Jan 02 2011

Bread and Rainy Days

Fresh Artisan Bread

New England weather is crazy. Last week started with hurricane-force winds, about a foot of snow, and wind-chills around zero degrees or less. The week ended with temps in the 50s, fog, and rain. Never a dull (weather) moment in Southern New England.

So while the snow melts away on January 2nd and I’m trapped inside, fearing tracking an unexpected mud season into the house, what else is there to do to bring sunshine into my life but bake? Bread is on the agenda today. I started with an Oatmeal loaf in my Sunbeam bread machine–something for sandwiches since it’s been a week since I’ve gone grocery shopping and we’ve run out. Oops! Once I got that going, however, I started thinking about that easy artisan bread I haven’t made in ages.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Five-Minute Artisan Bread. Everybody has. Like so many fads before it, it burst onto the scene to the delight of many, was baked by all, and disappeared into the sunset, forgotten just as quickly as it was discovered. You don’t hear much about it these days, but you can’t beat the simplicity. It pays off big time in results that you would expect from so much more manpower and all you have to do is wait for nature to take its course.

Steaming Hot Fresh Bread

This recipe originated in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (which I don’t have yet, but I ordered it last week and it’s on the way!).  I discovered it on A Splendid Table.  All you need are flour, salt, yeast, and water, a couple minutes to mix them together in a plastic bin, and a bit of patience. I highly recommend refrigerating the dough for a couple hours before baking (and the longer you leave it in the fridge after the initial counter-top rise, the better the flavor it develops). It’s a great introduction into the world of artisan bread for the casual home chef. Just be careful with your measuring (remember to scoop the flour into the measuring cup and scrape the excess off) and you’ll be all set.

Buttery Bread

Five-Minute Artisan Bread

adapted from A Splendid Table

1 1/2 Tbsp sea salt

1 1/2 Tbsp granulated yeast

3 cups lukewarm (100 degrees Fahrenheit) water

6 1/2 cups unbleached flour (I substituted 2 cups with white whole wheat flour), plus extra for dusting


In a large plastic tub, mix the sea salt, granulated yeast, and warm water. With a wooden spoon, mix in the flour until there are no dry spots, but do not knead. Dough should be wet and loose, conforming to the shape of the tub. Cover loosely and let it sit at room temperature for 2-5 hours, until it flattens on top or collapses.

At this point, you should refrigerate the dough. If you plan on baking the same day, it should sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours (and up to 2 weeks)–but the longer you leave it in the fridge, the better the flavor and texture.

When ready to bake, place a metal broiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone that allows it, preheat the stone for at least 20 minutes (in which case, you’ll be using a cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel to transfer the dough onto the stone later). If you have Pampered Chef stoneware, you’re not supposed to preheat it. That’s what I have and I never preheat it, even making this recipe. In that case, just sprinkle some cornmeal on it and set it aside

Flour your hands and cut off a piece of dough, about 1 lb. For 30-60 seconds, work the dough ball in your hands, stretching it and turning a quarter turn each time, making a rounded top and a bunched up belly button of a bottom. Reflour hands as required but don’t expect to work it into the dough as it’s only to prevent sticking at this point.

Place the dough ball onto the prepared pizza peel or PC baking stone, belly button side down, dusting the top with flour. Let it rest somewhere warm for 40 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough, or return it to the fridge to use later in the 2 weeks. You can also freeze the dough balls in 1 lb portions–just thaw in the fridge overnight the day before you plan on using them.

Take a sharp knife (I like my tomato knife for this) and cut 3 slashes across the top of the dough about 1/2 inch deep, parallel or cross-hatched. Slide dough onto preheated stone (or put the PC stone with dough on it into the oven). Pour 1 cup of warm water into the broiler pan and shut the door quickly. Bake until well-browned and firm, about 30 minutes. You can test doneness by thumping the bottom of the loaf–if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Jan 01 2011

Goals? Sure, It's Good To Have Them…

I know I said I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions–which is true, I don’t. I don’t wait for the beginning of a new year to make changes in my life–I’m in a constant state of flux. But I do have some goals–some things I’d like to accomplish–that aren’t really changes, but more of a bucket list for the year.

  • Crème brûlée. Now that I have my own kitchen torch, I can do it! I used to do the brûlée-ing in preparation for the display case when I worked as a baker’s assistant for my aunt at Bantam Bread Company, but I only worked there for 8 weeks and that was 12 years ago. Yikes! Has it really been that long?
  • Dacquoise. I’m very intimidated–but very intrigued.
  • Croissants. I’ve known since French class in high school that this involves a lot of butter and a lot of kneading. I may never eat them again after this, but I’ve always wanted to make them. This year, I shall. And I promise I won’t try to cheat by using the dough cycle on the bread machine somehow. ;)
  • Cake decorating. I hate it. I’d rather focus on flavor than presentation, but I really should work on this. If nothing else, I have 2 kids’ + hubby’s birthdays for practice.
  • Pasta. This is a bit ambitious since I currently own nothing that would aid in this, other than my KitchenAid mixer that will accept attachments, but lacks them entirely. Since I’m not exactly a fan of cooking (funny since I LOVE baking), pasta is eaten fairly frequently around here. I should probably figure out how to make it other than by dumping a box into boiling water, even if it’s only one time.
  • Sourdough. I tried once before–even harvested a wild yeast for my starter–but I neglected it in the back of the fridge and killed the poor thing off. Sort of like what I did to my kombucha. And all my plants.

A pretty respectable list. I think I can do this!

Jan 01 2011

Hello world!

Starting out the new year with a new blogging site. I had been thinking about WordPress for a while now and decided to take the plunge. Here’s to many more posts at my new home on the web!

Dec 31 2010

New Year = New Adventures

I don’t ring in the new year with resolutions. Why save them up for one day a year? Instead, I’m constantly re-inventing myself, trying to figure out who I am and what I need to do to be happy. Sometimes, that means going to the gym four times a week, working out my frustration on a treadmill or arc trainer. Other times, it’s sleeping in, skipping the gym to be well-rested instead. I often vow to eat better–and I have made a lot of changes, though they’re not always evident in what I discuss on the blog. In the end, it’s all to try to be true to myself.

So while everyone else is talking about how they will exercise more, eat less, lose weight, and be healthier in the new year, I will instead entice you with a tasty brownie recipe, helping you put off that resolution just a little bit longer. ;) The original recipe fills a jelly roll pan but that’s too much temptation even for me.

May the new year bring much sweetness to your life!

Fudge Brownies with White Chocolate, Toffee, and Pecans
adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook: Old-Fashioned Recipes from New York’s Sweetest Bakery

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
6 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup salted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temp
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup Heath chocolate covered toffee pieces
1/2 cup chopped pecans
4 oz Ghiradelli white chocolate baking bar, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13×9 baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang for easy removal of brownies.

In a double boiler (or by placing the stainless steel or glass mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water), melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally. When melted, remove from stove and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Put mixing bowl on mixer (or pour the melted chocolate/butter into a mixing bowl) and add the sugar, eggs (one at a time), and vanilla extract. Once blended, add the baking powder, salt, and flour and mix until fully incorporated. Pour into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the chocolate covered toffee pieces, pecans, and chopped white chocolate over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out with moist crumbs. Be careful not to over-bake.

Cool completely before cutting. You may even want to pop them in the freezer for a bit to make cutting even easier. Makes about 24 bars, depending on the size you cut them.

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