Well, as of yesterday, it's been 5 years since my first blog post. Boy have things progressed. I started blogging without a purpose but over the years it has become a tool. Not only for recipes, but for edging me forward in my cooking ventures. Encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone and spread my wings a bit.
I have tried many new things and have written about my journeys. I write about it, not because I have become an expert but because I want to encourage you to do the same. If you dream of making donuts or ice cream or....whatever, then do it. Follow a recipe and try it. I'm not a chef. Beyond home economics in junior high school, I have never taken a cooking course what so ever. There is nothing special about my abilities. I want to
Before blogging, I had dreams of baking beautiful loaves of bread (without the use of a bread machine) but I just couldn't do it. I tried several times, with less than adequate results. It actually stressed me out. The whole kneading and rising process was the worse part. How long? How much? Is it warm enough in the room? Has the dough doubled? I really got hung up on the 'time' issues. Through blogging and the friends I've "met" in the food blogging circuit, one of my greatest achievements over the years has been finding my comfort zone with yeast. I can now bake bread with confidence. Not that every loaf is perfect and beautiful, but at least I know what I'm doing.
If I can give you any advice on baking bread it would be....don't get hung up on the restraints of the almighty clock. The dough will be ready when it's ready and not a moment sooner.
Here's a little tip: in order to find out if your dough is ready for the oven, gently poke it with two fingers. If the dough does not spring back quickly, then it's ready.
There are 4 basic ingredients that are the foundation for most breads; flour, yeast, salt and water. With these 4 ingredients you can make a basic loaf of bread in any shape. You can make a dough that requires kneading or you can make a dough that requires no kneading. The manner in which you bake it will affect the texture, whether the crust is soft or chewy. As long as you have those 4 ingredients, you're good to go.
I'm going to show you how I make most of my bread these days. I use a no-knead recipe. Why? Because of the convenience. You can mix up a rather large batch of dough and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, using only the amounts you want.
And it's not an all day process.
You don't need any special tools or equipment. Just a large container that has a lid.
Most of the no-knead recipes that I use, I get from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I do switch things up here and there, but you can search my blog for all that.
Basic No-Knead Dough
6 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 TB yeast
1 1/2 TB salt
3 cups lukewarm water
In a large bowl that you can cover or a large container that has a lid, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add in the water and stir until thoroughly combined. Cover loosely and let sit on the counter for 2 hours or more. If it ends up being several hours, no worries. It won't hurt anything. The main goal is for the yeast to activate and for the dough to double in size.
At this point you can place the container in the refrigerator. Do NOT secure the lid. It needs breathing room, otherwise with all the yeast gases dancing around in there, you'll end up with a minor explosion. I've heard that it creates quite a mess.
At any time during the next 2 weeks you are ready to bake bread.
Get out a baking sheet and either sprinkle it with corn meal (you can use flour but it burns quicker) or line it with parchment paper.
Dust your counter or work surface with flour.
Sprinkle the top of your dough with some flour and grab a handful of dough, about the size of a grapefruit
Form it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom, rotating as you go until all four sides have been stretched and you have a nice little taunt surface. You can sprinkle the dough with a little more flour if needed in order to keep things from being too sticky.
With a bench scraper or serrated knife, divide the ball into 4 equal segments. Form each segment into a ball as you did before.
Working with one ball at a time, Flatten and elongate with your finger tips to form a rectangle, about 4 inches in length. Working with the long edge of the rectangle, fold 1/3 of the dough over as you would a letter, then fold the opposite end down to the edge, pinching as you go. You should now have a little baguette shape. Place it on your prepared baking sheet, seem side down, and continue with the remaining 3 balls.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a cotton tea towel and allow to rest for about 45 - 90 minutes, depending on the temperature of the dough and the room. Do the finger poke test I told you about earlier to see when it's ready for the oven. About halfway through the rest period, preheat your oven to 450' F.
Once ready, there are two routes you can go. If you want a soft crust, just brush the tops with water (I then sprinkled them with flour for a "rustic" look) and slice the length with a serrated knife about 1/4" in depth.
Place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until a deep golden brown.
These were perfect for a non-traditional French Dip sandwich with alfalfa sprouts
If you want a more hardy, artisan surface that's chewy and crispy, when you pre-heat the oven, place a baking dish at the bottom of the oven and just as you're placing your dough in the oven, pour a cup of water in the dish to create steam. I didn't brush these rolls with water or anything. No reason other than I forgot.
This time I used a cotton tea cloth to cover them (no sticking) but the surfaces got a little firm which caused the dough to bust out a little during baking. I think the humidity in the air is really low right now. But the crusts came out nice and crisp and were great for my breakfast sandwich
Sauteed mushrooms, leeks and garlic, topped with bacon, eggs and cheddar cheese.
And there you have it. Both of these sets of rolls came from the same dough batch, yet turned out very different. And I still have enough dough to make another loaf of bread or set of rolls. Neither set came out perfect (due to the sticky plastic wrap and the dry air conditions) but both were worth every minute and tasted wonderful.
In 2014 I want this to be the year you conquer your fear. I challenge you to try something you've been wanting to do...whether its a technique, recipe, a particular ethnic cuisine. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the outcome and this in turn will give you the courage to try more.
If I can do it, anyone can.
Happy New Year everyone!