Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Almost No-Knead Bread, Part III: The Leftovers

In an amazing twist of fate, we were out of croutons but happened to have a partial loaf of bread on hand. This probably does not happen too often, in fact it was the first time it happened to us that I can recall. Since salads are no fun without croutons, I just made the day-old bread into the best croutons the world has ever known, or at least the best I've had. The whole recipe requires only 4 ingredients:
 A loaf or partial loaf of bread, fresh or almost stale.
Olive oil, salt, and pepper. That's it! The method is just as simple:
First slice the loaf of bread into more or less 3/4 inch slices. Trim off the crusts and discard or make into breadcrumbs.
Slice the bread into 3/4 inch cubes and spread out in one layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Slide into an oven preheated to 350 degrees.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes tossing once or twice. When the bread is toasted all over remove from the oven and drizzle with olive oil. After the cubes are coated with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. You can serve them warm or at room temperature, just try not to eat them all before they get on the salads. Enjoy!

Super Easy Croutons

1 medium sized loaf of leftover bread
2 to 3 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the bread about 3/4-inch thick. Cut off the crusts and then cut the slices in 3/4-inch dice. Place the croutons on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing once or twice, until they're nicely browned on all sides. Toss them with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Almost No-Knead Bread, Part II: Complex Flavor but Still Simple

This bread is possibly the best bread I have ever made, hands down. The crust is fantastic, the flavor is second to none. It is also an almost no-knead bread, but unlike the previous version this bread contains some more interesting ingredients. In addition to the standard flour, water, yeast, and salt, this bread also contains beer and vinegar.
I know beer and vinegar seem like odd ingredients to add to an otherwise plain dough, but somehow they combine to produce a great yeasty flavor. Many rustic-type breads call for a poolish, biga, sponge, or other kind of starter which is mixed the day before the dough is put together. The starter ferments overnight producing two effects: the flavor of the finished dough is a little sour and very flavorful, and the crust has beautiful little blisters which indicate a chewy and well formed interior. Instead of using a starter, this bread still achieves a complex and almost nutty yeast flavor with much less effort.
The novel idea of cooking bread in a dutch oven was new to me. The bread is baked covered for half of the time and uncovered for the rest. I suspect that cooking the bread covered at first keeps any released steam close to the dough. Many times water is poured onto a cookie sheet to achieve a humid baking environment, but a closed dutch oven would produce a similar effect. The final result is a chewy yet crispy crust, which alone would induce me to bake this bread again and again.

Almost No-Knead Bread
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Makes 1 large loaf

3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup room temperature water
1/2 cup mild-flavored beer
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Mix together the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Fold in the water, beer, and vinegar with a rubber spatula. The dough will look shaggy and not completely combined, but that's fine. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 8 to 18 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead 10 to 15 times.
Pull the edges into the middle to form a ball.
Place an 18 by 12 inch sheet of parchment paper in a skillet or other round pan and grease with cooking spray. Gently lay the dough on top, grease with cooking spray, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise on the counter for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size and just barely springs back when poked with a knuckle.
20 Minutes before baking, position a covered dutch oven on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Lightly flour the top of the dough and score about 1/2 inch deep. Carefully pick up the parchment paper and dough and lower into the hot dutch oven, then cover the pot.
Lower oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake bread covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 20-30 minutes more, or until the dough is deep golden brown and the center of the loaf registers 210 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Let rest on a wire rack until cooled to room temperature, about 2 hours. Enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Almost No-Knead Bread, Part I: Plain and Simple


Since I have access to a stand mixer I do not mind making breads that require kneading. The mixer can do it all for me! If for some reason the mixer broke or I was away from my kitchen, a simple loaf of bread could require 10 to 15 minutes of kneading by hand. For this reason no-knead (or almost no-knead) breads are a great alternative.

This particular recipe for almost no-knead bread requires only four basic ingredients, salt, yeast, flour, and water. After resting on the counter for a couple hours the dough can be shaped and baked right away. This yields a bread with a good but simple yeast flavor, something like a sandwich bread with a thicker crust. After resting in the refrigerator at least overnight, the yeast flavors are much more developed and complex. This makes for a bread with delicious flavor reminiscent of sourdough and a blistered and crackly crust without much effort. Bread this simple and delicious is almost hard to believe.

Almost No-Knead Bread
Adapted from honey & jam

Makes 2 medium sized loaves 

3 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry  or rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt

6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Grab a very large mixing bowl, or a large container that you can cover. In it, mix the water, yeast, and salt.  Just let that sit together for a while (you don’t have to wait for the yeast to dissolve completely), then dump the flour in all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. The dough doesn't need to come together in a ball yet, you just want everything mixed well, with no streaks of flour left, and you’re done.

Leave it in your container, covered (but not airtight), for a few hours. When it has risen and then deflated a bit, your dough is done. After about two hours it’s ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator.

To bake the bread, just grab half of the dough. Dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking, and gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough, until you get a roundish shape with a smooth surface. It should only take you about a minute or less to do this. The dough won’t be entirely in the bottom, where it may look bunched up, but don’t worry about it.

Put it on a a piece of parchment paper that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes. No need to cover it. If the dough has been refrigerated, it helps to let it rest a little more, until it’s no longer chilled.

Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, put a cast iron skillet or pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven, and put a rimmed cookie sheet in the bottom rack. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and slash the top, about 1/4-inch deep.

After twenty minutes of preheating, it’s time to bake the loaf. Pick up the parchment and loaf together and gently place onto the baking stone or skillet, and quickly pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the cookie sheet. Then quickly shut the oven door to keep the steam inside.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom crust. Remove and let cool completely, if you can wait that long.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Banana Bread

Banana bread is one of the easiest things to make, requiring very few ingredients and little time. It is delicious plain or toasted, buttered or not buttered, just about any way you can imagine. The only thing is, banana bread never tastes like bananas. There is still a sweet, fruity, vanilla flavor, but it is certainly not the same as raw bananas.

You can dress up a simple banana bread by adding toasted coconut, chocolate chips, or just the traditional nuts- walnuts. Walnuts are the easiest nuts to add to breads and cakes because even if there is no time to toast them prior to adding them to the batter, they don't end up with an off texture. Pecans, for instance need to be toasted or they feel almost soggy when baked into breads like this one. Also keep in mind, the nuts you add do not need to be in tiny pieces. When the bread is cut, whatever is added will be sliced as well. How easy is that?

Banana Bread

Adapted from Danielle Bean

Makes two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 loaves

3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs

1 cup walnuts (or other nuts, chocolate, or toasted coconut) coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together milk, oil, eggs, and mashed banana. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; mix just to moisten. Add chopped nuts etc. and mix just until incorporated. Pour batter evenly into prepared loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sugar Cookies

In general, I don't much care for cookies. There are a few exceptions, though. I do like chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cookies every now and then; those cookies are easy enough to make. It's the labor-intensive cookies I cannot stand. I won't decorate sugar cookies for Christmas or any other holiday; I've done it once, I don't need to do it again. It's not that I mind decorating cookies, really, but I draw the line at icing. I believe cookies shouldn't need it.
Chewy sugar cookies like these are just about the easiest cookies I've made. They are as simple as a slice and bake cookie, but taste less fake and more like butter, which they say makes everything better. The slightly crisp sugar coated edges of these cookies was born of necessity, rather than vanity. The dough is sticky and it just wouldn't let go of the parchment paper, a problem solved by a quick roll in sugar. All things considered, these are pretty good cookies for any baker feeling less than ambitious.

Chewy Sugar Cookies

With a fork, combine the  flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl.
 In the bowl of a standing mixer, or just a regular bowl with a hand-held mixer at the ready, combine the sugar and butter and beat until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and vanilla, beat until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until combined again, but try not to over mix.
Divide the dough in half and form into logs on parchment paper. It will be sticky, but it will all work out fine.
Sprinkle some sugar over the top of the dough and lightly press to adhere. Roll up the logs and store in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or a week, depending on when you plan to eat the cookies.
Remove from the fridge and slice into half inch thick rounds.
Place on a lined cookie sheet and bake until set, if they become too golden they are probably no longer chewy.

Chewy Sugar Cookies

For the dough:
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the edges:
about 5 tablespoons sugar

With a fork, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until incorporated. Slowly add flour mixture and mix only until combined, do not over mix. Turn dough out onto parchment paper and divide in two. Shape each half into a log and sprinkle the edges with sugar, pressing lightly to adhere. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to a week. 15 minutes before you plan to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough logs from refrigerator and slice into half inch rounds. Arrange on a lined cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookies are just set and not very golden. Let the cookies cool and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blueberry Pie

Pie is one of the simplest and most delicious things I can think of, unfortunately it can be frustrating as well. So many things can go wrong with a pie. The dough could be too wet and stick to the counter as you roll it out, or too dry and crumble as you try to place it in the pan. If the filling is too wet it will fall out of the pie as you try to serve it. There are just so many things you have to worry about when making a pie, but I've found a method that works for me. I think the key to making a good pie is just taking it slowly and having patience, something which can be trying but is extremely important. Other than patience, there is a general formula for the filling, and the pie dough becomes easier with practice.
To begin, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and shortening in a large bowl. Keep mixing until the ingredients look crumbly.
Next cut in the butter until some is almost completely combined and the rest is the size of peas.
Add just enough water to moisten the dough, but not enough to make it too sticky. It should hold its shape when squeezed.
In a separate bowl combine blueberries (thawed, if using frozen berries), sugar, and flour. 
Roll out enough dough for one crust and place in pie pan. Poke several light holes in the dough with a fork.
Pour blueberry mixture into prepared bottom crust. Dot the top with two tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces. Brush the edges of the bottom crust with water so the top will stick.

Roll out the dough for the top crust. Place on top of the pie and cut off the excess dough. Fold the edge under and crimp. Brush the top with milk or half and half, then sprinkle with sugar.
Cut 4 to 8 holes in the top crust to vent steam as the pie cooks. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet (preheated, if using a metal pie tin) and place on the bottom rack in the oven, preheated to 400 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown, the filling is bubbling, and the bottom crust is cooked.

Blueberry Pie

For the crust:
1/2 recipe "Flaky Pie Dough"

For the filling:
5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 to 1 cup of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

Milk or half and half
sugar for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 400 degrees, along with a foil lined baking sheet.

Roll out the bottom crust, place in pie pan, and dock with fork. Combine filling ingredients and pour into prepared bottom crust. Dot the top with butter and brush the sides with water. Roll out top crust and place it on the pie; cut off excess dough. Crimp edges and brush the top of the pie with milk or half and half, then sprinkle with sugar. Cut several holes to vent the steam and place pie on preheated foil lined baking sheet. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40 to 50 more minutes. The pie should be golden brown on top, the filling should be bubbling, and the bottom crust shouldn't be soggy or limp. Serve with vanilla ice cream, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Asiago Cheese Bagels

I have to admit, one of my favorite places on Earth is Panera Bread. Everything there is delicious, especially the bagels. A little while ago I set out to recreate their Asiago Cheese Bagels, which I cannot get enough of. I've made them twice and I have noticed a difference between the ingredients and the final products. When made with a block of hand grated Asiago, the bagels were full of cheese lined nooks and crannies. The tops were bubbly and the bottoms crisp and buttery. On the other hand, the bagels made with pre-shredded Asiago cheese were full of the cheese flavor, but had a lackluster texture when compared with the first batch. The already small pieces of cheese did not stand up to the kneading and were broken up a little too much. I highly recommend buying a block of Asiago cheese and grating it yourself to attain the perfect Asiago Cheese Bagel. Be careful, once you make these it may ruin the Panera bagels for you.

Asiago Cheese Bagels

Adapted from Baking with Julia

Makes 8 to 10 bagels.

For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast, or 1 packet
2 1/4 cups lukewarm water 80 to 90 degrees F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups (approximately) bread flour
2/3 cup (5.3 oz) freshly grated Asiago cheese (Grated on the largest holes of a box grater, pre-grated/pre-shredded is not recommended)

For the water bath:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the topping:
1 egg white mixed with
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup (4 oz) to 2/3 cup (5.3 oz) freshly grated Asiago cheese

Whisk yeast into 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar and let rest until creamy and foamy.
While waiting for the yeast, mix together the remaining water and shortening so it can soften. Add yeast mixture, sugar, and salt.
Stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, add flour 1/2 cup at a time, stopping when the dough is soft, sticky, and very hard to stir.  Turn dough out onto a floured board and gently make an indentation in the top (be sure not to make a hole, just a sort of dough bowl) fill the indentation with the grated cheese and close up the hole around it. Knead for 5 to 6 minutes until smooth and springy.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for an hour, or until doubled in size.
After the dough has doubled in size, gently deflate and cover again with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight, if more convenient.
When ready to bake the bagels,  preheat oven to 500 degrees F, cover cookie sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray. Place a shallow roasting pan on the oven floor to preheat as well, this will be used to create steam while the bagels bake. Set a stockpot or dutch oven 1/2 filled with water on the stove to boil. When the water reaches a rapid boil, add sugar and baking soda.
In the meantime, divide the dough in half and return one half to the fridge. Divide the remaining half into 4 or 5 pieces, depending on how large you want the bagels to be. Working with one piece at a time, pull up the dough from the bottom to the top and tucking it in to form a tight round ball. Poke a hole in the middle of the dough ball, right from top to bottom, and gently stretch the dough until the hole has a 2 inch diameter. Let rest 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon or spatula lower the bagels into the boiling water. Do not crowd the bagels, two or three at a time is fine. Boil for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side then remove to prepared cookie sheets. Brush top and sides with egg and water mixture and sprinkle a tablespoon of  Asiago cheese on top of each.
Put 1/2 cup of ice water into a measuring cup. Put bagels into the oven on the bottom rack and toss the ice water into the roasting pan. Immediately close oven door and do not open for at least 5 minutes. Turn temperature down to 450 degrees and bake for 20 to 27 minutes. While this batch is baking, shape, rest, boil, glaze, and top the remaining bagels as you did with the first batch. The bagels should be golden brown and the cheese should be sizzling. After removing the finished bagels from the oven, return oven temperature to 500 degrees.  Bake the remaining bagels as before, adding new ice water to the roasting pan.
These bagels can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator or up to a month in the freezer. I think they are best sliced and toasted with plain cream cheese on top. Enjoy!