Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Don’t try this at home

I was inspired by a television program to make a mango/avocado smoothie. It was ostensibly "simple and delicious". Simple it was, delicious it wasn't!

Take 1 avocado, 1 mango, some lime juice and blend until smooth. Top off with a little club soda (disgusting) or 7-up (almost as bad). Pour down sink and try something different.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Enough of the !@$#! bread already

The next foray is ciabatta. An entirely different kind of bread from the baguettes - it is made with a starter and has a long starter preparation period. The dough uses a lot of yeast and then looks more like pancake batter than bread dough. So lots of challenges.

Of course Dan Leader came to the rescue again, and we have turned out some very good looking ciabatta - and to please nic, I even remembered to take some pics!!!

So let's get the pics out of the way first.....

See how wet, flat and sloppy this loaf is before baking. It is about 11 inches long and 7 wide at its widest point. Shaping it is like shaping quicksand!

After baking we are left with this beauty... See how well it has puffed up. It stays that way as it cools. The crust softens a bit and the crumb is light, airy and holey!

So, how to achieve this magic? Again, I will borrow from Dal Leader's book called "Local Breads".

Ingredients - Starter
1/2 cup (65gm) water
1/2t (2gm) instant yeast
2/3 cup (100gm) unbleached bread flour - the stronger the better

Method - Starter
About 12 hours before you want to make the ciabatta, make the starter by mixing the water, yeast and flour in a small bowl. Then knead a few times to make it almost smooth. Cover and leave to rise 1 hour in a warm place (around 80F, 25C) and then refrigerate for the remainder of the time.

When ready to make the bread, remove the starter from the fridge.......

Ingredients - Bread
1 Cup (167 gm) starter (from before - the exact quantity of the starter recipe above is what you need)
1 1/2 cups (425 gm) tepid water (70-75 F, 21-23C)
2t (10 gm) instant yeast
3 1/4 cups (500gm) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 t (10 gm) sea salt or kosher salt

Method - Bread
Place the starter and the water into he bowl of a standing mixer. Break the starter apart with a spatula. It does not need to be completely smoothed or dissolved. Stir in the flour, yeast, salt and mix until a dough forms.

Mix the dough in the stand mixer using the dough hook on a medium speed for about13-15 minutes. You will have to stand by because the mixer will likely start to walk around the counter. The dough won't really clear the sides of the bowl. Stop periodically and scrape it down and off the hook. After giving it about 13-15 minutes, turn the speed up to high and knead for a further three minutes. The dough mass will be quite creamy and shiny looking.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl that has room for it to triple in size. Cover with cling wrap and leave to stand at room temperature until it has tripled in size. This takes 3-4 hours.

In most household ovens it is unlikely that you will be able to bake 2 loaves at the same time, so here's what I do...

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and immediately divide in half.

Cover a peel (or the bottom of a baking sheet) with parchment and make sure it slides. Lightly dust the parchment. Take one half of the dough mass and pick it up stretching it to about 11 x 7 inches and place it into the middle of the floured parchment. Press it flat gently with your fingers. Don't burst too many bubbles. Then wet your fingers and just dimple the surface. Do the same with the other loaf onto a different pan or peel. I do the first one on a peel and the second on a pan.

Leave to rest/proof at room temperature for 40 or so minutes - you will see bubbles forming under the top surface (they look like blisters).

1 hour before baking, heat the oven to 475F and ensure the stone is on the upper middle rack. On the lower rack put a cast iron container into which you can introduce ice.

When the bread is ready to bake, slide the first loaf onto the stone (still on its parchment paper), add 1 cup ice to the pan below and close the oven door. Add more ice 2 more times. Opening the door quickly. After 10 minutes turn the temperature down to 425F and bake until the loaf is a beautiful caramel colour. That will be another 13-20 minutes depending on your oven.

Remove the loaf (using the peel) and put on a wire rack to cool. Resist the temptation.....

Turn the oven back to 475F, slide the second loaf on its parchment onto the peel. Let the oven come to temperature (about 10 minutes). Bake the second loaf just like the first one. You do need to keep adding the ice to make steam. That is a key part of getting the crust nice!

We ate it various ways. Initially while warm with butter.

Then for supper, cut a large piece off the loaf and halved it horizontally. Toasted one side then added some ham (sliced and folded into a thickness of 4 layers), some Caerphilly cheese that Madame had brought back from England, diced tomatoes from the Farmer's Market all grilled under the grill (broiler) until the cheese had melted, with some hot English mustard on the side. No there are not pictures of that, we ate it before we could get to the camera!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

It is so good to have Madame home..

Madame came home yesterday, so today we were abole to have a nice dinner. Our friend Bette came and we had a terrific time. I had bought some plump scallops earlier in the day, so it was a matter of preparing them so that they tasted really good. When you have great ingredients, often less is more. These were great! I made a wilted spinach salad dressed with an hot onion/grapefruit dressing and garnished with toasted almond slivers.

5 small red potatoes in 1/4" dice
3 grapefruit peeled and segmented, including all it's juice
12 Oz baby spinach
1 Medium onion sliced pole to pole
1/4 cup slivered almonds
6T High quality extra virgin olive oil
12 sea scallops (about 2 oz each)
salt/pepper to taste


In a medium pan put 1T olive oil and the sliced onions. Cook over medium low heat until the onions are translucent.

In a small pan over low heat, toast the almonds until brown and nutty.

Cook the potatoes in simmering sated water until just cooked through. Drain and add 3T olive oil and 4T grapefruit juice while they are still warm.

Add all but 8 segments of the grapefruit and all its juice to the onion pan and leave to simmer. In a separate pan, heat the remainder of the oil until almost smoking and then put the scallops in carefully. Leaving the heat on medium sheck the first sid of the scallops for browning. When a good crust has developed (about 2-2 1/2 minutes) flip the scallops over, and brown on the other side. Do mot overcook.

Wash the spinach and make sure it doesn't have any stalks. Combine the spinach with the almonds, the potatoes and the hot dressing. Toss while the spinach wilts, top with the scallops, garnish withthe raw grapefruit segments and serve immediately

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This bread thing is getting out of hand!

I have been so into bread making while Madame has been away. But now with the help of Dan Leader, I am turning out baguettes that are just to die for. No I don't (yet!) have a steam oven, but I am getting the really crusty outside with a tender crumb. I haven't asked Dan's permission to repost here, but I hope he won't mind. I have varied it a bit (adding cake flour), and I can't get it done in the 4 hours he says it takes. It usually takes me 4 1/2. But still that is not long for a really good tasting loaf.

So yesterday I baked, loaves came out of the oven at about 3:30, and of course I couldn't wait for them to cool. I had to try a piece. Yup! That hit the spot. So for dinner, I took 7" of baguette, split it lengthwise, layered some tomatoes from the Grapevine Farmers' Market directly onto the bread so the juice would soak in a bit, spread some fresh goat cheese (also bought at Grapevine Farmers' Market) fresh basil from the garden some salt and a little sherry vinegar. WOW a perfect sandwich.

So here's the bread recipe (adapted from Local Breads by Daniel Leader, published by WW Norton ). I would strongly recommend getting his book, he explains it so much better than I can - and he has pictures!

It is a very long recipe although it is easier to do than it looks.


1 1/2 cups of tepid water (70-75 degrees F, 21-23 degrees C)
1t instant yeast
3 cups Organic unbleached AP flour
1/4 cup Cake flour (not self rising)
1 1/2t Kosher salt
Cooking spray to grease the bowl

Pour water into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes until refreshed. Then mix in the flours and stir with a spatula until you have all the water involved and the dough is kinda shaggy. Leave to sit for 20 minutes so the flour hydrates.

Empty the dough onto the board, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for 12-15 minutes. Try to avoid flouring the board or your hands. It will feel a bit sticky, but persevere and it will come together into a nice smooth dough. Every now and again release the dough from the board with a bench scraper. If you prefer to use a standing mixer (and I have not tested this), put in the bowl of the mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low (number 2 setting) for 8-10 minutes. You will still need to give it a few hand strokes at the end, so I am not sure what using the mixer would buy you.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to sit for an hour at 70-75 degrees (21 to 23C). It will not double, but it will have expanded some.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured (very lightly!) board and shape into a rectangle of about 6 inches by 8 inches (15x20cm). Fold the dough like a business letter from the short side. Plop the dough back into the bowl and allow to rise for another hour.

About an hour before baking you will want to heat the oven. Ideally you want a baking stone in there, but an upside down sheet pan will work too. The oven should be heated to 450F. The bread is quite sensitive to temperature so do check the oven. Make sure the rack is just above half way and on a lower rack there is a container into which you can put ice to create steam.

When the bread s ready to shape, place a sheet of parchment paper onto a peel or another upside down rimless pan. Flour the parchment.

Turn the dough onto the board and divide into 3 pieces each of around 10oz (280gm). Pat each piece into a small rectangle fold in half. Cover lightly with cling wrap and leave to stand for 10-15 minutes to relax.

Now we are ready to shape the dough. For each piece of dough, make a 3x5 inch rectangle (8x12 cm) and fold as follows. Take the long side, fold to about the center and press the seam lightly. Do the same with the bottom edge. Then quickly roll the dough into a 14" length (275 cm) (or however wide your sheet pan or peel are). Place the loaves onto the floured parchment 2-3 inches (5-8cm) apart. Then make a little pleat in the parchment between the loaves and pull it up sliding the loaves together, but still separated by parchment. At the outside edges roll up kitchen towels and use them to bolster the loaves so they are held in neat cylinders. (This is called a couche, by the way). Sprinkle a little flour on the surfaces and cover with cling wrap to rest. This resting will take around 45 minutes - until the dough springs back slowly when you press it lightly.

When you are ready to bake uncover the loaves, remove the kitchen towels from the sides and pull the pleat out of the parchment. The loaves will separate, but retain their shape. Score them with a very sharp knife - or use a single edged razor blade. Make the scoring about 1/2 inch (a little more than 1cm) deep. Make the score marks long - don't just cut straight across. Immediately slide the parchment off the peel or baking sheet onto the hot stone (or rimless baking sheet) in the oven and add 1/2 cup ice to the container. After 2 minutes add another 1/2 cup of ice and again after a further 5 minutes. You do need to add the ice in instlments to get a shot of steam. Adding all at once cools the container too quickly.

Bake the loaves for 15-20 minutes - until they are a light caramel color. Remove fom the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Devour greedily!