Last Sunday, I spent four hours in the kitchen of Kendall College, attempting to master the ancient art of bread baking. In a modern way, of course. There was an industrial mixer at each work station, giant multitiered commercial ovens, and the most fascinating device of all: a proofer, a sort of anti-refrigerator with controlled humidity and warmth for more rapid bread rising. I got to wear a chef’s hat.
Hardly ancient was our technique, but we were making one of the oldest and most fundamental food stuffs, dating back to at least the Neolithic period. As soon as humans figured out how to use things as tools, we must have been experimenting with things to smash, mix, and throw in the fire. The word we use comes from Old English, but it’s slang now for the thing most generally life-sustaining in the modern world. That is, money. Clearly our relationship to bread hasn’t changed much over time.
For something that’s been so fundamental to society, I knew hardly anything about making it before taking this class. I’d never even attempted it before, unless you count pizza dough (more on that experiment, still underway, in another post), which I don’t.
As we speak, I’m smearing goat cheese and avocado on a fluffy hunk of sourdough that I made myself. I’m not sure why this is so amazing to me, but there definitely is something about being able to make our most basic sustenance that makes me feel both very masterful, and completely humbled. As one of the very first food products in existence, it is still simple, delicious, perfect. Why aren’t we all making our own bread? If you’re going to cook, really, don’t you need to know how to master the foundations that cuisines–and cultures–have been built on for millennia? And what are the basic elements of cooking if not dough, sauce, protein, vegetable?
So, yeah, breadbaking class got me pretty excited.
We made four different kinds of bread, but I’ll start today with the challah.
4 to 4 1/2 c. bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. room temperature water
2 egg yolks
1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for greasing
1/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 tbsp. cold milk)
poppy seeds are optional
Combine the flour and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer with a a dough hook. Add water, eggs, egg yolks, oil, sugar, and salt, and mix on low for 4 minutes. Increase to medium speed and knead for 4 minutes. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, turn it over to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
Place dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold gently, cover, and let rest until relaxed (20 minutes). Divide dough into 3 equal pieces, cover and let rest for 20 minutes (we skipped this step in class).
Working with one piece at a time, gently stretch the dough to a 6 x 10 inch piece using only enough flour to keep dough from sticking (not too much). Fold dough into thirds (like an accordian) making a 2 x 10 inch piece.
Seal edges with the force of your palm, and repeat with all three pieces.
Roll each piece into a tapered cylinder that is 12 inches long. Lay the three ropes parallel to one another. Begin braiding in the center and work toward the outside. Pinch the ends together and tuck under. Place braid on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
Brush the braid lightly with egg wash and let rise, uncovered for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush with egg wash again (and sprinkle poppy seeds if desired). Bake until a deep, golden brown color appears and it is shiny and lightweight, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool before serving. If you can wait that long.
Halloween has passed and that means it’s officially time to start talking turkey. Mmmmmmmmmm turkey. The Baketrix here presents you with an idea for a lovely turkey side dish–a tangy, savory twist on traditional cornbread.
Also, I hope you have voted or will vote today!
Oh Corn, sweet corn…
I have a love/hate relationship with corn–or, rather, the manufacturers of corn by-products. As a testament to a shocking article in National Geographic that found that Americans have more corn genes in their blood stream than those living in Mexico where corn is the main staple, I am drawn to corn. Especially when I’m sick, I need me some comfort food, and all I want is a bowl of chicken matzo ball soup and a huge hunk of cornbread. I used to be fan of Marie Callendar’s cornbread for it’s cake-like texture, smothered in their famous honey butter. However, I have evolved in my cornbread repertoire and have found this amazing recipe for a sweet and full-flavored cornbread.
I found it one turkey holiday celebration when I was assigned with the gigantic task of supplying the cornbread. Now, this was a huge responsibility, and if I didn’t get it right, well–it meant the ruining of a time-honored tradition of cornbread and turkey (growing up the cornbread was replaced by Japanese short grain rice = yummy). I decided to cover my bases and baked a savory and sweet bread. Here’s the recipe I found and is now a favorite.
Corn Bread with Fennel Seeds, Dried Cranberries, and Golden Raisins
Adapted from Gourmet November 2001–I made slight changes in the mixing, so for unaltered recipe look for it online.
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (substitute white whole wheat for healthier choice)
2/3 c. yellow cornmeal (not coarse)
1/3 c. sugar (substitute evaporated cane sugar for healthier choice)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk (for the lactose intolerant, substitute with almond milk and add vinegar – for every 1/2 c. of buttermilk, use 1 1/2 tsp. distilled white vinegar)
1/2 c. golden raisins, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. fennel seeds, coarsely crushed with mortar and pestle or pulsed in an electric coffee/spice grinder (I ran out and tried substituting with caraway seeds, which gave it a more savory and less sweet flavor)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a square baking pan with butter and lightly coat with flour or cornmeal.
Whisk together butter, eggs and buttermilk in large bowl. Using a strainer, sift and stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking power, baking soda, and salt. Add dry mix to the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Stir in raisins, cranberries and fennel seeds.
Pour into pan, bake until top is pale golden and tester comes out clean–I find 25-30 minutes to be the right amount in my oven. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then invert to cool completely…I usually can’t wait and just take a piping hot piece at that point! Someone’s got to test it to make sure it’s edible and can be shared with friends, right?!
As someone who is generally content with just ice and liquor for my imbibing needs, I had no idea the extent of cocktail possibilities until I met Melissa Gill. Whatever the occasion, she always has the perfect cocktail pairing in mind. She brought hurricanes to Sara’s Mardi Gras party (naturally), French 75s to Thanksgiving, and made old fashioneds to help us pack for her move to Seattle. I’m so impressed by her mixology skills that I’ve asked her to be my roving cocktail reporter, which, graciously, she’s agreed to do. So, I’d now like to introduce a new occasional column by this mixologist with the mostest called Gill-ty Pleasures. The column will be an account of her adventures in booze and her reports from the front lines: new drinks; perfected recipes for traditional ones; food and booze pairing ideas. For her first feature, we did a Pimm’s Cup taste-off together. I was happy to help. In the name of research.
“It’s Pimm’s O’Clock!”
After traveling to Dubai last December to visit my Dad, Pimm’s Cups have become a recent obsession of mine. Dubai has a large population of English expatriates, so there is an influx of British cuisine and drinks. I haven’t seen the cocktail much around my favorite haunts in Chicago, so Kate and I decided to have a Pimm’s Cup evening.
Pimm’s falls under the fruit cup cocktail category, an English drink that is most often gin-based. Typically, the base alcohol is flavored with fruits, herbs, and spices, which also help to reduce the alcohol strength. Often, the liquor is mixed with a soft-drink and various fruits, such as strawberries, apples, oranges, and even cucumbers. Although Pimm’s No. 1 is gin based, there are actually a variety Pimm’s based with vodka, rum, brandy, and whiskey. Most have been phased out of production.
When I started researching recipes, I noticed not only the prevalence of recipes, but a wide variety of ingredients of each. The recipes seemed to fall into two categories, those with Pimm’s and an added sweetener, and those that include an additional liquor, such a gin or vodka. We selected three recipes and sampled each. Although they were all quite good, there was one clear winner.
But first, the runners up:
Pimm’s Cup, Runner Up #2
Adapted from Food Network
Put ice in a highball glass or mug. Add Pimm’s, ginger ale, and club soda. Stir and garnish with cucumber. Serve.
This was refreshing, but it was also quite sweet. The Pimm’s was overpowered by the sugar in the ginger ale. If choosing this recipe, I would suggest to use club soda instead of the lemon lime soda, or to adjust the ratio of the ginger ale to club soda equally. It could also be enhanced with a greater assortment of fruits.
Pimm’s Cup, Runner Up #1
Adapted from NPR
2 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
4 oz. lemonade
Sliced English cucumber
Optional: lemon slices
Fill a Collins glass with ice. Mix Pimm’s with lemonade and stir or shake. Top off with club soda and stir lightly. Garnish with cucumber and lemon wedge (if using).
We both thought that this cocktail was missing the kick from the ginger compared to the previous cocktail. It wasn’t bad, but it definitely was flat in comparison.
And now for the winner!
Pimm’s Cup, Grand Prize Winner
Adapted from Chow.com
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/2 tsp. peeled, freshly grated ginger
4 to 5 mint leaves
1 lemon wedge
1 oz. dry gin
1 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
1 English cucumber, sliced lengthwise and then diced
1 1/2 to 2 oz. combination of ginger ale and soda water
Optional: Add diced strawberries, orange, apples, and/or lemon
Place simple syrup, ginger, mint, and lemon in a cocktail shaker and muddle gently. Add gin and Pimm’s and stir to combine. Do not shake. Fill a Collins glass halfway with ice. Add cucumber (and fruit, if using. Strain the contents of the cocktail shaker into the glass and top with ginger ale and/or soda water. Stir gently and add additional ice cubes to fill.
This was the clear winner. There was a pleasant complexity with this cocktail. We thought the inclusion of the gin complimented the Pimm’s, without masking the liqueur’s unique flavor. Also, the fresh ginger was a nice addition to the ginger ale.
Although it’s now September, I hope that there are still some warm days ahead to enjoy Pimm’s Cups. Cheers!
At work on Thursday, I received pretty much the best package ever: a box of Alice in Wonderland-themed sweets from Laurel Avenue Bakery. These goodies were sent from California by Kasia, with a note requesting I enjoy them in a grand Mad Hatter tea party. How could I refuse? I invited Sara and Melissa to meet me in my office on Friday afternoon for tea and treats.
The package was wrapped in a large blue Alice ribbon with a small note asking us to “eat me.” I could smell the sugar and chocolate before I even opened the box, and struggled with the string and tape to get it open as quickly as possible. Inside was a nest of brown scrunched-string confetti cradling delicately wrapped treats in vivid pastels. Pink rose water cakes. Blue meringue mushrooms. Chocolate unbirthday cupcakes.
The rose water cake, I think, was my favorite. It was moist and sweet with a slight painting-the-roses-red perfume. My grandmother used to give me rose perfume as a kid, so the whole sensation was evocative of the childhood grandeur of playing dress up. I’m pretty sure I got it all over my face as I devoured it.
The cupcake was amazing too. A very merry unbirthday to me.
Melissa supplied us with pomegranate white tea for the occasion.
And effortlessly, a Friday afternoon was transformed from being the exhausted end of a busy week to a magical, nostalgic sugar rush with friends.
As a cheer-up package, it was pretty damn effective. It’s amazing what being surprised with sugar will do to a gal.
Thanks, Kasia! I wish you could have joined us at the tea party. It made my day.