Saturday, December 30, 2006

Green Peppercorn Bread

Saturday, December 30, 2006
I inherited The Italian Baker, by Carol Field, from my mother, who got it as one of five cookbooks for $1 in the Book-of-the-Month Club. She could never resist a bargain. She never used the cookbook, and neither have I, although I've looked longingly at the beautiful pictures on the cover from time to time. We must have both thought the recipes would be too complicated or too exotic. But this green peppercorn bread couldn't be easier.
I'd had a bottle of green peppercorns in my pantry for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity to use them. When I opened them, I suddenly asked myself how long I'd had them. Then I wondered if green peppercorns could spoil. If so, could they kill me? Death by green peppercorns. It seemed unlikely. I decided I could go out and buy a new bottle of green peppercorns, but that seemed wasteful. I went back and forth with myself for a while, but finally decided just to make the bread and not eat it if it didn't taste right.
I adapted the recipe for some of Rose's techniques. I used instant yeast instead of the powdered yeast that needs to be dissolved in water; I did three risings instead of just two; and I used the ice cube method of creating steam.
It looked pretty, as it came out of the oven, and it smelled good, but I was still a little worried about the peppercorns. In fact, I was starting to be obsessed, although that didn't stop me from eating two pieces of bread. I loved the bites with the peppercorns, which tasted just fine, but I still thought I could taste a hint of the brine, which tasted a little formaldehyde-y, in my now somewhat crazed and hypochondriacal opinion.

Two hours later, I checked the computer for symptoms of botulism. Drooping eyelids, difficulty in swallowing and talking, dry mouth. I looked in the mirror. The eyelids seemed OK, and I could swallow, but it might take up to 36 hours for symptoms to show up. There are only 117 cases of botulism reported annually in the United States, most of them in infants. I threw out the rest of the peppercorns, because even if they weren't really bad, they were causing me to behave strangely.
I did another internet search and discovered a site that said green peppercorns packed in brine were almost certain to spoil. Uh-oh. I checked my eyelids again.
I asked Jim if his eyelids seemed all right; he seemed surprised by the question.
I actually would recommend this bread. It's very tasty and easy; I would, however, strongly recommend making it with fresh peppercorns, not some that have been sitting on a pantry shelf for God knows how long.

Pane al Pepe Verde (Green Peppercorn Bread)
2 3/4 - 3 cups (375 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 t. instant yeast
1 t. (5 grams) salt
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 T. green peppercorns, rinsed and drained
2 t. olive oil
1 c. water

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in mixing bowl. Using dough hook, put mixer on low speed and add olive oil and water. When dough starts to come together, increase mixer speed to medium and mix about 4 minutes, until dough is creamy and smooth. Add peppercorns which have been slightly chopped.
Knead dough by hand on floured counter briefly, and put in covered container.
When dough has doubled, about two hours, put on floured counter. Stretch it to a rectangle and make two business-letter folds. Return to container and let double again, about one hour.
Shape into either round or torpedo-shaped loaf and place on baking sheet with parchment. Cover with dish towl or oiled plastic wrap, and let rise another hour.
Preheat oven to 500, put baking stone on lowest rack. Put another baking sheet or a cast iron pan on the bottom of the oven.
When dough has risen, make several slashes and put in oven. Add 1/2 cup of ice cubes to baking sheet or cast iron pan.
Immediately lower heat to 400. Bake about 35 minutes. Halfway through baking, put loaf directly on baking stone.
(Adapted from The Italian Baker)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 25, 2006
I made Thanksgiving dinner and so, according to family tradition, I do not have to make Christmas dinner. This year Jim's sister had dinner, and, of course, I brought bread. I was planning to bake another version of butter-dipped dinner rolls, but the call of the no-knead bread was too strong for me to ignore. This time I used the same percentages of flour, water, yeast, and salt as the last time I made it, but I used Harvest King bread flour instead of King Arthur; I used about durum flour instead of whole wheat as about 15% of the flour; I used a different pan; and I sprinkled the dough with cornmeal instead of with wheat bran. Result: a totally different bread, with a very different texture and flavor.

This bread has the large holes and cracklingly crisp crust that I didn't get when I added whole wheat flour.

I loved that, but I think the flavor of the bread with added whole wheat flour is slightly superior. I think that my next experiment will be to use the same pan I used this time and use a small amount of whole wheat and a small amount of durum flour and perhaps also a bit more water and see what happens.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Presents, Part II

Saturday, December 23, 2006
Our neighbors who didn't get their bread last weekend because they were in London are now back in Minneapolis, more cultured than they were before, and they thought that I'd forgotten their caraway rye. But it was they who had forgotten that I have a mind like a steel trap. And so I baked them their bread and took it over to their house. They were quite pleased and thought it would be delightful with their planned pot roast dinner.
I was delighted that my slashing technique has become much better since my first attempt at caraway rye, which tasted delicious but had overly timid slashes. (See March 18, 2006 entry). Now, with my sharp French slashing knife, it looks much better.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Basketcase and Friends Bake Christmas Cookies

My blog name is all about bread and only about bread. But in December, baking thoughts always turn to cookies. My friends Cathy and Joanne and I always get together and spend a day baking cookies. We usually turn out about ten or twelve different kinds, but this year we slowed down a bit.
Actually, there had already been a cookie day at the Wolf household. Elizabeth and her boyfriend Joe baked and designed sugar cookies. I wanted to get some new and fancy cookie cutters, but, oddly, Williams-Sonoma had nothing except some that you could put together (Tab A in Slot A) and make three-dimensional cookie Santa scenes. They looked kind of stupid, so we resisted. As always, the cookie decorating works better in theory than in practice. The tiny frosting dots come out in unwieldy blobs, and the colors are always a little off. But it was a good way to spend an evening.


and Joanne
were not happy about being photographed. I had to promise them I would not post their photos on the blog, but they should know me by now to know that that was just a flat-out lie.
I made Cashew Puffies, from Rose's Christmas Cookie Book. I must always bake at least one cookie from her book every year. I thought maybe cashews would be too strong a flavor for cookies, and I don't really like the name "puffies," but these were excellent cookies. The taste was not at all too strong, and the cookies were a little puffy, so I couldn't hold the name against them.

My second cookie was Mocha Pecan Balls, a Mexican Wedding Cake kind of cookie, only with cocoa and instant espresso powder added. This is a recipe from that I've had for years.

Cathy made a cream cheese lemon cookie with lemon icing, sprinkled with walnuts. She is a champion icer, and her cookies always look pretty. She also made another old favorite, a chocolate drop cookie with chocolate-mint icing. We've been making these for 15 or 20 years--they're from an old Ladies Home Journal. She wasn't supposed to, but she cheated and brought some krumkake, or some Norwegian cookie that requires a special iron. Minnesota is full of Norwegians and Swedes, and their specialties--lingonberries, lutefisk, lefse, Swedish meatballs, rosettes, krumkake, etc.--are always dragged out for Christmas Eve. I am very grateful that my Christmas traditions do not include white fish preserved in lye. Actually, she cheated twice because she also made some non-bake Christmas cookies. Her mother and my mother always made these: they contain peanut butter, cocoa, and oatmeal, and people love them even though they're not awfully pretty.

Oops--I guess I never took a picture of the chocolate cookies. They look like chocolate cookies, and are also from the old Ladies Home Journal.
Joanne made a very nice apricot-coconut bar that is from a cookbook with a name I can't remember. It's written by a woman who has a bakery in New York that is apparently very, very famous. Her second cookie was another old standby--the cranberry-white chocolate drop cookie. Sometimes when we make these we add macadamia nuts, but not this time.

The challenge now is to give them all away instead of eating them. This challenge is complicated by the fact that other people give you their Christmas cookies too, so sometimes even when you give cookies away, you end up with a net gain. Elizabeth tells me I am losing this battle and I must give more away. I tell her I am giving bread away this year, and it eats into my cookie giveaways. She tells me I must do better.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas presents

Saturday, December 16, 2006
Our three closest neighbors are in competition for the best-neighbor-in-the-world contest, and they have cheered me on in this Year of the Yeast, so I wanted to give them a loaf of bread as a holiday present. I told them to look at my blog and see which one they wanted--no restrictions. I was a little surprised at their choices because I expected that they might opt for something fancier, but their choices were pumpernickel, caraway rye, and fresh herb focaccia. Fortunately, the caraway rye neighbors are in England this week, so I can make their bread next week; otherwise, I would have tried to bake three loaves in one day.
As it was, I baked two in one day--always a challenge for me because I lose my place in the cookbook, I don't remember which timer belongs to which bread, and I am just generally in a more confused state than usual. This day was no different than the others where I have attempted more than my mental acuity can handle; fortunately, all the ingredients went in the appropriate bread.

I attacked the pumpernickel first. It was such fun to finally be able to make a bread for the second time! And this time I had good pumpernickel flour from King Arthur (what makes their flour so good?) and the little bottle of caramel color, so this one turned out even better, I think, than my first one. The pumpernickel recipients were very grateful, and kept telling me what a nice present it was.
After the pumpernickel was rising, I started the focaccia. I had forgotten that this focaccia is made with the Play-Doh technique of kneading. I was totally absorbed in this process when Elizabeth, home for the holidays, walked in the kitchen and asked me what I was doing. She said it in a tone that indicated I would not have a good answer. I told her it was an advanced kneading technique for super-hydrated breads. This was apparently not a good answer because she just noted that I was making a huge mess. Aside from the messy kneading, this bread is very satisfying to make because of the rolling, folding, and dimpling techniques it uses, which are all, for some reason, very pleasing to me.
As I was working on the two breads, it occurred to me that I wasn't going to be able to enjoy either of them because I was giving them both away. I started to feel mildly aggrieved, but tried to convince myself that the joy of giving was better than the joy of eating. Well, OK, I said to an unconvinced self: the joy of giving is almost as good as the joy of eating.
However, when I called the focaccia recipients to tell them I would deliver their bread, they asked us to stay and help them eat it. I hesitated--joy of giving, Marie, joy of giving--and told them we'd be over in five minutes.

Laurel and Jan Deloria
They brought out a bottle of a lovely Italian wine from Puglia, two cheeses, apples, and olive oil. (I told you they were excellent neighbors). We did restrain ourselves from decimating the bread and left them some to eat with their dinner.
I've just finished reading Rose's blog, which has a new entry on the no-knead bread. This has made me want to try some more variations, which I plan to do next weekend--along with the caraway rye.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bread of the Century

Saturday, December 9, 2006
I am one of the very last to try the bread that has swept the nation by storm--you know the one I'm talking about: the no-knead popularized by Mark Bittman, the only bread recipe to make the "most e-mailed list." My excuse for being so late to jump on the bandwagon is that I had other things on my mind, like baking my 82nd bread. But today, with the challah being chistory, I was ready to join the parade.
How easy is it? Very. The bread baker himself, Jim Lahey, says a four-year-old could do it. Bittman says maybe an eight-year-old. I say they must both have precocious children, and I'd move it up to ten. But there is no kneading, no complicated shaping--all you really need is time.
I have noticed some bloggers commenting rather snootily that this is not a new technique at all; it's simply a variation of pain l'ancienne, which I had never heard of, although I decided it translated better as "the bread of the ancients" than as "old bread." I looked it up, and it's similar, although it relies more on cold than on time:

Pain à l'ancienne is not actually a type of bread, but rather a technique for making bread. The technique uses delayed-fermentation. Delayed-fermentation means that you make the dough then delay the fermentation by retarding the action of the yeast by chilling the dough. Ice water is used to mix the dough and then the fridge is used to hold the dough overnight. It is an easy method producing a deliciously different tasting result.I think that you could use the pain à l'ancienne method with any bread recipe, but I have not yet tested this theory.The recipe I used is from the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice which I can highly recommend for all aspects of bread baking - recipes, explanations and techniques.I made three pain à l'ancienne baguettes like this :Make a dough from 3 cups of stone-ground unbleached flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of dried yeast, and just over 1 cup of ice cold water. Add more water as you go if required to make a very soft almost sticky dough. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge overnight, or the equivalent.Take the bowl out of the fridge and leave at room temperature until it has doubled in size from the size it was when it went into the fridge.Gently transfer the dough to a generously floured bench, trying not to deflate the dough....
This recipe and description is from, who got the recipe from Peter Reinhart, who got it, I think, from some old guy in Provence. While I was researching pain l'ancienne, I ran across a book called No Need to Knead, by Suzanne Denny. Well, there probably is nothing new under the sun.
This no-knead bread calls for an 18-hour first rise and a two-hour second rise. 18 hours! This is difficult to plan, if you work during the day and sleep during the night. I did laborious calculations: if I stirred it up at 7:00 Friday morning, it would be done with its first rise at 1:00 a.m. and then ready to bake at 3:00 a.m. I didn't like the sound of that. If I mixed it at 6:00 Friday afternoon, after I got home from work, it would be done with its first rise at noon and ready for the oven around 2:00 p.m. Not bad, except that we were scheduled to meet some friends at a museum at 3:00 in the afternoon, and they were all coming back to our house for dinner. I solved the timing problem by leaving work early and bringing a file home with me so that, after mixing the bread, I could get back to the poor client whose brother was, to his total surprise, mixing up meth in the tool shed.
This timing worked perfectly. For me anyway.
Mark Bittman has written a second column on this bread, refining it a little, and Rose has also tackled it on her blog, so, being a late bread bloomer, I had the advantage of other people's tweaking. I used slightly less water, slightly more salt, and substituted whole-wheat flour for part of the bread flour. The dough did what it was supposed to do: it rose very, very slowly, and doubled into a bubbling mass about 18 hours later. (Even after 8 hours, it had started to bubble and had risen significantly. There's probably no magic to the 18-hour figure, but since I'd already calculated the 18-hour schedule, that's what I was going to use).
I used my LaCloche instead of the big metal pot Mark Bittman used, and I also used Rose's ice cubes in the bottom of the oven technique. I used wheat bran to cover the dough for its second rise, where it's swathed in cotton towels.
And the bread turned out to be very good. I didn't get the super big holes or the crispy, crackly crust that others have achieved. I got a good texture and a nice crust, but not the crackly one that I got in Rose's baguette recipe.

But I will absolutely make it again. How could you not make it again when it requires so little effort and so little skill and turns into a better loaf of bread than you can get at most bakeries?
I think it's the "so little skill" part that may be making serious bread-bakers have mixed feelings about this bread. After all, if your 10-year-old nephew can whip up a loaf of bread that rivals a professional baker's best loaf, how does that make the baker feel? Since I'm not a professional baker, I don't have to feel too sensitive. But I do have this to say to the 10-year-old: "Let's see you make croissants, sonny."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Traditional Challah

Saturday, December 2, 2006
Number 82! I've done it--with nearly a month to spare! (And, by the way, here is my horoscope for today: You subscribe to the idea of trying everything, or most things, once. That's what makes today such an adventure.).
But it's very odd because I feel almost like crying. There were many days, especially in July, when I really didn't want to turn on the oven, and there were weekends when I felt like I was a slave to my bread-rising schedule. But somehow I feel more melancholy than triumphant.
What am I going to do with my weekends now? What will duplicate the satisfaction of crossing another bread off my list? But before I get too weepy, I should talk about the challah.
This bread was one of the most delicious ones that I've made. Alas, it was not picture perfect, as you will see from the pictures. Jim tried his best to disguise the fact that the top of the bread, rather than being shiny-glazed and full of seeds, was stretchy looking whitish bread dough. I'm not sure if I braided too tightly (or not tightly enough), or if the dough didn't have quite enough flour, or if I didn't let it rise enough after it was shaped so that there was too much oven spring. (A year ago I didn't know what oven spring was).
Anyway, the mixing went swimmingly, the rising took place nicely on schedule, so that I could go to a one-year-old friend's birthday party (Happy birthday, Anton!) between risings, and the braiding, following the directions on pp. 72-74, looked quite good. So I was not prepared for the shock when I opened the oven door and found that the braiding was somehow on the sides of the loaf and the top was just plain old bread dough. I thought about re-glazing it, but decided to just wait and see what happened. When it came out of the oven, I told Jim he had a challenge ahead of him. He took a look and said, "whoa! What happened here?" Note to Jim: these are not words of encouragement. I told him to take disguising pictures, but he failed to work miracles.
Here is a full-on picture of the challah from hell (chell?):

A slightly disguised photo of the same.
But all was forgiven when I sliced the bread and ate it. I had wondered whether it would lack the nice buttery flavor of the typical white bread, or whether the five eggs would make it tough. But the bread was very rich and it tasted great with just a little butter. Jam or honey would have been nice options, but I didn't want to disguise that fresh-from-the oven taste. Tomorrow I'll have it for breakfast, and will have two big decisions to make: jam or honey? toasted or not?
But now I must take a moment to wax nostalgic. What an amazing year this has been! Not only have I had wonderful bread every week, but I've also met some extraordinary people through this blog. I appreciate all the people who popped in now and then to watch my progress and to leave warm, funny, encouraging, and helpful comments. And, of course, I especially thank Rose Levy Beranbaum, who knows everything about bread, and quite a lot about life, and who has never once taken me to task for messing up one of her beautiful breads.
But I don't need to get too sentimental because I'm not leaving the blogosphere even though my project is over. Stay tuned for: lists of favorite breads, new baking adventures, a blow-by-blow description of a kitchen remodeling job, and, eventually, pictures of breads baked in a new Wolf oven. (What other kind of oven could a Wolf kitchen have?)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rosemary Focaccia--two ways!

Sunday, November 26, 2006
This is not my very last bread--I still have one to make--but it's the only one that has been unsuccessful, so I felt that I had to give it another try. This time it worked. But I can't figure out why this time, both the original focaccia and the variation, with garlic poached in olive oil, were rousing successes and very easy, and the first time nothing went right.
The directions say that the dough will be very soupy, but after beating for about 20 minutes, it will be "transformed into a smooth, shiny ball."
On my first attempt, that transformation never occurred--it just stayed soupy. After about 25 minutes of waiting for the transformation to occur, I added more flour, but it still stayed soupy. I tried baking it anyway, but it never metamorphosized into anything resembling bread.
This failure has galled me for my entire year of baking bread.
Elizabeth was still at home for her Thanksgiving break, and she said she wanted to try her hand at bread baking too, so she opted for the focaccia with pockets of garlic variation. After she heard about my first attempt, she said she would simply use less water. I told her it was supposed to be a very wet dough. She said, "Mom!" (Generally when she says "Mom" with an exclamation mark, it means I've said something stupid.) "Mom! Haven't you ever heard of the scientific method? We'll experiment!" As it turns out, neither of us followed the recipe precisely, but her change was deliberate and mine were accidental. And both methods gave us beautiful bread.
I intended to measure everything with great precision, but, as usually happens when I start baking before I have my full measure of coffee, I made a few errors. I used 3/4 teaspoon of yeast instead of 3/8 because I got confused. And I started pouring in the water before I had even measured it, so I measured out 442 grams (the correct amount) and poured out approximately the same amount that I'd already added to the flour. While I was doing this, I kept telling myself that I should just start over. After all, I'd only be wasting flour and water. But I just kept going. And this time, right on schedule, after 20 minutes of beating, the dough miraculously turned into the shiny, smooth ball.

And, even more miraculously, when I poured it into the dough-rising container, it looked exactly like "melted mozzarella," just as it was supposed to look.

Because I'd doubled the yeast, my dough rose in 2 hours. While I was waiting, I poached the garlic for Elizabeth's bread. The poached garlic is fabulous--even better than roasted garlic because the temperature is easier to control, and the garlic becomes soft and creamy without getting hard and chewy on the outside. And, of course, you're left with garlic-infused olive oil. The only disadvantage is that garlic permeates the air of the entire house, causing both your eyes and your mouth to water.
After being baked for just 13 minutes, the stretchy, shiny dough turned into the best focaccia I've ever tasted, and we dug into it immediately. It was crispy, but incredibly light and airy. It was not just bread, it was vindication!

I remembered the testy e-mail I sent to Rose after my first failure, telling her that she should get rid of this recipe in the next edition. NO! Pay no attention to that e-mail! It not only works when you follow the directions, but it also works even when you don't follow directions.

After the three of us greedily ate the rosemary focaccia, the less yeasty dough was ready to receive its garlic. Elizabeth and I made pockets in the dough--hers, like mine, was smooth and very elastic--and worked in the golden bits of garlic. In another 13 minutes, out came another perfect pan of focaccia--and this one was even better than the first.

My 82nd bread this year; Elizabeth's first ever. And both of them superb. Thank you, thank you, Rose, for not listening to crotchety people like me and for insisting that this wonderful bread can indeed be baked perfectly.

So what happened? What accounts for the difference? I can think of only a few possibilities. This was my first loaf of bread and I used flour that I'd had on hand. Because I didn't do that much baking, my flour might have been middle-aged if not elderly. This time, I opened a brand new package of King Arthur all-purpose flour. Or the first time, I was measuring the old-fashioned way: with cups and teaspoons. Now I use a scale and no longer understand why we don't weigh instead of measure in this country. Or it could be my shiny new KitchenAid. But my friend Sara has made this bread without incident many times using her old Artisan model. Finally, I might try to chalk it up to experience, except that Elizabeth's bread turned out as well as mine, and she has no experience at all. (Although she was guided by me, which must be worth something).
If my first description of baking this bread has discouraged anyone from baking this, or if, like me, you've tried and failed, I beg you to pluck up your courage and open The Bread Bible to page 205. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 24, 2006
I thought that I might get out of cooking the big Thanksgiving feast this year because I had hoped that our kitchen renovation might be under way. After Michael (Anschel of Otogawa-Anschel) told us that he wouldn't start until January, I gave up and decided just to cook up a storm. My menu was ambitious: roast turkey, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, sweet potatoes with maple syrup, stuffing with parmesan and pine nuts, cranberry chutney, stir-fried green beans with garlic and ginger, roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet-tart cippoline onions, and Parker House rolls. My daughter Sarah brought a beet and fennel salad, and my daughter Elizabeth made a big green salad. Jim's sister Betty brought shrimp cocktail and a cheese dip with a raspberry-chipotle sauce. For dessert, I made Apple Crumb and Key Lime pies (both from Rose's Pie and Pastry Bible) and a Pumpkin Upside Down Cake from Lynn Rossetto Kaspar's newsletter.
This menu turned out to be not just ambitious, but crazy.
I took Wednesday off work to cook and I started off in a leisurely fashion with the apple pie. I make pie about once a year--on Thanksgiving or Christmas (except on the year that I threw a big Pie, Poetry, and Potables party, but that's a different story)--so my technique is not good. If I decided to throw myself into pie baking in a big way, I would have to experiment with different rolling pins and surfaces, but for now I made do with the one I picked up at Target a few years ago.
For the apple crumb pie, I used Rose's cream cheese pie crust. It was, as promised, both tender and flaky, and it tasted so delicious that you could fill it with cinnamon and sugar, roll it up, and eat it as a little pastry. I know that you could because I did. It brought back memories of childhood, when my mother would always give all of us a scrap of pie dough to shape, fill, and bake, except that this was a tastier crust than my mother made, because she used Crisco instead of butter and cream cheese. However, the crust wanted to stick to the counter, and I didn't leave enough dough on the edge to make a good tall crust. This pie is not a work of art, but it was one of the best apple pies I've ever eaten.
By the time I got the apple pie out of the oven, however, it was past noon, and I realized I could no longer work at a leisurely pace, and, besides, I needed to go to the grocery store for more supplies. It was almost 2:00 before I started work, simultaneously, on the butter-topped rolls and the Key Lime pie. Fortunately, the Key Lime pie was quick. I've made Key Lime before with bottled Key Lime juice. Although it claims to have no preservatives, it has a nasty taste. Rose recommends solving that problem by using regular supermarket limes instead of Key limes, and this turned out to be a good suggestion. With a little bit of lime zest, it was tart, and, piled with whipped cream, just sweet enough to offset the tartness. Rose's recipe calls for an Italian meringue, which would have been prettier, but we're a whipped cream family. I intended to make a stabilized whipped cream so I could cover the entire pie with cream, and I intended to garnish it with a few paper-thin lime slices, but by the time I served dessert, I was too tired to care, so I just had a big bowl of whipped cream, with an option for vanilla ice cream, for all the desserts.

Compared to the pies, the rolls were a breeze. I made the butter-topped roll recipe again, but this time I made Parker House rolls. These are the perfect dinner rolls, and they also make a super-delicious base for a leftover turkey sandwich.

By the time I finished making everything I had to make ahead of time, it was 10:00 on Wednesday night, I was bone-tired, covered with flour, and feeling more put upon than thankful.
My big question to myself in the days before Thanksgiving: should I bake three pies or should I be daring and make one dessert that's not a pie. This was not an insignificant issue. To present a non-pie option on Thanksgiving would be a serious break from Tradition. I found a recipe for pumpkin upside-down cake with cranberries and pecans that sounded so rich and buttery I thought it would might satisfy pumpkin pie lovers.

Actually, this dessert was a hit, although I was disappointed in it. The butter and brown sugar topping had 8 ounces of butter. I was thinking 8 tablespoons, or one stick, but then I realized that 8 ounces is a half a pound. Half a pound of butter! No wonder it sounded rich. I still wonder if that was a misprint, because there was so much butter that it oozed out of the cake for about an hour until it stabilized. And the texture of the cake was more like a pudding than a cake, but it did look pretty.
Thanksgiving was my family's favorite holiday because it's all about eating, and eating a lot. As a child, I remember eating seconds and thirds, especially of mashed potatoes and stuffing. Now I'm more circumspect, and I eat more vegetables and less gravy, but there is something admirable about a holiday that doesn't force you to buy presents--just to eat. And there is something very sweet about the Midwestern way of saying thank you--"Oh, you fussed! You shouldn't have!"

Monday, November 20, 2006

Heart of Wheat Bread

Sunday, November 19, 2006
This is the easiest bread ever--it's hardly any more trouble than going to the grocery store and buying a loaf of bread. And that's only a slight exaggeration. Its ingredients are just bread flour (I still had some King Arthur Artisan Flour that I bought for baguettes, so I used that), yeast, water, salt, a little honey and a few spoons of wheat germ: the virtues of whole wheat and the virtues of white, all in the same loaf. You make the sponge, ignore it for a few hours, turn it, ignore it, shape it into a free-form loaf, ignore it once again, and bake it. It's crusty and wheaty, with a wonderful texture, and it can easily be made in the space of a day.

We had tickets for The Rivals last night, and our friends June and David Miller came over for a quick dinner before the play. The bread, still warm from the oven, was the star of the appetizer table. This morning, I had it for breakfast toast, and it was as good as toast as I was hoping it would be. Rose says that this bread is the culmination of everything she learned about baking bread.
Although The Bread Bible has some elaborate and complex recipes in it, it's interesting that this bread--a summary of Rose's extensive knowledge about bread-baking--is such a basic, simple bread. But have you ever noticed that most chefs say that their favorite recipe, and the one they've worked the hardest to perfect, is roast chicken? To do something simple, and to do it perfectly, must be the mark of the expert.
Maybe I can't claim perfection for my first try at Heart of Wheat bread, but I can claim pretty damn good.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I had volunteered to bring bread to my Tuesday night book club and was trying to figure out how I could bake a bread on Tuesday and still go to work, having decided that I was not going to do Bring Your Bread to Work Day again. I looked at the recipes for the three remaining breads I had and decided that panettone would work well because the recipe allows for many hours of optional refrigerator time.
On Saturday, we went to Trader Joe's and got some chestnuts and a nice raisin medley. I had already ordered the Fiori di Sicilia--the essential flavoring for the bread, and the decorative paper breadpans, so I was all ready (except for the orange, which I forgot and had to send Jim out to fetch early Sunday morning). And, by the way, Jim is perfectly happy in his role of fetcher of forgotten ingredients for, as well as eater and photographer of bread.
I made the sponge on Saturday night, mixed the dough, let it rise, and shaped it on Sunday, and then put it in the refrigerator. I left careful instructions for Jim, who was working from home today: take dough out of refrigerator at noon and call me when it has risen up to the top of the paper pan. When I called him at 3:00 to check on its progress, he said it was still 3 to 4 inches below the top. I told him how to improvise a proofing box and then worried about why my poor bread was being so slow when it had been lustily rising away two days earlier. I fretted so much I decided I might as well just leave work early to check on it. Although Jim had concocted an excellent makeshift proofing box, the bread was still below the top of the bread pan. Still, it looked very pretty and puffy so I just hoped it would all turn out all right, which, in fact, it did, and it was still warm when I toted it to book club.
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I honestly wasn't that keen on making panettone. We got one last year from Harry and David and, while it was not disgusting, it wasn't anything to write home about. In fact, I ended up taking half of it into work where they eat anything. But--sorry Harry and David--this bread is so far superior to what I got last year, it shouldn't even share the same name. It's rich, buttery and feather-light, with a hint of sweetness and a wonderful citrusy tang, and just the right amount of raisins. If I owned the above-named mail order company, I think I would think hard about changing my panettone recipe to, say, this one.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wheaten Croissants

Friday, November 10, 2006
I just couldn't allow the croissant to be my very last bread. The very idea of actually baking a croissant on my own was causing me far too much consternation. I got the day off today, and, while a French roll is perhaps not the most appropriate thing to make for Veterans' Day, the French were, after all, our allies in two world wars, so it wasn't completely off the wall.
I mixed up the dough last night. That part was easy. This morning, after a big mug of strong coffee, I was ready to tackle the butter package and to start the process of rolling the butter into the dough. You know what? It really wasn't that hard. As I rolled, folded, refrigerated, rolled..., I forgot my fear and just concentrated on the project at hand. In that respect, it was a little like labor, where you become so focused on what you're doing, you have no time to worry. (Lest the labor analogy scare anyone, I want to assure you that in no other way is making croissants like labor, except the finished product makes it all worthwhile).
My big worry was that the butter would break through the dough and make the whole thing a big mess. That didn't happen. I also wasn't quite sure that I could follow all the detailed instructions, but I did--and it would be much easier next time.
The only problem was that I didn't let the rolls rise enough. My friend Teddie planned to drop by today with her daughter, Clea, and I promised her a fresh-from-the-oven croissant at 4:30. I started the rising process at 1:30, so I thought they should be ready to go into the oven at 3:30, making the timing just about perfect. At 3:30, they hadn't doubled in size yet, so I put them in a warmer place for another 20 minutes. They still hadn't doubled, but I put them in the oven anyway. And I ended up making 14 instead of 12 because that's the way the triangles turned out. Consequently, the croissants were a little smaller than I'd envisioned.
I took them out of the oven just as Teddie and Clea walked in the front door and Jim walked in the back door. The house smelled heavenly, and I doled out the croissants like Lady Bountiful herself.

Teddie, Clea, and Jim ate theirs plain, and I put orange marmalade on mine.

Perhaps they were not quite perfect, but they were delicious, with a crusty exterior and an inside that was all flaky tenderness.

I don't know what French cook got the idea to take a big chunk of butter and work it into buttery layers, but whoever it was deserves a Medal of Honor. Or the Croix de Guerre. Or the Croix de Croissants.
Jim said, "Don't you feel proud of yourself?" Well, yes I do. But what I really want to do is to make them again in my new oven that will have a bread proofing setting and that will, I hope, not be anywhere from 25 to 75 degrees off. If only I had had the foresight to include baking croissants on my list of life goals, I could now cross it off!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Authentic Pumpernickel Bread

Sunday, November 5, 2006
I didn't think there would be any bread this weekend, but I got home in enough time to make pumpernickel bread, which, of the five I have left, was the one that took the least amount of time.
Because we are public defenders, and our budget is always tight, our annual conference is at the cheapest resort in Minnesota on the cheapest weekend of the year. The first weekend in November is off-off-season for northern Minnesota. The only other thing that's going on is Deer Opener; that is, the first day that people can go out in the woods and commune with Nature by killing animals.
We have a very close-knit office, and everyone was looking forward to going to Cragun's (the cheap resort), even though everyone always complains about the decor (ratty North Woods), color scheme (turquoise and brown), the smell of the cabins (combination of mildew and bleach), and the food (all-you-can-eat bowls of lime jello with pineapple tidbits and miniature marshmallows). As soon as we got there, people started talking about when they were leaving. The young women who were spending their first time away from their babies made secret phone calls to their husbands to check on whether their husbands had remembered 1) to pick up the child from day care and 2) to feed him or her. (All was well). The somewhat older women told the new mothers to enjoy their time away from their kids because it wouldn't happen very often. And some people (well, one person) kept talking about a KitchenAid and bread. The men, on the other hand, started drinking beer as soon as they arrived and showed no interest in going home early.
I stayed until Sunday morning, skipped the last two classes, and headed for home--the KitchenAid and The Bread Bible.
What a machine this is! Well, I have to admit that I was a little confused at first, but it didn't take me long to figure out how to attach the bowl to the mixer and to move the bowl up and down. My only real dilemma was the mixer speed: Rose says to knead on #4, but KitchenAid has dire warnings on every available surface of the machine, on the bread hook itself, and repeatedly throughout the informational brochure: "Use Speed 2 to mix or knead yeast doughs. Use of any other speed creates high potential for unit failure!" I finally decided I'd better go with KitchenAid's warnings, since Rose didn't threaten me with anything as bad as "unit failure" if I didn't use Speed 4.
It must be a more powerful motor because #2 speed worked just fine.
When I made the sourdough pumpernickel bread a month or so ago, I didn't have the caramel color and I had only very coarse sourdough grain. It still tasted good. I think that this one may have been even better. I liked the texture of the more finely ground flour, and the caramel color, along with the cocoa and the instant espresso powder, deepened the color beautifully. I added a little sourdough starter to the dough while I was mixing it, and that small amount of sourdough, plus a little cider vinegar, gave the bread a subtle tang.
I had two minor mishaps, but neither one shows in the picture, and neither one affected the taste. La Cloche slid into one side of the bread when I put it in the oven, so that side stuck to La Cloche and had to be forcibly detached. But we just moved that side to the back for the photos. And I made a mistake about the baking time so I took the bread out too early; even using the "thump" method instead of the thermometer method, however, I could see it wasn't done, so I just put it back in. And what's a project without a mistake or two?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My New KitchenAid

Wednesday, November 1, 2006
This morning, just before I was going out the door to go to work, a FedEx truck drove up and handed me a large box. Actually, he didn't hand it to me, he brought it in and put it on the floor. It said "KitchenAid Professional 600 Series, Nickel Pearl." My dream machine in my dream color.

It seems that Rose Levy Beranbaum and the friendly KitchenAid people were worried about my old mixer (the one that was left in Blaine and may have been kidnapped for all I know because I still haven't heard a word about it) and about the dwindling amount of time left for my project and the slightly hysterical tone that seems to have crept into my writing when I talk about said dwindling time. So they decided that it would be a very good thing if I had a brand new KitchenAid that would purr like a kitten when I was turning out my remaining five breads. And who am I to disagree with my highly distinguished, generous and thoughtful Bread Mentor and kindly Mr. KitchenAid.
When I got home from work, I took everything out of the box and admired its sturdiness and its techno-charm.

My friend Karen called to remind me that it's Wednesday--yoga night--but I demurred. "I want to sit home and gaze lovingly at my new KitchenAid, and I need to read the instruction manual so I'm all ready to bake," I told her.

Finally she bribed me by promising to pick me up and to turn on the heated leather seats in her car and to buy me a glass of wine when we're done with yoga. I succumbed to her blandishments.
The really irritating thing is that I have to leave town on Friday for the annual 3-day Public Defenders' Conference, and, unless I can sneak away early, I'm not going to be able to bake any bread this weekend. It's so annoying how people think they can tell you how to spend your day just because they pay you a salary.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Zealand Almond and Fig Bread

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Another bread that I kneaded by hand instead of by mixer. It's been two weeks now--the promised repair time--and I'm still KitchenAid-less. I am getting better at kneading by hand, though, and today I managed to be downright stingy with the amount of extra flour I kneaded in.
When I first paged through The Bread Bible, this bread looked too fancy for me, with the figs, the two kinds of almonds, and the apricot glaze. The figs especially worried me, because it's hard to get fresh figs in flyover land. On a closer reading, however, I realized that all I needed was dried figs, which are really not that much fancier than raisins. And the two kinds of almonds were hardly exotic--sliced and slivered. And the apricot glaze was just apricot preserves and water. I can handle that.

This bread is made with a combination of bread and whole wheat flours, which is a winning combination, providing a sturdier, more flavorful crumb than you get with all-purpose flour. The almonds add a satisfying crunch and the figs marry perfectly with the almonds. I wondered if the apricot glaze would be gilding the lily--just one step too many. But it turned out to add just a hint of additional sweetness and a beautiful shine. We each had more than one piece, served with Maytag blue, this afternoon, along with cappuccino. (No wine for me this afternoon--I'm working on an oral argument for tomorrow morning at the Minnesota Supreme Court, and I need all the lucidity I can muster).
I have only five breads left to make--and one of them is the most fearful of them all--the croissant. I can't put it off much longer.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Low-Salt Tuscan Bread

Saturday, October 28, 2006
Since the last bread I made was (unintentionally) salt-free, I figured that I might just as well move on to intentional low-salt bread. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of many Italian breads. We have had fabulous foods in Italy, and found that you can stop in almost any restaurant or cafe, no matter how modest (even a highway rest stop!), and get something superb to eat. That high quality didn't extend to their breads. When I got home from my first trip to Italy, I did a little research and discovered that the problem, from my perspective, was that traditional breads often didn't use salt because, thousands of years ago, salt was too expensive to waste on ordinary bread. Then, when salt became as common as dirt, apparently Italian palates had grown to adjust to rather tasteless bread. This bread isn't totally saltless, but has just a half-teaspoon.
As I read the recipe, I realized that this is one of the very few in Rose's book that doesn't give alternative instructions for mixing by machine and mixing by hand. But I had already decided that this was the next bread on my list, and I was not going to change just because hand-kneading might not work. What about all those Italian ladies from the 15th century who didn't have KitchenAids? Surely they still made bread! I vowed to follow in their footsteps.
I decided that I would try my hand mixer to see what happened. It is soon very clear that this is not going to work. The dough just wound its way up the beaters and became a mass at the top of them. I scraped every bit of dough off, and started kneading. Hmm. This is very sticky dough. After five minutes of kneading, trying not to add much more flour, the dough is about one-fourth stuck to the counter and three-fourths stuck to my hands. I carefully pull it off both places and let it rest. After a 20-minute nap, it's much more tractable.
I love how you shape this bread! You just dump it from its rising bowl onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. I wonder why you can't do this with all breads because it's the easiest thing ever. It bakes into a nice round disk, and, although I have no idea how it's supposed to look, it looks fine to me.

And, as it turns out, it tastes fine too. We shared it with some neighbors, and served it with some excellent wine that Elizabeth bought Jim for Christmas, as well as with olive oil, Maytag blue cheese, and Tuscan salami. The bread was chewy and crusty, and excellent with each accompaniment. After tasting the bread with cheese, salami, and oil, I tasted it alone. Even without a bold-tasting partner, the bread is flavorful and delicious--it did not taste as if it was missing something at all, so perhaps this small amount of salt is all that's necessary to make it taste like bread, and not baked flour. I recommend this bread highly--it's simple to make, it's tasty, and it's attractive. It is the Italian equivalent of a baguette, except it's much easier to make.