Category Archives: bread

Gluten-free bread, Experiment 1

It looks edible, at least.  This is my first attempt at gluten-free bread, and the crumb has worked out pretty well. It’s light, airy, and not what I expected, texture-wise, for gluten-free bread.  The taste? Well… These rolls ended up with an incredibly bitter aftertaste.  We’ll just call this experiment #1 and leave it at that.

I did learn a few interesting things along the way, however, which I thought might be worth sharing.

Lesson #0: Gluten Free Girl’s gum-free version of gluten-free bread is an excellent recipe to start with. 

Some of the ingredients aren’t readily available here in Australia, so I am on my own in terms of the final combination of flours, etc, I use. I’m also hoping to make a vegan version of this bread. I have relied on the weight ratios, etc, she uses in this recipe as a starting point.  At least as far as texture goes, I’m on the right track.

Lesson #1: It is possible to make gluten-free bread without weird ingredients.

Yes, “weird” may be a fairly subjective term in this case, but I tend to think that chia seeds are pretty easy to get. I used freshly ground chia seeds in this experiment; when you mix them with boiling water and let the mix cool, you get a stretchy, almost putty-like paste. The chia seed “slurry,” as Gluten Free Girl (a.k.a. Shauna) calls it, looks like this:

You can apparently use flax/linseed or psyllium husk in place of the chia seeds, both of which I intend to try. These ingredients work because they are all pretty high in dietary fiber, some portion of which forms long chains of sugars that can be used to stabilize foams. Bread, as it turns out, is essentially a set foam, so anything that helps foams set properly could work in gluten-free bread.

Lesson #2: Gluten-free dough is really wet. 

It does not feel like normal dough. There is no window-pane test, you will not create a nice, taut ball of dough, and you should add as little flour as possible. In fact, I followed my usual rule for scones and avoided working this dough more than I had to. I think it paid off in the end, as the bread ended up fairly light considering the ingredients I used.

Lesson #3: This bread looks funny when it rises.

Yes, that’s two hours after the dough was mixed. It did rise a bit, but not a lot, and definitely looked nothing like normal bread dough.  I was able to shape it easily enough, at least.

Lesson #4: Too much buckwheat does not a tasty bread make, perhaps? Or I need to be more careful about where I get my flour.

I stuck to the same flour:starch weight ratios defined by Gluten Free Girl (weight ratios really are the key to making a good loaf of bread in any situation), but I changed the flours (to millet, buckwheat) and the starches (to potato, tapioca). I definitely used a lot more buckwheat than most recipes I’ve found.  At first, I thought this might have been it, but then I remembered the last buckwheat noodles I cooked. They didn’t taste bitter at all, and they were all buckwheat. Perhaps my millet flour was bad? If so, well… Bad news for the co-op, because that’s where I got it.  I’ll have to do a taste test and see what I find.  As for the next experiment, I’ll try a different set and proportion of flours, but stick to a similar technique. I think I will also add some olive oil next time, just to make it taste a bit richer.

The verdict?

I’ll spare you the recipe. This one simply isn’t ready for release yet.

Forgive the photos. Our apartment is dark, and as is typical for Sydney, the only place I could store a light-box for photos is in the bathroom.

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, buckwheat, gluten-free

Semolina sandwich loaf

Sandwich bread is for toasting. There is no other reason to sell bread in perfectly uniform slices, other than to achieve the ideal crunch to butter ratio.  It’s the perfect fast food: pop it in the toaster, slather with a pat of golden goodness, and go.

Toast is why you need to make this loaf.  If you have ever been on a quest for the perfect toasting bread, this is it.  It features semolina flour (the finely milled stuff, which we buy in bulk at a local Indian market which we will soon be able to buy from Food Connect), which makes for a soft crumb, kind of like those old-fashioned wheat breads you find at the grocery store.  The crust is smooth and golden-brown.  When toasted, a thin outer layer of this bread gets all firm and crispy. The center? It’s nice, warm, soft, and slightly sweet. Not too much — you can still dunk this in soup — but enough to remind me of cornbread baking in the oven, summer on the horizon, and better times ahead.

It is, at the very least, a nice antidote to the endless snow.

Recipe after the jump.

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Paris

Striking.

Striking.

After a first-class train ride from Brussels (cheaper than the regular tickets — go internet specials), I couldn’t wait to get out of our cheap and somewhat charming hotel and show James a little bit of Paris. So we hopped on the metro, and went out into the night. Straight towards the most touristy spot in the city.

Light show.

Light show.

It is bloody difficult to get a decent, non-blurry picture of the Eiffel Tower at night. So we took about a thousand of them, from all angles, near and far (there are a few more here if you’re curious). And we saw the light show — a first for us both. I can imagine getting sick of it if I lived there, but for us, the Tower was best at night, awash in blue to soften its somewhat industrial visage. The bolts sort of melt into the background, and the structure as a whole transforms into something a bit more seductive than its daytime counterpart. It was, I think, and appropriate (if somewhat cliche) way to start our quick trip into Paris.

Louvre

Louvre. I have no idea what's sitting by the fountain in this shot!

The next day, we took care of another first for us both, and headed to the Louvre. To see the Mona Lisa, of course.  James is not so much an art lover, but for some reason, the Mona Lisa was on his list, so off we went. The trip was worth it, but more for the building itself. Most museums have stark and somewhat cold interiors, to avoid competing with the art therein. The interior of the Louvre, however, is a mix of classic museum and royal grandeur. You can get lost in there for days on end, which for some odd reason reminds me of reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and imagining what it would be like to be in a Parisian counterpart of Claudia’s shoes. Luckily, we found an exit, vowing to return some day and do the museum properly, and went off in search of bread and cheese.

Oh, Poilane. You spoil me so.

Oh, Poilane. You spoil me so.

Unfortunately, it was a Monday. Nothing was open — we missed Barthelemy, and settled for supermarket cheese this time around. Luckily, it’s a little easier to find good cheese in a supermarket in Paris than it is, say, in New Haven, unless you know where you’re looking. But bread-wise, we did pretty well. We found Poilane, and discovered that they sold their massive, classic Pain Poilane in chunks, by weight. At this point, I got really, stupidly excited. So we bought a quarter, and left, giddy and ridiculous, to find a park for lunch.  Let me just say that we have had a lot of good bread in our time, and this one pretty much topped them all. Hearty, moist, springy, tasty … Oh, I think I’ll be baking one of those soon. Maybe after the 100th loaf, I’ll get something close… Incentives are good, no?

Flowers in a public garden.

Flowers in a public garden.

I’m not going to give you a whole recap of our trip, because you can find gorgeous things to do in Paris, no matter who you are and what you enjoy. There are always pretty little gardens filled with flowers to stroll through somewhere, and plenty of people out actually enjoying life, rather than hunching over in little cubicles, exchanging life for paycheck without much of a thought. And — oh, Notre Dame, the Sacre Coeur, Montremarte, the Seine, a zillion gorgeous museums, and everything else you could possibly want. But I digress. I really just want to say this: if you can only eat one thing in Paris, you have to try the camembert made with unpasteurized milk.

Perfect meal, even without plates.

Perfect meal, even without plates.

We did on our second day in Paris, and we spent the rest of our trip talking about how good it was. It’s rich and multi-dimensional, in a way the pasteurized camembert we get here never seems to be. All you need to make a perfect meal out of it is a good baguette, some farmer’s market fruit and veg, and maybe a few extras for variety. For the dinner pictured above, we ended up going to a street market (no picture — sorry), to pick out a bunch of tomatoes and fruits (best. strawberries. ever.), and then headed over to the food hall in Les Galeries Lafayette for the cheese, meat, and olives (and bread from Eric Kayser for breakfast … mmmm).  Simple meals are gorgeous when the quality is good, and that’s one thing you can always find in Paris, without even trying very hard. In fact, I think I enjoyed this more than the proper two-course lunch we had at Le Petit Bofinger (smaller and cheaper than the more famous Bofinger across the street) on day three.

Choucroute with three types of fish

Choucroute with three types of fish

Don’t get me wrong — that was pretty awesome, too. I had a foie gras with apricot chutney to start, which they served with hot, toasty bread. I think I prefer paté to a whole lobe of foie gras — it was so rich — but I think that has more to do with what I grew up eating (as a special treat) than anything else. That and the foie gras was served a bit cold, which muted the flavor a bit. (Is that normal?)  The main entree was the choucroute dish pictured above, and while I wasn’t entirely sure what I was ordering (it’s more fun that way), I was pretty pleased. It was a LOT of sauerkraut, but it worked with the fish and the creamy sauce, and paired nicely with the house wine that came with the meal.  James had a chicken dish with some sort of luscious brown sauce and the best mashed potatoes ever (according to him), followed by a salad with brie for dessert. Yes, dessert. Delicious.

Paris from the Sacre Coeur

Paris from the Sacre Coeur. It was a little gloomy that day.

So there it is. A bit of our trip to Paris, mostly in food. All I can say is go if you can, and walk everywhere. Find the tiny fromageries and check out the lines at the local bakeries before dinner time. Have a coffee somewhere off the main roads and peoplewatch.  Taste the juicy strawberries from a street farmer’s market you stumble upon along your way. And don’t rely too much on lists of where you must go in Paris. Sure, visit Poilane, or pick a few of your favorite must-see destinations. But don’t head off with a huge list of things to accomplish. Because you’ll never get to them all, and in rushing from place to place, you’ll miss the best parts of Paris.

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Filed under bread, stories, travel

Baguettes with a twist

Dough
It’s been a while since I wrote about bread on this blog. There was a vacation, failed (though promising) recipe or two, and the typical excuses of a busy life. Our staple’s just to easy to fall back on. But you knew it couldn’t last, right?

Shaped baguettes

These loaves were, oddly enough, inspired by a recent trip to the freezer. Things have been getting a bit spare in there, since we started eating from the garden, so, as you might expect, weird things are suddenly emerging from its depths. No, I’m not talking about decade-old steaks or anything quite so petrified. I’m talking about flour.

Pre-rise

A rye blend and buckwheat flour, to be precise — both begging to be used. Now, you’re probably wondering what rye and buckwheat have to do with the lovely looking baguette pictures I’m posting here. Unless, of course, you’ve taken a tour through Paris with Daniel Leader, and found Eric Kayser’s buckwheat batard recipe in among the typical Parisian fare.

Buckwheat levain

You’ll need a sourdough starter, which is where the rye blend comes in, and plenty of buckwheat for this recipe. You also need to let go of the idea that this bread will behave. Buckwheat, as it so happens, is not your normal flour. It’s the seed of a plant that happens to be related to rhubarb and sorrel, and doesn’t actually have much gluten to speak of. It will take high gluten flour, a nice, active sourdough starter, and some patience to make this recipe work.

Buckwheat baguettes

Now that I’ve scared you off, I’ll tell you that it’s worth every bit of trouble. The 10-day sourdough process, the long kneading times, and the expensive high gluten flour (which we get directly from King Arthur), are all forgiven once you taste these loaves. The buckwheat? It comes through in its characteristically nutty, smooth way. The flavor is distinctive and fascinating somehow. It’s certainly not your everyday baguette. And the crumb? Well, decide for yourself.

Crumb

I think it turned out pretty damn well for a first go, don’t you?

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Camping up the coast

Big Sur

Highway 1 unwinds slowly, precariously, across the state I once called home, inviting only the most daring (or deranged) into the rocky waters of its Northern shores. It’s been decades since I’ve been along this coast, and the first time I’m the one behind the wheel, and oh, it’s so much scarier when you’re the one in charge of navigating its mountainous terrain. But it was good to be home.

Yes, I climbed half dome, cables and all.

I had forgotten how raw the coast of Northern California looks in comparison to Connecticut’s gentle shores. Traversing the whole state is like going through a series of different worlds, as elevation, natural resources, latitude, and human interference transforms the land completely within the span of a few miles. If you’ve never seen it, book a ticket and go. Rent a car and take Highway 1, as long as you’re South of San Francisco. Above SF, you’re in for a bout of car sickness that never ends, as the roads get ever more precarious as you approach its intersection with 101. At the very least, plan to camp along the route; making it to Prairie Creek State Park near Orick from Fresno via SFO in one day was utter madness. Somewhere in there, go inland and check out Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Yosemite (and the hike / climb up Half Dome) was probably the highlight of my trip, though the redwoods in Prairie Creek State Park managed to make us laugh.

Funny

But this is a food blog. I’m not going to go on and on about the trails we took and the places we went. I’ll spare you the experience of seeing an RV, complete with satellite dish, set up in the midst of one of the most gorgeous campgrounds I’ve had the privilege of staying in. I’ll even skip our encounter with the mountain lion (on the trail! Here!) Instead, I’ll tell you how I managed to keep us fed without resorting to bags of chips and MREs, and I’ll try to give you some pointers (so you can learn from my mistakes).

campfire

Before we get started, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You will miss your oven. Starting a fire without a pilot light or even lighter fluid is not my forte — enough so that getting the fire going gradually became James’s job. We had matches, wood, and whatever we could find around our campsite for tinder: leaves, pine needles, chocolate bar wrappers, etc. So … good luck. And take a few cans of sterno along in case of emergencies (or for morning coffee, which could be considered an emergency depending on your morning disposition).
  2. Don’t plan anything too complicated. Roasted vegetables from roadside farm stands are awesome, and we ate a lot of them. Barring that, roasted vegetables of any kind are pretty damn good. Pair them with a high protein grain (quinoa) or any other protein / carb combination I describe below.
  3. You don’t need a cooler for anything I suggest here. Cheese and butter are fine without refrigeration for a couple of days, and I stuck to mostly vegetarian meals simply out of necessity. This new one checked bag policy is a bitch, but hey, the whole point of camping is to make do with what you have, right? (Ok, tell that to the souped up RV in the campsite next to you. Especially when they turn on their @#$%@#$ generator at 11 pm).
  4. A cast iron pan is a very good thing to bring along. My friend P, who joined us for the last leg of the trip, brought hers along for the trip, and it made dinner so much easier. That said, we did fine with foil and copious amounts of vegetable oil as well.
  5. You don’t need a full pantry. A few must haves for me were salt, flour, powdered milk, yeast, oil, baking soda, honey / agave nectar, coffee (and a coffee cone), s’mores ingredients, cheap wine or red wine vinegar (for flavoring vegetables as they roast), onions, potatoes, garlic — lots and lots of garlic, lemons, quinoa, trail mix, powdered chicken broth, and masa. Everything else was based on what looked best at wherever we happened to shop. Fresh fruit and veg, a bit of cheese, and a few cans of sardines (for protein! If you’re repulsed, pick up some canned beans instead) rounded out the campground pantry. Oh, and you don’t need all of this. We were gone for 2 weeks, so pick and choose as you like.
  6. Bring measuring spoons, or cook by proportions. Baking soda is the only thing to really worry about, but your food will still taste good if your teaspoon isn’t exactly a teaspoon.
  7. Don’t forget the tongs. Seriously. I did, and my fingers regretted it.

Roasting

Ok, so here are the “recipes” and ideas for meals. I use quotes because I didn’t really measure anything on this trip. I also don’t have pictures of everything, just because it was usually late by the time dinner finished, and my camera is afraid of the dark. Oh, and the challah recipe is finally here, as promised. Scroll to the bottom if that’s all you’re interested in. Finally, I’ll have some recommendations for great places to eat (on a budget) San Francisco in my next post.

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, breakfast, camping, carrots, cheese, corn tortillas, lemon, main, milk, potatoes, quick bread, roasted vegetables, soup, stew, stories, vegetarian, wine