Monday, February 20, 2012

Za'atar Flatbread

I wasn't going to blog about this bread because it's embarrassingly easy to make, as long as you have the za'atar (or zatar--or, for that matter, zaatar, zatr, zattr, zahatar, zaktar or satar).

If you have the spice mixture, however you want to spell it, you can make a close approximation of the bread just by buying pita or other flatbread, brushing it with olive oil, sprinkling the za'atar mixture on top, and baking it for 5 minutes or so. I got my mixture at Penzey's, but it's also available at a number of on-line sources. (When I was at our local Penzey's store, I remembered that I wanted this spice, but I couldn't remember what it was called. I asked if they had any Qatar. The nice man at Penazey's didn't say, "You moron, that's a country, not a spice." Instead, he kindly led me to the za'atar and said, "I think this is what you want." The Penzey's mixture has thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt, but other mixtures may also contain oregano, mint, marjoram, or savory. There are many recipes available via the internet, the source of all knowledge.

I simply used the master recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I halved the recipe, and used about two-thirds of that to make the flatbread. (The other third is being made today into a mini-boule that will be sliced and used to top some onion soup).

The dough is spread out flat, punched with your fingers, and doused with olive oil. Then you liberally sprinkle on the za'atar mixture and a little more salt (there is already some salt in the za'atar, so you want to be careful not to overdo the added salt).

I baked it for about 25 minutes at 425 in a convection oven, cut it into small wedges, and served it with hummus. Now za'atar is my new favorite taste sensation. It's salty, a little sour, herbal, and nutty. Artisan Bread in Five suggests using it in a kabob marinade or in fattoush--both sound great for summer cooking.  Alas, summer is not yet here, but I hope the zatar will keep for a few more months.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Cranberry Pecan Boule - and a Surprise Present

I made strict rules this past Christmas about buying presents for me. Not because I don't think I deserve them--no, not at all. It was because I had already picked out a whole boatload of things that I wanted. (To be perfectly honest, I'd already bought them and just gave them to Jim to wrap). But there's a limit to how many geegaws you can buy for yourself, and I had exceeded the limit. So I told Jim, no more! But three days before Christmas, a large box appeared in the mail, addressed to me. I opened it - it was addressed to me, after all, and found this:

It's a Brød &Taylor Folding Proofer. "Jim," I said, "you were not supposed to buy me anything else." He claimed he didn't. I didn't believe him. He swore that he didn't. I asked him who else would buy me a bread proofer. "Maybe it was Rose," he guessed. "That's crazy," I told him. But then I remembered that I had read something on Rose's blog about a proofer. So I called Woody and asked him if he'd ever heard of a bread proofer. "Oh, did you get yours? I just got mine too," he said cheerfully. Mystery solved. Thanks, Rose. And thanks, Brød &Taylor, too.

The proofer came with two recipes: country wheat sandwich bread and cranberry pecan boule. I voted for cranberry pecan. Since nobody else voted, I won. It starts with a poolish starter, which sits in the proofer for 4 hours at 74 degrees. I loved it that it was 74, and not 75.

Usually a poolish sits in my chilly kitchen overnight. In the summer, it ferments for a few hours in my warm kitchen and then overnight in the refrigerator. It's all very casual, which I like. But I also like knowing that I can end up with a bubbly poolish in just 4 hours at 74 degrees. If I get very brave sometime, I may try it at 75, or even 76 if I'm feeling very devil-may-care.

It's a very stiff dough. I kneaded it for almost 10 minutes in my new KitchenAid and had visions of watching another mixer go kaput. But it chugged along (it is still under warranty, so I don't really expect it to go under until 24 hours after the warranty expires).

The dried cranberries and chopped pecans seemed to have an antisocial personality disorder. They did not want to mix. (If you make this bread, I recommend that you spend more time than I did poking cranberries back into the dough--the berries on the outside of the bread were burned and inedible, while the berries that had been forced inside were tart-sweet and delicious.

Into an oiled bowl and back into the proofer it goes. This time the proofer goes up to 80. When I thought about it, I realized that my kitchen is almost never 80 degrees. (I do have a proofing setting in my oven, but it's 85 degrees, which is the high end of ideal temperatures for proofing).

After this proofing, the dough gets shaped into a ball, and put in a bowl or colander. I used a lightly floured banneton. Then it rises again - at 80 degrees exactly - for another hour.

After 25 minutes in the oven. You can see how black the cranberries got. But it's still a handsome loaf of bread. And delicious, too.

But wait, there's more! This little machine is not only a proofer, it also makes yogurt and melts and tempers chocolate. Or so it says. I may very well try it for yogurt, but I'm not sure I'd drag it out to melt chocolate. Although, in fairness, "dragging it out" is not a big ordeal. It folds into a small rectangle, so it doesn't take much space, and it's easy to put together. This gadget definitely belongs in the "luxury" category, not the "essentials." But I'm tickled to have it, and wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be something I convince myself I could no longer do without. Especially in winter, when dough sometimes is as reluctant to rise as I am to go outside.

Cranberry Pecan Boule

Poolish Starter:
3/4 cup (4.4 oz.) unbleached bread flour
1/2 cup water (4.4 oz.) (70 to 78 degrees)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
Set the proofer to 74 degrees and add 1/4 cup of water to the wawter tray. Mix all the ingredients for the poolish into a large mixing bowl. Place the bowl into the proofer for 4 hours until it inflates into a bubbly, soft, and sweet-smelling sponge.

Dough Ingredients:
All of poolish starter
1 cup (8.1 oz.) water
1 tsp. instant yeast
2 1/4 cups (10 oz.) unbleached bread flour
3/4 cup (3.6 oz) whole wheat flour
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dried cranberriese
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

1. Increase proofer temperature to 80 degrees.
2. Add the water to the poolish and stir it around to loosen it up. Add the yeast, flours,and salt. Stir until a rough dough forms. Knead dough on counter or in stand mixer, using the dough hook, until a smooth and elastic dough forms.
3. Add the cranberries and pecans and work them into the dough until they are evenly distributed throughout.
4. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and place in proofer. Let the dough rise for 60-90 minutes or until it has doubled in bulk.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and shape the dough into a tight round ball.
6. Place the dough ball seam side up into a well-floured dough rising basket or a bowl/colander lined with a heavily floured linen cloth. Dust the exposed bottom of the loaf with flour and place back inproofer, still set at 80 degrees. Let the dough rise 1 hour or until it has almost doubled inj bulk.
7. Prepare the oven for baking an hour before you are ready to bake. Place a bakingh stone in the middle of the oven with a skillet or rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack. Preheat to 500.
8. Turn the dough out onto a baking peel or inverted baking sheet lined with parchment. Score the top of the loaf and quickly place the loaf onto the hot baking stone. Add 1/2 cup of water to the skillet and close the door. Bake for 5 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 450, and continue to bake foro 25-30 minutes or until the loaf is a deep brown color and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
9. Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing.

From Brød &Taylor Folding Proofer Supplemental Manual, crediting Melissa Langenback,