Italian Country Bread

Artisan bread—at last!

Crispy, chewy, full of big, airy holes. . . ah nirvana!  I’ve been baking bread since I was a child, yet I’ve never mastered the true “hole-y” artisan bread.  Lord knows I have bought every type of flour imaginable from King Arthur Flour, but still something was missing.  Found it!  Actually my dear friend R’s sister-in-law found it, but lucky me because it was passed on.

This bread will make your bread-making life complete—well, not complete maybe, but it will make you and everyone you share it with very, very happy!  The process beforehand is equivalent to making a biga, which is what helps with the flavor and holes.

Don’t be scared of the three-day process.   For a bread this amazing, it is ridiculously easy.  If you’re an experienced user of yeast, the texture of this bread is very different.  You will not get the satisfaction out of pretending it’s your former boss by bashing and kneading it to death, but you will get enormous satisfaction after you taste it.

It’s kind of slimy, but it’s supposed to be.  Your KitchenAid will be your best friend.  Use only the paddle, not the hook or whisk.  On the third day be very generous with the flour on your board or pastry cloth.  Drop, flip, cut, shape, and move it (gently) to your pan.  Slash it and proceed with the misting, etc.  You will not be disappointed.  You will be in awe.

Here’s the recipe exactly as it was given to me.  If you have any questions or concerns, email me and I can explain.  Please try it.  Pretty please.

Italian Country Bread

First day:  Mix ½  teaspoon yeast in 1 cup warm water in mixer bowl; when dissolved, add 1 cup flour (King Arthur White.)   Beat 50 times to mix.  Cover bowl with plastic for 12 to 24 hours.

Second day:  Dissolve 1 ¼ teaspoons yeast in 1 ½ cups warm water.  When dissolved, add to starter and mix.  Then add 2 cups flour to starter and mix 50 strokes.  Cover with plastic wrap  for 12 to 24 hours.

Third day:  Stir 1 ½  cups flour into starter with a wooden spoon 20 or 30 strokes.  Put mixing bowl in mixer, using the mixing blade (not the dough hook), turn on to lowest speed and mix 17 minutes.  Turn off mixer, letting dough – which will be VERY wet – slide into bowl while you get 1 Tablespoon salt.  Turn on mixer to lowest setting, sprinkle salt slowly into bowl and mix 3 minutes.   At this point you can leave dough in bowl to rise or transfer to an oiled large bowl.  Cover bowl with plastic and leave for 4 or 5 hours – should be tripled in size.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, place rack in lowest position in oven.  Have a spray bottle of plain water ready.  Use parchment paper on large silver cookie sheet.  I fold the parchment paper in the middle of the sheet to form a barrier between the two loaves.

Turn the dough out on a heavily floured surface (I use a pastry cloth).  The dough will slowly fall out of the bowl in a wet heap.  Take one side of the circular heap of dough and pull it toward you until the dough is turned over and the floured side is up.  The dough will now have an oblong shape. Cut it down the center with a dough knife or large narrow-bladed knife, forming two narrow, long loaves.  Tuck the ends under to maintain a uniform rectangular shape  and transfer each loaf to the pan.  The dough will be very soft and shapeless making it hard to handle until you get used to it.  I put a hand on each end, push the dough toward the center and lift it quickly to the  sheet, spreading it to the shape I want. Score the loaves with a sharp knife, three cuts on each loaf.

Put the bread into the oven, spray the bread and oven with water, close door.  Spray every 3 minutes for 3 times.  Total cooking time is 38 minutes including spraying time.  The purpose of the spraying is to keep the crust soft at first so the bread can expand and form a lovely texture.

Now, let me say I have violated every one of these instructions in one way or another and I’ve never had a failure – this bread is incredibly forgiving.  I don’t say this as a challenge – I’m sure it can be screwed up – but so far any reasonable effort has been rewarded.

Oh, make sure your butter is at room temperature so when the bread comes out of the oven you can slather some on your first slice!  And, for more yeast love check out YeastSpotting!


Southern Belles

Northern cooks can make ’em too!

Better Half and I visited friends to help them put a roof on a rental home they own.  Well, let me clarify: Better Half was going to help with a roof and I was playing around with my buddy C.   These Southern Belles (courtesy of my cookbook Sassafras)  are my contribution to the good folks that volunteered to roof.  It takes maybe five minutes to prepare these caramel morsels.  I also made a few snide comments to some of the guys—those count as contributions too. . . .

C and I had a blast.  We shopped in a little Ozark town and played around on their 100 acres.  We went on a golf ball hunt, (the men love to see how far they can hit the golf balls) which sort of reminded me of an Easter Egg hunt.  Not surprisingly, I found very few while C found a sackful!  We walked around the property quite a bit and listened to the beautiful sound of the water rushing through their cave.  The cave is huge and amazing; archaeologists have visited to find and document Indian artifacts.   C’s husband is awesome at finding arrowheads in the creek and cave.  We played multiple games of dominoes, marbles, and gin rummy.  We made homemade feta and mozzarella cheeses, as well as visiting their workshop where we gals utilized saws, drills, and other myriad “manly” tools and crafted something special for my knitting. . . . (another post!).

We had a lot of fun cooking loads of food for the men and talking until the wee hours.  Oh, we also damaged a few items: an antique chair from France (honestly, I don’t weigh that much!) and C’s thumb (which I’m sure will grow back together.  Thank God she’s an RN!).

Southern Belles

2 c flour
1¾ c packed light brown sugar
1 c butter, softened
1½ to 2 c whole pecans
1½ c chocolate (semi, milk, etc.) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix flour, 1 c brown sugar and ½ c butter until crumbly.  Press on bottom of ungreased 9″ x 13″ pan.  Sprinkle with single layer of pecans.  Combine remaining butter and brown sugar in small saucepan and boil one minute.  Pour over pecans (making a thin layer).  Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until caramel layer bubbles.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips, gently spreading as chocolate melts.  Cool and cut into bars.

Enjoy y’all!

Healthy Irish Brown Soda Bread

Relax—no yeast required!

Mmm, I love bread but with me trying to get back into my wedding “shorts” (yes, shorts) I have not been baking like I used to.   I spied the March, 2010 edition of Cooking Light in my doctor’s office.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day it was full of great Irish recipes, and I’ve always wanted to attempt Irish soda bread and was surprised to realize it doesn’t contain yeast.  It’s a quick bread so even those scared of yeast (R, I’m talking to YOU!) can make this yummy, healthy bread.  (Although once you get started working with yeast you will get the hang of it and love the feel and texture of yeast goodies.)  The nutritional value of this bread is great: 160 calories a slice, 1.8 grams fat and 7.2 grams protein.  Enjoy!

Healthy Irish Brown Soda Bread

Cooking spray
2½ c whole-wheat flour
½ c all-purpose flour
½ c steel-cut oats (such as McCann’s)
2 T brown sugar
1 T wheat germ
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
½ t salt
2 c low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325°.  Coat a 9 x 5–inch loaf pan with cooking spray.  Line the pan with parchment paper, and coat with cooking spray (I did not line with parchment and had great results).

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife.  Combine flours and next 6 ingredients (through salt).  Combine buttermilk and egg; add to flour mixture.  Stir just until combined.

Spoon the mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Invert bread onto a wire rack; cool completely.  Slice bread into 12 slices.

Don’t forget to wear green on the 17th!

P.S. to Lovely Daughter, I know this is your favorite holiday; enjoy sweetie!


Mexican Chocolate Cookies

Gooey Meets Crunchy

Since I’ve been on my kick to eat better, get in shape, blah, blah, I haven’t been cooking as usual.  I’ve been jonzing for butter and chocolate.  Enter these amazing cookies.  Don’t be put off by the peppers.  I dislike black pepper but do like cayenne, paprika, chili, etc.; black pepper=ick.  This recipe is courtesy of Cooking Light, but these cookies taste anything but light.  They’re crispy on the outside and fudgy-gooey on the inside with a hint of cinnamon and a little unexpected kick.   Better Half, a man of few words, was very vocal in his admiration, and we’ve decided this is our new favorite !

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

5 ounces bittersweet (60%-70%) chocolate, coarsely chopped
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.  Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth.  Cool to room temperature.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.  Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); stir with a whisk.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes).  Add egg; beat well.  Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended.  Add flour mixture; beat just until blended.  Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets covered with parchment paper.  Bake for 10 minutes or until almost set.  Remove from oven.  Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set.  Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.  Optional:  sprinkle cooled cookies with powdered sugar.

Apricot Almond Bread

Loafing around.

You know the old joke about men looking forward to the Victoria’s Secrets catalog arriving in the mail?  I know how they feel because when my King Artur Flour Baker’s Catalogue arrives, I’m in nirvana.  Seriously.  Heaven.  I drool.

My holiday preview issue arrived yesterday and at 9:00 in the evening I was whipping up a batch of bread!  Granted, I tweaked their recipe quite a bit, but man, oh man, this morning the bread on my plate was well worth the late evening.  Made it, baked it, and let it sit on the counter until this morning.  No joking.  I did not cut into the bread after it left the oven because King Arthur said to allow it to cool completely, and we all know I listen to King Arthur.

According to King Arthur, the “bread is a cross between a typical baking p0wdered-leavened bread, and a yeast bread.”  Say what?  Never tried that trick before.  The beauty of it is it’s super easy to whip up, and you only let it rise once (one hour) and then it’s popped in the oven.  No punching down and waiting hours for two risings.

As I said, I changed their recipe of Easy Cinnamon Bread to Apricot Almond Bread and can’t wait to start experimenting with other variations.

If you’re not a good yeast bread baker, please try this.  Prior to baking it won’t resemble a yeast bread whatsoever (it’s sticky), so if you’re used to baking quick breads, you’ll find this recipe very familiar.

No more typing, more eating.  Bye now.

Apricot Almond Bread

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon King Arthur cake enhancer (opt.)
1 cup warm milk
¼ cup melted butter
1 large egg
½ cup chopped apricots
½ cup chopped almonds

Topping: Mix ¼ cup sugar w/ 1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and cake enhancer.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, and egg.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients, beating until smooth.

Stir in the apricots and almonds.  Spoon batter into a greased 8½″ x4 ½″ loaf pan.  Let covered batter rest in a warm spot for one hour.  Sprinkle with topping mixture.

Preheat oven to 350° and bake bread for 35-40 minutes, until done.  Remove bread from oven and let rest in pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer from the pan to a rack to cool completely.

Note: let bread cool completely before slicing.

For more yeast love, check out YeastSpotting!

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