Sunday, November 25, 2007

Basic Hearth Bread - Again

November 25, 2007
I love this bread.

It's one of the few from The Bread Bible that I've repeated--it's worth repeating because it's just about a perfect basic loaf of bread. It's chewy and crusty, and, especially with sourdough starter substituting for some of the yeast, as it did this time, very flavorful. It's also quite pretty.
The first time I made this bread, in March of 2006, I was just getting started on my year-long bread-baking project. I liked it then, even though I didn't shape it very well. I made it a second time just after our kitchen was completed--I think it was the first bread I made in the new oven. It got a little too dark, but I still liked it. This time, it was almost perfect. In fact, I doubled the recipe because I knew how much I liked this bread. (Doubling was not such a great idea, as it turned out, since the amount of dough really taxed my KitchenAid's powers. I smelled something burning and couldn't figure out what it was, since I hadn't turned on the oven. Then I realized that my mixer was working its little heart out for me.)

This hearth bread is just flour, water, and yeast, with a little honey added for a very subtle sweetness. Most of the flour is bread flour, but there's a little whole wheat--enough for color and taste. One of Rose's variations is to cut down the yeast and add some sourdough starter. I like to add some sourdough to most breads anyhow, but this one especially benefits from it. Not enough to make it sour, but just enough to deepen the flavor.
We had it with cheese and wine this afternoon.

Jim brought some cheese back from the grocery store that described itself as having a "subtle barnyard taste." I asked him why he thought that sounded inviting, but it turned out to be fine.
(It's amazing how much time I have on Sunday when I'm not writing a novel, by the way!)
And I'm making spaghetti with bacon, tomatoes, and tarragon for dinner; I expect it will go very well with that, too.

Thea's Mother's Cream Scones

Sunday, November 25, 2007

First of all, I'm done with the novel. After an all-day stint of writing yesterday, I got to "The End" and to 50,276 words at the same time. I can now cross "Write a Novel" off my list of life's goals.
I had a secret plan in case I couldn't make it quite to 50,000 words. Two of my main characters are amateur bakers (what a surprise!), and they bake various things throughout the book. I figured that if I didn't make the word count by November 30, I'd just add the recipes. The more I thought about it, the more integral the recipes seemed. As it happened, I didn't need the extra words, but I'm still including the recipes in the novel.
I thought I'd already decided what recipes I was going to use. To my surprise, though, Thea's mother entered the story, and she decided to bake scones. I didn't know that was going to happen. You know how writers are always claiming that their characters just do things on their own? That always seemed pretty unbelievable to me, yet there she was, this new character who just barged into Thea's kitchen and made scones. She doesn't even have a name. She's just "Thea's mom." (Like mothers often are--mere appendages to their children).
When I woke up this morning, I was disappointed that there were no scones for me to eat. After all, I'd invented the damn character; did I have to bake the scones too? It seems that I did.
When Jim walked into the kitchen, he was delighted to see me mixing up scones. "Scones! What a wonderful idea!" "They're Thea's mother's scones," I told him. He nodded knowingly. "Ah," he said, and walked out. He may not be sure who she is, but he thinks that Thea's mother makes a mean scone.

Thea's Mother's Cream Scones

1/3 c. currants
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
3 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
4 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1 T. heavy cream to brush on scones
Extra sugar to sprinkle on scones

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt; then cut in butter until the mixture resembles meal.
3. Combine eggs, cream, and vanilla, and stir it into the flour mixture, along with currants and nuts.
4. Turn dough onto floured counter and knead lightly about 10 times.
5. Pat dough into circle about 3/4" thick. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar.
6. Cut into 8 to 12 wedges, depending on how big you want the scones to be.
7. Place wedges on baking pan lined with parchment paper.
8. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Thursday, November 22, 2007
"Mom, I have to bring bread on Thanksgiving."
"I thought you were making a Key Lime pie."
"I am, but my friends told me to bring bread. They know about your blog, and they think I should bake bread too. So send me a recipe, but it has to be easy. And the ingredients can't be expensive. I'm very poor. And remember--I don't have anything!"
I mulled this one over for a while, then thought about the first bread I ever made. I was about 16, and "Dilly Bread" was the rage. I think it had won the Pillsbury Bake-Off, back in the day when the Bake-Off was something more than a showcase for pre-packaged, highly processed food. I remembered it being very easy, with very little kneading, and it didn't even need a loaf pan.
To my surprise, it was easy to find a recipe. And it was easy to make too. The only minor almost-glitch was when Liz and I were IM-ing about making the bread, and I told her to find a warm spot in the kitchen. She said, "You mean you're not supposed to put it in the refrigerator?"
I said, "Yikes!" "Okay, okay, it's out of the refrigerator now. Don't panic."


She was very pleased with how the bread turned out, as well as the Key Lime pie. There had been a moment of distress the day before when she was shopping. "Mom, I'm at the grocery store, and they don't have any Key Limes." I told her just to get regular limes, and not bottled key lime juice, which I think has a nasty, artificial taste. I told her not to forget the whipping cream. "It's got to be Reddi-Whip. I don't have a mixer." Silence. "Don't worry, mom, it'll taste great."

She took her bread and pie to her friend Sarah's condo, and these soon-to-be doctors (and one lawyer) put on a nice spread.

They gave the job of carving the turkey to the only non-doctor. But he did a nice job.

None of them look too unhappy about the idea of spending Thanksgiving away from the bosom of their families.


Liz's Thanksgiving Dilly Bread

1 T. active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1 c. small-curd cottage cheese
1 T. butter
2 t. dried or 4 t. fresh dill
1 T. minced onion
1 t. salt
1 egg
2 1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Warm cottage cheese and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add to yeast mixture, along with dill, onion, salt, and egg. Mix well.
3. Add flour and mix well.
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for a few minutes.
5. Place in oiled bowl, turning to coat all the dough with oil.
6. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise (in a warm place) until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Turn out, knead slightly, and shape into round loaf. Place in oiled casserole dish or pie pan. (If you've already used your one and only pie pan to make Key Lime pie, use oven-proof skillet.)
Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Adapted from Baking With the St. Paul Bread Club, Kim Ode, ed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Pearl's Walnut Levain

Sunday, November 18, 2007
Novel or no, I felt the need to bake bread this weekend, so I tried another bread from Maggie Glezer's beautifully photographed book, Artisan Baking. This bread is labeled "advanced," but it's not difficult, although it does require a sourdough starter which you use to make the levain.

My friend Bridget told me that she had this book, but she had never used it because making a levain or poolish the night before always seemed kind of scary; she also said that when she wants bread, she wants it now--not 48 hours later.
I pooh-poohed her levain fear, and told her that it couldn't be easier.
When I looked at this recipe, I had to admit that it didn't exactly fit in the "want it now" category. A levain has to be stirred up the night before, and for the levain, you need about a tablespoon of sourdough starter, which, of course, had to be refreshed at least twelve hours before you put it in the levain. And if you don't happen to have sourdough starter in your refrigerator, you're not going to bake this bread. Or at least not this version of it.
I ended up adding a minute amount (about 1/8 teaspoon) of yeast to the dough when I mixed it up because the levain was supposed to have quadrupled overnight. Maybe it doubled, but it certainly didn't quadruple. I was afraid it just didn't have enough oomph to make two loaves of hearty bread. Maybe I should have had more faith, but it turned out very well with the addition of a small amount of yeast.
I like the mixture of flours for this bread--all-purpose unbleached, bread, rye, and whole wheat--much better than I like the straight whole-wheat that I made last weekend. And the addition of lightly toasted walnuts gives this bread a terrific, earthy flavor.

Jim made bacon, onion, and blue cheese omelets for dinner. Although the bread and the omelets weren't planned to go together, it was a match made in heaven.

The Cupboard is Bare Pizza

Saturday, November 17, 2008

One really nice thing about having frozen pizza dough on hand is that you almost always have a few things on hand that you can put on top of a crust, and, after it's been baked on high heat on top of a pizza stone for five or ten minutes, it doesn't look like a meal born of desperation. Well, more like laziness actually.
I had fallen behind in my novel writing, what with book club and a fundraiser that I felt that I had to go to, and work, of course, which always seems to get in the way of my projects.
I took the pizza dough out of the freezer in the morning and figured I'd go grocery shopping later. At dinner time, I was still trying to get up to 33,000 words, so I just looked around to see what I had. It turned out that I had onions, a few olives, sun-dried tomatoes, some wilty-looking basil, and Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheeses. Peter Reinhart recommends no more than three or four ingredients atop a pizza, and he's probably right. I may have had more weight than I should have asked this thin crust to hold, but I don't know what I would have taken off. I caramelized the onions, chopped the olives and tomatoes, chiffonaded the basil, and grated the cheeses--you can do all that in the time that it takes for the oven to get up to 550. Put together a salad and pour some wine while the pizza bakes and hey presto! Dinner is served.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

King Arthur's Whole Wheat Bread

November 11, 2007

Today I came up for air from this crazy novel-writing escapade long enough to bake a loaf of bread. Jim has not complained at all about my being stuck at the computer all night every night typing away. In fact, now that I think about it, he seems quite cheerful about rarely seeing me.
But he has complained, in an increasingly bitter tone, about not having fresh bread. Since I hit 18,000 words yesterday, I thought I could bake some bread. Nothing fancy, though. I remembered I've been meaning to try the recipe on the King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour bag, and when I read the directions, I saw that it was just dump all the ingredients in a bowl, mix them, let the dough rise, shape it, rise again, and bake. Simplicity itself.
I've found that I prefer a mixture of whole wheat and other flours instead of straight whole wheat, but the King Arthur bread is a pretty decent loaf of bread. We both had two slices while it was still warm (and it's hard for warm bread to be bad), and I had some toasted for breakfast. Tonight, I'll use more for grilled cheese sandwiches.
In my novel, the main character, who's a vegetarian, goes into a restaurant called Sir Beef, looking for the owner, who may or may not turn out to be a bad guy. The only thing she can eat on the menu is a grilled cheese sandwich. Since she's also kind of a food snob, she talks them into adding some sliced tomatoes and fried onions to her grilled cheese. That sounded good to me, so I decided to try it myself, along with some soup that doesn't take more than about five minutes to put together.
I'm hoping to get up to 22,000 words today. I need to get ahead so I can take Thanksgiving off and go to Chicago for a couple of days at the end of the month. If I could manage to get up to the magic number of 50,000 by Thanksgiving, I'll tell you what I would be thankful for: I would be very, very thankful that I was no longer writing this damned novel.