Goat Cheese and Bacon Biscuits

I’m not one of those people who is crazy for bacon in everything.  The idea of pairing it with chocolate still weirds me out a little, and I’ve never tried it in brownies or ice cream.  That being said, bacon is probably the top reason I would have trouble being a vegetarian.  Crisp, sandwiched with some dripping heirloom tomato slices and lettuce on toasted sourdough, and I’m dreamy happy.  Salty fatty fried chunks studding my bowl of baked beans, and my evening is made.
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What I am generally crazy for is breakfast.  But not at breakfast time.  I can’t handle a big savory meal early in the morning.  A fried egg sandwich, okay (and with a little sriracha in the mayonnaise?  Be still my heart!).  A pancake or three, maybe on occasion.  The big, multi-course breakfast is, for me, wasted on the morning.  I’m a breakfast-for-dinner kind of girl.
This week, in need of comfort as spring break drew to a close and allergy season burst wide open, we decided breakfast sandwiches were just what we needed.  Eggs, bacon, fluffy buttery biscuit, and why not, a little goat cheese?!  But layering these components together would not suffice.  Thick slices of bacon smashed against a cloud of scrambled egg and crumbles of goat cheese seemed like a mess waiting to happen.  I’ve incorporated cheese into biscuits before with great success, why not do the same with the bacon?
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The result: goat cheese bacon biscuits.  A simple revelation, but let me tell you, a spectacular base for a scrambled egg sandwich.  Crisp squares of bacon, cold cubes of butter, crumbles of chevre, and a healthy glug of buttermilk.
These are pretty cinchy to make, though thanks to the addition of the goat cheese your biscuit dough will be a little stickier than usual.  Try not to add too much flour – you don’t want them to get dense.  They bake up into lovely little puffs, and the bacon stays crisp against the soft dough.  The goat cheese wasn’t as strong a flavor as we were expecting, though after the biscuits cooled a bit we did pick up a pleasant tang from the larger crumbles.  Loaded up with a simple layer of scrambled egg, and you have a perfect, three-bite sandwich with all the right trimmings.  And because it’s only three little bites, you can have two or three without any guilt to speak of.  Or four… or…
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The funny, blackened stakes lying in a pile in the background of this photo are roasted rainbow carrots.  They were incredible.  And don’t just take my word for it – I knew they were the real deal when N. carefully sampled one, turned to me, and said “wow.”  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you will know that N. is not intentionally grudging when it comes to food praise; he’s just not particularly effusive about it.  A “wow” is like fireworks.
Breakfast-for-dinner slam dunk, then.  What’s your favorite?
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Goat Cheese Bacon Biscuit Sandwiches
2 cups flour (All-Purpose is fine)
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 TB baking powder
4 slices bacon, diced and fried until crisp, drained and cooled (do this a bit ahead of time so the bacon has time to cool off – if you toss it into the mixture hot, you’ll heat up the butter and your biscuits will be less fluffy)
6 TB cold butter, cut into chunks (chunking it isn’t absolutely necessary, but it does make it easier and quicker to incorporate)
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
6 oz. buttermilk
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  • Preheat your oven to 400F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Whisk in the cooled, crisp bacon.
  • Add the butter and incorporate using a pastry blender or your hands.  When the chunks are about the size of lima beans, tumble in the goat cheese and blend it in until there are no more large pieces.  The pebbles of butter should be about the size of peas when you are done.
  • Pour in the buttermilk and fold it into the dry mixture.  I find using a fork works best for this – the tines pick up and jostle around the flour mixture better than a spatula or wooden spoon.  Don’t overmix, but be sure the buttermilk is well incorporated.
  • When your mixture is evenly damp, abandon the fork.  You can turn the whole mess out onto a floured board, or you can just reach in with flour dusted hands and knead the dough a few times in the bowl until it comes together.
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  • Pat the dough into a plump something-like-a-rectangle on a floured board.  The thickness and therefore the size of the rectangle is really to you, but mine was probably just under an inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter or the floured top of a glass, punch out biscuit rounds by pushing straight down all the way through the dough.  Don’t twist your cutter as you go down; you’ll disrupt the craggy layers in the dough and the biscuit won’t rise as high or as evenly.
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  • When you’ve punched out as many rounds as the rectangle of dough will allow, place them on your parchment lined baking sheet at least an inch apart, gather the dough scraps, knead them together a bit, and pat them back into a new rectangle.  Continue punching out biscuits and reshaping the scraps until you run out of dough.  Given the small size of cutter I chose, I managed 16 sweet little biscuits.  You will have more or less depending on size and thickness.
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  • For a small biscuit (2 inch diameter), bake at 400F for 12-14 minutes, or until the layers have puffed and the top is golden.  Larger or extremely thick biscuits will take longer; try 15 minutes to start.
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If you just want to eat them as is – and I’d sympathize completely if you did – you’re all set to go.  Dig in.  If, however, you want them as sandwiches, split them down the middle of the puffy, buttery layers and insert a fold of softly scrambled egg.
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These are best the day they are cooked, so I’d advise only baking as many as you and your dinner partner(s) are going to eat.  The remaining biscuits can be frozen, still unbaked, and enjoyed another day.  To freeze them, set them on a piece of wax paper or parchment in a single layer on a plate or baking tray.  Wait until they are frozen, then relocate them to a zip-top freezer bag.  They don’t even need to be defrosted, just pop them into a preheated oven for a few extra minutes (maybe 15-18 for a small biscuit) and dinner – or breakfast – is served!
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Go-to Dough III – Orange and Rosemary loaf

First, thank you.  Thank you to you lovely people and the lovely way you responded to last week’s post about my sweet rolls and my Nana.  Old friends, new friends, family, it warmed me to see your comments.  I so appreciate you making yourselves known and sharing your own experiences and memories – I’m motivated to delve into more old family recipes and more new experiments.  That probably sounds a little cheesy, but I mean it.

 

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So I suppose you could call this a thank you loaf.  It was delicious, it was easy (well, as easy as baking bread can be, I suppose), and I made it for you.
I wanted, as I’ve noted, a basic recipe, though I can’t resist adding a tweak or two to keep things interesting.  My first boule was overbrowned; my second utilized an overnight leavening procedure I didn’t think added all that much to the final product.  So the third had to be just right – the charm, you might say – and I really do think it was.  Goldilocks bread.

 

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I went back to Ruhlman’s directions for cooking the loaf in a pot.  This strategy for maintaining the shape and for holding in moisture by using a lid makes so much sense, and I wanted to give it another shot.
This time I decided to add some fat to the bread in the form of olive oil.  This made the crumb a bit moister and I think it kept the bread tasting fresh longer.  To make the yeast extra happy, I proofed it (them?  Is yeast grammatically plural?) with a few tablespoons of honey.  This didn’t contribute noticeable sweetness to the final product, but it did make for an extra foamy yeast party.  You could probably increase the honey if you wanted a sweeter end product.  Since I was still on a high from the orange marmalade triumph, I decided this bread would benefit from some orange zest and, just for fun, some fresh rosemary too.  I ended up with a really beautiful loaf: puffed, thin but crisp crust, moist dense crumb.  The orange and rosemary creep up on you – perfumed subtlety lingering in the background until you’re almost finished chewing.  Then they suddenly become present.  It’s not a punch, it’s a slow sloping into flavor.
This was perfect for sopping up sauce from baked beans (it would make stellar toast for beans on toast), complementing the sweetness and the fatty bacon flavor with its subtle herbaceousness.  I could see adding some dried cranberries to the dough for a wintry take on a breakfast slice.  It dances well with a slick of salted butter, plain and simple, but its shining moment this week was as an open faced sandwich spread thickly with cream cheese and fig preserves.  The orange and rosemary played beautiful back-up to the cream cheese and the fig, and I bolted it before I even considered taking a photo to share the triumph.  If you make this bread – and you should, oh you should – don’t miss this combination.

 

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Orange and Rosemary loaf
12 oz. warm water
2 TB honey
2 tsp yeast
2 TB olive oil
20 oz. bread flour (or 4 cups, give or take)
2 tsp salt (I’m currently obsessed with a gray French sea salt, which I found at Cost Plus World Market)
2 TB fresh rosemary leaves, minced
zest from 2 oranges

 

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Combine the warm water, honey, and yeast in a small bowl or a measuring cup, and stir lightly.  Set aside for 5 minutes or so to let the yeast revive from its hibernation.

 

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In a medium bowl (I use my stand mixer), combine the flour, salt, orange zest, and rosemary.
When the yeast is bubbly and smells of bread and beer and awesome, add the olive oil to the wet mixture and stir lightly.
Pour the wet yeast mixture carefully into the dry ingredients, then stir to combine until you have a wet, shaggy mixture (if you are using a stand mixer, try the paddle attachment.  I know it’s one extra thing to wash, but it brings the mixture together much more quickly than a dough hook).
Once the dough is shaggy but workable, knead for 8-10 minutes or until a small knob can be stretched gently between your fingers to a point of translucency.  This is called the windowpane test.  If you’re getting help from a stand mixer, use your dough hook and knead on medium speed, checking after 6-7 minutes.
Your dough should be warm, elastic, and smooth.  Turn it into an oiled bowl and flip it around until all sides are lightly oiled.  Let it rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled, 60-75 minutes (My preferred method is to turn my oven on for five minutes, turn it off, wait for five minutes, and then put the dough inside.  This creates an environment warm enough to help it rise, but not warm enough to start it cooking already).
After the dough has doubled in bulk, push it down gently with your fist to release the gasses trapped inside, then let it rest for 10 minutes to get its breath back.
On a floured board, shape your bread.  Since we are going for a round loaf, spin the dough in a circle, pushing it away from you with one hand, and using the other hand to tuck it under so you form a smooth, round ball.  (There are a lot of videos and complex step-by-step series for this procedure, involving pinching seams, smoothing and pulling, spreading and folding and turning the dough, and a host of others to prevent the loaf from spreading rather than maintaining its round shape.  Letting it rise and then baking it in a round pot takes care of many of these concerns.  I haven’t been particularly firm about pinching seams, and my loaves have turned out nicely rounded.)

 

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Transfer the loaf to a dutch oven or similar lidded pot and let it rise for another 90 minutes.  I lined my baking vessel with parchment paper this time so I wouldn’t have to use olive oil, which I suspect made my previous attempt too brown on the bottom.  This seemed to work fairly well.
When your dough has risen again, it will be puffed and pushing against the sides of the pot.  It’s now time to score it with a sharp knife, drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt, then bake it with the lid on in a preheated 450F oven for 30 minutes.  Keeping the lid on traps some of the moisture inside, so you don’t have to bother with flicking or spraying the inside of the oven, or even with adding a pan of water.
After half an hour, remove the lid and continue baking for 15-30 additional minutes, or until the bread is done (it should register 180-200F on an instant-read thermometer and sound hollow when you tap the bottom).  Mine only took an additional 15 minutes before it tested done.

 

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Let the bread cool for 10-15 minutes, if you can stand it, before slicing.  This gives the center time to cool a bit and helps it stay together better.

 

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Or, you know, just tear off chunks and eat them blisteringly hot.  I won’t tell anyone.

 

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Orange Marmalade and Almond Sweet Rolls

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Guys, I’m pretty excited about this one.  It’s a mile marker for me in a couple of ways.  One, it’s a sweet application of yeast dough, which I’ve never tried before.  Two, I’m well into the second month of this project and I haven’t had any true disasters yet or fallen off the horse, which buoys my confidence.  Three, except for temperature and cooking time, which I had no idea about, I didn’t consult the internet a single time for clues about how to make this.  But four, and unquestionably most important, this is an adaptation of one of my Nana’s recipes, and I made it successfully.
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Nana was a cook.  She was an old-fashioned, from home, meat/starch/veg-that-sometimes-came-from-a-can kind of cook.  She was a clean-your-plate-before-you-can-have-dessert and sometimes a there-are-starving-children-out-there kind of cook.  But that was her era.  She raised her three kids on three square meals a day plus cookies.  She taught my two aunts how to cook, she cooked for our Pap almost up until the day he died, and she sent out a yearly box of Christmas cookies until I was almost through college.  My freshman year I remember getting a slip in my mailbox that meant I had a package to pick up, and finding, after returning to my room and tearing at it feverishly, that it was filled with sweets.  Chocolate dipped apricots, cream horns, which we called ladylocks, nut rolls, seven layer bars, pizzelle; these were how Nana sent us her love.  I always meant to send one back to her, when I was “grown up.”  It tugs at me a little that I never did.
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When she heard I was learning how to cook, she gave me my first cookbook: The Complete Guide to Country Cooking, along with a subscription to Taste of Home magazine.  One summer when we came to visit, I offered to help with the menu and she told her friends her granddaughter was going to be her cook for the week.  She said it was good, too.
In 2007, when I was about to get married, I received a large red photo album from my female relatives, featuring favorite recipes from their own kitchens.  Nana couldn’t attend my wedding – she was on oxygen and too weak for the plane ride across the country from Pennsylvania – but she had contributed recipes to this book, and even as I cherished her contributions I never thought I would make most of them myself: I was too inexperienced to try these dishes she had clearly mastered – lemon meringue pie and yeasted sweet dough were beyond my capabilities.
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But when I thought about cooking this past week, I thought about that stretch of dough from my dill bread and in its place saw cinnamon rolls.  They are, after all, filled and constructed in a similar way.    I love cinnamon rolls, but sometimes the dripping gush of cinnamon pooled in pounds of sugared butter is just too sweet for me.  Orange marmalade came into my mind, and with it, almonds.  They seemed like such a nice pairing, and as I wondered how to make them I found myself back in Nana’s section of my big red cookbook, staring at directions that now seemed less intimidating than they did six years ago.
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This is a beautiful, elastic, slightly sweet dough.  It is smooth and rich and expansive, and it makes a glorious roll.  It sighs like a feather pillow when you punch it down.  It wants very little from you – just a massage with melted butter, a liberal smear of marmalade and almonds, and gentle, careful rolling.  Inside, after baking, the orange and almond marry well, since the jammy part of the marmalade pools against the dough, but the zest and the almonds retain texture for the teeth to play with.
I doused one pan with a glaze made from fresh orange juice and powdered sugar, but I think that overdid the sweetness factor a bit too much: the glaze tasted like liquified orange Pez.  Better, I would say, would be a slick of soft cream cheese, perhaps whipped with a little brown sugar if you absolutely must.  But plain, browned, warm out of the oven, and a little sticky with its own sweetness, is just perfect all by itself for breakfast, for dessert, for mid-morning snack.  For any time that is right now, really.  Thanks, Nana.
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Orange Marmalade and Almond Sweet Rolls
Dough:
¼ cup warm water
2 tsp yeast
¼ cup scalded whole milk (heated to just below boiling – 45 seconds in the microwave does the trick)
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 egg
¼ cup soft or melted butter
2 ¼ cups flour (you probably won’t need all of it – I ended up using a total of 1 ¾ cups)
Filling:
¼ cup melted butter
1 cup orange marmalade, warmed slightly
1 cup sliced almonds
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In the bottom of your mixing bowl, combine the yeast and water and stir gently.  Let it sit for at least 5 minutes so the yeast wakes up a bit.
Meanwhile, heat your milk, then cool it down.  You can hasten the cooling process if you forgot to soften your butter: just drop the still-cold stick right into your warm milk and swirl.  You’ll cool the milk and soften the butter simultaneously.
When the yeast bubbles and smells bready, add the cooled milk, softened or melted butter, sugar, and egg.  Stir to combine.  When the mixture has homogenized a bit, add 1 cup of the flour and the salt and stir again.  You will have a soggy, unworkable mixture.
Continue to add the flour ¼ cup at a time, stirring after each addition (if you are using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and just keep it on low speed until things come together).  When it starts to look like bread dough – pieces begin to have that floured, torn texture and hold together – and becomes just workable, don’t add any more flour to the mix.  Switch to your dough hook or a well floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Once kneaded, put your shiny, smooth ball of dough in a lightly greased bowl and roll it over so all sides are moistened by the oil.  Let it rise in a warm place until it doubles – at least an hour and a half.  I like to heat my oven to 200F (my lowest setting) for a few minutes, then turn it off and let it cool for another few minutes before stowing my dough inside.
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When the dough is ready, it will have doubled in size, and the bottom will be covered with puffy little bubbles like the ones that let you know your pancake is ready to flip.  Punch it down by pushing your fist gently into the middle to let the gas escape.  Turn it out onto a floured board and roll gently, forming a rectangle of probably 2 feet by 3 feet.  Maybe 3 by 3, if it seems willing.  It should be ¼ – ½ inch all the way around.  My board was, clearly, a bit on the small side for this undertaking.
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Give your layer of dough a massage with the ¼ cup melted butter, spreading it evenly over the surface until it’s gleaming, but leaving an inch or so margin around the edges.  This will help prevent spillage of the inevitable ooze when you start rolling.
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Spread the warmed marmalade over the buttered dough, again respecting the inch margin.  Warming it up by microwaving it for just 30 seconds or so helps it spread more evenly.  Sprinkle on the sliced almonds and get ready to roll.
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Food Blog February 2013-0675Food Blog February 2013-0677You have to do the rolling in small stages, I found.  Begin at the middle of the longer edge of your dough rectangle and make a few tight rolls, but then move to the edges and help them catch up.  They don’t roll on their own, since the piece of dough you are working with is so big, so your fingers will be busy (and no doubt sticky) flying from side to middle to side again.  Continue this process until you have created a long, tight roll of dough.  Some filling will unavoidably ooze out the ends, but if you’ve left a margin around all sides this should be minimal.  Turn the tube gently so the outer edge faces up, then pinch it gently into the next layer to create a seam so your rolls don’t become unrolls.
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Carefully slice your rolled tube into individual portions.  I ended up with about a dozen squashy, messy, less-than-round offerings.  Deb at Smitten Kitchen suggests using a serrated knife and sawing gently, letting only the weight of the knife move down through the dough, to prevent the squashing I experienced.
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Nestle your rolls filling side up in greased baking trays – I used 9 inch cake pans – and let them rise again for 30 minutes.  This would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 375F.
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Stow your pans in the preheated oven for about 18 minutes, at which point the tops will be golden, the exposed marmalade will be somewhere between dripping and caramelizing, and the edges of each roll will have puffed against each other, some adhering thanks to the sticky filling.
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While they are warm, you can drench them in glaze or icing if you wish, or you can just gently liberate them from their pans and eat them with fork or fingers.  I like to unroll mine as I eat, saving the extra buttery, extra jammy middle bit – which everyone knows is the best part – for absolutely last.
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Most of the photo credit on this one goes to N., who got really into his job as stand-in photographer this week!  Thanks, honey.

Go-To Dough 2

Because my little house sits smack between the concentrated skyscrapers of downtown Santa Monica and the constant ascent path from LAX, because I can hear the freeway from my backyard and see, from just down the block, the Hollywood sign in the distance, it sometimes slips my mind that I only live a few miles from the ocean.  Los Angeles is a funny place: loud, boisterous, urban, crowded, and yet along its edges it’s a beach town, where it’s just as loud and crowded, but people seem to move just a little slower.
Hard to remember, sometimes, but this past week we were treated to afternoons that reminded me I’m only a few minutes from the water.  Warmth gave way to brisk, fresh breezes heavy with the smell of salt.  Fog rolled over and it felt like a summer day on the Oregon coast.  These reminders of the Pacific Northwest made me want to call on ocean flavors: smoked salmon, crunchy salt crystals, and the grassy headiness of fresh dill.
Food Blog February 2013-0621There are so many different methods for making bread that it’s a wonder anyone becomes a master at it.  This week I decided to try a process slightly more complex than Ruhlman’s basic boule, working with a recipe for French Boule from the Feburary 2009 issue of Cuisine at Home.  The process for this round loaf starts the night before, with a sticky, soggy, tasteless combination of flour, yeast and water called a poolish.  C@H tells us this came from the French pronunciation of “Polish,” from whom they learned this technique (19).  The long, slow fermentation time allows for plenty of yeast development and supposedly contributes a nuttier flavor to the end product.  It is supposed to look like pancake batter, and when you pull it out the following morning and add more water, it is supposed to be very thin.  Mine was, when I put it in the fridge for its overnight chill session, more like the texture of silly putty.  When I added water the following morning, it refused to combine evenly, its sticky strands getting soggier and stickier at the same time.  I was skeptical about this, but followed procedure anyway, and once it had been kneaded aggressively into my dough it didn’t seem to matter.
With the starter crises resolved, I considered flavorings.  Thanks to the overcast coastal feeling of our afternoons and a recent episode of Top Chef, dill sprang to mind as the most logical choice.  It would pair perfectly with our dinner: gemelli pasta draped with smoked salmon and vodka cream sauce.  Black pepper sounded like a nice foil for the dill – pungent and dry where the dill was fresh and mild.  I sprinkled them onto the flattened dough, then rolled the whole thing up into a long tube and kneaded through before letting it rise.  You could certainly add other flavor combos – kalamata olives and cloves of roasted garlic sound incredible – and gently roll and then knead them through the dough.

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The usual procedure followed: rise, shape, rise again, and prepare for baking.  Olive oil, mustard seeds, and a good sprinkle of coarse salt seemed like the right things to add.
This time, instead of using a Dutch oven, I opted for my cast iron pan.  I was nervous about the bread sticking, which is probably silly, but what can I say?  I’ve lost several chunks of flatbread to that pan because I get anxious and rush the cooking process, so I took out some insurance and settled my loaf onto a layer of parchment paper sandwiched between it and the surface of the pan.
My recipe called for a heavy misting of water over the bread and into the inside of my preheated oven.  I didn’t have a spray bottle on hand with which to mist, so I just flicked droplets in with the tips of my fingers.  The sizzle was tremendous, but seemed to work well.  The resulting loaf was not as big as my first boule attempt, but it was lighter and not overbrowned on the bottom.  The crust was thin but crisp, and we loved the flavor combination.  The mustard didn’t do much besides providing a fun crunchy-pop texture on the edges, but the dill and black pepper were the right contrast of fresh and sharp and incredibly aromatic.  We each took a slice to eat in the car on the way to a soccer game at my husband’s school – had to make sure it was suitable for dinner, after all.  We ate thick slices with our pasta, running them around our plates to pick up every drop of sauce.  We ate more the next day, spread with salted butter, and were surprised and saddened the following morning to find that the loaf was nearly gone.  Dreaming of this bread again, I could see it toasted lightly, smeared with artisan goat cheese and topped with a luscious slice of smoked salmon: the Oregon coast in one bite.
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Dill and Black Pepper Boule
(adapted from Cuisine at Home, February 2009)
For the poolish starter:
1¼ cups bread flour
¾ cup room-temperature water
¼ tsp yeast (I used active dry yeast)
Rehydrate the yeast by combining it in a small dish with 1 TB of the water you’ll be using for the starter.  Let it sit for a few minutes.
Combine the flour, water, and yeast mixture in a bowl or a large measuring cup.  Stir well; the mixture should come together into a texture somewhere between pancake batter and silly putty.
Cover your mixture with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours, then move to the refrigerator and leave it alone overnight.
The next day, take it out about an hour before you intend to start, so it can return to room temperature and the yeast can wake up a little.
For the bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour (I’m not sure what the advantage is of combining bread flour and AP flour here, but I followed the directions anyway…)
1½ tsp salt
½ tsp yeast
½ cup room temperature water
Poolish starter
2 TB chopped fresh dill
½ tsp (or to taste) fresh ground black pepper
1 TB mustard seeds
1 TB coarse salt
Olive oil for drizzling
Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and use it to combine the flour and salt (you could likely add the dill and pepper here too).
Rehydrate the yeast with 1 TB of the ½ cup water.  Add the remaining water to the room temperature poolish starter and combine.  Mine did not become very thin, as my recipe said.  In fact, mine refused to combine particularly well (read: at all) with the poolish, but it seemed to work out just fine anyway.
Add rehydrated yeast and poolish mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with paddle attachment until the whole mess comes together a bit.  It will be quite sticky.
Scrape sticky mass of just-barely-dough onto a well-floured board and work it with a bench scraper, adding more flour in small sprinkles until some of the stickiness abates and it seems like it could be worked by hand.
At this point, let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes.  The recipe suggests turning a bowl over it (I presume to prohibit drafts), but I think draping on a clean, dry kitchen towel would work just as well.
After the dough has rested, it’s time to knead.  You can do this by hand for 10-15 minutes, or in a stand mixer with the dough hook for 8-10 minutes, until it passes the windowpane test.
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When the dough is smooth, elastic, and stretchy enough to pass the test, if you haven’t added your flavor extras already, flop it onto a floured board and push, pull, or roll out into a rectangle.  Sprinkle on the toppings, then roll up lengthwise and knead together until the dill and pepper are distributed; you’ll be able to see green and black flecks throughout.  I don’t think it matters much when you add something finely chopped like dill, but if you are using a more delicate addition like olives or even sundried tomatoes, be sure to add it this way so it doesn’t get bashed up during the kneading.

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Set the dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise for an hour in a warm, draft-free place (like a briefly heated, then switched off oven).  It should double in size.
Once the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and shape it into a boule by spinning it away from you with one hand and tucking the dough under with the other.  Let it rise for another hour.
While the dough rises, preheat your oven to 475F and put a cast iron skillet inside (mine is a 9” skillet).  If you are worried about the loaf sticking or getting too brown, prep a piece of parchment paper by cutting or tearing it to cover the bottom and sides of the skillet (don’t be too fussy about this – mine was a square that protruded above the sides of the pan and it was just fine).

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Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper, then pull the skillet out from the oven and set the loaf – on parchment paper if you are using it – into the center.  Slash the top, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with mustard seeds and salt.  Using the tips of your fingers or a spray bottle, mist or dribble the top of the loaf with water.
Place the laden skillet back into the oven, spritz the inside of the oven with ten flicks or so of water, and shut the door.  Wait 30 seconds and repeat the spritzing process.
Reduce heat to 450F and bake for ten minutes.
Reduce heat to 425F and bake for ten more minutes.
Finally, reduce the heat to 375F and bake another twenty minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 45 minutes before slicing and devouring.

Food Blog February 2013-0619

Lemon Ginger Shortbread with Hazelnut “Crust”

Inspired by numerous sources, but mostly the deep golden orbs on my backyard lemon tree and a winter-blues-banishing post from Hannah at Inherit the Spoon, this post had to be about shortbread.  This is a cookie of the most basic sort, crisp and sandy, with only the three essentials: flour, butter, and sugar.  No leavening to worry about, no eggs to tussle with (incidentally, do you know how hard it is to crack eggs without making a mess when you’ve sliced the tip of your thumb and  it’s therefore awkwardly bandaged?), just the base, the sweetener, and the fat.
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These are, as Ruhlman points out in Ratio, an “adult” sort of cookie.  Dry, unadorned, plain, but equally ideal for a dunk in tea or chocolate ganache, and amenable to all sorts of attempts to “play dress-up,” which makes them  not just easy and tasty, but suitable for kids-at-heart.
Recently I’ve become obsessed with the combination of lemon and ginger.  Hannah’s citrus shortbread and my tree with its laboring, weighty boughs all but begged me to try this combination.  When a quick web search turned up only recipes featuring one or the other, I knew I had to insist on their marriage in my version.

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Then insanity struck.  I got the ridiculous notion that I wanted to create a hazelnut “crust” for these cookies.  Yes, that’s right, I decided to add a crust to a cookie that is commonly used itself as a crust.  I’m not sure where this idea came from, although if I must place blame it’s going to be on my sister, who commented at Thanksgiving that I should pursue the lemon-ginger-hazelnut flavor combo because it sounded so outstanding.  So really, R., these are for you.
Food Blog February 2013-0484I scoured multiple recipes to put this dough together, checking the likes of Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Paula Deen (who I was surprised doesn’t have more sweet versions), and of course Deb Perelman.  But with the exception of a few technique ideas, I came back to Ruhlman’s basic 1-2-3 cookie dough as my backbone (1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour).
The butter, I decided, needed to be browned (another recent obsession).  This would add depth and nuttiness in case the crazy hazelnut idea didn’t work out.  The ginger would be candied and minced into a sticky pile, and the lemon would be zested into mild spritzy confetti.  This made for a dough that, while delicious, was perhaps not the easiest to work with – I refrigerated it too long and was then impatient to roll it out, so there were cracks.  I rolled it quite thin, which made the cracking worse, and created a painfully delicate cookie.  The chunks of ginger, too sticky to mince very finely, stood up like carbuncles through the buttery dough and made slicing difficult.

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The hazelnuts I pulverized in the food processor with some ground ginger (in case the candied chunks didn’t come through) and a healthy sprinkling of turbinado sugar.  Faced with a bread board of delicate cookies on one side and a pie plate full of hazelnut crumbs on the other, I almost opted to forget the whole “crust” idea altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.  You can transfer crumbs to cookie in a number of ways, including pressing the cookie into the crumbs, which I don’t recommend  (they adhere only reluctantly and the raw dough tends to break), or mounding crumbs on top of the cookies and pressing them in with a rolling pin, which I do recommend.  Then you can gently lift the cookie and flip it quickly and firmly onto a parchment lined baking sheet so the hazelnut layer is on the bottom.  The crumbs will try to scatter.  Don’t let them!  Press the cookie down lightly but firmly back into the crumbs, and they will adhere as they bake.
When they came out of the oven, they were too soft to move.  They needed a good five minutes alone on their baking sheet, undisturbed, to cool and crisp.  But once crisp, they were perfectly sandy and satisfying, tasting of – I can’t think of a better description – powdered butter.  At first I couldn’t detect the ginger or lemon, aside from the now chewy bits of candy distributed through the dough, but a day later, and then two days later, the more delicate flavors started to shine past the overwhelming richness of the brown butter.  The hazelnuts, with their earthy crunch, were perfect the whole time.  You could probably mix the nut crumbs in with the rest of the ingredients and save yourself a bit of time and frustration, but I loved the way they looked as a crisp layer on the bottom.  Cookies with their own crust.  Glorious.  My sister got to taste them during an unexpected visit, and pronounced them delicious.  The lemon-ginger-hazelnut trifecta is a triumph.  And the leftover ginger-spiked hazelnut crumbs make an excellent topping for oatmeal.
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Lemon Ginger Shortbread with Hazelnut “Crust”
8 oz. butter (1 cup, or 2 sticks)
4 oz. sugar (1/2 cup + 1 TB)
12 oz. flour (2 – 2½ cups)
½ cup chopped candied ginger
Rind from 1 lemon, finely chopped (some pith is okay)  (about ¼ cup)
1 cup hazelnuts
1 TB ground ginger
2 TB raw sugar, like turbinado or demerrara
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, swirling gently on occasion, over medium to medium-low heat.  Once melted, the butter will foam up, then clear slightly, and then the magic: the solids will sink to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown slightly.  At this point, turn off the heat.  You want this beautiful browning, but you don’t want those solids to burn.  There is only a small window between browning and burning, so watch carefully as the butter reaches this stage.
Pour the melted butter and browned bits (which you may have to scrape off the bottom of the pan) into the bowl you will use to make the cookies.  I used my stand mixer bowl.  Stow it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes, or until the butter gets sludgy.

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When the butter has solidified a bit, pull it back out and add the sugar, then cream (or goo) well until everything is incorporated and has become a beautiful flecked mixture the rough consistency of frosting.
Add the flour and mix until crumbly.

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Add the lemon zest and the ginger and mix again.  First the dough will become large crumbs, then come together into something more like wet sand.  This takes a minute or two.  If it isn’t coming together right away, don’t worry.  The wet sugar and butter mixture needs some time to moisten the flour.

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Once the dough is the consistency of wet, packable sand, dump it out of the bowl onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap to help you, shape the dough into a rectangle of 5×8 inches or so, wrap up securely, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

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While the dough chills, pulverize the hazelnuts, ground ginger, and raw sugar crystals in a food processor (or chop finely with a sharp knife) until some of the hazelnuts are reduced to powder and some remain in very small bits.  Don’t overprocess – you don’t want this to turn into nut butter.  Stop before it becomes moist.
When your dough has had a chance to chill, unwrap it onto a floured board and roll or press out to about ¼ inch thick.  This takes a bit of patience, especially if you, like me, let it chill for too long and try to roll it out before it’s ready.  Cold rolling results in cracking.  Just relax, let the dough warm up a tiny bit, and roll gently with a floured rolling pin, patching cracks as you go.  This would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 350F.

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Once you’ve achieved even thickness (minus the odd tall chunk of ginger), use a pizza cutter to trim off uneven edges, and slice the remaining rectangle into smaller rectangles the size of your choosing.  Mine were probably about 1×3 inches, which seemed like a nice sized cookie.
Now it’s time to add the hazelnut crust.  As noted above, you can do this in a number of ways.  You can, if you wish, lift the cookies, place them into a dish of crumbs, and press down, hoping for adherence without breaking the cookie itself.  This method requires almost excruciating gentleness.  You can also press handfuls of the hazelnut crumbs down on top of the cookies on the board, applying firm but gentle pressure, and then lift the cookies one at a time and invert them onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  As you flip, some of the hazelnut crumbs will loosen.  That’s okay.  Just get your cookie settled on the baking sheet and then press down again gently but firmly to re-stick the crumbs.  They will adhere better as they bake.

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Once you have a full baking sheet (mine each fit 15-18 cookies in various arrangements), pierce the cookies gently with a fork to achieve that pricked look so popular in shortbread, and bake for 18 minutes.  The cookies will become lightly golden all over, and the hazelnut crumbs will darken and get a bit toasty.

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At 18 minutes, take them out of the oven, set the baking sheet on a cooking rack, and walk away.  The cookies need 4-5 minutes to set before you try to move them.  They are much too soft at their moment of emergence to transport intact.  As they cool, they will deflate and crisp up a bit, and you can move them to a cooling rack or a marble countertop or surface of your choice.

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You can certainly eat these warm, but I liked them better completely cooled.  In fact, I liked them better the next day, once the flavors had melded and developed.

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Stored in an airtight container, these keep deliciously for over a week.  They even, wrapped carefully, stay crisp and fresh through the mail.
This recipe probably made about 3 dozen cookies, and could have made more if I had eaten less of the dough scraps.  I, alas, didn’t make a count before I started sampling, which is always a tasty, tasty mistake.

Go-To Dough 1

Grading weeks are always busy.  This week my students turned in a paper examining local Farmers’ Markets, questioning this business model’s relationship to sustainability, and assessing whether, in practice, it seems to meet its own perceived goals.  They talked to vendors, they talked to shoppers, they peered at and smelled and tasted local fruit, and they shared their experiences during class.  And now I have to grade their work.  It seemed like a good idea, as I contemplated sitting down with a pen in hand and my editor glasses on, to have the smell of fresh bread in the background.

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Bread is, if you’ll excuse my torturing a metaphor for a moment here, a bit like how writing a paper should be.  You poke around a bit at your idea to see if it is viable – this is the yeast proofing stage.  You mix together your ingredients: idea, observations, quotes and facts from outside sources, and then you work and work and work your thoughts.  You knead them together until they are smooth but still elastic: one of the great and the frustrating things about writing is that you’ve got to be willing to see room for change in your product, always.  Your ideas need to stretch and flex as you read and understand more, or your work will never be as deep or sophisticated as you want it to.

And then, like dough, you have to let it rest.  You have to be patient, and plan ahead enough that your little work in progress has time to sit and develop.  When you return to it, hours or days later, if you’re lucky your perception of it will have shifted.  This gives you fresh perspective and lets you see what new avenues could be pursued, or what new angles need examining.  And so you work with it again, reshaping and adjusting, pulling and folding.  And then you let it rest again.

When it’s finally ready to submit, kneaded, shaped, risen, baked, you’ve spent time on this project.  It is yours.  Your voice rings out, your thoughts are fully developed, and the flavor is something original and pure.

Things don’t always happen that way, especially in college.  There’s not enough time or the ideas don’t flow or the method isn’t perfect.  But they don’t always happen for bread either.  You have to have patience and time, and you have to know how to work with your materials.

I wanted to a go-to recipe – a standard to work with.  I can play with additions and flavors and quantities all I want, but to become a good bread baker I think I need to solidify my technique.  So I’m auditioning basic recipes.  This week I decided to go with Ruhlman’s ratio for a boule, one of the most basic-sounding in his book.  But because I can’t leave well enough alone, I added some honey for the yeast to gobble, and some crushed dried rosemary for a little wake-up in flavor.  I also, at his suggestion, baked my loaf in a dutch oven (well, my non-stick 5 qt. version of a dutch oven – I suspect the original or enameled cast iron incarnation would be far superior), which made good sense.  It’s exactly the right shape, and having walls to hold in the diameter probably makes the resulting loaf climb a little higher.

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But somewhere in the mix things went awry.  My loaf, though it was beautifully golden and crusty on top, got a little dark on the bottom.  I suspect the non-stick cookware along with the layer of olive oil I doused on anyway had something to do with this.

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Once the unfortunate burnished bottom was removed, this loaf was delicious.  It was crusty and chewy, though a little bit dense, and a very welcome accompaniment to pasta.  It sops up alfredo sauce like a champ.  It also worked well as leftovers, toasting up beautifully and offering no resistance to my demands that it be slathered in butter, drizzled with honey and then sprinkled with lemon zest.

It wasn’t perfect, but if I can figure out the singed bottom problem, this loaf would certainly be in the running for a go-to dough recipe.

Basic Boule, adapted slightly from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio

12 oz. warm water

1 tsp active dry yeast

2 tsp honey

(I might add a few tablespoons of olive oil for additional flavor and fat, but I haven’t tried this yet)

4 cups flour (or 20 oz., if you’re doing this properly)

2 tsp salt

2 tsp dried crushed rosemary

Combine the water, yeast, and honey in a small bowl or measuring cup and set aside for 5 minutes or so.  This is the proofing stage.  The yeast comes out of hibernation and starts to foam and smell beer-y.  Supposedly it likes the extra hit of sugar to chomp on, and I thought the honey might be a welcome background flavor.  It’s not necessary, but it’s nice.

While the yeast is waking up, combine the flour, salt, and rosemary in a medium bowl.  I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment.

With the paddle attachment still in place, pour in your yeasted water mixture and run the mixer on low speed just until things start to come together.

Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and let the mixer do its thing for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, elastic, and passes the windowpane test.  I kept mine on a medium-low speed, because my dough kept poking up above the edge of the bowl, and I was afraid of it escaping and rampaging the counter, blob-style, if I increased the speed.  If you are kneading by hand, this will take at least 10 minutes.

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Once the dough has undergone this change in character, becoming a smooth ball with the barest remnant of stickiness, move it to a lightly oiled bowl and stow it in a warm, draft-free place for an hour.  I like to set my oven at 200F for five minutes, then turn it off and wait five minutes before putting the dough inside with a clean kitchen towel draped over the bowl.

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After an hour, check the dough – it should have doubled or be close to doubling in size.  When it has doubled, remove it from its bowl and punch it down gently on a floured board.  I’m coming to realize that “punching down” is more like “softly press your fist into the dough, which will deflate like a feather pillow as the gas releases from inside it.”  It’s like the punch you give a friend you’re pretending to pummel, where the action begins quickly but ends with a relaxed push against his shoulder.

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Let the dough rest for a few minutes, as if to get its strength back.

Shape the dough into a round.  Ruhlman explains this procedure as “pushing the dough back and forth on the counter in a circular motion until you have a round, smooth ball” (10).  I tried this, unsure of exactly what I was doing, but really my dough was in almost the right shape already so I decided to leave well enough alone.

Oil the bottom of a dutch oven and pop the ball of dough inside.  Cover it with a towel and let it rise for another hour.  Depending on the size of your dutch oven (mine is a 5 qt.), your dough will expand to cover the bottom of the pot and maybe even begin to push its way up the sides.

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When it has risen again, carefully score the domed top of the bread with a very sharp knife, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse or flaky salt.  I used Maldon.

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Place in a preheated 450F oven with the lid on for 30 minutes.  This holds in some water vapor and creates a crisper crust.  Remove the lid and continue baking for about 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200F.  The loaf will slip easily out of the pot and the bottom will sound hollow when you tap an inquisitive knuckle against it.

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Let cool at least until it is comfortable to handle, then slice and serve as desired.

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This is best on the day it is made, but it makes very good toast a day or two later.