whole wheat challah

This is the third or fourth challah recipe I’ve tried and most certainly my favorite. Yes, the whole wheat version is the best challah I’ve made. I’m surprised too.

Maybe challah doesn’t seem like something that would adapt well to whole wheat? Whole wheat bread is often denser and drier than refined flour loaves, and challah should be light and fluffy and tender. Peter Reinhart knows this; you must trust Peter Reinhart.

He uses his standard whole wheat trick of soaking the whole wheat flour overnight to break down the grains. In this case, one of the pre-doughs uses eggs instead of water as the soaking liquid. He uses oil instead of the butter many recipes require. Everyone loves the taste of butter, but I’m becoming more and more enamored with oil in baking, because it makes things so tender and moist.

I really don’t think I like whole wheat bread any more than the average person. I think it’s just that, using Reinhart’s recipes, I can make some exceptionally good whole wheat bread. This is perfect challah whether you’re a white bread or a wheat bread lover.

One year ago: Lemon Meringue Cake
Two years ago: Fried Egg and Sausage Ciabatta Breakfast Pizzas

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Whole Wheat Challah (adapted slightly from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

You can do more complicated braids with this if you prefer. Just do an internet search for instructions for 4-, 5-, and 6-strand braids.

Soaker:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, preferably fine grind
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

Biga:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, preferably fine grind
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
½ cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks

Final dough:
the soaker
the biga
7 tablespoons (2 ounces) whole wheat flour, plus more for adjustments
¾ teaspoon salt
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar or brown sugar, or 1½ tablespoons honey or agave nectar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Toppings:
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
pinch salt
poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)

1. For the soaker: In a medium mixing bowl, mix all of the ingredients together. Cover and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. If the dough is refrigerated, leave it at room temperature for 2 hours before mixing the final dough.

2. For the biga: In a medium mixing bowl, mix all of the ingredients together. Knead for 2 minutes; the dough will feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. Leave it at room temperature for 2 hours before mixing the final dough.

3. For the final dough: Cut the soaker and biga into about 12 smaller pieces. Put the pieces in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook along with the 7 tablespoons flour, the salt, instant yeast, sugar, and oil. (Or mix by hand in a large bowl.) Mix on slow speed for about 1 minute, until the dough comes together, then increase the speed to medium-high and continue mixing and kneading for 6 minutes, adding flour if necessary, until the dough is soft and tacky, but not sticky. (Or knead by hand for 6-8 minutes.) Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then resume kneading for 1 minute. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1½ times its original size.

4. Gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 6 evenly sized pieces for 2 smaller loaves or 3 evenly sized pieces for 1 large loaf. Roll each portion of dough into a rope about 10 inches long, letting the dough rest for 5 minutes if it’s very elastic. Braid the ropes.

5. Place the braid(s) on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. To make the egg wash, whisk the egg, water, and salt (listed above in Toppings) together. Brush the braids with the egg wash, cover, and let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Brush the dough with the egg wash again, then top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, if using. Leave the dough uncovered and let rise for 15 more minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

7. Place the challah on the middle shelf, reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. Check the bread and rotate again if it is baking unevenly. Continue baking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the bread is a rich brown all around, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 195 degrees at the center.

8. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

raisin swirl bread

Dave has recently encountered an enviable problem. After starting to exercise a few months ago for the first time in years, he started losing weight too fast.

Losing weight. Too fast.

So now we’re trying to come up with ways to get him more healthy calories that don’t create much more work. Hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, protein shakes, and bread. Making a loaf of bread every couple of weeks for him to eat at work does require more effort, but it isn’t work, because I like making bread.

I haven’t bought bread since moving to New Mexico last winter, and I haven’t made pure white bread since discovering I could adapt any recipe to be at least partially whole wheat with no detriment to flavor or texture. It worked just as well with this bread as it has in the past, giving me a light, tender loaf of bread made a little more special with a spiral of raisins and sugar and cocoa. Not that I got to eat more than a slice, since most of this loaf went to He Who is Super Annoying Because He Gets to Eat Twice as Much Food as Me.

Susan chose this bread for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I mixed 2 cups (9.6 ounces) of whole wheat flour with ¾ cup of the milk and ½ teaspoon of the salt and let it sit overnight before combining it with the rest of the ingredients. And for whatever reason, 1 cup of raisins was way too much for me and they all fell out when I cut into the bread. But no one else had this problem, so apparently I’m just a weirdo. Still, next time, ½ cup of raisins.

One year ago: Honey Peach Ice Cream
Two years ago: Cappuccino Cream Puff Rings

croissants 3 (martha stewart)

I worked in a lab for years, but I never absolutely loved it. You’d think I would have, considering that I basically mixed up ingredients and baked them, but I guess without that crucial eating-the-batter – sorry, of course I mean that eating-the-result step, it just wasn’t as fun.

Plus I could never get the hang of keeping good records in the lab. My notebook seemed to be both unorganized and lacking crucial information. I took detailed notes on the amount and type of ingredients used and the baking temperature and time, but whenever I needed to look up details of the result, I was left with a few marginally descriptive words.

In the kitchen, it’s the opposite. The result, now that’s memorable, especially in this case – slightly sweet, intensely flaky, dark golden brown, impossible to resist, always leaving me wanting another.

The path to that result isn’t as memorable, particularly in the amount of instant dry yeast I used. Probably I should have written that down somewhere. I’m going to hypothesize – remember, hypothesizing is not the same thing as guessing! It’s an educated guess, which is to say, don’t skip out on this recipe just because the fresh yeast called for in the original recipe is dumb and I’m bad at note-taking, because the chances are very good that my estimate of the amount of yeast I used isn’t too terribly terrible, and anyway, it’s yeast and yeast always does its job eventually.

Anyway. I’m going to hypothesize that I used about one packet of yeast. Please accept my apologies for not taking thirty seconds to write it down. This must be why I now have an office job instead of a lab job.

One year ago: Anadama Bread
Two years ago: Baba Ghanoush and Falafel

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Croissants (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes 12

1 cup cold milk
1 tablespoon honey
14 ounces (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2¼ teaspoons salt
2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt and a dribble of water or milk

1. Make the dough package: Pour the milk and honey into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and stir to combine; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together 12 ounces (about 2¾ cups) of the flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt; stir to combine. Add the milk mixture and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; gently knead to form a smooth ball, about 45 seconds. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Make the butter package: Lay the butter sticks side by side on a piece of plastic wrap, and sprinkle with the remaining 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) flour. Pound with a rolling pin until the flour is incorporated; roll into a 4- by 3-inch rectangle. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Remove the dough package from the refrigerator; place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to an 8-by-10-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you. Remove the butter package from the refrigerator; place on the bottom half of the dough; fold the top half of the dough over the butter, and pinch the edges to seal.

5. Roll out the dough to a 10-by-10-inch square about ½ inch thick; keep the corners as square as possible. Remove any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Starting at the far end, fold the square in thirds, as you would a business letter. This completes the first of three turns. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Repeat rolling and folding as above two more times, starting with the flap opening on the right, as if it were a book, and refrigerate at least 1 hour between turns. To help you remember how many turns have been completed, mark the dough after each: Make one mark for the first turn, two for the second, and three for the third. After the third, wrap the dough in plastic, and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

7. Turn out the chilled dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 30-by-8-inch rectangle. (If the dough becomes too elastic, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.) Using a pizza wheel, cut the dough into triangles, each with a 4-inch base (you will have scraps of dough at both ends). Cut a 1-inch slit in the center of the base of each triangle. Place triangles in a single layer on a clean work surface.

8. To shape the croissants, stretch the two lower points of each triangle to enlarge the slit slightly. Fold the inner corners formed by the slit toward the outer sides of the triangles, and press down to seal. Using your fingertips, roll the base of each triangle up and away from you, stretching the dough slightly outward as you roll; the tip should be tucked under the croissant. Pull the two ends toward you to form a crescent. Transfer the crescents to a parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until very spongy and doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 400ºF, with a rack in the middle position. Lightly brush the crescents with the beaten egg. Bake until the croissants are puffed and golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

pizza with figs, prosciutto, gorgonzola, balsamic, and arugula

I went to dinner at a fancy pizza place with my parents and Dave a few months ago, and my dad ordered a pizza that seemed appropriate for him – cheeseburger.  Because the more meat, the better!  Hold the vegetables please, is generally his motto.  Oh, I laughed and laughed when his pizza arrived covered in lettuce.  He scraped it right off.

Not that I’ve been much better about the idea of salad on pizza.  It’s a pretty popular concept, but so far I’ve wanted to keep my bread and cheese unadulterated by large amounts of greenery.

I guess when you’re already putting figs on pizza (oh, how I’d love to see my dad’s face if there were figs on his pizza!), arugula doesn’t seem so weird by comparison.  It turns out that the figs and arugula work really well together.  The figs add sweetness, the prosciutto saltiness, the arugula freshness, and the blue cheese…um…stinky-feetiness?  But in a good way.  In a very, very good way, in fact.

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

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Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

The original recipe calls for fresh figs; since I used dried, I soaked them in port for a while to plump them.  However, I’m not sure this is necessary.

Makes 1 12-inch pizza, serving about 3 people

6 small fresh figs, cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
cornmeal (for sprinkling)
12 ounces (¾ pound) pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe), after its first rise
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 4 ounces)
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces stemmed arugula

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Put the figs in a medium bowl and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the vinegar over them. Set aside.

2. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out, keeping it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

3. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal and transfer the round of dough to the peel. Rearrange the dough to something reasonably circular; stab it several times with a fork. Top the pizza with the cheese, figs, and prosciutto.

4. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the hot stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is spotty brown. Let the pizza cool on the peel for about 5 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar with the oil and a pinch of salt and pepper; toss the arugula with the dressing. Spread the salad evenly over the pizza. Slice and serve.

whole wheat brioche

This recipe cracks me up. Each little brioche roll has 1¼ tablespoons of butter in it, so it doesn’t matter how much whole grain you use – these are not good for you.

They are, however, good. Of course they don’t have much in common with their white flour cousins, which, if we were talking about people, would be one of those unceasingly friendly people who always have something nice to say. The whole wheat version is more akin to a sarcastic friend who always manages to make you laugh, but sometimes at your own expense. Both are good! Just different.

The whole wheat brioche is made along the same lines as the rest of Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. What’s fun about this recipe is that the liquid used in one of the pre-doughs is melted butter, and in the other, it’s eggs. The one with the butter had a texture very different from the normal water-hydrated doughs – and not a particularly appetizing one, truth be told, as the best word to describe it would be ‘greasy’. Fortunately, after sitting in the fridge for several hours, the butter hardens and the mixture is more palatable – plus, of course, the liquid has had an opportunity to break down those bran fibers, which is the heart of Reinhart’s whole wheat bread method.

I tried a trick with this bread that was marginally successful. After the final dough is mixed and kneaded, it’s shaped immediately and then needs to rise again – for 3 to 4 hours. We tend to eat breakfast kind of late on weekends, but not that late!

So I reduced the yeast quite a bit, with the goal of extending the rising time to about 8 hours, or overnight. I wanted to wake up, heat the oven and throw the perfectly risen brioche rolls in to bake.

It turns out, though, that I decreased the yeast too much, and the poor little guys didn’t have enough strength to lift up that heavy dough. I still think the method is sound; I just need to use more yeast than I did. (The under-risen after 8 hours brioche were salvageable; I just had to give them an hour or so in a really warm environment before I could bake them.)

Usually my theory is that if food is supposed to be indulgent, then make it indulgent! Why worry about whole grains if you’re mainlining butter? But sometimes it’s just fun to make something weird, and whole wheat brioche is, indeed, weird.

One year ago: Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Two years ago: Chocolate Cream Pie

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Whole Wheat Brioche (rewritten from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

I reduced the yeast in the final dough to ½ teaspoon, hoping I could stretch the rising time to 8-10 hours, or overnight. This was too little, but I still think the method is worth trying, but with 1 teaspoon yeast.

I froze the brioche rolls after shaping, before rising. I let them defrost in the fridge for a few hours before moving them to room temperature to rise.

The melted butter kept leaking out of its pre-dough. Once the dough had chilled somewhat, I stirred it back in, so that the pre-dough would be homogeneous.

For the final cup of flour, after both pre-doughs are combined, I used white flour. I know that’s cheating, but I’ve had better results with Reinhart’s whole wheat bagels when white flour is used at the end, and I thought it was probably similar here. The rolls are still 80% whole wheat.

Pre-dough 1:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup whole milk, scalded and cooled
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Mix all of the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Pre-dough 2:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
4 large eggs, slightly beaten

Mix all of the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Using a rubber spatula or wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for a couple minutes; it will be very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead again for 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Final dough:
Both pre-doughs
1 cup (4.5 ounces) whole wheat flour (see note)
¾ teaspoon salt
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (see note)
3 tablespoons sugar

Egg wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt

1. Chop the chilled pre-doughs into to 12 pieces each. Combine the pre-doughs, flour, salt, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Mix on slow speed for 3 to 4 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed, (or knead with wet hands) until the pre-doughs are assimilated into each other. Add flour or water, as needed, to form a soft and slightly sticky dough. Knead (either with a mixer or by hand) for 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough is cold, firm, and slightly tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

2. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and round each into a smooth ball. Spray 12 brioche molds or a 12-cup muffin pan with spray oil. To shape the brioche, roll each piece of dough into a cone; poke a hole through the larger end and slip the small end through the hole. (I also sometimes just formed a much smaller round from a small portion of the dough and stuck that on top of the larger round. I didn’t notice a difference in the baked versions of the two shaping methods.) Place the shaped rolls into the prepared pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, until the dough has grown to about 1½ times its original size.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the risen rolls with egg wash and place them in the oven, lowering the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 17 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the brioche are dark golden brown, measure 195 degrees in the center, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (after one is removed from its pan).

4. Remove the rolls from their molds; cool on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

how to adapt any bread recipe to be whole wheat

As much as I love Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, I’ve only made a few recipes from the book. Instead, I’ve been busy using his techniques to adapt my old favorite bread recipes to whole wheat versions. While you can, in general, simply substitute up to half of the flour in a bread recipe with whole wheat, I guarantee that you’ll have better results if you use Reinhart’s trick.

Reinhart uses the same method for most of the breads in his book – about half of the whole wheat flour is combined with salt and liquid and the other half is combined with yeast and liquid. Both mixtures sit overnight before they’re mixed and kneaded into the dough. The resting time breaks down the long bran molecules, making the bread smoother, lighter, and sweeter – in short, more like a white bread.

The 100% whole wheat breads that I’ve tried from Reinhart’s book are truly exceptional. However, I guess I’m sort of a wimp about whole grains. I do like the flavor and texture of white bread, but of course I prefer the health factor of whole grain bread. Plus, I’m still interested in bread recipes outside of Reinhart’s book.

(the pre-dough before resting)

The solution is to mix up just one of Reinhart’s mixtures with whole wheat flour and let that rest overnight (or for around 8 hours), then continue with the recipe as written, mixing in the pre-dough. I’ve done this with all sorts of bread recipes – English muffins, pain ordinaire, light brioche buns, country crust bread, pizza crust.

(the pre-dough after resting and a bit of kneading)

In all cases, I take half of the flour in the recipe and mix it with ¼ teaspoon salt for every 4 ounces of flour. Then I mix in enough liquid – whatever liquid the recipe calls for – to moisten the flour until it forms a dough. Most bread recipes call for about 16 ounces flour total, so the pre-dough is simply 8 ounces of whole wheat flour, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¾ cup of water (or whatever liquid the recipe calls for).  When the final dough is mixed, those ingredients are subtracted from the original recipe.

And every time, the result is essentially identical to an all-white version – the dough is smooth, elastic, and easy to work with. The bread is light and flavorful. And, I still get to play with an entire world of bread recipes. Win win win!

One year ago: Roasted Kale
Two years ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

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Whole Wheat Light Brioche Burger Buns (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 8 buns

Pre-dough:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough:
8 ounces (about 1⅔ cups) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
pre-dough
¼ cup warm water
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2½ tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
extra flour or water for adjustments
egg wash: 1 tablespoon milk or 1 egg white or whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds

1. If mixing with a stand mixer: Add the flour and salt to mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low just to combine. Add the butter and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture resembles crumbs. Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Replace the paddle attachment with the hook. Add the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and egg to the mixer bowl and mix on medium-low until combined, then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes. The dough should be just a bit loose and sticky; add flour if necessary.

If mixing by hand: In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Add the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and egg and stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.

2. Spray a bowl with nonstick spray; shape dough into a ball and place it in bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide dough into 8 equal parts. To shape each portion into an even round, gently pull the edges toward a pucker and pinch them together. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange them two to three inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray (or a damp towel) and let buns rise in a warm place for about one hour.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Brush egg wash on buns and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown and an instant-read thermometer reads at least 185 degrees, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Whole Wheat Pain Ordinaire (adapted from Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno’s Ultimate Bread and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 1 loaf

Pre-dough:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough:
1¾ cups (9½ ounces) all-purpose or bread flour
pre-dough
2 teaspoons instant yeast
⅔ cup water, room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt

1. Add the flour to a mixer bowl fitted with hook attachment (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Add the water, yeast, and salt to the mixer bowl and mix on medium-low until combined (or stir with a rubber spatula), then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes (8-10 minutes if by hand). The dough should be soft but not sticky; add flour if necessary.

2. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.

3. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Press evenly with the palms of both hands and roll the dough backward and forward until it is 10 inches in length. Line a pizza peel baking parchment. Place the loaf on the peel and lightly dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel.

4. Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaf has grown to about twice its original size. About half an hour into the second rise, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

5. Using a very sharp knife or a serrated bread knife, cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about ¼ to ½-inch deep, across the top of the loaf. (Alternatively, cut one long slash that extends for the length of the loaf.)

6. Transfer the dough on the parchment to the baking stone. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until golden brown and the temperature is at least 200 degrees at the center. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

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Whole Wheat Country Crust Bread (adapted from Betty Crocker and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 1 sandwich loaf

Pre-dough:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough:
1¾ cups (9½ ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon table salt
¼ cup water, warm (110 degrees)
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast

1. Add the flour to mixer bowl fitted with hook attachment (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Add the salt, water, egg, oil, sugar, and yeast to the mixer bowl and mix on medium-low until combined (or stir with a rubber spatula), then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes (8-10 minutes if by hand). The dough should be soft but not sticky; add flour if necessary.

2. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.

3. Form dough into loaf by gently pressing the dough into a rectangle, one inch thick and no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Next, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam side up and pinch it closed. Finally, place dough in greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and press it gently so it touches all four sides of the pan.

4. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel; set aside in warm spot until dough almost doubles in size, about 45 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Remove plastic wrap from loaf pan; place pan in oven. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted at angle from short end just above pan rim into center of loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove bread from pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

english muffins

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I always struggle with how to describe yeast bread dough precisely enough so that someone can reproduce the results I got. Almost every dough is elastic and smooth after kneading, so that doesn’t really help. Sticky and not-sticky are good, but each describes a wide spectrum.

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My first inclination is to compare it to a standard sandwich bread. Is it on the more-liquid looser side (like ciabatta), or the more flour-firmer side (like bagels)? That works great for experienced bread bakers, but what about everyone else?

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Apparently I’m not the only one with this problem, because Reinhart’s “soft and pliable, not stiff” description didn’t keep me from keeping this dough a little firmer that I think it was supposed to be. He later says that the rounds of dough should “swell both up and out”, which…well, no, that didn’t happen, although they did swell up nicely.

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Fortunately, bread is a lot more forgiving than people often think, so just because I had to smoosh my muffins down in the skillet to flatten them doesn’t mean any real harm was done. They weren’t cratered with nooks and crannies as dramatically as I had hoped they’d be, but they will be next time. Because now I know: the dough should be just a bit softer than sandwich dough, but not wet enough to be sticky. Which is very helpful, but only if you know what sandwich bread  dough feels like.

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One year ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins
Two years ago: Braised White Beans with Potatoes, Zucchini and Tomatoes

Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make these English muffins whole wheat.  I made the pre-dough out of 5 ounces whole wheat flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ cup milk or buttermilk.  After letting that sit overnight, I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients – 5 ounces white bread flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 1¼ teaspoons instant yeast, ½ tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon shortening or unsalted butter, and ¼ – ½ cup milk or buttermilk.

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English Muffins (completely rewritten from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, because his recipes are so darn long)

Makes 6

My dough was elastic, supple, and a little soft, but the rolls didn’t expand out so much as just up, so I pressed them down in the pan while they were cooking. This seems to work just fine, although my nooks and crannies were on the small side.

2¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoons instant yeast
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon shortening or unsalted butter
¾ to 1 cup milk or buttermilk, at room temperature
cornmeal for dusting

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and gradually pour in the milk. Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, 8-10 minutes. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.

By hand: Mix the flour, 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 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. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Set the dough aside to rise until it has doubled in volume, about 1 to 1½ hours.

3. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface. Cut it into six equally-sized pieces and shape each into a ball. Transfer the balls of dough to a baking pan that’s been dusted with cornmeal; sprinkle more cornmeal over the top of the balls and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Set the dough aside to rise for 1 to 1½ hours; the balls will nearly double in size and should swell both up and out.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

5. Spray a large nonstick skillet (or a griddle) with spray oil and heat over medium heat (or 350°F). Place the balls of dough in the skillet with a least 1 inch between them. Cook until the bottoms are very dark brown, just short of burning, 5-8 minutes. Flip the rolls and cook the second side another 5-8 minutes, until it is also dark brown. If, after 5 minutes, the rolls are only golden brown, increase the heat slightly.

6. Transfer the rolls to the prepared pan and immediately bake them for 6 minutes to make sure the center is baked through. Repeat the pan-frying and baking with the remaining rolls.

7. Transfer the English muffins to a wire rack and allow them to cool for at least 30 minutes. For maximum nook-and-cranniness, use a fork to split the rolls instead of slicing them.

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brioche raisin snails

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I’m very comfortable cutting recipes in half. Some people say that they don’t like to deal with the math, but I come from a family of three engineers and a math teacher, so I can handle math. Plus, I’m cooking for just two people now, and I lived alone for six years before that, so my options are either to make half-recipes, throw a lot of food away, or eat the same thing for weeks. Given those choices, I take fractions all the way.

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Even if a recipe specifically recommends making the full recipe because smaller amounts are harder to work with – eh. Whatever. I usually cut it in half anyway. Cakes, caramel, bread dough, whatever. You’d be surprised what you can get away with, although you might, as in this case, have to split the occasional egg in half.

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Dorie’s brioche raisin snails are a rich yeast dough with pastry cream and flambéed raisins rolled into it. It probably sounds like quite a bit of work, and frankly, it is, but it’s a nice change from cinnamon rolls if you find yourself making those often.

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If you follow the recipe exactly, you’ll end up with twice as much brioche as you need for the snails, so you can always make some of Dorie’s fantastic sticky buns too. Or, just cut the brioche recipe in half like I did. Does anyone really need two different kinds of buttery tender breakfast breads tempting them at once?

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One year ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Brioche Raisin Snails
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Makes about 12 snails

You’ll only need half of the brioche dough, and while Dorie recommends making the full recipe and saving half for later (the dough takes well to freezing), I found that I could successfully make half the recipe if I used a faster mixing speed than the recipe recommends. If you find that there isn’t enough dough for the dough hook to work effectively, knead with the paddle attachment, switching to the dough hook for just the last few minutes of kneading. The full recipe is presented below.

You can shape the rolls into a log and then wrap the log well and freeze it. When you’re ready to bake, let the log defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then cut the rolls and let them rise at room temperature.

Brioche:
2 packets (4½ teaspoons) instant yeast
1/3 tablespoons warm water
1/3 tablespoons warm milk
3¾ cups (27.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

Pastry cream:
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2½ tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into bits

Assembly:
1 cup moist, plump raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1½ teaspoons sugar
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Glaze:
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
about 1 teaspoon water
drop of pure vanilla extract

For the brioche: Put the yeast, water, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can – this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off in a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you’re doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point you’ll have a fairly dry, shaggy mass.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like a batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough b lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the covered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Divide the dough in half, reserving half for another use.

For the pastry cream: Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get into the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool is quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

To assemble: Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan, cover them with hot water and let them steep for about 4 minutes, until they are plumped. Drain the raisins, return them to the saucepan and, stirring constantly, warm them over low heat. When the raisins are very hot, pull the pan from the heat and pour over the rum. Standing back, ignite the liquor. Stir until the flames go out, then cover and set aside. (The raisins and liquor can be kept in a covered jar for up to 1 day.)

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

On a flour dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the raisins over the pastry cream and sprinkle the raisins and cream with the cinnamon sugar. Starting wit the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months; see Storing for further instructions. Or, if you do not want to make the full recipe, use as much of the dough as you’d like and freeze the remainder.)

With a bread knife or unflavored floss, trim just a tiny bit from the ends if they’re ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into rounds a scant 1 inch thick. Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them.

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubles in volume – they’ll be puffy and soft – about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets, if you’re using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. Using a metal spatula, transfer the snails to a cooling rack.

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pumpkin yeast bread

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Let’s see, so far this year, I’ve made pumpkin pie, muffins, tea cake, oatmeal, pancakes, cheesecake, cupcakes, risotto, soup, ravioli, scones, chili, and biscotti. Wow, when you put it that way, it’s a little embarrassing. Clearly I can’t leave any categories out, and so – pumpkin yeast bread.

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Truth be told, my mind jumped immediately to French toast when I saw this recipe. Tender pumpkin-tinged bread, sliced thick and dipped in fall-spiced custard, fried in butter until golden, topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. Oh yeah.

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That’s exactly what I got, and it was even better than I’d hoped. Perfect French toast, and I’m also thinking this bread will be fantastic just toasted and topped with butter. Ooh, or with pumpkin butter! Or made into bread pudding! Or heck, just eaten plain, still warm from the oven. I love pumpkin.

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One year ago: European-Style Hearth Bread

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Pumpkin Yeast Bread (from King Arthur Flour via Sugarcrafter)

Makes 2 small loaves

It seems like I had to add quite a bit of flour to this to give it the right consistency. It shouldn’t really be sticky, so don’t be afraid to add more flour if necessary.

4½ cups bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
⅓ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1¾ cups pumpkin
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted and cooled

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, spices, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the pumpkin and butter. 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 and whisk in the pumpkin and butter. 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. 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. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Using a serrated knife, cut the dough in half, then cut each half into three equally sized pieces. Roll each piece into a 10-inch rope.

4. Working with three ropes at a time, place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Braid them together, pinching the ends together and tucking them under the loaf. Repeat with the remaining logs. Set the braids aside, covered with lightly greased plastic wrap or a damp dish towel, to rise for 1 hour; they should look puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.

5. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the loaves for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center reads 185-195°F. Remove the braids from oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack. Serve them warm or at room temperature.

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sopaipillas

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Moving to a small remote town in the middle of a desert, there are definitely things I’m going to miss.  Other a big grocery store, that is.  Sushi restaurants, for one, and long fall and spring seasons, and skylines, and squirrels and deer in my backyard, and, well, green things.

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On the other hand, there are things I’m really looking forward to.  Skies that go on forever, shockingly colorful sunsets, lizards and antelope, cacti, two national parks within 50 miles, mountains.  And New Mexican food.  Green chile, red chile, rice and beans, sopaipillas.

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Sopaipillas are maybe the New Mexican equivalent of donuts.  Dough, enriched with lard and leavened with either yeast or baking powder, is rolled flat and fried.  It puffs like a pita in the oil, forming a pocket that’s pretty much designed to be filled with honey.  Or carne adovada, if you’re thinking dinner.

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A basket of these is served with any meal in a restaurant serving New Mexican food.  Or if it isn’t, it’s cause for complaint about how cheap the restaurant is to charge, even a dollar, for something that by all rights should be included for free with a meal.

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Everyone has their own tricks for eating their sopaipillas with honey.  Bite a corner off and squirt honey inside?  Drizzle the honey over the top?  My favorite way, for maximum coverage with minimum stickiness, is to form a pool of honey on my plate and dip each bite.

There may not be sushi in Carlsbad, NM, but by god, there’ll be sopaipillas that I don’t have to fry myself.

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One year ago: Comparison of 4 chocolate chip cookie recipes

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Sopaipillas (adapted from Simply Simpatico, by the Junior League of Albuquerque)

Makes about 2 large dozen sopaipillas

4 cups (19.2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 cup whole wheat flour
2¼ teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups milk, warmed to 100ºF
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons lard or shortening, melted
vegetable or canola oil for frying

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flours, yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the milk, water, and lard.  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 – smooth but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. (You can refrigerate the dough overnight at this point.)

By hand: Mix the flours, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk, water, and lard. 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 but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

2. Let the dough rise until it’s doubled in size, about 1 hour. Knead it lightly to expel air.

3. When the dough is almost ready, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven to 350ºF.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough, in portions if necessary, until it’s just under 1/8-inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into squares or rectangles of whatever size you want – a few inches per side is standard.

5. Place the squares of dough on lightly floured pans and lightly cover.  The cut sopaipillas can stay at room temperature for up to 5 minutes; otherwise, refrigerate them until you’re ready to fry them.

6. Carefully drop two or three sopaipillas into the hot oil.  When the rolls begin to puff, gently push them into the hot oil several times to help them puff more evenly.  Turn several times; fry until pale gold on both sides, 1-2 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve immediately.

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