Archive for February 2012
I’m not sure about you, but whenever I read and gaze through cookbooks I almost get a sense of panic. I see intriguing recipes, new cuisines or flavors I had never even considered, new techniques, and before I know it I find myself scribbling down all the new things I need to cook and experiment with. While this is all very exciting, I find myself staring back at my list thinking, “When will I make all of this?” At times it just seems there are so many things to make–an endless amount!–and not enough time.
And even when there’s time, there’s just not enough stomachs to consume the food. I make a dish and no matter how good it tastes, after the third day of eating leftovers, I start getting a little restless to just move on, to try out making something new. I’m starting to think that maybe I need a family of ten or something that I constantly have to cook for, you know, like it’s my job. But then I suppose if that were the case I wouldn’t have that qualifying factor of having any time to cook. Oh, it’s a tragic life, isn’t it!
Anyway, I think this problem of mine influenced me to decide that I was going to make all of my own bread this semester (something I hinted about here). Because if I’m going to be consuming bread, why not get some practice out of it by trying to make it myself? Who knows, maybe after making a million loaves, I’ll have mastered the art of it or something. And even if there are a few bumps on the way towards that mastery, I’m pretty sure it’s widely known anyway that even if homemade bread doesn’t turn out perfect or as good as it could be, it is pretty, pretty hard to beat the smell of fresh, warm bread, yeasty and soft straight out of the oven.
I’d like to think that this bread is even a little better than just that, though. I think what makes this one special is that it is uses 100% whole wheat flour to make it and yet it still ends up incredibly fluffy, tender and just plain tasty. The recipe, from my always-trusty Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking, states that the addition of egg and butter allow the bread to come out light and smooth rather than dense. I’d like to think they’re right, because to me, the texture of this bread is better than a lot of completely all-purpose flour loaves I’ve made. And the flavor! I hate to sound completely cliche, but there’s no other way to describe it: the use of all whole wheat flour just gives that deep nutty flavor. The honey balances it out and the whole thing just ends up tasting like a pretty perfect classic, whole-wheat sandwich loaf of bread.
I loved this bread fresh from the oven with a slather of salted butter and some tart jam, but it’s also turned out pretty useful, too. I cut off a couple of slices for a turkey sandwich for a few days, while yesterday morning I toasted some of it to sop up some fried eggs for breakfast. It’s ended up being quite the useful, versatile, all-purpose bread for me this past week. And even though this whole making-all-my-bread thing has me trying out a lot of different recipes in search for the ever-better bread technique and product, I think I’ll find myself turning back to this one quite a bit this semester. I guess, after all, our time can’t be spent always trying new things–sometimes, we just have to work to perfect the things we already know and enjoy.
Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking
Makes two loaves
The recipe suggests that if you want a less sweet, very sandwich bread type of loaf, you can cut down the honey to 2 tablespoons and use water instead of milk.
2 packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, heated to be warm (within 105-115 degrees F)
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
6 cups (940 g) whole-wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, softened
If making the bread by hand, dissolve the yeast in the milk in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Using a wire whisk, stir in the honey and the eggs. Then add the flour, salt and butter, and stir with either your hands or a wooden spoon until a rough mass forms. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. As you knead, add a dusting of flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking (probably at the most 1/2 cup) , but be cautious of adding too much–the dough will become more smooth and less sticky as you keep kneading.
Alternatively, if you want to make the bread using a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast with the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the honey and eggs, and then add in the flour, salt and butter, and knead on low speed for about 5 to 7 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. As above, you shouldn’t have to add too much flour to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl–it will become less sticky as it kneads and will all come together with a minimal addition of extra flour.
Once kneaded, form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl. Move the dough around the bowl so that it gets coated in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Butter two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.
Once the dough has doubled, punch down the dough and scrape out onto a clean work surface. Cut the dough in half with a sharp knife or bench scraper to make two even balls of dough. Working one at a time, for each half, evenly flatten the dough out using the heel of your hand. The width of the dough should be the same length as the pan you’re putting the bread into–about a little less than 9 inches. Next, roll up the bottom third of the dough up onto itself and seal it be gently pushing it in with the heel of your hand. Continue rolling thirds of the dough up and onto itself, sealing the dough as you go, until you have an oval log. Place the logs, sealed-seam side down, into the prepared loaf pans.
Cover the pans loosely with a kitchen towel and let the loaves rise in a warm, draft-free spot until they double in size, about 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and position a rack in the middle of the oven.
Once the loaves have risen, dust the tops with some more whole wheat flour. Bake until they are honey brown and sound hollow when tapped on top, about 30 to 40 minutes. Be careful not to overbake this bread or it will be dry. After resting in the pan for about 5 minutes, carefully remove the loaves from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks.
I almost wasn’t going to share this recipe with you. I’m not sure why, but I think I judged this dish even before I made it as one of those quick-healthy-easy things that would make a few good meals worth of leftovers. I guess I thought it would be too practical to share—you know, too useful, not showy or superfluous enough.
Of course, I sound crazy writing that all out now. Right? But at the time, it seemed perfectly rational to me. Rational in the I-find-superfluous-foods-the-only-ones-worth-making type of reasoning, of course. I only began to realize how silly that all sounded as I sat eating a bowl of the reheated chana punjabi, with this (real, I’m afraid to admit) conversation in my head:
“Mmmm! This is so good. I could eat this for days! But oh no, it’s almost gone, what will I do once I’ve run out? Well, I guess I’ll just have to make more. But wait… if I think it’s good enough to make again almost as soon as it’s gone, why was I so averse to the idea of blogging about it in the first place?”
Oh, and that’s when the thought that maybe I should share this came into my head. A little slow, but the realization came. And that is how, reader, we have simultaneously come to the current state of you seeing this post on your screen, and me realizing that maybe I shouldn’t be sharing how my thoughts operate on something so public as my own blog.
Anyway, back to what this should be all about: chana punjabi. As I mentioned in the beginning, this dish hits all the “practicality” measure points, for being simple and fast to make while still being as pretty healthy for you as it gets. And for such little effort and such a virtuous health profile, this thing just tastes good. The chickpeas are creamy-soft, and the subtly heated blend of garam masala, paprika and coriander complete the tomato-based background. Throw a dusting of chopped cilantro on top over a bowl of rice and it is a pretty perfect meal. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a winner, despite the fact that it’s not so superfluous. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it’s because of that.
Adapted from Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez via The Wednesday Chef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small Thai bird chili, chopped or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained (or two large chopped tomatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and lightly rinsed
minced cilantro, for serving
cooked rice, for serving
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chili (or jalepeno), and saute until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a 1/4 cup of water. Cover saucepan and cook until the tomatoes are very soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Scoop the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until completely smooth. Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Combine to add the paprika, a teaspoon or so of salt, coriander, garam masala, tumeric and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add the chickpeas and allow the mixture to bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low so it gently simmers.
Cover the saucepan and simmer until the sauce is thick and the chickpeas are very soft, about 40 to 45 minutes, stirring the pan about every 10 minutes and adding water as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups) to prevent burning. When ready to serve, sauce should be thick. If necessary, uncover pan and allow sauce to reduce for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until it has become as thick as desired. Taste for salt and spices. Serve warm over rice and top with cilantro. And save some for leftovers, because they really are the best.
There are those recipes that you’ve had bookmarked in a folder on your computer or scrawled down on a “to-make” list in some notebook for months, maybe even years, and then there are the recipes that you pick up at a spur-of-the-moment, convenience-and-necessity-comes-first type of time.
This recipe for soft pretzels is of the latter sort, I am sorry to say. Because really, this is the type of thing that needs to be on everyone’s list. It should have been on mine a long time ago (shame, shame). I think it was just one of those things, you know? That you don’t ever really think about, that most people would rather just pick up at their local mall’s Auntie Anne’s if they have an hankering for it, and that just honestly sounds a little intimidating to undertake.
(By the way, if you’re of that sort that thinks this kind of recipe is intimidating because it requires the parboiling of the pretzels before they make it to the oven, please think about this: you boil and simmer things all the time. You put things in the oven all the time. Now just do it to yeasted dough shaped in pretty twists and ties! Really, it’s simple. And I’m willing to say that even if you mess up a little here or there, it’ll still turn out pretty incredible.)
Anyway, the thought of making soft pretzels hadn’t crossed my mind or, for that matter, any of my many folders on my computers or to-make lists cluttered on my desk, until my boyfriend brought it up when he was visiting me last weekend. When I asked him what he wanted me to make him for dinner, he responded pretty clearly: soft pretzels and soup. (Ooh that’s why I like him! So straightforward and decisive. The opposite of me and my many, undecided lists.) But even with the excitement with the prospects of warm, soft pretzels, I was apprehensive about how successful they would be. I just had that lingering, uncertain doubt.
Not only did they turn out, but they were so addictingly satisfying that I vowed to myself I would make them every few weeks or so–to which my boyfriend and roommates happily agreed. The only testy part of the process was the dough itself: it’s a tight, heavy dough, which means that my KitchenAid mixer couldn’t knead it properly and my arm muscles got quite the workout that night. But it’s all worth it, trust me. Instead of opting for making them all at once (the pretzels are best warm from the oven as can be expected), I kept strings of the dough in a freezer-ziploc bag in the fridge the next couple days so I could pull out a couple lengths of it whenever we wanted fresh pretzels.
My boyfriend made a simple honey-mustard dip to go along with the pretzels, and let me tell you, the two combined was heaven– I don’t care how much of a cliche it is to say that. Chewy, soft, salty and warm pretzels with that familiar and distinct pretzel taste, dipped into a tangy-sweet mustard sauce. There’s not much more I can say, besides maybe two words: make these.
Adapted from Martha Stewart, who got it from Sigmund Pretzelshop in NYC
Depending on the size, makes about a dozen or a little more
Spend the extra effort and make sure to use bread flour. I’ve tried making these with regular all-purpose flour and although the pretzels were still delicious, they were disappointing when compared with those made with bread flour.
2 cups warm water
1 (1/4 ounce) package rapid-rise yeast
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
6 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
4 tablespoons coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup pale ale-style beer
coarse salt, for topping the pretzels with
In a medium bowl, mix together the 2 cups warm water, yeast, and 1/2 cup brown sugar until combined and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and 4 tablespoons salt using your hands. Add the butter pieces and continue to mix with your hands, breaking up the butter, until mixture is crumbly. Add yeast mixture and, again using your hands, mix until a shaggy dough is formed and the water is absorbed.
Once the water is absorbed, place the dough on a floured work surface and knead with your hands until the dough is tight, elastic and smooth, about 8 minutes. It will be dense and heavy, but make sure you knead it long enough so that it’s flexible, too. Resist adding too much flour, chances are you don’t need it and the dough should become more elastic and smooth as it goes. Once kneaded, place in a large, oiled bowl, moving the dough around so that it’s coated in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it just about doubles, about an hour and a half later. Alternatively, transfer to refrigerator and let chill at least 8 hours and up to overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Turn out the dough on a clean work surface and roll out the dough into an approximate 14-by-12-inch rectangle. Cut dough into one dozen 12-inch-long strips (you might get a bit more, depending on the size you want your pretzels to be), each about 1-inch wide. Transfer to a large baking sheet and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer to refrigerator and let chill for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 8 cups water, the 1/2 cup baking soda, beer and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, stretch out eat piece into a “rope” until it’s about 3/4 inch thick all the way around, starting from the center and working towards the ends. Make a “U” shape with the rope and cross the ends over once or twice, pinching at the bottom of the “U” to form a pretzel. Repeat process with remaining dough.
Simmer pretzels, one at a time for about 30 seconds; transfer to prepared baking sheet using a perforated spatula. Repeat process with remaining pretzels.
Sprinkle pretzels with pretzel salt; transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the pretzels turn a chestnutty-golden brown color. Remove from baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm with honey mustard dipping sauce, recipe below.
Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup good mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey
pinch of cayenne pepper
Mix together all ingredients until well combined.
This last Saturday I woke up to the sun. The sun! Oh, it was nice. It’s funny how the weather can have such an impact on you. Instead of the usual grumbling and hiding under my covers to keep warm (let’s forget the fact that the sun doesn’t really have influence the temperature inside my house), I stretched out of bed like a lazy cat and proceeded to the kitchen to make some of this for breakfast.
(On a separate note, have you made your own granola? If you haven’t, try out that recipe. Even if you make your own granola, try out that recipe. I’m a little crazy about it.)
Anyway, the sun made for a nice morning, and a reminder that no, this chill and frost and rain will not last forever. But maybe even more importantly so, it made for a nice realization that I should be taking advantage of this winter a little bit more than I have been. Because really, the cold has its appeals. It gives me all the better reason to crank up my oven and bake something. And let’s not kid ourselves: once this winter passes and the sun shines constantly, we’ll all become romantically nostalgic for the dark winter months when baking felt more virtuous. So bake I will, starting with bread.
Whenever I reach for a bread recipe to make, it’s usually this challah recipe. And so it went on Saturday, when I decided that my oven had better start cooking something yeasted, and right away. I’m not sure why I always lean towards challah, seeing as 1.) I’m not Jewish, 2.) I suck at braiding, as you can see from my shameless looking finished loaf (and every other loaf of challah I’ve produced), and 3.) I should probably have made something a little more practical that I could have made sandwiches out of. But what can I say? I love challah, so that’s what I made.
In hindsight, I realize that this recipe may not be the most traditional of its kind. Usually challah doesn’t have any dairy in it, and as you can see in the recipe below, this one calls for butter. I never really caught this (once again, please be directed to #1 in the paragraph above), but now that I’ve always made it with butter and seen the results, I’m not sure I go without it. Butter just does that thing, you know what I mean? That allows you to toast up a slice of the challah and not even have to put a pad of butter on top, just because the crumb is already so delicious and flaky itself (but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still put butter on top. It is butter, after all).
Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that I really like this recipe. As with most yeasted breads, it makes the house smell as close to nirvana as I think nothing else can. And yes, as with a lot of yeasted breads, this one does take some time and patience. But as always, the satisfaction of fresh baked bread (and challah of all things!) greatly outweighs any stretch of your patience that it may take. And besides, when you have these cold, never-ending winter days ahead of you, what better reason to sit around and make some bread.
(By the way, did you know it’s a rule that if you make challah, you must invariably make french toast? Yeah, because if you didn’t know it already, french toast is infinitely better when made with challah. And that’s reason enough to get started on making a loaf.)
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking
Makes one really large loaf
As I mentioned above, I am really god-awful at braiding. Really. I think the only braiding I’ve done before that is successful is the classic three-strand braid. However, I’m including the instructions for the beautiful four-strand just in case any of you out there are a little more apt in that department than I am.
2 packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup (250 ml) warm water (105-115 degrees F, 40-46 degrees C)
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature, plus 1 beaten for a glaze
5 cups (780 g) all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick, 125 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon poppy seeds, optional
To make the challah by hand (which, in my humble opinion, is preferable), dissolve the yeast with the warm water in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the sugar, the 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt, and the butter until the dough comes together in a sticky mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, working in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. Remember, don’t be tempted to add too much flour: the dough will become less sticky with kneading and it should stay soft throughout the whole process.
Alternatively, if you’re making the challah with a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast and warm water in the 5 quart bowl of a stand mixer and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. As above, add the sugar, eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, salt and butter, and with the dough hook attached, knead on low speed. As it kneads, add in the remaining half cup of flour as necessary until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. Like above, please don’t be tempted to add too much flour.
It’s almost impossible to over-knead, so when it doubt if your dough is elastic and smooth enough, knead some more. It should get that “feel” that bread has when it’s soft and flexible. Once kneaded, form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Move the ball of dough around so it gets covered by the oil (as to not dry out the top of the dough). Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about two hours.
Line a half sheet pan or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch dough down. Scrape dough out onto a clean work surface.
To make a 4-strand braid, cut the dough into four equal pieces. Using your palms and starting at the center working outward, elongate one piece by rolling it gently against the work surface with even pressure until you’ve formed a rope as long as the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining three pieces.
Line up the four strands in front of you horizontally. Cross the strand farthest from you across the other three strands so that it is nearest you. Cross the strand that is now next to it across the other two strands away from you. Position the outside strands so that they are away from the center ones, and position the center two strands perfectly horizontal. Bring the strand nearest you down between the two horizontal strands. Bring the strand farthest from you up and across to the opposite side. Again, bring the strand farthest from you down between the two straight strands. Bring the strand nearest you up and across to the opposite side. Staring from the strand nearest you, repeat the braiding until you reach the ends of the ropes. Pinch them together at both ends and tuck the strands under at the ends.
Place the braided loaf on the prepared pan, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let rise again in a warm, draft-free spot until it nearly doubles in size and is spongy to the touch, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, position a rock in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F, or 180 degrees C.
Brush the braid gently with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the poppy seeds, if using. Bake the bread until it is deeply golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.