but not today, when it's supposed to get up to 100.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cracked Wheat Loaf

Friday, July 7, 2006
Every once in a while, Jim asks me, apprehensively, if I'm going to stop baking bread after I've made all 82 breads. I say no, and hope I mean it. I like having fresh bread on hand, or making my next loaf, or going through the Bible, looking for my next one. I expect I could get lazy (well, let's face it--I know very well I could get lazy), but I don't think I'll just give it up.
The cracked wheat bread is another one that's in contention for the standard bread you'd want to have around all the time--for toast, for sandwiches, for snacks. The bulgur gives it plenty of whole grain heftiness and crunch, but it's got a great texture too. It's a lovely dough. It looked so rich and creamy in the mixing bowl--it could have passed for a big bowl of butter brickle ice cream.
I got engrossed in the movie "Murderball" (it's a documentary about paraplegic rugby--it doesn't sound that good, but it really is!)while the bread was rising in the pan, so it grew more than I intended it to. When I took it out of the oven, Jim kept calling it the "fat bread" or the "chubby loaf" until I told him that we were not amused.
The recipe calls for added granular lecithin, which supposedly will make it stay soft and fresh for three days. I will be surprised if this loaf is still in existence three days hence, so I may not be able to accurately test the the lecithin's efficacy.
I am at the point now where I believe that it's very possible to actually bake all of the breads in one year, but an additional problem is coming up. I'm planning to remodel my kitchen, which will mean at least six weeks without a real kitchen. I'm not sure how I'm going to catch up with a six-week lag. There are a few breads I can make without an oven, although I was planning to do those in hot July or August weather. My kitchen remodel means buying a new range. I just realized that I've never bought a stove--I've always used the ones that came with the apartment or house. Does anyone have a range that they love and would recommend? Or one that they hate and would warn against?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sicilian Vegetable Pizza Roll

Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Today was the retirement party for one of my colleagues. She's younger than I am, but apparently thriftier or something, because she's managed to retire and build a beautiful home in Oregon, while I'm still going to work every day trying to get criminals off on a technicality. That is, I'm trying to protect the Constitution. (Happy Fourth of July, by the way).
Anyway, instead of having a fancy party, she opted to have an international-food pot luck lunch. Of course, I wanted to make a bread, and the Sicilian pizza roll sounded like it would be perfect.
I made some substitutions in this bread. When I first started this project, I vowed that I would follow the recipes as faithfully as I possibly could. (Don't you just love the web sites where someone says I didn't like this recipe at all--I substituted margarine for butter, and I didn't want to waste money buying fresh herbs so I used some old Italian seasoning, and I'm a vegetarian, so I substituted tofu for the prosciutto, and the recipe was no good)? The vegetables in this bread were broccoli, garlic, and Jerusalem artichokes, and even if I were really convinced that Jerusalem artichokes were the genuine Sicilian thing, they're not in season. I felt completely morally justified in substituting roasted red peppers and black olives for the Jerusalem artichokes. I even roasted the red peppers myself instead of using the jarred ones. I cannot apologize for this substitution; in fact, I find it hard to believe that the Jerusalem artichokes would be better.
The dough was easy to handle and fun to roll out, but it split while it was baking, so the olive oil leaked out and caused the bottom of the bread to burn. I contemplated not bringing the bread to the pot luck because of the burned bottom, but, instead, I spent about ten minutes scraping off the burned layer. I sliced it and served it, at room temperature, accompanied by a cruet of EVOO.
It was fabulous. Another bread that I might not have made were it not for The Project. I might have looked at it and said to myself, you know, I really like broccoli as a vegetable, but how good can broccoli bread be? If I'd said that, I would have been wrong. It was also immensely satisfying to hear people say, "You MADE this? Do you mean you didn't buy it, you actually made it?" This allows me to assume my modest look and say, "Oh, it was nothing, really. Anyone could do it."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

French Country Boule

Saturday, July 1, 2006

I remembered I still had part of a package of French Lalvain Pain de Campagne starter, the faux sourdough starter I'd used for the Low-Risk Sourdough bread, and this seemed like a good time to use it up. Although since this boule recipe calls for only 1/16 of a teaspoon of Lalvain starter, I didn't use it up--I have enough left to make many more loaves of this country boule, which is just fine with me.
This was another of those three-day breads. On Thursday, I made the liquid starter; on Friday, I mixed the starter with the flours (bread, rye, and whole wheat) and let the dough rise twice. This morning, I shaped it and let it rise again, slashed it in an adorable starfish shape, and baked it.
I had just enough time to eat one little slice before going to 10:00 yoga. I'm afraid that the bread put me in a non-yogic frame of mind. Instead of staying in the present, as we're so often told to do, I was thinking about having another slice of bread as soon as I got home and wondering whether I'd eat it plain, with butter, or with butter and jam.
The butter, no jam option won out. I figured I'd just spent an hour in yoga, so why not have a little butter on it. I'd sweated enough to justify jam, too, but I do like the basic and pristine bread-and-butter combination. I did take home enough yoga to remember to eat the bread mindfully, as opposed to greedily, which is nice because then it lasts longer.
I also decided that this bread would make an excellent sandwich, which it did. I made a tuna sandwich (my current favorite way to make a tuna sandwich is to add chopped roasted almonds, thin slices of fresh basil, and some capers to the tuna, plus just a smidgen of mayonnaise).

This is a very delightful bread. It's a smallish loaf, so I think you could probably make two in the KitchenAid without much trouble, and if you could, it would be an excellent idea.