Posts Tagged ‘bread’

Fashioning A Silk Purse From A Sow’s Ear

A Little Slice Of Heaven

There’s almost nothing I dislike more than waste.

Having a CSA share every summer means that I’ve learned to get pretty creative with its contents so that they don’t end up going into the trash.

But, now that summer has taken it’s final bow, we’ve gone back to receiving what our organic grocer Bob from Clean Food Connection calls a “vegpak” in every order, which basically amounts to a box full of fruits and veggies that his staff will pack up for me, based on my likes/dislikes/preferences.  So, while everything we receive is always something we’ll enjoy, sometimes it means we end up with produce that we weren’t necessarily expecting.

And sometimes that produce will sit around my kitchen almost until the brink of decay.  Which is exactly how I ended up having 6 overripe bosc pears sitting on my counter with no immediate plans for them yesterday.

At first glance, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to make a pear crisp, but once I started to peel the pears, I realized that there was no way they’d be firm enough to stand up to that.  Which is how I ended up making a puree.  And once I had that puree, it was only a mental hop, skip and a jump to deciding that a pear-based quick bread was the way to go.  Fortifying my general quick bread recipe with the addition of oats and a pinch of camphorous cardamom put the finishing touches on the bread.


A Panoply Of Provisions

Pizza Rossa Alla Romana

I’ve done quite a bit of experimental baking over the last few months; in particular veering out of my comfort zone of Local Breads to include other books and bread-making recipes.

I’ve enjoyed myself, maybe even learned a few things, but most of all this task cemented the fact that baking is my zen.  Nowhere do I feel more peaceful or at ease than when I’m standing at the counter massaging a mass of spongy dough.  Time to start evaluating a career change?  Perhaps so, but only time will tell… though I recently read about GBC offering an artisanal bread certificate program…

At any rate, I thought I’d share a short pictorial with all of you on some of the highs and lows of my personal baking quest since September;

Pane Casareccio Di Genzano


Ne Plus Ultra


Here, my friends, is one of the real reasons I go to the lengths that I do to take care of my unruly rooftop garden.

What would from the outside appear to be a rather pedestrian sandwich, is actually the pinnacle of summer indulgences for me; the toasted tomato sandwich.


The bread?  Baked fresh Sunday morning.  The tomatoes?  A handful of sun-warmed San Marzanos from the roof.  And the bacon?  That would be a meaty plank sawed from the slab I cured and smoked recently.


Pane Della Settimana


For the second week in a row, I did not have the forethought to prepare a bread starter prior to Sunday morning.  And while I have a jar of funky looking levain stewing in the back of my refrigerator, I can’t remember when I last refreshed it with flour to make it usable.

You can hardly blame me for forgetfulness though; I was too excited about getting to see The Pixies to contemplate poolishes and bigas on Saturday morning.

Of course, if I wanted to bake bread still, I had to choose something that would be leavened only by yeast and time.  Lucky for me, I had one such loaf ear-marked from the last time I went through Local Breads to find recipes that interested me.

The bread I chose was a pane alla ricotta, which was a bit of a departure from the breads I’ve been baking of late, in that it contained both a soft cheese and butter instead of olive oil.  Being the fan of ricotta that I am (I could eat the stuff by the spoonful, and when we have it in the house, I often do) I was intrigued by the potential of this bread.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that it would live up to my expectations…


Bella Bianca


Truthfully, I’m not usually one for compromise.

I want what I want, and I want it my way, so woe betide those who might get between me and whatever I’m after.

One of the things I enjoy about Sundays is the opportunity for solitude that comes from quietly baking.  However, the Everyman and I had to go out to the KW yesterday afternoon, so any bread I intended to bake needed to be a little easier or more low maintenance.  After last week’s recipe perusal, I had a list of close to a half dozen breads I wanted to play around with in the near future, so from that I selected the one bread that didn’t require any sort of starter or biga; the pizza bianca.

Pizza bianca is pizza in it’s most elemental form.  The dough is similar to focaccia, except it’s not quite as airy.  For a bianca, it is nothing more than dough baked in a blazing hot oven sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt, but to fancy it up a little, you can turn it into pizza rosso, where it becomes a tomato sauce-based pizza.

Back when I first started making focaccia, the Everyman commented that they were similar to the ones he used to buy in Italy as a snack, but mine came with more in the way of herb topping.  After awhile it occurred to me that perhaps what the Everyman had been reminiscing about was a pizza bianca.  I always meant to get around to making him one, but with so many tempting options in Local Breads to sample, who could blame me for neglecting the bianca a wee bit?


Give Us This Day, Our Daily Bread

Deep, Dark, Crusted, Brown

Sadly, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve had an opportunity to bake.

Between our hectic schedule lately, there hasn’t been any time for futzing around in the kitchen.  It’s an activity I’ve missed, one that I find increasingly meditative and peaceful, and a welcome distraction from the Everyman’s incessant pow-pow-pow zombie-killing escapades. So when the opportunity to bake presented itself this weekend I jumped at it, comforted by the fact that whatever I chose would be sacrilicious.

Half an hour spent idly flipping through my regular bread book (Local Breads by Daniel Leader) on our patio led to a handful of potentials, none of which required any advance prep on my part, either.  Eventually I chose a pain de mais, a corn flour and rye-based Italian bread solely on the basis that all of the other breads I’d chosen would’ve required me to walk to the store for provisions, and it was bloody steamy outside.

The recipe for pain de mais is upfront, stating that it is quite the anomaly for an Italian bread, being that most Italian breads rely on wheat flour only.  Because this bread has a low proportion of wheat flour in comparison to rye and corn, the book notes that the bread will not rise much, producing something only slightly more leavened than a cracker.  It promises a flavour that’s out of this world though, which was all the convincing I needed.


Mangia – Pane Toscano


Having spent a thoroughly frantic day preparing for guests on Saturday, when bread baking finally rolled around on Sunday morning, I was more than happy to settle on a recipe that was a little more hands off than usual.  Rushing to and from the market and standing on one’s feet all day tend to make this foodie grumpy, so I was on the lookout for an effortless endeavour followed by a crisp, cool glass of wine.

On top of all that, I planned to go out for dinner to research a restaurant review for my side job, so I knew I would not be around to tend to anything time-consuming (coming soon; August 6th).

After halfheartedly flipping through the pages of Local Breads and bypassing both the German and French sections, I paused where I often do; in Italy.  The pane Toscano, billed as a saltless Tuscan bread, seemed simple and rustic enough to pull off with a minimal amount of fuss.  The primary advantage in tipping the scales was that it didn’t require a starter more complicated than a biga.  I whipped the biga together in double time, then went about soaking my poor, aching toes.

Mix Mix Mix


Pain De La Semaine


Despite the fact that the Everyman and I spent the weekend at the cottage, the bread still needed to get made.

Knowing that I would not be around to babysit a biga, I intended to select a dough that could be assembled in one shot.  Complicating matters slightly, our organic grocer had gifted us with a massive bush-sized bouquet of basil as a thank you for being customers on his birthday last week, so I felt the need to incorporate some of that into the recipe as well, lest it go to waste.  There is, after all, only so much pesto one can make.  Our freezer is full of them; lemon artichoke pesto, sundried tomato pesto, roasted garlic pesto, garlic scape pesto, plain old pesto, etc etc.  If you can add cheese to it, I’ve probably turned it into pesto cubes at some point in time.

Flipping through my all-important baking bible, Local Breads by Daniel Leader, I came across a loaf that sounded slightly challenging that would also meet the above requirements; an herb twist.  Marking the page for later, I left the book on the counter and headed off to the cottage for a few days of summer relaxation.

Upon my return, I hunkered down in the kitchen and began to assemble the pertinent ingredients.  As with anything I make, I couldn’t leave the recipe as is, so I added a few scoops of red fife flour in place of some of the white flour, and omitted the coriander seeds, which I truly despise.


My Ode To The Everyman


The Everyman is my main squeeze (as if you didn’t already know that, though).

Oftentimes when I’m flipping through cookbooks or browsing foodie publications on the internet, I am reading with an eye to him in mind.  If there’s one thing I seem to be known for, it is spoiling people via nourishing and delicious home-cooked food.

This past weekend was just one such occasion.

In my ongoing quest to expand my bread baking skills beyond simple baguettes and foccacias, I’ve been selecting intriguing recipes from Local Breads by Daniel Leader to test out over the past few months.  I haven’t been disappointed yet, though you can definitely tell which breads I’ve enjoyed most based on how watermarked and crinkled the pages are in places.

On Saturday afternoon before we went to another Summerlicious dinner, I perused the book and immediately spotted a loaf I knew the Everyman would love; prosciutto bread.  The Everyman loves prosciutto more than any man or beast I know (with the exception of my departed cat, Cuddles, who would wrestle it from your cold, dead hands if she ever got the chance).  Contented that I’d picked a good recipe, I prepared the required biga and set it to rest until the following day.


This Week’s Breadly Adventures


If you hadn’t already noticed, I bore easily.

That (among other reasons) is why I will (most likely) never work in a professional kitchen.  I can’t do the same things over and over again or else I go stir crazy.

As much can be said about my exploits in my home kitchen.  I typically make a loaf of bread and a sweet of some kind for work each week, but after a week or two I have to move on to something else or I start to get lazy and don’t want to bother anymore.

I’ve been feeling that way about bread baking lately, so I’m making a conscious effort to challenge myself with a new recipe each week.  Through that mantra I came out with the ciabatta and roasted tomato foccacias, both of which have been mighty tasty.  I would’ve been happy enough to bake another batch of ciabatta this week, but I decided to stretch myself and pick something different.

From my go-to bread cookbook Local Breads by Daniel Leader, I selected an Italian regional loaf called a filone that looked promising.  With a light, bubbly, biga-infused crust, this bread is shot through and through with freshly chopped rosemary.


Testing, Testing, 123

Holey Wheat

The time the Everyman and I have spent at Negroni during the last month (I think it’s averaged out to once a week, actually) inspired my latest project.

One of the reasons I enjoy their paninis so much is the use of their amazingly flavourful, crusty ciabatta bread (which they really should take to market on it’s own!).  To date, my bread-making exploits have primarily centred around quick breads, baguettes and the occasional foccacia, even though the beautiful pictures in Local Breads make me salivate every time I see them.

This weekend I decided to change all that.  I pulled out the book, rolled up my sleeves and resolved to attempt ciabatta.  Flipping through the two page recipe, it didn’t seem overly challenging, so I felt confident.  It was one of the recipes in the book that called for the use of a prefermented biga, which is sort of like a poolish or sourdough starter.  So, on Sunday afternoon I whipped up my biga, (which was a really easy process in itself) flipped it into the fridge to ferment for 16 hours and put things on hold until the following day.

Monday morning I woke up excited to peer at my biga.  As promised by the book, it had taken on a sheen and increased in volume from a lump of dough about the size of a lime to a glossy ball about the size of an orange (I intended to photograph the transformation but forgot).  Next, the recipe called for diluting it in water and breaking up the biga, then mixing it with the rest of the dough ingredients in a stand mixer set on high.  It was a little early, and the Everyman was still asleep, but I threw caution to the wind and assumed it would never rouse him up anyway.  After allowing the machine to vigorously (and loudly) mix the dough for 20 minutes, it ferments again for several hours (which ended up being much more while I was away at work).

When I returned home last night, I revisited the dough, stretching it out onto a baking sheet into 2 slightly misshapen loaves that were dimpled, then allowed to proof again.  Once ready, I tossed them into a blazing oven (one at a time) for a bake on the bread stone.  I (accidentally) left one in a little longer than the other, so I have a very definite variance to determine a favourite with. (more…)

Another Way To Get Your Strawberry Fix

The Finished Loaf

As I may have already mentioned, I really really love banana bread.

My recent experiments with chocolate fig bread convinced me that I could successfully recreate the strawberry lemon loaf that the Everyman loves so much from the farmer’s market.  By the time we get to that market on Tuesday nights, they’re always sold out of the breads, so trying to find an alternative really made sense.

Strawberry Puree

I used my base recipe for banana bread as a guide, and then began making substitutions.  The fun thing about this bread is that because it’s slightly acidic from the berries and lemon, when you mix the wet and dry ingredients together, they start foaming like crazy.  It’s like high school chem class all over again, and in pink!  The end result was slightly moister than the market version, but the flavours were spot on.  I’ll probably tweak this a little more over the next few batches, but the recipe as is makes a pretty damn fantastic bread, too.  Enjoy! (more…)

On The Go

Just a quick pictorial to share what I’ve been working on with you…

Smoky Poblano and Pork Sausage

It’s hard to make raw meat look sexy (doubly so when it happens to be sausage) but these juicy links of homemade smoky poblano and pork sausage are just crying out for a grill and some Mexican-inspired menus. Tequila anyone?

Roasted Tomato Foccacia