Tag Archives: bread

And so it ends

THE CATHEDRAL in Cologne. Yes, the capitals are intentional.

THE CATHEDRAL in Cologne. Yes, the capitals are intentional.

So I’m still stuck in Germany here, when really, I made it home this weekend, jet-lagged and happy, finally, to be back in Connecticut. Two months was long enough for our renegade compost squash vine to take over the back yard, encircling all the luscious pink Brandywines and orange sungold orbs that awaited my arrival. One day soon I’ll post a picture, but for now? I’m planning a wedding — yes, James and I got engaged (yay!) — and things are a little hectic right now. But back to Cologne.

It’s a small city with a gorgeous Gothic cathedral that sort of sprouts out of the city center like some ominous, scolding priest. It’s hard to take the message seriously now, with the constant stream of tourists and the monumental toilets that they seem to be erecting in front of it at the moment, but I can imagine being impressed a few centuries back. Architecturally, it’s rather thrilling, especially when you consider it took something like 6 centuries to complete. It is very much the center of town, near the water, where you can stroll through and hear organ music reverberating throughout the structure before heading to the waterfront for a Kölsh or two and a little dinner, or perhaps a little nap on the waterfront.

Koelsh

Koelsh, in the traditional glass.

You cannot experience Cologne without drinking beer. You see people with beer in their hand literally everywhere — on the street, near the Neumarkt, by the waterfront, along back alleys and in parks. At least it’s relatively weak stuff (well, some might say that’s a bad thing — but it’s cheaper than water, so no one complains), and fairly tasty, depending on the brand. I wish I could recommend one, but really, it’s better to just find a local and ask them to take you to a beer hall.  Just remember to put your coaster over your glass when you’re done — they keep on pouring otherwise.

Bread from a chain bakery

Bread from a chain bakery

Food-wise, delicious bread is easy to get everywhere. We’re talking huge German ryes, pretzel bread with huge cubes of salt affixed to the surface, delicious rolls and pastries, and anything else you could possibly want. Even generic bakers weren’t bad choices — I had some of my best pastries at a local organic supermarket.  And kebab-lovers are in for a treat here. The local Turkish population is very much a part of the restaurant scene, and the doner kebab is uniformly awesome.  There was one place near where we were staying (by the university, which is a great area for cheap food) that we returned to for dinner on a couple of nights.  We first went in the place because it was packed full of people (many in purdahs, and mostly local), and it was dirt cheap (3 euros for a huge sandwich), and I swear, I’ll probably dream about their kebab sandwiches for years … We definitely can’t find anything so good here in New Haven. I only wish I remembered the name.

Making hollow chocolate figures

Making hollow chocolate figures

Another place worth visiting is the Chocolate Museum on the waterfront. It’s basically a Lindt factory attached to a museum that covers the production and history of chocolate around the world. If there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to know about chocolate, this place is likely to cover it. And once you get to the far end of the museum, the air smells like molten chocolate (which you then get to taste). Definitely not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

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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

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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A baker’s lessons

Pane di Altamura

I should know better by now. Really, I should. Bread cannot be rushed, no matter how many projects you have going on, or how many people you’re having over that evening. Usually, the more impatient you are, the slower the rise happens to be. This is when you should throw the dough in the fridge and give up for the night. But me? I’m impatient — I think I’ve revealed this particular character flaw before — and here’s the evidence of what exactly this little quirk gets me (aside from burnt grilled cheese, which is another story).

Pane di Altamura

Not that this is a complete disaster. The bread tastes good, I can assure you of that much. But I know I could do better. The last batch? It was like our oven’s golden child. It was perfect, fluffy, gorgeous, tasty bread, which did exactly as it was told. This one’s a bit depressed, I’m afraid, and it’s all my fault.

Split on the bottom - not good!

But I think you can learn from my mistakes. Don’t make bread unless you have time for it. If the loaves haven’t finished their second rise, they’re not going to recover in the oven. Not really, anyway. And slash the loaves, for goodness sake! Then you won’t end up with craters the size of the Grand Canyon on the underside of your bread, as pictured above. Nor will you inhibit their rise in the oven. Yeah, that’s right — I was working against myself from multiple angles this week.

Altamura post shaping

But my mistakes are mine alone — I really should have known better. The recipe itself is golden. It shows off semolina’s true potential, I think, and is relatively easy if your house is warm enough (or if, of course, you have a bit more patience than I). And strangely enough, throwing a few cubes of this stuff in soup makes some of the most delicious dumplings I’ve had in a while. So if I were you? I’d go find some semolina flour and start mixing.

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Hot Cross Buns

hot cross buns

Hot cross buns (or hot x buns, as I call them, in honor of my rudimentary decorating skills and slightly twisted Catholic school girl days) are delicious breakfast food, full of warm spices, juicy raisins, and whatever else you happen to want to throw in with the dough. They’re a relatively quick yeast bread, though they would do well with a little rest in the fridge. Fresh-baked breakfast treat, anyone? They also happen to be ubiquitous in Australia, especially around Easter-time.

pre-oven

This is my first go at making hot cross buns, after years of hearing James suggest we should try and make them. Clearly, I don’t know what I’m doing. My Easter memories are limited to cheap chocolate and countless hardboiled eggs, carefully decorated and gathered in the morning dew. But trying out new traditions is kind of fun, especially when I have to ask James to translate the ingredient list for me. Caster sugar? Sultanas? You get the picture.

Citron

This one’s a new one for me, so it’s not quite right yet. It’s good, but it’s not “correct,” as James would say. But I did get to taste an authentic (and delicious) version of these just this morning, thanks to some friends of ours. So I’m kind of hoping I can help you skip this initial awkward phase and get straight to the good stuff.

Prep

So, Happy Easter, even if your celebration is limited to a Cadbury creme egg or two. And since I’m in a curious mood, I’ll leave you with a question: what are your favorite holiday foods?

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Hearth bread

hearth bread

I’m beginning to think I have a bit of an obsession for Peter Reinhart at the moment. He’s the only man (aside from James) that I mention here at least weekly. And he’s certainly the only one that regularly convinces me to try yet another recipe from his collection.

Soaker

See, I have a short attention span. I’ll go through occasional flirtatious phases, like last year’s week-long Sundays at Moosewood binge, or my brief fling with Chinese cooking. With food, my brief obsessions are driven more by a need to revisit some period of my past — the month I spent living in Beijing, perhaps, or my first experiments with vegetarianism.  Yes, even my awkward junior high years can be a source of nostalgia, though I’m sure I never would have thought so at the time.

Kneading

Bread is somehow different. In all of its various guises, it has become an integral part of my own story, from the San Francisco extra sour sourdough I grew up on to my current playful experimentations. And now, it’s a weekly habit — the most enjoyable part of the weekly chores, and a reason to get up before noon on Saturday morning.

Shaped batards

I’ve mentioned this before, but the fact that four simple ingredients can bring about such a dramatically different outcome time and time again is fascinating to me. Add a bit more water here, and your dough becomes an entirely different animal. Use a touch less yeast, and time the rises just right, and all of a sudden, you have something to be proud of.  And with experience, all of these little tweaks eventually become ingrained in your sense of touch.   You learn to feel good bread as it forms beneath your fingers, and that, I think, is where the obsession begins.

Ready to go

Now, back to Reinhart. This recipe is adapted from his Whole Wheat Hearth Bread recipe in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I have a bit of a soft spot for gorgeous, crusty peasant loaves, and this one seemed like it would satisfy this addiction. And oh, did it ever.

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