My favourite bread recipe

A 2-lb loaf made in my bread machine. These days I prefer the smaller loaf (reduced by half a pound) because I find the size more ideal for toast and sandwiches. The French breadboard, a gift from my mother-in-law after a vacation in Vaucluse, is very handy for catching the crumbs when you slice.  

A 2-lb loaf made in my bread machine. These days I prefer the smaller loaf (reduced by half a pound) because I find the size more ideal for toast and sandwiches. The French breadboard, a gift from my mother-in-law after a vacation in Vaucluse, is very handy for catching the crumbs when you slice.

 

I use a bread machine, and it's one of the best purchases I've ever made. I have total control over my bread economy: how it's made, when it's made, and what goes into it, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My favourite, most-of-the-time recipe is based on one for bread machines by Beth Hensperger, but my version differs in several ways. 

Ms Hensperger's recipe calls for canola oil, which I won't touch (I have read descriptions of how it is manufactured and seen a video on YouTube -- either one of which is enough to put anybody off for life). She asks for milk, but I vary that when I have the opportunity (yoghurt on hand). She adds four teaspoons of gluten (in powder form) to the yeast, but I never detected any benefit from doing that, so I leave it out. The yeast is perfectly adequate to raise the bread, all by itself. While she asks for 2 tablespoons of honey, I put in something more like one-and-a-half, and I round the teaspoon of salt slightly, as I find that 'more is better' when it comes to flavour depth and salting.

Makes a 1½ -pound loaf.

3 cups minus one tablespoon flour -- either all bread flour

or a mixture of bread and all-purpose flour

1/2 cup water (preferably spring, mineral, or filtered)

1/2 cup plain lowfat yoghurt, or milk if yoghurt isn't available

2 tablespoons best-quality butter or extra virgin olive oil

1½ tablespoons raw honey

1 slightly heaping teaspoon sea salt

2¼ teaspoons bread machine yeast

The result of this combination is fabulous: an easy-to-slice, delicious loaf with just the right balance between fluffiness and density, which goes with everything but is also a treat served by itself with a scraping of butter!

 

 

Make mine a Brie....

$16 at Marks & Spencer USA

$16 at Marks & Spencer USA

I was looking at Marks & Spencer's bakeware offerings, since our new induction range could really benefit from their metal roasting tray -- it's great in the oven and then you can put it stove-top to deglaze the juices and make a nice gravy (can't do that with our glass one). And while there, I noticed that they have a ceramic cheese baker. It's very pretty, in white and dark grey, with a mother cow and her suckling calf. And the base has a delightful floral design reminiscent of Spode. The problem? The top says 'CAMEMBERT'. (Oh, and someone should have told the designer that 'Fabriqué en Normandie' requires an accent aigu over the first e: that means 'made', past tense.) The trouble is that I don't like Camembert. The only such cheese I enjoy is Brie. Way more better. MUCH. I don't want to read the word 'Camembert' when Brie is the only whole cheese I'd ever want to bake.

This is more the ticket, $14.99 from World Market -->

Brie is lighter, brighter, less earthy/gamey than Camembert, and it stands to reason: it has added cream and less lactose, and that makes all the difference. Brie is the older cheese in historical terms (7th or 8th century AD, according to one source), and in my view, they should have stopped there!

I'll probably end up buying this one, in white with ventilation holes in the lid, from Crate & Barrel ($19.95). Give me this summer heavenly Bries!

 

 

 

Not your store-bought salsa

I have lots of opinions about salsa, having sampled many commercial jars (two of my favourites are Clint's Hot and Fiesta Nuclear salsas). But there is nothing like making your own.

The salsa at right has one red-ripened jalapeño pepper, one orange tomato (fully orange when ripe), one red tomato, about one-third of a yellow-skinned sharp onion, some minced garlic and snipped chives, freshly squeezed lime juice, and sea salt. The taste: fabulous. And a great addition to our taco meal.

Terrific Tzatziki

I love the versatility of tzatziki, not only in terms of meals -- it's great with any grilled meat, a baked potato, any kind of chips or crackers, and on salads. I also love the fact that you can ring the changes with it, adjusting the herbiness and garlic factor to taste. My recipe is quick and easy, since I don't bother with peeling the cucumber -- it's a waste of nutriment and gives back nothing, provided you use English ones and not the coarse-skinned American variety. When I say 'genuine' Greek yoghurt, I mean that it is a pure dairy product set with various bacterial cultures, not with additives such as cornstarch or other thickeners. I also think it's best to make tzatziki with yoghurt you've just bought, rather than stuff you've had hanging about for a while.

Here's what you need:

Equipment:

A grater,

garlic crusher or sharp chopping knife,

pair of kitchen scissors (optional)

kitchen scale

medium mixing bowl

 

Ingredients:

9 oz genuine very fresh Greek yoghurt

1 unpeeled English cucumber, washed, dried, and coarsely grated.

2 large garlic cloves (or 4-5 small ones), peeled and crushed or grated (or finely chopped with a sharp chef's knife).

juice of up to half a lemon (more if it's a very small lemon, less if it's a large one)

up to 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

fresh chives

fresh chives

about 1 tablespoon chives, snipped finely with scissors (or slice with a knife or use partially dried chives).

OR

1 tablespoon finely chopped/snipped mint leaves

OR

1 tablespoon fresh dill

OR any combination of the above. Parsley, though milder than the other herbs, will also work fine if you don't have the others.

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black Tellicherry pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

 

Method:

Place the bowl on the kitchen scale and use the tare function to measure the yoghurt into it. Grate the washed cucumber into the yoghurt, add the garlic, lemon juice, seasoning, herbs, and olive oil, and stir together. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and eat within a week. 

 

 

 

Better Garibaldi biscuits

Should Garibaldi biscuits have a yolk in them? My answer: They don't need it, but sure, it's nice. What if you put in the whole egg instead? That's nice, too. I did that by accident the other day, having forgotten to separate white from yolk. Oh well. I figured it was bound to taste all right, and since the white that was not supposed to be there would add unbudgeted moisture, I would skip the recipe's 3 tablespoons of milk. It worked out just fine: the milk, I reckon, was only there to make up for the absence of the white in the recipe as written. But why was the egg white left out?

Whenever a baking recipe asks you to put in only the yolk of an egg, or only the white, you have to wonder where the other half is going -- and sure enough, the yolk often goes in the dough while the white is reserved for duty in washing the top, like a glue for the reception of sparkling sugar crystals. Having you use one egg for two different functions is more conservative than requiring you to use one and a half, which for most cooks really means two, as anything unused will simply go down the sink. But in my case, it's just as well that I bunged the whole egg in, white and all, since I really don't need my Garibaldis to shine with sugar. They are quite sweet enough as they are (though not cloying at all).

The other question is whether Garibaldi biscuits should have candied fruit. My answer is No: currants are lovely all by themselves, and this is a simple biscuit, simply made, with few ingredients. So I depart from the BBC recipe in this, as well. Just make 'em with currants (about 65 grams' worth, in a mix using 225g of flour). What I DO agree with, though, is the addition of spice: I used 1/8 teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground cloves. You could cut out one or change the combinations, but I thought the spice notes were both lovely and subtle.

A final point: neither the BBC nor the Delia Smith recipes I've seen advise an adequate quantity of salt. Indeed, the BBC one, weirdly, has no salt whatsoever. The Delia one mentions 'a pinch of salt' -- a formulation I dislike and avoid in my own recipe devisings, for the simple reasons that a) a pinch is rarely even close to enough and b) given the latter, the amount is and should be spoon-measurable. Rarely if ever do I want less than 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt (or anything else) in my recipes, and usually I want a lot more than that. 'A pinch' does not begin to cover it. Calling for 'a pinch' is a tradition of vagueness and sloppiness in recipes that will have to get on without me. I like to give definite guidance, with appropriate boldness, instead of causing doubt and confusion (and flabby taste) with the lazy terminology of 'a pinch'. If a baker is frightened of an ingredient, that's her lookout, and she is of course always free to adjust it according to taste.

I'd show a picture here of my various Garibaldis, but I'm afraid I've eaten them all. Maybe next time....

Gear For The Baker: the Pastry Brush

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So many gadgets, so few places to store them -- and worse, so little use for them when the time comes. Like my egg separator (pictured in a post I made below): the truth is that mostly I just use the old-fashioned way of cracking the shell and shunting the yolk back and forth while the white drains between the shell edges. And it's true that at one point I even took one of my pastry brushes and put it among my watercolour art supplies. But upon mature reflection -- and given the enormous amount of pastry baking I do these days -- I've decided that the brush belongs back in the kitchen. I have a few brushes, and I really do recommend them.

There are two basic types: natural bristle (hair) on the one hand, and silicone (such as the one pictured), on the other. The silicone is very good for jobs such as scraping out the ground spice or salt from a mortar. You can bung it in the dishwasher for easy cleaning, and you don't have to stand it upright to dry. But in general I prefer the bristle brush. It's useful in the first place for skimming excess flour off pastry dough (which is not essential, admittedly: my pastry always turns out lovely, whether I brush the flour off or scarcely bother). More importantly, it's helpful for getting spice or nuts out of an electric grinder, simultaneously giving you every last crumb and cleaning the grinder for next time. Brushes can be somewhat flat and broad (again, like the picture) or more rounded: I use both. The broader brush in particular can be of use in sweeping a cutting board or marble slab clean of dough bits and flour. And of course, brushes are essential not only for glazing pastry with beaten egg (just the egg, please: no additions) but also for crystallizing leaves and flower petals with egg white, and for tending the pot while caramelizing sugar. 

Go ahead and buy that pastry brush. If you bake, it's not a luxury, it's a necessity. You'll reach for it, again and again, and wonder how you managed without it.

 

 

Why Does the Recipe Want THIS?

I do so much cookbook reading, and so much recipe-writing myself, I’ve become something of a connoisseur of recipes. Most recipes are well written: indeed, they are unsung gems of prose — concise yet descriptive, pragmatic yet willing to embrace the telling metaphor, and logically organized. Postmodern college academics, with their flighty impenetrable jargon, need not apply. The primary goal of any recipe is to communicate.

   That’s why the failings of recipes stand out so much. How about this one, for instance. ‘1 large egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash’. Seems inoffensive. What’s wrong with it? 

Humpty Dumpty, as drawn by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There (1871).

Humpty Dumpty, as drawn by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There (1871).

   Well, let’s start with the ‘large egg’. That’s the main problem with this particular direction. The egg is to be used to seal two lengths of pastry ten inches long and eight inches wide, all around their edges, and the rest is for glazing the top length all over, just before baking. It’s a job that a medium egg could easily do. Even a small egg could do it. I happened to use a large egg, as directed, since we typically stock large eggs in this household. And guess what? I had so much egg left over, I scrambled it in a frying pan to put in my dog’s dinner. 

    So why did they specify a ‘large’ egg? I’ll tell you the likely reason. Most professional kitchens, in America anyway, use large as the standard size of an egg (out of the shell, it can weigh more or less than 2 ounces, but many of them weigh exactly 2, and that’s the weight that is usually assigned to them). So a recipe-writer might get in the habit of writing ‘one large egg’. Another possibility is that the recipe wasn’t actually tested by the writer, but was handed on from a trusted source. This could lead to assumptions that aren’t justified. Perhaps the original recipe just mentioned ‘one beaten egg’. The recipe compiler might feel the need to be more specific, especially if all the other recipes in a collection mention the egg size. So out creeps the familiar word ‘large’.

   ‘Lightly beaten’. Why only lightly? If you beat lightly, you’ll get a less than perfect emulsion of albumen and yolk: you’ll get pools of yolk with white swimming around them. That is not ideal for a pastry wash (or glaze, as I prefer to call it). Egg white gives virtually no gloss: it’s the yolk that beefs up the shine. But yolk by itself would be too dense, too difficult to spread, and perhaps too apt to burn. (I would need to test this to be sure.) You need the runnier white — but well mixed with the yolk — to create the brushable ‘wash’. So the best thing is a fairly well beaten egg, which is to say, an egg whose white and yolk have been sufficiently blended. Beating lightly won’t necessarily achieve this.

   Then there is the addition of water to the ‘lightly beaten’ egg. The fact is: you don’t need it. A reasonably well beaten egg produces a perfectly adequately wash, and water won’t improve it.

  Given the foregoing, and having baked the item in question, I would have written the instruction differently. I would have asked for ‘1 egg of any size, beaten’. So the baker with only medium or small eggs in the fridge or pantry would not have to wonder whether she or he could do the recipe. And a baker with a choice of eggs could choose the most economical one.

What's the big deal about making meringue?

Short answer: there isn't one. Considering the fuss made over meringue, I'd understand if you thought it was tricky. But aside from whisking your arm off (just use an electric mixer!), nothing could be easier.

Meringue is a fabulous Exhibit A of the magic of chemistry: put egg white together with sugar and you turn a chick’s gluey protein glop into delicious chewy, crunchy, or frothy sweet treat (meringues can be any one of the three). 

There is a lot of mystique about meringue that, in my experience, isn’t warranted. There is a lot of belief in the power of copper, or of an acid such as lemon juice or cream of tartar, to make meringues rise higher and bond together to be more “stable” — but I spent most of my adult life making meringues with nothing more than a plain electric balloon beater and a ceramic or metal bowl, and no one has ever been disappointed with the results. Apparently the real risk that the acid and/or copper is meant to avoid is a certain “graininess” from over-beating — but I find it hard to believe that most people really face this problem, since beating is fairly tedious even with electric power, and if you’re like me, you’re glad enough to arrive at “done” and gratefully stop. That said, if you want the insurance policy promised by that hint of acid, I advise wiping the bowl you use with the cut edge of a lemon wedge and never minding about the cream of tartar. Or you could use a copper bowl, which releases ions into the egg whites to improve the bond of the bubbles, so to speak, making them less liable to collapse. Copper bowls being rather expensive, you could try achieving a similar effect with a copper whisk. I must confess that my own copper whisk, pretty though it is, doesn’t see much action! One thing to note: if copper is especially beneficial to egg-whipping, aluminum (or aluminium, as we English call it) is said to be detrimental. Stainless steel is fine.

What about plastic? Typically we are told never to use a plastic bowl for meringues, since plastic can hold on to fat particles more readily than steel, glass, or stoneware bowls. But there are many types of plastic, some of which are more glass-like than others. If plastic is all you have access to, I’d wash it carefully, dry it thoroughly, and use it anyway. But if you are an enthusiastic baker — even if not a frequent one — I’d hope that you would treat yourself to a mixing bowl of a different material. There is nothing wrong with plastic bowls — I use them all the time — but they are not absolutely ideal for every aspect of pastry-making. On the other hand, sometimes we stress the ideal too much and fail to realize that good results can come from most any equipment. What matters more is method, and the quality of your ingredients.

It’s amazing how much meringue can be made from a single egg white (or albumen). Because of that, I determined that to make meringue, one only needs about 2 oz or 57 grams of sugar per egg white. That works out to 4 tablespoons of sugar per albumen. Once you know that ratio, you can scale up your meringue as much as needed. You can also make as little as you need, which is usually a benefit to the home cook with only so many eggs available and only so much room in the freezer or fridge, not to mention people to eat the dessert.

Another piece of advice you will often see is that the egg whites should be “room temperature.” I have beaten egg whites not long out of the fridge, and again, I’ve never been disappointed by my meringues. I should think that the very act of beating them warms them up (because of friction). And it is said — though I haven’t specifically tested this myself — that eggs are easier to separate into yolk and white when they are cold. What I will say is that I’ve used eggs at various degrees of coolness, and their specific temperature is really not important, one way or another.