This sun dried and rosemary focaccia is my 2011 For The Loaf of Bread project wrap-up bread. First of all, I want to thank everyone who participated in either making or eating my bread in 2011. My goal was to learn how to be a bread-baker (an accolade I don’t feel I can attach to my name, but at least I have some good experience under my belt), as well as eat breads that are more conducive to a healthier lifestyle ( unfortunately tasty 100% whole wheat bread is much much harder to bake at home).

My project approach was a bit lofty: a different bread a week for 52 weeks. I did pretty well, at least for the first few months… but it pretty much went downhill the rest of the year when I became occupied with moving, GMAT horrors, and grad school research/applications.

Despite my lack of discipline, time, and energy to consistently keep up this project, I learned some valuable bread lessons along the way:

1.       I absolutely love the smell and feel of bread dough

2.       The best breads I’ve made take about 2 days to make, but they are well worth the effort

3.       Everyone appreciates fresh bread, and there is a certain satisfaction making it yourself

4.       It’s worth it to pay up to $4 for a fresh loaf than $2 for pre-sliced loaves in the bread aisle

While the interest, time, or effort of baking bread isn’t for everyone (and I don’t assume it would be), and baking a loaf weekly isn’t possible for 99.9% of the population (it wasnt for myself), I’ve enjoyed this project and my bread-baking days are nowhere near over. Now, I just won’t feel so guilty for the neglecting my year goal!

Don’t worry, you can still expect blog posts from me, but now I will open it up to other non-bread recipes I make that I feel are worth passing along.  And as always,  I hope to share my homemade food with you.

“Love People. Cook them tasty food”

-From a sticker at Penzey Spices that my good friend Dana gave to me.

Here is a link to the recipe. It does take 2 days, but it is actually super easy to make! http://cookingwithalison.com/2010/10/15/sun-dried-tomato-focaccia/

The poolish from Day 1 (also known as a ‘starter’)

This is the dough on Day 2 plus the poolish. I just love sticky dough!

I bought sun dried tomatos and soaked them in EVOO the day before baking

A whole sheet of focaccia bread!

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Naan Bread

11/30/2011

I feel very guilty for horribly neglecting my bread blog. But don’t worry, I haven’t gone gluten-free since you last heard from me. To get back into the swing of things, I went very low-key and made some Naan bread (well, and because I wanted to try the bottle of curry sauce for dinner tonight and I didn’t buy any Naan while grocery shopping).

The recipe for Naan bread I used is so very simple.

  1. Mix yeast with warm milk (which is a first because I normally mix yeast with water) and let sit for 15 minutes to foam

2. Mix yogurt, egg, and EVOO and add everything to 2 cups of white flour (my preference is unbleached flour) with a little touch of salt

3. Knead for about 10 minutes

4.Cover and let sit in a warm place for about an hour

5.Knead again and shape

6. Stick in the oven for about 5 minutes

They will puff up in the oven, and if you put them under the broiler for another few minutes, you’ll get a nice crunchy top

I also pressed in chopped garlic on top before baking which gave it a nice flavor

Overall these came out pretty good, though not as amazing as at Indian restaurants(I have some practice ahead of me). One reason is because mine were a little thick, so if you go to make these make sure you pat/roll the dough very flat before baking.

This particular recipe was found in “India’s 500 Best Recipes”, but there are a few other ways to make Naan. Naan is orginially made with ghee (clarified butter), and ghee used to be a primary cooking ingredient in India, but nowadays many are opting for healthier alternatives. I am particularly interested in trying a version that also doesn’t require yogurt to get around excessive dairy intake. I found this one that I’ll try out next: http://gitaskitchen.blogspot.com/2010/02/whole-wheat-coriander-naan.html (but if you try it first, let me know how it tastes! 🙂 )

So, what’s the difference between Cuban bread and other types of bread? Well, I still really don’t know.  It has a combination of the same basic ingredients: flour, yeast, water, and sugar. But, in one way it is very unique is the way it is baked. I certainly don’t presume myself to be a bread expert, but of all the bread recipes I’ve encountered, this is the first time I’ve started baking bread in a cold oven, with a warming oven aiding in its rising process.

Michaela adding in the yeast

mix mix

But I will say this, I do know this bread is successful in fostering community and sharing because I was invited to bake this particular one by my dear friend Michaela in her home. Michaela graciously invited myself and another friend Dana over for an evening of girl talk, snacks, margaritas, and oh yeah, bread baking!

showing some tough love

stepping in to do a little kneading. Somehow we missed getting a shot of Dana doing some work

It was fun that we all chipped in and baked this bread together, and it was so simple to  make we were able to do while drinking, chatting, and laughing. We got 2 round loaves out of the recipe, and Michaela very sweetly insisted that it be shared among us all.

The next morning Dana and I each tried our own loaves, and declared Michaela’s bread a success. The texture had a good consistency and the taste was great especially with the sesame seeds. I will also pass along that Michaela thought the bread was good toasted as well.

And although it was a success, the one that that surprised me was that the crust didn’t turn out hard and crusty. Bread gets crusty when there is steam in the oven, and when we put this bread in the cold oven, we also added a large pot with water on the bottom oven shelf. I would have thought that would have yielded the hard crust I love so much, but maybe because the oven slowly raised in temperature the water too slowly evaporated.  (I was also surprised to find out that evening that my good friend Dana doesn’t like crusty bread; you think you know a person after 13 years..)

So thanks again to Michaela for inviting us into your home to bake and break bread together!

My main motivation for this week’s bread was to make a hands-down delicious sandwich. And I am happy to report that I succeeded.

I was checking out King Arthur’s website (the flour brand I normally buy) and I came across a recipe for “classic baguettes and stuffed baguettes” which was perfect because then I could make regular baguettes for sandwiches later, and stuffed baguettes for sandwiches now. It also requires a starter, which I enjoy making as well.

bubbly starter

The recipe gave me 2 long baguettes, 1 short baguette (from the leftover long baguettes, and which I will talk about later), and 2 stuffed baguettes. I made the 2 stuffed baguettes so I could have one for my lunch that day (which was Sunday) and one for a quick dinner that week. My stuffed baguette consisted of a layer of turkey, layer of cheese, and layer of pesto sauce. But based on the recipe, it sounded like you could use basically any sandwich ingredient for the “stuffed” part.

The insides

When I rolled the dough I tried very hard to keep the insides tightly packed in so they didn’t melt out while baking. It slightly melted out anyways, so make sure you follow the steps and fold and tuck as much as possible.

I literally inhaled this sandwich and was so close to starting on the second that only my dignity stopped me.

I wish I had better luck with the longer baguettes. They didn’t rise any further in the oven so I ended up with pretty flat baguettes that were difficult to make adequate sandwiches with. I’ve stopped eating blue cheese as a regular evening occurrence, so I had nothing else to do with the bread and ended up throwing most out after it went unused and got stale. However, the short baguette was a shining star, but apparently only worked out because I didn’t follow the recipe. I initially didnt realize that the long baguettes would be too long for my baking sheet, so I cut off the ends and re-kneaded to form a shorter baguette. That must have activated the gluten, because it puffed up really well during baking and ended up a perfect size. So, just note that it’s a good idea to re-knead and reshape the dough after all the rising time and before you put them in the oven to bake.

Here's to delicious weekend sandwiches!

(PS: The leftover stuffed sandwich turned out great after I reheated in the toaster oven later that week)

I’ve been feeling a little discouraged of my breading-making abilities from my last few loaves, so I decided to switch it up and try my hand at some rolls. One thing I love about rolls is the crusty surface area to inside crumb ratio.  And I wanted to keep it really simple and peasant style so this week I made French bread rolls, or Frenchy rolls as I endearingly think of them as.

The recipe is quite large and yields 12 rolls, but I’m trusting the author when she says they freeze and reheat perfectly (I currently have 4 rolls sitting in my freezer, and I will be sure to share my reheating experience when it happens).  I actually really like large recipes because when the dough rises and doubles it becomes an overwhelming amount of dough that I get to work with my hands. It is such a unique experience to knead soft, pillowly, yeasty-smelling dough (bread-nerd alert).

look at the size of that thing!

Now, many of my family and friends know how I feel about eating whole wheat bread. But white flour dough is so much easier and more fun to work with! White flour dough is fluffier than wheat flour dough so its easier to knead and shape. White flour dough also rises more, and this recipe was so big that the dough actually overran the bowl it was rising in!

It's Frankenflour!

I will warn that this recipe did take the better part of my afternoon, but I wrote down the times for each step at the beginning, so it was very manageable and didn’t feel like a lot of mental work to keep track of it all.

When you see the recipe, you’ll notice that you keep another pan in the oven to throw ice water in when start baking. This is one of the ways to create steam in the oven which results in a crustier crust (another way is misting, which I did for my last recipe).  And I just love the smell of a kitchen after fresh bread baking.

The rolls turned out pretty well. They tasted just like ones you’d buy at a bakery (which is always the goal), even if they didn’t LOOK like bakery rolls. But another warning is that they only stay fresh for about 2-3 days so I unfortunately had to throw a few out because when they get stale, they get stale quickly.  So if you are going to bake these, just keep enough out that you can eat in 2 days.

Frenchy Rolls

Heres the link to the recipe: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/french-bread-rolls.aspx

 

Week 29

08/05/2011

My director at work brought in a multi-seed bread for the office from a delightful bakery in Oak Park, and I was shocked to learn that not everyone loves seeded bread. I just so happen to think the texture and crunch of the seeds, in contract to a soft crumb, makes for one of the best breads out there. I was inspired to bake one for myself, and I found a great little recipe in the bread book I got from the Schweitzers for my birthday. What really sold me was how straightforward the recipe was with simple and minimal ingredients (and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand and didn’t need to make a special trip to the grocery store).

First, you blend the flour, seeds, and salt together

Next, you make a well and pour the water in. If you are going this route, be very conscious of your well-making skills

Now, I will confess that I made a couple of major mistakes during this baking process. My first mistake was giving myself too much credit that I would be able to fit in the whole process in the course of one day. This particular bread requires a 12-16 hour rise time, and I didn’t start until 8am that morning (that math brings us to an earliest time of 8pm). My second mistake was trying to fit it in on a Sunday evening that my friend Jose was coming over for scrabble. I should mention here that Jose brought over a bottle of port….that we easily polished off. So by the time 8pm rolled around, and we were in our 2nd scrabble game and not sure how many glasses of wine, I was supposed to be preparing my dough for the bake but by that time I had completely forgotten about multi-seed bread.

When Jose left around 9pm and I finally noticed my bowl of risen dough, I carefully weighed my options. Option A: knead, shape, let rise again, and bake for an hour on a slight buzz starting at 9pm on a Sunday; Option B: throw it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process and hope for the best when I have time to bake it. Option B it was.

Two evenings later I pulled the dough out of the fridge, let it come to room temperature, added slightly more flour and water, and kneaded like crazy. It still had a good texture so I was hopeful. The recipe called for 2 loaves with the dough, but it didn’t seem enough for 2 loaves so I ended shaping it into 1 longer one (which ended up being my third mistake).  I added some extra sunflower seeds and sesame seeds on top for ascetics and texture (use water or an egg wash for adherement). I did make sure to mist to oven right before I put it in the oven, and around 1 hour into baking. Misting is supposed to result in a crunchier crust, but I’ve learned it works much better with white breads.

"Manuel's Seed Bread"

As soon as I cut into the bread I realized why I should have split up the dough into 2 loaves; the (unblended) wheat flour bread is really dense, and as a result much chewier than it was pleasant to eat. I took out most of the middle crumb for my sandwich which helped, and the nuts were a great addition to flavor and texture. I think this recipe has a lot of potential (it has a good flavor, the recipe is not complicated, and I normally have all the ingredients on hand) so I’m going to go for a 2nd try. My lessons learned were: don’t think you are smarter than yeast because its been around for a lot longer, remember that whole wheat bread turns out really dense, and if you are going to drink while undertaking a bread-baking process at least write yourself timed reminder notes.

Alright, so I didn’t make bread this week. But I almost don’t even feel bad about it because instead I spent the Saturday afternoon with Jen Sawma and Jon Schweitzer taking a tour of the Bennison Bakery in Evanston. The bakery was celebrating International Day of Bread by opening their doors and showing bread enthusiasts their back rooms. (Actually, I question whether it was International Day of Bread because I couldn’t find news about it anywhere else. It might have been a marketing ploy. Either way, bread was celebrated).

We walked in through the side door and were encountered by hundreds of baking sheets, pans, and massive ovens. Venturing further in we got to witness the bakers at their craft, including a croissant demo. I should have taken notes, but from what I remember, he told us about how the croissants are made the day before, put in the freezer overnight, and then are taken out in the morning and baked fresh for the shelves. Each croissant has hundreds of layers of flour and butter, and Bennison sells over 150 pounds of them daily! (He was explaining all this as he rolled one about every 5 seconds).

The baguette machine is towards the back wall

Ever wonder how they get those cookies to be the same size?  Well, we saw the dough get put in a machine that looks like a smasher that cuts the dough into equal sizes. All the baker has to do then is roll them flat and throw them on a cookie sheet. But one of the most impressive things I saw was how they make baguettes. I’ve made enough to know that every time you roll one, they are of a different shape and size. Bennison has a machine that you drop the dough into and it rolls it under a mesh covering to a uniform shape and size. Then they baguettes are put in pans that are curved to keep the cylinder form. And there were certainly lots of them just waiting to be baked.

Behind us is the baguette machine and where the crossisant-making happens

As we continued to make our way around the room, we spent a bit of time in the back admiring all the buckets of ingredients, including at least 3 different kind of vanilla extract. Jon even found a huge box of sprinkles under the counter.

Just a sampling of the ingredients along the walls

Thats a mixer that means business

We then walked through another set of doors to a separate part of the bakery where a pastry chef was leading a discussion about how bread is made, and he had all the different kinds of flours laid out on the counter so we can see how different they were from each other. Now, I know this may lead some into a slumber, but Jen and I were captivated. We learned quite a few things, including the fact that we haven’t been using the right kind of flour for our baking endeavors, even while we’ve been using specialty flour! For one, the bread flour I’ve been using is apparently for bread machines (even though it doesn’t say that on the label, but the chef knew the King Arthur brand well). Secondly, while Jen uses cake flour for many things (and she is even one step above many of us for doing that) there is actually pastry flour that is better for certain food (especially pie dough and biscuits).

So here’s the low down on pastry flour vs cake flour:

  • Cake flour is bleached, but retains sugar better
  • Pastry flour is a little heavier and more nutritious

Pastry flour is difficult to find though. He told us we could get it at Whole Foods, but not to get the whole wheat kind. Well, I went to Whole Foods…and of course they only had the whole wheat kind. So, if you ever see pastry flour somewhere, be sure to let us all know where. We were both curious how differently a pie or sweet may turn out using a different flour.

After getting our questions answered (and feeling a bit deceived all this time) we stood in line for the very last part of the tour—the complimentary bread! Oh, and I might mention here that not only did we get to try 6 different kinds of breads, but there was a whole complimentary spread of cheeses, sausage, cookies, and wine for us tour-goers. We piled our little plates high and found an open table outside to enjoy.

So what bread do you absolutely have to get at Bennison? Their Sesame Semolina bread is absolutely delicious! In fact, Jen and I both bought a loaf each after trying it.  Ok, so we ended getting some more treats before we left for the day, but who wouldn’t?? The damage included: bread loafs, an almond croissant (I just had to get one after watching him make it), Italian cookies, a cupcake (vanilla with butter cream frosting that Jon ate before I even got out of line), and a red velvet and cream cheese frosted doughnut (that Jon and Jen split).  It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, and now I’m a Bennison Bakery fan on Facebook: )