I haven’t forgotten this blog… so here’s a bread post

I have things I want to try… a restaurant review that I should be posting for Addis Red Sea… and I just haven’t had time lately for everything.  Or least it feels that way.  Maybe I’m just being lazy?

So, in the meantime, here’s the bread recipe post that I’ve been promising since the winter.  *eep!*

I haven’t completely given up on preferments just yet, but I’m beginning to think that I’m not that impressed (Asano-mama got the CookWise book recently, so I’d like to try a Shirley O’Corriher recipe before giving up on preferments completely).  I apologize in advance if some of the measurements seem weird.  I was converting them from an existing recipe from the UK.

I did try the recipe below a second time without the barley flour.  I still wasn’t wowed as I had hoped I’d be, but your mileage may vary.

Slow fermentation, adapted from Andrew Whitley

I came across an interesting radio piece after some googling – it was about slow fermentation and bread as presented by the BBC.  It was kind of fascinating.  Half of the show was talking to a die-hard-slow-fermentation-all-natural-all-local bread maker and the other half was talking to we-are-the-bread-federation-of-Britain man.   Ok, they aren’t called the “bread federation of Britain”, but they were definitely the federation of something.  (haha!)

Basically, the whole radio show can be summed up as thus: “no one can prove that slow fermentation is healthier, but it probably does taste better although less squishy.”

Some searching gave me an Andrew Whitley recipe for a basic bread.  Since I live in good ol’ New England, I had to revamp the recipe for use with my measuring cups and such.

First, here’s the Andrew Whitley version (cut and paste):
source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/apr/16/recipes.foodanddrink/print
This is the way most bread was made until the dawn of the era of high-speed mixing and “no time” dough. Although it involves a long rise, it doesn’t take any more of the baker’s time than fast-made bread. It uses less yeast, too, and the long fermentation gives great flavour and additive-free keeping quality. This makes a dozen rolls or two small loaves.

1. Overnight sponge
5g fresh yeast (or 3g dried yeast)
130g water (at about 20°C)
150g stoneground wholemeal flour
[285g total]

Dissolve the yeast in some of the water and add it to the flour with the rest of the water. Mix until the dough has “cleared”, that is, all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. There is no need to knead the sponge, since time will develop the gluten sufficiently. Put the sponge in a bowl large enough to allow it to expand to at least three times its original size. Cover with a lid or polythene bag and leave it at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

2. The final dough
285g overnight sponge (from above)
450g flour (wholemeal or a mix of white and wholemeal)
5g salt
270g water (warm to the hand, i.e. 30-35°C)
15g butter or olive oil (optional, but makes rolls a bit softer)
[1,025g total]

Mix all the ingredients into a soft dough. Knead without adding extra flour until it is silky and slightly stretchy. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour. Divide into 12 pieces (or two for small loaves), shape into rolls, dip into wholemeal flour to get a good covering, and place on a baking tray with about 2cm separating them. Cover with a large polythene bag but don’t let it touch the rolls. Let them rise until they are just touching each other, then bake in a hot oven (220°C) for 10-15 minutes. They should have a thin floury crust and feel soft after they have cooled.
© Andrew Whitley 2008.

Now, the US friendly version as adapted by me:

1. Overnight sponge
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp water
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Mix until well combined.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap (but not too tightly).  Let this fart around overnight.

2. The final dough
all of the overnight sponge from above
3 1/2 cups of flour (all-purpose, bread flour, whole wheat or any mixture of the three… I used all-purpose with one cup of barley flour out of curiosity)
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp mild olive oil

Mix all together.  Try not to add extra flour, but I found that I had to.  I added only a tablespoon at a time.  The dough should be “silky and slightly stretchy.”  Cover and let this rise for an hour.  Divide in in half, and shape into a ball.  I didn’t bother covering this with flour.  I put both dough halves on either side of my biggest sheet pan.  I loosely covered with plastic wrap that had been sprayed with oil (oil side touching the dough, duh), and let the doughs rise until about double in bulk and almost touching each other.  Cut a slash on top.

Bake in the oven at 425F for 20-25 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Overall, I liked the results.  They were like giant dinner rolls, reminiscent of bread rolls from Bertucci’s.  *grin*  I have mixed feelings about the barley flour I used.  Over time, the barley flour just make the bread taste “healthy” (less noticeable when still warm from baking).  Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you, but I’ve never used barley flour before I’ve seen it described as a mild, sweet flour.  So, I guess I was a little let down.  I wouldn’t mind using the barley flour again, but I’ll have to use less than a cup.

As for the overall method, I thought the sponge (aka preferment/biga/poolish) was kind of fun.  It’s kind of cool to see the sponge be all bubbly.  It worked fine, and I’ll probably work with more preferments in the future.


Victorian milk bread, with quinoa flour

The weather here in Boston has been slowly getting warmer.  Better temperatures for rising dough, but less ideal for turning on my oven.  On top of that, my weak/bad wrist is tempermental whenever I’m kneading.

I think this might be my last loaf for the season.  I might try some no-knead recipes, but the bulk of my bread experimentation will have to wait for the weather to get cold again.

I realize, too, that I’ve been promising one or two posts on breads with a pre-ferment, but I haven’t posted them at all due to… well, a lack of interest.  More pathetic is the fact that I had one completely written up and saved on my computer.  I am lame, lame, lame.  And it isn’t the fault of the bread recipe.  I’ve just realized that I don’t think I like the flavor of my breads with a pre-ferment.  The best of the pre-ferment experiments is the one that I had written up, so perhaps I’ll still post it.  But not today.

And I apologize for the lack of pictures.  I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.

* * *

So, I’ve had a box of quinoa flour sitting in my pantry for at least a couple of months.  I’ve never cooked/baked with it before – I was just curious.  (but I have cooked with quinoa itself, and I love it)

Searching for bread recipes that 1) weren’t gluten-free and 2) used the flour and not cooked quinoa proved to be a little tricky.

Eventually, I started searching for milk bread recipes since I had some whole milk to use up and came across a recipe for “Victorian Milk Bread” which I used and fiddled around with for my purposes.

Here’s what I used:

1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cups quinoa flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons SAF instant yeast
2 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten

General instructions:
Mix everything into a bowl.  Personally, I found I had to add 1-2 tablespoons of water to make the dough wet enough.  Then, knead for 10 minutes.  Put the dough in a bowl to rise, and cover with a bit of plastic wrap or a damp towel so that it doesn’t dry out.  Let rise for about 4 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a loaf.  Place the loaf in a standard bread pan and let it rise (again, loosely place some plastic wrap over it) until it’s above the rim of the pan, probably about an inch above.  Hmmm, I think it took about an hour or so for me to get there.

Pre-heat your oven to 350F and lower the oven rack to bottom third.

Bake 30-35 minutes.

Overall reaction?  Quinoa flour does not remind me of quinoa at all.  It’s less sweet.  I think the gluten was a good call, considering that I did not use bread flour at all.  It makes for a decent everyday bread.  I now know that I am not very enamored with quinoa flour but I don’t know how else to use it up.  Having said that, the results here were very acceptable.  I’ll see about using it for a no-knead dough.

Comments on the general recipe?  Easy, forgiving and easy to mess around with.  I think I’ll need to remake it but using my buckwheat flour next time around.

~ Mikan

quick notes: 1) bread flour has more protein than wheat flour or AP flour and quinoa is gluten-free, hence my addition of wheat gluten; 2) I did not want to make a gluten-free bread because you generally need a mixture of gluten-free flours which I do not have; 3) for my wheat and AP flours, I only use King Arthur.  Different brands make a huge difference.

A white bread with mahleb


I made another loaf of bread – a white bread from Beth Hensperger’s “Bread Made Easy” book. And it was the prettiest loaf I have ever made. I fiddled with Ms. Hensperger’s recipe a little by throwing in some mahleb. Mahleb is the pit of the sour cherry. Once crushed, it’s often thrown in to Greek breads (things I learn from our very own Asano-mama). Anyway, I finally bought a small jar of mahleb from Penzeys in December and decided “what the heck – let’s throw it in.” Now, I don’t know if mahleb is easily obtained at a store in ground form. Penzeys leaves their product in the pit form. After some googling, the recommendation is to crush only as necessary and to store the mahleb in the freezer, because, like nuts, it can go rancid. Mahleb is pretty easy to crush with a mortar and pestle, so it’s not particularly inconvenient.

It was a fun experiment. However, since I’ve never made this particular white bread before, I had nothing to compare my results with. This is a repeat occurrence in my life – experimenting without a controlled result.

Adapted from the milk bread master recipe in Bread Made Easy by Beth Hensperger.

one standard size bread loaf pan
3 to 3.5 cups of all-purpose or bread flour
1 Tbsp sugar (I always cook with cane sugar these days)
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk
1/8 cup boiling water
1 1/2 Tbsp of mild olive oil (this is the same as 4 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp crushed mahleb (if you can’t find it, skip it)
1 egg mixed with 1Tbsp milk for glaze (optional – I didn’t bother with it)

Start by mixing 2 cups of flour with the sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the milk, boiling water and the oil (this should not be above 125F – it should feel hot to the touch… then again if you’re me and you forgot to warm the milk before mixing all of the wet ingredients, do your best to warm the mixture as best as possible and don’t worry that you’ve ruined it).

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and start incorporating the wet ingredients. Once this is well mixed, add the remaining flour until it becomes a stiff, shaggy dough that is clearing the sides of the mixing bowl. Move the dough onto a clean counter, and knead for 5-8 minutes, adding flour only as needed to stop the dough from sticking to everything.

Let this rise until double in bulk in a greased container. If your kitchen is cold like mine is (hello! I live in New England and it’s winter here!), don’t worry if the dough takes more than 2 hours to rise. Yeast loves temperatures at around 80F – any hotter and you risk killing your yeast, but any colder and the yeast just takes longer to do its stuff.

Grease your bread loaf pan. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto the counter. The dough will softly deflate, don’t worry about punch your dough down. Cut the dough into half. With each half, roll the dough with your palms until you have a log about 10 inches long. Wrap the dough logs around each other for a twisted effect. Place this in your pan and left rise until double in bulk (the dough will probably rise to about an inch or so over the pan rim).

Bake at 375F for about 40 minutes. You want a nice brown color to the crust and it should sound hollow if you knock on it. Remove the loaf carefully from the bread pan when done, and let the loaf cool on a wire rack.

~ Mikan


invasion of the SAF yeast

Just in case anyone is curious, I only use SAF instant yeast when I make my doughs. And I’ve been making a lot of doughs lately. Sorry I couldn’t come up with a wittier title.


So, challah #2 wasn’t all that special to me. Challah #1 was courtesy of Beth Hensperger’s book “Bread Made Easy” while challah #2 was from http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2008/01/13/challah/, and if you get the chance to look at the ingredients, they aren’t all that different. It was, if I recall, a difference in the amounts of fat being used. The No-Knead Challah was mild in comparison to Ms. Hensperger’s, and Asano-mama and I agreed that challah #1 was tastier. And honestly, I don’t mind a little kneading.

There’s only one photo of challah #2… mostly because it looked uglier than challah #1. Also, I realized after the fact that I think I braid my breads backwards from the traditional braid. haha!


At that same time, I had another yeast experiment going. I decided to make Chef John’s No Knead Pizza dough ( see http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2008/12/no-knead-mania-makes-previously-posted.html). It’s a solid recipe, and I think my permanent way of acquiring pizza dough. Yeah, it only costs maybe a dollar at my market, but I feel more accomplished if I make it on my own (plus, I’ve been hearing that slow fermentation has better nutritional qualities, but I haven’t researched that yet). It does require a whole day to rise, especially in my cold New England kitchen, but it’s not that hard to think “Geez, I want pizza for dinner tomorrow – Let me make a batch of pizza dough.”

If you follow Chef John’s instructions, you end up with four individual pizza crust servings. He means thin crust. I prefer to think of it as two servings to make a thicker crust. At that point, I’m not sure if I could eat a whole pizza on my own (that’s a bit of dough!), but your mileage may vary.

pizza dough

pizza dough

As for toppings on the first pizza that I’ve ever made from scratch, I used tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, jack cheese, and slices of red bell pepper. It was beautiful, it was perfect, and I devoured it all in twenty minutes.

red pepper pizza

red pepper pizza

But that wasn’t the end to my madness. Baking means a warm kitchen during the winter, so I baked some more.

This time, I went back to my trusty “Bread Made Easy” book, and picked out a recipe for a holiday sweet bread. The recipe makes two loaves, one of which I left plain and the other I put in dried figs. I had also replaced the orange extract with almond extract, which I couldn’t tell in the end because it was too subtle compared to the flavor of butter.

plain on the left, figs on the right

plain on the left, figs on the right

The plain loaf was a gift for a co-worker, so I only have pictures of the fig loaf sliced.


Sel de la Terre has an amazing fig loaf, but it’s not so sweet and they use fresh figs. While my fig loaf was good, I really wanted the Sel de la Terre version. I guess it’s something I need to further work on.

The last bread I made was an experimental red pepper hummus bread. Again, my recipe was courtesy of the Foodwishes video blog (http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2008/11/holiday-pumpkin-bread-you-want-it-but.html). All I did was replace the amount of pumpkin with an equal amount of red pepper hummus. There was a little bit of kneading involved because I was having trouble getting the dough to come together with just a mixing spoon. I also doubled the yeast so that I could make it all in one day.

Overall, I’d say it was pretty successful… except the part where I seemed to have burnt half of my bread. That was embarrassing! After five loaves of bread, I finally messed up. And this bread was meant for a party too. I probably would have presented my slightly burnt loaf if it weren’t for the fact that the party was for a dear friend of mine, nickname “oh cake”, who is currently a culinary student. There was no way that I could place my ugly loaf next to her lovely food presentations! XD

(“oh cake” is currently blogging about her time in culinary school if anyone is interested –> http://oh-cake.livejournal.com/)

Despite my red pepper hummus bread being ugly, it photographed rather well.




So, that’s been the bread adventure so far. I think I am experimenting with mahleb in my bread tomorrow. Tonight, the plan is to make some roasted veggie soup.

If anyone wants either the challah or the holiday bread recipe for Beth Hensperger, please comment. I’d post it now, but my book is on the other side of the room from me and I’m currently hiding in a sleeping bag for warmth.

~ Mikan

A cold weather summary


Eek! I have several photos to share and yet I have been so lazy about making a post.

My punishment? Doing one big post as concise as possible. gah!

Well, let’s do it in months:

October – the household and a couple of friends went to Mack’s in New Hampshire for apple picking and squash overdosing. Personally I purchased four squashes: a delicata, two sweet dumplings, and a sunshine (which I later learned is a variety of kobocha, aka Japanese pumpkin).

sushine squash

sushine squash

I liked the delicata fine, but it wasn’t anything special. I adored the sweet dumpling, but maybe that is because I stuffed it with spiced apples. The sunshine was definitely a favorite, but I was sad that I had stuffed it with apples too. The sunshine squash had a flavor a lot more like chestnuts than like your normal squashes.

November – I started to make a lot of batches of what I like to call “pancake muffins.” They are exactly like what they sound like. Pancake batter cooked in an oven instead of on the stove top. So much faster and cleaner! And in easy to grab serving sizes too.

I have been using the Bisquick Healthy mix (because I am too lazy to even mix together basic pancake batter) with yogurt as my liquid to simulate a yogurt pancake batter. I’ve tried blueberry yogurt (the house favorite), strawberry (also pretty good), apple with cinnamon (very disappointing flavor-wise), and mixed berry. Last night, I made a batch with raspberry yogurt. Basically, the more flavorful yogurts work best for this. Once the batter was mixed, I plopped it into a muffin tin at 375F for about 15 minutes.

They taste best straight out of the oven, but keep well in the freezer. The only downside to storing in the freezer is that they seem a little drier after you reheat them.

Seriously though, pancake muffins have become my latest addiction. They also seem to keep me full longer than my favorite healthy cereals.

pancake muffins

pancake muffins

December – the new obsession? Challah bread. I made my first loaf last weekend and I’m making my second loaf as we speak. I nearly freaked out when I was in the middle of making my first loaf. In a moment of ditziness, I used water from my Brita filter… the same Brita that I keep in the fridge for cold water. Three hours later, the dough had barely budged.

I was worried that I had ruined it. Luckily, I’ve had some introduction to slow fermentation using colder temperatures, I didn’t think all was lost. So I decided to warm up the dough in a slightly warmed oven. Once all of the chill was gone, I left my bread bucket with my dough on my kitchen counter. Three hours later, it had doubled beautifully. I went about braiding it (also my first time) and let it do it’s final rise (and skipped the second rise completely because it was getting rather late).

My propensity for laziness reared its ugly head again, and I used a milk wash instead of a proper egg wash. When everything was said and done, the challah tasted wonderful but it just wasn’t shiny. I have nothing to compare it to, but I was pretty satisfied with my first challah attempt. (The recipe I used was from Beth Hensperger’s “Bread Made Easy” book, if you’re curious.)

With the slow fermentation accident, I wondered how it would turn out if I did a proper slow fermentation challah bread. On top of that, I had been watching bread videos featuring no-knead techniques which is basically a slow fermentation (http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/).

Couldn’t the two be put together? I thought I was onto something interesting.

I realized today that I wasn’t all that original. Googling “no kead challah recipes” spit out more responses than I had expected. Eventually, I came across a post on Steamy Kitchen (http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2008/01/13/challah/) that seemed to have exactly what my head was thinking of experimenting with. I thought about re-using Beth Hensperger’s recipe, but decided to go with what was on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Overall, the measurements weren’t too different. My only substitution was to use oil instead of butter.

So now, I have a dough just hanging out in my fridge, waiting for tomorrow when I will actually shape and bake it.

In the meantime, here are photos of the challah loaf I made last weekend. It only lasted a few days before I had eaten it all. (Photos of challah loaf no. 2 later.)

~ Mikan



a Clear Flour review

I’ve finally been visiting the farmer’s markets. Honestly though, I’ve just been there to pick up some handmade bread.

I’ve been wanting to visit Clear Flour in Brookline for quite some time now. A couple of years ago I took a bread baking class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. The instructor was a petite woman with dark hair (vaguely reminding me of Amy Lee of Evanescence) who was a private caterer named Leslee. (I think that’s how she spelled her name… I just remembered that she spelled it differently from the usual “leslie”) Anyway, she explained her bread expertise background which was as a baker at Clear Flour. Listening to her talk about the bakery had me hooked. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Brookline is not convenient for me at all.
So, I’m very thankful that they decided to join a couple of farmers’ markets this year.

The first time around, I purchased a half loaf of Pain De Mie ($3.55) and a loaf of Onion Focaccia ($3). The pain de mie was a HUGE loaf – a half loaf is probably the same size of a loaf of machine made bread at the market and about the same price. Why on earth wouldn’t I buy it? It’s a nice white bread and very soft with the kind of texture I wish I knew how to make at home. I was also very impressed that the breads were still warm when I bought them.

In some of the photos, I have a measuring tape just to give you and idea of the bread size.

The second time I visited the farmers’ markets, I got half a loaf of buckwheat with walnuts ($2.15) and half a loaf of whole wheat ($2.25). The wheat loaves are no where near as giant as the pain de mie (btw, the half loaf of pain de mie lasted pretty much one week exactly before it was gone) but I didn’t want to just buy one whole loaf to try. I really wanted the buckwheat one but feared I wouldn’t like it. Plus, whole wheat is a good everyday bread.

Well, I tried a slice of both when I got home and I was surprised. I really like the buckwheat and not the whole wheat at all. Both taste like they used sourdough starters. However, the buckwheat loaf was much milder in flavor. I didn’t even find the walnuts to be distracting (and there weren’t too many nuts). The whole wheat one was much too sour for my liking. Ick. I think I’m going to have to eat that one with jam or peanut butter.

Today, I went for just a loaf of the buckwheat with walnuts ($3.85). I dug into it as soon as I got home.

The buckwheat loaf is a standard size loaf – about 9×4 or there abouts.

Anyway, I can safely say that so far I love Clear Flour.  It’s affordable and perfect for those days when I’m too lazy to make my own bread (which is almost all of the time).  Looking at their website, there are a lot of breads that are only made on some days of the week which I really would like to try.  I’ll have to make a special effort to get over to Brookline.



Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Whole Wheat Soda Bread
So, here’s a picture of my first attempt at a vegan soda bread with millet and currants that I tried from my new cookbook, Veganomicon. It was a little overdone (dry) but otherwise pretty decent. I’m now in pursuit of finding the perfect adaptation of the cookbook’s recipe for raspberry chocolate cookies. Mmmmm, chocolate cookies….