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.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cheddar Loaf

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
My neighbor Laurel invited me for a dinner party on Tuesday, and, when I asked if I could bring anything, said, "How about a loaf of your good bread?" Well, when she put it that way, I couldn't say no.
As Evil Cake Lady (who really does not seem to be at all evil) reminded me, breads can actually be made without mixers, and I am ready to knead away by hand until my KitchenAid is returned to me.
But the problem here was not the mixer so much--it was time. I had a party at my house on Monday, and I had to go to work on Tuesday. I spent a lot of time pondering this question, and finally decided to make the bread at work. would be National Take Your Bread to Work Day!
After I got rid of my guests on Monday night, I mixed the sponge and let it sit out for an hour, then put it in the refrigerator while I slept. The next morning, I added the cheese, mustard, and cayenne to the basic white dough recipe and put it in my dough rising container. Then I gathered up everything else I needed and sped to work in time for an 8:15 meeting. By 9:30, the dough was ready to be turned out and shaped. My friend Susan, who is the kind of person who watches every TV special about the alarming number of germs found in hotel rooms, yelled at me: "You can't put that dough on that table! It's disgusting!"
"Ha!" said I. "I'm way ahead of you. I brought in my disinfecting cleaner." "You can't use that gross office dishcloth," she warned. "This is my own perfectly clean dishcloth." "Your bread will taste like disinfectant!" "I brought in a second clean dishcloth to wipe the disinfectant off." Oh, I was pleased with myself for thinking of everything.
At 11:00, the dough had doubled again, and was ready to be put in the loaf pan, which I had, of course, brought--because I thought of everything--and covered with oiled plastic wrap--did I mention I thought of everything. The bread was really rising very nicely because at the end of October, my office is considerably warmer, and much less drafty, than my house.
At 12:30, I drove my loaf pan home and put it in the oven. The cheese-flecked dough was an inch above the top of the pan, and it looked great. By 1:45, the bread was done (it looked perfect), and I went back to work for our monthly office birthday party.
Yet the bread was not quite as perfect as I had thought. When I tasted it, at the dinner party, I got a puzzled frown on my face. Not a frown of disgust, just puzzlement....something wasn't right. I was puzzled enough that I went back over the recipe and suddenly realized that I'd forgotten the salt! You really wouldn't think that forgetting a teaspoon of one ingredient would be enough to make you frown.
And, to make matters worse, I had brought along unsalted butter to the party for the bread. Fortunately, there were a lot of highly flavored ingredients in this bread, so the lack of salt didn't make it bland--just not perfect.
This is what happens when you try to read a recipe and mix something up at 6:15 a.m. after having had only half a cup of coffee. Or maybe I shouldn't blame the coffee. Maybe I should chalk it up to getting my just deserts for being so smug about being Wonder Woman. She's never late for meetings! She whips up amazing breads while writing briefs! She always has everything under control! Not.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sweet potato biscuits

Sunday, October 22, 2006
I bought a set of graduated biscuit cutters yesterday. This is the first time I've had an actual biscuit cutter--I've always used a glass or a cup or whatever I have on hand. I'm so happy that I broke down and bought the biscuit cutters, though--their sharp steel sides cut right into the dough so you don't have to twist and turn. I was burbling about how thrilled I was to have actual biscuit cutters at Williams-Sonoma, and the woman who was waiting on me didn't look at me like I was insane. She looked pleased. That is why I like kitchen stores. In fact, I remember being at Williams-Sonoma the day after Julia Child died. At work, I'd been talking about how sad I was and that if I had to name a true hero of mine, it would be Julia Child. The youngsters didn't quite get it. But at Williams-Sonoma, everyone was talking about Julia Child and their sadness at her death.
Anyway, mostly I have made it a point to try to follow these recipes as closely as possible because I feel that one should not go off on a frolic and detour while learning to bake bread. ("Frolic and detour" is actually a legal term of art--about the only one that's fun to say). However, because I am planning to serve these biscuits at a party tomorrow night, and I wanted to be able to taste them myself, I one-and-a-halfed the recipe. Also, because I plan to serve miniature ham-and-biscuit sandwiches tomorrow, I used the tiniest biscuit cutter instead of the standard size.
These are fine, fine biscuits. Like the Angel Light biscuits that I made this summer, these have yeast in them, making them tall and extremely light. I had one plain, one with butter, one with chicken, and one with jam. I would be hard-pressed to say which one was better, and I haven't even tried the ones with ham and honey mustard that I'm serving tomorrow, per Rose's suggestion.
I was sorry that I hadn't brought some White Lily self-rising flour back home with me from North Carolina. I used self-rising flour, but it was General Mills, not White Lily, and it just doesn't have that same deep South cachet.
Now I'm done with the breads that don't require a mixer, and still no word on when my KitchenAid will be done. I've also been asked to bring bread to a potluck dinner on Tuesday, but I may have to (gasp) buy some.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dutch Baby

Saturday, October 21, 2006
My KitchenAid is still in the appliance repair shop in Blaine, so I'm trying to bake breads that don't need a mixer until it's back home. After this one, however, there is only one recipe that wouldn't benefit from a mixer. After that, I'll just have to knead by hand. My deadline is closer than I had thought because our kitchen remodel is scheduled to start sometime in early to late November. I may have to take a few vacation days and go into bread-a-day mode soon.
I first saw a Dutch Baby at the Pannekoeken Huis, which our children loved to go to when they were young. The waitresses, wearing wooden clogs, would run out of the restaurant kitchen, yelling "pannekoeken!" The idea was to try to get to the table before the Dutch Baby collapsed. To this day, my older daughter goes into gales of laughter if someone yells "Pannekoeken!" (As you might imagine, this is not an everyday occurrence).
Then I started baking Dutch Babies, and it became the centerpiece of our traditional Christmas breakfast. The ones I baked were good, but not nearly as good as this version. The recipes I've used before are very eggy--basically they were eggs, a little flour, and a little sugar. Rose's version is more time-consuming, and much more delicious. It's got more flour and milk, plus two whole eggs and two egg whites. While the crust is crisp, the entire pancake, including the crunchy crust, is almost meltingly tender.
I bought a special Dutch Baby pan, and this was its maiden voyage. The baby comes out of the oven perfectly puffed.

Then you quickly transfer it to a plate, and fill the center with sliced apples that you've cooked with butter, brown and white sugars, cinnamon and nutmeg. (You may notice that this is the second week running that I've made an apple bread. What tastes better in October than apples?)

Then you drizzle some creme fraiche over the whole thing, and happily sit down to eat.

We have more than half of this big Dutch Baby left. It should serve as a hearty breakfast tomorrow morning.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cinnamon Crumb Surprise

Sunday, October 15, 2006
People are always asking me what bread has been my favorite. I tell them indignantly that I can't answer that--it would be like saying who is my favorite child. Anyway, I can't even remember what breads I've made unless I sit down with a list, in which case I'm very impressed with myself, if I do say so.
But this lovely quick bread, which is really more like an apple cake, might make it on my Top Ten list.

This is not a difficult bread to make, but it's fairly time-consuming. I expected to have it ready for a mid-afternoon tea at 3:00, but it was more like 5:00 when we ate it. Not that there's anything wrong with a 5:00 tea.
I had most of the mixing bowls I owned filled up with something--the dry ingredients, the egg and sour cream mixture, the crumble, the sliced apples, the nut-and-sugar mix, so the kitchen was a mess when I was done. And by the time I cleaned up, it was ready to take out of the oven.

Then came another challenging step. First you had to let it cool for ten minutes, then invert it on a flat plate on which you've put a clean cotton towel covered with oiled plastic wrap.

I wasn't sure what would happen after I removed the pan. If all went well, it would just lift off, revealing a lovely, browned cake. If not, it would be a mess.

What a relief! Now the only step left was to cut slices and eat them. Can you really blame us for eating two pieces?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mushroom Bread

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The good news is that I have a working stove. The bad news is that my KitchenAid mixer gave up the ghost just as I was starting to mix the mushroom bread dough and it is now in the Appliance Hospital, from where it should return, assuming that its illness is not fatal, within a few weeks. We had to take it all the way to Blaine, a far northern suburb of Minneapolis, which feels like a foreign country. Instead of the "Impeach Bush" and "Peace Now" signs, which dot the landscape of my cozy south Minneapolis neighborhood, there were "Guns Don't Kill, People Kill" and "If You Don't Speak English, Get the F... Out" bumper stickers. But the people in the repair shop seemed competent and not at all hostile, so it wasn't painful to leave my mixer out in the suburbs.
I hadn't even thought about the possibility of my mixer going kaput. I was only worried about what pan to use for the mushroom bread. Rose recommends a lovely glass bread steamer, but the company that makes it seems to have gone out of business, and I couldn't find another bread steamer to buy. (Don't people in Boston bake steamed bread any more?) As a second choice, she recommends a one-pound coffee can. But I don't buy coffee in cans, and neither does anyone else I know. I hated to buy a can of Folger's just to make this mushroom bread. I did have an empty plum tomato can that I had used a few weeks ago, and I saved that can in case I couldn't come up with anything else.
One day at work when I was complaining about my lack of appropriate baking equipment for this bread, my friend Susan asked me to explain what I wanted. I told her about the bread, and how it was supposed to turn into a mushroom shape as it rose and then as it baked. She asked me if I really felt the need to commemorate North Korea's atomic bomb by making a mushroom-shaped bread. Very funny, I said. But from then on I started to think of this as my Great Leader bread.
Well, when my KitchenAid died, I panicked for a moment, trying to figure out how I was going to bake bread without my heavy-duty mixer. Fortunately, it occurred to me fairly quickly that I could do it the old-fashioned way, which was really rather nice and satisfying. Still, I think I will concentrate in the next few weeks on the few remaining breads that don't need a mixer.
And how did the bread turn out, you may ask? The bread itself was actually anti-climactic after the worries about the pan and the dead mixer. It turned out to be a very flavorful bread because it's made with nearly a pound of mushrooms, diced and reduced into duxelles. Jim and I had one slice with butter and one with leftover roasted garlic. It was a draw. We considered trying a third slice with olive oil, and voting again, but our better selves took over.
I would definitely make the mushroom bread again, but I wouldn't use the tomato can next time. The "stem" was too long for the "cap", and, while the top browned nicely, the stem remained lily-white. I didn't pack the tomato can completely full of dough, so I made some dinner rolls with the leftover dough. They're now in the freezer, waiting to be pulled out some night when I make a pot of soup for dinner. I don't know if the shape of the bread would have been better or worse if I had put all the dough in the can, and I don't think I will ever find out.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Saturday, October 7, 2006
My ciabatta started out so well.
It was another of those crazy Italian very soft, wet doughs that are supposed to magically turn into the correct texture. Like the infamous focaccia. Which didn't.
But this one, made in my KitchenAid (on Speed 6, which is as fast and furious as a Tilt-A-Whirl) actually did what it was supposed to do. In just one second, it turned from a puddle into a dough.
And I could follow the directions for shaping it, too. It was soft and yet malleable, and it looked just like the picture when I was forming it into a loaf.
The problem started when I opened the oven to put it in. Usually at 475, a wave of heat blasts out of the oven, but this time it just seemed warm. I figured I must be getting inured to the heat. But when I opened the oven after 15 minutes to turn the dough around and take it off the baking sheet, I suspected a problem. The bread was not at all brown, not even beige, but I was still hoping that another ten minutes in the oven would fix it.
It didn't.
Finally I had to admit that my oven was just not working, and I had a half-baked loaf of bread. I thought of possibilities: turn the heat up as high as it would go and put the bread on the radiator; turn the hair dryer on high and blast the bread; put the bread on the clothes dryer's sweater attachment. But it was clear even to me that these were all stupid ideas.
Then I remembered that my next-door neighbors were out of town and I had a key to their house. I grabbed my baking stone, with the bread on top of it, and ran over to their house and put the bread in their oven. No time to preheat the oven for an hour. Their two cats came in the kitchen to investigate, but got bored with my project and went back to their naps.
After ten minutes, I opened the oven and looked. It was sort of tan on top, and I figured that was as good as it was going to get, so I dashed back to my house to put it on a cooling rack.
After about an hour, I decided it was time to slice it and see what this two-oven, two-house bread was going to look like on the inside. To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. It's supposed to have big holes in it. Mine had medium-sized holes, which, given the circumstances, I was happy with.

I sliced some more and served it with roasted garlic (baked before the oven went kaput). In fact, there was some conjecture at our house that the five cloves of garlic are what did the oven in.
The twice-baked ciabatta was actually quite delicious: both the bottom and top crusts were thin and crispy, and the inside of the bread was soft but with plenty of character. If I ever get a working oven, this is a bread to make over and over. The oven repair person is supposed to arrive on Monday. I just hope it can be brought back to life so that I can bake my twelve remaining breads.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Potato Sandwich Loaf

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Last week Jim and I went on a whirlwind trip of New England as his birthday present. One of his life's goals is to see all 50 states, and his total had been stagnating for a while at 36. And he's not getting any younger. So he decided that he could get five states in one trip if we tooled around New England for a week. We started in Boston, then went to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, ending up on Cape Cod for a few days. Now he has only nine more states left to see.
In the midwest, we are suspicious of Easterners. We fear that they are more sophisticated than us prairie folk and that they might try to pull the wool over our eyes. No wool-pulling that I noticed, however--just very helpful people, very good food, and lots of history. Because I was in the above states over the weekend, I didn't bake my usual weekend bread. Coming back on the plane, however, the bread-baking urge came upon me, and I decided that I could bake something easy after I got home. I cooked a potato and started making this potato loaf.
You would think that after baking bread for nine months, I wouldn't be so quick to forget that the resting and rising and resting and rising and baking parts add up to a lot of hours, but you would think wrong. I cheated a little on the last rising because I was about to fall asleep on the kitchen floor, so the loaf is a little petite, but quite edible. It's a good basic bread, with a heartier taste than the basic white sandwich loaf. I think it would make a fine meatloaf sandwich, if I only had some meatloaf, or a good egg salad sandwich, if I only had bothered to cook some eggs. It was also quite satisfying with butter and jam, which I did have.
In fact, it made me think of children's book Bread and Jam for Frances, in which Frances the badger refuses to eat anything other than bread and jam. I always liked the book, but thought that nobody would really want to exist on a steady diet of bread and jam. Eating my midnight snack last night, however, I began to have a little more empathy for her.