20 Months and 43 Loaves of Bread

In January of 2009, I resolved to learn to bake bread. Late that Spring I purchased a copy of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, hoping that it would provide the guidance and inspiration I needed to successfully master the magic of yeast and dough. A few weeks later my path crossed with Nicole of Pinch My Salt, who was gathering the online troops to tackle what she called the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. Simply put, the challenge was to bake every single recipe in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice cookbook in order. There were no time limits (thank goodness!) and no restrictions on who could join. I bravely signed myself up and bought a bag of bread flour, preparing to face my fears of bread baking once and for all. (more…)

Mile High Popovers

If I close my eyes and imagine the perfect slice of prime rib it never sits alone on the plate. Nestled alongside the pink juicy meat is an ethereal creation. Not quite a roll and definitely not a muffin it is a tender-yet-chewy gravity-defying popover. Golden brown and filled with nothing but air it begs to be torn apart and pressed down into the juices on my plate. Soaking up every beefy dripping it conveys to my lips the savory pleasure of meat, bread, and herbs mixed into one fluffy bite. (more…)

Sourdough Dinner Rolls

This sourdough dinner roll is everything a good dinner roll should be- soft, squishy, and the perfect vehicle for sopping up savory meat juices on your plate. How did I end up making a big batch of sourdough dinner rolls? Well it had everything to do with an abundance of wild yeast, or in my case- yeast gone wild. (more…)

Savory Sourdough Sausage Stuffing

I will be the first to admit that I am a stuffing junkie. That’s right, as much as I love roast turkey, lemon pie, and buttermilk mashed potatoes- when it comes to Thanksgiving the one dish I can’t live without is the stuffing. In fact I’m always so concerned that there will not be enough leftover stuffing that I double the recipe. Even when it is just the two of us. (Embarrassing, but true!) (more…)

Spiced Banana Bread (Vegan)

Spiced Banana Bread

Everyone should have a go-to banana bread recipe. Much like the ubiquitous chocolate chip cookie, the kid-friendly marinara sauce, or a family favorite grilled cheese, banana bread is a home cooking standby. (Unless of course you are one of those odd people who doesn’t like bananas. Then hang on a week or two as zucchini bread is bound to make an appearance soon!)

Making Spiced Banana Bread

It took me a while to find “my” banana bread. I dallied with orange juice filled loaves. I played with chocolate chip studded slices. I even flirted with pineapple bits in the batter but at the end of the day each version ended up slightly off. Too tropical, too sweet, too much like a muffin. The bananas took a backseat as the other ingredients stepped up front and center on the palate. (more…)

It’s Alive!

Making Bread

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I have not written about my ongoing bread baking adventures since December. Yikes! Where does the time go? Despite the absence of yeast-related posts, I have managed to stick to the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge and continue to bake my way straight through the book. When the Holidays hit my bread baking frenzy slowed down a bit and in the aftermath of January resolutions I found myself baking bread about twice per month instead of weekly. Yet in that time I have graduated to loaves powered by wild yeast starter instead of dry yeast. After a full year of abject neglect my sourdough starter is now happily living on the counter and I actually remember to feed it. This is amazing because at our house unless you can beg for food you’re typically out of luck (which is why we have no plants or fish).
Over the past several months there have been many successes, a few flops, and a baguette shaped brick that defied consumption. Let’s have a look shall we?
(The recipes for all of the loaves are available in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and are not reprinted here out of respect for the author’s copyright.)

Pugliese

One of my favorites, a loaf of Pugliese bread, this rustic southeastern Italian style bread had large holes, a soft interior, and a chewy crust- it didn’t last long! Very similar to ciabatta, the Pugliese is made with a mix of fancy durum flour (I used semolina) a biga (pre-fermented dough), and surprisingly- mashed potatoes. While not quite as delicious as my favorite sourdough, I still anticipate that this loaf will show up in our kitchen frequently.

Sourdough Bread

If I knew how to do back flips I would have flipped over this loaf. It is the first sourdough bread to rise on its own wild yeast power and successfully come out of my oven. After dreaming about baking sourdough for two years, this marked a huge step in the right direction toward recreating the West Coast sourdough I miss so dearly. I still need to work on finding a recipe with a higher hydration (for bigger holes) but this was so close I could taste it!

New York Deli Rye

If I ever become a sandwiches for lunch person, this New York Deli Rye will be my go-to loaf. Boasting a huge soft crumb and the irresistible combination of buttermilk, caraway, and sautéed onions this loaf created perfect savory slices of bread. Mr. B and I gobbled up both loaves in no time flat, enjoying them for breakfast and wrapped around thick slices of roast beef and sauerkraut for dinner.

100% Sourdough Rye

Lest you think I have been living in annoying bread baking bliss, I give you the 100% Sourdough Rye bread. An exhibit for why trying to grind your own rye meal from whole rye kernels in a Mini-Cuisinart does not work. Epic failure. I don’t know if the chunks of hard rye kernels killed the loaves or if my sourdough starter decided to sleep in, but these loaves turned into baguette shaped bricks. I sliced off a piece so you could see the inside, but not even the dog could chew that hockey puck! Does anyone know what to do with leftover rye kernels?

Poilane-Style Miche

And finally, the two pound behemoth which graces the cover of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the Poilane-Style Miche. This recipe is an attempt to create a loaf made by Lionel Poilane, a man who Peter Reinhart calls, “the most famous bread baker in the world”. Using a medium-grain whole wheat flour from hard spring or winter wheat and following the long steps of fermentation and barms, this loaf is a process. Of course I couldn’t find medium-grain whole wheat flour anywhere, so I crossed my fingers, sifted a regular whole wheat flour, and hoped for the best. With over 8 cups of flour going into the dough, the final loaf was the heaviest I’ve ever baked. A very hard outer crust gave way to a dense and flavor-packed crumb. We enjoyed the bread quite a bit, but next time I will do the right thing and order a medium-grain flour online. I think to achieve the greatness purported by many, you definitely need to start with the proper flour.

* Not pictured above are the Portuguese Sweet Bread and the Potato Rosemary Bread. I baked these during the Holidays and in the course of cooking lobster pot pies and Meyer lemon panna cottas I somehow forgot to photograph the loaves! 

The binding on m
y copy of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice is loose and the jacket is dusted with flour. Only 11 recipes remain to complete the challenge. If you have a desire to learn to bake bread or are looking for new recipes, I highly recommend buying
this book. The author, Peter Reinhart, was just nominated for the James Beard Award for ‘Best Baking Cookbook’ for his newly published book “Artisan Breads Everyday“. As much as his work has changed my bread baking life, I hope he wins.

Peach Ginger Muffins

Peach Ginger Muffins

Whenever I encounter a new or unusual ingredient at a local grocery store I show my true food geek colors and become exuberantly excited with all the possibilities. (If you remember my enthusiasm over a lone baby bok choy, then this will come as no surprise.) What I did not know, was that some of my food geekiness has rubbed off onto Mr. B. One day he came home from work, first having stopped by the store to pick up a few things for dinner. When he set the grocery bags on the counter he was grinning and I thought, “Oh great, he bought ice cream again.” But instead of pulling out a pint, he fished around in the bags and pulled out a container of crystalized ginger chips. “Look what I found!” he exclaimed.

Crystallized Ginger Chips

Opening the container I found it full of tiny crystallized ginger chips, each coated with a light dusting of sugar and starch. I quickly shared Mr. B’s excitement. If you have ever tried to cut crystallized ginger into tiny pieces then you know how challenging it is to keep the ginger from forming a sticky mashed mess on your cutting board and knife. Attempts to coat the knife, cutting surface, and ginger with sugar only helps a little to separate the chunks. I usually end up tossing the clumps in sugar and then trying to break them up with my fingers while scattering the ginger into my baking bowl. Using a mechanized process to achieve superior individual chips of crystallized ginger makes so much sense. This is one instance where technology really can help achieve superior results.
After sharing in his excitement, I asked Mr. B what we should make with his find. He quickly suggested ginger peach muffins. Having learned in the past not to mess with Mr. B’s creative genius, I decided to dive right in and make the muffins.

Peach Ginger Muffins

Peach Ginger Muffins

The muffin batter comes together easily, with just a quick mix of dry ingredients, wet ingredients, and then folding them all together. As I sprinkled in the ginger chips I was happy to see that they remained in individual bits throughout the batter, ensuring a little ginger in each muffin. A cinnamon sugar crumble topping with chopped pecans and a few more ginger bits tops off the muffins, adding a delightful crunch to contrast the softly sweet crumb below.

Peach Ginger Muffins

The finished muffins were sweeter than our traditional muffin fare, but we enjoyed them so much that they quickly disappeared for breakfast, snacks, and even after dinner. I mailed a few muffins to my pecan-hating father who polished them off in no time flat (and decided that pecan toppings are not too bad after all). If you like a tasty ginger peach muffin, or share Mr. B’s excitement for all things ginger then find some ginger chips and turn on the oven!
*Disclaimer – Mr. B bought the ginger chips himself and the Ginger People have no idea who we are.*
Peach Ginger Muffins (Printable Recipe)
Makes 24
Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter melted
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 medium peaches peeled, diced (about 2 cups) (I used thawed frozen peaches)
1/4 cup ginger chips
Topping*:
1 cup chopped pecans
1/8 cup ginger chips
2/3 cup brown sugar packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter
*If you have any leftover topping it is excellent on oatmeal.
Directions:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper muffin liners.
Make the Topping
In a small bowl, mix together the chopped pecans, ginger chips, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and melted butter. The mixture should form loose clumps. Set aside.
Make the Muffins
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt until well combined.
In a separate medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla, until all ingredients are combined.
Pour half of the wet ingredients into the large bowl of dry ingredients, and stir gently to combine. Add the rest of the wet ingredients, and mix as little as possible to just combine. Next, gently fold in the peaches and ginger chips, stirring just until all dry ingredients are moistened and the ginger is distributed throughout the batter.
Pour the batter into the muffin cups, until each muffin cup is 2/3rds full. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the muffins. Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

A Mezze Feast

Mezze

The official line: The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.
When the challenge was thrown down to create a mezze (an assortment of small plates), my mind raced off in a million directions, thrilled with the possibilities. Homemade pita bread and hummus from dried garbanzo beans were at the top of the list. Fresh pita is impossible to find in town and with my recent foray into bread baking for once the thought of working with dough didn’t scare me silly. A bag of dried garbanzo beans had been sitting slouched down in my pantry for over a year and begged to be used. Also, Mr. B and I managed to squeeze in a big-city run just before the mezze, where I stocked up on peppadew peppers, artichoke hearts, balsamic marinated cippolini onions, and the makings for dolmas and muhammara. The ingredients were pulled together, a sleepy snowy Saturday in February was selected, and we set out to create a mezze feast.

Making Pita Bread

The pita bread came together beautifully. A simple dough, of water, olive oil, and flour, it happily bubbled and rose into a large bowl of dough. Once rolled out and tossed into the hot oven the pita rounds puffed up like blowfish. It took several rounds of cooking to work through all of the dough but the reward of warm fresh pita was well worth the effort. I can’t wait to make this recipe again.

Pita and Hummus

Once soaked and cooked the garbanzo beans were whizzed in a food processor along with tahini, garlic, and lemon, creating a nutty thick dip. I had always wondered at the difference between hummus made with canned chickpeas versus dried chickpeas, hearing from many online that there was no discernible difference. When I tasted a spoonful of the hummus made with dried chickpeas, however, the improved texture of the hummus blew me away. It had the fluffy but smooth texture of the hummus from our favorite Lebanese restaurant- something I had never been able to recreate at home.

Greek Salad

Greek Dolmas

You have already heard about the dolmas, and the Greek salad, which added the necessary protein and vegetables to make this into a somewhat balanced meal. The delicious and addictive muhammara recipe is from Lebanese food blogger extraordinaire Olive Fig Grape. Together with the pita and hummus it all created a veritable feast.

Kozlovic Wine

Mr. B got into the spirit of the meal, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and pulling out a bottle of Kozlovic Malvazija wine. Our first encounter with a Croatian wine and the malvazijian grape, the Kozlovic had a beautiful golden honey color and a bright acidic aroma. If you are used to a fruit spectrum of flavor in white wines, the absence of fruit in this wine may surprise you. The Kozlovic paired quite well with the savory mezze dishes, providing a smooth and slightly bitter counterpoint to the richly flavored food.
Sitting by a fire, drinking wine and nibbling on a mezze feast is a wonderful way to spend a cold Saturday in February.
Pita Bread (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Makes Approximately 16 pitas
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons regular dry yeast
2.5 cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon table salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Directions:
1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.
2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).
4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick (do not roll much thinner than 1/4 inch or the pita will become hard). Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.
5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn’t puff up, don’t worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Makes Approximately 3 cups
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.
1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking)
2-2.5 lemons, juiced
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
Paprika
Olive Oil
Directions:
1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
3. Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and tahini, mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle paprika on top, and drizzle olive oil around the edge of the bowl.

Bread Bonanza

As I glanced through recent posts I was surprised to see that I haven’t provided a bread update since the marbled rye rubens in October! Where has the time gone? While we’ve been busy shaking up L.A. and chasing pheasants through the woods, I have still pushed onward in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. Each week brings a new loaf as I bake my way through the book. Since we are cooking the entire book, challenge participants are not posting the recipes. However if you are at all interested in learning to bake bread The Bread Baker’s Apprentice should definitely go on your Christmas list.

The book is arranged in alphabetical order and recipes from the past several weeks represent the “P” section. With no further adieu, they included:

Pain a l’Ancienne – A crusty, chewy baguette, with a deliciously nutty flavor.

Pain a l'Ancienne

Pain de Campagne – A soft yet chewy bread, this was supposed to be an “epi” loaf, shaped like ears of corn…my scissor skills are apparently stuck in the first grade.

Pain de Campagne

Pane Sicilliano – A delicious soft bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, this was excellent with an escarole and white bean soup.

Pane Sicilliano

Panettone – A sophisticated Italian riff on fruitcake, this buttery soft bread was filled with dried fruits, scented with orange, and terrific alongside baked bacon and eggs. Baking the bread in decorative molds was quite fun and would make this a perfect holiday gift.

Panettone

Pizza – I have been hoping to make pizza dough from scratch for a long time. My weeknight pizzas rely on frozen dough from Whole Foods, which is quick and delicious. However this recipe added a depth of tangy flavor to the dough that is a strong reason to make it at home. Not only did I singe my eyelashes off on Thanksgiving, but I also dropped the pizza stone on my foot and broke it in half (the stone that is). So this pizza was cooked in a cast iron skillet, giving it a great deep dish crust.

Pizza

Poolish Baguette – Expanding on the pre-ferment technique this version of a baguette uses sifted whole wheat flour to increase the ash content of the bread add a hearty texture and flavor into the loaf.

Poolish Baguette

My oven hasn’t seen a break in weeks, but I have to say I think I am finally getting the hang of baking bread. There are about four months left to go and I have a feeling that I’ll need every bit of confidence to tackle the upcoming sourdough. Regular yeast is one thing, but wild yeast…yikes!

This post is submitted to Yeast Spotting, a weekly roundup of the best bread on the web.

Autumn Panzanella

Autumn Panzanella

As fresh loaves of bread now emerge from my oven on a weekly basis, it has become necessary to get creative and ensure that it does not got to waste. Besides enjoying lots of toast and jam for breakfast, I have also started to work bread into our dinners. In moderation, I’ve found that bread is a great meal extender- allowing small quantities of other ingredients to shine while ensuring we are still full and satisfied. (It is also is very budget friendly- which is always appreciated!)

Autumn Panzanella

A big loaf of leftover sourdough inspired me to create an Autumn riff on a traditional panzanella (Italian bread salad). I cubed the loaf of bread and then toasted it with a red onion and sweet potato to create the base of the salad. Toasted pepitas added a flavorful nutty crunch, while a big pile of grated Parmesan cheese melted around the warm bread cubes nicely.

To create the dressing, I played around with a combination of sage, garlic, olive oil, cider vinegar, and thyme until it had just the right balance of savory herb flavor, pungent garlic, and bright acidity. Once mixed together, the flavors melded beautifully and created a savory alternative to traditional panzanella.

Making Autumn Panzanella

This would be a delicious salad to take to a potluck and would shine as a side dish alongside my favorite roast chicken with meyer lemon and sage. Or if it is a Tuesday night and you just want something simple, dish up a bowl for dinner and call it a day!

Autumn Panzanella

Autumn Panzanella (Printable Recipe)
Serves 4 as a main course or 8-10 as a side salad

Be sure to allow the finished dish to sit for an hour before serving. This is necessary for the flavors to fully develop, otherwise the bread will not have time to absorb the dressing and may taste rather bland.

Ingredients:

Salad
10 cups cubed Sourdough bread (cut into 1″ pieces)
1 cup diced sweet potato (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into 1/2″ wedges
2 cups diced fresh tomato (or a 14oz high quality can, drained)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pepitas, toasted (pumpkin seeds)

Dressing
1/4 cup Olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 teaspoon, fresh thyme
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon herbes de provenence

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, with a rack in the middle. Line a large rimmed baking pan with foil, and evenly spread the bread, sweet potato, and onion across the sheet. Drizzle 1/4 cup of olive oil over the baking pan, and then toss all ingredients so they are evenly coated with oil. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring the contents occasionally, until they are evenly toasted and the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, assemble the dressing. Place olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, sage, thyme, vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbes de provenence in a blender. Blend in quick five second bursts, until the garlic is emulsified and the ingredients are well combined.

Once the bread and vegetables are toasted, place them in a large bowl along with the diced tomatoes, grated Parmesan, pepitas, and dressing. Gently toss all ingredients until they are well combined and the bread is evenly coated with dressing.

Cover the salad, and let it sit at room temperature for an hour, which will give the bread time to absorb the flavors of the salad. Once the flavors have melded together nicely, taste the salad to see if it needs any additional salt, pepper, or apple cider vinegar. Adjust seasonings to your taste, and serve.

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