Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Knead Bread Experiment #2: Better Results

I couldn't believe the coincidence last night! There was Alton Brown on "Good Eats" throwing together a loaf of no-knead bread as I had loaf number two sitting on the counter begging me to have another slice.

Unlike the last one, this loaf practically flew out of the pan (as opposed to being stuck like concrete) and has a wonderful golden bottom crust (as opposed to a slightly singed, thick brown bottom). I also made this one a bit bigger to have a loaf that would be taller and last for a few days of lunch sandwiches. It still has the wonderful chewy crust of the original with no real effort.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups tepid water (boiled and cooled to remove chlorine)
  • 1/2 tsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 rounded tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
I used less salt and the bit of sugar to satisfy our preference for a less salty, slightly sweeter bread.

Follow the preparation procedures previously posted here. Basically:
  1. Mix the ingredients
  2. Let them sit, covered for about 18 hours
  3. Flop out onto a board and use a spatula to bring the bottom around to the top
  4. Let sit 15 minutes
  5. Flop into a foil hammock.
  6. Let sit 2 hours
  7. Flop into a preheated pan and bake, first covered, then uncovered.
The chief variation I tried here was adjusting the temperature, time and the pot I baked it in.

This time I tried a combination of a spring form pan and a larger covered pot. I was not going to have to chisel this one out of the pan! I preheated the covered iron pot but not the spring form pan. I lined the spring form pan with parchment paper brushed with olive oil.

I flopped the dough into the line spring-form pan and then plopped that into the hot covered cast iron beast in the oven. This was probably overkill. The bread wasn't stuck at all to the paper or the pot. So I think the next time will see me going back to the original cast iron pot but oiled with a disk of parchment thrown into the bottom.

To try to take care of the over browning, I set the oven to 430°F instead of 450°F (my oven has digital controls). I set the initial covered baking for 40 minutes instead of 30 followed by the fifteen minutes uncovered. The thermometer showed the interior of the loaf to be over 210°F at that point.


So, next time I think we are about ready for another loaf of bread, I will do experiment #3. And this time it will get some flavoring added to it. Dill, ya think?

Just a little geographic fun ...

I'm fascinated to see where folks are who visit this blog and thought you might be, too. So far, visitors have come from 21 countries (listed at right -- when the novelty wears off I'll move it to the bottom of the page). The web really has made the world a seamless place!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lahey/Bittman's No-Knead Bread: Experiment #1

We have been Panera addicts but, sadly, they recently decided to fluffy-fy their bread and remove the flavor from their other baked goods -- at least it seems that way to us. I guess they are chasing the market that likes supermarket baked goods. Meanwhile, our local Publix (supermarket) is starting to have more "artisan breads." So we are not totally in the wilderness when it comes to good bread -- but almost.

I'd heard rumbles of a "no knead" bread recipe and decided it was time to do research. The recipe now in wide distribution was initially published in 2006 in the New York Times in a column by Mark Bittman. Bittman had gotten the recipe from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. Many have tried it and claimed it fool-proof so I thought I'd give it a try.

People experimenting with this recipe have developed all sorts of variations and recommendations. Although said to be "fool-proof," flour, ovens, pans and the like vary. I decided to try a loaf sticking pretty closely to the original recipe.

The bread produced by this recipe is a boule with even holes throughout and a wonderfully crunchy, toothsome crust. It wasn't perfect but after the recipe I will tell you why and will suggest what my next experiment will be with this WONDERFUL, MAGIC, NO WORK recipe!

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon double-acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water (boiled and cooled to tepid if your tap water is heavily chlorinated like ours is)
  1. In a deep, large bowl, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly and stir in water until all flour is moistened. The dough will be a shaggy mess at this point.
  2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 18-24 hours. The dough will slowly grow until it more than doubles. The dough will be a sticky, hole-filled, bubbly mess at this point--and remains so until you bake it.
  3. With a wet spatula and wet hands, flop the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Use the spatula to fold in the edges of the dough. This breaks up some of the larger bubbles and pulls the dough bottom around to the top.
  4. Cover lightly and let sit on the board 15 minutes to rest.
  5. Place a length of foil across a large salad bowl as one would a hammock between two trees. Flatten the foil against the bottom and sides of the bowl leaving the ends of the foil draped over the bowl edges. You have now made a hammock for the dough.
  6. Flop the dough into the foil-lined bowl and cover loosely, leaving plenty of room for rising.
  7. Let the dough rise an additional two hours.
  8. About 1 1/2 hours into this last rise, set the oven to 450°F and put a covered casserole or dutch oven in to preheat.
  9. When the dough is done rising and the oven and pan are hot, use the foil hammock to flop the dough into the pan, wiggle the pan to center the dough, cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  11. Take the loaf out of the pan and cool on a rack.
Evaluation of Exeriment #1
  • Yum! We've gotta do this again! It's as easy as it seems.
  • The loaf was a bit salty for us since we eat few prepared foods and don't use much salt. Next time I will use less. This is a bit of a surprise since others have said they needed more salt in theirs.
  • It stuck to the pan and took some serious convincing to get out. Next time I will follow the recommendations of some and put a sheet of parchment in the pan or I might even experiment with putting a spring form pan in a larger cast iron pan.
  • The interior was just a smidge underdone. I didn't believe my old thermometer which said the internal temperature was only 200°F. Some of the web pages said to make sure the interior reaches 210°F. Next time I will increase the length of time in the oven to make sure the inside gets done.
  • The bottom crust was just a bit dark and too thick. I think my oven may run a bit hot and so, after reading about the effect of temperature on crust in Bernard Clayton's The Complete Book of Breads, next time will see me setting the temp a bit lower. I may also deflect some of the radiant heat by putting a cookie sheet on the lower shelf an inch or two under the dutch oven.
And then I will report back with experiment number two. Word on the web is that you can use different flours and other additions and get variations that work wonderfully. I'm anxious to try the version that says replacing some of the water with a bit of plain yogurt results in a slightly sour bread with a better texture for sandwiches.

Some folks cook it in cast iron, others in glass or pyrex. All that matters is that the pot is covered. It is being covered that makes the wonderful crust.

I'm headed back in the kitchen for another slice. It really is a wonderful way to have fresh bread without much work or flour flying all over the kitchen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tzatziki, Raita, Maast-o Khiar, Jajik: Cucumber & Yogurt is a Good Idea

Cucumber in yogurt is a salad staple in many cuisines, from Greece, across the Middle East and on to India. Each country has its own favorite way to make this creamy, cooling side dish.

The basics:
  1. Pare a cucumber
  2. Add flavorings
  3. Dress with plain yogurt
  4. Chill to let flavors meld
The flavorings:

Every culture and seemingly every family has favorite flavorings for cucumber yogurt salad.
  • Garlic and salt are almost ubiquitous additions.
  • Green ingredients include chopped dill weed, cilantro, parsley, mint, or scallions.
  • Very thinly sliced onions add bite.
  • Spices such as pepper, cumin, turmeric or other spice may be added.
Simple or complicated?

The choice is yours.
  • Peel the cucumber. (Or not.)
  • To assure the yogurt does not get watery, remove the seeds from the cucumber, salt and let drain for 30 minutes before preparing the salad. (Or not.)
  • Use good quality Greek yogurt that has been drained. (Or not.)
  • Stir some flavorful olive oil into the yogurt. (Or not.)
For a quick, weeknight sauce to serve with rice and chicken, I like to
  1. slice a peeled and seeded cucumber,
  2. add store-brand plain low fat yogurt, chopped fresh dill weed, finely chopped garlic, salt and white pepper
  3. Stir.
I tend to make this first so that by the time the rest of supper is ready it has sat long enough for the flavors to meld a bit. No, this doesn't result in the most scrumptuous tzatziki/raita/maast-o khiar/jajik you ever had, but it's a great quick side dish!

Fresh Refrigerator Pickles: One Cucumber at a Time

The inventory of the roadside veggie vendor near here depends on what his farming friends in the low country of South Carolina have. This past week, he had pint baskets of cucumbers and one of them came home with me. I like cucumbers but who wants to eat the same veggie several days in a row? Small, one-cucumber batches of fresh pickles to the rescue, each with different flavors.

This recipe needs no canning and can be done at the drop of a hat. It is completely flexible.

Step 1: Make brine for the pickles.

The sweetness and sourness of the pickles depends on the brine. If you look at recipes in books or online, you'll find great disparities among the ingredient ratios.

You can choose how to proportion
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Salt
I am happy with
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
This is about enough to cover 2 separate 1-cucumber batches. This makes a sweet but not cloyingly sweet pickle that is tangy without being too sour.

Bring the brine to a boil and stir to fully dissolve the sugar. I do this in the microwave.

Step 2: Prepare the vegetables

Slice, cube or other wise cut the cucumber into pickles shapes. Layer in a covered dish with the flavors you have chosen for the pickle.

Consider the following combinations:
  • sliced cucumber, sliced yellow onion, chopped garlic, fresh dill
  • cubed cucumber, sliced red onion, cinnamon stick, peppercorns
  • Slice cucumber, squares of red bell pepper, slice sweet onion, whole coriander seeds
Step 3: Pour brine & refrigerate

Pour the hot brine to cover the vegetables and spices. Cover with cling film and refrigerate.

These pickles can be eaten as soon as they are cold but they improve in flavor over the next few days, by which time they will probably be gone.

This recipe can serve as the basis for pickling other vegetables, e.g. zucchini, summer squash, sweet potato slices, cauliflower, etc. Have fun experimenting!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Phew! I found that little slip of paper I had written the roasted red pepper sauce formula on! Red bell peppers were 89¢ each at the Piggly Wiggly today so it's time for another freezer-stocking project!

Freshly roasted red peppers are one of life's great pleasures. They are smooth and sweet and bear absolutely no resemblance to jarred red peppers. And they go on or in anything! Fish, pasta, potatoes, chicken, you name it! Frozen, red pepper sauce keeps that wonderful flavor around to be used at a moment's notice.

The pictures are from an 8-pepper (quadruple) batch.

  • 2 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 medium red sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbl. olive oil
  • 1 Tbl. minced garlic
Procedure for roasting the peppers:
  1. Preheat the oven broiler and move a rack to within 4 inches or so from the element or flames
  2. Line a cookie sheet with foil.
  3. Cut the red peppers in half and remove the stem, seeds, and whitish membranes.
  4. Place the pepper halves skin side up on the foil and press them with the palm of your hand to flatten them. They will break a bit as you flatten them and will not lie completely flat.
  1. Broil the peppers until the skin is almost totally black char but the meat is still moist. Keep the door of the oven ajar so the broiler element will stay on. These were broiled for 10 minutes, turning the tray half way through.
  1. Remove from the oven and gather the foil up around the peppers to form a sealed sack to steam them.
  1. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the meat of the pepper. At this point, the roasted peppers are ready for use. I usually slice them into narrow strips. If moved to a sealed plastic bag, they will keep in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.
Procedure for the coulis (sauce):
  1. Sweat the chopped onion in olive oil until translucent and starting to carmelize.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.
  3. Pour the wine into the pan and stir to deglaze.
  4. Simmer to reduce the wine by half.
  1. Add the roasted and peeled peppers and stock.
  2. Simmer 10 more minutes to thicken.
  3. When cool enough to do so, purée
The red pepper sauce can be served hot or cold. It will keep refrigerated for several days. It can also be frozen in meal-sized amounts for later use.

It's bright red and pretty and tasty and will impress the heck out of your friends.

Roasted Red Peppers on Foodista

Imprecise & Inexpensive

Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.