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.