Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday Baking

Saturday, December 29, 2007
It's very late in the day, or in the year, to talk about holiday baking, but since Jim has been dutifully taking pictures, I might as well write something about them before the next holiday comes around.
My first baking foray was the annual Cookie Baking Day, in which two friends and I use obscene amounts of butter to turn out ridiculous amounts of cookies. Jim is the official taster, an honor which he is able to keep because he gets a very thoughtful expression on his face while he's eating each cookie, then says he needs to check another one to make sure of his judgment, and always pronounces each cookie to be good.
We used to each make three different kinds of cookies, which resulted in too many even to give away, and by New Year's Day, we ended up tossing them out for the squirrels. All the neighborhood squirrels congregated in our yard on New Year's morning, waiting for the feast. This year we each baked two different kinds, and there aren't many left. I'm hoping that the squirrels won't stage a rebellion.
I made Trios, a variation on the classic thumbprint cookie.

This recipe is from December's Gourmet Magazine, and you can find it at I doubled the recipe and made the dough the night before. In the morning, I took the dough out of the refrigerator and weighed it, then divided the weight by however many cookies it was supposed to make (72, I think). I learned through this clever mathematical trick that each cookie should be made with 18 grams of dough, and each 18-gram piece is divided into three balls which are then flattened slightly and put on the baking sheet touching in the middle, so they'll come together when they bake.
Some of my cookies were not turning out even, though, so I decided to weigh out 6-gram units, so that all the balls would be uniform. This is the kind of thing you don't do when you have little kids running around the house, but now I have no one but Jim, and he doesn't care if I spend my mornings weighing out cookie balls. After the three balls are placed on the cookie sheet, you take the end of a wooden spoon, dip it in flour, in make a hole in each little-bitty dough ball. Then you fill one little hole with raspberry jam, one with strawberry, and one with apricot. If you don't like to do things like this, you would run out of the house screaming by this point. If you do, you'd find it quite satisfying.
Cathy made some lime-coconut meringues.

This is the first time any of us have ever attempted meringues, which turned out to be not that difficult, at least for Cathy, but she has a knack for cookies. Since Jim doesn't like coconut, we told him that he didn't have to taste these, but he gamely ate one, then two, and declared that he liked them despite the coconut. In fact, he claimed that perhaps he was starting to like coconut, just because of these cookies. This made Cathy very happy. So happy that she started rolling out hundreds of very thin shortbread circles and stars, to make raspberry shortbread sandwich cookies. She used her homemade raspberry jam, which is better than anything you can buy in a store.

JoAnne, the third cookie baker, made some pretty and zingy lemon cornmeal stars and some rich, delicious walnut bars. Here they are on a plate, along with Cathy's finished raspberry shortbread sandwich cookies:

My second cookie was the World Peace cookie.

This cookie has been quite a hit on the blogosphere this year. I got the recipe from Lynn Rossetto Kaspar's Splendid Table website, but it's originally from one of Dorie Greenspan's books, and she got it from Pierre Herme, a French baker. The idea is that these cookies are so good that if everybody ate them every day, we would have world peace. It's a charming notion, although with recent events in Pakistan, it appears that something more than even a very good cookie would be required for peace to occur. The cookies are intensely chocolatey, with both cocoa and bits of dark chocolate. The chocolate flavor is complemented with fleur de sel, and a bite with the flavor combination of chocolate and salt is, oddly, quite fantastic.
We also made chocolate cupcakes for Christmas. I found a recipe for dark chocolate cupcakes made with sour cream, which is a Cook's Illustrated version, via a Seattle blog. I also made a vanilla bean cheesecake with cranberry jewel topping, but the cupcakes turned out cuter.

We used Martha Stewart's recipe for vanilla meringue buttercream icing, which was very light and fluffy, but a little too sweet, and my vanilla bean cheesecake turned out to have a massive crack in the center.

Once the crack was covered with the shiny cranberry glaze, it was not noticeable, but Jim didn't take any pictures of that. The cheesecake was pretty good, but the cupcakes seemed more popular.
My other cooking assignment was to bring rolls. I made Peter Reinhart's plain white rolls, which turned out fine, and are very pretty, but are not quite as tender and flavorful as Rose's version. I just shaped them into individual round rolls--they would make adorable hamburger buns for the miniature hamburgers that are so popular as appetizers. I bought a quart of buttermilk, intending to make the buttermilk version, but I forgot that that was my plan until after I'd already added the dried milk.

Thus endeth the Christmas baking. But not the baking. Last night my brother Bruce, his wife, Julie, their kids, Doug and Marina, and Doug's wife Ellie came for dinner. Sarah and her boyfriend James were also here, and Elizabeth. We baked cupcakes again for dessert. This time, they had buttermilk in them because I had a quart of buttermilk to use up. We had regular-size and super-size.

I got The Cake Bible for Christmas, and we frosted these with Rose's Neo-classic Mocha Buttercream. The frosting was amazing! Except for whipped cream, I don't particularly like frosting. I usually scrape off as much as I reasonably can. But this frosting was heavenly. As God is my witness, I will never mix powdered sugar and butter again!
Finally, one more loaf of bread--the Almost No-Knead whole wheat bread, made just like the almost no-knead basic loaf, but with one cup of whole wheat flour substituted for one cup of white flour and 2 tablespoons of honey added. Again, this revised no-knead version turned out beautifully, with virtually no work involved.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cranberry-Pecan Almost No-Knead Bread

December 16, 2007

My friend Mary invited Jim and me for dinner last night for some pheasant that she had been given by a hunter. I put the "pheasant" and "hunter" part out of my mind because I didn't want to think about the poor bird being shot, and accepted. I offered to bring bread, and told her I was working on this almost no-knead bread and gave her a choice among the four variations. She chose cranberry-pecan, which made me quite happy.
When we got to Doug and Mary's house, I mentioned my reservations about the dead pheasants, and Doug assured me that pheasants were extremely stupid and did not even notice when they were shot. Moreover, he said, they were so moronic that they couldn't even make it through a Minnesota winter. They would freeze to death, he claimed, and were much better off being shot. Anyway, he added, going on the offensive, why was I being so sensitive about pheasants when I represented murderers? Well, I said, that's completely different.
The pheasant was quite good. Mary served it with a fruity, winey sauce, along with a cranberry relish and a dish of lentils, brown rice, and caramelized onions. Even though we had cranberry relish and a fruity sauce, the cranberry-pecan bread was just right with the dinner--not too much fruit at all.
Dessert was a sweet potato-candied ginger pie that Doug made himself. Men always demand (and get) so much credit when they cook, but it was good pie.

After two weeks in a row of The America's Test Kitchen No-Knead Bread 2.0, I've decided it really is an excellent recipe, and the cranberry-pecan version is just as good as the basic white bread recipe. The only difference is adding 1/3 cup each of pecans and dried cranberries with the dry ingredients. I used more--at least 1/2 cup each, because I wanted to have it bursting with the dried fruit and nuts. This time I used about 1/3 cup of sourdough starter instead of the vinegar, and it added a more complex flavor than the vinegar alone. I had to steal a bottle of beer from a party I went to Friday night in order to get the bread started on Friday night. Unfortunately for Jim, it was Miller Lite, and he drew the line at drinking the rest of that, so I have most of a bottle of Miller Lite in the refrigerator. I guess I'll have to bake another loaf of bread.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Almost No-Knead Bread

November 9, 2007

Remember last year about this time when Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread swept the country? It was easy to make, it made a beautiful loaf with a fabulously crispy crust, and it was endlessly adaptable? Then, after the initial enthusiasm, remember the nay-sayers, who pointed out that, with all its virtues, the no-knead bread was not the tastiest bread on the block?
Even if you don't remember this, J. Kenji Alt, does, and in this month's Cook's Illustrated, Alt set out to discover if he could make a better-tasting no-knead bread. Cook's Illustrated, as you probably know, is the magazine from America's Test Kitchen, where the food testers helpfully (some might say obsessively) work on a particular recipe, going through dozens of variations until they believe they have come up with the best possible result. This is a magazine that appeals to the kind of person who, say, decides to bake all the breads in a certain cookbook in one year or, say, writes a novel in a month. As soon as I saw the article entitled "No-Knead Bread 2.0," I knew what this week's bread would be.
Alt's theory is that the lack of kneading in no-knead bread kept the proteins in a "semi balled-up state," thus making the bread "overly chewy." He was aiming for a more flavorful bread with a more airy texture. He decided to add a brief period (15 seconds) of hand kneading after the first long rise, which he decided was crucial for both shape and taste. He made a few other variations as well.
He wanted the complexity of flavor that you get from a sourdough starter, but he didn't want to use one because, after all, that would kind of defeat the purpose of the simplicity of the no-knead bread. So he added a tablespoon of vinegar. I had my doubts about this because, as the bread was baking, the vinegar smell was very pronounced, and I was afraid I'd end up biting into a piece of bread that tasted like salad dressing. Fortunately, I couldn't taste it in the bread. Since I have a starter, however, the next time I make this bread, I'll omit the vinegar and add a dollop or two of starter.
He added another flavor enhancer, as well--beer, and in a side note, he explains why beer improves bread's flavor, and why the beer should be a light lager and not a darker, richer beer. All you need is three ounces of lager for a loaf of bread, which leaves most of a bottle of beer for some other purpose. I personally don't care much for beer, but Jim was happy to drink the rest of it.

Alt's other modifications involved slightly less hydration, to make the bread easier to handle and easier to shape, and a much simpler method of transferring the dough into a very hot Dutch oven. He suggests doing the second rise in a ten-inch skillet which has first been lined with a big piece of parchment paper. When the bread is ready to go in the Dutch oven, you just pick up the parchment by its edges and transfer the dough, along with the parchment, into the preheated Dutch oven.
Jim was entranced by this bread, which he pronounced the best-looking one I'd ever turned out, and took dozens of pictures. When we cut into the bread, we were also very pleased with the texture, the crust, and, most importantly, the taste.

We were going to eat it with some cheese, but decided that we really didn't want to mask the flavor with anything. The article includes several variations, including an olive, rosemary and parmesan loaf, a cranberry-pecan loaf, as well as rye and whole wheat variations. I'll probably end up trying them all.
If you're looking for a basic, easy loaf of bread, this is probably it. It is tastier than the original no-knead version, and prettier too. It's not the absolutely most delicious bread I've ever eaten, but when I woke up this morning and remembered that I could have a piece for breakfast, I felt happy. You can't get a much better review than that.
Almost No-Knead Bread
3 c. (15 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 t. instant yeast
1 1/2 t. table salt
3/4 c. plus 2 T. (7 oz.) room-temperature water
1/4 c. plus 2 T. (3 oz.) mild-flavored lager
1 T. white vinegar

1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Fold mixture until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.
2. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined 10-inch skillet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
3. About 30 minutes before baking, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven on lowest rack, and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Make one slash along top of dough. Take preheated pot out of oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by the edges of the parchment and ease into pot. Put lid back on and place in oven. Reduce temerature to 425 and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove lid and turn pan 180 around for more even browning. Bake another 20 to 30 minutes, until loaf is deep brown. Transfer to wire rack and cool.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Oatmeal Bread

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Rose mentioned making Jeffrey Hammelman's oatmeal bread for her father a few weeks ago, and that mention made me want to make a loaf myself. I googled "Jeffrey Hammelman's oatmeal bread" in hopes of finding the recipe, but no luck. I checked it on, where I was able to open the book on line and actually find the recipe, but it makes about 40 or 50 loaves, which was about 39 or 49 more than I wanted. We were in the middle of a blizzard, so I couldn't run out to a bookstore and find the book, so I had to give up (temporarily, at least) on making that particular oatmeal bread.
I found one in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, one of my favorite cookbooks. It seemed simple enough. I modified it a little to include some white whole wheat flour, which I've been wanting to try, and I used some organic five-grain cereal mix instead of oatmeal, but it's basically one of those recipes where you just dump everything in, mix it up, and let it rise.
I hated this dough. I couldn't get it right. I'd add a little more flour, and it became a hard, tough, rock-like ball. I'd add a little more milk or water, and it just became gluey. It was also exceedingly ugly. The recipe calls for a cup of wheat bran, which made the dough a particularly disgusting shade of brown. I also had a hard time shaping it, so that both ends looked like massive belly buttons.

Still, I persevered. I let it rise three times, twice in the bowl and once in the pan, instead of the two times specified in the original recipe. The extra rising seemed to aerate it enough so that it was not just a leaden mass. In fact, despite its not-at-all promising beginnings, it was actually quite good. The repulsive brown became a lovely golden tan, and the oatmeal mixture that I rolled the dough in gave it a rustic prettiness and a nice crunch.
I don't know about Jeffrey Hammelman's oatmeal bread, but Deborah Madison's is the ugly duckling of breads.

Oatmeal Bread

1 1/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup honey
2 T. butter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats or five-grain cereal mix (first ingredient should be oats)
1 cup wheat bran
1 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. instant yeast
1 1/2 t. salt
Additional oats for top

1. Warm milk, butter, and honey together. Set aside.
2. Mix flours, oats, bran, and yeast in mixing bowl with dough hook.
3. Gradually add milk mixture to flour mixture.
4. Add salt.
5. Knead for at least five minutes in mixer or by hand. Dough is supposed to be firm but a little tacky, although it might be unpromising at this point.
6. Put dough in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
7. When dough doubles in size, put it onto a floured counter, stretch into a rectangle, and give it a business letter turn.
8. Let it rise again until doubled, 45 minutes to an hour.
9. Preheat oven to 375 (350 convection).
10. Shape dough into loaf, and roll with additional oats or cereal mixture. Put in loaf pan until doubled.
11. Bake about 40 minutes, turning the pan after 20 minutes.
12. Turn loaf onto rack and let cool. (If oats fall off the top of the loaf, just scoop them up and pat them back on top).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Basic Hearth Bread - Again

November 25, 2007
I love this bread.

It's one of the few from The Bread Bible that I've repeated--it's worth repeating because it's just about a perfect basic loaf of bread. It's chewy and crusty, and, especially with sourdough starter substituting for some of the yeast, as it did this time, very flavorful. It's also quite pretty.
The first time I made this bread, in March of 2006, I was just getting started on my year-long bread-baking project. I liked it then, even though I didn't shape it very well. I made it a second time just after our kitchen was completed--I think it was the first bread I made in the new oven. It got a little too dark, but I still liked it. This time, it was almost perfect. In fact, I doubled the recipe because I knew how much I liked this bread. (Doubling was not such a great idea, as it turned out, since the amount of dough really taxed my KitchenAid's powers. I smelled something burning and couldn't figure out what it was, since I hadn't turned on the oven. Then I realized that my mixer was working its little heart out for me.)

This hearth bread is just flour, water, and yeast, with a little honey added for a very subtle sweetness. Most of the flour is bread flour, but there's a little whole wheat--enough for color and taste. One of Rose's variations is to cut down the yeast and add some sourdough starter. I like to add some sourdough to most breads anyhow, but this one especially benefits from it. Not enough to make it sour, but just enough to deepen the flavor.
We had it with cheese and wine this afternoon.

Jim brought some cheese back from the grocery store that described itself as having a "subtle barnyard taste." I asked him why he thought that sounded inviting, but it turned out to be fine.
(It's amazing how much time I have on Sunday when I'm not writing a novel, by the way!)
And I'm making spaghetti with bacon, tomatoes, and tarragon for dinner; I expect it will go very well with that, too.

Thea's Mother's Cream Scones

Sunday, November 25, 2007

First of all, I'm done with the novel. After an all-day stint of writing yesterday, I got to "The End" and to 50,276 words at the same time. I can now cross "Write a Novel" off my list of life's goals.
I had a secret plan in case I couldn't make it quite to 50,000 words. Two of my main characters are amateur bakers (what a surprise!), and they bake various things throughout the book. I figured that if I didn't make the word count by November 30, I'd just add the recipes. The more I thought about it, the more integral the recipes seemed. As it happened, I didn't need the extra words, but I'm still including the recipes in the novel.
I thought I'd already decided what recipes I was going to use. To my surprise, though, Thea's mother entered the story, and she decided to bake scones. I didn't know that was going to happen. You know how writers are always claiming that their characters just do things on their own? That always seemed pretty unbelievable to me, yet there she was, this new character who just barged into Thea's kitchen and made scones. She doesn't even have a name. She's just "Thea's mom." (Like mothers often are--mere appendages to their children).
When I woke up this morning, I was disappointed that there were no scones for me to eat. After all, I'd invented the damn character; did I have to bake the scones too? It seems that I did.
When Jim walked into the kitchen, he was delighted to see me mixing up scones. "Scones! What a wonderful idea!" "They're Thea's mother's scones," I told him. He nodded knowingly. "Ah," he said, and walked out. He may not be sure who she is, but he thinks that Thea's mother makes a mean scone.

Thea's Mother's Cream Scones

1/3 c. currants
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
3 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
4 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1 T. heavy cream to brush on scones
Extra sugar to sprinkle on scones

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt; then cut in butter until the mixture resembles meal.
3. Combine eggs, cream, and vanilla, and stir it into the flour mixture, along with currants and nuts.
4. Turn dough onto floured counter and knead lightly about 10 times.
5. Pat dough into circle about 3/4" thick. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar.
6. Cut into 8 to 12 wedges, depending on how big you want the scones to be.
7. Place wedges on baking pan lined with parchment paper.
8. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Thursday, November 22, 2007
"Mom, I have to bring bread on Thanksgiving."
"I thought you were making a Key Lime pie."
"I am, but my friends told me to bring bread. They know about your blog, and they think I should bake bread too. So send me a recipe, but it has to be easy. And the ingredients can't be expensive. I'm very poor. And remember--I don't have anything!"
I mulled this one over for a while, then thought about the first bread I ever made. I was about 16, and "Dilly Bread" was the rage. I think it had won the Pillsbury Bake-Off, back in the day when the Bake-Off was something more than a showcase for pre-packaged, highly processed food. I remembered it being very easy, with very little kneading, and it didn't even need a loaf pan.
To my surprise, it was easy to find a recipe. And it was easy to make too. The only minor almost-glitch was when Liz and I were IM-ing about making the bread, and I told her to find a warm spot in the kitchen. She said, "You mean you're not supposed to put it in the refrigerator?"
I said, "Yikes!" "Okay, okay, it's out of the refrigerator now. Don't panic."


She was very pleased with how the bread turned out, as well as the Key Lime pie. There had been a moment of distress the day before when she was shopping. "Mom, I'm at the grocery store, and they don't have any Key Limes." I told her just to get regular limes, and not bottled key lime juice, which I think has a nasty, artificial taste. I told her not to forget the whipping cream. "It's got to be Reddi-Whip. I don't have a mixer." Silence. "Don't worry, mom, it'll taste great."

She took her bread and pie to her friend Sarah's condo, and these soon-to-be doctors (and one lawyer) put on a nice spread.

They gave the job of carving the turkey to the only non-doctor. But he did a nice job.

None of them look too unhappy about the idea of spending Thanksgiving away from the bosom of their families.


Liz's Thanksgiving Dilly Bread

1 T. active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1 c. small-curd cottage cheese
1 T. butter
2 t. dried or 4 t. fresh dill
1 T. minced onion
1 t. salt
1 egg
2 1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Warm cottage cheese and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add to yeast mixture, along with dill, onion, salt, and egg. Mix well.
3. Add flour and mix well.
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for a few minutes.
5. Place in oiled bowl, turning to coat all the dough with oil.
6. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise (in a warm place) until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Turn out, knead slightly, and shape into round loaf. Place in oiled casserole dish or pie pan. (If you've already used your one and only pie pan to make Key Lime pie, use oven-proof skillet.)
Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Adapted from Baking With the St. Paul Bread Club, Kim Ode, ed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Pearl's Walnut Levain

Sunday, November 18, 2007
Novel or no, I felt the need to bake bread this weekend, so I tried another bread from Maggie Glezer's beautifully photographed book, Artisan Baking. This bread is labeled "advanced," but it's not difficult, although it does require a sourdough starter which you use to make the levain.

My friend Bridget told me that she had this book, but she had never used it because making a levain or poolish the night before always seemed kind of scary; she also said that when she wants bread, she wants it now--not 48 hours later.
I pooh-poohed her levain fear, and told her that it couldn't be easier.
When I looked at this recipe, I had to admit that it didn't exactly fit in the "want it now" category. A levain has to be stirred up the night before, and for the levain, you need about a tablespoon of sourdough starter, which, of course, had to be refreshed at least twelve hours before you put it in the levain. And if you don't happen to have sourdough starter in your refrigerator, you're not going to bake this bread. Or at least not this version of it.
I ended up adding a minute amount (about 1/8 teaspoon) of yeast to the dough when I mixed it up because the levain was supposed to have quadrupled overnight. Maybe it doubled, but it certainly didn't quadruple. I was afraid it just didn't have enough oomph to make two loaves of hearty bread. Maybe I should have had more faith, but it turned out very well with the addition of a small amount of yeast.
I like the mixture of flours for this bread--all-purpose unbleached, bread, rye, and whole wheat--much better than I like the straight whole-wheat that I made last weekend. And the addition of lightly toasted walnuts gives this bread a terrific, earthy flavor.

Jim made bacon, onion, and blue cheese omelets for dinner. Although the bread and the omelets weren't planned to go together, it was a match made in heaven.

The Cupboard is Bare Pizza

Saturday, November 17, 2008

One really nice thing about having frozen pizza dough on hand is that you almost always have a few things on hand that you can put on top of a crust, and, after it's been baked on high heat on top of a pizza stone for five or ten minutes, it doesn't look like a meal born of desperation. Well, more like laziness actually.
I had fallen behind in my novel writing, what with book club and a fundraiser that I felt that I had to go to, and work, of course, which always seems to get in the way of my projects.
I took the pizza dough out of the freezer in the morning and figured I'd go grocery shopping later. At dinner time, I was still trying to get up to 33,000 words, so I just looked around to see what I had. It turned out that I had onions, a few olives, sun-dried tomatoes, some wilty-looking basil, and Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheeses. Peter Reinhart recommends no more than three or four ingredients atop a pizza, and he's probably right. I may have had more weight than I should have asked this thin crust to hold, but I don't know what I would have taken off. I caramelized the onions, chopped the olives and tomatoes, chiffonaded the basil, and grated the cheeses--you can do all that in the time that it takes for the oven to get up to 550. Put together a salad and pour some wine while the pizza bakes and hey presto! Dinner is served.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

King Arthur's Whole Wheat Bread

November 11, 2007

Today I came up for air from this crazy novel-writing escapade long enough to bake a loaf of bread. Jim has not complained at all about my being stuck at the computer all night every night typing away. In fact, now that I think about it, he seems quite cheerful about rarely seeing me.
But he has complained, in an increasingly bitter tone, about not having fresh bread. Since I hit 18,000 words yesterday, I thought I could bake some bread. Nothing fancy, though. I remembered I've been meaning to try the recipe on the King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour bag, and when I read the directions, I saw that it was just dump all the ingredients in a bowl, mix them, let the dough rise, shape it, rise again, and bake. Simplicity itself.
I've found that I prefer a mixture of whole wheat and other flours instead of straight whole wheat, but the King Arthur bread is a pretty decent loaf of bread. We both had two slices while it was still warm (and it's hard for warm bread to be bad), and I had some toasted for breakfast. Tonight, I'll use more for grilled cheese sandwiches.
In my novel, the main character, who's a vegetarian, goes into a restaurant called Sir Beef, looking for the owner, who may or may not turn out to be a bad guy. The only thing she can eat on the menu is a grilled cheese sandwich. Since she's also kind of a food snob, she talks them into adding some sliced tomatoes and fried onions to her grilled cheese. That sounded good to me, so I decided to try it myself, along with some soup that doesn't take more than about five minutes to put together.
I'm hoping to get up to 22,000 words today. I need to get ahead so I can take Thanksgiving off and go to Chicago for a couple of days at the end of the month. If I could manage to get up to the magic number of 50,000 by Thanksgiving, I'll tell you what I would be thankful for: I would be very, very thankful that I was no longer writing this damned novel.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Whole Wheat Pitas

Sunday, October 21, 2007
After weighing myself on Friday morning, I decided it was time to get serious about losing a few pounds. In the last 48 hours before the Friday weigh-in, I'd eaten a creme brulee Danish (excellent), a doughnut (so-so), a bagel (mediocre), a piece of peach tart (quite good), and apple crisp with creme fraiche (delicious). After self-indulgence, time for a little self-control. Of all the diets I've tried, the Sonoma diet makes the most sense to me, mostly because it encourages drinking wine (only after the first ten days, though), and it allows carbs, if they're whole-grain, even in the first ten days.
I planned to make some whole-wheat pita sandwiches for lunch. I put whole-wheat pitas on my grocery list, feeling sorry for myself because I would have to eat the tasteless, cardboard-y store-bought pitas instead of my own. Through the self-pity came a brilliant thought--I could make whole-wheat pitas. I could just substitute whole wheat flour for white flour. And so I did. I just used Rose's recipe for pitas, with all whole wheat flour. Rose recommends using only half whole-wheat, but these turned out just fine with 100% WW.

I love rolling things out with my new rolling-pin stocking! Without thinking about it, I made a few that were perfectly round. Then I started trying, for perfection, and I just got funny-looking ones. Such is the Zen of baking.
I baked them a few at a time, directly on the oven stone. A few of them ballooned so completely that I was afraid they would explode in the oven.

They didn't. Here's a picture of my best one:

I made a sandwich with smoked turkey, olive hummus, and greens. Fortunately, it tasted so good that I didn't feel like I was dieting. A good thing, because if I feel deprived, I get extremely grumpy. Just ask Jim.
I may not be blogging for a while. Next week I'm going to Washington D.C. to see one of the very junior lawyers in our office, Ben Butler, arguing a case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Don't even bother to ask what the case is all about; it's about as boring a topic as you can imagine. If you don't believe me, let me just say that it's about the retroactivity standard set forth in Teague v. Lane, and whether it applies to state supreme courts or just to federal courts on habeas. Also, don't ask about our client. Hey, everyone's entitled to a lawyer, right?
And after that, I've signed up to write a 50,000-word novel in November. I don't know how much time I'll have to bake bread. I guess it will depend on whether I get writer's block. If anyone wants to join me in this foolish endeavor, check the details on

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tom Cat's Semolina Filone

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This is another bread from Maggie Glezer's book. The "Tom Cat" part of the name doesn't refer to any attribute of the bread, but is just the name of the bakery in Long Island City in New York. The Filone is made with semolina flour, and covered with lots of sesame seeds. As soon as I saw a picture of it, I knew that I had to try it--I have yet to try anything with semolina flour that I haven't loved. I suppose I could put semolina flour into everything, but that wouldn't be much fun. Glezer says this takes 13 hours, "with about 15 minutes of active work." I think that 15-minute estimate is extremely optimistic, but maybe when the recipe says "let rest for 5 to 10 minutes," she thinks that you can go read a chapter of War and Peace or something, instead of hanging around the kitchen watching the bread rest.

This Filone bread, like the roasted garlic bread that I made last week, made me feel like a real baker. When I sliced into it, and looked at the lovely uneven holes, I offered up a little hymn of praise to Rose Levy Beranbaum because if I hadn't made my way through her book, I would never have the confidence to take on a four-page recipe from a book called Artisan Baking. At least this bread didn't threaten to explode during baking.

I was going to use my bread steam baker, but the loaf got too big to fit under the metal cover. Now I'm going to have to get a full-size steam baker, not to mention a couche, which I don't have. But even without the recommended appurtenances, it still turned out to be a fine-looking loaf of bread.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Grandma for a Day

Sunday, October 7, 2007
While the roasted garlic bread was undergoing its second rise, Clea, one of my very favorite 2 1/2-year olds, and I baked a cake. Clea is very taken with the book In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, where the hero is mixed into a Mickey Cake. In the Night Kitchen, by the way, is one of those children's books that's perpetually being banned by someone or another because an unclothed Mickey falls through space and his innocent little penis is clearly visible. You might think that people would have other things to get exercised about, but apparently you would be wrong.
Anyway, Clea wanted to bake a cake. Clea's mother Teddie, my colleague, has many talents, but baking is not one of them, or, at least, baking is one of her undiscovered talents. I begged her to let me bake a cake with Clea because I like Clea and it seems like the kind of thing I would do with a grandchild if I were ever so fortunate as to have a grandchild. Actually, I'm not much of a cake-baker myself (I should have called on Evil Cake Lady for advice), but I led Teddie to believe that I was. Here is Clea adding butter to the cake.

We used Rose's Favorite Yellow Cake recipe, and things were going swimmingly until we came to the part where we separated four eggs. I take responsibility for the little egg mishap because I did not demonstrate clearly enough that once you cracked the egg, you separated it and put the yolk in the cake rather than on the floor. But no harm done--all we had to do was crack another egg.

We were all very pleased with the way the cake came out. Clea turned out to have a real knack for sifting flour and, once she got the hang of it, was quite good at breaking the eggs, too.
But of course a cake must have frosting, and I choose a simple chocolate buttercream. Our second of two mishaps occurred with the frosting. Clea was in charge of turning on the mixer. She was very careful with this, and always turned it to its lowest speed. Unfortunately, she was perhaps feeling a little cocky because she turned it to its highest speed to mix the frosting. One second there were six cups of powdered sugar in the mixing bowl; the next second there were five and a half. The other half-cup was spattered over the kitchen, including on Clea's hair.

But we managed to finish making the frosting, and Clea carefully smoothed it over the sides and top. (Luckily, the cake was just one layer, made in a spring-form pan. If we'd had to stack the layers and fill them, my lack of expertise would have been clearer).


Rustic Roasted Garlic Bread

Sunday, October 7, 2007

I got a beautiful new bread cookbook, Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking, in which she visits various bakeries around the country and then shows how to recreate their specialties. I told Jim that as a birthday present, I would bake him anything he chose from the book. He looked through it and chose Della Fattoria's (a small bakery in Petaluma, California) Rustic Roasted Garlic Bread. Petaluma is the town Jim and I chose years ago as the town where we were going to retire. We decided it was an affordable alternative to living in San Francisco. It's no longer affordable--we missed our chance--but we are still fond of it, and now we're fond of its bread.
Glezer lets you know whether the recipes are beginning, intermediate, or advanced. This one is advanced. I complained that he might have chosen an easier one, but he pointed out that I had made no conditions on my offer, so, after grumbling a while that it wouldn't be my fault if it turned out to be a dud, I set out to buy garlic--a lot of garlic.
One of the reasons the bread is "advanced" is that it takes at least three days--at least one to refresh the starter (I guess that calling for a starter is another reason for its being advanced), one to make the levain, and one to pull the whole thing together. I kept reading and re-reading the recipe, trying to figure out where you add the yeast, but I finally understood that there was no yeast--only a measly tablespoon of sourdough starter to make two loaves of bread. I didn't have enough confidence in my starter for that, so I added a quarter of a teaspoon of instant yeast. That seemed like enough to pump up the starter without really cheating. Here's another reason the bread is labeled "advanced": it takes a good half hour of mixing the dough in the KitchenAid before it comes together on the dough hook and becomes "very silky." Glezer says to forget about making this bread if you don't have a stand mixer.
After the dough turned silky, which it did, it still took about three hours for it to not quite double in size. Meanwhile, I roasted three big heads of garlic and made a puree with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I divided the dough in half, shaped it into a round, and pressed it down. I spread half the garlic puree on each round of dough and sprinkled that with Asiago cheese. Then I pulled the edges over the garlic and cheese, turned it over, and shaped it into a round loaf. The instructions say to be careful here--if you shape it too much, it will explode during baking. (Probably all breads that threaten to explode during baking should not be considered recipes for beginners). Then I stuck another clove of garlic in the middle and decorated the loaves with sprigs of Italian parsley. (You're going to be very impressed when you see this picture).

Turned upside down into a banneton, the shaped and decorated breads had to rise for another three or four hours. By now, we're getting very hungry.

The bread looked and smelled so good that we couldn't wait more than 15 minutes to cut into it. I'm sorry to brag. It's not how I was raised. But I could not believe that I had made this incredible bread myself, so crusty, so delicious, with that layer of cheesy roasted garlic.

If you don't want to buy a copy of Glezer's cookbook and bake it yourself, you might consider a little trip to Petaluma, where you can buy the bread at the Della Fattoria bakery.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Caramelized onion, spinach, and feta pizza

Friday, October 5, 2007
This is my fourth try at pizza using Peter Reinhart's recipe. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. The recipe makes enough dough for six small, very thin-crust pizza; I made one and put five in the freezer. This time I was able to stretch the pizza dough paper thin without making big holes in it (lots of resting time seems to be the key here), and the crust was crispy all over, even in the middle (baking it directly on the pizza stone is the secret for this).
My last box from the Crop Share program brought a plenitude of onions and spinach, so I caramelized four onions, and then, when the onions were brown and very reduced, I added some garlic and spinach, cooking the spinach in olive oil until it too had reduced. I scattered that all over the dough, and topped with oil-cured black olives and diced feta. Then I sprinkled a little pecorino romano on top of that. Instead of the "bake stone" setting, I used "convection-bake." In just eight minutes (550 is very hot!), it was done. In fact, it was almost overdone, and moving quickly toward burnt. But, although it was a little too dark to be truly photogenic, it was the best so far. Jim and I had to fight each other over the last piece. Never mind who won.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Use-up-the-buttermilk Scones and Bread

Monday, September 17, 2007

Yesterday I wrote a whole blog entry about baking buttermilk currant scones and buttermilk bread to use up the rest of a quart of buttermilk. Today I read a comment from Melinda, asking for the recipe for the bread, so I was obligingly typing away an addition to the post, and talking to Elizabeth on the phone at the same time, and suddenly the whole post--pictures, comments, and all--disappeared.
Now I am very irritated at my computer, and at Blogger, but I am still going to try to type the damned recipe.

(I'm just writing the recipe as given, but I modified it by using instant yeast, giving the dough a business-letter turn after the first rising and letting it rise a second time before shaping it).

1 envelope active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water
1/2 t. sugar
1 c. warm buttermilk
1 T. honey
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 1/2 t. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour
3 to 4 c. bread flour
Egg Glaze

In a small bowl, stir 1/2 c. of the water and the yeast together, add the sugar, and set aside until foamy. In a larger bowl, combine the buttermilk, remaining water, the honey, oil, and salt, then stir in the yeast mixture. Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, work in the flour a cup at a time until you have a shaggy, heavy dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and gradually knead in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and resilient. Put it in a deep oiled bowl, turning it so that the top is oiled too. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk,.

Deflate the dough by pressing down on it, then divide it into two equal peices and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, oil two bread pans. Flatten the dough into two rectangles the length of the pan. Roll it up tightly, pinch the seams together to seal the ends, and place in the pans, seam side down. Cover again and let rise
until the dough is just above the edge of the pan,. Preheat the oven to 375. Brush with the egg glaze (whisk one egg together with 1 T. cream) and bake until browned and pulling away from the sides, about 40 minutes. Set on a rack to cool.

The egg glaze makes the crust nice and shiny.