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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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croissants 2 (martha stewart)

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Hey, remember, uh, a long time ago? When I said I was going to do a series on croissants? Whatever happened to that anyway? I certainly didn’t stop making croissants. I just stopped talking about it. I suck!

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Part of the problem was that these, the second batch of croissants I made, were just so bad. And it was all my fault. Well, mostly my fault; really I blame the yeast.

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This is one of the only recipes I’ve made that calls for fresh yeast. I know you can substitute instant yeast, but my grocery store sells the fresh stuff, and I was curious to try it.

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It ended up being probably the worst bread I’ve ever made. Maybe my fresh yeast wasn’t so fresh? Clearly something went very, very wrong. These croissants were dense dense dense, without any trace of flakiness.  My only other attempt at bread made with fresh yeast was a failure as well.

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Definitely not a success, and it’s hard to fairly judge the recipe when so much of what went wrong was my fault. Still, I learned things: 1) No more fresh yeast for me. 2) I like Martha’s method for shaping the crescents, where she stretches the wider part of the triangle a bit so that the center of each croissant isn’t so thick. 3) And the obvious: if the rolls don’t look like they’ve risen, they probably haven’t, and it might be best not to bake them yet, even if it’s already been over twice as long as the recipe recommends.

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I should really try this recipe again using the type of yeast I’m more familiar with, because I’m sure this attempt didn’t do it justice. When I do, I’ll be sure to update with a continuation of my experiments with croissants. And this time I’ll try not to wait six months.

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One year ago: Asian Peanut Dip

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Croissants (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes 2 dozen

If using dry yeast instead of fresh, heat the milk to about 100ºF, then stir in the yeast to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes, and proceed with the recipe. The dough can be made ahead through all of the turns and frozen for up to three months; before using, defrost the dough in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours. After baking, croissants are best eaten within six hours.

2 cups cold milk
2 tablespoons honey
1½ pounds (about 4 ½ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
4 ounces (1 scant cup) unbleached pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1½ ounces fresh yeast, crumbled
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons salt
1¼ pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Make the dough package: Pour the milk and honey into a 1-quart liquid measuring cup, and stir to combine; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together 1 pound 6 ounces (about 4¼ cups) bread flour, the pastry flour, sugar, yeast, and salt; stir to combine. Add milk mixture, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Turn out 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 2 ounces (about ¼ cup) flour. Pound with a rolling pin until flour is incorporated, and roll into an 8-inch square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Remove dough package from the refrigerator; place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to a 16-by-10-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you. Remove 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 20-by-10 rectangle about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you; keep the corners as square as possible. Remove any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Starting at the far end, fold the rectangle 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 dough in plastic, and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

7. Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 30-by-16-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 or pastry cutter, cut the dough in half lengthwise to form two 30-by-8-inch rectangles. Stack one piece of dough on top of the other, lining up the edges. Using the pizza wheel, cut 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 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 two parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart (12 on each sheet). 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 the racks in the upper and lower thirds. Lightly brush crescents with the beaten egg. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the croissants are puffed and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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sandwich rolls

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Allright, so. NaBloPoMo. National Blog Posting Month, or in my case, Clean Out the Crazy-Full Pending Folder Month. I remember it being pretty tough last year, and it’s looking like it’s going to be even more challenging this year, because we finally (!!!) got a move date, and it’s the first week of December. That means November will include not just travel for Thanksgiving, but flying across the country to look for houses, and packing packing packing!

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Keeping with NaBloPoMo tradition, I’m starting with the oldest recipe in my Pending folder – from six months ago, yeesh. Please don’t take the delay as a sign of its quality! Truthfully, I’m just lazy and it’s a time-consuming entry.

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I’ve been battling with finding or developing the perfect sandwich roll recipe for years, and I finally nailed it. My grocery store makes great sandwich rolls – fluffy and with a soft crust so your filling doesn’t squoosh out the other end when you try to bite into your sandwich. The problems with these rolls are twofold: First, they’re completely white bread, and I always like at least a little whole wheat flour in my bread. Second, they’re a bit too big for grilled cheese with tomato soup. And I suppose there’s a third problem: Our grocery store isn’t moving to New Mexico with us. So sad.

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My initial attempts to make sandwich rolls tended to be either too dense, with a crust too tough, or misshapen. I had difficulty getting round rolls without deflating the risen dough. Or the dough didn’t have enough structure so the rolls turned into pancakes as they expanded instead of balls.

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I believe I’ve solved all of those problems with this recipe. A slow overnight cold rise improves flavor, and then two turns of the rising dough gives it plenty of strength, so that when it rises, it rises up and not out. To shape the rolls into even circles, I pulled the edges around and pinched them together to increase the surface tension of the doughballs. This is a bit risky, because you have to be gentle and just tug at the very edges of the dough without deflating the dough. Then just roll it around a bit to even out the edges.

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Perfect! Light and fluffy, tall, with a soft crust, and completely adaptable with regards to size and degree of whole wheatiness. And I figured it out just in time – before moving far, far away from my trusty favorite grocery store and their wonderful sandwich rolls.

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One year ago: Mushroom Phyllo Triangles and Crawfish Phyllo Triangles

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Sandwich Rolls

Makes 12

Feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for some of the unbleached flour. If you use 1 cup whole wheat and 3 cups white flour, you’ll hardly notice a difference in flavor, texture, or rising time. At 2 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups white flour, the difference will be more significant but the rolls will still be excellent. If you want to use even more whole wheat flour, I would adapt 100% whole wheat sandwich bread into rolls.

If it works better for your schedule, go ahead and skip the overnight chill.

4 cups (19.2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons milk for brushing the rolls

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, 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 water and oil. 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 really sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

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 water and oil. 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 really sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm and rise at room temperature until it’s double the original volume, 2-4 hours (depending on the temperature of the ingredients you started with and the room temperature).

3. Give the dough one turn, by folding it into thirds like a sheet of paper going into an envelope, than in half the other direction (as shown in the photos above). Allow the dough to rise again, which should take about an hour. Give it another turn, then let it rise again, which will probably take less than an hour.

4. Once the dough has doubled in size for the third time, cut it into 12 pieces. Very gently pull the edges of each dough ball around to one side and pinch them together, as shown in the photos above. Roll the dough between the palm of your hand and a board, lightly floured if necessary. Place the formed rolls, pinched side down, on 2 baking pans lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

5. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400ºC. Let the rolls rise until puffy and about one and a half times their original size, 30-45 minutes. Brush them with milk and bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and an instant thermometer inserted into the center of one measures 185-200ºC. (I suggest baking just one pan of rolls at a time. An extra 15 minutes of rising won’t ruin your rolls.) Let cool until room temperature before serving, about 45 minutes.

100% whole wheat sandwich bread

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My guidelines for nutrition can pretty much be summed up by:

  1. Only eat when hungry. But don’t eat too much.
  2. Don’t eat processed crap.
  3. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can stand.
  4. Don’t be a baby about whole grains.

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I’ve been getting worse and worse about that last one recently. I’ve walked by Reinhart’s book on whole grain breads in the bookstore so many times and never even bothered to pick it up. It’s just that white bread, made well, is so darn good, you know? I’m not talking about Wonder Bread or something, I mean a nice sweet tender sandwich bread or a fantastic complex rustic baguette.

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But my interest was sparked when I saw the whole wheat bagels that Stefany made from this book. They look at least as good as any bagels I’ve made – but they’re so much healthier.  Within a week, I tried the recipe, was pleased with the results, and bought the book.

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It’s Peter Reinhart, so we’re not talking about the most simple recipes here. In general, they’re two day affairs. The first day, you mix two things. One is a thick paste of whole wheat flour, liquid, and salt, and the other one is a mixture of whole wheat flour, liquid, and yeast. These both set overnight (or longer, if necessary) and are incorporated into the rest of the dough the next day. On the day of baking, you follow essentially a normal bread-baking procedure, from mixing and kneading, through rising, shaping, proofing, and baking.

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Most homemade whole wheat bread recipes call for, at most, half whole wheat flour. This recipe uses 100% whole wheat flour, and it’s as good as any of those other recipes. It’s tender and light, just like you want from a sandwich bread. And it tastes seriously good. Obviously it tastes whole wheaty, but it has more to it than that. The long soaks from the pre-doughs give the bread a full flavor that includes sweetness and a bit of acidity. I am officially hooked on 100% whole wheat breads.

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One year ago: Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

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100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread (from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Reinhart also has a “Transitional Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread” that is made the same way, except it uses white unbleached bread flour in the biga. If you decide to make this version instead, keep in mind that you’ll need a little less water when working with white flour (1-2 teaspoons per ounce of flour).

1¾ cups (227 grams) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon (4 grams) salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (198 grams) milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk, or rice milk

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.)

1¾ cups (227 grams) whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon (1 gram) instant yeast
¾ cup (170 grams) filtered or spring water, at room temperature (about 70F)

1. Mix all the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough.  Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to be sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.

2. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

3. About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.

Final dough:
All of the Soaker
All of the biga
7 tablespoons (56.5 grams) whole wheat flour, plus extra for adjustments
5/8 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
2¼ teaspoons (7 grams) instant yeast
2¼ tablespoons (42.5 grams) honey or agave nectar
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil

1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some of the extra flour over the pre-doughs to keep the pieces from sticking back to each other).

2. If mixing by hand, combine the soaker and biga pieces in a bowl with all of the other ingredients except the extra flour and stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands until all of the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed into the dough. It should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more flour or water as needed.

If using a stand mixer, put the pre-dough pieces and all of the other ingredients except the extra flour into the mixer with the paddle attachment (preferable) or dough hook. Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together into a ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, occasionally scraping down the bowl, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pre-doughs become cohesive and assimilated into each other. Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then toss the dough in the flour to coat. Knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, slightly oiled bowl.

4. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. The dough should have strength and pass the windowpane test, yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1½ times its original size.

5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  To shape it for a loaf pan, pat it out to a square approximately 1-inch thick, then roll the dough into a cylinder.  Place the dough in a greased 4 by 8½-inch bread pan. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1½ times its original size.

6. Preheat the oven to 425F. When the dough is ready to bake, place it in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 195F in the center.

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

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This is the third time I’ve made this bread, and the first two times just didn’t do it for me. It seems like a given, right? Bits of sausage and cheese dispersed in a tender buttery bread? What isn’t to like?

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The first time, it was the type of cheese I used that ruined it. I generally like provolone, but I’d accidentally grabbed an exceptionally sharp specimen, and it was way too intense. The next time…I don’t know. Maybe it just didn’t fit the occasion. I just remember it seeming a little too rich, maybe even greasy.

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Reinhart does compare this bread to brioche, and while not all brioche is as rich as the one I made a few weeks ago, you’ll never hear one described as lean. But once you add sausage and cheese to the bread, I don’t know that much butter in the dough is necessary.

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In fact, I didn’t add butter at all. I added bacon fat instead. Yeah, bacon fat doesn’t sound like much of a health improvement over butter, but I did use half the amount of fat called for in the recipe. I really prefer this slightly leaner version.

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Especially because I probably doubled the salami. I wasn’t so much measuring at this point, and I just figured that the more add-ins there were, the more the bread would resemble a built-in sandwich. Which – yum. I admit that I had trouble keeping all of the tasty bits from falling out of the dough, but I’m not complaining about the excess.

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This was by far the best casatiello I’ve made. The bread was tender and light, but not greasy like I remembered from when I’ve made this before. We ate it on a roadtrip, and the muffin-size was perfect for a quick and easy on-the-road lunch. I have a few more casatiello rolls waiting in the freezer, and I think they’ll be great for a plane ride next week. These are my new favorite travel food.

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One year ago: Pain a l’Ancienne – another Reinhart recipe, and probably the one I make the most

Casatiello (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

I prefer this dough to be a little leaner, so I like to cut the fat in half. I also like both the sausage and the cheese chopped into about ¼-inch cubes.

½ cup (2.25 ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk, lukewarm

4 ounces Italian salami (or other similar meat)
3½ cups (16 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup coarsely shredded or grated provolone or other cheese

1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a bowl. Whisk in the milk to make a pancake-like batter. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. While the sponge is fermenting, dice the salami into small cubes and sauté it lightly in a frying pan to crisp it slightly.

3. Stir together the flour, salt, and sugar with a spoon. Add the eggs and the sponge until the ingredients form a coarse ball. If there is any loose flour, dribble in a small amount of water or milk to gather it into the dough. Mix for about 1 minute, then let rest for 10 minutes. Divide the butter in 4 pieces and work into dough, one piece at a time while mixing. After mixing about 4 minutes, the dough will change from sticky to tacky and eventually come off the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in more flour to make it do so.

4. When the dough is smooth, add the meat pieces and mix until they are evenly distributed. Then gently mix in the cheese until it too is evenly distributed. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

5. Ferment at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until the dough increases in size by at least 1½ times.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and leave as 1 piece for 1 large loaf or divide into 2 pieces for smaller loaves. Bake in 1 large or 2 small loaf pans by misting the pans with spray oil, shaping the dough, and placing it in the pans. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover.

7. Proof for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough just reaches the top of the pans.

8. Place pans in a 350F oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until the center of the loaves registers 185-190F. The dough will be golden brown on top and on the sides, and the cheese will ooze out into crisp little brown pockets.

9. When the bread is done, remove the bread from the oven and from the pans and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

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brioche plum tart

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My opinion of this recipe might be biased based on the morning I was having.

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First, it was 4th of July, possibly my favorite holiday and the second day of a three-day weekend. I got up early, after getting plenty of sleep (rare on the weekends; usually I stay up late but can’t get myself to sleep in). I went for the best run of my entire life, and when I came home, not only was Dave already up, but he’d done all kinds of chores that we’d been putting off.

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I loved the tart. Are you surprised?

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Plus, it wasn’t hard to make. The brioche dough, which is on the less-rich side of brioches, is mixed and kneaded the day before. Once it’s chilled, it’s easy to stretch it out to the dimensions of the pan. There’s a bit of waiting, as it needs to rest after being stretched, which is the perfect opportunity to prepare the fruit, jam (I used a ginger orange marmalade that my friend sent me), nuts, and sugar that will fill it. Then it’s shaped and filled and needs time to rise before it’s baked, then cooled.

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It’s in the same category as, say, cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, but just a little less work and so much more elegant. The bread is fluffy and tender, the nuts toast in the oven, and the sugar, which seemed like an excessive amount when I first sprinkled it on, reduces to a glaze while the tart bakes. Even the plumcots I used, which tasted bland on their own, were delicious after their flavor concentrated during baking. I can’t wait to find an excuse to show this off to company.

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Denise chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie and she has posted the recipe.

One year ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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You know how you hear people talk about getting ready for bathing suit season? Um, yeah, I’m no good at that sort of thing. A month before I went on a vacation to the beach, I decided I should undertake a croissant project. A week before the trip, I made brioche. On the drive to the beach, we ate casatiello (a less rich brioche full of sausage and cheese bits). Maybe it’s maturity, or maybe it’s laziness, but I just don’t find myself as worked up about looking perfect as I used to. I’m healthy and that’ll do for now.

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I certainly could have made the brioche less rich, if I was worried about that. Peter Reinhart gives three brioche recipes – his rich man’s brioche has the most butter, and poor man’s has the least, with middle-class brioche in between. I was having trouble choosing and eventually went with “upper middle-class brioche”, by averaging the rich man’s (buttery and delicious) and the middle class (easier to work with) recipes.

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Brioche, with all of its extra butter and eggs, isn’t made too differently than any other type of bread. It starts with a sponge, because Reinhart loves his long fermentations. Then a lot of eggs are added – five eggs for the amount of flour that usually makes one loaf of sandwich bread. After the dry ingredients are mixed in and the dough starts to form, softened butter is slowly worked in. I used, I kid you not, almost one stick of butter per cup of flour.

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The rising process is different from the traditional bread method though, as the dough is immediately refrigerated, and needs to remain cold while it’s being shaped. It’s proofed at room temperature, then baked and slightly cooled. (For all my talk about not caring how I look in a bikini, I did go for a run while the rolls rose.)

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Oddly, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten brioche plain before. If I had, it wasn’t memorable. But this? Is memorable. I couldn’t get over how light they felt. All that butter is all-too-easily hidden. We ate the tender, delicious rolls plain for breakfast, and when we came home from strawberry picking in the afternoon, we toasted slices and smeared them with farmer’s market strawberry jam. I would definitely rather eat brioche than be a size smaller.

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One year ago: Blueberry Pie

Upper Middle-Class Brioche (very slightly adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 12-16 petite brioches à tête, 2-4 large  brioches à tête, or two 1-pound loaves

½ cup (2.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
½ cup (4 ounces) whole milk, lukewarm

5 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups (13.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash

1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Stir in the milk until all of the flour is hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 30 minutes, or until the sponge rises and then falls when you tap the bowl.

2. To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and whisk (or beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment) until smooth. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add this mixture to the sponge and eggs and stir (or continue to mix with the paddle attachment on low speed for about 2 minutes) until all the ingredients are hydrated and evenly distributed. Let this mixture rest for about 5 minutes so that the gluten can begin to develop. Then, while mixing with a large spoon (or on medium speed with the paddle), gradually work in the butter, about one-quarter at a time, waiting until each addition of butter assimilates before adding more. This will take a few minutes. Continue mixing for about 6 more minutes, or until the dough is very well mixed. You will have to scrape down the bowl from time to time as the dough will cling to it. The dough will be very smooth.

3. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Transfer the dough to the sheet pan, spreading it to form a large, thick rectangle measuring about 6 inches by 8 inches. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the pan with plastic wrap or place it in a large food-grade plastic bag.

4. Immediately put the dough into the refrigerator and chill overnight, or for at least 4 hours.

5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it while it is very cold. If it warms up or softens, return it to the refrigerator. If you are making brioches à tête, lightly oil or use spray oil to grease the fluted molds. Divide the dough into 12 to 16 portions for petites brioches à tête and 2 to 4 portions for larger shapes. (The size of each portion should correspond to the size of the molds; petites brioches à tête are typically 1.5 to 2 ounces each, while larger versions can range from 1 to 2 pounds. Whatever size you are making, the molds should only be half full with dough to allow for expansion during proofing.) Shape the petites brioches à tête into small balls and the larger ones into round loafs. Dust your hands with flour, and, using the edge of your hand, divide a ball of dough into a large and small ball by rolling down, but not quite all the way through, the dough. Place the large ball into the oiled brioche mold and use the tips of your fingers to indent the top and to round and center the smaller ball. Place the molds on a sheet pan after final shaping. If you are making loaves, grease two 8.5 by 4.5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and shape the dough into loaves.

6. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap, or slip the pan(s) into a food-grade plastic bag. Proof the dough until it nearly fills the molds or loaf pans, 1.5 to 2 hours for petites brioches à tête and longer for larger shapes. Gently brush the tops with egg wash. Cover the dough with plastic wrap that has been lightly misted with spray oil. Continue proofing for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until the dough fills the molds or pans.

7. Preheat the oven to 400F with the oven rack on the middle shelf for petites brioches à tête, or 350F for larger shapes.

8. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes for petites brioches à tête and 35 to 50 minutes for larger shapes. The internal temperature should register above 180F for the small ones and about 190F for the larger shapes. The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and be golden brown.

9. Remove the brioches or loaves from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven and cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes for small brioches and 1 hour for larger shapes before serving.

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sourdough bagels

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After my initial trials with sourdough last year, in which I mixed up an easy starter and made a couple loaves of not-at-all sourdoughy bread, I gave up for a while. I ignored the starter I’d made until it eventually dried up and I had to throw it away. When I visited my parents last winter, I tried making bread with my mom’s sourdough starter, which is much older than mine was, to see if it would taste sour. It did, at least a little, so my mom sent me home with some of her starter.

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Which I, again, basically ignored, for six months, until I had a friend visit who is experienced in the ways of sourdough. She gave me some tips on how to bring my old neglected starter back to life, and, more importantly, helped me realize that sourdough starter can be used in all sorts of breads, not just rustic loaves that I want to taste sour.

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This was important because I don’t make rustic breads all that often, certainly not enough to keep my sourdough starter healthy. But there are some breads that I do make every week or so – pizza and bagels. The transition to sourdough was especially easy for bagels.

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I’ve been making bagels for years, usually using a slight adaptation of Peter Reinhart’s recipe. His recipe utilizes a sponge, a mixture of flour, yeast, and water that has to sit for a few hours before the recipe can be completed. I simply replaced that sponge with sourdough starter, so I saved myself a step and could more quickly move on to mixing and kneading the dough.

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The only problem with this method is that I don’t always keep enough starter around to make even half of Reinhart’s recipe. I was only able to make six small bagels. So I tried again, this time using half the amount of starter and mixing it with more flour and water. Once that was frothy, I continued with the recipe.

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Both batches of bagels were very good. Neither had a strong sourdough flavor, although it was slightly more intense in the first batch, where the starter completely replaced the sponge. In the future, I’ll make whichever recipe I have the right amount of starter for. Because the version that completely replaces the sponge with starter is quicker, plus sourdough starter is so easy to make, I’ll probably just make some extra starter the day before I want to make bagels. Altogether, it’s a great way to use my starter often enough to keep it active.

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One year ago: Mixed Berry Cobbler

Sourdough Bagels (adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

12 small bagels or 8 large bagels

My sourdough starter is half flour and half water, by weight.

16 ounces sourdough starter
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¾ cup (8 ounces) bread flour (approximately)
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup
1 tablespoon cornmeal

1. Place the sourdough starter in the bowl of a standing mixer and leave it at room temperature until it loses its chill and becomes frothy, 1-2 hours, depending on how active your starter is.

2. Add the additional yeast to the starter and stir. Then add most of the remaining flour and all of the salt and malt. Mix on low speed with the dough hook until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining flour to stiffen the dough.

3. Knead at low speed for 6 minutes. The dough should be firm and stiff, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

4. Immediately divide the dough into 8-12 equal pieces. Form the pieces into smooth balls.

5. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for 20 minutes. Dust a baking sheet with the cornmeal.

6. Form each dough ball into a rope 9 inches long by rolling it under your outstretched palms. Do not taper the ends of the rope. Overlap the ends of the rope about 1 inch and pinch the entire overlapped area firmly together. If the ends of the rope do not want to stick together, you can dampen them slightly. Place the loop of dough around the base of your fingers and, with the overlap under your palm, roll the rope several times, applying firm pressure to seal the seam. The bagel should be roughly the same thickness all the way around.

7. Place each of the shaped pieces about an inch apart on the prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pan sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the ‘float test.” Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), adjust the rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). Stir and submerge bagels with Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon until very slightly puffed, 30 to 35 seconds. Remove rings from water; transfer to wire rack, bottom side down, to drain.

11. Transfer boiled rings, rough side down, to parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes.

12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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artos (greek celebration bread)


I’ve always wanted to make this bread just because the shape of one of the variations is so cool. It’s a round loaf with strips of dough crossed over the top, the ends split and curled around.

I ended up not using that shape though. The bread is flavored with all sorts of things – almond extract, lemon zest, fall spices, olive oil, honey – so I thought it would make a particularly good French toast, and a round loaf didn’t seem practical for that. Instead, I tried a 4-strand braid, which looks pretty much like a 3-strand braid after baking. That’s okay, it was easy to do.

When Dave tried the bread, he said “This smells like Christmas. Did you put Christmas in this? The bread did, indeed, make for some pretty amazing French toast. Except I think it needs more salt. I’m a broken record.

For the recipe for this bread, check Michelle’s blog.  She also shows the shape I described above.  However, I skipped the dried fruit, nuts, and glaze, plus I used sourdough starter instead of the poolish.

anadama bread


It’s a good thing I had well-behaved friends for the most part in high school, because I am apparently highly susceptible to peer pressure. A new baking group has recently been formed, somewhat similar to Tuesday with Dorie, but baking their way through Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I resisted joining the group for a few weeks, because I really don’t need another baking obligation. But I’ve had this book for years and love it, plus if this group can improve my bread-baking skills as much as TWD has improved my dessert-baking skills, it’ll be worth it. And when I heard that Reinhart supported the group, I made the decision to join. I’m a sucker for cookbook authors who support blogs.

I had some trouble figuring out how to fit a new baking group into my blog. I can only produce 3-4 blog entries per week, and I’d like the majority to be unaffiliated with a group. I think I’ve decided on short, simple (I’m doing something simply?!) entries with one photo and a brief analysis of the recipe. Since I joined the group a few weeks after it started, I’m doing a bit of catch up.

Anadama bread is a sandwich bread made with cornmeal and molasses. Reinhart’s MO is to soak grains and/or ferment dough slowly to release as much flavor from them as possible. In this recipe, that means soaking the cornmeal overnight before kneading in the remaining ingredients and continuing with rising and shaping. Reinhart recommends coarser-grained polenta over cornmeal, and it smelled particularly corny after soaking, which was nice.

Overall, this was a nice bread. The texture was very light. I definitely think it needs more salt (the recipe calls for 1.5 teaspoons for 20 ounces of flour; I’ll add at least 2 teaspoons next time). Also, the polenta grains didn’t soften in the bread as much as I would like, adding a crunchiness, but not a good crunchiness. I’ll use regular cornmeal next time. Or I might just stick to the last anadama bread recipe I tried, but adjust the method to soak the cornmeal overnight.

True to most groups who cook their way through a cookbook, we won’t all be posting the recipes. However, Michelle plans to post the recipes on her blog.