Weekend Cooking: The Bread Bible

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So this cookbook has been sitting on my kitchen cookbook shelf for 1.5 years now.

Because I have been intimidated by it. This looks like a bread book for serious bread bakers. It isn’t full of glossy photos, or step-by-step photos, instead the pages are mostly words, with clusters of lovely photos of bread interspersed in between.

Now thinking back, I’m not quite sure what motivated me to finally pick up this hefty book on Friday morning. The desire to bake some bread? The lack of bread in the house (except for two lonely slices of storebought raisin bread)? The itch to do something with my hands? I knew I wanted a savoury bread, and this Basic Soft White Sandwich Bread (recipe here) caught my eye. Rose Levy Beranbaum describes this bread as “like a brioche, with less butter and no egg”, “lightly toasted and topped with soft scrambled eggs, it is nothing short of ambrosial”. Ooh…doesn’t that make you want a slice?

Ok so mine wasn’t all that perfect. It had a nice lightness and was much softer than any of the other breads I’ve made before. But it wouldn’t really qualify as ‘sandwich’ bread as it wasn’t tall enough. Because I didn’t let it rise long enough!

The problem began with my less than careful reading through the recipe and skipping over one of the rises. I neglected to factor in two extra hours of rising. Reading over the recipe again after the first couple of steps, I realized that if I followed the recipe to the letter, I’d still be baking at midnight. Oops indeed. So I had to shorten the rising times and make minor adjustments here and there. Note to self: read each step thoroughly next time before proceeding with any recipe!

Plus, my kitchen was a little cold. According to Beranbaum, the ideal temp for rising is 75-80F, and my house tends to hover around 67F (about 20C). So after the first rise (one of many!) seemed to take a while on the counter, I warmed up the oven a little and popped it in. It helped, a little, but just a little too late!

Anyway, this recipe was quite different from the breads I’ve made. It uses a sponge method, essentially making a sponge dough starter (which has all the liquid), and then sprinkling a flour mixture on top of the sponge starter as a protective cover to prevent drying out. Apparently this method helps to deepen the flavour of the bread (to really develop full flavor, it requires an overnight fermentation).

One thing I definitely appreciated in this cookbook was its detailed description on shaping the dough (even though this recipe uses loaf pans). She tells you to press the dough into a wide rectangle, to dimple it, to fold it overlapping and roll it and tuck it under (see the recipe for more information). My previous attempts at dough shaping were far more haphazard! More of a pat pat and into the pan it goes. I’d love to try out one of her free-form loaves to see how the shaping of those works.

At any rate, despite my less than thorough recipe-reading, the bread that emerged from my oven smelled fantastic. The whole house smelled wonderful and of course I had to sneak a bite (after letting it cool). Yummy. I will have to try this recipe again, giving it an overnight ferment and making sure it rises at the right temperature!

The Bread Bible has many other recipes that sound so tempting, like the olive bread, brioches, and scones which immediately caught my eye. I love scones!

Beranbaum has written several other ‘bible’ cookbooks, and has some recipes over at her website.

Bibliography

The Cake Bible (1988)
Rose’s Celebrations (1992)
Rose’s Melting Pot: A Cooking Tour of America’s Ethnic Celebrations (1994)
The Pie and Pastry Bible (1998)
Rose’s Christmas Cookies (1998)
The Bread Bible (2003)
Rose’s Heavenly Cakes (2009)

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Weekend cooking: Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

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I first came across this cookbook (by the Baked bakery in NYC) looking for recipes for homemade granola. I love granola and am always appalled by how much commercially made granola costs (I have a soft spot for Dorset cereals, although I buy their muesli and not the granola). And when I tasted the granola at Bread & Cie in San Diego, I couldn’t get that homemade feeling out of my head. It was just comforting – and so tasty!

So making use of old google, I came across this recipe on Amateur Gourmet. And since I had pretty much everything I needed in my kitchen, I gave the recipe a try, substituting dried cherries (didn’t have any) with dried apricot and adding a bit of shredded coconut. Tasted good but just a bit too salty.

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And so I made it again, halving the salt (about 1/2 tsp), again adding some shredded coconut, sliced almonds, raisins and apricot. I also reduced the sugar. And instead of just using rolled oats, I used 1 cup rolled oats and 1 cup of a mixed grain cereal (rye, barley, oats). I gave this batch away to my mother-in-law who was heading home to Singapore after a visit with us.

Then today I thought that I would make another batch, this time without the nuts (adding more raisins and apricots), just in case wee reader would try some. And he did!

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Another recipe I tried was the chocolate chip cookie (someone posted the recipe here). I made it the first time a couple of months ago, but neglected to read that very important step that said ‘refrigerate for 6 hours’. And so, the result was a batch of chocolate chip pancakes. Tasty yes, but so so flat and ugly.

So I made it again, and just to be on the safe side, refrigerated it overnight (ok maybe that had something to do with a sudden craving in the afternoon for said cookies). And they were great. So great I had four that very day. Erm yeah, I did say I had a craving right?

The bakery is probably best known for their brownie (recipe here), named by America’s Test Kitchen as best brownie recipe, and it sounds like a rich sinful brownie (the photos on that blog I linked to look divine!). This weekend perhaps!

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend cooking: Pandan chiffon cake

The husband will be in Chicago for work on his birthday next week. Boo! And had to work all this weekend from home too. Double boo!

So in a bid to make this weekend a little better, I decided to make a pandan cake as an early birthday treat! It’s quite a bit of work so I’ve only made it a few times. Plus the lack of fresh pandan leaves (also known as screwpine) means I use pandan essence and pandan paste. Tastes fine to me but some might say it isn’t authentic enough.

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This time I went with a new recipe which I found on a Singaporean food blog. It was quite fascinating to see how the recipes compared side by side but in the end I went with the one he recommended. And yes, it has 9 egg whites (and 6 yolks)!! Not for the faint hearted. And I wouldn’t recommend trying out this recipe without an electric mixer of some sort! Luckily I have my trusty empire red Kitchenaid and it whipped up this egg whites in no time. The cream of tartar and sugar helped stabilize it but as I’ve learnt from the Great British Bake Off, it’s easy to overwhip your whites especially when multitasking (in my case, watching over wee reader). Those whipped egg whites rose to glorious stiff peaks! And when I combined them with the rest of the batter, folding them in was quite a task. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite fold them in properly and my cake has spots with flecks of egg whites (Mary Berry would not be pleased).

Still it turned out to be a light, airy, monster of a cake! I kept turning on the oven light to check on it, as I was afraid that it might overflow! Luckily it rose just nicely above the tin, making for a very high cake.

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I was quite pleased and the husband was thrilled. Wee reader, though, with his wheat and egg allergies, has still never eaten cake!

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs.

Weekend cooking: Chocolate and pumpkins

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Hello! I’ve always wanted to put together a Weekend Cooking post but was never quite sure what to write about.

Which is kinda silly I guess as there are plenty of things that would fit into such a post. Like the allergy-free foods that I feed wee reader everyday. Or the pseudo-Singaporean food I attempt to cook every week.

But I’m going to save those for another post.

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favourite things – baking!

I’d rather bake than cook.

And one of my favourite things to bake with – and eat – is chocolate. Dark rich sinful chocolate.

So a sudden desire for a muffin as well as some unexpected energy from somewhere on a Wednesday morning led to this discovery of a new chocolate muffin recipe from a well-used source, the King Arthur Flour website (I’ve used several of their bread recipes with pretty good results).

The recipe was simple enough and the muffins emerged from the oven gorgeous and absolutely delicious. Best served warm so that the chocolate chips are melty and gooey. Such a keeper of a recipe.

And because the oven was going (and it wasn’t a nice cool autumn day – once again the Bay Area was making another late attempt at summer) I wanted to make something else. With only one egg left, plenty of recipes were out of reach. So it was decided – biscuits! That is, American biscuits. I grew up in a former British colony so biscuits to me will always mean a cookie, something like a chocolate digestive. But I have a love for the American biscuit. Crumbly and buttery.

With an active 18-month-old at home (who patiently sat in his high chair ‘helping’ me with the muffin recipe but got bored after) I had to scramble and didn’t quite roll out the biscuit dough enough so they rose too dramatically. Monster biscuits! Still they were tasty, split in half, toasted and buttered. And sometimes with strawberry jam on one half.

And as of Thursday I have a pumpkin sitting in my kitchen. Wee reader and I attend our city’s tiny tots parent-child classes and this week was a field trip to a pumpkin patch, where as part of the admission fee we got to take home a pumpkin the size of our child’s head. I’ve never made a pumpkin pie myself although I used to help my mum when she baked them. So I might just give it a try next week!

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(Note: not the pumpkin we brought home)

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs.

52 Loaves

William Alexander is a man who goes all out.

He is intent on perfecting perfect bread. And just one type of bread. Peasant bread or pain de campagne.

And that’s one loaf of bread baked each week for a year. Equals… Yes you got that right, 52 Loaves. Well technically more than that as there are plenty of loaves baked during a baking course he takes in Paris and plenty more in a monastery.

More on the monastery later.

As with most decent non-fiction reads, Alexander goes in search of the experts. The commercial yeast maker, the bread baker, millers and owners of professional ovens. All while making his own bread. And growing his own wheat. Yeah this is man who doesn’t like shortcuts. He even grinds his own home-grown wheat, with what is probably an old Indian grindstone! Can you beat that???

“I continued grinding, playing with the motion, moving from a back-and-forth action to a tight circular one, humming a mock Indian song – that is, I’m sorry to say, the Atlanta Braves war chant.”

He disdains the popular no-knead bread which I think isn’t quite the right reaction. Sure it’s a bit tasteless (add more salt) but it got people baking bread. Like me! Before attempting the no-knead bread, I had given bread-making a try but it’s just way too hot in Singapore to knead and I just didn’t want to do more.

But after successfully making the no-knead bread – and then getting a Kitchenaid mixer with that very useful dough hook – made me want to give other breads, kneaded or not, a try. So the no-knead bread isn’t to be pooh-poohed at. It is a great way to get started with doughs and yeasts and all that. Just, you know, add more salt than the recipe calls for.

Anyway, this book ought to come with a warning sticker: Will make you hungry for bread.

Because I was. And you might have noticed that it led me to bake up a couple of loaves (and some cookies).

And my kitchen – and most of the house – smelled oh so good…..!

Just thinking of those wonderful smells and that delicious crusty bread (sadly, long gone) makes me want to eat bake some bread.

I’ve sidetracked long enough!

52 Loaves was at times amusing (in that self-deprecating way) and I have to put it to Alexander to giving breadmaking such utter devotion. But the problem with a book that details 52 weeks is that not every week makes for good reading – at one point he decided to sleep in a separate room from his wife (I’m sure plenty of couples sleep in separate beds, I just didn’t need to know the details). As a result the book is a little uneven.

The time he spends in France though are the highlight. He somehow weasels his way as a guest at a monastery in Normandy (told you I’d get back to the monastery bit) where he finds himself having to train an apprentice baker (when he’s still more or less an apprentice himself), and meticulously planning a baking schedule around their services!

Alright, I’m off to figure out what bread to bake tomorrow.

Inspired by a book

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Thanks 52 Loaves for helping me heat up my kitchen. All that reading about bread and wheat and steam and crust made me want to get my hands dirty. Luckily it wasn’t too warm a day here in the Bay Area yesterday. I even disregarded my mixer and its dough hook to plunge my two hands into that sticky dough, kneading and kneading, flour all over the counter. The result was satisfying: two loaves of hearth bread (using this King Arthur Flour recipe – short rising time, easy to follow, a great crust and soft interior!) and since the oven was on, my favourite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (I pretend that the oats make it healthy) from one of my most well-thumbed cookbooks, Bill Granger’s bills food (which someone posted here).

No-Knead Bread Sandwich Hack

Woohoo! I made bread. (I promise that this is still a book-relevant post.)

I’d read about the No-Knead Bread fad a while back but wasn’t quite sure how that would work without a dutch oven. And yesterday I came across The Kitchn’s Sandwich Loaf Hack of the No-Knead Bread. And I thought, I’ve been wanting to bake bread for the past six months now (that’s how long the packets of yeast – unopened that is – have been sitting around in the kitchen cabinets), I really oughta just bake some bread already. So I did.

The dough requires 12-18 hours to rise, and then another 2 hours after a wee bit of moving it around (not really kneading but more like folding it in on itself) but you know what, it’s winter, the apartment’s not exactly a warm place (I wear sweaters instead of heating the apartment the whole day just for one person), and it didn’t quite rise the way it was supposed to. So I had to turn on the oven for a while, and then turn it off and let the dough rise a little more in the cooling oven. Still, it turned out pretty nicely!

Here’s the book part: I wasn’t quite sure how to store homemade bread properly. I know that the fridge makes bread go stale quicker and I heard that plastic bags aren’t too good for crusty breads (and this one is a bit crusty). My well-traveled copy of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen provided some help. Mr McGee’s advice: “If you need to keep bread for several days or more, then wrap it well in plastic or foil and freeze it. Refrigerate bread (well wrapped) only if you’re going to toast or otherwise reheat it.”

I’m leaving this book on my kitchen counter so that I can flip through it when I’m having breakfast and bore the husband with facts he never really wanted to know about food.

Recipe links:
No-Knead Bread (New York Times)
No Knead Bread Hack (The Kitchn)