There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses
by Isabel Allende

Starting in November of 2009 Michelle at the Big Black Dog formed a group to bake its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. I loved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I signed up with the group. Michelle first had us do a couple of warm-up assignments, which were my first attempt at blogging. The first "Official" post was on January 15, 2010, and it was followed by 41 more, on the 1st and 15th of each month. When I signed on I said I would bake the whole book, and like Horton (the elephant) I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I finished baking the book on October 1, 2011. Having completed that challenge, now I am just going to do some stuff, and post about it. As part of that stuff Michelle is posing a new, and different, challenge for us each month.

I am still baking bread, mostly the Five Minutes a Day kind, and if you would like to try the Five Minutes a Day bread method there are some links, with recipes, in the right hand column to get you started. Please give it a try.

But first, a word from my sponsor . . .
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This day be bread and peace my lot.
Alexander Pope

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Julia Child

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Yiddish proverb
(And some are only half baked.)

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
George Bernard Shaw, via Sharon

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
George Herbert

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Two Pizzas, Some Pita, and The Great Scape (11 of 42)

This post comes in the middle of Big Green Box Week.  The Big Green Box is a survival kit for disaster victims put together and delivered by ShelterBox.  The contents of the Big Green Box are tailored to the locale, but they include a 10 person tent, cooking equipment, a water purifier, tools, blankets and other necessities.  It is a practical, no nonsense approach that really helps people.  Watch this video to learn more and consider supporting ShelterBox during Big Green Box Week.   

There is a sort of Gregorian/Julian calendar thing going on with this baking challenge.  Michelle, our Sensei at Big Black Dog, denominates this as the 13th Braid, while I characterize it as the 11th of 42.  That is because I am counting based on the "Official Schedule" which started in January of this year.  We had two bonus braids at the end of 2009, before the start of the "Official Schedule," which accounts for the difference.  The reason I am bringing this up, however, is that either way we have passed the 1/4 mark!   And what better way to celebrate than with pizza?

This assignment calls for making two pizzas, how great is that.  All the recipes this time use the Whole Wheat Bread with Olive Oil, but you could certainly use the Master Recipe.  Since I was going to be using this batch for pizza crusts I added some Garlic and Herb seasoning to the dry ingredients.  The first pizza I made was the Oven-Baked Whole Grain Pizza with Roasted Red Peppers and Fontina--well sort of.  

The recipe calls for roasting the peppers on the grill, so I decided to cook the pizza there as well, since the grill was all fired up (as was I).   I also added a green pepper, because I had one I needed to use.  And some mushrooms because, why not?   For the cheese I used a Fiave Fontina.  I roasted the peppers, put them in a bowl and covered them to let them steam to loosen the skins.  
It is often the small things in life that are the most satisfying, and this is a really small thing.  I have a cutting board where the cutting surface slopes, the Cut and Carve Chopping Board. It is designed to contain meat juices.  In what for me was a Eureka! moment, I realized it would also work really well to cut fruit, since it would contain those juices too.  Since the recipe here called for saving the juices from the pepper, I thought AH-HA (instead of Eureka!), and used it for the peppers as well.  

Once my toppings were prepped, I rolled out the dough on parchment paper and docked it. Note that I trimmed the parchment paper closely around the dough to prevent burning.  When I put the dough on the grill I used the parchment paper to make moving it manageable, but I flipped the dough over onto the grill so that the parchment paper was UP.  After a minute or so the parchment paper came right off.

When the bottom was nicely baked I pulled it off the grill, flipped it over, topped it with the peppers, mushrooms and fontina, and slid it back onto the grill to finish baking.  A few more minutes and  we had a really good Grilled Whole Grain Pizza with Roasted Red and Green Peppers and Fontina.

Next up was the Pesto Pizza with Grilled Chicken on the Gas Grill (With the Pizza Stone).  I have only grilled pizza and flatbread directly on the grill grates, so I was interested in how this method compared.  Instead of their pesto, however, I made my own.  I had garlic scapes that needed to be picked, so I made a Garlic Scape and Almond Pesto, which I adapted from the Garlic Scape and Almond Pesto recipe at In the Kitchen and on the Road with Dorie.  Basically, to reduce the fat, I used only half as much olive oil and added a whole tomato, diced, to the food processor to make up the difference. 

Garlic scapes are the flower stalks of stiff-neck garlic, and if harvested when young they are tender with a mild garlic flavor.  It is also thought that harvesting them forces more of the energy into bulb formation, but Ron Engeland in Growing Great Garlic feels that harvesting the scapes too early can have an adverse impact on how long the garlic will store.  If you wait as long as he suggests, however, the scapes are too woody for cooking.  Life is all about choices and trade-offs.  I picked my scapes.

I like to pound my chicken out a bit before grilling, I think it evens it out and helps it cook more quickly and evenly.   To do this, being a guy, I turned to my toolbox and got my trusty rubber mallet.  You would be surprised at how handy a good mallet can be in the kitchen.  And it helps relieve stress.

Once the chicken was grilled I rolled out the crust, on parchment paper, spread the pesto on it, topped it with the grilled chicken, slid it onto the stone in the grill, and baked it at about 500 degrees.

To crisp the bottom of the crust, I pulled the parchment paper out about half way through cooking.

The result was quite tasty, and without cheese very light. 

Since the grill was hot, I threw on a split head of romaine lettuce and made Orange and Blue Grilled Romaine Salad.
 It too was very, very good. 

As for the method, it worked fine.  But once you are finished you have a 500 degree pizza stone sitting on your grill.  Discretion being the better part of valor, you leave it to cool.  Then you forget it is out there.  So when you go to make bread the next day the stone is not in the oven, and you think someone broke into your house during the night and the only thing they stole was your pizza stone.  (This may sound far-fetched, but if you have children the misappropriation of your stuff, such as extension cords and tools and tomato sauce, is an all too common experience.)  Then you remember it is on the grill.  Of course, it is raining.  Anyway, I think grilling directly on the grates is a bit easier, a bit quicker, and gives the pizza more of a grilled flavor.  On the other hand, using the pizza stone gives more control and you are less likely to char the crust, not that that is necessarily a bad thing if you do not turn it into a cinder.  Choices and trade-offs.

With the pizzas tucked away it was finally time for the Seed Encrusted Pita Bread.  I really get a kick out of making pita.  I particularly love the way it puffs up.  In my oven, to get the pitas baked but still soft I bake them at 500 for 6 minutes.  Then I stick them in my Bamboo Bread Bag to cool.  (These bags were mentioned in our Discussion Group and the Bamboo Bag people supported our Braid by donating a bag which Michelle gave (to someone else) as a prize.)

I rolled out the dough in an approximation of a circle about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Rather than making one large pita I divided the dough and made several smaller ones.  I confess to being an America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated groupie (though I do not wear a bow tie unless it is with a tux).  I am a sucker for the equipment they recommend.  As we watch the program together my saintly wife will often notice that something they are using, a knife or a cooling rack or a ladle, looks familiar.  My latest lapse is the ISI Silicone Scraper Spatula which is handy not only for dividing dough but also great for getting it off the counter or the floor and just generally  scooping things up.  
To keep the seeds on the pitas after they were baked I got the tops pretty wet, and after sprinkling on the seeds (a mix of toasted sesame, poppy and sunflower) I lightly pressed the seeds into the dough with my hands, a technique I also use on loaves to get the seeds to stick.  The pitas did not puff like they usually do, and I think it was perhaps due to this treatment with the seeds.  On the other hand, the seeds did stick pretty well, and they still tasted good.  Choices and trade-offs. 

Well, that's all for this time.  Tune in on July 1st for Berry Bread and Banana Bread.   

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Master Recipe, Three More Ways (10 of 42)

OK.  So this isn't the Bluebird of Happiness.  But I am hoping that at least it might could  be the Indigo Bunting of Contentment. 

These two most recent assignments point up what I love most about the dough made using the AB/HB in 5 method--its versatility.  You have this bucket of stuff in the fridge, Carl Sagan would have pointed out that it is "star stuff" ("The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff"), and you can use it to make sandwich bread one day, pitas the next, then  pizza or English muffins or buns or cinnamon rolls or naan or, in the case of this fortnight's assignment, foccacia, bagels and Moon and Stars Bread.  (You see, Carl was right!)  For this batch of the Whole Grain Master recipe I used white whole wheat flour, both to make it a bit different than the last batch and because I had some flour I wanted to use.  If you want to give bread baking a try, the Whole Grain Master Recipe is a good place to start, and you can find the recipe HERE.

The Bagel Assignment was to make Cinnamon Raisin Whole Wheat Bagels.  I followed the recipe, but added more raisins.  I did this because I am a team player (teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say).   From reading the posts from the other members baking this challenge, which are many and varied, one theme has clearly emerged--when a recipe calls for raisins (or craisins or dates or herbs or spices) you always add more.  That is just the way we roll.

Now I really like baking bread using the AB/HB in 5 method.  I bake almost all the bread we eat.  I like making boules, baguettes, sandwich bread, pitas, pizza, English Muffins, buns, cinnamon rolls, knots, foccacia, and flat bread on the grill.  I do not like making bagels. 

First, my bagels always look lumpy and misshapen.  Although "they" say that we eat first with our eyes, as a guy, form is usually much less important to me than substance.  I usually don't care how it looks, it's how it tastes.  But if I am going to the effort to make a bagel, I guess I feel it ought to bear at least some vague resemblance to a bagel.  You ought to be able to pick it out of a lineup as a bagel.  Mine, I am not so sure.  (Part of the problem, of course, is all those extra raisins.)

Second, bagels are a mess to make.  After forming them and letting them rise, you have to get them into a simmering water bath, and you have to do that without horribly disfiguring them any more than they already are.  To do this I placed them on parchment paper to rise, cut the parchment paper around the bagels, and dumped them, parchment paper and all, into the water.  By the time the bagels are ready to flip the parchment paper has floated off and can be fished out.  All this dunking and fishing, however, means that I get water all over everything, which then mixes with the flour I had gotten all over when everything when I was forming the bagels.  And this, of course, makes glue.  All over everything.  

 THEN, you have to put the poached bagels onto a floured kitchen towel to dry off.  REALLY.  I am not making this up.

This will dry off the bagels.  It also infuses the kitchen towel with wallpaper paste.  How the hell do you clean that up??   I decided to try using my belt sander to get the worst of the paste off.

Once they have been formed, have risen, have been poached, then dried, then peeled from a sodden kitchen towel, the bagels are FINALLY ready to bake.  By now, the holes are pretty much gone, there is flour/water paste all over me and everything else, and the kitchen towel is firmly jammed into my best belt sander. (Maybe the orbital sander would have been better.)  But into the oven they go.

My saintly wife (of 35 years next Monday) pronounced them "better than bagels."  Is that a good thing?  Does that mean that they were not like bagels at all?  That they lacked some essence of bagelness?   What is the sound of one hand clapping? 

I confess.  They tasted pretty good.  Which for a guy ought to be enough.  But I still do not like making bagels.

I do like making foccacia.  You just take a hunk of dough, pat or roll it out to about a half-inch thickness, let it rise 20 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 425, top it with something tasty, "dimple" it with your fingers, drizzle it with some olive oil, and bake it for about 25 minutes.  Its shorter rising time makes it pretty quick to make, great for after work or when the day has sort of gotten away from you.    The foccacia for this assignment was Cherry Black Pepper Focaccia.

Without giving the recipe away, this version is topped with dried cherries, which have been soaked in red wine and water to soften them, minced shallots and ground black pepper.  It was different, and very good (I think I should have used more pepper (see team rules above)).  That is what is great about foccacia, you can top it with almost anything.

The final recipe for this assignment was Moon and Stars Bread.

The loaf is formed in the shape of a crescent--the Moon.  When I first formed mine it looked much more crescent like.  You will  just have to trust me on this, I did not get a picture.  But my moon "waxed" as it rose.  (That is "rose" in the baking sense, not the ascending in the sky sense, which the moon does not really do, but only appears to do as the Earth spins on its axis.) 

Then, just before baking, the loaf is sprinkled with sesame seeds--the Stars.   In addition to regular sesame seeds I used some black sesame seeds left over from the Turkish Pita, to represent Black Holes--collapsed stars. 

This loaf baked up very nicely. I was particularly pleased with the crumb and the holes (not the black ones).  I am thinking it might have something to do with the warmer weather giving a better rise. 

Well, that does it for this assignment.  Check back next time when we do pizzas and pitas.