Tag Archives: bread

Best Bread Recipe

The New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipe has become my Moby Dick. It’s perfection always manages to escape me as I feel myself getting closer.

But then, recently, I realized something. The science of baking bread – coaxing a living organism to life in hopes that it will make your mound of dough rise, then going through processes of resting and more waiting – it’s just not exact. Baking bread on the top of a mountain is totally different from baking in my kitchen, or in my kitchen on a humid day, etc. If baking bread is a metaphor for life, then I need to stop reading the directions so closely. The dough will rise when it’s good and ready. The bread will become the loaf it’s destined to be, no matter how hard you try to control the various environmental factors.

If you labor through the journey, and the destination isn’t really what you expected, should you not still eat it? Of course you should eat it! Preferably in a nice sandwich.

Celebrating my no-knead bread epiphany, I made the loaf again, on the top of a mountain in Virginia, where the winds outside draped snow drifts against our cabin walls and the snow fell in tiny balls – too cold to become pretty, unique snowflakes. I used an old-timey cast-iron Dutch oven that Grant picked up at some dubious junk shop years ago. I scrubbed it, seasoned it and hoped for the best.

Even after stoking the fire orb with extra hickory logs, I could never find that perfect place where the dough could rise for 12-18 hours in a consistent temperature. Again, I hoped for the best. The closest bread grocer was 45 minutes away.

So my little ball of love-hate turned into a pretty ball of bread that was a bit of a runt, and awkward to make sandwiches out of, but still tasted delicious.

If you have a favorite bread recipe, please share! I’m taking on challenges!

xoxo

Zucchini Bread

Quick breads – helping zucchini haters like myself enjoy squash for a lifetime.

I hate almost anything in the squash family – always have. So why I ever decided to make zucchini bread for the first time 3 years ago, I don’t know. But I do know that the result is such a soft and sweet slice of bread. And with just the right texture from those ribbons of zucchini.

The only thing I hate worse than squash is nuts in my brownies, cookies, ice cream and bread. So I adapted this to my pickiness (from Cooks Illustrated).

Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 lb. zucchini, ends trimmed, grated on box grater
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 6 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Heat oven to 375. Grease bottom and sides of 9×5-inch loaf pan. Dust with flour, tapping out excess.

Toss zucchini with 2 T sugar and set in drainer in sink for 30 min.

Meanwhile, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together remaining 1/2 c. sugar plus 2 T sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon and melted butter. Set aside.

When zucchini has drained, squeeze it between paper towels to extract any excess juice. Stir zucchini in with yogurt mixture, then add to flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake until loaf is golden brown and tester comes out clean – 55 to 60 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool in pan 10 min, then transfer to wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving.

Can be stored, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days. But be sure to eat it by then because it tends to get a bit gummy!

The weather is dropping below 90 every day – fall must be right around the corner. What better for fall than a warm, comforting, sweet loaf of bread?

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Ciabatta Bread

Well hello again, you! Please excuse my sporadic summer blogging – what with my vacation schedule and work rolling into the busiest months, it has been difficult for me to cook, let alone blog. But here is something I baked and took on a mini-vacation for a delicious appetizer snack.

I’m no bread maker. And while this recipe turned out tasting great, especially with the toppings described later, it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I’m blaming that on the fact that I didn’t have a spritzer for spritzing water on the bread every few minutes, as suggested. Psh, who has time for that kind of babysitting?

Here is my Cook’s Illustrated recipe for chewy ciabatta bread:

Ciabatta

Ingredients – sponge

  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1/8 tsp instant (rapid-rise) yeast
  • 1/2 c. room-temp water

Ingredients – dough

  • 2 c. AP flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 3/4 c. room-temp water
  • 1/4 c. room-temp milk (I used whole milk)

Combine sponge ingredients in medium bowl and stir until a uniform mass forms, 1 min. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours (overnight).

Place sponge and dough ingredients in stand mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low until roughly combined, about 1 min. Scrape down sides. Increase speed to medium-low and continue mixing until dough becomes uniform mass that collects on the paddle, 4-6 min (note: I added at least another 1/2 c. of flour because mine was still too wet). Change to dough hook and knead bread on medium until smooth and shiny, very sticky, about 10 min. Transfer to large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temp until doubled in size, 1 hr.

Spray rubber spatula with cooking spray and fold dough over on itself from the edges inward at 90-degree turns – do it a total of 8 turns around the edges. Cover again and let rise 30 min. Repeat folding, cover, let rise another 30 min. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-mid position and heat oven to 450.

Place parchment paper on 2 baking sheets. Transfer dough to floured surface and divide in half. Turn one piece cut side up and dust with flour. Press dough into rough 12×6-inch shape. Fold up the sides to the center to form a 7×4-inch loaf. Place seam-side down on parchment sheet and dust with flour. Repeat with second loaf. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit at room temp. for 30 min.

(Here, CI asks you to transfer loaves to a new rimmed baking sheet, but I just put them straight into the oven). Using fingertips, poke the entire surface of each loaf to form a 10×6-inch rectangle (mine were more like blobs), then spray loaves lightly with water (which I didn’t do). Bake, spraying with water twice more during first 5 min. of baking, until crust is deep brown and center of loaf is 210 degrees (seriously?), 22-27 min. When tapped, the center of the loaf will sound hollow.

Transfer to wire racks to cool to room temperature.

There was a bit too much flour on the bottoms since I didn’t transfer the loaves to a baking stone, but I didn’t care at this point. I had been baking far too long to care.

Best way to eat this bread? Name it!

My friend Krissy is always handy with her appetizers, and this one I blatantly stole from her – ricotta mixed with scallions, basil, S&P; along with chopped tomatoes with more basil, garlic and olive oil. Can you tell we have a lot of basil on hand?

I sliced and lightly toasted my bread, along with a sprinkle of EVOO and a little S&P. Then we spooned on the ricotta and followed with the tomatoes. I love the cold creaminess of the ricotta topped with the fresh, juicy tomatoes. Then the heat of the garlic and floral loveliness of basil.

It is definitely too hot to bake bread this weekend, so we are heading to the mountains, where I will be basking (and baking?) in 70-degree temps.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Cinnamon-Swirl Brioche

Cinnamon rolls + bread = cinnamon bread!

I love any excuse to get cinnamon roasting away in the oven, filling the house with that spicy, warm aroma that triggers all sorts of happy sentiments. This is the first bread recipe I’ve made with eggs and butter – does that make it a brioche?

The finished product was a wonderfully eggy loaf that was soft in the middle, with a nice thin golden crust. It looked like brioche and tasted like brioche – perfect leftovers for French toast or bread pudding! I immediately sliced mine and fried it with a light coating of salted butter – classic.

Adapted from Closet Cooking and Pioneer Woman…

Cinnamon-Swirl Brioche

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter, salted
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
Directions
  1. Heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter into it without boiling, remove from heat and let cool until it is luke warm
  2. Mix in the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in the milk.
  4. Mix the flour and salt and beat half of it into the milk mixture until combined (I used a wooden spoon at this point).
  5. Beat in the remaining flour until combined.
  6. Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour if it is too sticky, 5 min.
  7. Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover and let it rise until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  8. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it out so that it is as wide as your bread pan and about 18 to 24 inches long.
  9. Spread the butter over the dough (Tip: I melted the butter and brushed it on at this point. Much easier.).
  10. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle it over the dough.
  11. Roll the dough up into a log, trimming to fit, it needed.
  12. Place the dough into the greased loaf pan, cover and let it rise until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  13. Mix the egg and milk and brush it over the top of the loaf.
  14. Bake the loaf in a preheated 350F oven until golden brown on top, about 30-40 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.
I probably took mine out of the oven too early because it was a bit too soft in the center, but I didn’t mind. And neither did the cat – he tore through the bag to nibble the freshly baked loaf while I slept unknowingly. Rude!
I cut away those parts, however, and the loaf was fine.

Cat and human tested – and approved!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Rustic No-Knead Bread

Don’t let the name fool you – just because it’s no-knead doesn’t mean it’s no-muss and no-fuss. In fact, this bread was more difficult than kneaded breads, simply because kneaded breads don’t stick to your fingers like glue. BUT. Here’s why I love this bread more than kneaded breads – it cooks in a Dutch oven and turns out crunchy and crisped on the outside, with soft dough bubbles on the inside. Just like a nice bread you’d get at the bakery.

I covered mine in toasted wheat bran for extra flavor and nutrition, but the bran was kind of a mess in the kitchen and looks funny on the bread. However, it did offer a nice toasty taste on the crust.

I first had this bread at my friend Jennifer’s house, where she was cooking a gourmet meal for the ladies in her book club (they had just read “Heat” by Bill Buford, which I recommended to Jennifer). In addition to the homemade pumpkin pasta and lots of appetizers, she served this beautiful loaf of bread that I couldn’t believe didn’t come from an Italian bakery. Way to go, Jennifer!

She sent me the recipe the next day, from The Minimalist, of course:

No-Knead Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast (at my store, it’s called extra-active dry yeast)
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • Wheat brand, as needed (or flour)

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups (about 13 oz.) water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. (WriteGal note: this was a huge, sticky mess for me.) Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. (WriteGal note: make sure you don’t fold in any of the wheat bran because it will form a seam in the loaf that is unsightly – like an extra crust running through it). Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

As soon as mine came out of the oven, we cut it thick, then placed ripe tomato slices on top, seasoned with salt and pepper. It was a perfect snack to enjoy a warm afternoon, along with Manchego cheese and a cold Modelo beer.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

How to bake bread

I baked bread! I baked bread!

To appreciate this fact, you have to appreciate that I have avoided baking bread for ever. It was sort of like how I used to insist on buying $4 lattes every morning instead of getting a coffee maker: I finally took the plunge and wondered what I had been thinking.

Same with bread. It’s daunting to bake. You have to deal with something alive. Something called yeast, which is apparently a finicky little bitch – don’t get it too hot, don’t get it too cold, feed it sugar, let it rise on its own schedule, etc.

Martha metaphorically held my hand through this process with a simple white sandwich bread recipe in her recent Valentine’s Day issue (recipe to come).

The recipe had all of six ingredients, I figured it would be a cinch to make. It also cost me less than a dollar.

After mixing the flour, yeast, water, salt and honey together, I kneaded it for five minutes of tactile heaven. Then, it rose and I punched it down, put it in these buttered bread pans and it rose again. I dusted one loaf with flour, for a rustic look, and brushed the other with melted butter.

It has risen...

It only baked for 25 minutes in my stupid oven, but all was well:

Jesse couldn’t wait until it cooled before slicing a piece. They came out with a nice, thin crust and a light, airy bread within. I cannot wait to make myself a PB sammie with Skippy’s creamy peanut butter!

Classic white bread —

2 envelopes dry yeast (1 T plus 1 1/2 tsp)

2 1/4 c. warm water (110 degrees)

3 T plus 2 tsp honey

4 T unsalted butter, melted, plus more for brushing

7 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2 T coarse salt

Sprinkle yeast over 1/2 c. water. Add 2 tsp honey and whisk to dissolve yeast. Let stand until foamy, at least 5 min. (there will be a sizeable “head” of foam in the bowl, like an inch high). Transfer to bowl of a mixer with hook attachment. Add butter and remaining water and honey.

In a separate bowl, whisk flour with salt. Add 3 c. to the yeast and mix on slow until mostly smooth. Add remaining flour, 1 c. at a time, mixing until dough comes away from the sides. Butter a large bowl.

Knead dough on floured surface for five min. It will be smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and place in buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place for at least 1 hour, or until it doubles in size.

Butter two rectangle bread pans. Punch down dough, then divide it in half. Fold the long sides to the middle, pinching to seal, so you have one nice, smooth side. Place dough in pans with smooth side up. Brush each loaf with butter or sprinkle with flour.

Preheat oven to 450. Loosely cover doughs with plastic wrap and set on TOP of oven to rise again, at least another hour. The dough should rise an inch above the pan edge. Reduce oven temp. to 400 and put loaves in. Bake, rotating after 25 minutes, until tops are golden, 45 min (or less!). Transfer to wire racks, cool slightly, then remove from pans. Let cool completely, slice and enjoy!

Caprese panino

Attack of the giant panini!

Attack of the giant panini!

Question: is there any discernable taste difference between sweet and Thai basil? In my opinion, not when you cook with it.

I found all this Thai basil stuffed in our crisper drawer from last week’s farmers market (oops) and hurried to turn it into a pesto, hoping to salvage whatever I could. Tasting the basil raw, it definitely had a more lemony, almost peppery flavor, compared to the sweet licorice of the “other” basil. Moreover, the physical differences are greater: Thai basil has more pointy leaves that are roughly textured, and are almost purple.

Still, basil is basil, in my opinion, and it all tastes good in pesto.

I made the quick pesto with roughly two handfuls of basil leaves, one palmful of pine nuts, four chopped garlic cloves, 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese and 1/4 c. EVOO. Blend with salt and pepper to taste.

I shmeared the pesto on the beautifully bubbly ciabatta bread we picked up today from Ollie’s bakery downtown. Then, I layered sliced fresh mozarella and heirloom tomatoes (don’t even bother with the non-heirloom variety here).

I pressed the sandwich in a hot skillet with a little butter, my substitution for a real panini press. It was delicious. I really think that ciabatta bread is the best bread for panini.

Just look at that bread!

Just look at that bread!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo