Girl Versus Dough

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!

Round Seventeen — Flaky Lemon Poppyseed Scones

Lemon Poppyseed Scones

Top o’ the morning — er, evening! — to you!

Maybe the above statement is more Irish than British (or Scottish, the apparent host country of the scone), but nevertheless, I feel quite Western European after having noshed on a scone with a spot of tea. “Hmmm, tea, you say?” “Why, yes, it’s a lovely way to relax in the afternoon after a long day of linguistics in the library.” “You don’t say! May I try one, good madam?” “By jove, you may.” “Bloody hell, these are scrumptious! How ever do you make them?” Well, I’ll tell you, bloke. First, I must explain how I got on the scone track in the first place — my 12 (sometimes going on 30)-year-old brother, Matthew, had a school project in which he needed to demonstrate how to make something. He approached me with the idea of helping him make scones. I obliged, and so, together we concocted this recipe of the perfect flaky lemon poppyseed scone — plus, he now has a project, I now have a blog post. Jolly good! (OK, I promise I’m done sounding like Harry Potter.) Scones (properly pronounced “skawn,” as in gone, according to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible) are surprisingly simple to make. It’s really all about getting the dough — sticky and buttery and as heavy as an anvil — into a one-inch thick slab the size of a piece of paper, with straight edges to ensure the classic triangle shape. Apart from this turning and rolling and turning and rolling, etc., the rest of the process is easier than I expected. There’s no yeast, and therefore no need to wait for the dough to rise, and all it takes is 15 to 20 minutes in the oven before they’re done. The flakes of butter mixed in with dark, spherical poppyseeds and curly pieces of sun-yellow lemon zest make these substantial “tea cakes” a beautiful, as well as delicious, mid-afternoon treat (or breakfast). And, if you make them with someone you love, the process is just as good as the result.

Debrief: The original recipe calls for currants instead of the lemon poppyseed version we made, which I might try next time. Really, you could put anything you want in scones — apples and cinnamon, blueberries and lemons, dried cranberries or chocolate chips — the list goes on.

Flaky Scones courtesy of The Bread Bible

Makes 12 or 16 4-in-by-1 1/2-inch-high scones

Ingredients: 1 cup (8 oz.) cold unsalted butter 4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2 cup sugar 2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/4 tsp salt 2 liquid cups heavy cream 2 tbsp grated lemon zest* 3 tbsp poppyseeds*

*or, per the original recipe, omit poppyseeds and lemon zest and add 1 cup currants

Chill the butter. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes. Mix the dough. In a large bowl or electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, press the cubes into large flakes (Or use the electric mixer, mixing until the butter is the size of small walnuts). Stir in the cream just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps (at this point, my electric mixer went into overload and could barely stir the dough, so I had to use my hands to incorporate the ingredients). Stir in the lemon zest and poppyseeds (or whatever ingredient(s) you choose). Knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together, and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven rack at the middle level and set a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Shape the dough. Lightly flour the top of the dough (or use a floured pastry sleeve), and roll it out into a long rectangle 1 inch thick and about 8 inches by 12 inches; use a bench scraper to keep the edges even by smacking it up against the sides of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds, lightly flour the board again, and rotate the dough so that the closed side faces to the left. Roll it out again and repeat the “turn” 3 more times, refrigerating the dough, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes as necessary only if it begins to soften and stick. Roll out the dough once more. Trim the edges so that it will rise evenly. (To use the scraps, press them together and roll out, giving them 2 turns, then roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick square and cut into 2 triangles.) Cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 pieces, each about 4 inches by 12 inches. Cut each piece of dough into triangles with about a 3-inch-wide base and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. (The dough will rise but not expand sideways.) If the dough is soft, cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hour before baking. Bake the scones. Bake the scones one sheet at a time; cover the second sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you bake the first one, then bake the second pan directly from the refrigerator. Place the pan on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet and bake the scones for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the tops are a golden brown and firm enough so that they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a scone will read about 200 degrees F). Check the scones after 10 minutes of baking, and if they are not browning evenly, rotate the baking sheet from front to back. Do not overbake, as they continue baking slightly on removal from the oven and are best when slightly moist and soft inside. Cool the scones. Place two linen or cotton towels on two large racks and, using a pancake turner, lift the scones from the baking sheets and set them on top. Fold the towels over loosely and allow the scones to cool until warm or at room temperature. (Since linen or cotton “breathes,” the scones will have enough protection to keep from becoming dry and hard on the surface but will not become soggy.)

Round Sixteen — Organic Beer Bread

It’s a beautiful thing when healthy, tasty and quick-and-easy all come together to form a bread. Elliott happened upon this beer bread recipe while visiting the Planet Green Web site and, seeing as he loves all things organic, and beer, and organic beer, I was immediately informed of his find and was asked — nay, implored — to make this loaf on his behalf. It didn’t take much convincing — after all, the recipe calls for what? SIX ingredients? Most of which (with the exception of organic beer) were sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be used? Well, if you insist, dear husband, I think I can manage to lift these arms of mine and make you some bread in 30 minutes flat.

Truth is, it was harder to find the organic flour than it was to make this recipe. We found the beer (Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager) at our favorite local wine store (Wine Knows… so clever), but when it came to finding organic wheat flour and organic bread flour, it was a lost cause. We were dumbfounded and, quite frankly, disappointed by our misfortune. It’s been a tough go of this “food revolution” we’re on ’round these parts, but I guess you just have to move on. So I substituted the organic flours for the ones I already had stored on my counter. At first, I was mildly skeptical of the idea that the beer alone would do the job of causing the bread to rise, but apparently the yeast is inherently in the beer itself, which allows the dough to rise in the oven (and thus makes it a “quick bread”). I’ve seen it with my own eyes, too, because the batter was flat prior to going in the oven and, when the bread was done, it was fluffier and rounded on the top. Who knew?

I’m not sure how I feel about the consistency of the bread. As it is considered a quick bread, it’s quite dense and moist, almost like a banana bread. To some, this may be a turnoff, but I think it makes the bread more robust and refined. And, if you’re still wary, maybe knowing that the recipe only calls for 1 1/2 cups of beer, leaving the rest to disappear down your gullet at 10 a.m. on a Sunday (What? We didn’t do that…), may change your mind. Bottoms up, my friends.

Debrief: The downside to this recipe is the lack of a specific answer when it comes to how long the bread will take to bake. I put mine in for 15 minutes, then another 7, then another 5 before it passed the “doneness test” for quick breads (clean toothpick, etc.). Still, I think I was a little overzealous in taking the bread out of the oven, because the loaf was a tad sticky. This may just be a condition of its moistness. The upside to this recipe, however, was the Samuel Smith beer (a recommendation from the recipe’s site) — definitely a keeper. Organic Beer Bread Courtesy of Planet Green (Recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

1 cup organic whole wheat flour 1 cup organic bread flour 2 tsp baking powder ½ tsp baking soda ½ tsp sea salt 1 ½ cups organic beer

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. 2. Combine dry ingredients. 3. Add beer. 4. Fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. 5. Bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean. 6. Let cool in the pan placed on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack. Extra punches: I’ve learned from multiple sources that it’s best to use the lightest beer possible for this recipe as it adds to the yeasty, beer-y taste, whereas darker beers tend to leave the bread bitter. So save the Guinness for drinking and use a lighter lager for the bread.