April 24, 2010

virtuous bread

If you don't already have a whole wheat bread recipe you love, may I offer this favorite recipe from Rose Levy Berenbaum? This bread is fantastic: think chewy, nutty and righteously flavorful from that mix of whole wheat flour, ground flax seed, honey, and pumpernickel flour. (I feel virtuous just listing those ingredients, which is why I call it virtuous bread.)

The other nice thing about this bread (besides being delicious and healthful) is that it is one of the faster breads we make. The recipe doesn't call for a pre-ferment (or sponge or biga), which means we can come home from work and crank out a loaf of bread in just a few hours. And that means I can look forward to perfect toast in the morning. I'm serious about toast and, guys, this toast is perfect: for a runny egg, for a simple swipe of salted butter, or for a dip through a pool of extra virgin olive oil. Or, make me a sandwich on this and I'll be a happy girl. Who am I kidding with the "virtuous" stuff? This bread is good and the health factor is just icing on the cake... er, hummus on the celery stick.

Flaxseed loaf (Rose Levy Berenbaum)

1. We buy whole flax seed, store it in the freezer, and grind it just prior to making the bread. The best way to grind flaxseed is to use a little coffee grinder. We have two grinders: a nice burr grinder dedicated to coffee and a cheap re-purposed coffee grinder dedicated to spices.
2. This bread stays fresh and soft for about 3 days, after which it starts to dry out significantly. However, it continues to make excellent toast.
3. Most of RLB's recipes call for the following oven set up: pizza stone on the bottom rack and a cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven. You can improvise by using very sturdy baking sheets in place of the pizza stone/skillet set up. However, we have had great success with this set up for bread and pizza. Our first baking stone cracked after 3 years (not bad!) and we recently bought this one, which is holding up well. While we are recommending kitchen items, we like the Lodge unseasoned cast iron skillets.

374 grams unbleached, all-purpose flour (2 2/3 cups)
144 grams whole wheat flour (1 cup)
71 grams pumpernickel flour (about 1/2 cup)
58 grams ground flaxseed (1/2 cup)
4 grams instant yeast (1 1/4 teaspoons)
40 grams honey (2 tablespoons)
414 grams warm (110-115 degrees F) water (1 3/4 liquid cups)
13.2 grams salt (2 teaspoons)
optional: 14 grams melted butter (1 tablespoon)

9-by-5 inch loaf pan, lightly greased with cooking spray or neutral oil
a baking stone or baking sheet
a cast-iron skillet or baking sheet

1. Mix the dough, either using a stand mixer or by using your hands.

Mixer method
In a mixer bowl, whisk together the three flours, flaxseed, and yeast. Make a well in the center and add the honey. With the dough hook, on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid), gradually add the water. Continue mixing for about 1 minute or all the dry ingredients are moistened enough to form a rough dough. Scrape down any bits of dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle on the salt and knead for 7 minutes on medium speed (#4 KitchenAid). The dough should be very elastic and jump back when pressed with a fingertip, but still moist enough to lightly cling to your fingers. If it is still very sticky, knead in a little flour. If it is not at all sticky, spray it with a little water and knead it in. (The dough will weigh about 2 pounds, 7 ounces/1103 grams.)

Hand method
In a medium mixing bowl, with a wooden spoon or your hand, stir together the water, honey, flaxseed, pumpernickel flour, and yeast. Then stir in the salt, whole wheat flour, and all-purpose flour until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, enough to develop the gluten structure a little, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible to keep it from sticking. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point, it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.

Knead the dough for another 5 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic. It should still be moist enough to cling slightly to your fingers. If the dough is very sticky, add some of the remaining reserved flour, or a little extra. (The dough will weigh about 2 pounds 7 ounces/1103 grams.)

Both methods: Let the dough rise. Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 4 quart dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Push down the dough and lightly spray or oil the top. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75 to 80 F) until doubled, about 1 hour.

Shape the dough and let it rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and press down on it to flatten it slightly. Shape the dough into a loaf. Set int in the prepared loaf pan; it will about 1/2 inch from the top of the pan. Cover it with a large container or cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until the center is about 1 inch higher than the sides of the pan, 45 to 60 minutes. When the dough is pressed very gently with a fingertip, the depression will very slowly fill in.

Preheat the oven to 375 F 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place an oven stone or baking sheet on it, and a cast iron skillet or sheet pan on the floor of the oven, before preheating.

With a sharp knife or single-edged razor blade, make a 1/2 inch deep slash lengthwise down the top of the dough. Quickly but gently set the pan on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet. Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath and immediately shut the door. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (an instant-read thermometer will read about 190 F). Halfway through baking, turn the pan around for even baking.

Remove the bread from the oven and unmold it onto a wire rack. Turn top side up, brush it with melted butter, if desired, and allow it to cool until barely warm, about 2 hours.

April 11, 2010

thoughts on breakfast and a recipe for granola

One of the best things about my mom is that she always, but always, made us a hot breakfast on school days. Some days we had American breakfasts, perhaps grits or oatmeal or scrambled eggs or French toast, with a side of bacon or sausage and some fruit to round it off. Other days we had breakfasts like she might eat in Vietnam: fragrant pho (beef noodle soup) or chao (rice congee) or shrimp omelets with steamed rice on the side.

I think this is why I've never really liked cereal. My expectation of breakfast is something hot and filling and savory, and a bowl of Cheerios is none of those things. Given cereal or dinner leftovers, I'll go with dinner leftovers 9 times out of 10. On the other hand, Mark is the kind of guy who loves pho for breakfast but, in its absence, will happily eat a bowl of cereal.

So I made him some granola. This granola recipe comes from the New York Times via Melissa Clarkand, guys, I have to admit it's pretty great. Actually, it's addictive. I could see this as a good breakfast, if that's your thing, or afternoon snack with milk or plain Greek yogurt. It comes together in a snap: you mix rolled oats, coconut, pumpkin seeds, nuts, brown sugar, maple syrup, kosher salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and extra virgin olive oil together. (I made some substitutions, which I will discuss below.) You bake, stir, cool, and fold in some chopped apricots. The result is crunchy, sweet, and salty, with a touch of bitter richness from the olive oil.


New York Times: Olive Oil Granola

Notes: I subbed a combination of pecans and almonds for the pistachios, because that's what I had. I couldn't find coconut chips so I subbed unsweetened coconut flakes. Finally, I misread the recipe and baked the apricots in the oven instead of stirring them in at the end, but it still turned out ok (at least, it didn't burn). Don't do this if you don't like chewy apricots, though. Main criticism: I found this a little too sweet and will cut back on the brown sugar next time.

April 9, 2010

fun things

Mark and I flew to Colorado to visit friends and their CUTE baby and to ski. I discovered that I like to ski fast and I like powder. I didn't even mind when that combination led me to ski into a (very small) tree. Oh man, it was fun. And, Colorado, you are one gorgeous state.

 We got to hang out with our nephews a few times this spring, visiting them once in Keller and taking them to a Rice baseball game a few weeks later. They enjoyed the game, as long as there were peanuts to crack and sno-cones to eat. After that, not so much.

 To celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary, Mark and I did the tasting menu at Feast (a Houston restaurant renowned for nose-to-tail cooking). 9 courses: pork terrine, pork and fennel pâté with cauliflower and caper picallili, faggots with a spiced raisin compote (this is going to result in some interesting google hits), curried parsnip soup, calf's liver with mashed potatoes and wilted spinach, roasted grouper with bacony peas, lamb shank with kale, lemon sorbet, and bread and rum raisin pudding. We loved the whole experience and highly recommend Feast for delicious, memorable cooking (plus 1 for a reasonably priced wine list!). However, 9 courses is insanity. I probably won't attempt this ever, ever again.

Next post will be back to food and cooking, I promise. I have a food tip, actually. Little Big's has pulled pork sliders topped with cole slaw. Top them with a few pickled jalapenos, and I'd say Houston finally has decent pulled pork. Go, and enjoy the sunshine.