crescent rolls

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I want my crescent rolls to bridge the gap between a regular dinner roll and a croissant. I want them intensely buttery, soft in the middle, with a slight crackle to the crust. I want the rolled layers to come apart when you bite into a browned edge. I don’t want them to be flaky; that’s too far down the croissant path. Basically, I want what you get when you pop open one of those tubes from the grocery store, except those tend to be soft to the point of mushy and too pale on the outside. It’s been surprisingly hard to find this ideal.

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Most recipes turn out rolls that are too similar to dinner rolls, without enough butter and without distinct layers. The recipe I started from for these rolls looked like they’d go too far the other direction, with flaky layers of dough separated by butter, like a croissant. You get those layers through folding butter into the dough and rolling it flat, then folding the dough into thirds and rolling again. In a croissant, this process is repeated to make hundreds of alternating paper-thin dough and butter layers.

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By reducing the number of turns, I was able to create the layers I wanted without making them so thin they’d turn flaky, so the dough layers were distinctly bread-like. The bread needed to be tender, which I guaranteed by adding a couple tablespoons of oil. The butter layers would add plenty of butter flavor, but the oil would keep the bread soft and moist. At last – the perfect crescent roll, halfway between a dinner roll and a croissant.

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One year ago: Yogurt Hollandaise Sauce
Two years ago: Yellow Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Jalapeno Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
Four years ago: Pot Roast
Five years ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts

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Crescent Rolls (adapted from eat live run)

Makes 16 rolls

I made these slightly whole wheat by using this trick, but if you’d rather they were made completely with white flour, just skip step one, adding the pre-dough ingredients (white flour instead of whole wheat) with the rest of the dough ingredients.

Pre-dough:
4 ounces (about ¾ cup) whole wheat flour
⅓ cup (2.67 ounces) water
¼ teaspoon salt

Dough:
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk plus 1 tablespoon
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
6 tablespoons butter, softened
egg wash

1. For the pre-dough: Combine the flour, salt, and water, mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.

2. Combine the pre-dough, flour, yeast, sugar, salt, ¾ cup milk, egg, and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead about 4 minutes. (You can mix and knead the dough by hand in a large bowl.) Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thick. Starting at a short end, spread the softened butter over two-thirds of the dough. Fold the unbuttered third of dough over the buttered middle. Fold the other buttered side over the middle. You’ve just folded the dough in thirds, like a letter, with the butter trapped inside between layers of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to ¼-inch thick again; fold in thirds again; chill another 30 minutes.

4. Roll the dough to ¼-inch thick to a rectangle about 10 by 14-inches. Slice in half lengthwise, creating two 5 by 14-inch rectangles, then alternate diagonal cuts to make 8 triangles from each half of dough. Cut a 1-inch slit in the wide end of each triangle (the side opposite the point). Roll up the triangles, starting at the wide end and pulling the corners away from the slit in the middle. Arrange the rolls on parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Spray with nonstick spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. About 5 minutes before baking, remove the plastic wrap and brush the rolls with the egg wash; leave them uncovered. Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes.

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focaccia

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I’ve made focaccia before, years ago, but since Peter Reinhart claims so assertively that his recipe is superior to most focaccia found in America, I thought I’d better give it a try. It has a lot of good things going for it, like herb-scented oil poured on top and a cold overnight fermentation – always a sign of good flavor to come in yeast breads.

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It’s fun to make too. The mixer (if you have one) does most of the messy work, but you still get to play with the soft and stretchy dough to shape it. Then you stick your fingers in the oiled dough to create dimples and spread it into the pan. After that, you throw it in the fridge until you’re ready for it, which is always a good trick for convenience.

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It was definitely good bread, soft in the middle, just a little crisp and almost flaky on top, scented with herbs and olive oil. But – I’m not sure it was the height of focaccia perfection, despite Reinhart’s usually well-deserved swagger. For me, adding a touch more salt or a spoonful of sugar would have given the bread a welcome flavor boost. On the plus side, this gives me the perfect excuse to make more focaccia.

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One year ago: Tartine Country Bread
Two years ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Three years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Four years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Focaccia (slightly reworded from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

For the herb oil:
½ cup olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, rosemary, sage)
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

For the bread:
5 cups (22.5 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups water, at room temperature
6 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup herb oil
Extra olive oil for the pan

1. For the herb oil: Warm the olive oil to about 100 degrees. Add the remaining ingredients; let steep while you prepare the dough.

2. For the bread: In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and oil; mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until all the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.

3. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Using a scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust liberally with flour, patting the dough into a rectangle. Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

4. Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it, letter style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. Repeat the stretching, folding, and resting twice more. After the last (third) fold, cover the dough and let it ferment at room temperature for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.

5. Oil an 18-by-13-inch pan and line with parchment paper. Use a pastry scraper and lightly oiled hands to lift the dough off the counter and transfer it to the prepared pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible.

6. Spoon half of the herb oil over the dough. Use your fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan simultaneously. Try to keep the thickness as uniform as possible across the surface. If the dough becomes too springy, let it rest for about 15 minutes and then continue dimpling. Don’t worry if you are unable to fill the pan perfectly, especially the corners. As the dough relaxes and proofs, it will spread out naturally. Use more herb oil as needed to ensure that the entire surface is coated with oil.

7. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 3 days).

8. 3 hours before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and drizzle the remaining herb oil over the surface; dimple it in. This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough to a thickness of about ½-inch. Cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours, or until the dough doubles in size, rising to a thickness of nearly 1 inch.

9. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

10. Place the pan in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking the focaccia for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown. The internal temperature of the dough should register above 200 degrees (measured in the center).

11. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately transfer the focaccia out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow the focaccia to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.

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pear almond danishes and lemon ricotta danishes

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I went through a baking drought early this year that lasted a few weeks, maybe a month. I couldn’t explain it, but I just wasn’t interested in baking for the first time in years. I was kind of worried – how long would this last? When would my drive to bake come back?

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Oh it’s back. It crept back in, but it’s in full force now. The last few weeks, in particular, I’ve taken on some ambitious projects. It started with these danishes, made for a brunch potluck that was in the evening after work. The very next day, I stayed up until midnight flooding sugar cookies with royal icing. A week after that, I made two batches of fancy cupcakes for a bridal shower. I breathed a sigh of relief when that was over, but mixed up another batch of sugar cookie dough just one day later. I’ll decorate those sugar cookies this week, plus make a double batch of tiramisu for my friend’s rehearsal dinner on Friday.

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Baking projects that are for an event in the evening after work are particularly complicated, especially if the event is toward the end of the week instead of shortly after the weekend. It requires careful balancing of chilling time, lunch hours, and evening schedules. Of course it’s worth it when you’re sitting around with your friends, drinking bellinis and eating eggs Benedict and buttery, flaky danishes on Thursday evening after work. Not just worth it, but so enjoyable that I did it again a week later with cupcakes, and a week after that I’m sure it will be something else. My baking obsession is back.

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One year ago: Chocolate Pots de Creme
Two years ago: Toasted Coconut Custard Tart
Three years ago: Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
Four years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Danishes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

I made 18 danishes from this batch of dough, and they were about 3-inches on a side after baking. Bigger danishes are probably easier to work with; many of mine unfolded when the dough expanded during baking, particularly the square shape with the corners folding in.

½ cup warm milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 batch of filling (recipes follow)
egg wash (1 egg mixed with ⅛ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon water)

1. In a small measuring cup, stir the yeast into the milk. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of butter; mix until evenly combined. Pour in the yeast and milk; mix until the dough starts to look shaggy. Switch to the dough hook; add the egg and knead until the dough just starts to look smooth, 2-3 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle, about ¼ inch thick. Distribute the softened butter over two-thirds of the dough, leaving a short end free of butter. Fold the non-buttered third over the middle, then fold the last third over the middle, like folding a letter. Pinch the edges to seal. Roll the dough out to a 12-by-8-inch rectangle again, then fold it in thirds again. Rewrap the dough in plastic wrap; chill 1 hour.

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(see here for an explanation of the creases on the dough)

3. After the dough has chilled, roll it out and fold it in thirds twice more, then chill another hour, and roll and fold twice more. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. (This is a good point to freeze the dough too; thaw in the refrigerator overnight.)

4. Roll the dough out to a 12-by-18-inch rectangle about ⅛-inch thick. If the dough becomes too elastic and springs back, cover it and place it in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes, then try rolling again. Be patient; the rolling and chilling could take up to an hour. Cut 12 to 18 squares (see note).

5. For pinwheels: Cut from each corner halfway to the center of each square. Dab about ¼ teaspoon of filling into the center of each square, then fold every other corner toward the center, pressing to seal. Top with one (for smaller danishes) to two (for the larger size) tablespoons of filling.

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For squares with folded corners: Spoon one (for smaller danishes) to two (for the larger size) tablespoons of filling into the center of each square. Fold each corner to the middle of the dough; press to seal.

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6. Transfer the danishes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cover and either chill overnight or set aside to rise. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. When the danish dough is about doubled in height and is starting to look puffy, brush the danishes with the egg wash. Bake one baking sheet at a time until the danishes are golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let the danishes cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring them to cooling racks to cool to room temperature. Serve within a day.

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Cheese Danish Filling

Makes enough for 1 batch of danishes

1 cup ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons (2.6 ounces) sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Combine all ingredients. Chill.

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Pear Almond Danish Filling (rewritten from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes enough for 1 batch of danishes

⅔ cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled completely
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
2 pears, peeled, cored, diced finely
¼ cup lemon juice

1. In a food processor, grind the almonds, flour, ½ cup sugar, and salt; add the butter and egg; chill.

2. Heat the pears, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pears caramelize, 8-10 minutes. Chill.

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croissants (tartine bread)

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My coworker seemed surprised when I told him I was going home at lunch to work on croissants. He wondered if all croissant recipes are so complicated. No. But I chose the most complicated one.

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I seem to have convinced myself that the recipe with the most steps must produce the best result. By no means is this rule always true, but in this case, it was. Spending my lunch break rolling and shaping buttery dough was a small price to pay for croissants this good.

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And that’s just the beginning (well, it’s the end of the recipe, but it’s the beginning of me telling you about the recipe). The process starts a couple days earlier, when you feed your starter. If you don’t have a starter, you should make one! It isn’t hard, and I’m more proud of my all wild-yeast bread than anything else I’ve accomplished in the kitchen this year.

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Once your starter is awake and you’ve mixed up another pre-dough with instant yeast, you’ll make your dough, but instead of kneading it, you’ll spend a minute or so fussing with it every half an hour for a few hours. Once it’s risen and chilled, you can roll it out and start working in the butter, and this process takes a few minutes of fussing over the course of several hours too. Then chill the dough some more. Then roll it out some more. Then, finally, you can shape your croissants! But then you have to let them rise for a couple hours before baking.

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I actually love recipes like this. I love getting to play with dough for just a few minutes at a time, and because the dough is chilled in between, it’s adaptable to my schedule. And in this case, all that fussing paid off with the best croissants I’ve made yet. My coworker grabbed two, and then he didn’t seem to doubt my lunchtime fussing at all.

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More experiments with croissants:
Tartine Bakery (the recipe in their first book is different than the recipe in their bread book)
Martha Stewart (using fresh yeast)
Martha Stewart (using instant yeast)

One year ago: Taco Pasta Salad
Two years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Three years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

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Croissants (adapted from Tartine Bread)

Makes 16 croissants

I’ve shortened the instructions and added volume measurements. Keep in mind though, that the weight measurements are more precise, so if you have a scale, use it (as always).

The original recipe recommends an egg wash made from 2 egg yolks and 1 teaspoon of heavy cream, but I used a whole egg whisked with a pinch of salt (which loosens the protein structure of the egg) because I didn’t want 2 extra egg whites to use up.

I wouldn’t have minded the croissants being just a little bit sweeter. Next time I’ll increase the sugar to ½ cup (100 grams).

You don’t use all of the leaven, because the leftover leaven becomes the starter that you keep and feed and use in the future.

Poolish:
200 grams (1½ cups) all-purpose flour
200 grams (⅔ cup) water, room temperature
3 grams (1 teaspoon) instant yeast

Leaven:
1 tablespoon starter
220 grams (1⅔ cups) all-purpose flour
220 grams (¾ cup) water, room temperature

Dough:
450 grams (1¾ cup) whole milk, room temperature
300 grams leaven
400 grams polish (this is all of the poolish)
1000 grams (7 cups) bread flour
28 grams (4½ teaspoons) salt
85 grams (7 tablespoons) sugar
10 grams (1 tablespoon) instant yeast

400 grams (28 tablespoons, although I used a full pound (32 tablespoons)) unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
Egg wash

1. To make the poolish: In a small bowl, mix the flour, water, and yeast. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3-4 hours or store overnight in the refrigerator.

2. To make the leaven: In a small bowl, mix the starter, flour, and water. Cover and let rise overnight.

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3. Add the milk, leaven, and poolish to a large mixing bowl; stir to break up the doughs. Add the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast; mix thoroughly until there are no bits of dry flour. Cover and let rest for 25-40 minutes. Fold the dough a few times by using a dough scraper to scoop up one side of the dough and drape it over the rest of the dough.

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4. Allow the dough to ferment for 3 to 4 hours and give it another few turns every 30 minutes. This takes the place of kneading. Be more gentle with the turning toward the end of the rising time. The dough is ready when it’s slightly increased in volume and is full of air bubbles. Flatten the dough into a rectangle, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

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5. Just before rolling out the dough, cut the cold butter into cubes. Gradually adding the ½ cup flour, pound the butter with a rolling pin until it comes together into a cohesive mass. Alternatively, use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to mix the cold butter and flour. Mold the butter into a rectangle measuring 8 by 14 inches.

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6. On a work surface dusted with flour, roll the dough out to a rectangle measuring 12 by 20 inches. Lay the butter block over the dough so that it covers about two-thirds of the dough. Fold the uncovered third of dough toward the center over the butter. Fold the other end of the dough, with the butter, over the center, as if you’re folding a letter. Turn the dough a quarter turn; roll it again into a 12 by 20-inch rectangle, then fold it in thirds. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. (You can chill the dough longer, but you’ll need to let it warm up a few minutes before rolling so the butter isn’t too stiff.)

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7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll it out to a 12 by 20-inch rectangle, fold it in thirds, rotate it a quarter-turn, and repeat the rolling and folding. Chill for an hour. Repeat the rolling, folding, rotating, rolling and folding once more. Wrap the folded dough in plastic wrap and freeze it for 1-2 hours. If you don’t plant to finish the croissants until the next morning, transfer the dough to the refrigerator after a couple hours in the freezer. (You can store the dough in the freezer for several days at this point, letting it defrost overnight before using.)

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8. Roll the dough into a rectangle that is 18 by 24 inches and is about ½-inch thick. If the dough becomes very elastic, let it rest (preferably in the refrigerator) for several minutes before continuing the rolling. Cut the dough in half to form two 9 by 24-inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 8 triangles. Roll up each triangle, starting at the wide side. Transfer the croissants to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them at least an inch apart. Cover them loosely and let rise until they are about 50 percent larger than their original size, about 2 hours. They will be firm, but puffed. (You can also refrigerate them overnight at this point, which is what I did.)

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9. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the croissants with the egg wash. Bake until they are deep golden brown, crisp, and flaky, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

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grilled pita

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It’s news to no one that homemade pita is a hundred times better than storebought pita. But it might be news to some that grilled homemade pita is a hundred times better than baked homemade pita. True story.

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Pita dough and pizza dough are so similar that I keep batches in the freezer (actually lately I’ve been using Tartine’s country bread dough) and use them interchangeably. Both are rounds of dough that are stretched out thin, and when cooked, are expected to be spotty browned but still tender. So if grilled pizza is so popular lately, why not grilled pita?

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Grilling pita is particularly convenient for me because all of my favorite pita fillings are grilled. So once the chicken comes off the grill and is resting, I plop a round of dough on the hot coals, wait a minute until it bubbles and browns, then flip it. Your pita breads likely won’t be perfectly round, because transferring sticky stretchy dough to hot hot coals isn’t a trivial process. But what they might lack in symmetry, they make up for in grill lines – not to mention crisp edges, soft middles, and that touch of smoke that only the grill can provide.

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One year ago: Baked French Toast
Two years ago: Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella
Three years ago: Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

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Grilled Pocketless Pitas

12 pitas

2½ pounds pizza dough, fully risen
nonstick spray or olive oil

1. Working on a damp towel, cut the dough into 12 pieces. Shape each into a ball by gently pulling the edges toward one side and pinching the seam to seal it. Roll the ball of dough on the towel to smooth and even the shape. Let the dough rest for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the grill to medium-high heat.

2. Pick up one ball of dough by an edge; stretch and pull it into a 5- to 6-inch round. If it becomes too elastic to shape, set it aside, loosely covered, for 5 minutes before trying again. Spray the tops of the shaped rounds with nonstick spray or brush with olive oil.

3. Carefully lay the pita rounds, oiled side down, directly on the grill. When the pita bubbles and the bottom is spottily browned, after 1-2 minutes, use tongs to flip the pita. Continue cooking until the second side begins to brown, about 1 minutes. Serve immediately or wrap in a kitchen towel for up to 30 minutes.

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tartine country bread

Sometimes I’ll be reading a recipe, and it’ll say “we simplified this horribly long complicated process with very little effect on the outcome!” and I always think, “nooo! I want to know the horribly long complicated process!” That’s why I made traditional lasagne Bolognese and barbecued a pork shoulder on the grill. And that is why I have now made bread without any commercial yeast – just the wild stuff.

That means that this bread takes at least a week from start to finish, probably a few days longer. Is it worth it? Oh, who knows. I’ve made some pretty fantastic bread using Peter Reinhart’s recipes too. But this isn’t about one loaf of bread. It’s about having a mixture of old fermented flour and wild fungus in your refrigerator, available to add just a little extra oomph to any bread you make.

I’ve jotted down the outline of Tartine’s Country Bread recipe below, but the beauty of this method goes far beyond this one loaf of bread, extraordinary though it may be. Because this isn’t about making sourdough bread. Tartine’s country bread isn’t sour, but it has a layer of complexity to it, a sweet savory-ness that makes it really special, not to mention the beautiful burnt red crust.

Chad Robertson has pages and pages of information in his book (and Martha Stewart has a tutorial on her site); my version here is merely the cliff notes. But the key here isn’t the nitpicky mixing, turning, rising, shaping directions. The key is that magical stinky starter you created. And with the starter mixture in your fridge, you have the power to add some of that complexity to every bread recipe you make. When I mix up a whole wheat pre-dough that uses yeast, I mix in some of this starter instead of instant yeast, which has resulted in some exceptional bagels recently. I’ve also started using the country bread dough for pizza, which makes for a bubbly crust with the bottom so crisp it’s almost crackly. This is why I like to know the whole horribly long complicated process – not only is the outcome often truly special, but it gives me the confidence to take the method and adapt it for my own needs.

One year ago: Turkey Burgers
Two years ago: Potato Galette
Three years ago: Orange Vanilla Opera Cake

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Tartine’s Basic Country Bread (rewritten from Tartine Bread)

Makes 2 large loaves

The only ingredients in this bread are flour, water and some salt at the end. However, they’re mixed at so many different stages in the process that I’ve chosen not to include an ingredient list. Instead, the ingredients are bolded in the directions.

For pizza, I like to add a squeeze of honey (or a spoonful of sugar) to the dough to help it brown in the oven. The bread doesn’t get the same beautiful burnished color as the loaf because it isn’t covered while it bakes.

Make the starter:

I’ve provided precise measurements here, but it isn’t necessary to follow them exactly as long as your starter always has the consistency of a thick batter.

1. Mix ½ cup room temperature filtered water with ½ cup white bread flour and ½ cup whole wheat flour. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set aside in a cool, shaded spot for two days.

2. Check the culture to see if any bubbles have formed around the sides and on the surface. If not, let it sit for another day. The culture is ready when it smells like stinky cheese and tastes very acidic. It’s okay if a dark crust has formed on top.

3. Discard three-quarters of the culture. To the remaining culture, add ¾ cup water, 6 tablespoons white bread flour and 6 tablespoons whole wheat flour. Stir vigorously until there are no lumps. Repeat this step once a day until…

4. Your starter is finished when it behaves in a predictable pattern after each feeding, from stinky and sharply acidic before feeding and sweet and milky just after feeding. The volume should increase for several hours after feeding, then begin to collapse.

To store and keep your starter: Lightly covered, the starter can be kept indefinitely in the refrigerator. (My mom keeps hers in a covered pitcher; I keep mine in a canning jar with a paper towel screwed on instead of the lid. A bowl with a cover would work fine.) To keep it active and healthy, feed it every week or two by following the directions below to make leaven for bread (step 1 of the bread part of the recipe).

Make the bread:

1. To make the leaven: Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the starter. Feed the remaining starter with 200 grams of warm water, 100 grams of whole wheat flour, and 100 grams of bread flour. Let the mixture rise overnight at room temperature. When it’s ready, the leaven should have risen slightly, float in room temperature water (test a small piece; you can still use this piece in the final dough), and smell like overripe fruit.

2. In a large (huge, actually) bowl, mix 700 grams of water and 200 grams of the leaven. (The remainder of the leaven is the starter that you’ll store and feed regularly.) Add 800 grams of bread flour and 200 grams of whole wheat flour; stir until the flour is evenly moistened. The dough won’t be smooth. Let it rest for 25 to 40 minutes while the gluten starts forming, the flour starts hydrating, and the flavor starts developing.

3. Add 20 grams of salt and 50 grams of water to the dough, and squeeze the dough to mix them in. This dough isn’t kneaded; instead, fold it a few times by using a dough scraper to scoop up one side of the dough and drape it over the rest of the dough.


before turning

4. Allow the dough to ferment for 3 to 4 hours and give it another few turns every 30 minutes. This takes the place of kneading. Be more gentle with the turning toward the end of the rising time. The dough is ready when it’s slightly increased in volume and is full of air bubbles (which will be visible on the sides if you’ve used a clear container).


after one turn


after two turns


ready to shape

5. Turn the dough out onto floured surface or a damp kitchen towel. Divide it into two portions. To shape each one into a round, cup your hands over the top of the dough and rotate the dough around on the counter. Cover the rounds with a damp towel and set them aside to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

6. To increase the surface tension of the dough, ensuring that the bread rises up and not out in the oven, perform a series of folds. Working with one ball of dough at a time, stretch it out and fold it over several times, eventually ending up with a neat square. Cup your hands around the dough and rotate it on the counter to smooth the surface again.


one large loaf and several smaller portions instead of two equal portions

7. Transfer each round to a floured towel-lined bowl or basket with the seam facing up. (Actually, I prefer to use an oiled bowl, covered with a damp towel. If you want to freeze the dough, transfer it to a ziptop bag sprayed with nonstick spray and store in the freezer. Let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator before continuing with the recipe.) Let rise for 2-4 hours at room temperature or, for maximum flavor, overnight in refrigerator.

8. Half an hour before you’re ready to bake the bread, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place a Dutch oven and its lid on the middle rack in the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. When the oven is hot, turn the dough out of its bowl onto a floured work surface or a damp kitchen towel so that the seam is down. Use a very sharp or serrated knife to cut four intersecting ½-inch deep slashes in the dough, forming a square of cuts. Carefully place the dough into the heated Dutch oven; cover the pot with its lid and transfer it to the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake 20-25 minutes longer, until the bread is deep golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads about 205 degrees. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack for an hour before serving.

semolina bread

Supposedly, my freezer is organized to have a shelf for meat, one for bread, one for prepared foods, and one for ingredients (mostly green chile and egg whites). In reality, bread tends to find its way onto each of the other shelves and eventually takes over. During my last freezer overhaul, I gave baked bread its own shelf and bread dough got moved to the ingredient shelf, which has plenty of open space now because we are, sadly, almost out of last year’s crop of green chile.

Besides our weekday snack supply of muffins (for Dave) and whole wheat bagels (for me), there’s usually homemade hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and sandwich thins, several bags of pizza dough, odds and ends of loaves whose genesis I don’t remember, and both baked and unbaked versions of whatever rustic bread I’m playing with at the time. The lovely s-curve of this semolina bread recipe caught my eye as soon as I got Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, years ago. I know I could have used that shape for any free-form loaf, but I saved it until I made the recipe it accompanies.

The three loaves of this semolina bread, one baked immediately and two frozen after shaping, didn’t last long in the freezer. I found every opportunity to bake up another loaf of this chewy golden bread. I’d start a new batch if there was any room in the freezer for what we don’t eat in one night.

One year ago: Brown Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Brandied Berry Crepes
Three years ago: Breakfast Strata with Mushrooms, Sausage and Monterey Jack

Printer Friendly Recipe
Semolina Bread (adapted from Pane Siciliano from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

1 recipe pate fermentée (recipe follows)
1¾ cups (8 ounces) bread flour
1¾ cups (8 ounces) semolina flour
1¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1¼ cups water, room temperature
sesame seeds

1. Remove the pate fermentée from the refrigerator 1 hour before mixing the final dough.

2. Stand mixer: Mix the pate fermentée, flours, salt, yeast, oil, honey, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel.

By hand: Cut the pate fermentée into 8-12 pieces. Mix the flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the pate fermentée, olive oil, honey, and water. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel.

3. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

4. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Very gently pull the edges of each portion around to one side and pinch them together to form a ball. Roll the dough between the palm of your hand and a lightly floured board or a damp kitchen towel (my preferred method). With the seam side up, push the sides of your thumbs into the dough, pulling the dough into an oblong. Pinch the seam together; repeat the process once more on the same dough ball to form a rope. Roll the rope, pushing it out into a longer rope, until it’s about 24 inches long. If it resists you at any point, let it rest for a few minutes before trying again. Then, working with each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S-shape. Arrange the shaped loaves on parchment paper and sprinkle them with sesame seeds. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

5. The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it warm up and, if necessary, finish rising, which will take a couple hours. The dough is ready to bake when it has doubled in size and remains dimpled when poked.

6. While the dough is rising, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and a heavy metal baking pan on the top rack. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

7. Transfer the risen loaves with the parchment paper to the hot baking stone. Pour 1 cup hot water into the metal pan on the top rack and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door and spritz the sides of the oven with water. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes longer, until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature is between 200 and 205 degrees.

8. Transfer the bread to a wire rack; cool 45 minutes before serving.

Pate fermentée

1⅛ cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1⅛ cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 to 7 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

I’m donating my Bourbon Pound Cake to Bloggers Bake for Hope.  This and over fifty other treats are available to be shipped directly to you. You can bid on your favorites starting May 4th; all proceeds go to Massachusetts Komen for the Cure.

 

sandwich thins

Ah, carbs. They’re the best, aren’t they? They don’t even need to be combined with carb’s best friend, butter, to be a treat. A hunk of airy-crumbed, chewy-crusted bread with a glass of dry red wine is a pleasure all on its own. A few slivers of cheese balance and enhance the flavors of each, but it isn’t necessary. All I need is the carbs.

Remember when the base of the food pyramid was carbs? Those were the good ol’ days. I’ve reversed my own personal food pyramid to be mostly fruits and vegetables, a goodly amount of protein, and a smattering of carbs (on weekdays; all bets are off on Saturday). A giant Kaiser roll, sadly, is more than a smattering.

Sandwich thins, however, are the perfect compromise between wanting carbs and not wanting to overdo it. But just because there’s less bread per sandwich doesn’t mean the bread can be less good. You still want it to be soft and tender, but also sturdy, and if it could be all that and still be whole grain, that would be no bad thing.

I hear you can buy these in the store or some such thing, but I’m not acquainted with the bread aisle at the grocery store, and anyway, what’s the fun in that? Buying things that we could spend hours of our busy schedules making from scratch is not what this blog is about.

One year ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Two years ago: Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
Three years ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts

Printer Friendly Recipe
Sandwich Thins (adapted from food.com via Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Makes 16

I meant to follow the directions when I made this, but I didn’t actually read them before starting. So I mixed it like a regular bread dough, and it worked just fine.

I doubt wheat bran and vital wheat gluten are crucial to this recipe. If you don’t have vital wheat gluten, just use more white flour (or better yet, substitute bread flour, if you have it, for the all-purpose flour). If you don’t have wheat bran, substitute more whole wheat flour. Bread is forgiving.

1 egg
1¼ cups warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups (10 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup wheat bran
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 teaspoons instant yeast
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons rolled oats

1. Stand mixer: In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the egg; whisk in the water and oil. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the flours, bran, gluten, yeast, sugar, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the liquid ingredients. Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not sticky.

By hand: In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the egg; whisk in the water and oil. Mix the flours, bran, gluten, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not sticky.

2. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Set the dough aside to rise until it has doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.

3. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball; then flatten it between your palms. Place it on the baking sheet and press down, working the dough into a thin 5-inch round. Brush the tops with water; sprinkle with rolled oats. Cover with damp kitchen towels and let rise until slightly risen, about 45 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use the blunt end of a wooden skewer to poke 9 holes in each roll. Bake 12-15 minutes, until puffed and dry on top. Cool completely before slicing.

pumpkin cinnamon rolls

The problem with the internet is that you don’t get to believe, even for a minute, that you were the first to come up with an idea. First there was sushi bowls, most recently it was eggnog martinis, and last month there were pumpkin cinnamon rolls. I thought I was a genius. Pumpkin and cinnamon! A classic combination! I could just take pumpkin bread dough, roll it out, spike the cinnamon filling mixture with cloves and nutmeg, and top it with a cream cheese glaze. It’s the perfect combination of pumpkin and accents! I deserve accolades! Awards! At the very least, lots of blog hits!

Oops, never mind. Many many people have done this before. Still. I’m convinced that my pumpkin cinnamon rolls are better than theirs. It’s all about balance – cinnamon rolls should be decadent treat worth the splurge, but you might as well save the calorie-dense ingredients for where they’re going to make the most impact.

I’m convinced that a super rich dough for cinnamon rolls isn’t worth the calories. Once the dough is filled with a sugary spiced filling and topped with a creamy glaze, extra fat in the dough just gets lost. If you don’t notice it, why bother with it? On that same note, I used oil in the dough instead of butter. You can use butter if you prefer, but again – the taste of butter will be overpowered by the filling and glaze, but the added tenderness of oil compared to butter will not go unnoticed.

Pumpkin, cinnamon, cream cheese, and sugar – for breakfast! The dough part is light, soft, and orange; the filling is sweet and spice and everything nice; and the glaze, well, it has cream cheese. I told you I was a genius.

One year ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes
Two years ago: White Chocolate Lemon Truffles, Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Vanilla Bean Caramels

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

You can chill the rolls after they’re shaped, rolled, and cut, but before rising. They’ll still need several hours in the morning to finish rising, bake, and cool, although you can speed the rising along by giving them a very warm place to get started.

A riskier method to get cinnamon rolls at a reasonable breakfast hour is to adjust the amount of yeast. I used ½ teaspoon yeast instead of 2 teaspoons. Your first rise will take several hours. Then you can roll, cut, and chill the dough (or freeze it and defrost in the refrigerator). Take the prepared, chilled rolls out of the fridge before you go to bed and they should be perfectly risen and ready to bake when you wake up.

Dough:
4-4 ½ cups (20 to 21¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
⅓ cup (2.33 ounces) sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Filling:
¾ cup packed (5¼ ounces) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (or a mixture of mostly cinnamon with some cloves, nutmeg, and ginger)
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

Glaze:
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners sugar, sifted to remove lumps
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs; whisk in the pumpkin and oil. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the liquid ingredients. Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not sticky.

By hand: Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs; whisk in the pumpkin and oil. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not sticky.

2. Mix together the filling ingredients in a small bowl. Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish.

3. After the dough has doubled in bulk, press it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle, with a long side facing you. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border at the far edges. Roll the dough, beginning with the long edge closest to you and using both hands to pinch the dough with your fingertips as you roll. Using unflavored dental floss or a serrated knife, cut the roll into 12 equal pieces and place the rolls cut-side up in the prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.

4. When the rolls are almost fully risen, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of one reads 185 to 188 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the glaze ingredients together until smooth. Glaze the rolls and serve.

whole wheat bagels

It’s possible that bagels are my favorite food. Yes, more so than tomato soup, than macaroni and cheese, even more so than chocolate chip cookie dough! And so I eat one almost everyday. It’s basically my lunch break and it’s a happy little time for me with my bagel, my black tea, and my Google Reader.

But here’s the thing – if I’m going to be eating a bagel every single day, I better make sure it’s healthy. For years, I made bagels with half white and half whole wheat flour, and I felt like that was a nice compromise between delicious and nutritious. Bagels with no white flour would be like hockey pucks, right? And they would taste like whole wheat. The horror!

I know I’m becoming a broken record, but the answer, of course, is in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. All it takes is a little overnight soak, and those whole grains act like refined white flour – they taste sweeter, form supple doughs, and bake into tender, light breads.

Not that it was smooth-sailing from the beginning with this bagel recipe. The problem I was having with this is that it’s too simple. Most bagel recipes need an overnight retardation in the refrigerator before they can be boiled and baked. This recipe doesn’t require that, and in fact, doesn’t need much time for a second rise at all. I’ve had the hardest time getting this through my stubborn head, and so over and over, I was making over-risen, sunken, ugly bagels.

A year after I started using this recipe, I think I’ve finally nailed it. You know what I did? I followed the recipe closer. My happy little bagel break just got a little happier.

One year ago: Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella
Two years ago: Country Egg Scramble

Printer Friendly Recipe
Whole Wheat Bagels (adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 8 large bagels or 12 small bagels

There are a few shortcuts in this compared to Reinhart’s original recipe. I make it every couple of weeks, so the faster I can get it done, the better!

I’ve played with the timing of this recipe quite a bit. The original results in fresh bagels 5-6 hours after you start (the second day). But I usually want them in the morning. You can refrigerate the dough in two places – either after the bagels are formed (in which case you should decrease the yeast slightly to prevent the bagels from over-rising) or right after kneading. The last time I refrigerated it after kneading, it rose overnight in the fridge, and in the morning, I immediately shaped the bagels and boiled them shortly afterward.

Pre-dough 1:
8 ounces whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
6 ounces (¾ cup) water

Pre-dough 2:
2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
5 ounces water
8 ounces whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt

Final dough:
both pre-doughs
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons yeast
¾ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons flour, plus more if necessary
1 tablespoon baking soda (for boiling)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix all of the ingredients in Pre-dough 1 on medium-low speed until combined. Set aside for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 1-cup measuring cup, stir together the barley malt syrup and the 5 ounces of water in Pre-dough 2. Set aside, stirring occasionally, until the barley malt syrup dissolves into the water. Return to Pre-dough 1 and knead on low speed for 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Refrigerate overnight. Add the flour and salt for Pre-dough 2 to the empty mixer bowl; with the mixer on low speed, pour in the water-syrup mixture. Mix on medium-low just until combined. Cover the mixer bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.

2. The following day, transfer the refrigerated Pre-dough 1 to room temperature for a couple hours to warm slightly. When you’re ready to make the final dough, stir together the 1 tablespoon water and the yeast. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix both pre-doughs, the water and yeast, and the salt on low speed until combined. While the mixer is running, add in the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it’s fully absorbed by the dough. Knead on low speed for 5-6 minutes, adding more flour or water if necessary to form a smooth, firm dough. It shouldn’t be sticky.

3. Let the dough rise at room temperature until it increases to about 1½ times its original size, 1-2 hours.

4. Divide the dough into 8-12 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball, then roll each piece into a rope about ¾-inch thick (slightly thicker for larger bagels). Bring the ends of the rope together and gently roll them on a flat surface to seal. Set aside for about 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat, and bring at least three inches of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon baking soda, reduce the heat to medium-high and gently drop 2-4 bagels (as many as will fit without crowding) into the water. Boil for 1 minute, flipping the bagels halfway through.

6. Place the boiled bagels on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer the sheet to the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees, and bake until the bagels are browned and feel hard, 13 minutes for small bagels and slightly longer for larger bagels. (The bagels will soften as they cool.) Cool completely before serving. (I can only fit one baking sheet, holding half a batch of bagels, in my oven at once, so I refrigerate the remaining unboiled bagels until the first pan is almost done baking, then boil and bake them.)