Country Crust Bread

This is the first bread I ever learned to make.  I was in college, and living in an 8-plex with a roommate in one of the 2 bedroom units.  University of Nevada, Reno, was right across the street, so it’s a wonder how very infrequently I went to class.

Because Kim and I were the first to move into the complex, and because we were excited to be out of our respective parents’ homes, we greeted everyone who moved in and soon knew the medical student upstairs and her husband and two kids and the enormous black Labrador they did not own because it was a no-pets building.  Then Ramana, head of the engineering school, who did not own fish, and Valerie, who taught preschool and did not have a cat, and Ray, who was going to be a dentist and didn’t have a love bird, and Jack, whose apartment I took when he and the marijuana plants he did not own moved away.  At that point Ray gave me the love bird and went on to not really own an African Gray Parrot and John and Barbara downstairs did not own an awful lot of marijuana they were selling.  At some point there was also Eric, the football player, who had a lot of different girlfriends, some of whom met each other unexpectedly and with explosive results.

I learned in that complex that college boys would eat anything, especially fresh, hot bread.  This one (and the cheese bread I posted some time ago) were both very popular.

I haven’t made this simple white bread in forever.  It’s an easy bread, a user friendly recipe that creates a bouncy, soft, elastic dough.  Brush the top of the finished loaves with a big slab of butter, letting it drip onto something easily cleanable or disposable like wax paper (trust me, you want to remember to put something under the wire rack…) and it’s wonderful as is, or for sandwiches, or with a roast cooked with all the trimmings, or at Thanksgiving dinner if you can convince your significant other to not have cheese bread instead (I cannot….)

Country Crust Bread

2 cups hot water in a large mixing bowl

2 packages active dry yeast (or 2 yeast spoonsful or 4 ½ teaspoons)

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 eggs

¼ cup canola oil (or salad oil of choice)

6 to 6 ½ cups unbleached flour

Softened salted butter

 

2 9x5x3 loaf pans, greased

Dissolve the yeast in the water in the big mixing bowl.  Stir in the salt, sugar, oil, 2 eggs and mix well.  Add in the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is not shiny sticky wet and can be lifted as one big elastic-y handful onto a floured work surface.IMG_6176

Knead in as much flour as needed to make the dough elastic and just short of wet.  If it can just barely accept more flour, but isn’t sticking in big clumps to your fingers, that’s a good place to be.  Evening, mid-80s, early August, 5000 feet, it took 6 and ¼ cups today.

Transfer into a large mixing bowl and cover with a clean dishtowel.  Leave in a warm place to rise until double, probably an hour (under summer high altitude conditions, mine was ready in 35 minutes.

 

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Size when set to rise. In 35 minutes of August heat, it filled this huge glass bowl.

 

Punch dough back down and form into loaves for 2 normal sized loaf pans.  The directions say to roll out the dough into a 18×9 inch rectangle, then roll up from long side to long side, tucking the ends under to form a loaf.  I used to do that responsibly but since learned that if I just shape it into a ball, then keep running my hands from the top to under the sides to make a long oval with the seam on the bottom, then allow it to rise, the bread takes on loaf shape anyway by virtue of filling the pan.  I never liked all the rolling, measuring and tucking.

Allow to rise as loaves until double, about an hour in normal places, I think, or 20 minutes at 5,000 feet in August.  Brush both loaves with canola or salad oil.  I think you can do this right before putting them in the oven, but brushing them before leaving them to rise keeps the surface from becoming at all dried out.

 

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This rise took 20 minutes.  Even at 5000 feet, that’s fast!

 

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until tops are golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped. Gently release the breads from the pans and cool on a wire rack.  When they’ve been out of the oven 15 or 20 minutes but are still warm, place the rack over waxed or parchment paper, or a baking tray, to catch drips.  Run a pat of salted butter over the crust.

 

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Fragrant and lovely.

 

This bread is great warm with butter (or jam or peanut butter or honey or almost anything) but let it cool at least 20 to 30 minutes or the crumb will crush down and the bread will seem undercooked, too wet in the middle (almost like clay, you can form shapes out of it – this will stop as it cools).

Once cool this bread has an open, easy crumb, and the loaves will last a couple days at room temperature.  If you have bread storage bags, you’re more prepared than I am – I use a gallon-sized zipper baggie and leave one end open – sealing up fresh bread tightly in plastic makes it sweat, leaving you with soggy or dried out and stale bread.  (Though in that case, there’s always bread pudding or French toast.)

If you try it, let me know what you think!

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Floury Baps

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Floury baps evolved over time for me.  There are so many recipes to make and so many variations on the same item – like the baps – there has to be something special to make me go back and try something a second time.

The first time I made baps I used a recipe from one of my favorite bread books.  Despite that, it didn’t turn out to be my favorite recipe for them.  They were dry and too floury – kind of grainy, definitely blah.

But I really wanted them to turn out.  I wanted to split them in half and load in a fried egg and some bacon and despite the similarity to certain fast food breakfast treats, this actually turned out when I used the second recipe – from Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno (1998, a DK Publishing Book).  My variations are minor, meant to reflect the dryness of the desert and the speeded-up rising and baking times of 5000 feet.

The second time I tried these was about a week into May. The Sierra still wore a considerable amount of snow.  Which wouldn’t be noteworthy, except this past Monday the foothills at the end of my street were covered once again in snow.  On June 12. Today the North Valleys will hit 88 degrees.

I love my desert.

As for the baps, apparently they’re meant to be slathered in jam, or opened and filled with cream.  I can see filling them with clotted or whipped cream and fresh, lightly sugared berries, too, though I haven’t tried that yet.

But the fried egg and bacon version was excellent.  So was baking them with grated cheddar inside.  So was loading one with a slice of cooked sausage (the kind that comes in a roll, ready to slice and cook) and a little cheese.

Baps aren’t all that sweet, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t be stuffed with a mix of lentils, corn and salsa, or be used as a sandwich wrap, or be filled with sliced black olives and tomatoes and sprinkled with oregano, other than the fact that might be messy as the filling spills back out.

¾ cup warm water

¾ cup room temperature milk + more for glaze

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

3 ½ cups unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

Combine the milk and water in a measuring cup.  Pour one half of the liquid into a smaller bowl.  Sprinkle yeast and sugar over top and let stand for 5 minutes.

Mix 2 ½ cups of the flour and all the salt in a large bowl.  Form a well in the center and pour in the mixed liquid, sugar and yeast.  Draw in as much flour as necessary to form a sticky dough.  Stir in remaining liquid as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board.  I use part of the reserved 1 cup flour for dusting the board and kneading into the bread.  When I’m kneading and the dough stops pulling the flour from the board and my hands, it’s time to slow down adding more.  I’ve found while baking yeast breads in the desert that my best loaves come about from doughs that still cling just a little damply to my hands.  Still the soft rounded look of the dough, and they’re not leaving sticky patches or pulling off, but just slightly tacky or damp.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, as long as it feels elastic and smooth.

Leave the dough in a clean bowl covered with a clean dish towel.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, roughly 45 minutes at 5000 feet.

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When the dough has risen, punch it down and allow it to rest on the board for 10 minutes, then separate into 8 pieces.  Gently form into soft ovals and flatten slightly with your hand as you put them on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Brush with milk and give each a heavy sifting of flour.  Allow to rise, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in size.  Mine took a really long time to rise, but that was subjective and because I forgot them – I was making devil’s food cupcakes and an olive thyme baguette at the same time.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Dust with flour again, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden.  When first out of the oven, cover the baps on the tray with a clean dish towel for 10 minutes.  Then remove towel and move baps to a wire rack.

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Olive Thyme Baguette

I could live on bread and cheese.  With apples and grapes thrown in. During the summer, the hottest weather (my favorite time of year, the hotter the better) that’s what I eat a lot of the time – some kind of bread, cheese sometimes, grapes and apples, water with ice and maybe some lemon.  Sourdoughs are my favorite breads, but I’m still learning how to make an actually sour sourdough (I’ve used all kinds of starters and made good breads – they’re just not sour).

Several years ago I found a recipe for an olive bread that was made in a ring shape and may or may not have had thyme in it.  I can’t remember.  What I do remember is that it sounded heavenly and I made it several times before giving up.  The bread refused to rise.  Sometimes it refused to cook.  There’s something impressive about dough that refuses to finish in an over that’s over 400 degrees – how can it just refuse to bake? How is that even possible?

When I got tired of playing with the recipe and was still longing for something like it, I played around and developed this one.  It’s never failed me and offers up a substitution of a rosemary bread without olives if you choose.  The rosemary bread is good toasted, or not toasted and with butter, or without butter but with cheese.  The olive bread is fantastic just the way it is.

2 cups all purpose flour + ½ cup reserved

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 package yeast (not rapid rise)

1 cup very warm water

1 cup chopped or sliced Kalamata olives, drained (black olives are also good)

Several sprigs of fresh thyme

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour with sugar, salt and yeast.  Mix together and make a well in the center.

Stir in the cup of warm water, mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and clings to itself in a sticky loaf.

Turn out onto a floured board – I use the reserved flour to flour the board in order to measure how much flour I’m adding to the dough.  Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how the dough feels, and add flour by judicious handfuls if the dough is too sticky.  Dough should be just damp enough to stick to the fingers but go back to itself rather than sticking in chunks to your hands.  If it seems to be getting to dry, just keep kneading on one of the less floury sections of board – it should absorb the extra flour and become supple and smooth again.

Place dough in a clean, greased bowl and spin it so all sides are greased.  Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place.  First rise will take approximately 45 minutes at high altitude.

When dough is doubled in size, move it to a scraped and re-floured board and gently punch it down.  Let rest for 10 minutes.

Shape the dough into an oval, patting it to about 3/4 –inch thickness with your fingers.  Cover the surface with the chopped olives the way you’d cover dough for cinnamon buns.  Snip the thyme leaves or pull them from the stems, dropping them along the olives.

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Roll up to form a long baguette, tucking the ends under.  This can rise on a baguette pan, which are usually perforated to allow heat to get through at all angles and create a lovely crunchy crust, or on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, preferably without sides.  Allow to rise until double.

Bake at 425 25 to 30 minutes.  Check the loaf at 20 minutes and cover if it’s browning too fast.  Spraying the loaf or the oven with water when the loaf first goes in will create a crispier crust (avoid the lightbulb at all costs – I once made one explode doing this and had to start all over after cooling the oven and cleaning out all the broken glass).  Or brush the loaf with a whipped egg white.

The rosemary alternative substitutes finely chopped rosemary leaves for thyme and leaves out the olives.  It bakes the same, though almost always has an egg white glaze and some rosemary leaves (or are they called needles?) decoratively arranged.  The rosemary version is wonderful with barbecued or lemon-stuffed chicken.

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Simple, Satisfying Calzones

One of my go-to’s for easy dinner. Dress this up with a green salad and a glass of wine, or with a hot vegetable on a cold night. Or take it leftover and cold for a picnic. Or just any time.

Rick and I like totally different things in the realm of food. So I make two of these calzones. They’re big enough most nights for the easy part of dinner we just have half to two-thirds of the calzone and call it good without bothering with salad or dessert or fruit or much of anything.

The calzones take about 1 ¾ hours to 2 hours at 5000 feet, rising faster in summer, slower in winter. The dough is simple and doesn’t require a ton of kneading and if I could find pre-grated Monterey Jack they’d be easier still. The pepperoni in Rick’s I buy in stick form – somehow freshly cut rounds in whatever size I determine seem to have more kick than the paper-thin sliced bagged pepperoni (which isn’t bad either, in a pinch).

I bake them in pie pans for the simple reason that they leak, oozing chewy, hot, melted cheese throughout the pan which I know from unfortunate experience, can set the oven on fire. I also rarely bother to cut slits in the finished calzones before they go in the oven because by then the dough is a little sticky and generally creates its own gaps.

In the photos I rolled out one round and cut it in half so the finished calzones look a little oddly shaped. It was nice for the photo but the dough spent the time I was preparing the stuffing trying to form itself back together. Separation anxiety. It was hard to separate the two pieces. That said I usually roll it into an oval and form it into a long tube. Fancier and probably just as easy would be to roll the dough into a circle and fold it neatly over the filling, creating a half moon, then use a fork to crimp the edges.

Fancy or not, these are simple and tasty.

Dough for 2 Calzones

1 cup very warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons canola oil (olive oil if you prefer it; I don’t care for it in crusts)

2 ½ to 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

Dissolve the yeast in the hot water in a medium to large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the salt over top, add the oil, then add 2 cups of the flour. Stir for form a sticky dough. Stir in enough remaining flour that the dough can be scooped out of the bowl onto a floured board.

Knead for a couple minutes. This dough doesn’t need a ton of working. Add as much reserved flour as necessary so the dough just barely still feels sticky, then scrape out the mixing bowl till it’s fairly clean and return the dough to the bowl to rise, covered, until double. Usually I only use a total of 2 ½ cups flour. Dough is somewhere between the size of a large softball and a small cantaloupe.

The dough should take 45 minutes to just over an hour to rise. Preheat the oven to 425 while preparing the filling.

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Really anything could be filling. My favorite is a cup of cottage cheese, half a cup of shredded skim milk mozzarella, half a cup Monterey Jack, half a cup of pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped or sliced, and a good hearty sprinkle of oregano. Place in the greased pie pan.

Rick’s is a smear of favorite pizza sauce, half a cup of Monterey Jack, half a cup of mozzarella, a very small grating of sharp cheddar (it can easily overpower everything else) and somewhere between half and one cup of sliced pepperoni. Sprinkle on the oregano and seal it up.

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These don’t have to rise. The minute they’re sealed they can go into the oven for 25 minutes at 425. Check at 25 minutes and maybe give them another 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from oven when they’re nicely golden and let cool on a rack for about 5 minutes because they’re now sizzling like fajitas do and the insides are hotter than the sun.

These are kind of a compromise dinner for me when I go into a low carb high protein phase. There’s obviously carbs in the flour, but the insides are as protein packed as can be with the cheese and fat never alarms me like carbs do. Plus the fillings could easily be traded out – salami in one, or pepperoni and pineapple, or ham and green peppers or ham and pineapple, or all cheese (though that seems kind of wanting, somehow). Or even a nicely slow-cooker cooked steak with sautéed yellow onions and a burgundy.

Now I’m dreaming of meat pies. If you come up with a variation on this theme, let me know in the comments – I’d love to try something new.

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Of Fake Lakes and Friday Night Pizza

This morning was my first hike of the season in one of my favorite parts of the valley. There’s a circle turnout off the street at the base of it, and the way up is very rocky, very steep, where once I encountered a jackrabbit in the sagebrush I was about five feet away from and we gave each other heart attacks as I blundered up the hill and he blasted out of the brush. From the top of the hill there’s an amazing view of the valley – and the fake lake.

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Right now the lake is full. This winter, the one finally, finally dragging to an end, we got most of our year’s worth of water in the first two months or some statistic like that I don’t remember exactly. It was wet out, that’s not an understatement.

The lake here is a dry lake. All summer it’s full of white hardpan and lots and lots of white dust that stirs into dust devils and coats everything in the house after dust storms roll through. But come spring runoff or a good winter of rains and snows (because runoff hasn’t really gotten going yet) it fills up. Across the lake from us is the Nevada/California border, with Bordertown on the other side, reflecting red neon in the water.

I love having a lake that comes and goes. I love how ephemeral the lake is, and how the desert changes from one hike to the next. I haven’t been up this foothill since October when it got too cold. But these weren’t here when last I was.

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Impatience sent me up half an hour before sunrise this morning, because it’s still cold in the morning. Monday I hiked at a little after sunrise and it was in the 40s. This morning I hiked at half an hour before sunrise when it’s first light and when I got back down the foothill 40 minutes later the temperature was 28.

Not much company this morning. Two crows displeased with my appearance. They nest in the rocks and two summers ago actively threatened me, flying lower and lower. Which just delighted me, to see their feet so clearly, so close. Crows apparently have communal nests, because there were three of them harassing me and more in the nest making sure I knew I wasn’t welcome. Today they just soared overhead as I clamored up the hillside.

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My favorite things in life, outside people and cats that I love, include hiking in the foothills, writing speculative fiction, baking.

And pizza.

Putting together the writing, the baking and the pizza, and my friend Robert once said I had invented a whole new fiction genre – pizza writing. It’s true – my characters, unless they have to go somewhere fancy for reasons of plot (and then they complain) head for their favorite pizza place. Not much I can say – so many TV shows, movies and books show characters ordering Chinese food.

I don’t like Chinese food. But I do like pizza. So my characters eat pizza.

And so do I, and so does my husband. My very favorite, despite having worked there in college (usually the kiss of death for a place) is Round Table. Pepperoni, the Maui Wowie thing with bacon and pineapple, a pepperoni and pineapple my friend Samantha once ordered by mistake (she meant ham)…. Our other favorite is Grimaldi’s Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria, located handily near our favorite movie theater in Sparks.

Then there’s mine. Refined over many years of practice, I’ve gone through different sauces, tried making my own (never quite got there), oregano’d the sauce for a long time, stopped doing that. Usually the pizza is split in half – half pepperoni and sometimes mushrooms for Rick, half pepperoni and pineapple or green olives or black olives or tomato on my side.

The recipe I developed started on the back of a package of either flour or yeast. It’s long since vanished, but what remains is the fact that it originally called for amounts that wound up with me having two pizza skins. We didn’t need two. So I turn the other half into breadsticks. Too many breadsticks, so we have a few before the itself goes in the oven, accompanying them with the grated mozzarella and sharp cheddar, the chopped up pepperoni and sometimes the sauce. One or two breadsticks stuffed with leftover sauce, cheese or meat make a nice lunch the next day.

Pizza may not be the healthiest dinner ever, but if the rest of the week is homemade chicken noodle soup and soy sauced pork chops with a side of green beans or a baked apple, it’s probably all right in the scheme of things.

After all, there’s a whole sub-genre of stories with pizza at its core.

The Dough

¼ cup hot water and 1 ¼ cups hot water

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

¼ cup olive or canola oil (I do not like olive oil in this, but it’s an option)

2 teaspoons sea salt

4 to 5 cups all purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the ¼ cup hot water. Allow to sit for 2 minutes to dissolve, then mix in the salt, stirring to dissolve, and the oil. Add the remaining 1 ¼ cups hot water and stir.

 

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The yeast and water with salt and oil, looking like a crescent moon and a universe.

 

I generally add the first 3 cups of flour all a once and stir, then turn out the sticky mass onto the lightly floured marble cutting board. I might only knead in another half a cup, or might go has high as 4 ½ cups total, though that’s rare. I try to knead until the dough has just the slightest stickiness or dampness on my hands, but isn’t covering me with dough as I knead. Too much flour will make for hard, dry dough, so I pay attention not only to how it feels under my hands but also to how much flour it’s picking off the board. It the dough isn’t drawing any more into itself, it’s probably just about there. If there seems to be a little too much flour in the dough at that moment, keep kneading – it will probably soften and dampen again.

Scrape the bowl fairly clean of clinging batter and return the dough to it. A clean bowl’s nice for the rise but not a necessity. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Allow to rise until doubled, usually 45 minutes to an hour.

 

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On to the first rise.

 

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place racks in upper third of oven.

Turn dough out on a cleaned, lightly floured board and punch down. Separate into two uneven sections, maybe 2/3 together and 1/3 by itself. Set aside the larger portion and divide the smaller portion into approximately 6 breadsticks. I don’t measure. I just break off pieces and roll them between my palms like Play-Doh. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet. Melt about half a tablespoon of butter and brush the breadsticks with it. Sprinkle the breadsticks with garlic salt. Bake in preheated oven anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes for a deep golden crust to the tops (time is depending on how stubborn they are at browning this time).

 

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The ineffable pleasure of nicely risen dough.

 

When we first made the switch from margarine to anything else about 10 years ago, I experimented with other things to brush onto the breadsticks. I tried olive oil and didn’t like it on the dough anymore than I do in it. Tried various butters and finally hit on the salted butter, melted, and garlic salt lightly on top.

For the pizza, roll out the dough to pan size. A heavy dark pizza pan is a great investment – mine is flat, black and heavy, and has lasted a nice long time and the shiny, ridged, aluminum secondary pan I had was disposed of years ago. Top with sauce of choice (my favorite is Contadina Pizza Squeeze), cheeses of choice (mozzarella and sharp cheddar), and toppings of choice.

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Bake for approximately 13 minutes in the 500 degree oven. Transfer carefully to a cutting board. Promise yourself tomorrow’s dinner is a salad or a pork chop, and dig in.

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Caramel Sticky Buns & Buttermilk Bread

This recipe started circling through my head a couple weeks ago but there was never any time to give it a shot. Deadlines, more deadlines, taking the cat to acupuncture, taking myself to acupuncture (Note: the cat and I have different doctors…) and then more deadlines.

This past week, though, Rick was off work and we were celebrating our anniversary with a vacation at home – getting to all those things there’s never enough time for, watching the last of the Veronica Mars series (we’d never seen it!) and many, many different Fast & Furious movies as the new movie is hitting theaters. We stayed up way too late on our last night off. Even though we had to be up at 5:30 for Rick to go to work, we watched all of Fast & Furious 2 and had to talk ourselves out of staying up for Tokyo Drift.

 

So with the week off there was time to start the batter Saturday night and see if it could endure a retarded rise overnight in the refrigerator. It did, though if I leave it overnight again I’ll grease the bowl – it was a little hard and a little wrinkled when it came out in the morning. Kind of the way I feel most mornings.

 

I gave the dough half an hour or so to warm up, even though it had risen to the top of the bowl.

 

For the bread, I took half the batter and punched it down on a lightly floured marble pastry board. I had a very small packet of walnut halves I’d coarsely chopped and then roasted at 325 for 15 minutes just on a sheet of foil. (Some time ago I bought a little two part hand-crank nut grinder from King Arthur Flour. It looks like something that Lucy Ricardo would be selling, just like a late night TV ad: “But wait! There’s more!” But it’s actually fabulous. Drop the nuts in, turn in one direction for larger pieces, another for smaller, and the chopped nuts drop into a measuring cup.)

 

I had less than an entire palm-full of toasted chopped walnuts and I scattered them over the bread and kneaded them in, along with what was seriously only a dusting of cinnamon – maybe two very judicious sprinkles and that was kneaded throughout too. Then formed a loaf which remained very small and cold and unfriendly until it went into the oven. It never peeked over the pan, never did anything to prove itself willing to turn into a fragrant, delicious loaf.

 

For the buns, I used a cupcake tin for 12 regular size cupcakes. At first I thought I really wanted a larger sized tin but this turned out perfect. Each cup got about a teaspoon and a half of very cold salted butter, and 2 rounded teaspoons full of light brown sugar. The majority of the toasted walnuts were divided among those cups, then 3 got a sprinkle of cinnamon, 3 got a sprinkle of both cinnamon and nutmeg, 3 got both cinnamon and nutmeg and two slices of frozen and thawed organic peach slices, and 3 just got brown sugar and walnuts.

 

With the exception of the peaches, all of the toppings went into the preheating oven so the butter and sugar could melt and meld. The peaches went in after the melted bits came back out of the oven and were therefore between the caramel and the bun, which worked out very nicely. Pretty as two slices are bracketing the bun top, cutting it into bite sized pieces would stop the entire slice of peach from coming off in one bite.

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The dough for the buns got cut into 12 pieces, rolled into balls and placed in the cups on top of the butter, brown sugar, etc. Bread and buns were covered with a light tea towel and left on top of the oven to warm. Oven preheated to 425.

 

The buns took 15 minutes and came out fantastic. Only problem is when turned upside down onto waxed paper, they left a lot of sticky caramel and nuts on the tin. I thought butter would be enough to discourage that. Next time, then, either nonstick tin or a light greasing with vegetable oil (canola doesn’t seem to leave a vile, Hello, I’m vegetable oil taste).

 

The nutmeg somehow gets lost, though there’s no harm in sprinkling it gently. I’d guess I used less than 1/8 teaspoon for all the cups that had it.

 

The bread came out at 25 minutes. It tapped hollow and turned out of the pan beautifully and it’s really, really good bread. It’s a thick, hearty bread, which makes no sense, since the loaf itself feels light as a feather. I think it could have used 2 to 3 more minutes, so probably depending on variations in ovens, time for the bread is best put as 25 to 30 minutes.

 

The Sponge

 

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

 

2 packages active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

 

2 teaspoons salt

 

1 tablespoon sugar

 

¾ cup hot water

 

2 cups all purpose flour

 

 In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the buttermilk. Let stand for 10 minutes.      

 

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The sponge at 10 minutes.

 

 

 Add the salt and sugar. In a large mixing bowl, 2 cups all purpose flour. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the buttermilk/yeast mixture, and pour in the ¾ cup of hot water. Mix in just enough flour to make a thick paste.

 

Let the sponge rise for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or, if you’re like me and can’t remember to buy cling wrap, cut up a large plastic baggie and drape it over the bowl.

 

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The sponge at 20 minutes.

 

 

The Dough

 

1 to 3 more cups all purpose flour

 

The Steps

 

Mix 1 cup flour into the sponge. When I took the dough from the bowl, it was very sticky, and only had the initial 2 cups + this additional cup. On my lightly floured marble board, I kneaded for about 8 minutes, adding an entire fourth cup of flour.

 

Return to a good sized mixing bowl, cover and allow to rise. This is where I covered the bowl with the savaged gallon plastic bag and put the whole thing in the refrigerator until the next morning. Next time if I leave it overnight I’ll oil the bowl. Otherwise I think a clean or well-scraped bowl would be enough if the dough is just going to rise on the counter.

 

When the dough came out of the refrigerator Sunday morning I let it sit for about 30 minutes to warm, despite it being very well risen. I preheated the oven to 425 while it was rising.

 

On a lightly floured board I punched down the dough and divided it in half. The bread got the dusting of cinnamon, scant handful of toasted walnuts and was kneaded gently to form a loaf. I used a regular sized loaf pan, nonstick, light colored, and lightly greased.

 

For the buns, see above, with the details about caramel sticky topping.

 

Both buns and bread rose under a light clean dish towel on top of the oven as it preheated. Buns baked for 15 minutes, bread for 25; see above for details on the bread – it could have used a little more time.

 

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Rising in well-used & well-stained pans.

 

 

A lovely, fattening experiment that resulted in a guilt-ridden early morning hike today but more than worth it. I get the urge to make sticky buns about once a year, and most of the time have been less than thrilled with the recipes – enough so that I don’t have a go to recipe. This might be the one; definitely the bread was perfect and the buns? Are all gone.

 

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Finnish Easter Bread

My house smells heavenly tonight. Enough so the new scent totally eradicated the terrible odors from the morning’s attempt to dye Easter eggs naturally.  (I mean, I suppose that worked – they’re definitely natural colors: tan and hallucinatory pink.)

The loveliness in the air is Finnish Easter Bread.  It’s from Bernard New Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads (1973, Simon & Schuster). I made it because I wanted to see if it was any different at 5000 feet elevation and because – well, because it sounded utterly glorious.

And it is. This is an enriched yeast bread, enriched with the triad of eggs, butter and milk – more than one kind of milk even. It’s seriously, beautifully enriched. It’s also stuffed with chopped almonds, golden raisins, orange and lemon peels and cardamom, which happily is lovely because it’s awfully expensive.

The bread took a long time, even in my fast-rising high altitude aerie. Even so, most of the individual rises did move faster than the recipe indicated, because that’s what happens up here in the foothills. Most of the time I’m not in a hurry for my bread to rise faster – I dislike the idea of the rapid rise yeasts because I want the bread to develop with fuller flavor of a slower rise. Also, reading through one fat cookbook on baking, either a test kitchen or the King Arthur Flour baking book, I now don’t remember which, I ran into the fact that it’s perfectly all right to add extra yeast to something if you want it to rise faster. Never knew that. I did know about retarding the rise by leaving it in the fridge, either so it can be baked at a specific time, or to let the flavor develop.

his one starts with a sponge, then goes to a beautiful healthy rise, then forms into two loaves.  The recipe says it can be baked as one loaf – I can’t imagine doing so – I’m pretty sure that mass of dough weighed 5 pounds. It calls for pails (like milking pails, which I don’t happen to have laying around) or large coffee cans (ditto) so I used Panettone wrappers from King Arthur Flour.  They’re wonderful though I do put a piece of foil or a baking tray under them, especially in a recipe loaded with butter, just in case something leaks. (I have a history of setting my oven on fire.)

Only good things can come of a tall, proud, aromatic bread that comes out of the oven and gets brushed with butter while still hot. It took somewhere between five and six hours, but it’s worth it!

The Sponge

2 cups all purpose flour

2 packages active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 ½ cups Carnation canned milk

½ cup hot water

 

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The sponge, rising

 

The Dough

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

2 sticks salted sweet cream butter, softened

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cardamom

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped almonds

1 cup milk, room temperature

2 cups light rye flour

4 to 5 cups all purpose flour (I used 3 ½ )

Butter, melted

Even on a wet, fresh, kind of cold day like this was, the desert atmosphere only used 3 ½ of the 4 to 5 cups of flour. Calls for bread flour. I used all purpose. For the rye flour I used light.

The sponge is supposed to take an hour – I think it took half an hour to more than double at 5000 feet. It really, really rises – use a big mixing bowl.

Mix flour and yeast, stir in the canned milk and hot water, and mix with a wooden spoon until the lumps are out of the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap (I was out, so slit open a gallon sized zipper baggie and put that over it). Allow to rise until double.

Before starting the dough, grease a large mixing bowl and set aside.

For the dough, stir down the sponge and add the egg yolks, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, lemon and orange peels, raisins and almonds. Stir until well mixed.

Stir in the rye flour and the milk. This is a very soft, sticky dough at this stage. I added about a cup of the all purpose flour before turning it out onto the floured board and working in about 2 ½ more cups of flour.

Recipe calls for kneading for 10 minutes. I did 6 because I have no patience and because by then it felt right – not clinging all sticky to my hands, not dry and hard. In fact, this is a wonderful dough to knead, very elastic and bouncy, and very large – it weighed a ton. Transfer to the prepared, greased bowl, cover and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled.

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Once the dough has risen, turn out onto the floured board and punch down. The recipe calls for 4-quart pails. I used two King Arthur Flour’s bakeable paper Panettone pans, which were about perfect. The dough is only supposed to go halfway up the pan – I think I was at 2/3 of the way up and I’m very happy with the way they turned out.

This rises very fast, covered with a sheet of wax paper. Preheat oven to 350, and bake for one hour. One of the few breads I’ve seen tested with a metal skewer or straw for doneness. Remove from oven and brush with butter. I let mine sit on a rack for about 20 minutes, then peeled the paper off them.

They’re lovely. And they smell far, far better than the muddy naturally dyed Easter egg experiment of this morning.

A Blustery Night’s Chili Braid

Friday, April 7, was a blustery day in my high desert.  Rain in the morning to add to all the flooding that’s been going on all winter.  There are impromptu lakes and streams everywhere in our foothills.  The rabbits, birds and squirrels don’t need the glass pie plate of water I keep out for them in the back yard.  Wind rocked the house most of the day and by evening rain started.  Hard.  Lots of rain.  Because that’s what everyone wants when we’re already flooded.  The world smelled good, though, and around 6 or 7 p.m. when I went outside, the even felt like a brisk October.  Pretty – just out of place.

Good night for chili.  If there’s someone in your household who reacts to beans of any sort the way my husband does (Toxic sludge! Run!) this is a filling, hearty chili that would lend itself easily to all sorts of variations.  I’ve fallen in love with it for the simplicity of having a one-piece meal – anything added for a side dish could be equally easy but this doesn’t even require garlic bread: it’s all part and parcel.

On really lazy nights I just make the chili and toast garlic bread with it rather than making the yeast bread to wrap around the chili and bake.  When that’s the case I top my bowl with grated sharp cheddar and chunks of tomato.  Rick adds just grated parmesan.  There’s a slight sweetness to it when it’s made in the braid so possibly a green salad (we kind of don’t do green salads here) or sharp apple slices or green grapes would be nice on the side.

Overnight the rain became that white fluffy kind of “rain” that sticks to the ground and powders the foothills.  I foresee having the leftover chili loaf for lunch.  It’s that kind of brisk day in April.

The Chili

1 pound lean ground beef (we choose 93 percent lean or leaner)

Olive oil

½ yellow onion, chopped

1 cup tomato sauce

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

 

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil (about a tablespoon’s worth) while you chop half a yellow onion.  Sauté until soft.  Break up the ground beef while browning in the pan.  While the meat is browning, add the seasonings to the tomato sauce.  This is a tasty chili with moments of hot as in spice – for a hotter chili, add more chili powder in judicious increments.  Once the meat is browned and broken up, mix in the tomato sauce and remove the pan from heat.  Set aside.

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The Bread

½ cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

½ cup warm milk

1 tablespoon oil (canola or vegetable or olive – I’ve never tried it with olive)

1 teaspoon garlic salt

2 to 2 ½ cups unbleached flour

To make the bread, dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl.  Once the yeast is dissolved, add the milk, sugar, oil and garlic salt.  Stir well.  Depending on the humidity, the bread can take up to 2 ½ cups of flour but despite the wet and wild day outside mine only used two cups and a scant handful last night.  Stir until the dough is slightly sticky, then turn out onto a floured board and kneed for 2 or 3 minutes.  This is a soft dough.

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Oil a flat cookie sheet and sprinkle corn meal over the surface.  Roll out the dough on the cookie sheet (a towel underneath will mostly keep the whole thing from shifting around as you roll it out).  Roll into a roughly 12×14-inch oval.  Scoop the meat onto the bread dough, and sprinkle the cheddar over.

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At an angle, using a serrated knife, make cuts in the dough about once every 1 ½ inches on each side, leaving a chunk at either end uncut.  Fold the “wings” up to meet each other over the filling, bringing the ends up to create heels.

Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until golden.

IMG_4346Didn’t manage to get a photo of it once baked – we kind of ate it.  Next time!

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Victorian Milk Bread

Sometimes a yeast dough kneads like a bowling ball and sits there uncooperative all the way through the suggested rises, its back to you like a cat that’s sulking.

Very rarely have I had a yeast bread fail. I don’t think this is so much my prowess as a baker as it is that yeast bread is pretty forgiving. I’ve forgotten to add ingredients from butter to eggs to the rest of the liquid and added them in as late as when I’m kneading on the board and thinking This dough feels strange….

It would be nice if recipes noted when the bread is one of those come-from-behind late bloomers. This one sat sullen in the favorite brown bread bowl. It sat sullen through its second rise, too, looking so unhappy I left it for more than 90 minutes when the usual Northern Nevada 5000 feet above sea level rise is 45, 60 minutes at max.

Outside the day was sunny, but only 48 degrees. This is a very strange winter that doesn’t seem to want to go away, and the humidity was 40 percent. I’m used to summer humidity of 15 or so. It was 66 degrees in the house, and apparently the bread dough didn’t like that, either.

Eventually I got tired of waiting for it and abused it into the S-shape the cookbook calls for, then preheated the oven to 400 and let the bread rise in the pan on the stove top. At which point it rose nicely and in about 45 minutes.

This was a bread that – as some do – caused my husband to comment that most breads are just bread, homemade or not. Which is all I was looking for – bread – but still, when you fight with something for half a day, you expect a payout.

Which I got. We ended up finishing most of the loaf because when it was cold it was very good. I never tried toasting it, but the bread held together well, without crumbling, and probably would be great toasted. It had a nice, tight crumb and a crispy crust. I tried to forget the wash that goes on it and ended up brushing it on minutes after it went into to the oven.

The egg wash made for a crispy crust but was a little bland. Next time I’ll either try salt in the wash or once the bread is out of the pan and on a rack, brush it with salted butter.

The recipe comes from Ultimate Bread, Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno, 1998.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk

3 ½ cups unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons salt

Egg glaze – 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk

Start by sprinkling the yeast and the sugar over ½ cup of the lukewarm milk in a small bowl. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely.

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The recipe calls for all the flour and salt in a large bowl. I scooped 2 ½ cups of the flour into the bowl and mixed in all the salt, holding out 1 cup of the flour because of the dry desert.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the milk, sugar and yeast mixture. Draw flour in from the sides of the bowl as you stir, creating a sticky dough. I ended up using all of the remaining milk and not all of the remaining flour, even with 40 percent humidity for the day.

The dough needs to be cohesive enough it can be lifted from the bowl while leaving some sticky bits behind, but not so dry it’s flaking off flour and pieces of itself. It’s better to under flour than to get carried away – you can always add more flour; you can’t add less.

Move the dough to a dry, floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. I actually came closer to kneading for the full 10 minutes than I usually do because it was such a rock-hard dough.

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Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Allow to rise for 45 minutes, unless your bread behaves like mine. Then keep checking on it and giving it pep talks until it grudgingly rises. The photo shows the unwilling dough after 50 minutes.

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Once the dough is risen, punch it down and leave it to rise a second time. This bread really benefited from being in the sun on my kitchen table, and even more so when it moved to the top of the preheating oven. If you discover your bread is sluggish, try putting the bowl on the top of stove while the oven preheats. Or instead of the 2 teaspoons of yeast, maybe start with 1 tablespoon of yeast (the equivalent of 3 teaspoons).

After the second rise, punch the dough down gently and shape into a roll, then twist into an S-shape. I just used my standard sized light nonstick bread pan and oiled it gently. Nonstick is a nice idea and sometimes it even works. No reason not to help it out a little. Let the bread rise or proof in the pan covered with a tea towel until risen an inch over the top of the pan.

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The authors suggest adding a little sugar to a milk glaze before applying, but this is an egg glaze with milk in it. Seems like the top would brown very quickly if both milk sugar and actual sugar were in the glaze. Even without the sugar I covered my bread at about 30 minutes, just laying a piece of foil across the top.

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When I try the bread again, I may try two small loves, free form, and brush one with the egg glaze with sugar added, and the other with the egg glaze and salt added. Or make three micro loaves and brush the third with salted butter once it’s out of the oven.

Or just try the recipe three more times, one wash for each. It turned out a tasty loaf that would make good sandwiches – no reason not to experiment.

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