Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rose's Best Basic Loaf as Rosemary Flat Bread

Sunday, September 21, 2008

After baking Rose's spectacular lemon bars on Thursday, it occurred to me that I hadn't made a bread from Rose's repertoire for a while, so I looked on the recipe section on her blog. I found this bread, which she posted in February of 2007 and is a variation of the bread she created for General Mills' Harvest King flour. I like the Harvest King flour, but even though Minneapolis is the home of General Mills, it's difficult for me to find it, so I used King Arthur bread flour. (Sorry, Rose).

This is the third bread I've made recently that's got mostly white flour with enough whole wheat flour to add flavor and give me the chance to feel mildly virtuous. I love the combination.
This focaccia is much, much easier to make than the rosemary focaccia in The Bread Bible. It's not nearly as wet, and it handles far more easily. Also, it doesn't require that 20-minute spin in the KitchenAid--the one that tests its motor to the limit. About 30 minutes into the dough's 90-minute rising period, you stretch out the dough and give it a business-envelope turn or two. You can see how manageable it is.

It's just a little bit sticky, but nothing to get excited about.
It's perfectly tractable when it comes time to pat it out into a rectangle. No cursing going on here.

I had so much confidence in this bread's ability to bake itself that I left the kitchen while it was baking to work on the Sunday crossword. Bake for five minutes, then turn it; another ten minutes and I went back into the kitchen. There was the focaccia, all brown and puffy.

Probably a little too puffy for authentic focaccia. It's definitely an Americanized version, but that's not meant as a criticism. The crumb is more even than an Italian focaccia, and there are fewer big, random holes.

But it was quite toothsome and delicious. We ate it, still warm, for a snack with a glass of Tempranillo in the afternoon; with grilled turkey breast and sliced tomatoes for dinner; and with leftover turkey breast and lettuce for a lunchtime sandwich today. Delicious as is, it requires no butter or olive oil to gussy it up. If I can ever find a bag of Harvest King flour, I'll try it again--just for the sake of science, of course.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Food for an Obama House Party

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My friend Mary and I, along with the other members of Mary's Grassroots Political Therapy Group, decided to throw a house party/fundraiser for Barack Obama. Our division of labor: Mary would supply the house, and I would supply the food. Betty brought many bottles of wine; Pat made signs and greeted people; Pam and Linda were the bartenders; Karen and Sandra arranged the food artistically on platters and served. Our representative from District 60B, Frank Hornstein, was there to fire up the troops, and playwright-storyteller (and neighbor) Kevin Kling wrote a political allegory devised just for this occasion. Eighty to ninety friends and neighbors came to eat, drink, talk, cheer each other up, and put checks in the hats. We had a fine time.
I stayed home from work on Thursday to bake and assemble. My menu was miniature biscuits with ham and hot honey mustard, palmiers Provencale, toasts with cream cheese and Spanish olives, figs stuffed with blue cheese and nuts, and granola-dipped brie and grapes on toothpicks. Dessert was brownies and lemon bars. At 8:00 a.m., the whole day spread out before me, and I started the palmiers in a leisurely manner.

The palmiers (from First Impressions, Betty Rosbottom's book of appetizers) were fun to make, especially if they were the only thing you were making all day. It sounded easy--after all, it's not like you made the puff pastry dough yourself. You just take some Trader Joe's frozen all-butter puff pastry dough, roll the dough out with a little Parmesan, spread each piece with a mixture of chopped Kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic, basil, thyme, and fennel seeds, roll the dough up from each side until it meets in the middle, cut off little slices, and bake them. Easy, right? And it was, except that every step took longer than I thought it would, and I could only bake one pan at a time, and I was making about 100 of them. But I finished by 10:30.
Then the brownies, a doubled recipe of "Classic Brownies" from Dory Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours.

These are really good brownies: made with butter, bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate, eggs, sugar, vanilla, plus a little instant espresso powder and lots of walnuts. What's not to like? The espresso powder just brings out the intense chocolatey-ness, and there are walnuts in every rich bite.
At this point I should mention that my intrepid photographer-husband kind of fell down on the job here. As we left the house to go over to Mary's house, I said, in my encouraging wifely way, "What is wrong with you Jim? You haven't taken pictures of everything I baked! How do you expect me to blog about this if you don't take the pictures!" "Dammit," he said in his sweet husbandly way, "why didn't you say you wanted pictures before now?" So he managed to snap a few photos, but they are not up to his usual standard as he would be the first (well, maybe the second) to admit.
On a dessert bender, I decided it was time to bake the lemon bars. This recipe is from Rose's Christmas Cookies, my first Rose Levy Beranbaum cookbook and one of my favorites. I had never made this recipe, but I knew that if Rose promised that these lemon bars were "the ultimate lemon butter bar," she wouldn't let me down. And she didn't. Although there was a moment, when I was cooking the lemon curd, which I was instructed to cook until thickened but not to boil or it would surely curdle, that I was reminded of the infamous rum cream pie. I was thrown into a tizzy. I had lost my custard confidence. "This isn't going to thicken," I said to myself. "I'm going to have to take bowls along for the lemon bars, and no one is going to speak encouraging words to me, like they do on the blog." And, when I took the pan off the stove and poured it on top of the buttery shortbread base, it was not very thick. "I'm doomed," I said. (I was doing a lot of talking to myself at this point). But bless her heart, Rose's instructions were 100%. I baked it and put it in the refrigerator. After a half-hour, I tested it, fully expecting the lemon curd to be in a liquified state, but it was perfect.

These lemon bars looked stunning cut into tiny squares and arranged carefully on a shiny white platter. I realize they don't look so stunning in the cakepan, but if I could have stood around this platter all night, surreptitiously eating lemon bars, I would have.
By the time I took the lemon bars out of the oven, it was past 1:00, and I was getting a little nervous about the things I still had to check off my list. I decided to take a break from baking, and make the stuffed figs. Very simple. Just cut a whole bunch of little baby figs in half, stuff each half with a little tiny piece of blue cheese, and artistically arrange a candied walnut half atop the cheese. Or, if you run out of candied walnut halves, artistically arrange a pecan half on top. I figured I could cross this baby off my list in ten minutes. Except that I was making about 150 of them. By #75, I had completely given up on the "artistically arranging" part, and was smooshing cheese into the damn fig and throwing a nut on top.
No pictures of the figs. Jim didn't think they counted as things to be photographed. Fortunately, Sandra and Karen made them look impressive on the platters.
Back to the oven. I had little biscuits to bake. I was planning to use Rose's recipe from The Bread Book, but when I read the directions, I realized that the recipe wouldn't work well for miniature biscuits because you don't use a cutter, so I quickly switched to Dorie Greenspan's Basic Biscuit recipe, using a 1 1/2" biscuit cutter instead of a standard 3" cutter. I ignored the instruction to mix the cold butter in the flour with my fingers--no time!--and used the food processor instead. These little biscuits were so much fun to make! But I was beginning to feel like I was in one of those movies where the clock keeps ticking and the hero has only a few hours left to save all of humanity. When I took the last tray of biscuits out of the oven, it was after 4:00, and I still had two appetizers left.

"Jim!" I yelled. "I need you!" I think he could tell I wasn't speaking in the Valentine's Day card sense, because he came running down the stairs. "What can I do?" "Cut brie in squares!" I barked. "Roll in granola. Put on frilly toothpick with a grape! Capisce?"
Meanwhile, I was cutting baguettes in slices, brushing olive oil on them, and making toasts. Then I quickly mixed up some cream cheese, Spanish olives, roasted red peppers, scallions, and smoked paprika. As the toasts came out of the oven, I spread a little of the cream cheese mixture on each toast and sprinkled with Parmesan. Then they all went under the broiler. Jim stabbed the last brie cube at the same time I removed the toasts from the oven.

It was 5:30. I had just enough time for a quick shower before changing my clothes and attempting to look presentable. Jim and I trotted over to Mary's house carrying buckets, baskets, and trays of food.
"Marie!" Mary cried. "How did you make all this?"
"Oh," I said modestly. "It was nothing."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Turkish Ridged Flat Bread (Pide)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

First, let me say how happy I am to be baking bread again, instead of pie in a cereal bowl, especially when Pinknest made the same pie and it turned out perfectly. Not that I begrudge her this pie success. Not at all.
Second, I didn't blog last week, but not because I was in a jealous snit. Although perhaps I was. I was visiting my daughter, who's in her first year of residency at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. (Yes, that's a Frida Kahlo picture). Detroit is not only famous for Henry Ford and his eponymous hospital, but also for the Diego Rivera room at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
But back in Minneapolis, there was bread to be made.
Jim and I were invited by a friend for a "turkey dinner." At first I thought she was going to have Thanksgiving early, but she and another friend had spent three weeks in Turkey last spring, and they wanted us to experience some authentic Turkish food, at least as authentic as it could be several thousand miles away. I said I'd bring bread. I'd already made simit, alternately called a "Turkish croissant" or a "Turkish bagel," but I'd already made that and I wanted something different.
So I Googled Turkish bread, and got this great recipe from Paula Wolfert from the May 2007 edition of Food and Wine.
How could you not like it? It starts with a sponge that rests and rises overnight,
so you know it will have great flavor;

it's a recipe from Paula Wolfert, who is the queen of Mediterranean cooking, and it's a flat bread that puffs up during baking.
Also, it's got a white flour to whole wheat flour ratio of about 7 to 1. (I'm sorry, I know that I should be a bigger fan of 100% whole-wheat bread, but I really like this better. It makes a stiff dough, but not too stiff to handle.

After the bread slowly rises, it's divided into four pieces, each weighing 267 grams. (Well, that part's not in the directions, but when I weigh things, I feel like I'm in charge. Maybe if I'd weighed the pie dough? No--forget the pie dough, already!)
Each piece of dough is flattened into a shape more or less oval and more or less eight inches by ten inches. Then you make ridges with your fingers and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds (or nigella seeds, if you have them, which I didn't). The ridges are very definite in the unbaked dough,

but it puffed up enough during baking to make them less so.

I'm sure this bread has a name other than Turkish Ridged Flat Bread, and I wish I knew what it was, but it was quite good--crispy and chewy at the same time. (Thanks to knowledgeable reader Aparna, I now know it's called pide). The recipe made four loaves of flat bread, and each of them had a different shape and slightly different texture because of the differences in length and height.
Okay, so it's bread and not pie. So it'll never make it on a dessert tray, unlike Pinknest's beautiful rum cream pie. But it's an honest loaf of bread, with good, honest American small-town values. (Never mind. I forgot for a minute that the Republican National Convention has left town. I don't have to say that any more).

Monday, September 01, 2008

Rum Vanilla Cream Pie (or Why Breadbasketcase Should Stick to Bread)

Monday, September 1, 2008
It was Pinknest's turn to choose the project for The Lazy Bakers' No-Rules Club. Even though there are no rules, we still sort of take turns. And she chose a rum-vanilla cream pie. From Martha Stewart no less. Martha Stewart is the antithesis of everything I stand for.
I can't blame Pinknest for this fiasco. I suggested that she might want to choose a pie because she is so good at them. It's because she's so good at them--and because Melinda has taken cake decorating classes and she knows how to pipe icing and because Evil Cake Lady is always willing to try anything, with good results--that I figured I'd be the weak link in this recipe's chain. But I was determined to be a good sport about it.
Frankly, I don't amount to much as a pie baker. And this recipe didn't just have pie crust, it had pate brisee, made with an ungodly amount of butter and sure to be hell to roll out.
I brightened when I remembered that I have an Emile Henry pie dish, which has nicely scalloped edges. I figured maybe I could just layer the pie crust in the pan, trim it off, and the pan would make the scallops itself. A self-scalloping pie.

As it turned out, the crust was the easy part. It rolled out nicely, more or less into a circle (instead of the odd geometric shapes that my pie crusts are wont to take on);

it didn't stick to the counter; and I folded it up into a triangle without swearing. (Usually there is at least one swearing episode per pie).

The pie crust came out of the oven looking pretty good.

I thought I was home free--I didn't even think twice about the custard. It was just a custard. I boiled the milk, cornstarch, vanilla (thanks, Evil Cake Lady, for the tip about using your fingernails--clean, of course--to get the vanilla seeds out of the pod), sugar and salt until it was nicely thickened. I beat the egg yolks and carefully added the hot milk mixture (thanks, Julia Child, for beating it into my head that you must do this very carefully lest you end up with scrambled eggs). Then I added butter, a tablespoon at a time, and let it cool.
As I poured it into the pie, I thought to myself, "This is runnier than I think it should be."

Because, I then realized, I had forgotten an important step. And, lazy bakers, if you bake this pie, you should be careful not to omit this step: after you beat the eggs and milk together, you must return it all to the heat and let it boil for another minute or so.
If you do not do this, let me assure you, it doesn't matter that your original milk mixture was the perfect texture. It will all fall apart.
Every hour or so, I hopefully touched the pie dish in the refrigerator, hoping that it wouldn't wobble. No luck.
Finally, I decided just to whip the cream and spread it on top of the liquid pie, thinking that a layer of whipped cream would at least hide the runny nature of the filling. Guess what I found out? Whipped cream doesn't spread on water, or other watery substances. It looked a little like floating island.

Except that it also looked like the islands might sink at any time. Jim muscled me out of the way, "Quick--let me get a picture before it sinks!"
Here it is: pie in a cereal bowl.

The crust, which I was most worried about, was fine. It was actually better than fine: tender, buttery, and delicious. The filling? Well, it's kind of hard to judge a filling that looks like it's been pureed to within an inch of its life. Even imagining that the filling would have turned out the way it was supposed to, I'm stilll not so sure I'd think it was worth making again.
In fact, I have another disk of pate brisee in the freezer, and I'm not going to use it for this. I think--after the trauma of this pie-baking event has worn off--I'll turn to The Pie and Pastry Bible, not to Martha Stewart, for inspiration.