A Bread-baking Experiment

At the end of the year, Bon Appetit published a list of great recipes for using a Dutch Oven. One included in the group was called BA’s Best Bread.  I still had some time off from work and thought it would be fun to try. A classic 3-day bread starting with a poolish. In typical fashion, I really didn’t read the entire (4-page when printed) recipe, but thought it would be fun. I still had never used my Dutch oven for bread-baking, and thought I should try with a “real” recipe.

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Of course, I didn’t have any rye flour, but did have white-whole wheat, since I had taken advantage of a free-shipping offer from KAF prior to the holidays. I did also have some pumpernickel flavoring from there (the flavors really are great that they sell – pumpernickel in particular – since it’s all of those minor ingredients you need, but don’t have on hand unless you bake all the time) – the first ingredient is rye flour, so I just added a teaspoon or two and made up for the rye with a bit more white whole wheat. It added a LOT of color, but probably not more than if I had used regular whole wheat anyway. Also – if you look at the photo closely – very interesting weight measurements. I do actually bake a fair amount of bread, and so I’m kind of used to the “feel” of it – these are really exact! And yes – I did weigh all of the ingredients faithfully – also, who knew how little one gram of flour actually is!

Anyhoo, poolish made and left to ferment for a day – by timing made it such that it was going to sit longer than the 14-18 hours, but it was a test for me, so it worked out how it did – I mean my life can’t be driven by a loaf of bread (even if it’s supposed to be “BA’s Best”).

The next day a lot of slapping, dropping and a little bit of kneading ensued. There was making the initial dough; letting it rise for a couple of hours; a lot of dropping of the dough back onto the counter from a height – for a while; then slapping it around in the bowl; and finally forming. This was the “work day” and the recipe warns that if you’re not tired at one point – you are really not doing it right! It was kind of fun manhandling it and dropping the dough from a a couple of feet above the counter so that you could hear a good thwack! The dough was then supposed to be placed in a kitchen towel-lined colander that was dusted with rice flour – fortunately there was an alternate – but of course, it’s really hard to get that to stick uniformly. A round of parchment is placed on top – and then the whole thing is plopped into the refrigerator for a day or two. Since this wasn’t exactly a photo-shoot – no pictures – that’s probably a good thing because I think I looked fairly ridiculous for much of the time.

Fast forward. Might even have been the 2nd day – over the holidays there are other priorities like making merry and such. I dutifully put the oven on (mine actually says it goes waaaay above 500 degrees, but I stopped there. No fear, my beautiful black Staub pot that I got last year has a metal handle on the top – no barriers or compromises. Typically, the pot gets heated for about 40 minutes, the bread is removed from the fridge, tuned over onto a plate or something so it can be slipped into said pot, and then… oh, my! there was a huge lump of flour on the top that had to be dusted off. There were also polkadots of a flour pattern due to the colander. Hmmm, but once dusted off, and a few slashes made, I successfully (ish) plopped it into the pan (parchment side down), covered it and back into the oven. 15 minutes or so covered, then another 35 or so uncovered. Guess what? it worked! with the exception of the two little spots that caught on the side of the pot when I was slipping it in – this was one beautiful loaf – if I do say so myself!

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Of course, we are always stridently cautioned to not cut the bread warm. Clearly anyone who enjoys a beautiful slice of warm bread just out of the oven, slathered with butter is a Philistine. Since this was an experiment, we waited. So that it would be perfect.

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We eventually did get to have some bread. And I have to say, I was pleased to see those tell-tale bubbles. The color was a little dark (drat that pumpernickel flavor!).

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The flavor was pretty good. The texture – like all of these, maybe a little moist for me. The crust was really, really good. Perfectly chewy and very satisfying. We’ve enjoyed it plain, and as a bruschetta with ricotta, caramelized onions and roasted butternut squash (yum!) and with leftover beef and horseradish sauce. I had it toasted with an omelette. Like all breads of this kind, it changes a little over time. The crust gets pretty durable… when toasted. We are probably about half-way through it. I suspect it won’t actually be consumed (particularly since I’m making some different bread as I type).

This really was a fun project. We liked it – but it was a huge loaf, and way too much for us to eat while it was/is at its prime. I don’t know that it lived up to it’s title (seriously? this is your very best bread at BA? that’s a bit sad). But I’m very happy to have tried it. I’ve always wanted to try baking a bread with a poolish, since my friend Teri had a baking blog years ago and we would get samples (she’s the reason I ever started myself!). I’m incredibly happy with using my Dutch oven for an artisan bread. No doubt, I will go back to my normal “5-minutes a day” recipe, where I can adjust the loaf size for our use. And see if the smaller quantities of dough will work in the Dutch oven – if not, I might just have to look for a smaller one! 😉

Now, back to finishing up my Walter Sands sandwich bread – oh and some cinnamon rolls with half of the dough. I’m quite contented to be pedestrian, if that’s what I am. It will suit just fine. I’m also excited that I finally got around to a project like this.

 

 

CtBF -Fresh herb omelet

(BTW, I had to double-check that spelling… yep, what’s in the book – not what I would normally type). This week’s recipe for a French-style omelette is accompanied by more text descriptions of David’s omelette experiences and ideas for accompaniments than there is for the recipe itself! That’s a good thing, because it makes for a simple lunch for a day like today, though of course, it could make for a lovely, quick meal at any time.

Ingredients are pretty much always on hand. And I was still able to use some fresh parsley from the garden.

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I’m usually not a home omelette person – sure, I like them at a restaurant, where they have myriad of filling and sauce options. This is a simple one, and I thought that it would be great to try. The eggs are beaten with a touch of cream, a bit of salt and a good grinding of pepper – the herbs are added as well.

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Instead of the 10″ pan suggested, I used an 8″ pan – happily – I thought it would have been  the thickness of a crêpe if I had. I shouldn’t have bothered with the trying to get runny egg to slip under the initial egg cooked in the pan – I could never get it straightened out.

I too thought that the idea of the cheese in one line down the center didn’t make sense – so mine spilled over. I don’t like uncooked whites, but enjoy softly-cooked scrambled eggs – I got over-worried and cooked mine a bit too long. BUT, still lovely nonetheless. img_1391

This was fun, fast – and I really need to remember to make these!!!! This was a delicious lunch – and perfect for me. I think if I didn’t fuss, this could be done in less than 5 minutes. There’s always a bit of cheese on hand, some herbs… and some leftover veggies would be great too. (I wouldn’t mind those duck-fat fries that David mentions – but that’s not going to happen!). This would allow me a nutritious, fast lunch that will stick with me for the afternoon.

And while this is a perfect quick lunch, I can see this being a nice meal for dinner as well – and obviously breakfast. There are tweaks I will make (a little less butter, don’t fuss with the eggs, cook it a little less – try different cheese/fillings), but this was fun, because it really did help me with something I don’t do – and should – so a perfect start to a new year!!!

 

CtBF – Salt cod and potato purée 

This is called “brandade de morue” in French. It seems that it is closely related to some Italian preparations, since salt cod makes an appearance in that cuisine as well. I’m afraid that salt cod was never (ever) something I had in my household. 
So this was an adventure of sorts. Salt cod, soaked for a day, then boiled with potatoes… seasoned and mixed with Garlic and rhyme infused olive oil and lightened with cream. Finally baked with a dusting of Parmesan. 



This was pretty tasty, if a bit of a departure. I’m really looking forward to the fritters next month. 

Boned & Stuffed Chicken (this post is not for the faint of heart)

I have been making boneless stuffed birds for years. I think I started with Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Roast Goose with Smoked Ham Stuffing and Spiced Peach Gravy. I’m not sure why I even tried to make it boneless. Or maybe I made a boneless turkey from Sunset magazine. In any event, boneless birds have made it to my table for decades. I know that the following picture from 1986 is where I learned how to do the process, though I have other explanations as well. It certainly helped having this practice when I decided to make Julia Child’s Pate De Canard En Croûte a few years ago for an all-French Thanksgiving (ironically, just before I started cooking with French Fridays with Dorie, and of course Cook the Book Fridays).

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I like using this method, since it significantly shortens the cooking time, makes the meat more juicy, and creates a dramatic presentation. For a turkey, I can have the bird in the oven by 12-12:30 and we can still be sitting down to dinner by 5:30 or so. This also has the advantage of freeing up the oven early in the day – nice for when you have nieces who really want to bake pies, but don’t get in until late Wednesday!

On larger birds, I will sometimes debone the legs – either part or all, I usually leave the wings. I made this recently, and thought I’d show some step-by-step photos of the process. But, it really is not for the faint of heart. I know plenty of people who won’t even eat anything on the bone… let alone deboning something themselves!

The bird is placed breast-side down on a cutting board. Using a very sharp, thin knife (a boning knife is ideal of course), slice through the skin along the backbone. One side at a time, carefully separate the skin and meat from the main ribcage/carcass. You’ll scrape the meat from the bones, and move toward the breastbone – the cartilage that separates the two breasts. Be VERY careful not to cut through the skin. You’ll separate the meat from the bones at the breastbone at the last – that’s probably the trickiest part of the entire operation. At the wing socket, carefully cut tendons around the joint, and then carefully separate the wing by snapping it loose. For the thigh, similarly cut the tendons and separate the joint. Repeat this on the opposite side. When you are ready to cut the meat away from the breast bone, be sure to position the skin away from the cartilage/meat, and cut through. I’d rather have a little remaining than to cut the skin – since it needs to remain to hold everything together. And then, if you are removing them, scrape the meat from the thigh bones, and separate at the joint.

Not the most beautiful presentation at this point – but don’t worry if there are bits of meat that aren’t perfectly attached, it won’t matter later. Once deboned, lay flat with the skin side down, and season well. I used Chef Paul’s poultry seasoning (you can make your own or buy it) to season the chicken generously while I made the stuffing. For a more French presentation, pour an ample amount of port and/or brandy over the meat, allowing it to marinate while you prepare the stuffing. Of course, depending on what type of stuffing you’re using. For Thanksgiving this year – it will be a mushroom brioche stuffing.

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I love to make Cajun-Creole cornbread stuffing. I had some jalapeño cornbread left over, so it was easy enough to add some French bread, sautéed aromatics and spices and a little stock. Oh, and a little bacon. The recipe (below) calls for the vegetables to be sautéed in butter. I swapped out for bacon drippings, since I would be skipping the ham that is supposed to be added (sausage would be good too).

This mixture is piled onto the meat-side of the chicken. I always “sew” it up with bamboo skewers, since they are the most likely to be on hand. Once the bird is sewn up, you transfer it to the baking dish, and re-shape it to a bit more typical shape, then season again, with the poultry blend or other seasonings of your choice.

The bird gets roasted for about 1.25 hours at 400 degrees. You can certainly baste or rub with butter, but I never do. It is nice to serve with a gravy, wine sauce or other sweet/spicy sauce, though not necessary.

To carve the bird, you split the bird lengthwise, then it’s easy to carve slices, with some of the stuffing as part of the slice.

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This really is a great technique to learn. It’s easier the larger and meatier the bird is, but even though it takes some concentration – it’s a beautiful presentation, and makes for a delicious, juicy bird.

 

Boned & Stuffed Chicken

1 (5lb) roasting chicken
1 recipe Hearty Poultry Stuffing
1 T+ Cajun Poultry Seasoning
Hearty Poultry Stuffing

1/2 c bacon drippings (or butter)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 c chopped celery
4 bacon slices, diced
1 t dried rubbed sage, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t dried leaf thyme, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t dried rosemary, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t dried leaf oregano, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t salt
1.5 t minced fresh garlic
1/2 t ground pepper
(1/4 lb smoked ham, coarsely ground)
4 c crumbled corm bread
6 c French bread cubes
2 eggs, slightly beaten
about 1.25 c poultry stock

Melt drippings or butter in a heavy 10” skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, bacon, seasonings and ham. Saute, stirring often until vegetables are wilted and bacon is cooked, about 10 minutes. Place cornbread and French bread in large bowl. Pour vegetable mixture over and combine. Stir in eggs. Add enough stock or broth to make a moist dress tin, stirring to break up corn bread and French bread. Makes about 1 lb. or 8 cups. (Double this for a turkey)

CtBF -Scalloped potatoes with blue cheese and roasted garlic

Wow, these may have been the best scalloped potatoes I’ve ever had!

Today, I thought I’d use a BLUFbottom line up front. Bottom line – these are amazing! And to be fair, I think that this is one of the times when an amazing-quality ingredient really was worth it.

To back up, there are plenty of French recipes that have you add a blue or roquefort cheese to a dish. I think there are mixed results. Sometimes it’s overpowering, others simply discordant. For this recipe, I decided that I would try to get around all of this – and went to the cheese counter. They were very helpful in providing descriptions. The one I bought said that it was creamy and smooth – wonderful melted. Seemed the perfect cheese for my dish.

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The cheese, if you’re interested is “St Agur Blue”, and is French in origin, though the helpful label says simply that it is made from Cows milk, penicillium roqueforti, salt and rennet. If you’re familiar with the recipe, you can see that I’ve also cheated with the garlic. This is remarkably delicious when added to recipes – and this was to be a week-night meal. I really didn’t have time to roast more garlic – and decided not to use the leftover roast garlic that likely remained tucked alongside the roasted beets from earlier in the week. And no – I didn’t even peel the potatoes! I did, however harvest some chives from the garden!

Simply put, layers of thinly sliced potatoes lay the groundwork for the chives, cheese, salt, pepper and roasted garlic. I made three layers. And then poured the half & half (with a dash of cream, yes) on top. I skipped the heating of the cream – it was going into the oven.

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I covered mine for about half of the time. The dish was pretty deep, so I think it took a bit more than the hour at 375 degrees. I uncovered it to get the nice crust – pushing the potatoes under the cream as I did so.

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This creates a dreamy dish of terrific flavors – all blend well, but have their subtle counterpoints in the dish. To say we loved it would be an incredible understatement. I served it with a simple, perfectly-grilled steak. Yes, I should have had a salad, and it would be terrific with this too.

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This is such an incredibly simple and fast dish to prepare – all of the time is spent while the potatoes bubble and simmer away in their cheesy-creamy bath. So while decadent, this is an easy dish for a show-stopping weeknight meal, or of course a special occasion. Not for everyday, but certainly is simple enough that it could be so.

To find out how others made their potato recipes, you can check the links out at Cook the Book Fridays.

CtBF – Baked eggs with kale and smoked salmon

Ramekins filled with baked eggs and other items are always a treat. Individual servings are always fun! This particular version includes sautéed kale with a good dose of garlic, smoked salmon and some cheese, along with house-made garlic crumbs to top it off. 

I chose baby kale, since kale doesn’t really really get very tender with a short sauté. I also chose some “hot smoked” salmon, instead of the standard soft lox-type. Since we wouldn’t be using it all for breakfast, that was more appealing to me in other guises. 

Essentially, make the bread crumbs – seasoning with a good helping of garlic and thyme. Sauté the kale in more butter, and more garlic. Assemble the ramekins and bake until the whites are set, but the yolks are still a little runny.

I served these with some crispy toast soldiers. We thought it ended up being the perfect amount as well – with just one egg (I can’t imagine eating 3 eggs in this!). Both the plain and smoked salmon versions were enjoyed. 

If I were making this again, I probably would substitute spinach. Or maybe beet greens, which I think would be delicious. The goat cheese was good, but I might sub that out – oh, wait! That’s what makes this preparation such a great one. The versatility. Each person can have the combination that most appeals! 

CtBF – Sardine Spread (rillettes de sardine)

This is an “extra” post for CtBF, since there was a 3rd Friday in September (that I am late for!). The idea was to have optional recipes that included ingredients that might not appeal to everyone. This week: Sardines. My rough calculation is that a bit over half of the group actually like sardines, and many of us have made a similar version when we cooked our way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

Sardines aren’t normal fare for me, though I don’t mind them, but I was reminded why I don’t really make this dish. It’s because it’s not very pretty. The same dish made with salmon…so much prettier.

I had found a can of sardines at an international food market, knowing that sooner or later, I would be making something like this. I had a hard time finding ones that didn’t have a bunch of flavoring – as it turned out, these were “spicy”.

See – not pretty. BUT, these get mixed (sans as many bones as you can easily remove) with a mixture of butter and cream cheese, and then some other items – like capers – and you can never go wrong with them! Unusually, this had lime juice in lieu of lemon – a nice touch.

It’s not pretty. But it is very delicious. We had this as part of a grazing meal watching football. The flavor is quite wonderful. And I skipped the cayenne called for in the recipe because they were “spicy” to begin with. I didn’t do this – but I bet this would be good stuffed inside those little fresh multi-colored sweet peppers you can find at the store these days – or in some other case that would compliment the flavor while giving it a bit nicer look.

To see what my other fearless bloggers thought of this dish, you can find links to their posts at Cook the Book Fridays.