April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
I had a horrible experience, an embarrassing experience, a humility-inducing experience with homemade bread about 20 years ago. It was a “loaf” of rye bread that more accurately could be called an anvil. It defied some law of physics in how something so small could become so dense.
I swore off baking yeast breads for … oh, I’d say 15 years. And then, I let the embarrassment go. I’m a different person, I said. I can make different bread. I can make bread and be successful at it.
I’ve made a bunch of different bread overs the last five years or so. Various takes on wheat, white, whole grain, pizza, focaccia, sourdough—made with my very own sourdough starter! And it’s all turned out pretty tasty, too. I admit I need to work on my loaf shaping, but that will come with practice.
There’s one recipe for which I don’t need to shape up my boule-making skills, and that’s for pita bread. It’s flat and round, slightly puffy in the middle. I thought I could handle that pretty well. And it turns out it’s as easy as it seems. Why everyone everywhere isn’t making pita bread everyday, I have no idea. Get after it, people.
Pita Bread, adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
1 cup wrist-temp water (about 95-100F)
1.5 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbs. sugar or honey (I used raw sugar)
1 tsp. salt
3 to 3.5 cups flour (1 cup can be whole wheat)
a bit of oil
1. Combine yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it get foamy over the next 5 minutes.
2. Add sugar/honey and salt and stir until dissolved.
3. Put bowl onto mixer with a dough hook attachment, add one cup of flour and start to combine on low speed. Slowly add in two more cups of flour and continue to let the dough need in the bowl over the next 3-5 minutes. If it seems wettish, add in a sprinkling of flour as it mixes. You’re looking for a smooth dough.
4. Put dough in an oiled bowl and roll it around in there until the dough surface is oiled, too. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap, set in a warmish place (75F is good) for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in bulk. It could take up to 1.5 hrs.
5. Punch down dough and set it onto a clean and floured surface. Kneed it by hand for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into equal-sized pieces, anywhere from 6 to 12 segments. I made 8 because it was simple, and the pitas turned out just the size I wanted. . Knead each little dough ball for a minute or so (I turned each 30 times and figured that was about right). With a rolling pin, roll out each dough piece into a VERY THIN circle (or near circle, it doesn’t matter exactly). You WILL need to throw down extra flour. DO make sure the dough is no more than 1/8 inch thick—otherwise you end up with a pizza crust, no kidding. Let the dough circles rest for 30 minutes. After I rolled out each circle I placed it on a half sheet-sized piece of parchment, four per sheet overlapping slightly. It’s ok, don’t worry.
NOTE: This circle-making process takes some time. By the time you are done rolling out the whole batch, the first circles have already been resting about 15 minutes. So at this point set the timer for 15 minutes, get your oven ready and start moving toward the next step.
6. Preheat oven to 500F. OR, if you have a silly oven like mine that will not go above 450F (Ggrrrrr…), set it to 450F and work with it. Place a sheet pan in the oven to warm up a bit then brush it with oil or cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking. OR, place the dough circles on parchment and slide them onto the baking sheet, fitting as many dough circles in the oven as you can without them touching. Due to the craziness of my oven I am able to fit just two dough circles, which were placed on the parchment.
7. Let the circles bake for 6-8 minutes or until the circles puff up and are lightly browned and, more importantly, look like pita! At 450F, 8 minutes was the perfect amount of time. As soon as one batch is done, remove from the oven and wrap the pitas in a clean but damp tea towel and place them in a brown paper bag. Close the bag for 15 minutes. This keeps them soft(ish) for a day or so. After a day I would transfer them to a plastic bag.
As an experiment, roll out one dough circle a little thicker than 1/8 inch and bake. Whereas the thinner circles puff up like you’ve filled them with helium, you’ll notice the thicker circle doesn’t puff up much at all—if at all. It’s ends up more like a pizza crust. Which tells me why not have this same recipe handy for when you want to make pizza?
Give pita a try and let me know what you think!
March 15, 2013 § 3 Comments
March 14. Or, 3.14. Known throughout the world as Pi Day in honor of that irrational number beginning with 3.14. But wait – wouldn’t they write it 14.3 in Europe?
I would rather consider it Pie Day. It’s the middle of March—we need a good pie this time of year. I’m all for it, quite honestly. Think about it—have you eaten pie since Thanksgiving? I didn’t think so.
I decided to make pie yesterday for Pie Day. But what kind? My go-to pies are those traditional fruity treats—peach, rhubarb, peach rhubarb (see a theme here?), apple, pumpkin. Nah. What about a cream pie? They get runny after a few days. The problem with any of these pies (if there can be a problem with pie) is that they are so darn big for two people (I know, I could invite you over but…). And as much as I’d like to eat an entire pie, I just can’t do it. At the last piece, all old and soggy, I begin to detest it. We must not go there. Can’t ruin pie like that.
So I decided on hand pies: Pies that fit into your hand. Individual servings of pie, all wrapped up in their individual casings. Perfect! Thing is, I’d never made hand pies before. What to do? What to make?
A little Googling got me to the Smitten Kitchen blog and her recipe for Bourbon Peach Hand Pies. Hmmm…peaches. Peaches and bourbon. And, according to the recipe, this dough holds up to the inevitable leaks that result in boiling hot fruit juicy spilling away, while also being light and flaky. Print it up—I’m in.
Alas, Trader Joe had other dessert intentions for me. Not a fresh peach to be found. So apples it was.
Before I get to the recipe, a few notes about it and the resulting pies:
- I used a food processor. When you have one, use it.
- The dough did exactly what she said it would—it held up well, didn’t leak (much) and is tasty and flaky. I’m definitely keeping it in my repertoire. BUT—it’s not really a pie dough. It’s more of a flaky morning pastry. Which is fine, just not very pie-ey.
- I used the same amount of apples as peaches the recipe called for. WAY TOO MUCH. Below is my estimation of half the recipe.
- The filling I made was tasty but 1) wasn’t juicy enough – maybe more sugar or let it sit longer? and 2) not enough of it in the pie. But that’s all I could fit in the dough rounds while still being able to close them securely. I’ll just need to experiment more, won’t I? One thought is to slice the apples (or peaches) lengthwise and layer the slices in the center of the dough rounds.
Apple Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Bourbon-Peach Hand Pies)
For the pastry dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour placed in bowl of food processor and chilled one hour in freezer
1/2 tsp. salt
2 8 oz. sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces, placed into small bowl and chilled for 1 hour in freezer
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cups ice water
For the filling:1 lb. apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbs. flour
2-4 tbs. sugar (the more sugar, the juicier it should be if you let it sit awhile)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
Egg wash (One egg yolk beaten with 2 tbs. water)
1. Remove bowls from freezer. Add salt to the flour and stir. Place flour bowl onto food processor and add in chilled butter. Using 2- to 3-second pulses, whir up the flour and butter until the mixture looks like course corn meal.
2. Combine sour cream, lemon juice and ice water to a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add to flour-butter mixture one half at a time, whirring in between. You’re looking for large clumps to form. Turn clumps out onto a work surface and bring mixture together with your hands to form a big ball. WARNING: Dough will be sticky. Lightly flour your hands before touching dough. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour. (At this point dough can be frozen up to one month. If doing so, wrap in something a bit more freezer proof.)
3. Divide dough ball into quarters. Work with one quarter at a time, leaving the others in the fridge while you work. Lightly flour the work surface (keep that flour handy). Roll the dough into a 1/8-in. thickness. Using something round with a 4.5-inch diameter, cut rounds out of the dough. NOTE: Only thing I had available was a 1-quart plastic container similar to the kind you’d get filled with potato salad at a deli. It’s about 4 inches, but it works. Use what you have on hand. Transfer these dough rounds onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and pop into the fridge. Repeat with other dough balls, filling up the parchment, and layering additional parchment on top of the previous. Keep these rounds chilled for 30 min. or more.
4. Filling: While the dough rounds chill, add the finely chopped apple to a large bowl. Add in the flour, sugar, pinch of salt and lemon zest. Let sit until the dough rounds are ready – this will let the sugars produce some juicy apple goodness—something I didn’t do this time around.
5. Assembly: Remove chilled dough from fridge and let them sit for 2-3 minutes to get a bit more workable. Spoon in about 1-2 tbs. of the apple mixture into the center of the round (more for larger circles, less for smaller). Brush the dough edges with water and fold one half over to meet the other to form a half circle. Seal it lightly with your thumb, then press closed with the back of a fork. Place each little pie back onto the parchment and return to the fridge for another 30 minutes.
ANOTHER OPTION: Place a slightly larger amount of apple mixture onto the center of one round and place another round on top, stretching the top dough a bit so it meets the bottom’s edges. Seal as before. This makes a fun UFO-shaped pie.
6. Heat oven to 375. Removing the pies from the fridge, give each one a small slice of poke with a fork (to let steam out). Lightly brush each pie with the egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional of course but yummy). Bake until the pies are golden brown – 20 to 23 minutes. Remove and let cool.
If you serve them still slightly warm, you’ll want to serve with vanilla ice cream. Otherwise, these are excellent pastries to have on hand for breakfast.
Seriously bummed that Trader Joe’s didn’t have peaches. What would you fill these with? Any suggestions for other dough that might be more like a traditional pie?
February 28, 2013 § 2 Comments
If we run out of crackers, I make Crackers. If we run out of hummus, I make Jennifer make Red Pepper Hummus. And if we run out of bread, I make bread. It’s just what we do. We make things. Bread included.
Bread is work. There’s the mixing and the kneading and the proofing and the punching and the second proofing and the loaf shaping. It’s up-to-your-elbows-in-dough kinda work—the type of work that gives you strong-as-oxen forearms.
Until a rather vigorous episode of dough kneading a few years ago set off some rather painful carpal tunnel symptoms, I kneaded all dough by hand. Then by necessity I had my Kitchen-Aid mixer and its dough attachment take over. And now, thanks to Mark Bittman, I’m letting the food processor do all that work.
It’s odd—almost sacrilegious—to think that a machine with a sharp spinning blade can make a soft and smooth clump of dough rather than a bowlful of shredded sticky flour. But it does. And while I was once skeptical and hesitant to come under the no-knead tent, I have entered, heard the word, and am now a food-pro convert. Halleluiah.
Mark Bittman, the New York Times‘ food guy, included the following recipe in the Feb. 3 NYT Sunday Magazine. It’s actually what he calls “not quite whole grain,” and I agree, but there is enough wheat flour in there to give it that nice flavor and chew. What I really like about this is the hands-off nature of the recipe. The first step takes no more than 3 minutes, then you’re free for the next 3 hours while the dough rises. The most work comes during the baguette shaping process. And quite honestly, if you want to learn how to shape a baguette, search for it on YouTube.
In all, you’ll have lovely baguettes in a little over 4 hours—and with very little effort. Throw some flour in your hair to make it look like hard work.
Whole Wheat Baguette (from Mark Bittman, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Feb. 10, ’13)
100 g. whole wheat flour
400 g. all-purpose flour + some
10 g. kosher salt
6 g. instant yeast
1. Combine dry ingredients in a food processor. Turn machine on and while it’s whirring, add about 1.5 cups of water slowly over a 30-sec. period. Keep machine running for another 45 sec. or so. Dough will be held together nicely and tacky, not wet. Turn dough into a large bowl (I lightly oil mine just in case), cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise. It should take 2-3 hours. I let it go for the whole 3 hours and it’s risen quite nicely.
2. Turn the dough out onto a minimally floured surface, pat lightly, and cut into 3 equal pieces. Recipe says to form into a log, but I form into small round boules. Cover with a tea towel (or plastic wrap) and let it sit for 20 minutes.
3. Now shape each dough round into a baguette. I am SO not the expert at this but … This is how I do it:
-pat dough into a rectangle, kinda the size of a small 8.5×5 notebook. The following will work best if the corners are as square as possible (yes, getting dough to be exactly square is impossible but give it your best try).
-Position the long side down. Fold the bottom end up about a 1/3 of the way, and then fold the top end down over it so it looks like an envelope. Take the heel of your hand or your thumb and press and seal that seam together. Lightly flatten the dough.
-Next, fold the top down about a 1/3 of the way and seal the seam again. Lightly flatten. Repeat this process another two to three times.
-Starting from the center of the dough, place your hands over the top of the dough and slowly and lightly roll the dough up and down, pressing outward to lengthen it. Don’t go all that far. The longer it is, the thinner it is. And … that’s it.
4. Once the baguette is formed, put the baguettes into something like a baguette pan. Or, use a lightly floured swatch of canvas (or a heavy tea towel) and shape the canvas around the long sides of each baguette. You want the canvas to cradle the dough and help keep the dough’s shape. Let the dough rise for about 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, get your oven heated to at least 450F (Bittman’s recipe says 465F, but my oven only goes to 450F). A few minutes before the dough is ready to go in the oven, open the oven door and spray some water around the side walls and close it back up. Just before putting the loaves in, put them on a piece of parchment on a sheet pan and slash the tops with quick movements of a very sharp knife. Slide it in the oven, give the loaves a quick squirt with was water and close the door. Repeat the squirting with water about a minute later. Keep them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you thump the bottom of it with your thumb. Cool on a wire rack.
Now, why are we spraying with water? To create a bit of moisture in the oven and around the loaves. This moisture helps to create that light and crisp exterior on the loaf. It works, so give it a go.
You likely have your own favorite bread recipe. Let me know what it is in the comments below.
February 22, 2013 § 3 Comments
Sometimes after dinner you’re just hungry all over again. It happens. And it’s understandable if, say, you’ve been on a 12-consecutive-day yoga binge.
Open the cabinets. Raisins: Nope, not substantial enough. Almonds: It’s got the crunch but they aren’t gonna cut it. Not tonight. The bag of chips (healthy chips, of course) disappeared last night. There’s a nice hunk of Jarlsberg in the fridge…where’d the crackers go? Oh, they went away as a quick pre-yoga snack the other afternoon.
Bummer. I. Am. HONGRY. Hongry, by the way, is when you are very, very hungry.
But wait. I’m a baker. I’m not going to complain. I have the power to make my own crispy-crunchy goodness. And quickly, too.
I recalled I had found a super-good and super-quick herbed flatbread recipe on the Shutterbean blog not long ago. It was within my power to make these quick crackers – quackers? – before I became HANGRY, which means to be angry due to hunger. And since I had made them once previously, I new the tricks and adaptations to get these in and out of the oven in less than 20 minutes.
So, if you suddenly have guests or are ravenously empty-stomached and have nothing in the house, don’t complain. Put your baking cap on.
Quick Herbed Crackers (adapted from a recipe on Shutterbean)
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup olive oil – keep the bottle handy
- Some fancy salt if you have it
1. Preheat oven to 450F. Really, this will be the longest step in the whole process.
2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and give it a quick stir to mix.
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add in the water and oil. Fold in the flour mixture with a spoon or large fork until its nicely incorporated.
4. Turn out the dough onto a work surface. No need for additional flour—this dough will not stick! Amazing and true. It’s the olive oil. Give it a really quick knead – a 5 or 6 times maybe – to make sure the dough is all snug together. Cut the dough ball into 3 chunks.
5. Roll out one dough ball until it’s super thin. You can roll it on the work surface or on a piece of parchment. Just be sure if you roll it out on the work surface that you can get it onto parchment with no problem. Roll into into whatever shape you want – it doesn’t have to be round. Color outside the lines with this.
6. Once on the parchment, experience has shown me to use a fork to prick the dough surface. Otherwise I ended up with super-big air bubbles in the finished cracker. Looked kinda cool and rustic, but not what I was looking for. After pricking, brush a tiny bit of olive oil on the dough surface and sprinkle some fancy schmancy salt on top. I happened to have some pink Himalayan sea salt on hand. Tasty.
7. Pop it into the oven. The recipe says 8-10 minutes. For crispy, keep it in 10 min, or even more. I’d say keep an eye on it and pull it out once it looks darker than you’d like. It all depends on your oven, really.
8. Let cool on a wire rack. Or not if you can’t resist.
9. While one is cooking you can roll out the other and put on new parchment. Recipe says to hold off on the oil and salt until just before popping into the oven, but I forgot for one of them and it was fine.
A few notes:
- The recipe called for fresh rosemary. I didn’t have any on hand, but recalled that if using dried herbs in place of fresh that one should use 1/3 the amount. So, if you’re using fresh rosemary, use 1 tbs of finely chopped herb.
- Try it with other herbs, too. Sage, for instance. But use less since sage is mighty powerful.
- It’s a throw-it-together kinda recipe, but be precise with the oil and water measurements. I used too much of one of them last night and the dough came out sticky enough to actually stick to the work surface. Lesson learned—I’ll never eyeball a 1/3 cup of liquid again.
February 21, 2013 § 3 Comments
The way I understand it, Paula Deen’s first food-for-money venture was preparing bagged lunches for the locals, which her sons would then deliver. What those lunches were, I do not know. I imagine a typical lunch included a sandwich (or sammy). Maybe some chips. And there had to have been a decadent, butter-loaded dessert in that bag, too.
Anyone who follows me on Instagram has seen what I concoct for my own lunches, usually from leftovers or stuff just sitting in the veggie bowl. The Sweet Potato Sandwich has become a standby. The Salad Pizza is still one of my proudest moments. Avocados and boiled eggs smeared on toast are regulars, as well.
My latest sammy, Roasted Eggplant on Whole Wheat, has got me thinking about Paula Deen and her bagged-lunch business. This sammy, I’m tellin’ you, it’s good. Real good. People would want to eat it. And they might even pay real money for it—and for me to make and deliver it. Is something like this even feasible here in Boston? And I’m sure there’s some proper and official channels to go through to make sure I’m not serving thoroughly rotten food, too. I mean, someone’s got to make sure the cats and I are wearing hair nets, right?
The thought is on my mind. Who knows, maybe I’ll even give it a try, “underground catering” style (I didn’t really say that, if anyone official is reading this). Meanwhile I’ll keep putting various spreads and veg and cheese and such onto different sorts of breads and doughs. Keep up with them on Instagram and let me know which ones appeal to you most.
Roasted Eggplant on Whole Wheat Baguette
It’s simple, really:
Slice an eggplant into 1/2-in. slices. Place on a sheet pan. Sprinkle each slice with some olive oil, using a brush to spread it over the surface. Eggplants are like sponges—they soak up a lot of oil. That’s why it’s important to brush. Then sprinkle each slice with kosher salt, and give each slice a small twist from the pepper mill. Put in a 420F oven for about 20 min. Remove from oven and let cool. You’ll have extras—always a good thing.
If I’m roasting, why not throw a red pepper in there, too, right? Slice lengthwise, cutting in two, and remove seeds and pith. Flatten each half as best as possible. Find room on the sheet pan in amongst the eggplant. The peppers will take about 5-8 minutes longer than the eggplant—look for it to be dark around the edges. When done, place the halves into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Remove from bowl 10 minutes later and peel off the skin.
Take a segment of homemade Whole Wheat Baguette (recipe is coming, I promise) and slice lengthwise.
Smear one side with homemade red pepper hummus (courtesy of Jennifer!).
Top with however many slices of roasted eggplant you can fit on there. You may have to cut them in half and pretend it’s a puzzle.
Top the eggplant with roasted red pepper.
And top the pepper with goat cheese. What’s not good about anything I just mentioned? Really?
On the other side of the baguette, lay down some baby salad greens lightly dressed with something. I used Lemony Vinaigrette, which is always in a jar at the ready for good times.
Put one half on top of the other. Warning: Goat cheese crumbles may try to escape. That’s ok—they won’t get far.
Proceed to eat. Enjoy.
My question to you is this: Do you want to eat this? And how much would you pay to have it made for you? Add a pear and a cookie and you’ve got yourself a lunch.