Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bread update – two unqualified successes and a lesson on the importance of salt

Maybe it's because it was the only firm resolution I made this year, but I'm feeling like my bread-mastering resolution has brought me great success so far. Focusing on this one mission in the kitchen, obsessively collecting tips from others (my sister, my favourite food bloggers, Martha) and abandoning my usual never make anything twice 'cause that's boring mandate, has allowed me to really seriously improve. And it's only been three months, so I'm excited about all of the experimentation that's still to come.

Here's what has occurred since my last bread update:

  • I made Martha's Olive Oil Bread again, and it was absolutely perfect. There isn't a single thing I would have changed. Darryl and I devoured the entire gigantic, moist, fluffy, rich loaf in a day and a half.
  • I also made the Multigrain Rolls again, and with the milk temperature thermometer-tested they rose perfectly. Unfortunately I was so obsessed with getting the milk right that I didn't pay enough attention to the simple task of making sure I added all of the ingredients. I left the salt out! Oooops. But this provided proof of how important salt is to the flavour of bread – the buns were tasty, but didn't have as much pop-in-your-mouth flavour as the first, salted, batch. I'll never forget to add the salt again.
  • And, I wanted to try making a nice moist whole wheat loaf. This Oatmeal Wheat Bread from Epicurious had lots of good reviews so I decided to give it a try. It was easy and really good. Amazingly good when fresh out of the oven, with butter slathered on. It has a really nice soft crumb, a crunchy crust, and just enough sweetness. I'd definitely make it again.

I've now worked it into my routine to make bread most Sundays. It's starting to feel easy, and I think I'm beginning to have a bit of that bread intuition I've been seeking. Next on the list to try making: the ciabatta and cranberry-rye recipes from Martha Stewart, both of which come highly recommended by my sister. And this Sunday's experiment, a loaf of no-knead bread, is at this very moment cooling on the counter. If all goes well it will be paired with soppresatta, roasted zucchini slices, and Heidi Swanson's Roasted Tomato and Paprika Soup tonight for dinner.

I think what I like so much about making bread is the thrill of being able to create so many different things out of the same few basic ingredients. Who knew that flour, yeast, salt, and water can take on so many different shapes and flavours? This feeling of endless possibilities is always what inspires me in the kitchen, and I didn't realize before that it could apply as much to baking as it does to throwing together a few things for dinner.

And there's an equal thrill that comes from being able to make something that you usually rely on others (professionals!) to make. I had a shining moment earlier this week, when Darryl came home from work and glanced at the counter, where a beautiful loaf of bread I bought at the French bakery was sitting, and asked "Did you make bread?" Nope, not today, but the fact that you assume I made that beautiful thing makes me so happy!

I'll leave you with a couple of recipes: the Multigrain Rolls, as promised earlier, and the heavenly Olive Oil Bread. Hey, we could trade – if you have any favourite bread recipes you think I should tackle on an upcoming Sunday, leave me a link in the comments!

Multigrain Rolls
[Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook]

Makes 2 dozen

Combine 1/2 cup oat bran with 1/4 cup flaxseeds, cover with 1/2 cup boiling water and let sit until water is absorbed (about 5 min). Set aside to cool completely.

Heat 1 cup milk to 110 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, 1/4 cup honey, and one packet (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast. Let mixture sit for 5–10 minutes, until foamy.

Using an electric hand mixer with dough hooks on low speed, or stirring with a spoon, add 2 whole eggs, 2/3 cup large rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp salt, and the reserved flax and oat bran mixture. Stir/mix to combine. Slowly add all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. This should take somewhere between 2 and 3 cups of flour.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until springy to the touch, about 3 min. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Generously brush three 8-inch round cake pans with olive oil. Cut the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place eight balls of dough into each prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tbsp water. Brush rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with 3 tbsp mixed seeds (sesame, poppy, fennel, or...?) and 1 tbsp sea salt. Bake until dark golden brown on top, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pans to a rack to cool before unmolding.

Olive Oil Bread
[Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook]

2 cups water, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds (about 4 1/2 cups) flour, plus more for dusting
1 ounce fresh yeast (or an equivalent amount of active dry yeast)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
1 tbsp coarse salt
cornmeal, for dusting

Combine water, flour, yeast and olive oil in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Using an electric hand mixer with dough hooks on low speed, or stirring with a spoon, add the salt and mix to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still sticky, about 3 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it for 1 minute, then transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Fold in the following fashion: Fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down, and the right and left sides over, tapping the dough after each fold to release excess flour, and pressing down to seal. Flip the dough seam side down on the work surface, and cover with oiled plastic wrap; let rest for about 15 minutes.

Dust a large baking sheet with cornmeal. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. To shape the dough, cup it between your rounded palms; roll it in a circular motion, pulling down on the surface of the dough to form a tight, smooth round. (The bottom of the dough should "catch" or drag a bit on the table as you roll; this will help it take shape). Transfer the round of dough to the prepared baking sheet, and drape with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

With the blade of a sharp knife, make four slashes on top of the loaf to form a square. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and bake until the crust is dark golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birth of a New Food Word

Observation: Have you ever noticed there is often one piece of food left on the plate at the end of a meal? A German friend visiting Canada commented that in Germany there wouldn't be anything left on the plate. This is apparently a very Canadian thing. I felt this ubiquitous morsel lacked a name/word and one needed to be created.

Possible Reasons: It is either through politeness or not wanting to seem greedy that we leave this solitary piece of food.

Result: This last piece of food, which all the people at the table probably want to devour, but won't eat for the aforementioned reasons now has a word of its very own.

The Creation Process: the first idea was that this was an orphan piece of food (some thought process brought a french pronounciation to mind - orfin) which somehow led me to dauphin (the name for the french crown prince) when I mashed these two words together I got ophin. When I shared this with others I was asked it if meant "the end" in french) and the final result was: aufin.

The word is: aufin (pronounced as in french, sounds like o-phin).

Go forth, spread our new word. When you see the aufin, exclaim this word and claim the food as yours! (Remember you heard it here first, maybe one day it will make it into the Oxford English Dictionary.)

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Desserts to Die For

As I sit here in my apartment, fresh from the bath, spending a cozy Saturday evening hiding indoors from the rainy weather outside, I find myself longing for a sweet treat. But since I haven't anything sweet stashed in my cupboards, why not instead reminisce of desserts past?

I must admit that I don't have a huge sweet tooth - and truthfully, if given the choice, I'd nearly always prefer a savoury treat over a sweet one - however, there are a few sugary treats that I'd happily include on my list of “desserts to die for.” Namely, chocolate mousse, home-baked pumpkin pie, and absolutely anything containing lemon curd.

Amaretto-Spiked Dairyless Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse is something I've been largely living without for years (along with things like ice cream and creme brulee and cheesecake) due to my allergy to dairy. So, when Meg showed me this recipe from Super Natural Cooking, I was ecstatic. For all you readers who are not dairy impaired, please don't be put off. This mousse is just as good, if not better, than its cream-based counterpart. And the best part: it's so simple! Do be careful though, as it's incredibly rich and therefore best consumed in small quantities.

1/2 cup organic chocolate soy milk
9 or 10 ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips
12 ounces silken tofu
1/4 cup Amaretto or almond-flavored liquor
1/4 teaspoon natural pure almond extract

Pour the chocolate milk into a small pot and bring to a simmer. Remove the milk from heat and let cool a bit while you melt down the chocolate chips. Place the chocolate chips in a double boiler (I use a large bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water) and gently warm the chips while you stir occasionally until completely melted. Remove from heat.

Add the soy milk and silken tofu to the melted chocolate chips. Process with a hand or regular blender until completely smooth. Stir in the Amaretto and almond extract.

Chill in individual bowls for at least 1 1/2 hours (the longer the better). The pudding will set up nicely as it cools.

Makes 6 decadent servings

Vodka-Crust Pumpkin Pie

I was given this recipe from Claire for a true baking emergency, when I foolishly announced that I'd take on the task of making Thanksgiving Day Pumpkin Pies for two separate dinner parties. And this was foolish because I'd never actually baked a pie from scratch before. Ever. Thankfully, Claire came to my rescue with her tried-and-true Cook's Illustrated recipe, which featured the secret ingredient of Vodka (who would have guessed?) in the crust. And the pies were a huge hit!

Unfortunately, in my last-minute haste, I had to scribble down the ingredients and method onto some small post-it notes, which of course ended up lost in the baking aftermath. But I promise to post the actual recipe once I retrieve it again from Claire.

Meringue Nests with Lemon Curd and Fresh Raspberries

Now, this is truly a summertime dessert, but you can keep it in your arsenal until the sun comes out again.

For a couple of years, meringues were one of the top items on my list of "gotta try making this soon, because I just know it will be so tasty!" and I finally got around to doing so last summer, when my mom was in town for a visit. Unfortunately, the picture doesn't show the amazing lemon curd nestled inside that central well in the meringue, but I assure you that the curd was so perfect in this dessert.

The recipe was taken from my Good Housekeeping cookbook, which I use for almost everything. It's sort of like my go-to-cookbook, when I want to try something new and need a foolproof recipe to get me started. And it never seems to let me down.

Lemon Filling (see below)
Meringue Shells (see below)
1 cup raspberries or strawberries
mint leaves

1. Prepare lemon filling. While lemon filling is chilling, prepare meringues.
2. Spoon lemon filling into meringue shells and top with berries and mint leaves.

Lemon Filling
3 large lemons
1 tbsp cornstarch
6 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks

From lemons, grate 1 tbsp peel and squeeze 1/2 cup juice. In saucepan, whisk cornstarch and lemon peel and juice until blended. Add butter and sugar. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute.

In small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks. Into yolks, beat 1/4 cup hot lemon mixture, then pour egg mixture back into remaining lemon mixture in saucepan, beating rapidly to prevent curdling. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour into medium bowl and press plastic wrap onto surface. Refrigerate about 3 hours.

Meringue Shells
3 large egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200F. Line cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. In small bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until sugar has dissolved. Add vanilla and keep beating until egg whites stand in stiff, glossy peaks.

Spoon rounded teaspoons of meringue into small mounds on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Make well in center of each round to form nest.

Bake until meringues are firm and just begin to colour, about 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave meringues inside for 1 hour or cool completely on wire rack.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Christmas at 145 Rendall Street

Since it snowed today, that means it's still winter, right? And if it's still winter then it's not too ridiculous for me to just be posting about Christmas food now, right? I don't really know where the past two and a half months have gone, but I couldn't let this post slip by. We invented such a delicious new mash this year that it has to be shared. File it away for next year. Or make it this week to make this weird cold feel a little less wrong.

Pureed celeriac was one of those things I kept hearing about and had never tried making. I was curious. So when we brainstormed ideas for different-but-still-classic sides for our Christmas turkey, I saw an opportunity to finally get celeriac into something, namely, the mashed potatoes. We all got excited about the idea of a mixed mash, and decided to throw in this and that as we went along. It turned out fabulous. Tasting it before dinner, we typed up the recipe right away, knowing it was good enough that it had to be preserved (you'll be happy to know the recipe below has not suffered from spending over two months fading away in my head!).

Merry Mish-Mash
(When I was young, I couldn't say "Merry Christmas" properly, and well, we all knew what this mash needed to be called...)
2 lb Potatoes (baby yukon gold)
2 lb celeriac root
1 parsnip
1 apple (Gala)
1/2 cup (or more as needed) unsweetened almond milk
4 tbsp buter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop potatoes, celeriac root, and parsnip into 1/2" cubes. Boil until soft.
2. Cut apple into 1/2" chunks or slices. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan. Saute apple until very soft and beginning to caramelize.
3. Using a hand blender or potato masher, mash the cooked veggies and apple together, adding milk and butter until creamy and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In the spirit of happy winter memories, I'll leave you with a few photos from our Christmas breakfast. Christmas morning is one thing we never mess with. Each year, my sister makes Panettone from scratch, with organic orange and lemon peel from the Italian Bakery. All you really need to be perfectly happy is this hot out of the oven with butter. So we keep it simple, usually just eggs and oranges on the side. In recent years we've added soy lattes and mimosas. Pure heaven.

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