Tag Archives: baking

Georgian porcini, mushroom, and black pepper flatbread

Bread is a staple in our household.  I don’t actually eat a lot of it — if it were just me, I would maybe make it through half a loaf before it went stale — but it’s James’s favorite snack.  And if you’re trying to eat less salt, going to the corner store to buy a baguette isn’t really a very good option.  Most bread (even the good stuff) is pretty high in sodium, to the point where places that make saltless bread are considered anomalous somehow.  And seriously, who chooses Pugliese when they could have a good french baguette?  So I’ve been playing around with various flatbread recipes, just to see if there’s a quick, easy, and tasty substitute for bread that doesn’t need a lot of salt, stores well, and can be used to make sandwiches.  This Georgian flatbread recipe is the best I’ve tried so far.

The original recipe is from Jeffrey Alford’s Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas, which I’ve only been cooking from for a short time but have had consistent success with.  His recipe is for a cheese bread — you make a rather plain dough and fill it with a feta cheese mix, kind of like a cheese pasty but with softer dough.  My version starts with his dough recipe, but I incorporate porcini powder, sauteed minced shallots, and black pepper into the dough as I knead to give it more flavor.  What you end up with is a soft bread (almost biscuit-like) with a rich, earthy, savory taste that can be eaten plain or, better still, toasted with a bit of butter.

This recipe is quite versatile — I imagine you could use the same procedure I describe below for any flavoring you desire.  And it is very quick — you do all the prep work while the oven is preheating, and then just shove them in.  6 minutes later, you have bread.

Georgian Flatbread with Porcini, Shallot, and Black Pepper

Makes 8 ~6″ rounds.

  • olive oil
  • 2 T. porcini powder (or any minced, strongly flavored mushroom)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • ~ 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 3-4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 c. greek yogurt (low fat is fine)
  • 1/2 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450°F / 230°C.

Saute minced shallots, porcini powder, and black pepper in olive oil until soft.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Start with 3 c. flour. Stir in the baking powder, then add the greek yogurt and milk.  Stir (probably with your hands, if you’re me) until the dough comes together.  If it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. Sprinkle a hard surface with flour, turn out the dough, and knead for 4 minutes or so, adding more flour as necessary.  It should feel soft and smooth and be fairly easy to work with — if it’s too hard, add a bit more milk or water.  Once you’re happy with the dough, flatten it out a bit and make a well in the center.  Put the shallot mix in the well, then fold the dough over the mix and keep kneading. This is supposed to be a little messy; it will eventually result in an evenly flavored dough.

Shape the dough into 8 round, flat breads (like tortillas, though the dough isn’t quite that stretchy).  Place on parchment-lined baking trays, and place in the oven.  Bake for 6-10 minutes (depending on how brown / crunchy you want them and how accurate your oven temperature is).  Serve warm or let cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container until you want to use them.

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Filed under baking, low fat, low sodium, mushrooms, quick bread, shallots, vegetarian

Cinnamon raisin spice rolls

I have been craving cinnamon rolls for years. YEARS. And I resisted up until now. Why, I have no idea — I’m just silly like that sometimes.  I finally made them over the holidays, in one of my, “Damn it, James, I’m not going to work this morning” moods.  They were our Christmas morning breakfast, post-hike lunch, pre-dinner snack, and …

Hey, don’t judge me.

This recipe (or formula, if you’re as pretentious as Peter Reinhart occasionally is, which I fully forgive every time I make another one of his recipes) makes light, warm, and not-too-sweet cinnamon rolls, with a little bit inspirational filling from their slightly stickier relation and a slight nod toward the warm spiciness of hot cross buns.  If there’s one thing I’d change, it’s probably the glaze. I really wanted cream cheese frosting on these, but I’m indulgent like that, so you might disagree.  The icing isn’t bad — after all, we scraped it off the plate once the cinnamon rolls were gone, like rabid, sugar-crazed fiends — but it wasn’t oh-my-god-I-need-MORE good.  Next time, I intend to do better.

Recipe after the jump.

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Filed under baking, breakfast, holiday, raisins

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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Filed under baking, bread, buckwheat, sourdough

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

With these hands

Pain a l'ancienne

I’m the kind of girl who obsesses over bike tires and circuit diagrams — who revels in building something up from a complicated pile of misplaced parts. Broken nails? They’re pretty much a fact of life — evidence that these hands actually do something more than walk over a keyboard. My favorite part of every experiment is perhaps the most frustrating bit, where my fingers become contortionists, pulling wires from the tiniest places in order to make sure everything is just so. And I hate playing to helpless woman, which is why I decided to learn to fix my car, my bike, everything on wheels, myself.

MMM

I guess I like the visual and tactile feedback, which is how I learn. If I can’t draw a picture, or trace each step visually in my head, I don’t understand. Perhaps that’s why baking is so appealing to me. It’s funny — I shied away from it at first, preferring to relegate myself to cooking creative nothings because, really, I do enough precision work at my job. But I didn’t know what I was missing until I baked my first successful loaf, took it proudly from the oven, and felt how each step should feel, how each stage should look and smell.

Shaped loaves

These days, I find myself spending more and more time with dough on my hands, kneading away the troubles of deciding what exactly to do with my life after graduation next spring. Maybe we’ll go for the pipe dream, start that bakery in Australia, and forget about all those problem sets without regret. Or maybe not — who knows. As long as I get to work with my hands.

Before rising

This recipe is our weekly staple. It’s simple, and far more impressive than one would think from the straightforward recipe. And it’s the only bread I’ve made time and time again, because cutting into a homely-looking mini-baguette just after it’s finished cooling and spreading a bit of homemade butter across it’s creamy white crumb brings back every delicious loaf I had in Paris. No coincidence, really — Peter Reinhart developed this based on a Parisian baker’s recipe, which happened to win best baguette of the year not so long ago. If there’s any bread recipe I recommend for the home baker, it’s this one. So what, exactly, are you waiting for?

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, rosemary

Grown up cookies

Olive oil cookies

I never would have thought to make these cookies just a few years ago. I was a chocolate chip girl, fully devoted to “my” oatmeal chocolate chip recipe, straight from the Quaker Oats carton (shhhh, don’t tell!). But then I started getting into Spanish cuisine, thanks to Penelope Casas, who convinced me that olive oil could be sweet and luxurious all at the same time. When you start to learn about a new culinary tradition for the first time, you learn to accept the unexpected, and go ahead and give whatever odd combinations you might try a shot, without prejudice or expectation. More often than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Cookies!

I call these grown up cookies because they have a slightly complex undertone, thanks to some good Australian olive oil and a bit of my homemade Meyer lemon liqueur (made of vodka, Meyer lemon peel, and time). They’re really simple, fairly quick, and best with a bit of good wine or a cup of hot coffee. And if you want soft cookies, these are not for you. But try them, regardless. Hey — olive oil’s good for you, right? (As if you needed an excuse.)

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Filed under baking, blood oranges, cinnamon, cookies, dessert, Meyer lemons, olive oil, stories

Rosemary focaccia monster

Rosemary Foccacia Monster

If I were to tell you this recipe defies all reasonable expectations of proper baking technique, would you believe me? And would you still want to eat it, even with the reassurance that this is the best damn (funny-looking) focaccia I think I’ve ever had? Well, it IS the best damn focaccia I’ve had, despite the bubbles. It captures the best part of rosemary, encapsulates it in a light, chewy, pizza-like crust, and turns the humble sandwich into a fragrant, unearthly experience.

stretch and turn, stretch and turn

The secret? Oh, well I couldn’t possibly tell you, could I? I warned you it would ruin your appetite, if you’re the unadventurous sort. If you like sourdough, though, this recipe’s really not so frightening. And if you think about it, the technique (brought about by laziness and a fast-approaching committee presentation) makes perfect sense

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, rosemary