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Entries in Bread (34)


Currently Cooking From...

I adore bread. I even enjoy baking it. You may have noticed that I frequently discuss my escapades related to bread baking. This is because I firmly believe that home made bread is superior to any other kind (except for this loaf which we should really never speak about again). The smell of freshly baking bread is an aroma I would like to follow me around through life. But I settle for it filling my apartment every now and again.

I also have a "thing" for cookbooks. But the problem is, I like the ones that are 15 pound anthologies with full-bleed spreads of mouth-watering, mind-transporting food photography. Those tend to be kind of pricey. Consequently, I don't own many cookbooks. I do own Jim Lahey's My Bread, which has become indispensable for creating round loaves of perfection. Really – flawless. Every time I follow one of his recipes, I get a perfectly-risen, flavorful load of bread. You just need a little time, a cast-iron pot, and you get this:

What follows is Jim Lahey's recipe for a fool-proof loaf of bread. I modified it slightly by using 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Just for fun. Cuz isn't whole wheat fun? The answer is yes.

What You Need:
2 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Two medium mixing bowls
6 to 8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
Wooden Spoon or spatula (optional)
Plastic wrap
Two or three cotton dish towels (not terrycloth)

What To Do:

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute (I actually used my food processor and that worked nicely). Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F). It should look something like this when you uncover it - the next day:

Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size. At this point, you will uncover a magnificent blob of flour like this:

Preheat oven to 450-500°F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

A few tips/tricks/antics:

DO: Leave your dough to rise overnight. It does take the full 12 hours (you can leave it for up to 18), so have a nap while the yeast does its thing.

DON'T: Be alarmed when after the first rise your dough is all gooey and hard to manage. It's supposed to be like that. I swear.

DO: Wear oven mitts to handle that hot cast iron pot. Please.

DO: Call me when it's all done so I can come over and help you eat it. I'll bring butter. This kind.


New Year, New Focus.

Each passing day on the ol' blog is a learning experience.  Originally, Elana and I had intended to treat the blog as a smorgasbord for all things food related; reviewing restaurants, posting recipes, and starring in videos - with the only common denominators  being enthusiasm and honesty.  There was not necessarily a real theme or concentration as to what we would feature.  You were just to trust our homegrown taste buds on various food related topics.

Much to our surprise, a decent amount of people actually read this thing.  Well, thanks for peepin' the posts, peeps (hehe).  And, in order to take this blog to the next level, we feel it is appropriate to narrow the focus a bit.  An Italian focus.  I mean, that is the type of food we were raised on, experiment with most frequently, and eat too much of.

So what does this mean?  Well, like many things we do here on the blog, the focus will be an experiment of indefinite duration and potential debate.  But generally it will mean this: most of the restaurants we will review will be Italian or Italian influenced.  Our recipes and videos, will predominantly forward Italian dishes and ideas.  In fact, even the blog, is going to be written in Italian.  Comprende, amigo?

But lovers of food we are above all.  So we will still make occasional room for posts that are outside the scope.  However, according to my father ("The Box") all foods (and generally everything else) on this planet are a derivation of some sort of Italian influence.  So, technically, even if our posts do, in fact, stray from the Boot's roots, perhaps we are not straying at all... naw mean?  No?  Care to debate the topic with this man?

We didn't think so.

Elana here (that was John above, if you hadn't guessed). In keeping with this new focus, we are starting off with a very basic, Italian 101 recipe: bruschetta. I've talked a lot about brushcettas, but I've never offered you the simplest, most basic and potentially most satisfying combination: Tomato and Basil Bruschetta. Here it is:

What You Need:

Tomatoes (4 nice plum ones, or a basket of the cherry variety)
Extra virgin olive oil (as much as you like, but you really only need a drizzle or three)
Sea salt (to taste)
Fresh basil (chopped)
Loaf of Italian bread cut into slices

What To Do:
First, fire up your broiler. Place your bread slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place the cookie sheet with bread in the broiler and toast for about 1-2 minutes on each side (don't forget to flip!). Make sure you keep an eye on the toasting process, because that broiler heats things up mighty fast, and I have pulled too many charred bread remains from its fire-y depths because I can't seem to remember that I put them in there in the first place. But you are waaaaaay smarter. Let's hope.

Chop up your tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Drizzle with a healthy dollop of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt to taste, and decorate with chopped, fresh basil. It really must be fresh. I can't stress that enough.

Once your toasts are toasted, line them up on a nice platter and using a spoon, heap generous amount of the tomato mixture on top of the toast. Serve immediately. Bene?

Behold! The Bread Brick and a Successful Pizza!

Those of you following us on Twitter may have noticed frequent updates on my bread starter. You may have read this post where I detailed my grandiose plan to cultivate my own bread baking yeast for making a superior pizza dough...and for world domination. Pizza dough first, though.

So I began. I found some instructions on the web, including Slice's Starter-Along blog series, and I commandeered a Tupperware container festooned with candy canes from my friend Stacey. I mixed my flour and water together and I waited.

....and waited...

And then stuff started to happen. Bubbles mostly. And then some foam. And then both! Take a look at the progress in the images below:

By photo #5, thinks looked like they were really cooking. Not only were there bubbles and foam throughout, but the consistency had changed. It was almost like it had been whipped - less cake-batter-like and more foamy throughout. Fascinating, no? Exactly.

Soliciting no professional opinions but my own (non)sense, I decided it was time to make bread. I harvested some of the yeast for pizza dough, and then another batch for some bread. The pizza dough needed to chill in the fridge for a few days and I was keen to see if this whole thing was going to work, so I jumped right into the bread making process.

Also, if you recall, it snowed about a million and two feet on Sunday the 26th of December into Monday the 27th, and I needed something to do between carrying my dog Toby out to the street to pee (he is too short to climb the snow drifts).

So I made the bread. I used this recipe. Let me just say I've made bread before. Quite successfully, thank you very much. But this was a miserable failure. I'm not blaming the recipe. I blame John. No, I'm kidding, he wasn't even there! In hindsight, one of a few things went wrong:

1. My starter really wasn't ready, even though I thought it was: the bread refused to rise.

2. I didn't weigh my ingredients because I don't have a kitchen scale, so the proportions were incorrect.

3. The planet alignment was all off that day, and I should really try this again when Neptune is in a more favorable house.

Even knowing that something was terribly wrong, I decided to put the non-risen bread in the oven anyway. What resulted was the densest, least attractive brick of a loaf of bread that I have ever seen. It was difficult to cut with a serrated knife. I could have hammered nails with it. The loaf was about 2" high.

I began to laugh. A lot. And then I tasted it, and I stopped laughing because it wasn't very good. How could it be?

HOWEVER! As I was failing miserably in the regular bread department, there was something happenin' in the fridge with the pizza dough. Magic, that's what.

Days later, as instructed by Slice's recipe here, I removed my pizza dough from the fridge and it's olive oil coated Ziploc bag. It was surprisingly easy to stretch out. And the cold from the refrigeration made it easier to handle. It even gave me the ability to stretch it a little thinner without breaking the dough.

Needless to say, I was intrigued. With unnecessary amounts of glee, I ran around the kitchen assembling sauce and collecting toppings (mozzarella cheese and basil). I fired up the ol' oven and pizza stone and made this:

This is, hands down, the crispiest, tastiest crust I have ever managed. In addition to being crispy, the outer crust retained the characteristic chewiness of Neopolitan style pies. And there was flavor! Hot damn and hallelujah!

Why was the pizza dough a success and the sourdough loaf a failure? I have a few educated guesses:

1. Proper planet alignment.

2. The extended rise time of 48 hours (even slowed down due to refrigeration) was actually needed. My starter wasn't broken, it was just slow! It needed some extra time.

3. The additional fermentation time also added flavor, because the yeast was hanging around for a longer period of time (2 days).

A few things to note:

While cold, oiled pizza dough is MUCH easier to handle and shape, it tends to stick to the pizza peel a bit more. I would recommend dusting the bottom of the dough with a little semolina flour and making sure you can easily slide it on and off the peel before assembling everything and then getting it stuck on there. Not that that happened to me or anything...

The cold dough took a bit longer to cook. This just makes sense, but I'm telling you anyway. You could always take your dough ball out of the fridge a few hours beforehand so you can bring it to room temperature. Either way, keep a sharp eye on things while they're cooking.

Here are some detail photos:

A few other tips:

I used La Valle cherry tomatoes for the sauce with a splash of red wine vinegar (as instructed by the most recent edition of Cooks Illustrated Magazine). I blended the tomatoes and vinegar in the food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne (for fun). The red wine vinegar gave the sauce that kick that I have been trying to achieve for a while.

For cheese, I used mini mozzarella balls. I cut them in half so they melted into little blobs.

And don't forget the FRESH BASIL!!!


Holiday Party - Part The First

This week on the blog is dedicated to parties. We will be featuring all sorts of festive food inspiration for your holiday party needs. First up: a review of my holiday party in two parts (Part The Second to be featured later this week).

I never used to have parties. It seemed like a lot of stress to have to feed and water people at my place. And be in charge of them having a good time?? Yikes, waaaaay too much for me. And then one day I changed my mind. It happened last year at this time when I hosted my first holiday party. And it was GREAT fun. A dance party erupted in the kitchen (why do people ALWAYS congregate in that room above all others?) and lasted until 4:30 in the morning.

Based on this previous success, I decided to go for a repeat and this past Saturday was my second annual holiday party. My apartment is still recovering (as are my neighbors, most likely....sorry 'bout that...). I thought I would give you a run down – complete with recipes – of some of the edible highlights of the evening.

Since I was cooking for the occasion, all my guests were kind enough to bring the drinkables. We had some wonderful ones – not a dry glass in the place! Here a few highlights:

Hendricks Gin: My favorite. I really like gin. And this is the gin I like the bestest (many thanks to Dave for bringing this gem).

Hirsch 2008 Gruner Veltliner: I bought this one. Mostly because of the reindeer on the label. It was really light, crisp and clean.

Laird's Applejack Rum: This was brought by Tim (hi, Tim– thanks!). This is the stuff that Van Leeuwen puts in their eggnog ice cream to give it a little punch.

New Castle Brown Ale Mini Keg: Everyone seemed to like this very much, but I have no idea what to do with the empty mini keg now. Do you throw that in recycling? Right now it's on my kitchen floor, just hanging out.

Now onto the recipes! We begin with the Caramel Coated Brie:

What You Need:
1 wheel of Brie
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
a few pecans to make everything look pretty

What To Do:
Prepare an ice-water bath. Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling until sugar dissolves.

Cook, continuing to stir, until the mixture turns a dark amber color. Immediately dip the bottom of the pan in the ice-water bath to stop the cooking.

Place your Brie on a serving plate and pour the caramel sauce over the top. Place pecans decoratively around the edge. The caramel coating will get hard, like a candy shell.

Notes and Tips: When you are cooking the sugar and water, the mixture will get foamy. This completely freaked me out. Just keep stirring and acting like everything is normal, it will turn dark soon enough. Also, getting the pot clean after torturing it in this manner is quite an adventure. I added more water to the pot and heated it until the remains were all dissolved. Then I poured it out and immediately washed the pot.

* Recipe from Martha Stewart.

I think everyone's favorite hors d' oeuvre that I made was "Le Cake," a recipe that I got from the book A Table in the Tarn, a French cookbook written by two British expats that live in the French countryside and run a boutique hotel. It's a savory cake that I stuffed with Kalamata and green olives and Havarti cheese. I modified their version a bit, but it's essentially the same. Here is how you make Le Cake (thereby becoming best friends with every one of your guests):

What You Need:
3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cubed Havarti cheese (or other semi-soft cheese)
2 tbsp freshly chopped herbs (I used thyme)
1 cup milk (Note: I actually ended up using a bit more because my dough was a bit dry)
3 1/2 tbsp melted butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup créme fraîche (try not to eat it all before you mix it into your dough)

What To Do:
Grease a baking pan (or several smaller baking pans) and sprinkle with half the grated Parm. Whisk the flour, baking powder and seasonings in a large bowl (this is easier than sifting). Mix in the cheese, herbs, and olives.

In a small bowl, whisk the melted (and cooled) butter, egg, milk, and créme fraîche. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just mixed – the dough will be thick and sticky – stop mixing when it is just combined.

Turn the mixture into your prepared baking pans and sprinkle with the rest of the grated Parm. Bake for 30 minutes (for small pans) and 45-50 minutes for large pans at 350 degrees until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Keep in mind, if you hit cheese when you skewer-test your cake, it will be sticky.

Blammo: amazingness! Added bonus: your apartment will smell so good, guests won't know what to do with themselves.

Continuing on with olives, I would like to mention something I did NOT make (GASP!) but was brought over by my friends Stacey and Tony: Blue Cheese Stuffed Green Olives. I think I ate the whole bowl by myself. Just get some green olives, some blue cheese, and stuff the cavity of the olive with the cheese. Put them in a pretty bowl with some toothpicks on the side and watch them disappear. Most likely by me, if I'm at your party.

You can also throw these little guys in a Bloody Mary as a garnish. And as my friend Meg says, "Who doesn't like a drink that comes with food?" I just don't know.

Also featured were Avocado Bruschetta (recipe here) and Bacon Wrapped Prunes. If you like bacon (YES!) and you also like that salty-sweet food combination, you'll love this. And it's ridiculously easy. Here's how it goes:

What You Need:
Some dried, pitted prunes (get some plump juicy ones)
Bacon - one slice per prune, please!
Toothpicks - to hold the whole delicious device together

What To Do:
Fry up the bacon. When you have achieved your desired level of bacon crispiness, wrap the the strip of  bacon around the prune and spear it on a toothpick so it doesn't all fall apart.

I will continue the rest of the recipes later in the week, but I am leaving you with two images from the evening to gear up your holiday party excitement. First, is our friend Drew. Drew wanted to be on the blog. And since he won the award for "Most Festive Pants," I really felt like he deserved to be on it.

Now, I don't give out the Most Festive Pants Award to just anybody. But look at those – kudos to you, Drew!

Finally, here is my Christmas tree. For those of you that are crazy enough to follow us on Twitter, you may know that my Christmas tree and I have been fighting. It was threatening to fall over the other day, so there is currently a mini pumpkin and an old, empty tin of pepper shoved into the tree stand to help it remain upright. Why don't they try that with the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

* The graphic at the very top is a postcard I designed back in my old stationery-designing days. © Rosebud Design Studio.

The Levain of My Existence

Bread. I love it. To me, it's carbohydrate in its most fantastic form. White, wheat, rye, sourdough, walnut-cranberry oat, baguettes, rolls, brioche and, yes, pizza dough.

I love the way it smells when it's cooking. And even when it's just rising, sitting there on my kitchen table with some random dish towel thrown over it (bread likes to be tucked in like a little kid in bed).

Recently I've been doing some reading up on bread making. You all might have suggestions of other things I could be doing with my time. Anyway, it was from this reading that I first heard the term "levain". According to Wikipedia, levain is a type of pre-ferment which is made in two fermentation steps from an active sourdough-starter culture, flour and water. It yields a rather dry and porous dough which may be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

Basically, you start growing a yeast naturally, instead of using one of those pre-packaged yeasts, with just flour and water. Then it grows (like a Chia-Pet I imagine) and you use this chia-goop to make bread. The best part is that you can keep it indefinitely as long as you keep it alive by feeding it! It's like a pet! And even though I already have Toby, I imagine he won't mind a yeasty addition to our apartment that we can keep in the fridge.

Supposedly, it makes a better tasting bread than using a regular yeast package. A better tasting bread that I could potentially make a superior PIZZA DOUGH with. And annihilate the competition at the next PIZZ-OFF! Did I just say that out loud?

Sometimes I forget to use my inside voice.

So here we go. I am opening up the Laboratorio Semi Moderno for levain! For Science! For pizza dough! And I am going to document the whole thing, and give you updates. For example: Day 15: The yeasty blob has oozed all over the fridge and taken the carrots hostage. It's now threatening the butter. Please send reinforcements. And pizza toppings.

I also plan on naming the levain. I was thinking of "Ferdinand" but I am open to suggestions.

To begin, the instructions are simple. You will need 1 cup of flour:

Plus, 1 cup of warm water:

Then, you combine them in a container (I used a candy-cane festooned tupperware that I apprehended leftovers in from my friend Stacey):

Mix all that madness up and you will get a goo (like the topmost photo). Cover this magical goo with the lid and let it sit on your counter.

Every 24 hours you need to feed your Chia-Goo. This is very important. To do this, you dump out HALF the goo, and mix in another 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Why? I just don't know, but this is what everyone tells me to do, and I'm just going to do it without question.

After a week of feeding it every 24 hours and keeping it on the counter top (temperatures between 70-80 degrees are best. 100 degrees is too hot for your Chia-Goo), you can move it into the fridge and only feed it once every week.

So that's what's going on right now in the Laboratorio. Exciting place, no? I thought so. Updates will follow!

If anyone wants to play along in this levain making madness, please feel free. And send me updates. Or cries of distress. I respond to either.