Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bacon Bread

UPDATE:  This post was originally for white bread - delicious, simple, vegan white bread.

Then Bacon entered the picture, double smoked slab Bacon specifically, caused a ruckus and well, I had to update the post.  The instructions haven't changed that much, just note the part where you lace the dough with Bacon.  Veggie and vegan friends - my apologies, just ignore the meat.  I was weak and heeded the siren call of...BACON!

I used to be intimidated by bread.  Never mind my attempt to avoid carbs - the very thought of baking bread made me think I'd rather walk through a blizzard to buy a slice than try to bake a loaf at home.   So over the last couple of weeks I've spent time talking myself into getting over it and trying to bake a loaf.

As a kid I used to go to Deb's house where her mom Susan would make these loafs of bread and we kids would tear into them before they'd even cooled, slathering them with butter and enjoying all the yeasty warm goodness!  I'll forever associate the smell of bread baking with Susan Alan!

But I thought there was no way I could pull it off...what the hell was I afraid of????  Determined to conquer my fear I set off.  So to speak.

I did  some research, and looked at about a dozen different recipes trying to learn what the major tips and tricks were and to find a recipe I could deal with, and I cobbled together the bits.  Things like make sure the room is warm when the bread is rising, make it rise twice, use cooking spray instead of flour to keep the dough from sticking when you knead it, stuff like that.  Plus I had to find a way to make a loaf of bread without the much coveted Kitchen aid stand mixer.  I live in NY, I have a NY kitchen, I don't have anywhere to put one of those no matter how bad I want one.  And I DO want one.

So I had to work this out manually - and it was so much easier than I thought!  The result is a loaf of bread that's dense and chewy but still fluffy with a slight salty sweetness and a heady yeast aroma... hard not to eat the whole loaf at once...Oh and now there's Bacon.

Stuff you need (in two parts, makes two loaves):
Part 1:
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast (1.5 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups of bread flour
  • 3 cups of very warm water (I used hot water from the tap)
Part 2:
  • 1/2 cup All Purpose flour (I actually used a quarter cup, plus a quarter cup of wheat flour just because I had it around the house.  And it made me feel like I was somehow making this bread healthier.  Dumb, I know.)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt (skip the teaspoon if you're making the bacon version)
  • 5 additional cups of bread flour (possibly 4, but have 5 ready)
  • Half a cup of bacon, cooked and diced - I use Schaller and Weber double smoked because that's what's available to me but there are some spectacular shops out there that turn out heavenly bacon...
  • Non-stick cooking spray (like Pam)

In a big bowl, combine the yeast, white sugar, 2.5 cups of flour and three cups of warm water and whisk vigorously until smooth - like pancake batter -  about two minutes.
Now add the half cup of AP flour, the canola oil, and the salt.  Whisk again, till fully incorporated.

Now you're going to start to add the bread flour - I've made this bread several times, and it was 5 cups each time.  Add the flour one cup at a time making sure to incorporate it completely before adding another.

I switched to a spatula at this point to make mixing easier, then after about the third cup of flour, I just dove in with my hands as the dough starts to form and is easier to manipulate by hand.  Somewhere between the fourth and fifth cup of flour, you'll find the dough starts to form a ball and pull away from the bowl entirely.  Keep going mixing and kneading until the dough forms a smooth ball.

Once you've got all the flour incorporated, keep kneading for a couple of minutes (like 5 to 10 min) until you've got a slightly tacky but not sticky ball of dough.

Put this dough into a well greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth.  The dough will rise better if it's in a warm spot with no drafts.  My apartment was freezing this morning so I turned the stove on and put the bowl on the stove top near the vents with great results!  Now let it rise to about double it's size - it should take anywhere from 45 to 90 min depending on the temp of the room, and the humidity.  You'll know it's risen as far as it's going to go by poking it - when it's completely risen the place you poke will remain indented.

Cook the bacon while you're waiting for the dough to rise if you haven't already, drain on paper towels and set aside.

 When the dough has risen, you need to punch it down once and prepare it for a second rise.  Just stick your hand in the middle (weirdest sensation), and push the dough down.

Turn it out onto a surface sprayed with non stick spray  (counterless Chi, used a greased cookie sheet) and  divide the dough into two equal parts (my halves are nearly always off) and prepare two loaf pans by spraying with non stick spray.  Starting with one half of the dough, roll it out to about half an inch thick, cut that sheet into three parts and braid it together for an interesting finish on the bread.

If you're adding bacon, take one of the three parts of the braid, and flatten it a bit more - lay the bacon in the center of the strip, and pinch it closed.  Braid the bacon filled rope with the other two sections.

Place each batch into your loaf pans and cover with a damp cloth for a second rise - about 30 min  - until the bread reaches just the edge of the pan.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 - 375 and bake on the center rack until the top is golden brown (usually between 28 and 35 min, ovens vary).  Remove from the oven and pop loaves out onto a cooling rack.

Cut off a slice and see if you can resist eating the whole loaf...

Top with tomato and avocado and a smear of home made mayo (I didn't have lettuce) for a B.A.T. featuring built in Bacon!

Or slice and slather with a batch of home made butter!!

If your bread lasts a day or more, cut thick slices dip them in a batter of milk, eggs and sugar and make them into salty sweet French toast!

There's really no going wrong with this...There, de-mystified bread! Bacon'ed up - even better!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Five min. Fudge

The nice thing about chocolate is it's delicious no matter how it's served.  Or is it just me? And to think I really prefer savory/salty things over sweet any day - so why fudge do you ask?  I'll tell you why!

If you're on Facebook with me, you know I've been obsessed with Marshmallows  lately - the most recent incarnation being a 'red velvet' version, designed to mimic red velvet cake with it's slight cocoa flavor, bright red color and white outer coat.

Combine a fat fluffy marshmallow with hot cocoa and you get yourself a warm melty treat that makes a winter blizzard (we've had three this year so far) look like a sparkly day!
But instant cocoa, while not bad, could be improved upon, and after a little poking around online, I found a couple examples of hot chocolate on a stick!  I had to try making a batch!

Things you'll need;

A batch of marshmallows - whatever flavor you want Marshmallows ;

For the fudge (based on the recipe from Nigella Lawson) ;

  • 14oz of semi sweet chocolate broken up into small pieces (or chips)- I actually use half semi sweet, half unsweetened for the hot-cocoa-on-a-stick, as the marshmallows are mostly sugar, and there's no one readily available to peel me off of the ceiling.
  • 14 oz (one can) sweetened condensed milk 
  • 2tbsp Butter
  • scant 1/4 cup heavy cream (by scant, I mean don't feel compelled to fill the cup to brimming, it can be a bit under quarter cup.  Skip this if you intend to eat rather than drink the chocolate, it's here to make it easier to melt when making hot cocoa.)

In a heavy bottom pot over medium low heat, dump everything in the pot.  Now stir;
It's going to look messy.  Keep going;
The whole mess will suddenly become a glossy fudge paste - you might find it difficult to keep your fingers out of it.  (wouldn't recommend it, you're on the stove, it's going to be hot.  Just saying.)
Turn off the heat - all the bits may not be entirely melted but that's OK you're going to keep stirring until it's all smooth and all the chunks are melted.  Leaving the heat on here is a bad idea as you'll find the chocolate burns rather easily and becomes grainy.  Not pretty.

Dump the whole mass into a pan that you've sprayed with non stick cooking spray - you'll thank me for this later.  If you want to shape the fudge you'll want to let it cool to room temperature, cut it into even portions and dip in cocoa powder then shape;
The cocoa powder makes them easier to handle and keeps them from sticking to one another.  Alternately you can cut the fudge into squares and skip the dusting of powder.

For the hot chocolate on a stick, use a lollipop stick or popsicle stick to skewer one large marshmallow along with one piece of fudge.  Heat milk (not water) until it's steaming - do not boil.  Add the fudge and stir until melted, then top with a marshmallow!

These make great gifts;


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So Delicious - Soffritto

For Christmas I received a couple of cookbooks - yes I am vaguely aware that for most women that might not be the best present but the giver in this case knows me well, and I found myself delighted as I tucked into "Salt to Taste" by Marco Canora - a beautiful volume of recipes  from Northern Italy.

The pages on basic broth and soffritto alone are worth the price of the book.  After reading a bit about the soffritto, I was fascinated and decided I had to try making it.  I've come to one conclusion - my life appears to have been incomplete until this point.  Naturally I had to share. I love aromatics.  I's official.

Soffritto is Spanish in origin, but appears to pop up in various Latino and Italian cuisines, and a couple of my wise ass Latina friends seemed surprised I'd never heard of it.  You guys have been holding out on me.  I'm talking to you YOU Lillian and Cassandra.

While there seem to be hundreds of variations, Salt to Taste covers a version which you could easily use as a base and alter depending on what you're making for dinner and personal taste.  As usual I winged it a bit but here's my version, based largely on Salt to Taste combined with a couple recipes I found online.

Stuff you'll need:

  • Large carrots 
  • Onions (I used sweet onions, Canora appears to have used red)
  • Celery 
  • Olive Oil

You need to mince stuff.  I mean a lot.  A lot a lot a lot.  the finer the mince the more flavorful the soffritto so this is no place to take shortcuts.  The recommendation is to use a knife, particularly for the onions, because if you're food processer blades are dull, the onion will get juicy and runny.  Not the goal.
This isn't minced enough yet...just a start. but you get the idea.

There are various suggestions on the ratio of onions to carrots to celery - I went with 2 cups of onion to 1 cup of carrot to 1 cup of celery and I'm loving the results.

In a fairly deep pan, heat about half a cup of olive oil over medium high/high heat - you're going to want to have enough in the pan to coat all of the veggies.  When the oil is hot, drop in all of your minced veggies - listen for the sizzle, you're aim is to fry the veggies, so keep the heat on the high side - I had to turn the heat down to a steady medium-high in order to see the steam come off the pan.

For the record, I wasn't buying this part - I thought there was no way I would be able to get soft caramelized veggies over high heat - boy was I surprised!

The sizzling veggies will release a bunch of steam - you want it to happen, apparently this is part of the trick.  Stir occasionally to ensure even heating and continue to cook until the veggies stop steaming.  If you've added enough oil and veg to the pan, this will take somewhere close to an hour.

Keep an eye on this now - once the steam heats off, things move quickly...

There are three levels of color you can target for the soffritto - blonde, amber and dark - I suspect this might be an Italian thing, as the various Spanish versions I found didn't mention any such differentiation.  The blonde is the palest with the crispest veggie flavor - you'd pull the pan off of the heat the moment the steam stops.  The amber has more caramelization to it - richer in color, and a bit sweeter.  Keep an eye on the pan because letting it go a bit longer will result in a dark soffritto - sweeter still, and a great light chocolate color.

Once you've got the batch to the color you like, make sure there's enough olive oil to cover, and put it in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge.  So far tonight, I've added a heaping spoonful to a quick version of a stewed beef ragu, and to the stock for a pot of slow cooked short ribs.  This is after I ate a spoonful or so as is.

You could add this anywhere you want to turn up the flavor - the aromatics in the mix enhance all manner of sauce, stew and soup.  That is if you don't just snarf it down as it is...