Girl Versus Dough

Round Twenty — Olive Oil Flatbread

Olive Oil Flatbread

Disclaimer: These photos are lacking in the zeal of my past posts’ photos. Why, you ask? Because, unabashedly, my mother took her lovely camera (that I borrow for my photo-taking, for I am too lowly and poor to afford such an expensive item) on vacation with her, to Saint Maarten (or Saint Martin, if you’re on the French side as opposed to the Dutch… in case you wanted to know). The nerve. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the experience of reading about this bread, and maybe the tasteless photos will assist in improving your use of the imagination. Always look on the bright side of life!

I was going to bore you with another “Sifted Words” post on an article I recently read in The New York Times’ “The Minimalist” by Mark Bittman, but when I really dove into his article/recipe on Olive Oil Matzo and realized it takes only THIRTY minutes from start to finish, I decided to instead make the darn bread instead of wasting my time writing about it, which would probably take longer. And if I keep talking about why I made this bread in the first place, I may waste more of your time than you would actually making this bread. So here we go. It’s quite ironic, actually, that I discovered and decided to bake this particular bread. Bittman mentions in his article that the origin of matzo (or, “unleavened”) bread is from way back in the day when the Jews were forced to flee from Egypt after Passover. In their haste they had no time to let their bread rise: thus, matzo bread. He digresses, however, that their bread was not so good. This recipe is worlds away from the original unleavened bread — salty and crispy, with the slightest olive oily taste. It’s also known as “carta musica,” or sheet music, for its incredible thinness. But the reason it is so ironic that I happened upon this recipe is because, in a few short days, the husband and I are embarking on our own journey across the land. Of course, there’s no fleeing involved for us, and we’re not traveling across continents (really just from Illinois to Iowa), but still, it’s a metaphor. At least in the sense that, amid packing and preparing to move, I’ve not much time to bake bread, let alone eat it. So a quick and tasty recipe like this is perfect for times when bread is necessary, but time is short. Very short.

The process is as simple as the list of ingredients, which I’m sure you already have in the house (don’t you just love it when that happens?). The only difference I encountered with my experience versus Bittman’s was the length of time the bread needed to bake in the oven. While he suggests a mere three minutes, mine took about 6-8 minutes for both sides. As sensitive as this bread is to bake, I’m sure it’s different for every oven, so baby the bread as much as possible by watching it constantly until the edges are just about to burn. Then that’s it. You’re done. Now, time to flee.

A side note: It may be some time before I am able to post another yummy recipe for all of you to enjoy, and for this I am eternally sorry. You can blame Iowa for purchasing our souls and beckoning us to move to its greener pastures on such short notice. And, once you are done blaming Iowa, I’m sure enough time will have gone by that you can check back here again and voila! A new post will appear before you.

Debrief: This flatbread is deliciously crispy and multidimensional in taste all on its own, but a little hummus and capers don’t hurt, adding a little oomph to your unleavened snack.

Olive Oil Flatbread Courtesy of The Minimalist (of The New York Times)

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients: 2 cups flour 1/2 tsp salt 1/3 cup olive oil 1/2 cup water sea salt for sprinkling (optional) Directions: Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Combine flour and salt in food processor. Combine olive oil and water in small bowl, whisking them together into a “vinaigrette”-like substance. While running the food processor, add olive oil and water mixture to the flour mixture slowly. Run the food processor until all ingredients combine into a firm dough ball. Remove dough from food processor and knead slightly into a ball. Cut ball in half, then in smaller pieces, until you have 12 small pieces of dough. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each piece on a well-floured surface into a 3-4 inch patty. Roll out with rolling pin into a 6-8 inch circle. Make sure it is very, very thin (you should be able to see your fingers on the other side when looking through the dough with light behind it). Place thin circles on ungreased cookie sheets and sprinkle with sea salt if desired. Bake circles for 2 minutes on one side and one minute on the other (for me, this was give or take 3-4 minutes on each side; just keep a very close watch on the dough until it is thisclose to burning, then remove from the oven). Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Extra punches: As I’ve mentioned twice before, and will do so again — WATCH THE BREAD. Seriously. Sit on the floor (pillow is optional), look through the glass and watch the bread bubble and brown, because there are crucial seconds between that necessary browning and irreversible burning.

Round Nineteen — Braided Pesto Bread

Braided Pesto Bread

Sometimes, when my husband and I go for really long walks (especially on days like today when it’s 63 degrees and sunny outside, and we need to take advantage of it because, oddly enough, it will be SNOWING tomorrow… c’mon, really?), we like to point out houses or parts of houses that we want ours to look like when we have a home of our own. I’ll point out how I want a three-season room like that one over there, and he’ll mention how he likes the sage color of the siding on the one right here… you get the idea. It’s a fun little game we play, and though the actual house we’ll (hopefully) own in the future will probably look nothing like anything we’ve discovered over the past year, I do know the inside of it will house me, the people that I love… and this bread. Let me tell you, this bread is to. die. for. It’s a subtle combination of heavy ingredients swirled in faint lines along a pillowy expanse of warm, airy fluff. It’s very pretty, too, and extremely simple to make. I found it while visiting another bread blog I quite enjoy reading. We didn’t have any leftover pesto sitting around in the fridge like the blogger did, but this recipe makes up for the trouble it took to grab a bottle of pesto and a chunk of parmesan from the grocery store. Back-breaking work, I tell you. It does get a little dicey when you come across the words, “pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes.” At first, I stood there with my batter-y dough, wondering, “Now how is this liquid mass going to congeal into a kneadable shape once I POUR it onto my counter? This is silly.” But I took the plunge, and yes, it is very, very messy at first. But, as you can see from the pictures, with a little fearlessness and a lot of (constant) loving/maneuvering, the “pouring” becomes “kneading” indeed.

This recipe is not for the uber-clean, obsessive compulsive types. Or it is (because I am), but only after you think about how delicious a loaf will be when infused with crushed basil, olive oil, pine nuts and creamy grated parmesan cheese. Some suggest it goes well with tomato soup, but I found it just as tasty with, well, anything that was on my dinner plate that night. And I’m sure it will taste just as good when I make for my family, at my dinner table, in my house. Sigh… someday.

Debrief: The braiding technique takes some practice to perfect, but the nice thing about this loaf is a little imperfection adds only character and takes nothing away. Pesto Bread Courtesy of The Knead For Bread

Makes two loaves

Dough: 2 cups warm water 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup skim milk powder 1 tablespoon salt 1 tablespoon instant yeast 5 -5 1/2 cups bread flour

Filling: 2/3 cup pesto 1 cup grated Parmesan

Directions: In a large bowl combine the water, olive oil, sugar, skim milk powder, salt and instant yeast. Mix till well blended. Add in a cup of flour and beat with a wooden spoon till smooth. Add in another cup of flour and do the same. Now, sprinkle a half cup of flour onto a flat surface and pour out the dough on top. Begin to knead and slowly add in more flour till the dough no longer sticks to the table. Knead for about 8 – 10 minutes. Add a little olive oil into a large bowl ( about a tablespoon ). Place dough into the bowl and turn over a few times to lightly coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for an hour or till double in bulk. Pour out the dough onto a very lightly floured surface. Cut in half. Using your fingers flatten out one of the pieces. Roll out to a 9 x 14 rectangle. Spread half the pesto and 1/4 of a cup Parmesan on top. Bring in the side by a half inch and then roll the dough like a jelly roll. Pinch the seam closed. Take a sharp knife and cut down the center length wise. Open the jelly roll exposing the inside of the roll.Take the two cut pieces and braid them together with the cut side always facing up. Place the bread into a greased 4 1/2 X 8 inch loaf pan. Now, repeat this whole process with the second piece of dough. Then cover both loaves with plastic wrap and allow to rest for an hour or till double in bulk. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining Parmesan cheese and place into a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 – 35 minutes. Check the bread about 10 minutes before they are finished to see if you need to cover with tin foil if they are getting to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Extra punches: Make sure the yeast you have is at room temperature before using it (if you store it in the refrigerator). I make this mistake ALL the time and I think it’s why my dough takes almost twice as long to rise.

Knockout Gear — yeast spoon

Yeast Spoon

A good chunk of the useful devices I own in my bread-baking kitchen collection were gifted to me by my lovely sister-in-law and fellow blogger, Natalie. Using her extensive background of baking knowledge, she was kind enough to bestow upon me several baking-related gifts for Christmas. I am now the beneficiary of artisan seed topping from King Arthur Flour; a pretty wooden scoop; and this.

No, it’s not a simple tablespoon or teaspoon. It’s 2 1/4 teaspoons, to be exact, the proper measurement of yeast for a typical loaf if you aren’t using the pre-measured packages. For those like me who bake a lot of bread, it’s easiest to buy yeast in bulk containers and measure them out per recipe. Until December, I was naive and dimwitted; now, thanks to this yeast spoon, I worry not about correct measurements for my loaves.

“Where can I get one of these?” you may ask. Many specialty baking/cooking stores, like King Arthur Flour, have them, and they’re far from expensive and yet so very handy. Though it hardly ever appears as the star player, it’s certainly an integral part of the team. It’s as useful to a bread baker as a casserole dish is to a Minnesotan. Sorry — “hot dish.” Look for appearances here, and here.

Round Eighteen — Easy Buttermilk Pot Bread

Buttermilk Pot Bread

I would just like to note that it’s breads like these that make me wish it was sunny all the time. I understand nighttime is of supreme importance as well, but when I have a bread recipe that spans over a 24-hour period, is it too much to ask for a little sunshine from, oh, 8 a.m. to about 4 p.m.? Please?

With that said, I humbly apologize for the erratic lighting in these photos, as at one point it was nighttime, the next a very dismal, rainy morning, and finally (FINALLY) a sunny afternoon.

Nevertheless, the end result of this particular journey was delectable — buttery, dense, soft, crusty-crust good. And I suppose that’s all that truly matters. I found this recipe in the February 2010 issue of “Vegetarian Times” that my husband, Elliott, snagged on a recent stealth operation to the library. I say this because, you see, he has taken to the library quite well, and since his discovery of the building which houses books for borrowing, he acts as if he’s never read a book in his life. He will leave the house, and return hours later with dozens of magazines, movies and novels of all shapes, sizes and topics and, like a child in a candy store, will devour them all within several days. He’s a nerd like that (a very lovable nerd, of course). Sometimes I benefit from his love of reading, like in this instance when I happened upon an article for “No-Knead Breads.” (OK, I’m not going to lie, he found it first and told me about it — but let not that undermine my excitement!) I was wowed by the statement that no-knead breads existed well before breads requiring kneading did. It wasn’t until bakers noticed that toying with the dough sped up the process of gluten development (and, therefore, the finished product) that kneading came into the bread baking world. But enough about that — if you want to know more, read about it here.

Unfortunately, what this bread saves in kneading it makes up for in stirring — it’s no picnic stirring a very sticky, stubborn dough. It does save your hands from getting messy, though, and there are no fancy steps to making this bread in any part of the process. You don’t even have to shape the loaf, as the pot does it for you — just plop in the dough, shake it around a bit, top with salt and a carved-out X, and let it bake for an hour. The hardest part of the recipe, apart from the muscle-building stirring, was finding powdered buttermilk. I substituted nonfat dry milk I already had in my cabinet, and as far as I could taste, the bread wasn’t lacking for not having buttermilk. There’s butter in the recipe anyway, right?

All in all, this hefty loaf was a crowd-pleaser, with a tough crust and a soft interior and, so says my mother, it’s delicious with balsamic vinegar oil. Whatever that is.

Debrief: Maybe next time I’ll make more of an effort to find powdered buttermilk, just to see if there really is a difference in taste. And a smaller Dutch oven than the one I used makes a taller loaf if that’s your thing, but for me, the bread’s taste is all that I really care about.

Easy Buttermilk Pot Bread courtesy of “Vegetarian Times” (recipe adapted from “Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads“)

Makes 1 loaf (12 wedges)

4 1/2 cups unbleached white bread flour or unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more as necessary, divided 2 tbsp sugar 1 3/4 tsp salt 3/4 tsp rapid-rising, instant, or bread machine yeast 1/3 cup powdered buttermilk 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter 3/4 tsp coarse crystal salt for sprinkling, optional

Mix 2 cups water with 1 cup ice cubes in bowl. Combine 4 cups flours, sugar, salt and yeast in separate bowl. Vigorously stir 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp ice water into flour mixture. (Dough should be slightly stiff; stir in just enough additional flour to stiffen slightly, if necessary.) Brush dough top with vegetable oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 12 to 18 hours (first rise).

Vigorously stir powdered buttermilk and melted butter into dough, scraping down bowl sides. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup flour, plus more as necessary to yield stiff but still stirrable dough. Lift and fold dough toward center with spatula. Brush dough with vegetable oil, and cover with plastic wrap oiled on side facing dough.

Let dough rise 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours at room temperature (second rise). Second rise alternatives: let dough stand in turned-off microwave with 1 cup boiling water 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours for accelerated rise; for extended rise, refrigerate up to 24 hours, then set out at room temperature.

Place oven rack in lower third of oven, and preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Brush 4-qt. Dutch oven with oil, set on oven rack, and heat until sizzling hot. Transfer dough to Dutch oven. (Don’t worry if dough is lopsided and ragged-looking; it will even out during baking.) Brush top of dough with water, then sprinkle with coarse salt, if using. Slash large X in top of dough with knife or kitchen shears; cover pot, and shake to center dough.

Lower oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Bake bread 50 to 55 minutes. If loaf is browned, leave lid on; if not, remove lid. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more, or until skewer inserted in thickest part of loaf comes out with just a few particles. Bake 5 to 10 minutes more. Cool 15 minutes in pan; unmold, and cool on wire rack.

Extra punches: According to the article, err on the side of overbaking with no-knead breads, as you want to ensure the inside is fully baked (especially with a tall loaf like this one).

Sifted Words — no-knead breads

I promise, a new recipe is on the rise! (I really stretched for that one, I know) While you continue to salivate, I thought I’d add in another little feature to my blog. This time I’m writing about someone else’s writing, meaning I’m highlighting an article, link, post — whatever — that I found that has something to do with bread (and happens to be interesting… sometimes bread can be quite boring, and I promise to spare you the agony of those instances).

Elliott recently picked up the February issue of “Vegetarian Times” from the library, primarily to try new meat-free recipes for our dwindling diet. In the midst of recipes for “Roasted Vegetable Linguine With Torn Fresh Basil” and “Feta-stuffed Peppadews” was an article for no-knead breads. I was not only captivated by the delicious photos of several recipes for no-knead bread (which I won’t give away because I may or may not be baking one soon) but intrigued, also, by the quip that no-knead bread came along well before the breads we know today, which sometimes require a hefty dose of back-cracking kneading.

According to the article, aptly titled “No-Knead Breads,” “no-knead bread was how people made bread thousands of years ago — before they discovered that by pulling, beating, stretching, stirring or otherwise ‘kneading’ wheat doughs they could speed up the gluten-developing process.” Apparently, a 2006 recipe in the New York Times spurred a renewed interest in no-knead breads. Who knew?

So why did we choose to put more work into the process of baking bread if it was so much simpler in the first place? Impatience, perhaps? Understandable, but I’m much more attracted to the idea of saving my arms from becoming gelatinous if I have to wait an extra few hours for delicious bread.

Be on the lookout for a new recipe very soon, my friends. I promise I won’t let you down! In the meantime, check out some no-knead breads I’ve already posted.

Knockout Gear — bench scraper

bench scraper on table

I decided to incorporate a few informative posts in the resting period between recipes on my blog. I haven’t fully conjured up all my ideas as to what I’ll talk about when I’m not talking about a particular recipe, but for now, enjoy the experimentation and feel free to offer your own advice.

This “segment,” if you will, offers a little breakdown of specific materials/equipment I find immensely helpful when prepping a dough. If you don’t have the time/money/energy to buy these materials, your own two hands are always your best tool (unless you don’t have hands, in which case I suggest being an eater of bread rather than a baker… we all have our gifts).

This time I’m showcasing the bench scraper. Ah, yes, this delightful little tool, which looks like something you’d buy from a hardware store, is truly a gift from God in the realm of struggling with sticky dough. Fact: you will struggle with sticky dough from time to time. And though sprinkling more flour on a countertop suffices as a remedy for this ugly mess, the extra flour sometimes toughens the final product, and you risk losing that coveted softness of the bread you’re baking.

I’d been dreaming of a bench scraper for a time while I fought with gooey messes on my counter — and boy, did I fight. I managed to substitute the function of a bench scraper with metal pancake turners and other oddball kitchen items, but nothing was as sweet as the day when I received a bench scraper as a gift and so effortlessly scraped renegade dough from the counter. How glorious! So long, wasted dough; goodbye, sticky mess! I’d like to shake the hand of the individual who so ingeniously created this heavenly tool.

My bench scraper has made public appearances in past recipes (flaky lemon poppyseed scones, anyone?) and will continue to play the starring role as needed in the future!