Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dinner party

Saturday, February 23, 2008
I have three dear friends, Beth, Karen, and Susan, from my law school class ('Class of '81). I continue to see them, over 30 years since I first met them in the law school library, complaining about The Case of the Thorns, our first assignment. We were long past due for a get-together, and I finally got around to arranging a party.
The first thing to consider was, of course, what kind of bread to bake. I'd had such good luck with the reprise of Rose's ciabatta that I decided to try her pugliese again. This is one that requires a stretching and folding technique while it's rising, which is a pleasure because the dough is so smooth and shiny.

I didn't have a banetton the first time I made this bread, but now I do, so it looks even prettier. It's a small loaf, and didn't fill up the entire banetton, but I love the distinctive flour circles. I remember buying these loaves from a bakery, and thinking the bakers were so talented to make these flour designs. Now I know that anyone can do it, but that doesn't lessen the pleasure in admiring it when it comes out of the oven.

For dessert, I got out The Cake Bible, and leafed through it until I settled on Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte, which Rose describes as "like the creamiest truffle wedded to the purest chocolate mousse." Well. Hard to pass that up. It's just chocolate (a lot), butter (a lot), and eggs (a lot). Melt the chocolate and butter together, beat the eggs for five minutes, and fold the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture.

I had to send poor Jim out to buy an 8-inch springform pan, because I didn't have that size. It looks quite tiny. He was very pleased with his success on this errand, but it must have rattled him, because when I sent him out later to buy two bunches of tulips, he came back with two bunches of roses. "Jim," I said, "These aren't tulips. They're roses." He looked at them. He wanted to argue, but he couldn't. He swore he knew the difference between roses and tulips.
The dinner was roast pork with ruby port jus,

with chipotle glazed apples. These recipes are both from The apples were the star of the show, in my opinion. Minced chipotle peppers sauteed with sliced applies that have been mixed with cinnamon and sugar. A very simple concept made interesting with the addition of the peppers. It takes about a second for the chipotle's kick to register, which makes it surprising and delightful.

plain old mashed potatoes (but made from organic potatoes from Wisconsin)

plain old green beans, (so plain that it looks like Jim didn't take a picture of them)
salad with baby greens, blueberries, pecans, and grated Pecorino.

And, of course, bread.

Joining the Pugliese in the bread basket was the Italian herb bread I made a month or so ago, which has been waiting in the freezer for just such an occasion.
And, of course, lots of wine. We think we're an awfully witty group, but we seem to get wittier, and much louder, after several bottles of wine. Very odd how that works.

Against my better judgment, I made raspberry sauce to serve with the Chocolate Oblivion. Rose says there's some attachment to the Cuisinart that purees raspberries quickly and painlessly, but I did it the old-fashioned way, spending about 45 minutes pushing two packages of thawed raspberries through a sieve. And reminding myself why I don't like to do this. And reminding myself that I always say I'll never do it again, and why can't people just eat the damn seeds. But I'll have to admit that the combination of chocolate, raspberries, and whipped cream is the dessert trinity.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Healthy Whole Grain Bread

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I've been talking about losing ten pounds ever since I started this blog. Sometimes I think I'm just fooling myself, and other times I get inspired and determined. This was an inspired and determined weekend. I decided I could eat bread, but only good-for-you bread. I don't really like 100% whole wheat bread, but I thought I could modify a light wheat bread by cutting down on the white flour, so I modified Peter Reinhart's Light Wheat Bread, which calls for about 2/3 bread flour and 1/3 whole-wheat flour. I used 1/4 bread, 1/4 whole-wheat, 1/4 white whole-wheat, and 1/4 rye flour.
I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I really like white bread better than whole-wheat. This loaf just wasn't that great--especially not when compared to the wonderfully flavorful ciabatta that I made last week. I can see why the peasants, with their solid, healthy loaves of whole-wheat bread, moved up the bread ladder to white bread as soon as they got a chance. I would have been better off reprising Rose's Honey Oat Bread, or trying a recipe that gets more flavor from nuts or fruits. It didn't help that I didn't put any butter or jam on the bread either. On the good side, I lost a pound.
Also, when Jim photographed this bread, he insisted on taking only pictures of the ends, which--again--are rather odd looking. The last time I tried whole-wheat bread, the ends turned out looking like navels. This time, as Jim was more than happy to point out, they look like a plumber's butt.

Sounds really appetizing, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Monday, February 11, 2007
I was planning to make another batch of dough from my new Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book, but I kept thinking about all the breads I'd made from The Bread Bible, and how I'd repeated so few of them. I wanted to go back and make some of my favorites again.
I've always loved to try new recipes. The problem with being driven to try the new is that I never get the chance to develop an old, familiar repertoire of recipes. Sometimes when I make something that turns out especially good, Jim looks up and says, sadly, "I don't suppose we'll ever have this again."
I looked back through my blog and saw that when I made ciabatta the first time (in October of '06!), my oven stopped working mid-bake, and I had to rescue the bread from my rapidly cooling oven and run it over to my neighbor's house. With a new oven, it seemed like it might be nice to see what it turned out like if it spent its 25-minute baking time in just one place.

I knew it was going to be fabulous when I saw how wet the dough was. But it wasn't too hard to handle at all. I just put it on the countertop and made dimples in it until it stretched out to its proper length and width. I thought it might be hard to pick it up and put it on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper, but it came right up and didn't lose its shape.

You probably know that ciabatta is Italian for "slipper." I don't really get this. It doesn't look like a slipper to me, although I guess it looks more like a slipper than it looks like flip-flops or boots. But really. I can see that orecchiette look like ears, but the slipper resemblance escapes me. Of course, it could be that my ciabatta is not an authentic-looking ciabatta.
I made this bread over the course of two days, because I was having friends over for dinner, and I wanted to have fresh bread and also wanted to go to work on Monday. On Sunday, I made the biga and let it rise for about six hours. I put it in the refrigerator overnight, then made the dough Monday morning, let it rise, and told Jim to put it in the refrigerator when the timer went off. Then, when I came home, I shaped it, let it rise again, and baked it. It was just out of the oven when the doorbell rang.
As I've been experimenting with various no-knead recipes, I've sometimes asked myself if the more complicated breads are worth the greater effort. When I took a bite of this ciabatta, it was clear that the answer is yes. You may not always have the time or the energy to read the long recipe and go through all the steps. But when you do--what a reward! This ciabatta was so delicious that all of us at the table could have made a meal of the bread alone. It wasn't just good as an accompaniment--it was the star. (Even though the rest of the meal, I'll admit, was quite good).
When I ate my first piece of this ciabatta, I thought that I should make this bread once a week, and then I'd always have some around. But I know I won't--there are just too many other new breads to try.
Reminder for Twin Cities people: Stop by the Galleria Barnes & Noble at 7:00 on Feb. 25 and see Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer and editor of Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club, Solveig Tofte, head baker at Turtle Bakery and member of the American National Team that will compete in France next month for the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, aka the Baking Olympics, and me. I am the enthusiastic amateur on the panel.
I'm going to bake something from The Bread Bible to give out as samples. Any ideas?
By the way, when I googled "orecchiette" to make sure I was spelling it right, I learned that there is also a pasta called "strozzapreti," which means "priest strangler" in Italian. It looks kind of like a long rolled-up towel, which could be used to strangle anyone, I guess, but why did they decide to pick on priests? When you ponder that question, it no longer seems so odd that they named this bread after a shoe.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Judy's Board of Directors' Cinnamon Raisin Bread & Buttermilk Boule

Saturday, February 9, 2008
Just a few days ago, I had two plastic containers of buttermilk bread dough in my refrigerator. Now I have none. On Thursday night, I decided to use one batch of dough to make cinnamon-raisin bread, which is named after Judy, a friend of the author Jeff Hertzberg's, who is a CEO of a large company who supposedly brought her Board of Directors into line by plying them with this bread. I thought I would take it into work, even though there is nobody at work that I must bring into line.
I took it out of the oven around 10:00 Thursday night, and thought I would have one (or two) slices for breakfast on Friday; then I'd take the rest into work, where it could go to rest on somebody else's hips for a change.

But when I took it out of the oven, it was so comical-looking that I decided I might keep it myself. I must have rolled out part of the dough too thinly, so the plump raisins burst through the dough, making one side of the bread all dark and caramely looking. I told Jim to try to find an angle that didn't look deformed.

But he failed.

The decision to keep the whole loaf at home was strengthened after I ate a few pieces, and decided it was too good to waste on the hoi polloi at work.
The general homeliness of this bread made me start wondering about what happens to funny-looking breads at a bakery. Why do you never see them? Shouldn't they be offered as seconds? Do employees just get to eat them? Do squirrels? Surely every loaf cannot turn out perfectly. Aren't some of them overdone? Underdone? Misshapen?
While I pondered this, I ate a third piece of raisin bread, and realized that I had forgotten about Jim. By the time he ate his breakfast, the loaf was half gone and there was no longer any no point in taking it in to the office.
Then on Saturday, our friends David and June Miller came over for dinner before we went to see The Syringa Tree at The Jungle. This is a one-woman tour de force, with Sarah Agnew playing about 40 different characters, male and female, black and white. I highly recommend it.
I made pork tenderloin with apples and calvados sauce, fingerling potatoes with parsley, roasted brussels sprouts, and spring greens with avocado, goat cheese, and almonds. Why are there no pictures of this dinner? I blame Jim. He did take some photos of the third bread from the master recipe, which was just the buttermilk bread dough shaped into a boule.

After a week, the dough picks up a definite tang. I baked this loaf in my steam contraption, and it picked up a lovely brown color and a very nice crust. It worked quite well at sopping up the calvados, cream, shallot, and thyme sauce.

While we were at J.P.'s restaurant after the play, June and David got a phone call from their daughter Catherine, saying that she was in labor. Congratulations--it's a boy! Why do I have no grandchildren? I blame my children.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Five-Minute Buttermilk Bread

Saturday, February 2, 2008
As Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter (in Minnesota, this is good news), I leafed through my new Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book.

So many possibilities! I finally decided to make the buttermilk bread--just because I had buttermilk in the refrigerator. (Buttermilk in the refrigerator is a perpetual problem--first, you're required to use it up, because you've been brought up not to waste food; second, as you've almost made it through the quart, you realize that you don't have enough to make the fourth buttermilk recipe, so you have to buy more; third, back to step one. I decided to throw away the rest of the buttermilk after I finished with this bread, ignoring the voices of my mother and grandmothers).
I was more impressed with this bread than I was with the semolina bread. I liked the texture and flavor a lot, and I got the salt right this time.
A brief segue to the virtues of weighing instead of measuring: The first thing I did, after deciding what bread to try next, was to convert the cups to grams. As I suspected, the whole oversalting issue would have been avoided if the recipes in this book were in ounces or grams instead of cups or tablespoons. I carefully measured out 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt--22 grams. Then I weighed 22 grams of table salt--1 tablespoon.
In other words, if the master recipe specified 22 grams of salt instead of 1 1/2 tablespoons, it wouldn't matter what kind of salt you used. This time I used 22 grams of kosher salt, and I thought it was just right.
I can't really blame the authors for this. In fact, I noticed that Zoe Francois's web site notes that they considered using weights and decided against it because so few Americans weigh ingredients. I agree. I am a dedicated convert, but I have yet to convince a single person that weighing ingredients is not only more accurate, but much EASIER and NEATER. (No more scraping a quarter-cup of honey from a measuring cup and then washing the cup). When I say this, people just look at me, gimlet-eyed.

Like the first bread I made from this book, mixing the dough up is ridiculously easy. Put water, buttermilk, salt, yeast, sugar, and all-purpose white flour in a mixing bowl; mix with a dough hook (or just stir) until everything comes together; let rise for a couple of hours, then refrigerate for future use. Or make one loaf immediately, as I did.
The buttermilk bread recipe makes three 1 1/2-pound loaves instead of four 1-pound loaves. The 1 1/2-pound loaf is a nicer size, I think, so I'll probably continue to make my loaves bigger than the specified one-pounders.
Even though I cut slices while the bread was still warm, the bread stood up to the knife without being squashed, yet it had a tender crumb. Although I used all white flour, I'm sure you could substitute part whole-wheat with equally good results. While I thought the five-minute semolina bread was good, it wasn't as good as a more complicated recipe. This bread, however, compares favorably with any other white sandwich bread I've made. The authors also include a cinnamon-raisin bread recipe used with this bread dough and suggest that you can use the dough for any of the boule recipes in an earlier chapter.
My daughter Sarah came over for a visit just as this bread was coming out of the oven. Although she's lost twelve pounds on the South Beach diet, and has been steely in her resolve to cut back on carbs, this bread was more than she could say no to. I was sorry to be responsible for her breaking her diet, but like any mother, I was happy she said yes when I said, "Would you like another slice?"

P.S. Local readers may want to check out the Edesia Cookbook Review that will be held at the Galleria's Barnes & Noble in Edina on Monday, Feb. 25 at 7:00. Kim Ode has started a monthly cookbook review, and the February session is on bread. Kim, who built her own bread oven and is active in the St. Paul Bread Club, Solveig Tofte, head baker at the Turtle Bread Company, and I will talk about some of our favorite bread cookbooks. It will be very informal and, I hope, fun. Of course, my topic is The Bread Bible.