Wednesday, July 25, 2018

IMPROVING YOUR BREAD


     THERE IS NO RECIPE FOR BREAD!
Bread is one of those things that appear very regularly in recipe books and on websites of all kinds.  Grandma may have left her family a box crammed with them.  But in most cases, we have a hard time duplicating Grandma's results.  Actually, bread is a very basic formula that seems like a cross between a chemistry experiment and an excercise class to most people.  Results differ wildly, because they rely entirely on the skill of the baker.  Perhaps skill is the wrong word...practice might be a better choice.
"Bread" is very simple, but always approximate and dependant on the feel of the dough to the baker.  Basically, it is one part liquid(assumed to be water) to 2 1/2 parts flour(assumed to be white), a little salt and a little fat from any source and yeast or sour dough starter.  That is it...that is bread.  If we were all practiced bakers, that would be all you need to know. Pastry has a similar simple formula. Weighing the flour is a common way to improve, but knowing the feel of it is better. 
People often throw up their hands and never bake bread again after a few failures.  They will often find the bread to be too heavy...way too much flour.  The texture will be coarse, lumpy or filled with white dry spots...not kneaded properly -flour not incorporated well.  Doesn't rise...water too hot, drafty or cold room or old yeast.
Actually flat bread is my favorite treat and happened a lot when old yeast cakes were common on the shelves and home temperatures were uncontrollable. Suck up the failure and break the failed dough up into small lumps, flatten and stretch them and fry in butter...wonderful.  Mom called them dough-boys,
The other problem is that there are so many recipes. 
There are many varieties of flour...white, wheat, rye, chickpea, chestnut, etc.  they all have different characteristics and ways of handling them and assembling them.
In France, most of the breads we make cannot be called bread at all. And in Italy, there are many places where the salt is not used because of an age old tax on salt that angered people when recipes were being developed.
Whole wheat flour is much heavier than white.  Rye flour has no gluten in it, so it does not make good bread on its own, and when you make the adjustments necessary, the bread must be finished to the point that it is so sticky that you can't get it off your hands when it is time for you to put it in  the pan to rise. Whole wheat, too, really cannot be used alone, and the rest of  the list is usually used only for a flavoring in bread.
IN MY MIND THERE IS ONE RULE THAT IS GOING TO MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE TO YOUR BREAD...KEEP PRACICING NO MATTER WHAT YOUR RESULTS! If it fails... toast it and slather it in jam...or fry it and drown yourself in heart attack causing slabs of butter and perhaps a little sugar and cinnamon.  Also, you can dry it in the oven and grind it for bread crumbs, croutons or Melba toast. My mother never bought a package of bread crumbs...what a waste of money! Failed bread is still edible!
ALSO, BAKE ONLY WHITE BREAD UNTIL YOU HAVE MASTERED THE TRICKS, THEN BRANCH OUT FROM THERE.
So, back to the chemistry experiment!

Flour
 Use good quality flour if you can afford it, but at least use unbleached and unbromated white flour.  I use King Arthur flour, but any good or even better quality will do.  Just avoid regular White Lily or other flours that are made from soft wheat, and are much better for baking powder biscuits and cake-like foods.
Hard wheat is like Duram wheat and is quite commom in most of America and is very commonly grown in Canada.  These hard wheats develop gluten more readily and that is what actually HOLDS your bread together.
Old flour works best.  Buy double the flour you need for about six months, putting one of the two bags away with the date on it in an airy(bug free) place.  Then, when the six months or more pass, start to use the old flour, putting a fresh bag away and taking out the oldest that you have stockpiled and using it. Even older flour is good.

Water(Liquid).
  You can use lots of liquids for your bread.  Scalded milk(Milk that has been heated just to the point that it steams and bubbles form on the edge of the liquid), eggs (Eggs add both liquid, and fat from the yolks), teas made from water and herbs, seeds and spices...juices, though I cannot imagine bread made with juice, and the liquid from vegetable cans(leave out the salt in the recipe). The water must be heated to above body temperture.  Higher than baby formula, and in fact, much higher than you might guess.  121 degrees  is recommended.  That seems a little high to me, but experiment a bit with the yeast to see how high to do it and still have the yeast bloom.  Heating it too high or not allowing the milk to cool is one of the grave mistakes that lead to failure.  You can kill the yeast.
 I cannot find the recipe anywhere, but there was a bread I made once that had me make a tea out of fennel seeds and coarsely ground black pepper.  I have tried it a number of times, but I cannot get the proportions right.

Yeast
Use jarred yeast, granulated.  Use a basic all purpose yeast until you get the hang of it all before you use any of the improved strains.  Some recipes have you dissolve the yeast in a bit of water to "Prove" then adding it to the rest of the recipe.  In Italy, they mix the yeast with the flour and make the bread in a "FONTANA"(a mound of flour with a hole in the center like a volcano), gathering the mound of dry ingredients into the liquid in the center slowly. I don't understand the logic of this, but it seems to work for the Italians.  Lots of yeast, up to double the recipe, will make the recipe go faster if you are desperate for bread RIGHT NOW. But if you want bread to be at its best, use less yeast and be patient.  In fact, if you have a very cold room or a refrigerator(and plenty of time) big enough for your bread bowl, try making the bread with a quarter teaspoon of yeast then let it rise in a cold place overnight.
You might enjoy the making of sour dough.  This is the habit of saving a bit of dough from your batch to be used in your recipe next time instead of yeast.  The bread is very yeasty and sour tasting, but that appeals to many people.  I love it, but I lack the discipline to keep it going.  Finding the method on You Tube will be better than relying on me to explain it.

Fats
Butter, lard, Margarine (this and butter add a bit of water), bacon grease(Mmmmm), egg yolks perhaps left over from making a white cake or merengue, oils, like olive or canola.  Meat fats like schmaltz will make a distinctive taste, but certainly can be used. Melt hard fats, and allow to cool to a similar temperature to the water.(You may want to strain meat fats before using them.) Fats will tenderize the bread, but you can certainly leave them out if they offend you.  Be prepared for a change in the bread though. The calorie count will go down without the fat.  If I want the bread to be particularly rich tasting I add a ton of fat, like the French do with Brioche.  They also knead butter into the nearly completed dough, I do not remember, but I think they do this with unmelted butter. I make some bread with a whole stick of melted butter, whole milk and eggs to make a very special bread. When you skim the fat off your Spaghetti sauce, save it and use it in your bread...fat from the meat and from the cheese would be in it, especially if you made meatballs.  Don't be squeamish...meat fats are not much different from butter.  Meat fats and butter may not be that healthy for you...in fact they are terrible, but the amounts you are using are pretty small.  You need fat in your diet.  Do not be a fanatic.  Fats help in brain function among other things.  These fats are better than  shortening or margarine that are hydrogenated...the worst of all fats!
 
Sugar
A tablespoon of granulated sugar will feed the yeast when you start the dough.  It will speed up the raising of the dough as well. If you do not over do it, it should not make much difference in the flavor of the bread.  Large amounts of sugar are added for sweet breads, but they are in another category of bread. Honey and brown sugar works as well, but they may impart a pronounced flavor.

Salt
Salt inhibits the growth of the yeast.  Many recipes add salt at the beginning in the liquid.  I think that this is counter productive,  Instead, I add the salt along with the last addition of the flour.  It is kneaded through the batch pretty well.  If you use koscher salt or coarse salt in this way, you must grind it in a mortar or a spice grinder if you do not want a salty jolt here and there in the the bread. You can leave the salt out, but your bread may taste rather blaaaah. Lovely Tuscan bread traditionally has no salt, as noted above, because of the taxes. If you live on the seaside, try using seawater, perhaps diluted with plain water for a local flavor. My ancestors were from a little island, and this would make sense as fresh water was not easy there for centuries. Examine the water carefully to avoid surprises in the bread.

OK, HOW ABOUT MAKING SOME BREAD

Heat a cup of water.  Dilute the water with cold water till it reaches a very warm temperature well above body temperature. 
Pour the water in a large bowl over a tablespoon of granulated sugar.  Swirl till dissolved.
Shake a tablespoon of dry yeast over the water.  Stir(preferably with a wisk) till just starting to dissolve and none is left dry on the surface.
Leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes.  Check to see if a light froth has appeared on the top of the water.  If not walk away again and check in a few more minutes. If this does not happen, your yeast may be dead or old.
When the yeast has bubbled up well, add about a tablespoon of olive oil or melted butter and whisk in one cup of flour. Mix till no lumps remain and beat it very well for at least a minute.
Add another 3/4 cup of flour and stir till absorbed with your hands if it gets too stiff for a spoon. Set it aside for about ten minutes with a towel over it.  This alows the water to absorb into the flour.  Add another quarter cup of flour and a teaspoon of salt or to taste.  Stir in with your hands and turn out onto a floured board if you like.  I often continue right in the bowl because the batch is small.  Knead well with your hands.  The dough will likely stick to your hands. Keep kneading, scraping off your hands and adding a tabespoon or less of flour at a time and continue kneading.  Continue to add the flour and kneading till the dough begins to lose its tackiness, but add no more flour than is absolutely necessary to allow you to knead it.   Eventually the dough will smooth out like taffy and have a gloss to the surface.  There will still be a bit of a tack to the surface, but not exactly sticky.
You can grease a bowl and drop the dough into it.  Cover with an inverted bowl and place in a warm place to rise.(I just leave mine in the same bowl I mixed in.) It should double in size, but do not over do it as over risen dough takes on an odd texture.
Pat the dough down gently till completely deflated.  Form into pizza or rolls.  If making a loaf of bread, pat into a rectangle on a flat surface.  Fold the long sides to the center line, then fold in half  and pinch together to make a long cylinder.  Pat out again with the seam on top into a rectangle.  fold again as before and pinch clodes.  Place seam side down in a greased loaf pan or on a pizza peel(paddle) in a light bed of cornmeal or flour.  Cover loosely and delicately with a tea cloth or a PAM sprayed sheet of plastic film to rise. 
When risen place on a preheated baking stone(450 degrees or more for pizza) 375 for a long loaf with a few razor blade slashes on top.. If in a loaf pan place in the middle of the oven for half an hour.  But watch that it is not overdone.  Take the loaf out of the pan to thump the bottom.  If it sounds hollow it is done.  Return to the oven if it sounds dull and continue to bake till it tests well. Rub with butter or oil on top to soften the crust a bit.    Allow to cool before cutting or tearing apart as I like to do.    

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rustic Fruit Pies

One of my favorite things to make is Apple Pie.  Some members of my family expect one at every turn.  This is an infinitely easier and faster way to make a pie, and is very traditional in Italy.  Pasta Frolla is a common pastry to use, Bu I have my favorite pastry that I have used for years and years.  I have updated the method however.  So, Here it is.

This pie can be made with all sorts of fruit, But it should be fresh fruit.  frozen will have a lot of liquid, and that is death to this pie.  The ingredients must be dryish right up to the time it gets into the oven.
I use my old favorite pastry.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour.
3/4 cup shortening.  (Butter or butter shortening blend will work but will crisp up faster.)
1 t salt
1T sugar
1/2 cup very cold water, iced preferred.

Put half of the flour in a bowl along with the sugar and the salt.
Cut up the shortening into small cold pieces.
Drop into the flour.  pinch the fat into the flour over and over till all the shortening is coated with the flour and is completely absorbed into the fat and resembles very chunky crumbs.
add the rest of the flour and toss thoroughly with a fork till incorporated with the first mixture.
add the water a tablespoon at a time tossing as you go with the fork
When all the water is incorporated and the pastry is wanting to hold together, gather it all up, gently pat into a large oval.  place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out on parchment paper or floured board to the largest circle you can get or till your nerves give out.
It will be about the diameter of the 15 inch  parchment paper or just hanging over the edge.

Transfer the pastry to a baking sheet, rimmed being preferred.

Mound sliced apples, dry berries , or other sliced fruit, tossed with spices of your choice, about 2/3 cup sugar and 1 1/2 T tapioca or other thickener that you are used to.

Raise the edges of the crust and fold to the center.  working around the tart till it is nearly closed up like a change purse.  A hole will be in the middle.  Any overlapping folds should not be pressed down as the doubled up pastry should have some heat get to is to cook.  Put a large piece of butter on the hole at the top.

Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with plenty of sugar or the sugar crystals usually found on muffins.

Bake at 475 for 10 minutes then reduce to 350 and bake till golden brown and the fruit is tender, and the juices are thickened. Probably 40 to50 min.  Cover with foil if it is browning too fast.

If the fruit looks dry as it cools brush delicately with melted apple or apricot jelly that has been melted.(not on the pastry.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Alternative Pizza Sauce

I have always made my pizza sauce very simply.  Pizza sauce is not pre-cooked.  It is just tomato.  In fact, if you go to Italy you may find the sauce with salt and pepper, but basically it is just plain tomato.  You can blanch whole tomatoes, peel them, cut them across on  the horizontal, squeeze out the seeds and puree the flesh.

You can use crushed tomato.

They usually just spread the sauce and sprinkle with a few basil leaves and mozzarella slices.

Sometimes, I have people who like rather sweet tomato sauce on their pizza.  Sicilian pizza is this way.  In this case I dilute a can of tomato paste  with water, after adding salt, pepper, 2 parts Oregano, 1 part Basil, garlic or garlic powder and red pepper.

After thinning, it should be about the consistency of heavy cream.

Smell the finished sauce and give it a taste before using it.
 
You may also just use the thinned paste, salt and pepper.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tim Kelly's Apricot Chicken

4 chicken breasts, thighs or one cut up fryer on the bone.
8 oz red Russian dressing
I envelope dry onion soup mix
8 oz apricot preserves
 mix together and marinate the chicken one hour
Use salt and pepper only as needed.  It is a bit sweet without being overpowering.  Salt and pepper will not be necessary for most people as the onion soup is salty already.

Bake at 325 for 90 min if using the chicken on the bone
Bake at 350 for 60 min for chicken breasts or thighs

This would work nicely for pork tenderloins, pork chops or even salmon.

Tim is my nephew from my last marriage.  Working in a city facility feeding the elderly.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I Hate Fish Baked fish for those who don't like it.

I think that it is widely known in my family that I hate fish!
So, to eat it without distress, I really have to gussy it up to cover it.  I cannot say that I truly hate all fish.  I can tolerate Haddock, sometimes a little salmon.  I can tolerate most anything if it has enough hot sauce, cayenne and dry mustard.
So, Here is one way I actually like fish.
 
Oil a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish.

Mash one, or if adventurous, two cloves of garlic with salt to form a more liquid paste. 
Spread a little of the garlic on each fillet or steak, then drizzle olive oil over the fish in the pan.
  Garlic can really take over here, and it has little time to cook, so be careful.  For me all this is a plus!  I do this mashing because I really like the garlic, but also because the mashed garlic does not have to be cooked as long as chunks or even minced garlic.  some people can do all this by just rubbing the pan or fish with the cut end of a clove of garlic, but that is too insipid for me.  I live alone...what can I say?

  Chop a few small, very ripe tomatoes over the entire layer of fish. Salad or cherry tomatoes are perfect for this.

Sprinkle with scallions or minced onion.  Do not over do the onion. I use chopped greens from Grammie's walking(Egyptian) onions.

Chop 1/4 cup of black olives( the better the olives the better the dish, so the olive bar is great, but canned are OK) and sprinkle over the fish thickly.
 
Sprinkle capers(the little ones in the jar do not need to be washed, but be careful to wash large ones to remove much of the salt)  Contrary to many peoples' opinions, fish needs salt, and the mashed salted garlic and the capers are a good source, especially as the salt is often sea salt from the islands.

Sprinkle with black pepper and a few red pepper flakes and a very light sprinkle of dried oregano.

Drizzle the toppings with oil.

Cover the baking dish with foil or a cover, and bake at 400 till desired doneness...maybe half an hour.  Just check it a few times.

Uncover and serve with oiled pasta, or pasta with ROMANO cheese and black pepper.  Parmesan is too nutty flavored.
 Sicilians do use cheese with fish sometimes, but you are not making Fish Parmesan with melted cheese on top.

You can sprinkle the fish with a bit of red wine vinegar, or lemon if desired.

Pasta is often served in restaurants with just oil, with salt, with lemon or black pepper and grated cheese. Pasta con cacio e pepe is on many menus.

Tarte Tatin as I see it in France.

Make a single recipe of Pate Brisee:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 stick butter
1/2 t salt
1 T sugar
3T water
Chill till the apples are cooked.

Peel core and quarter 7-8 apples.  Cortland, Granny Smith or if you like them,
Golden Delicious.
I cast iron frying pan, 10 inch a similar heavy bottomed pan will work but best not
to use something that is too thin as the apples will turn to mush if too much heat
below.:
melt 6 tablespoons of butter(real butter, probably unsalted is best)on med heat.
Add 1 cup sugar when the foam subsides but before it colors.
Cook until the sugar melts in the butter(try not to stir, but it will be OK if you
must)and continue till it turns a nice amber color.  Add extra butter if it refuses
to melt.
Arrange the quartered apples VERY tightly in the caramel in a pleasing pattern with
the nice side facing down into the pan. Shingle them in if you must.
Continue to cook the caramel and apples till the apples are tender but not soft. 
Caramel will bubble up around the apples.
NO Spices, but if you cannot live without, use some cinnamon.
As the bubbling subsides, roll out the Pate Brisee till it just overlaps the top of
the pan by 14 inch.  It does not have to be neat! Or round!
Lay the pastry over the top of the apples and press down till it makes full contact.
 Tuck the excess down around the apples into the pan edge slightly...do not fuss,
it should be a bit rustic. Do not poke holes in it.
Bake at 375 in mid oven for 30 min. 
Turn over onto a platter to unmold before the caramel has time to cool...within
three minutes or so.
Serve hot or cold.  If you have Creme Fraishe so much the better.
Does not taste like apple pie.  Fresher, more appley, so choose an apple you like
the taste of.
Do not substitute pastry type if you like to be authentic, but others will work.

You can also make this by pouring the caramel in the cups of a muffin tin, putting in a piece of apple and covering with small rounds of pastry...you will have to experiment as I have never done this, but I have eaten plenty!  Put them in paper pastry cups to serve or carry.

Whip cream with a tablespoon or more of brandy, dark rum or something of that ilk.

There is no reason not to try this with pears or peaches, apricots etc.  Just to not overcook them till they turn to mush!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mildred Stevens Cafarella's Raisin M-m-m-Mumbles

Filling

2 1/2 cups Raisins
1/2 cup sugar
2T cornstarch
3/4 cup water
3T lemon juice

Combine and stir over low heat till thickened.


The Crumbs

3/4 cup soft margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 soda
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

mix butter and sugar, add dry ingredients.  then add oats.

Press half of the crumbs into the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan.
Spread the filling on the crumb base.
Pat on the rest of the crumbs.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees F.
Cut in squares as it cools.