Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's a Bread Eat Bread World

If you've ever wondered what happens if you forget to slash the top of your bread, this is it. Hard to tell if the loaf is eating itself or giving birth to a Brave New Loaf. Either way, it ain't pretty.

But golly GEE, it tastes good! This is the second loaf from the Simple Crispy Bread recipe I made last Thursday, baked after lazing about (I mean, fermenting) in the fridge for three days. The taste was much the same (yeasty and salty--in a good way), but the crumb and texture were very different. In the first loaf, the crumb was pretty tight with a lot of small, evenly distributed holes. In the second loaf, the crumb was looser with some bigger holes here and there, much more like a traditional hearth loaf. The texture was also very chewy and airy--a seeming contradiction in terms, but actually so delicious and adept at holding pockets of melted butter that we ate the entire loaf before I thought to take a picture to show you one of the slices. Oops!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Simple Crispy (No-Knead!) Loaf

This past Thursday, I left my cube to get something at the printer and by the time I walked back (muttering to myself because I'd ALREADY found a typo I'd have to fix), the sky out the window was full of thick, fat flakes. Our offices closed about an hour after that. I was supposed to have class later, but honestly? I just wasn't feelin' it. What I WAS feelin' was going home, curling up on the couch with some knitting and watching the season premiere of "Crowned" taped the night before. And so I sat at my computer in my empty office pressing the refresh button on my internet browser until ("C'mon! C'mon!") the note went up on the school website that classes were canceled. YES!

Three full trains passed through the station before one came with enough space for me to smoosh myself, my two bags of shtuff, and my equipment roll into the crevice between the first step and the door. Two hours later, I finally got off the train and forged the last stretch of the journey on foot because I could walk faster than the traffic. It was cumbersome with the bags, but I actually think they made good ballast to keep me afloat in the snow. And though I managed to keep my footing the whole way, I like to think they would have cushioned my fall. Except for my equipment roll. That would have...yeah, not the equipment roll.

So after I thawed out with a glass of wine and some mother-daughter pageant action, what did I do with my evening off from baking class? Why, I BAKED of course! I mean DUH! What ELSE would I be doing with a night off from school?!


I first saw this recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread" in the New York Times a few weeks ago. It pledged to be an alternative to the No-Knead Bread of recent fame, but even simpler! quicker! and more flavorful! It was this last promise that really caught my eye since, for me, the lackluster flavor of the No-Knead Bread outweighed it's convenience. I was also intrigued by the fact that one recipe made four loaves and the dough would keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, allowing you to lob off a piece whenever the mood struck. In general a slow rise will give you a more complex flavor and better texture, and a 'retarded' or 'delayed fermentation' rise in the fridge will result in a slightly sweet bread, like the slackdough breads I was working on a few summers ago--HERE. I baked off one loaf right away and stored the other three in the fridge for taste-tests over the next few weeks.

Dough just after combining ingredients

My initial reaction to this bread is....(drumroll!)....pleasant surprise. The just-mixed dough was stiff and tacky, and I had very low expectations of being able to shape it into anything resembling loaf. But somewhere over the next two hours of rising, it really pulled itself together. With only a light dusting of flour, I was able to handle it relatively easily and shape it into a nice little ball. I decided to rest my dough on the countertop instead of on the peel as the recipe suggests since I've had a few too many experiences of resting the dough on the peel, going to shuffle it loving into the oven, and having it stick to the peel and turn out looking like THIS despite a generous dusting of cornmeal. I was able to pick the ball up off the counter and plop it onto my peel without too much fuss. It stuck a bit, but then willingly slid out onto the pizza stone. It didn't rise very much in the oven, but it did keep it's nice round shape without deflating at all--an amazing feat for any loaf, if I do say so myself.

The dough after the 2-hour rise

The crust browned very evenly and crackled when I cut into it--thumbs up for that. The crumb was tight and moist with a few larger holes here and there--a second thumbs up. And the taste? Decent! Not as much flavor as a traditionally kneaded bread, but also not too shabby. It's a little salty, but I'm a fan of salt so no complaints here. It even past the second-day-toast-test with flying colors. I also like that it's a smaller loaf, which means that I have a chance of eating it before it goes completely stale or moldy.

I'm really excited to try the other loaves as the dough ages over the next few weeks. Even if there's not much flavor development, I think this is still my new standby Lazy Girl's Loaf!

Shaped loaf

This is what the underside of the loaf looks like after you stretch the top


Lazy Girl's Loaf (a.k.a. Simple Crusty Bread)
Recipe alone: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/dining/211brex.html
Full article: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DEEDB153FF932A15752C1A9619C8B63

Adapted from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," by Jeff Hertzberg
and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours' resting and rising

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (If you don't like salty, try cutting this down to 1 Tablespoon)
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough

1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3
cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until
there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not
with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or
up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two
weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut
off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands
to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom.
Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes.
Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle
rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for
20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife
three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan
and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30
minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and
place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh,
an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes.
Place pan on middle rack.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Photo of the Week: Chocolate Cake...Thing-A-Ma-Jigs

I haven't thought of a good name for these puppies yet. Can't quite figure out a name grand enough, nuanced enough to appropriately describe these layers of chocolate genoise, pomegranate whipped cream, and hazelnut dacquoise. Oh, man, they were tasty!

Hazelnut dacquoise, for those who don't know, is a basic meringue (egg whites beaten with sugar) with ground hazelnuts mixed in. I spread them into little rounds to form the flat 'cookies' sandwiched between the whipped cream. I had...oh...two trays or so of cookies left over and may have (MAY have) personally eaten the majority of them.

Any brilliant names come to mind?!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Home-made Holiday Gift-o-Rama

Updated 12/12/07

Hi, folks!

The Engineer and I have declared this to be the Christmas of No Stress, and to this end we have forsworn the following:

1) The Finding of the Perfect Present
2) The Spending of the More Money Than Makes Us Comfortable ("Cringe-making" is our barometer for this)
3) The Buying of a Present for Everyone and Their Little Dog Too
(and a personal one for yours truly)
4) The Spending of Too Much Time (a.k.a. FOREVER) Crafting Presents

To follow through with this commitment, I have decided that I'm going to make the majority of my presents myself, be it with crafts or edibles, and I'm going to give everyone essentially the same thing.

In this era of DIY and craftiness, you'd think it would be easy to find simple-yet-awesome, budget-friendly craft projects, but I've actually been finding it rather difficult. A lot of projects can end up being rather spendy once you add up all the various bits and pieces (some people's definition of 'budget-friendly' being different from my own) Or they take forever to assemble. Or they aren't mass-production-friendly. But it can be done! [Finger jabbed triumphantly skyward]

So, for your holiday crafting enjoyment and entertainment, below is a smattering of projects I've found that appear to be Cool, Cheap, and Stress-Free. Click on the name of the project to link to the original website. Some of them don't have instructions, but seem logical to assemble. If you have questions, feel free to comment or e-mail and I'll cypher it out with you:

*I'll keep adding to this list as I find new things over the next few weeks. Check back in!


Felt wine racks (or HERE)
Rice face masks
Bacon Magnets made with felt
Neck-Warmer--a sexy and simple one-skein knitting project


-->Salted, dipped in chocolate, w/ espresso powder, bourbon, rum...
(P.S. I'm actually trying another recipe this weekend that I got from one of my chefs at school and that looks easier than this one. If it works out, I'll post about it next week.)
Coffee Liqueur
Crunchy Snacks

*I'm packaging my mixes in Bell canning jars, which I found at a local hardware store for $8 for 12 jars. You can certainly go shmancier--the Container Store has a plethora of interesting vessels.

Beer Bread (or HERE)


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Photo of the Week: Paupiette of Sole with Parmesan Souffles

These bite-sized souffles have been one of my favorite things that I've made so far in culinary school. The base is a thin fillet of sole coiled into a ring and tied with a thin strip of blanched scallion. Around this, we wrapped a "collar" of aluminum foil and spooned the Parmesan souffle on top of the sole. (The collar is used to support the souffle as it rises and is removed right before serving.)

These little guys are fantastically light. The texture of the flaky sole and the creamy souffle play off each other nicely, and the hint of Parmesan brings out the flavor of the sole. In my humble opinion, of course.