Posts Tagged ‘bread’

Kitchen essentials for baking, first go

January 9, 2010

I’ve just spent the fall and the first half of the winter exploring baking. For those of you who don’t know, I do most of my cooking (and virtually all of my baking) on a wood-fired cookstove. So I don’t do anything that’s too fussy about temperature. If I hit it within 50 degrees, it’s good enough most of the time. But that has nothing to do with the contents of this message. It’s just a little contextual note.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain things that no baker should be without. I’ll enumerate at least a few of them here. Others may occur to me later, so I reserve the right to add to the list.

1) A pair of clean hands. There is nothing so useful in baking as the ability to handle and manipulate your dough with your hands. No bread machine, dough hooks, or any other mechanical contrivance are half as useful.

2) Dough cloths. These are plain white fine-woven cotton towels at least 30 inches square. In my childhood they were called “flour-sack” towels. The weave is fine enough to hold flour, but the flour sinks into it. This lets you work your dough on a floured surface without getting an excess of flour. Good ones are hard to find, but Lehman’s Non-electric Catalog has a 10-pack for about $20. Nobody really needs 10 of these, so split a pack with a baker friend of yours. But they are essential for working good bread, pie crust, or pastry. Forget the Tupperware or other plastic stuff. Trust me. You need these. You don’t even have to wash them every time you use them. Just shake them out well.

3) Waxed paper. This is what you wrap dough in that has to sit. Don’t use plastic wrap. The waxed paper breathes a little but doesn’t let things dry out. It’s kind of the Debbie’s Little Green Bags of baking.

4) A flat grater. The first time I found a recipe that called for me to grate the cold butter into the flour before working it with item number 1 on this list, it was like the heavens opening up and a big beam of light falling on my head. Why, I wondered, has no one ever thought of this before? A bazillion recipes call for cutting the butter into little chunks, flattening them with your fingers, then cutting them into the flour with a pastry cutter or a pair of knives. Grating through the large holes of a flat grater achieves the right effect with about 1/10 the effort. Kudoes to whoever thought this one up.

5) A large assortment of mixing bowls, glass or stainless steel, in as many different sizes as you can imagine.

6) A large assortment of measuring utensils–cups in stainless (for dry measurement) amd glass (for wet measurement), measuring spoons from a minimum of 1/4 tsp. to 1 Tbspn. I have several sets of dry-measure cups, and glass cups from 2 oz. to one quart.

7) A good conversion chart. It’s tough to remember when you’re adjusting on the fly whether it’s three tspns or four to the Tbspn . Same with Tbspns to the quarter cup. Hit: One is three and one is four, and if you forget, look at your butter wrapper and all will become clear.

8) Lot of baking pans and dishes. Again, use only glass, cast iron, or stainless steel. I confess I use a very good grade of non-stick cookie sheet for a variety of things. But no Teflon. If you want non-stick, look for anodyzed metal like Calphalon. When using glass, most recipes recommend that you adjust the temperature downward by 25 degrees, but since I’m working within a very flexible range to start with, I usually ignore that. I work with a cool, medium, or very hot oven. I don’t do souffles. . .

9) Good knives, and lots of them. Ben introduced me years ago to the Chicago Cutlery classic walnut series. They are simple and elegant in appearance. They are a fairly stainless high-carbon steel that can be brought to a razor’s edge with a good steel or stone. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who appreciates my cooking enough to keep them very sharp for me. I do know how to do this myself, but I try to hide that fact,

This feels like a good place to quit for the time. If you have any issues, ask me a question and I’ll at least make an attempt to justify my position.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have owned a bread machine, a food processor, and a blender. I never found anything that I could do with them (with the exception of frozen margaritas) that I couldn’t do with my hands and manual equipment. And the manual equipment is a heck of a lot easier to clean, When I realized I really liked margaritas on the rocks better than frozen margaritas, that was the end of my mechanized kitchen.

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“No-knead” bread, as Lee requested

January 9, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve spent some time finding a version of “no-knead” bread that works for me. Lee asked for the recipe, so I’ll provide it here, but I’m going to have to do another post about proper kitchen equipment. At least that’s what I see coming as I write this. If I combined the two it would be hopelessly long.

Here is a caveat–every flour reacts differently to liquid and yeast. Part of my adventure this winter has been finding a mix of stuff that really works for me. You might have to adjust things if you’re using different flour or like your bread made with milk instead of water or so on. But here’s the basic recipe for two nice-sized loaves:

2 cups White Lily bread flour

2 cups hard-wheat (gold Medal, house brand, etc.) flour

1 generous Tbspn regular yeast (not fast-acting)

1 generous Tbspn salt (kosher or sea salt preferred)

2 cups lukewarm water, about 110 degrees

Whisk together the flours, yeast and salt. Forget the sifter. A whisk works much better. Pour the dry ingredients into the water in a large bowl and stir with a spoon until there are no dry spots. The dough will be VERY sticky and a little lumpy. Cover (but don’t seal–I prefer a cloth towel) and let rise in a warm place for at least two hours and as much as five hours. I generally find that three hours is sufficient.

Put a baking stone on the oven rack in center position and preheat it to about 400 degrees (More about baking stones in the next post). Put a heavy pan in the bottom of the oven to preheat (I use an old broiler pan I scored somewhere).

When the dough has risen to your satisfaction, prepare a pizza or bread paddle by covering the area on which you will place your loaf with corn meal. Divide your dough into two pieces. Sprinkle your work surface with flour, and shape half the dough into a loaf–round, oblong, whatever suits your fancy–and place it on the corn-meal covered portion of your paddle. Let the loaf rise about 40 minuts. Slash the top with a razor blade or very sharp knife in several places. You will repeat this process with the second half of the dough after you’ve put the first loaf in the oven.

Slide the loaf from the paddle onto the preheated stone in the oven (this is what the corn meal is for–it works like ball bearings), and toss a cup of hot water into the heavy pan on the bottom of the oven. Close the oven door immediately to capture the steam. Bake for 35-50 minutes (depends on the size of the loaf) until the top is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers.

Tear off big hunks and slather with butter. (This last step is optional and only for true hedonists. We generally slice ours after it has cooled slightly.)

Lee, I hope this works for you. I have about 8 different flours and ground meals in my pantry at the moment. All White Lily is too fine in texture for me for most breads (although that’s all I use in pastries), so I mix it up. If you don’t have “bread” flour, you can add a Tbspn of gluten for each cup of flour to get the same effect.

The staff of life (that’s “staff,” not “stuff”)

January 8, 2010

OK, I trimmed my nails, so the typos should be fewer and farther between.

I’m sneaking a few minutes away from important stuff I should be doing just because I enjoy sitting in my warm kitchen (fire’s been going for hours) smelling yeast bread dough rising for baking later tonight.

We’ve been eating mostly homemade bread lately. I adapted a recipe from several “no-knead” ones that appeared a year or so ago. It makes two good-sized loaves, takes five minutes or less to prepare, 2-5 hours to rise (I find that 3 hours is generally plenty), and comes out of the oven with a crust that snaps and throws crumbs everywhere when you cut into it. Ben loves it. I have to make two loaves because the first one is generally gone about an hour after it comes out of the oven. It toasts up on our little camp toaster to a crunchy golden color. The toast crackles when you bite into it. Hungry yet?

I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. There’s so much being written about how many of our health ills are tied to processed food. One of the best things about being retired is having the time to mess around with strictly fresh stuff. And in addition to the health benefits, you get to smell real smells and taste real tastes without the chemical enhancers.

From time to time I’ve purchased convenience items. I’m thinking now of the pre-cut hearts of romaine chopped up into little pieces, that sort of thing. Then I read that all these processed greens are washed in chlorine bleach since the bacteria scares of a couple of years ago. It doesn’t seem to interfere too much with the flavor, but it effectively removes most of the food value. So now I buy heads of greens and wash and tear them up myself. Afriend showed me how to keep them fresh for what seems like an inordinately long amount of time, so it’s not as onerous as it sounds. And it keeps its fiber and vitamin values.

It’s almost time to shape my loaves of bread, so I’ll sign off for the moment.

Happy New Year, Dorrie, wanna banana?

January 3, 2010

That subject line won’t mean anything to anyone but me, but that’s OK. Something about 2010 just took me back about 40 years, and it conjured up memories of a friend long gone. So it’s a bit by way of being a salute to the past.

I brought this all on myself complaining early in December that we were about 20 inches short of our average annual rainfall. Didn’t have an effect immediately, but the last few days of the year struggled to make up for the earlier dearth of dampness. The river is about as high as I’ve seen it this year. It finally has stopped raining an inch-plus a day and the river is dropping a bit, which is fine by me.

I’ve got last night’s leftover bean soup warming on the woodstove and will go eat some shortly. There’s still fresh bread from yesterday, although it’s not quite as fresh as it was yesterday. Brenda found a great fast yeast bread recipe mid-year. I’ve been fooling with it a bit, and it gets better each time I make it. No pain, no hassle, just good, crusty staff-of-life stuff.

I think I could live on bread and properly cooked potates. Must be the Irish in my background.

I love winter. The woodstoves are going all the time and it’s tough not to just go cook something.

I’m off now, so the best to all of you reading this for the New Year. More anon.