2021: Project “Breads of the World”

The tree is down, the gifts are stowed (and a few more, of the monetary variety, used for items presently on order), and all of the ornaments are packed, except for a small nutcracker who hid beside one of my houseplants. I’m working on being hopeful about this year, and that’s about the closest I’m going to get to “resolutions.”

But I do want to post here more regularly, as always, and the years have shown me that this is more likely when I have an annual project to work on. This year, behind the trend as usual, I’m going with bread. I know, we spent a good portion of the year getting into (and probably out of again) sourdough and its discard potentials, and pizza crust, and perfecting decorative scoring. I hopped on the bus a bit later than many people did, as I noted a few months ago, but I’m firmly on board now even as many are disembarking in favor of whatever the next big thing proves to be.

My primary inspiration for this year’s project is a lovely man named Brendan Lynch. In case you’re behind, I’ll say only that he was a contestant in the third UK season of The Great British Bake-Off, and during his tenure there he explained he was engaged in a project to bake a number of “breads of the world.” That sounded so rewarding to me that I’ve latched decidedly onto the idea. 2021: Project “Breads of the World.” It’s an opportunity to cook and eat, but also to research and learn as I choose and develop recipes.

Before I blanket my kitchen in flour, though, two considerations. First, I want to be sure I really am looking worldwide. There are so many European breads, and as I noted to R. the other day, it would be easy to sit comfortably in France and Italy for the whole year (and not just in terms of baking, if I’m honest). But that’s not the world. It never has been. So even though I know some loaves of European origin will make their way in, I want to be sure I’m looking south and east as well. Injera from Ethiopia and sabaayad from Somalia. Persian komaj. Turkish simit. Filipino ensaymada. Buñuelos and pão de queijo and arepas and conchas and… you get the idea. And those are, I know, only a few of my options.

Second, I need to think a bit about what counts as bread. I’ve already decided quickbreads like banana or zucchini bread are exempt from this project. Despite their names, they are basically cake, and that isn’t what I’m after here. But I’m not sure I want to restrict myself solely to yeast-risen options. Biscuits aren’t bread, but naan or pita made with baking powder instead of yeast is. Parathas are bread, which means tortillas are too, though I don’t always think of them that way. And I don’t want to stay only in the savory realm either. Pannetone and sufganiyot and babka are breads, even though they are decidedly sweet.

So, while I restock my kitchen post-holiday-baking, let’s discuss. What do you think should count as “bread” for the purposes of this project? More importantly, what breads would you like to learn about and see here as I bake my way through 2021?

Simple Spiced Rice

What, you were expecting Italian or French food?

As I know I’ve noted before, when we come home from any kind of vacation, even though I’m often flooded with food inspiration, we tend to start out with simple dishes; it takes a week or so to reorient myself to the kitchen and be prepared to let those inspired ideas actualize. Besides, at least for this vacation, there have been so many photos to edit I haven’t had much time for the kitchen…

So this time around, I was making a simple pot of rice as a side. But you know me: I can’t just make a plain pot of white rice. So as I put the water on to boil, I added a couple of bay leaves. Then after a minute or two, I plopped in some peppercorns as well. And as we were eating the perfumed grains, lightly warmed by the peppercorns, I thought some cracked cardamom pods would make a nice addition.

There you are, then. Simple spiced rice. The bay and cardamom are quite subtle (enhanced by an overnight stay in the fridge, if you’re looking for do-ahead), and the peppercorns add warmth that is not quite spicy. It’s simple, but it’s a really nice upgrade for a pot of rice you might, say, serve with tandoori chicken or kebabs or saag paneer, as we did.

The only downside, as N. would hasten to tell you, given the chance, is that there are an awful lot of whole peppercorns in the scoop you level onto your plate, and crunching one of those between your teeth is exciting, but not necessarily in that pleasurable way. You miiiiiight want to spend a minute or two in extraction duty before you start your meal.

Simple Spiced Rice
About 20 minutes
Serves 4-6
3 cups cold water
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaves
4-6 green cardamom pods, lightly cracked
1½ cups long-grain white rice, such as basmati
optional: salt to taste, and a pat of butter to serve

 

  • Pour the water into a medium pot, then add the peppercorns, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. Put the lid onto the pot and bring the water to a boil.
  • When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the rice, stir to break up any clumps that form and to distribute the spices, then lower the heat until the water is just simmering.
  • Simmer over low or medium-low heat until the water is absorbed and the rice grains are just soft in the middle, around 15 minutes. At some point during the simmer, the water will likely threaten to boil over. Just take the lid off, stir gently, and replace the lid again.
  • Serve hot, with a sprinkle of salt and/or a pat of butter if desired.

 

Guest Post: Cheddar and Green Onion Sourdough Artisan Boule

Guest post from my friend and colleague (frolleague!) K., with whom I discuss bread baking procedures and triumphs on a frantic, high-volume, excitable and regular basis. Enjoy!

BlackberryEating has officially declared 2017 the year of the soup project just in time for the cold reality of this winter: Montana is 40 below, New England is buried in snow and West Coasters down to San Diego are cold and wet from an atmospheric river that’s brought more rain in the last six weeks than in as many years.

So let’s honor this project with really good bread, the stunning artisan kind, with the open crumb, shattery crust and intense bread flavor that will drive. your. people. wild. And since everyone knows that good bread is made — not bought — this homemade cheddar onion sourdough boule will be the perfect compliment to a comforting pot of simmering soup — unless you eat it before the first ladle of liquid hits the bowl, which can happen.

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A few caveats before the formula:

1) Don’t have a sourdough starter? Make one. You’ll never buy commercial bread or use commercial yeast again. Loaded with hydrogenated oils, nitrates, sugar, bleaching agents and other harmful substances, store-bought bread is just plain bad for you. And commercial yeast is devoid of the healthful bacteria that makes fermented food so darn healthy. Breads made from commercial yeast go stale faster, taste blah, are harder to

digest, and have a higher glycolic index, among other issues. This makes commercial bread profitable and convenient, but not good and healthy.

“Sourdough Starter, America’s Rising Pet” by Sam Sifton, which ran in the NYT recently, says it all. Once you get your starter fermenting on a regular schedule — rising up and then collapsing back in a consistent manner — it’s ready to use in your bread.

I started mine more than two years ago. The directions I was reading said starter consists of flour, water and wild yeast. I tried to order the wild yeast on Amazon. Nope. I Googled it. Nothing. What? Eventually I figured out that the wild yeast are in the air all around me (duh) and you catch them by mixing equal parts flour (50/50 mix of King Arthur’s all-purpose and wheat flours) and filtered water and then waiting. Within a week the starter was bubbling, and now it’s fast and strong. I feed it daily, sometimes twice.

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2) Invest in the basic bread-making tools: a bench knife, dough spatula, scale, banneton, thermometer, and cast iron combo cooker. You need these to turn out dazzling, delicious bread.

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3) Using the very best flour possible makes a huge difference. I use a combination of King Arthur Bread Flour and 10 – 20 percent high extraction wheat flour from Grist and Toll in Pasadena, the only local miller I’ve found in the greater Los Angeles area. They use a stone mill to make whole-grain, small-batch, fresh, local organic flour. And they ship! I love the hard white for its mild nutty flavor. Grist and Toll flour creates a silky, manageable dough that is loaded with nutrition. Read about stoneground, high-extraction flour here.

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4) Be patient. Start your dough the day before you make soup and refrigerate it overnight for a next-day bake. It’s easy to make bread, but fermentation takes time. And good dough handling takes a minute, but you’ll get it, and you’ll be so glad you did. Homemade bread is a game changer. And don’t worry if the first few loaves don’t turn out perfect. Just eat them and start again.

Cheddar and Green Onion Sourdough Artisan Boule (perfect for two with a pot of soup)
The Formula
300 grams flour (270g King Arthur Bread Flour & 30g Grist and Toll Red Fife)
225g water, slightly warmed
75g starter (It’s ready to use when it’s on the rise and a bit of it floats in water.)
5g Kosher salt
4oz. sharp cheddar, cut into small cubes and brought to room temperature.
¼ – ½ cup chopped green onion (I chop them thick) and brought to room temperature.
Cornmeal or polenta for dusting
Razor blade

The Dough

  • Pour 210g warmed water in a clear bowl.
  • Add starter and mix until incorporated.
  • Add flour and mix into a shaggy dough. Let it sit for half hour.

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  • Add the salt and the rest of the warmed water. Dissolve the salt in the water and work it into the dough by folding it in or cutting it in. Let it sit for half an hour.

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  • Flatten the dough out a bit, spread the cubes and press them into the dough. Do your best to space them out. Do the same with the onion.

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  • Pull all the dough edges up and fold over, encapsulating the cheese and onion.
  • Leave it for 45 minutes, then stretch and fold again. Repeat every 45 minutes (or so) for the next several hours, until the dough starts to get fuller and come together. This will take time. Give it 4 to 6 hours and 6 to 8 stretch and folds. Be patient and get gentler with your folds as you go.

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  • Once the dough is noticeably a bit puffy and fuller, turn it onto a floured board. Lightly flour the top and flip it over using the bench knife. Do one more very gentle, half-hearted round of folds, so the dough is roughly round, and gently flip it back over.

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  • Let it sit for half an hour.
  • Lightly flour the top. Flip it again and do a final fold. Start your fold at the top edge, then the right side, then the left, then fold the edge nearest to you up and over and keep rolling the whole ball so the seam side is down.

There is your boule!

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  • Spin it once or twice on the board to seal that bottom seam. Flour your banneton well. You don’t want the dough sticking to the banneton.
  • Slide your bench knife under the boule and gently place it upside down (seam side up) in the banneton.

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  • Cover with foil and put in the fridge to bake the next day.

The Bake

  • Place your combo cooker in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Once preheated, wait another 20 minutes. You want it screaming hot.
  • Take your dough out of the fridge. I pluck any cheese cubes that are sticking way out of the dough.
  • Take the combo cooker out of the oven using heavy silicone mitts. Take the top off and dust the bottom of the cooker with cornmeal. It will smoke but that’s OK.

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  • Lightly flour the seam side of your dough and your hands and then gently turn the dough out into the bottom of the combo cooker. Be careful. That sucker is hot.
  • Using a new razor or ultra-sharp kitchen knife, slice a cross into the top of the dough. This allows the bread to expand and rise to its full potential.

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  • Replace the top and put it all into the oven. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 450. Cook for another 15 minutes, then remove the top. Watch your eyes! You will release a cloud of hot steam.
  • Cook another 15 -18 minutes. Bake it out strong but don’t burn it. You want the internal temperature to reach at least 210F.
  • Put the loaf on a rack and let it cool, sitting there being beautiful while you make the soup. It’s a fine companion.

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P.S. After you’ve demolished the loaf, keep those crumbs for mac and cheese.

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Quinoa and Kale “Winter” Salad

Boo!2016-food-blog-october-0317Not really. Alas, the only Halloween-ish-ness I can attach here, for all my attempts to catch up with the impending holidays (and everything else), are the “scare” quotes in the title. (Haha? Maybe? I know; groan.)

2016-food-blog-october-02942016-food-blog-october-0302Instead, let’s pretend I’m so caught up that I’m actually looking forward. Forget autumn; I’m already a season ahead. This is a winter kind of salad: no wimpy lettuce and out-of-season tomatoes here, but sturdy greens and the substantial base of quinoa. A good grain salad is a lovely thing – an entrée rather than a starter or a side, if you fill your plate enough – and this one is no exception. It is based on a bright incarnation from the Firestone Walker brewpub located near us, and it screams California, doesn’t it? As if just quinoa or kale on its own weren’t enough, this one offers the hipster bifecta in one brightly colored mound. If we completed the trio and added avocado, we’d probably all spontaneously sprout handlebar mustaches and skinny jeans (although seriously, avocado chunks would be a nice addition here). The aforementioned scare quotes in the title are because, although this is a winter salad, the place it really screams winter… is in California. The kale and cabbage are cold-weather vegetables everywhere, with kale really becoming sweet and crisp after exposure to frost, but the orange segments and the bright gemstones that are pomegranate seeds are also winter crops – spots of brightness in the chill that we can at least dream of in what constitutes a Southern California winter.

2016-food-blog-october-03032016-food-blog-october-0307As a good salad should, this one has plenty of textures for your teeth to play with: the quinoa offers a toasty, chewy bite, the cabbage is raw so it provides a rough crunch, and the feta has that strange squeaky-soft chew. I like that pop of a pomegranate aril and the sudden crushing of the seed within; it’s a nice little metaphor for today, isn’t it? A sweet, plump, juicy treat, but the trick of an unexpected crunch hiding within.

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Quinoa and Kale “Winter” Salad
Serves 4
About 30 minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons white wine (optional)
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
2 cups red cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons, then halved or quartered into bite-size sticks (see photo)
4-5 ounces kale, thick stems removed, finely chopped (will be about 2 cups when chopped)
½ cup pomegranate seeds
2 large oranges: one cut into segments or supremes (see here for a clear photo tutorial by the kitchn), one reserved for juicing
½ cup crumbled feta cheese + 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons finely sliced chives or green onions
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

 

  • In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it is shimmering. Add the rinsed, drained quinoa and toast, stirring frequently, until the grains are dried and smell nutty. Add in the white wine, stirring while it steams and absorbs, then add the broth or water, stir, and clamp on a lid.
  • Let the liquid in the quinoa pot come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the little thread-y looking germ around the quinoa has loosened and separated (see photo above). Package directions usually say this takes 12-15 minutes; I find I like my quinoa a bit more cooked: 18-20 minutes. You do you. When the quinoa is finished cooking, remove the lid, fluff it up a bit, and set aside to cool.
  • While the quinoa cooks, prep the rest of your ingredients: thinly slice the cabbage and cut down the big slices into short, stumpy ribbons, chop the kale finely, and cut the chives or green onions into wispy circles. Make supremes from the orange, and add them along with the vegetables, the cheese, and the pomegranate seeds into a large bowl.
  • You can also use this time to make the dressing: in a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk the orange juice with the vinegar and the honey. You can squeeze out the core of the orange that you supremed earlier for some of this, but unless it’s very juicy you will likely need a bit more from the second orange. Stream in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to form a nicely emulsified dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste, whisk up once more, and set aside.
  • When the quinoa is finished and has cooled a bit, pour the dressing over it, stir and fluff to distribute evenly, then dump into the bowl containing the rest of your ingredients. Toss gently to combine.
  • To serve, either scoop out mounds onto individual plates, or just present in a large salad bowl or platter. Just before serving, top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of feta cheese.

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Root Vegetable Barley Risotto

As I move on through my weird little life, I have come to realize that there are some rather shocking details in my relationship with food. Example: I just don’t like yellow curry. I’ve tried it. I’ve played with multiple applications. It just doesn’t work for me. Example two: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is without a doubt my favorite hangover food. Well, that or biscuits and gravy with a side of hash browns. But only if those biscuits, gravy, and hash browns are from Brails Restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. Otherwise I’d take the boxed macaroni, complete with its powdered fluorescent orange box-mate, any day of the week.

Food Blog October 2013-2732But a more pertinent example for us today is risotto. I like risotto. I like the creaminess, the cheesy finish, the number of vegetables you can load it with; I even like the endless stirring. It’s therapeutic in a lot of ways. The only thing, in fact, that I don’t like about risotto is the rice. I know; who AM I? But the rice too often gets sticky and gloppy, and if it’s not gloppy, it’s soupy but somehow still underdone, and frankly I’m over it. No, if I’m going to have something toasty and nutty but also somehow creamy and chewy, I’m going with barley.

The idea of risotto without the rice is something like ice cream without the cream: contradiction central. Here, though, the truth is in the technique: the slow, steady stirring that lets the grain release its starches and become a warm, comforting dish of welcome-to-fall-I’m-so-glad-you’re-here.

Food Blog October 2013-2721If we were going to have fall, I decided, we were going to need root vegetables. Discs and sticks and chunks of rutabagas, carrots, sweet potato, and parsnips, all gleaming with olive oil and garlic herb salt, roasted until caramelized and tender. I folded these into the barley just as it finished, then dolloped in sizable lumps of soft, creamy goat cheese, a scattering of toasted pecans, and, because if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing, some whole fried leaves of sage and rosemary.

Food Blog October 2013-2724Alterations apropos of the season might entail swapping out the sweet potato or carrot for hunks of pumpkin or butternut squash, and you can certainly use walnuts or even pine nuts if you don’t like pecans. But I wouldn’t skip the goat cheese. Its insistent tang is a needed foil for the mellow autumnal combination of root veggies and barley.

We ate this so fast our forks had whiplash. It is warm and hearty, certainly, and the clamor of different flavors settles together so nicely that you can’t help but keep going back for another taste. The sage and rosemary mellow as they fry, producing a toasty earthiness rather than the overwhelming pine-forest flavor you might expect.

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Root Vegetable Barley Risotto
Serves 4-6
3 medium carrots
3 medium parsnips
2 medium rutabagas
1 medium orange fleshed sweet potato
¼ cup olive oil
1-2 teaspoons salt (a nice garlic and herb salt works well here, if you have it)
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup butter
10 sage leaves
1-2 teaspoons whole rosemary leaves
Scant 1 cup chopped onion (from ½ a medium onion)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pearled barley
½ cup dry white wine
Additional salt and pepper, to taste
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, warm but not boiling
8 oz. soft goat cheese

 

  • First, preheat the oven to 400F and line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil. Place the cookie sheets in the oven while it preheats.
  • Peel the root vegetables (except the onion) and cut them into discs, slices, or chunks of approximately the same size, no thicker than about ½ inch. Place them in a bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Spread the vegetable chunks evenly in a single layer on the preheated trays, then return trays to the oven and roast for 45-60 minutes, tossing halfway through, until vegetables are fork tender and nicely caramelized. Set aside until risotto is ready.
  • While the roots are roasting, warm the broth in a medium pot. You want it at a bare simmer at most. No more, or too much will evaporate while you wait to add it to your risotto. (It shouldn’t be cold either – this will increase the risotto’s cooking time.)
  • In a large saucepan, toast the pecans over medium-low heat until they begin to take on a caramel aroma and look lightly browned. Be careful with them; they will burn easily. Don’t take your eyes away too long. When they are toasty, remove them from the pan and set aside.
  • In the same pan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the sage and rosemary leaves. Be careful; sometimes they will spit a bit when they touch the hot fat. Fry them for about 45 seconds, agitating the pan a little to turn them around in the butter, until they have darkened just a bit. Remove them, reserving the butter in the pan, and drain them on a paper towel. They will crisp up as they cool.
  • Again in the same pan (see how economical we are being for whoever washes the dishes in your house?!), add the chopped onion and garlic. Sweat the onions and garlic for 5-8 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the garlic smells just the way it is supposed to. You know what I mean.
  • With soft, tender onions, turn the heat up to medium high and add the barley. Stir briskly for 1-2 minutes until the barley is fully coated in butter and has toasted a touch.
  • Deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring vigorously to detach any browned bits from the bottom of your pan (but be careful not to be too vigorous, lest you ignite your wine). Continue stirring slowly until the wine is almost completely absorbed into the barley.
  • When the pan is nearly dry, add about a cup of the broth and stir to incorporate. Let it simmer, stirring frequently, until the broth is almost absorbed. The first time you add broth, this will take 10-15 minutes. The amount of time it takes for the barley to absorb the broth will increase as you add more liquid.
  • Repeat this process, adding broth and stirring, until the barley is tender but chewy and you have added all of the broth. This will take about 45 minutes.
  • When the barley has almost absorbed the last of the broth (it will be slightly soupy, but don’t worry), add the roasted root vegetables and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • To serve, scoop some risotto into a shallow bowl, dollop on a good portion of goat cheese, sprinkle with pecans, and top with a few fried herb leaves.