Tag Archives: Bread

It remains a mystery to me

I still haven’t told you about the bread making class.

When I finally signed up, the most frequent question I got centered around sourdough bread. How was it made? Was I going to get to? How do you start starter?

The answers:

  1. With starter

  2. I [had] no idea. But I hoped so.

  3. I still have no idea. But, thanks to a great instructor, I now have my own.

About that third point: it’s entirely possible to make sourdough starter yourself, and in fact, Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen goes into the specific details and how to’s.

It’s a multi-day process.

Twenty-one, to be exact.

There’s something amazing about it. The two most basic things, flour and water, when combined right and left to their own devices become the building block for bread. Impressive, I’d say.

But, twenty-one days? I’ve done so pretty absurd things in the kitchen, and I’m not sure that I could keep it up. So, feeding the starter that I was given has become all the more important. And, because I’m neurotic (at least I admit it, right?), there’s all sorts of pressure. What if I kill it? Or, don’t do it right and am condemned to loaf after loaf of bad sourdough now that I’m not making them under the guidance of an expert. Should I gift it to my friends when I’m not sure that I can keep it alive myself? These are serious issues.

And, the starter itself? I’m beginning to think that it’s a bit like having a goldfish. It requires just enough effort to make you feel as if you’re doing something. But, just that much. Until you go on vacation, in which case, it’s entirely possible that by the time you get home, it’ll be dead. I’m really making this process sound enjoyable, I know.

In terms of the process, I’m not quite there, yet. To date, my loaves have been a little flat. I’ve been rushing it, when really the thing to do it take a step back and let the muscle memory develop. So, this may become one of those on going projects, much like the Year of the French Macaron, which I’ve taken a break from but plan on resuming. Expect reports on both counts.

For now, I’m including the method for sourdough below. If you ask really nicely, I’ll give you some of my starter, assuming that I haven’t killed it, yet.

Sourdough Bread
Technique (and, in my case, starter) courtesy of Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

To create leaven:
12 grams sourdough starter*
68 grams filtered water
134 grams flour (this can be a mix of whole wheat and all purpose)

Mix all of the ingredients until well combined and allow to sit 8-12 hours at room temperature. When your leaven is ready to use, it will float in warm water.

To make the bread:

200 grams leaven
700 grams water, plus an additional 50 grams, set aside
200 grams salt (dissolved in the 50 grams water that you’ve set aside)
1000 grams flour (at least 200 grams of this should be whole wheat)

Combine 700 grams of water and the leaven. Mix to combine, kneading to get out any dry bits. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for 30 minutes. It should be shaggy.

Once the dough has rested, add the salted water to it and mix. Begin turning the dough (this is a more passive method of kneading). Let the dough sit at room temperature and turn it every half hour for 2-3 hours. It should double in size. Cut it in half when it’s ready.

Flour and flip each of the halves and shape it. Allow the dough to rest for another half hour, covered with a towel. During this time, the dough will flatten out slightly.

When the dough is almost ready to bake, stretch and fold it and place it in a flour lined bowl to proof. Proof for two hours. In the last hour, begin preheating your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. You should place a lidded cast iron pot in the oven as it is preheating.

Bake the bread in the lidded cast iron post at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown. The internal temperature of it should be 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Makes 2 loaves

*Note that if you are not ready to use the starter, you should feed it, by discarding half and combining a half cup of water with a full cup of flour. Mix everything together well.


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So, that happened

Right. So, this week.

I think it’s safe to say it was in danger of ending almost as inauspiciously as it as it began which is to say, sucking greatly.

I got to work early on Friday, hoping to tacking some of my looming deadlines and, once again, prepared for battle with yet another bank. Instead: coffee all over my desk, including my phone. And, I was due to head to Philadelphia for the night (more on that later) in just under 8 hours. Which meant going straight to the closest Verizon store to replace said phone. Except that on Friday, the Verizon wasn’t open until 11:11 because of some ridiculous Droid promotion. Actually, none of them were, a fact which I discovered only after taking a cab to a second location.

And, so, walking down 6th Avenue, back to my office where I was going to have to tell my boss that I needed to leave again, I had finally had enough. The frustrations of fighting to get credit cards replaced and being locked out of an account when the cards finally came, all thanks to a miscommunication from the bank, of dealing with the D.A., of not having identification to carry around with me, of the constant and very real concern that the next thing to be stolen could very well be my identity—the exhaustion of it all—it had all gotten to me.

That’s the thing. When your defenses are down, each little obstacle seems completely insurmountable.

One thing was clear: I needed a good friend.

Thankfully, I was on my way to Philadelphia to visit my friend Peggy. I’ve mentioned her here before. If there was anyone who could understand my complete frustration, Peggy was it. The story of how her brand new computer got stolen out of her own apartment is legendary at this point—because it was a horrible thing to go through, yes, but really because Peggy has a way of making the whole thing completely hilarious.

On my bus ride down to visit her, I was channeling her sensibilities, and reformulating the morning, thinking about how it would retell it. And, in fact, it was all pretty amusing in that comedy of errors sort of way. I still had my health, my job, and in a few short weeks, I’d have the contents of my wallet fully replaced. This was all survivable, even if it was unpleasant.

And, by the time I arrived at 30th Street, the morning was a distant memory. There’s nothing quite like seeing an old friend after too long, especially one who greets you with a home cooked meal and some hot toddies to celebrate fall.

The next morning, when, immediately after waking up, Peggy started pouring through cookbooks to find the perfect recipe for biscuits to accompany the spoils she brought home from the farm stand where she worked, I knew things would be fine. It was a relaxed day, cooking and talking and lots and lots of walking.

By the time I got on my bus to head home—with a bag of snacks, including those very biscuits—I was tuckered out in the best possible of ways, and ready to tackle the week.

Often recipes enter my repertoire because of the stories behind them. I daresay that, after baking this particular biscuit with Peggy, I no longer need to try out other versions.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted, just slightly from In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters

2 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
10 TBS butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
2 cups cold buttermilk
1 TBS plus 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 TBS kosher salt

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl and blend. Add the butter and lightly rub it and the flour mixture together until about half of the butter is well incorporated and the other half remains in large pieces about 1/2 inch in diameter.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Give it a quick stir, just until the buttermilk is combined and the dough forms a mass. It should be soft and sticky and all of the flour should be combined. If necessary, add more buttermilk.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead about 8 times, until everything is well combined. Then, flatten the dough and roll it out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Pierce the dough with a floured fork.

Lightly flour a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter (a floured pint glass will work, too), and begin cutting the biscuits. You should try to cut them as closely together as possible for maximum yield. Place the biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet. You should bake the scraps, too.

Bake the biscuits on the top rack of your oven for 8-12 minutes until they are crusty and golden brown.

Serve the biscuits hot. If necessary, you can warm them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven prior to serving.

Makes approximately 15 biscuits

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What I did on my [Indian Summer] Vacation

A while back, I mentioned that I was taking a 3-day long bread making class.

Naturally, when I went, it didn’t occur to me to bring my camera. I’m not sure that it would have mattered anyway, as I was too busy learning to knead, and shape, and create sponges, sourdough starter, and biga and, well, you get the idea.

Last night, a few of my friends came over, for conversation and wine and lots and lots of bread. This is why I do such things. To learn, yes, and to perfect my techniques, of course. But, mostly to share my table and my home. I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ll be doling out the remainder of the bread though out the week’s end, and, come next week, testing out my sourdough starter.

For now, I’m hanging on to that last bit of relaxation, before I head back to work come morning. And, sharing some links.

First, details for the aforementioned class can be found here. Do a little digging through the site; there are great offerings. I’m plotting what I’ll take next, in fact.


And, a completely unrelated call to action: If you’re in New York, get to MoMA immediately (or, at the very least, before November 7). Do not pass go. Do not Collect $200.

It’s your last chance to see Talk To Me, which, aside from being utterly fascinating, is interactive. And, has robots. Robots!.

Need I say more?

The Met’s current exhibitions are fairly interesting, too. But you’re not under the same time constraint.

Clearly, I packed a lot into my 3-day staycation.


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Getting Right to the Point

Last week, my friend Peggy and I were talking about blogging—the reasons we do it, the challenges it poses, sometimes (often in my case), in the form of keeping up.

Naturally, what follows will be an excuse. A reason why not, I suppose.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

And, so: I’m trying to keep up, really, I am. Thankfully these days, the cooking and baking isn’t the problem. It’s the posting—I mean, how many posts that start with and apology and a statement of how busy it’s been will you read before you stop following me?

That question, by the way, is not strictly rhetorical.

Seriously, how many will more free passes do I get? I’ve got a few good recipes still in need of introductions.

And, I’m done. I’m going to take to heart something that Peggy said; instead of qualifying our actions, we should simply do. The best results come from action rather than explanation. What’s important here is the process.

So, with Peggy’s admonitions in mind, I’ll leave you with this recipe for bread, and a promise to post more soon. And, likewise, in the spirit of doing, did I mention that I’m taking three days off of work to take a bread making class? Well, I am, and I couldn’t be more excited.

I think that my baking has officially transcended the label of “hobby”.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan by way of Katy Elliot and Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Before you get started: I didn’t line my baking pans with parchment, thinking that buttering would be enough. Had I not stretched my dough thin to get two smaller loaves, that would have been fine. But, I did, so some of the filling leaked out, causing the bread to stick. Next time I make this, I plan on lining my pans with greased parchment paper and suggest that you do to the same.

For The Bread:
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 ¼ cups just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of grated nutmeg
4 cups all-purpose flour

For The Swirl:
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grounded cinnamon
2 TBS water

Make sure that the milk is at room temperature, and add it to the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkling the yeast over it. Add the flour, butter, sugar, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt. Using a dough hook, mix on the lowest speed until all of the ingredients have combined. Once that has happened, add the raisins into the mixture. Increase the speed to medium low, mixing the dough until it is uniformly smooth and it pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. This will take about 3 more minutes.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled blow, and cover it with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down and then allow it to rise again until it has doubled in size, approximately 40 minutes to an hour.

Scrape the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and divide it into two even pieces. Wrap them and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes or firm enough to be rolled easily.

While the dough is resting, butter two 9-x-5-inch loaf pans and make the filling by whisking together the cinnamon, sugar, and water so that it forms a paste. Set aside until you are ready to roll the dough..

Put once piece of the the dough on a large work surface lightly dusted with flour, and roll the dough into a rectangle that is slightly shorter than the length of your baking pan. Sprinkle half of your filling on top of the dough. With the short end of the dough rectangle facing you, fold in both long sides of the dough, about an inch. This will form a wall to hold in your filling. Once this step is completed, roll the filled dough toward you, gently pressing as you go, to form a tight log. Then roll it back and forth to seal the seam. Place the loaf in your pan, seam side down.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

Cover the pans loosely with the wax paper and set in a warm place; let the dough rise until it comes just a little above the edge of the pan, about 30-45 minutes.

As the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the loafs have risen, bake them for 45 minutes, rotating halfway through. You want the tops to be golden brown, so if they are browning too fast, tent the tops with aluminum foil.

Cool to room temperature before serving.

Makes two loaves


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The Post with the Confession

If ever there was a case for seasonal eating, this concord grape focaccia is it.

And, now, the confession alluded to in the title of this post:

I’m all about seasonal eating—I’m one of those people you hear waxing rhapsodic about things like the first peaches of the summer, makes multiple trips to the greenmarket to get as many sour cherries as possible, and who hunts down ramps (it counts if it’s in a restaurant, right?). I’ve been known to send alerts about the first appearance of cider donuts in the Union Square Greenmarket to a dear friend of mine who is obsessed (and, yes, I’m counting that as seasonal).

Except when I’m not.

This is all a long way of getting at this: last year, I totally dropped the ball.

Although I saw this recipe for concord grape focaccia on Smitten Kitchen in early September and put it to the top of my top “to cook” pile, I let it languish, assuming that I had more time. And, that it couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations at any rate.

Right. About that—it was even better than I had expected.

And, it’s grape season now. Which means, your Saturday plans should involve a trip to your local market. You could make this focaccia with grapes other than the concord variety, but really, why would you? The concord grapes work perfectly. Their intense sweetness makes them the perfect foil for saltiness of the bread. They’ve got just enough acid to compliment the bread base. Before you know it, you’ll have finished an entire focaccia loaf. And, thinking about hiding the second one from your brunch guests.

Do yourself a favor: buy an extra pint of concord grapes while you can. You’re going to want to freeze them, so you can make this long after the season has ended.

And, you might want to infuse some in vodka, too. Watch this space for some instructions.

Concord Grape Focaccia
Recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons milk, slightly warmed
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups halved Concord grapes (you can use red grapes here, too)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Deremera sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt

In the bowl of on electric mixer, combine water, milk, granulated sugar, and yeast and allow the mixture to sit until it is foamy. This should take approximately ten minutes.

Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and mix well, using a paddle attachment, on low. Once the mixture has been combined, replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook and knead the dough on medium-low for another 8 minutes.

Once the dough is well combined, scrape the dough into into a ball and place it in a well oiled bowl. The brush the top with additional oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in a cool place, letting it rise until it doubles in size. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

One the dough has risen, press the dough down with a floured hand. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it into two balls. Brush a large parchment lined baking sheet with olive oil. Place the dough balls on to the baking sheet and brush the tops with more oil. Set it aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel. After 20 minutes, dip your fingers in olive oil and press and stretch each ball of dough into a 8 to 9-inch circle-ish shape. The dough should be dimpled from your fingers. Cover again it again with the towel and let it rise for another 1 1/4 hours in a cool place.

While the dough is rising again, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Using the remaining olive oil, brush the dop of the dough. Top it with the grapes, rosemary, coarse sugar and coarse sea salt, spreading it all into an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Cool before serving.

Makes two 8-9″ focaccia loaves

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On Gracious Hosting

I think that I might have gotten a little carried away.

No small feat for me.

It started with a simple bread product.

It usually does.

This time the culprit was English Muffins. It was simply a case of wanting to see if I could—I won’t keep you in suspense—The answer is sort of, and the equivocation is mostly the result of my inability to take the extra minute to measure things properly, which is, well, sort of problematic when it comes to baking. Now you know.

Where was I?

Right, the challenge of English Muffins.

Add to this an end of summer trip to the Union Square farmers market where there were stalls and stalls of fresh, ripe tomatoes.

Naturally, I did what any reasonable person would do: At my most recent brunch I set up a BLT bar. With a toaster set up in my living room.

My sister, to her credit, thought that I was a little misguided in this one. She tried to reason with me—I might damage the finish on my occasional tables. To digress for a minute, I do, indeed, have occasional tables. Lucite ones. This sounds tacky. Of course, I love them all the more for it.

She pointed out there might be crumbs. I nodded. Then, I did it anyway. And, insisted that my brunch guests all learn how to split an English Muffin properly. When one revealed he had never heard of the fork split, I made him take another to practice. Someone else started to use the peach butter next to the basked of English Muffins. I thought about stopping him to point out that I had all of the accouterments to make a BLT. I did stop myself—forced to admit that the peach butter, which I made from farmer’s market peaches, was also a valid option.

I’m a really, really gracious host. And, definitely a relaxed one.

In my defense, I had a very specific vision of what this component of the brunch should—hot and toasty bread, filled with all sorts of nooks, topped with late August farm fresh tomatoes and bacon. I find with the right ingredients, my guests will forgive just about anything. It helps that these English Muffins are particularly toothsome.

Of course, by this logic, if I’m able to tackle croissants with the same success, I should be able to yell at my guests when they sit down to eat. I’m sure you’re hoping to be invited to that meal.

English Muffins
Recipe courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

2 TBS butter
1 TBS sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsps active dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsps kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
cornmeal for dusting

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the milk, stir it and remove it from the heat. Stir in the yeast and the egg. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Add the milk/butter mixture and stir until it has been incorporated well into the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 1/2 hours, or refrigerate overnight, removing from the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking.

When you are ready to cook the English Muffins, heat a griddle or nonstick pan over medium heat. At the same time, heat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir the dissolved baking powder into the batter. Dust the griddle or skillet with corn meal. Scoop-pour about 1/4-cup portions onto the griddle. Cook for about seven minutes. Flip them and continue cooking till done, 7 to 10 more minutes. If you are worried about the inside being undercooked, or simply want to keep the muffins warm while the second batch cooks, place the muffins into the oven at a very low heat.

When you are ready to eat the English Muffins, split them with a fork and toast them.

Serve with—ahem—bacon, lettuce and tomato. Or, peach butter, or regular butter, or whatever your heart desires. I won’t judge.

Fork split and serve.

Makes 8-10 English Muffins

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On being resourceful

So, about a year ago this happened. If I’m being completely honest, it was hard—harder than I would have liked. Of course, that’s not surprising in retrospect given how tumultuous the years before had been. Such is life.

The weekend after, Ben and Mike, two of my dearest friends, were in town. Men who, as it turns out, have a knack being in exactly the right place when I need them, despite the Continents between us.

When I think back to then, I remember being in all sorts of pain—from the cliche of heartbreak, yes, but mostly from traipsing across the city with what turned out to be a stress fracture in my leg. And there was a lot of traipsing. In fact, I recall attempting to under play the pain I was in, if only because I was having such a wonderful time. If I had been up to skipping, I would have. Instead I limped from the East Village all the way to the High Line, taking everything in, and feeling like a tourist in my own city.

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to make you see what’s right in front of you.

At some point during the weekend, my friend Jared pointed out that, had the aforementioned heartbreak not happened, I probably wouldn’t have spent nearly as much time with Ben and Mike.

I had to admit he was right.

And, I had to acknowledge that many of the wrong things had been occupying my time. It was the start of a humbling and slow process.

There are multiple ways to look at anything.

2009 could be the year my family waited, or it could be the year my father received a new heart. It’s the same thing. Sort of. Just recentered a bit.

By that same token, I could have focused on what I thought I had lost, and certainly, for a while, I did. It’s natural. But, ultimately, it’s unimportant. Had things not happened the way they did, then so much else wouldn’t have followed, from finally getting to visit Ben and Mike in their adopted home, to a new job, to some of the quiet moments that have sustained me.

What it comes down to is taking a second look at the immediate, and thinking about it in a different way. Making the best of things, if you will.

I hesitated in sharing this recipe, as it seems so obvious, but I think that it’s informed by the same spirit. With some oil and just a bit of seasoning and time, stale bread gets a second life, and in this way, nothing goes to waste.

I do this sort of thing all of the time.


2 cups bread, cubed
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
2 TBS olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the diced bread in a large sealable bag, along with the garlic powder, salt and olive oil. Seal and shake well, until the bread is well coated.

Spread out the bread on a cookie tray so that takes up one layer. Cook for 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, turning halfway through, until the bread is golden brown.

Makes two cups


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