Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pane di Genzano

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I'm a sucker for anything Italian because it always sounds so wonderful. Doesn't pane di Genzano sound better than bread from Genzano? And much better than "bread from a small town about 20 miles from Rome"? Although I believe that part of my soul may be Italian, that doesn't extend to my ability (none) to speak Italian. So I just have to satisfy myself with the occasional loaf of bread from Carol Field's The Italian Baker. My mother always told me that when I was a toddler, I charmed the Italian ladies in our Chicago neighborhood by eating the butter off the bread they gave me, and handing the de-buttered bread back, saying, "More." Today I eat both the butter and the bread before I say, "More," and I'm pretty sure it was cuter when I was two than it is now.
As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned, we were disappointed in the bread in Italy when we travelled there, every bread I've made from Carol Field's book has been better than good. When Jim tasted the pane di Genzano, he said, "Why is this bread so good?" It was almost like he wanted to know, "Why don't you always make this bread and quit messing around with lesser loaves?"
I think there are a couple of reasons this bread is extraordinary. First, it's a wet dough.

As Carol Field says, "The wetter the dough, the better the bread." This may or may not be an old Italian saying. Second, the bread has a long, slow rise. Its first rise is three to five hours in a 70-degree kitchen; fortunately, this is the first day in a long time where the outside temperature was below 70 when I started my bread-baking, so the kitchen was the perfect temperature. Third, Genzano bakers are known to use an especially soft flour.
Now, I really should just stop after this sentence because it sounds like I know what I'm talking about. "Ah, yes, the soft flour effect," you might be saying to yourself. If you are, I wish you'd explain it to me because I don't understand why bread flour is hard, but in this case, bread is better because of soft flour. I used, as the recipe specifies, three cups of all-purpose flour and one cup of pastry (soft) flour. If I were a food scientist, I'd explain it, but it would probably be a boring explanation anyway, so it's just as well.
The other thing that makes this bread unique is that it's covered in wheat bran. After the first rise, you shape the bread into a boule, and put it in a pie pan in which you've spread about a quarter cup of wheat bran. Then you gently dab another quarter-cup of wheat bran onto the top and sides. Besides adding taste, the idea is that the bran makes an especially golden, even mahogany, crust.

I baked this loaf in La Cloche, and when I took the top off, it wasn't mahogany, or even golden. It was barely beige. Even after another 20 minutes of baking, it still wasn't magnificently dark, but it was done.

Aside from its habit of shedding wheat bran whenever it's touched, it's at its best when it's sliced and eaten.

We had some for a mid-afternoon snack, and we had more with dinner. It's supposed to have other virtues, such as keeping well and making good toast. I'll test both of those hypotheses tomorrow morning.

Pane di Genzano
--adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field
1 t. instant yeast
1 2/3 cups minus 1 T water
3 cups (400 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (100 grams) pastry flour
2 t. (10 grams) salt
1/2 cup bran

Mix yeast, water, flours and salt and mix in stand mixture with paddle attachment for 2 to 3 minutes. Change to dough hook and knead for 3 minutes at low speed and another three minutes at medium speed. Pour the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cool room for 3 to 5 hours.
Oil pie pan and coat the bottom with 1/4 cup of bran.
On a floured surface, pour dough and shape into a round loaf. Place the dough in the pie plate and pat on the remaining bran so that the dough is covered. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
If you have a Sassafras LaCloche, preheat that in the oven at 425 degrees F. Otherwise place pie pan on pre-heated baking stone. Bake for about 1/2 hour and remove top of LaCloche, if using. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes (about 45 minutes all told). Turn loaf out of the pie pan onto a rack to cool.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Grilled Chapati

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A few months ago, I abandoned the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and started getting the New York Times every day. I was sorry to give up the Star-Tribune, which, as a small-town girl coming to the big city of St. Paul for college, lo these many years ago, seemed like a sophisticated newspaper to me. As many of its best reporters and columnists fell victim to budget slashes, it pretty much stopped covering national and international news--except for condensed versions of stories from the Times. Now I love getting the NYTimes every morning, especially on Tuesday (the Science section, which you can read even if you know nothing about science) and on Wednesday, when they have the food section.
I always go to Mark Bittman's The Minimalist column first, and when I saw his recipe for grilled chapati, I knew that would be my weekly bread. First, I love Indian bread, and second, it was going to be hot this weekend, so a no-yeast, no-rise, no-oven bread sounded pretty good.
Then, next door to Bittman's column on page D3 was Melissa Clark's recipe for grilled sausages and summer beans with herbs, tomatoes and caramelized onions. Maybe Mark and Melissa didn't plan it that way, but their recipes sounded like they belonged together.
Jim offered to cook today, but I was so in love with the idea of chapati, sausages, beans, herbs, etc. that I turned him down.
I caramelized the onions and was going to start mixing up the chapati dough (which is simplicity itself: 2 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour, 1 cup AP flour, 1 t. salt, and 1 cup water, mixed in a food processor)when I realized that my food processor was suddenly not working.
I was irritated, but not panicked. After all, hadn't Indian women been making chapati for hundreds of years without a food processor? I just transferred the flours to my KitchenAid--which is much more primitive--and mixed everything up. While the dough rested, I stirred the beans now and then and got the sausages ready for the grill.

As much as I like Mark Bittman, he does have a way of making everything sound easier than it really is: "When you're ready to grill, just tear off walnut- to golf-ball-size pieces, roll them out with a little flour and toss onto the grill." The word "toss" makes everything sound so cavalier and devil-may-care. I don't know about Mark Bittman's kitchen arrangements, but my grill is outside and my counter, where I roll out dough, is in the kitchen. And we eat on the back porch. So, although the "tossing" part is not so hard, the running back and forth from grill to stove to counter to porch is a workout.

But I love to bake unleavened bread that puffs up as it cooks--it always seems like a miracle to me. And that's what happens to chapati. After you toss it on the grill, you watch it puff up, then you turn it over, hoping that it hasn't burned, and brown it on the other side.

The sausages were a combination of pork sausage with fennel pollen, pork sausage with pesto, and bratwurst.

My favorite was the fennel pollen, but it might just be because it sounds so much more exotic than bratwurst.
The grilled chapati and sausages were excellent, but the star of the show was really the beans.

Picking up the subtle sweetness of the caramelized onions and the yellow cherry tomatoes, and the zing of the herbs, the beans were so delicious they could have almost passed for dessert. I can hardly believe I just wrote that sentence, but these beans were seriously good.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

CrackedWheat-Honey Bread

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A few weeks ago, my faithful reader Jini and I went to an Edesia cookbook review featuring whole grains. I don't know about Jini, but I went away a chastened woman, a little ashamed of my taste for unhealthy, decadent white flour, and determined to put more fiber into my life. So this week's bread had to meet two criteria: all or part whole wheat flour and buttermilk (on account of the quart minus six ounces of buttermilk in the refrigerator).
This recipe, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, met this requirements. It also had cracked wheat (or bulgur) in it, which must be fiberiffic. And I also substituted one cup of white whole-wheat flour for the white flour, which further upped the whole graininess of the bread.

Despite the fact that this bread came about because of my desire to be virtuous, bread-wise, I'll have to admit it was quite delicious. (The virtue will be short-lived, however; our next Lazy Bakers project is a rum custard pie).
I started making this bread after only one cup of coffee this morning, so I didn't translate the measurements into weights, so I had to use a lot of measuring cups, including the one I had to scrape the honey out of; weighing is so much easier!). Even with that annoyance, it's a very easy bread to put together). It makes two loaves--again I had to ask myself why I don't have two matching loaf pans.
Loaf #1, the one I made in the large loaf pan, looked pretty good, but didn't really get high enough. Loaf #2, the one in the standard-sized pan, would have been perfect, but it developed a huge air bubble when I put it in the oven. I could see the bubble expanding in the oven, looking like some kid's huge pink bubble just before it exploded on his face, and so I quickly opened the door and pricked the bubble, which then collapsed in slow motion. It also left unsightly wrinkles on the top of the bread, but who cares, really.

I used bulgur from the Bob's Red Mill section of the supermarket--a brand recommended by the whole grain gurus at the cookbook review. When I first bit into a piece of bread, I thought that the bulgur was too crunchy for the bread, and that I should have ground it first. After a few
bites, however, I decided that it was okay, and Jim loved the crunchiness.

At the Farmer's Market this morning, I got the first-of-the-season red, ripe tomatoes and some gorgeous butter lettuce. It sounds like it's time for BLT's for dinner. With organic tomatoes and lettuce and with virtuous whole-grain bread, the bacon and mayo are, at most, venial sins.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Scones and Muffins for a Non-Shower

Sunday, August 3, 2008
Months ago--last April or May, I think, before we went to Australia and New Zealand, I was planning to give a shower for two women who were expecting babies around the same time. Then one of them had her baby five weeks early (don't worry; everything is fine), and so we didn't have the shower. Finally, now that both babies are big, happy, healthy kids, I decided we'd just have a non-shower, at which there are no presents and the guests of honor are out-of-utero.
Here are the guests of honor:

This is Nora. She's the one who arrived early, but she's all caught up now. Usually she's smiling and laughing, but she was a little discombobulated by Jim and his ever-present camera.

This is Alex. Come to think of it, he's usually smiling too. Jim just has that effect on people. Alex was right on time and is now in the 99% of height and weight. He is known, affectionately, in his household as "Fatty."
It was supposed to be 95 and humid today, so I planned to do the baking early in the day. I served bellinis or mimosas (or orange juice for people who don't drink at 10:00 a.m.), cranberry scones, orange blueberry muffins, cucumber salad with smoked salmon and smoked trout, and yogurt with berries and caramel.
The scones were a new recipe from the NYTimes. The reason I wanted to try this recipe is because it specifies a particular kind of flour that I didn't have. After I saw the recipe, I decided that I must have it--it's King Arthur mellow pastry flour, and it did make the most tender, mellow scones I have ever had. And a breeze to make--a few pulses in the food processor, roll them out, and they're ready for the oven. I'm definitely going to use this flour the next time I make pie.

Oops--I forgot to add the dried cranberries to the dough, but no harm done--I just kneaded them in and rolled the dough out.

They're brushed with a little cream and beaten egg, which gave them a nice sheen.

The blueberry-orange muffins are from Dorie Greenspan's big fat baking book. Guess what they have in them? Three-quarters of a cup of buttermilk. Guess how much buttermilk that leaves for me to use up? Um, I think the answer is 26 ounces, which seems like a lot. Fortunately, hundreds of people on the internet have already typed out this recipe, so I don't have to. This is from the Miami Herald
I bought some really fat blueberries, which are great to eat, but not ideal for muffins because they burst open during baking.

You can see the difference between the whole berries in the unbaked batter, and the big patches of purple after baking.

I can't show you pictures of the babies eating muffins because these young mothers are so persnickety about letting their babies eat real food. I think I was advised to give Sarah cereal and bananas when she was five weeks old, and then I'm pretty sure she moved directly on to hot dogs, which were considered an ideal food for babies because they had protein and were easy to chew. I'm not making this up, you know.