Sunday, September 30, 2012

Five Minute Bread

I love homemade bread, but who has time to make great, crusty bread on a regular basis?  With all the mixing, kneading, and proofing required to produce a loaf, you need hours in the kitchen, and that isn't even factoring in keeping a starter alive for those deeper flavored loaves. 

Well, I found a solution in the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a DayI know what many of you are saying...this book has been around for several years now.  I know, and I have no idea how I am just now discovering it, but I am so glad I have. 

A free-form loaf slashed with three scalloped cuts on top.
This book and the accompanying website, Bread in Five, from its authors outline a new approach to bread making for those of us with little time to spare.  You can simply mix up a batch of high-moisture dough, skip the kneading process, and keep the dough in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, cutting off and baking sections as needed.  It will take you a little time to get each batch of dough going, but once it is mixed, the hands-on time is minimal at about five minutes per loaf.  You can remove a chunk of dough, let it rise for 40 minutes while you do other things, and bake it.  Best of all, it produces a loaf that is crusty on the outside, and chewy yet moist on the inside.  People will never guess that you have spent almost no time in the kitchen to produce a pretty impressive loaf. 

One other great thing about this dough is that you can continue to use the same storage vessel for mixing new batches, and each time you do the flavor of the dough will deepen due to the bits of leftover dough that get mixed in to the new batch.  After several batches, you have a dough with a much more developed flavor, all without the need or use for a starter. 
The inside of the finished loaf has a nice, chewy texture.
This dough is also very versatile, allowing you to make all sorts of breads without mixing multiple batches.  With the master recipe I have made free-form loaves like the one pictured above as well as baguettes and pita.  It is fabulous to be able to have a loaf of bread when I want or need one without a trip to the bakery. 

Part of a baguette made with the same dough.  The baguette does not get dusted on top.
Pita made with the same dough.  The pita is rolled thin and then puffs as it bakes.  You do not need to add water to the broiler pan when making the pita as you do not want it to get crusty. 
Below, I am only outlining the basics of the Master Recipe and how to form a free-form loaf.  For more information on this recipe visit Mother Earth News, or visit Bread in Five for more dough and loaf types. 

Five Minute Bread- makes enough for four 1 pound loaves
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

To make this bread, you will need the following ingredients as well as a pizza stone, pizza peel, and the bottom portion of a broiler pan.

3 cups lukewarm water
2 packets active dry yeast (1 1/2 Tbsp)
1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached all-purpose white flour
cornmeal for dusting pizza peel

Mixing and Rising the Dough:  Place the water in a large bowl or large plastic food container with the salt and yeast.  You do not need to let the yeast sit for any period of time before adding the flour.  Add the flour to the water and yeast.  Use a wooden spoon to incorporate the flour.  If it becomes too difficult, wet your hands, and finish mixing manually.  Cover the bowl with a towel or lid (not airtight) and allow the dough to rise for 2 hours until the dough has risen and is beginning to flatten on the top.  At this point, the dough is ready to shape or store.  It is a little easier to work with if it has been refrigerated for a day before the first baking.   

Shaping the Loaf:  You will not need to knead the dough before shaping.  Instead, when ready to make a loaf, simply cut off a 1 pound piece of dough and shape it into a loaf by stretching it and turning the ends under to create a ball of dough.  The ends will all be bunched under the loaf which is fine, but the top should be rounded and smooth. 

Slashing, Dustin, Resting, and Rising: Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel.  Place the shaped loaf on the pizza peel.  Liberally dust the loaf with all-purpose flour.  Using a serrated knife, make several 1/4 inch deep slashes in the top of the dough.  Allow the dough to rest on the pizza peel for 40 minutes.  The dough may not rise much during this time, but it will rise more in the oven.  About 20 minutes into the rising process, place your pizza stone on a middle rack in the oven.  Place an empty broiler pan on another rack.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  

This loaf was dusted and slashed in a tic-tac-toe pattern.  This is a picture of it after rising. 
Baking:  After 40 minutes of rising, transfer the loaf from the pizza peel to the pizza stone.  Quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler pan and close the oven door.  Allow the loaf to bake 30-40 minutes until the loaf is very brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Since this dough is very moist, you can bake it until it is nicely browned without drying it out inside.  Remove the loaf to a wire rack to cool.  It will make crackling sounds as it cools resulting a crusty outer shell.

Storing the Dough:  Keep the dough in a covered but not airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 14 days, cutting pieces of dough out to shape, rise, and bake when needed.  When you are ready to make more dough, simply mix the new batch in the same, unwashed bowl, mixing in the older bits of dough into the new. 

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pear Sauce

I know I haven't been posting quite as much lately, and I am sincerely hoping to remedy that soon, but with a new year of teaching beginning and lots of changes at work, it has been a little difficult to get to the computer to talk about food. 

This weekend, however, really makes me want to talk about food and really made me want to be in the kitchen.  It has been lovely.  Cool, crisp air with hints of fall in the colors on the trees.  I am officially in nesting mode.  This always happens to me this time of year as I'm sure it happens to many of you.  I just want to stay at home, plant flowers outside, and cook away.  I spent this weekend baking a delicious pumpkin chocolate chip pie (more on that to come) and realized that I still needed to tell you about some of the pear goodies I canned before it's too late and not a (local) pear is to be found. 

So, I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you about the pear sauce I made using those old-fashioned hard pears from my mom's backyard tree.  Any pear would do, but they should be ripe and sweet.  The sweeter the pears, the less sugar you will need to use, so choose wisely. 

Pear sauce is just like applesauce but made with pears.  It can be eaten alone, used as a condiment to roasted meats, or used in baking.  The instructions below are much more of a method than a recipe.  You will need to increase the ingredients to fit the quantity of pears you have on hand.  I multiplied the quantities below by four because I had 12 pounds of pears, but you can certainly do smaller batches.  Every 3-4 pounds of pears will yield approximately 2 pints of sauce or 1 quart.  Therefore, my twelve pounds yielded about 8 pints of sauce.  You can adjust the amount of sugar after tasting, using more of less as desired, but do not change the quantity of lemon juice as it is necessary for proper acidity and to prevent your pears from browning.  You can also add spices to the sauce, if desired.  Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg would all be tasty additions.   

You also have two options for peeling.  If you own a food mill, you can skip the peeling and seeding step because the food mill will remove those elements when you pass the pears through it.  If you do not own a food mill, you will need a food processor in which case you will need to peel and seed the pears before cooking so that they can go directly into the processor when soft.  Below I give directions for both.  

Pear Sauce- yields 2 pints or 1 quart (increase quantities for larger batches)

3-4 pounds of ripe, sweet pears (peeled and seeded if using a food processor, unpeeled if using a food mill)
1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice (bottled lemon juice has consistent acidity)
1/4-1/2 cup water (to prevent sticking and help create a desirable consistency)
2 Tbsp sugar (you can increase or decrease this amount as desired)

Prepare your jars, lids, and boiling water canner.

Combine the water and lemon juice in a large nonreactive pot.  Place the prepped pears in the pot and toss with the lemon water to prevent browning.  Bring the pears to a boil over medium high heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until the pears are soft and tender, about 20 minutes. 

Remove the pot from the heat and cool several minutes. If using a food mill, pears can be added peel and all to the food mill and passed through to create a sauce.  If using a food processor, scoop your peeled pears into the machine and process to your desired consistency. 

Place the sauce back into the pot.  Add sugar to taste, adjusting depending on the sweetness of the pears.  Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium heat, stirring to prevent scorching. 

Ladle hot sauce into hot pint or quart jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and top each jar with a sterilized lid and ring.  Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes for pints or 20 minutes for quarts (adjusting time for altitude as needed). 

Remove jars from the canner and place on a towel to cool for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store. 

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fig Newtons

Fig newtons are one of those cookies (are they a cookie?) that seem a little healthier than others, and sometimes I crave fig newtons when I want something a little sweet.  When my mom gave me figs from her backyard tree I tried to find a unique way to use them aside from simply eating them fresh or making preserves.  I thought a batch of fig newtons would fit that bill, so I looked online and in books for homemade fig newton recipes.  

The problem was finding a recipe that actually used fresh, rather than dried, figs in the filling.  That's when I stumbled upon The Beantown Baker's version of these little treats.  In her recipe, Jen uses fresh figs and a shortbread-like dough to come up with a pretty solid approximation of a fig newton.  

I found that the cookies/bars were a little softer than a store-bought newton, but I actually preferred this after tasting.  The filling was perfect and was preferable as well (at least to people who tried them).  My mother-in-law said it nicely when she commented that the filling was less "gritty" than in a store-bought newton which was due to the fact that even though the seeds were left in the fig mash, they somehow were less noticeable in the final product.  

All in all, this is a great recipe that will have you craving fig newtons from your oven rather than the supermarket.  A word of not omit, for any reason, the orange zest from the dough.  It adds fantastic flavor and makes the newtons taste more authentic.  

Since I used the recipe as it was on The Beantown Baker blog, so I am not going to re-post it here.  Go over and visit Jen using the link above to get the recipe and try these yummy little goodies for yourself.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Whole Grain Berry Muffins

It is said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  It is also, in my experience, the most rushed and hectic as I try to gather it and eat it on my way to work.  I have tried various things over the years to make breakfast fast and easy, but some of those options weren't the most healthy.  I need something I can grab on the go but that makes me feel like I am starting my day off right.  Enter these muffins. 

These muffins are chock full of whole wheat, oats, and fresh berries, although most any fruits could be used.  Peaches or apples would be lovely as would cherries or even cranberries.  A suggestion is even given under the original recipe for replacing the berries with an equal amount of shredded summer squash.  The spices can be modified to enhance the particular fruits being used.  The batter of these muffins is what makes them special.  Nutty from the grains and slightly spiced from the cinnamon, the batter does not produce your typical dessert-like muffin.  A little honey adds just what you need in terms of sweetness without being cloying, and the berries add so much flavor you will never miss the sugar called for in other muffin recipes. 

So, if you are having the same sort of breakfast problems I have or just want something that is versatile, filling, and makes you feel nutritionally virtuous, give these little babies a try!

Whole Grain Berry Muffins-  makes 12 regular size muffins
Recipe only slightly adapted from Simply In Season

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup milk (low-fat or skim is fine)
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries (I used raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
1 Tbsp cinnamon sugar, to sprinkle on top (optional)
cooking spray or paper muffin liners to prevent sticking

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray or grease muffins tins or line each with a paper muffin cup.  

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil, and honey (the honey may not blend completely).  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir to combine.  Fold in the berries, and fill muffin cups evenly with the batter (each cup will be almost full).  Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top of the batter, if using, and bake muffins for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  These muffins will keep for several days if stored in an airtight container.  
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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves

Figs are magical.  Floral, soft and sensual, they are symbols of fertility, abundance, and enlightenment in various cultures around the world.  In the South, particularly the warmer areas near the coast, they can be easily found in many a backyard.  If you don't have a fig tree, chances are you know someone who does, and the trees are often so prolific that you are inundated (which in my opinion is a wonderful thing) with the precious 'fruits' for several weeks each year.  Figs are technically a sort of inverted flower consisting of flower parts inside the green or brown skin.  They are exceptionally sweet and highly perishable which requires that they are dealt with quickly after picking.  Of course, you can eat them fresh, in salads, or stuffed with cheese and wrapped in proscuitto or bacon, but one of the best ways to keep their flavor around long term is to make old-fashioned fig preserves.  

Fig preserves are a combination of soft, whole figs suspended in a thick syrup.
As I rode my bicycle around Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks over the summer, fig trees were in every other backyard I saw, and fig preserves were everywhere.  People were selling them in markets, stores, craft venues, and restaurants.  They were beautiful, but I held off purchasing them because I knew I had some figs coming my way from the tree in my mom's backyard.  Sure enough, on my way home from the island she called to tell me that there were four quarts of figs in her refrigerator that needed to be used as soon as possible.  
These figs are from my mom's tree.  We are not sure of the exact variety. 
The figs are covered in sugar and chilled overnight before making the preserves.
When I got the figs home (and ate my fair share of them) I knew what to make.  These preserves are fragrant and delicious and go well with biscuits or toast.  They can also be used to make fig newtons (more on those to come) and moist fig cake.  And most of all, they remind me of summer afternoons spent picking figs and savoring every bite.  

Finished Fig Preserves
Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves-  makes 5-6 half-pint jars
These preserves do require a little time as do other jam-like products that do not contain pectin.  Once the figs are tender and translucent, the syrup will be cooked alone until it sets up on a cold plate and no water seeps around the edges of the "mound" or it coats the back of a spoon and will hold a clean line when you run your finger through it.  I test mine with a cold plate (and a finger run through it), and this is what it looks like when it is ready.  It will be similar to the consistency of honey.
8 cups whole fresh figs, most any variety will do
2 cups granulated sugar
2 lemons, one sliced thin and one juiced
1/2 cup water
Place the figs, sugar, lemon slices, and lemon juice in a nonreactive pot and chill overnight. 
Prepare your canner, jars, lids, and rings.  Add the water to the fig mixture and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour until the figs are soft and translucent. 
Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs and lemon slices from the syrup and place them in a bowl, draining as much liquid back into the pot as possible. Set the figs aside and reheat the syrup to boiling.  Allow the syrup to simmer, uncovered, for anywhere between 15-30 minutes until it is thick.  Gel can be tested in several ways.  If the syrup will coat the back of a spoon and hold a clean line when a finger is drawn through it it is set.  It is also ready if a dollop is placed on a cold plate in the freezer and remains in a "mound" with no liquid seeping around the edges. 
Once the syrup is thick, return the figs to the syrup and heat just long enough to bring the mixture back to a boil.   
Ladle the hot preserves into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and wipe the jar rims.  Place a lid and ring on each jar, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Remove jars to a towel to cool for 24 hours before labeling and storing.