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homemade bread

Mushroom Focaccia

Whole Mushroom focaccia

What do you do when you go to a book store? Do you go with a plan and a list of titles that you want to look up/buy? Do you go there with a vague idea of browsing around, have a cup of coffee, bite a sample off a few a books, while your time and just you know, spend a lovely afternoon in the company of words?

Well, I belong to the latter (clearly there was no doubt of that given the previous sentence!!:D). So, yeah, I am guilty of thumbing through quite a few intoxicating fresh with ink pages and walking out happy without having bought a single thing. In my defense, I almost always buy coffee and snacks, I am not much of the crouch in the corner kind....Anyway, I find it so much more satisfying to turn pages than click away on sites. So libraries and book stores are my happy places.. :)

cartoon credit: cartoonstock.com

A few days back, Melody of the gorgeous Gourmet Fury, had shouted out the theme for the latest version of her Beet 'n Squash You series - Battle Mushroom! Mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients to play with. So, I was looking forward to creating something for the battle!



So, there it was, in the back of my mind; I had promised her an entry this month. And, I wanted to do something with bread (Yeast is a heady culinary aphrodisiac, don't you think?!). So I mulled over breads with mushroom inside or outside and finally settled on focaccia. Why?! Just because it's one of my all time favorites, Mr. FSK simple loves it, it was the first ever bread I made (so has that sentimental pull ;-)) and for some odd reason I was seeing a lot of focaccias in the food blogosphere and that peer pressure is simply hard to resist! :D

Focaccia collage

I have heard much about Peter Reinhart and his book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Not owning a copy, I skipped off to nearby B&N, to do some research and yes, shamelessly copy the recipe! In passing, I found another book on breads whose name I have honestly forgotten. So, I took down both recipes. Peter's needed a bit more mothering than the other and since I was running a bit short on time, I chose the mysterious other recipe with a few suggestions from Peter's. I promise to make a note of the name next time I scrounge around in B&N and update you guys.

So, anyway, I made a simple, no-frill focaccia topped with lightly sauteed mushrooms. Clean flavors, letting the mushrooms play the dominant flavor, as was intended for the contest. The thing about this recipe is that its starts of with a base for making ciabatta and then modifies it for focaccia. Which is kind of good value - two birds with one stone and all that. Anyway, my point was that the bread comes out denser than usual in looks but still as light as air. Ofcourse, you can also spread it thinner, it get the more traditional look!

Mushroom focaccia sliced

Also, sending this our friendly,neighbourhood Yeastspotting team!


Mushroom Focaccia
(makes one 10 inch round)

Biga
1/2 cup (2.13 oz) bread flour
1/6 cup (1.3 oz) warm water
pinch of instant yeast

Dough
Scant 2 cups (1/3 lb + 3.2 oz) bread flour
5/6 cup water
1/3 T salt
5/12 tsp instant yeast
Biga (from above)

1/2 cup sauteed mushrooms
1/3 cup olive oil

To make the biga:

Disperse the yeast in water, add flour and mix until just smooth. Biga should be stiff and dense but add a few drops of water if too stiff. Cover twith plastic and leave for 12-16 hours at about 70F. When ready, the biga will be domes and just beginning to recede in the center.

For the dough:

Add all the ingredients to mixing bowl except the biga. Mix to incorporate. As the dough starts coming together, add the biga in chunks. Dough will be sticky and slack. Continue mixing till there is some gluten developed but the dough is still loose and sticky. Internal dough temperature should be 75F.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and gently pat into a rectangle. Fold the dough business letter style along the long edge. Spray the top with oil, dust with flour, cover with wrap and let rest for another 30 minutes. Repeat process 2 more times.

After the final 30 minutes of bulk fermentation, above, transfer to a 10 inch cake pan that has been generously oiled with olive oil. Dimple the dough lightly with finger tips (only!) to spread the dough to the shape of the pan. Don't worry if it doesn't fit exactly; it will after rising.

Spread the sauteed mushrooms lightly over the focaccia. Pour 3/4th of the remaining oil evenly over the top. Cover with an oiled wrap and allow to ferment for an hour and a half until doubled in size. About 15 minutes before it is ready preheat oven to 475F.

Pour the rest of the oil over the top. Pop the pan into the oven, reduce heat to 450F and bake for 25 minutes until the sides and bottom are browned and crusty.

Transfer to rack and cool for a few minutes. Slice into a still warm focaccia, dip in fruity olive oil and relish!

Food for the soul - Hearty Minestrone with warm Herb Breadsticks


It is getting unreasonably cool out here. There was that lovely summer, then we ever so slightly flirted with beautiful fall and now it has all frosted over, almost. It is even snowing in some parts! Can you believe that?! Hey you, up there: "It's only October!! Lighten up, won't ya!". Oh well... siggh, like that' going to work.

But, what does help, is hot hot food, especially the slurpy variety. I am not really a soup person. In India, they are usually served as an appetizer and I felt that all that volume took away from my enjoyment of the main course. So, soup was the thing that kept me from the real food and inevitably was sent back by me untouched. Until I came to the US and discovered the joys of a hearty soup that was as warming as it was satiating!

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And, what better than eating it with warm, fresh and well-buttered bread??! None, I say! The bread alone will win me over (you know my love affair with fresh bread :)). Ok, all that rambling start was to say that I made soup and breadsticks for dinner.

Minestrone is one of flexible Italian soups that are so easy on the cook. The list of ingredients is whatever firm vegetable you have on hand and canneloni beans to give the soup that heartiness; herbs to flavor and you are done! I made mine with carrots, potatoes, celery and beans flavored by a mix of Italian herbs. It doesn't get any simpler, does it?!

Collage

To go with that I made herb and parmesan breadsticks. I'll tell you a little secret. Made in larger sizes, they are fantastic for sandwiches; crusty on top and soft and spongy on the inside. I had one for lunch with peppercorn turkey, shaved onion and a streak of mayo. Perfect!

This post is also in support of BloggerAid Changing the Face of Famine. It is a community of international food bloggers determined to make a difference in aid of world famine. This month, as part of raising awareness about child nutrition and the School Meals Program, I am serving my soup in a cup to represent feeding one child a healthy and nutritious meal at school.


Also, this wonderful group of food bloggers have put together a cookbook, which is going to the printers very soon! So, here is wishing that the book is a huge success. Which means, all you readers out there, please do buy the book when it hits the stores and help us in our cause to feed every child.


On a related note, I would like to introduce the The Cookbook People who are donating cookbook software to BloggerAid (Imagine! you can inundate your friends and family with your many many recipes!!). They are also generously donating $20 to the School Meals Program for every BloggerAid member who includes them in their post.


Herb and Parmesan Breadsticks with Sea Salt crust
(10 bread sticks or 4 individual sandwich rounds)

1-1/2 cup bread flour
1 heaping tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 T dried herb mix (I used oregano, thyme and rosemary)
1/4 cup grated parmeggiano reggiano
1/2 cup water at 110 F
1 T + 1 tsp melted butter
sea salt for garnish

In a mixing bowl, add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and let sit for 5-6 minutes till the mixture is cloudy. Add in everything else reserving 1 tsp of butter for later. Mix and knead the dough until you get a pliable, smooth dough.

Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 10 pieces. Roll into 4 inch logs. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and let rest in a warm place for atleast 30 minutes until it has double in volume.

Note: If you are making individual sandwich rounds, divide dough into four and shape as desired before allowing to double.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bursh the tops with melted butter and sprinkle sea salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes until light golden in color. Cool on rack. Serve warm.


Minestrone Soup

1 medium onion, finely diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large chunk of ginger, grated
2 sticks celery, finely diced
1 cup carrots, in chunks
1/2 cup potatoes, in chunks
1 can cannelolini beans, drained and washed
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable/chicken broth
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 T Italian seasoning
2 dry bay leaves
1 heaping tsp cumin powder
parmeggiano rind (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed
Sour cream and fresh parsley for garnish

Saute onions, celery and garlic until transluscent. Add the carrots and potatoes and saute for a couple of minutes. Add fennel seeds, herb mix, salt, pepper, bay leaves and the cheese rind (if using). Stir in crush tomatoes and broth. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add in the beans, reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

Just before serving garnish with fresh parsley and serve with a dollop of sour cream with a side of warm bread.

Off to YeastSpotting ...

Aloo Paratha for World Bread Day 2009!

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"Bread is the warmest, kindest of all words. Write it always with a capital letter, like your own name." from a café sign ...

It couldn't be said better. Bread is perhaps the longest running love affair through the ages for chefs and gourmands alike. Nothing inspires more than the smell of bread baking. And, the feel of biting into a piece of generously buttered, freshly baked bread.. Oh! no pleasure greater for the taste buds!

I am happy that this wonderful piece of culinary pleasure has a day dedicated to it. Despite the craziness of the last couple of days leading into tomorrow (long story, another post), I couldn't let today pass by without my two cents! :)


I was initially thinking of making a basic white bread that is elegant in its simplicity and drives home my point above. But, in the spirit of the upcoming Indian festival of Diwali, I decided to go back to my roots and highlight one of the favorite breads of my country - Aloo Paratha, unleavened bread stuffed with cooked potatoes and spices!

That's the other good thing about bread. It is so versatile. Across the world, every culture has had some form of it, leavened or unleavened as the staple in their diet. In India, especially in the North and the middle, wheat is a staple grain made into various unleavened breads; rotis, paratha (plain and stuffed), naans and all the stuff that you get in a bread basket at an Indian restaurant.

FROM SCRATCH

I have been making rotis since I was so high. In fact, rotis and dosas were about the only thing I made in the kitchen for the longest time. Yet, stuffed parathas did not come easy to me. The trick is in making sure that the stuffing does not come out and take over the roti in entirely. It took me some practice and now I think I can grill a pretty looking one. The paratha is made with spiced mashed potato mixture stuffed inside a roti and grilled on a buttered pan and topped with a bucket of butter....

So, here it is.. The aloo paratha in its simple magnificence. I am sending this as my entry for World Bread Day 2009 event, hosted by Zorra of Kochtopf. The idea was to bake a, bread with or without yeast, use sourdough, experiment with different flours, add some seeds.


P.S: I am thrilled, I got through this post in! Yay!


Aloo Paratha (Indian Potato Bread)
(makes about 9, 6" parathas)

For the roti jacket:
2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
2 T ghee
1 tsp salt
about 1 cup of water

For the filling:
2 large red potatoes, cooked
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
3 green asian chillies, fine chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp five spice powder

Mash the potatoes and incorporate all the filling ingredients. Set aside until cooking time to let flavors blend. You can refrigerate the mixture.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour and salt. Add the ghee to get a meal like mixture. Add 3/4 cup of water and mix. If the mixture is too dry, add more water one tablespoon at a time to get an elastic, tacky dough that is not sticky. Knead for a couple of minutes.

Tip: If at any point, you can't get past sticky, oil your hands lightly and continue kneading. The dough will come together in short order.

Cover dough with a damp kitchen towel and set aside for atleast 20 minutes.

Peel off about a tablespoon and half of dough and roll out on a lightly oiled and floured surface into a round about 1/8 inch thickness. You may have to flour the dough lightly as you roll to prevent sticking and tearing.

Place a generous amount of the potato filling in the center of the round and fold the sides over the center. Place the stuffed dough fold-side up, dust both sides with a bit of flour and roll out carefully into a 6 inch round.

Tip: With every roll out, keep turning the dough clockwise by 15 degrees to make sure that it doesn't stick. If at any point, the dough sticks or the filling starts coming out, pat with flour and continue carefully. It is ok to have some filling peeking out in spots, don't worry about it.

Heat a non-stick flat griddle and spread about half teaspoon of butter. Grill each side of the paratha until cooked (little brown spots will appear across the surface). Remove onto plate and top with a pat of butter.

Serve immediately. My favorite way of eating aloo parathas is with hot mango pickle and cool yogurt! YUMMM!! :))

The secrets of a delicious bread

OK, I confess. I find the complimentary warm bread and butter, the best indicators of what is to follow at a restaurant. If the bread hits the spot, then somehow everything else falls into place. And, I have never turned down a refill of my empty bread plate! Ever.

So, while perusing one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, I was very motivated to make bread at home. Sometime back I had used one of SK's recipes for homemade pizza with much success. That experience redeemed bread making at home for me and while I have made pizza many times at home since then (but ofcourse! It's pizza!), I had yet to venture into the sphere of real breads.. And, I mean yeast bread that work on timetables and all the kneading and degas-ing and stuff..

I have always wanted to take a course on bread and pastry making but the three-digit price tags have daunted me. So, armed with a library copy of The Bread Bible and a simple looking recipe on SK, I decided to give it a try. And, for opening night, I chose, Potato and Rosemary Bread!

Now, I did my homework! I read up on the techniques and terms (like biga, sponge etc.) used in bread making and was reassured by Ms. Beranbaum (author of The Bread Bible) that hands are indeed sufficient tools for all the labor involved (and no, I did not get my excuse for making another purchase.. nevertheless..!). And most importantly, I realized that I have to plan to make most breads because they need some starter material (the biga, in this case) that needs to sort of ferment overnight to be at its prime!

But, I persevered. And the fruits of my labor were flavorful indeed. In truth, it was not that much effort really. There are a just few important things to keep in mind -
  1. Use fresh yeast - Yeast is a living organism that ferments the sugars into CO2 which creates the spongy texture of breads. So, the fresher it is, the more potent. I used the rapid rising variety.


  2. Be patient - Yes, it can be very hard for some of us to wait for the dough to become sufficiently elastic without biting nails or tapping foot, but patience has its merits. An under-risen dough will be tough and very dense.


  3. Beware the right starter/pre-ferment - Many breads need a starter or pre-ferment that kick starts the fermenting in the actual bread dough. Different breads need different types of starters that pre-ferment for different times. Plan your bread making with sufficient time for this starter.


  4. Knead just enough - The idea of kneading is to ensure that the ingredients, especially the yeast, is even spread around the dough for even rising. Stop kneading once the dough is supple and soft but not sticky. Do not over knead. It will make the dough very tough.


  5. Always test your dough - Although timings are given, they are only indicative. The only sure way of knowing if the dough is ready is to do a test. The simplest one that supposedly works for all breads is the Dimple Test; Make a dimple on the dough surface with your finger and the dough should not rise to fill it completely when you release.


  6. Test your oven temperature - Some ovens are good at retaining heat, and some sadly not, when the door is opened. This is terribly important in the first 10 minutes of baking as the yeast's fermenting process completes insides the hot oven during this time. So, if you think your oven is not very retentive, they pre-heat to 50 degrees higher and turn the temperature back down once the bread is in.


  7. Garnish into the dough, not on it - I learnt this hard way. If you are using something like rosemary, in this case, as a garnish on top of the bread, make sure it's fully embedded into the dough or it will burn in the oven.


  8. Let bread rest - More of the patience needed here, especially in the face of the wonderful aroma from the fresh bread. But, desist from slicing before it rests for the full time mentioned.

Potato and Rosemary Bread
(
adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I made only one loaf, so it was bit tricky scaling down the measurements but some approximation is ok.

4 oz biga (recipe below)
1-1/2 cups bread flour + plus extra for kneading
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
5/8 tsp rapid rising yeast
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1 T olive oil
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup water at room temperature
Olive oil for brushing on top

Remove the biga from the refrigerator 1 hour before you plan to make the bread. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a knife. Cover with a plastic wrap or damp towel and let sit for 1 hour.

Once the biga has thawed, stir together the flour, salt, black pepper, and yeast. Add the biga pieces, mashed potatoes, oil, rosemary, and water. Work the ingredients into a ball. Add more water, if necessary, or more flour, if the dough is too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, adding flour if needed, until the dough is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. Gather the dough into a ball. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size. Test the dough with the dimple test.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Shape each of the larger pieces into a boule (oblong round) and place the dough on the parchment. Brush the dough with oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours (depending on the size of the pieces), or until the dough doubles in size. The dough should pass the Dimple test again.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Remove the plastic from the dough and lightly brush the bread with olive oil. You do not need to score these breads, but you can if you prefer.

Place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake the loaf for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180° for even baking. The bread takes 35 to 45 minutes total to bake. The loaves and rolls will be a rich golden brown all around, and the internal temperature should register at least 195°F (check the temperature).

(The loaf should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. If the loaf is fully colored but seems too soft, turn off the oven and let them bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to firm up.)

Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour for loaves.



Biga
(~16 oz)

Biga will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for about 3 months. You can use it as soon as it ferments, but I prefer to give it an overnight retarding to bring out more flavor.

2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp rapid rising yeast
3/4 to 1 cup water, at room temperature

Stir together the flour and yeast. Add water slowly, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball. It is okay if the dough is a bit sticky, you can correct for it when kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours, or until it nearly doubles in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.




This recipe has been yeastspotted!
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