Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cottage Cheese Dill Bread

The first bread I ever baked was Dilly Casserole Bread, the winner of the 1960 Pillsbury Bake-Off. (This was back in the day, when contestants actually baked things from scratch instead of using cake mixes).

And when my daughter asked me for an easy bread recipe, I found the Dilly Bread recipe for her, because I knew she'd want something 1) with an interesting flavor and 2) that was dead easy to make. So naturally when I saw this slightly more sophisticated (that is, with 8 times as much butter) version of the original recipe, I wanted to try it.

Still dead easy. In fact, if you use instant yeast (a better invention than sliced bread), it's even easier because you can eliminate the process of proofing the yeast in liquid and can just dump everything in one bowl.

My current recipe, taken from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson, uses fresh dill (although you could also use dill seed). The fresh dill gives the bread a cleaner, livelier flavor than the dill seed. Even using 1/4 cup of fresh dill, I could see only traces when I sliced into the bread, but the taste was distinctly there.

The dough takes only about an hour and a half to rise; then it's flattened out, where it rests under a towel for about 20 minutes.

And shaped into a loaf. Maybe if I bake bread for another 20 or 30 years, I'll finally get the knack of making them level. I certainly won't be entering any listing loaves in the State Fair.

Jim asks me why I always want perfection. In turn, I ask him why he doesn't. It's just how marriages work.

I liked the dill taste, although it does limit the number of things this bread is appropriate for. (Breakfast toast with strawberry jam? Maybe not.) We ate it fresh from the oven with slices of cheese and sweet cherries for a mid-afternoon snack. I think it would be a dynamite base for egg-salad sandwiches, and would be good, if unusual, if shaped into dinner rolls. If you don't like dill, of course, you'll just want to move on to the next recipe.

Cottage Cheese Dill Bread
adapted from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland,
by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson

1 scant tablespoon instant yeast
1/4 cup (30 g.) warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup (225 grams) small curd cottage cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking sodea
1 egg
3 cups (375 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the bread hook. Knead for about 8 minutes, until the dough is soft and smooth.

Put the dough into a greased bowl and cover loosely with a towel. Let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Put the dough on the counter. Stretch into a rectangle and give two business-letter turns. Let rest for 10 minutes. Shape and place into a lightly greased 8- or 9-inch loaf pan, and let rise for another 30 minutes. Put the bread in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Take the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

R'ghayef (Moroccan multi-layered breads)

In the spirit of my planned trip to Morocco in November, and with a bow to my friend who suggested that I bake a bread from every country in the world, I tried my hand at r'ghayef, a Moroccan layered bread. Apparently, this bread is a traditional street food in Morocco. If it is, good idea! I hope to look for it when I'm there, although, as Jim pointed out, it might be helpful for me to learn to pronounce it.

Not only is this bread mighty tasty, it's also the quickest yeast bread you'll ever make. So quick that we're missing a few process photos. Jim kept wandering off with his camera in tow because he expected he wouldn't have to take a picture for another hour or two. Little did he knew that this bread happens fast.

It's one of the few breads I've made where I didn't bother to get out my stand mixer, or even my food processor. Instead, I stirred the few ingredients together (AP flour, semolina (or durum) flour, yeast, and water; kneaded it for a few minutes, and topped it with the mixing bowl to give it 15 minutes to rest.

After it rests, you divide it into four pieces. (I halved the recipe so I could make just enough for dinner. They're best when they're just off the griddle). The pieces of dough rest while you're making the filling.

Since I'd already made the filling, I didn't let them rest. This was a mistake, since the dough is much more malleable after it's rested for about 10 minutes. So even if you're itching to get going, take a deep breath and go cut a bouquet of flowers or something. If you don't wait it out, the dough won't stretch nicely and will tear.

After it's patted out into a thin, oiled circle, put a dab of filling in the middle. The filling is made with chopped onion and parsley, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt. I found that the dried spices gave the filling a raw flavor, and I think I'd substitute harissa for the spice mixture next time. But the flavors were great (and hot! I was liberal with the pepper flakes), and the onions (be sure to finely dice them) and parsley tasted fresh.

You fold the sides over so you have a rectangle, and then fold the top and bottom over to form a square.

Then you flatten them quite emphatically. You want them very thin because they're only going to cook a few minutes. They're ready to fry in a frying or griddle pan at this point, but I had to let them rest while I grilled some yogurt chicken with Moroccan spices. No harm seemed to come to them by their 10- to 15-minute rest.

These little breads are amazingly quick to "bake." They're cooked for a minute or two on each side in an oiled frying pan on medium high heat. They rise and bubble just a tad while they're cooking, and should be eaten as soon as possible. They're crisp, chewy, spicy, and absolutely delicious. While I served them with Moroccan-style chicken, they would pair with something less spicy--a quick summer salad with feta and olives or a winter vegetable soup. And they'd make toothsome appetizers too. You could certainly pare down the heat level by lessening or eliminating the red pepper flakes--I didn't measure, but I'm pretty sure I used about twice the recommended amount.

When I'm in Morocco, I'll have to make it my mission to search out various r'ghayefs and see whether mine came close to the authentic thing. I do love to have missions that involve tasting food.

R'ghayef (Moroccan Multilayered Breads)
--from Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, by Anissa Helou

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup unbleached AP flour (120 grams)
1 cup semolina (or durum) flour (120 grams)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water

1/2 onion, very finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

Combine the flours, yeast, and salt in a large bowl andmake a well in the center. Add the yeast and mix with the flour until you have a rough, sticky dough.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with flour and knead for about 3 minutes. Invert the bowl over the dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead 2 to 3 minutes more, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest about 10 minutes.

Combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Oil a work surface and your hands. Flatten a ball by hand on the work surface into a very thin circle. Spread about one-eighth of the filling over the center of the circle. Fold the left third of the circle over the filling, then fld the right third over to omake a rectangle. Fold the top third over the bread and the bottom third under the bread to make a square about 5 inches on each side (mine turned out smaller than 5 inches at this point). Let rest while you make 3 more squares in the same manner. Flatten the squares of filled dough until they are quite thin.

Oil a large frying pan and place over medium-high heat. Place the squares in the hot pan, drizzling a little additional oil over the bread. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden. Remove to parchment paper or a wire rack. When all breads from the first batch are cooked,kk shape, fill, and cook the remaining 4 breads. (I was able to cook 4 at one time, but I think the author envisions them as bigger and flatter than mine). Serve immediately.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Meini o Pani de Mei (Italian Sweet Corn Buns)

A friend of mine asked me recently if I was still doing my bread blog. When I said I was, he asked if I hadn't made every possible kind of bread by now. I said there were many, many left to do. Then he suggested a new project: making a bread from every country in the world. I'm intrigued by this idea, but not enough to commit to it. And does every country have a signature bread? Andorra? The Seychelles?

But I have made breads from a fair number of countries already: Turkey, Puerto Rico, Norway....and, of course, France and Italy, the king and queen of bread-baking. This week, I turned once again to Carol Field's The Italian Baker for inspiration. Although I wasn't even thinking about making sweet corn buns, I was so taken by the description that I had to try them:
These sweet buns are a very delicat e cross between a corn muffin and a scone.... Meini are definitely a Lombard specialty, and the Milanese traditionally eat them on April 24 as a celebrfation of the liberation of their contryside from the assaults of a ferocious highwayman and his brigands during the Middle Ages.

Oh, how I love Italy! A country that celebrates being liberated from a highwayman by making a big batch of sweet, buttery, crumbly rolls! I just hope I remember this recipe next April 24, and that I make them again to mark Highwayman Liberation Day.

As a scone-ish, muffin-ish, cookie-ish hybrid, these are easy to mix up, especially if you use the whisk attachment to your stand mixer. With just over half a pound of butter, they really can't be bad, can they?

The ratio of white flour to cornmeal is about 3 to 2, which I figured should keep it from being too grainy. I like to taste of cornbread and muffins, but not if they're overly sweet, not sweet enough, not too crumbly, not too dry, not too insipid. It's a tough. but not impossible, bill to fill.

It ends up coming together a little like scone dough--rough and buttery.

A few seconds of kneading turns it from rough and buttery to smooth and buttery.

The dough is divided into about 15 90-gram pieces. I love weighing out pieces of dough. I'm not obsessive about it--if they're 89 or 91 grams, that's okay with me.

Form each piece into a ball, squish it down, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You'll need two). Brush the tops with water, then sprinkle with granulated sugar. Finally, sift some confectioners sugar on top.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, or until the tops are cracked "into a pattern that looks like the land after a long dry summer, they're done.

These are really nice. You could Americanize them with the addition of, say, fresh blueberries or dried cranberries, but why bother? The Italians have been making them this way for about 500 years, and there's no need to mess with tradition. Not surprisingly, they go well with tea or coffee. More surprising, at least to me, was how good they tasted with a glass of wine. Have one with afternoon tea, another with a pre-dinner glass of wine, and freeze the rest for later. And be thankful your town isn't overrun with highwaymen.

Meini o Pani de Mei
--The Italian Baker, by Carol Field

•2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
•1¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
•2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons honey
•1 egg
•1 egg yolk
•½ cup plus 2 teaspoons milk
•3¼ cups (450 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
•1¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (300 grams) fine yellow cornmeal
•3½ teaspoons baking powder
•1/8 teaspoon almond extract
•About 1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
•½ cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar

Using the whisk attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and the honey for 1 to 2 minutes at low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk, and 2 teaspoons milk and continue beating for 1 minute. Mix in the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. Add ½ cup milk and the almond extract and mix at the lowest speed until blended. The dough should be stiff but not heavy. Knead briefly by hand or mixer, sprinkling with additional flour as needed, until buttery, soft, pliable, and slightly sticky.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the dough into 15 equal pieces (90 grams each). Flour your hands and roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball into a ½-inch-thick patty, the size of a hamburger and the width of a woman’s hand. Place on the paper-lined baking sheets.

Brush the tops with water and then sprinkle with granulated sugar, making sure a thin layer of sugar covers each bun. You can shake off the excess sugar by holding on to the paper and shaking the sugar up and over the edge of the pan. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a sifter or sieve and sift the sugar heavily over the buns so that they look as if they’re lost in a blizzard of sugar. The excess powdered sugar can stay on the paper because it will not caramelize.

Heat oven to 375ºF. Bake until the sugar on top has cracked into an irregular design, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on racks.