Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bread update: one year in and on a roll, no stopping now

I shouldn't have waited so long between bread updates, 'cause now I have way too much to say. At the end of my last bread update, I talked about moving on to a new food resolution for 2010. Well, that didn't happen. I can't abandon my bread mission. I get so excited about trying new flavours and techniques, it seems like I'll never get bored and never really be done. The challenge of bread making – infinite and so enjoyable. Here are the highlights of the past two months.

Granny Barb continued her role as my kitchen angel and gave me two books for Christmas that have become indispensable – Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, the series by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois that I mentioned in my last post about bread. At that point I had just started experimenting with their technique (moisture-heavy no-knead dough stored in the fridge for 1–2 weeks and shaped and baked as needed) via a recipe on their website. Now, I'm trying a new recipe every week and am thrilled with all of them. The technique is simple and not time consuming at all – very easy to fit into my normal routines. And these two books are full of variations, ranging from classic French and German breads to more experimental breads using vegetables and alternative grains. I tried to go through and mark all of the recipes I was most eager to make but found myself with an unnavigable forest of sticky notes. Hence my inability to stop putting all my kitchen excitement toward making bread.

Here, a few of my early favourites:

Spinach Feta Bread – a braided loaf I made for a potluck at Flora's. It was perfect for sharing, ripping off chewy chunks, and so tasty with tapenade. One of the things I love about Hertzberg and Francois' method of bread making is that keeping four loaves worth of dough in the fridge and baking them throughout the week allows me to experiment with different shapes with the dough being a constant. I tried a couple of boules with this spinach and feta dough, and then decided to see what it was like braided. I followed the instructions for braiding from another recipe in the book (start at the middle and braid one end, then the other) and it was easy and suited this dough well. Beautiful, right? Look at that crispy golden crust...

Epi – Another shape that was new to me, and thrilling to be able to produce.

I made this one with the whole wheat master recipe. It was flavourful, with a nice crust, and went perfectly with smoked salmon and goat cheese spread (I subbed goat cheese for cream cheese in that recipe, and added capers, and it was delicious) for a wine and snacks night at Claire's. The funnest part was using scissors to make the wheat stalk shape.

If you want to get in on the fun, there's a good step-by-step for how to form epi on the Artisan Bread in Five website. Hmm, now that I look at their beautiful loaves, mine don't look quite so perfect. But, that was before I got a baking stone....

Now I'm making beautiful crusty loaves that rise nicely in the oven and never burn on the bottom. Thank you $6.99 marble tile from Home Depot! I remembered reading Julia Child's account of her search for inexpensive tiles at the average American Hardware store that could function perfectly well as baking stones in My Life in France (loved that book by the way) and Michelle and I set out on a biking adventure one January Saturday and came home with a tile in each pannier. Then, Darryl surprised me with a pizza peel as an early Valentine's present, so now I also have the means to get the bread from counter to hot stone and am totally set up.

The loaf above is Roasted Garlic Bread, with flaxseeds and spelt flour. So good. This one was really moist, rich with garlic, and perfectly textured with a nice hole structure. Toasted, with soft goat cheese spread on, this gave me a week of bread-filled happiness.

Today my happy bread moments have come from the Ten-Grain Bread pictured below and at the top of this post. Made with a mixture of whole wheat flour, white flour, and Bob's Red Mill ten-grain hot cereal, this is the perfect multi-grain loaf. Deep deep flavour, crunchy crust coated in fennel, caraway, and poppy seeds, and a chewy, moist crumb – yum. This reminds me of the multi-grain loaves I grew up on from the Italian Bakery in Victoria, which formed my standard for crave-worthy bread.

And finally, this last one is jumping back to the pre-stone days, but I wanted to share these pretty pizza pics. One of the first recipes I tried from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day was 100% Whole Wheat Olive Oil Pizza Dough, which the authors said made a great pizza. They were right. I wasn't totally crazy about this dough for basic loaves – I didn't enjoy the richness of the olive oil as much with the whole wheat as I do with white flour (this is essentially a whole wheat version of Martha's olive oil bread I love so much – recipe here) – but for pizza it was perfect. I can't wait to make this again with the stone, for a crispier, airier crust. I'd repeat these toppings again too: pesto, ribbons of zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes, and dollops of soft goat cheese. So colourful and fresh.

So, not that I won't also try to bring new concentration to other things that come out of my kitchen, like the pasta and sauces I was considering as themes for this year's cooking resolution, but I've happily given myself permission to keep eagerly learning about bread.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Fantastic Fennel Flavour!

(Using dark wildflower honey, left-brittle not yet changed colour, right-fully changed)

I had a craving for fennel brittle late last night and wanted to share it with you. I love combination of the fennel flavour and the sweet clear sugar.

You can add any seeds or nuts you would like - the first time I made this I added hazelnuts (2/3 c chopped) but I didn't enjoy the texture so I leave them out.This is great for a snack or a party, it's quick (~15min +cooling time) and delicious. Let us know if you have any favourite flavours. Enjoy!

1 c granulated sugar
1/4c water
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp fennel seeds

Key Items: tray lined with parchment paper, candy thermometer
Warning: don't walk away from the pan, it can burn easily.

  1. In a heavy-bottom pan, stir sugar, water, honey & salt over low heat until dissolved
  2. When dissolved, increase heat to medium
  3. Let it boil and bubble until it changes colour to a light amber* (4-5min) - this is removing the excess water. Do not stir. Occaisionally (& carefully) swirl pan to prevent dark spots**
  4. Pour on to parchment, tilt sheet to spread out more thinly
  5. Sprinkle with fennel seeds (Nuts, seeds or other flavour can be added too)
  6. Let cool completely (you can speed this up by placing the tray in the freezer)
  7. When cooled, break into small pieces.

*Light amber if using a yellow honey. It's harder to detect the change when using the darker colours of honey, so watch carefully. You can also use the cold water test.

**In order to get the hard crack in the brittle, you must reach 300F - check this with your candy thermometer. If you find after cooling the brittle is bendy, you didn't reach 300F when you boiled it. The good news is that you can remelt and reboil it.

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