Sunday, July 27, 2008

Williams-Sonoma Parmesan-Black Pepper No-Knead Bread

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I've been thinking about making no-knead bread for the past few weeks (because it's so easy and I'm so lazy), but I wanted something a little jazzier. I noticed a recipe for Lemon Rosemary NKB on the Williams-Sonoma web site, and thought that sounded good, but I didn't get around to going to the grocery store until I'd run out of time. But I saw the recipe for Parmesan-Black Pepper bread on the same site, and I had all the ingredients for that, so I got ready to bake. (This, by the way, must be the first bread I've ever made that has three hyphens in the bread title).
Well, of course, I immediately remembered why NKB has been so popular--it's so dang easy! Flour, yeast, salt, and water. Mix it up, and let it sit overnight. I added two teaspoons of freshly grated black pepper (that's a lot of pepper!), grated parmesan, and chunks of parmesan as well, so it took slightly more than three minutes. Maybe six.

After somewhere between 12 and 18 hours (I waited about 13 hours), you have a soft, spongy dough that's ready to be dumped out on a floured counter, where it can rest for 15 minutes. (Or 45 if you forget about it--I don't think that resting an extra half-hour hurts a person or a loaf of bread).

You shape it into something aproximating a boule, and place it on a cotton dishtowel that's been scattered with cornmeal. Strew some more cornmeal on top, cover it with another cotton towel, and go out and work in your garden for two hours until it's properly risen.

Obviously, you don't have to work in your garden, but you might as well.
At this point, you have already preheated a cast-iron pot. The directions say, "Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over, seam side up, into the pot; it may look like a mess [indeed it does], but that is OK [not really].
My other loaves of NKB have looked fine when removed from the oven, but this one looked like a mess when I put it in, and it never straightened out. I still don't understand why I have to put the ugly side up when I'm making this bread.

The recipe gets extremely optimistic at this point because it tells you that your bread will easily come out of the pan. But the people at Williams-Sonoma forgot that this variation of NKB has a cup of parmesan cheese in it, and that the lovely chunks of parmesan have browned and clung to the pan for dear life. It was a battle between me and the cheese, and the cheese was winning, but I took a break, sneaked back up on it, and I won.

This bread looks innocent enough, but it is very, very peppery, which is fine, if you like pepper. If you don't, you would probably want to cut back on the pepper.

As it happened, it was a good thing I made this bread today. I'm on the board of our neighborhood association, which just held a raffle to make money for a neighborhood art project. The first prize was at least $800 worth of wine. I sold some raffle tickets in my block. My friend Betty called me today and told me that she'd won first prize. I first said, "congratulations," then I said, "why don't you have a wine party tonight?" So she did, and I brought the black pepper parmesan bread, which went pretty well with the three bottles of wine that she opened.

--from adapted from recipe at

3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. yeast
1 3/4 t. salt
2 t. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 c. granted Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese chunks.
1 1/2 c. plus 2 T. water
Cornmeal as needed.

Combine flour, yest, salt, black pepper, grated cheese and cheese chunks. Add water and stir until blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 12 to 18 hours.

Place dough on slightly floured work surface. Sprinkle dough with a little flour and fold it over onto itself a few times. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and lest rest for 15 minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball. Coat a cotton towel with cornmeal. Put the dough, seam side down, on the towl. Dust with more cornmeal, cover with another cotton towel, and let rise about two hours.

Remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough, seam side up, into the pot. If it looks messy, shake the pan to try to distribute the dough, but be aware that it may not turn into a perfect loaf. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the loaf is browned, 15 to 30 minutes more.

Transfer pot to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn pot on its side and gently loosen bread with metal spatula. It will come out, but it won't be easy.

Put cast-iron pot in oven and preheat to 450.

P.S. I just want to say that it's very hard to buy good bread, which is one argument for baking your own. Aside from a few excellent bakeries, most purchased bread is a disappointment. Case in point: I bought two "ciabatta rolls" from Whole Foods, which is a pretty good grocery store. The rolls were awful: tasteless and stale. They should be ashamed of themselves for selling such bad bread, but they're probably not.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Royal Crown's Fennel Taralli

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I was planning to bake another no-knead bread this weekend, but at the last minute, I decided I wanted something more interesting, so I turned to Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking for inspiration. I opened the book at random to page 201, which had a big picture of beautiful, shiny brown elongated ovals.
The directions looked easy. I like fennel, and I like crunchy, cracker-like things. Most of all, I like shaping things into long, thin snakes. When I was in the first grade, I learned to make bowls out of modeling clay by making a snake-like shape and then rolling it up into a bowl. I was very careful and earnest, and I was the best snake-bowl-maker in the first grade. Unfortunately, my artistic ability peaked there. By the time I was in third grade, my friend Jennifer was using modeling clay to shape dogs and cats, and I was stuck in the snake-bowl phase.
Making the tartalli was just like being in first grade again. First you divide the dough into 32 30-gram balls, and then roll them into 11-inch-long snakes. With moistened fingers, you pinch the ends together and then hold it on your fingers so that the shape becomes a big elongated.

After the dough rests for a few hours, during which time it does nothing to speak of, there's another fun part--the dough gets boiled in water to which olive oil has been added.

They only boil for about a minute, until they puff up a little, then they're put on a rack to drain. I have no idea what would happen if you just baked them, without doing the boiling thing first. I think it makes them a little shinier than they would otherwise be because a little of the olive oil sticks to them as they're being removed from the water.

Finally, after they've dried off a bit, they go into the oven for about 45 minutes (more like 35 in the convection setting). When they're nice and brown, they slide right off the baking sheet onto a rack. (If you drop one on the floor, it shatters). Excellent with wine or tea as an afternoon pick-me-up.
All the steps make it sound like the taralli are difficult and time-consuming, but they're quite easy and fun, and they take only about four hours from start to finish.

Royal Crown's Fennel Taralli
--from Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer
1/2 t. instant yeast
3 c. (450 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 c. (120 grams) durum flour
1 3/4 t. (9 grams) salt
3 T. (40 grams) vegetable oil
1/4 c. (60 grams) white wine
1 T. (60 grams) fennel seeds
1 cup plus 2 T. (250 grams) water
2 T. Olive oil

Add yeast, flours, salt, vegetable oil, and white wine to food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade. With the machine running, add the water through the feed tube and process until smooth, firm dough is formed. Remove dough and knead in fennel seeds by hand.
Divide dough into 32 (30 gram) pieces. Dampen your hands sand roll a piece of dough into an 11-inch rope. Pinch ends together. Hold rope ring together at the seal and let it drop into an elongated oval shape.
After all the dough is formed, cover with plastic wrap and let them rest for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and reduce heat so the water is simmering. Add the olive oil to the simmering water. Set a rack over a baking sheet. Boil the taralli in small batches, for about one minute, or until they float and puff up slightly. Skim them from the pot and let them drain on the rack. After they've drained, move them to two parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
Bake in preheated oven until they are dry and golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after about 20 minutes. Let cool on rack and store in sealed container.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Spiced Pecan Toasting Bread

Sunday, July 6, 2008
Our July Lazy Bakers No Rules Club assignment was a pecan bread from Sunset Magazine. Melinda suggested it, but then remembered it wasn't her turn. I asked her how we could turns if we had no rules, so she typed out the recipe and sent it to the other Lazy Bakers. Who knows if anyone will get around to baking it? But as I've already told Melinda, I actually like rules, and so I want to bake the July assignment in July. Preferably early July so I can cross it off my List of Things to Do.

Spiced Pecan Toasting bread
(From Sunset Magazine April 2008)

Prep and baking time:4 hours
Makes 2 8 inch loaves

2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
2 Tablespoons honey
3 eggs
6 to 7 cups bread flour, divided, plus more for shaping
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dried low-fat or nonfat milk
4 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Butter for bowls and pans

1.) In a bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast and honey in 1 1/2 cups warm water (90 to 105F).
Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.) Attach dough hook and with mixer on medium, mix in 2 eggs, 2 cups bread flour, the whole-wheat flour, brown sugar, dried milk, salt, vanilla, cardamon, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and pecans. Add remaining 4 to 5 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from the inside of the bowl. Knead ( with mixer on medium) until smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking too much. When ready, dough should feel a bit like an earlobe when you pinch it.

3.)Transfer dough to a large, lightly buttered bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and let sit until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile butter two 8 inch loaf pans and set aside.

4.) Punch down dough, divide in half, and on a lightly floured surface, shape each half into an 8 inch oblong loaf. Put dough in pans, cover and let sit until doubled in bulk; about 1 hour.

5.) Preheat oven to 350F/180C. In a small bowl, beat remaining egg with 2 tablespoons water.
Brush dough with egg wash and bake until brown, about 35 minutes. Remove loaves from pans (they are done if they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom) and cool on wire racks.

Toasted and buttered, this bread reminds me of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. We recommend it with a cup of coffee or tea and some charming company. (Sunset's introduction about this bread. [I suppose in bad company this bread might make them more tolerable.--Melinda's words].

This is not a difficult bread to make at all, although I was puzzled by the instruction: "When ready, dough should feel a bit like an earlobe when you pinch it." What does the "it" refer to? One's earlobe or the bread? Or both? And I don't seem to have a lot of experience in earlobe-pinching because the feel I was looking for was not immediately clear to me, even though I reached up and pinched my earlobe several times, and then pinched the bread. Honestly, the dough didn't feel like my earlobe at all. I asked Jim if I could pinch his earlobe, just as a control, but he turned me down.

I was also a little wary of the two whole teaspoons of cardamom in the recipe--a lot of cardamom, which has a very distinctive taste. It actually wasn't too much, although you could certainly taste it. The other problem was that the recipe makes two loaves of bread, and specifies two eight-inch loaf pans. Although I have a number of loaf pans, it turns out that no two of them are the same size. So I made one loaf in an eight-inch pan and one in a too-large pan.

See how it doesn't quite fill up the pan?
I applied the egg glaze very liberally, and it made the loaves super-shiny.

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the proof of a toasting bread is in the toasting. I can't say that the bread really reminded me of "freshly baked cinnamon rolls," as the recipe's description says. It reminded me more of toasted nut bread with apricot jam.

Not that that's a bad thing. Also, I can't say that I had "charming company" since I was eating breakfast by myself.
Although I mixed the dough in my KitchenAid with the dough hook, the pecans did not get evenly distributed, and the bread that I gave away had more pecans in it than the one I kept for myself. I also don't think that the cardamom got thoroughly distributed. I blame all this on my inability to concentrate on anything besides the earlobe comparison. If you make this bread, I recommend that you not think about earlobes.


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Dorie Greenspan's Independence Day Cream Scones

July 4, 2008
Now that I own this big fat book by Dorie Greenspan--Baking From My House to Yours--I figure I should start using it. Every 4th of July, some neighbors have a brunch to which they invite the entire neighborhood. I decided I would bring scones, even though Barb Strand, who hosts the brunch, is a professional chef, and even though she always does homemade biscuits and gravy.
It's always a good idea to have a basic scone recipe that's easy and trustworthy. I generally use one of Rose's two scone recipes in TBB, but I like to try new things. Dorie's recipe uses both cream and butter, and I'm almost always in favor of a recipe that contains both. It's a good combination. I've found that recipes that use just butter are hard to handle and recipes that use just cream aren't as flavorful or flaky, and sometimes get too soft. These, as Goldilocks said, were just right.

I don't like to write out recipes, but, fortunately, if you want to make these scones and if you don't want to buy another fat cookbook, you can just google "Dorie Greenspan" and "cream scones," and you'll find that other, more accommodating people, have already written the recipe down for you.
If you have the book, you should be aware that, although the recipe calls for 3/4 cup of currants, the recipe is missing the instruction that says "add currants." If you were feeling a little slow on the uptake, you might be left a box of currants standing alone on the counter while your cream scones were already in the oven. Not that that would be a tragedy. In my opinion, scones don't really require any fancying up, but it would be too bad, especially if you'd gone out and bought a box of currants especially for the occasion. As I had some dried cherrries on hand, I used those instead of currants.
It occurred to me later that, since I was making these for Independence Day, I should have added, perhaps, blueberries and white chocolate, along with the cherries, for the traditional red, white and blue. That that seems a little over the top, though, and the cherries alone were very nice indeed.

I love scones, especially with clotted cream, although I didn't use clotted cream, it being Independence Day and a time to celebrate our freedom from British tyranny, including, I suppose, clotted cream. But I was a little sad when I learned that I'd been mispronouncing them all these years, and that I shouldn't call them scones, but, rather, something more like scawns. Of course, when you say "scawn," nobody knows what you're talking about, but when you say "scone," with a long o, you know that you are actually incorrect. It's like forte. If you say, "that's not my forte," someone will say, you mean, "for-tay?" Which leads you to avoid the word entirely. So I may just have to make muffins instead.