Sunday, March 28, 2010

Improved Delicious, Crusty Bread

I had no complaints about my Delicious, Crusty Bread recipe, and I still think it makes a damn fine loaf. However, I got a few tips from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois--the successor to their artisan bread book.

I learned two signficant things that changed my base recipe. One is that whole wheat flour is not 5 ounces to the cup, as I had been using. No, it's only 4.5 ounces per cup. That made a big change in my bread texture. The other is the use of wheat gluten to give a boost to a loaf that uses as much whole grain as I like to use. I had experimented with wheat gluten before, thanks to an old Alton Brown episode, but hadn't bothered to stick with it. While I think that a good largely whole grain loaf can be produced without extra wheat gluten, it does enhance the texture and give the dough more staying power in the fridge (since using the starter can make the dough more temperamental than when using yeast). I have made it a regular addition to my new everyday loaf.

I also switched up the order of the wet and dry ingredients, as Hertzberg and Francois do. I make sure to mix the warm water and starter together before adding to the flour, though, to ensure it's evenly distributed.

This same basic dough also works beautifully for bagels.

1 lb 9 oz whole wheat flour
2.5 oz rye flour
7.5 oz all-purpose white flour
1/4 c. or 1 3/8 oz vital wheat gluten (it's a powder and I don't think you could buy an un-vital kind)
2 TBSP kosher or Maldon salt
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup sourdough starter (the batter-like kind)

  1. You'll need a clean 6 qt container that is not absolutely airtight. I use a Rubbermaid 'Servin' Saver' 6 qt square container and have been very happy with it
  2. Put the container on your scale and zero it out
  3. Add the flours, wheat gluten and salt each in turn, zeroing out the scale after every addition
  4. Give the mixture a good whisk to distribute the gluten
  5. In a large measuring cup, mix the warm water (be sure it's not too warm or it'll kill the starter) and the starter
  6. Pour into the dry ingredients
  7. Use a large wooden spoon to mix the flours into the water. You are not aiming to knead the dough and you should expect a pretty wet dough. After I mix as much as I can with the spoon, I went my hands and mix the dough with them until the flour is incorporated. Again, you're not kneading, you just don't want dry and wet patches
  8. Place the lid on the container loosely and put the dough in the fridge for a day. Using the starter makes the rising take longer but the flavor is superb. You can speed things up slightly by leaving the dough out at room temperature for 8 hours.
  9. You know your dough is active when you see air bubbles in it and it has risen. I almost never try to make a loaf until the next day
  1. Grease a medium bowl (ideally with a flat bottom that doesn't slope too much--I use a large souffle dish that looks like an oversized ramekin). You can use oil, but I've started using cooking spray as it is so much easier than fiddling with a pastry brush or paper towels.
  2. Then sprinkle cornmeal in the greased bowl and shake out the excess into the sink.
  3. Remove the dough container from fridge and sprinkle with all-purpose flour
  4. Grab a grapefruit-sized chunk of dough from the container
  5. Working quickly, shape into a flattened ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you do this (that's nearly verbatim from the book but is still hard to explain until you've done it)
  6. Place in the greased bowl
METHOD ONE--Cold rise all day
This method is great when you have a few minutes in the morning before leaving the house for a long time
  1. Following the steps above, put the dough in the fridge for at least 6 hours and up to a day (or even two--we've been very lax about the baking and it's been fine). Go to BAKING steps below
METHOD TWO--Quick Rise
This method works well when you're pottering around the house and forgot to shape the loaf earlier. The whole-wheat gluten-enhanced loaf works particularly well with this quicker method.
  1. Following the steps above, leave the dough out at room temperature for at least 1 1/2 hours. Go to BAKING steps below

  1. Thirty minutes before you want to bake the bread (but at least an hour before you want to eat the bread), preheat the oven to 450 degrees. You want the rack in the middle, preferably with a baking stone on it (hence the preheating for so long). A second rack should have a broiler tray or something that can hold water.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water or have really hot water from the tap and have it ready by the oven.
  3. Right before you want to put the bread in the oven, get out a baking peel. Sprinkle with cornmeal and turn the dough out onto it.
  4. Alternative: turn dough out onto a baking tray with Silpat or baking parchment on it. The crust won't be as nice, but it's foolproof in terms of getting the loaf into the oven intact.
  5. Sprinkle the dough with all-purpose flour and slash it a few times (in an X pattern or a # pattern--whatever seems appealing to you)
  6. Working quickly, slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and then put the hot water onto the broiler tray. The steam will help to create a crackling crust that will 'sing' at you when you remove from the oven. Close the oven.
  7. Bake loaf for approximately 20-25 minutes or until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Depending on the size of your loaf, you may need to adjust baking time.
  8. Allow to cool as long as possible before eating (we try to wait half an hour at least if we can--the internal texture is much nicer if you wait; if you rush it, it just gets gummy)
  9. Serve and enjoy. We like it plain or with French cultured butter. I love buying local foods, but I have not found a US butter that can remotely compare with Celles Sur Belle French butter.

Gluten-Free Cornmeal Waffles

We're hosting Easter brunch for the family next week and I was shopping around for a gluten-free waffle recipe that could rival Evan's Waffles. I wasn't that optimistic since his waffles are so fantastic, but I hit gold on the first try. These are light with a nice corn flavor and slight grit from the cornmeal.

The recipe is a slightly-tweaked version of this one from the Gluten-Free Gourmand, which is, in her turn, a tweaked version of the regular Joy of Cooking cornmeal waffle recipe. I used my go-to wheat flour substitute mixture adapted from Hey, that tastes good!, which is 2 c. brown rice flour, 2/3 c. potato starch, 1/3 c. tapioca. I immediately decreased the melted butter in the Gluten-Free Gourmand's recipe from 5 TBSP to 4. I mean, really, five would have been overkill. While my husband loves the sweetness in these waffles that comes from the 1/4 of sugar, I think I'd be even happier with 2-3 TBSP instead.

When pulling the first waffle off the iron, I was dubious. It had a sheen to it, almost like it was wet. I thought it would be limp and mushy. Not at all. I let it rest a moment on a cooling rack and then bit into it. There was a slight crunch and a delightfully airy texture along with that cornmeal grit. We have a winner! I'll be proud to serve these to family.

The waffles do soften when left at room temperature, but they're not bad this way, as evidenced by the fact that Evan and I have been picking at them for hours.

One note to the reader--too much time in the UK had me confused when I saw the call for corn flour. While in the UK, this term is interchangeable with cornstarch, I had to look it up to make sure that here in the US there is a big difference. Corn flour is more like masa harina and is key to enhancing the corn flavor in the waffles without making it like eating sand.

1 c. gluten-free flour mixture (see above or use your own)
1/2 c. corn flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
2-4 TBSP sugar
2 eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tartar
2 c. milk
4 TBSP butter, melted

  1. Preheat your waffle iron according to instructions
  2. Mix dry ingredients (from flour mix through sugar) in a large bowl
  3. Put the 2 egg whites in a small bowl and add the pinch of cream of tartar
  4. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then set aside
  5. Mix the milk and egg yolks together (I did this in the large measuring cup I used for the milk)
  6. Pour the egg and milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir well
  7. Stir in the melted butter
  8. Fold the egg whites into the batter, doing about 1/3 of the whites at a time before adding the next dollop. Fold until there are no large streaks of egg white
  9. Depending on the size of your waffle iron, put about 1/2 c. of batter on the hot iron
  10. Cook until most of the steam has dissipated. I put our waffle iron on the highest setting--you want the waffles to be a deep golden brown to maximize crispness
  11. Remove from iron and set on a cooling rack. If you need to keep them warm, put the rack in a 250 degree F oven
  12. Serve with syrup, jam or other toppings

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lentil Barley Soup with Italian Sausage

This is rather a cheat, as I've simply updated an existing recipe, but I would hate for March to go by with no posts!

Our preschool is a maternity ward this year, with lots of second-time-around parents who are happily accepting meals from their cohorts. This time, the family I'm feeding is not vegetarian so
I decided to try something different with my standby Hearty Lentil Soup. We had some sweet chicken Italian Sausage from the farmers' market. I browned that up and then proceeded with the recipe as written. For my grain, I did one pot with brown rice and the other with pearl barley. As a unifying touch, I crushed up about 1 tsp of fennel seeds and added when the soup was done--to echo the flavors in the Italian sausage. I also put in a teaspoon or two of sherry vinegar for brightness. I'm really pleased with how it turned out and will definitely try this variation again.

For convenience, I used the food processor for the onion, carrots and greens.
Because I dislike recipes that refer to other recipes, I'm re-posting the whole recipe again with the new ingredients.

2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 to 1 lb bulk sweet or hot Italian sausage (as opposed to links) OR same amount ground beef
2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 TBSP tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped or put through a press
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery or celery root (celeriac)
2 tsp salt
1 cup French (Puy) lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cup brown rice or barley (quinoa might work, or kasha could be really good if you like it--I've discovered that I don't; I think it tastes dusty)
1 bouquet garni of 2 bay leave, 8 parsley branches (I often omit these), 6 thyme sprigs
9-12 cups water or vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 bunch greens, washed and chopped
1-2 tsp sherry, balsamic or red wine vinegar or to taste (optional)
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds or ground fennel
Mushroom soy sauce to taste (we got our at 99 Ranch Market, but I'm sure regular soy would work; I bet that some brewer's yeast might be nice, too, actually)

  1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil and add the Italian sausage. Cook over medium- high heat (I think I do medium-high) until the sausage is no longer raw.
  2. Add the onions and continue cooking until the onion is soft and slightly browned, stirring often, about 10 minutes. The onions should be slightly browned.
  3. Add the tomato paste, garlic, parsley, vegetables and salt and cook for 2 more minutes
  4. Add the lentils, bouquet garni, rice, barely, quinoa or kasha and water/stock. Because I recommend that you add the grain uncooked instead of adding cooked pasta, you may need to increase the amount of water/stock. My general rule is to add water to cover the ingredients by 1-2 inches. You can always add more water/stock if it seems that the grain doesn't have enough liquid to soften
  5. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Madison recommends cooking for 30 minutes, but your grain may take longer--the barley certainly will. The good news is that Puy lentils hold their shape beautifully and won't disintegrate even with a longer cooking time. If using a grain, I'd recommend checking for tenderness at 30 minutes and then add time accordingly.
  6. When the grain is nearly done, taste for seasoning. Add the ground fennel and then salt, pepper and vinegar as needed. You could also add some mushroom or regular soy sauce or brewer's yeast. Madison cautions that the flavors will meld and get nicer over time--the soup tastes better the next day.
  7. Add the washed, chopped greens and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. They might not be as bright green, but it saves a step and a pot and has always worked well for me.
  8. Serve with Delicious, Crusty Bread or Drop Biscuits